Why Ferguson Fails

August 20, 2014

The media has been on the idea that Ferguson, Mo. is a “war zone.”

Most of the commentary has been on the theme that the police presence there is exemplary of how policing has changed in America. In the past, policing involved patrolling, i.e. knowing the neighborhood and interacting with residents. In the last decade, policing has become increasingly militarized, not only in terms of equipment but more importantly, in terms of attitude.

Police now often have the view that force can manage chaos … force can restore calm. In Ferguson, the premise has been proven wrong. The use of military force in the form of machine guns, armored personnel carriers, and use of chemical agents to harm people has proven to escalate the violence. 

Missouri Governor Nixon said today that he was worried because the police were “stressed.” How about the people they were firing on? How about the people confronted by police pointing machine guns and seeing armored vehicles parked in front of them? Or knowing that police snipers were positioned on their rooftops? Are they stressed? The comments of the governor reveal a bias that is pervasive in the law enforcement community. 

It strikes me that the idea that the use of overwhelming force can calm tensions has been proven so wrong in history that what is happening now is so predictable. Overwhelming force was used against Gandhi in India, and protesters in Selma, Ala. years ago. It didn’t work. Overwhelming force was used in Iraq. It obviously didn’t work.

The only remedy for violence caused by injustice is justice. The only cure for the disease of violence is certainly not overwhelming violence.

What if the protest march in Ferguson last night was led by state police protecting protestors? Do you think the violence would have been worse? This is a time when I think we miss the presence and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   

Ferguson Grand Jury

August 19, 2014

The decision to put the issue of the homicide of Michael Brown to a St. Louis County grand jury by the prosecutor is a very bad idea. As someone familiar with prosecutors conducting secret grand juries, I can tell you that the results can be easily manipulated by prosecutors. They decide what evidence to present to jurors and when.

There are no adversarial safeguards: no attorneys or any representative of the target of the grand jury is allowed, no checks and balances. The prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, is widely mistrusted by minorities. His father was a police officer killed by a black man, and in over 20 years as a prosecutor is notorious for dismissing virtually every accusation against police officers.

The question in this Grand Jury is WHO is McCulloch’s target? I suspect it will be Michael Brown. If he decides to stack the deck in favor of the killer cop, he will call witnesses that contradict each other, or even selectively call only witnesses who support the police story of events. No one will know what happens or monitor the proceedings to ensure fairness and thoroughness. 

There certainly is enough information to constitute probable cause to arrest the killer, and no grand jury is needed in the first place. We know who pulled the trigger at least eight times, striking his victim six times including two shots to the head. We know the victim was at a distance from the killer and unarmed — he was no threat to the killer. We know that at least three eyewitnesses have nearly identical statements that Mr. Brown was surrendering when shot dead and the forensic evidence supports the statements of those witnesses. If Michael Brown had shot his killer with identical evidence he would already be in jail without bail, if he survived being arrested. 

This is a scary time for justice when someone is killed like this and the killer is allowed to go free. If the grand jury fails to indict the killer, all hell will break loose … and should.  

Police Riot in Ferguson

August 18, 2014

I tend to agree with Rev. Al Sharpton that the situation in Ferguson, Mo. is a defining moment. So much of what is happening there is confronting us with the corrupt underpinnings of our society. It is like finding a leak in your basement after a flood and learning that the entire foundation around it is collapsing (with all apologies to Detroiters with flooded basements).

The fact that being an unarmed black male in public is often a fatal risk was already a poorly kept secret. However, the shooting of Michael Brown has also brought into focus the militarization of the police, and bias of media reporting depending on the race of victims. There are two noteworthy developments in Ferguson that I haven’t heard much discussion on: one bad and one good.

The first issue that strikes me is that there has been virtually no discussion of the fact that the Ferguson police are rioting, and they pose a far greater risk to public safety. Martial law should be declared and the Ferguson police disarmed. The Governor implicitly recognized the fact that the police were out of control when he put the State police in charge, but the fact is that there is still a steady stream of reports about the lawless actions of the police.

