When did America Become a Land of Cowards?

When did this country become a land of cowards? This is not the America I
knew. Americans do not fear those seeking asylum. We do not demonize those who seek a new life in America.

We used to welcome such people. Now we fear them because we put blinders on in the face of reason.

We used to take on separating out those who deserve asylum from those
seeking to take advantage of our open generosity. Now we label all as criminals, with no basis in fact, and stick them in cages.

ChildWorse yet, we separate them from their children and cage them. If our goal is to create more people who hate America, we are well on our way to accomplishing that goal. If our goal is to destroy the once respected, if imperfect, view most of the world had of America we are succeeding.

We have become a country driven by a fear of everything we do not, or will
not, understand. We have a President who tells sitting members of Congress, who by law must be American citizens, to go back to the country from where they came.

America is that country. It is the country facing severe problems so inelegantly put (to be kind) by the inciter in chief. Problems of intolerance and prejudice exasperated, if not created, by the President himself.

He would do well to remember, this is as much their country as it is yours or mine.

More so, I would argue, since they at least have the courage of their convictions to challenge the status quo or the headlong retreat to a mythical and whitewashed past.

The ignorant arrogance of the President and those who remain silent in the
face of such vitriol from this man is astounding. The lack of universal
condemnation across the country for such remarks is a national embarrassment.

Let us make one thing clear, no rational American wants unregulated entry
into the United States. Despite the President’s pandering to uninformed
jingoistic nationalism, most Americans are wise enough to understand the
difference between illegal entry and those seeking asylum.

To put this in perspective, perhaps some numbers might help.

According to the Pew Research Center, “The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world the U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 44.4 million in 2017.” The same report found that immigrants and their descendants will drive 88 percent of the United States’ population growth through 2065.

Consider that for a moment.

Out of a population of 300 million, almost 15% are foreign born. Soon, this will be a country with a significant change in the ethnic origins of many of the people living here.

No matter. They will still be Americans.

They are not any different from those who have been here longer. My family has been here for just four generations. Let me disabuse those who see people of different ethnic or racial origin as foreigners that if the measure of a real American is one born here, there are descendants of slaves going back longer than many white Americans. There are generations of people living in Texas descended from the original Mexicans when Texas was part of that country.

Native Americans go back even further. If any people suffered from the
ill-effects of illegal immigration, they would own the discussion.

Immigration—controlled, regulated, and intelligently managed—is good for America. It always has been, always will be. To ignore history, to ignore the realities of the changing demographics of the country, to ignore the basic human decency characterized by the American people is to lose the very thing the makes America great.

Those four Congresswoman demonized by the ravings of a madman may be naïve in the policies they pursue. However, it is that same naivete that sparked a revolution in 1776. A young nation, populated by idealists and dreamers, saw the necessity to throw off the fetters of a repressive government and fight for fundamental human rights against overwhelming odds.

Those efforts gave us the government we have now. Almost to a man, each of those founding fathers was foreign-born. Still, they rose to the occasion to create this great nation.

I wonder what they might think of this President and his silent enablers?

We are better than this. We are smarter than this. We are nobler than this.

It is time we remember that and take a stand against such idiocy percolating in the country.

 

Heel, don’t Kneel

The First Amendment protects us from government restrictions on the free expression of one’s personal and political views. It is different within the private sector.

Employers may limit the exercise of free speech when it directly affects their business.

No one can argue this. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

Aside from the legal arguments, there is a more significant issue at stake with the NFL ban on players taking a knee during the National Anthem.

While most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, freely stand during the National Anthem in gratitude for those who fought to preserve our way of life, implicit in that sacrifice is the right to do otherwise.

I often chafe at the inattentive, text-addicted, hats still on idiots who either stand because everyone else is or sit drinking beer when the anthem is played before a game. But it is their right to do so.

Ignorant, rude, or just downright asinine as it may be.

But I wouldn’t want to see uniformed police officers roaming through the crowd and hauling them off for it either. (I might find it momentarily amusing, aside from the serious constitutional issue.)

