The media has abandoned the idea of a roundtable discussion with guests in actual dialogue, organized with a moderator who directs the conversation and highlights strong points of interest; this form is the most useful for a discussion that has the hot elements of race, murder, justice, protests, and the American world view that makes demagogues of some communities where crime is high.
To provide that discussion, I’m organizing my essay today as a dialogue, drawing from my comments and replies from the New York Times online. Limited in the Times by space, they are heavily edited and extended. You are invited to weigh in with your comments on Democrats for Progress. ~ Walter Rhett
Ow—Rep. Charlie Rangel makes very good sense! The fault for the shooting of two New York City police officers lies with one person. A nut with a gun. Often, mentally ill people who engage in shootings have issues with family, intimate relationships or authority, and make them targets.
Rather making the police targets, the demonstrations and protests have focused on the absence of justice and accountability. In Gabby Giffords’ case, a rush of politicians and spokespeople vehemently denied any connection between speech about violent revolution, images with target bullseyes superimposed on the faces of elected officials, rallies attended by people openly carrying a variety of guns. Many of those who denied a connection between speech and gun violence, calling the Giffords instance “isolated,” have now rushed to draw a line of cause and effect between protest (against violence!) and violence.
Protests aside, it is clear many New York City police have no respect for law and resist civilian control as they violate administrative rules and criminal codes at will. By abundant evidence: recall the $1,300 an officer in Brooklyn took in October from the shirt pocket of a person not in custody who was pepper-sprayed in the face. The person, in a park with several friends who are heard on camera demanding the police return the money, withdrew the money from his bank to celebrate his wife’s birthday later that evening. None of the other officers at the scene attempted to stop the illegal act, which was a deliberate theft (in New York, larceny). One pepper-sprayed his sister for protesting.
The same officer had been previously sued the year before for using excessive force. The suit claimed the officer beat a citizen and, after kicking him in the throat, fractured his larynx. The city settled the case for $25,000. With no evidence of accountability, the police department claimed the money taken by the officer (also improper, as no arrest was made!) was properly vouchered as $62.
This week a Brooklyn phone video captured a plainclothes officer charging a youth in custody in front of officers and witnesses and striking several violent punches against the youth’s ribs and kidneys. The excessive and unnecessary use of force was ignored by the other officers on the scene. Going back, videos made during the Occupy movement demonstrations show wanton, excessive force to non-aggressive protesters. The videos include beatings and the heavy, direct, almost gleeful use of chemicals.
The police would like us to believe that their violence really represents an abundance of caution because of the dangers of their jobs, but many of the police are out of control. They seek absolute power justified by the dangers they face—but too often their violence is not justified by the threat or the crime.
Sadly, the excessive force is ignored by other officers, which shows how deeply embedded is the egregious misconduct of officers who break the law, and then defend themselves by claiming to uphold it. The line has moved further and further and resists any checks or restraints. The rhetoric from many speaks to the ego, narcissism, isolationism that colors their world and permits illegal acts to gain tacit approval as the force closes ranks in silence and the command fails to make the lines clear.
I deeply regret the death of two of NYC’s finest, but it is not an excuse for more of the same. The law doesn’t belong in anybody’s hands, only its enforcement. There is a collective mindset by NYC police that they owe allegiance only to themselves and that they are the law rather than its servants. Closed minds, circular reasoning and exaggerated hyper-vigilance have created a core of undisciplined marauders no one is willing to take on.
“Blame society and the environment in which these officers have to do their job. Surrounded by savages armed to the teeth, what do you expect the police to do? They fight fire with fire. Like it or not. Let’s address how violent our society has become. How self-centered. How unwilling to follow even basic law if it interferes with what we want to do. Don’t blame the police. Blame society!”
“Savages”? Wow. My brother was a 25-year career officer in Columbus, Ohio, working 11 to 7 am, in the heart of the inner city (Main Street to Kelton); the location of every after-hours bar in the city, during the heart of the crack epidemic. The only thing he ever shot was a dog.
Blind labeling and dehumanizing individuals whose children go to school, grandmothers who lived all their lives on the street and who are beloved in their communities, single parents often working two low wages jobs is a ridiculous way of having an honest dialogue.
