Open Thread

I spent the past week in Wisconsin with family and to attend the baptism of my grand-nephew. I apologize for the lack of posting here, but family took priority for a time.

Obviously, #Ferguson was a huge topic of conversation at a lot of Thanksgiving dinner tables.

Here’s a post I made for friends on Facebook with some drug war relevance that I thought I’d share with you…

This is not just about race, although it is about race. It’s also not just about Mike Brown and Officer Wilson, although it is about them as well.

I really did not expect an indictment. I’ve followed too many cases like this over the years to expect that this one would be different. I’ve kept my own page of some of the police action victims of our drug war — http://www.drugwarrant.com/articles/drug-war-victim/ — heartbreaking stories of people who did not deserve to die and shouldn’t have died if things were done right. (Those names are only the tip of the iceberg – see Radley Balko’s work for more.)

And in case after case, I’ve watched the review boards conduct their investigations and determine that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the officers.

But that misses the larger picture. As a society, we have determined that we are going to authorize certain ordinary people to kill others — those administering the death penalty, soldiers, police. And because we want safety and don’t really want to know how sausage is made, we don’t pay attention to the details of that authorization, or the larger issues that bring that authorization into play.

And in these cases of people killed by police, invariably, it turns out that the police officer did what we expected them to do.

So the grand jury or the review board essentially says “Yep. Sucks for the dead guy. But policies and procedures were followed.” And we all wring our hands and say, “but that cop should be punished,” when what we really should be saying is “Wait a second. What about those policies and procedures?”

Our anger, and more importantly, our active commitment to change, should be aimed not at Officer Wilson’s fate (over which we have no control), but rather at the broken system that so easily puts lethal force into play, that increases the necessity of putting lethal force into play, and actually fuels both this kind of confrontation and the setting for this kind of confrontation.

We have an out-of-control drug war that actually causes violence, a prison pipeline that can make our streets less safe (through ridiculous laws, we have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population), a broken judicial system that can’t handle the load and has therefore, for all practical purposes, given prosecutors complete power to charge, try and sentence. And we have a police structure that has associations lobbying for tougher laws, more militarization, and more ways to extract increased budgets from the people they serve.

These are the things we need to address.

I have friends who tell me that the protestors are wrong. There doesn’t need to be a reevaluation of how policing works in this country; it’s doing just fine given the circumstances it faces. I disagree. But even if that were true, there is still a real problem. There is a widespread national perception that something is not right, and when your job is to serve people, perception of failure is, in fact, failure. At the very least, you have to come to the realization that you can’t do your job well if you’ve lost the confidence of the people in your communities.

That requires serious evaluation and commitment to change (and probably more than just a press release).

It’s important that ‪#‎Ferguson‬ be about more than just race and Officer Wilson (although it is about race, and about Officer Wilson). We need to continue the uncomfortable and gritty national dialogue about justice in this country, and how it’s made.

For more, see my earlier post on #Ferguson:
https://www.facebook.com/guither/posts/10102220561768440

P.S.: I have good friends who are good cops, and I don’t want anything to happen to them. I want them to be protected and to be able to do what’s necessary to protect themselves. But the plain fact is that cops are generally safer today than they have been in a century, and we know this because that data is carefully and specifically tracked nationally. This is despite the fact that certain policies (like the drug war) make violence (and therefore, danger to cops) more likely.

I also know family members of people who have been killed by police. And, quite frankly and alarmingly, we really don’t know how prevalent this is. And this is because police departments refuse to provide that data to fulfill the federal mandate for tracking it. This also needs to be fixed if you want to have the confidence of the people.

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