The NFL situation is different on two levels.

First, if this was an intrinsic element of the game, then the owners have every right to insist players comply.

It is not. It is a moment at most public venues where we pay homage to this nation. Which implies the right to express a different political opinion.

Second, and more critical, this wailing and gnashing of teeth that the constitutional guarantee of free speech has limitations in the private sector and players must comply with a workplace requirement is all a smokescreen to the real issue.

Americans do not like the very public reminder of the persistence of bigotry and prejudice. They do not like their sacred sports game marred by such a divisive issue. They prefer to keep it in the closet on game day, and then ignore it for the rest of the week.

To further illustrate the point, the protest must be working in raising the issue otherwise no one would care.

Which makes the restrictions put in place by the NFL, albeit legitimate under the most common interpretation of the Constitution, more troubling.

While the NFL owners have much latitude in controlling the players when they are “working,” to insist they can regulate free speech, during a ceremony that honors free speech, for the benefit of their bottom line, is troubling.

If it is that important an issue, fire them.

Remember, the first act of American patriotism was to challenge the King’s government for the right of freedom of expression.

Do we seek to return to the times of pledging loyalty to the government as a condition of being an American? Is it that some people miss the days when the government would ask “Are you, or have you ever been, a communist?”

While the NFL issue is minor in the big scheme of things, it is the conglomeration of little things, chipping away at liberties, that cause real damage. This issue may be nothing but a single termite, but termites are never alone.

Let the players take a knee, do backflips, or whatever. When the anthem plays, focus all the cameras on the Stars and Stripes flapping in the breeze above the flag-draped Bud Light advertisements.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore: Seeking a Return to the Dark Ages

I wrote this last year about “Judge” Roy ‘get ’em while they’re young” Moore.  If a Supreme Court Justice can’t follow federal law, how can he represent Alabama in the Senate?

This is just one aspect of a troubled, character-flawed, hypocrite. Mix in unlawful sexual proclivities, and it is frightening. Come on, Alabama, this is not the America you are part of.

 

In case you have never heard of Justice Roy Moore, he is the current Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He’s held the job twice and lost it once.

So far.

In 2003, he was removed from office when he refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he installed in the rotunda of the court.

So, of course, the progressive segment of Alabama voters re-elected him in 2012.

Now his battle is same-sex marriage. He is suspended from office for sending an administrative order to Alabama probate judges telling them Alabama Law banning Same Sex Marriages was in full force and effect.

He lied. It was not.

In 2015 the US Supreme Court, in Obergefell V. Hodges, legalized gay marriage thus trumping (I love that word) any State prohibitions. Keep in mind, the US Supreme Court still had the full complement of Judges. Scalia, a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, still sat on the court.

Even he couldn’t persuade the court to uphold the ban; law and rationality prevailed.

Moore sent the letter six months after the Supreme Court decision. He either knew the letter was not based on established law or didn’t care.

But, to Justice Moore, it makes no difference. He has God on his side. Just ask him, he’ll tell you he does. He’ll tell you that his faith is the one true interpretation. The one true path. The basis for the entire government of the United States.

He’ll tell you that the diversity of this country, the willingness to accept people as they are not as we think they should be, will be its demise.

The law be damned.

Justice Moore is the poster child of our sordid and bigoted history. Those in a position of power imposing their faith, their beliefs, their views on those with no power. The fact that someone holding such archaic and prejudicial beliefs can rise to such a position speaks volumes about the lack of progress toward true universal tolerance in this country.

It is because of people like him that we need a strong and intellectually honest judiciary. One that looks at the law and ensures its fair application. One that also abides by their decisions.

There is no better evidence for the gravity of the upcoming Presidential election than someone like Justice Moore.

Bigots embrace this man’s philosophy and seek to impose it on all by seizing power in government.

A true nightmare would be a US Supreme Court comprised of people like Justice Moore. A man who seeks to justify his own ignorance, intolerance, and lack of empathy for his fellow man by cloaking himself in a judicial robe.

