Whew.. that is a long post title! Well, like the suddenly popular photo above captured by Reuters’ Jonathan Bachman suggests, this whole thing is simply about fear. Fear of loosing something, fear of surrendering something, fear of being a victim, fear of the status quo, fear of loosing the status quo… and the beat goes on.
The following is my list of current subjects of conjecture that are permeating our news feeds. It all boils down to fear… not who to blame.
Conjecture #1 – There is an upsurge in racism in America causing all this violence toward African-Americans and other minorities. Racism is as strong as ever in America.
Not true. I would agree with Obama on this one. I lived through the 60’s and while I am white and can’t speak for my black brethren I can tell you that those days compared not one bit to the current situation nor the recent events. Remove from our current picture the violence and racist police behavior and what do you have… pretty much a racially stable nation. Now before you all go off half-cocked, yes… there is still a huge economic divide between whites and blacks (the “ghettos” are still alive and well, albeit a little less defined, and no one calls them “ghettos” anymore), there are still KKK elements here and there, there’s still neo-nazi hate groups, and there are still white folks that hate black folks for one reason or another. Also, there is a great disparity in how the judicial system is applied toward minorities. BUT.. nowhere near the tumultuous times during the Civil Rights Movement. While there are obviously individual acts of police violence against blacks you no longer see the long lines of police with nightsticks, K9 attack dogs, water cannon, and tear gas smashing into crowds of peaceful demonstrators (not even in Ferguson, MO during their riot). Yes, there’s lines of cops in riot gear (one thing they didn’t have in the 60’s) but you’d be a bit hard pressed to see overt slugging it out and bashing heads to disperse a crowd. Comparatively speaking, there is also a greater involvement from black citizenry today, through religious and community efforts, toward containing some public order during emotional demonstrations. We should keep the problems in perspective here so we can actually begin to correct all this. It might be bad but it’s not 1960’s bad. Progress has not stood still.
Conjecture #2 – Police are racially motivated in performing their jobs, and they unfairly profile minorities.
Yes and no. The police academies in this country I sincerely doubt have formal training in racial profiling and how to kill black people to make it look legal. Nor do I think one bit that any police department is actively instructing their officers to racially profile. BUT… police, in spite of our tendency to want to make them pedestals of heroism, are simply human like the rest of us, so some cops are likely poor choices to be officers, or, something in their course of duty over time has jaded them into changing their performance attitude. In some cases a certain police department with lax management can end up developing a “culture” of questionable civic performance aimed at minorities. Now, toss all these possibilities into a local system of juris prudence (and civic ignorance) that is slanted toward assigning blame to economically challenged minorities in spite of the evidentiary process… you have a bad mix that also fills our prisons disproportionately. No, by design police are not normally corrupt, but because they are human like the rest of us they are as vulnerable if not supervised and kept accountable. I’m not suggesting this is all solely a police management problem.. but it can begin here.
On the other hand, profiling is a necessary police tool (…and I can write a volume about that, but not just yet). Racial profiling because of racial bigotry is not.
Conjecture #3 – It’s all about the easy access to guns by people who should not have access to them.
No, it’s not. There are way too many extenuating social and economic factors at play to presume that even one gun prevented to be sold to some emotionally ill person will change everything. There’s no way to measure the results because putting stricter controls means we as a society have to set definitions of who we think are too crazy to own a gun… and restrict their Second Amendment rights. And the last I looked, the Bill of Rights are still the law of the land… whether you or me like it or not.
But.. having said that, I have to admit, with all the ongoing debate about gun control I have gotten really confused as to what laws are currently “out there” and if they are truly being enforced. There’s this list, and that list, and good lists and bad lists. Now, if I am confused I gotta think many other folks are as well. Is this an issue about enforcing the laws we DO have, or is this just another knee-jerk there-outta-be-a-law issue?
Conjecture #4 – Communities and police departments need to broaden the social dialog between each other to fix violence toward blacks.
If that works. Look… call me crazy (which likely many of you will after reading this post), but I don’t see this cry coming forward from economically privileged communities. Do residents of Beverly Hills, for example, have to get all Kumbaya with the Beverly Hills Police in order to be better understood? Yes, you are right… those are mostly rich white folks who seldom have trouble with racist police driving through their neighborhoods and shaking them down because they are white. Nor do rich white neighborhoods have as much criminal activity going on. So that’s my point here. What exactly are the communities of color wanting to convey to the police? Other than acknowledging that we are all one family of humans who should live in love and peace and brotherhood, what exactly is all this formal police/community interaction going to accomplish? Other than “please don’t pick on us just because we’re black”, what else is to be accomplished?
