Monday, December 15, 2014

Who We Aren't

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for hate speech, homogeneity, and,  people who only see black or white but nothing in between. I understand people have differing opinions on all manner of things, and I believe this is a healthy part of a free and democratic society. But getting your news from Facebook is not getting news; it's getting other people's boiled down, biased spin in cutesy sound bites that have nothing to do with actual facts. Some of the stuff I've seen posted on Facebook and in the comment sections of various news organs makes me wonder about the reading skills of many Americans. It's becoming abundantly clear to me...and folks, this is not news....people don't read before they post. They skim. Sometimes. If we're lucky. But they don't read and they don't question. This is a problem.

Perception is everything. If you always wear Vikings purple and gold on game day, people are gonna guess you're a Vikings fan. Team colors, gang colors, head scarves, head coverings, just about anything you wear tells someone something about your personal preferences. Same thing applies to the internet. If you say, 

both of these thugs engaged in criminal behavior many times. They resisted the authority of the police who act in the name of the citizens who hire them. The police acted appropriately by engaging and bringing these criminals under control of the law. the idiots protesting are not looking at the facts, and al and jesse and all the black sympathizers are making the point that these thugs had their rights violated, this is TOTAL CRAP....these guys were criminals ...doing criminal things and were terminated by the police.....the world is better off without them.... GREAT JOB POLICE!.....keep up the good work. 
comment from Washington Post's "Winning Civil Justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner (12DEC2014) 
are you really saying that due process does not apply...or that it's okay they were summarily executed without trial? I understand that anger is there, but is that writer really endorsing a totalitarian police state where the officers are judge, jury, and executioner? 

One cannot talk about the recent shift in our civil society without commenting on three recent events:  

  1. the response to the grand jury findings in the case of Michael Brown
  2. the refusal of the grand jury to indict after the killing of Eric Garner
  3. the exposure of the CIA's use of torture during interrogation 
Each one speaks to a separate shift in what We, the People consider to be our societal norms

First, let's establish that the killing of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police officers in Missouri and New York are not the same. The circumstances are polar opposites and there can be no correlation between the two other than to say they are both dead as the result of a police action. 

We will never know what really happened between Michael Brown and Officer Darrell Wilson. That encounter was not captured on camera, but the events in the convenience store were. That tape, together with the divergent testimony given by witnesses, damned Mr. Brown. Due process ended when his body hit the pavement. 

If the death of Michael Brown is unable to be explained with a reliable timeline of events, the reaction to the grand jury's refusal to indict Officer Wilson is equally chilling. In the cold, hard light of the media's cameras, Ferguson and the surrounding area exploded. Looting, fires, destruction....did any of this bring back Michael Brown? Did breaking store windows and ransacking do anything but focus global attention on acts of violence against innocent shopkeepers? What was accomplished in the rampage other than the destruction of their own community? How does this assuage the anger and frustration felt by the Brown family and their core supporters? Did it do anything to change the perception that Michael Brown and his compatriots are nothing but thugs? The riots did not change the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Wilson. The mob took over and the mob becomes judge, jury and executioner. Vigilante justice is as wrong as the original shooting. It cannot be justified. 

Take down of Eric Garner
The case of Eric Garner is entirely different. The exchange is on tape. He was a large, cumbersome man asking the police to stop harassing him. Watch the tape. Seriously. Watch it in slow-mo if you have to. Watch the officers come up from behind and take him down. Was he violent? Was he threatening anyone? Is putting up your hands to shield yourself..or swatting away a hand as you back up against a wall an act of extreme violence? Eleven times he gasps, "I can't breathe," yet the officer never release his hold even after Mr. Garner is clearly down for the count. Then watch the second video...the one less often seen. The one where he lies on the sidewalk and is treated with absolute callousness by the officers and the EMT. Is that how a human being is to be treated?

