A Solution for Police Officers Who Shoot Out of Fear

With the most recent shooting death of an unarmed black man by white police, we are hearing the same story of why the tragedy happened: offending officers said that they believed 22-year old Stephon Clark had a gun and they were “in fear for their lives.”

It turns out that Clark had an iPhone in his hand; no gun was found at the scene.

The post-shooting rhetoric is always the same. “Police say” the suspect “lunged” at them or was “reaching into his waistband,” giving police just cause to shoot. In the case of the killing by police of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the offending officers responded to a dispatch call which indicated that someone had called in to say that there was a “man with a gun” at a local park. The caller also said that the gun “was probably fake.”

Police, though, acted on the call. Reports say they drove their cruiser over a curb and came within feet of Tamir. Without warning, they shot the young boy at close range and afterward, did not render medical care. He most likely freaked out when he saw the police car lurching toward him and may have “reached into his waistband,” as police reported. Nonetheless, they didn’t identify themselves and shot and killed him. (http://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/index.ssf/2017/01/tamir_rice_shooting_a_breakdow.html)

They were “in fear of their lives.”

The excuse given by police officers as their reason for taking down black people is the standard line but it just does not work. How can a police officer be in fear of his or her life that often, especially when that same fear is not apparent when they take down white suspects?

It is very troubling that in the case of 22-year old Dylann Roof, the young white man who shot and killed 14 people in a church in South Carolina, who was known to have an assault weapon that he used in a crime, the police had no fear for their lives. They pursued Roof, found him, arrested him and then took him to a Burger King for him to get something to eat before taking him to the police station. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/dylann-roof-burger-king-cops-meal-article-1.2267615).

If one reads police accounts of these shootings of black men, they too frequently say that the officers “were in fear of their lives.” In the case of John Crawford, who was shot in the toy aisle in a Walmart while holding a toy gun, the officers shot first and asked questions later. Crawford’s last words before he died were said to have been, “It’s not real.” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/07/ohio-black-man-killed-by-police-walmart-doubts-cast-witnesss-account)

People can only take so much. The scenario is nearly always the same. There is an “investigation,” a grand jury is called, but the offending officers are found to have been in the right because they were “in fear of” their lives.

That’s just too much fear and too easy of an excuse to keep letting police officers wage assault on unarmed black people. In the case of Clark, “police said” he was smashing windows and video shows that he ran from police when they began pursuing him. Though it’s not a smart thing to do, complying with police orders has not necessarily been a good thing, either. Black people have no reason to trust white police officers.

But, the officers said – as they so often do – that they were afraid. They weren’t afraid of Dylann Roof, a known murderer.

If their fear of black people is that intense, then perhaps the solution is that they not be assigned or even allowed in black neighborhoods. Perhaps, for the good of innocent people, police departments should send the officers who are afraid of black people to the suburbs and let men and women who have the capacity to “serve and protect” people and give them a fair chance and treatment worthy of any human being serve in black neighborhoods.

Black communities  are tired of so many officers who kill black people get off because they were “afraid.” Send them elsewhere, and give our communities a chance to experience real police work and the justice that such work can bring.

A candid observation…

 

Black Lives Matter – Not So Much

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It hit me not long ago, as I listened to more than one television pundit say that the Black Lives Matter movement is a hate movement, specifically against, police officers, that they do not understand the concept of perhaps the most important word in the BLM moniker: “matter.”

The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t erupt after a police shooting of an unarmed black man. It erupted after a civilian, a vigilante in the person of George Zimmerman, stalked, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayon Martin, who was unarmed. The angst and anger of much of the black community rose as Zimmerman spun the tale that he was “in fear for his life,” though the only things Martin was carrying were a can of iced tea and a package of Skittles.

The anger continued to rise as the police and the community seemed not to care that Zimmerman had stalked Martin …though being advised to stop doing it by local police, and had confronted the young man, who I am sure was quite worried about this unknown person following him.

