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Commentary

Who Didn’t See This Coming?

Yet another law enforcement officer has been killed, this time near Chicago, and while the initial, uncertain reports available thus far imply that Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was not targeted, but rather that he was doing his job, happening into a suspicious situation in which he intervened, the killing falls into a pattern.

The account I’ve heard was that he pursued three individuals on foot and was not heard from again. He was found dead, without his handgun and “equipment,” a short time later.  It appears he had been killed “execution style,” implying that his quarry–three men on foot–somehow turned the tables on him and killed him in cold blood. Lt. Gliniewicz, at age 52, was a 30-year veteran and father of four who was slated to retire in a few weeks.

The news reports portray Gliniewicz as a fantastic, heroic guy and a superior officer, but of course they do–how much he was loved and respected is irrelevant to the greater truth here: another cop has been murdered, something like the 7th in the past month, and it has to stop.

And here’s where I get unpopular.  Despite the increased news coverage, police murders have held relatively steady this year, declining slightly from last year, though the perception is quite different.  This is not something in which we should take comfort.  The numbers are still too high.  One officer killed in the line of duty is too many.  This isn’t television–most cops go through entire careers without discharging their weapons in the line of duty, and that is how it should be.  Behind those statistics, unfortunately, is a promise of more violence to come.  The news coverage of these horrible deaths translate to desensitization to violence–potential killers will be inspired.

And we know what happens next: law enforcement, justifiably angry and fearful, will double down.  Mainstream contemporary police theory is to employ hyper-dominant, preemptively aggressive behavior to “control” encounters rather than mediation.  When you see a cop, on youtube or on the street, yelling and cursing at someone for what seems like a relatively minor reason, that officer is not necessarily an asshole–although he or she has been taught to act that way.

Police orthodoxy has to change. When I was a child, my mother taught me that if I ever was in trouble, and she wasn’t available, that I could go to a cop.  Three decades later, an integral part of my teaching my daughters to drive was how to avoid accidentally escalating the always potentially dangerous traffic stop.—Put the car in park and turn off the ignition. Lock the doors and put the window down 1/3.  Retrieve your papers while the officer is still in his car calling in your info, but be sure to have your hands where he can see them as he approaches, palms up and open. Turn the dome light on if it is dark.  Once the officer is at your door, make no sudden moves–NEVER reach for anything without asking permission first–and even after getting permission, move slowly–a cell phone can look like a gun, and you can be justifiably killed for holding it….”

How have we created a paradigm in which we much fear our protectors?  More importantly, are we at a precipice from which we can pull back, or have we gone over the edge?  I like to think the latter, and I believe that we can do it with minimal effort and a lot of dialogue.

It has to come from the cops.  I’ve written this entire piece without mentioning the giant elephant in the room–police violence.  The numbers are shocking, and the individual stories–going far beyond the sensationalized events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City or Cleveland, Ohio and Baltimore  are often terrifying.  The issue has often been clouded as a racial problem, and while race is often a factor–the police involved are primarily white, the victims primarily brown*–this is overwhelmingly about power more than race.  The two dovetail, of course, but the not exclusively.

Community policing, retraining officers to focus on deescalating rather than dominating confrontations, securing a larger percentage of more intelligent officers–by providing better pay and benefits–and, most of all, making the “thin blue line” a lot more transparent–would be a great start.  If you know police officers, you know that they know who the jerks in their departments are, and they aren’t surprised when those guys do something stupid.  Or something awful.  This has to stop.  Good officers need to stop tolerating their misbehaving peers–the very few outliers, among the majority of good, hardworking, honorable public servants–even if that means turning their backs on them.  I understand this will be a hard thing to do, but the bad cop who beats a suspect, or shoots an unarmed suspect–is a traitor to his community as well as to his brothers and sisters in blue.

But what about the bad guys? There are always going to be bad guys–that’s why we need cops. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get criminals to behave respectably, or to do anything, really. They are also, by definition, traitors to their community.  The police, on the other hand, represent our institutions, and must be held to a higher standard.  They will not only be making a better community, and doing a better job, but they will be preventing the kind of adverse media attention that puts targets on their own backs, and on the backs of their peers.

If things continue the way they’re going, more and more police will be singled out as potential targets, which will lead to increased vigilance and fear-grounded aggression that leads to more conflict, more violence, and more resentment. The cycle is self-perpetuating. We must demand more from our protectors, in order to put them at less risk.

Interesting Related links:

776 People Killed By Police So Far in 2015, 161 Of Them Unarmed

Police departments are already seeing a decline in recruitment.

“Oh, God, I thought they were going to shoot me next”

“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”

*Isn’t this the stupidest thing?  When I say it like this, I can’t help but shake my head–defining by skin color! 

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Commentary

Baltimore: Really, Who Didn’t See This Coming?

cop 1I feel bad for Baltimore, just as I felt bad for Ferguson–because of the innocents who get caught up in the mayhem, because of setbacks the violence and thievery of a few selfish punks who inevitably appear to take advantage of the frustration, grief, and despair which always lay behind these incidents. I feel bad for the victims, not just from today but from the harsh, inevitable retribution that will storm down upon citizens of the affected communities long after our short collective attention spans have moved on to the next big thing.

I’ve heard it asked over and over again, “how can those people do this?” Those people.