It’s sad you will never attend NYC’s Abyssinia Baptist Church, or have dinner at Marcus Samuelson’s The Red Rooster, or visit Strivers Row. Or go over to Brooklyn to attend music and dances performances at BAM (the Brooklyn Arts Museum). It’s disappointing that you know so little about a life and place you are so quick to condemn and alienate. The invective in your description shows both your judgment and perception are off, but how would you know? You don’t know, do you?
But like the police and others, you want all of us to buy into the we vs. them narrative, to believe all the right is on one side and the other side bears all the blame.
“It’s a sad day in America when a guy can’t even do a strong armed robbery of a store, attack a cop and try to get his gun, try a second time (according to witnesses, ballistics, forensics and such) without getting shot by a crazed, murderous, racist cop. A sad day indeed…”
It’s a sad day when satire and sarcasm replace humanity and hide an anger and outrage that burns inside to shut off reason: the “strong arm” was a petty thief (no weapon used; a case can be made for assault). Eyewitnesses dispute the police officer’s testimony and the evidence is contradictory—the testimony you cite was by a witness who had a history of racial bias and who, now, the prosecutor acknowledges lied and wasn’t present at the scene, but truth matters no more than compassion, only your mistaken willingness to amplify ineptness and/or irresponsible power into “crazed and murderous” and your refusal to see racism not in the police officer but in the system—the highly irregular way the grand jury was presented the case, even to presenting the grand jury the wrong law, which had been unconstitutional for 30+ years.
Not racism, but ignorance hidden by sarcasm; not sadness, but grief; we weep for those who can not see that a life is precious and should not be surrendered for stolen cigars, and that justice should be honest.
“‘Many police are out of control.’ And what do you base that generalization on? It is precisely this type of rhetoric that inflames the uneducated to assault police, as they did on the Brooklyn Bridge last week. Which by the way was not ‘alleged.’ it actually happened. While I think it’s a stretch to blame the Mayor, his statements have only served to heighten tensions. He might think about attending some classes in basic leadership instead of ‘conferring’ with the likes of Al Sharpton.”
I cited two examples above. I encourage further research. Videos are available across the web that include Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, NYC, Ohio, Texas, California and many other places. Note: of the two examples I provided, one is not a shooting or excessive force, but theft under the color of authority.
I’ll offer one example of how police have strayed dangerously from their training standards. My brother is federally certified in firearms. Standard police training calls for using deadly force in three-shot bursts, assess, and then fire additional three-shot groups if warranted. This concentrates focus on the target, improving the likelihood of an effective stop and reducing the possibility of civilian injuries. An empty clip means an officer was firing out of control, decreasing his effectiveness despite increasing the number of shots, while increasing the potential harm to civilians.
How many three-shots bursts were there in police shooting situations versus emptied clips? But in the current system, a choke hold doesn’t become a choke hold when presented to a grand jury. Negligence goes away, too. Historically, violence by police is sanitized of any crime. But that violence has increased and expanded across a line that confused selfish acts with the protection of liberty; not the selfishness of survival—to which we all can agree—but the selfishness of taking a life because empathy has been replaced with indifference and “serve” has become “subdue and stop or I will shoot.”
My earlier phrase, “out of control,” referred to the NYC police attitude, the creed in their bones that demagogues anyone who disagrees with the actions of police, no matter how clear the evidence; that makes crimes “tragic” rather than criminal because of technicalities or the freedom of subjective, singular judgment, and a culture that demands a blind eye by peers, enforced by supervisors, that exempts officers from being called out by other officers when they violate training standards or the law, establishing a blue line between a police culture incapable of policing itself when single incidents of force and theft have become the rule, as everybody—except the cameras of the public—looks the other way. Continue reading Jumping the Thin Blue Line: Police, Death and Justice
Not protesters but the system of American justice is morally and intellectually out of control. Justice is in the hands of vigilantes who are brutes intent on robbing liberty without fear of rebuke, and America is proving false to its own promise, indifferent and deaf to its whirlwinds of cruelty. Much of America revels instead in the brutish delight that shines in its inner soul, as it calls others demons and reveals how it has lost its reverence for providence or truth.
