No Violence. Strategy

The entire debacle surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown has been at once fascinating and energetic …and yet, troubling.

I am not so concerned with people, spurred by the media, concentrating on the violence, putting it down as barbaric and primitive, though it is interesting that white culture has seemingly forgotten its own history of violence. White culture, especially the law enforcement culture, has been relentless and legion in exerting violence against black people. When black people fought for the right to vote, and for the right to sit at lunch counters and to integrate facilities, white culture, with police either participating in the violence or standing by and watching it …responded with violence. The show of force in Ferguson, with police in riot gear and coming on like they were fighting in Iraq or somewhere, is not a new thing. A careful walk back through history shows disturbingly similar photos of military-like police officers standing ready to demolish groups of black people. Police, encouraged and ordered by Bull Connor, used police dogs and fire hoses on women and children when they protested racism. Police were often part of violent KKK outings that took lives of black people and many were members of the Klan themselves, as were many of the attorneys and judges that tried and heard cases of black people; that’s not something that is an opinion, it is documented history.

No, though I don’t like it, I am not so concerned with people concentrating on the violence that erupted after Mike Brown’s shooting.

What I am concerned about it this spirit of anticipation of violence if Police Officer Darren Wilson is not indicted.

Everybody in America knows that police officers are seldom held accountable for the killings that they commit. They are nearly always excused. They are allowed to shoot people and give as the excuse or reason, “I was in fear for my life,” and it’s like getting a token to go through a subway turnstile. It is highly probable that Wilson, although apparently he has a record of not being so nice to black people in his capacity as an officer ….will not be indicted.

If that happens, my prayer is there will be …not violence …but mind-blowing strategy. I am prayerful that if Wilson is not indicted, “the strategy” will go into place immediately. I am prayerful that “the strategy” will be so tough, so effective, that it will shake the economic foundations not only of Ferguson, St. Louis and the state of Missouri, but will become a threat and a wake-up call to police departments all over this country, a sign that people are fed up with police officers getting away with horrific shootings allowed them by the unbridled power they possess.

Let me say up front that yes, police officers have a tough job. They are, in many cases, “in fear for their lives.”

But it appears, from the work that I have done with Ruby Sales and The Spirit House Project, that in many of these shooting deaths, the police have exerted their power to kill…and have gone unscathed and unaccountable.

People in power don’t care an iota about the emotions of other people. Their quest is to maintain and perhaps increase their power. They don’t have to worry about “the least of these” or, as Professor Obery Hendricks says in his book, “treat the needs of the people as holy.” They just do not have to care…and many times, too many, they do not.

So, the police officers and police departments don’t care if there are weeping mothers and fathers left in the aftermath of a shooting that results in the death of an unarmed person. They don’t really even have to defend themselves half the time. They run on the myth that black people are bad, that they are lazy and will not work, and that if they were shot, they deserved it.

That feels like the spirit of a police state.

So, it really will not bother the Ferguson Police Department, or the St. Louis Police Department  if folks in Ferguson get violent if Wilson is not indicted. They almost want that kind of reaction. It is a reaction they can beat, and they know it.

No…the cities and states of this nation need to be made uncomfortable in another way. They need to feel the power of the people in another way. In Montgomery, Alabama, the bus boycott caused the bus company, downtown stores and businesses and the city to lose a little over $1 million…and that was in the 1950s. White businesses were made aware of the economic power of black people; blacks pour an inordinate amount of money into white businesses. We help make rich people richer.

Any strategy that works in this issue of police brutality, is going to be a strategy that somehow hampers normal and accepted behavior and practices. A successful strategy will put a strain on the status-quo. Street violence is just not going to be acceptable.

Even as I write this, I do not know if an effective strategy is being developed. I hope so.

It is the only thing that will get the attention of power brokers who are cocky about their power…and have no intention of changing it.

A candid observation.

Police an Uneducated Lot

I have struggled for a while, trying to “explain” what I have long observed: the vast majority of police officers are young, white men…with little more than a high school education.

Not only that. Many of them come from all-white environments; many have never known a black person before they come onto their respective police forces. All they have are the myths about black people that were begun long ago and which are perpetuated by their families, their churches, the media.

They come onto the force thinking black people are just bad.

And because they know few, if any, black people, they come on the force afraid. Black people are an “unknown” that they have been taught should be feared.

Honestly, I think that’s where the impulse to shoot first and ask questions later comes from. White people in general in this nation have been taught that black people are bad; that’s called “criminalization.” And they have been taught, albeit subliminally in many cases, that black people are less than human. That’s called “dehumanization.”

But there is something about our law enforcement system that has been ignored: these young guys (and women) have very little education. They are not made to take sociology or psychology. They are not made to study the history of police relations with minorities. They are not required to be licensed, like a psychologist or doctor or teacher.

