Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Matter of Trust

Professor J,

Your series on Ferguson and the causes, effects, and potential solutions has been extraordinary. Thanks for taking the time to provide such detailed background and analysis. This story has so many layers and appears to be continuously unfolding and raising other issues such as the militarization of local police departments and most recently Witness 40 being exposed as a mentally unstable fraud.

Read the story from The Smoking Gun here.

During a time when the imagery surrounding us is of a sleeping baby lying in a manger as a lone star shines overhead it can feel uncomfortable to focus on such serious matters. However the back story of this holiday involves  a person in power who was willing to decree mass genocide rather than lose his unquestioned dominance and control. The more things change, and all that...

Over the weekend as my son was trying to get home for Christmas he encountered something that I associated with your recent postings. On a 3 hour bus ride to the airport to catch his flight the bus broke down in the middle of the desert. His description of events can be summed up as follows:

The bus hit a rock and broke down in the desert miles from anything. The bus driver LOCKED the passengers in the bus and took off down the highway, presumably to check for the mile marker. While he was gone two officers with the state patrol stopped to see what was happening. They took everyone's name and address (the reasoning was unclear as the passengers were yelling information through the glass of the locked door) and then they simply drove off. No help was offered. My son's description of his fellow passengers was that they were "apathetic" and "unconcerned." No one demanded answers or to know what the company was doing about the situation except him. He made numerous calls to the company to try to get an answer about the situation but it was early in the morning and no one answered the phone. When the bus driver returned my son requested his bag from under the bus and proceeded to hitchhike to his final destination.

What struck me about the story when he told it in person was the contrast between his attitude about things and the attitude of the other passengers. My middle class son with the private school education and college degree felt that he had the right to make both inquiries and reasonable demands. Who takes a bus load of passengers through the desert and doesn't have any water on board? No one else on the trip seemed shocked or disheartened that the authorities who showed up were unhelpful. No one else on board except one man who was belligerent and angry, made any attempt to change or improve the situation. My son, couldn't believe uniformed officers would happen upon this scenario and do nothing.

I wondered if this situation represented a microcosm of the larger story. The people on the bus seemed not to know how they could change anything but they seemed to assume that they were powerless. In domestic violence cases we know that women seem to lack an understanding that they can have control and change their lives. It's a learned helplessness. After years with a crafty abuser they come to believe that they are powerless and that no one cares.

Watch an insightful TED Talk about how we misunderstand "apathy" here.

Transfer that same idea to a neighborhood or community and our middle class perspective can shift from asking why they don't trust the police to working on ways of rebuilding that trust. Your recommendations would be a great place to start.

Most police forces already offer "citizen ride-alongs" to help the community understand more about the job of police officers. Our local police department also offers something called the Citizens Police Academy to further that understanding. Both programs are open to everyone after a background check. Doing a better job of publicizing those programs is necessary; we'd never heard of them until our police officer son-in-law informed us

I agree that go-cams for officers would go far in protecting both them and the citizens they encounter. We've already seen how useful the cameras on the cars are for documenting events and clearing up facts later, when even with the best intentions, memories are often unreliable.

Sunday, December 14, 2014



There is MUCH more to say on all this I have been posting about, but those other important things are cropping up as well, everything from catastrophic risk coming back from Wall Street actions, to deception, deflection, and obfuscation from the security-intelligence complex in the wake of the Senate report.  But to continue, at least once more, this blogstream on injustice and its many ramifications:

People are fond of saying we should stay safe and be completely, surrendering-ly subservient to every police demand, and accommodating to all police behavior.  How nicely set up that would make us for authoritarian or even totalitarian rule. 

We have to worry and adjust OUR behavior to avoid being shot by our supposed protectors?  And then, if there is ANY trouble from or by the police, we are supposed to merely file a complaint—with the organization and system that perpetrates it? An organization and its members who are sole judge and jury (and, too often, executioner)?

Police impunity.  Willful ignorance by the white public.  Institutional racism.   Refusal to acknowledge black reality.   Even otherwise powerful black CEOs have to worry:

And some further evidence we sure as hell don’t have a post-racial America: How Obama has been treated, spoken about, disrespected, obstructed, hated and reviled with such a passionate, frothing fervor.  I dislike intensely many of his actions and policies, but I can recognize when there is a treatment difference that is consistent among many members of one color against a president of another one.

To think that racism doesn’t exist is delusional.  We desperately need a dialogue (and willingness to act and change) about race. 

Police often have a hard job and need our respect.  But respect has to be earned AND warranted.  Community policing works best when the community trusts that the police will treat them with dignity and so that community WANTS the police to come in and make them safe from the criminal element.  That trust is missing in far too many places, particularly for African-Americans, and in those places only systemic bias exists instead.

Of course, police and prosecutors too often are given impossible tasks because the plutocratic economy has emplaced all over this country drastic economic inequality, lack of opportunity, and few or no livable jobs.  This bleak picture is intensified many times over in too many African-American communities.