With blood on its hands, it has no legitimacy lecturing the aggrieved about safety or destruction, when it has proven it will not protect the lives of youth unarmed, when its lust for killing spreads unchecked to every border, when a single prosecutor cloaked as an agent of authority manipulates the system and calls its darkest evils fair play, taking a measure of time to display a sentiment of contempt and arrogance, putting a default on liberty without life and improvement. Power pretends concessions as it silently approves citizens’ peril by emptying life from souls lying still against curbstones—bodies left in plain view for all to see the pride of termination taken in the kill and the madness of this accruing demand and the political taste for blood, blood to gratify an exasperated illogic, that bullets weighed on the scale of human powers make some unworthy and inferior, and that their general dislike warrants this impression and sanction of foul play.
Michael Brown’s death was a modern, “justified” lynching. Months after, his killer is uncharged.
Focus in: the local prosecutor, his father a police officer killed by a black civilian, his mother a police department clerk, his family still serving on the force, should have been immediately removed for a special prosecutor. The Governor failed to do so.
This prosecutor then took his knowledge of the system and created a secret jury that tried guilt and determined innocence before charges were brought. The roles of the participants reversed and switched, the grand jury did not take up the matter of guilt for trial, but began to try, by its impressions and its unchallengeable decision, whether the killer of Michael Brown, a police officer on duty, was innocent.
The prosecutor pressed the case and made clear the impression that Michael Brown’s killer had committed no crime. He did not present a bill of indictment to the grand jury. He never specified any offense—manslaughter or murder—or any degree—recklessness, negligence, maliciousness, intent—he as prosecutor supported by law, evidence or testimony of the killer’s actions or guilt.
In putting “all” of the evidence before the grand jury, the prosecutor actually selected what the grand jury would see in secret, changed its function, and presented the killer’s defense. This prosecutor went one step further. He made the case for the defense before an indictment or trial, by relinquishing the role of prosecutor as an advocate and adversary protecting the rights of the people. In his abdication, he led the jury to protect the rights of the accused by rules of procedure, by questioning testimony, and by avoiding a rigorous presentation of both sides that a trial would bring.
To show how far off course was this prosecutor’s revolt, Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia disagrees with his ambitious use of the grand jury, as Justice Scalia firmly spelled out the role and purpose of the grand jury’s proceedings in a 1992 case (United States v. Williams), cited by ThinkProgress:
Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of years.
It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.
This prosecutor instead paraded and coddled witnesses for the defendant (openly, and publicly calling those who disagreed liars and persons who “made stuff up!”). He let the killing officer testify for hours, and he avoided challenging or probing or any adversarial role—when it was beyond the scope and not the role of the grand jury to hear the officer’s statement in the first place!
One of the “believable” witnesses wrote in his diary that he always called black people “niggers,” including, according to his handwritten diary, the day he witnessed the shooting!
But the key moments come when the killer police officer himself testifies before the grand jury in secret, although the transcript is now released and public. It shows how a skilled, deft prosecutor disobeys his oath of office, abandons his role, and engages by discourse in a legal enterprise of shameless hypocrisy to take the evil and guilt away from a wrongful death.
Consider a few minor examples: think of the size of a car window, its height from the ground. Is it credible to believe that a 6’4″ man can strike blows through a car window and travel through an interior space restricted and obstructed by a steering wheel, to render his killer nearly unconscious by striking his right cheek? Not the left cheek, the side that actually faces the window, but the right cheek, the side of the face away from the window, which is turned and not positioned well for the direct impact of a punch, “a full swing.” The limited redness and swelling in the photograph and its wide area indicate the killer’s testimony is open to question—and doubt. The prosecutor raised none and asked for no explanation, despite the major inconsistency.
Oh, and why not roll the window up? Trapping Michael Brown’s arm?
If this minor description raises questions from common sense and appears to show exaggeration (or lying), how reliable will the killer police officer’s other statements be, especially when compared to eyewitnesses, one of whom was next to the man he shot dead?
In the middle of a fight with a police officer, would you, as the officer described, turn to a friend and say, “Here, hold these,” passing over a pack of cigarillos? Is this credible or surreal?
And from the novels of Herman Melville and the tradition of racial stereotyping, the twice-shot youth, “bulking up,” making a step or a hop from a disputed distance, is stuck by the final bullets that end his life, although he was known to be unarmed.
Well, maybe not. After fighting in the car, running away, being hit by bullets, the killer officer says, he appeared to be reaching (or reached) into his waistband (of his basketball shorts). Other witnesses, like his friend standing next to him, say it did not happen. His hands remained in view, either raised or at his sides. But the prosecutor says they “make stuff up.” No gun or weapon was found. Twelve shots were fired. One person died.
