Saturday, November 28, 2015

Interesting Juxtaposition

There was yet another mass-shooting incident in Colorado yesterday -- what a strange place, so full of mass murderers, it seems -- in which a police officer and two civilians were killed and a dozen or so injured by a man firing his weapons at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Note, the perp was taken alive, alive and well, in fact, when he followed the commands of the SWAT team assembled to deal with the situation.

Black folk, understandably, are scratching their heads. Oh. So the police don't have to kill? Wait. Not even when they have a legitimate fear for their lives and the safety of others? Who knew?

A black youth in Chicago walking down the middle of the street is subject to summary execution, and the excuse is that he was a threat of some kind who could only be dealt with by use of lethal force. This happens hundreds of times a year. All over the country. Day in and day out. Someone is summarily executed somewhere in America every single day by police who claim they are scared for their lives and the safety of others, scared by men and women and children, armed or unarmed, complying or not, black, white, other, mentally ill or quite sane, perhaps suicidal, men, women and children who may or may not pose some kind of threat to themselves or to others. Every single day.

And yet, here we have another case of a mass shooter-killer taken into custody alive, not even roughed up, despite the fact that he had just killed a police officer and wounded other officers. In other words he was unquestionably a man who was an active threat to the lives and safety of the police and others, and yet... he lives.

Whereas hundreds of others, many of whom are not objectively threats at all, lie among the dead, killed by police. 

How very interesting.

I've long said that upwards of 90% of police killings are unwarranted and unnecessary, perhaps more, perhaps nearly all of them when you really examine the situation objectively. The latest incident in Colorado Springs (a hotbed of radical christianist fundamentalism) is an example of why that is true. The shooter -- the alleged shooter at any rate -- was taken into custody alive and apparently well; he wasn't even roughed up. Not a bit. The incident was resolved without resorting to lethal force -- or indeed any physical force at all (that we know of) -- against the shooter.

He was -- of course -- white.

Does that make all the difference? No, it doesn't, it's not all that matters, but it does matter enormously. White mass killers are frequently taken into custody without killing or brutalizing them. On the other hand, white domestic abusers and/or drug users are routinely shot dead by police whether or not they pose an objective threat at the time they are killed.

"They deserve it." Typically the rap sheet is trotted out to prove the necessity of killing these people (usually men). On the other hand, a (white) mass killer like Dylann Roof or James Holmes, and now Robert Dear (among others; this is not an exhaustive list) is taken into custody to stand trial the way murderers are supposed to. The way accused criminals in general are supposed to be treated in this country.

But what's supposed to happen is only applied to certain people under certain circumstances (if they're white males accused of mass murder, for example) whereas others never, ever have that benefit. They -- like Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, and so many others -- are shot and killed on sight.

There is not even a hint of doubt in the minds of the officers who kill them, either.

These dead have no rights at all. They are killed wantonly, with utter disregard for their lives and often disregard for the supposed safety of others. And almost always, the killers get away with it.

Yet an accused mass killer, who just killed an officer, is treated with all due courtesy and respect, his rights protected, his trial in a court of law assured.

The way it's supposed to be.

So the question is, why can't police treat every one of the accused they kill with the same courtesy and respect -- without killing them?

Why is a (white) mass murderer given every legal/social right due him whereas a Negro shopper or child playing in a park or walking down the street is executed on sight? What gives police the right to do this and the expectation that they will?

Racism is part of it. The "violence inherent in the system" is part of it. But so is training, so is command authority. So is policy.

Taking a white mass murderer into custody to stand trial, whereas a black shopper who has done nothing wrong and broken no law is shot on sight is a matter of policy, not law. The law protects the officer who does this, but killing is not required by the law. It is the policy of the department that sets up the conditions which lead directly to both the killing of the Negro who has broken no law and the protection of the white mass killer.

The officers who kill so wantonly and get away with it are "just doing their job."

It's what they believe they are expected to do.

Apparently some police chiefs are coming to the realization that it is their instructions and expectations that lead to such carnage. It is their policies driving the death toll. And they can -- and must -- change them.

Rules and policies regarding use of lethal force were changed in New York City for example, and the death toll from police killings was reduced 90%. In other words, it can be done, and relatively quickly, too.

But will it?


I stopped holding my breath a while back when it was clear that the activism and protests were producing sloooooowwww, incremental change from an institutional standpoint. Police killings have actually increased in the nearly two years now since James Boyd was killed in Albuquerque -- executed in the foothills by police snipers as he was surrendering -- which touched off a protest movement that spread nationally. The death rate from police homicide has been radically reduced in Albuquerque, even though officers have been shot and killed. Police are not out in the streets killing at the rate they once did. Same thing happened in Oakland (though there has recently been a change in policy that has led to more deaths by police there). New York reduced its rate of police homicide by a huge percentage, and seems to have stuck to the policies that keep the rate relatively low.