For argument's sake, does it matter than Officer Pataleo has been named in two civil rights law suits in 2013 where suspects were falsely arrested and abused...on the street in public? If Eric Garner should be damned with his pattern of selling illegal cigarettes, should conclusions be reached about Officer Pantaleo based on his past record? 

We have stood by while that which we once held so dear, the principle of due process, is violated. 

And it's not just about how we treat our own citizens. We, the People seem to have taken leave of the Geneva Conventions to permit the CIA to use torture as part of the interrogation process. The same system that does not see the death of Eric Garner as the homicide the medical examiner declared it to be, also does not see water-boarding, rectal rehydration, and naked chaining in coffin-sized spaces as torture. Although I rarely agree with Senator John McCain, he might be the only person in Congress with a right to an opinion here. He was tortured. He has direct experience. I think he kinda knows what it is, and his opinion is that the CIA and its contracted subsidiaries practiced torture methodology on detainees. 

The US signed on to the Geneva Conventions in 1882 at the urging of Clara Barton (yes, that Clara Barton) and we've been a part of the agreement ever since. 

Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, last updated in August of 1949, is long and difficult to read; however, one section stands out
PART II: HUMANE TREATMENT - Art.4-Fundamental Guarantees 
2. Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the following acts against the persons referred to in paragraph I are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever: (a) violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation or any form of corporal punishment; (b) collective punishments; (c) taking of hostages; (d) acts of terrorism; (e) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form or indecent assault; (f) slavery and the slave trade in all their forms; (g) pillage; (h) threats to commit any or the foregoing acts. 
We are obliged to behave according to its precepts.

Former Veep Cheney on Meet the Press
Look, if the CIA didn't know they were on shaky ground, why were they constantly asking the Justice Department to declare what they were doing as legal? Vice President Cheney knew exactly what he was doing and it was an end run around responsibility. And if President Bush was unaware, well, that's a whole 'nother story. These things were deliberate, planned and executed carefully; they were not instant decisions made by soldiers in the field. There is no way to excuse detaining people you already know are neither combatants nor participants, and there is no excuse for abusing human beings under any circumstance. That is anathema to us.

The fundamental guarantee of due process applies to Americans and people in American custody. We subscribe to the belief that our citizens have the right to a fair trial, one where guilt must be proven without a doubt in a court of law. The Guantanamo detainees are still on American soil, albeit in Cuba, and still entitled to the right of due process and a trial, just as Michael Brown and Eric Garner should have had.

Either We, the People subscribe to a just society ruled by law as applied to ALL.....or we don't. There is no halfway here. 

The Brown riots, the Garner homicide, and the CIA's decision to torture are all undermining the Constitution and the laws of this nation. They are very much related to the denial of civil rights and due process. To strip away the trappings of the three events is to reveal the bare bones of civil rights...and how we approach those rights for everyone. Not just whites. Not just blacks. Not just purple with pink polka dots. 

We are We, the People. Doesn't mention anything about color, class, gender, sexual orientation or even nationality. This is about how we treat ourselves and how we treat the other....terrorist, criminal, or unfortunate bystander. When we walk away from those principles, we walk away from that which has made us exceptional. That which has made us the place people want to come. That which has made us America, land of the free, home of the brave. 

We seem to have lost our moral compass. It's time to backtrack and find it before we forget who We, the People are supposed to be. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

If you can't attribute the quote, don't post it. 


  1. The police making a legal arrest is not harassment or summary execution. It is illegal to resist arrest. Both of these men would be alive had they obeyed the police.

    1. the problem in both of these cases is that a person or persons under the badge of authority approached both incidents in fear of black men and therefore responded with actions far more forceful than required for the situation(s). Both men were involved in minor rule breaking (jaywalking and selling of cigarettes). But the white officers involved were arrogant and confrontational immediately, in the case of Michael Brown, profanity was used by the officer when he first addressed the rule breakers and in Eric Garner's case, a large group of officers converged on him and almost immediately began to hand-cuff him for arrest before listening to his explanation about what had occurred. Black men on the street are perceived as a threat by law enforcement - whether they are or not - and the reaction of many (certainly not all) of these white officers who are more than likely to be veterans of the Iraq or Afghan wars, is one where adrenaline is released as they approach black men as symbols, not people. Police officers react as if they are in a war zone with enemies everywhere, not their community with human beings everywhere.

