Current Events: Ferguson and a Culture of Violence

This is not just about race. It’s not just about racial tension and animosity between a black community and an almost all non-black police force.

It’s about Michael Brown. It’s about a young man who should be alive today. And why he’s not.

A media photographer asked an officer for directions in Ferguson yesterday. The officer pulled out his gun, pointed it at the photographer and threatened him. Reporters have been arrested for no good reason, probably as an intimidation tactic. An officer was shown on video calling the protesters — well, maybe the people who were throwing things — a bunch of animals. Near the beginning of all of this there were pictures of police atop military vehicles pointing guns at peaceful protesters.

And this is with the world watching. If law enforcement has no qualms about treating people this way while the world is watching, what do you think it’s like for the people there when there are no cameras around? Unless there are some changes what’s it going to be like when the media leaves?

What’s it like in similar communities when nobody’s looking? Where there are no review boards? No procedures to report an officer?

WHO ARE THE THUGS?

I am not anti-police. I have friends and relatives who are in law enforcement (and the military). I worry about their safety daily and have much respect for who they are and what they do.

I am anti-militarization of police. I am very anti-lack of accountability and lack of oversight and lack of repercussions.

Every organization and every institution will become hopelessly corrupt unless there’s transparency and accountability. No exceptions. Democracy, the rule of law, justice, our ideals; none of them can function in a corrupt environment.

Our police forces are becoming militarized thugs because they have too much power and not enough accountability. On top of that, every problem is treated as a bent nail and guns, tazers, and chokeholds are the hammer.

WHEN EVERY PROBLEM IS A NAIL

We’ve reached the point where we treat social ills as criminal ills. We deal with criminal ills with arrests, imprisonment and bullets (or tazers or batons or tear gas or pepper spray).

Mentally ill people are being killed by police. Homeless people. Distraught people. People high on drugs. People who are drunk. Depressed, schizophrenic, psychotic.

Police procedures are increasingly reactionary. There’s a lot more leeway these days to use force. Officers have to be able to protect themselves and others in a very violent society but damn. They can’t be the front line to every social ill and yet that’s what we ask/force them to do.

DEESCALATE

If there were one thing I’d like to teach to young men — young black men who are labeled as “thugs” and police officers — it would be conflict resolution. How to calm a situation down. Despite anger and fear, create a way for the tension to release so that all parties involved can live another day.

Young black men are killing each other by the dozens in some cities. It’s a tragic problem all around the country. And for what? What is up with this culture of violence? This is something we should be talking about. Not sweeping under the rug or keeping in the family, so to speak. I don’t believe in that mess.

By the way, black people are deeply affected and disturbed by this, too. There are marches, rallies, community meetings, non-profits, etc. You just don’t see anything about it in the news. There’s no black person that’s sitting around saying, “Fifty black people shot by black people over the weekend in Chicago? Oh well. F the police!”

They/we are thinking, “What the hell is going on? I don’t undersand. How do we stop this?”

And then the people who are supposed to be protecting and serving end up killing us, too. Sometimes they have good reason to, yes. Most of the time, in my opinion, what counts as justifiable force is unnecessary and rash. It’s a breach of trust. It’s terrifying. It’s an existential crisis and it wears you down and stresses you out when you live in fear of random violence from the streets and hostility and death at the hands of law enforcement. It’s a lose-lose.

How do you chokehold a man to death in broad daylight in front of people and then ignore him as he lay dying? How do paramedics make no attempts to properly assess and attempt to revive him? That is a corrupt culture and demonstrates how little that corrupt culture values the lives of the people they’re supposedly serving and protecting.

SERVING AND PROTECTING

Your police force needs to come from the community it’s policing. I mean, it needs to be a part of that community. I’m not saying they have to look the same. I’m saying that if local law enforcement is completely segregated and distant from the communities and neighborhoods they’re policing, it will function as an occupying force and will become adversarial at best.

You end up with authority figures “serving” and “protecting” a populace that they think of as animals. How can you protect a community that you don’t respect or care about? What kind of relationships will you have? How can you have mutual trust? Can you see any potential in a troubled child?

The thing about it is that, as usual, there’s a partisan split on the issue. Liberal, conservative, black, white, etc. The same bull crap.

Here’s the thing. If we look at this as only a black/white issue we’re missing the point.

Everyone should be outraged that a peaceful protest was met with a pseudo-military response. This is not about “those people”. This is about your fellow citizens. It’s about a fascist response that escalated anger and tension and cluelessly said through its actions: “We’re afraid of you and we don’t trust you and f— you, you animals.”

The local officials could have said through their actions: “We hear you. We have to protect people and property from those who are lashing out with violence and destruction, but we hear you. We know the vast majority of you want to be heard and want change for the better. We need time to figure out what happened so we can do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You can help.”

America has a culture of violence. Chicago, as an example, used to be a gangster’s paradise. Massacres and assassinations over prohibited alcohol and contraband. Sound familiar? There are all kinds of movies glorifying and insightfully analyzing gang violence when it’s the mob. And then we’re shocked and appalled when it’s young black men. Tragically, they’re just taking up the mantle.

This is an American problem. We have a culture of violence. We are a violent culture.

THE SCHISM

A man in Texas refuses to pay taxes and fines for grazing his cattle on federal land. The US government attempts to collect and is met with armed citizens. The rag tag heavily armed wanna-be militia is portrayed as patriotic heroes despite the radicalism, racism, extremism and threats.

It says everything we need to know. The shame in all of this is the people who can’t relate. Who can’t see across socioeconomic, cultural, and racial lines. Who can’t empathize.

I took a screenshot of a post or comment a few months that said something to the effect of: “Black people are inherently violent and have been so ever since the days of slavery. We need to deal with this problem. These people are a plague.”

I don’t know if the poster’s irony gland has metastasized or what, because it seems odd to me that he’s calling people who were enslaved violent while ignoring the violence that it takes to enslave millions of people. Not to mention colonizing a continent. Genocide of indigenous people. Abusing the environment to the point of extinguishing a multitude of animal species. Nearly constant war. The Wild West. Gang wars. Legendary family feuds. And so on. Yet, the only violence he and those who echo his sentiments daily see are those of the disenfranchised and disaffected.

See, that’s how it happens. Every ill that has befallen minority communities eventually happens to the rest of the country and vice versa. Because those minority communities are America. They can be a rough, struggling, and sometimes discomfiting aspect of America but it is truly American.

In some communities, disaffected young men kill each other at alarming rates over next to nothing. In other communities, disaffected young men stew inside their own heads for years, obsessing over sleights, obsessing over guns, and then find innocent people to shoot down — with the intent to massacre as many as possible — in an elementary school, high school, church, marathon, or movie theater.

And the shame of it is that we don’t care when it’s the former. We see it as inherent behavioral and cultural flaws. In the latter case, we analyze, scapegoat, pontificate about all of the reasons and the factors that must have caused this and we call for an overhaul of mental health treatment, gun laws, legislation, etc.

Meanwhile, half of us are standing at the bow of the metaphorical boat saying, “Look at those animals back there in the stern. Their boat is sinking. Idiots.”

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