They simply go to the police academy. They go through a kind of basic training. They are physically fit, yes. But they are lacking in social skills. They are not taught about the neighborhoods into which they will venture. They are made physically fit; they pass the qualifying exam, then are given a badge and a gun. They are given permission to kill. And they do, largely because they are afraid.

They DO put their lives in jeopardy, but they put the lives of black, brown and poor people into jeopardy as well. They do not know us, black people. They do not know how our parents have struggled to make a living – much like their parents did. They do not know, do not believe, that black people have “family values.” They just know what they have been taught: that black people, especially black men, are bad news.

Georg Wilhelm Frederich Hegel, a popular and widely studied Western philosopher and theologian, wrote something that made my spirit roll up. He wrote: “It is the essential principle of slavery that man has not yet attained self-consciousness of his freedom, and consequently sinks down to a mere Thing – an object of no value. Among Negroes moral sentiments are weak or, more strictly, non-existent.” (The Philosophy of History). 

Black people were not humans; they were things, and he, a person who theologians and teachers and preachers would turn for knowledge, would write much that supported the notion that black people were inhuman. He wrote, “What signify these races to us? Who cares particularly for the Negro, or Hottentot or the Kaffir – Destined by the nature of their race to run, like animals, a certain limited course of existence, it matters little how their extinction is brought about.”

How in the world can the white race, burdened as it is by such racist underpinnings, be expected to rise above that – except that they be educated? The history is there. We are not taught it in school, but it is there. It is undeniable. It is there, in black and white, stories of how white people have systematically, and with government and law enforcement support,  decimated, killed and harassed black people in this nation. To our credit, we have not given up …but the struggle has been immense.

What would be the difference in police departments if the new recruits HAD to take sociology, psychology, history? What would be the difference in their behavior as they learned the critical difference between myth and reality? I would bet that for some, the fear would be abated. At the worst, they would go into black communities armed not only with guns…but with knowledge. The mere presence of black people might not terrify them so much. They might listen …and not attack, as they are so often wont to do.

Education does something to one’s spirit. It sucks up ignorance and makes room for growth. It opens eyes and provides answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.

Police officers, young white boys just out of high school, need to be educated.

A candid observation …

The Saga of Thomas Eric Duncan

OK. I am trying not to be bothered, concerned…angry. But I am failing.

I am all of the above.

Thomas Eric Duncan died of the Ebola virus this week, despite being in America where, supposedly, one can receive the best health care. He came here showing no symptoms. When he got sick, he went to a hospital. He told them he had recently arrived here from Liberia. Didn’t matter. They didn’t admit him. They sent him home with antibiotics.

Kinda like, “take an aspirin and call me in three days.”

He went home and came back a couple of days later. Only then did someone think he might have Ebola. He was admitted …but he wasn’t given any of the experimental drugs the two previous Ebola patients received. Nor was he given a blood transfusion, using the blood of people who had the disease like the patient in Nebraska had.

No, for a week, he really received no drug or treatment that was specifically shown to have helped beat Ebola in other persons.

His systems began to shut down. He was put on a ventilator and then on dialysis.

And then he died.

And I am angry.

I am trying NOT to think that he was given different treatment because he was black. Someone said he didn’t have a social security card/number, or health insurance.

Maybe that’s why he was sent home.

Who knows? Well, that’s not such a good question – because SOMEBODY knows.

When health care people finally figured out that he might have Ebola, his apartment was …targeted.

I could not believe my eyes as the media splashed images of the apartment building where he had lived, along with the name of the complex, the address of the complex …and the door to his actual apartment.

His family was quarantined for a number of days. That’s good – except they couldn’t go out and nobody could get in. His family said they had nothing to eat.

America?

Some people immediately throw off the suspicion that some of this disparate health care was because of racism.

It’s easier to deny racism’s existence than to come face to face with it, and its consequences.

Thomas Eric Duncan should not have died. He went to the hospital early in the onset of the disease. He told the hospital that he had recently arrived here from Liberia.

He should at least have been placed in isolation for observation.

But nothing.

Yes, I am angry. I am trying not to be …but I am failing.

A candid…and personal …observation.

Justice Denied

As an African-American, I find myself ever wishing and hoping for …justice for our people killed by law enforcement officers…but it almost never comes.

Yesterday, the officers who shot and killed John Crawford in a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, were not indicted. In spite of the fact that Crawford was holding a toy gun in a store where it is OK to carry guns …he was gunned down and his killers will go free. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/john-crawford-iii_n_5876574.html)

The names of the officers are, by the way, Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Dean Williams.