Maltreatement and disproportionate focus on certain people and certain communities are bad enough.   In this society we have become, however, one of disconnection and lack of community and affiliation with and for our fellow citizens, we then make things even worse.  We take away most chances of making it economically and then wonder why there is crime?   And for the unfortunate citizens who are picked up for bogus reasons and then get bogus trumped up felonies because they have no resources to defend themselves legally against?  What then?  Felons can’t get most jobs, and certainly no decent ones.  And yet we are astonished that people turn to or return to criminal ways?  We are fomenting the behavior!  What does society truly expect?

The bitterly ironic thing is that White America’s 99% are economically stressed, yet largely without a clear idea of who is responsible for that stress.   And so too much of that White America falls back on simplistic blame spewed forth by demagogues with agendas, instead of seeing its true adversaries and true threats.

We need systemic change to really make a difference, including about police and minorities.  But in the meantime, there are some things that can be done:

State and local court systems are separate from federal ones for a reason, and constitutionally need to retain that separateness.  But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be procedural protections for all citizens no matter where they reside.  With that in mind, here are some proposals for federal legislation  or amendments (or even just things people can urge their state legislatures to adopt) to standardize procedures:

1.     Each state must conduct a wide ranging experiment to equip law enforcement members with body cameras, funded initially by the federal government.

2.     Require all law enforcement officers, even state police/highway patrolmen, to work together/ride and travel together 2-3 days a week, to decrease isolation, increase resiliency, improve well being and sense of security, and boost humanity and compassion.  This is not a panacea, of course, for two law enforcement officers have often done bad things.  But it can decrease the chances.  Also, when an officer would otherwise ride alone, a citizen of the community should ride with him whenever possible.  A local community panel can choose a pool of volunteer citizen riders.  While ideally they might be law students, criminal justice majors, or those interested in police work, any willing citizen chosen by the community could be eligible.  This would further decrease isolation of the officer, while improving ties with the community--and giving the community an idea of how hard law enforcement work can be sometimes.

3.     Whenever a citizen dies at the hands of the police or in police custody, an independent prosecutor from another state, chosen at random from a pool of special prosecutors, is required appointed by the governor of  the state where the death occurred.  This independent prosecutor will have at least two investigators from outside the state.  If criminal charges are not filed, a public report will be released.

4.     If the citizen was unarmed, the deceased citizen’s family lawyer is appointed as a special temporary assistant prosecutor and acts as a member of the investigation and prosecution team.  This lawyer must agree before a police officer is allowed to testify before a grand jury on their own behalf (civilians under investigation by grand juries aren’t allowed to testify on their own behalf).  Otherwise, the police officer would have to wait to testify at a trial.

5.     If the citizen was unarmed, the officer or officers involved are automatically indicted UNLESS ALL 12 GRAND JURORS UNANIMOUSLY VOTE NOT TO INDICT.  This differs radically from present, where 9 of 12 jurors are required to agree to indict.

It’s not enough.  But it could be a start.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014



Madame persuaded me that I should not interrupt the series, and offered to forego her posting for another week.

It has occurred to many that perhaps it is more than haughty, untouchable arrogance on the part of the police and prosecution that all of these killings of unarmed people and lack of indictments are occurring.

That it is almost like the system WANTS to provoke to the point where an indignant rage reaches the level of some significant violence or destruction, and then the system will have the excuse to crush all—protesters and rioters and resisters alike—by force in a brutal counterreaction.

To send the message that resistance is futile.

After all, the coroner said in the official autopsy of Eric Garner that it was a homicide.  Note: not “accidental death” or “complications from physical ailments worsened by physical restraint.”  Cruelly executed by the state, without trial, while he pleaded in vain for mercy.   And once again, despite indisputable video evidence, an unelected secret tribunal—really just an extension of the complicit prosecutor—chillingly said that those who selectively enforce the law can do no wrong, and are above any law, even murder. 

The Berkeley protesters over Eric Garner’s death—note, protesters, not rioters—were roughed up nearly as bad as the Occupy protesters were there.  Citizens’constitutional rights to assembly and protest and to petition their government seem a barely tolerated irritation to the police in that once tolerant place, and in many places.

The infrastructure—by design or not—for a police state was put in place by the Bush administration following 9/11, amid the fearful clamoring for “security.”  That infrastructure has barely been even cosmetically changed by the Obama administration.

Police and national guard orders for deployments in force regularly refer to US citizens, potential rioters one presumes, not as potential troublemakers or potential lawbreakers, but as “the enemy.”  

And Edward Snowden and the reporters who talked with him revealed—among many disturbing things—that at least 1.2 million American citizens are on a government watch list.

And the release yesterday of the Senate report on CIA abuses and torture and resulting policies—all done in our name—during the Bush administration had information so revolting it shocked even many of the jaded in Washington.  It is quite apparent that knowledge and responsibility for it were at the very highest levels. 

Yet it is a virtual certainty that next to no one—perhaps no one at all—will be prosecuted for what we once considered—when moral character and adhering to our own laws and codes meant something—heinous war crimes.

Is this what the failure of—no, the disappearance of—democracy looks like?  Is this the nation we want to be?

The tools of repression would seem to be unveiling before our very eyes.  Hedges once again lays bare the awful, raw, and agonizing picture:

If there is not enough resistance to police-state behavior now, when there is still the power to resist, a day will come when effective resistance is no longer possible without MASSIVE suffering.

