Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Better racist police than ignorant thugs"


    In Hamlet, the melancholy Dane asks Rosencrantz if he has heard any news. 
     "None, my lord," the courtier replies, "but the world's grown honest."
     "Then is doomsday near," Hamlet quips — the idea being the if people start saying what they think, candidly without draping it in artifice and deceit, that would be such a radical departure from the usual it would mean that the world must be coming to an end.     
     I thought of that line Monday, looking over my dozens of emails responding to my column dipping a toe into the racial tempest over police roiling over the country in the wake of the Ferguson and chokehold cases. I expected a lot of poison, but was impressed by the thoughtfulness, the intelligence of the replies. As of 4 p.m. I hadn't received a single foaming hater, which is odd, even on days when I don't stick a trembling hand between the bars of the police department. 
      Two stuck out —one from a white reader, one from a black. As they are lengthy, I'll keep this intro to a minimum. I found them interesting, and thought you might find them interesting too.

Dear Neil:

     We may be a nation of laws, but we're also a nation of habits, some of them very old and very destructive.

     A few weeks ago I was driving around the Northwest Side with an old friend from my teenaged years, a retired Chicago cop.  I dared to broach the subject of local politics and he ran down a list of current politicians who were gang members back in the day.  I remarked on how much I enjoyed all my Mexican neighbors who moved to my block and all he could relate to was all the gang and drug activity related to his policing of Hispanic neighborhoods.
     Not for a moment did I think this was blind racism.  After all, he had been married to a Hispanic woman and was never one to throw around racial epithets.  But the years of having different experiences and forming different habits determined how we viewed the same city.  Eventually he had moved out to a farm in Wisconsin to save his nerves and sanity.
     Neil, you have a legitimate point about our not losing the cop's point of view amid the reaction to the Grand Jury's ruling on the death of Eric Garner.  But it is disingenuous for the Second City Cop to say that police officers are merely carrying out the duty to enforce laws that others have passed.  
     It would have been more accurate for him to say that police officers are enforcing the order that we expect them to protect, because it is a physical impossibility for the police to deal with every infraction of the law that takes place.  It always comes down to responding to situations that pose the greatest perceived threat to the public order and to reacting on the spot and by practicing the learned behaviors that are appropriate to the moment and that will be supported by officials after the fact.
     Whether the police like it or not, these behaviors often reflect a much larger context.  They reflect a justice system that has incarcerated way too many blacks, as you pointed out in your column.  They reflect a law enforcement system that has, at least in Chicago, failed to protect poor black neighborhoods from horrendous acts of gun violence.
     The most interesting question, at least to me, is whether the action of the police in the Garner case also reflects the persistence of Jim Crow.  We whites tend to forget how recent Jim Crow laws were on the books, even in the North up to the late 1960s in such forms as protective covenants on real estate.  We also tend to forget that it may take many generations to wean ourselves from the attitudes and habits that provided a basis for the enactment of Jim Crow laws and the deliberate segregation of our city.
     The outrage over Eric Garner is more than "Racial Catharsis No. 342."  What we lost through the Grand Jury decisions in the Eric Garner and the Ferguson cases was the present opportunity to bring to light any of the underlying factors that may have led to the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white policemen. We badly need these opportunities.  That is because the current outrage also expresses a hidden shame in our body politic that it is 2014 and we are still fighting the Civil War.
     The wisest response I have heard to the two recent incidents came from two African American journalists, one old and one young.  They both said that they were surprised, but not shocked, by the Grand Jury verdicts.  They also said that the fight for equality is a long, long struggle and this is just another milepost.  Many miles to go.
     As for my old cop friend and me, we just shook our heads and wondered how we had such different perceptions of the city in which we both had grown up.  We went on to the next topic of conversation, as if to say, not in our generation.
                                                                   –Tom Golz

And then there was this:

     I am a Black man. I agree with you article 100%. And I believe that other Black folk will suffer the most from this latest round of highly emotional, explosively-charged mass hysteria. I see a complete ignoring of facts. I wonder, when the police powers/functions are good and nullified, who will protect me from my fellow anarchist Black brother? You see,    Blacks victimize Blacks more than any other race.
     Forget that we are extra cautious and vigilant when we walk in our own communities, often afraid when someone walks to close.
     I watched that Ferguson stuff. Now this giant of a guy strong armed a store owner. He took what he wanted. He showed no stealth when he left the store, he walked out in the open. Now, I was always taught to weigh out all the potential consequences of your behavior and choose what you could live with. I would've never challenged a cop with a gun after I robbed a store, nor would I have walked down the middle of the street once I robbed the store. I would've made my escape in the shadows. The audacity.
     Adrenaline high, I just strong armed a store and took what I want, I could take on a cop with a gun. WRONG!
     My mother said, "Boy. Some lessons cost you. And some a lot."
     I'd prefer racist police than to let some ignorant thugs who would love to run things, be in charge.
     A fine time for White American to rally for a cause. It would cause a state of anomie in my neighborhood if they are successful. It doesn't make our neighbor any less the example of what's wrong.

