Wherein the blogger wonders onscreen how on earth a lone assassin, mentally unstable and acting by himself, is allowed to hijack an emerging debate on the lethal use of police force, albeit one that was already becoming so diluted and devoid of rigorous analysis that we as a nation were being plunged into a month of Nancy Grace mysteries. I kid not - the media is LOVING this, even as they portend disaster. Trump, Sanders, Black and Blue Lives Matter - you can't script these kind of unit shifters. I honestly heard someone talking about the Dallas situation as "inevitable." That's right. It's inevitable that exactly one man among 320 million people will go (literally) ballistic on police officers during a peaceful protest. Why must outliers define the moment? Ugh and double-ugh.
So yesterday morning a manic man started shooting a gun in the middle of the street at Rogers and Lefferts. You can read the details here or elsewhere, makes little difference. The details seem consistent among observers. Some neighbors, upon hearing that a man had been shot by cops, instantly wrapped the incident into the current national narrative. You know the one. The one that every single person in America is talking about at the same time? At moments like these, I suppose it makes sense to ante up and get in the game. But hold on. This story meets none of the criteria of any of the big stories currently blending the public into a frothy frenzy. Man was out of his mind, had a gun, was shooting gun, and refused to relinquish gun when told to by cops. He was shot, he was not killed. On any other newsday, the cops would be heroes for preventing the loss of life. Any life. And we'd hope the man will get the help he needs, regardless of what real or imagined events or mind-melters, natural or concocted, touched him off. But within minutes, neighbors were writing things like "fuck AmeriKKKa" and wondering aloud whether the beastly cops were part of deplorable arrest of a UPS driver by cops in our own precinct. Perfectly fine to express oneself, of course. A sign of the times, perhaps of things to come.
But it got me thinking about whether we're being led on a wild goose chase (is a wild goose really that difficult to catch? remind me to ask my hunting-enthusiast relatives). Remember how that one Surfer Nationalist guy kills the indie rock band Franz Ferdinand and it sets off WWI? Maybe I got my details wrong on that one, but sometimes the world goes craaaazy focusing on a single event or string of events. The fact is, the facts don't necessarily line up with what people are thinking and feeling right now. That's okay - racism is ugly, enduring and bafflingly difficult to address. On the plus side, I think it's amazing that we've gone from hush-hush to in-your-face. But we run the risk of missing the potential for progress in the hunt for headlines and heart-stopping videos. And we're practically begging our politicians and public figures to ratchet up the rhetoric, only further inflaming an already edgy public. To what end? Hopefully someone has a clue, but I doubt it.
The point is - we're seeing something in these current headlines that's been happening for years, decades, and longer. We're seeing how the power of police is sometimes warped, reflecting not just "bad cops" but bad society. And freaky freak of all freaky facts? Black folks involved in a police struggle aren't more likely to be killed than whites - it's almost the exact same number as the number of blacks to whites involved in the sorts of cop-calls that end in the use of deadly force. Even more bizarrely, for another to explain (actually Coates gave it a shot in his latest book) black cops are 3 times more likely than a white cop to shoot a black man in such an encounter. Are we even willing to look at the reality when it doesn't match our anecdotal convictions? If we're not, can we even begin to suggest the fix, beyond a wholesale overhaul of racial politics, systems and relations? Because the overhaul idea has been with us at least since the abolitionists. We've got a long way to go folks, but we don't have that long to make sense of the current political reality. Sometimes I think we're hard-wired to accept the simplest, least rigorous assumptions. God knows I have to resist every day the desire to simplify and stereotype.
