Redefine police.

My Facebook feed is full of videos of police acting badly. The news is full of stories of police brutality, aggression, militarization, racial bias. Our prisons are full of people with mental illness, addiction, poverty and the worst pox in America- being black.

The system is broken, expensive, and fundamentally flawed. In Ohio, you don’t even need a high school diploma to be a cop, and it’s good to see that you don’t need one in journalism either- almost all news sources directly quoted Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine saying that Ohio is one of three states that don’t require this- but none found out what the other two are.

Police officer training in Ohio is loosely regulated and mostly insufficient, but Ohio is just a microcosm of the state of police training in the United States. It’s debatable if we have any semblance of an idea of how to go about training police, and I’m going to blame 40 years of progressively more violent portrayals of police in film and television as a starting point for our failure.

We’ve gone from Andy Griffith as Sheriff Taylor to Michael Chiklis as dirty cop Vic Mackey in The Shield. Sgt. Joe Friday barely pulled his gun in Dragnet, but Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens in Justified, shot at least 18 people and still had a job. The TV show SWAT, was the beginning of cops thinking they could be soldiers and criminals got the idea that machine guns were status symbols for gangsters with Scarface. Not that it hadn’t been done before; during prohibition where every bad guy had a Tommy gun in our portrayal of Al Capone and John Dillinger.

In reality, the best cops I know are more social worker than bully, and could probably qualify for a master’s in counseling better than their target shooting skills. The sad thing is, the violence they have to deal with is mostly borne out of  other issues that our society refuses to address: drug abuse and mental illness, chronic poverty, inequity. Just changing the training isn’t enough- we have to change the whole concept of what a “free society” really is supposed to look like.

More surveillance isn’t the answer

Right now, the leading solution to police brutality issues is bodycams- a very expensive and misleading approach. Take a look at your cellphone camera- and think of how many unindexed, untagged, unorganized photos and videos you have. Now, think about storing video of you at work, every day, for at least 30 days- for you- and all of your coworkers- all to be made available on demand?

And personal video is only an after-the-fact solution- no matter what studies say about people behaving better when they know they are being observed. Need proof- watch this video showing what happens when a black man with corn rows openly carries an AR-15

There is a video on Facebook which takes this video and juxtaposes it with this video  of a white guy doing the same things- without the same result- but making it seem like it’s the same people organizing it (it’s not)

Needless to say, being on candid camera isn’t the answer.

More guns aren’t the answer either.

There has been a mad rush for “self protection” in this country, which is sad. In most civilized nations people don’t think they need a gun to be safe. Statistics clearly show this, but, thanks to our founding fathers (who can’t possibly have made a mistake) we’re convinced that having a deadly weapon is almost a god-given right.

In many countries the police don’t even have guns. Go look at your average beat cop today- a gun, a taser, a bulletproof vest, a shotgun or AR-15 in his trunk or mounted next to him inside the cruiser.

The poverty penalty

You have a right to a speedy trial, you have a right against unlawful detention, but, it seems this is more likely for wealthy white people than for poor black people. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times suggested abolishing bail.

This is a national problem. Across the United States, most of the people incarcerated in local jails have not been convicted of a crime but are awaiting trial. And most of those are waiting in jail not because of any specific risk they have been deemed to pose, but because they can’t pay their bail.

In other words, we are locking people up for being poor. This is unjust. We should abolish monetary bail outright.

Some will argue that bail is necessary to prevent flight before trial, but there is no good basis for that assumption. For one thing, people considered to pose an unacceptable risk of flight (or violence) are not granted bail in the first place. (Though the procedures for determining who poses a risk ought to be viewed with skepticism, especially since conceptions of risk are often shaped, tacitly or otherwise, by racist assumptions.)

Source: Too Many People in Jail? Abolish Bail – NYTimes.com

Sometimes the really big ideas are the simplest.

But, back to police training. Arguments can be made for higher standards, longer training hours, more continuous education, but so much of what we’ve focused on for our police officers is based on reacting to worst case scenarios: terrorists, “active shooters” and tactical supremacy.

Maybe what we need to focus on is a totally different approach to police work, training, hiring, and perception.

The riots in Baltimore weren’t caused by a menace to society. Freddie Gray was a loser x-con with a knife clipped to his belt- who “fled” police. Walter Scott was pulled over for a tail light violation that was questionable, and shot in the back when he ran. Somewhere, we’ve made a dramatic mistake on who we’ve chosen to “serve and protect.”

I return to the changes in police as portrayed in the media. I don’t recall the national FOP protesting the violent portrayal of police officers. I have heard FOP officials defending cops repeatedly for using a gun before their mouths. I’m still haunted by the shooting of John Crawford in a nearby Walmart- while holding a bb gun and talking on the phone, and the shooting of the 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground by an overzealous cop.

