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
A guest post, reproduced by kind permission of the author.
It is with great sadness in my heart that I write this blog post. There is an epidemic happening right in your backyard; police brutality. Police are continuing to shoot first and ask questions later, and it is tearing this country apart. Beyond taking lives, they are not being held responsible for their heinous crimes. Something must be done. Here are 8 steps that the United States can take to bring police brutality to an end.
First, here is a video of the last words of 11 people that were killed by police. It will shock you.
1) Investigations Led by Independent Prosecutors.
Incidences of accused police brutality, not only resulting in death or injury to suspects, should be investigated by an independent prosecutor, because district attorneys rely on the police department in their districts every day for information, evidence and testimony. The police department and the district attorney have to have trust and cooperation between each other. Some district attorneys may not prosecute to their full potential because they are afraid to alienate the police. If an independent prosecutor investigated crimes internal to the police department, then there would be an unbiased investigation that would result in more incidences of charges of police brutality being brought to trial.
2) Defunding of Police Departments by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government could defund police departments that are in violation of good practices. This would not completely take away the funding for the police department, as they receive funding from other places. This would not be a permanent solution; it would be temporary until they complied with fair practice. There needs to be a consequence for departments that do not follow the rules and incentives, other than just being humane, to be a fair police department.
3) End to the “Broken Window” Policy.
Localized only to New York City, there should be an end to the “Broken Window” policy. This is a policy that states that every small crime is treated as an entry level crime to bigger crime. This means that anyone doing something as petty as jumping the subway turnstile can then be arrested for a misdemeanor crime as if they were committing a more serious crime. Strictly enforcing minor violations does not deter more serious crime but simply harasses and antagonizes residents of high-crime neighborhoods.
4) End to the “Stop and Frisk” Policy.
End the “Stop and Frisk” policy in New York City. This policy allows the police to stop and frisk anybody in New York City that they feel should be stopped, not because they are breaking the law. The “Stop and Frisk” policy creates racial profiling, suspicion, resentment, a sense of unfairness and stereotyping.
5) End to the “Blue Wall of Silence.”
Put an end to the “Blue Wall of Silence.” This is the thin blue line. Cops do not inform or testify against fellow police officers because there is a culture of sticking together no matter what. Cops feel like they will be violating or turning against their “brothers” if they speak up against injustices. Also, a lot of cops do not speak up against their fellow officers when they see an instance of police brutality on the job. They do not question each other’s actions to put on a united front.
6) Cut off Supply of Surplus Military Gear to Police Departments.
End the supply of surplus military gear to police departments across the United States. If the government creates a war zone, it will be a war zone. It is using unnecessary force on society for police to advance on protestors as if they were a bunch of terrorists. The people are not the enemy; we are society and the goal of police should be to protect citizens, not suppress them into submission. This only increases the mentality of brutality. Continue reading 8 Steps to End Police Brutality in America: Stop the Epidemic, by Fianna McClain
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
A favorite couplet of W.H. Auden explains much of the world’s confusion:
The situation of our time
Surrounds us like a baffling crime.
The confusion and crime is in the global circular firing squad which is supposed to function for political sanity. The one that insists everybody should be in, especially, its titular leader, the United States. US President Barack Obama is in disfavor because he won’t spend the dollars or spin the wheel to keep the rigged roulette scheme turning out jackpots that widen the gap between rich and poor. A host of non-state conflicts see refugee populations growing, education disrupted for a generation of children, possessions lost, security and community dashed as civilians become the targets of violence financed by unseen sources.
Its secret fountain of supply is a global slosh of wealth that creeps into the mean to spread death and violence. Despite the intent of good works, wealth, even at its best, misplaces priorities.
Take Bill Gates. Ever in search of the perfect, waterless, composting, energy generating, germ-free toilet, he roams the world while an entire continent, Africa, does not manufacture medical supplies or drugs or infection control gowns—all important basic weapons needed to confront immediate, recurring threats of diseases with more devastating consequences to the social fabric that the lack of sewers in rural villages.*
Prof. Michael Hoffman explains a solar powered toilet that operates on less than 5 cents a day and generates electricity.
I agree with his foundation’s statement that “Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year.” But many of those deaths can be prevented through education programs, combining sanitation with another top priority, learning, and getting effective results. Sanitation education would cover a wider range of habits and health conditions, for an even greater impact.
