In any conflict of opinion, there are two styles of argument: those styles that acknowledge both views and allow ideas to compete, and those styles that seek to just dismiss the other argument. The former is about determining the truth. The latter ultimately ignores the truth in favor of oppressing the other side. The former is about being heard even if you are not agreed with, the latter is about forcing one party to obey the other. This concept is important to discussions in general, but takes on additional importance in understanding what is happening in the recent protests, and in understanding that despite the recent tragedy, the protests need to continue.
Despite what the news has tried to leave you to believe, the recent protests are not about two dead black men. Michael and Eric were the triggers, but they were not the cause, and there is an important difference to understand there as well. Triggers only set off the explosion, but causes build the bomb. The timer, the cell phone, the electronic switch only move the highly volatile chemicals from a state of being primed to actually exploding. The cause of the bomb, however, is the person who set up the chemicals to be in their volatile and primed state to begin with. So understanding that, we see that Michael and Eric were not the causes of the protests, they were the triggers. The cause of the protests were a system that has lead to the regular targeting and killing of minorities, and a systematic refusal to investigate and change the inherent flaws in the system that allow those deaths to happen. The protests that have emerged are a reaction to that broken system, Michael and Eric are just the most recent manifestations, and the communities have decided that they are no longer going to watch their members die without just reason. These cases are not about the individuals killed, but the systemic problems that caused the deaths to happen, and policies that also kill hundreds of others per year.
The official response to the protest has been an argument of dismissal. There has been an attempt to confuse the causes with the triggers, and then attempts to de-legitimize triggers. For Michael, they used a grand jury, which regularly fail to indict police officers, and knowingly used dishonest testimony to create the illusion of no wrong doing. For Eric, they have been using fears of the giant black man to get people to agree to the idea that the deadly force of justified against a man who didn’t actually take an aggressive action against the police. And as they have us arguing over the triggers, they have effectively distracted us from the causes of the protest, mainly the targeting of minorities for arrest and police abuse and the failure to enact changes in the system to correct for the biases that cause the problems to happen. When those tactics have failed to work, the powers that be turn to more violence to silence the protestors. Again, this is because they rely on dismissal and obedience rather than searching for truth and letting it be heard. The problem is that when you take away the good options, the only thing people have left to choose from are the bad choices. When Ferguson met with their protestors as you would an invading army, riots broke out. As I have said before, that violence was not good, but it wasn’t supposed to be. That violence was a natural consequences of a broken system. But rather than look at those dire consequences and using them as a wake-up call, new arguments of dismissal have been made, and even though the first month’s worth of riots in Ferguson have done less damage than then damage done in the evening of the pumpkin riots, the story is that people are tantrumming, and not reacting to a legitimate grievance. But instead of silencing the protests, the protests spread, and despite attempts to incite violence through planted agitators, they have remained largely peaceful, much to frustration of the powers that be.
Which brings us to the current tragedy. Two police officers were targeted and executed, and that is inexcusable. Something that has been left out of the current narrative is that the person responsible for the execution was not actually acting as a protester. The Boston native drove to New York for the sole purpose of murder and just before traveling to New York, he began his murder spree by killing his ex-girlfriend, who was not a police officer. He had a long history of mental illness and criminal activity. The only link that has been established was a tweet made that stated made an eye for an eye proclamation. Then he killed his ex, killed the officers, and finished by killing himself. His actions fit the profile of the “blaze of glory killing” not a protest action, and though he made that statement over twitter, that was a justification made after he committed himself to going out in a blaze of glory.
But despite the fact the actual leadership of the protests were quick to denounce the shootings, the powers that be are trying to use this event to discredit and silence the protests. Some are trying to use it as a justification to characterize all the protests as terroristic, with news sources manipulating the facts to meet that narrative. Others have been asking the protests to stop, if even temporarily, in response. But this is another attempt to dismiss the argument, to avoid having conversation, because they know what truths will be said and are afraid of those truths
And this leads us to the point of the protests, the point they are working so hard to desperately to keep you from hearing.