There is a video that inspired this post- of four Swedish police officers on a NY City subway, subduing a fight. Listen to their language, and watch how they treat their “perps”- this is a start:

If you’ve seen a really good cop doing his/her job, it looks and sounds more like this- than a gunshot ending all chances to discuss matters.

It’s time to set some national standards for police training, ethics, situational awareness and integrity, before we have more riots caused by police reacting badly. It’s time to reexamine our criminal justice system, which is putting record numbers of people behind bars who are more of a threat to themselves than to others. It’s time to invest in peace in America before we worry about peace in the Middle East.

You can’t take care of the world, while your own backyard is full of injustice.

UPDATE

the next morning- a very good NPR morning edition piece on changing police training: http://www.npr.org/2015/05/18/407619610/ways-to-avoid-community-violence-after-local-police-encounters

Listen carefully to the part where they changed the images in the academy, stopped falling in silent at attention- instead greeting one another, and the focus on the constitution.

INSKEEP: Whether a city explodes in protest or not, may depend on decisions made years before an officer ever pulled his gun or a citizen started recording video. Sue Rahr believes something similar. She’s thinking about police training. She is in charge of the police academy in Washington state.

SUE RAHR: You always want to create space and time so that you have the opportunity to engage in some kind of de-escalation strategy with the person first.

INSKEEP: Rahr points to a police shooting in Cleveland, Ohio, last year. An officer approached a man with a gun and killed him. The man turned out to be 12, and the gun turned out to be a toy. An investigation continues. Rahr says the officer might have learned to approach more carefully. That would avoid any sense of danger until he understood the situation. For two years, Rahr says, she has been adjusting the training for every local police recruit in Washington state. They’re supposed to focus less on being warriors and more on being guardians of citizens’ lives.

RAHR: We changed the training environment itself. We removed a lot of the symbols and the tools of the trade that were on the walls with murals of the Constitution. And we spent a great deal of time talking about the Constitution and what it means to a police officer. I tell my recruits in the first week there at the academy, my entire career, my training on the Constitution, consisted of how to work around it so that I could make an arrest and prove a case. It never occurred to me when I was working the street that I was there to support the Constitution. I viewed myself as being there to enforce the law. Some of the other things that we’ve done is move away from some of the military protocols. Instead of requiring recruits to snap to attention and be silent when a staff member passes, we require them to engage in conversation because that’s a skill they need in the field. Effective police officers are able to engage community members in conversation.

INSKEEP: So you’ve started this training – changing training – in Washington state before the incidents of the past year. But now we’ve had the incidents of the past year. And on this program, our correspondent Martin Kaste spoke with a number of officers who spoke of the risk of police becoming passive. They may be videotaped and scrutinized at any time, all their actions could be called into question – things they did in a split second and maybe it would be better for them to drive past that apparent crime scene than to get involved. How do you deal with that risk?RAHR: Well, I think it – you avoid that risk by the culture that is set in the police department where the officer works. And this is a part of policing that we don’t talk about often enough and that is the internal culture of the police department itself. There’s a cultural anthropologist named Simon Sinek. And Simon Sinek said the most important influence on the behavior of an officer on the street is going to be the internal culture of that police department. And so you need to focus on building a strong culture internally, where the leaders in the police department demonstrate respect and they set the tone for what they expect of their officers. Their behavior needs to model the kind of behavior they want to see on the street. So if you have a police department with a very strong, healthy culture and the officers know that if they are doing their best on the street and they’re wading into a difficult situation, they know that their leaders will support them, even if things don’t go well, if the officers are following policies and procedures. If an officer works for an agency where they believe the leaders are going to throw them under the bus if they make a mistake, then you’re absolutely right. The officers are going to drive past and not dive into that because they don’t want to take the chance of being unfairly criticized and punished.

Source: Ways To Avoid Community Violence After Local Police Encounters : NPR

 

Misplaced angst over symbolic protests

When Facebook gives me more news than the Dayton Daily news, we’re all in trouble. Never mind the fact that I’m paying $9.95 a month for their newspaper-on-crutches, but now they are offering it for $19.95 for a full year of digital access. Nothing says desperate like knocking your price down to next to nothing. Click bait is their “new strategy” posting tidbits on Facebook, hoping to get you to hit their paywall. Exactly the behavior Facebook is trying to minimize. But, that’s all moot.

Photo of a protester at Wright State University standing on the American Flag

An unknown patriot stirring the pot.

In today’s Facebook feeds, friends are arguing about the veteran who protested at WSU by standing on an American flag. As someone who has actually been arrested and had to win 5 court cases protecting your right to symbolic protest, I can guarantee you he was within his rights- and had he just stood their protesting with a sign, no one would be talking about it.