Zimmerman’s encounter with Martin ended up with Martin being shot dead and Zimmerman showing some minor injuries from their tussle. Martin had done what any person being followed at night would have done: he defended himself – and yet, nobody seemed to care. His life did not matter. His humanness – meaning, his drive to protect and defend himself against a man with a gun – did not matter. He was effectively blamed for his own death.

And then, to add insult to injury, the jury went with Zimmerman and he was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Yes, there have been lots of extrajudicial killings of black people by law enforcement. That has been a historical reality in this country, and black people have been wrestling with it for literally generations. There have been too many trials to mention where all-white juries have convicted a black person of a crime which the judge, jury and officers knew he or she probably had not committed. That, too, has been a part of the African American search for justice and full American citizenship in this country.

But the Black Lives Matter movement erupted because in spite of what was clearly a case of an armed wanna-be police officer stalking an unarmed black kid – because he “looked suspicious,” the killer got off. One more time, the killer got off.

Are there some in the Black Lives matter movement who say “kill the pigs?” Yes. But the bulk of the protesters in the streets are not calling for the murder of police. They are calling for the end of judicial injustice.  Judicial injustice has said to black people for far too long that our lives have no value, and neither do our cries for justice.

I watch with interest as the rise in opioid addiction by white kids is getting more and more attention, with politicians and media and police doing all they can to save these kids from lives that will only go downhill if they do not shake their addictions. There was no such push to save the lives of black kids becoming addicted to crack cocaine. While white kids are being said to be suffering from the “sickness” of drug addiction, black kids were rounded up and thrown into jail for small amounts of marijuana. I watched with interest as   Brock Turner was treated with compassion after having raped an unconscious woman, the court not wanting to ruin his life by giving him a lengthy – and appropriate sentence –  for his crime. I  watch lawmakers in Flint dancing around what they need to do in order to make water safe for little black kids who have been drinking lead-tainted water for some time now.

Black kids, suffering, do not matter. Their lives do not matter. Their futures do not matter.

That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, as much as it is about getting rogue, racist, ultra-violent police off the streets.

Just thought I’d share a personal and very painful …candid observation.

 

When Despair Wins

There is a community of young, black activists in Columbus, Ohio, which is mourning today.

They are mourning and they are in shock because one of their foot-soldiers, MarShawn McCarrel, apparently killed himself yesterday. The report say that he killed himself on the steps of the Ohio State House, a location from which many marches have begun.

MarShawn was a poet and an activist, who was fierce about fighting for the dignity of black people. Up close, he was shy and unassuming, polite and well-mannered. To think that he is gone is almost too much to bear.

As I listen to GOP politicians talk about Americans being angry, I am angered because in their dialogues about anger, they do not consider the anger and frustration and sense of despair of black people. Many older black people have learned to manage their hopelessness, but the young people, those in the streets and in the malls and in the courthouses demanding dignity and justice…have not.

Not a single GOP candidate has bothered to mention that the despair of black people is valid. It is a despair with which we have lived for generations. Not Trump, not Rubio, not Cruz, not Christie…none of them seem to give a horse’s ass about what black people go through because of white supremacy.

Not a one of them (of the ones I mentioned) have voiced concern and/or outrage over the lead-filled water given to people in Flint, Michigan, but I would bet that all of them will, in the future, be on some bandwagon to do something with black kids who have behavior problems – forgetting that lead affects people in horrific ways for years. Lead poisoning affects everything from IQ to the ability to have a healthy body. Not a one of these candidates, and too many white people – care about that. They say that they are pro-life, but they only want life for unborn fetuses and for white people.

They want their country back, a country marked by racism, sexism, homophobia and an economy which puts way too many people on the bottom, without thought of what poverty does to people.

They don’t think about what black and brown kids feel when they go into schools that are shoddy and broken, where heat doesn’t work in the winter and air conditioning doesn’t work in the summer. They don’t think about or care about what it must feel like for little black children to see their white counterparts with fine, fancy schools and they are given the worst facilities imaginable.

They don’t care that in many urban schools, the toilets don’t work, the windows are broken, and the books are old. They don’t think that these little children have feelings, and grow up believing they are inferior because they are treated as though they are inferior, like they do not matter.

