How Do We Make People Care?

This week in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a 13-year old boy. Tyre King was apparently involved in an armed robbery; the amount stolen is said to have been $10, but that has not been confirmed. Young Tyre had a BB gun that looks remarkably real, even having a laser light on it that real guns have. Police apparently saw the gun and fired; only after Tyre lay dead did they realize the gun was not real. (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tyre-king-13-fatally-shot-police-columbus-ohio-n648671)

Columbus authorities responded immediately, the mayor, police chief and public safety director holding a press conference the next day, and the day after that, meeting with faith leaders and finally showing up at a community forum at a local church. (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/17/community-city-officials-talk-about-death-of-tyre-king.html). The pain of the community was and is palpable. The cry is, “enough!”

What was striking to me in everything that happened was the attempt of the police chief to make sure people in the community knew that this child was “an armed suspect,” though the gun was not real. In her press conference, Police Chief Kim Jacobs went to great pains to describe the gun, showing a large picture of what the gun looked like and only after all of that, say the child’s name and remind people that the gun was not real.

But the damage was done.

What Chief Jacobs appeared to be doing was protecting her police officer and trying to quell any violence borne of frustration that might erupt on Columbus streets, the kind of frustration that we have seen in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. No city wants that experience on its hands. Columbus has spent a lot of money in revitalizing and the last thing people want is some angry group of people setting fires and fighting police.

I get it. And I don’t want the violence, either.

But it hurt to the core to hear this woman dehumanize and criminalize young King in that press conference. For those who believe police can do no wrong, Jacobs’ presentation made them rest in their assurance that what happened to King was his own fault.  As she talked, the chief kept talking about there being an investigation and said that the case would go to the grand jury …but her entire presentation showed a lack of sensitivity to what the pain of the black community is all about.

We don’t trust police investigations; we know, or feel, that the laws in place protect police at all costs, so that even when we, the community, feel like a video shows compelling evidence of police wrongdoing, the officer more likely than not gets off. We don’t trust the grand jury and we don’t trust the prosecutor. We feel like it is open season on black people, male and female, and that this nation doesn’t care about our feeling that at all.

As Jacobs spoke, I kept remembering how, when Michael Brown was shot, the police kept that young man lying on the hot pavement in his neighborhood, dead, while they compiled a report about who he was and what he had done. Before his body was moved, they had criminalized him and left the way clear for Officer Darren Wilson to be cleared of wrongdoing.

Jacobs was seemingly doing the same thing: criminalizing this little boy ( because that’s what he was) so that the officer would not be demonized.

The mayor, the public safety director and the police chief kept talking about there needing to be “transparency,” but even as I write this, nobody knows what really happened. The police in Columbus do not wear body cameras, and everyone knows that in a case where a civilian’s word is pitted against the word of a police officer, the civilian usually loses.

And so Columbus, a city that the mayor said is “the safest city in the world,” is reeling with pain and frustration and anger. There is no sensitivity to the pain. In this, an open carry state, King is the second person to be killed carrying a BB gun. John Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in 2014. Crawford was carrying the gun in the store and someone called police and said he was waving it around. Police arrived immediately and say they told him to drop the gun, but began shooting even as Crawford said it was a toy. Crawford was killed.

Then there was Tamir Rice who was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer. Timothy Loehmann. Rice also had a BB gun. Someone called and said a kid had a gun that he was waving around, but apparently also said that it was probably a toy. Police responded to the call and within three seconds of driving up on Tamir, probably scaring him to death. police shot him. He died later in a local hospital. The officer said he had no choice.

Neither Crawford or Rice were criminals. They were young black men with toy guns – which is legal. They were not bothering anyone. And yet, the judgements against them could be heard loud and clear; their actions, the sentiment seemed to say, caused them to die.

There is much we do not know about what happened to young King. What we do know is that he was a kid. A 13-year old boy. Probably a know-it-all, like adolescents and teens tend to be. His parents may have bought him that toy gun, but may not have; he may have gotten it off the street or from a friend. He had probably seen “the big boys” carry real guns and imitated them. We live in a gun culture, a violent gun culture where “defending yourself” is a standard-bearer. He was probably trying to fit in with his peers. Kid stuff. Things that kids do in seeking love, affirmation and a sense of belonging. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people …but he was a kid. A normal kid in a society which does not allow black kids to be normal like white kids are allowed.

