Sunday, September 28, 2014

When "just words" lead to actions.

Pres. Obama once lifted a speech from Gov. Duval Patrick (D-MA) and opined the importance of "words".  It was then and remains today a powerful message.  "Just words", no, words matter.  Words set the tone for a discussion.  Words impact the treatment one receives from others and can help foster an environment of cooperation or one of hostility. 

Some of the words coming from protester in Ferguson have been, to say the least, caustic and unhelpful.  They have purposefully amped up the situation.  But it isn't without reason or a theory.  There is no question that police brutality exist and is wrong.  However making assumptions that "everything" must be police brutality is simply not appropriate.  Yet, that is what has occurred. 

Mr. Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer, no question.  But does that officer have a history of racial animosity that indicates he is racist?  Truthfully, nothing has been published that indicates this but he and all Ferguson officers have been impugned as racist.  In fact several articles have related how Officer Wilson had no incidents of disciplinary problems even though he once worked for a police department that was disbanded under a cloud of racial discrimination issues. They, the police, must be racist, right?  They arrest black people at a higher rate than whites, right?  The trouble is that of course more blacks are arrested in a community that is majority black, it's simple arithmetic. 

This issue touches home with me on so many levels.  Several years ago (2000), I was a program coordinator working with offenders that were in placement for criminal behavior.  One of my group members struggled in treatment and was manipulative (stole from others, used others to bring contraband (use your imagination) onto campus), assaultive (verbally and physically to other group members and staff) and was extremely hostile to treatment (refused to engage in group meetings).  His family threatened to sue both me and the agency I worked for when he was not released within six months. 

We went to court and while there he threatened the judge, police, his probation officer, a Michigan Family Independence Worker (now called Department of Human Services) and yes, me.  It was sad.  When the judge reviewed all of this behavior (incident reports) he became so angry that he physically tried to go after the judge.  He was restrained.  That was the first, last and only client that I ever had a judge sign an order that stated this client must be transported to and from court in four point shackles.  As an agency we did not typically use them.  It was sad.  His anger was supported by a family that viewed all the treatment staff as racist and unable or unwilling to work with a Muslim.  I worked with him for over a year and after all of that time nothing really changed and in fairness things only got worse.  He never admitted his responsibility for his behavior - not once.  Yet, I was seen by the family as the problem.  I was racist.  I was bigoted against him because he was Muslim (to be fair, he really wasn't Muslim, his Dad was and demanded his compliance).  I was threatened with a lawsuit and was threatened with physical violence. 

In the end his Judge made the decision to move him to a more secure facility and he and his family were gone.  The family, months later, called and told me that the new facility was also "racist" and were "setting him up" just like we had.  I never understood why they called and to be honest if I would have had caller ID in my office I would have never answered the phone.  But . . . fourteen years later that young man is no longer so young and is now a resident of the Michigan Department of Corrections with an early release date of 2017.  He has been convicted of manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance, assault of a police officer (three counts), weapons violations (felony firearms), larceny from a building, possession of narcotics, and fleeing in a motor vehicle.  The real problem was that he was a very smart (academically) kid who has terrific leadership skills.  He could have been an amazing success if only he and his family had not seen the world as the enemy.  Instead, today he is inmate 285706 when he should be a husband, father and contributing member of the community. 

I think about this kid (and others) a lot.  I wonder if he missed the opportunity or if I missed an opportunity.  He was, very honestly, a special kid.  He was extremely intelligent and an extremely gifted athlete.  He had every good thing you would want a kid to have for success.  But in the end he is 285706 and his opportunity has been suspended if not lost.  He feel victim to "words" and "accusations".  He limited himself not because he needed to or because others wanted him to but because he could. 

So what are the "words" that have resulted in the continuing problems?  Threats, accusations, demeaning names have been (and could continue to be) harmful.  Protestors and alleged "community activist" have threatened the police Elected city leaders have received death threatsAnonymous threatened to hack the Ferguson PD website and expose personal information about members of the police department. 

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed threatened that without an indictment the riots that have occurred will seem minor to what is coming.  State Senator Chappelle-Nadal has threatened more civil unrest if Officer Wilson is not convicted.  Officers with the Police have been accused of inappropriate behavior during some of protest and at least one officer was found to be wearing a bracelet that read, "I am Darren Wilson".  At the same time it was inappropriate when Brown Family Attorney Benjamin Crump decried wearing such bracelets, "give an impression that the police lack impartiality in this case."  Does he not see that the position he has taken prior to an indictment being handed down gives the exact same appearance of impartiality?  Understand, I think the police who wore them were stupid however there is no law against being ignorant and more importantly did people not think police would be inclined to side with a fellow officer when an investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed?  None of these things have helped the situation, none. 