Martin Luther King said that injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.  Something to remember when thinking that injustices to African-Americans don’t affect you, that at least you and yours will be “safe.”  There’s also a poignant reminder to all of us from another great African-American:

“If they take one of us in the morning, they’ll come for the rest of us in the night,” James Baldwin said.  And Martin Niemoller would desperately add and remind us if he were still here that if you think they can take any “group” without them eventually coming for you, you are monstrously, tragically, delusional.

As we gaze through the illusions, and look at all the sleepwalkers around us, I can’t help thinking: If Americans feel they are overwhelmed with everything now, what will it be like as the country continues to transform in such terrible and ugly ways?  At what point did Romans start to wonder about the same things?  At what point did the Germans?

For in all this there is a warning to willfully ignorant white America:  The tyranny that you fear will probably not materialize. The one that you do not fear—indeed, choose not to even see—will be the one that enslaves you.

Unless you start to care—about what happens to every group of people, including the one with more melanin than you.  Because against the real adversaries, the real threats, you really are nearly all in it together.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Janus Justice

Madame and Readers:

It’s hard for things to get traction during the holiday season, but maybe, MAYBE the outrage over the lack of indictment in the Eric Garner case might be the thing to do it.

If white denialism can be overcome.

Because the man who filmed Eric Garner’s extrajudicial execution on camera, who with it recorded the 11 times he gasped out “I can’t breathe,” was indicted by the local prosecutor on trumped up relatively minor charges.  The grand jury in that instance found probable cause to indict based almost solely on the testimony of two police officers.

But a grand jury couldn’t find probable cause to indict the officer who performed the prohibited, murderous choke hold that would kill Eric Garner, even though it was entirely on video for anyone to see.

And still too many whites want to say Garner shouldn’t have, quote, “resisted arrest,” when it was obvious the only thing he might have “resisted” (feebly) was being choked to death by a cowardly and arrogant cop while the cop’s fellows joined in.

All for a “crime” that would be pathetically laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

And Tamir Rice, 12 years old, was in a park with a bb gun, and someone called the police to say that they were nervous that he was in the park with a toy gun.  So even though the police knew it wasn’t real, they only gave the boy 2 seconds to comply with their hastily shouted commands as they burst on the scene—and then shot him dead.

The Washington Post had an article that included this telling reminder of how much safer things are for whites when police confront them: "Under the Twitter hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite, white people have been relating their stories of doing things like speeding, being drunk in public, mouthing off to cops, and even more serious acts, all of which got them sent home by friendly and accommodating officers, when black people doing the same things would have likely been treated much more harshly."

The Post tries to convey white privilege to those who are so embedded in it they cannot see the forest they live in:  "Your privilege lies in the absence of mistreatment, which is easy to ignore since it just feels like the way everyone should be able to proceed through their life."

Even a number of conservatives are beginning to realize that if we continue to have a justice system for one group, and arbitrary oppression and death for another, we won’t be ourselves anymore, that we will be only like the murderous police-states we have so harshly condemned.

For it is not just what oppression does to the oppressed, but what it does to the oppressor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Taking In Of Ferguson, 4


The Scene

There is a theft of items (a box, or possibly just a handful of cigarillos; it’s never crystal clear) totaling less than $50 in value.  The store didn’t even report the theft, apparently because it was so small.  Some unknown person reported it.  The report apparently later gets upgraded to “strongarm” (no weapon) robbery.

On that Saturday morning, the streets apparently were relatively empty.

Why was Michael Brown walking (behind his friend Dorian Johnson, it should be noted) in the middle of the street?  Unclear.  It could have been arrogance; it could have been some mind and mood alteration drug (Spice? Unlikely; nothing but marijuana was found in the blood sample); it could have been perception of light or no traffic (the likeliest answer); it could have been racial, economic, and/or personal rage and frustration boiling over into a desire to assert independence and dignity; it could have been the mindless stupidity of youth (especially male youth); or it could have been something else entirely.  We’ll never know now.  The dead don’t tell tales. 

Officer Wilson confronted the two.  Responses when spoken to can vary depending on the way one is approached.  Was it a calm approach?  Were the pair smilingly (best) or expressionlessly (second best) asked what they were doing walking in the middle of the street, as Wilson claims?  Given the lack of community policing and the historical record of police and black Ferguson relations, that probably didn’t happen (first hint at deeper problems), and with Wilson by himself, less than secure, and possibly in perceived need of asserting authority, the chances are even less that it was an inquiring approach.

Did the officer ASK (with easiness in his voice) or ORDER the two to step to the walk?  Ordered, according to Johnson.  And with belligerence in both his tone and actual words (“Get the f**k on the sidewalk!”). 

Words and tone make a difference.  A big one.  Especially when the history between similar communicators and similar receivers has been so poor.  And although we have seen no record of previous confrontations between Wilson and Brown and/or Johnson, that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.  In a relatively modest-sized town, the chances of previous dynamics are not small.

Both Wilson and Johnson agree Johnson said he and Brown were only minutes away from their places, and would be there shortly.

