EPILOGUEAll this week, I have been looking at the individual cases in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. All three cases have similarities, the most obvious of which are the officers involved were white and the victims were black. There are, however, similarities that go deeper than that. In wrapping up this week-long exploration, I would like to address those deeper similarities.
THE CHANGING NATURE OF POLICE
There has been a pattern emerging across the country, and in some instances around the world, of the nature of what it means to be a police officer going through huge changes. Likely, the first example in the past five years that I can cite is police departments' reaction to the Occupy movement. This is not to say that all protests went smoothly and without incident, clearly not, but a dramatic shift took place ... one that is continuing today.
Lest being labeled a generalist, I affirm that the majority of those serving in law enforcement do their jobs and do the right thing day in and day out. Just as I mentioned yesterday in terms of protestors, I do not say all officers are bad. They are not. Period.
One must go beyond that reality, though, and see what that shift is. More and more, we see police officers using an increasing number of strong arm tactics in their duties. Many times, the three cases mentioned in this series as examples, the result is fatal. Many times, we hear higher officials (i.e. Chiefs, Captains, Policemen's Union representatives) say that such tactics are not taught to officers during their training and not encouraging while being on the force. If that is true, then why do they use those tactics? Do not misunderstand me, I believe police officers need to be strong individuals who will be forceful if necessary in the doing of their jobs. The question remains: How do they think these tactics are okay?
How do you not shoot an individual allegedly charging at you with a non-fatal shot? And (as witnesses have claimed) how do you not stop shooting once that individual is down?
How do you pull up on someone and fatally shoot them at nearly point blank range, putting yourself also in danger? How do you not fully disclose to another police department all information about that officer?
While there are, indeed, many individuals who claim they cannot breathe or that they are being hurt, when such is not true, in order to fight some more or to escape, do we simply chalk one up as nothing more than an exception to the rule ... using a banned move ... and claiming you never used it?
Then the question of the militarization of our police arises. Why do local police departments need tanks and reinforced vehicles to do their jobs? How many thieves walk around with grenades? How many pimps have a flamethrower at their disposal? How many IED's (Improvised Exploding Devices) have been planted in our streets? When is the last time you saw a drug dealer hauling around a surface-to-air missile launcher?
The presence of firepower by lawbreakers is real, but the response is hugely out of proportion. It has become an environment where some law-abiding citizens have to at least be concerned of what might happen to them at the hands of a police officer. It should not be that way! Is there some sort of intelligence the government has about the U.S. population it's not telling us? Perhaps the the U.S. military not being allowed to fight on American soil is the reason. Would they be used, instead, if it was allowed?
Overzealous bullies and military weaponry have no place in police work. Period.
Even with the obvious similarities mentioned in the opening paragraph, it would be easy to say this is simply a black vs. white issue and leave it at that. It is not as simple as that. It is a part of that, but the state of affairs is not so simplistic.
I mentioned in the last section about law-abiding citizens being concerned about what might happen to them. The black community in the U.S. knows that all to well. Just look at the state of the country and see who is, as a whole, more concerned about the presence of police in their neighborhoods; I would offer blacks are. Is that because blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites? According to 2012 records held by the FBI, which cover a long list of various crimes, whites committed more crimes than blacks ... by a more than a two-to-one margin. So, where does the feeling that some have that blacks are more likely to commit crimes, if it is not substantiated by facts? Fear. Fear that gets bolstered by many means, the media being the leader.
The signs being held up at protests that read BLACK LIVES MATTER are 100% correct. This is not to say it should be an absolute hands-off policy when it comes to black individuals who are committing crimes simply because they are black. There have been far too many killings of blacks by police and that confirms the notion of blacks being killed more and more by police.
Another issue that adds to the cloud over all of this is the presentation of statistics. Yesterday, I presented two videos: one from 'The O'Reilly Report' and one from a piece of coverage by CNN of Ferguson protests. O'Reilly cites statistics that came from one source. The two anchors at the center of the CNN clip are diametrically opposed in their perceptions of what happened the night before.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago, reporter Eric Bradner posted a story on CNN.com on the reporting of statistics. It is a fascinating article in which Bradner highlights "[t]wo dramatically different statistics -- and they could both be right". Light is shed on what could be yet another key problem in all of this -- the manner of reporting police shootings by the police. It is vitally important to keep in mind that the source of statistics is likely to have an agenda, even if the agenda is literally simply reporting what's there. In preparing this final installment, I found statistics that say police shootings of blacks are down and up.
Who you ask matters as much, if not more, than what you ask.
The idea that black lives matter is a correct one. I would further that to say ALL lives matter. Even some of the deceased's families are saying it was not a race issue. I still believe there is a level of race perception intertwined, but the valuing of all lives needs to be brought back into police practice. Not a stereotypical "bleeding heart liberal" concept of leave the minorities alone to the point where only whites are arrested for crimes. I reject that! It should be anyone breaking the law should be arrested and treated as fairly as allowed -- the absolute, indisputable necessity of appropriate force still used -- and let justice take its course.
The militarization of police departments across the country, including Ferguson, MO -- not exactly a major metropolis, now, is it? -- needs to stop. Tools and weaponry designed for the battlefield have absolutely no place on our streets in the hands of anyone. They belong on the battlefield, not main street. The possibility of the presence of war weaponry with police officers who step over the line is a lethal combination ... lethal for every man, woman, and child. Additionally, fair and thorough reporting of police shootings needs to take place.
We need not only ask questions about race, police operations, etc. (provided we don't stop there), but we need to ask why the population of the U.S. is being systematically treated as guilty before innocent. Why are some police officers acting like criminals and, for the most part, getting away with it? Why are other officers not keeping tabs on their fellow officers and speaking up? Why is "the code" more important than justice and human lives? Why are police departments being militarized? Why should people be concerned when they should not have to, and did not years ago?
How long do we, both citizens and law enforcement alike, allow this to continue?