I see nothing wrong with civic law enforcement interaction to maintain public awareness of local crime and safety issues and getting public feedback on conditions in their neighborhoods. But the days of “Officer Friendly” on the street corner are long gone. We can carry the big stick to make police more accountable toward minorities but that will not change the crux of the problem… the economically challenged (in other words, poor) communities of color remain sources of social discontent, breeding grounds for crime, gangs, and developmental under-achievement. All for a myriad of reasons that are not all economic… and certainly not the fault of police departments.
Conjecture #5 – Only blacks and other minorities truly understand the effects of police profiling and police violence.
That’s absolutely true. No one ever knows more about being a victim than the victims themselves. Your point? Not to be trite, but if problems are going to be solved then everyone must focus on the problem(s)… not the blame. Let’s try another example… let’s say communities of color meet with police, everyone understands each other completely, everyone shakes hands, hugs, and the police are forever cleansed of racist impropriety. Will that change the economic and social and cultural environment of communities of color still experiencing crime and discontent? Oh, I know… they will still be poor but able to drive down the street and not be hassled by police. Seems to be an issue of priorities on what needs to be “fixed” first.
On the other hand… if you want to truly know the street life of a policeman then walk a mile in their shoes as well, to live the daily encounters, the inherent dangers and stress of confronting an unpredictable public on a daily basis. The average person has no concept of having to enter impoverished communities of color, communities ripe with crime with residents having general contempt for law and order from birth, to answer emergency calls with the hope it’s not an ambush. It’s no wonder some cops are opting to shoot first rather than allowing the benefit of the doubt that maybe the black driver he’s just pulled over is just grabbing for his wallet to get out his drivers license.
Here’s a very small example regarding teaching respect from birth, and very illustrative. I am your average unarmed, uniformed (I look like police from some communities), security guard (I’m the one that “just monitors”) in a municipal facility that services the public on a daily basis. Often parents will bring their younger children with them and as a result the lobby can get a bit loud and rambunctious at times. One common tactic parents will use to control their kids is to grab them and point to me and say, “You don’t want him to put you in jail, do you?” The child will then stare at me in fear while burying themselves into their mother’s lap. White parents do this, black parents do this, Hispanic parents do this. Then we wonder why our kids get in trouble with the law. Not a very good teaching moment for children to respect a uniform. Questionable parenting techniques is not limited to race.
[Timely Update: I made this entire post yesterday. Just today, as I walked past an older Hispanic gentleman holding what likely was his two year old granddaughter in his arms, he said, “Watch out and be good. He’s the boogieman.”]
Conjecture #6 – We should support the police in spite of all the questionable killings of African-Americans.
Of course! But our collective support should be support of law enforcement and the fair administration of it in the community. The police are tools to enforce the laws. Our support of them is to assure they are on track and accountable in protecting us from crime, and have the tools themselves to do the job we want them to do while remaining safe themselves. Officer Friendly may have moved on to something more akin to GI Joe… protecting us against drunk drivers and militant terrorists, all at a moment’s notice.
Conjecture #7 – Police body cams will solve these problems and make police accountable for their actions.
Nope. Body cams will obviously be very helpful in many cases and perhaps make police think twice about their actions appearing on the 6 o’clock news, but as we have seen in the last couple years of police camming and public cell phone video, they are no guarantee toward stopping police actions against black people. If anything police cams have now shifted to the ability of lawyers to convince a jury that what you see on video is not really how it came down.,, and you’ll get more verdicts similar to saying, “Well, the cop (or the victim) is sorta guilty.. but not completely.”
Conjecture #8 – Much of police violence and active shooter violence can be attributed to mental health issues.
Absolutely. Micah Johnson may have loudly proclaimed his reason for shooting white cops was in retribution for cops killing blacks, he was hardly a dedicated and committed martyr for the cause against racial bigotry, sacrificing his life to prove a point for the common good. He was an out-and-out mental case, likely suffering from some level of PTSD following a deployment to Afghanistan. This was made apparent by witnesses telling about his quirky loner lifestyle and habits around the home… not to mention the act of killing cops itself was pretty deranged. So what do we call him… emotionally ill or a typical person holding reverse bigotry views? Do we say, “Wow! A black guy killing whites cops!” or, do we say, “Just another nutcase with a gun in a long line of nutcases with guns in recent years”? Seems to me if Mr. Johnson were being treated for mental health issues he’d never have even planned to shoot white cops. It’s less about him having a gun or the apparent racial “trigger” that set his plan into motion.
Conjecture #9 – If black folks would quit being so confrontational when being questioned by police, and just do what the officer says, then things wouldn’t escalate.
