Recently, the public has been inundated by folks in media, with reports of widespread civil-unrest, rebellion, agitation, demonstrations and protests: all in response to the recent spate of outlandish police-killings where no indictments were handed down. Since last spring, we have seen a wave of shocking police-brutality incidents which have left many stunned and bewildered.
In writing this column, I have taken a little liberty with the words of a famous black literary figure (James Baldwin), who in 1960 said a few things that were quite profound. In essence, Baldwin said this: “the white policeman finds himself at the very center of the revolution now occurring in the world. He is not prepared for it -naturally, nobody is- and what is probably more to the point is that he is exposed as few white people are, to the anguish of the black people around him. And then one day -to everyone’s astonishment- someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up. And before the dust is even settled, and before the blood is even congealed; editorials, speeches and civil-rights commissions are loud in demanding to know what happened here; and what happened is simply this: Negroes want to be treated as humans”.
I write all this because I am tired of seeing some media folks treat every new police-brutality incident as something virginal. Look; we’ve been here before; we’ve done this before; far too many times already. It has now become almost ritualistic. We keep going down the same roads and people act like they have amnesia. It appears -as far as white elected officials go- that only New York City’s rookie Mayor (Bill DiBlasio) gets it right.
Mayor DiBlasio has boldly gone where only a few white men go. He married a black woman. Sure enough lots of white males love to fuck black women; but not too many marry them. This is something that goes back to the days of slavery, when all those lil half-white/half-black kids were running around the plantation. How do you think they got there? Too many black women don’t get this by the way. Too many black women appear to be looking to for some white knight in shining armor riding up to take them to a place called “happily ever after”; while “adding a little milk to their coffee”.
Bill DiBlasio seems to have done the honorable thing by Chirlane McCray; and from his marriage, he has two seemingly wonderful mixed-race kids: a boy and a girl. Some anthropology texts call them “mulattos”; and the term is used academically only: so please don’t try to convey negative connotations to it being used here.
The experiences from having crossed the tracks to marry; plus the raising of two mixed-race kids; must have made Mr. DiBlasio much more sensitive -than most white folks- to some of the many negative experiences blacks face every day while living in the USA (United States of Amnesia).
Thus he was absolutely correct when he said the problems of police-brutality and racism are centuries old. What he failed to qualify in his amplification was that “police-brutality” itself isn’t only about racism; even though it is often about racism. In modern-day USA, clarifications and nuances are rather essential: we now live in a 24-hour media cycle; everything electeds say or write comes under scrutiny; and expressing these truths without full clarification, may be one of the main contributory factors in making DiBlasio a one-term mayor; but that’s another column. Time will surely tell.
There are many reasons why law enforcement officials behave the way they do, and I will get to a few of them later. I just want to remind folks that way back in the 1950s and 1960s Malcolm X spoke out against the many “abuse of power” issues within police departments all over America. Things were arguably a little worse back then -since overt racism was the order of the day- especially in the southern states. And yet, even now, most police departments all over the USA are still overwhelmingly “white-male” in composition: despite incessant demands from varied quarters that police departments reflect the demographic make-up of the communities they serve. White males, with their accumulative social, cultural, economic, political (including judicial) power, have resisted creating police departments which reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. And this is just one of the many reasons why a significant number of the fatal encounters between civilians and cops, happen to be between white male cops and non-white male civilians.
Black males appear to be the one group within these statistics where the numbers of those killed by cops seem to be inordinate: given the country’s demographics. Between 2010 and 2012, in comparing the statistics of black and white kids between 15 and 19 years of age, you will find that black kids are about 22 times more likely to be shot by police officers than white kids. (Police Shootings: Whites 1.47 per million; and Blacks 31.17 per million). And if you go back even further -in seeking a relating factor- you can find that male black kids between 4 and 14 in age, are more likely to be expelled or suspended from school -when compared to white kids- at a near similar rate.
