“The Process” Can’t Be Trusted

I don’t think most white folks will get it – why black folks are so distrustful of police officers, law enforcement in general, and “the process.”

I have listened to people talk about how black people need to let “the process” work in the Michael Brown shooting.  They cannot understand why it is black people in general do not seem interested one bit in doing that.

They cannot – or will not – understand that “the process” has never worked for black people.

At this point, Officer Darren Wilson has been protected. That’s “the process.” The case is before a grand jury. That’s “the process.” There has been an attempt to smear Michael Brown’s character, even as Officer Wilson has been protected. That’s to let the public know that whatever Wilson did, the force he used was not excessive, but “justified,” as Wilson was “in fear for his life.”

That’s “the process.”

In this nation, “the process” has been so often skewed against black people. In spite of the Constitution saying that all Americans are due a trial with a jury of their peers, few black people have had that. No, so often, all-white juries have been assigned to cases involving black people, and too often have rendered a “guilty” verdict, in spite of evidence that has been fraught with problems, or in spite of prosecutors and/or judges who have let racial prejudice be the driver in their presentations, rather than a quest for justice.

Henry McCollom and his brother, Leon Brown, sat for 30 years in prisons in North Carolina for a murder they did not commit. DNA evidence proving they had nothing to do with the murders – something they said from the beginning – but their lives are basically gone, thanks to “the process.”  (http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-death-row-inmates-released-mccollum-brown-20140903-story.html).

When Emmett Till was murdered, his murderers were arrested, yes, but an all-white jury acquitted them. The jury took less than an hour to acquit Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam …and they were so arrogant that they gave a complete confession to LIFE Magazine after they were set free. “The process” cleared them to go on with their lives.

“The process” has been responsible for seeing young African-Americans hauled off to prison with long sentences for things white kids get away with. Our jails are filled with non-violent, primarily African-American men and women. “The process” obviously worked against them.

In cases where black people have been killed by police officers, those officers have been more often than not let go. One of the officers who was involved in the shooting death of John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio at the beginning of August is already back on the job. George Zimmerman is free. It took forever for “the process” to even think that Zimmerman needed to be arrested. The “Central Park Five” were swept into the process and convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. They maintained their innocence from the beginning,  but those who helped sustain “the process” pushed them through as though they were guilty nonetheless.

“The process” does that frequently when it comes to black people. Those who support “the process” seem to believe that black people are guilty unless someone can prove otherwise. They assume that if a black person is accused of wrongdoing, he or she is probably guilty. “The process” then works to put “the guilty” away.

That means that oftentimes, the killers of black people go free, or that those accused of bothering a white person get put away. In the case of Trayvon Martin, “the process” made it easy to show that Martin was a criminal who deserved what he got.  George Zimmerman is free. Meanwhile,  Marissa Alexander, who killed nobody but merely fired warning shots to fend off her abusive husband, faces up to 60 years in prison for what she did. “The process” has not leaned in her favor at all.

So, you’ll excuse us, world, if we cannot trust “the process.” From the beginning of this Mike Brown tragedy, “the system” has worked to make sure “the process” protects the police officer while it vilifies the victim. That’s what “the process” has historically done with black people.

A candid observation …

 

Police Trained to Shoot to Kill

.

A friend of mine, who was a police officer for 30 years, weighed in on my despair of what is going on in Ferguson

“As soon as that officer got out of his car, he intended to shoot him (Brown),”  my friend said. “When you pull the trigger, you are intending to kill the target.”

As I agonized over the fact that Mike Brown had been killed, even I knew that police shoot to kill. Years ago, as I studied journalism and our class visited a police department, I asked the question of why police didn’t just shoot a person’s knees. That way, I said, the perpetrator could be stopped in his/her tracks, right?

No, the police officer who was teaching the class said. “We shoot to kill.”

My ex-cop friend affirmed that answer. “The bullets police use are designed to spread; they bounce around when they hit you. They mushroom so they can do more damage.” (I had remarked on how a bullet that entered Mike Brown in the forehead had gone in his eye, moved around, come out of that eye, gone back in that eye, and then exited near his collar-bone, according to the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/us/michael-brown-autopsy-shows-he-was-shot-at-least-6-times.html?_r=0)  “Police use those and think they’re being more humane. Military bullets go through one person into the person who’s behind the person initially shot. The idea is to stop the threat; you need something that is going to kill, not just wound a person. You are trained to kill. When you would someone, you’ve actually missed them.”