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal and Sen. Nasheed, in my opinion are horrible examples of what a reasonable, insightful, intelligent legislature should be doing right now. 

Consider that Sen. Chappelle-Nadal "tweeted": 

Really.  An elected State Senator accused a motorist of being part of the Klu Klux Klan all while having her background image as Che Guevara.  I wonder if the Senator knows that Mr. Guevara was against freedom of speech and that he jailed people in Cuba simply for being gay?  I wonder if the Senator is aware that Mr. Guevara is directly responsible for the murder of at least 14,000.  I wonder if the Senator ever considers that Mr. Guevara had five children which he essentially abandoned.  Good guy, Mr. Guevara, or at least he must be to Senator Chappelle-Nadal.  (Note:  she has since removed the photo from her twitter page). 

But words have meanings and I believe those that are using incendiary words are doing to for a reason just as I think the Senator's pontifications framed by photos of Che Guevara (btw; his real name was Ernesto Lynch) serve a purpose.  It's about strategy and it works, right or wrong. 

Much has been made over the last few years of the book, Rules for Radicals by Sal Alinsky and agree or disagree with his personal philosophies the truth is Sal Alinsky was a powerful organizer and amazingly well versed political strategist.  Yes, his ideas have influenced generations of politicians and no question those strategies are still relevant today which is exactly why I think Sen. Chappelle-Nadal, Sen. Nasheed, Dr. Millere and others actually are following a plan.  They may not understand what they are doing and could be engaging in these things only because they have seen others do similar things in the past with success but there is an underlying plan. 

Remember words have meanings.  It's not "just words".  Consider rule one: 

Spoken plainly: threaten the Ferguson PD with the release of personal information, threaten more riots, threaten disruption to the local community and threaten Major League Baseball and the National Football League with disruption all have a goal.  Those making threats don't actually have to do it they just have to make the governing body believe they have that ability.  Considering the amount or rioting and disruption it is a reasonable belief that the so called "leaders" could get such disruption in place. 

Keep in mind, these are not idle protestors.  These are people with power, connections.  Eric Vickers (the writer of the letter to MLB) is still or at least was in February '14 a staffer for Sen. Nasheed.  These are not people without connections and the wherewithal to carry out threats. 

This leads into rule two: 

Sell the commonality.  Everyone, in the view of the protestors, agrees that the police in Ferguson and maybe even St. Louis as a whole are racist and aggressive and that mistrust in all police is an epidemic.  This feeling is reinforced by the Attorney General (Eric Holder) in his speech in Ferguson and by President Obama during his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus.  In essence the narrative is set; police are bad and we should distrust them. 

The real issue is that there are some bad police officers and there are some horrible incident of racial bigotry by police.  However by making everything about race the real issues are not addressed and some of the underlying reasons for disproportionate arrest of blacks is never discussed.  To say that there just could be a problem within the black community (or in fairness poor communities) is met with distain by organizers and so-called community leaders.  Remember how Bill Cosby was treated when he suggested the black community must be more responsible.  Never forget how Rev. Jessie Jackson responded when Sen. Obama chastised the black community.    In both cases it wasn't that Mr. Cosby or Sen. Obama were wrong but that they spoke out publically and thereby caused people to go outside of what they knew.  No different then what we have seen today with Sen. Chappelle-Nadal, Sen. Nasheed or Dr. Millere.  The demanding is for adherence to the simple principle; police (all police) are bad and target the black community. 

Which brings us to rule three: 

In this instance demand that anyone who disagrees with the position held by the protestors is invalid simply because they are (a) not a minority, (b) don't live in a poor neighborhood and (c) must be racist themselves if they don't see the problem.  It's a vicious circle. 

Again, there are some truths to the fact that some police are racist, no doubt.  There also is some truth to the fact that some police have acted in the past (and I suspect will act in the future) in a very inappropriate manner.  However, the broad brush demands that it is a systemic issue with all policing departments even when, like in the case of Officer Wilson, no concrete evidence has been brought to show that the named individual is bigoted.  Simply being part of the organization is enough to make that person suspect and worthy of distain.  It forces the individual (or organization) to disprove a negative; "you're racist".  How do you disprove that?  It's nearly impossible to do. 

