I hope that fans of my music posts will forgive this brief digression in the interest of healing our nation.
After watching yet another police representative spouting off on CNN about how blacks are, “…disproportionally [sic] represented in our prisons because they disproportionally commit crimes.”, I’m feeling a deep need to speak out, because it’s abundantly clear to me that our current approach to reforming our criminal justice system does not work, and our broadcast news media are failing to address the real problems, in favor of fearmongering, drama and backbiting or in a word, ratings. What’s worse, they’re conflating a number of issues that have different causes and possibly very different solutions.
Police brutality is a concept comprised of many injustices small and large visited on poor communities, pretty much regardless of race, but it so happens most of the black and brown people live there. Redlining and unequal economic opportunity ensure that they’ll stay there and that is a matter of public policy. Police in these communities often operate outside the law, simply because they perceive that they can; if it comes to a jury, and it almost never does, who are they gonna believe, the officer or someone with a criminal history or a dodgy immigration status? The cops even have a word for what they do, “testi-lying”. Because they fear for their own lives and those of their fellow officers they cut corners, there’s a presumption of guilt, not only by white officers, and far too many in blue believe they’re above the law or even that they are the law, powers conveyed on them by no authority other than their own. As a result, people living in these communities fear and distrust the police and believe our justice system exists not to protect, but to punish them, and who can blame them? Turns out, it’s police officers, and it’s not, “just a few bad apples”, clearly this mindset is widespread in law enforcement. Being fearful of police makes you look guilty to police; your presumed guilt on their part makes the police fearful of you. When a traffic stop spins out of control, it’s fear that’s in charge; when excessive force is applied, that’s anger. Nobody does their best thinking when they’re angry or afraid and that goes both ways.
These attitudes don’t happen by accident; most police departments historically preferentially hire military veterans, predominately southern and white, and currently that often means combat veterans, yet the mission of the police is very different from that of the military, and police training as it exists now does little to clear up any confusion about this in the minds of incoming officers. If your talent pool is loaded with people from an authoritarian culture that discourages getting help for issues with anger, PTSD and mental illness, I predict trouble. Progress is being made in training officers in conflict resolution, but more needs to be done where it comes to not just minorities but the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill and even dogs; yes the police also have a dog problem; they give shooting peoples’ pets even less thought than they give shooting people, and simply put, they draw their weapons way too often.
Police stupidity is the systemic failure of many if not most departments to acknowledge that they have a problem in the first place and when it becomes glaringly obvious, consistently choosing the most effective means of making the problem worse. Ferguson, MO has taught us what not to do; when you break out the riot shields, the helmets, the body armor, and especially the guns, you’re telling an already angry crowd that it’s time to riot; if you don’t show up in force, you don’t give them a target for rocks and bottles. Police in Minnesota felt the need for a dog and pony show of all the stuff that was tossed at them the night before, but guess what? Nobody local believes them, ’cause, where’s their videotape? They see some rocks, but they smell a rat. I would love to believe that all this unnecessary provocation of otherwise peaceful protesters was rooted in mere ignorance, but these departments know that if they can provoke a riot, they’ll get a budget increase, regardless of whether they’re in a red or blue state. Yeah, I’ve become that cynical.The Dallas PD has made tremendous strides in engagement and community policing, but there’s another problem:
Police murder. Nobody is talking about the young black man in Dallas whose civil rights were violated by a black police chief, a man who apparently thought it was his job to murder an american citizen on american soil without benefit of an arrest, an arraignment, a trial or a sentence. I condemn this mentally ill young man’s actions, and I applaud the heroic performance of the Dallas PD, but they’re beside my point. How have we come to this, where no one even brings up the fact that Micah Johnson was effectively contained and the police could have simply waited him out, but instead blew him up with an IED? A black police representative, speaking on camera praised the tactic, opining that the operation was successful, because, “the right guy died.” I don’t believe he had to die and if he hadn’t, we’d have a lot more information to help us prevent further violence. If we are a nation of laws, why were they not followed? A suspect, subject, whatever you want to call him, has rights under the law and one of them is to not be gunned down or blown up by remote control; Micah Johnson may have been a terrorist, but he was also a citizen; he was not an enemy combatant and Dallas is not Iraq; this is supposed to be the United States of America. The job of the police is to protect the people and apprehend the suspect, full stop. Deciding who lives and who dies is supposed to be above their pay grade.