About Eric Garner
This is a postscript, that is now an introduction of a recent blog post that I hoped I did not have to write. I am feeling stupid for thinking that the justice system (which many people are now saying is not broken
) would look at the evidence and reach an indictment. The messages I discuss below are just as loud and clear in the lack of indictment of Officer Panteleo. There is an additional message that I want to address: There appears to be not a single case where police officers will be indicted until something changes.
This is a giant problem. There is no time for respectability politics. This is the time to demand more and better. There is too much pain for the status “Crow” to remain in place.Do not give me the bad data (promulgated by Bill O’Reilly) about more whites harmed (shot) by police than blacks of a rate of almost three-to-one. This data is flawed for several reasons. First, there are more whites than blacks. Second, the data fails to address the significant skewing of bad stops with the police involving blacks. Third, this data again serves to prop up an irresponsible globalization of “me too”. Yes, all lives matter (in the abstract) of course, but that is wasteful in diluting the impact. Historically, black lives only mattered for entertainment, for workload, for sexual exploits, and in exchange our humanity was marginalized. This has not ended…it only continues in police control, in mass incarceration, in our deaths with impunity. In order for #AllLivesMatter to be true, #BlackLivesMatter must be true.Read the original entry below:
First off, I am angry and heartbroken. I am frustrated by what I know about the justice system. I disturbed by the message that is ultimately sent by the continual lack of indictment (in reference to Michael Brown and John Crawford, but this trend extends back to the Oscar Grant shooting and the massacre of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell’s murder at the hands of the police and countless more).
I almost had a breakdown before my Bar Exam Foundations Exam, I am immensely grateful for being taught the importance of prayer. For without prayer, I would have fallen completely apart and would have failed my exam.
This entry is a continuation of a number of things I have been writing: (Blog about Racial Justice, Blog about Trayvon and the Church, Hi, I am Black Man in America and two papers dealing with colorblind racism). This blog will address a number of threads and will look to the future of race relations and police action.
The Michael Brown Affair
There is much that I want to say about the specifics of this case, but I want to focus on three messages.
First message: Black men will rarely be presented as a victim, without a twinge of criminality and the white assailant will be presented as a “good guy” (sidebar: black women that have died at the hands of the police are rarely presented at all). This message came with the press conference in which the chief of the Ferguson police pointed to a possible robbery of a convenience store while celebrating the “meritorious” service of Darren Wilson. The need for a balanced narrative is vital and the lack of one only served to stoke flames of anger. Yes, there could be an argument that the initial message was that Michael Brown was presented as a young man with a bright future (the reality was he future was bright…even with the minor robbery–that could have been resolved with minimal damage). But, Michael Brown was just one of many, people victimized by the police (or others) that have had their characters assassinated by a horrible and tired criminal myth. The ultimate pain of this message is that it is continually used to justify the killing of young black men and women.
Second message: Michael Brown was not a human being, he was a black man aka a subhuman mongrel. This message is demonstrated clearly by the lack of EMS response, no police shooting report was filed, and Michael Brown’s body was left out in the street for four and half hours, and the language that Darren Wilson used in his grand jury testimony. But, I want to make this clear that this is also an old and tired mythos. There is anecdotal evidence about police policies that involved allowing bodies to just stay at scenes to essentially wait out any crowds or witnesses to then investigate “without distraction.” This screams two things: that the deceased is not a person worthy of prompt and proper investigation and that the police has much to hide. Many of the complaints leveled against the Ferguson police department is rooted in a lack of transparency which leads to a perception that the police protects racist policies and officers.
Third message: The police even when they do “wrong” are protected from impunity. This message is really at the heart of the protests that continue to rage across the country. From a personal standpoint, I am conflicted by the violence of the protest, but I do not judge them. The conflict comes from the fact that I learned community activism from the legacies of Dr. King and Paulo Freire and others. This type of activism is generally non-violent, but as it was pointed out that people can only be disappointed but so much. Racial and classist oppression is increasingly evident now in the age of rapid communication. The police’s tactical decision to approach Ferguson as a warzone raised the stakes of the protests. The power differential was never more prevalent when there are armored personnel carriers, bearcats with snipers on them, full metal jacket military style tactics. This was a tonedeaf response to people that are legitimately hurting.
