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.

Thou Shalt Not Lie

The police officer in St. Louis involved in the scuffle in a city council meeting …did not tell the truth.

If I heard him correctly, Jeff Roorda, who is the business manager of the city’s police union, said that he was wearing his “I am Darren Wilson” bracelet because he had the right, citing the First Amendment.

There is nothing wrong with that. If had the chutzpah to wear that bracelet as he sat in the midst of a roomful of frustrated and angry African-Americans who went to the meeting to begin discussion on forming a citizen’s review board which would monitor police, then so be it. The First Amendment allows him to do that.

But here is where he stepped over the line.  He said, ” “I have a right to freedom of speech, expression, just as violent protesters in Ferguson, who attempted to kill and maim police every night.” (http://kdvr.com/2015/01/29/ferguson-community-meeting-turns-to-scuffle-after-police-union-leader-tries-to-take-charge/)

That is not what the protesters did.

The few who were violent attempted to destroy property and they did, but it is not true that they tried to “kill and maim police every night.”

They protested. They walked. They shouted. They chanted. They did cry out: No justice, no peace! No racist police!” And there were some who chanted that they wanted to kill police. But that number was small.

Roorda misrepresented what the majority of the protesters were doing and saying

The protesters, in Ferguson and all over the country, are not anti-police. They are anti-bad-policing, and they are fed up with police being able to kill people and get away with it.

It is in the DNA of America that police have been able to brutalize, kill and destroy black people under the protection of the law. It really began after Reconstruction when white people had to find a way to get black people back on their farms and into their businesses to work. The labor of black people made this country, made the profits of the South and, in fact, of this nation.

Black people worked. White people and white businesses, reaped the results of their labor.

Black people were criminalized in order to justify them being thrown into situations where they would work for white people or corporations for years, unable to pay off their debt for the crimes they supposedly committed.

Under the convict-leasing system, black people could and would be arrested for the slightest thing – like not having a job, or walking outside too late at night…When they died, they were thrown into mass graves. If on their jobs they made the boss mad, they could be and were killed  by those bosses and again, tossed into mass graves.

The bosses, the law enforcement people, didn’t have to worry about being arrested or sent to jail.

So, police culture as it is today has been stoked and practiced for a long time, and it is that culture that black people, and concerned people of all races, are objecting to.

Black police have beaten black people too.

Roorda has a right to wear his bracelet. He has a right to stand up for Darren Wilson.

But he is out of line for misrepresenting what these painful protests have been about.

He didn’t tell the truth. Black people were not trying to kill and maim police officers.

They were trying to make police and “the system” to hear them.

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 …

Fear Produced Ferguson Disturbance

Police are allowed to use deadly force if they are ‘in fear for their lives.” I get that. It makes sense…

Except that when it comes to black people, it seems like police are always in fear for their lives.

Fear of black people is nothing new. Time magazine calls it “Negrophobia,” and defines it as “the unjustified fear of black people.” (http://time.com/3207307/negrophobia-michael-brown-eric-garner-and-americas-fear-of-black-people/) The article talks about phobias in general; they are “extreme aversions,” and they can cause impulsive, irrational, behavior. When I was a child, I had a phobia about bees; if I saw one, I ran. If one, God forbid, was in my car, I was prone to want to stop the car wherever it was and get out and run. My daughter has a phobia about spiders. If she even thinks she sees one, she will grab whatever is near to spray on it and will spray it until it drowns. She even bought a special vacuum cleaner which she kept near her, plugged in and ready to go, so that if she saw a spider, no matter how small, she could get her vacuum cleaner out and get rid of it.

It seems that many white people have…that kind of unnatural, unjustified fear of black people.  A friend of mine said he got onto an elevator which already had a passenger – a white woman. As soon as he got on, he said, he could see her tense up. He stayed on the other side of the elevator, so as to try to reduce her discomfort. When the elevator door opened, she darted out …only to run smack into another black man who was getting on. My friend said he thought she was going to faint. Negrophobia. We who are Negroes have seen it and felt it.

In the recent debacle in Ferguson, it felt like fear was running the agenda. Those police officers, wrapped, as they were in riot gear and equipped with military weapons, were afraid. All they saw was a sea of black faces, people whom they do not really regard as people, people whom they have not cared to try to get to know. They saw people who, they believe, are mere brutes, objects, not people, devoid of feeling, emotion and, frankly, human worth. What I saw was a group of frightened white people ready to kill “the enemy,” i.e., black people. It didn’t matter that most of them did not loot and were not armed. They were part of the “enemy camp,” to be feared as much as an Iraqi soldier might be feared in the war over there.

Brandon Hill, the author of the article in Time, wrote, “Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression.” Police, mostly white, have been given a steady dose of “black people are bad people,” as has been the general public. Many white people still, in the 21st century, have not met and do not know any black people. All they have is the myths, the sound bites and the media depiction of black people as animals, aberrant entities in this nation who, frankly, are bringing the country down. Bill O’Reilly said that the problems with black people come from “the culture.” He is, of course, inferring that black culture is deficient in and of itself, not allowing one iota for the impact of racism, poverty and general oppression on the lives of so many African-Americans. He obviously does not know the culture of this people which has sustained and strengthened them as they have fought racism in every aspect of their lives. He does not know, or care about, black fathers and mothers who work two and three jobs to sustain their families. He does not know about how central faith and God is to this people who have been discarded by the country they helped build. He does not know this culture which teaches a crazy lesson that people are to forgive their oppressors, because that is a central tenet of Christianity.

When my son was little, he was unbelievably cute, and people, white and black, would stop me and comment on the same. I found myself resenting the compliment coming from white people, though, because I knew that as he grew, he wouldn’t be so cute. He would be just another black man. He is now a strapping 6’4″ and has fallen into the category of those to be feared; as such, he is at risk of being approached by and harassed by a Negrophobe.

Fear caused the debacle in Ferguson, not the protesting people. A few bad apples looted, feeding into the “bad Negro” motif Americans have embraced, but the debacle was not caused by the looters. The debacle was caused by frightened white police officers with too much power and too many military-grade weapons. Had the officers treated the protestors like human beings, and not like “f***ing animals” the outcome, the response would have been different.

I know that because I know “the culture.”

If more white people knew the culture, they’d be able to replace the fear with respect …and that would create an entirely different vibe between whites and blacks.

I don’t think the fear will disappear any time soon, though. Negrophobia is an American malady which is probably here to stay…

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 …