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Monday, May 4, 2015

Social Violence Begets Reactive Violence

A short Timeline of Tragedy tells what has been happening in our cities just in the past ten months:
July 17, 2014 -- African American father of six, Eric Garner, 43, dies after being placed in a choke hold by police while being arrested for selling cigarettes illegally in NYC
August 9, 2014 -- White police officer kills unarmed black teenager and aspiring college student, Michael Brown; decision made not to indict officer in Ferguson, MO
August 11, 2014 --  Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man who was mentally disabled according to family, is killed by Los Angeles police as he walked down the street; autopsy showed shot three times, once in the back
August 2014 -- police responding to a 911 call shot and killed a black man, John Crawford, in a Wal-Mart store in Ohio as he was carrying a toy gun sold there
November 20, 2014 -- Unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, father of a young daughter, shot by an Asian American officer in a dimly lit staircase in a Brooklyn apartment block
November 22, 2014 -- Tamir Rice, 12-year-old black child, shot while carrying a replica gun just seconds after police confronted him in a public park in Cleveland, OH
Jan. 28, 2015 – a Black man named Floyd Dent was bloodied by repeated punches to the head during a traffic stop, which came to light in March when a TV station obtained the police dash cam video. --Inkster, MI
March 6, 2015   -- In Madison, Wisconsin, 19-year-old Tony Terrell Robinson was shot and killed by a police officer. Robinson was unarmed at the time.
March 9, 2015 -- In the state of Georgia, a white policeman kills an unarmed black man, Anthony Hill, 27, who appeared to suffer from mental problems according to the police who said he was naked when he jumped on an officer
April 2, 2015 -- insurance executive Robert Bates, 73, is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of a black man, Eric Harris, who was shot after running from officers trying to escape being tasered.
April 7, 2015 -- white police officer is charged after surfacing of a video that shows him shooting 50-year-old black man, Walter Scott, in city of North Charleston, SC.
April 12, 2015 – a black man dies while in police custody and on way to jail in the back of a police van.  An autopsy showed that Freddie Gray suffered "a significant spinal injury that led to his death," and the State Attorney General on May 1 declared that 6 officers had been arrested on various charges including misconduct, manslaughter and second degree murder. (Baltimore)

The next two excerpts represent two widely divergent reactions to all of this.  They make clear, I think, what many people are dwelling on in this debate: the merits of the police versus the racial profiling of black and brown men.
1)    “Was (Tony) Robinson another “gentle giant”? Maybe, but he pled guilty to armed robbery just three months ago. Here’s the thing: if you assault a police officer, he probably will shoot you. That’s what happened to Michael Brown, too. Some people seem to be under the misapprehension that if you are unarmed, the police officer is obliged to engage you in a fistfight (trusting that you don’t have a gun, knife or other weapon) and see how it turns out. No. He, like any other citizen, is entitled to shoot you if he reasonably apprehends a danger of grave physical harm, and you can be pretty well assured that he will do so. Based on the number of these events recently, is there a “systematic targeting of young black males”? It looks more like there is a systematic targeting of police officers.”

2)    “The number of reported incidents of police brutality and excessive force toward Black men could very easily lead one to believe that the Black man may be American law enforcement’s worst nightmare. None are stranger to the reality of racial profiling in the police force. Profiling continually affects mostly Hispanic and Black males as it’s assumed that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be the perpetrators of crime than their White and Asian counterparts. With such change that has taken place since the civil rights movement, reported incidents of police brutality are at an all-time high among black males.  According to the National Safety Council, statistics show that black males are 21 times more likely to be shot, maimed, or killed at the hands of police than any other racial group.
"Going back to the Rodney King incident in the 90’s, police brutality against black males in America has been an alarming problem met with little opposition. In all of these tragic incidents, the police have generally been white and the murder victims were all black males. The overly aggressive acts of some of the officers verged on vigilantism, punishing those they felt were guilty. Although some officers might show some remorse after getting caught, their sentences, or lack thereof, rarely fit the crime that they had committed. Many of the incidents of young black male-slaying were completely avoidable and destroyed lives; however the deaths continue to be justified.  (By Tyler Cole,

The Baltimore riots of Monday, April 27, 2015 are being sliced, diced and vilified by everyone who can offer a few thoughts and words. Let us be clear here:  violence in the form of looting and destruction are against the law and simply cannot be overlooked in a society that depends upon law enforcement in order for the rule of law not to be undermined and destroyed.  I don’t want simply to re-visit what everyone else has discussed, nor do I wish to discuss the details of each incident. I would rather address something that others basically overlook or minimize.  There is something of grave consequence that exists in abundance in this and other communities, but is largely ignored.