His sign- according to WDTN:

“I stand…-With Eric Shappard (SIC- should be Sheppard) and the preservation of 1st Amendment rights
-For all men and woman in service to this country
-For the accountability of media and other social institutions
-Justice, equity, tolerance, and diversity
-Upon the belief higher learning should provoke students to question social norms, mainstream values, and power structures
-The ‘American” spirit, is a revolutionary spirit- On the American flag because there’s nothing more American than that!

Source: Wright State Flag Protest Draws Crowd – WKEF-TV ABC 22 News :: News – Top Stories

Unbelievably, not a single local “news source” had either the protester’s name, or even were able to verify his status as a WSU student. If my Facebook friends are to be believed, yes, he’s a WSU student.

His first mistake was thinking that WSU students would know who Eric Sheppard is- and what that has to do with the American flag. Sheppard was protesting at Valdosta State University – standing on a flag to make a statement about the treatment of black men in this nation who are being gunned down. A publicity seeking veteran, Michelle Manhart, decided to do something about it- going to campus with her daughter filming- and stealing the flag. Amazingly, the cops did the right thing and arrested her and returned the flag. The video pushes buttons and the right wing nut jobs had a field day praising the veteran for her actions, albeit it turns out she had posed in Playboy on active duty and even posed nude later for PETA with… wait… an American flag.

Symbolic speech is powerful stuff. The Nazis understood it well. So did the Ku Klux Klan. Burning books, burning flags, burnings of effigies, ISIS is justifying its atrocities by using orange jump suits for its victims- to symbolize our detaining “their people” in Guantanamo bay. I actually had to explain to one person on Facebook why symbolic speech can be more effective than a standard protest, which in this country is usually measured by numbers- hence we have things like “the million man march.” Usually, in America, you need a herd to be heard in public. Of course, in private, you just need a lot of money and I guarantee you access to anyone you want in Washington, D.C.

The problem with symbols is they don’t always mean the same thing to everybody. Maybe that’s why early religions had such an issue with idolatry. And you have to remember, when the religions started out, most of this wasn’t written- it was spoken, since universal literacy and the printing press were far off in the future. I still find the symbol of Christianity being a cross to be odd- to celebrate Jesus, memorialize the brutal way that he died. Do we, as Americans use guns as a symbol to memorialize and remember Abraham Lincoln, JFK or Martin Luther King? No.

Another post on Facebook had this image going around- another view of what the American Flag stands for today:

American exceptionalism illustration on an American FlagThe article it linked to, was about how other countries don’t understand America, or how Americans don’t seem to understand what living in a “free society” really means. The reactions to these flag protests, full of vitriol, the grandstanding- over a symbol, taking over the conversation, when most Americans are living on the edge of survival- paycheck to paycheck, with a safety net that’s constantly being withdrawn inch by inch. We prefer the dream of success to the reality we live in. Thinking that we can all become an NBA star, a millionaire if we only work hard, or President of the United States, is so far from reality- if we weren’t all so seduced by this fantasy, any right minded psychologist would call us delusional.

There is a lot to protest about in this country. A few years back the Occupy movement tried to bring a focus to the wrongs of the wizards of Wall Street who have robbed our country blind and brought the “world’s strongest economy” to its knees, yet, the Dow continues to climb beyond any recognizable relevance, the Fed continues to print money like candy- and the richest Americans are getting richer at a record pace, while the rest of us are being asked to “pay more of our share” to keep this house of cards from falling.

To add insult to injury, we take more interest in one aging former Olympian’s transgender celebrity story than we do of the countless millions who aren’t able to feed their children, schools that aren’t preparing our children for colleges that are pricing themselves out of the reach of those who get there (if they aren’t shot by a cop for playing cops and robbers on a playground), so that they can get their panties in a twist over standing on a piece of cloth.

The flag, which we pledge allegiance to so easily, is a symbol. Symbols mean different things to different people. Our country is supposed to be one where different people can have free discussions over issues- my only request is, let’s start having the discussion about ones that matter. I agree and support the actions of the Wright State protester- and you should too, if you truly believe in what our country’s founders said when they declared our independence in 1776.

FDR vs. Obama vs. Frank Underwood

Francis Underwood at FDR memorial

Francis Underwood walks away from FDR quote

I’m binge watching as best as I can- season 3 of House of Cards. Episode 7 made me think.

Almost all political drama is someone’s attempt at introducing an idealized version of politics- from Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing” with Jeb Bartlett, played by our man from South Park, Martin Sheen nee Estevez, to, well, even the sociopath Francis Underwood in “House of Cards.”
When Francis visited the FDR memorial – the quotes were even more poignant and relevant today.