I don’t know where Justice Moore went to Law School, but he should seek a refund. To the people who elected him and re-elected him, do the country a favor and skip the election in November.

Unintended Lessons from Nazis

ConstitutionMeeting free speech with arms and violence is tyranny, whether it be alt-right, Antifa, or otherwise. Imposing one’s philosophy by force of arms or violence is the vilest form of Anti-Americanism there is.

We are our own worst terrorists. 620,000 Americans died in the Civil war. More than any other conflict in our history. Our fear of external terror pales against this truth.

In the debate over removing Civil War statues, we are missing the point. In the statues are lessons, lost to the pandemonium of intolerance.

They should serve as reminders that subjugation by one over the other is un-American.

We can learn a lesson from the Germans, not the Nazis who these ignorant fools want to emulate, but the generations who followed. Every German student is taught about the Holocaust. To reinforce the lesson of how people driven by fear and ignorance are capable of horrendous things.

Auschwitz stands in Poland not as a symbol of history, but a reminder of evil. To ensure this never happens again.

Instead of tearing down these statues, we should insist every student understands the vile, evil philosophy they stood for. To ensure it never happens again and to remind us we still have a long way to go.

Brave men fought on both sides of that war. No doubt many in the south saw it as a “war of northern aggression.” Just as many brave Germans fought in their war. But their bravery does not mitigate the fundamental flaw in their cause.

Lincoln saw the Civil War in the terms of preserving the Union. Slavery was a primary motivation for the south seeking to divide the Union.

Lincoln, in a letter to Horace Greeley, addressed the key issue.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, August 22, 1862.

Hon. Horace Greeley:
Dear Sir.

I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

Yours,
A. Lincoln.

Lincoln opposed slavery but recognized the best hope of freeing the black men and women lie in the preservation of the Union and the brighter future of an intact Union.

Were that we had a President who recognized the need for “save the union the shortest way under the Constitution.”

Were that we had a President who didn’t hide behind mindless Tweets.

Were that we had an articulate, intelligent, and courageous President who looked at the nation as a whole and was interested in protecting Americans, not fueling the discontent.

If the media is “fake” news, the President should face them. Daring them to refute the truth in his words.

But we do not. Instead, we have a President who lacks the calm demeanor of a leader and panders to the uninformed bigots who no more understand the issue of the Civil War than do the Antifa zealots who see anarchy as a substitute for thoughtful discourse.

Tearing down statues won’t remove the ignorance of those who see the statues as a harmless heritage any more than marching through the streets with torches and swastikas will silence those of us who abhor this blatant ignorance and racial bigotry.

If the President wants to be Presidential, then he should place the full force and power of the Justice Department behind investigating and prosecuting anyone who promotes or engages in violence.

The time to tear them down will be when no could imagine anyone acting in such a callous manner to a fellow human.

Here’s Why Black Lives Matter Fails: Fighting the Wrong Battle

Headline Milwaukee, Police shoot and kill a 23-year old man who was ARMED with a stolen handgun. The man pointed the gun at the police officer, refused to drop the weapon, and was shot and killed.

Protests break out.

Police face violent crowds.

Police cars burn. Property damaged. Looting ensues. Innocent people injured.

car-fire

Someone misread the text message or Facebook post.

The guy was armed with a stolen handgun that he pointed at the police officer and refused to drop it when told.

How many of those “angry” protesters would offer the same opportunity if someone pointed a weapon at them?

I can tell you, none. They’d either run away or, if they had a weapon, shoot first. Yet, they expect the cop to find some alternative way short of returning fire. They are quite willing to sacrifice the officer’s life.

By rioting over the shooting death of a man who had every opportunity to drop the weapon, they demean their cause and make themselves look foolish.

There are many legitimate issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. The message may be difficult to accept but necessary for us to address the issue of racism. But I can tell you this, even someone like myself who readily admits to the racism issue with law enforcement, and society in general, loses respect when people react in such a manner.

