When Leadership Feeds Hatred

It occurs to me that the vast number of police officers are not bad people.
It is highly possible that many officers, who come to the force when they are very young, and most of whom are white, grow up in environments where they are told that black people are bad, that they are to be feared.

I thought of that possibility when I was in Palestine; a red sign appears in areas of Palestine that are under Israeli control and the sign says that the area is inhabited by Palestinians and that Israelis are not allowed to enter.

These Palestinians, the sign says, are dangerous.

Let’s face it: the narrative on black people in this nation is not good. It’s not true …but it’s not good. The spin given is that white people need to be on guard with black people because they are bad. The assumption is that black people are naturally and inherently bad. The best course of action is, then, subliminally shared: they are the “enemy” which should be taken out.

Police recruits are, for the most part, very young, some just out of high school. Many come from rural areas or suburbs where they have had little to no interaction with black people. They really are scared of black people because all they know is what they have heard from their families, their churches, the media, and television.

The line used by officers to justify excessive force is, “I was in fear for my life,” and I would wager that for many, that is true, regardless of the circumstances. The killings of John Crawford and Tamir Rice – two young black men in the state of Ohio – came from officers who did not take the time to converse with them, which would have enabled them to understand that the “weapons” these two young men had were actually toys. The officer who killed Laquan McDonald, similarly, shot first and asked questions only after he had pumped 16 bullets into the child as he lay on the ground.

Be clear: many officers are not afraid; they use the phrase to justify their actions and in effect commit murders that they know they can get away with. Those are rogue cops who should be identified and fired. The silence of their superiors as these cops commit offense after offense is a travesty; these officers are no less worthy of staying on the force than were priests who for years molested children and were allowed to remain in their parishes or be sent to new parishes, only to repeat the objectionable behavior.

Leadership has to be brave and above societal prejudices, which is too often not the case. Unfortunately, in too many cases, leadership has been more interested in saving face and maintaining power and control than in admitting wrong and making tough decisions and choices.

There are, however, a fair number of officers who are sincerely afraid. They do not know black people. They do not talk to or with black people except in the worst of circumstances. Fear makes us all act in ways we normally wouldn’t. Officers who are afraid approach black people like they are “the enemy,” no less dangerous than an “enemy” in a combat zone, and the action demanded, based on the fear, is to take the enemy “out” before he or she takes the officer out.

If or since fear is such a big part of white American culture, and since the majority of police officers are white, it seems that police procedures and training ought to significantly change. It seems that leadership should see and understand what is going on and include in police officer training some cultural immersion, or some other training, that mandates that officers get to know as human beings the people with whom they will interact once they get out into the community. There ought to be stringent requirements for the officers to meet, internships, if you will, with the young recruits getting to know black people by name, getting to understand African-American culture and values, before they get a gun and are sent onto the streets. There ought to be continuing education courses, so that the officers’ community relations skills are constantly improved upon …and so they can share with fellow officers and incoming recruits what it is like on the streets, what the people are like, as opposed to what they assume to be the case.

It is an unfortunate fact that the way policing is done in America, treating black people as “enemies” requiring a military approach, has a historical reputation. Black people were never considered to be “people,” but, rather “objects” and pieces of property. When, during slavery, they managed to escape, “the law” went after them with the full sanction of government, to shoot to kill if they did not surrender willingly. The Fugitive Slave Acts allowed the hunting and capturing of African slaves in any way their hunters wanted because they were, in fact, considered to be property and not worthy of humane treatment. The added incentive was that if the captor did in fact catch an escaped African, he was many times deserving of a monetary award. Our history has bled mercilessly into our present.

But, history aside, the slaughter of innocent and unarmed black people needs to stop. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the justifying phrase, “I was in fear for my life,” as maddening as it is, is a truism for many young officers…as much as it is an excuse for rogue cops to murder people in the name of law and order.

An examination of cases involving police shootings of black people reveals that that dreaded line is used over and over, and it has been the case that if an officer has perceived danger, and has said he or she was afraid, the case is closed and the shooting is ruled justifiable.