Certainly a good urban survival tip, but it goes beyond that. Over the decades a general fear of law enforcement has evolved in American society. Notice I didn’t say “fear of police”. Even the police have a level of fear when carrying out their duties in law enforcement. It’s human to be afraid. I taught my kids (who happen to be as white as me) that if they are ever stopped by the police that they should do everything the police tell you to do, no matter how pissed you might be about having been stopped. You don’t mouth off back to them or engage in roadside debates, and always tell the cops where your hands are going next, even if you are going to pick your nose or scratch your ass. The police are fearful, constantly wary and on alert, and silly as this may sound, they probably want to have a safe duty shift and go home to the family in one piece at the end of the day. Meaning, they are human also.
Black folks being confrontational when approached by police is just another illustration of the fear of law enforcement that’s evolved. Raised tension and stress and even anger can be motivated by that fear. What you have are two sides of an encounter, both fearing some aspect of law enforcement for different reasons, and both trying to cope with duty on one side and a loss of basic respect and fairness because of skin color on the other side.
Conjecture #10 – There are still economic black “ghettos” in America.
Yes, from my vantage point. There are in fact enclave communities within most large cities of America, some going back well into the 19th century, that are predominantly black. I don’t think anyone wishes to refer to these places as ghettos anymore, given our current social phase of political correctness. “Communities of color” I think is the preferred moniker. Nonetheless, the roots of these areas go all the way back to the post-Civil War years and the decades upon decades of government and a white population racially segregating every part of black lives. It’s understandable that African-American lives would evolve into an individual culture within these areas, from which the family unit is not always nurturing and supportive, where educational opportunities are not equal to that offered in “outside” communities, where respect for law and authority is secondary to survival, and where respect and status is earned on the streets committing crimes rather than earned from personal accomplishment. But there’s a little secret here. Not all African-Americans are trapped inside these places. There are choices these days that can be made to not remain in these areas. Black folks are many times just as economically successful as white folks. We have a black president. Many police chiefs are black… I can go on and on. My personal feeling is two-fold. Early educational opportunities need huge improvement in these areas. Second, the family unit needs changing. The culture in these areas encourages absentee fathers (having a “baby mama” seems a social status, perhaps for welfare advantages?) and not a lot of planned parenthood. You can’t expect a single mother supporting three kids to have a lot of time nurturing education, respect for authority, promoting personal pride, and quality of life. After all, she was never raised that way either.
Conjecture #11 – The news media and social media just agitates things by making big issues of small events.
Very true! But that’s the nature of news. I would not want to have my news filtered by some news director’s personal bias. On the other hand… the presentation of broadcast news is not non-profit. They make money to pay for all those reporters and live satellite links from around the world by selling advertising… commercial time. What they charge for that time depends on the number of viewers; the more viewers the more money a network can make. To get viewers sometimes newsrooms will tend to make a bigger deal of events that really aren’t… thus suggesting to the public that this big thing has some meaning in our lives. This is a form of bias reporting. We have to put up with that. The days are long gone where we would place our trust in news people with staunch reputations of unbiased, concise reporting, from the likes of Walter Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, Mike Wallace, or Edward R. Morrow.
Conjecture #12 – The country is going to hell; there is no hope.
It’s a tough time but it’s not that bad. I tend to use the example of a swinging pendulum. Sometimes the pendulum of life swings one way and then swings another. Social, political, and personal changes rise and fall in level of importance based on a degree of social consciousness at the time. I feel all of the violence in the news, random, planned, spontaneous, whatever… has its roots in mental health even though we are collectively trying to assign other labels of blame to it all.
JUST A SIDE NOTE ON DALLAS POLICE CHIEF DAVID BROWN. His personal story is one that very poignantly encompasses the struggles and diverse challenges and personal choices… and personal tragedies, that blacks can experience… and that there’s a fine line between achievement and laying dead in the street by police or gang members.
While he would prefer not having the focus of the Dallas shooting on him he does nonetheless seem to have a personal life story of making it out of the conditions that foment black discourse in black communities. He is an example of black achievement and that positive things can happen from making good choices. He got a BA followed by an MBA. I wonder if he had any mentors or family supporting his way.
But here’s the thing… Chief Brown lost a partner to violence, lost a brother to violence from drug dealers, and what one might call an ultimate tragedy for any parent, a month after being sworn in as police chief his PCP-induced son killed a Lancaster, Texas police officer and was himself killed in the ensuing gun battle with police. No doubt this weighs on him constantly. The man still has risen to be respected for his tough management style.
It can be done. Perhaps he can be an inspiration to young black males; perhaps HIS is the story to pass around.