The Widdershins

Remain Calm, Etc: Fifty Shades of Pain

Posted on: August 21, 2014

Good Thursday, Widdershins.  It has been one helluva week.  Several fatal police shootings, a journalist slaughtered by ISIS, and Rick Perry indicted by a Texas grand jury.

I won’t belabor the death if Michael Brown, as Prolix has written a terrific post on the subject for your week-end perusal.  I do, however, think that it may be time to consider the state of racism in America.  The scenes from Ferguson were wrenching, hauntingly reminiscent of fifty years ago when I witnessed the irresistible forces of the civil rights movement meet the immovable objects of Alabama police departments, brought to us nightly with the six o’clock news.  Those films were largely black and white, today’s are in color.  Those films were much more violent, today’s are much less bloody.  Those films showed people march while holding hands, today we see people marching with their hands up.  Those films were made in Alabama or Mississippi, today we watch Missouri.  Dammit, I thought we fixed this fifty years ago.  We did, but we didn’t – not really. Maybe not at all.   Dear God, do I have to live through this again?

The scenery has changed.  Forced desegregation in the Sixties was targeted in The Dirty South, which practiced de jure segregation.  Believe it or not, most of it was accomplished with a minimum of harsh words and bloodshed.  I went to a tiny county-wide high school, and when the school integrated, precisely eight African-American students arrived one day.  I will not go so far as to say that the average student greeted their arrival with an abundance of joy, but within a few months, those eight students were fully assimilated.  The Seventies brought about the end of de facto segregation in the rest of the country, Riots took place in Boston, school buses burned in Pennsylvania, and George Romney had to ask for federal troops to quiet down the situation in Detroit.  Sundown towns were declared illegal.  It was a new age.

Except that it really is no such thing.  Many African-Americans have made it out of the ghettos, shanty towns, and hard-scrabble farms of yesteryear, and live in affluent suburbs.  Many more have not.  Even the most prosperous amongst them can still tell you stories about being hassled by the local police force.  One young AA attorney that I know was incensed when he was detained  for having no ID on him – he was out jogging in shorts with no pocket, and had to call his wife to get out of bed and drive down to where the officer was holding him in their upscale development.  I understand that the police do not have an easy job – that’s why we pay them good salaries and allow them to retire with great pension plans after 20 years of service.  That’s why we purchase weapons and kevlar vests – so that they can safely perform a difficult job.  It’s also why we accord them great respect, except perhaps when they are screeching vulgarities and waving weapons at a crowd.  The only thing that bothers me is their firm belief that anything they say is a lawful order, and anything shy of immediate and complete compliance is an arrestable (or even capital) offense.

Those ever-so-painful memories that erupted after watching this week’s events tell me one other thing – that some of our officers are as out of control now as they were then.  There seems to be no protocol for the use of non-deadly force.  Consider the latest shooting in St. Louis, where a mentally disturbed man supposedly ran at two officers, brandishing a knife while insisting that they shoot him.   Needless to say, they obliged.  Were these the rantings of a madman?  Perhaps a suicide by cop?  Likely we will never know, especially in light of a video, which does not appear to comport with the narrative.

Now, I’m not in any way suggesting that the officer should have shouted “halt” and hoped for the best.  I understand that the police want to go home at the end of their shift.  In many towns, most of the police force is aware of mentally ill citizens from having dealt with them in the past, but these officers may well have been out of their usual districts and not known of this man.  We had a rather famous psych patient known affectionately as “High Octane Ramon” who was known to ingest straight from the pump, with a distinct preference for premium gasoline.  A rookie officer saw him with the pump in his hand, thought it was a gun and ordered him to drop his weapon.  He subsequently shot and killed him when he did not drop the imaginary object immediately.  A veteran officer would have known Ramon and driven him either to the ER or home to his mother.

I know that the officers in Ferguson have been stressed to the max this week.  I hope that nothing else occurs.  I also hope that maybe – just maybe – we can take a lesson from this week and get it right this time.  I also hope that maybe – just maybe – the citizens of Ferguson will listen to Al Sharpton, who told them truthfully that their 5% voter turnout was pathetic.

This is an open thread.

 

 

 

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9 Responses to "Remain Calm, Etc: Fifty Shades of Pain"

So many things here… on the video, I’ve seen another version of it and to me it’s unclear whether the guy is approaching the cops with a knife or not. It’s also a longer video and the guy who was taking it had to keep backing up further and further away.

On the original incident with Michael Brown…supposedly the cop sustained an injury to his face but the p.d. has not been very forthcoming about it and how it was sustained.

I’ve read and seen some stories about the number of A.A. arrests and pull overs in Ferguson compared to whites and the number is high. Supposedly that’s one of the issues with the A.A. citizens of the town: that it is now majority A.A. and the political landscape does not represent that. But why haven’t the majority A.A. citizens tried to change the situation at the ballot box?

There are soooo many things with this incident that I didn’t feel I could adequately write about it. Thanks chat for doing so.

It’s really nuts out there. And the handling of the situation by the local police has been a real example of stupidity. I’m glad the issue of militarization of police has become an issue. Nobody was listening to it before and many have tried to discuss it. They still can’t figure it out though…

One thing that really drives me nuts about the cops’ attitude is that their every fart is law and must be obeyed. NYC Police Commissioner (who used to be LAPD Commissioner) went on the record and said that yes, you have no choice but to comply with whatever the cop is telling you and that the only right you have is in courts. This is after the NYPD strangled a man they were trying to arrest who was unarmed, even as he told them he couldn’t breathe as he was placed into a chokehold. Well, excuse me, but that’s a problem right there that we have no rights when a cop says jump. That needs to be looked at and changed. And there also need to be repercussions for cops for arresting people for no reason. And we know there is no reason when no charges are pressed, which is most of the time. So if a cop arrests you and there is nothing to prosecute – that cop needs to be punished for clearly arresting a person who did nothing wrong. That might be the only way they will stop just hauling you in, especially if you are a minority. Cops need to stop viewing every individual as if we were the enemy. Because that’s how they see the public, that’s certainly how so many of them treat the public. Every member of society is a potential threat and they must be aggressive to the max. They demand we respect them. I think they need to earn the public’s respect. They also need to learn some humility.

DYB@2: I think a lot of this “militarization” of the cops started with 9/11 and the idea of the “first responders”. I think the Feds saw them as the ones who would indeed respond first to any terror threats and thus started throwing all of these military-type “freebies” to the departments.

Who knows what actually happened to the cop’s face? We may never, ever sort this out.

chat@4: Very true.

@2: I could not agree more. We must finally sort out what the police can and cannot do lawfully. If it;s fine for the Second Amendment folks to do what they want, the rest of us should have some rights as well.

Just heard that Sen. McCaskill plans hearings on police militarization.

I saw that video, and wish I hadn’t. Very disturbing. Very good points made in the post and all the comments.

This is a horrible story about ISIS and the village they liquidated a few days ago:

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/08/isis-slaughtered-yazidis-because-of-one-man.html

I really think Geo Bush ruined the world.

annie@8: If he didn’t totally ruin it, he sure helped it along. 😉

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