There is always “something” that we the public “don’t get.” There’s always a “reason” why African-Americans are gunned down and killed by police, and the “reason’ is enough to clear the officers of any wrongdoing.  The grand jury must have seen something, heard the “something” that we, the public, “don’t get.” They found that the officers’ actions were justified. No excessive force…

We in the African-American community have seen police work in our neighborhoods; we have seen and heard the harassment, the taunting and daring officers give in our communities. They do not protect us. They seem to feel we don’t deserve protection.

Instead, they goad our people, especially our young people …and then blame them for any altercation that might ensue or, ultimately, any shooting death that might occur.

When Rodney King was attacked by police officers years ago, I, for one, rejoiced because the beating was caught on tape. Now, I thought, the people will see how police treat African-Americans. They will be arrested, I again thought erroneously. They will lose their jobs. They will be held accountable.

But the justice I thought would be a no-brainer did not come. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing …and the African-American community in Los Angeles went up in flames.

I have been holding my breath as the grand jury in Ferguson has been out, considering the future of Darren Wilson. Officer Darren Wilson. There is nothing in me that believes he will be indicted.

But in the case of the officers who shot John Crawford, I thought, just like I thought when Rodney King was beaten, that surely these guys who shot Crawford would be made to answer for their actions. That would have been justice. But, as usual, it is justice …denied.

When Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam killed Emmett Till there was a trial …but it was a farce. An all-white jury found the two white assailants innocent…and took only minutes to come to their “verdict.”  Later, they arrogantly confessed in an article which appeared in Look Magazine. They were arrogant, cocky, unrepentant…Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who insisted that the world see what these men had done to her son, never got justice. What agony she must have felt for the rest of her life.

I would imagine that the officers in Crawford’s death are likewise feeling on top of the world today. Arrogant, Cocky. Ready to get back to work, feeling like they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

People have said to African-Americans, “Wait. Don’t jump to conclusions before “the facts” are known. Let the system work.”

Thing is, we’ve been waiting for “the system” to work in our favor for some time. Mothers and fathers, wives and children, have been robbed of justice in the deaths of their loved ones which has come at the hands of “law enforcement” for literally decades in this nation. In addition to weeping over the loss of their loved one, they have wept and are continuing to weep over the fact that the assailants have been cleared of wronging and are free. I call that justice …denied.

“The law” in America is held up as sacrosanct. If one is truly American, one obeys “the law.” And if one doesn’t, one should expect to be punished.

But that proclamation seems only to hold for certain situations. White people in the South ignored “the law” when the federal government ordered schools to be integrated after Brown vs Board of Education.  Some governors closed schools rather than integrate them. “The law” didn’t apply to them, they decided, …and they were none the worse for it.

Word: Whenever a person or a family has justice denied, there is deep pain, then deep frustration, followed by depression…and then anger. The anger amongst African-Americans is bubbling, America. Can’t you feel it?

I can.

A candid observation …

 

 

“The Process” Can’t Be Trusted

I don’t think most white folks will get it – why black folks are so distrustful of police officers, law enforcement in general, and “the process.”

I have listened to people talk about how black people need to let “the process” work in the Michael Brown shooting.  They cannot understand why it is black people in general do not seem interested one bit in doing that.

They cannot – or will not – understand that “the process” has never worked for black people.

At this point, Officer Darren Wilson has been protected. That’s “the process.” The case is before a grand jury. That’s “the process.” There has been an attempt to smear Michael Brown’s character, even as Officer Wilson has been protected. That’s to let the public know that whatever Wilson did, the force he used was not excessive, but “justified,” as Wilson was “in fear for his life.”

That’s “the process.”

In this nation, “the process” has been so often skewed against black people. In spite of the Constitution saying that all Americans are due a trial with a jury of their peers, few black people have had that. No, so often, all-white juries have been assigned to cases involving black people, and too often have rendered a “guilty” verdict, in spite of evidence that has been fraught with problems, or in spite of prosecutors and/or judges who have let racial prejudice be the driver in their presentations, rather than a quest for justice.

Henry McCollom and his brother, Leon Brown, sat for 30 years in prisons in North Carolina for a murder they did not commit. DNA evidence proving they had nothing to do with the murders – something they said from the beginning – but their lives are basically gone, thanks to “the process.”  (http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-death-row-inmates-released-mccollum-brown-20140903-story.html).

When Emmett Till was murdered, his murderers were arrested, yes, but an all-white jury acquitted them. The jury took less than an hour to acquit Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam …and they were so arrogant that they gave a complete confession to LIFE Magazine after they were set free. “The process” cleared them to go on with their lives.

“The process” has been responsible for seeing young African-Americans hauled off to prison with long sentences for things white kids get away with. Our jails are filled with non-violent, primarily African-American men and women. “The process” obviously worked against them.