The kids, the young people, who have taken to the streets, are tired and angry. They are tired of being ignored. Tired of being marginalized. Tired of being shot down or shot at. Tired of being labeled. Tired of getting second best. But none of the GOP candidates talk about that anger. It is only the anger of white people who feel like perhaps they are losing control of their grip on America that seems to matter.

My heart is breaking today because this young man is said to have committed suicide. He fought until he couldn’t fight any longer. His anger turned inward, where it morphed into depression and finally into despair. He went to the place where unjust laws are made, and he killed himself.

Those running for president should care about the despair about all people, not just their base. White anger is no more sacred than is black anger. And black anger in America has a history grounded in the policies and practices meted out because of white supremacy.

In the Bible it says that God will turn our mourning into dancing. I guess God didn’t get to MarShawn soon enough.

A candid observation…

 

 

The Phenomenon of a Co-Opted Media

I realized this morning as I watched Matt Lauer of the TODAY Show interview GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, more than ever, that the media has been co-opted by the powers that be.

In spite of the horrific phenomenon called mass incarceration, in spite of blatantly racist voter suppression movements in Southern states, in spite of problematic policing that is resulting in way too many black people dying at the hands of police, Lauer didn’t ask Trump a single question about any of it.

I was disappointed. Journalism is supposed to be a profession that looks for and exposes truth. It is supposed to give listeners, viewers and readers a comprehensive, inclusive and honest picture of the world. Instead, “we the people” get what the powers that be want us to get.

Yes, I know that the media have covered the disturbances following questionable deaths at the hands of police. And yes, the media covered the disturbances (some call them riots) in Ferguson and in Baltimore …but that was largely self-serving, because so many people want to see black people looting and fighting because it feeds into their perception that black people are bad and that if black people are dying at the hands of police, they must have done something to deserve it.

But there has been little mention of what is going on in Alabama, as white officials are closing 31 driver’s license offices in Alabama in counties that are primarily black, even as the state has announced that driver’s licenses (the most popular form of picture ID) will be required in order for people to vote in upcoming elections. (http://whnt.com/2015/09/30/alea-announces-driver-license-office-closures-includes-two-in-north-alabama/) There has been some mention, but not much, about mass incarceration, in spite of the fact that this nation incarcerates more people than any other modern nation.

There was little to no coverage on major network and cable stations on the anniversary of the Million Man March, where literally hundreds of thousands of black people, largely men, gathered, with no violence, nothing but a hunger to be in a place to learn how their lives and the conditions in their communities could be made better. Yes, Minister Farrakhan spoke, and though I respect him, I found his some of his comments to be sexist and problematic on several levels, but to not cover that mass gathering of black people was a travesty of journalism.

The questions posed to Trump included immigration and the Second Amendment. Mr. Trump, without providing a single detail, continued to give his pat answers, about how he will make America great again, about how he will build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants from piling into this nation, and make Mexico pay for it, about how we need to honor the Second Amendment – all issues that are issues for swaths of white, Conservative voters for the most part, but not entirely. Matt Lauer pushed some, but could not, or did not, get past Trump’s pat, non-specific answers …and the people in New Hampshire in the audience seemed giddy with approval.

Charles Marsh wrote in his book, God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, that America was then a closed society. He wrote, “People spoke, without blushing, of “Christian” morals – values, families, clubs and society – even of Christian fun and wholesomeness.” The closed society had taken the divine into its own possession; it had brought God under its nervous management.” (p. 146)  He also wrote that white Christians were too often silent on social issues and was “hostile to the Gospel, indeed to Christ himself.” (p. 139) White Christians believed and acted within their belief that church policies were in line with “God’s design for separate races.” (p. 138), and spoke of the “theological bankruptcy of white moderate Christianity. (p. 137) Whites were socialized, writes Marsh, to be “insensitive to black suffering.” (p. 131) More important, he wrote of the conditions in the 60s, (and I would say, even now), was the preservation and continuation of the white way of life, God notwithstanding.