The Ebola outbreak highlights the extreme difference in priorities related to global health. Ebola is killing health professionals, daily diminishing the ranks of Africa’s skilled caregivers, not quickly trained or easily replaced, all for the want of simple infection protection gear—gloves, booties, gowns, masks. All imported.
A continent that is the home of many major contagious infections doesn’t have a stockpile infection gowns or a plant to met this basic need to save lives and reduce the spread of death among civilians and key personnel. Continue reading Surround and Surrender
I don’t know any members of the one percent, but my daughter does. She’s my eyes and ears in their camp. She’s been trained since birth to observe, synthesize and project at multiple levels, with the virtue and creativity of the human experience at the center of her assessments. We complain about the violations of privacy via our phones and e-mails, but the massive collection of our electronic imprint has no meaning without the hands and minds of people—and we should be focused on their intent along their methods.
History shows that the end game matters. And the goals of the game. I have always been less concerned about surveillance round-ups and wrongful prosecutions than I have about willful prosecutions—the kind I see in Florida and other states, where often those in the cross-hairs don’t reach the courtrooms.
Every police department now has the firepower—and mentality—of a paramilitary unit on rogue missions with a wink and little oversight from the state. New York City had the widest net, but other cities occupied neighborhoods in the name of crime which never seemed to drop. And when it did, it was rarely related to the local version of stop-and-frisk. Neighborhoods don’t require mass round-ups or the concentration camps supposedly being built somewhere in the northwest. Local rogue missions hide behind a screen of local crime and stereotypes; it parallels the gangs; it spirals until communities in the cities are isolated, targeted by legal and illegal operators until they spin out of control and the mechanisms of group actions required for safety and safe passage are broken down. Recording these cell phone calls didn’t improve security or domestic tranquility for many older working neighborhoods in urban areas.
In fact, I wish Florida had an accessible electronic database of calls in the case of Trayvon Martin. A quick check would have shown calls to his father, who lived in the complex where he was walking, and that he was talking to a friend about the usual teenage things. Maybe electronic surveillance would have exonerated him.
It’s a fantasy—and a stretch—but you see my point: the rapid accumulation of police and citizen armed confrontations with other citizens is increasing, and the alarm is silent. We are monitoring the wrong things. But America habitually looks the wrong way.
Turn your attention to the states for a moment. Both Florida and Virginia have developed state standards that are set at different levels by race and ethnicity. Asians and whites have to meet higher standards than blacks and Hispanics. Hear the outrage? No? Learning itself is being re-segregated by developing a two-tier system for knowledge, even when students attend the same schools. Discrimination, in the form of inequality, is officially mandated by the state.
In the meantime, in some systems, upper-income families are receiving vouchers to be used at charter, private, and parochial schools. This takes money away from public schools by allowing tax dollars to be assigned to the child rather than the system. It’s a plan that kicks the poor. Continue reading Life After the One Percent
Have we lost our way? I don’t think so. But we are definitely missing the point. There is a body of wisdom and mistakes that we have accumulated from past millennia that tell us about living, about love and despair. There are voices old and new outside of policy makers, practitioners, and others trained to stick to scripts of talking points and scripts that are great for looking at the components of issues but are at a loss for new ideas or how to use the wisdom of old. Those voices fall short when confronting new challenges outside of their reach and training.
In the face of fear and grief, of hurt and pain, we jump on the visible, the available. We look for single source, sensible cause and solution. I often see people blame Barney Frank for the housing bubble, blaming one man for the out-of-control practices that defined an industry printing faux money in every state, selling its junk as derivatives, backed by thousands of untraceable pieces valued at billions. I see others who ignore the global recession and Europe’s retreat into a second recession with its rise in regional unemployment, and blame President Obama even as the US leads the recovery. Especially, I see virtually no one in our public conversation who provides a sources of new ideas and facts. So we return to the sound bites of old speech (as distinct from ancient speech). Now, we are at a loss. What do we do?
The killing of innocent children breaks our hearts. We fail to understand how or why.
I think we miss a major point of explanation. The killings had to do with the most ancient of forces, evil. Not evil the adjective, the dark, angry monster of the movies and novels, not the paralyzing fear that exists in many minds, nor the ugliness assigned to its carnage; but evil the noun. The thing itself.
Surprisingly, evil is a small force. As a thing, it is closer to a quark or Higgs boson than a hurricane. Think about small forces for a minute: they have incredible power. The transistor and miniaturization of electronics unleashed the tech revolution—and put music, voice, images, and the globe in your hand. But the invisible holds a darkness. The most deadly weapons that create the most massive destruction are tied to small forces—the explosion or implosion of the particles of atoms. The most deadly diseases are global epidemics linked and spread by wee little viruses which rapidly transmit their illnesses, killing thousands daily, in irreversible agony.