So it can be done. It's a matter of how and when. Maybe or maybe not in my lifetime.

The sooner the better, but the resistance is strong and vocal. Some people -- and some police -- feel it is their right and obligation to kill at will with impunity, otherwise the whole structure of society will collapse. And they are frightened that if policies change to forbid killing suspects, they might be held criminally liable for killings in the past. That's their real fear.

It remains fascinating that a white mass murder suspect can be taken into custody whereas a black shopper who has broken no law and threatened no one can be shot on sight.

As DeRay says, "America."


  1. It was a few years ago that a diary on KOS told of an FBI study that warned too many KKK types and other right wing extremists were being allowed to become police and state troopers...2008 or 2009 was the year of the study.. If memory recalls .... of course that study. it's implications and any debate of it went down the memory hole to be never heard from again... I really it explains this discrepancy all too well and then some....Just saying :--(

    1. Racism and reactionary political ideology have always been part of police culture; they are the original sins, if you will, of forming civic police forces in the 19th century. Just as the nation is burdened the original sins of black chattel slavery and Native American genocide.

      They can't be gotten rid of, and it looks like they can't be expiated.


      I've seen reports of police chiefs getting together and saying "You know what? We're doing it wrong. Black Lives Matter protesters are right. We don't have to kill like we do. We have to change. And the change starts at the top."

      The problem a lot of observers have pointed to is not so much the rank and file officers (KKK or not), it's the top of the hierarchy where some of the worst reactionaries, racists and ideologues perch in command positions. Some of them have "failed upwards," but others angled and maneuvered to get where they are, and they are the ones who are chiefly responsible for the carnage they unleash and command.

      Some of the reformers (like Bratton) who set out to reduce the carnage play deeply disturbing psychological games while reducing the killing. In other words, they may reduce the death toll, but there is a cost, and the cost can be destroyed lives in other ways.

      I want the death toll reduced, but that's not really enough. The culture of impunity and warfare against the public is so deeply ingrained among police, I don't see how it can be reformed away. So ultimately, I'm an abolitionist, which means getting rid of the current system and starting over.

  2. Che,

    please check this link. I'd be interested in your take.

    thanks in advance.

    1. The story was on my "to read" list and somehow dropped off. Prolly because of the San Bernardino Thing.

      (Ms Ché was watching the news reports after she got back from class yesterday and said about the media scrum/staging point, "Wait. That looks familiar. I've been there..." Turns out media was staging at the Quality Inn just over the bridge from the site of the shooting rampage. And yes, that's where she stayed that one time she was in San Berdoo... small world and all that...)

      Never heard of Dothan, Alabama, and I'm still not altogether clear about it, where it is and what kind of place it is, etc., but just learning of its proximity to both Georgia and Florida is enough to get a picture of what might be going on.

      Hotbed remnants of the unreconstructed Confederacy. Oh yeah. I've seen it in both Georgia and Florida (never been to Alabama), and it's enough to curl my hair if I had any left.

      But these kinds of police assaults on the poor and people of color -- planting evidence, bogus prosecutions and sending the innocent to prison to feed the maw of the prison-industrial complex -- are very, very commonplace, in big cities and small towns all over the country. It's daily; it's been going on for generations. The South is notorious for it, but it's not limited to the South by any means.

      What to do about it is the question. Abolition is the only thing that might work -- get rid of every single police and sheriffs department and every single prosecutor and court that permits/enables or requires this sort of thing, and isolate everyone involved from the top down.

      I'm not a fan of imprisonment, but isolation from the society that they have been harming is a necessity. They cannot be permitted to hold positions of authority, for example.

      But how can any of it happen when the whole apparatus of power is tangled up with these vicious/corrupt police and sheriffs and the prosecutors and courts that give them leave to do as they will?

      That's the problem in Chicago. The police are brutal, vicious and corrupt, yes, but the problem goes right to the top, the whole city administration is bound up in a system that allows and requires it of the police. It's been that way since dirt was new.

      Where I have some hope is in the fact that some of this shit is being exposed, like in that story of Dothan, Alabama, and some police chiefs and city managers and a few elected officials are saying some of the right things about how things have got to change, some officers (but usually not their commanders) are being held to account for their actions. But the foot-dragging is strong. And failure to convict is routine.