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.

Marissa Alexander’s Case Cries for Justice

Marissa Alexander, the Jacksonville, Florida mother who was given a 20-year prison sentence for firing two warning shots at her abusive husband, was released from jail Wednesday evening, in time for Thanksgiving.

I’m glad, but not really.

Marissa is awaiting a second trial for her “offense,” which sent her to prison under Florida’sstand your ground” laws. In my mind, she shouldn’t have been convicted in the first place. The fact that she has to go through another trial is, frankly, sickening.

Where in the world is justice in this country? Alexander’s case brings to light the horrible way this country treats women who are domestically abused, and the absolute absurdity and injustice of the “stand your ground” laws.

Marissa was trying to save her life. So, she fired warning shots – into the air, if I read correctly. Her husband was not injured. Yet, George Zimmerman followed and stalked young Trayvon Martin, and shot him dead – yet he got off because he was “defending” himself.

It is as ludicrous as it is unjust and inherently racist.

I saw a program on “Frontline” this week about a woman who was shot dead. Her family thinks her boyfriend, a police officer, shot her; the official and final conclusion of how she died is that she committed suicide. If you watch the program, it seems patently obvious that she could not have killed herself, and yet, the police have covered well for each other and this woman’s death has gone unavenged. There has been no justice.

I think the public and the media and politicians count on us, “the people,” to be quiet and just take what they give out and report. They don’t expect us to buck against unjust laws and policies. They expect us to form opinions of people based on what THEY say and on what they give us.

It seems to me, that, in the name of justice we women ought to be fighting for Marissa. Hang a second trial! She ought to be released and be allowed to raise her children. We ought to be protesting against her being put through what she’s being put through …and we, as women, too many of whom live in domestically abusive situations – ought to be fighting unjust laws and policies that keep us unprotected. Sexism still exists in this country, and it wreaks havoc in all kinds of ways.

Yeah, I’m glad Marissa Alexander is at home today, but not really.

A candid observation …

 

 

Reeva Steenkamp: Another Woman Needlessly Dead

Office on Violence Against Women logo
Office on Violence Against Women logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While everyone is in shock over the murder of Reeva Steenkamp allegedly by “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius, I am more in shock that domestic violence against women is still such a major problem in this world.

It is hard to believe the story that Pistorius offered about what happened at his home on Valentine’s Day, but it is not hard to believe, or to conjecture, that the couple had domestic violence issues before that fateful night.

What many women do not understand is that domestic violence is not just physical; it can be emotional, verbal, or psychological as well.  We women too often take treatment, or endure treatment, that demeans us, thinking that somehow things will get better or, worse, that we are somehow to blame for the violence our mates are heaping upon us.

Lisa Ling did a program about a year ago, with a follow-up last evening, on the OWN network about human trafficking. The whole issue of human trafficking is a subject for another time, but the mindset of the young girls and young women that makes them vulnerable to being used by pimps and johns is not unlike the mindset of women who stay in abusive relationships.

Last night on the program, a young woman who managed to get off the streets and get back into school with plans to go to college was trying to help another young woman, who wanted to get out of the business but was afraid. The young woman who had made it out said to her ( and I am paraphrasing) that when a guy tells you you’re pretty, don’t believe it. You tell yourself that you’re pretty. You believe it yourself. You don’t have to depend on others to define you.

It appears that far too many women, no matter how educated or attractive or capable, have low opinions of themselves and they do in fact depend on their men or partners for their definitions of themselves.  The men or partners can sense the insecurity and, like the predators they are, prey on the weakest part of the women they say they love. Even the act of preying on one’s weaknesses is an act of abuse and bullying.

The result is that far too many women end up being used in the course of being abused. Some men use women as “prize wives,” not respecting them for themselves but instead using them for their professional advancement. Others use women as their security; they do whatever they want but they dare their women to run out on or leave them. There are a host of reasons why men abuse women, and the world is becoming less complacent about it, but the world is doing too little, too late.

The young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in India, and who eventually died, pointed out the arrogance many men feel when it comes to the way they treat women. Whatever made those men feel like they could do that and get away with it? A silent society…

Women are brutalized every day, in front of their children, in public places, anywhere a man or partner feels like he or she wants to do it.  The society has to do more to address the problem, but we, the women, have to address the problems in ourselves that make us stay in abusive relationships.

Being lonely is not an excuse to stay; wanting to maintain a certain lifestyle is also not a reason to stay. It is said that Nicole Simpson, the wife of O.J. Simpson,   had filed charges against her husband for domestic abuse several times, but she, like so many other women, always went back. Was it the lure of fame, of her husband’s fame, that kept her going back?  Tina Turner endured abuse from her husband Ike; Rihanna, it seems, is still enamored with Chris Brown, despite his physical abuse of her.

If Reeva Steenkamp had encounters with Oscar Pistorius that were abusive, verbally, emotionally or otherwise, it is sad that she chose to stay.  A person who abuses another doesn’t love that person; he or she wants to control that person, and is afraid of losing that same person. We, the women, have to make the changes, “do the work,”  as Iyanla Vanzant says, of fixing our spirits and our resolve so that we care too much about ourselves to let any person treat us as objects. The United States Senate passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with no help from the Republican senators, but its ultimate fate lies in the hands of the GOP

led House of Representatives. (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/12/1556601/senate-passes-vawa-again/?mobile=nc) That anyone would think this issue is not worth their time is infuriating. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) thinks the problem is so serious that they are doing important research. (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/datasources.html) It is way past time to take this issue more seriously.

Perhaps those who think there is no need to have the government step into this issue. According to an article that appeared in The Atlantic, some Republicans think that the act represents government overreach and is a feminist attack on family values. (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/why-would-anyone-oppose-the-violence-against-women-act/273103/).

