Thursday, August 28, 2014

If There Is An Answer To The Epidemic of Police Misconduct

Some have pointed out that the spate of news about militarized police and the repeated shooting/tasing/beating of unarmed, usually black suspects, and the endless lies the police tell the public has to do with the Summer Shark and Missing White Woman news hole needing to be filled.

Summertime is a strange time for the News Business, as shark stories traditionally proliferate, and finding the missing white woman becomes the primary "news" until Labor Day or even after. It's been this way for decades. There is real news mixed, but often the real news is either buried or over-hyped right along with the stories of shark attacks and white women gone missing.

So the focus on Ferguson -- which has now abated -- this summer fits the pattern of the way "news" is covered during the summer. It became a circus, especially as celebrities like Anderson Cooper took up positions along West Florissant Avenue and declaimed their observations of the goings on among the Negroes. I bet until now few outside the St Louis metroplex knew there was a West Florissant Avenue, but now the whole wide world knows. The world knows about the McDonalds where journalists trying to do their jobs were harassed and arrested. They know about the Ferguson Market where Michael Brown is alleged to have stolen some cigars. They know about the QuickTrip that was the first to be looted and burned and which then became the Public Square for the community. They know about the Canfield Drive location where Michael Brown was shot dead by Darren Wilson and left in the street for hours while police with dogs and assault rifles kept the increasingly agitated crowd back.

All this is known all over the world because the incident of Michael Brown's killing became summertime news fodder and was promoted by news producers everywhere, and for a time, it even bumped the shark and missing white woman stories from the headlines.

But... Black men are killed every day in this country, a large percentage of them by police, and very, very few of those killings get the kind of coverage that Michael Brown did. During the height of the protests in Ferguson, for example, Kajieme Powell was shot -- executed -- on a street in St. Louis only a few miles away from Ferguson, shot dead while witnesses watched in horror and a young man in the neighborhood recorded the whole encounter on his video-phone. There was no such immediate and appalling evidence in the case of Michael Brown, despite the numerous individuals who witnessed what happened to him. The camera evidence all shows the aftermath, not the shooting itself. 

In Powell's case, there's no question about what took place: police drove up, got out of their car with guns drawn, Powell did not immediately comply with commands and was shot twelve times, six after he had fallen to the ground, and then his corpse was handcuffed to protect the officers from his black evil. 

It's all on video.

And though there have been protests in St. Louis over the shooting of Kajieme Powell, they haven't been met with overwhelming force and telegenic police violence like the protests in Ferguson, so they haven't received nearly the coverage of the events in Ferguson.

There were, after all, "riots" in Ferguson, just like the riots back in the '60s. In fact, one of the news stations in St. Louis was hyping the forty-ninth anniversary of the start of the Watts Riots just as things heated up in Ferguson, trying to insinuate that these events were somehow equivalent. 

They aren't of course, but what is similar is the nature of the police oppression that led members of these communities to rise in righteous wrath. 

Observers might say, "Why would they rise? It's such a nice suburban area!" Yes, well. So it may be -- whether Watts or Ferguson or wherever. The point isn't that it's a nice area compared to the inner city, the point is that the police behavior toward the residents is abominable and in the case of Michael Brown, is contemptuous, disrespectful and deadly. 

Any community facing such continual indignities is a potential tinderbox.

If anything, conditions were worse in Ferguson than they were in Watts -- or in many of the other communities that have risen in wrath against police misconduct, contempt and too often deadly disrespect. 

If there is an answer, it involves policing that does not destroy lives and communities but which fosters dignity, justice, community and peace.

In the case of Ferguson and many other police forces around the country, that kind of policing is impossible with the present force. That means the police forces of many, many cities must be disbanded altogether.

It happened in neighboring Jennings and it can happen in Ferguson. 

I was surprised, however, to learn how many police forces have been disbanded recently. 

Among them:

  • Gaston, SC

  • Camden, NJ

  • Kemp, TX

  • San Carlos, CA

  • Millbrae, CA

  • Half Moon Bay, CA

  • Maywood, CA

  • Cornelius, OR

  • Hoschton, GA

  • Pewaukee, WI

  • Mora City, MN

  • Roanoke, IL

  • Kilbuck, PA

  • Highwood, IL(?)

  • Stillwater, NJ

  • Paintboro, PA

  • And apparently many more. Most -- with the startling exception of Camden -- are small towns or villages which had costly, and in many cases highly corrupt, police forces which did not serve and protect their communities but which exploited them for their own profit and gain. Communities simply ran out of money to support police forces of that kind and the councils voted them out of existence, usually contracting with the local sheriff's constabulary to patrol the town or village precincts.

    Disbanding police forces is far more common than I would have thought. 

    And the reasons for doing so are all too familiar: police forces become corrupt, brutal, murderous gangs exploiting and disrupting their communities, and the sane choice is to get rid of them.

    So they do.

    The way forward is clear...

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