Legacy Matters

This past week has been the nadir of the relationship between law enforcement and black males. We have seen - literally - Alton Sterling get shot in Baton Rouge, LA and we watched Philando Castile die outside of Minneapolis, MN. Then, just two days later, a black man with an assault rifle opened fire from a sniper's position in Dallas, TX, killing five police and wounding twelve others. Before the police cornered him and later killed him, he told the police that he wanted to kill as many white people, especially police, as he could and that he was upset over #BlackLivesMatter.

The modern era of victim politics regarding black males getting shot by police began after Michael Brown was shot by a policeman in Ferguson, MO after Brown had reached into the police cruiser and tried to wrestle the officer's firearm from him. To a dispassionate observer (and a DoJ monitored review board), Brown's death was an obvious case of self-defense but the people of Ferguson and the hoards of out-of-towners who descended upon Ferguson after the shooting came to national attention had a different opinion. It was the perfect opportunity to use an unfortunate event to make a larger point. And make it, they did. It was not long before #BlackLivesMatter became a top social media trend and an organization of the same name sprung up or at least assumed the popular name.

In the almost two years since Ferguson, the BLM movement has certainly made waves, even at Democrat political rallies during the primaries, pestering both candidates. Democrats have pandered to minorities since 1964, but apparently Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were not doing enough to appease these folks.

The cries from the protesters and from their sympathizers and the media is singularly "Do Something!" Over and over again, we are told that something has to be done. Do something about guns. Do something about racism. Do something about bigotry. Do something about poverty. Do something about police officers. We want justice. Do something, do something, do something.

A quick look at the Black Lives Matter web page shows that they are branching out into the outer limits of the Democrat party platform, including Diversity, Restorative Justice, Transgender Affirming, disrupting the "Western-prescribed nuclear family" with a Black Village structure and Queer Affirming. One can question if the lives really matter or they are just convenient props in a show for a larger cause. This effort is "straight outta Alinksy" especially rules 6, 10 and 13.

Right before the sniper attack in Dallas, the BLM folks had organized a protest, marching very close to the path of John F. Kennedy's motorcade in November 1963. In an eerie reprise of that fateful day, a sniper began firing just a block or two from the Texas Book Depository building. So far, no connection has been established between Micah Johnson and any organized group.

While in Spain on a European trip cut short by the need to return to address the violence of the past week, the President said that “Maintaining a truthful and serious and respectful tone is going to help mobilize American society to bring about real change.” What? He also said "the overall majority of people who are involved in Black Lives Matter movement, what they really want to see is a better relationship between the police and the community so that they can feel that it is serving them and the best way to do that is to bring allies aboard." Well, my cursory reading of the BLM website belies that fact, but what do I know?

Another issue, and this goes to protests in general, is what were the protesters expecting to accomplish in Dallas, ostensibly one of the best policed cities in the US, with a black police chief and a reputation for community outreach and understanding? Were they looking for understanding or perhaps they just wanted to hear themselves chant? Do they really think that making inflammatory comments to local law enforcement would help their cause along? Just wondering...

Attorney General Loretta Lynch made a statement on the attacks in Dallas. "We must continue working to build trust between communities and law enforcement. We must continue working to guarantee every person in this country equal justice under the law. We must take a hard look at the ease with which wrongdoers can get their hands on deadly weapons and the frequency with which they use them. We must reflect on the kind of country we want to build and the kind of society we want to pass on to our children." Well, that will certainly quell the violence, won't it?

Our President has been in office almost eight years. The violence between the police and the black community has undeniably increased since he took office. It is a fact that the number of cellphones with cameras has proliferated over the past 10-15 years and that has certainly "helped" bring these encounters to everyone's attention, but I do not think there is any argument that it has gotten worse. And it has gotten worse under the watch of the nation's first black president.

I make this distinction, not from a racial perspective (although everything seems to be seen from a racial perspective), but because he is in a unique position to use his bully pulpit to DO SOMETHING.

What has he done besides talk about the need for harmony and understanding? No, I do not include attending funerals, hugging victim's families and siccing Eric Holder on local police departments. I mean what has he really done? The answer is clear... nothing.

The-Asterisk observation: If there is a problem, before you solve it you need to define it.

So, what is the problem? I feel it is primarily a problem with attitudes... the attitude of the police and the attitude of the people who are being shot. These "victims" are primarily poor and undereducated. They seldom live in the "better" section of town and they are white, black, Latino as well as other races, creeds and colors, but we primarily hear about it when a black male gets shot because it feeds the narrative.

Emotions run high. Statistics are thrown about, but when you drill down, you realize that what you hear and read is never the full story. Movements are not created and fueled by dull facts such as this: As of July 2016, 238 white people have been killed by police so far this year while 123 black people have been killed. It is much better for BLM if they ignore the first part of the statistic. It is better for the President to focus on the guns and not the perpetrators when from 2001 to November 2015 in his hometown of Chicago alone there have been almost as many shooting deaths than American casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined (7401 and 8321 respectively)! We are talking about only Chicago! Those numbers are stunning. Are they news to you? (Thanks to Kevin Jackson and Jay Stalien, two black men, for bringing these shocking numbers to my attention.)

I have established that the problem is not as bad as it seems, but that is a jaded way to look at the fact that year to date 509 people have been killed by law enforcement personnel. Really that is 509 people too many. So, what is the attitude problem? I think it can be seen, to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, as "people behaving stupidly."

I keep hearing on news show and radio interviews about black fathers and mothers having "the talk" with their teenage boys. Well, if "the talk" was effective, I doubt that nearly as many black men would be getting killed at the hands of the police. Couple that with the fact that almost double the number of white people have been killed by police and it becomes apparent that the problem is not purely a matter of race.