We are now more than a month into protest in Ferguson.  The protest have bled over into other parts of St. Louis and have even been addressed by Pres. Obama at the UN.  It's pushing the negative that the police and particularly Officer Wilson acted in a racist manner.  Recall that so far nothing has been directly shown that Officer Wilson acted in a racist manner in the past or in his confrontation with Mr. Brown.  Not even the statements of Dorian Johnson included an opine that Officer Wilson said or did anything based upon Mr. Brown's race.  Sure, Mr. Johnson reported that Officer Wilson said, "get the fuck on the sidewalk" but having worked in a social work environment for nearly seventeen years, I can tell you that cussing is not out of the norm.  It's not right but it happens. 

Like rule two, rule ten demands adherence.  Everyone now accepts the negative that Officer Wilson was racist.  He must.  He's a white police officer who according to the Brown Family Attorney, Benjamin Crump is guilty of execution.

Don't forget that even after businesses were destroyed, the community disrupted the problem became not the actions of the protestors but the police.  Even President Obama openly questioned the actions of the police in trying to maintain order.  Again, little attention was given to the actions of the protesters but a minimal response.  Instead it was police who were wrong.  The Governor (Jay Nixon) then stepped in and appointed a new commander (Cpt. Ron Johnson) who not only agrees that the military response is inappropriate but commits to ridding the community of the paramilitary gear and then decides to march with the protestors.

Still the ridicule did not stop and in fairness that is to be expected.  Consider rule five: 

Sen. Chappelle-Nadal, Sen, Nasheed, County Executive Officer Charlie Dooley all called the sitting (elected mind you) Prosecutor unfit because his father (a police officer) was killed by a black suspect in the early '60's and because after a grand jury did not press charges against two police officers for shooting two suspected drug dealers in '00. 

But such ridicule has not been reserved for just the prosecutor.  The police have been accused of burning the memorial to Mr. Brown.  The police have been accused of always "lying" to cover up.  And the Chief of Police in Ferguson after issuing and apology to the Brown family was met with distain by the community and told that he must resign.  The Chief was also met by news that the Brown Family found his apology "unmoving" and that the Chief must be fired.

Such ridicule is the prime goal of rule twelve: 

Freeze the "enemy".  Make them something indefensible (like a racist).  Consider that both the Brown Family and supporters for Officer Wilson have engaged in "GoFundMe" campaigns.  The Brown family has two campaigns (here and here) and it seems the campaign for Officer Wilson is no longer up.   

The thing is that people ought to have a right to support whomever they like, I am fine with that.  Personally, I would not support either at this stage as I don't have enough information.  That said the reality is that those supporting Officer Wilson have been called; bigots, racist, hate mongers and so on.  Understand, I don't question that some people have used this very polarizing event to spout racist rhetoric but isn't the same true for the protestors?  It's the broad brush painting as everyone as bad that is, well, fulfilling rule number twelve, intentionally or not. 

So where has all of this lead us?  Continued protest (some civil, some not) and continued demands for an arrest even while a DOJ investigation is ongoing and a grand jury is in session.  But as time has ticked away the threats have been more direct and the caustic language even more harmful.

Things had to come to a head at some point and on Saturday 27 September they did.  Two police officers (one on duty and the other driving in his car off duty) were shot at.  Both suffered minor injuries (the one on duty was hit by a bullet in the arm while the officer driving was injured by glass broken as his vehicle was fired on several times.  Note one shooting occurred in Ferguson (the on duty officer) while the other occurred in the adjoining community of Belmar).

The police were quick to say that; "There's no reason to believe the shooting was connected with demonstrations over the August police shooting of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown."  Really.  So shootings are such a common place in a town of 21,000 that there is no reason to believe the amped up rhetoric has created an uncivil environment.  Really.  Imagine that for a second, please.  I live in a town of just about 23,800 citizens.  We are a pretty ethnically diverse community (the Hispanic and Black community are both above the national average) and our last "shooting" of a police officer occurred in 1975.  (In fairness there was a shooting in April '14 however the police were not involved - it was a gang involved drive by shooting).

Regardless if the authorities believe the shootings are connected at least one protester seems the shootings as a positive and he has people who "like" his comment.   

Even Dr. Millere seems to see the two shootings as a result of:

In other words, expected and acceptable.  Consider the reaction of some of the protesters when word of the shooting spread (caution language): 

Yep.  Peaceful people.  Of course, that isn't everyone but clearly some of the protesters are not about ending violence or working together. 

I was under the opinion that things would settle down and reasonable people would begin to take control.  I am no longer of that opinion.  I hope and pray that I am wrong.  But since the time of the two shootings involving police the following "updates" have been posted: 


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