Friday, December 12, 2014

What Then Must We Do?

It's the perpetual question, no?

Not all of us can do as much as we might want to do in the face of so much adversity, but at the same time, many more have been taking the risks to do something about what's been going on, so it's quite possible for some of us old folk to step back and let the young do what they must to bring about that Better World we know is possible.

When I saw the pictures of congressional staffers walking out and posing with their hands up on the steps of the Capitol yesterday, I knew the long-awaited tipping point had come. No more could the status quo of perpetual police murder with impunity be maintained. Something would change.

This doesn't mean that a resolution to the problem has been achieved or ratified, but it does mean that the Powers have noticed there is a Problem and have decided intervention is necessary. Police departments will follow certain orders, but they cannot and will not reform themselves absent firm and direct orders for change -- and perhaps not without a good deal of behavior modification along the way.

In that regard, I'm reminded of that insane freak (Lt Col) Dave Grossman who goes around in a kind of ecstatic religious trance speaking before large audiences of police officers, telling them that their highest accomplishment is "killing in righteous battle" -- essentially absolving them by declaring their actions "righteous" by nature. They are "sheepdogs" as he puts it, "protecting the flock" from the "wolves."

Dogs, even sheepdogs, can go rogue and start killing the sheep, and that's what's happened. There have been few or no controls on the behavior of the police with regard to their duties for many years, and the situation reached a crisis point with the execution of a homeless mentally ill man in Albuquerque in March. Many tried to blame the victim for his own demise, as almost always happens in the case of police murders and executions, but this time there was a significant push-back from the public.

Message: "No! Stop. The. Killing!"

There were months of demonstrations and protests against police violence in Albuquerque, some of which involved shutting down the freeway through town and other direct actions to discommode the comfortable and powerful. At times, these protests were met with militarized and violent police responses which drew national attention to the problems created by abusive police and the militarization of police.

The DoJ had been investigating complaints against he Albuquerque Police Department for many months, but there was little sign they would release findings any time soon. The persistent public protests appeared to affect the department's investigators enough to move process forward, and a scathing report was released in April documenting numerous cases of inappropriate use of force and deadly force in a pattern and practice of "unconstitutional policing" which would have to change.

There was a spate of police killings following the release of this report, most of them questionable if not completely outrageous, and then things started to change. There has not been a police killing in Albuquerque since August, and in October the city and DoJ entered into a consent decree to reform the Department, mostly focused on training and reporting, but including disbanding a notorious APD kill-squad and otherwise curbing the use of force and deadly force by the Department while building a genuine crisis intervention policy and program that would reduce police violence when dealing with mentally ill people in crisis.

So far, it's held.

The issue was police violence and murder and the complete impunity with which the police operated. It was obvious that the city administration was taken aback by the response to the killing of James Boyd in March. They had no idea that such a killing would trigger so much passion and outrage. Until the release of the DoJ report, the city's police and administration had insisted there was nothing wrong with what was going on. Business as usual meant that there would be a police killing to two a month, every one of them justified by the DA, and that would be that. Those who died obviously needed killing, or they wouldn't have gotten in the way of police bullets, amirite?

The way it was, according to police and civic officials, was the way it was supposed to be. When the People rose up in outrage and demanded change, however, Authority was non-plussed. When a greater Authority than the local police and civic officials said "You done bad," there seemed to be something of an awakening in City Hall and the Police Department.

Wait. They were doing it wrong? So it seemed.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the killing went on and on and on. Eric Garner, Mike Brown, John Crawford, Kajieme Powell, Vonderrit Myers, and so many more. The dead kept piling up. The People's outrage and fury kept growing.


The plea from the People went largely unheard, however. Outside of Albuquerque, the official response was a blank stare, followed too often by a bullet, a taser, a chokehold. Someone would die, at the rate of two or three a day, day in and day out, as documented by the only resource that is compiling media reports of police killings in almost real time, "Killed by Police." More than a thousand have died at the hands of police so far this year, and that number tracks closely with reports of police killings in years past. The problem has been, however, that until Killed by Police started tracking media reports of police killings, there were no comprehensive national statistics on the matter; it was purely up to local police departments to voluntarily report to offices in Washington, DC, and the resulting numbers announced by the FBI each year were vast undercounts.

The casualty list is enormous, far greater by orders of magnitude than the number of police killed by gunfire or other acts of violence against them. FAR greater. No one knew. Further, as the dead piled up and reports of killings of unarmed victims were collected, it became clear that black men and boys were particularly vulnerable to police violence, being shot on sight -- often on video -- based on... what? Their gender and color and the intrinsic "threat" that represents to Power?

Further analysis has shown that Native American men are almost as vulnerable to police violence. The mentally ill and the poor of any gender, race or ethnicity face similar vulnerabilities.

I've long been convinced that most of these deaths are preventable, that 90% or more of police killings are not justified by the facts and necessity. They are matters more of convenience or willful acts of murder and terror.

Police kill because they can and because it suits their nature -- and they know they will get away with it almost always.

The People have risen up in their multitudes and demand -- yes, demand -- that the killing stop.

The People are doing what they must do. And yes, doing what they must do sometimes discommodes the comfort and convenience of the unvictimized, and it sometimes shames the powerful. Given the number of dead at the hands of police, a little inconvenience is a relatively minor cost to bring attention to and hopefully correct an out-of-control social problem.

What did the sign say during Occupy? "Sorry for the inconvenience, we're trying to change the world."

Photo by Ben Terrett, Creative Commons license
Actually, the inconvenience is necessary.

And I'm not sorry at all.

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