Welcome to America (here are the rules)

As shocking as this may be, I am not a Trump fan. But this post goes to show how, if you look hard enough, you can find commonalities where you least expect them.

The debate over ICEhow, or even if, we should deal with illegal immigrants seems academic. Call them what you will-undocumented, illegal, or otherwise-they are breaking the law.

Mr. Trump’s focus may be inarticulate and mean-spirited, but it is not wrong.

Now nothing is ever black and white. Individual circumstances call for careful consideration.  An eighteen-year-old high school graduate heading off to college, but here illegally because of her parents’ choice to break the law, should not be unilaterally tossed out.

I have no sympathy if this same graduate’s parents have been here for fifteen years, yet made no effort to become citizens.

What sparked this is an interview I read of a twenty-five or thirty-year-old woman, brought her illegally as an infant who said she wants to stay here to support her family in her homeland, but does not want to become a citizen.

Whoa, there Nelly. That’s not how America works.

This country guarantees opportunity, not success. We offer a pathway to citizenship, not a shortcut to enjoying the benefits without taking part. It’s like saying I want to play for a World Championship baseball team (let’s use the New York Yankees as a neutral example) but not go to practice or be in the game. I just want the salary.

If the problem with the law is it prevents one from applying for citizenship because of how you came here, we can work with that.

How about this as a compromise?  Regardless of how you got here, everyone can apply for citizenship. If you have no criminal record, we’ll overlook your entry in exchange for your making the effort at joining the team as a fully participating member.

We’ll issue you a provisional driver’s license good for five years. At the end of five years, if you’ve did not achieve citizenship, then out you go.  If within the five years, you achieve citizenship we’ll extend the license and classify you as a provisional citizen for another five years.

Maintain the peace, obey the laws, pay your taxes, take part in our society and at the end of the five-year period, your citizenship becomes irrevocable.

The only way to do this is to put teeth into enforcing immigration laws, tie federal aid to cities and towns to ensure their cooperation (including accepting the amnesty of the five-year grace period for reaching citizenship), severely penalize companies that hire individuals not taking part in the path to citizenship program, and tighten the borders.

The solution to strengthen the borders is to listen to the ICE officers who’ve been dealing with the issue for decades, not some idiotic unworkable campaign promise.

Even amid diametrically opposed philosophies, compromise through rational discussion is possible. The ingenuity, determination, and courage of what many illegal immigrants go through to get here may be an untapped resource. An opportunity not to be squandered.

As Americans, we offer an opportunity to enjoy our freedom but expect you to bear the same burden to ensure it survives.

The Madness of Reefer Irrationality

Rationality has surpassed reason as the rarest of commodities in this country. The once common ability of Americans to hold intelligent, fact-based, discussions of our differences has gone the way of cursive writing and fundamental education.

Nothing exemplifies this phenomenon more than trying to have a reasoned discussion over the need for reevaluating the criminalization of marijuana.

Marijuana, like any drug, has benefits and risks. Yet, despite the scientific evidence which supports this, we insist on making possession of this drug a crime.

We accept the argument that alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine for that matter, used with restraint provide a benefit to the user despite the associated health risks. Some would argue we do this out of resignation to the reality of the widespread demand for these substances. Others would argue that we recognize the long cultural use of such substances. In either case, we recognized that controlling the use through rational regulations is the correct approach.

Why is it with marijuana we ignore such reality?

My time as a police officer taught me certain things. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a criminal issue. Every aspect of human life is subject to abuse; alcohol, gambling, eating, sexuality all cause addiction within a certain percentage of the population.

In these matters, we target the behavior of the individual not a blanket indictment of the means.

The science on marijuana being a “gateway” drug is nebulous at best and, in my anecdotal experience, wrong. The only thing criminalizing marijuana did was create generations of individuals with criminal records and foster an industry of privatized prisons.

Now I am not for one instant advocating the blanket decriminalization of marijuana. Much like the use of alcohol and tobacco, we need to defer to an individual adult’s right to determine the risk vs. benefit of using such substances. But we do this with associated laws that control the distribution and sales of such items.

One of the strongest arguments against “legalizing” marijuana is the effect it has on the adolescent brain. THC and other substances can affect the still developing circuitry.  As does alcohol and tobacco. Yet we have managed to find a rational way to minimize access to these substances.

The war on drugs failed, the war on people succeeded. If our goal through criminalizing the use of marijuana was to prevent its use, we failed. Need proof? There is not one zero-tolerance high school in this country where one cannot get marijuana. This is because we cannot control the distribution system. Keep in mind 49% of Americans have tried marijuana. Your gonna need more prisons to deal with that number.

If the goal of keeping marijuana illegal is to protect people from descending into the world of addiction than there must be some verifiable numbers which support this. I can find few scientifically based studies that show the use of marijuana increases the likelihood of addiction any more than the consumption of beer leads to alcoholism.

Despite the common perception by many who do not understand addiction, alcoholism is a well-established medical condition. Why would we treat any other addiction differently? Addictive behavior is a complicated matter.

Every alcoholic started with the first drink. Every drug addict started with that first high. Correlation is not causation. The process of developing an addiction includes a myriad of conditions and contributing factors.

I find it interesting that, despite the widely accepted number of more than 21000 suicides per year by firearms, no one considers that an equally egregious risk to society.

