Another Day. Another Police Shooting.

The current unrest in Charlotte as a result of yet another police shooting should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all metropolitan police departments. It’s only the latest in a long line of black men – many of them unarmed – who were shot and killed by police. The Charlotte shooting may well have been a justified shooting (it’s too early to make judgments). But that doesn’t mean that the unrest and rioting in Charlotte are unjustified.

After all, how many studies and investigations have uncovered disparities between the police treatment of whites and blacks? How many police departments have been exposed for racial profiling? How many studies have shown that the causes of crimes are economic rather than racial? How many studies have shown an enormous disparity in wealth and compensation between whites and blacks?

At least fifteen black people have been shot and killed by police – some of them with their hands raised – just since Colin Kaepernick called attention to the issue by refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Yet Kaepernick was vilified by some in the police, the military, and the media. And the Charlotte unrest, following the shootings in Dallas, the unrest in Ferguson and the formation of Black Lives Matter, has caused the clueless and the racist to believe that black people are lawless and get what they deserve.

So here’s my question to these people. Just how long should minorities put up with unequal treatment?

Blacks have already suffered through slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression, segregation, redlining, discrimination, fewer educational opportunities, and lower wages. They were subjected to lynchings and bombings to gain their civil rights. They have put up with white flight leaving them to pay a disproportionate share of taxes while living in the hollowed out core of cities. They have been targeted for “stop & frisk”. Many of their families were torn apart as a result of disproportionate law enforcement for drug use. And almost all of them have been unlawfully detained for “driving while black”.

So I repeat the question: How much longer should minorities put up with inequality?

The unrest in Charlotte may not be justified by the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. But it is nonetheless justified. Now, I’m certainly not advocating race riots – far from it. But it’s long past time for governments at all levels of our society to take action against racial inequities; to put some teeth into discrimination laws; to reform policing; to root out racist police officers. And it’s time for white people to stop blaming the messengers like Colin Kaepernick and to look at the message itself; to empathize with the people who are subjected to injustice. If demonstrating in the streets causes others to take notice, great!

Put into perspective, minorities in the US have been extraordinarily patient with the status quo. But their patience is obviously running out. It should.

Black Lives Matter! A Primer For White People.

When it became evident that an increasing number of black people were being killed by police despite being unarmed and often innocent, some activists formed Black Lives Matter. Given the obvious nature of their complaints, it’s unlikely that the founders thought the organization would be seen as particularly controversial. Yet many white people seemed to miss the point or, more likely, willfully ignored it. In response, they proclaimed that all lives matter.

Of course all lives matter! So do white lives and blue (police) lives. But such statements ignore the issue. The BLM organizers weren’t saying that black lives matter more than others. After reeling from police killings of unarmed black people: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland – the list is depressingly long – the activists were simply saying that black lives should matter as much as others! But the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people, black children, black people with their hands up in a clear sign of surrender, and black people in police custody clearly demonstrated to them that many police seem to assign a lesser value to black lives.

What the activists were really saying is that black lives matter, too! And the reason they took offense at the responses of All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter is that those slogans entirely ignored the issue. They showed a lack of empathy and understanding of racism, even if the responses are well-intended.

Even when the Department of Justice (DOJ) released its scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department, many Americans failed to get the point. They again showed a lack of understanding when the DOJ released an equally scathing report on policing in Baltimore. Even as the officers who killed unarmed black people continued to escape charges or were acquitted for their actions, many white Americans either ignored the developments or chose to demonize the members of Black Lives Matter as engaging in reverse racism. We continue to see signs and chants of Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, White Lives Matter.

The backlash reached a crescendo when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem prior to a NFL exhibition game (an anthem which, by the way, was written by a slave-owner and includes racist text in its second verse). Kaepernick was quickly dismissed as un-American and many accused him of disrespecting veterans who fought for our country. Of course, he was doing neither. He was exercising his First Amendment right to call attention to the disparity in policing of blacks and whites. In doing so, he was trying to improve the country; to make it live up to its promise for all Americans.

Here’s the thing: Until the police, the white supremacists and the clueless supporters of Donald Trump pull their heads out of their collective behinds, the BLM movement will grow.

What will it take to make Black Lives Matter end the demonstrations? That’s simple. The answer is for law enforcement officers and the justice system to end the unequal treatment of minorities. That will require higher standards and more intensive training for police. No more 16-week wonders who trade in their police academy books for guns. No more militarized police departments who treat policing as war. No more bullies with badges.

Police Chiefs must be tasked with identifying the bad apples within their departments and firing them. More important, the good police officers (and there are many of them) must end the practice of covering up for the racist and incompetent officers. Likewise, the police unions must hold their members accountable. When bad cops are allowed to continue to dispense street justice in a disproportionate way, everyone loses, including the good officers who place their lives on the line to ensure public safety for all of the people in their communities.

Finally, the state Attorneys General and the DOJ should track arrests and the penalties meted out in all communities across the nation. When they discover disparities they must hold the cities responsible to correct the issues or lose their state and federal funding.

No group of people should be allowed to think that their lives matter less than others. Black Lives Matter, too!

General…er…Sheriff Joe Goes To War.

The original motto of most law enforcement organizations was “To Serve And Protect.” But, in recent years, the motto may as well be “To Harass And Intimidate.” Many purposefully engage in racial profiling (New York City even singles out African-Americans for its “Stop And Frisk” program).┬áMany live outside the cities they serve. Most spend their days in cruisers only leaving them when they need to. All are heavily armed.

In the eyes of the citizens, particularly poor minorities, law enforcement officers have become the enemy; uniforms to be feared, or at least viewed with suspicion. And with the proliferation of guns, officers necessarily view citizens with suspicion. Their reaction is to treat citizens with polite arrogance. They pump out their chests, stand tall and strive to look as intimidating as possible.

Many officers have visually, physically and mentally detached themselves from their own communities. The neighborhood beat cop virtually no longer exists. The only time most cops are welcomed is when there’s a crisis.

Like most things, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County has taken this to an extreme. He encouraged his deputies to racially profile in order to round up illegal immigrants. He has harassed citizens with roadblocks seeking minor vehicle infractions in order to check immigration status. He has conducted neighborhood sweeps for illegal immigrants. He misspent millions of taxpayer dollars in order to purchase armored vehicles. He participated in TV episodes with dozens of his heavily armed storm troopers crashing down doors in the middle of the night to arrest non-violent criminals. He has armed a volunteer “posse” to patrol schools.

Now, following the murder of one of his detention officers, Arpaio has ordered all of his deputies and officers to carry AR-15 assault weapons at all times…even off-duty. What could possibly go wrong?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Law enforcement agencies could tone down their militaristic image. They could put away the military-style assault weapons and armored vehicles until they are actually needed. They could get out of their cruisers and get to know their fellow citizens. They could encourage everyday conversations and interactions with those in their communities. They could drop the attitude that everyone is a criminal. They could support reasonable gun regulations. They could reinstate the beat cops. And, most of all, they could focus less on military training than police work…work that includes building trust.

But don’t expect the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to do any of this anytime soon. Arpaio has an image to keep up…as America’s Toughest Sheriff.