Protest peacefully, advocate in the courts, poke the American people out of their comfortable ignorance as needed.

But once you burn cities over the actions of a criminal you lose your credibility and you give back any gains your efforts have made.

Perhaps if you were as vocal about the proliferation of firearms in the hands of criminals and their crimes you would find a great deal more support of your goals.

If the flames of a burning police car reflect your anger, you’ve lost.

Patently Offensive

When did being offended become the national pastime?

People take offense at everything they find different or contrary to their own beliefs or perspectives. The concept of tolerance has gone the way of the dinosaur. Something we dig up by accident once in a while to marvel at the magnificence that once was.

If someone wants to display the Confederate Flag, let ‘em. I think it more a reflection on them that they choose to celebrate a representation of a repulsive philosophy than an acknowledgment of history.

And they lost. I prefer to celebrate a victory. If someone wants to cheer, “We’re number two, we got beat by you,” have at it.

Some people take offense at the display of the American flag. A symbol of their very right to disagree and talk freely about these differences.

Some people are offended by religious displays, patriotic displays, sports, military, police, and other symbols.

All of this offense at symbols belittles the very nature of intelligence and tolerance. It demeans a rational approach to understanding our differences that, when blended in the best way, make us all Americans.

When did it become necessary for the whole world to restrain from championing a cause out of fear that some would disagree? It is in a civil and rational discussion of these different causes that we find a common solution.

Those who embrace the symbol of the Stars and Bars suffer from a lack of fundamental understanding of the overwhelming stain of racism in this country.

Those who would burn the American flag fail to see the contradiction in their actions. They are able to do such things because brave men and women died to uphold the rights represented by that flag.

Those who are offended by the display of a Christmas tree, a Menorah, the Star and Crescent, and others demand tolerance for themselves yet refuse it to others.

Knowledge and education are the keys to the world’s problems. Focusing our efforts on arguing what shouldn’t be displayed drains energy from that which would do good; seeking to understand the history behind these symbols and recognizing them as powerless unless we imbue them with power.

The best example is the Swastika of Nazi Germany. To most people, it represents an unspeakable horror and destructive philosophy. Yet the symbol, called Svastika in Sanskrit, means auspiciousness. Nazi Germany co-opted the symbol for the Third Reich.

Most take offense at the sight of such a symbol. The image of Neo-Nazis in today’s world reflect the continuity of the ignorance, brutality, and irrationality of that era and philosophy. Yet, by understanding the original meaning, one can see the irony in a bunch of ignorant white bigots embracing a symbol created in a Buddhist/Hindu tradition.

A symbol carries meaning only if we recognize it. A Christmas tree is a symbol of the Christian faith or it is a tree sacrificed in the tradition of the Druids.

A flag with stars and bars is the symbol of the proud history of the south or a representation of the failure of one race to impose its false superiority on another.

If you find something offensive, first make sure you understand why. Then work to foster a better understanding. Seek to educate not merely cover up.

Americans should be made of tougher stuff than to let symbols, words, or insignificant displays offend us.

Don’t take offense. Don’t whine and cry and whimper in weakness. Seek to understand that the most offensive symbol in the world represents the ignorance of those who promote it, not the power or truth of what is represents.

Grow a pair America. If this offends you, good. Do something.

 

 

Black Skin Kevlar Skin

It is impossible for me to know what it is like to be black in America. My upbringing in Cumberland, Rhode Island in the 1960’s could not have been more plain vanilla. Cumberland wasn’t home to very many black families.

The first conversation I ever had with a black person wasn’t until I went into the Air Force. So for me to pretend to understand what it’s like to be black in America is foolish at best and dangerous at worst.

Later, when I became a police officer, I came into daily contact with a much wider variety of ethnicities. Yet, it was easy to fall prey to the us versus them mentality. As my experience grew, so did my appreciation for the similarities we shared rather than the superficial differences.