Social Violence.  We always seem to focus on only one form of violence once a racial riot occurs. We emphasize the looting, the destruction of property, the setting of fires, the throwing of objects, and the injuries that are visited upon the police, plus whatever bad behaviors we can discern. And that’s appropriate in terms of the effect lawlessness has on the peace and order of the overall community. It’s appropriate also in terms of the negative effect such behavior has upon the non-violent protests that are meant to demonstrate the need for dramatic change and reform.

But, my friends, that is a limited and simplistic view of violence, especially when it is used by certain parties to denigrate all the protests and all the issues and all the needs that exist in African-American and poverty-laden communities.

The violent social harm imposed by those with power (mostly white) on people of color is immense, and it undermines all who are working diligently to bring opportunity to the people who most need redress of their grievances and reversal of their circumstances.  Look carefully.

Another form of "Violence" is clearly defined in the dictionary as of equal stature with physical violence:  unjust or callous use of force or power, as in violating another’s rights, sensibilities, etc., and the harm done by this.” Here are some thoughts on acts of violence that get lost in the myopic view that it is limited to looting and property damage.

Violence is also:
·    stopping black people on the street for no probable cause other than that they are black;
·    stopping black or brown drivers for minor violations and searching their cars without a warrant
·    entering homes that are under suspicion for having people in them who are manufacturing or selling drugs without a probable cause or a warrant
·    harassment of brown or black people in department stores & malls as they shop
·    continuing a ‘War on Drugs” that is nothing more than an attack on (mostly) men of color who are then incarcerated for long terms in jails far beyond the sentences handed out to white men who have been charged with similar crimes
·    continuing punishment visited upon men of color who have served their required terms of sentence, but who cannot get jobs, vote or obtain a bank loan, or even rent in low-income housing without facing outrageous restrictions or outright rejection
·    police brutality that leads to injury or death of young black men like Freddie Gray of Baltimore and many others, perhaps even here in Utica (read 'From The Editor' on this in the Utica Phoenix for  January 2015 at
·    no large chain food stores in Black neighborhoods and inadequate transportation to where they do exist
·    banks that refuse to cash paychecks; who deduct fee payments from your check if they do cash it
·    being regarded by many as unworthy, unimportant, uneducated and unreliable, and being just plain ignored or invisible, as well as lazy and shiftless
·    being saddled with poor and failing schools, too many inadequate teachers and educational equipment, with inadequate civic services, health services, child care, museums and libraries, as well as lack of community centers, social services and adequate recreation facilities
·    lack of opportunity and funding to attend a 2-year or 4-year college or university
·    the flight of industry and retail jobs to the suburbs and out-of-reach; and the exclusion from union membership that denies a chance at union jobs and benefits
·    having to work two or three jobs just to get by
·    the scams, the over-charges, the higher prices for limited choices in food, clothing and other necessities
·    the rejections, the failed plans for programs and changes, the lack of ways to influence change and the co-opting of some black leaders; the absence of grants and influx of monies from government and private foundations to promote training, education, activities of good living and needed programs
·    waiting decades for help while continuing to suffer all the inadequacies, the lacks, the insults and the stereotypes that others use to continue their forms of violence

Looting, destruction, hurling missiles, setting fires, injuries and bad behavior exhibited by so-called "hoodlums" and "thugs" are not the only forms of violence worth condemnation.  Equally harmful violence comes in subtle forms from ordinary individuals and institutions that cause immense hurt and damage. The question becomes a pointed one: why are the forms of harmful social violence not chargeable in terms of being crimes?
The easy answer is that this is too difficult to prosecute, because the connection of perpetrators to the causing of harm to individuals is tenuous and difficult to prove. That may be true on the surface, but what if laws were crafted that would make those connections clear? Will we ever get to see prosecution of legislators, bank managers, food merchants, board of education leaders, real estate dealers as being liable for the violence and the harm they have perpetrated, and continue to do so, on African Americans? I defer to the lawyers.