  2. The police unnecessarily using deadly force as the FIRST resort rather than the last IS summary execution. I suspect, Majormarginal, that you do not have a history of being constantly harassed by police. I don't either. But I work with black people who do. These are professionals with advanced degrees and six-figure jobs, and not a week goes by that one of them doesn't get pulled over for doing things that I do, as a middle-aged white woman, every day without ever getting a ticket -- going 5 mph over speed limit when everyone else is whizzing by. Driving for 50 feet on the shoulder to pull into a parking lot and getting a ticket for "driving on the shoulder." Proceeding with caution at a yellow light. I've been in cars driven by these people. They are not speed demons, nor do theydrive any differently from the way I do. But their pigmentation is deemed by the police to be unseemly. It is heartbreaking when a 50-year-old professional in a Mercedes-Benz who has a wife, a grown son who graduated college with honors, and two adorable young daughters, who is adored by everyone he works with, has to make sure to keep his hands on the wheel at all times when he is pulled over, lest he be summarily executed by police for going 60 in a 55 mph zone when everyone else is going 75 -- JUST because he is black. Or when a woman has to tell her 15-year-old son that he's not allowed to wear a hooded sweatshirt to go running and that he must keep his hands out of his pockets at all times -- just because he's black.

    1. I was an Officer for a long time. I made traffic stops based on probable cause. Most of the time I had no idea who was in the vehicle until I walked up on it. I also learned from my parents and from drivers ed in high school to keep my hands on the wheel if stopped by the police. Most cops have a much stricter personal use of force policy than what is written in laws, rules, and regulations. Nobody is "constantly harassed" by the police. Don't resist arrest. Its against the law. If you feel you were wronged complain or sue later.

    2. As an Officer, you obviously know that "resisting arrest" is a crime. You also know that as an Officer, you don't get to decide guilt/innocence and you don't get to sentence those convicted.
      Perhaps Michael Brown was a criminal who resisted arrest. That may be. But if the Officer did not act within the authorized use of force continuum, then he is a criminal as well. I don't agree with some of the protesters/media coverage when they suggest they KNOW what happened; no one knows (eyewitnesses are the WORST evidence, but that's a story for another day). The problem is that the way the case was handled all the way through makes it impossible to tell what happened or to trust the facts presented by the authorities. The handling of the case by the prosecutors is highly questionable - the way they presented the evidence, provided the WRONG LAW, questioned people, waited until it was dark and they had amassed a large crowd to announce the grand jury's findings, etc.
      The Garner case is very different but also very similar. Maybe he was breaking the law, but DEADLY FORCE was used against him selling loose cigarettes. The man died because overzealous cops, in a large group, tried to arrest him by using force because he was committing a misdemeanor. They decided he was guilty and what he did was so bad that they had to use extreme force. Why – power trip? Racism? I don’t know, but the video didn't seem to justify their actions.
      I'm not a person of color and I haven't had to walk in the world that people with darker skin walk every day. However, I'm willing to admit that I don't know what they've gone through and I can't dismiss their experience. We need to respect those around us, their experiences, and their feelings.
      In the past few weeks, many have publicly claimed that they are denied due process on a regular basis; maybe so, I can't speak to their experiences. However, what I can speak to is my opinion based on what I’ve seen in these cases: it appears to me that due process was denied to these men.

  3. This was beautifully written. Thank you. Whether or not the police acted in a justified manner can (I suppose) be debated, as it already has been in this comment section. That is exactly why it is such a travesty that the Grand Jury--not to be confused with a jury of one's peers in a trial where all available evidence is presented--failed to indict. It should have been for a court of law to make that determination.

