WHERE WE ARE
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
WE ARE AS DIVIDED AS WE SEEM
NO USE IN DENYING THAT FACT
NYPD Officers on vertical patrol in a South Bronx housing project.
TAGS: NYPD, LEC, RACE RELATIONS, BLACK LIVES MATTER,
ALL LIVES MATTER, URBAN POLICING, LEC CRITICS,
TOWARDS A MORE POLARIZED SOCIETY
(Tuesday July 12, 2016, NYC) The President proclaimed today in his rambling speech at the Memorial Service for the five Dallas Police Officers slain last Thursday night in a brutal ambush that, “We are not as divided as we seem”. Perhaps it is easy to believe that from the secure bubble of the White House. By any measure available our racial tensions are approaching the same virulent level that crested in the late 1960’s with the formation of the Black Panthers and other militant off-shoots of the Civil Rights movement. There were those activists unsatisfied with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s approach of passive protest, of peaceful resistance.
While the Black Lives Matter “movement” of today, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, politicians and pundits of every liberal stripe as well as the President himself are clamoring for an honest open “debate, a “national conversation” (whatever the hell that is) to address all matters of a Police nature. They call for wholesale changes in the way candidates seeking to pursue a career among the ranks of the Law Enforcement Community (LEC)are selected, screened, vetted and trained as well as “examining” various methods employed by Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) in areas from Patrol to response, use of force and “de-escalation” techniques. These very same people refuse to have the same rigorous debate and conversation about some of the ways young Black men invite Police scrutiny in the first place; how they present themselves in public and the reasons why many White citizens perceive them as “threats” of one kind or another. Yes, we all live on a broad two-way street and both sides of our racial divide, in the talk about Black men and Police Officers, must acknowledge certain truths or we’ll never get beyond where we are now as a society.
If the Black Lives Matter movement and their supporters expect large-scale changes in Police Departments and policing itself, is it not fair that some changes are not in order for those young men most likely to have an interaction with the Police? Law Enforcement critics decry the “militarization” of Police forces and the MOS of the LEC confront young Black men wearing the “ghetto chic” dress that must include pants worn so low that most of a man’s boxer shorts covered ass is exposed, hats worn cock-eyed, and common street behavior meant either to intimidate some of their peers or the residents at large. If you do not want to attract the attention of the Police, then present yourself in a more acceptable manner. Yes, the comeback to this is not only that this is an ignorant, “racist” comment but also a suggestion that a change would stifle the free expression of young Black men. Dressing and comporting oneself as a “thug” is a choice and it is a choice that carries consequences if an innocent young Black man happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The rapid-fire volatile events broadcast live into our homes over the past week have once again starkly illustrated some of the most long standing divides in our Country. The week after marking our 240th year of Independence had many of a certain age harkening back to the tumultuous days of the late 1960’s. It was difficult not to make that comparison although, after stepping back from the raw emotion of the week’s events, the comparisons are not as valid as they were at first blush. While there were no doubt similar sentiments given voice regarding race relations and, in particular, Black American’s alleged systematic abuse, aggressive and often lethal tactics and brutality perpetrated by “unaccountable” Law Enforcement Officers in predominately Black and Latino Communities, we are nowhere near a return to the widespread civil unrest that came to define a year such as 1968. This is certainly not to suggest that many of the same social pathologies, attitudes and behaviors plaguing the Black Community are mere relics of a not too distant past. Not at all. Not just yet.
For New Yorkers of a certain age it might be illustrative to think back to the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s. In 1993, as a point of reference, our City was in its third consecutive year of 2,000 plus homicides a year. NYC led virtually every major crime category from arson to assault, from rape to robbery and everything in between. The quality of life had deteriorated so badly that businesses were fleeing and taking their much needed tax money with them. Tourism was at an all-time low. Morale in the ranks of the NYPD was awful. NYC had indeed become a rotting apple. It took Mayor Giuliani, NYPD Commish Bill Bratton and their by in to the “Broken Windows Theory” of policing to begin to turn the tide. With the implementation of CompStat and rigid accountability at the Command level, bit by bit, block by block, the City began to be reborn. Those with short memories are the very same people who have come to decry the Broken Windows approach and, due to their incessant complaining have made the tried and true practice of “Stop, Question and Frisk” (STQ) a relic of the past. Rudy Giuliani, a “Liberal” Republican was given an electoral mandate in this oh so Liberal, Left-wing City. Even the most far left resident of the five boroughs had had enough. They wanted the City “cleaned up” and that is precisely what the new Mayor set about accomplishing. In no neighborhoodsmore than the most poverty stricken and crime infested precincts was the stepped up Police presence and more aggressive tactics more welcome. Commuters felt safe on the subways and platforms, Times Square was on its way to a future without pornography houses, drug dealers, wall to wall prostitutes, con-men of every ilk and an omnipresent criminal element. SQF was reaping rewards, was actually getting criminal off the streets. You know it was highly successful because as soon as the changes were clear and obvious, the critics crawled out of the shadows again portraying the Police as racists, an “occupying force” in their neighborhoods, mistreating and criminally profiling young Black and Latino men at an unacceptable rate. Yes, how pitifully short memories can be.
WHERE WE ARE
What may be frustrating to the White majority of Americans are the proffered arguments from the Black Community regarding these issues. After all, since the Voters Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965 respectively, the federal government has spent, conservatively, $22 trillion on measures to redress past wrongs suffered by Black Americans including a host of laws, policies, procedures and legislative initiatives aimed to erase racial boundaries in housing, education, employment, poverty, and all the myriad ills still affecting much of Black America. If the “400-year legacy of slavery in America” is still touted as a reason for the disparities between White and Black America, there is no room for discussion or debate; no common ground can exist.
