Should I be Ashamed?

June 30, 2020

I have a confession to make. There is a part of me that looks at the Trump rallies like Tulsa and the MAGA rallies against Covid-19 prevention policies and thinks “Good. Maybe this will cull the herd of morons and religious nuts.”

I know, I know. I shouldn’t wish ill onto anyone, but my patience for people who are endangering not only themselves but other people as well is running low. Our economy has been devastated because Trump ignored the pandemic long enough to affect the economy. Republican Governors made the cynical decision to allow their citizens to die at a much greater rate in order to reopen their states without meeting adequate criteria or preparation.

Yet there is also a MAGA movement to agitate against the science and medical guidelines. Their man in the White House made wearing a facemask a culture wars issue. Even with overwhelming evidence that wearing masks is an effective prevention tool, MAGA people joyfully and mockingly gather at rallies without taking any precautions, like cultists secure in their salvation. In Texas and in Arkansas for example, Republican Governors prematurely re-opened their economies without meeting any guidelines, are refusing to allow mayors to implement any prevention measures without their approval.

Even now, as they are being overwhelmed by COVID cases, they still refuse to take even the rudimentary step of requiring wearing a mask mandatory. In Florida, another hotbed of COVID cases overwhelming the medical system, city council meetings are being flooded with people condemning COVID prevention measures being “politically correct… a tool of Satan…” It makes me wonder if the wholesale rejection of science by Republicans has nurtured the medieval side of humanity.

It’s frustrating and, forgive me, but it makes me think society would be better off without them. It certainly would help save our Democracy if there were numerous, well attended MAGA rallies in poorly ventilated auditoriums between now and November.

I suppose that would be too easy a solution to a number of problems, but it is immoral. It’s like saying the Branch Davidian cultists who died with David Koresh deserved to die. They used to be productive members of society. Well, maybe not, but they are souls that might yet be saved. Still, one might well expect that the same outcome is in store for the Branch-Covidians.

The Real Problem is You – White People

June 26, 2020

As a trial lawyer, my vocation is one of seeking justice, and finding justice seems to be the issue of this moment in history. How do we do justice for Mr. Aubrey, Mr. Floyd, Mr. Brooks, Ms. Taylor, and literally hundreds of thousands of African-Americans in America targeted and killed because they were black? Some white people think the killers should be prosecuted, but I can tell you from my experience in many trials that justice is often cheated by judges who have granted the police virtual immunity for killing.

That’s not an exaggeration. In criminal trials, judges have ruled that the law is different for police officers and it requires juries to believe the officer who claims they thought their life was in danger no matter what the objective evidence may be. Killer Cops cannot even be held responsible civilly for their actions because, again, the courts have ruled that as long as the officer claims they were acting as a police officer then they are immunized from any actions and consequences. That’s the “systemic” racism that compounds the injustice that African-Americans have suffered, and eliminating these racist legal standards is an essential part of any real justice. Anything short of those reforms will only be window dressing. However, systemic racism in the law is not the fundamental problem.

The real obstacle to justice is you (me, us). The work of recognizing and rooting out racism in white Americans is a life-long labor, in part because the malignancy of racism has been encoded in our psyche over hundreds of years. Sometimes the racism is open, such as when we hear people respond to the phrase “black lives matter” with “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” in an obvious rejection of the problem of police violence against black Americans.

More frequent and subtle is the racism of people acknowledging that what happened to Mr. Floyd was “terrible” but then wandering off to “but, I wonder what he did to set them off?” Our president provided a prime example when he said that what happened to Mr. Brooks was “terrible” then added that “people” should not resist officers, thereby justifying shooting a man in the back who was no danger to anyone.

No doubt, some readers will ask what’s wrong with saying that “all lives matter” or “don’t resist officers”? What is racist about those thoughts is in their context. It’s asking questions as a white person who has never had the experience of being targeted by the police, threatened and then abused (or killed) because offering any objection constitutes “resistance.” Mr. Floyd followed the unwritten rule of offering no resistance, physical or verbal, and even politely pleading with the cop who was killing him (“please, sir”) and his killing was still justified as a response to “resistance.”  

Mr. Brooks talked calmly and cooperated for many minutes before he “resisted” when cuffs were being forcibly placed on and while he was being taken down. After he “resisted” he was shot in the back twice trying to run away when he posed no danger to anyone. If you asked why he “resisted” and ran from the police instead of “I wonder what the cops did to provoke such a panic in him?” then there’s work you need to do on your own racism.

Racism is perspective and fear above all else. White people look at these incidents from their own experience and reject the reality, let alone the perspective of African-Americans. White people look at the issue of systemic racism from the perspective of their own life (e.g. “I never did anything wrong to a black person, or “my grandparents were immigrants and never owned a slave”) and not the lives of a people who still suffer the economic and civil rights violations of generations. James Baldwin put the issue out in the ’60’s during that period of social unrest when he said that if you are considering the “black problem” you can never find a solution, because the real problem is you – white people.           

Why “Defunding Police” Makes Sense

June 23, 2020

The “defund police” demands of protesters does not mean eliminating police departments. Unfortunately, the phrase defund police is misleading Americans into thinking that the goal is to eliminate the police when it actually means restoring police to the concept of “peace officers” – a concept that relieves the burden on police and reduces the potential for police violence.