This kid, this little boy, is dead. I cannot wrap my head around it. I see in my mind’s eye his little body lying lifeless in an alley, and I hear the cries of his family and loved ones, weeping with a pain that is too deep to even describe.

Many who believe police are right all of the time don’t get it. While police lives are important, so are the lives of the victims of police. Someone said King shouldn’t have run when police showed up. True. But everyone who has ever been a kid and has been involved in something wrong has run when “the grown folks” have shown up.

It’s what kids do.

How do we make people care? How do we get white people, those who are so ready to demonize black people, care about black people on a human level, relating to the things that humans do when they do not feel loved, supported, affirmed and/or needed? I’ll bet this kid was trying to fit in, trying to have friends, trying in his 13-year-old way to find meaning in his life. He may have been getting ready to go down a path of crime, or he may have been involved in one stupid episode…that cost him his life.

There are a lot of things to think about in this case, but I am hoping that authorities will look at this boy as just that … a boy who did something dumb and not as someone who deserved to die.

He didn’t.

A candid observation ….

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 …

Policing in America

A friend of mine caught me off guard when he said, out of the blue, “Police here are radicalized.”

It’s not like this guy is a bleeding heart liberal. He’s a middle of the road, sometimes Conservative, sometimes Liberal guy who used to be a police officer. He has been in the military …and he has a lot of soldier and police officer friends. “A lot of those guys are really nice guys,” he said quietly, “but there are a few who have been radicalized.”

I had to ask him what he meant. When we hear the word “radicalized,” we usually think of people who have been snagged by ISIS and trained to be brutes. Radicalized Muslim extremists, if the news is to be believed, are the ones to be aware and be afraid of. They are the ones who bomb buildings and cut peoples’ heads off. They are the ones who do suicide bombings. The way they are described, they are pure evil, worthy of being extinguished from the face of the earth, or at least from the face of America. So, the term “radicalized” caught me off guard.

“What I mean is, these guys have been taught to hate black people. They have been taught that black people are bad and are to be feared. They grow up with that and then they become police officers. It’s perfect for them. They have the law behind them; they are free to kill “the bad guys,” who, in their minds, are often black. They are like the modern KKK. They don’t wear white sheets anymore. They wear blue uniforms and have badges and they carry guns. They are as free to kill black people as was the KKK. Trust and believe me on this one.”

His tone was somber. He was angry but he was serious in his analysis of what is going on in America today. He knows well the line that police say, “I was in fear for my life.” “That’s all you have to say,” he said, “and you are pretty much justified in using your weapon.”

I had to look up the word “radicalization.” According to the National Counterterrorism Center, radicalization is “is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that (1) reject or undermine the status quo or (2) reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.”

Is that what happens to people who are taught to hate?

We know that in America, hatred has been the seedbed of white supremacy. In spite of belief in God and claims to be Christian, it has been hatred, not agape love, mercy and forgiveness that have been the central beliefs of those who have killed, maimed and discriminated against people because of their color. That is indisputable.

So, are many white children in America radicalized from an early age?  And is radicalization of a white American who grows up to shoot, lynch, beat and discriminate against people of color any less a threat than is a religious extremist who is involved in ISIS? Is ISIS any better than the Ku Klux Klan?

There is yet another piece to this police issue in America that is problematic. We all remember last year in Ferguson when the people were in the streets, mostly peaceful, and the police came out in full military gear. It was like a war; the police were the “good guys” and the black people protesting the death of Michael Brown and so many other issues, were “the enemy.” It was hard to watch, but it was clear that the police were positioning themselves as those in power. There was nothing the people on the streets could do to beat the tanks and military-style weapons. Ferguson was a war zone …and the police …had the power.

