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Monday, October 3, 2016

Have Justice and Common Sense Fled the Scene?

From the Associated Press: September 28, 2016

By JULIE WATSON and BRIAN MELLEY, Associated Press
 “EL CAJON, Calif. — It took more than an hour for police to arrive at the shopping center in a San Diego suburb where a distressed black man had been wandering into traffic. It took about a minute for him to be shot and killed.

Alfred Olango pulled a large electronic cigarette, known as a vape pen, from his pocket and pointed at the police officer who fired, while a second officer stood nearby trying to subdue him with a stun gun, El Cajon police said.

The details emerged Wednesday in the shooting of Olango, who was having an emotional breakdown over the recent death of his best friend, an attorney said.  The investigation centered on a video of Tuesday's shooting taken by a bystander. Police have produced a single frame from the cellphone video to support their account, saying it shows Olango in a "shooting stance."
The photo shows Olango's hands clasped together and pointed directly at an officer who had assumed a similar posture with his gun a few feet away.  The vaping device in his hands had two components, a box about the size of a cellphone and a metallic cylinder that was 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Police said the cylinder was pointed right at the officer.
Olango's relatives demanded the full video be released, according to Dan Gilleon, a lawyer who says he is representing the family.  "They're cherry-picking part of the video," Gilleon said. "This is exactly what police have said is unfair when only portions of video are released against them."
We don’t need to belabor this.  There are lessons here that go to the heart of police confrontations in this country, especially if you are Black:
1)      Don’t point anything at police who have guns drawn (or at any other time for that matter).  From that same AP article: “Chuck Drago, a former Florida police chief who consults about police use of force, said that once Olango struck the shooting pose, officers would have had to react quickly if he drew an unknown object from his pocket. "An officer doesn't have enough time to wait to determine if that's a gun in his hand," Drago said.  
2)   Don’t act erratically and don’t shout at or abuse police verbally. 
3)      Don’t have a criminal record.
4)      Records related to conduct on the part of police usually don’t count; Videos are often “cherry-picked” to favor police conduct
But those “lessons” are simply “common sense” deductions from almost every case of a police shooting of a Black or Hispanic male.  Unfortunately, Justice and Common Sense have fled the scene in so many such instances that we can no longer expect either justice or common sense to be present.  Why?  Let me enumerate some of my opinions:
1)      Generally, Police departments led by a chief of police are not fully accountable to the community that they serve.
a.       They may be accountable to a Police Commissioner, a Mayor or to a District Attorney, the latter two being elected officials, but the Mayor and DA have to work closely with the chief and may be reluctant to disagree or penalize the chief in any way, not wanting to risk their main source of information, evidence and investigative testimony.
b.      Citizen Review Committees, known by several different names, are in existence, mainly in major cities, but their roles are often ill-defined, their powers vary, and their credibility is almost always under attack, if not entirely dismissed. 
2)      Departments themselves often feed their own autonomy or at least their own vision of being an independent group that must protect itself at all times from “interference” or “attack” by “outsiders.”
a.       planting evidence that will protect the officer(s) who over-steps
b.      using excuse to be silent because “incident is currently ‘under investigation’.”
c.       Police Associations are ostensibly police unions, but are most often the protectors of departmental integrity; often more concerned with a good public image
d.      Criminalizing the victim or damaging the victim’s reputation
3)      We have myths firmly entrenched in most departments that serve to keep police from being found guilty of anything
a.       Loyalty to one another as expressed at funerals, as partners; expressed by the long blue line, or the “blue flu;” or shown by a charge of ‘betrayal’ if a cop testifies against another cop.
b.      Heroic “first responders” - It is difficult to find such “heroes” guilty of harassment or second degree murder for killing someone in the “line of duty”
c.       Need for quick reaction.  Even in the AP article already cited, the former police chief from Florida makes it plain that such quick reactions are almost mandatory – the cop just doesn’t have “enough time to wait to determine if that's a gun in his hand." 
d.      Police are there to maintain Law & Order and to protect and defend.  Almost all defense of cops is based on this statement of mythical proportions.  Compare it to some of the seven basic principles proposed by Sir Robert Peel when the “bobbies” were first introduced in London:
““The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.” 
“Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”
“The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”
“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
4)       “Law & Order” conjures up some unfortunate images about the police and their mission.
a.       It implies a militancy about enforcement of the Law and
b.      A sense of having to ‘battle’ people and push them around (harass them) to maintain ‘Order.’
c.       It also implies that there is a sense in which Justice and Equality don’t enter the equation at all
d.      The fundamental principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is also absent
e.       Everyone who even looks suspicious or disorderly or “out-of-place” or different is subject to a ‘stop and frisk’ mentality
