Friday, December 5, 2014

Justice for All?

Recently two grand juries in different parts of the country decided not to indict police officers who killed young black men. The first grand jury was concerned with the killing in Ferguson, Missouri, and the second involved the “choke-hold” killing on Staten Island in New York City. Several points:

First, we have a system of justice that isn’t perfect but works reasonably well. We have to accept whatever verdicts or decisions come out of that system, even if we disagree. We can’t take the law into our own hands.

Second, even if a grand jury determines no crime was committed, the officers involved could still face police department discipline (including loss of job) or civil lawsuits. No matter what happens, their lives are changed forever for the worse.

Third, we have to understand how some killings can occur. In some neighborhoods, police are at nearly constant risk of being confronted, injured or killed. Blacks who complain about the police should realize the risks police are taking to protect their neighborhoods.

Fourth, in the case of Michael Brown, he was not quite the good kid the press and protestors make him out to be. He and a buddy had robbed a convenience store earlier, and he may have been high on marijuana. He was walking down the middle of the street when officer Wilson told him to get off the street. Apparently Brown went after officer Wilson and tried to get his gun. Wilson feared for his life because he was struggling with a 280 pound aggressive man. I believe the grand jury concluded that officer Wilson fired in self-defense, which most likely was the right call. Sadly, Brown was killed, not because he was black, but because he struggled with a cop for his gun.

Fifth, physical size may have been a factor with Eric Garner. The cops surrounding Garner may have been intimidated and over-reacted. Officer Pantaleo put him in a choke hold. Almost immediately there were three or four cops all over Garner, pinning him to the ground and trying to handcuff him. Nobody paid attention to Garner’s cries of “I can’t breathe!”

Sixth, I believe officer Pantaleo and the other cops involved were out of line. Garner may have been involved in a petty crime, selling loose cigarettes, and he appeared in the video to be arguing with the cops, claiming he wasn’t doing anything wrong. The reaction of those police officers was excessive given the pettiness of the crime, if there was even a crime to begin with. With all of the crime in New York City, it was ridiculous for these cops to even bother with Garner. Go after the rapists, muggers, gang-bangers, and other criminals.

Seventh, as I mentioned above, there are other remedies available to punish Pantaleo since he can’t be tried in criminal court, and I believe they should be pursued. He used a choke hold against departmental policy and definitely used excessive force. I don’t believe these actions were motivated by race, but rather by over-zealous cops trying to stop a petty crime. Garner’s arguing with them didn’t help, but I also believe his arguing didn’t constitute resisting arrest. The actions of Pantaleo and the other cops on the scene were abuse of power, poor judgment, and bullying more than anything else. Unfortunately these resulted in the death of Garner. For that Pantaleo (and perhaps the other cops involved) should be removed from the force at a minimum.

Moral of the story:

*Whether you’re white or black, don’t do a crime, and you shouldn’t have much to worry about (no guarantees but your odds of having a run-in with the police are diminished);

*Don’t resist arrest, mouth off at the cops, or give them a hard time if confronted (let the justice system do its job to free you if you are innocent);

*Whatever you do, don’t physically struggle with the police (they’ve got the tasers, guns, and skills to restrain you);

*Lastly, how you present yourself affects people’s perception of you, so dress for success.

What do I mean by this? Let me give an example: Let’s say I’m walking down the street of a city and I see three clean-cut teen-age black guys wearing nice clothes approaching me. What’s my reaction? I continue walking, because they are well-dressed and look like good kids so I don’t feel at risk. Now let’s say I’m walking down the street of a city and I see three scruffy teen-age white guys in shabby clothes wearing low-riding pants approaching me. What’s my reaction? I’m nervous because they don’t look like all-American boys but hoodlums. I duck into the nearest store until they pass.

In my example, racism isn’t a factor, but appearance and perception are. Now let’s say those scruffy white guys are carrying Bibles. What happens now? My perception changes, and I assume they are coming from a Bible study. I am now much more comfortable being on the same sidewalk with them.

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