This power issue seems to be at the heart of racism, white supremacy and police brutality. Not all that long ago, it was the power that white people had that made black people afraid and caused the Great Migration. White people knew they could accuse a black person of something and there didn’t even have to be a trial. A black person could be and was killed often on the back of an unsubstantiated accusation. Black people wanting to vote could lose their jobs, their homes …and their lives. It was fear that drove black people ..fear caused by the unrestrained and unharnessed power of white people.

Any challenge to that power – then and now – is deadly. When one looks at the tapes of what happened to Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose, it is clear that it is not only racism that is operating, but a brute show of power. Both officers in both those incidents became incensed when their authority was challenged. Challenging the authority and power of white people has always been dangerous for black people in this nation. Police, it seems, (and this is not just white officers, but officers in general), have been seduced by the power they have, and they do not tolerate being challenged. For many officers, it appears that  the show of power extends into their private lives; study show that officers are two to four times more likely to engage in domestic abuse than the general population.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/).

It feels like we need to understand the landscape of the issue with which we are dealing if we want to effect change as concerns policing in America. Many of these officers are nice people, that is for sure …but many others are brutes …or thugs ….who do violent things to people – people of color or their own families – because they can. It seems that this systemic violence which is a part of policing in America needs to be studied carefully so that something can be done to stop the tragic deaths of people who have done nothing or, at best, committed some minor traffic infraction.

Just a thought …and 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 …

In Fear For Their Lives

I watched, astonished, as reports came in that fugitive Eric Frein had been taken into custody. At the time of his capture, he supposedly was not armed. Reports say that when confronted, he knelt and put his hands up. He was arrested, reports said, “without incident.” (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/10/31/eric-frein-suspect-in-pennsylvania-trooper-ambush-taken-into-custody/)

Police were not “in fear for their lives” in his arrest.

Eric Frein was taken into custody; he had a cut on his nose (nobody has said yet how he got that. Did he have a confrontation with police?) but other than that, he looked pretty good. He was driven away and put into jail; he will have a trial. Justice will be served. Prosecutors are said to be ready to ask for the death penalty.

I kept thinking that had Frein been black, he would have been shot on sight.  He would not have been given a chance to put his hands up. Any movement he made would have been interpreted as menacing and threatening. Police would have shot him and probably killed him, and only after life left his body would they have found that at that moment, he wasn’t armed.

It wouldn’t have made a difference, though, not to the police and not to the American public. The fact that he had been known to be armed and that he had shot a police officer would have been justification for their shooting him dead.

I didn’t want to, but my thoughts went to the shooting of John Crawford, who was killed in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, as he carried an air rifle. Someone called police and said there was a man carrying a gun and that he was pointing it at people. None of that was true, but it didn’t matter. Police entered that store, which, by the way, is a facility where an open carry policy exists. Reports said police told him to drop his weapon but apparently he didn’t do it quickly enough. as he fell, he was heard to say, “it’s not real,” but it didn’t matter. He was shot dead, and police and much of the American public think his killing was justified.

Seriously?

Yes, seriously…John Crawford didn’t get a ride to the police station to be accused of wrongdoing, if he was in fact wrong. Police did not give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a black man and he had a gun. Police were “in fear for their lives.”

It seems to me that police would have been “in fear for their lives” with Frein. Yes, he dropped to his knees …but he had been reported to be heavily armed. Why isn’t it they were not afraid of him?

Can someone help me here?

Were they not afraid because he was white, clean-shaven, and, well, harmless-looking? They KNEW he was a murderer but they were not afraid.

Frein will get his day in court. The family of the officer he killed will get justice. And that is good. I guess taxpayer money will be used for his trial and imprisonment. If he is convicted and gets the death penalty, chances are tax payer money will be used for years to keep him in prison as he goes through the appeal process. The family of the slain officer, though, will get justice. Rightly so.

But the families of slain black people will not get justice. They will be left to grapple with the fact that in America, black lives are disposable waste and society for the most part does not feel that police are wrong when they kill an African-American. They will get no justice; the killers of their loved ones will go free and be allowed to keep on living their lives because they only killed because they were “in fear for their lives.”

There is the sound of Rachel, wailing…because her children are no more ..

And too few in American society, in white American society, hear her or care to hear her.

A candid observation ….