In cases where black people have been killed by police officers, those officers have been more often than not let go. One of the officers who was involved in the shooting death of John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio at the beginning of August is already back on the job. George Zimmerman is free. It took forever for “the process” to even think that Zimmerman needed to be arrested. The “Central Park Five” were swept into the process and convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. They maintained their innocence from the beginning,  but those who helped sustain “the process” pushed them through as though they were guilty nonetheless.

“The process” does that frequently when it comes to black people. Those who support “the process” seem to believe that black people are guilty unless someone can prove otherwise. They assume that if a black person is accused of wrongdoing, he or she is probably guilty. “The process” then works to put “the guilty” away.

That means that oftentimes, the killers of black people go free, or that those accused of bothering a white person get put away. In the case of Trayvon Martin, “the process” made it easy to show that Martin was a criminal who deserved what he got.  George Zimmerman is free. Meanwhile,  Marissa Alexander, who killed nobody but merely fired warning shots to fend off her abusive husband, faces up to 60 years in prison for what she did. “The process” has not leaned in her favor at all.

So, you’ll excuse us, world, if we cannot trust “the process.” From the beginning of this Mike Brown tragedy, “the system” has worked to make sure “the process” protects the police officer while it vilifies the victim. That’s what “the process” has historically done with black people.

A candid observation …

 

When Justice Doesn’t Come

I was listening to John Walsh, the man whose son was murdered years ago and who has hosted television programs concentrating on “getting the bad guy,” including “America’s Most Wanted,” and now, on CNN, “The Hunt.”

Because of the pain he suffered as a parent of a murdered child, Walsh’s quest to “get the bad guy” is a passion. He has lived and tasted pain; he has lived through and tasted the justice system. His six-year-old son, Adam, was abducted from his home in 1981 and was later found murdered. Though authorities determined that Adam’s murderer was a man named Ottis Toole, for Walsh there was no justice; Toole was never charged with the crime and he died while in prison serving time for other crimes.

The lack of justice left a bitter taste in Walsh’s mouth and spirit, which it should. He is a parent and he has suffered the most grievous loss any parent could endure.

In his program Saturday evening, he talked about how the parents of the case that was being featured feel. They want justice, Walsh said. They want the killer of their child to be brought to justice. And …they want that though their child has been dead for some 20 years.

A parent’s need for justice is palpable …and it doesn’t diminish with time.

So, why is it that American society, including and most especially the justice system, cannot seem to appreciate or respect the need for African-American parents to want justice in the deaths of their children?

Much is made about black-on-black crime, but the truth is, when it is known who has shot and killed another person in the black community, that person is more often than not made to pay for his/her offense immediately. Those persons are likely thrown into jail as soon as they are caught; they have trials, they are convicted and are put away for a long time, if not sentenced to death.

But in the case of black people being shot by police officers or white vigilantes, it seems that justice seldom comes. It happens far too often that the victim is blamed for having been shot, and the perpetrator goes free. In the instances where the Justice Department gets into the fray and investigates the cases, the product of their investigation is a long time coming.

And so the parents of these young people are left to deal not only with their grief, but also with the lack of justice for their loved one. It makes them angry. John Walsh in fact said that: that parents of murdered loved ones get angry when the alleged killer is not held accountable.

The alleged killer of Mike Brown is still being protected; it is not at all a sure thing that Police Officer Darren Wilson will be indicted, or, if he goes to trial, that he will be convicted. The whole Brown situation has caused a seething rage to continue to bubble in the spirit of the black community. From the way Brown was allegedly shot, to the fact that he was left lying in the street for four hours after being killed, to the fact that his alleged involvement in a crime before the shooting was released BEFORE the name of the police officer was released ..and that only after a week of not getting the officer’s identification released…has contributed to the long-held belief of black people that for us, there is no justice …and it causes deep anger.

If Brown were the only unarmed person killed by a white police officer or vigilante or security guard, the pain would not be so great; the rage would not be boiling, as it is, like lava in an active volcano. No, Brown is only one of a long list of people who have been killed in this way, with their killers being set free.

Remarley Graham was murdered in his home two years ago by police, but his family still does not know what happened to him and the officers in the case have not been indicted. We all know that George Zimmerman was let go; Mark O’Meara was able to convince the jury that Martin’s death was his own doing, in spite of what, to parents and many observers, seemed to be compelling evidence that Zimmerman was out of line in following the unarmed teen and confronting him, probably scaring him to death. The police officer-killer of John Crawford III, unarmed and shot in a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, is back on his job even while his family has been fighting to get details of all that happened. The police officers in Staten Island, New York, who participated in the apprehension of Eric Garner, an unarmed man, will face a Grand Jury this month – but many in the black community are holding their breath, because even though Garner’s death has been ruled a homicide, resulting from a choke-hold in which he was placed, it is not at all a sure thing that these officers will be brought to justice.