Let us note finally that violence begets violence. It always amazes me how people continue to ignore that fact -- whether it applies to bullying, racial profiling and stereotyping, whipping children with objects that hurt and harm, glorifying guns, police harassment and brutality; threats and acts of war, and even something as common as disrespect of another human being – all these forms of violence carry within them the seeds for breeding more acts of reactive violence.

Yes, protestors who become violent should be contained and charged as appropriate, but when will authorities act to:
§    direct rows of police to contain the harmful actions of politicians who deny children the help of health care or day care or universal pre-school or nutritious food?
§    call out the National Guard to keep guard over the looting of poor people by rental companies and fast food companies and minimum wage employers, and by Wal-Mart?
§    set a permanent curfew on the War on Drugs and the use of the “felony” label to discriminate against brown and black young men?
§    call out the armored vehicles and the SWAT teams and the riot-geared police to place all of them between Right-wing politicians (with their plans to destroy Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and the millions of Senior Citizens (and folks with disabilities) who count on  those programs as a needed foundation for their retirement and their lives?
§    have the white power structure stand up and condemn the use of labels and disguised epithets that denigrate an entire people?
§    motivate the police to turn out in droves to rebuild schools (and residences) allowed to deteriorate in our inner cities?

It’s well-past a reasonable time to identify this form of social and institutional violence in its many forms and to begin to treat it with the same disdain and disgust that we reserve for the reactive physical violence of people who have been burdened most all their lives, and in their history, with the harmful societal violence of rejection, discrimination and injustice, as well as the physical violence of bondage, lynching, chain gangs, whippings, beatings and shootings.

Ignoring problems, uncomfortable circumstances and people with particular and often special needs is rarely productive but we continue to do it. That is what we have chosen to do in this country and it is taking a toll that we can neither sustain nor endure.

We have chosen to ignore homelessness.
We have chosen to ignore those living in abject or generational poverty.
We have chosen to deny the fact that we have not provided adequately for the health and welfare of our poor, our children, our elderly or our veterans.
We continue to deny the devastating effects of institutional racism and the racial bigotry of many of our citizens.
We have ignored the long-term health care needs of the uninsured, the poor, the disabled and the sick elderly.
We have also chosen to ignore the plight of many Native Americans who live in abject poverty because gambling casinos do not benefit them.
There is more we have chosen to ignore, like the burden of college loans, the thievery of financial institutions, the fact that we are, as a country, declining in our leadership and capability in many spheres one of which is public education, and another of which is the condition of our infrastructure.

Unfortunately, this list could go on, but let’s stop to consider one major fact that we continue to ignore or at least try to shove under the rug.

It is our denial of the fact that our justice system is flawed. I cannot deal here with all the implications of that statement, so let me concentrate on just one area: the fact that most of the police agencies in this country – some 19,000+ of them – are unsupervised and are authorities unto themselves. They conduct their own investigations into corruption, community complaints and officer misconduct.  They render the decisions on police brutality; and the only oversight they might be subject to is that of colleagues in the local Commissioner’s Office or the District Attorney’s Office who have a vested interest in protecting their own backsides by siding with the police whenever it is not voter incongruous.

It is my opinion that the most important thing to do, before we spend too much time and energy on cameras on all cops, is to advocate instead for a solid system of outside oversight and review of our police departments.  But, I wish to go a bit further in my own recommendations. I believe quite strongly that we need to establish or rejuvenate a Citizen Review mechanism in every police jurisdiction. This would be an initial step, not only toward police oversight and review, but toward community policing. To make police departments subject to CITIZEN review puts them into a fundamental posture that has been sorely lacking. It makes them responsible to the community in which they serve and protect (something I wrote about in my post on this Blog dated 8/17/2014).

“Most major cities have some measure of civilian oversight in place, but in many areas no such external civilian control exists. It is apparent, however, that civilian review boards are critical to the success of external controls over police misconduct. Civilian review boards provide a means of maintaining internal regulation of police practices and evaluating a police officer’s performance. Regardless of whether a civilian’s complaint is valid, a system of review for allegations of misconduct can affect the public’s perception of a police department’s efficiency and its reputation.” (

ACLU says that the “GOOD NEWS is the situation is not hopeless. Policing has seen much progress. Some reforms do work, and some types of abuse have been reduced. Today, among both police officials and rank and file officers, it is widely recognized that police brutality hinders good law enforcement.”

On that note – watch for MORE TO COME, such as a proposal to balance Citizen Review with a particular mechanism that is used to assure fairness and justice in other circumstances.  Stay tuned....