As human beings living in our hyperactive, complex, open and diverse society, we seek context for all we encounter. It is as much an inherent element of our nature as is pattern recognition or the “fight or flight” response. Each of us functions with our own unique operating system comprised of our experiences and memories, attitudes, opinions, perceptions, perspective, and all the cognitive/analytical capabilities that define us as humans. The older we are the more expansive is our neural database. We attempt consciously and unconsciously to incorporate new stimuli into our pre-existing categories and classifications; so much of what we are exposed to be it new and novel or familiar, is automatically shunted into the internal file that seems most appropriate. It is by this process that old ideas are re-enforced, attitudes and opinions solidified thereby allowing us to make judgements of all stimuli that crosses our path.
White people view all aspects of American life and its institutions very differently than Black Americans. Of this there is no question. Both are shaped by the realities of their own existence, the circumstances and particulars of their personal lives. We are all shaped by these very same factors. That we can be so far apart on even the most basic facts is testament to the gaping divisions and divergences of perception. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders or Kerner Commission in 1967 after a rash of destructive “race riots” burned across America in cities from Los Angeles (Watts) to Newark, NJ. In many specific and profound areas of life, little has changed for the Black Community since the release of the Report of the Kerner Commission in 1968. The most famous summary the Commission produced was expressed in the statement, "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal."
Indeed. Despite 50 years of legislative efforts designed to redress some of the most profoundly negative social pathologies endemic in much of the Black Community, we remain a “separate and unequal” Nation. Whose fault is this? What is to blame for this retched truth? There may be some partial answers of a reasonable, objective nature but even they cannot be given voice without be shouted down as “racist”. For all the angst expressed by liberal politicians and commentators, they have no real experience of spending time in one of our inner city, predominately Black neighborhoods. What they would see if they ever ventured on such an excursion (of course, accompanied by Police Officers) might open their eyes a bit. It is in these neighborhoods that perception shapes reality, that familiarity with the environmental conditions shape instinct and response. And, oddly enough, it is in these very same neighborhoods that Black residents call upon Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton to keep a robust Police presence in their neighborhoods. Many Black residents live in fear of their own neighbors and the denizens of their streets who occupy stoops and corners day in, night out. Their “Black lives” matter as they try to raise their children properly while laboring long hours in low paying jobs. The fact of the matter is 10% of the population are responsible for 90% of the crimes committed in all categories. This is no urban myth or fudged statistical trickery. It was towards a measured approach to getting that 10% off the streets that the now abandoned tactic of “Stop, Question and Frisk” was initiated and proved to be successful despite the erroneous facts and figures its many opponents have bandied about.
The angry masses and self-appointed “activists”, “leaders” and, perhaps most insidiously, the pompous, self-righteous, self-designated denizens of academic ivory towers, “Black Scholars” call for better screened, vetted and trained Police Officers as the all in solution to our current turmoil. To the credit of the LEC writ large, that is precisely what they have been doing for the last 20 years. No matter the level of training, be it in standard Police tactics or “de-escalation” and “sensitivity” training, Policing will always involve the element of potential violence of a situationally varying degree.
The short answer is, “it’s hard to say”. The yawning rifts laid bare over the last few years between young Black men and LEO will persist for the indefinite future. We seem to be entering a mode of a civil “Cold War”, a perilous regrouping into warring factions; “Us versus Them”, Black versus White, young men of color versus the Police; a polarized society that will creep along locked in a binary conflict that will only ossify with time. Electing and re-electing our first Black President did nothing to move race relations forward. If anything, the last eight years have seen dramatic schisms tear at the fabric of our society. This is in no way meant to assign blame to President Obama, not at all. He just so happens to be in Office at this time of social media fueled protest, video cam clips of events that transpire when Cops and criminals clash, when the 0.1% of bad Cops are screen-captured improperly using force…or worse. That the 99.9% of the LEO are doing their jobs within the limits of the law as professionally as can be expected is a fact worth mentioning just as is the fact that the majority of young Black and Latino men are trying to “do the right thing” often working against a deck that is not stacked in their favor. These are complex and complicated issues that we have apparently not yet been able to solve. What will it take? Who can begin the hard work of finding common ground and consensus towards identifying solutions on both sides of the divide? It is certainly not anyone in elected Office. Changes must begin at the micro level, in the family, the community, the individual Sheriff’s Office or Police Department.
There are no easy answers or readily available solutions. As long as the debate remains as virulent and heated as it is today in the wake of all of this recent bloodshed, we will remain, as a country, as a people, as a society on a collision course that will only exacerbate our divides. Our society is predicated on the rule of law and it falls on the men and women of the LEC to keep order. The absence of order is anarchy, chaos, and the continuance of senseless violence. There is a self-perpetuating nature to this cycle of action and reaction that rips at any semblance of cohesiveness that makes for orderly society. There are choices to be made on both sides of the debate and, if we know one thing for certain we cannot count on our political “leaders” to step into the breach and work towards equitable measures that could ease the tensions. We simply do not have such elected officials; our politicians and politics are as toxic and noxious as the mood on far too many of our streets.
Yes, the sun will come up tomorrow and likely the day after. It is incumbent upon all of us, the citizenry and the LEC to take a reasoned, measured approach as we work through these troubled times. The alternative is too fraught with peril to consider.
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