This includes numerous false arrests with no arrest reports filed. This allows the arresting officers who are breaking the law to remain unidentified and unprosecuted. Numerous people have been arbitrarily arrested, including members of the media (which is probably the only reason why this is being reported). Other instances of assault and battery are being reported, yet not one police officer has been arrested for the numerous acts of criminality. The headlines only report the actions of residents, but not the ongoing police riot.

The second issue is encouraging in a certain way: the agitation and willingness of the people of Ferguson to take to the streets to protest murder by the police. In an era when very few people take collective actions to effect social change, the willingness of people to continue to protest until justice is done is exactly what we need.

We need to take to the streets because the political process no longer works for ordinary citizens. It is the action of the police which have created the violence in response to peaceful protest, and most of the violence seems to have been perpetrated by the police.

The media love to report on a relatively few instances of looting, but so far, with only one exception, the only people being killed or injured are citizens being assaulted by the police. The restraint being shown by the residents of Ferguson in the face of a lawless police force is amazing.     

Don’t Do Stupid Sh#*

August 15, 2014

“Don’t do stupid sh#*” is the exact quote from President Obama when trying to explain the cautious approach he has taken to foreign policy. Apparently those words of wisdom hit a nerve among a lot of people who have done some pretty stupid sh#* in the past, including Hillary Clinton.

Always the calculating politician, Hillary used the quote out of context to take a cheap shot at the President at the worse possible time. Just as the same war mongers who started the last Iraq war (and whose criminal neglect created the chaos that we are dealing with today) are calling for another war, Hillary gives them indirect support with her criticisms.

The former senator (who pushed for the Iraq war) was probably trying to make an attempt to distance herself from an unpopular President who is left with nothing but Sophie’s Choices in Iraq. It came across to me as an angry, defensive reaction to a mistake she made. It is not the first time she has reacted angrily to being confronted with her mistakes.

This is probably the one most troubling character defects of Hillary, a false pride. As many mistakes that President Obama has made in foreign policy, he has at least admitted the mistakes and shown saintly patience towards his critics. One had to wonder if when he got his hug from Hillary, he didn’t whisper in her ear “stop doing stupid sh#*.”   

After the Deluge

August 13, 2014

It was amusing, if not frustrating, to see Gov. Snyder boarding a helicopter to view the faux-Katrina like flooding if the Detroit Metro area. I had to wonder if Gov. Nerd was contemplating his repeated failures to get his fellow Republicans to fund infrastructure projects as he flew over flooded highways, streets and homes.

In fairness, nothing could have prevented most of the flooding after the record rainfall. However, it is also true that the flooding will accelerate the damage to the already disintegrating roads and crumbling bridges. Obscured by the flooding was the collapse of a major water main in Bay County, resulting in 5 million gallons per day being lost, and several other significant infrastructure failures in the state.

Gov. Snyder understands the problem with Michigan’s infrastructure, and the need to get some major projects started to attract businesses (and jobs) to the state. The problem is that the Republican Party as a whole has decided to put political interests ahead of the citizens of the state. Lansing Republicans do not want infrastructure projects started with the jobs being created in an election year.

Tea baggers simply don’t want any government, let alone government projects. I don’t know what the Nerd can do when his own party refuses to follow his lead and do what is right for Michigan, except call out the worse GOP offenders in the media in the hope that others will be shamed into doing what is right … assuming that they have any capacity for shame left.   

Back to the Future in Iraq

August 12, 2014

We have bombed/invaded or otherwise initiated violent actions in Iraq 17 times in the last 24 years, starting with funding the coup that installed Saddam Hussein as dictator. This is hardly a record number of violent actions, especially compared to the ones we have committed in Latin America, but the scale of carnage is becoming worthy of historic note.

Now, President Obama is about to metaphorically ski down the Iraqi slopes again, claiming to be only doing the minimum to prevent genocide. On one side are the neo-con chicken-hawks who created the disaster we are now dealing with, arguing for another invasion. On the other side are the neo-isolationists who mid-wived the ascent of ISIS (ISIL), arguing for ignoring reality. It is remarkable that there seems to be no one anywhere in a policy making position who acknowledges the hopeless reality that is Iraq and the wider conflicts in the Middle East.

