Monday, December 15, 2014
EVERY LIFE MATTERS: BLACK, BROWN AND BLUE
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
PROTESTORS PEACEFULLY WALK ACROSS THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE
OTHER DEMONSTRATIONS IN NYC SAW SOME ARRESTS
TAGS: ANTI-POLICE PROTESTS, ANGER AT GRAND JURIES IN FERGUSON AND STATEN ISLAND,
DEMONSTRATIONS COAST TO COAST, ENDEMIC DISTRUST OF LEC
IN BLACK AND LATINO COMMUNITIES, OLD SCARS TORN OPEN BY
IGNORANCE, BIGOTRY, AND PREJUDICE ON BOTH SIDES OF THE DIVIDE,
CHANGE CALLED FOR BUT WHAT KIND OF CHANGE WOULD BE FEASIBLE,
REASONABLE AND RELATIVELY RAPIDLY IMPLEMENTED?
(NEWS ANALYSIS & COMMENTARY)
(Friday December 12, 2014 South Bronx, NYC) At rare times in our history an event or series of events occur that serve as the “tipping point”, the heavy weight perched out on the end of a limb that causes that limb to break. The events that have been covered in the media exhaustively and we are by now rather familiar with as well as the details of similar events seem to have ignited what could be a “movement” except it is unclear what kind of a movement it should be.
We have witnessed as the breathless personalities occupying the “newsertainment” cable networks have provided round the clock coverage of the nationwide protests that have been staged in cities from coast to coast. They have no shortage of scholars, experts, pundits and hacks available for on-air discussions and debate which are typically efforts in futility.
Four recent incidents of White Police Officers shooting and killing unarmed young Black men has torn open the ugly knotted scar on our nation’s underbelly and has released a putrid mix of long standing prejudice, virulent bigotry, racism, and the pervasive sense of frustration and anger on both sides of the divide. It is fair to say that our racial divisions are as wide today as they were in 1964. But this is not primarily about Black people and White people. It is however all about Black people and White Police Officers. It is about the belief that many Black people hold tightly to: they believe their lives don’t matter; they believe White Law Enforcement Officers can shoot and kill them with impunity, without any consequence of substance. This belief creates an additional degree of friction between the policed and the Police; a friction that is dangerous for all involved.
So, on one side stands the predominately White Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA’s) and their behavior in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, Precincts and entire smaller towns like Ferguson Missouri where a 67% Black population of 30,000 residents are policed by a force of 54 Officers only four of whom are Black. What may come as a surprise to some and stands firmly against and contrary to public opinion, the 34,000 member NYPD has a “majority minority” composition. Approximately 51% are non-Caucasian. So it is more than a statistical likelihood that a person interacting with an NYPD Officer will be looking into faces that are Black, Brown, Asian or some other non-White ethnicity.
Not only is the Law Enforcement Community (LEC) distrusted by Black people but more alarmingly, our entire criminal justice system; they have lost all faith in the Grand Jury mechanism of criminal indictment, and the Courts in general are viewed by far too many Black and Latino men as discriminatory and dysfunctional. Agree or disagree, it is not difficult, if considered objectively, to understand why they have the beliefs they do and why they feel as they do. Long simmering tensions boiled over after two Grand Juries returned “no indictment” verdicts for the White Officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner on New York City’s Staten Island. The death of Mr. Garner was particularly enraging since his attempted arrest and his verbal and physical resistance to arrest was partially captured by a young man on his cell phone video camera. The whole world has been able to see that tense scenario escalate to the point it did and it is a fair question to ask if the Officers involved had handled the situation properly.
(The Brooding Cynyx have never hidden the fact that our affiliation, association, affinity and support has always been and remains solidly with the NYPD.)
THE SOCIAL COMPACT
Much of our criminal justice system is based on old English jurisprudence as defined in the Magna Carta. We have established our own version since the birth of our nation by legal precedent and rulings by the Courts up to and including the Supreme Court, the highest legal body in the land. Our brand of criminal justice has evolved over the years and it was often only after repeated unlawful acts by Law Enforcers, the efforts of agents for change, the recognition of “gaps” in the system that it has been malleable enough to adapt. It has only been since 1966 that the “Miranda Warning” became codified after a Supreme Court ruling in the case known as “Miranda vs The State of Arizona” and is now an integral component of a suspect’s rights.
