Unpacking Police Violence

Just think to yourself how many times you have heard of a cop in the USA shoot somebody in the mistaken belief that the innocuous object in their hand, a soft drink can, a pill bottle, a cellphone, is a gun.

Michael Moore even made a documentary youtube video with black men holding up their wallets, so common is that combination lethal at the jumpy hands of the police. It is often looked at with astonishment, from almost anywhere else in the world, that the USA is so inundated with guns. What should be more astonishing is the number of times police cannot tell the difference between other objects and guns.

They have them on the brain. It is like an obscene parody of the old ads for I can’t believe it’s not butter! Except that there is a shocking human cost. There was an incident reported just two days ago of a police officer in Phoenix Arizona, who mistook a man’s pill bottle for a gun and shot him to death. The victims family have now accused the police of lacking transparency as there was no independent investigator present at the autopsy. Read more about this case here.

The lack of transparency is at the very centre of the popular protests since the Michael Brown shooting. Grand Juries have a very high rate of indictment, around 98-99 percent. So one can appreciate why two police officers escaping charges for the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner of New York might raise the suspicions of the public. No doubt District Attorneys trying police officers in court would make things awkward for the cohesion of law enforcement. But ignoring the problem, like ignoring a suspicious lump in your scrotum, does not help the situation.

The police don’t want to lift the veil on their mistakes, because the sight is horrendous and gets worse the longer you look. There will turn out to be revelations of widespread misuse of money, both from the taxpayer and the sizable kitty seized in civil forfeture. There will be an unending record of sexual abuse, and of needless violence, and of petty corruption. All this could come out if the veil is lifted, so the cops and politicians will do their best to keep it nailed down.

It is unsurprising that the media is on the side of the police as well. On Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC countless anchors and presenters have appealed for calm and for Michael Brown and Eric Gardner to not be treated as victims. Rather, the media would have us believe that the guy with the non-lethal equipment (pepperspray and taser) as well as the very lethal gun was at risk from a bulky yet unarmed teenager. A hefty Staten Island black man was supposed to be a threat to the half dozen police officers who tackled him, held him down, and then choked him to death.

We are intelligent people and we deserve to be treated with respect. Unrest will continue until that is taken on board by the police, by the political leadership, and by the media. This is a  matter of cultural prejudice and it requires a shift in all areas of society in America. I think this is indeed a time to look back on in fifty years and be regarded as a no brainer — much like the civil war is glanced at now.

It is I think the nature of change in America that it takes a reforming hurricane to transform all parts of life, rather than an isolated storm against issues like the right to bear arms. When the reforming drive is isolated to such a degree it really doesn’t matter how righteous the cause is. It still gets defeated by the strength the opposition can mobilise against it. Better a hurricane that causes such groups to tremble with indecision over which way they need to run. Does this civil rights movement have that energy? I think it has achieved a critical mass to turn it into a significant force for change in race relations. May the gale blow on.

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