Dick Cheney, possibly the most celebrated war criminal at large, recently admitted that Bush-Cheney knew that social chaos would result when they overthrew Saddam Hussein. This is a remarkable comment, given their absolute failure to plan to preserve social order after the invasion and the profoundly ignorant policies that nurtured the rise of violent chaos. It is a crime of historic proportions, and we are only beginning to pay the price that over a million dead Iraqis have already experienced.

The entire Middle East is an artifact of European colonialism that created artificial countries with politically defined boundaries. The social reality of that area for millennia has been tribalism, not nationalism. The defining identity of people there is their tribe or their sect. The Caliphates briefly united the area under Islam, but the conversion never took and Islam is now as divisive a force as tribalism. Even Israel’s veneer of democracy is paper thin worn by the very reason of its existence: Chosen People in their Chosen Land.  The entire region is the tar pit of democracies.

Historically, only dictatorships have kept the area’s violent nature in check. There isn’t any proven political movement that is their salvation, and every military action we undertake virtually ensures the need for future violence. These people hold blood grudges for centuries. There doesn’t even appear to be any economic salvation either. In our country, economic opportunities have helped transformed past divisions somewhat. We may still hate “those people,” but if we can make money from them, well then welcome! This is not the case in the Middle East, where, even on those rare occasions of economic prosperity, the tribal animus continues unabated.

It seems the best we can do is start to play the intransigent divisions to our advantage: paying them off to kill our enemies (a strategy that worked to end the Sunni insurgence after the invasion), or at least not come after us. A friend of mine has two sons who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and they both recount the same lesson: “They shoot at each other all day long until the Marines come along. Then they both shoot at the Marines until we are gone and go back to killing each other again.”

That is the only lesson we need to remember and base our policy on that.

On Being Black in America, Part 2

August 11, 2014

As a white man who is the father of two sons of color, I am at a loss on one of the most important parenting tasks for them: how to keep them safe from being killed by the police or security guards.

The need for early training in this safety issue is understood by every African-American parent in this country, but it is a different reality for white parents. African-American parents seldom talk about this awful, additional burden of parenting. It’s almost as though it a shameful task, though I don’t think the shame is theirs.

Lately, I have been trying to learn what to do, because the reality of the need is too profound for any sense of denial. The very public homicides of Eric Garner, John Crawford and Michael Brown have made it impossible to ignore the reality that simply being a black male in public is dangerous.

In my denial, I thought that being the sons of attorney Geoffrey Fieger, attending the best private schools and living in the most affluent neighborhood in Michigan would somehow insulate them. I know better now, and I am feeling the burden of talking with them about something that embarrasses me, and training them on a survival skill I never had to acquire.

This is some of what I have learned I need to tell them and train them on:

1. Never run in public settings such as a store or mall.

2. Never walk with your hands in your pockets while in public.

3. When entering an unfamiliar room in a hotel or house, always knock first and announce your presence.

4. Whenever stopped by the police, keep your hands raised (or at least easily visible), do not move quickly, do not turn your back to them unless commanded to do so.

5. Try to avoid walking in groups of three or more friends who are all black in unfamiliar areas.

6. Never, ever express your anger at the police or security guard no matter how they treat you.

7. Avoid driving through or shopping in predominately white neighborhoods, but if you have to, be focused on getting in and out. Do not “window shop” or linger. Avoid eye contact with police or security guards. Be prepared to be stopped by the police or security guards. Have your ID ready and in your front pockets (always keep your hands visible).

8. Do not resist arrest or try to defend yourself, even if innocent of any crime. Loudly announce that you are not armed, not resisting.

9. Do not approach unfamiliar white people on the street unless they approach you first.

These are a few of the lessons I am told are necessary for my sons to learn. It makes me feel ashamed and angry.