In New York City alone, cops of all races and ethnicities have killed at least one black person every month for the past fifteen years. Over these fifteen years, only three cops were indicted; and only one was convicted. And yet, despite all these stats, there are some of the folks at the Fox News Network who can’t seem to understand why protests are taking place all over the world (O’Reilly, Hannity, Krauthammer, Giuliani, et al).
Sure, I know that cops of all races and ethnicities have killed white citizens too; and they have surely killed their fair share of Hispanics and other non-whites over the years; but the brutality cases that usually stand out are the ones where the killer-cops were white, and the victims black men. They are often outlandish or bizarre.
For examples; the infamous ‘Rodney King’ beating; then the forty one bullets pumped into an innocent ‘Amadou Diallo’; what about fifty bullets for ‘Sean Bell’; and not forgetting the trial (and outcome) of the cop (Torsney) who killed ‘Randy Evans’ in 1976: which to me, was the worst travesty of justice ever; relative to police brutality issues. Look it up in Wikipedia or on Google. Almost four decades later and it is still a haunting memory. It was the first time I marched and protested “police-brutality”; but it wasn’t the last.
Relative to the spontaneous outbursts of rioting and looting in response to the various non-indictments (and non-convictions) of those responsible for these killings; Malcolm X once said this: “to the oppressed: violence becomes a necessary form of self-liberation”. Apparently, those on the right of the political spectrum appear to not understand these spontaneous outbursts from these ostensibly madding and motley crowds. Look; it isn’t about condoning violence and lawlessness; it’s about explaining what it could mean when protestors shout:”No justice; no peace. No justice; no peace”. Point being this: it could get much worse. And if it does get worse, the violence now on display will be child’s play in comparison. Too many people are not getting this.
So now a long-awaited public discourse on both “racism” and “police brutality” is underway; and that’s why I want to put in my “two-cents”. I want to believe I have “street-cred” after a lifetime of political activism, community involvement and public service. Hopefully, societal procrastination ends here.
It’s not that I haven’t written about all this before. I have done that many times over. I have been attacked many times over, on social media, mainstream media and on alternative media, for my consistent views on stuff like this. I have appeared on radio and television in hopes of educating people about this cancer. My columns have been published in newspapers, magazines, periodicals and blogs ad nausea. Too many folks appear not to get it. Apparently too many folks don’t want to get it: racism is the cancer in this land.
In Ferguson, Missouri, a black-male teenager (Michael Brown) was gunned down by a white-male police officer back in August. Brown died after a fatal encounter that apparently lasted less than three minutes. The teenager was unarmed; so one has to wonder what could have precipitated an armed officer releasing all twelve bullets from his gun, in the kid’s general direction. Six of the bullets he fired hit the teenager: one hit Brown in the cranium; apparently from an overhead trajectory.
The horrendous crime this teenager appears to have committed was walking in the middle of the street and possibly disrupting traffic; since claims of him shoplifting cigarillos are merely speculation: neither the shopkeeper nor his staffers ever formally reported such a crime. And the claim that Brown tried to reach for the officer’s gun by putting his hands through the window, while he was positioned outside the officer’s vehicle is truly incredulous. I am not saying it was impossible but I am saying it is dubious.
The public has to suspend reasoning and believe that Brown’s octopussian tentacles (of only two hands), were simultaneously handing off cigarillos to his partner (in crime?); while cursing, trash-talking and continuously exchanging words with the officer; tussling with the officer while trying to open the car door; punching the officer on both sides of the officer’s face and also behind the officer’s neck; fighting for the officer’s gun while employing both hands; then running away for at least twenty feet after being shot; and then returning while his hand reaches into his waistband for a weapon (non-existent); before crouching and charging into the officer who had a gun in his hand. Again -let me repeat- the projections are that all this happened in less than three minutes; and mostly after Brown was shot very early into the encounter. It’s just not plausible; not like this. There are too many missing elements; too many missing links.