*Update 1/7/14* First of all, racism is still a problem, as seen in large amount of factual data collected on racial discrepencies:
In the areas where there is unrest, the outrage is due to police officers overreaching in their powers at an expense of citizen rights and lives. Even before Michael Brown’s death, there was a long history of racially based tension between the largely African American City and the largely white police force, including an apparent bias in policing that triggered a civil rights complaint. In New York, the history is worse. The NYPD, also referred to by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg as his personal army, would disproportionately target minorities for minor offenses and random searches. When defending the racial differences in his Stop and Frisk program, Bloomberg confirmed his racial bias by claiming those minorities are more likely to be violent, and ultimately it was found that 90% of stop an frisk actions result in no evidence of criminal wrongdoing being found. This focus on minor offenses is based on the “Broken Windows” policing theory, where small violations are aggressively targeted in hopes that it would discourage larger violent crime (note: there has been no appreciable effect on crime as compared to cities not employing this policy). There has also been a secondary gain to these actions, as enforcing the quality of life offenses also results in income for the city. As a result, a quota system has emerged to drive up arrests to the point where 2/3 of arrests are for these minor violations, and again, with a bias that targets minorities. And despite insistence otherwise, this policy has not been shown to be effective for reducing violent crime. What we have however, is a policy that is not based around policing to maintain the safety and stability of a community, but one based on the pressure to seek out people to arrest. Because of this, if you aren’t actually breaking the law, it doesn’t matter, you can be can be approached, physically searched, and arrested even if you can prove you are obeying the law. If you are a minority, the before mentioned biases mean this will happen more an more, *update 1/7/15 *even if they are not committing crimes, and even if they are law abiding off duty police officers themselves. What develops is a policy driven adversarial relationship and a powder keg of frustration.
Next we have the police practices themselves. With Michael Brown, the full story may never be known, because testimony known to be false was brought into the grand jury investigation, and the grand jury process in this case was so suspect, that there is now a lawsuit that has been started by a witness to allow him to speak about what really happened. And this leads us to the problem of the lack of accountability for Police themselves. Because grand juries regularly fail it indict police accused of the gross abuse, there are rarely any trials to determine when an officer is abusing power. There are other systemic blocks to accountability. Police also know what to say and do avoid being accountable themselves. In this case in Bloomfield, NJ, police were caught making false accusation of resistance to justify their mistreatment of the African American they pulled over (and notice how the statements like “going for my gun” mirror many of the statements associated with the Michael Brown case).
The systemic nature of the help police receive in avoiding consequences for abuse is also seen in the case of Akai Gurley, who died in part because the shooting officer was too busy texting his union rep to call for an ambulance for the innocent and shot Gurley.
For Eric Garner, not only again is this a case of lack of accountability for his death, but there is a serious issue in regards to the tactics use against this man who may not have actually been committing a crime.
He was agitated, as seen, because he had a history of being targeted by police, a history which included a public rectal cavity search, that had recently lead him to pursue a law suit against the police. He pulled away his arms and held them above his head shouting “don’t touch me!” and made no other aggressive moves before her was jumped on, was restrained and eventually died. He was not making any aggressive actions towards the officers, he just was trying to be left alone. None of the officers were injured in the arrest that got him killed, despite his physical capability of doing causing such injury if he were to resist. But more importantly, what is consistently ignored is that the police escalated this encounter, instead of deescalating it. There are several deescalation systems that can be used to calm agitated individuals. When I worked in the psychiatric hospital, we utilized one known as “The Mandt” system and it was developed to calm and gain compliance from agitated individuals. These systems work in hospitals with delusional and psychotic patients, they can work with sane people on the streets. But the whole concept of deescalation runs counter to an ethic and policy that pushes aggressive crime finding over actual peace keeping, and people are dying as a result.
This brings us back to the issues of the protests. What has slipped attention is that Ferguson and New York are not the only places to where protests are occurring, they just happen to be in the places where the most conflict as occurred because of the police responses to the protests. In Philadelphia, protesters actually coordinated protests with the police, cooperating and collaborating. In Nashville, protesters were met with cups of coffee and hot chocolate handed out by the police. Its only in the cities where the policies are so oppressive, and the police powers are so militaristic that the protest actions have become so tense and heated. In Ferguson, protesters were met with armored vehicles and tear gas, not hot chocolate. In New York *update 1/7/15* where there is a history of abusing protester rights, protesters were met with military device known as an LRAD that uses potentially deafening sound to disperse crowds. Had Ferguson or NYC respected their citizens’ first amendment rights as Philadelphia and Nashville had, the protesters would have felt heard and this conversation would be much different. But then again If Ferguson or NYC had been respecting their citizens’ rights and voices in the first place, the problems would have been addressed and the protests would have never been necessary in the first place.
There are real problems occurring in many cities when it comes to the execution of police duties. There are clear patterns of racial bias in police encounters, which are partially the result of policies that use quotas to force police to find a set number of crimes in a nation where crime has actually been declining. These aggressive policies are leading to the deaths of citizens. When these deaths occur, the officers responsible rarely face corrective action. But rather than acknowledge and address these problems, the pressure is to dismiss them and silence the voices that call for change. The protests you see are a direct result of the refusal to address the problems within the system. And until the system decides to accept responsibility and make the necessary changes, the protests must continue, because that is the only way to make sure the debate continues. To do otherwise will just cost the lives of more citizens.