Friday, December 5, 2014

There Are Real Reasons for Anger, Not Just in Ferguson or Staten Island

Aug 14, 2014
Screen shot of YouTube video
On Saturday, August 9, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man and his friend was walking down the middle of a street in Ferguson, Mo. A white police officer, Darren Wilson, told them to move to the sidewalk. A confrontation followed. Wilson struggled with Brown to get out of his patrol car. Brown attempted to take Wilson’s gun, the gun fired, Brown ran. Wilson fired several shots while in pursuit. Brown stopped, turned, and walked toward Wilson. Witness’s observations differed as to whether Brown was walking toward Wilson in a threatening manner or with his hands raised in surrender. Wilson “fired a series of shots” and killed him.

A grand jury convened in August to determine if Wilson’s actions were reasonable if he believed his life was in danger.

On November 24, a jury of nine failed to indict Wilson.

Since August, there have been sustained protests. The grand jury’s failure to indict Wilson initiated new waves of outrage. As so many times in our past, it sparked a national debate about law enforcement’s relationship with black people and minorities, and a debate regarding police use of deadly force.

Predictably, the central focus of news broadcasts is of black people fighting police, rioting, torching buildings, and looting. Undeniably, race relations are a big part of the problem. But, blaming the problem solely on race is ignoring other ongoing and broader issues that our country faces.

The deep-seated issue in the anger is that people believe that the justice system and law enforcement, political, and economic systems are stacked against them. They feel hopeless and powerless, and they are angry and frustrated.

Police forces are becoming militarized, essentially paramilitary forces. The Department of Defense supplies surplus military equipment to police, and President Obama has refused to curtail DOD's program of militarization “choosing instead to focus on improving the training of officers given access to high-powered weapons and [armored] vehicles previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan.” We are fast becoming a police state where governments’ interest is protecting itself but not its citizens.

Officer Darren Wilson may have acted legally and within police protocol under circumstances that allow the use of deadly force.

Screenshot of YouTube video
But, on December 4 a New York Grand Jury failed to indict a white police officer,  Daniel Pantaleo, in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, a 43 year-old black man. In this case, the incident was captured on camera, and despite the medical examiner ruling Garner’s death a homicide, the jury found no reason to indict Pantaleo, even to charge him with negligent homicide.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show said, “I think what is so utterly depressing is that none of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case and yet the outcome is exactly the same: no crime, no trial, all harm, no foul -- we are definitely not living in a post racial society. And I can imagine a lot of people out there wondering, how much of a society are we living in at all.”

There are problems with grand juries. First, grand juries are secret. Second, in grand juries the local prosecutor, who works daily and closely with local police, is the one presenting evidence without cross-examination as in a jury trial.

Across the country, police investigate themselves, depending on internal affairs departments to resolve complaints of misconduct. This is happening in the Garner case. NYPD said now that the grand jury has finished its work they will conduct an internal investigation of Pantaleo and the other officers involved in Garner’s death.

However, the citizens within a community should obligate their police departments to a citizen’s committee review, and the committee must be the ones rendering final judgment on its findings.

Many people say that there are two systems of justice in the United States, one for whites and one for blacks. They are wrong. There are four systems of justice: one for whites, one for blacks, one for the rich, and one for the poor.

There is a lot that needs to be reformed and changed in our country. The preceding issues need to be heard, addressed, and resolved. But not only race relations issues, but also the broader systemic issues embedded in our systems of justice and law enforcement.

Copyright © 2014 Horatio Green



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