What we need is adequate punishment for lethal policing, not condemnation of police generally, which can lead only to worsening relations between cops and folks. Even in the military, the ultimate killing machine, you have dishonorable discharges. Why doesn't something similar exist in the cops? At the very least, we must take away the badge of someone who can't hold muster when it comes to the deadly use of force against civilians. This punishment could, and should, have a much greater effect on the Lives That Matter, which for the families involved means every life that our own domestic security force takes. #BlackLivesMatter is incredibly important right now, but I wonder if the focus on shootings by cops is too emotional and outside the norm to have the real and lasting effect the country needs. Revolutionaries need P.R., and god knows the videos provide shocking fodder for foment. But the tactic is already showing its limitations in the rising tide of backlash. More outlier events, like the Dallas shooting, make it all too easy trash the reasonable goals of police reform. Reforming the society at large? Sadly, like all civil rights, it doesn't happen quick enough. But there IS progress. It's hard to see sometimes, but with each generation I believe the country moves a bit in the right direction, with fits and starts of course.
The problem at hand is actually a sum of the same underlying conditions that lead blacks to be twice as likely as whites to find themselves in that Russian Roulette standoff situation in the first place. Because nearly the exact same percentage of shooting victims by police are black as are the likely suspects and accused in the first place - about 25%, or twice the population of self-described black Americans overall. That is (and I know I'll catch hell here) there is nothing new going on, even when it comes to anomalous and ugly fuck-ups. And yes, they ARE anomolous. To suggest otherwise is to accept the idea that because you saw some heart-sinking video that you now understand what happens each and every time a person of color is stopped by the police. Hell yes, black folks are targeted and profiled at infuriating rates. The are treated horribly by some cops, and we KNOW this and we need to fix it. But when it comes to killing, do we really want to accept the facts? What is there beyond the pit in our stomachs that allows us to say with certainty precisely what's going on in the big picture?
What there is, is videotape. And a desire on the part of every citizen to watch them! Irrefutable evidence that all too often a police encounter becomes a shooting encounter, and we all know where that leads. Shooting is not the same as yelling the n word, or using profanity, or staggering towards a cop when you should be on the ground. Shooting happens when guns are drawn, or guns are thought to exist. If it's just about race video of non-black shootings wouldn't we? Bring it on! Let's go to the videotape! Why stop at egregious examples? Let's find out what's going on during those encounters that could help elucidate the lethal situation, when race ISN'T the primary issue. Like in Fresno, where cops just released a terrifying video of a white kid getting the ridiculous overuse of force:
There are so many problems that need to be addressed here, I fear we're focused on the tree for the forest. Cops are not all dumb racists. And some of them have been working to address their professions shortcomings for years. Most notably the chief of police in Dallas is a noted reformer. Our own police chief is rolling out a massive new community policing program (more on that in a minute).
And yes, I blame you, Old Gray Lady, for some of the national hypnosis. With running headlines like "America Fractures" and other hyperbolic bullshit. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but it's just plain absurd to allow the news cycle to define a nation of 300+ million people. Who live in Brooklyn, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, crime ravaged Honolulu and (weird as it may seem) central Idaho. I hope it's clear I'm as outraged as anyone by the images I'm seeing. But were we to see the images of everyone of the 1500 or so lethal encounters nationwide, perhaps we'd see the bigger picture. And if we incorporate it into what we already know from groundbreaking Law and Order research from the Michelle Alexanders of the world, maybe we could start a real revolution, build of common ground and tactics. Nah. Easier to run that outrageous headline, and hope for a bloody summer and leadup to the weirdest election in decades. But NOT the weirdest in the history of the Republic. This is where the longer view becomes handy, and I'm grabbing whatever over-100-and-200-year-old stories I can to have at the ready!
The Q planned on writing today on the distinct differences between what he was led to believe about rural Idaho - the heart of so-called Trump country - and the reality. Here in Donnelly, a small lakeside town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, politics comes up less often than you'd think. Most folks are content to fish and hunt and recreate, and tend to view Washington D.C. like it were a foreign country. My own relatives - my brother-in-law a die-hard NRA Republican - put it best. "Western Republicans are generally Libertarians in search of a political party." To which I suggested "how about, er, the Libertarians then?" Split that vote, buddy. Split that vote.
