Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Fear Breeds Repression, Repression Breeds Hate" -- Louis Brandeis

Two police officers were shot and seriously wounded in Ferguson, Missouri overnight. What is happening to our country, and what can we do about it?

There are two pervasive and mutually supporting diseases our country suffers from. We can't cure one without curing the other. One is racism, and the other is guns. Let's consider three reports from the United States Department of Justice.

The March 4, 2015 "Department of Justice Report Regarding the Criminal Investigation Into the Shooting Death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson" cleared Officer Wilson of any wrongdoing. The Report found that Brown reached into Wilson's SUV, punched the police officer and tried to grab his gun; that Brown turned and ran away, but then approached Wilson again and was shot from a distance of at least two feet. The Justice Department found that Wilson acted reasonably to defend himself.

The March 4, 2015 Justice Department Report "Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department" exposed a corrupt, racist municipal government. Citizens were arrested for minor or imaginary offenses, issued multiple citations, and court fees and fines were multiplied and never forgiven. A white city government enriched itself on the backs of its black citizenry. The police, rather than guardians of the people, were employed as overseers, and the municipal court, rather than dispensing justice, promoted injustice. The corrupt officials who ran this "government" like a plantation regularly "fixed" each others' tickets while exchanging racist emails bemoaning the lack of personal responsibility of the people whom they oppressed. It was a rotten system that must be weeded out, root and branch, from our society.

The December 14, 2014 "Investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police" reveals an entrenched and systematic abuse of force in the exercise of police power. Officers were inadequately trained in the use of force; were not properly supervised in the use of force; and went unpunished for violations in the use of force. The report found:
The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;
The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists;
Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and
The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.
The quintessential (though hardly the only) example of these failures was the incident of November 29, 2012, in which over 100 police officers engaged in a massive high speed chase and fired 137 shots into the vehicle, executing the driver and passenger. Their crime? Their car had backfired near a police vehicle.

This report was issued shortly after yet another killing by Cleveland Police -- the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy with a toy gun at a playground, who was shot immediately after police arrived on the scene. This is only one of many unexplained high profile police killings in the United States.

And now police are under fire in Ferguson.

The police are scared, and reasonably so. As the Justice Department stated in its report on the Cleveland Police Department:
We recognize the challenges faced by officers in Cleveland and in communities across the nation every day. Policing can be dangerous. At times, officers must use force, including deadly force, to protect lives, including their own.
In light of these dangers the law properly gives "great deference" to the split-second decisions that police officers make in these situations, as the Justice Department noted in its report on Darren Wilson and Michael Brown:
The law gives great deference to officers for their necessarily split-second judgments, especially in incidents such as this one that unfold over a span of less than two minutes. “Thus, under Graham, we must avoid substituting our personal notions of proper police procedure for the instantaneous decision of the officer at the scene. We must never allow the theoretical, sanitized world of our imagination to replace the dangerous and complex world that policemen face every day.” Smith, 954 F.2d at 347 (6th Cir. 1992). See also Ryburn v. Huff, 132 S. Ct. 987, 991-92 (2012) (courts “should be cautious about second-guessing a police officer's assessment, made on the scene, of the danger presented by a particular situation”); Estate of Morgan v. Cook, 686 F.3d 494, 497 (8th Cir. 2012) (“The Constitution ... requires only that the seizure be objectively reasonable, not that the officer pursue the most prudent course of conduct as judged by 20/20 hindsight vision.” (citing Cole v. Bone, 993 F.2d 1328, 1334 (8th Cir. 1993)) “It may appear, in the calm aftermath, that an officer could have taken a different course, but we do not hold the police to such a demanding standard.” (citing Gardner v. Buerger, 82 F.3d 248, 251 (8th Cir. 1996) (same))). Rather, where, as here, an officer points his gun at a suspect to halt his advance, that suspect should be on notice that “escalation of the situation would result in the use of the firearm.” Estate of Morgan at 498. An officer is permitted to continue firing until the threat is neutralized. See Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2022 (2014) (“Officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended”).
What is causing all this? And what can we do about it?

Fear is rampant. Citizens are afraid of the police. After the recent shootings of Anthony Hill in Chamblee, Georgia, and Charley Keunang in Los Angeles, would you call the police to subdue a mentally ill loved one who was acting out?

Police are afraid of the citizens they are sworn to protect. What would you do if someone reached for a gun or tried to get a gun away from you? Would you wait to see what was going to happen, or would you make sure that you would get home to your family that night?

Fear breeds hate. Citizens who were at the mercy of Police Department and the Municipal Court in Ferguson justifiably hated those institutions, and came to hate everyone associated with them. Police who risk their lives in thankless jobs come to hate the people they serve.

Hate breeds repression. City officials in Ferguson could not have established or maintained the system of extortion without hating the people of their town -- or least the African-American community. The police who are on the front lines crack down hard on the people they have come to hate -- it is a war zone, not a community -- and the laws of war prevail, not the Constitution.

Is all this fear justified? You bet! When people are armed to the teeth you better be afraid. We can thank the steady drumbeat of Guns! Guns! Guns! from the National Rifle Association and Justice Scalia and Justice Alito on the Supreme Court for transforming the Second Amendment from a constitutional principle in favor of a citizens' militia and against a standing army in peacetime into the fear-driven fetish that a gun is constitutionally necessary for self-defense.

The citizens have guns. The police have guns. The Cleveland police ringing the car where Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams sat unarmed fired 137 rounds -- at each other! -- because they were afraid of being shot.

This is madness, folks. Human beings are often not rational, and it is not rational to give everyone guns -- including the police. Police shootings occur because of guns. Police are shot because of guns.

The people of most other countries get along with each other just fine without guns. Let's disarm our society, and then we can then begin to let go of the hatred bred by fear and oppression.

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