But, at the end of this all, there was no indictment (which does not mean exoneration or acquittal–means that for whatever reason [bad jury instructions, lack of evidence, lack of authority] the grand jury did not bring charges). I lay this trend at the feet of bad policy (albeit well-intentioned). The standard for qualified immunity remains too high, in that police officers must be proven to act with gross negligence (recklessness or exceedingly bad faith) to be charged with a crime. The rationale being that police work is difficult and complicated work and thus the court should give deference to officers based on the decisions made in the heat of the moment. This makes sense on the surface: provides judicial efficiency, recognizes the complexities of police work; and offers apparently necessary protections for officers. But, this standard sets the bar so high to get bad actors into court I would argue that nothing will substantively change until this standard is modified. The last section of this entry will be my suggestions. This is why I am angry. If the evidence was so compelling that Darren Wilson was right or better said justified, then go to trial get an exoneration, be transparent. But, no indictment or sense of justice (or commendations instead) is the norm throughout the country in these situations. Thus, this message is perpetuated repeatedly (Michael Brown, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Eric Gardner, Jonathan Farell, Amadou Diallo, just to name a few). Police are protected, our young men are targets from the start.
This Is A Spiritual Blog, right?
I want to close with some clear parting shots. There has been a lot of bad theology surrounding race from the start and I want to address two instances. First, the misapplication of Proverbs 10:1, “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son, heartache to his mother. (HCSB)” Using this scripture to talk about Michael Brown is both insensitive and irresponsible. Insensitive, because it does nothing more than to pour salt into the open wounds. Applied in this way it bleeds pharasaism. Irresponsible, because this scripture is not about a moment but a lifestyle. Wisdom in the book for Proverbs is presented as a lifestyle. Walking with wisdom, pursuing wisdom, loving wisdom also foolishness is depicted on the scale of a life. We do not know Michael Brown nor his family enough to have any right to past judgment on how he was raised. His life matters and the continued living of his family and community matters more than to be pseudo-religious or falsely insightful. Stop. JUST PLEASE STOP.
Secondly, a viral post has circulated that was from Benjamin Watson, a tight-end for the New Orleans Saints (Original Post, Good Response). I am not going to recite either of the posts. The point I want to make is that the realm behind what we see is far more complicated. There is an element of sinfulness that rests in the heart of injustice. Men and women because of the fall of Adam are pointed against each other. Racism has existed since the fall and is the product of sin. But, the fact that there are spiritual matters at play does not mean that we do not have a role to play to make the world better. Actually, that is the reason we have the responsibility to respond not just in anger but in wisdom. We need to stand in faith with each other to bridge the gaps that are expansive.
President Obama has called for federal standards regarding body worn cameras for cops and has asked for 236 million dollars for implementation. This is a quality first step, in municipalities that have started using them there have been a precipitous drop in complaints against police officers. Ferguson has to rebuild and make some hard changes in the structure of their police departments. Transparency and modifying qualified immunity standards need to be a priority. This is a pie in the sky that I am shooting for, but it needs to happen in order for communities across the country to heal. Practically, community policing, not for community policing sake, but policing to the fact that every person regardless of the situation they are encountered.
I am hurting because the pain is palatable. I am still very much afraid of the police and will continue to train young black men how to react and interact with the police, even though I know that they could still end up dead even when they do everything right. But there is hope here and I will leave with a quote from a past entry regarding hope:
I digress, but there is a theme throughout the movie [The Dark Knight Rises] where the villain, Bane talks about the absurdity of hope. While he puts Gotham under martial law, turning over the rule of the metropolis to the “people”, holding them hostage with the core of a nuclear fusion reactor, he promotes hope. To him, hope inspires people to scramble for their own survival and devolve. This perspective is honed in a pit, a jail in the middle of a middle eastern desert. Where regularly inmates are given the chance to climb out of the pit only to fail and lose hope of survival. To make it worse there is the story of the one that made it to the top, which produces hope. Hope that it can be done, the one in million/billion can make it.
This is where Bruce Wayne found himself, this is where many of us find ourselves. We are in pits dug deep into the ground of our lives, the valley within the valley. We see others reach the top and climb out of their pits and it feels like we are trapped in the pits of despair that seem to be bottomless. But, I can tell you that the Bible is clear about the pits of life. The pits of life are false creations of an enemy that cannot get at what he really wants. Look at the story of Job, the discussion that Satan has with God about Job who was described as the most righteous man in the world. Job was so righteous and desired a right relationship with God that he offered sacrifices every day in the case of failings by his children. This is what gets Satan’s attention so he approaches God with an challenge against Job’s righteousness, He was only righteous because everything was hunky dory or peachy keen. God gave Satan the right to take away his children and his wealth and then when that failed the right to harm Job’s body. I am going to stick a pin here. When I say that pits are false creations, I am not saying that the feelings that you encounter in the pit are not real. the circumstances, the pain, the agony, the shame, despair is very real and should not be minimized. But, I know of something that is more real and more powerful and that is hope. (The Full Post)