Wilson then, according to him, realizes these are the petty theft suspects, and wheels his car to block the road.  That’s what he claims, despite his supervisor saying immediately afterwards that there was no way Wilson could have known at that point (Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s conflicting public statements on the matter make things even more problematic).  Even if Wilson was correct in his statement, however, why the escalation and power play for a petty theft?

What seems more plausible is that belligerence as outlined above was in the air, and angry words had been exchanged back.  Then we have a lone cop that feels disrespected and infuriatingly needing to assert/re-assert authority.  A cop who nearly hits the two as he backs the cruiser at an angle, then opens the door and hits Brown (and Brown may or may not have tried to close the door back or shove back on Wilson). 

As Ezra Klein put it, logic points more to that “it's a cop who feels provoked by these two young black men who won't get out of the street, and who tries to teach them a lesson, to put them in their place. His actions escalate the situation, and then the adrenaline floods, and then there's a struggle, and the situation escalates, and escalates, and escalates, and then Darren Wilson shoots Michael Brown and Michael Brown dies.”

Why would Brown say, as Wilson asserts, “You are too much of a f****ing p***sy to shoot me” to Wilson if Wilson had merely been in the car and had only ordered them to step to the walk? Veteran interrogators  would recognize Wilson’s statement as seeming to have a more than small probability of being manufactured to justify later behavior for one of two probable reasons:  1) Wilson had been belligerent and demeaning in his ordering of the two, and was trying to deflect things by asserting that Brown was already enraged for no apparent reason (assuming Brown was enraged) and lunging toward his police car; and/or 2) Wilson’s use of deadly force on an unarmed citizen needed further justifying to seem warranted.  Yet, unless Wilson had arrogantly, provokingly, and belligerently said from the beginning something like “do what I say or I’ll shoot you,” there was no reason for Brown to have mentioned anything about shooting or a gun (assuming Brown mentioned any such thing).  Confused?  Wilson will clear it up for you shortly.

And Wilson did escalate things.  He grabbed Brown through the window, a not very clear headed choice for the disadvantaged position it put him in, lending further plausibility to the fact that his anger and adrenalin were up.

Both accounts agree Brown handed the cigarillos over to Johnson.  It seems highly unlikely that one intent on fighting would do that; he would just drop them, period.  It seems logical that only someone trying to get away, but not leave evidence behind, would do what Brown did, unless he really thought that Wilson would not escalate further—and especially not escalate over something relatively minor.

And then Wilson’s account of Brown going for the gun gets even weirder, as the man who had just handed to Johnson the cigarillos—they were that important apparently—supposedly crammed his big torso inside the car to grab the gun.  The only corroboration for that would be the powder on Brown’s hands.  If one does not assume that the powder was somehow planted later, it needs explained.

It can be readily.  In fact, of course, Wilson told Brown, who was resisting Wilson’s attempt to hold him, “Stop, or I’m going to shoot you.”  Notice who further escalated things.  It is quite possible that when Wilson began to unholster his gun, Brown tried to stop him.

It is just as plausible that Brown was about the get away from Wilson, who, by his own admission, had grabbed Brown, and given Brown’s strength, Brown was about to succeed in getting away.  Brown, then seeing Wilson about to draw his weapon, tries to stop it.

An untrained man attempting on a trained one.

And MAYBE saying what Wilson said he did.  A little more understandable now.

Two shots go off, slightly wounding Brown in his hand.  The bullets, according to forensic evidence, struck a nearby home and endangered public safety and potentially the lives of other citizens.

It should be noted again that it was Wilson who reached for his gun and threatened to use it.  Discharge of a weapon is always primarily the officer’s responsibility, and by appearance, it does not look like Officer Wilson was being responsible.

Brown momentarily successfully flees at this point.   Wilson gives chase, for there is little that seems to make a law enforcement officer angrier than someone running away or driving away from him.

Wilson paints Brown as maniacal, irrational:  “When [Brown] stopped, he turned, looked at me, made like a grunting noise and had the most intense, aggressive face I've ever seen on a person. When he looked at me, he then did like the know, like people do to start running. And, he started running at me. During his first stride, he took his right hand put it under his shirt into his waistband. And I ordered him to stop and get on the ground again. He didn't. I fired multiple shots. After I fired the multiple shots, I paused a second, yelled at him to get on the ground again, he was still in the same state. Still charging, hand still in his waistband, hadn't slowed down.” 

From a man already wounded, apparently seriously.  Reach into his waistband?  Likely that is more justificationist invention, because why would anyone—especially anyone wounded—do that (hold up his shorts/pants maybe? But even that seems far fetched)?  And it contradicts Wilson’s previous statement where he says he didn’t believe Brown was armed. 

And how likely was it that Brown was going to “run” or “charge” at Wilson?  At 290 then non-athletic pounds.  Wounded in the hand, arm, and forearm.  After being probably winded from fleeing.  Unarmed, against an armed cop who had already fired on him and wounded him.

Johnson’s account seems more believable, especially that Brown was SLOWLY walking back with his hands raised.

What’s also possible is that Brown did not obey Wilson’s orders to stop walking toward him, hands raised or not, and Wilson panicked and fired.

