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 …

Holding Our Breaths

The video taken of ex-Officer Michael Slater shooting Walter Scott in the back is bone-chilling, yet not surprising, at least to me.

In spite of the “majority population “pooh-poohing” claims by African-Americans that there is and has been widespread policy brutality waged against them, those who live in urban communities know that the cry has been valid. Over and over again black people have been shot – murdered, really – by police officers and those same officers have told a lie about what happened. The word of the police officers has been taken at will, the claim of the neighborhood witnesses that something horribly wrong has happened has been summarily dismissed, and the result is that way too many African-American deaths at the hand of police officers have gone without their families seeing justice.

“The law” has historically not been on the side of African-Americans. In an interview about the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash said that non-violence was the only way to fight. “Law enforcement was used against us. We couldn’t match what the police and sheriff and national guard had against us. Police power was used against us. Segregation was the law and police power was used to enforce segregation.”

Indeed, “the law” has been used to keep people in their place. Police, it seems, have been given carte blanche to do what they want to people, black people especially, it seems, and black people have not been heard or believed.

The culture has been successful in perpetrating the feeling that black people are bad and if they get shot and/or killed by police, it is because, frankly, they ARE bad.

So, when there have been cases of what appear to be obvious missteps by police, there have been short gasps of hope. When Rodney King was beaten I for one believed that now, “the world will see what we’re talking about.” The video seemed so clear …and yet, the officers were acquitted.

It was a continuation of what had always been the history of our interaction with “the law” in this land, no less painful than the acquittal of the white men who had lynched Emmett Till.

With the tragic death of Walter Scott, we have again what seems to be a sure-fire piece of evidence that shows that the officer was wrong, that what he did was nothing short of murder …but I find myself holding my breath as investigators search for more evidence. My fear is that something will be found that will minimize Mr. Scott’s death, that something will be found that will push investigators to rule that Mr. Slager’s use of force was “justifiable.”

While so many television news reporters and anchors seem genuinely surprised by the video showing what happened to Scott, people in African-American communities are not surprised at all. The question is being asked and answered, “What would have happened if there had been no video?” The answer in unfortunately too clear: the story given by the police officer about what happened would have been taken as true. An “investigation” would have been conducted while the officer was put on “paid administrative leave,” and in the end some higher authority, like a grand jury, would absolve the officer of all guilt.

It is maddening, this pattern of absolution of crimes rendered against black people by police officers.

Some news people, it seems, are nervous. They wonder what will happen if somehow the investigation concludes that the officer’s use of force was justified…or if a trial, if there is one, ends up acquitting Slager.

Only time will tell that.

It seems, though, that the country, our country, should wake up and take the frequency of these state-sanctioned killings seriously. It seems like by now, with all of the tragic killings by police of people, black people, largely unarmed, someone ought to understand that America has a serious problem.

The deaths of black people have never seemed to make much of a difference to the majority population as a whole. Black people have been so dehumanized and criminalized that their deaths at the hands of police are for the most part boring. They don’t want to hear the story of what happened; they seem unable or unwilling to consider that the families of these slain are mourning and weeping, not just because one of theirs has been taken away by one or a few who were supposed to protect them, but also because they know the assailant of their loved one will never be held accountable.

Sojourner Truth, noting the sexism in her day, made her very famous speech, asking the question, “ain’t I a woman?”

As we hold our breaths, I find myself asking, “ain’t we children of God? Ain’t we human, too?”

Unfortunately, it feels like too many in this country would answer “no” to both questions

So, this time things are a bit different. Slager has been fired from the police force, has been charged with murder, and is in jail. Thank goodness ..But…we are holding our breaths, and those who have been shot and put aside after shoddy “investigations” are shivering in their graves. This is not a new thing in this country, but it is every bit as tragic and toxic a phenomenon as it has always been.

A candid observation …