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.