I’ve never been to the FDR memorial, but visiting it online- you can read the quotes.

http://www.nps.gov/fr…/learn/photosmultimedia/quotations.htm

I went and grabbed a few- although only the 2 in bold appeared in the show:

“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.”
October 2, 1932

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order.”
September 30, 1934

“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.”
January 24, 1935

“Among American citizens, there should be no forgotten men and no forgotten races.”
October 26, 1936

“I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
January 20, 1937

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”
January 9, 1940

“They [who] seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers…call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.”
March 15, 1941

Damn… we need him back.

How did America respond to the success of a man who thought like this- term limits. The 22nd Amendment.
The beginning of the end of people elected by the people instead of by the money.

Obama came into the same kind of mess that FDR was handed. I wonder if there were no term limits, and it didn’t take a billion or so to keep the seat, what could have happened.

Would Dayton pass the Ferguson test?

This is a hypothetical post. I don’t know the answers. But I think a lot of people in Dayton would tell you unequivocally that Dayton would fail a fairness test if the Feds came in and did an audit of arrests, prosecutions, stops, tickets, fines and enforcement patterns.

Considering that the writing is all over the walls, a mostly white safety force; despite Federal intervention long ago, proven redlining of loans, a completely failed “racial integration” of schools. Throw in the recent outing of members of the Sheriff’s department for racially unacceptable texts and it would be easy to guess what a federal investigation of Dayton would find.

Arguments have been made that the traffic cameras were mostly placed in poor communities, and even then, more in areas predominately African American. If you look at the county jail, most of the time, its racial composition doesn’t come close to reflecting the local racial makeup.

But this is America- where we stubbornly believe in ideals that weren’t ideal when they were written (“all men are created equal- yet slavery wasn’t abolished for another century and civil rights came another 100 years later). Somehow, despite incredible evidence to the contrary- we still believe we’re a first world country, a leader, while our own people suffer from unconscionable oppressions.

Our costs of health care are the highest in the world, our cost of an advanced education are skyrocketing, and while we have access to cheap food, much of it isn’t really fit for consumption. Our elections are rigged with “corporations are people too” money, and less than half the people vote- meaning our vaunted “democracy” is really only a majority of the minority’s beliefs.

I read about freedoms that are constitutionally guaranteed that are being questioned or abused almost daily. We arm ourselves against an illogical threat, and kill more of our own with our own guns- and yet think we’re safer with them than without them. We incarcerate more people, with an astoundingly disproportionate number of the inmates a “minority” and yet, still claim ourselves a “free country” and have the audacity to think our “model” is best for others.

We spend more than half the planet on “defense” which is mostly used as offense, in places that we don’t understand, but feel the need to meddle.

And while the justice department tries to clean house in Ferguson, in reality, it’s nothing but a sideshow- a distraction, a sleight of hand, because in the grand scheme of things, we’ve not been a land of opportunity for a long time.

We could have the Feds come here and apply their tests, and we could fail, but in the end, it won’t change anything until we fundamentally reexamine the kind of country we have and the kind of country we deserve. I don’t fault the racists in Ferguson, or the grandstanding of the Feds, I fault Americans for assuming that things can’t change, that this is acceptable, and holding on to a ridiculous pride in a country that deserves an F grade in equality and justice.

Making an example out of Ferguson, won’t fix anything.

We’ve got systemic issues, from top to bottom that need to be addressed.

If we want to be truly great, we need to take a step back and rethink everything.

 

The Socialist Republic of the United States Military

I’m not a fan of the Dayton Daily news- and even less a fan of their local editorial pages- after years of being mocked by them. First time running for office, I was called “an advertising man with not much to say.” All of you who know me, know that wasn’t true- and my campaign literature at the time was 11×17 covered in text. I once walked out, after they refused to apologize for something that had just appeared in their paper- where a writer said a band (G-Love and Special Sauce) sounded black. As if music sounds a race? Then there was when I mocked the big plans for the 2003 “celebration of flight” which instantly got me on their shit list- since it was Brad Tilson’s baby. We all remember what a fiasco that was.

A few years back, they stopped doing local opinion and promoted Ron Rollins to curate the page. This means ask people to opine for you. I find it lame, but fairer than what came before under the old regime. His second in command is now Dr. Connie Post- yep, a Ph.D. working at a newspaper. Ron must have been on vacation last week, because I sent a short response in to a “Speak Up” piece and Connie asked me to expand it into a guest column. Usually I don’t like working for the evil empire for free- but, in this case, I felt pretty strongly about the issue- and believe it or not- I was on the editorial page last Friday- for once, not being lampooned.

First- the “Speak Up”- a called in, anonymous thing that no reputable paper would do.

