Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Can't Breathe

My wife said that my comments last week about the Ferguson riots were too one-sided. Actually, I thought they were rather “fair and balanced”. She criticized me for saying that Michael Brown’s shooting was “legal” and a “necessity” as far as Officer Wilson was concerned. I stand by my comments, but for the sake of peace in the household will note that it is possible that Officer Wilson might have considered taking a different approach and not letting the situation get to the point where he emptied his gun at Michael Brown. And with regard to legality, perhaps the way the case was presented to the grand jury was somewhat flawed. But, the grand jury got it right. Michael Brown’s actions on that day in Ferguson, Missouri are the primary reason that Michael Brown is dead.

But, in the spirit of being “fair and balanced” let’s turn the page and consider the Eric Garner incident. I have no idea why the grand jury in this case did not come down with some sort of indictment and send it to trial. This one is bad, really bad. Overly aggressive police, using a choke-hold on a guy who was being busted for a misdemeanor. C’mon man. And now those who want to protest police brutality, especially as directed toward “people of color”, have their martyr and their slogan.

You know it may be time that we rethink the process for handling cases where law enforcement officers are charged with using excessive force. Perhaps local prosecutors should recuse themselves from presenting such cases. The perception is that they are just too close to the police. And when the grand jury no bills one of these cases, we see the result. People are losing confidence in the system and “people of color” are more than convinced that the system will not grant them their day in court. They believe that the police can do whatever they want and get away with it. I do not think that is the way it works most of the time. But it does work that way often enough that it is not unreasonable for some people to believe that’s how it works all of the time. And if it happens to you or someone you love, that is one time too many.

And then there are the larger issues of race and profiling. Most of us, regardless of our race, age or ethnicity; are biased. We buy into the stereotypes. I’m an old white guy and when someone sees me going down the road in my four-wheel drive pickup, wearing a dirty ball cap and having not shaved in three days; they are likely to assume that I am listening to country music (or Rush Limbaugh) and probably have a gun in the truck. None of those are true. I don’t dip snuff or drink cheap beer either. And, even though I go to church most every Sunday, I don’t believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and the devil himself planted those fossils just to deceive us. I tend to lean to the left on issues of immigration, gay marriage and assisted suicide. I lean right on economic issues, abortion, capital punishment, global warming and dropping bombs on our enemies. I think protesters have the right to protest, but not shutdown traffic and negatively impact honest business people who are just trying to make a living. I think police have the right to use force to protect and serve. But I don’t think they have the right to use excessive force or not be judged in a court of law when it is reasonable to think they did.

So I don’t want assumptions made about me based on my age, my race, where I live, how I dress, what I drive and how I talk. And I have to continually remind myself not to do that with others. But it’s hard to be open-minded when observation and experience are telling you that doing so is dangerous, maybe even deadly. And so it goes with the police and people of color. Yes, it’s hard to be open-minded, but it’s not impossible.

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