Whatever the circumstance, Wilson continued to fire, hitting Brown in the chest and head, killing him.
The scene as painted by the prosecution, through Wilson and what little physical evidence there is, can be made to fit—clunkily—Wilson’s story.

As long as one is willing to ignore quite a bit and not question Wilson’s story further.

But if one chooses to question logically…

Shoddy Police/Detective Work

No real incident report.

The crime scene photos?  Poorly done.  Much that one would normally expect, or at least the methodological ordering, appears to be missing.

No fingerprinting or confiscation of the gun in the early going.

Body left there for over 4 hours.

The gun mysteriously misfires several times.  Evidence is indeterminate (not gathered?) about why that would have been the case.

No adversarial cross-examination (or more accurately, advanced questioning) of witnesses except for ones that disputed Wilson’s version of events.

The Poorly Explained

Wilson’s slight bruise—on the right side of his face.   The sole visible “injury” from supposedly being furiously and repeatedly attacked with great force while he sat in his police cruiser—in the left seat, with his left cheek facing the window.  Wilson’s slight injuries (slight as photos show; hospital records show even less, that is, NO bruises) do not match what he testified that Brown allegedly did to him.

The shifting explanation of why Wilson went to such extreme lengths about Brown.  Why did Wilson pursue rather than wait for backup?  Even after he continued to confront, why did he repeatedly elevate to deadly force when he knew backup was on the way, and that, even if he somehow “lost” any close-in confrontation, that backup rescue would be along momentarily?

12 shots total were fired.  10 of those at a minimum distance of several feet; 6-7 shots to body.  Brown was without a gun, but kept coming at him the whole time?

At what point was the police officer’s life threatened?  He still had a billy club and mace.  He was trained how to bring down an attacker with both.  Except he didn’t try to do that, supposedly because Brown was allegedly reaching in his pants (implied: for a gun).  The same Brown who had not done that the entire confrontation, despite having been shot at, despite having been wounded.

Why were the bullet wounds mostly appearing to slope downwards?  It seems no one as large as Michael Brown would “charge” that crouched for that long.

DEFENDANT Becomes Star Witness For The Prosecution, With Primacy

McCulloch made much of the inconsistent witnesses.  Yet there were enough consistent witnesses.  But those witnesses weren’t telling the story Bob McCulloch wanted to tell.

16 witnesses said Brown’s hands were up.  2 said they weren’t.  They believed the 2.

So they took what the white officer said as absolutely true and what civilians said as absolutely untrue, in entirety, unless it fit perfectly with the white officer’s story.  One can maybe tilt toward the officer’s testimony—he is after all, a supposedly responsible officer of the law—when there are few opposing witnesses.  But 16?

“Can I legally shoot him?”  is what Wilson said he was thinking.   Note: Not, “should I?”  No one seemed to blink an eye at how fast Wilson was willing to elevate things to the deadly force level, for vaporous reasons. 

Wilson’s testimony is not very powerful, and to the skeptical (what investigators are supposed to be), would be quite unconvincing.  Why did Wilson attempt to apprehend Brown and put him (open the door, attempt to open the door, or move to open the door; the record is foggy) in the squad car?  For what great and urgent thing?  Why did he say he didn’t attempt to use his mace because it would be “ineffective”?  And if Brown was using one hand to cover his own face (to make any mace “ineffective,” one presumes) how did Brown see to be able to inflict such “heavy” blows on Wilson?  If he was using one hand to cover his face, and was outside the car, how was Wilson at so much of a disadvantage?  Why did Wilson think that his baton or flashlight—officers are trained to be quite effective with both—would be of no use, that only his gun was?

Veteran police officers have spoken up and said Wilson’s stated reasons for his actions (especially the escalations) don’t make sense, that what he risked wasn’t worth it.  That it almost certainly HAD to be anger and other emotion (and adrenalin) overriding both common sense and confrontation/arrest protocol.  And quite possibly a concocted story or partially concocted story to cover for that.  Even Nancy Grace, who has never NOT sided with a police officer, won’t side with his story.

A former Missouri police officer had this to say: At the time Wilson decides to escalate the situation, “Officer Wilson has no information that these two suspects are dangerous or a threat to the community.  If he stays in his vehicle, positioned in a forward location from the two men, and waits on backup patrol officers, the arrest will be conducted with more officers and more ‘use of force’ options.  Most suspects succumb to being outnumbered.  If the suspects run, they get pursued.  If they pull a weapon, they receive the use of force that is required to neutralize the threat.  Any police officer would tell you that you never take on a threat by yourself, if there are available options.  When Wilson backed his vehicle up to within feet of the suspects, he placed himself in an indefensible position.  He could have been shot at point blank range, in his vehicle, if the suspects had weapons.  Now the altercation ensues, which is also up for debate about who said what and did what first.  This confrontation did not need to happen.  It was instigated by Officer Wilson and it escalated on him in an instant.”
“Wilson did not know, upon first contact with Brown, if Brown was mentally handicapped, deaf, under the influence of drugs, diabetic or a multitude of other conditions that could affect the outcome.  When the struggle at the SUV began, Wilson should have driven away.  Break away and call for immediate backup officers.  Brown was not committing a felony until he assaulted a police officer.  Without the altercation in the vehicle, there is no self-defense by Wilson against being attacked by a felon.” 