For black people, more specifically for black parents, who hurt as much as any white parent of a murdered child, there is all too frequently…no justice.

Even in the case of Emmett Till, killed in 1955, there was no justice, His killers had a trial, yes, but they were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury, in just 67 minutes. The two killers, Roy Bryant and A.W. Milam, later gave a full, arrogant confession to the murder of Till to Look Magazine.

Imagine the pain of Mamie TIll, Emmett’s mother.

Imagine the pain of the parents and loved ones of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Remarley Graham, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, John Crawford III, Eric Garner …most recently killed. There either has been no justice, in the cases where trials have been carried out, or there is anticipation and anxiety in the cases where “what to do” with the police officers who did the killings.

Walsh talked about the pain of parents whose child has been murdered. That is true.

But the pain is not limited to white parents, John Walsh. Black parents are human beings, too. They love their children …too. And they want justice for their children…too.

White America seems not to understand that. Maybe they don’t believe that black parents have feelings at all. People, many black and too many white, do believe that if a black person is shot by a police officer, he or she deserved it.

It’s a convenient way for police to get away with murder…and the reason so many black parents are nursing a grief complicated by an unjust justice system.

It makes them angry. Whenever a killer is not held accountable for his/her actions…those left behind …get angry.

You said it, John Walsh.

It’s true.

A candid observation …

 

Fear Produced Ferguson Disturbance

Police are allowed to use deadly force if they are ‘in fear for their lives.” I get that. It makes sense…

Except that when it comes to black people, it seems like police are always in fear for their lives.

Fear of black people is nothing new. Time magazine calls it “Negrophobia,” and defines it as “the unjustified fear of black people.” (http://time.com/3207307/negrophobia-michael-brown-eric-garner-and-americas-fear-of-black-people/) The article talks about phobias in general; they are “extreme aversions,” and they can cause impulsive, irrational, behavior. When I was a child, I had a phobia about bees; if I saw one, I ran. If one, God forbid, was in my car, I was prone to want to stop the car wherever it was and get out and run. My daughter has a phobia about spiders. If she even thinks she sees one, she will grab whatever is near to spray on it and will spray it until it drowns. She even bought a special vacuum cleaner which she kept near her, plugged in and ready to go, so that if she saw a spider, no matter how small, she could get her vacuum cleaner out and get rid of it.

It seems that many white people have…that kind of unnatural, unjustified fear of black people.  A friend of mine said he got onto an elevator which already had a passenger – a white woman. As soon as he got on, he said, he could see her tense up. He stayed on the other side of the elevator, so as to try to reduce her discomfort. When the elevator door opened, she darted out …only to run smack into another black man who was getting on. My friend said he thought she was going to faint. Negrophobia. We who are Negroes have seen it and felt it.

In the recent debacle in Ferguson, it felt like fear was running the agenda. Those police officers, wrapped, as they were in riot gear and equipped with military weapons, were afraid. All they saw was a sea of black faces, people whom they do not really regard as people, people whom they have not cared to try to get to know. They saw people who, they believe, are mere brutes, objects, not people, devoid of feeling, emotion and, frankly, human worth. What I saw was a group of frightened white people ready to kill “the enemy,” i.e., black people. It didn’t matter that most of them did not loot and were not armed. They were part of the “enemy camp,” to be feared as much as an Iraqi soldier might be feared in the war over there.

Brandon Hill, the author of the article in Time, wrote, “Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression.” Police, mostly white, have been given a steady dose of “black people are bad people,” as has been the general public. Many white people still, in the 21st century, have not met and do not know any black people. All they have is the myths, the sound bites and the media depiction of black people as animals, aberrant entities in this nation who, frankly, are bringing the country down. Bill O’Reilly said that the problems with black people come from “the culture.” He is, of course, inferring that black culture is deficient in and of itself, not allowing one iota for the impact of racism, poverty and general oppression on the lives of so many African-Americans. He obviously does not know the culture of this people which has sustained and strengthened them as they have fought racism in every aspect of their lives. He does not know, or care about, black fathers and mothers who work two and three jobs to sustain their families. He does not know about how central faith and God is to this people who have been discarded by the country they helped build. He does not know this culture which teaches a crazy lesson that people are to forgive their oppressors, because that is a central tenet of Christianity.

When my son was little, he was unbelievably cute, and people, white and black, would stop me and comment on the same. I found myself resenting the compliment coming from white people, though, because I knew that as he grew, he wouldn’t be so cute. He would be just another black man. He is now a strapping 6’4″ and has fallen into the category of those to be feared; as such, he is at risk of being approached by and harassed by a Negrophobe.