That was and is a troubling thought. By Sunday, August 17, crowds in Ferguson had been out on the streets for several days, hours each day, marching, praying, shouting for justice in the death of Mike Brown. There had been violence after sun fell; local police, in full riot gear, used tear gas and pointed assault weapons at the already-troubled members of the community. Instead of quelling the violence, the police action only caused more agitation.

I was disturbed at what I was seeing. There was more and more talk about the militarization of police forces in the United States. The author of a book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, said on a CNN interview: “Using tear gas is illegal.”

My head jerked; up to that point, I had been only half-listening to all the discussion about military weapons being used by the Ferguson Police Department; maybe I thought it was just hype, or maybe I was just weary of seeing people struggle against a system which had historically meant them no good…

But the statement about the tear gas got to me. I had seen the huge tank-looking trucks; I had seen police perched upon them; I had seen the smoke from the tear gas, and I had seen the police – lots of them – advancing toward the crowd with those guns drawn. It seemed like I was looking at a picture of a battle in Iran or Iraq or Gaza. But no, it was here, in the United States. I remembered seeing police with those guns cocked and ready to fire, moving menacingly toward the crowd; the image of the light coming from them had actually made me shake. (I am not sure if the light was a night-light or a laser which would allow a more accurate shooting). I heard people say how badly the tear gas burned their eyes, their throats. I heard people say that tear gas was dispersed in their back yards. The looters got gassed, but so did many innocent women and children. The thought had bothered me ..

So, when I heard author Radley Balko say that tear gas was illegal to use, my antennae went up. Why in the world are authorities letting police use tear gas if it’s illegal?

My cop friend tried to console me. “It’s the more humane of the gasses that are available,” he said. “In the military, there is a gas used that can cause a person to “crap their pants” immediately.”If you ban tear gas in riots, they could use another. There is sonic equipment available and it sends out sound waves that cause confusion and headaches. They use that over in Iraq.”

It was too much information, too much, too quickly, at a time when I was grappling with my outrage that such tactics had been used against the crowd. I had seen tear gas used plenty of times, going all the way back to the Detroit riots. I took its use for granted. But now I was hearing that it was illegal to use it in civil disturbances…and I was disturbed. My friend continued to talk.

“Having this stuff is one thing,” he said.  “Knowing when and when not to use it is another thing.”

My friend, on a roll educating me, said that the militarization had been going on since the 1960’s. “Right after the Civil Rights movement ” he said, “weapons and equipment used in the Vietnam War started coming into our country and given to police departments.” Back then, the police used heavy-handed violence on students, primarily white, protesting against that war. A politician at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 observed that America was becoming a “police state.”

Now, local police departments are being supplied military equipment by the Pentagon. These are weapons and equipment used in the Iraq War.

“Police,” he said, “are training for another terrorist attack. SWAT teams train for “urban warfare.” They are trained to ‘be’ or act like the military,” he said.

“Police departments don’t know what they’re doing,” said the ex-cop. “They get these weapons and get a six-hour training. They always over-react because they don’t now how to deal with people.”

On the unrest in Ferguson, my friend said, “This is what I call a “police riot.” Any time a situation is escalated by one side, that side is responsible. The people in Ferguson were agitated, and the police reacted by shooting rubber bullets, using tear gas. The police caused the escalation.”

“The weapons being used haven’t help because they shouldn’t have been used in the first place. They responded to the people’s unrest with military weapons. It should never have been done.”

He encouraged me to be realistic.  “All of this happened because of fear,” he said. “The way police operate now is based on fear of what has happened before. Police officers follow orders. They are a para-military organization. They follow orders and instructions. Who’s giving the orders? The chief. The elected officials. It all comes back to local politics.”

My friend paused, then added a sobering thought. “Fifty percent of the general population is mentally ill,” he said quietly. “I would bet that fifty percent of any police department is probably mentally ill, too.”

“The officer in the Ferguson case should go to prison…but my gut says he won’t. He would go to prison because under no circumstances should this shooting have happened this way. It shouldn’t have happened. I’ve seen it from the inside.”

