15 July, 2016

Why Is This Happening?


“The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our day and our age a significant development. Victor Hugo said on one occasion that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. In a real sense, the idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity. Wherever men are assembled today, the cry is always the same, "We want to be free." And so we see in our own world a revolution of rising expectations. The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution…. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] - or we will all perish together as fools.”
 MLK, Jr, 14 June 1965
"What we need in the United States is not division," Kennedy told the crowd, "what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."
 RFK 04 April 19

In the wake of shootings in Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, it is probable that many are asking themselves and others: “Why is this Happening?” There are no easy answers that are also helpful responses with a high probability of being correct. Nonetheless, it is apparent that something is seriously wrong. A follow-up question, springs readily to mind: “What can we do and who should do it?”

NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said, "In these violent and horrifying times, when a new generation is waking to call for police accountability, economic and educational equality and protecting the right to vote for all people,” America and all Americans face a significant moral moment. The lynchings of the past, today often take the form of police brutality or mass shootings. Forty-nine innocent and peaceful people were slaughtered by a vicious coward who disapproved of their presumed lifestyle. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the latest names added to the list of victims. Five peace officers in the proper performance of their duties were senselessly murdered in Dallas, too — but their vicious execution will not end the summary execution of black Americans, and it will not bring Americans together and put us all on the path to improvement, justice, and peace. Lives are in danger, and some of that danger comes from the very people who sworn to keep the peace and protect and serve all citizens. Too many Americans in too many localities are all tense, angry, devastated, suspicious, and grieving.

All of us can draw solace in the fact that the outrage over this 21st-century form of lynching is not isolated to the black community. Americans of all races and ethnicities are fighting to put an end to the epidemic of gun-facilitated violence particularly — in this country. Now is the time for Americans to come together as one people in grief, in protest, and in resolute pursuit of effective, measurable, and genuine change.

It can reasonably be asserted that radical reform of policing practices, policies, and laws at all levels must be made — immediately. The current approach is taking too many lives for no good and sufficient end. As if tensions were not high enough, at 12:40 AM on Saturday, Houston police shot and killed a man they allege pointed a gun at them despite surveillance footage from a nearby gas station that suggests otherwise.

Furthermore, no sane and humane American can condone sniping at law enforcement officers when they are properly, even superbly as happened in Dallas, performing their legitimate duties. Police are citizens too; they also have civil rights and like every other American have a right not to be killed as they peacefully go about their business. With the death toll mounting, Americans of goodwill must step up and speak up. Black lives matter as do Blue lives. Now, leadership and citizenship of the highest order must rally and bind up the nation’s wounds, comfort the grieving families, establish a just and lasting peace among ourselves grounded in an enduring regard and unwavering respect for one another regardless of complexion or clothing.

The Constitution is not merely a historical artifact. It is a charter of governance and the playbook for the American polity. We, the people, are not all one color. We cover the entire spectrum of human skin tone from the palest of the pale to the darkest of the dark. The Republic to which almost all of us have at one time or another pledged allegiance is not its land mass or its populace. It is a promise continually in the process of being kept or broken. In fact, many Americans, including every police officer, have sworn oaths to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the Republic it ordains and established.

The shameful, known but often unacknowledged, the truth is that too many of us do not keep our pledges and fulfill our oaths. We do not recognize every American as a full and equal citizen. We do not insist that all people in official capacities carry out their duties consistently in a manner that affords all citizens equal protection of due process of law. We do not demand that every American be accord all the privileges and immunities of any citizen. We allow the 15,400 strictly local law enforcement, police and sheriff departments with armed officers, [according to the latest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics] half of which have less than ten officers and have special challenges to operating with little consistency in training or procedures across them. Furthermore, we tolerate the situation described by David Weisburd, executive director of the Center for Evidence-based Crime Policy at George Mason University, who said. "There are many departments that simply poorly train and lead their officers." Thus, all of us have work to do to make a genuine equality of rights a reality for every American and to ensure that all citizens are protected and served, rather than some being persecuted and slain.

We must stand in solidarity with all people of goodwill; we must join with fellow activists; we must work hand in hand with members of our community. We must contact our elected officials to demand life-saving reforms to a broken system. We must speak out and promote inclusive attitudes and an end to bigotry whether explicit or implicit. We must call on each and every American to insist that the dream of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all be realized far more pervasive throughout the land for every citizen.

Delores Jones-Brown, professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice says, the effects of more diversity on police rosters are unclear. “The research is divided on the issue of whether or not diversifying police departments has any specific impacts,” she explains. “There’s one set of research that says that regardless of the identity of the police officer, they become part of a police culture and in that police culture there is an ‘us-versus-them’ personality. The police put themselves and their own safety ahead of that of the general public, and they believe they have a right to go home at the end of the shift,” regardless of what that means for other people, Jones-Brown says. Thus, what evidence there is suggests that simply diversifying is not a panacea. Also, whatever the complexion [or gender] of individual police officers, when they put on the uniform, they become blue. Accordingly, Jones-Brown says, “A combination of diversity and better training should lead to better results.” It seems that better training and more rigorous insistence on the application of the training should, in fact, take precedence over diversification although both can be done more or less concurrently.

Paradoxically, the Dallas police department had committed itself to transparency. It developed a new foot pursuit policy that emphasized de-escalation. It made police officers in Dallas subject to lethal force training every two months instead of every two years. The number of body cameras used by officers increased. Poor performing police officers were fired. And after Brown declared that traffic citations were not intended to “raise revenue,” his officers issued half as many tickets at last count as they did in 2006. Thus, Dallas was actively pursuing the steps many think likely to diminish excessive force and diminish lethality. This police department was doing many right things right. In many ways, the Dallas Police Department represents the best, not the worst, of American police departments.

David Brown, Dallas Police Chief, and a member of President Obama’s Police Data Initiative said, “So far this year, in 2016, we have had four excessive force complaints. We’ve averaged between 150 and 200 my whole 33-year career. And we’ve averaged between 18 and 25 police involved shootings my whole career. We’ve had two so far this year.” These statistics will offer little succor as the city of Dallas grieves for the five police officers killed Thursday night. The legacy of these reform efforts, however, and the trust they engendered, do offer hope that the city may be prepared to begin to heal its wounds in the days and weeks ahead. Finally, Chief Brown urged protesters holding demonstrations over the deaths of Sterling and Castile—and over the resurgent debate over race relations and policing practices in the United States to “become a part of the solution. “We’re hiring,” he said. “Get off that protest line and put an application in, and we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.”

Chief Brown has a record to build on and a sound perspective. These are troubled and troubling times. What we need in America is not division, hatred, lawlessness, and violence. The great challenge facing every citizen alive today is to remain engaged, rather than enraged, through this turbulent interval. Each of us must make an ethical and practical commitment to amity toward, cooperation among, and justice for all and learn to live together as brother and sister citizens – lest we perish together as fools. We can set out together on the path to justice. We can – and we –  must come together and end this carnage by and against all citizens and all those sworn and empowered to serve and protect them. Divided we are likely ineffectual. United we are virtually invincible.

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