Unfamiliarity breeds misconceptions and prejudices.

The America of the 60’s was torn by the strife of racial hatred. Cities in America were burning. Images of riots showed lines of club-wielding police officers, almost exclusively white, facing off against protesters, mostly black, in the confrontations over segregation and racial discrimination.

It was these images that served as the basis of my exposure to people of color. I didn’t see prejudice in Cumberland. Not because it didn’t exist, but because there were few people of color living there.

As a police officer, I saw examples of prejudice perpetrated by officers. Yet, the times were changing. These acts, once institutionalized, were by individual officers rather than department policies.

The truth of the matter is they became more concealed, more insidious because they hid behind the façade of arresting criminals. If there is one thing I learned as a police officer, it is that everyone is one dire change of circumstances away from committing a crime.

All it takes is a sudden downturn in fortune and a once successful, happy, employed individual might turn to some criminal action to obtain money or sink into the abyss of drug addiction.

This condition is color-blind.

There is another aspect to being a police officer that creates conflict. We started wearing ballistic vests, donning Kevlar skin as part of our job. A necessary evil that created a mindset that every moment on the job was fraught with risk.

Cops are not taught that people of color are dangerous. They are taught that everyone is. Cops begin every encounter assuming the person they are in contact with poses a threat. It is drilled into them in the academy and in the field. They evaluate the person starting from that assumption. It sets a certain tone to every encounter.

For anyone not raised with black skin to say they understand the problem or can empathize with someone of color is ludicrous.

For persons of color to assume the individual in Kevlar skin is a racist threat with murderous intentions is equally ludicrous.

I was taught to seek out a police officer if I were in trouble. People of color often teach their children to fear cops based on their own experiences. As a country, we can do better.

To applaud the killing of Police Officers while doing their job is to sustain the perception and problem. It derails any attempt at a solution.

America can no longer afford to ignore the endemic racism prevalent within our society. We must confront it in an open and honest manner.

The reason our prisons are full of people of color has nothing to do with propensity to commit a crime. It has to do with a difference in access to justice. The lack of access to dedicated legal advice is the prime factor behind incarceration rates. Until access to justice no longer comes with a price tag, such disparity will continue.

I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be a person of color in this country. Just as most people cannot begin to understand what putting on Kevlar skin and going out into the dark night is like.

There is room for increased understanding and conversation on both sides of that spectrum. The time to act is now. The cities are smoldering. Now is the time to remove the fuel of discrimination before they are burning once again

 

How Can There be Good Cops, If There are Bad Cops?

I read an opinion piece the other day from the Bangor (ME) Times entitled, The False Message from those ‘Good Cop’ Stories? Things Aren’t So Bad by Heather Denkmire.

Here is the link and I encourage you to read it before you continue with my take on the author’s message.

http://bangordailynews.com/2015/08/05/opinion/contributors/the-false-message-from-those-good-cop-stories-things-arent-so-bad/

My first reaction on reading this was one of profound confusion. How can reports about the many good police officers and their acts of kindness and caring be a bad thing? If all we do is focus on the bad things, it distorts reality.

On reflection, I realized she had a valid point. Not the one she intended and I am sure one she does not even realize she made.

Her premise is clear, reporting stories of a Police Officer acting in some kind and considerate manner does detract from the issue of violence involving officers and civilians, too often civilians of color.

However, the problem is not that the media reports these stories, the problem is the author’s assumptions that all encounters between a police officer and a person of color are motivated by racism.

Ms. Denkmire writes,

“My daughter just heard a radio story about how a police officer who murdered a black man was having trouble finding a job. She found it troubling that the news story was focusing on the murderer’s “difficulties.”

Herein lies the problem. Taken at face value, this paragraph says a police officer murdered a black man and was having trouble finding a job. The statement implies the officer was “convicted” of murder. If that were the case, either the incident happened a long time ago and the former officer is now out of jail, or the statement is misleading. I think it equally possible the officer resigned due the incident, or was forced out by political expediency. Either explanation is viable.