How was that death handled by the local police, fellow officers and colleagues of the killer, according to grand jury testimony, released after its decision? The Washington Post reports:
When Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.
Local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene.
Injuries to Wilson’s head caused by punches he said were thrown by Brown were photographed by a local detective at the Fraternal Order of Police building.
Maybe some people who testified did make “stuff” up.
The killer police officer told detectives at the scene he fired one shot from inside the car; before the grand jury, with the benefit and knowledge of physical evidence, confronted by the forensics, he remembered firing twice.
Critical of social media for questioning the killer’s account (Wilson has said he would do it again), the hideous prosecutor revolted law and understanding by releasing transcripts that left the no hope for justice from the state, and even shares how he suborned justice by its own hand; by the paradox of evil and choice that lies at the justice system’s crossroads. The prosecutor’s horrible choices failed to obtain an indictment, but he succeeded by his forfeit. Then he took a half-hour of live national television to indict the rest of us. Continue reading How a Killer Got Away with Murder
There are times when words aren’t heard; their sense is lost, drowned in pain and anger. In our deafness, we only know how to blame. We have forgotten how to heal. We are no longer able to hear. The Sisyphean landslide has burnished and buried our ears’ common sense.
What should we be listening to? In America, the police and many citizens should be listening because American communities are not war zones; the police mission has no inherent right to kill in order to protect. Petty crimes should not involve the loss of life and should not be turned into confrontations and threats that lead to deaths.
Somebody should have been listening to a collective national consciousness of grief and anger that began to break through on the national stage with the death of Trayvon Martin; the death of the unarmed teen Jordan Davis, who never got out of the car through which the bullets entered as the car was speeding away; the death of Eric Garner in front of a Long Island store, whose death was ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office. There are other cases, lesser known, but well known in local communities.
There are grievances that are historic. In Ferguson, the Justice Department has been told of a 2009 beating by police in which the beating victim was charged with destruction of government property—because his blood spattered onto police uniforms.
Some have pointed to the lack of respect for law and authority that exists within these communities or in the minds of those killed. Few commentators talk about the lack of respect for these communities by police and others; where too often the risk management of police-suspect confrontation ends in death—often with the victim unarmed and dying from multiple bullet wounds. Continue reading Drowning in Pain and Anger
By its nature, a rule produces a reaction which can go in either direction, toward compliance or resistance. The NRA, by its nature, resists all gun rules. It consistently demands extreme freedoms (yes, even freedoms can be extreme!) to own and buy and sell the most dangerous weapons of death available to American citizens. Its strategy to resist rules and regulations has been to wrap guns in the flag, and leverage its ideology with cash from supporters and gun manufacturers. So in the NRA view, guns are no longer thought of a commercial product. They are extensions of the Constitution. The constitutional protections afforded ownership, in the NRA view, should be extended to the marketplace. Background checks, equipment limits, and other rules are seen as interfering with the end result of ownership. In the NRA world, not only is ownership constitutionally protected, the marketplace should be unregulated.
Is a constitutional right abridged if a marketplace connected to that right is regulated? Is the right to own a gun mirrored in the right to buy and sell? More importantly, doesn’t the Constitution protect citizens in a way that they can be free from the intentional and unintentional dangers associated with the use of guns? Does the government have the right under the Constitution to pass laws that make me, you, and others less likely to die, singularly and en masse, at the hands of an instrument that others see as the source of the defense of life and freedom? Should the risk associated with guns be greater for some than for others? Is that risk mitigated or increased if we all own guns?
Of course, cars kill people, too. Society has inherent risks. Yet a study released last May by the Washington-based Violence Policy Center found gun deaths actually exceeded car deaths in ten states in 2009. Bloomberg News reported this will be true as a national statistic by 2015! As the numbers of cars on streets and roads increased, public policy, focused on safety (seat belts, enforcement of driving under the influence laws at the local level, improved safety equipment by auto makers, child seats) have saved lives. Deaths from auto fatalities diminished by 22 percent in just five years, from 2005 to 2010. Dramatic proof of the good use of public policy!
But can parallel effective public policy be crafted to save lives when tied to the one instrument whose ownership involves not only fun, sports and collecting, but also involves a latent but inherent right to kill, even if in the name of public and personal safety and the Constitution?