See somebody lighting up a joint, call the cops. See someone loading a gun, defend to the death their right to possess it.

Before the NRA and others get their panties in a bunch, I am not advocating taking away one’s right to own a firearm. I am just pointing out that someone loaded on a joint is less of a risk to society than an angry person with a firearm.

If we are willing to accept the fact that more than 21000 of our fellow Americans will kill themselves next year, I think we can find a way to accept the fact that several million Americans will get high on marijuana during the same period and do nothing more threatening than increase the sale of Cheetos.

In this election cycle, the hope for a return to rationality is nil. We’ve lost Pandora’s Box. I do hope that, before I leave this mortal coil, I will witness a return to an age of reason.

 

A Perspective on Sandra Bland and the Issue of Resisting Arrest: Perception versus Law

My friend, Kent Harrop, wrote the following editorial on his blog about the Sandra Bland incident. I encourage you to read it before you read my response. You can find it here, https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/a-moral-emergency-the-death-of-sandra-bland

The issues raised about the circumstances surrounding the arrest and subsequent suicide of Sandra Bland are genuine. Racism and the difference in treatment of black people by many, but not the majority, in law enforcement is a fact in this country. Yet, having watched the entire video, I am struck by the fact that if the woman signed the ticket and fought the issue in court, this would not have ended the way it did.

I am not trying to explain away the officer’s actions or blame the victim, but we need to look at the incident in context and as a whole. Since we lack all of the facts at this point, a fair and complete analysis is impossible.

Nevertheless, we certainly can examine the incident as it underscores the issue of racism. Clearly, racism is a scourge in this country. It is rampant, insidious, and destructive. It is difficult to understand how people come to hold these beliefs, unless we glimpse into their past. Racism is a learned behavior.

I disagree with Ty Burr’s words mentioned in Kent’s article, ‘This is the tale of two stories, the official version and the one we can see with our own eyes’.

There is only one version recorded on video. Our reaction is a combination of our own perceptions, experiences, and opinions. What happened in the incident is there for all to see and hear. What transpired after, and why she was in jail for three days, remains unclear. The full investigation is not complete and there should not be a rush to judgment.

Up to the point the Officer decided to remove her from the car, he was polite and professional. Once he asked her to step from the car, she contributed as much to escalating the situation. Like it or not, we bear a responsibility to act in a civil manner despite what we may perceive as someone else’s failure to do so.

Assuming for the sake of argument the officer was wrong does not justify resisting arrest. It is not in the best interest of our society to think such resistance is acceptable; it is too susceptible to a range of interpretation.

None of us have seen the officer’s report. None of us know the reason for his deciding to remove her from the car. However, an officer can ask someone to step from the vehicle if he or she has concerns about safety, both the officer’s and the driver’s.

There is no constitutional right to resist arrest. If the officer says you are under arrest, then you are under arrest. There are a number of legal avenues to pursue if an arrest is unlawful, through the courts. That is the proper place, not in the street.

No one is in any position at this point to determine if the officer was justified. The reports of the stop and the reasons behind officer’s actions are still not public. If the agency deserves any criticism, it is in its failure to make those reports immediately available. We have seen this time and time again. Delay adds to the conspiracy mentality. That arrest report, unquestionably a public document, should have been made public.

I do know that officers deserve the benefit of the doubt during the incident to protect themselves. Once the matter is in the court, they can then be held to a high standard to justify their actions.

The issue of Bland being arrested for a minor traffic offense is not accurate. She was not arrested for the motor vehicle infraction; that was the reason the officer stopped her. She was arrested for failure to comply with what appeared to be a lawful request to get out of the car. That is all we have at this point. Why did he do that? What was his justification? All legitimate questions. The officer bears the burden of proving it in court, detailing the probable cause, and validating the arrest. The street is not the place to argue that.

Since the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide, I can only assume there were other issues in that woman’s life we are not privy to. Having had hundreds of encounters on the street with people in all sorts of circumstances, I know officers develop a sense for people that are in a stressful or emotional state. From what I saw on the video, the officer’s initial conversation was polite, professional, and geared to evaluate the person. Doing that is critical to surviving as an officer.

Did Bland pose a threat? Probably not. Should the officer have demanded she put out the cigarette? No. Yet it doesn’t alter the fact that Bland contributed to the escalation. In her own words, “I can’t wait to get to court.” She should have, she would be alive and, perhaps, in the near future cashing a check for a violation of her rights.

None of the above alters the fact that on a daily basis in this country, Police Officers target minorities. Not all officers, not even a majority. However. if even one officer targets a person based on race that is a crime. There is much room for open and honest discussion of this issue. Much room for demanding change within our society.

It starts with education. Learning that despite differences in appearance or cultural norms or social standing we are all human beings entitled to fair and equitable treatment.

It is important we evaluate incidents once we have all the evidence. To do so prematurely leads to misinformation or worse. Recall the Michael Brown “Hands up don’t shoot” phenomenon that caused so much destruction. It did not happen the way it was initially portrayed, and the truth got lost in the media storm.

Knowing the full story, recognizing the deleterious affect racism has on us all, and using the courts to right all wrongs is the only way to deal with these incidents with any hope of eliminating them.