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 …

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 …