This appeared 17 Feb 2015- unsigned:

For those fast food employees striking for $15 an hour, let’s do some math. At $15 an hour, Johnny Fry-Boy would make $31,200 annually. An E-1 (private) in the military makes $18,378. An E-5 (sergeant) with eight years of service only makes $35,067 annually. So you’re telling me that a burger flipper deserves as much as those who are getting shot at, deploying for months in hostile environments, and putting their lives on the line every day protecting you?

My response was published on Friday, 27 Feb. 2015 – Photo was a crop of a shot by Larry C. Price who used to work for the DDN. It was behind their paywall (nice to know I was helping their bottom line, as they’ve never given me a link or mention for my stories they’ve taken).

I did not write the headline:

Serving my country as an Army private

By David Esrati
A recent “speak-up” caller compared a $15 minimum wage for “Johnny-Fry Boy” to an E-1 in the military. He stated there was no way flipping burgers was worth more than risking your life for your country on a straight hourly basis.

As a former E-1, I feel qualified to respond.

On Day 1, I was issued clothes. When in training, I didn’t even have to do my own laundry. Food was free. I was given three square meals a day, even if some came in cans or plastic packages. Granted, “fast food” depended on the order of entering the mess hall — first in and you had time to eat; last in and it was eat it or leave it.

Zero rent. For the most part, I lived communally. The WWII-era barracks at Fort Gordon had group showers, and cheek-to-cheek toilets, which took a little getting used to. But it still beat the portable micro housing I sometimes slept in. It came without running water (unless raining), no heat or electricity unless I used the 25-pound hand crank generator that I had to carry with my house, food, bed and M16.

My only utility bill was a phone bill, paid in quarters, via a phone booth.

Health care was 100 percent covered, including dental and vision. If I was injured on the job, I was guaranteed health care for life as well as a disability check.

Job security was solid; in fact, my employer liked to sign me like a pro-athlete. There were signing bonuses via 3- to 4-year revolving contracts. Advancement opportunities were up to me with a very clear career path. All training was provided free.

I learned Morse code at 15 groups per minute send/receive. I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, which in my time paid an extra $75 a month, so I could visit faraway places and serve as a “community organizer.”

After 20 years, retirement was guaranteed at 50 percent of my pay. Stay in longer and retirement went up. Many of my peers got to travel internationally, sometimes with welcoming arms and others versus small arms. A gym membership was unnecessary. I was paid to work out, often going on long hikes with a very large rucksack. My hours were never subject to overtime. Often I was scheduled to be on the job 24/7.

I always found it ironic that our military, tasked to spread democracy and capitalism, was a lot like socialism.

If the speak-up caller was making an argument that the Private E-1 should make more than “Johnny Fry-Boy,” I’m in total agreement. But, if you say that Johnny Fry-Boy shouldn’t make enough to pay for his health care, clothing, food and shelter, this former E-1 wants to know why he was putting his life on the line to protect a country that doesn’t believe its citizens are entitled to the basic freedoms that financial stability provide — nominally described as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Those freedoms certainly cost a lot more than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

We’re long overdue for a higher minimum wage and deserve a country that truly treats its citizens as if “all men are created equal,” providing an equal opportunity for advancement, without having to volunteer to die for our great country.

David Esrati served in the U.S. Army, both active duty and reserve, in the 1980s. He got out as an E-4.

I posted this on Facebook- and received a considerable amount of positive feedback. At the Second Street Market yesterday, a few people praised it- and again today, at the Legacy Pancake House- a few more. I’ve had more than a few fellow veterans also thank me- because as one, Scott Ricketts so gracefully summed it up:

The military taught me we had to take care of everyone on the team and pay more attention to help the ones having problems. We were not allowed to leave anyone behind and we’re only as strong as the weakest among us. Making sure the people on the bottom get to the finish line is our collective responsibility. At least that’s what TSgt Esteves yelled at us.

This pretty much sums up why I probably feel closest to my friends who have served.

There are some arguments about “entry level jobs” and the minimum wage. I don’t buy them. I’d be OK with a lower minimum for kids in high school, or for their first 2 years of work, but, there is no excuse for our pathetic minimum wage, or the crying of huge corporations talking about “competitiveness.” McDonald’s operates in Germany, where they have to pay a living wage, GM does too- where they deal with labor unions in a totally different way than they do here. Apple is sitting on $170+ billion in cash- and still refusing to let Americans make much of their product (the Mac Pro which starts at $3k is assembled in Texas- but that’s about it).

Our country has to stop believing the lies that are fed to us by politicians who didn’t serve, who sell out, and for the most part, work against the best interests of the American public. This isn’t the America that any of us want to risk our life for- but we do and did.