An unarmed person being shot six times IS probable cause and a preponderance of evidence.  Although there may or may not have been enough to convict, there was certainly enough to indict.  The prosecution’s rush to judgment in the other direction was much in display.

We are, Ezra Klein says, supposed to believe Brown was a “rage filled lunatic attempting to commit suicide by cop.”  Because we all know that’s what cannabis (marijuana was found in Brown’s blood) does to a person, makes him a raging suicidal lunatic.  If you’re an ignoramus making some camp crap film in the 1930s maybe.

A cop can generally only shoot to immediately protect the lives of others or when his or her life is threatened at the very moment he has to shoot.  It’s unlikely that Michael Brown was a threat after being wounded.  It’s even more unlikely that he was a threat (and to whom?  A trained police officer who could have backed away until the bullets he had put into the rest of Brown—including his chest—had taken full effect?) on the very last shot fired.  If Brown was, maybe it was one of desperation against a maddened cop who was determined to kill him.

The plausible alternative of Johnson’s story, certainly in parts, should have given more credence to the need for cross-examination that comes in force at a trial.  But that option was shortcircuited by McCulloch. 

Since when did it become a capital offense to do petty theft or not be compliant with the demand (have you noticed how police officers these days can demand practically anything, with no recourse for citizens?  In another era, we would have called that fascist) of a police officer?  Or become a capital offense to slug a police officer who is assaulting you? And all with no peaceful confrontation from the officer.  No taser.  Not even a billy club.  What can be deemed in many respects death by summary execution.  One of the marks of  authoritarianism.

When did we stop presuming against the unlawful use, and excessive use, of force?

Are the police the servants of the public or not?  At what point do we start asking if power is corrupting?  When do we start questioning whether a culture of corruption (and perhaps also death and violence) has been created?   To paraphrase Juvenal, “who guards us from the guardians?”

What’s been presented above is what the prosecution could have developed to question Officer Wilson’s actions.  Of course, it’s not in the arcane forms necessary to be legally presented, nor even in the best way—that would be their job to do, as attorneys.

Is it possible that Wilson’s story in the general is correct, and off only in a few particulars?  While unlikely (for the reasons above), it is possible.  He could have had his time during a trial to try to prove his story.  That’s what trials are for, supposedly.

But that will almost certainly not happen.  Unless the heat ratchets up considerably, no such criminal case is ever likely to happen now.

Ezra Klein: “We might never get to the truth of what happened in those two minutes on August. But the point of a trial would have been to get us closer. We would have found out if everything we thought we knew about Brown was wrong, or if Wilson's story was flawed in important ways, or if key witnesses completely broke under pressure. We would have heard real cross-examination. We would have seen the strongest case that could be mounted by both the prosecution and the defense. But now we're not going to get that chance.”

A trial using the contradictory or inconclusive evidence as presented so far, and the standard prosecution team, would not have had high chance of convincing a trial jury that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Neither would a trial on federal violation of civil rights.

A civil case might get something.  It wouldn’t be justice, exactly, but it might get a measure of vindication.  Unfortunately not extremely strong there, either, according to various legal specialists. 

But a criminal trial using a special prosecutor and his or her team would have had a much better chance of conviction on some charge.  And even if they only got close, it would have strengthened things for the other trial or cases. 

Or imparted some measure of real justice, or at least laid the groundwork for real structural improvements, not only in Ferguson but across the country.   Instead, we might only get rug sweeping that, with harsh economic realities, as well as a host of other problems, further dilutes things and pushes the matter off our attention spans—until the next big incident.  Indeed, the focus begins to fade already, although a few days ago President Obama breathed some new life in it by promoting federal funding for policy body cameras, a vigorous community policing task force/commission, and a review of the practice of transferring military equipment to police departments.

These are real problems.  Let’s hope this time there is real will to address them.


Al-Jazeera America kept a light on non-transparent law enforcement and judicial processes.   They have been one of the voices that have joined the young in maybe, MAYBE starting a world-wide campaign (and demonstrations poorly covered by corporate media) for reform of police methods.

The real reporters—BBC, Al-Jazeera, etc.—have been unfortunately threatened and roughed up by both rioters and the police.  And the store that didn’t even report the initial petty theft was caught in the rioting and undeservedly got sacked.

The corporate media, and much of white America that wants to justify itself, have become fixated on riot porn and property destruction, which of course is the worst thing in the world when black people do it, but overlooked when crazed white football, hockey, or soccer fans or others do it.  Peaceful protesters on the ground in Ferguson have called for law enforcement to look into agitators.  Some of the protesters have even accused law enforcement of planting some of those agitators.  The fact that so many open criminality items—Molotov cocktails, etc.—have been in open view yet unseized by a very large and strong law enforcement presence makes one pause a moment from quick dismissal of the usual wild conspiracy theories.  And that so many places and things have been easily set on fire yet not even tried to be put out—including one in front of a fire station—throws further unneeded suspicion on things.  Incompetence?   Tactical resource application/withholding decision?  Or something more insidious?  Good explanations are rarely received.  In fact, government dissemination to the media appears very tightly controlled.  From a Ferguson and county power structure already highly suspect because of its past actions and general culture.