Research is one way of looking at these questions to determine the impact of policy on gun violence deaths and injuries. Gun violence ranges from suicide (52 percent of all suicides) to mass spree killings, growing more common and commanding public attention. Best estimates (probably slightly understated) say 87 people die per day from gun violence. (I have also seen dramatically larger estimates. Whatever the number, a problem, by fact and comparison exists.) Can policy reduce this number?
In the debate over policy, let’s not forget women are on the front lines. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says 58 percent of domestic violence homicides committed against women involve a male intimate acquaintance using a gun.
An older study by two Harvard professors found the US has the highest rate of domestic violence gun murders—82 percent of total murders of an aggregate of 25 high-income nations, while having only 32 percent of the aggregate female population. Every study, every statistic indicates that women are at risk from gun deaths in situations of domestic violence and that the risk is not lessened by gun ownership by women in the household.
In fact, for women the home is the most dangerous source of gun violence and murder against women. Guns of all types are statistically more likely to be used to kill women in their households than to prevent crime or personal attacks (self-defense). Continue reading Working Rules
“Paradox” is often a word that appears in this column; it’s a fancy way of saying truth embodies its own opposite—in other words, there are exceptions to our most cherished beliefs, our proudest achievements, to every law, rule and principle, to mathematical models and even divine intervention, as there is one historically reported exception to the irreversible finality of death.
But in the national debate about guns and death, the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes no exceptions. They claim truth without paradox. Their leadership believes and expresses confidence the Second Amendment doesn’t provide for any exceptions. Since no law can stop the use of guns for murder, there should be no laws. Since, in their judgment, old laws were ineffective, there is no need for new laws. Since laws will have loopholes and workarounds, what’s the point? Their logic of default hides a fatal flaw found in the paradox of their absolutes.
That paradox is found not in their faith in the gun but in the law. They think the Second Amendment is set in stone. It’s not. As with all bad law, it can be repealed. In fact, I will raise the ante and hereby call for its repeal. It wouldn’t be the first amendment to be repealed.
Whether successful or not, it opens another political front and will force the NRA to divide its energy and resources. The call for repeal mimics the successful strategy of going after policy issues by swinging for the home run—by going after the law which is the context for the policy. The Second Amendment threatens my safety. I have been a victim of robbery at gun point. The right to bear arms has resulted in 1500+ gun connected deaths since the Newtown incident. This “cherished” ideal is tarnished. I call for the Second Amendment’s repeal. Continue reading Repeal the Second Amendment!
I just finished my new ebook! Writing and editing it made me wonder, is the American eye reliable? Do we observe the telltale details that are flashes of epiphany, the discovery of meaning and insight lodged inside of the blinders of our own vision? Why is it so hard to put down old versions of reality and tuck them away? When’s the last time any of us had a breakthrough? When I look at the media, especially, everybody seems stuck. How can we be more creative and how can that creativity be made trustworthy and true?
That challenge is hidden in my posts each week. Writing is a creative frame that improves my aim. Affirming the past can introduce depth and perspective or leave an idea mired in original error. If I extract an idea, it should not be a misleading “gotcha;” it should illuminate insights.
No-tax-pledge king Grover Noquist demonstrated a “gotcha” error last week that was blind stupidity at its worst. In a Twitter post, he called for higher appreciation for the policy views of House Speaker John Boehner. His reason: Boehner was elected and Obama was a lame duck. This ballooning mockery diminishes our democracy. And finally blinds our own eye. We only see the jeering. The good is damned by dire warnings, threats, fears, demands intended to defeat hope.
No hope existed in hundreds of Twitter posts calling the President a “nigger” and expressing searing outrage that his appearance at Newtown’s memorial for the children and adults of the Sandy Hook school killings interfered with their watching the scheduled weekly NFL game, as the networks covered the memorial rather the rivalry. One post accused the President of making the grief worse, as many parents (and many at home) cried at his words. So blind was their hatred, the posters failed to be moved by this powerful collective moment in our nation’s monumental loss. The deaths of innocent children in a small town’s school was an event they knew—it was on their screens!—but football was king! The President, also the nation’s mourner-in-chief, was assailed with America’s oldest epithet of race—one with a long. demeaning, nasty history containing its own memory and events of violence. But the label blinded his comfort as he stood to speak to grieving families and a grieving nation, ending with a roll call of the names of the child and adults lost, intoned one by one. Continue reading The Void of Blind Comfort