Fear caused the debacle in Ferguson, not the protesting people. A few bad apples looted, feeding into the “bad Negro” motif Americans have embraced, but the debacle was not caused by the looters. The debacle was caused by frightened white police officers with too much power and too many military-grade weapons. Had the officers treated the protestors like human beings, and not like “f***ing animals” the outcome, the response would have been different.

I know that because I know “the culture.”

If more white people knew the culture, they’d be able to replace the fear with respect …and that would create an entirely different vibe between whites and blacks.

I don’t think the fear will disappear any time soon, though. Negrophobia is an American malady which is probably here to stay…

A candid observation …

 

 

 

 

Police Trained to Shoot to Kill

.

A friend of mine, who was a police officer for 30 years, weighed in on my despair of what is going on in Ferguson

“As soon as that officer got out of his car, he intended to shoot him (Brown),”  my friend said. “When you pull the trigger, you are intending to kill the target.”

As I agonized over the fact that Mike Brown had been killed, even I knew that police shoot to kill. Years ago, as I studied journalism and our class visited a police department, I asked the question of why police didn’t just shoot a person’s knees. That way, I said, the perpetrator could be stopped in his/her tracks, right?

No, the police officer who was teaching the class said. “We shoot to kill.”

My ex-cop friend affirmed that answer. “The bullets police use are designed to spread; they bounce around when they hit you. They mushroom so they can do more damage.” (I had remarked on how a bullet that entered Mike Brown in the forehead had gone in his eye, moved around, come out of that eye, gone back in that eye, and then exited near his collar-bone, according to the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/us/michael-brown-autopsy-shows-he-was-shot-at-least-6-times.html?_r=0)  “Police use those and think they’re being more humane. Military bullets go through one person into the person who’s behind the person initially shot. The idea is to stop the threat; you need something that is going to kill, not just wound a person. You are trained to kill. When you would someone, you’ve actually missed them.”

That was and is a troubling thought. By Sunday, August 17, crowds in Ferguson had been out on the streets for several days, hours each day, marching, praying, shouting for justice in the death of Mike Brown. There had been violence after sun fell; local police, in full riot gear, used tear gas and pointed assault weapons at the already-troubled members of the community. Instead of quelling the violence, the police action only caused more agitation.

I was disturbed at what I was seeing. There was more and more talk about the militarization of police forces in the United States. The author of a book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, said on a CNN interview: “Using tear gas is illegal.”

My head jerked; up to that point, I had been only half-listening to all the discussion about military weapons being used by the Ferguson Police Department; maybe I thought it was just hype, or maybe I was just weary of seeing people struggle against a system which had historically meant them no good…

But the statement about the tear gas got to me. I had seen the huge tank-looking trucks; I had seen police perched upon them; I had seen the smoke from the tear gas, and I had seen the police – lots of them – advancing toward the crowd with those guns drawn. It seemed like I was looking at a picture of a battle in Iran or Iraq or Gaza. But no, it was here, in the United States. I remembered seeing police with those guns cocked and ready to fire, moving menacingly toward the crowd; the image of the light coming from them had actually made me shake. (I am not sure if the light was a night-light or a laser which would allow a more accurate shooting). I heard people say how badly the tear gas burned their eyes, their throats. I heard people say that tear gas was dispersed in their back yards. The looters got gassed, but so did many innocent women and children. The thought had bothered me ..

So, when I heard author Radley Balko say that tear gas was illegal to use, my antennae went up. Why in the world are authorities letting police use tear gas if it’s illegal?

My cop friend tried to console me. “It’s the more humane of the gasses that are available,” he said. “In the military, there is a gas used that can cause a person to “crap their pants” immediately.”If you ban tear gas in riots, they could use another. There is sonic equipment available and it sends out sound waves that cause confusion and headaches. They use that over in Iraq.”

It was too much information, too much, too quickly, at a time when I was grappling with my outrage that such tactics had been used against the crowd. I had seen tear gas used plenty of times, going all the way back to the Detroit riots. I took its use for granted. But now I was hearing that it was illegal to use it in civil disturbances…and I was disturbed. My friend continued to talk.

“Having this stuff is one thing,” he said.  “Knowing when and when not to use it is another thing.”

My friend, on a roll educating me, said that the militarization had been going on since the 1960’s. “Right after the Civil Rights movement ” he said, “weapons and equipment used in the Vietnam War started coming into our country and given to police departments.” Back then, the police used heavy-handed violence on students, primarily white, protesting against that war. A politician at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 observed that America was becoming a “police state.”