                                                                         —Sherman Johnson 

14 comments:

  1. Here's what I get from my occasion descent into the Hell of Second City Cop.
    1. They can't spell to save their lives. I guess this is a reflection of the shitty Chicago Public Schools that so many went to.
    2. The incredible hatred of so many of their commanders. The vitriol aimed at the various district commanders, let alone the hatred of every single superintendent, except for ones that rose through the CPD ranks & who are the ones that let the department run out of control. According to them, every district commander is a political pile of shit & often a gang member or sleeping with a gang member.
    They always have some really stupid & childish nickname for the superintendents.
    3. The casual racism they espouse. That includes those that identify as black.

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  2. Cops are racist murdering thugs who ALL need to be imprisoned for life.

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  3. In THE ART OF WAR Sun Tzu opines that if a general actually has to fight he has half lost already. Ferguson was probably unavoidable. NYC was probably AVOIDABLE. Of course there is no moral parity between the police and the thugs. But then again the police are the professionals. At times they must act on instinct and training. But if there is time to think – as there appeared to be in the Garner case – then they should exhaust non-violent strategies before resorting to the violent stuff.

    Police -- like undertakers and divorce lawyers-- appear at the sad end of things. By the time they show up it is often only a matter of a bad outcome or a very bad outcome.

    If society wants to help but is constrained by limited resources – then the question is how to get the most bangs for its buck. So will it be millions upon millions for technological gimmicks and mickey-mouse training for the police? Or will it be millions upon millions for education for the young?

    I ask – what is the single change that can bring the fastest results? That is within several years rather than several decades. My answer is school vouchers given to parents along with encouraging private schools to open and operate with the autonomy now given to Catholic grammar and high schools.

    This will immediately empower parents. This will quickly empower teachers. This will quickly empower students to be free of the few dregs that drag down the class.

    The only legitimate concern is the optimal speed of such a transition. Of course it cannot be overnight or even over one or two years. But the transition should be substantially complete over five or six years. And of course the traditional public school should remain one option.

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    1. Here's a thought Jerry, you want to run things, start your own blog. My blog, my rules. If threatening to withdraw your light is supposed to wreck my day, it doesn't. As my mother used to sing in the USO, "Got along without 'cha before I met-cha, gonna get along without cha now."

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  4. What's interesting is neither the police officers (and their supporters) or the supporters of the two black victims believe the actions taken by their side in these incidents were wrong, out of bounds. The cultures behind both points of view supports their reasoning. Two very different worlds indeed.

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  5. The quickest change would be to appoint a special prosecutor to every case of police killing.

    The local prosecutors rely on the police to make their cases. They know them and can't afford to antagonize them. It's a clear conflict of interest.

    The AP has all of the Ferguson testimony available online. Thousands of pages, and an incredible display of the prosecution acting as a defense for Darren Wilson.

    Both cases deserved public trials to determine the facts. Instead, the police killed men and will face no consequences.

    There should be a law that special prosecutors must be appointed to every cop killing.

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  6. Coincidentally, I'm just reading that portion of The Town & the City (by Jack Kerouac) in which paterfamilias George Martin is berating his son over the "anomie" of present day youth...in 1944. I don't know yet what happens to Peter Martin, but I do know that those of my father's generation who survived the war, also survived the anomie presumably caused by the war, the preceding depression and the prevalent drug (including alcohol) use of the day. So there's hope. I don't see these incidents as helping bring the black and white communities closer, but you never know.
    John

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  7. In studying psychology I learned that cops are sublimated criminals. Think about it - the same type of person likes to play cops and robbers without regard to which side he is on. The difference in real life depends on how an individual is raised - the nurture side of nature or nurture determining who we become, cops or criminals. But in the adrenaline and testosterone fueled moments of the cop/lawbreaker encounter nature reigns supreme and the crisis often ends badly. Racial attitudes and culture are secondary but powerful motivaters. Shining a spotlight on the problem is essential before the necessary process of changing behaviors can begin. Bravo to the peaceful demonstraters for stepping up to overcome our apathy!