Police use of deadly force is a serious and difficult issue. It would be naïve to assume that all such incidents are investigated as thoroughly as they should be. The benefit of media attention is clear, however media attention that meets standards of good reporting, not a Twitter feed or Facebook rant with questionable images.

The author also bemoans the unequal reporting of black as opposed to white murder suspects.

“We had talked before about the different ways the media portrayed white killers compared with black victims; for example, how Dylann Roof was shown opening Christmas gifts while the media use and crop images of black victims in ways that imply they are not entirely innocent. That kind of biased reporting is pretty standard.”

This is the problem with her premise. The very issue she points out here, about biased or slanted reporting, is the issue. She just has the real point wrong.

Here is an example of two headlines, same incident.

White Police Officer Shoots Fleeing Black Suspect in the Back

Same story, different headline.

Police Officer Returns Fire, Killing Gunman.

The tone of the first headline stirs emotion and the writer chose the words to generate interest in the story (that translates into sales). The second is the same set of facts but presented as just that, facts. Not an editorial comment implying wrongdoing by the officer (or highlighting the race of either party as being significant).

Now, I completely agree with the writer’s point that the incidence of violent confrontations between police and persons of color are, statistically, significantly higher than those between the police and a white person.

As Mark Twain once said, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Here is an example, police officers kill more white suspects than suspects of color. The “statistics” bear this out. However, examine the numbers in depth, as a percentage of the population minority suspects are more likely to be confronted with a violent response. Both statistically accurate.

The perception by some officers that persons of color represent a higher threat is a difficult one to overcome, and wrong. Here is the sad reality, according to data from the FBI, though African Americans are arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than whites, the majority of assailants who feloniously killed police officers in the past year were white.

There is a serious problem with racial bias in this country. Complaining that positive stories about the police ignores the issue, or minimizes its severity, is nonsense.

If you have read the article, it is clear the author holds a dim view of the police. She can barely concede that most officers are well intentioned and honest.

Therefore, I applaud her bringing the issue to the forefront. Underreporting or ignoring the issue is wrong. Portraying the issue as being solely the fault of the police is equally wrong. In fact, it is dangerous.

The only way to deal with this problem in the long term is through education. Racism is a learned behavior; no one is born racist, children are indoctrinated with it. In the short term, focused and impartial attention to the police and better training is the key.

The media needs to report factually and without sensationalizing stories. However, we all know what should happen and what does happen are two mutually exclusive things.

The police are not your enemy and people of all race and ethnic origin need be treated the same. If you break the law, your skin color should not have any effect on the disposition of the case. The numbers are clear. Perhaps we should focus on the inequities in the judicial system more closely since that is the only forum in which unlawful actions by the police should be addressed. Not on the street with a crowd of cell phone equipped people relying on legal advice from a Facebook post.

Here is my last statistic; there are 765,000 (approx.) sworn law enforcement officers in the US. Statistically speaking the overwhelming majority of them will NEVER kill anyone in their career. Nevertheless, I am willing to bet every single one of them will do something good almost every day in that same career.

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.

 

Hobbling Justice to Satisfy a Bloodlust

By now the whole world knows something of the situation in Baltimore.  A man in custody of the Baltimore Police department dies and the inevitable peaceful protests turn violent.

The reaction in the country spans the entire spectrum from “send in the National Guard and start shooting people to Baltimore brought this on themselves.”

Depending on where you fall in this spectrum, either the cops are thugs or those throwing rocks, looting, and burning buildings are.

As with most things, it is much more complicated than that, but complex problems and the required complex responses do not make for good TV sound bites. 

Most wouldn’t, or sadly couldn’t  read it anyway which is another part of the problem.

It is impossible to sum up the issue, let alone propose a solution, in a 140 character Tweet or other such social media forum.  That doesn’t stop them from trying.

What I am about to say will likely be viewed by some of my friends and colleagues in Law Enforcement as heresy, but it falls upon them to refute it.

