America Was Built By Riots.

Although many Americans, especially those who are white, are quick to decry the rioting and looting in predominately black neighborhoods and communities, it should be noted that those involved are simply following a long-standing American tradition. Indeed, the act that inflamed tensions and led to the Revolutionary War was a riot of angry taxpayers looting tea from British ships and dumping it in the Boston harbor.

In 1794, President Washington led federal troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion when some Americans resorted to violence in order to prevent federal agents from collecting taxes on whiskey. In 1829, Irish immigrants rioted against African-Americans over jobs in Cincinnati. In 1834, Irish immigrants rioted against abolitionists in New York City. In 1835, there was a riot in Baltimore over the failure of the Bank of Maryland. And in 1836, there was yet another riot against African-Americans over jobs in Cincinnati.

There have been riots over beer, rum, flour, housing and military conscription. There have been riots in Alabama, Arkansas, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. There have been riots of whites against blacks, whites against Chinese and blacks against whites. There have been riots of natives against immigrants, rich against poor and poor against rich.

It was rioting that ended child labor and the abusive practices of factory owners. It was rioting that created labor unions, giving us the 5-day, 40-hour work week. Rioting followed the closing of banks during the Great Depression. Riots began and ended prohibition. Riots ended the Vietnam War. And it was the rioting of white racists against peaceful civil rights marchers that led to African-Americans gaining the right to vote.

The fact is, Americans will find almost any excuse to riot. We riot when our favorite sports team wins a championship and we riot when it loses. College students riot during Spring Break. Shoppers riot when the doors don’t open on time for Black Friday.

Rioting is in our DNA.

So it should come as no surprise that, when communities in places like Baltimore and St. Louis have long suffered from poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunities, lack of representation and a lack judicial fairness that the people living in those communities riot. The spontaneous reaction to injustice, either real or perceived, is not the result of some character flaw in people of color. It is merely the result of being human; of being American.

More Questions About Ferguson.

Why did the Ferguson police force have only three African-American officers out of a force of 53 when the population of Ferguson is more than 67 percent black?

What did Officer Darren Wilson take away from his training at the disgraced Jennings Police Department that was disbanded over racial tensions? Did he bring that training to Ferguson? Knowing Wilson’s past, did the Ferguson Police Chief do anything to re-train Wilson?

Why was Officer Wilson’s first choice the weapon of last resort? In addition to his gun, he was carrying a Taser and a police baton. Either of those should have been sufficient to subdue an unarmed teenager.

Eyewitnesses say that during a scuffle at the driver’s door, a shot was fired with the officer’s gun and Brown ran away. Why, then, did Officer Wilson continue to fire at an unarmed teen? The eyewitness accounts that Brown stopped, put up his hands and turned around seems to be verified by a newly-obtained audio recording that indicates Wilson fired six shots in quick succession followed by a pause and another four shots.

Ferguson police explain that Michael Brown tried to take Officer Wilson’s gun while Wilson was in the car. If the gun was on Wilson’s right side, Brown would not have been able to reach it through the driver’s window unless Wilson was already holding the weapon in his hand. If so, why would he have his gun drawn for two unarmed teenagers who were walking in the street in broad daylight?

Ferguson police also say that after the first shots were fired, Brown charged Officer Wilson. Are we to believe that an unarmed young man, having just survived a fusillade of shots, turned to charge at the armed officer? That defies any reasonable understanding of self-preservation.

Was Michael Brown’s body left in the street uncovered for four hours after the shooting as a warning to the neighborhood? Only brutal dictators use such public display of bodies to send a warning to the public.

Why on earth would a police department confront a peaceful rally with armored vehicles, rooftop snipers, military assault rifles, flash bang grenades and tear gas? Were they trying to provoke a violent response? According to most reports, the looting and violence only began after the officers struck first.

Did Michael Brown really commit a “strongarm robbery” at the convenience store? There are reports that he actually paid for the cigars.

Why did Ferguson police not release an official report until many days after the shooting? And why did that report not include any details of the circumstances of the shooting? Was this done to prevent the possiblity of Officer Wilson making contradictory statements in court?

In my opinion, the Ferguson police department has a lot of explaining to do.

Bullies In Blue.

Or black, or khaki, or camoflauge or whatever police officers are wearing these days.

The events in Ferguson and St. Louis are by no means unique. But they have called attention to a long-festering problem in the US. I recognize that there are many honorable and well-intentioned police officers. Unfortunately, their good work is being overwhelmed by a growing mob of violent bullies behind badges.

