Blood in the Streets

When are we going to have the courage to admit we may not be 100% right? That maybe, just maybe somebody else may have a legitimate point? That my point of view isn’t necessarily the correct one, while yours just might have merit?

A year after a national commission on policing, that was supposed to give us some answers, there is still ever-widening gap between police and the Black community. Some in our own groups have tried to open discussions, to suggest that listening to other perspectives might help, only to be shouted down or shunned for daring to challenge a popular narrow worldview. My friend, the civil rights leader, gets accused of being not supportive enough of Black Lives Matter because she dares to recognize that there are many good police officers and saying that society needs good policing. I have been accused of disloyalty to the Thin Blue Line for suggesting that we should call out the bad in policing and get rid of those cops rather than look the other way, because they are making all officers less safe.

Blind loyalty is destroying us. Some cops dishonor the badge, others harbor a little or a lot of latent bias that colors their perceptions. We deal with bad situations every day. High crime areas tend to be low-income neighborhoods of color. It’s nearly impossible for it not to affect you. But not every person of color wants to harm us. We have to get a handle on this. The first way is trying to see the world through their point of view. We may not understand their mistrust, fear, or anger at policing, but we must allow them their perception and work to change it.

Likewise, to my friends of color: Not all cops are bad, most are not afraid of you. Most genuinely want to do a good, impartial job, and most do an outstanding job everyday. Not everyone in a uniform wants to harm you. But you must also allow for their perception and experience that tells them that far too many bad people do want to harm them. Many others will possibly harm them in a desperate attempt to escape. Either way, cops are in a dangerous spot. You, too, must open your mind to this alternate reality.

Healing can only begin with a bit of understanding. Understanding starts with contrition. If I hurt my brother, and refuse to apologize, just expect him to get over it, will he really think I’m sincere? No. This is why a true acknowledgement of grievances and appropriate apology is needed. Historical racial grievances must be addressed. This does not mean you caused it, but as a profession and larger community, we must concede systemic issues have caused Black citizens to distrust us. There is a real gap between how the majority of White and Black Americans feel about law enforcement because there is a very real disparity that has existed since the beginning of our country. We have to acknowledge this, even though we have not personally experienced it. We cannot expect African American citizens to suddenly forget their pain and move on without our demonstrated sincerity, which means real action.

I mean, look at the messages our actions send to each other. Some Police officers get into trouble repeatedly, (I would argue they are the bad 5%) and we allow them to stay on in policing. Sometimes we make them resign, only to show up in another city, and eventually doing something so egregious that they are finally fired or worse on the evening news. More often, those who are good officers, fail to confront those who cross lines big and small. We are silent when small injustices are committed. Silence is support. People see that and remember.

Flip side, communities too often allow bad behavior to escalate to criminality in our young people, refusing to help identify them to cops, until finally something serious happens, like their death or they commit a serious crime. Community members are too often silent at injustice in their own communities when good cops are trying hard to solve crimes and improve quality of life. Being confrontational or combative with an officer because another cop was an a-hole is the same thing as the cop judging you unfairly.

So, the way I see it is we have a choice: we can either do our best to honestly try to see one another’s viewpoint and work on our empathy, or we can retreat to our defensive positions, keep being thin-skinned and self-righteous, only listening to those who see the world through our narrow lens, sharing toxic memes, telling ourselves we’re right, and all the while, our friends and families will keep dying.

The irony is then we will be forced to recognize our most important similarity: The blood that flows in the street will always be red.

Where are all the witnesses now?

Where are all the witnesses now? Two police officers were standing in front of the Ferguson PD, doing their job, maintaining order during the latest community protest. Out of nowhere, shots rang out from the vicinity of the crowd, striking two officers. One was shot just below his right eye, the bullet lodging behind his right ear. The second was shot in the right shoulder, exiting his back on the right side. By sheer luck or God’s grace they were not killed. Make no mistake that murder was the shooter’s intent. Give credit to the professionalism of the remaining officers that not a shot was fired in return.

But here we are, more than twenty-four hours later and I want to know two things: Where are all the witnesses? Do not tell me nobody saw anything. I’ve heard that tired BS for twenty-five years. Every cop in this country is sick of that excuse. Cops work crime scenes 24/7 where crowds of hundreds all profess ignorance. Except, it seems, when a cop does the shooting. Then, everyone saw it. In my former department, the “community” enabled the murderer of two of our cops to hide among them for nearly a week. Someone in Ferguson–probably more than a few–know who shot those police officers. Where are they? Why aren’t you clamoring for your sixty seconds of fame from the media?