There has long existed an unwritten but widely acknowledged compact between Law Enforcement and the public. After all, the Police do not keep “law and order”; it is the concept of the Police that keeps law and order for the most part. In a country of over 400 million diverse, disparate citizens there are approximately 700,000 men and women actively employed by Law Enforcement Agencies. This number includes Federal Officers from a wide variety of Agencies, to the levels of State, County, and Municipal or otherwise local Departments. This comparative equation illustrates just how thin the “Thin Blue Line”, a term for Law Enforcers writ large, is in the United States today. Obviously we cannot have Officers present on every corner in every city; resources are often stretched very thin and without adequate funding it is often difficult for Departments of any size to properly recruit, screen, and train personnel.
And so it is easy to see given the complexity of our society and the nature of certain aspects of our culture, that it is the concept of the Police that prevents society from widespread wanton criminality. We live in a fast-paced, violent culture with an increasing admixture of belligerence, disrespect, as well as all the societal ills that persistently plaque large portions of our populace. For decades scholars and researchers from a broad array of disciplines have researched, studied and documented the relationships between social ailments and criminality. Sadly, for far too many of our fellow citizens, not much has improved their lot appreciably despite decades of government programs some of which were well meaning but were essentially nothing more than ill-conceived programs of social engineering.
A fundamental component of this social compact is that law abiding citizens are permitted to live freely while pursuing the full complement of needs and desires from housing, education and employment up through the inalienable rights as written in our Bill of Rights. This also includes tacitly, the right to live as one pleases provided one’s pursuits do not infringe on those of another. Life in a civil society comes with some responsibilities particularly in certain areas of individual actions in public places. A prime example of this comes from a Supreme Court ruling in 1919 regarding free speech. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used the metaphor of “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater” as an example of a point where one’s freedom of speech has a negative impact on many others and thus, as a breech of social order, may be criminal.
Our basic Constitutional rights naturally extend to the degree that our society protects us all from illegal search and seizure, harassment from members of the LEC in that there must be “probably cause” prior to an Officer initiating contact with a citizen. It appears that the majority of Black Americans see this last provision as a “joke” while in their minds and hearts they believe that they can be stopped while just simply walking down the block, congregating on the corner or “driving while black”. There is ample evidence to fortify their beliefs but there is, as there always is, another side to that perspective.
THROUGH BLUE TINTED GLASSES
When the majority of an entire demographic stratum is possessed of an endemic distrust of the LEC, the criminal justice system and the way they are treated by authorities in those roles, our entire nation has a problem: it is not merely an issue between young Black men and White Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s). This level of distrust puts the lives of the innocent and the guilty, of young Black unarmed men and White armed police Officers in peril. As Abraham Lincoln said in his famous 1958 speech as a Senate candidate from Illinois, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and what we must recognize today is the sad fact that we remain, all these years later, a house very much divided along several deep fissures of race, employment, education, income, and opportunity. Add to this context a segment of the population who see the LEC as an occupying force, and it is a recipe for disaster.
In the ongoing public demonstrations in cities across the USA the focus of the protestors is “Police brutality” and “Police misconduct” with the de facto element that virtually all LEO’s are White, many of them racist, brutal, and too quick to draw conclusions based on scant probable cause. The protestors argue that the Prosecutors are too close to the Police and that it is nearly impossible to have a Police Officer ever face charges no matter what the infraction or action. They cite the Grand Jury non-indict verdicts in Ferguson and Staten Island as the living proof of what they belief to be harsh reality.
