Confronting Racism Wherever And Whenever You Encounter It.

Though I’m generally reluctant to write about personal experiences, I feel that a recent confrontation might help to illuminate the seriousness of racism in America. Having been invited to Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, I was warned in advance that one of the other guests was a conservative. So I vowed to avoid politics. But as we sat down to eat, this white personal injury attorney announced that while working in a parking lot during his college years, he had been robbed by black men. He went on to state that most crimes are committed by black men. He said he has the statistics to prove it concluding that committing crimes is part of the black culture.

Where to begin? Do you confront such overt racism? Or, not wanting to disrupt a pleasant evening, do you simply let it slide? Before I detail my response to the situation, I should explain a bit about my background.

I am a white male who was raised in a nearly all-white region of the country surrounded by family and friends who often shared racist jokes at gatherings. In addition, my father often vehemently expressed his distaste for African-Americans – in particular Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders of the time. I don’t want to make excuses for these people, but I believe their comments simply showed a lack of knowledge and understanding.

As a young boy, I came to believe such behavior to be normal. But after attending a large university and making friends with people of diverse backgrounds, races, and nationalities, I realized that I could never again sit silent as someone made racist comments or told racist jokes.

Over time, I have witnessed rogue cops commit crimes and blame them on black activists. In my mixed race neighborhood, I saw a cop chain his attack-trained dog so that it could cross the sidewalk and bite any unsuspecting passersby. I learned of the practice of redlining in large cities to prevent black families from buying homes in white areas. I read studies showing that children of color routinely received more severe punishment in school than their white counterparts for the same offenses.

I read reports of corporations refusing to interview job applicants who had black sounding names. I heard my African-American friends tell of police harassment. And I personally witnessed six police officers take turns to brutally beat a black man who was handcuffed and lying on his belly in the snow and ice. (When I took my story to the Assistant Chief, I was told there were no arrests reported in the area on that day. I regret not pursuing the matter farther.)

Despite what many other white people believe, racism didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. Nor did it end when we elected our first black president. One need only read the Department of Justice report following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Or watch the many videos of black harassment posted online. Or watch the video of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Or watch “President” Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. Or watch the videos of kids in cages at our southern border.

So, yes, I confronted my friend’s dinner guest. I politely explained the racism I have witnessed. I detailed the harassment suffered by my black friends. I patiently explained that we are only a few generations removed from the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. (I personally met veterans of that war.) I explained that, following emancipation, the slaves had nothing. And that it would take many more generations for black people to achieve financial equality with their white peers.

What was the dinner guest’s reaction? He told me – rather he yelled at me – that racism no longer exists then stomped out.

Call me the Grinch who ruined Christmas, but I believe that failing to confront racism at every opportunity only serves to perpetuate it. I may have ruined a Christmas dinner and caused my friends some grief. But that pales in comparison to what many people of color face on a daily basis. And I vow to do more to confront it.

Videos Of Police Abuse Are Just The Tip Of The Iceberg.

The video showing the murder of Walter Scott has re-ignited the debate over police abuse by showing the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed 52-year-old man who was running away from a cop. But this video is no less alarming than other videos showing the strangulation death of a man for selling untaxed cigarettes; the merciless beating of a woman by a cop on the side of a freeway; the shooting death of a young man shopping at Walmart; and many more.

Indeed, the video of Walter Scott’s murder is no more disturbing than the video of the shooting death of a 12-year-old for playing with a toy gun in Cleveland and the video showing the shooting death of a mentally ill young man by two officers in St. Louis. Although neither of them were shot in the back, they were killed without warning despite the fact that they posed no real threat to the officers or anyone else. It’s clear that the child was given no warning – no commands. He was gunned down within seconds of the squad car’s arrival. Likewise, the mentally ill young man was gunned down within seconds.

There was no attempt to de-escalate the situation. No attempt to use non-lethal means. The cops simply resorted to the most expedient and lethal option available to them. They were not charged. They were not reprimanded. They were not reassigned. Indeed, they likely would not have been subjected to any scrutiny had it not been for the videos. Given that understanding, imagine how many such incidents are never uncovered; never recorded; never publicized; never investigated.

To understand why, we have to look at the causes of which there are many.

First, too many cops have selected their profession for the power it gives them. They enjoy the power afforded them by the badge. They enjoy making ordinary civilians uncomfortable in their presence. They like giving orders.

Second, too many cops have a sense of relativism. They believe that their abusive behavior is justified by the fact that they are called upon to deal with “the bad guys.” If the bad guys are hurt by their response, so be it. They had it coming.

Third, studies have shown there is little difference in the psyche of cops and criminals. They both like to break rules.

Fourth, many police departments prioritize military service in their hiring practices. That may be admirable, but merely having worn another uniform and having been trained in the use of weaponry does not necessarily qualify someone to be a cop. Their duties are significantly different. Professional soldiers are accustomed to taking orders, and often those orders are to shoot first and ask questions later.

Fifth, our police forces have been unnecessarily militarized. Police officers now have body armor, helmets, shields, semi-automatic handguns, assault rifles, armored personnel carriers and more. In just a few decades, they have gone from the community cop on the beat to a paramilitary force – and if you have big boy toys the desire to use them is almost irresistible. In day-to-day encounters with the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect, cops too often reach for a gun, instead of a baton or taser.

