Monday, July 11, 2016

Feeling the weight of the world and Black Lives Matter

My house is quiet, but I am NOT feeling quiet. Even though I am sitting at my dining room table watching summer breezes move through the branches of the tulip tree, the elephant ears and the now-towering hibiscus near the screen porch.
Nope, I feel no peaceful quiet. Instead, turmoil and uneasiness. Far too many outrageously bad things are happening in our world. Black men are being shot by police in America and on the other side of the world, Muslims are being killed by terrorists with bombs.
Let me first write about black men being shot for not very good reasons, or no reason at all.
A week ago, Alton Sterling, a black man selling CDs outside a Baton Rouge convenience store was shot to death by police. From the smart phone videos made during the murderous moments, it appears that two policemen had Sterling on the ground with his hands behind his back. He was scuffling, but there was no compelling reason to KILL him. Both of the police looked pretty big and beefy to me. What about cuffing Sterling and sitting on him until more help arrived? He wasn't doing anything except selling CDs, but a 911 call had mentioned a gun. Sterling did have a gun, but he wasn't waving it around. It was in his pocket. I doubt from the videos that he had a chance to reach for it.
An on-line description of the murder states that Sterling had MULTIPLE gunshot wounds. Really? Did the police fear for their lives SO MUCH that they had to shoot several times? Did they need Sterling's immediate demise to staunch that 'fear for their lives'?
Up north in Minnesota, Philando Castile, was shot and killed during a traffic stop. Castile told the policeman who stopped him that he was registered to carry a gun. The officer asked to see his registration and identification and as Castile reached to get it, the policeman shot him. The details of this episode are horrific. This cop appears rattled, untrained and unprepared. His default was to kill.
Castile sits dying behind the driver's seat as his girl friend and her daughter watch - and as she videos the mayhem. More officers ask her to leave the car and they cuff her as Castile dies. I'm wondering why they haven't called an ambulance and why this officer shot to kill.
Why don't scared police who 'fear for their lives' shoot to wound, shoot to disable the hand that has the other gun? Why totally kill? To kill is serious business.
And why does this happen so often to black Americans? I've seen videos of white Americans getting a pass, talked down, issued a warning. I guess police do not 'fear for their life' as often, or as much when a white man with a gun appears ready to shoot? Is a black man with a gun really MORE SCARY than a white man with a gun? Is it simple gut-wrenching racism?
In 2015, The Washington Post began to document fatal shootings by police in the line of duty. Note that the newspaper is not documenting overall gun violence, just fatal police shootings. And also note that our Congress has refused to let the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conduct research of any kind on general gun violence in America - that goes for mass shootings, domestic and drug violence. Congress forbids governmental agencies from amassing and analyzing data. But I digress.
It is 2016 and The Washington Post has already documented the 516 police shooting fatalities. And this is only July.  In 2015, 919 Americans were shot by police in the line of duty. I have no doubt that many of those shot and killed were truly threatening, doing something very wrong, and the officer had little or no choice.
But killing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, come on. Was either really justified, the right thing to do?
Is it really a power/macho thing for some police? Is shooting to kill the only way they know they can gain 'control' of a situation? If that's the case, I'd be very willing to pay more local taxes so that everyone on my city's police force had training in diffusing situations and in 'managing a conversation' during a traffic stop or in front of a convenience store. I understand that judgments must often be made in seconds. Can police also be trained to make more accurate judgments in seconds? Can they trained to de-escalate situations?
Can police be taught that when two officers have a black man on the ground, there are alternatives to shooting to kill? And there are certainly alternatives to shooting a black man on the ground several times, just to be sure he's down?
Yes, I will do some research and see what kinds of training HPD officers get for handling traffic stops and stuff that goes on in front of convenience stores. I need to know what's happening in my hometown.
OK, I've told you about the reasons for some of my disquiet, and I've not even gotten to the bombings in Bangladesh and Turkey and Medina. I'll save that for another post.

Before I log off, let me offer praise and support to David O. Brown, Dallas Chief of Police, the man who has worked diligently to create trust between Dallas police and the folks they serve. Here's a fine article about Chief Brown and his department. And here is a link to a recent Chief Brown press conference. It's worth a read and a look.

So, warm summer breezes are still moving those leaves and branches in the garden. Having written this missive, I feel calmer, if not better. I just joined Black Lives Matter. You can too.

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