Undoubtedly, another officer would disagree with my friend. Regardless of that , a couple of things really resonate: that the police shoot to kill …and that the police acted out of fear. That seemed clear to me; what I saw looked like an army confronting a mortal enemy, absolutely intending to kill them if it “became necessary” in their view.

The thing is, angry African-Americans are not an enemy. They are a people who have too often not experienced justice in the justice system, a people who have seen their children shot by police over and over, with little to none action taken against those officers. Too often, they have heard, the police were right, that the shooting was “justified.” Too often, as they have mourned the loss of their loved ones, they have also decried the lack of justice afforded them.

No, they were not “the enemy.” The police, however, seemed not to know that …or to care.

A candid observation …

 

A White Progressive Blames the Victim

As a rule, I hate the word “victim.” If one claims oneself to be a victim, he or she will invariably act like one.

That being said, there are times when people ARE victims…and when they are, to be blamed for their state of being adds insult to injury.

Over the years we have seen women blamed for being raped. If they hadn’t worn certain clothing, hadn’t acted in a provocative way, some have said, they wouldn’t have been raped. The argument is as infuriating as it is insulting.

I thought about that when, as a I talked with a “progressive” white person who is understandably upset about the looting going on in Ferguson, Missouri, expressed his disgust that I was believing the accounts of what happened that day that were not so complimentary. After calling me an “anarchist,” he pooh-poohed my assertion that black people have been oppressed historically in this country. Not so, he said. “Everyone here is treated fairly.”

He outright said that the police officer is “innocent of any wrongdoing.” “The facts will support that,” he said. He despaired that I and so many others were so eager to believe the “Brown side” of the story …and said he was tired of black people complaining, that all black people wanted was special treatment.

I was angry, and then I was sad. If a white “progressive” feels that way, then there is less support for the human and civil rights of black people than I thought. Don’t get me wrong; I have never thought there was a whole lot of support for black people, but if a “progressive” who grew up in integrated neighborhoods (he said) and who has always believed in civil rights can say this, then the base of support for black people is thinner than I imagined.

There was not, in the words of my “progressive” white friend, a shred of compassion for what happened to Michael Brown. He was glad that the video tape of the strong arm robbery in which Brown was allegedly involved had been shown. “Brown was no angel,” my friend said emphatically. “He wasn’t just a good kid about to go to college.”

That may be true…he was no angel, but I daresay not many 18-year-old males are “angels.” And regardless of his “angel” status, there is something profoundly wrong with how he was gunned down by a police officer.

My friend didn’t seem to care that Brown, after being shot, lay on a hot street, bleeding and uncovered, for hours. It was as though this young boy was just “another one of them” who deserved what he got. “Wait until the facts come out,” he hissed.

What got me was not just that my friend was so vehement in his remarks; what got me is that he is not alone. The police officer who has yet to be charged with shooting Brown is on paid administrative leave, and he has a ton of online support, with people donating money, prayers and support.

My gut level feeling is that this man is going to get off.

It happens so much in our community.

So Brown, dead and now autopsied three times, is being blamed for being dead. Had he not “bum rushed” the officer, as a third-party has offered as “the official account” of what happened, he would not be dead. My “progressive” friend doesn’t doubt her account at all. Facts, she has the facts…

The officer (who I have not named on purpose because he represents, to me, “everycop” who has done this kind of thing and gotten away with it) will keep his job. The St. Louis District Attorney is working hard to get the case to the Grand Jury as soon as possible, where anything said will be kept secret. The Grand Jury will undoubtedly be all white, will lend a sympathetic ear. The word and account given by the police officer will be taken as fact.  It id doubtful that the Grand Jury, which will be heavily controlled by the prosecutor (as all grand juries are) will vote for charges to be brought against the officer but if he is, a subsequent trial will be nothing more than a formality.

If this is the way “progressives” think, then I can no longer take comfort in the fact that such a group of people exists, as I once did. This man sounded more like a hard-core right-wing American.

The thought was and is so disheartening that I wept. I hate the violence. I hate the looting …but I also hate the injustice that has been the trademark of the relationship between “the justice system” and black people for years. I hate it that the white police officer is being protected while the dead kid is being vilified and blamed…for his own death.

It is sad, and troubling, and disturbing.

Yet, it is the landscape on which we all stand. And it hurts.

A candid observation …