The only eyewitness -beyond the officer himself- who was close enough to the event as it unfolded, disputes some of this from beginning to end. He said that the officer initiated the encounter with a string of expletives, and snatched Brown from inside the police vehicle; wherein a scuffle ensued. It was during this initial scuffle that the officer discharged four bullets at Brown; hitting him with at least one of them. After the initial shots both teens run off in fear; the officer then alights from the car while continuing to chase and shoot. The survivor’s GT testimony hasn’t been released as yet; why?
This is the crucial point at which the various versions -from the witnesses who admit to seeing either some, a little, or most of the fatal encounter- fail to converge and synchronize. Some say they saw Brown turn around with his hands up (as if in surrender). A couple others say they saw Brown turn around in a type of crouch as if he was going to charge the officer. One or two said he did actually charge. One of those who partially corroborated the officer’s version had changed his tightened grand jury testimony, from the account he initially gave police during his first interview. Somehow, he just happened to cut the distance from which he viewed the events in half; so he was closer than he initially thought; and closer than he originally told them. The jurors failed to ask said witness about the prevailing condition of his eyesight, and whether or not his vision of the event was ever obscured.
Near every aspect of this event is under dispute given that witnesses gave differing accounts of all they actually saw. Even the camera images within the store involved is ambiguous as to whether or not Brown paid for the cigarillos. As to the actual shooting itself, more witnesses say the teenager’s arms were up (in possible surrender) than those who agreed with the shooter: that the teenager either rushed him, or was about to rush him. It is important to note that in events like these, eyewitnesses will often give differing accounts since they are usually viewing the event from different angles, and with differing visions, attention spans, inclinations, motivations, focuses and levels of concentration.
These evidentiary disputes are what court-trials sort out. And that is one of many reasons why the officer (Wilson) should have been indicted. His grand jury testimony wasn’t vetted, challenged or cross examined. It was incredibly tailored to fit a narrative being sold to the public, by cops who appear to be complicit in a cover-up of sorts. The consistent leaks from the grand jury’s supposedly secret hearings merit some type of federal investigation. There were media entities quoting undisclosed sources, and reporting that there would be no indictment. This was happening weeks before the actual GJ-ruling. And just yesterday, we find out that the prosecutor didn’t release all the evidence the grand jury viewed and heard. Why? We also see that witnesses, who appeared to contradict the officer’s version, were grilled like a cheese sandwich; while those whose accounts were favorable were hardly questioned. Why?
At the scene of the encounter this is what you find: eye-witnesses, photos, ballistics, forensics, measurements and a lot of other crucial physical evidence, being never fully logged and /or secured. This is something that still baffles most objective evaluators. It is quite obvious to me -and my simple layman analysis- that the grand jury was arguably preset to not return an indictment against the officer. Why else would prosecutors furnish jurors with false memoranda of laws embellishing the legal rights of police officers in situations like these? The same laws which were to be a juror’s their guide through the legal maze; the same laws which the Supreme Court had debunked years before. Was this a mistake? I doubt it. I think it was deliberately done to influence the jury.
Look; unless the feds come up some kind of criminal charges against Officer Wilson (and whoever may have consorted with him to hide the full truth), it is more than likely that the public will never fully understand what really happened in Ferguson, on that fateful day last August. Meanwhile a teenager is dead and most people in the town of Ferguson are livid; especially blacks. Black residents just happen to make up the majority of the town’s population, while simultaneously totaling only 6 per cent of the town’s police force.
In another incident -this one in the borough of Staten Island, New York City- an asthmatic black man (Eric Garner) was being arrested for the horrendous crime of selling a few “loose cigarettes” on the streets. Videos of the event clearly show an officer -within a group of about five or six others- administering an illegal choke hold on this over-weight forty-something year old man.
Within the NYC police department, chokeholds have been banned for many years now; ever since a white-male officer administered one which killed a young black-Hispanic-male citizen named Anthony Baez. The horrendous crime Baez committed was that of accidentally allowing a ball to hit a passing police vehicle, while he and a few friends we playing touch football on a Bronx street.