Many in and out of the African-American community have wearied of marches, feeling that a march or some other acceptable form of “benign indignation” would not address their political needs — and they’ve been proven correct.  Because few in power pay attention to marches anymore.  The disgruntled are therefore looking again at Martin Luther King’s methods.  MLK used nonviolent methods, including marches, to be sure, but he used disruptive and obstructing nonviolent civil disobedience as well—and was even more effective. 

What no one should underestimate is the difficulty for a minority to reach the hearts and minds of the other people—and the powerful.  In the past, white protesters and rioters have often had access to at least some institutional power, access which allowed some of their grievances to be legitimized and politically resolved.  For minorities with no (or quite limited) access, it’s much harder.

Regardless, what we probably shouldn’t be doing is telling people who have faced—are facing—oppression how they should feel.

Do we need international observers and evaluators?  Probably.  The matters of race and inequality—and the historical imprints thereof—are likely too much for us to overcome without unbiased appraisal and perhaps even arbitration.  We will first need to discard our haughty American notion that we only do the observing, not be the observed.

Should cops have a right to arrest for a misdemeanor?  Would just sending a bill work better?

Are police officers making good decisions about the severity of crime and cost/benefit determinations?  For instance, are they asking:  Is the crime, the potential damage to public safety, worth the chase?  And if one can only have recourse to deadly force, the question becomes ever more pointed.

There is a “use of force model,” a continuum that officers are trained on (or supposed to be) that is supposed to guide their actions during an interaction or confrontation.  Most of the early and middle phases/techniques of it have nothing to do with much force, and none at all with deadly force.

As one former Missouri police officer stated to me:  “My training emphasized basing our response on de-escalating the environment and reducing harm to myself, the suspects and innocent civilians.”

A number of police cultures are good ones.  Yet many, many police officers are good officers confined to a bad police culture.  Still others are pressured to “cover” for their fellows who show poor judgment or even cruelty, so that the “blue line” always stands united.  Indeed, the “we versus them” mentality is even deemed necessary by many police so that they have the unity of force to function in their jobs.

Police often have a hard job even where the culture is good.  Not sure about in towns of 21,000 people, but it’s generally not easy, and they labor, in this plutocratic economy, under the same economic squeezes that teachers and firefighters do.

Police have a right to defend themselves.  Against an unarmed person, however, the bar should be VERY high to justify a supposed necessity to use deadly force.  Good, conscientious police will want that bar to be high.

For the GJ to have indicted Wilson just on involuntary manslaughter, the least severe of the charges available, they would have had go against the prosecutor’s desires as well as been shown that the police officer did not believe his life was in danger. Despite all the various evidence—and their own common sense and reasoning—suggesting that Wilson’s life was not in real danger, the officer and prosecutor put together a picture to support the idea that he was, and with that, and being told by McCulloch’s assistant prosecutors time and again that they had to follow Missouri law and guidelines for justifiable actions (killing) by a police officer, Wilson was going to walk.

The evidence may or may not have convicted Darrin Wilson of even the most minor charge possible.  But we’ll probably never know now.  A racially charged case was pre-empted.  The system accommodated itself to shield one of its own.  And that is a slap in the face to all good police officers and prosecutors everywhere, who must live with the staining smear their fellows in another place have unfairly thrown on them.  And then, just today, we have the further disgrace of no indictment in the strangulation death, caught on video in broad daylight, of middle aged asthmatic Eric Garner by a white police officer while other officers joined in.  It looks like a snuff film, and hearing his voice that he couldn’t breathe was even more gruesome.  Yet even with that stark evidence, his completely undeserved, unwarranted death—what looks and sounds like murder by police—was not even worthy of an indictment so there could be a trial.  Such is the incestuousness of police, prosecutors, and the grand juries they lead.  Such is the devaluing of African-American lives.  Such is the shame to us all and white people in particular.  Missouri and New York are far apart.  Someone not very familiar with America could easily surmise that a fascist network has come into being.

The next day after the failure to indict Darrin Wilson, my 15 year old daughter refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and got in some trouble.  I asked her why she refused to stand.

“I didn’t know how I felt about a country with a history of death to the natives and brutality to slaves.  But the thing that stopped me at that moment was thinking about those words.”

“What words?” I asked.

“With liberty and justice for all.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Delay of One Day

P & H Readers: Some additional information has come to me, and I need a day to digest it. Since I have been bombarding you with lengthy posts, Madame has graciously offered to forego her posting this week, and I will therefore post tomorrow. She’s so much more considerate than this windbag, lol.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Taking In Of Ferguson, 3


Those outside the case, who knew little of the case particulars, but who nevertheless strongly supported Officer Wilson, were numerous. 

And usually white.

They had common themes:  Respect authority.  Believe authority.  And especially police authority.
It sounded rather like the Germans of 1932.