It’s time to reassess. We can do better.

Racists, rapists and apologists

The head of the local Republican Party/Sheriff fired two of his employees on Friday, for unbecoming conduct. Three others got disciplined. It seems that all had been either sending or receiving racist jokes via text messages.

An Oakwood 19-year-old on an athletic scholarship to Stanford, was playing doctor on an unconscious woman in the bushes outside a fraternity party. He was inebriated, despite not being of drinking age.

Sheriff Phil Plummer made the hard call and took a stand saying there is no room for racist jokes, comments, or behavior under his command.

Stanford sent the swimmer away. They made a clear statement that non-consensual sexual behavior was unacceptable.

Then I see debate on Facebook. I see people using the First Amendment as justification for statements contrary to the founding beliefs that “all men are created equal.” I see people saying that because the swimmer used his fingers instead of his penis, somehow that was OK, besides he was always a “nice boy.”

When was the last time you heard a public figure step right up and admit they screwed up?

Brian Williams of NBC somehow thought he could tell a yarn about him being in a helicopter that got shot down. His first response?

“I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Am I guilty of conflation of the racists with the rapists? Certainly saying something politically incorrect is one thing, sticking objects in someone unconscious is another. Except, when you are an officer of the law, you have to be held to a higher standard of conduct- that’s why we trust you with a gun and a badge.

There is a go fund me set up to pay for the Captain’s legal expenses with a very long explanation of why he shouldn’t have been fired- it was put up by his wife. It blames the ex-wife of the deputy, the NAACP, the Sheriff- and the news media for slandering the Captain. The fact that when he got the first text his immediate response wasn’t “this isn’t acceptable” isn’t mentioned, nor is the fact that he erased his iphone and ipod before turning them in, against policy. When you are a leader- a higher level of accountability is expected.

There was a piece online trying to explain away the swimmer’s odd behavior. How about he’s already guilty of being drunk under age? The complaint clearly has eyewitnesses describing something that no one would wish for their daughter.

And, yes, we have courts of law to decide upon guilt or innocence, justifiable firing or not. But the court of public opinion, the debate we have with others- the thoughts we hold back, do they matter?

It’s a question of what kind of society you want to live in. If you don’t want to hear your news from a liar, you can always change the channel, but, when it comes to the guy who shows up with a gun and a badge, what kind of moral character do you want them to have? Or, if your daughter goes to visit a college campus, do you want her molested by a drunken athlete- and then be blamed for her actions?

For a society to function, the actions of a few miscreants is one thing, the willingness to apologize for them is a much greater risk to our community. I know many of you will argue that this is a stretch, but the liberators of the concentration camps had to march the townsfolk through the camps- because they didn’t believe it happened right under their noses.

Many are quick to blame all Muslims for the acts of a few extremists as well, but, that is no different than judging all Americans by the actions of Charlie Manson or Timothy McVeigh.

Morals, ethics, the standards of society are set by what we allow as OK. You don’t know how many times while I’ve been hanging basketball nets I’ve had to say that I don’t think using the N word is acceptable- and so far, I’ve not gotten my ass beat.

There are always at least two sides to every story- but, in the end, there is only one rule that is universal- the golden one. There is no excuse for racist jokes by cops, there is no excuse for doing anything to someone unconscious other than to protect them and get help- and there is no excuse for apologizing for their actions, or trying to say it’s OK- it was among consenting adults, or that they are “good people” because, they aren’t if what happened is true.

Republican leader blows creative naming opportunities for $100, Alex

Remember the “Contract with America” where Newt Gingrich tied a ribbon on policy that was bad and made it look good? Or how the “Inheritance tax” which relatively few people were subject to- became the evil sounding “death tax”?

Well, the chance to do something right- got a bad name in a big way from the Republican Senate leader in Ohio:

Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, called for establishing a “drug prison” where inmates with drug-abuse issues would receive treatment services.

“I anticipate that there would be an increase in the cost up front but I think in the long run we’re going to save money,” Faber said.

via Charter schools in spotlight.

Why a “drug prison” Keith? Why not a rehabilitation center for drug abusers who’ve turned to crime to support their habits?

Many times people begin their path to drug abuse purely by accident- an injury at work, and next thing you know they are addicted to a painkiller.  Drug abuse is a mental health issue first and foremost. The crimes committed by drug abusers are often nothing other than survival skills to feed their habits. Our prisons are overflowing with people who are more dangerous to themselves than others- glad you just figured it out.

Now, figure out a better name as well as a better solution to deal with this sad epidemic. Prisons aren’t working, nor is our “criminal justice” system built to deal with people just looking for a quick fix to an addiction.

A leader without followers…

It’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day.