The character and nature of law enforcement has changed over the last several decades, mostly for the better but in several significant ways for the worse.

There was a time when the majority of law enforcement had daily, personal contact with the public not because of calls for service or responses to 911 calls, but from being out on the street walking the neighborhoods.  That all began to change with the movement to motorized patrol in a quest for efficiency and speed of response.

But the laws of unintended consequences kicked in.  We became faster in responding to problems at the cost of our separation from the public on a day to day basis, making us blind to the little problems as they developed. Those little problems eventually become big ones.  

We didn’t see the gangs taking over corners until it had already occured.  

We didn’t see graffiti growing until it was everywhere.

We focused on Patrol officers writing summonses for traffic violations and other such minor offenses as a way to measure efficiency.  When crime statistics went down we claimed it was embracing the “broken window” theory, if they went up, we attibuted it to factors outside our control.

The second error we made, or at least went along willingly, was the war on drugs.   The single biggest waste of resources ever.  Police departments that had one or two officers assigned to drug units suddenly assigned two and three times that amount.

Federal task forces were formed. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers brought in.  The resources of the FBI, normally not tasked with drug cases, were added to the mix.  We seized larger and larger amounts of narcotics.  Put more and more people in prison.

We also created opportunity and incentive.  An incentive to sell drugs and the opportunity to generate an income with little or no education or skills.  All one had to do was accept the possibility of  the occasional arrest and stint in prison.

We also created a need for those in the business to protect themselves and their territory, thus the proliferation of weapons.

And, we let natue take it’s natural course.  If one is born into an environment where your family business is narcotics distribution, it is likely you’ll follow in those footsteps.

And you know what happened as a consequence of this policy?

The price of drugs dropped, the availability increased.  Yet we all went happily along.

And do you know why we did these two things?

Money.  

State and Federal Civil Seizure laws proliferated.   Police departments siezed the cash, vehicles, and property of those we investigated.  Sometimes, we moved to seize the property without even pursuing criminal cases because the legal requirements in court were easier than proving a criminal case.

Cities, towns, and states brought in revenue from motor vehicle violations and whole departments were created to deal with the influx of cash.

We did it with the best of intentions. No one embraced the philosophy of strong drug enforcement more than me when I was on the job.  Being away from it and having the benefit of hindsight and mountains of evidence to validate this opinion has changed my perspective.

You cannot arrest your way out of a health problem. Just look at the number of overdose deaths from opiates, the numbers are rising despite our enforcement efforts.

What does this have to do with Baltimore? The riots and rage arising from these incidents involving the police are symptoms of the problem.

Whenever there is a violent encounter with the police, those that live in an environment of hopelessness see it as another example of how things never change.  The system is stacked against them.

Those that are fortunate enough to live outside that environment only see the violence, they do not see the cause.

In the case of the Baltimore cops, there is another troubling aspect. The rush to judgement.   These six officers are innocent of these charges and will remain so until such time as a jury finds them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 

It is the foundation of our criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence.   No one should forget that.

Opinions of their guilt are not only meaningless, they are dangerous.  It is dangerous for anyone to assume the guilt of anyone absent a conviction in a court of law.   It would serve us well for everyone to remember that.

Police officers assuming that those they have arrested are guilty and entitlted to less than humanitarian treatment by virtue of that arrest are as wrong as someone standing on the street hurling bricks at the police because they assume all cops are racist and prone to brutality.

Cops are human beings subjected to the same flaws as everyone else, although most learn to rise above that and perform admirably.

I hope that those in the position of authority in Baltimore, the prosecutor and those responsible for investigating what happened in the back of that police van, remember that truth is the goal not a politically expedient path of least resistance.

If the evidence supports the charges, and these officers are one day convicted then that will be justice.  If, on the other hand, the evidence contradicts these charges then these officers are pawns in a game of politics that perpetuates the very problem of those in power deciding what is the truth.

If power determines truth, then this country is in deep trouble.