  4. Thank you for your well-thought out commentary. You point to the real issue at hand: Can we as a Nation survive as a democracy when such acts as you have descrbined (all of them) are done by authority or against authority? I have my doubts.

  5. What exactly does 'We, The People' mean anymore? Let's face it, our country is a rogue nation. After 9/11 many countries gave us their sympthay. Today, we are the most hated country in the world. And for good reason. Our nation building and murderous acts are results of laws being interpreted to meet the demands of our rogue leaders. The worst part of killing with drones (for instance) is the 'acceptable collateral damage'. How does that stand up to agreements of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention? It doesn't. This is all about the will of business interests in the U.S. Or, better known at the 1%ers. We are a rogue nation worldwide, why would it be any different domestically? It isn't. Can you say.... post constitutional?


  6. "are you really saying that due process does not apply...or that it's okay they were summarily executed without trial?" Must be fun to set up a straw man and then knock it down. You missed the part about Brown attacking Wilson, evidence of which the grand jury took into consideration in reaching their decision.

    1. I don't know who you are because you lack the courage to add your name, but due process is the law of this land. If you commit a crime you have the _right_ to a trial. Did he attack Wilson....or did Wilson instigate the altercation. If you know the actual answer to that, you are clairvoyant because there is no tape, no evidence, no reliable witness to provide conclusive information. That is not to say Michael Brown did not steal cigarillos from the convenience store, but what happened between Officer Wilson and Mr. Brown remains a matter of open to investigation. Had he been wounded, stood trial and found guilty of the robbery or assaulting an officer of the law, then that would be an entirely different matter.

      And just to be really clear, the issue discussed in the blog was the _reaction_ to the lack of indictment which was, without question, heinous.....I was not discussing Mr. Brown's innocence or guilt.

  7. Unfortunately, many things in this country currently seem to be deemed "wrong", "illegal", "heinous" or even "treasonous" just because someone doesn't agree with them. The nation was built upon disagreement just as much as agreement - The Federalist Papers weren't written to spread the common wisdom easily agreed upon by the Founding Fathers.
    We all need to develop the ability to respect an opposing view without demonizing it. On a political level, that shouldn't be so difficult; we're talking about words and ideas (Senators on different sides of the aisle are friends; heck Justice Ginsberg is good friends with Justice Scalia (for some unknown reason)). Unfortunately, on a practical level, it seems much harder to develop respect and the stakes are much higher; we're talking about life and death in some cases.
    Maybe Brown & Garner did not respect the laws the way they should have, but those officers did not respect their lives. Likewise, those who engaged in torture did not respect the lives of their VICTIMS, the laws of the nation, the morals of our culture, or the expectations of the entire world (see, e.g., the Geneva Convention and Senator McCain’s recent speech from the Senate floor). In all these cases, the GOVERNMENT AGENTS took it into their own hands to decide what is right and wrong. That wasn’t their place.
    Police Officers and those interrogating terrorist suspects have difficult jobs and deserve our respect, but these individuals took advantage of the system, as well as the respect and deference they inherently receive. Sadly, that seems to be all too common.
    How do we change this? I don’t know. How does a large portion of the population come to trust those in power? That will likely take time and effort from all involved. How do we get people to understand that morals aren’t something that you change because something bad happens? If they won’t listen to a right-wing Hawk like John McCain, there may not be hope. Perhaps some type of international prosecution make a point – but that would likely just harden the feelings of righteous indignation.
    Maybe we need to just change things. POTUS is willing to step out and try new things. His immigration order isn’t a magic potion, but at least he’s trying to effect some change. Will today’s announcements about Cuba bring down the Castros? Maybe not, but it’s gotta have a better chance than the policy that hasn’t worked for 50+ years. Let’s get all the different sides of these issues together and ask a new question: how do we change, not how do we get by.