Secondly, community leaders, even you, Mr. Attorney General, where is your responsible leadership? What is necessary right now is a call to identify this shooter and show that you care about true justice. This moment and every moment of violence requires it of good people, if they truly wish to co-exist under the same rule of law. Mr. Holder is getting a lot of press for saying, “This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk, a punk who was trying to sow discord.” That’s a great speech line, but what the country needs you to say, sir, is that somebody in Ferguson better give this coward up. Right now. To the protest leaders nationwide, what is required to show your good faith is that every time a trouble maker shoots in a crowd, or hurls rocks, bottles or Molotov cocktails at police officers, then melting back into the “peaceful” crowd, you must push them back out into the open. Identify them as those who are harming your community from inside. They are just as much a part of your problem as any government or law enforcement policy. Those who commit violence in any community should be the enemy of all who want to live in peace.

The City of Ferguson and its police department have been forced to look inwardly to recognize systemic problems. Beyond Ferguson, the conversation has grown nationwide. Law enforcement is undergoing a period of soul searching and adjustment that is needed, and perhaps long overdue. Ferguson has forced out numerous leaders in the name of accountability and the beginnings of reform. For some, nothing will matter, as evidenced by two officers senselessly shot. In the wake of such a violent attack, law enforcement is closing its defensive ranks, and the baby steps of trust between cops and the community in Ferguson have vanished again. What’s been largely missing in this ongoing debate is the hard truth that both sides have to give something. Police cannot turn a blind eye to racist or unlawful behavior in their ranks, but neither can the community. Please, everyone think about this: The bad will always steal the spotlight from the many good. It’s true on both sides. Ferguson terminated its worst offending cops and city officials as a start. Now, it’s your turn, citizens of Ferguson. Turn in this punk who has destroyed the good you’ve tried to do.

When you harbor them in your midst, you lose the credibility. #alllivesmatter

Hands Up But Don’t Lie

The DOJ reports on Ferguson are in. My policy is to read the full accounts prior to commenting, and in this case, I’m very glad I did. The two reports issued by the DOJ offer very different and conflicting images of the August events in Ferguson. As usual, you will never get a clear understanding unless you read BOTH reports in their entirety with an open mind, rather than skimming to find supporting evidence of your own preconceived notions. I watched social media for the past couple days, not surprised that my policing friends view the exoneration of Officer Wilson as proof of policing integrity and media bashing, while my community activist friends seized upon the DOJ’s scathing report on the systemic abuses within Ferguson’s criminal justice system as proof that we don’t need to know whether Michael Brown’s hands were up or he was attacking Officer Wilson because the community is fed up. As a country, we need to read both reports because the truth will never be found inside our own little boxes.

I’m going to start with the DOJ report on Officer Wilson, because I think even now, most press coverage is not fully examining and informing the public of the entire picture. Reports have consistently vilified the officer and the entire law enforcement response with bold, front-page headlines and sensationalism, printing any charge of police brutality as fact. Even now, when the DOJ’s own report largely corroborates Wilson’s testimony by forensic evidence, completely discrediting witnesses that LIED, the best we can get from most of the press is a mumbled mention of witnesses “misstatements”. Why isn’t this a front page headline? Witness lies caused outrage and led to rioting and looting! It seems to me that fair reporting demands at least equal front page coverage.

Most of the uproar and outrage of this incident revolves around a few key assertions:

  1. Michael Brown was stopped by an arrogant officer who told him to get on the sidewalk and became enraged when his “order” wasn’t followed, and consequently, he shot Brown.

Cops know that situations like this do not occur in a vacuum. We hear the description of the incident and understand instinctively that officers’ radio and computer communications are constantly spitting out audio and computerized messages regarding crimes and an alert cop uses them proactively. That’s good policing. The DOJ report confirms this:

“The dispatch recordings and Wilson’s radio transmissions establish that Wilson was aware of the theft and had a description of the suspects as he encountered Brown and Witness 101 [Dorian Johnson]. As Wilson drove toward Brown and Witness 101, he told the two men to walk on the sidewalk. According to Wilson’s statement to prosecutors and investigators, he suspected that Brown and Witness 101 were involved in the incident at Ferguson Market based on the descriptions he heard on the radio and the cigarillos in Brown’s hands. Wilson then called for backup, stating, “Put me on Canfield with two and send me another car.”

  1. Mr. Brown never attacked the officer, only defending himself when the officer grabbed his neck through the open SUV window.