I’ve heard words like “thugs’ and “savages”–the same words we use to describe our foreign enemies, words spoken in true ignorance, but with all due respect to the innocent, we reap what we sow.  But then, who didn’t see this coming? Young people, especially young black men, have been dying at the hands of police officers in almost plague-like numbers.  Worse still, these incidents have not abated one bit despite growing community concern and unprecedented media attention–a indicator of just  t how arrogant the offenders are, and just how little they worry about punishment.

dangerousConsider the young man in San Bernardino County, California who ran from Sheriff’s deputies looking to arrest him on identity theft charges. He ran for it, in a T.J, Hooker-worthy chase  that ultimately included automobiles, motorcycles, helicopters, running through the desert and stolen horses. Ignore for a moment the wisdom of investing so much time, energy, resources, effort and, most of all, ego into chasing a suspect of a non-violent crime, and move to the finish where, having been tasered off a stolen horse, the really, really pissed off cops–eleven of them–kicked the crap out of this guy, who had surrendered, face down in the dirt, hands behind his back.  It was so crowded around his body that the cops had to take turns getting their kicks in.  Did I mention that all this happened with a new helicopter hovering overhead?  That’s what I mean by arrogance–and zero fear of justice. And this was a white guy!  Imagine if it had been a young black kid?  I have this vision of them burying the body right there in amidst the brush, taking selfies and waving to the copter while they took turns digging his shallow grave.

And yet, most people are good people, although we’ve allowed things to get this far. All of us.  Most leaders are conscientious leaders, but they have settled for plugging the holes in our breached social dam with mud and tree stumps. despite the rain. Heck, most cops are good cops–I have friends and relatives are among them–but too many have made the easy choice and put brotherhood over honest service. I know many officers lose sleep over that choice, but it is silence that takes us this place where a man is taken into custody because of a suspicion–there was no observed or alleged crime, no outstanding warrant–and ended up dead. He was pursued and apprehended because he ran. That is all.  If he ran because he was afraid it seems that he was right to feel that way–let’s be forthright here: as inflammatory as it sounds, it is a short step to equate what law enforcement has been doing to black folks to the tacitly approved lynchings in the southern USA only a generation ago

Now, I’ve already seen conservatives arguing that this guy was a recidivist not worthy of the destruction being wrought in his name, but here’s the thing: it’s not so much about Pepper Gray: it’s about the last guy, and the guy before that, and the guy before that. Black folks have a particular right to be both terrified and outraged, pushed into a metaphorical corner by a seemingly relentless pattern of authoritarian violence, the only possible end to which had to be rebellion; but this extends beyond race.

help-policePolicing has become synonymous with dominant aggression.  Officers are trained to assume a posture of outrageous aggression as a preemption to resistance or, in layman’s terms, that cop who gets in your face and shouts and curses at you is doing it purposefully, to establish his dominance and control your interaction.  Trained to approach all interactions from an aggressive posture, it is little wonder so many encounters quickly go bad. It is only a few steps up the escalation ladder from there.

The problem is that the good cops, as I said earlier, put brotherhood ahead of justice.  I understand this. They must feel it is an obligation, literally putting their lives in each others hands sometimes, to circle the wagons when one of them screws up.  By the same logic, our prosecutors who rely on and work with theses officers on an daily basis feel that obligation.  And the juries, faced with an allegedly abusive cop, the evidence against whom has been white-washed by a protective establishment, is forced to decide between an allegedly bad cop and the allegedly deserving “criminal,” with whom are they going to identify? I’d make examples here, but the victims are too many to count.  Pick the homeless guy on the BART platform in San Francisco a few years back, or the little kid with a toy gun in Cleveland, or the dude selling loose smokes in New York.  Or the kid with Downs syndrome who was killed barehanded because he had a tantrum about leaving a movie theater.  Or a hundred others–there are hundreds of cases all a click away, if one chooses to look, of cops who lose it and never, ever face justice.

Unfortunately, when one officer is shielded from justice, then another, and another, and another–while their victims are killed in what seems like an almost methodical attempt at putting the disenfranchised in their places, tension tends to build.  A person who watched the TV news sees and endless parade of mostly black suspects–not convicts, but suspects–perp-walked across the TV screen every night, with not a word mentioned when many of these suspects are later released.  Similarly, law enforcement blithely posts booking photos of suspects on their web sites, but never offers explanations when many of those people are released.

But when a police officer kills a citizen, we face the great blue wall of silence, with no orange jumpsuits or perp-walks, no parading before the public.  Some variation of “Police officials declined to reveal the names of the officers involved, or comment beyond saying that there would be an internal investigation.  The officers have been put on administrative leave with pay.”

7b3298070c7aec58d144ae6027ddc52fThat’s not right, but we tolerate it.  Until we resist, and demand sweeping reform of law enforcement, we are all complicit in both the rioting and the murders that preceded them.  Communities must rise up and demand accountability, and honest police officers must abandon the “thin blue line” mentality and regard transgressors as soldiers regard traitors whose behavior endangers both their mission and their lives.  If we don’t, the prospect of expanded, open rebellion and the violence that accompanies both it and the inevitable government response is inevitable

 

 

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Commentary Quote

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Malcolm X

malcolmxI believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn’t know how to return the treatment.
—Malcolm X

I’m still working on my words about Baltimore, but this quote comes to mind as  informative and deeply applicable.  A lot of poor folks haven’t been treated right for a long time, and as Malcolm’s contemporary once said, “a hard rain’s a gonna fall” if things don’t change soon.

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Photo I Took

Art Bus

At the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, USA.

Maryland Vacation 08_025 Maryland Vacation 08_026 Maryland Vacation 08_049