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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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That Was Then, This Is Now.

With apologies to the band Soft Cell, and the writer S. E. Hinton, who ruined reading for roughly half the middle-school aged children in America with her nausea-inducing drivel, but still doesn’t deserve this.

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away
I’ve got to get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me.
The love we share seems to go nowhere

And I’ve lost my light for I toss and turn – I can’t sleep at night.

Once I ran to you
now I’ll run from you

This tainted love you’ve given –
I give you all a boy could give you.
Take my tears and that’s not nearly all – oh
tainted love – tainted love….

Then.

79-t2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now.

rise_warrior_cop-620x412

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Ferguson: When The Pot Inevitably Boils Over, We’re All Going to Burn

Excessive-force

http://aattp.org/op-ed-seven-simple-steps-to-end-police-brutality-and-restore-justice-to-america/

Not being privy to the facts, I can’t begin to comment on the specific events in Ferguson, beyond that it fails the “stink test” though not as badly as the do many other police-related acts of violence.  The sad truth is that Ferguson, as painful as it has been to so many, is just part of a chain of incidents, and the unrest occurring there represents a continuity of events, and frustrations, that has been going on almost forever.  It is only going to get worse, because each time an officer of the law is acquitted other officers become less fearful resting and potentially constructive article which I agree with whole-heartedly. I would, however, add a few items that, I think, would help to alleviate the sense of powerlessness, not to mention the scent of obfuscation and and concealment that hangs over so many incidents of police violence.

1.) In the face of an incident, police officers should be treated as would any citizen.  If I kill a man in the street, I am almost certain to be arrested, processed, and confined pending a hearing.  It is likely I will be perp-walked before cameras, my name and background released to the press.  When a police officer kills a man in the street (or commits any criminal act either in public or private) the police department involved generally makes efforts to shroud the officer’s identity, and months–sometimes years–can go by before the investigation, and any charges, are addressed and during that time the officer may continue to serve, or at worst incur a reduction in duties.  It is little wonder that citizens suspect collusion between police perpetrators, district attorneys.  A potential crime is a potential crime.  Giving police privacy that civilians don’t enjoy is a luxury we, as a nation, can no longer afford.

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Some Late Thoughts on Ferguson, Missouri

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/14/us/missouri-teenager-and-officer-scuffled-before-shooting-chief-says.html?_r=0
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/14/us/missouri-teenager-and-officer-scuffled-before-shooting-chief-says.html?_r=0

I have been as appalled as anyone by the events in Ferguson, Missouri–from the killing that precipitated it, through the (literally) jack-booted thuggery of the local bureaucracy’s bumbling, violent attempts to suppress the inevitable reactions, the stumbling efforts to hide their conduct from the media, to the equally inept machinations to spin the story into a tale of a valiant public servant defending himself against a “Negro Super Criminal.”

What surprises me most was that people were surprised this happened, when just a few weeks earlier NYPD officers made national news strangling a man to death in the street for allegedly selling a single, unlicensed cigarette.  These encounters have become ubiquitous; they no longer surprise anyone.

Cops misbehave every day–they’re humans, they’re flawed, it happens–and until we summon the collective will to morally–not bureaucratically–demand accountability, this is what we get, and it’s what we deserve as a community.  Unfortunately, we don’t reap the proverbial harvest of our sins with anything approaching equitable distribution.  In America, a black man is killed every 28 hours by a police officer, security guard, or a vigilante.  Of course, this isn’t a new thing.  Scholars have pointed out that the high level of racial violence in America, as well as our predilection for using torture as an acceptable interrogation technique is rooted in the historical treatment of slaves–fascinating, though disturbing.  Now, it’s important to note that police violence isn’t exclusive to people of color–a quick and cursory look at incidents reveals that plenty of white people are beaten, tazed, strangled, shot, or killed by corrupt or incompetent officers whose aggression escalates growingly tense interactions between police and civilians.  My research–some of it admittedly  presumption based on the appearances of victims in images–is that poor white people are also targeted, though not as intensely.

It’s worth noting, that this phenomena isn’t just about killing.  The USA has, by far, the world’s highest per capita incarceration rate–over 500 per 100,000, more than 5 times the average for similar first world countries.  The disparity is largely made up of blacks (over 3,000/100K) and Latinos (over 1250/100K).  The easy response by those who deny the facts is to say “well, it’s because black and brown people are just more criminal, and more violent than white people.”  Uh, sure.  That’s it.

Still, the incarcerated are the lucky ones.  They survived.  Fortunately, people have begun to take more notice, and as their exasperation grows I fully expect to see more of these incidents. Hopefully it will not on the scale of what we’ve seen in Ferguson, but this is a cumulative response to a culture of aggressive policing that has been growing more and more militaristic over the past 35 years.  My parents weren’t afraid of police officers, nor was I when I was a child, but I am now.  That’s right–I’m a white, middle-class, small-town man who actively participates in local government, and I’m afraid of the police. I’m on a first name basis with our police chief, for whom I have a great deal of respect, yet I’m afraid of the police.  I have friends and relatives in law enforcement, and still, I’m afraid of the police.  I’ve raised my children to be wary of police, and to avoid interaction of any kind with them. Why?

milesBecause you just don’t know what you’re going to run into, or who. The city of Pittsburgh’s great Achilles heel is its untouchable, aggressive police department and its reputation for corruption and violence.  You absolutely don’t want to be a black guy in Pittsburgh and interact with the police because, even though most of the officers are upstanding, if you run into one of those who aren’t and it turns bad there will be zero accountability. They may kick your ass if you’re white, too, but the odds turn south if you’re not.

The problem is not endemic to Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh is certainly representative of the greater problem.  Time and time again, violent confrontations end with district attorneys deciding not to press charges, split juries, and acquittals. When a civilian is arrested for a crime, names are immediately released, often combined with the showy “perp walks” that the media love so well, but when the accused is a cop, the name of the officer is–as was the case in Ferguson–held secret for as long as the department can manage to keep it under wraps.

If I shoot someone, I’m going to be arrested, printed, mug-shotted, perp-walked, and talked about in press releases and interviews and(assuming my crime is high profile enough) shown on the news.  I’ll be thrown in jail pending a hearing that will almost certainly end in a stiff bail requirement.  A cop, on the other hand, who guns someone down, often gets anonymity, and…some vague restriction known as “administrative leave with pay” which sounds a lot like a reward to me: you still get paid to be police, but you don’t have to do any policing.

People notice this stuff.  That was match that lit the powder keg in Ferguson: a teenager was left dead in the streets and cops refused to name suspect name because he is one of their own.  Again, these riots weren’t just about Ferguson–they are about the cumulative effect of literally hundreds of these cases, over and over, week after week, and the inevitable artful dodges and inexplicable acquittals that follow.  We have been conditioned to expect zero accountability. If citizens had any confidence that police would face a fair and transparent legal process equivalent to that which a civilian would face for the same action, not only would outrage be contained but the temptation towards questionable conduct would be greatly reduced–a result which, in the end, would make things safer for the officers.

One thing I don’t understand, however, is the relative silence of all the teabaggers and libertarians who are usually doing back flips and cursing from their sphincters over even the slightest “big government” infringement on the rights of “we the people.” I can’t think of anything more indicative of an oppressive government than the gunning suspects down in the streets, except perhaps for the systematic protection of those who swing the clubs and squeeze the triggers.  Perhaps the disconnect here is the interpretation of who exactly composes “we the people?”