During the rightward movement of the ’80s and ’90s, conservative politicians like Michigan’s John Engler began to dismantle the social safety net. Mental institutions were closed, releasing thousands of chronically mentally into a community without adequate treatment resources. The net result was a shift of mentally ill people from health care institutions to county jails. Guess who had to arrest and transport them to jails, often times not once but regularly as they were released a few days later? As the epidemic of cocaine and other drug abuse emerged, insurance companies began to limit coverage for treatment. The result was increasing non-violent criminal activity, and guess who took up that burden? As conservatives began to redefine health issues as law enforcement issues, law enforcement budgets began to consume increasing percentages of municipal and state budgets. Police and jails became less law enforcement than social behavior enforcement with no solutions.

Coincident with this shift was the militarization of police, creating a cultural shift from ”peace officer” to one of occupation. The difference between the two is not subtle: militarization means using sudden and overwhelming force to respond to a potential threat instead of de-escalation. Policing in low income and typically minority communities has always been different than in affluent and white communities.

Sociologists argue that the police have always represented the imposition of control over minorities, reinforcing a sense of occupation and oppression. Even if this premise is arguable, the perception of occupation was only reinforced when police used tactical military equipment and vehicles in those communities. The acquisition of this equipment was usually contingent on use – “use it or lose it.” Using an armored personnel carrier or deploying officers in full combat gear is not for the affluent suburbs, and their use in impoverished areas only reinforced the perception of hostile occupation.

All of these ideologically-produced changes created a greater burden on police and a greater disconnect with the communities they “serve and protect.” Police are stressed from being assigned jobs they are ill prepared and even incapable of doing effectively. The “defund” movement is one intended to restore funding to social safety nets making the involvement of police unnecessary in many instances. This would free up the police from social policing to only the essential work of preventing or investigating violent crimes. It is a logical, rational solution to the problem of policing as occupation. The only realistic concern of the defunding movement is will it be enough to change the culture of policing from its current malignancy, or will we have to start from scratch?

Younger officers tend to be more diverse and idealistic, but reducing police forces is constrained by contracts that mean more entrenched racist and violent officers would be the last to go. That would not change the culture. Instead of using the verb “defunding” the movement might be better served with something more like “birthing” a new police.

Protests Continue – “So Far the Police Have Been Peaceful”

June 8, 2020

One of the more interesting news broadcasts this weekend began with “protests against police brutality continue through out the nation for the 12th straight day. So far today, the police have been peaceful.” Finally, they got it right.

The video of the murder of George Floyd made many people aware of the continuing targeting of African-American men, but the flagrant, even defiant, attitude of the police officers suggested a much more profound problem: these officers knew they were being filmed and continued to kill Mr. Floyd anyway because they felt sure they could get away with it.

The law has been perverted to make the successful prosecution of law enforcement officers virtually impossible, and that’s only IF any officer is ever charged. Police violence in response to peaceful demonstrators around the country further documented the issue.

Journalists filmed numerous incidents of police brutality toward peaceful demonstrators. In many instances around the country, including Detroit, peaceful demonstrations turned violent only after police initiated the violence. For example, in Minneapolis the original march to the precinct where the killers of Mr. George worked was peaceful until police in the precinct fired tear gas and two officers on the roof began peppering the demonstrators with rubber bullets.

The march broke up with enraged splinter groups going onto the site of the killing and looting and burning. In Detroit, the largely peaceful protest Friday evening became violent only after police began to randomly strike non-violent protesters with batons telling them “go back to the suburbs.” In New York City, police drove vehicles into protesters and were filmed numerous times beating, spraying and otherwise abusing peaceful protesters while mayor De Blasio claimed they were showing “great restraint.” Only after the media itself began to get targeted did they start to get it right – the violence by police was precipitating most of the unrest.

The video of 75-year-old Martin Gugino, being pushed to the ground by the police and left bleeding from a fractured skull, illustrates one reason why police violence is such a widespread problem that is very rarely investigated. The police said that he “slipped and fell.” A false report is a felony crime, but virtually never pursued by prosecutors.

The murderers of Mr. Floyd reported he had resisted arrest and developed a medical problem. None of them have been charged yet with submitting a false report. These officers knew there was clear video evidence, but also knew they were immunized from perjury. In my previous blog I anticipated the normal pattern after the Minneapolis incident: police would report he “resisted” and developed a “medical problem” while being restrained. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this pattern. While many, if not most, officers are not perpetrators of criminal violence, the majority of officers in my experience enable killer cops with the “blue line of silence.” More like the blue line of perjury.

The problem doesn’t stop with the blue line of “omerta.” There is a culture of supporting criminal cops. Most of the officers who were present and stepped over the critically injured Gugino, resigned from the rapid deployment unit and were present at court to cheer the officers who were arraigned on third degree assault charges. It’s often said that the worst enemy of good cops are bad cops, but if the measure of a good cop is one who prevents or reports criminal assaults by other officers then good cops are very rare. It’s a culture shared by most paramilitary groups, but unlike the military however, they often feel a loyalty to each other rather than the Constitution. Changing the culture from “law enforcement” to being “peace officers” is one way to change the pandemic of police violence.