One element of the recent protests and media-hosted debates is that there is no lack of data, research, and statistics that can be cited to bolster the arguments of each side. While much of this information is flawed and corrupted by faulty methodology, inherent bias on the part of the researchers, and all too pliable statistics, there are some raw numbers that are undeniably straightforward. Yet, what must be kept in mind when citing the raw numbers is the per capita population ratio between Black and White Americans, Black men involved in Black on Black crime, White men involved in White on White crime as well as the likelihood a Black man has at some time in his early life of having a negative encounter with a LEO. Actual, reliable statistics are notoriously hard to come by since each jurisdiction seems to classify method and mode of death differently, they each have their own internal classification systems, and a number of other factors make it very difficult to find accurate statistics that account for young Black unarmed men being shot or shot and killed by White Officers.
There is no excuse for Police brutality and abuse of any kind. One missing cog in the gears of this discussion is the prevalence of illegal firearms on the streets of the inner City. Legal gun ownership is a Constitutionally guaranteed right as well it should be but the problem is with the guns in the hands of people who could never apply for legal ownership. This proliferation of illegal guns in the hands of people who use them for criminal activities adds a serious component to many interactions between a Police Officer and a citizen. In America, on average, every 58 hours a Law Enforcement Officer is killed in the line of duty and many of these deaths are delivered by illegal guns. Despite this fact it is extremely difficult to discuss any form or type of measures that would have a relatively reasonable chance of being effective when it comes to "gun control". It is especially – almost irrationally challenging - discussing anything related to the ownership and the availability of firearms even among the vast majority of legal gun owners who are lawful people; those who hunt for sport, target shoot and some who own for self-defense and for the protection of their families and property. There is no one in government that aspires to take the guns away from their legal owners but thanks to a strong NRA lobby, guns remain a sacrosanct topic in most of the country and could spell the end of many a politician's career.
Every life is valuable and the members of the LEC go to work day in, day out, serving their respective communities always with the intent of protecting the public, being pro-active when possible to interdict crime before it happens, and otherwise “do the right thing”. They often face those who roam with criminal intent and are called into dangerous scenarios involving seriously emotionally or psychologically disturbed people, people who have no regard for life, and others who roam the streets as predatory opportunists ready pounce on an unsuspecting victim. Often an Officer places him or herself in between the danger; that is part of the Compact they are bound by. What is being obscured in the rancorous debates, protests, and demonstrations is that the percentage of Officers that demonstrate or have demonstrated brutality of any kind in the past or present is extremely small just as is the number of Officers involved in shooting situations. This recent cluster of Police killing unarmed Black men is not at all representative of some broader, more ominous pattern of behavior or intent.
We have lived through many tragic events that were viewed at the time as being seminal moments in our recent history only to prove they “didn’t have legs”; they were brief moments of national concern and discourse but they soon faded from the headlines and the national conscience. It has been two years since the brutal school shooting in Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut where the lives of 26 first and second graders were lost. Despite all the outcry at such a heinous, cold blooded attack on those young innocents, no real changes have been enacted. If an event such as that could not foster an atmosphere of willingness in Congress and Statehouses, what will?
Regarding the issue at hand, some are calling for more transparency in the investigatory process that follows a Police shooting. Others are demanding a total overhaul of the Grand Jury system. Various politicos are advocating for “better training” for LEO’s, to have “independent prosecutors” conduct Grand Jury proceedings whenever an Officer kills a citizen or anytime a suspect dies in Police custody. Some of these are knee-jerk reactions while others have some degree of merit and should be studied.
One thing is certain; we cannot as a society continue on in a climate of perpetual protest, unrealistic notions of immediate change, nor can we simply scrap parts of the criminal justice system because of an isolated number of unpopular Grand Jury non-indict decisions.
Yes, every life matters, every one of us was once some mother’s son. What will it take to establish some measure of trust between the Black and Latino communities and the Police? It is hard to say. But, it is likely that another shooting incident between the Police and an unarmed citizen may occur before any change will be adopted to restore the faith in the Black and Latino communities for the criminal justice system. These are perilous days; we are torn and bleeding as a society, often callous and impatient as a culture. What we need most now is to step back from the brink, take a deep breath, engage in a positive manner and, above all be patient. Remember change does not come quickly in America even when, at times like this, there is such an urgent hunger among so many for change they can see and feel.
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