Break It Down!
Occasionally I am impelled to write a post. Usually when this happens, I do not want to write a particular post. I feel I need to, or have to, or simply have no option. This is one of those posts.
The Thin Blue Line, another appellation for the police, is a staple in most of our communities. Officers are sworn to protect and serve our citizens. Ideally, the relationship between policemen (and women) and citizens should be one of esteem, and respect for dedicated public servants by the citizenry, and of dutiful concern and service by officers.
As we know all too well, life is seldom comprised of a series of ideal experiences, and often composed of messy, complicated exchanges. This past Saturday, in Ferguson, Missouri, a still unnamed police officer shot an killed an unarmed teenager. The young man Michael Brown, was 18 years old, and scheduled to enroll in college this fall.
To be sure, I did not want to write this post. Let me be clear. Just as I regret writing posts about another mass shooting or the gun violence that surrounds such events, I am especially saddened to have to write about another unarmed black man whose life was prematurely ended by police officer…regardless of whether a firearm was involved, as was the case in this instance.
Police officers have challenging jobs. I readily acknowledge theirs is a responsibility I would not want under any circumstances. Those circumstances often entail doing their jobs in tense situations. Nevertheless, they are expected to maintain their cool, and to do their job, which is, protect and serve.
In executing their duties, officers of the law, are human beings, and they have an absolute right to self=preservation, just like every other human being. If an officer believes his or her life is threatened, deadly force is reasonable remedy. I am not questioning an officer’s right to defend his or her own life.
Having said that, if an officer of the law, an agent of protection and service if you will, engages with, and takes the life of an unarmed citizen, that officer has likely committed a grave atrocity. An officer typically has an array of options that precede using deadly force. While it’s true, he or she must assess these options quickly, in the most critical of situation, but still…they do have options.
Michael Brown and his family were left with no options. They cannot turn back the hands of time to Friday, they cannot command him to get up and by so doing, raise him from the dead, they cannot see him execute his enrollment into college, or cheer him on as he graduates. There will be no wedding for Michael, or spoiling his children, or even one more day of life. There was not even an opportunity to say good-bye…his parents to him, or him to them. The contrast between that officer’s options, even if they had to be scanned quickly, and his family’s lack of the same is stark.
The investigation of Michael Brown’s shooting is in the early stages and moving slowly. There is a lot to unpack regarding both local demographics, and historical context.
The town of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, is about 2/3 black, 1/3 white, while the officials and administrators, including the Police Chief, are white. Historically, the infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1857, a catalyst for the Civil War, had its roots in St. Louis. In 1916 the city passed a zoning ordinance that explicitly restricted blacks to certain neighborhoods. When the Supreme Court struck down racial zoning laws, the city responded by enacting restrictive covenants designed to separate the races. Whites were forbidden to sell their homes to blacks. When the Supreme Court, in 1946, struck down the covenants, the city turned to redlining. All the while, whites abandoned the city for the suburbs, crystalizing the practice that became know as white flight.
Colin Gordon, a University of Iowa professor, in his book, “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City,” wrote:
“St. Louis … is a city of sealed neighborhoods, gated as a railroad crossing, of blocked-off streets and private places, chartered as a nation, zoned as meteorological maps, the enclaves and cul-de-sac of stalled weather.”
Thrust into the dynamics of this long running community dysfunction, on Saturday, an officer of the law shot and killed one of the citizens who he was charged to protect and defend. From the outset, competing narratives have emerged regarding what happened. Police say Brown attacked the officer, resulting in his having to employ deadly force. Witnesses render a completely different account, insisting that the officer verbally assaulted Brown and a friend, 22 year-old Dorion Johnson, as they were walking in the street. According to Johnson, the officer grabbed Brown and attempted to pull him into his cruiser. Brown resisted, and the officer shot him. Johnson stated that at this point Brown broke away and attempted to flee. The officer shot him again from behind. Brown stopped running, turned around, raised his hands, said he didn’t have a gun, and asked the officer to stop shooting. The officer then fired several more shots, according to Johnson.
As you can see, there is quite a deviation in the two alleged sequences of events. The police have declined to provide the officer’s name to the public. The Ferguson Chief of police said he would not do so unless the officer is charged, or he is forced by a judge to provide the name. He indicated that the department has received numerous threats, and this is a precautionary measure designed to ensure the officer’s safety.
There have been numerous protests in Ferguson, including looting and violence Sunday night, and more violence Monday night. Brown’s family has expressed disappointment, and asked the residents of the community to refrain from violence. It may be a stretch to say the community is a powder keg, but it is fair to say Brown’s shooting ignited a sense of fury in a predominately black community that has lived under a sense of hyper-scrutiny by mostly white police force.
The Justice Department has joined forces with local law enforcement agencies to investigate the matter. The local department has declined to provide a time frame for completing its investigation.
In reflecting on this most unfortunate situation, it is undeniable, blacks have the same rights as all Americans, and they deserve the same protections. However, equally clear to any sober minded individual is the fact that an individual’s rights; well-deserved and appropriately allocated as they may be, when juxtaposed against a law enforcement officer’s firearm, stun gun, night stick, or choke hold, do not make for an evenly matched struggle.
To that end, I strongly endorse your rights as an individual, while I simultaneously urge you to exercise judicious reasoning when engaged in an encounter with an officer of the law. In the heat of the moment is not likely the best time to “forcefully” explain to a law enforcement official(s) just how well-versed you are in knowing your rights. Remember, “The Thin Blue Line: A Source of Deadly Force!”
I’m done; holla back!
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There’s certainly a lot to find out about this subject.
I love all of the points you have made.