Metaphysics says parallels in the material world are signs for things in the world of the spirit. The parallels of destruction and plague point to evil actually being a small force. Evil is also small because it cannot sustain itself; it replicates through other means. That’s a fail safe that adds to our confusion! Because evil goes and comes without our knowing, and ebbs and flows, we deny its role and miss the steps to take to guard against it. We think of it being associated with individuals and lone incidents, but its expression and form is social.
Why is evil ever present if it is not able to sustain itself? It is efficient at finding hosts, yet follows no patterns, and has no preferences. Ironically, it is a creative force, not in terms of ends but means. Evil requires a host. To find a host, it can access pathways and levels in ways that are the non-repeatable real numbers of the dark side. We look for patterns and signs, try to trace its logic, and miss the point that evil absolutely has no preferences for its means. Because of its nature, it can be routed through time and space by very long or quick random changes, and use conditions and people well within the range of social norms. Think about breast cancer, the randomness with which it affects women. All ages, income, race. (With some statistical preferences, but none absolute.)
One of evil’s strengths is its facile randomness, swift and slow; its impromptu shifts, its pattern not repeated, even when the ends are the same. Its randomness makes early detection hard. Without the right personnel, it’s impossible to read. Evil can’t be profiled. Continue reading Newtown: Evil May Be Its Source
It’s time for the conversation about police tactics—specifically about whether police actions against the Occupy movement have crossed the bright line. When an officer empties a canister of pepper spray on sitting, non-resisting participants from three feet away and is joined by a fellow officer as others step out of range, the paradox at the heart of police work–how the expectation for order translates into enforcement that preserves rights and freedoms—needs review. Police spokespersons cite such use of chemical force as appropriate, note that those assembled have been warned and put on notice, that individuals may experience random injuries if crowds resist or ignore police orders, but more than constitutional issues flare as buttons are pushed and batons are raised.
Taking place is a radical and aggressive shift in police attitudes and approach about what constitutes appropriate force. Streaming evidence shows repeated surges of violence by unidentified officers who wade into groups and appear to take a perverse delight or indifference to inflicting punishment and pain on unarmed citizens that goes above and beyond what the job or situation calls for. Their departments and chiefs are calling these acts justified. So far, these acts have resulted in a military veteran receiving a traumatic brain injury, a 70-year-old former US poet laureate beaten in the ribs by a baton-wielding officer (his wife was knocked to the sidewalk), countless women being pulled by their hair, and the elderly being confronted. Pepper spray has been forced into people’s mouths. But the strongest evidence of crossing of the line is not the shocking video captures. That evidence is in the methods police have abandoned—the equipment and tactics carefully developed to control large crowds.
Harper's Weekly, New York City Draft Riots. August 1, 1863.
After the Vietnam protests, effective measures for crowd control minimized the use of violence. These tactics have been tested, refined, trained, and widely used in urban areas, but are now being shelved and ignored.
To put this into relief, focus on a single piece of equipment: the riot shield. Riot shields, used worldwide, have a two-fold purpose: to protect police from injury and assaults and to direct large, resisting crowds. Riot shields have designs adapted to specific situational demands. The shield’s material construction and even the placement of the handles are well thought out to maximize police control and protection. Most urban police departments have shields. Departments typically require every officer to be trained in their use. A phalanx of well trained police arrayed shoulder-to-shoulder with shields is a formidable force. Shields are physical, but not violent. And they reduce the use of batons, pepper spray, hand-to-hand take-downs.
Yet in many cities, police are deploying shields on a limited basis. The option, a free-wielding, self-initiated use of batons and pepper spray is reasoned as a response to an implied threat that shields were designed to manage effectively–without the violence now being associated with police actions.
The police response, that spraying participants is less risky and “standard” since bodies “don’t have handles” to move them, is disingenuous. Nursing home personnel are taught safe ways to lift and move immobile, even resisting bodies. Moving a person after he or she has been pepper sprayed is more risky than moving participants before they are sprayed. Departments are suggesting that by disobeying, the participants have taken on the risks of the deliberate and calculated hurt being meted out by individual or small groups of police acting under the cover of authority, as officers and commanders on the scene tacitly observe. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Who Shields the Occupiers?