I first became aware of police violence in the 1950’s when I saw police brutality against peaceful civil rights marches. In the 1960’s I saw police brutally beat anti-Vietnam War prostestors. In the 1980’s, I saw the results of an off-duty police officer ruthlessly beating an unarmed college student. (The officer’s penalty was to be assigned as public relations officer for the department.) I became involved in an incident when police handcuffed and held an African-American employee for walking while black. I heard dozens of black friends describe repeated abuse by police officers. I witnessed six city cops mace and brutally beat a black man who was already cuffed and lying face down in the snow and slush. I served on a jury for an assault trial in which the police brought charges against a black man without investigating the case. I read reports of six cops fatally shooting a frail, mentally ill woman brandishing a kitchen knife.

I thought all of this was bad, until I witnessed the cell phone video of the police shooting in St. Louis. The victim was most certainly mentally ill. The knife he was carrying was small. He could easily have been stopped and disarmed with a baton or a taser. (I’ve managed to defend myself against a knife-wielding attacker with no weapons and no Kevlar vest.) Yet two officers, both larger than the victim, pumped at least 7 rounds into the victim. The other responding officers arrived on scene with very bad attitudes and unnecessarily bullied the witnesses.

Unfortunately, this event is far from unusual. In just the past few weeks, we’ve learned of the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson; of an unarmed man in Los Angeles; of a mentally ill 50-year old woman in Phoenix who was holding a claw hammer. We’ve seen a California cop brutally beat an unarmed black woman on the side of a freeway. We’ve seen a NYC cop strangle an unarmed black man to death. We’ve seen Missouri police forces surround a community with military vehicles and assault rifles pointed at unarmed protesters. And we’ve seen a police officer randomly pointing an assault weapon at demonstrators and yelling “I’m going to f***ing kill you.”

This is not policing. It’s sanctioned bullying and worse…almost certainly the result of NRA-sponsored laws which have made guns more readily available and police more nervous; of the government program that provides military weapons to police forces that have no need for them; of our national infatuation with big boy toys and weaponry; of police training that encourages the use of lethal force when threatened; of police consultants who promote confrontation; of rampant racism and the oppression of black and brown people; of political fear-mongering that makes citizens afraid of their neighbors and encourages them to excuse police brutality as long as it makes them feel safe; of prosecutors who are afraid of the political consequences for filing charges against cops; and of a disengaged populace who are afraid to speak up against police brutality.

It’s time for this to end.

Racism And The Militarization Of Police.

The current upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri has finally drawn attention to two long-standing problems with law enforcement in the US. Police have been disproportionately arresting and shooting African-American males for decades. Imagine if a member of a predominately black police force shot an unarmed white teenager in a majority white city. How do you think white people would respond? How do you think it would be reported by the media, especially Fox News Channel?

How do you think our white majority would react if a black police officer choked a non-violent unarmed white man to death? How do you think white people would respond to seeing video of a black police officer viciously beating a defenseless white woman alongside the freeway?

The harrassment and mistreatment of African-Americans by white police officers in Ferguson is all too reminiscent of the civil rights movement I witnessed in the Fifties and Sixties. The only real difference is that fire hoses and dogs have been replaced by tear gas, tanks and armored personnel carriers. .38 revolvers have been replaced by 9mm semi-automatics and .223 AR-15s. As one Marine stated, the military’s rules of engagement in policing a real war zone are more restrictive than what he saw in Ferguson.

With every death of an unarmed black man, our media eventually cite statistics of “Black on Black” crime suggesting that violence is uniquely inherent to African-American culture. However, they cite no “White on Whie” crime statistics when troubled young white men who are armed to the teeth empty their extended clips of ammunition into the bodies of school kids or theater-goers.

Ferguson demonstrates that it is long past time that we have a serious discussion about race relations, poverty and policing in the United States. (If that fact was not obvious enough, polls show that public opinion of the situation in Ferguson is split along racial lines.) It’s time for the police to put away their “big boy toys” and return to community policing based on the motto of “to serve and protect.” It’s time they represent the communities they serve. It’s time they are measured by the crimes they prevent as well as the arrests they make. It’s time they show that they are a force to run to instead of a force to run from.

Regardless of the events that led to the nonsensical shooting of an unarmed black teenager, the Ferguson Police Chief should be held accountable for making matters worse. He has clearly demonstrated that he neither represents his community nor understands its citizens. He should not only be fired by the citizens of Ferguson. He should replace Mayberry’s Barney Fife as the poster boy for inept policing.

UPDATE: It is being reported that the convenience store where Michael Brown supposedly stole cigars is saying that he actually paid for them. If proven to be true, the Ferguson Police Chief needs to be charged with character assassination and obstruction of justice.