It is time for police policy and procedure to be examined and changed, with the result that these young kids with guns can lose their fear and do the job they are called to do – to protect and serve – not to kill indiscriminately.

And it is time for rogue cops – who are not afraid, but who know they can use that sentence and get away with murder – to be identified and weeded out. We don’t need legal murders any more than we need molestation of children done in the name of God.

A candid observation …

Only Some Quotas are Bad

In this nation, the word “quota” is …a bad word. That word has meant to many that governments and institutions give special treatment, hand-outs, preference – to black people as they have applied to schools and colleges. Affirmative Action was implemented to guide educational institutions on ways to get minorities within their walls.

From the beginning, opponents called “foul.” Affirmative Action, they said, was nothing more and nothing less than “reverse discrimination.” It was unfair to qualified whites, they said, to “bend the admission requirements” for less-qualified minorities. If black people couldn’t get into  school, it was because they simply were not smart enough. Never mind that rules were bent and have always been bent for children of alumni of schools; kids with horrible grades have been let into the most prestigious schools because an influential mama or daddy was pushing the admissions committee and offering to write a generous check in return for the school abiding by their wishes.

Nobody talks about that preferential treatment.

But ..setting quota goals to let minorities in has been bitterly fought on the basis of its inherent unfairness. Lawsuits by angry whites have been filed – and won – as whites have insisted that leveling the playing field so that more minorities can get an education is a sin, an affront against the Constitution and the rights of Americans

White Americans.

So, I have gotten used to dealing with my emotions when I’ve heard of these lawsuits being filed and the courts siding with the aggrieved white applicant. Quotas are bad …

EXCEPT when it comes to how blacks on the street are treated. Officer Adhyl Polanco, a member of the New York Police Department, moved here from the Dominican Republic when he was 10 years old. He grew up in a rough section of New York, and grew used to hearing the sound of gunfire, but he also became enamored with police when they would visit his school. He decided he wanted to …one of them.

He joined the force in 2005, and had the inside view of what happens in his police department. Much of what he saw and was commanded to do bothered him, but he had a deciding moment when he was told, along with other officers, that the police needed to meet a specific quota. The policy is called 20-5-1, which means officers are required to write out or issue 20 summons per month, make one arrest, and perform 5 “stop and frisk” stops.

Polanco was aghast.

His displeasure was deepened when, he said, he was told one evening to cuff a young man who was walking down a street with friends. “They were not doing anything,” Polanco said,. He said he asked his commanding officer, who made the request, why he was arresting them, and he said his CO said, “you don’t ask questions. Just cuff him,” When a person from the group asked the officer why he was cuffing the young man, the CO said, “cuff him, too.”

Polanco had young children and shuddered at the thought of them being so harassed. He had also been accosted by fellow officers when he’d been out of uniform, walking down the street with other friends, some of them likewise, cops who were not on duty at the time.

“I’ve had officers throw me against a wall,” Polanco said, “and when I’ve told them who I am, and they’ve found my ID and have seen that I was telling the truth, they’ve just walked away. They haven’t said “I’m sorry” or anything.”

Polanco said the pressure is on all officers to meet the quota set by the police department. “They want numbers,” Polanco said, “and if it looks like they are not going to meet the quota, they get creative.”

Polanco noted that “as soon as a person who is stopped asks, “why are you arresting me?” or says, “I didn’t do nothing (sic), he or she is going to be arrested for d-con -(disorderly conduct). “They’re going to be put in jail and will have to pay a fee…”

(The interview with Polanco can be heard at http://www.democracynow.org/2013/11/6/nypd_officer_risks_his_job_to)

Quotas.

So …fight like hell to keep the number of blacks in schools down …and work like hell to get the number of blacks in jail …up.

Letting kids in school is a bad thing; getting blacks off the streets, even when they have done nothing wrong, is a good thing. Letting them in school hurts the system and violates the Constitution, but putting as many of them as possible in jail helps the system. Never mind their right as Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.

Do I have this right?

I think so. And it

And it is a troubling … candid observation …

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.