Volume 1 Number 22 May 7, 2015
I had always preached to my kids, in their growing years: Your friendly policemen is there to help you. But, catch this scene from about five years ago. It was a sweltering, brutally hot 90 degree summer day in this-is-as hot-as-it-gets Manhattan. We were driving, or creeping south, on lower Broadway looking for a parking spot. Suddenly, my brother-in-law spotted a car about to pull out, a few spots ahead of us. We waited for him. He wasn’t in a hurry, and even got out of his car, signaling he would be a minute, and then dashed across the street to a drugstore. Maybe he had to go for a pit stop. We waited patiently.
After another minute or so, a taxi cab directly behind us started to hit the horn. I signaled for him to go around us, but he just continued to beep us. Finally, two rough-looking guys in the cab jumped out and approached us. We did the same. To our surprise they had police badges hanging around their necks, a couple of plainclothes men in a cab–believe it or not.
Heatedly, one said, “I’m going to ticket you for obstructing traffic.” We started to explain, and he kept cutting us off. Finally, the hot, straining policeman started to speak to us slowly, in an icy voice, “I don’t want to hear another word from you two. It’s over. Go\et it or else you’ll be in trouble. Get back in the car.” We meekly did as ordered.
I’ll never forget the way he said it. It felt menacing. It was a threat, promising arrest or who knows what else. I wound up getting a ticket for $120. More than the cost of the ticket, the thought that stayed with me was, Supposing I was African-American, I bet I wouldn’t have gotten off that lightly.
The Recent History of Police Brutality
Ever since the Trayvon Martin 2012 killing in Florida we have been besieged by instances of alleged police brutality, ending in another death of an African-American. The names were all familiar to us when they were the hot item: Eric Garner in Staten Island, Michael Brown in Ferguson Mo., Ezel Ford in Los Angeles, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC and now Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The cable networks had a field day: showing, discussing and analyzing every killing by a series of talking heads, individually and in panels.
In April of 2015 in Baltimore, we saw another unarmed person of color killed and a riot that ensued as angered youth took to the streets to “foul their own nest.” We learned of the surroundings. Their characteristics were always the same: a run-down inner city or neighborhood, overwhelmingly inhabited by African-Americans; high unemployment, especially among teens and young adults, a crumbling infrastructure, inadequate housing, a lack of social services, a declining population, single parenting, and tone-deaf, usually white political leaders and a lily-white police force who don’t live in the city. Actually, in Baltimore there were plenty of people of color among the police and government officials, but the problems were the same. We were at once captivated and repulsed by the goings-on, until we turned the TV off in exhaustion. Such is the current state of affairs.
Conveniently, there is no comprehensive record of how many such deaths arise nationally, but it is probably around 100 and climbing, according to USA Today of August 15, 2014. That is 100 too many. In all fairness, remember that one out of three adult black men do hard time and they account for over two-fifths of the prison population, according to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. This far surpasses their 13 percent of the population. so it is no surprise that they are disproportionately targets for the police.
Their deaths resonate with society in a way that draws attention to the day-to-day problems of police brutality and the even larger picture of a society. that largely ignores what drives people to skirt the law–how do we treat the poor among us or the poor we choose not to see? These are complex issues that we are now trying to look at.
Association of Poverty with Crime
While sociologists will argue about the causes of crime: inherited tendencies, parental mistreatment and neglect, broken families, drug dependency, bad associations, greed, etc., one thing stands out. It doesn’t require great minds to agree that regardless of cause, the risk of crime is greatest and flourishes most in poor, inner-city areas. This, in turn, leads to aggressive policing tactics in these areas. Take away poverty and crime will be diminished, and with it, probably, police brutality.
If you want to rule out that crime has social causes than look at this from a report from England in Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice, February, 2001 in the United Kingdom. ”When the Conservatives came to power unemployment was under a million and the police recorded 2.5 million crimes. When unemployment fell in 1987 and 1988 so did crime. When unemployment rose in 1990 and 1991, crime followed suit. In 1993, nearly 3 million were unemployed and 5.5 million crimes were recorded.”