Dorian Johnson, Brown’s companion and fellow robbery suspect that day, made these allegations to various media outlets immediately following the shooting. Additionally, other community “witnesses” came forward to issue similar stories. Again, the DOJ report and physical evidence disproves this:

“Wilson and other witnesses stated that Brown then reached into the SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson. This is corroborated by bruising on Wilson’s jaw and scratches on his neck, the presence of Brown’s DNA on Wilson’s collar, shirt, and pants, and Wilson’s DNA on Brown’s palm. While there are other individuals who stated that Wilson reached out of the SUV and grabbed Brown by the neck, prosecutors could not credit their accounts because they were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence, as detailed throughout this report…Brown then grabbed the weapon and struggled with Wilson to gain control of it. Wilson fired, striking Brown in the hand. Autopsy results and bullet trajectory, skin from Brown’s palm on the outside of the SUV door as well as Brown’s DNA on the inside of the driver’s door corroborate Wilson’s account that during the struggle, Brown used his right hand to grab and attempt to control Wilson’s gun.”

  1. Brown’s hands were up in a surrender posture when shot by Officer Wilson. Here’s the DOJ:

“Witnesses who say so cannot be relied upon in a prosecution because they have given accounts that are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence or are significantly inconsistent with their own prior statements made throughout the investigation. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media.”image

  1. The police willfully let Mr. Brown’s body lay in the street for hours, proving that they had no concern for the loss of his [black] life.

Major crime scenes, especially police involved shootings, require detailed and thorough investigations, which take many hours in order to properly catalogue evidence. This does not change based upon the race of the victim. Add the reality of a small police department that relies upon a larger county agency for investigative support, it will take longer for the investigating detectives and crime scene techs to arrive. In Ferguson, the gathering crowd, no doubt fueled by the incendiary, false accusations, became violent. Now the police had to stop investigating in order to defend themselves.. Here’s part of DOJ’s lengthy explanation:

“During that time frame, between about 12:45 p.m. and 1:17 p.m., SLCPD reported gunfire in the area, putting both civilians and officers in danger. As a result, canine officers and additional patrol officers responded to assist with crowd control. SLCPD expanded the perimeter of the crime scene to move the crowd away from Brown’s body in an effort to preserve the crime scene for processing.”

“In this case, crime scene detectives had to stop processing the scene as a result of two more reports of what sounded like automatic weapons gunfire in the area at 1:55 p.m. and 2:11 p.m., as well as some individuals in the crowd encroaching on the crime scene and chanting, “Kill the Police,” as documented by cell phone video. At each of those times, having exhausted their existing resources, SLCPD personnel called emergency codes for additional patrol officers from throughout St. Louis County in increments of twenty-five. Livery drivers sent to transport Brown’s body upon completion of processing arrived at 2:20 p.m. Their customary practice is to wait on scene until the body is ready for transport. However, an SLCPD sergeant briefly stopped them from getting out of their vehicle until the gunfire abated and it was safe for them to do so.”

  1. Authorities released video evidence from the convenience store robbery in order to improperly indict Brown. In fact, protestors and media outlets asserted that the robbery had nothing whatsoever to do with the shooting.

Folks, the robbery had everything to do with the shooting. The robbery set the rest of the events of that day in motion in ways clearly explained above.

Here’s the problem. These false assertions took off and turned into a narrative that still persists today. Those who wish to believe fabricated storyline have openly stated that they are not swayed by physical evidence, including three separate autopsies, and a six month DOJ investigation proving otherwise, even after they themselves demanded this thorough federal review. It’s unfortunate that many in the media and purported leaders of the Black community, confronted with evidence, now say that the facts don’t matter. Systemic bias and oppression is somehow an excuse to lie about what they saw. Make no mistake, those lies directly led to rioting. What’s worse? Nobody is saying one word about charging anyone with a crime. Last time I checked it was a crime to falsify criminal reports, commit perjury, and incite riots. In Mr. Johnson’s case, his involvement in a felony that ultimately led to his friend’s death should earn him a felony murder charge. Where is the media’s outrage that the actions by these individuals resulted in rioting that destroyed the livelihoods of innocent residents in Ferguson and other cities? Where is the community’s outrage?

Last week I talked about integrity in law enforcement. This week I’d like to issue the same challenge to community leaders and the media. Have the courage to stand up for what is right, even if it doesn’t support the “message”. Stop throwing gasoline on problems and try working on real solutions. Black lives matter. Police lives matter. ALL lives matter. But that’s not the point here. How does dangerously embellishing one incident and destroying one officer’s life help further the cause of equality? Hands up, don’t shoot implies that the police are hunting black citizens and shooting them in the street with no provocation. That is not factual. That’s not to say that there are no rogue cops that need to be identified and charged with crimes, if applicable. They do. But, I don’t believe a rallying cry based on a lie helps make things better for community relations. It’s no different than if a cop frames a suspect because he believes the end justifies the means. It doesn’t.

Next week I’ll examine the other DOJ report on the systemic problems in Ferguson with an equally critical eye. Here’s the link to the official DOJ report on the Brown shooting. I hope you will take the time to read with an open mind and heart.

DOJ report on the Michael Brown Shooting