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  8. While this is a legitimate issue and I know the Fox News crowd will say anything to try to take attention off of it, I'm sad to see how much oxygen this is sucking out of the broader discussion about African-Americans in our country. If tomorrow every policeman treated African-American suspects as they treat white suspects, would there be a huge dip in the insane weekly murder/death counts? Would African-American unemployment go down? (Here's something that most media didn't mention while reporting November's spectacular job numbers: African-American unemployment ---rose---). Even in this debate, how little discussion there has been about drug laws and mandatory sentences. Because our laws are designed to contain drugs to an acceptable extent so as not to disrupt white teenage lives, and if poor African-Americans have to pay the price, so be it. The debate has mostly been just about how "open season" the enforcement can be.

    There's low hanging fruit here - police lapel cameras are proven to improve police-suspect interactions on both sides. Even if they didn't work in the Garner case (though at least they'll help ensure his family some financial support), that should happen immediately. Pot should be legalized, or at least only penalized on the buying side. But for every minute we talk about such things we should be spending ten minutes talking about JOBS. And enough conflating African-Americans with "minorities" - African-Americans are not Hispanics, they are not decendents of poor Eastern Europeans, they are not refugees from the Vietnam War. Our nation has a historic obligation to help African-Americans get to rough economic parity with the nation in general. If we start there, a lot of the rest will follow.

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  9. Returning to yesterday's column, I was struck by this comment by someone on the SCC blog. "You resist, there are rules in place to overcome your resistance." Part of the reason that there is such outrage about this is because using a choke-hold like that is against the rules in place. I'm no cop-basher. I realize that they are dealing with unique, dangerous situations all the time, and that they don't have the luxury of taking as much time to consider their options as I do to even write this comment.

    But this situation, from all appearances, was not particularly dangerous to the police. And there was no evident need for urgency. Yes, the guy shouldn't have resisted arrest, and some kind of manhandling may have been inevitable in order to bring him under control. But he was clearly not a threat to run. There were multiple officers. The aggressiveness with which he was taken down and kept down just seemed out of proportion to what was necessary.

    The SCC asks “Protests Over What Exactly?” That's a pretty simple question to answer. However you slice it, a guy is dead because of police intervention to stop him from selling loose cigarettes. That's awful, whether somebody deserves to go to jail for it, or not. Resisting arrest and his general health status certainly were large factors. But, in a better world, this could have gone differently, and the victim would still be alive.

    Whether the officer's actions rise to the level of manslaughter in New York, I don't know. But I agree with Caren, above, that "the quickest change would be to appoint a special prosecutor to every case of police killing." Whatever one thinks about this case, the prosecutors essentially doubling as defense lawyers in situations like this and providing a police officer with consideration that would not be granted to civilians challenges one's belief in the fairness of the judicial process.

    As to today's post, one might hope that communities wouldn't be left with the stark choice between "racist police" and "ignorant thugs." But the e-mails were certainly both compelling and well worth sharing.

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  10. One wishes that the much greater problem of blacks murdering blacks got as much attention as Ferguson and NYC.

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    1. Could you imagine (or hope not to) what the outcry would be if the weekly shootings that plague certain neighborhoods was suddenly widespread across all areas of Chicago and suburbs? How about the headline '10 shot/4 killed in Streeterville again this weekend'? If the residents of our finest neighborhoods were forced to hide in their condos and rowhouses to escape the flying lead?

      RC

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  11. W.S. Gilbert's lyric proclaiming that "a policeman's lot is not a happy one" was true from the very start.. When the first official police force in the Anglo-Saxon world, Sir Robert Peel's "Peelers,"(as they were called before becoming "Bobbies") appeared in 1829 they were met by the London polulace with fear and distrust until people realized that their presence made the streets safer and they could restore order without the carnage inflicted on unruly mobs by untrained and often drunken militia, who usually opened fire as soon as the Riot Act had been read.. But there has always been a tension between their two conflicting missions, to keep the peace and to supress crime. It seems to play our more violently in this country than elsewhere, among other reasons because of our history of racial conflict, the ghettoizing of racial and ethnic minorities and the fear created by the fact that both police and citizens go about heavily armed. When a number of British cities erupted in anti-police rioting and looting a few years ago there were only three fatalities, all caused by traffic accidents.

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