Seriously?

So, abusing women is an accepted value in American families?

That cannot be the case.

Whatever the House decides to do or not to do, we, the women, have got to take this problem by the horns and deal with it as we have never before. Reeva should be alive. So should thousands of other women who died at the hands of abusive mates. Women in prison who decided to defend themselves ought not be there. At the least, there ought to be a national “stand your ground” law that women who fight back can have to protect them.

This has got to stop…now.

A candid observation…

 

When Humiliation Explodes

http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/...
http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/020903-o-9999b-098.jpg filedesc Tuskegee Airmen – Circa May 1942 to Aug 1943 Location unknown, likely Southern Italy or North Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oppression, under any name, is humiliating.

I recently watched the HBO version of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a work which was much better, actually, than the film Red Tails. There were a lot of “ouch” moments in the film for me, but one particularly painful moment for me came in a scene where a white commanding officer told a black recruit that he was “nothing,” and after he was finished, the recruit was forced to salute.

It made my stomach turn.

Oppression comes in many forms: it may be racial or sexual; it may occur between a parent and child or a husband and wife or between partners. In all cases, oppression appears to be a form of sophisticated and sanctioned bullying, designed to keep the oppressed “in his or her place.”  And in assuring that “place,” someone is inevitably humiliated.

A woman, Marissa Alexander, was recently sentenced in Florida  to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot into the air as her husband threatened her with violence. Domestic violence is a form of oppression, and it is humiliating.  As is the case with so many cases of oppression, the oppressor in the case of Alexander escaped charges in the incident; he is free while this mother is in jail for trying to protect herself and maintain a sense of dignity.

Oppressors have power because their oppression is supported by society; their society-sanctioned bullying is carried out so that they can maintain power, and that power is used not to uplift society but to belittle other individuals, but what people do not seem to understand that individuals can only take so much humiliation before they explode. People have a need, a desire, to be honored and to be treated with dignity, and when that doesn’t happen, after a while, something inside one’s spirit gives out.

In the HBO movie, the recruit who was early on humiliated was punished later for being a show-boat; he was a licensed pilot when he entered the Tuskegee program but was never honored as such. He was treated as a nothing, and so when he had an opportunity to “show his stuff” in a plane, he did so, and was punished by being put out of the program.  It was too much. He begged for mercy, to be allowed to stay in the program. He said he’d do anything…but his begging was for naught. In despair, he snapped; he ran impulsively to a plane, got in, and took off on a suicide flight. If he was going to be out of the program, he would be “out” on his own terms. He would NOT go home humiliated, not again.

That humiliation builds and then explodes is no surprise. What is troubling, however, is that oppression continues as a force in life, causing far too much despair, far too much humiliation.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said that people only revolt when they are humiliated. Race riots, women finally fighting back against abusive spouses, children exploding because of overbearing parents …all seem to bear out Jackson’s statement. After a while, those who are oppressed say “enough,” and violence ensues.

That’s not a comforting thought…but what it is is a troubling reality.

A candid observation …

 

 

When Silence is Evil

The entire country has been in an uproar –  rightfully so – about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  The rush to apply Florida’sstand your groundlaw by Florida authorities to explain and justify the actions of accused shooter George Zimmerman has enraged this nation, most especially the parents of young Martin, who want justice in the killing of their son. We are all watching to see how this case pans out.

But there was another case of an individual using the “stand your ground” law, this one a young African-American woman, who did not kill but fired a warning shot to get her physically abusive husband away from her. In this case, unlike the Martin case, it was fairly clear that the woman, Marissa Alexander, was truly defending herself against her husband, but in spite of that, she was accused and convicted of attempted murder. Circuit Court Judge James Daniel sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

Seriously?

Alexander had never been in any trouble; she had never been in jail…and she believed in the justice system. She reportedly did not take a plea bargain that would have had her spend just three years in prison because she said, “I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong.”

Not only did Alexander not actually shoot her husband, but she had filed charges of domestic abuse against him before. In other words, there was a record of his abuse toward her. Her life had been in danger before …and yet, her action of self-defense was ignored. Twenty years in prison, despite a law that is supposed to let people “stand their ground.”

Something is wrong here…including our silence about this case.

I know, from reading books like The New Jim Crow and False Justice that once the justice system makes a ruling, it is extremely difficult to get that decision reversed. But just because such action is difficult does not mean we who see injustice should be silent.

Is it just me, or does this case reek not only of racism but sexism as well? Why is it NOT okay for women who are in abusive relationships to defend themselves? I remember visiting a women’s prison and being amazed at how many women were in jail because they had finally had enough of their husbands beating them to a pulp. Why is it NOT okay for women to defend themselves against abusive husbands, but it is somehow all right for a white man to “defend” himself against even the suggestion of bodily harm by an African-American or Latino man?  In spite of the reports we have had that George Zimmerman was advised by police officers to leave Trayvon Martin alone, he ignored that order and a young, unarmed African-American youth is dead…and the “stand your ground” law is being touted as the law that probably “saved” Zimmerman’s life.

Seriously?

There is no justifiable reason for Marissa Alexander to be in jail for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband. If that is not self-defense, then I am at a loss as to define what self-defense is.  Marissa has an 11-year-old daughter who not only had to witness violence between her parents, but who now has to live her young life without her mother. She also has to grapple with trying to understand why “the law” did not find a way to give justice to her mother.

Marissa has recently been denied a new trial. So, she sits in prison for trying to protect herself.

Something is wrong here…not least of which is our silence about his unfair and unjust case. Our silence is as evil as is the law that put her in jail, and the laws which do little to protect women in cases of domestic abuse.

A candid observation …