Sixth, our police officers are poorly trained in dealing with the mentally disturbed or with criminals armed with less than lethal weaponry. That is why six cops unload their firearms into a 95-pound mentally ill woman armed with a kitchen knife when any moderately experienced martial arts student could disarm and control her using only their hands. Much of the training cops do receive comes from seminars sponsored by weapons manufacturers and taught by military contractors.

Seventh, cops are protected by police unions. I am a firm believer in the need for labor unions, but police unions have taken representation to a whole new level. In many cities, it is virtually impossible for a police chief to fire an abusive cop. The dismissal must first be approved by the union and often the chief is fired before the rogue cop. That is why, after shooting an unarmed Michael Brown, the first call Officer Wilson made was to his union rep who told him how to report the incident and what to say.

Eighth, few communities have civilian review boards. As a result, ordinary citizens have little input with regard to police behavior. Too often, the police are allowed to investigate themselves.

Ninth, the fact that cops so quickly resort to drawing their guns is, at least partially, the result of our insane gun laws. Police have to assume that everyone they confront is armed with a gun. They may fear that they will be outgunned. This is especially true if the responding officer is on his, or her, own.

Tenth, cops have intense loyalty toward each other – their “brothers and sisters in arms.” They are reluctant to interfere with another officer’s abuse, let alone to report or testify against a fellow officer.

Eleventh, most Americans naively believe that abusive cops are a tiny minority of the men and women in uniform. They don’t even want to think of the possibility that the problem is widespread. But, in reality, there are precincts and entire police departments that are corrupt. If I have personally witnessed cops on the take; if I have witnessed verbal and psychological abuse by cops; if I have seen African-Americans pulled over for driving while black; if I have watched and reported cops for beating individuals for no apparent reason; if I have seen cops rousting the homeless, trashing their meager possessions and dumping them outside the city limits; if I have witnessed a gang of cops macing, kicking and beating a man already handcuffed and lying on the ground – if I have seen these things without actually looking for them – then such abusive behavior is far more prevalent than most people can imagine.

Make no mistake, a few videos and the mandated use of body cameras will not put an end to police abuse. That will only happen when ordinary citizens demand better.

What’s A Black Man’s Life Worth?

In recent weeks we have seen a number of unarmed black men and children killed by police. We have seen video of a non-violent black man being choked to death in Staten Island for failure to pay cigarette taxes. We have heard testimony of a black teenager in Ferguson gunned down by 12 shots even though many eyewitnesses testified that he had raised his hands in a sign of surrender. We have seen a young father shot to death in a WalMart for carrying a pellet gun he intended to purchase. We have seen a 12-year-old murdered by two cops for playing with a toy gun. We have seen a mentally-ill black man armed with a small knife gunned down by two cops who opened fire within seconds of arriving on the scene. (A small knife is no threat to two police officers in a squad car who are wearing Kevlar vests and armed with Tasers, pepper spray, batons and guns.)

We have seen reports of police shooting unarmed black men and children in Arizona, California, Missouri, New York and Ohio.

These are not isolated incidents. They represent even more than a pattern. They represent an epidemic…a failure of law enforcement training and tactics, and a breakdown in the relationships of people of color with law enforcement. At best, it indicates a sense of fear and mistrust of any male of color. At worst, it indicates deep-seated racism within police departments combined with a shoot-first mentality intended to prevent any testimony that would conflict with police reports. (Dead men tell no tales.)

Likely, both are at least partially true.

In fairness, the proliferation and ever-increasing lethality of guns in our country has made the job of law enforcement more difficult. This causes police to draw their guns instead of relying upon less lethal options. But that is no excuse. Law enforcement has long assumed that citizens are armed. That fact hasn’t changed, but the reaction of officers has.

Before Darrell Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, was hired by the Ferguson Police Department, he had been trained in a nearby city by a police department so inherently racist that it was disbanded by the city. Other officers involved in the shootings have been found to have posted blatantly racist comments on the Internet. Some police departments have been tied to the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations.

Given the distrust of police by minorities and the attitudes of some police officers, the unnecessary shootings are going to be difficult to stop. Body cameras may help restrain some behaviors and build trust, but they alone are not the answer. Videos of police violence taken by independent witnesses have resulted in few convictions. Grand juries are too likely to believe that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. They are too likely to prioritize police testimony over that of eyewitnesses. They are too likely to excuse police abuse because they understand that police work is dangerous. (It’s actually less dangerous than working as a logger, miner, fisherman, farmer, or laboratory worker. Police work is the 9th most dangerous profession in the US.) Moreover, the public is likely to excuse police excesses because they are frightened as a result of political fear-mongering. They expect the police to protect them from the bad guys and, if the police make some mistakes in doing so, they believe that’s better than the alternative.

The truth is that police seldom protect anyone. They usually arrive on the scene after the crime has already been committed. They are no longer the deterrent they once were. I believe they can only regain their effectiveness if they, once again, become a real part of the community; if they get to know the citizens they have been hired to serve; if they become a less threatening presence that encourages cooperation within the community to help prevent crimes and build trust. The police need to reflect the communities they are sworn to serve and protect. They need to rethink their training and apprehension techniques. They need to lose the military attitudes and equipment and focus on non-lethal controlling techniques.

They need to be reminded that guns are the weapon of last resort. Not a weapon of convenience.