Beyond the chokehold that led to Garner’s demise, videos of the Staten Island event also show quite a few of the arresting officers being physically abusive to Garner. One had his knee on Garner’s head pinning him to the concrete pavement. Others were attempting to either sit or lean on him, as they tried to secure an arrest. Garner is heard stressing to the cops around a dozen times: “I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe”. A few minutes later Eric Garner was as dead as Fred (Sanford).
Richmond County’s medical examiner ruled the death a murder. It is probably unreasonable for any objective analyst to exclude Garner’s health and his overall general physical-condition, as contributory factors in his own death. And yet all that is moot, since the vital questions are whether or not the police officers were using unreasonable force; and whether or not they were also being physically abusive and extreme, in attempting to arrest this man for an alleged misdemeanor. And then there is also the question of proportionality. Were Garner to have been found guilty of the infraction he is assumed to have perpetrated, the regular penalty is a fine of a mere pittance. He received a death sentence without a trial, for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally.
A grand jury is later convened and not a single officer is indicted in this event: not even for “reckless endangerment”, or for “excessive use of force”. Former US president George W. Bush makes a rare public statement expressing surprise at the non-indictment. As I write this column, large numbers of protesters are still marching all over the country, and also in quite a few countries across the globe.
And then, a couple weeks ago in Cleveland, Ohio, a 12 year old black male (Tamir Rice)was in a small park, playing with a pellet gun. This was happening long before conditions got dark. Someone called it in to “nine-one-one”. The person who made the phone call clearly expressed that “the gun is probably a fake”. The cops arrive within minutes of the call; and before you could pronounce three words (”what the heck?”) the pre-teen is gunned down: dead on police arrival. One of the two cops involved had already been deemed psychologically unfit for law enforcement duty in a nearby police force.
To date, a grand jury’s investigation is pending. A video recording of the tragic encounter shows an eerie similarity with both the Ferguson shooting and the Staten Island choking: it was all over in seconds.
Across this country, there are at least a dozen police departments that are being investigated by the Justice Department (DOJ) for numerous civil-rights violations. It is now claimed by DOJ, that a couple years ago, officers of that same Cleveland police department, once chased a car in which two blacks (male and female) were speeding. Dozens of police vehicles were involved in this city-wide chase. Speeds of over a hundred miles per hour were rerecorded by the technology utilized from video- cameras placed on streets all over the city. This event culminated with the cops pumping 127 bullets into the car. One officer got on the hood of the vehicle -after the chase was over- and pumped about a dozen bullets into the front seat. Neither of the occupants had any weapons whatsoever; they both died at the scene. At this point in time, not one individual has been held criminally accountable in this catastrophe. And time goes by; and the beat goes on.
In examining the outcomes of grand juries, one will find that they indict civilians at around a 99.8 per cent clip. In examining their outcomes when law-enforcement officials are on the hot seat, the numbers are completely reversed, getting as high as 99.9 per cent even. And if by chance a cop is ever indicted, the rate of conviction is indeed very low. We all know how most of these debacles are eventually resolved. The relatives of the victims will file a civil lawsuit, and then taxpayers fill the bill when police departments -via their lawyers- settle out of court. Usually, the judge will issue gag-orders to all the parties involved, and for decades the public never (if ever) gets to the bottom of what really occurred. And the beat goes on; and the beat goes on; all over the United States of Amnesia (USA).
In the forty years I have lived in New York City, taxpayers here have shelled out billions paying for police-excesses. I myself have been falsely arrested once before. Eventually the cops dropped all the charges against me, after trying to coerce me into accepting a plea bargain for a conditional discharge: with time served (overnight imprisonment) as the penalty. They stalled the trial for almost a year. Being fully aware of my rights I unequivocally refused any plea-deal. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me. Abuse of power is nothing short of evil. Since I have lived here, I have been stopped by police officers of all races, ethnicities and nationalities, on countless occasions; for little or no reason whatsoever. This has happened while I was driving, walking, and even while taking public transportation. I must admit that as I have gotten older, these ”stop and frisk” encounters have waned. I guess my “black-militancy” doesn’t show up on my face anymore/LOL.