f.        Law & Order is a poor substitute for “protect and defend.”
g.      Is Law & Order a synonym for “keeping some elements of society in their place?”  Is L&O an umbrella for denigration of minorities, like the War on Drugs and a War on criminals and illegal immigrants and a War on minorities?  Is it simply an excuse for not doing the hard work of community policing? 
Let me stop right here and try to make it clear that I know there are police worthy of all the accolades one can imagine.  There are those who are trying to treat the people on their beats with dignity and respect and kindness.  I know there are police who give of themselves to their communities by sponsoring, coaching, mentoring or just plain serving the needs of their constituencies.  I know this, and am not saying that because a small percentage of bad apples are evident that all police are bad. 
I also know that the vast majority of persons of color are made up of the same positive attitudes and characteristics because I have had the good fortune of directing programs in which persons from several minority groups were the participants who excelled in mentoring and befriending children and adults with developmental disabilities.  I was privileged to be able to watch as these mentors, who all lived on limited incomes (below the poverty line in order to qualify), helped to produce miracles of mental and physical development beyond all expectations, serving 20 hours a week, some for 15-20 years beyond the qualifying age of 60 (and later, 55).  I could go on and on about their accomplishments and their character, but I won’t, in the interest of brevity. 
Suffice to say that we are all making a huge mistake in our stereotyping and our profiling and our pre-judgments about people, no matter the particularities of race, gender, nationality, religion, cultural background, language, or sexual orientation.  There are simply far more good people in every one of those categories than there are criminals or evil personas.  We must begin to get it right and dispute the persistent myth that certain groups are less desirable or more full of criminal types than other groups.  It just isn’t so, and we have to stop trying to make it so.  That’s a start, but that is not the total answer to the attack upon Justice and Liberty for all.  Not by a long shot…
In an article in the New York Times dated November 26, 2014 by Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the stop-and-frisk case against the New York Police Department, made this point about seeing the problem as one of “bad apples:”
“If the grand jury had indicted Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown…, it wouldn’t resolve the structural and institutional racism that underlies police violence against black people. Yes, more officers should be held accountable for killing unarmed young men, but it isn’t a few bad apples, it’s the way that police are trained to see communities of color as war zones and to behave like occupying forces. In his testimony, (officer) Wilson called the neighborhood a “hostile environment” and told the grand jury, “it is just not a very well-liked community,”
Personal prejudice, bias, and bigotry are a problem, yes.  But the deep-seated continuing problem is still the fact that attitudes of domination have wormed their way into our institutions and organizations; into our businesses and services and we are not making the progress that is needed to root them out.  Institutional or structural racism is at the core of our race relations in this country, and yet it is denied, excused, overlooked, and often ignored.  There is ingrained in almost every institution we can name the subtle and ignominious specter of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation with their accompanying attitudes and prejudices – the domination of one race by another; the belief that there is somehow a superiority of the white race over all other races.  Such attitudes lurk surreptitiously in policies, procedures, laws, regulations, rules, standards, norms and even in the constitutions and By-laws of our institutions and our organizations. The relationship of master to slave is what still underlies too many of our institutions.
The Commission for Racial Equality has put it quite simply:
“Institutional racism has been defined as those established laws, customs, and practices which systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in society. If racist consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs or practices, the institution is racist whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have racial intentions.”
And so, we return to re-visit our police departments and the killings of innocent men (and women) of color.  It is not just because of bad apples that we have this problem.  It is because too many communities, elected officials and police departments have not recognized the depth and breadth of the structural racism that lies below the surface in so many institutions in this country.  The master-slave attitudes and relationships, racial conflicts, inequities and domination scenarios of our country’s awful mistake of enslavement of one race by another continue to fuel the fires of hatred, division, segregation, enmities and atrocities.  We are, so to speak, slaves to our own embracing of slavery – of domination/submission and superiority/inferiority.  And we must root it out wherever we can.
In an article on Race, Racism and the Law, Dr. Robin Oakley submitted two helpful Notes that were particularly useful.  The first:
“Police work, unlike most other professional activities, has the capacity to bring officers into contact with a skewed cross-section of society, with the well-recognized potential for producing negative stereotypes of particular groups. Such stereotypes become the common currency of the police occupational culture. If the predominantly white staff of the police organization have their experience of visible minorities largely restricted to interactions with such groups, then negative racial stereotypes will tend to develop accordingly.”

