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
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?