Let me make something clear here: without police-officers, we would all be police-officers; by societal-dictate, expediency, force and glaring necessity. Therefore let me posit that the police department is crucial in our aspirations towards creating a relatively secure and stable society for all. One of our main objectives as humans, has to be the development of a sophisticated and civil society wherein everyone can be free to speak their mind, seek happiness, pursue dreams, and aim for some measure of qualified freedoms: within public order maintainence, and the dictates of societal-equilibrium of course. So please: let’s not get all this twisted the wrong way. I bear no hatred towards cops. It is one of the most challenging occupations in the history of humankind.
The law is invaluable. And the implied power of the state is behind both law enforcement and citizen compliance/respect for the law. We cannot discount the fact that we do place on the shoulders of every police-officer, certain responsibilities that come with the rights we surrender to them. As such: from those to whom lots are given, lots more are expected. One cannot pledge to uphold the laws of the land and at the same time break said laws with impunity. It totally defeats the message.
Imagine this: there is video evidence of police-excess in the Garner-case and yet an indictment wasn’t handed down. So can you just figure out the fate of the many folks who claimed to have been railroaded but didn’t have video evidence supporting their claims? This should be enough to make anyone cringe.
There is a lot of power in the hands of any one police officer; and this is why stringent and effective civilian-oversight-mechanisms should be automatically built into the design of any and every police department. This is why transparency in all dealings with the public should be sought. It’s crucial. Civilian oversight of police departments is imperative.
I recently wrote a column entitled “The things you will hardly ever know; etc”. One can access it on the website of “Room Eight New York Politics (www.r8ny.com)”. In that column I wrote about the 1958 “Kissing Case”; wherein officers of a police-department in Monroe, NC, arrested two young black males (seven and nine years old) for the horrific crime of having a nine year old white girl kiss one of them on the cheek. This happened while they were all at play within a larger group of unsupervised kids.
The two black youngsters were given indefinite life-sentences in an adult correctional facility. They only escaped being lynched by both the skin of their pubescent teeth, and by the grace of whatever God(s) they subscribed to. Go read the column to find out the eventual disposition of this case. It was shocking. It took worldwide protests to get a sensible resolution.
If you study police departments (and law-enforcement officials) all over the world, you will find many similarities in the ways humans of all different races, nationalities, ethnicities and religions behave. In most countries of the world, you can find that once a law enforcement official is sworn in, he or she quite often adopts a new persona; within which we can find arrogance, egoism, hubris and inhumanity. There is a tendency to be punitive and judgmental, more so than being compassionate and forgiving. Beyond this, too many cops adopt the “us-against-them” mentality and quickly become part of the “wall of silence” that exists within most police departments. They encourage regular citizens to snitch on each other for the general good, but they generally refuse to give up the wrongdoers within their own force. In reality, too many cops brook the law-breaking and rule-bending of fellow officers, in fear of reprisals and/or ostracism. If this ever ended, one will find that things will get better for everybody.
Police officers should begin their day by upholding and enforcing the laws of the land in their homes, neighborhoods, locker-rooms, precincts and squad cars. That’s how we can contain this cancer. Even before hitting the mean streets police officers see wrongdoing and do nothing.
These racism problems -which at times fuel this police brutality issue- goes back to before colonialism even. It was exacerbated when the initial US Constitution allowed for blacks and other non-whites to be treated as second or third-class citizens. Later on, white-supremacist types of legislation cemented the racist predispositions and attitudes of most whites. Add to this the complicit silence of most churches here and you see how this germinated.
Initially, the US constitution allowed that blacks were to be counted in the census as three-fifths human. This led to whites adopting a sense of superiority and entitlement over them, and also over other non-whites. How quickly do we forget that it was law enforcement officials who imposed terror (and worse), on recalcitrant blacks who strongly believed that the constitution should have afforded them equal justice and the like: given its preamble. It was usually police officers who enforced inhumane Jim Crow laws on “niggers”. Law enforcement officers aided and abetted many of the lynchings blacks faced back in the day. And now here we are in 2014, with some folks pretending to not know why blacks (especially males) generally hold a deep-seated distrust towards police officers. Where the heck have you been over the years folks; on Mars?