I could not help but go back to Marsh’s words as I listened to the interview of Mr. Trump this morning, Neither he nor any of those people eating pancakes seemed to care an iota about the suffering the black, brown and poor people of this nation are going through. There was not an iota of parents who are crying, schools that are grossly inferior, voting laws that are being pulled back in ways that will again keep black people from voting, nor the mass incarceration which is a trademark of these United States.

The media failed this morning.

A candid observation …

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America Is Not Safe

I have waited to write anything as I have watched the developments in the story of the horrific shooting in Oregon because I had to think.

I had to think, to wonder, what is going on in America, and what I came up with is that America is not safe anymore.

I had been thinking that for a while. I am no longer comfortable going into movie theaters or any public venues, really. When I drive I am really conscious of using my turn signal and watching my speed — which I always did, but with more intentionality now. I think of Sandra Bland, now dead, after she was arrested for <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/21/us/texas-sandra-bland-arrest/&#8221; target=”_hplink”>allegedly not using her turn signal</a>. I think of saying things, writing things, to let people know that if I end up dead in someone’s jail cell, that I did not kill myself. I take time to pay attention to the things I warned my son to take note of when he began driving, because I was afraid for him as a black man in America, a young, brilliant, handsome black man in America whose life is never safe here.

America is not safe — not because of international terrorism or ISIS, although ISIS as a force exists. America is not safe — not because of black on black crime. Yes, we in the black community need to be concerned with the destruction of black lives wherever and however it happens, including in our own communities. The one thing GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson said that I agree with is that all black lives matter. There is no doubting that the destruction of black lives occurs in black communities.

But that is not why America is not safe. Black people for the most part do not target and kill white people. Black people, most often go after other black people. Back on black crime is not the reason America is not safe. America is not safe because of white on white crime, because of this tendency of mostly young white men, angry with the world, or angry at their circumstances, and definitely angry at the government, think the way to handle their anger is to go into public spaces and just shoot, or kill masses of people in whatever way they can.

I remember thinking how unsafe America was when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I was angry at them for targeting a building with innocent people — including babies — inside. It’s OK to be angry with the government; that is part of being a citizen in a country, but to just bomb a public space, or to just go into a public space and begin randomly shooting, is a punk way to handle the anger. It is a punk way and it is despicable and it is cowardly.

The coverage of the shooting in Oregon has rung hollow for me. Our politicians are more concerned with holding onto an illogical insistence that “common sense gun laws” will keep people from owning guns. Pro-gun advocates insist that more people having guns will reduce gun violence and deaths from gun violence. It is insane and illogical reasoning, borne out of a stubborn resistance to “big government.

The sheriff of Douglas County, John Hanlin, does not believe there should be any kind of gun control and even suggested that in the Sandy Hook situation, where 20 <em>children</em> were left dead, might be a conspiracy. He posted a piece on YouTube after that incident, saying that “there has been a lot of deception surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting.” He suggested that the grieving parents might be “crisis actors.”

This, from a “law enforcement” officer.

There has been much talk about these young men, mostly white, who go into public spaces and gun people down. They are bad people, the experts say. They are mentally ill.

Perhaps. But the point has been made that people who are mentally ill are more likely to kill themselves than others for the most part. And, the case was made by President Obama, that in other modern countries there are just as many young men who are mentally ill, but we don’t hear about them gunning people down like they do here.

Attempts to explain the behavior of the mass shooters have relied as well on profiles, saying they are angry. Lots of people are angry. They don’t mow people down.

No, there’s something else going on. America’s culture is one of violence; the people from the Mayflower came into this new land mowing people down, specifically the Native Americans who were already here. We are a violent society. One of our core American beliefs is that the way to handle anger and to acquire and keep control of others is by and with violence. Cowboys were violent. Those who settled the West were violent. The debate over slavery was handled with a horror called the Civil War.

The answer, actually, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaign of non-violence, was violence. White people actually said that his non-violent campaign was inspiring and forcing violence in return.

America, with its core value of violence, is not safe. These young men, staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, are good, wholesome American citizens, with American values.

That’s what’s scary, and it’s at least one reason why America is not safe.