Some of you have the day off. Some march. Some go to fancy banquets and listen to stories of “back in the day” and many take for granted what King fought for.

More people don’t vote now, more than before King when people were blocked from voting. Call it apathy, call it indifference, but considering the effort that it took to change the system, the system hasn’t changed as much as King hoped.

And while King is celebrated today- many still don’t understand that at the time, he was still not recognized as a force of nature.

The beginning of the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” began with an admission by King that “Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.”

The sum total of his response 6,921 words. Of course, he was in jail and had time to write.

Fast forward to 2015- and if the civil rights movement were getting started today. If King put up 6921 words- he’d get TL/DR (too long didn’t read) by most.

And while his goal in most protests was to create imagery of many people marching, or to bait racist police chiefs into letting loose the dogs, hoping for headlines- media today wouldn’t work the same way.  If civil rights wasn’t done then, it may not have happened, or set the groundwork for things to come like marriage equality.

The one thing that distinguished King from others, was his ability to attract followers- to have a herd to be heard. There were many detractors, but those core followers made the difference.

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”

He was challenged as an “outside agitator” by many. His response was clear “Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

The real question is who is going to lead the next clear battle in American Civil Rights- the one that will truly end poverty, end class inequity and bring back the ideals of “all men are created equal” and that they all have the opportunity to engage in the pursuit of life, liberty and the happiness that seems to be evading so many?

It’s time for people to take the time to read the long versions, it’s time for people to ask questions, and it’s time to find new leadership that isn’t beholden to the mighty dollar. The underlying causes of inequality are still here today.

We can celebrate King’s victories all we want, but, to think the battle has been won, is to kid yourself.

 

 

Shoot first, answer questions later?

There used to be cops who spent their entire life on the streets and never drew their service weapon. Those days are gone.

The very idea of unholstering a firearm- and pointing it at someone only means one thing- you are prepared to shoot someone. That person, has to be an immediate threat to someone’s life- an imminent danger- and then, and only then, would you be OK to shoot. At least that used to be the equation.

Guns on the streets weren’t an everyday occurrence- unless of course, you were a criminal. And despite all these people going out and getting CCW licenses- those guns aren’t out on display- they’re concealed. And since Ohio is an “Open Carry” state- it’s actually legal to walk around with your hand cannon strapped to your side- even if it does make people uncomfortable.

But lately- toy guns in black men’s hands are an instant death sentence- whether in Walmart in Beavercreek or in Cleveland on a playground.

In Dayton on Christmas eve, a 20-year-old black male was arrested for “waving a toy gun around.”

Bennie Coleman, 20, was arrested on Tuesday morning and booked in Montgomery County Jail. Police observed him in a firing stance, pointing the gun at passing motorists and waving the gun back and forth from left to right, according to a Dayton police report.

via Man arrested for pointing fake gun at drivers| Dayton, OH Crime | www.mydaytondailynews.com.

He was in jail on Christmas day- for “inducing panic” with a $2,500 bail and awaiting arraignment on a parole violation. Now on the 27th- it’s up to $5K. Apparently- toy guns are now weapons, because, well, any criminal could just paint the tip of a real gun orange to “fool police.”

Fooling police? Really?

The riot cops in Ferguson were shown in photos acquiring targets with military grade weaponry. This began a debate on military “technology” transfer to local police departments, not the fact that they were lining up their sights on targets- without an imminent threat.

Let’s talk about the imminent threat to a civil society- the breakdown of law and order. When the rules become so fluid, and get applied haphazardly- they begin to have no meaning. How does Bennie Coleman end up in jail for more than 48 hours for a toy gun- while my neighbor, Brandon, Demolition Derby, Crouch- is out in 48 hours when caught with a real gun? Is that one is black and the other white? Is it that our laws aren’t really laws anymore? We already assume the wealthy don’t get the same treatment from the courts that the poor do- hence people like Mike Peppel who stole millions- got 7 days in jail while a poor grocery clerk- threatened with 40 years.

Since the “war on drugs” began, we’ve taken a draconian puritanical approach- criminalizing mind-altering substances as if they are a threat to the health and welfare of every person in this country. Our heavy-handed approach to this “problem” has put record numbers of people in a very expensive prison system- at an alarmingly racially disparate rate. Yet after forty plus years, no one has stopped to ask if this program is working? Is it making us safer? Is it solving the problem? The answer to both is no.

Stand back and think about what it means to live in a country that puts incarceration over education, incarceration over health care, and ask if the fundamental problems we face aren’t our own doing?

We’re creating a permanent underclass of perpetually under-employable people with our system of mass incarceration. We’re taking away all hopes and dreams of an equitable and just future for an alarmingly large percentage of our population. If the number 1 in 32 doesn’t make you wonder- that’s the number of people who are either incarcerated, on parole or probation.