Are we forgetting the three murdered civil rights activists, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner? They were set up to be killed by law enforcement officials in Philadelphia, Mississippi: the very town that Ronald Reagan used to formally announce his entry into the 1980 presidential race. Are we forgetting that racist governors like George Wallace (Alabama) and Lester Maddox (Georgia) used law enforcement officials to do some of their dirty work?
The dead-heads on the Fox News Network who appear to be mystified by this visible public outcry, only demonstrates the widespread denial of the pervasive racism which engulfs this land. People of all hues are protesting recent events. It’s a rainbow protest with a kaleidoscope of color. And you want to know part of what has spurred this on? Let me tell you: the nasty treatment the first half-black president of this country (Obama) has received over the last six years: from the minds, hearts and bodies of racist whites. Decent people of all races have seen this: from Ferguson, to Staten Island, to Cleveland, to all over the USA: and to all over the global village.
Hey Fox News Network; listen to this: In the USA, the vast majority of blacks (especially men) try to conceal (somewhat unsuccessfully) a major distrust for near all institutions here. For the most part they definitely believe that the justice system is inherently flawed and unfair towards them. They feel that the educational system is an anti-black conspiracy. They also feel that issues pertinent to their very survival have been mainly ignored by both the political and economic systems. And they do believe that the highest court of the land (SCOTUS) has sent down an assortment of horrible decisions, since way before the “Dread Scott” and “Plessey v.Ferguson” rulings.
The expectations from an Obama presidency brought a little hope in 2008; but that fleeting moment of hope is now gone: spent like a burnt out candle. It’s business as usual now. It’s back to the drawing-board again. It’s survival of the fittest; and devil take the hindmost. All this police-brutality stuff is ‘de-ja-vu’ all over again.
Here is my summation folks: were we to add the mental issues (personality disorders/plus others) that I marginally outlined here -and which apparently afflicts too many cops nowadays- to the historic racism embedded in the social fabric of this country ; and then you mix it with the pervasive white-denial of racism’s viciousness throughout America’s history; and then blend it with the failure of the US education-system to laud the contributions of non-whites throughout earth’s history; and add a touch of society’s failure to develop enough humans who respect the rights of others who carry different hues; you will then have the rough design for a social-Molotov-cocktail. And as James Baldwin said: “someone drops a match”…………………………… and then………………………..and then…………………and then.
Whenever groups of people within any society strongly believe that they aren’t being treated equally, justly, fairly or humanely, they will naturally push-back on authority figures. After all, authority figures will become the personification of all the things they resent or hate. Resistance to perceived oppression, bias and/or racial discrimination, will be inevitable. You see, in the mind of the resister, he or she is engaged in a liberation struggle and not law-breaking. There are too many black folks who honestly believe this. There are smaller numbers in other non-white groups who also think like that.
White indifference to these perspectives doesn’t help the situation in any way. In fact, it exacerbates it. In the present debate one can find a racial divide. Polls are showing that whites and non-whites look at all this in stark contrast. Whites appear to support and trust police officers in big numbers. Non -whites (especially blacks) similarly appear to distrust police officers in almost the exact numbers in reverse. Whites see black and others resisting arrest and contributing to their own demise; while blacks and others see racism, profiling, harassment, discrimination, victimization and the like, all contributing to the final outcomes; too many of which are fatal.
Too many whites seem to believe that one cannot grieve for law enforcement officials who were killed in the line of duty, and at the same time condemn police officers for their wrong-doing and/or dereliction. They are wrong. That’s like saying you cannot hate war in concept, and at the same time grieve for fallen soldiers. Those actions/ideas/viewpoints are not mutually exclusive.
Blaming the victims of police-brutality incidents for their demise is like blaming the architects of the World Trade Center for what happened on 9-11-2001. And that is atrocious.
Stay tuned-in folks.