“He deserved it.”  Far too many whites didn’t have empathy, let alone sympathy, over Michael Brown’s death.  They live in their echo chambers and give comfort to themselves and each other that it is all the individual black man’s fault.  Always.

White people often want to let themselves off the hook of confronting racial injustice—and especially, confronting their own white privilege.  Even while they hold within them remnants of discrimination, they tend to think that discrimination is largely over (unless, of course, it’s reverse discrimination). 

The mad rage that erupts over injustice can lead to rioting.  Many white people focus on this “riot porn,” as it gives them satisfaction that “those people” are “animals” who “tear up their own neighborhoods,” never minding that protesters have locked arms and protected businesses and buildings from rioters.  People’s confirmation bias is quite strong.

Far, FAR too many white people, with their established white privilege, grasp for any straw that will comfort themselves and justify that “that person/those people did wrong” (notice the code talk) and then leave unsaid what they’re thinking: “my (white) person/people did right.” Or worse, start a self-righteous lecture about what “those people” should have done/be doing, entirely oblivious of all their advantages under white privilege and the marked disadvantages of those without that privilege.  Ah, if only one’s skin color or ethnicity changed every year, how different things could be.

The shooting, whatever the unclear particulars, is unfortunately part of a wider tragic pattern.  Every 28 hours a black male is shot dead by the police.  Pervasive racism exists.  So does pervasive fear and intimidation, along with pervasive non-accountability.  Black people—unarmed ones—are being killed at the hands of those who are supposed to be their public servants and protectors.  Racial injustice and police violence are becoming commonplace, and what we appeared—briefly—to be learning from and getting smarter and better about has instead regressed.  25 years after Do The Right Thing, we have Eric Garner dying in virtually the same manner at the hands of the police as the character in Spike Lee’s film.

We do not have a single justice system, but really two systems, and sub-systems within them. 

One is for the well-off, and one for the not well-off.  And within them, one for whites and one for everyone else.  Since blacks differ—in many white minds—more than any other group, they get the most differential treatment, helped along by a tragic history of slavery and overt racism.

This lack of confidence by minorities in the fairness, integrity, and thoroughness of the “justice” system is borne out by statistics that demonstrate that lack of confidence is well warranted.  Even many middle and upper class African-Americans, including some who have traditionally been silent about or even critical of the actions of  many working class African-Americans, have spoken out to condemn the entire process in the Brown case.

To African-American communities, the unpunished killings—indeed, the almost casually dismissed killings—of unarmed African-American males connects agonizingly perfectly with the lynchings of the past.  It is, they feel, the sending of a message: “You minorities may be increasing in numbers and influence, but don’t try to mess with us.  Know your place—or else.”

The humiliating rage, fear, and trauma that African-American males must often feel is perfectly understandable.  Maybe Michael Brown felt that too.

Anyone treated like that would feel that way.  But especially so to black males with years of enduring profiling and subtle and not so subtle demeanings and persecutions.

“Our lives don’t matter!  Our lives don’t matter!” protesters shouted after Darrin Wilson was not indicted.  Indeed, those lives do not appear to matter.  John Crawford, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Sean Bell, Amadour Diallo, Vonderitt Myers, Darren Hunt, Trayvon Martin, Kendric McDade, Tamir Rice, and many more all shot down by police under at best questionable circumstances.  Even though white males outnumber African-American males greatly, African-American males are 21 times more likely to die at the hands of the police. 

“Hands up, don’t shoot,” became the previous rallying cry, and one which showed the hypocrisy of a US which is so smug in condemning other countries but bristles when it is called to task.  And the even larger pattern of boundaried poverty and radically different rates of incarceration—often for the same offenses—speaks to a systemic subtle and not so subtle persecution.

Black cops who shoot whites have a much higher chance of negative repercussions than white cops who shoot blacks.  For “regular” black citizens that do so, it means almost certain negative repercussions.  So when one hears the common refrain from status quo whites that “how come you don’t hear the media talking about when a black person shoots a white person?” here’s the answer:

Because it doesn’t happen all that often.  But more importantly, because the shooter is very frequently brought to justice and held to account.

As Newsday said: “It seems like every time something like this happens so many people pick sides based on who looks more like them, who earns more like them, who lives more like them or talks more like them.  We are a terrified nation, scared of “the other.” We are an angry nation, sure that ‘they’ are getting away with something. We are a frustrated nation, feeling unheard and convinced that the other side always gets the megaphone…We are a devastatingly divided nation, because of our history, our behavior and our prejudices.

The disconnection that Vance Packard tried to warn us about—disconnection made worse by the insulating effects of modern electronics, games, and internet—has made it much harder to see our common societal bonds.  And so, so often, we don’t.

Being divided serves the plutocrats well.  Being pitted against each other, in a plutocratic economy where each race is stressed out, provides the perfect diversion for the 1%, and, especially, the .1%, to live well.

The rule of law has become corrupted and with different standards for different classes, different racial and different ethnic groups.  Minorities are the new “civilized barbarians” of Roman times, with the same level of partial acceptance and partial rejection.  The good news for minorities  who are about to become the new collective majority is that white privilege will eventually (by violence or not) give way to rule by the new majority.  The bad news is no one knows how long that will take—could be generations.
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