Now, local police departments are being supplied military equipment by the Pentagon. These are weapons and equipment used in the Iraq War.

“Police,” he said, “are training for another terrorist attack. SWAT teams train for “urban warfare.” They are trained to ‘be’ or act like the military,” he said.

“Police departments don’t know what they’re doing,” said the ex-cop. “They get these weapons and get a six-hour training. They always over-react because they don’t now how to deal with people.”

On the unrest in Ferguson, my friend said, “This is what I call a “police riot.” Any time a situation is escalated by one side, that side is responsible. The people in Ferguson were agitated, and the police reacted by shooting rubber bullets, using tear gas. The police caused the escalation.”

“The weapons being used haven’t help because they shouldn’t have been used in the first place. They responded to the people’s unrest with military weapons. It should never have been done.”

He encouraged me to be realistic.  “All of this happened because of fear,” he said. “The way police operate now is based on fear of what has happened before. Police officers follow orders. They are a para-military organization. They follow orders and instructions. Who’s giving the orders? The chief. The elected officials. It all comes back to local politics.”

My friend paused, then added a sobering thought. “Fifty percent of the general population is mentally ill,” he said quietly. “I would bet that fifty percent of any police department is probably mentally ill, too.”

“The officer in the Ferguson case should go to prison…but my gut says he won’t. He would go to prison because under no circumstances should this shooting have happened this way. It shouldn’t have happened. I’ve seen it from the inside.”

Undoubtedly, another officer would disagree with my friend. Regardless of that , a couple of things really resonate: that the police shoot to kill …and that the police acted out of fear. That seemed clear to me; what I saw looked like an army confronting a mortal enemy, absolutely intending to kill them if it “became necessary” in their view.

The thing is, angry African-Americans are not an enemy. They are a people who have too often not experienced justice in the justice system, a people who have seen their children shot by police over and over, with little to none action taken against those officers. Too often, they have heard, the police were right, that the shooting was “justified.” Too often, as they have mourned the loss of their loved ones, they have also decried the lack of justice afforded them.

No, they were not “the enemy.” The police, however, seemed not to know that …or to care.

A candid observation …

 

A White Progressive Blames the Victim

As a rule, I hate the word “victim.” If one claims oneself to be a victim, he or she will invariably act like one.

That being said, there are times when people ARE victims…and when they are, to be blamed for their state of being adds insult to injury.

Over the years we have seen women blamed for being raped. If they hadn’t worn certain clothing, hadn’t acted in a provocative way, some have said, they wouldn’t have been raped. The argument is as infuriating as it is insulting.

I thought about that when, as a I talked with a “progressive” white person who is understandably upset about the looting going on in Ferguson, Missouri, expressed his disgust that I was believing the accounts of what happened that day that were not so complimentary. After calling me an “anarchist,” he pooh-poohed my assertion that black people have been oppressed historically in this country. Not so, he said. “Everyone here is treated fairly.”

He outright said that the police officer is “innocent of any wrongdoing.” “The facts will support that,” he said. He despaired that I and so many others were so eager to believe the “Brown side” of the story …and said he was tired of black people complaining, that all black people wanted was special treatment.

I was angry, and then I was sad. If a white “progressive” feels that way, then there is less support for the human and civil rights of black people than I thought. Don’t get me wrong; I have never thought there was a whole lot of support for black people, but if a “progressive” who grew up in integrated neighborhoods (he said) and who has always believed in civil rights can say this, then the base of support for black people is thinner than I imagined.

There was not, in the words of my “progressive” white friend, a shred of compassion for what happened to Michael Brown. He was glad that the video tape of the strong arm robbery in which Brown was allegedly involved had been shown. “Brown was no angel,” my friend said emphatically. “He wasn’t just a good kid about to go to college.”

That may be true…he was no angel, but I daresay not many 18-year-old males are “angels.” And regardless of his “angel” status, there is something profoundly wrong with how he was gunned down by a police officer.

My friend didn’t seem to care that Brown, after being shot, lay on a hot street, bleeding and uncovered, for hours. It was as though this young boy was just “another one of them” who deserved what he got. “Wait until the facts come out,” he hissed.

What got me was not just that my friend was so vehement in his remarks; what got me is that he is not alone. The police officer who has yet to be charged with shooting Brown is on paid administrative leave, and he has a ton of online support, with people donating money, prayers and support.

My gut level feeling is that this man is going to get off.

It happens so much in our community.