Perhaps in 2016 we'll see if his comrades enter the fray as heartfelt Gary Johnson-ites. I know some activists want to imagine that all the Western State conservatives are neo-nazis and racist survivalists. But in a state so bereft of black people you can go days without seeing a person of color, race is discussed almost as a novelty, with a dose of naivete, and almost exclusively through the lens of the national media. Folks are a bit mystified by the national debate roiling the country. And yeah, there are bonafide KKKers around, but not as prevalent as you might be led to believe. Kids here love Bernie Sanders. The political climate is more Upstate NY than Doomsday Cults. Plus, the majority of Idahoans don't seem to care about anything more than Pokemon Go.
Gentrification happens in Boise; but it's almost purely about class. "Trailer trash" is the pejorative of choice, and the very same fight that takes place in Brooklyn's fast-growing neighborhoods about displacement is happening here. A whole neighborhood (actually its own incorporated town) called Garden City lies near the river and is ready to bust with new condos and houses. Folks in trailers lie in the path of the wrecking ball, and the do-gooders create non-profits to help them stay or move to better housing elsewhere. Affordable housing is a huge issue, as its never been before. Sure, folks could move 30 miles out of town for cheaper rent. But their quality of life would be severely lessened, and the fact is that here, like everywhere, a good urban environment needs a healthy mix of incomes to thrive.
But that's not what's on my mind today. I borrowed my sis-in-laws HP laptop (she actually works for HP) because I've read probably all the same articles and opinion pieces and looked at the videos and the heartbreaking scenes of grief and my first reaction matched the headlines. But after a day of reflection (literally - I was out on the lake in the sunlight in a kayak, gratitude abounds), I'm more pissed off than ever at...the Feeding Frenzy known as the Mainstream Media. I feel manipulated, used, abused, lied-to and jostled in the back of the journalistic van by the insane focus on individuals, personalities, "experts" and the undeniable pain of families of victims, of whatever background. As has happened countless times in the past, the acts of a single person (Dallas) or incompetent and perhaps painfully racist and fearful cops (everywhere else) has become the pulse of the nation. What do we actually know? Again...
Cameras. Specifically, the ubiquity of smartphone cameras. THAT'S the real story playing out, and we could (probably should) be using this remarkable knew technology to change the way we practice civil rights and justice in America. Damn straight there should be a camera on every officer and patrol car. And smart phones should be encouraged the moment anything dubious goes down around cops. But this does not have to be anything more than evidence not that things AREN'T working, but that we now have the tools to make them better. Much, much better. Where's the optimism? Lost in hysteria of course.
I was happy to see the Washington Post's study of police shootings finally get some airtime, because many of the answers to current conditions and macro and micro solutions lie therein. Not to mention the fact that right here in NYC - our neighborhood in particular - a grand new scheme is community policing began just two weeks ago. I'll go on at length about it later, but suffice to say that many of the complaints and suggestions that many of us have been lobbing at the cops are finally being legitimately heard and acted on. We're moving towards a more personal and beat-cop approach, with emphasis on diversity and escalation-avoidance techniques. Our "quadrant" of the precinct will have its own two community police officers on speed-dial. And they will be part of, and invited, to every block party, block association, community meeting and blah-blah we can think of. I'm hopeful. Very hopeful, for the first time in a long, long time. Looking forward to introducing you to your capable officers, and developing a meaningful relationship with them.
What we learned from the WashPost's data was striking - the problem of lethal police force exactly mirrors the overall crime stats that have developed in this country generally. So even as we see specific examples of horrendous police abuses, we're actually not getting NEW information. Just confirmation, and the sort of specific video proof that lies beyond speculation.
The Q only hopes that rather than await the Fracturing of America, we can actually do something to prevent the break. It'll start with reality, some brave leaders (cue Obama), and a recognition that really precious few of us are served by a preponderance of lethal encounters between the citizenry and police. There is no vast conspiracy here. Just the age-old intractable issues of race, class and fear, not always in that order.
People. Still fallible. Still gullible. Still crazy after all these years.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.