Other examples of institutional racism are tied to the myriad of obstacles and challenges ‘structured’ into government policy and daily existence that keep African-Americans, and other minorities from gaining a foothold in the ‘mainstream.’  It’s simple really.  Unions don’t easily allow membership, schools are inherently under-funded (mainly because of the lack of property owners!), under-staffed, and limited in their ability to provide extras like computer equipment, college-level courses, or experiences beyond the neighborhood as with internships. Some realtors and banks still maintain practices that limit African-Americans from realizing their home-ownership dream.  Government subsidies (“safety net” programs) and private charity are limited and short-sighted; too often helping to keep the recipients locked-up in the security of those less-than-adequate ‘entitlements,’ rather than providing a sound base from which to overcome hurdles or to solve real problems.
And, alongside all of this is the inability to acquire any semblance of middle- or upper-class wealth.  Lack of availability of good jobs open to minorities, lack of good education and college in particular; lack of opportunities in the larger world combined with daily exposure to certain behaviors, beliefs and myths (‘street lore’) tend to stunt the development of mature and capable young people and leaders.  So, we come to something I call the “non-prison lock-up” involving the poverty and segregation cycles that all-too-many minorities, especially African-Americans, are subjected to by our existing institutions and organizations over generations. It is the customs, norms, standards, and policies (written and unwritten) in our institutions, that are the main problem for every generation.  It will go on forever if we allow it. 
Dr. Robin Oakley's second view: if the challenges of 'institutional racism,' which potentially affect all police officers, are not addressed, this will:
“Result in a generalized tendency, particularly where any element of discretion is involved, whereby minorities may receive different and less favorable treatment than the majority. Such differential treatment need be neither conscious nor intentional, and it may be practiced routinely by officers whose professionalism is exemplary in all other respects. There is great danger that focusing on overt acts of personal racism by individual officers may deflect attention from the much greater institutional challenge ... of addressing the more subtle and concealed form that organizational-level racism may take. Its most important challenging feature is its predominantly hidden character and its inbuilt pervasiveness within the occupational culture.”
Returning to our specific topic of police brutality:  What can we do?  That is the $64 million-dollar question!  I’m no expert, but I have some ideas and certainly some opinions.  Although limited in scope, here are some brief thoughts.
1)      be accountable to an independent body of citizens and elected officials; in most cases, the State’s Department of Justice should have jurisdiction over the operations of all police departments in its own state and should report as required to the federal Department of Justice.
2)      establish entrance tests for all police candidates that measure capacity for the job, but also measure the individual biases of the candidates (expert help in these areas is available)
3)      require at least six letters of recommendation from community members being served (other than relatives) as to the character and ability of the candidate to act responsibly and with respect toward all; 3 letters should be from persons who are in the minority
4)      accept or reject candidates on the basis of their ability and propensities as indicated by the tests and recommendations; individual interviews with recommenders ought to be seriously considered
5)      arrange personal interviews for every candidate with an independent board of advisors from the community being served (the entity in #1 may serve in that capacity)
6)      establish a mission and purpose statement that clearly states what the department is meant to do in and for its community; the statements must be approved by the independent body mentioned in #1
7)      set forth a set of principles by which every officer shall conduct him-or herself; approval again by the independent body
8)      set forth a detailed set of guidelines as to the handling of all suspected law-breakers, including the use of lethal force as a last resort in all cases; the guidelines shall cover the use of tools up to and including a gun
9)      set forth the universal standard that all persons shall be treated fairly, justly, with respect; and that every person who presents as a threat, shall be disabled in the most humane way possible before any fatal method is utilized (e.g. stun with Taser; injure in hand or foot)
10)  establish a thorough training (and re-training) program that will contain within it sensitivity training, examination of personal motivations and biases, presentations by community members of minority status and a poverty simulation that will deal with what people in challenging situations (poverty, etc.) must deal with every day in addition to study of community policing in all its aspects
11)  examine every aspect of its operations on an on-going basis to ferret out the hidden (and more overt) structural biases and prejudices that are built in to all aspects of the department’s operations and relationships to the community; an ongoing personal involvement in a mentoring program with young people by all officers might help to reduce negative stereotypes and produce some investment in the community
12)  A thorough annual audit and evaluation of all aspects of its operations shall be conducted by an independent body (the entity in #1 may fulfill this role); integral and mandatory in this evaluation shall be at least 20 interviews of constituents in the community who have been involved with the police over the course of the preceding year.  In addition, a representative sample of the community members shall be asked to submit a written evaluation of the activities of the department for the preceding year.
13)  The independent body of community members and elected officials shall review all parts of the evaluation/audit and shall make recommendations for the next year (or more if long range)
I have no illusions about this.  I know it seems beyond the capacity of some police departments to carry out such a rigorous program.  And I know that Donald Trump and his followers, are mostly opposed to doing anything of this sort.  But, we have to stop the injustices and the indignities that are infecting our police institutions, and we have to start somewhere; perhaps with one or more of these suggestions. 
Police Departments are on the front line of positive community development, community wellness, community service and community caring.  We cannot simply retreat from reform and allow Justice and Common Sense to disappear.  We have to act to bring our institutions, including our police departments, above the degradation and devastation of a plantation mentality of domination, superiority, harassment, ownership, punishment, lack of opportunity, lack of education, distrust, diminution of abilities, keeping others in their own place and at a distance (‘segregated’), along with the unaddressed killing of innocent human beings.  We have to take radical and practical steps to change that pernicious inheritance.  It is hard work; perhaps the most daunting challenge we will ever face, but it must be done.  Anything less – like “Law & Order” - is misguided for it leads us right back to the same old institutionalized racism and inequality that prevents us from realizing our full potential as a nation.