I am sure I will be criticized for this next comparison, but take it in the light of cause and effect, not race. I do not have statistics, but I am sure it is safe to say that fewer golden retrievers are shot than are pit bulls when a person feels approached by a dog. Why is this? There are many people who swear that their pit bull is great with children and it probably is, until one day it isn't. If a golden retriever comes running full speed toward you what do you do? You would probably squat down to greet him and hug him when he gets near. Now, what if that was a pit bull? Would you feel just a little bit threatened? If you had a gun or a knife, might you put your hand on it just in case you might need it? Does this mean you are prejudiced against a breed of dog? Do you make your split second decision on how to react based upon how the dog is acting and what he looks like or do you analyze your situation without any reflex, emotion or experiential judgement?

Most women have a similar reaction when they are about to encounter some shady looking men walking toward them on a deserted street. I will avoid situations in parking garages or dark streets when I feel threatened by someone, regardless of color. Self-preservation and protection are basic instincts which are almost impossible to ignore.

From the shooting victim's point of view, they may fear that they will get hauled off to jail or roughed up by the police, so they might run or put up a fight, resisting the police's order to not move or hold up their hands. Perhaps they have outrun cops in the past. Maybe they have one more good sprint in them, maybe not. The decision to resist arrest is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the person being detained. Once the decision has been made for fight or flight, then we are right in the middle of the pit bull scenario. The police officer has no idea what is going on with the perp. "Does he have a gun? A knife? Will he try to kill me with his bare hands like Michael Brown did to the cop in Ferguson?"

You have half of a second to decide... What would you do?

How can the problem be fixed? It gets fixed the same way that the LGBT community has made all kinds of behavior seem mainstream when less than 10 years ago most of it was widely considered perverted, embarrassing and sick. Twenty year ago you almost never saw mixed race couples. Now it is commonplace, even in the deep south. Change occurs much quicker when you do not feel threatened.

The way to fix this epidemic of shootings is to have someone advocate for a changed attitude. Obama and other Democrats in power (white and black) should have made it their mission to call out people of any race who resists arrest instead of deifying them as national heroes when they get killed. By ensuring that the police hold up their end of the bargain by not harassing those on the lower rungs of society and lowering their guard just a bit if the perp goes easily, the fever could probably be broken in a year or so.

I am one who does not think that a cop gets up in the morning and thinks about which black man is he going to put 6 rounds into today. The idea of this is ludicrous, so if you don't believe that there is malice and forethought, then there must be something else involved. Something over which he may not have total control and that something is survival, the same emotion which likely drives the victims to run or to resist police orders.

Human memories are fragile and fleeting. We remember more of what recently happened vs. what happened years ago. As days and weeks of changed attitudes go by with fewer fatal encounters, only then can the trust be built. They may still go to jail or be convicted, but they wouldn't have gotten shot. I sincerely believe that this problem can be fixed but it is going to take leadership to make it happen.

Why has Barack Obama done nothing beyond espousing platitudes? Where is his leadership on this major national issue? I believe that after his My Brother's Keeper initiative was launched in 2014, there have been White House meetings and task force focus, but it is the sort of thing done one young man at a time, and it has not made significant widespread change. I also think that it is easier to try to convert the young and the willing who might need some direction, than to try to speak to two or three generations of affected individuals.

Since I wrote the first draft of this blog post, the President was the featured speaker at the memorial service in Dallas for the five slain police officers, attended by Vice President Biden and former President George W. Bush. Obama was in full Obama-mode. He made a powerful and eloquent speech. He memorialized and lifted up the five officers and he justified the protests of Black Lives Matter. He spoke of hope and understanding. I think he went a bit far in explaining why minorities do not like the police. I do not think this was the place for that, but it was his speech. What he did not say was how to break the pattern of violence.

Police receive many hours of training on how to handle and diffuse tough situations. How many hours of similar training does the minority and poor community receive? That is where he could be most effective. Could you imagine Obama busting through that unspoken barrier and telling the oppressed and downtrodden that 100, 300 even 1,000 years of oppression is not transferred through even one strand of DNA and therefore is no longer a valid excuse for bad behavior. We are taught that every human comes into this world with the same set of abilities and the same set of experiences. It does not matter what your father, grandfather or great-great-great-grandfather experienced in their life. None of this is inherently passed on to you. All that matters to you is YOU. You are a product of your own surroundings and your own experiences. You make of it what you wish. If you choose to be a loser or decline into a life of crime or laziness, that is your choice and you will suffer the consequences of your bad decisions. If you choose to take the higher road, there may be roadblocks and speed bumps along the way but this pathway gives you a much better chance at a good and fulfilling life.

Bad attitudes by police, teachers, bosses, lawyers and people in general are not to be excused, but these folks are a product of their environment and upbringing just like you arer. Perhaps they have a good reason to not like you just like you have a good reason not to like them. Who breaks the vicious cycle? Who will be the better man?

YOU be the better man.

If our president had given that talk throughout his presidency, perhaps we would be closer to the colorblind society Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of but which has been thwarted by both sides who see strife as a power base not to be lost. Reducing this sort of violence would have truly burnished his legacy.

Note: this afternoon in my city, just a few miles from my home, three young black men were sitting in a car listening to "urban contemporary" music, smoking and hanging out. One of the men, TJ Williams was live streaming their chill session on Facebook when suddenly about 25 shots rang out and all three were shot through the windows of the car. The whole episode was captured on audio and it is a surreal example of life on the mean streets. Will #BLM be protesting nationwide tomorrow, grieving for the shooting of these three men? How are we to expect these same people to respect the police (if they live through the night) the next time they have an encounter? THIS is the real problem that must be solved first before we move on to making the police treat the perpetrators of this crime with kid gloves if they ever get the chance to apprehend them.


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