So Brown, dead and now autopsied three times, is being blamed for being dead. Had he not “bum rushed” the officer, as a third-party has offered as “the official account” of what happened, he would not be dead. My “progressive” friend doesn’t doubt her account at all. Facts, she has the facts…

The officer (who I have not named on purpose because he represents, to me, “everycop” who has done this kind of thing and gotten away with it) will keep his job. The St. Louis District Attorney is working hard to get the case to the Grand Jury as soon as possible, where anything said will be kept secret. The Grand Jury will undoubtedly be all white, will lend a sympathetic ear. The word and account given by the police officer will be taken as fact.  It id doubtful that the Grand Jury, which will be heavily controlled by the prosecutor (as all grand juries are) will vote for charges to be brought against the officer but if he is, a subsequent trial will be nothing more than a formality.

If this is the way “progressives” think, then I can no longer take comfort in the fact that such a group of people exists, as I once did. This man sounded more like a hard-core right-wing American.

The thought was and is so disheartening that I wept. I hate the violence. I hate the looting …but I also hate the injustice that has been the trademark of the relationship between “the justice system” and black people for years. I hate it that the white police officer is being protected while the dead kid is being vilified and blamed…for his own death.

It is sad, and troubling, and disturbing.

Yet, it is the landscape on which we all stand. And it hurts.

A candid observation …

A Time to Stop Killing

Pardon me for saying this, but I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot and killed allegedly by police in Ferguson, Missouri Saturday evening, reached inside a police car and struggled with that officer for his gun.

Everybody knows you don’t do that; everybody, especially black men, know not to do that. Mothers have to give their black boys “the talk,” to teach them how to interact with police so they will survive. Black men (and women) will talk back to police officers, and ask, “What did I do?” but nobody is crazy enough to reach inside a police car (after pushing the officer back into his car)  and wrestle with that police officer for his gun…not unless that person wants to die.

We all have to wait for “the investigation” to yield the story of what happened, but pardon me again if I say up front I don’t trust in-house police investigations. So many times, even when the evidence has seemed overwhelming as to the wrongdoing of an officer, Internal Affairs has found that the police officer is not guilty of any malfeasance, that the shooting and killing of a suspect was “justifiable.”

Pardon me yet again if it seems like police officers are just getting away with murder. They are “the law.” They commit their crimes under the cover of law. Meanwhile, innocent people are being slaughtered.

Because I say “innocent” does not mean I think that police at times have viable reasons for stopping and arresting people, but when a person who is unarmed (as was Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and now, Mike Brown) and is shot down – being shot multiple times – that person is “innocent” of being a life-threatening threat to an arresting officer.

The police union in New York is now saying that they’re not sure Eric Garner was put into a choke-hold; some say he was not. The police commissioner, William Bratton, says it’s not “illegal” for a person to be put in a choke-hold. Already, the wheels of the internal “explanation” of what “really” happened are spinning.

And just last week, a 22-year-old man, John Crawford III, was shot dead at a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, as he held a toy gun. Police said they told him to drop it, and when didn’t, they opened fire. Police say the shooting was justified …

There are more of these stories, each one equally as disturbing.

The issue, I think, for police and for many people in society, is that they don’t see black people as humans, but, rather as “objects.” If a young black man is an “object,” wearing a hoodie or giving police back-talk, an officer feels no compunction in bringing him down.  Actually, he doesn’t have to have a hoodie on at all; he is in danger just by virtue of the color of his skin. Because of that, police officers feel like they are in the right when they shoot and kill After all, “objects” don’t have feelings; they are merely “things” which have no inherent value.

Attached to that issue is the fact that black people have been criminalized, dehumanized and demonized. That means that there is a readiness to believe that if a black person is in an encounter with police, and that black person ends up dead, that he (or she) brought it on him or herself.

One police officer, caught on CNN, said that the angry mob were “animals.” No, officer. They are people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Black people are really tired of members of their community being mowed down, disregarded and disrespected.

Mike Brown was shot, supposedly, 10 times. He had just graduated from high school; he was headed to college. No, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that he pushed a police officer and wrestled for his gun. I just cannot believe that. People know better than to do that; we in the black community know better than that more than anyone else.

A report done by the Malcolm X Grassroots movement said that one black person is killed by police every 36 hours. That was the figure when the report was done in 2012. Last week, the figure had dropped to one black person killed by police every 28 hours. I think that figure will change yet again.

At the end of the day, I say it again, black people count. We matter. We are worth being afforded human rights and dignity. And we are tired of being mowed down and those who mow us down walking away.

There’s something wrong with that picture.

A candid observation …

 

(To get stories and information on extrajudicial murders of black people, visit The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement at  http://mxgm.org/report-on-the-extrajudicial-killings-of-120-black-people/ and the SpiritHouse Project at  http://www.spirithouseproject.org/. To read about the Dayton man shot as he held a toy gun, go to http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/man-police-shot-in-walmart-killed-over-fake-gun-fa/ngw77/

 

 

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