We’ve created more police apparatus to “keep us safe” since 9/11- with the entire department of Homeland Security- a multibillion-dollar operation that ostensibly is here to protect us from outside threats. Our local threats- well, we don’t really want to talk about those.

We’ve been shooting first for a long time- at a self-defined target, chosen by a politician to create mass hysteria and a revision of our social engineering. While every other civilized country treats drug addiction as a mental illness- we treat is as a crime. While every other industrialized nation believes that health care is a universal right- we create a system that criminalizes not-buying insurance from a private company that’s allowed to make billions. While the costs of our “justice system” and “health care systems” exceed every other country in the world- we still continue on the same path.

We’ve been shooting first for a long time- and no one is asking if it’s the right thing to do.

Suppose we emptied our prisons, except for those who are a physically dangerous threat to others, and spent all that money we’ve spent warehousing poor people- and instead spent it on education, health care and jobs. Suppose we eliminated the health insurance companies and went to a single payer system that paid for universal care. Suppose we treated drug addiction as a mental health problem instead of a criminal one?

Would we still need so many guns pointed at people?

Isn’t the point of a civilized society to be one where you don’t have to live in the Wild West- with a six gun on your hip? Isn’t a civilized society one where we can settle our differences without killing each other? Are we really still civilized in America today? Or have we just stopped asking questions?

I think you know the answer.

 

A bad comedy gone wrong

I spent 12 hours in a classroom yesterday to get my CCW permit. Over and over, it was drilled into us, you can’t go shooting people over property, insults, or because you don’t like someone.
And here is President Obama saying he’s going to go after North Korea for hacking Sony Entertainment and threatening movie theaters that show a banal “comedy” about the assassination of North Korea’s boy leader.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think any of this is funny for a litany of reasons.
First- the hack. Since when is it the Federal government’s responsibility to protect the computers of an entertainment company? How is this any different than the multiple hacks that have stolen our personal information from the likes of Target or Home Depot? Because supposedly the hack came from North Korea? Is Obama channeling George W. Bush, who attacked Afghanistan for the work of 21 Saudi Nationals on 9/11?
Code knows no national boundaries- and with the simplicity of anonymizing servers- can be sent from anywhere to anywhere. Because someone used the same lines of code is hardly a smoking gun- I use the same words you do to say “I have to go to the bathroom.”
And after Edward Snowden released the vast evidence of our ability to read, analyze and filter the masses of communications all over the planet- do you really expect me to believe the NSA was asleep at the wheel when both the hack and the threat supposedly came from North Korea? Really? Because so much Internet traffic comes in and out of that walled cesspool of a country.
Then there is the “threat” to do damage to the theaters that show the film. Let’s see, trillions spent on “Homeland Security” and our military- and we’re really going to believe that if this film is shown- the North Koreans are going to nuke us?
Granted, any head of state who thinks anything worthwhile comes out of meeting Dennis Rodman isn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box- but, there are probably 4,000 theaters that may show this film- and he’s going to target them all? Or even one? With the telegraphed threat, the probability of success is zero.
And, really, poking the bear usually never works out well for little kimmy.
There have been movies made about dictators, kidnapping presidents, killing heads of state since, well, the early ages of film. Comedies- like Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” didn’t start WWII- and the recent Hollywood action flick “Olympus has fallen” had the North Koreans attacking the White House- where were the complaints that time?
Although the hack did a bunch of damage to Sony Entertainment- let’s be realistic- that hack did more damage to the hacks that run the company who embarrassed themselves much worse than our State Department did with crass and irresponsible statements released by Snowden.
And although Sony Entertainment is “American” it’s still owned by Sony- a Japanese company- why isn’t North Korea taking on the Japanese? Maybe it’s the fact that when the Japanese went to war there they dominated- while we stalemated..
You know that every Hollywood action film has to have two things- a good guy and a bad guy- the fact that North Korea has served as our “bad guy” for almost 70 years is getting a little old. Hell, we just decided to take Cuba out of the doghouse into the yard. They’re not quite invited in – but it’s a step in the right direction.
With the way our media is manipulated and despite access to more information than ever before- I’m half wondering if the “threat” to theaters showing “The Interview” isn’t just another Hollywood marketing department run amok. Remember how Boston shut down in 2007 in a panic over “space invader signs” that mysteriously appeared as a promo for another banal comedy?
If this was what happened, would anyone be able to wipe the egg off their faces?
If we really want to torture the North Korean leadership- print enough DVDs of the movie dubbed in Korean- and carpet bomb the country with them. Seth Rogan’s bomb of a movie can torture them instead of us.
And honestly, not showing this movie in America is probably an underappreciated Christmas gift to all of us.