But, you might ask, Poverty has been with us forever; why this high profile explosion–now? Perhaps, it is the theory of rising expectations. African-Americans in this country, for centuries, were enslaved or so beaten down by a cruel society so that they lacked the will to protest. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., such organizations as NAACP, SNCC and SCLC, and the March on Selma in 1964 began to change things. There was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and quickly the Voting Right Act of 1965 as well as reinforcing legislation in the following years. It was hard to believe, but lynchings were commonplace until the Civil Rights Act and into the 1960s. Can you imagine? That wasn’t that long ago. In more recent years white society became more aware of and sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans in this nation. Progress was made. Some people of color became more educated, held better jobs and moved into the middle class. For Pete’s sakes, we even had a black President.
It’s not enough. If poverty has lessened in the last 50 years, it was somewhat primarily due to the infusion of government payments to low income families. We were still dealing with poverty as our number one domestic issue.
One theory was the reason for the spate of reported police violence and resulting civil unrest in 2015 had to do with the media, both broadcast and social media. Police brutality has been rampant for years. The problem was we never saw it so vividly before. But thanks to Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, with their unending coverage supported by videos on cell phones and street cameras, they were spreading the word. We saw it happening and were shocked over and over again. The people in those neighborhoods where it happened saw it as well. So people took to the streets in protests and, what do you know, another cycle of trouble began.
Who Becomes a Cop?
Policemen are under great pressure every time they go out on the job. After all, in our country there is almost a gun for every person. So how is it that the police shoot so many unarmed people? It is probably because they are afraid at that critical juncture of a menacing encounter that maybe that man is about to pull out a weapon. Wouldn’t you be? Every little twitch could be for a hidden weapon, so they react before it happens. And another unarmed man is shot. Incidentally, that unarmed man is always either resisting or running away.
What kind of a man becomes a policeman? Is it someone who wants to protect people? Or is it someone who is prone to violence? Or is it just someone looking for a decent paying job that has security? After all cops, at least starting-out cops, are unlikely to be among the most educated.
As the National Center for Women and Policing noted, “Two studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population.” That is one big difference. So this lays to rest the notion that the Policemen’s Benevolent Association and supporters of the police insist on: It is only a few rotten apples in the barrel that are responsible for the problem. Whether they have the tendency toward such behavior beforehand or whether their job experiences bring it out is another matter. The problem is there.
Be sure to continue with Part 2 which is a call for greater testing of policemen, the cost to society of police violence, how to achieve a fast reduction in police violence, and a way out of the cycle of poverty are discussed. Oe if you are tired, take a break and pick it up another time.
he Advocacy Newsletter: Connecting the Dots
Between What and . . . . . . .Why Things Happen
Volume 1 Number 22 May 7 2015–Continued
YOUR FRIENDLY POLICEMAN–OR A VIOLENT MAN IN BLUE?
By Martin Stolzenberg
Part 1 of this report covered a potential encounter, a brief history of police brutality, an association of poverty with crime and who becomes a policeman.
We have to start doing a better job of screening policemen. Most police departments administer some kind of personality test. Only about 5 percent of applicants are knocked out at this stage, according to criminologycareers.com. That seems like a small amount. Indeed, the policemen who shot that boy carrying a toy pistol in Cleveland was found to have applied and been found unfit in other venues and he was forced to resign from another department. He turned up again and passed the Cleveland psychological test, as reported in Truthout, February 20, 2015.
The job of these tests is not only to determine if an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder. It is also to identify those potential recruits whose personality types and behavior are unsuited to the job including the ability to make quick decisions. Judging by the current killings and the behavior of the officers, it looks like the current tests are falling down on the job.
Stringent tests should be mandated by licensed psychologists in each state to carry out this task, which is not always the case now. They must not only detect those inclined to violence, “But those, who given the opportunity to advance their own interest by hurting others, they do it,” says author Jack El-Hai chronicling the work of Dr. Douglas M Kelly. In other words this is akin to the German experience during World War II where thousands of seemingly normal people committed unbelievable acts of violence and atrocity. This is not a fair comparison to our police, but is intended to identify a type of personality carried to the extreme.
Yet it is not enough to do better screening to weed out more of the unfit. Continual training of policemen in dealing with untoward situations and retesting and reevaluation is required, long after they cease to be trainees. Along with that, protocols should be developed on crowd control. Seeing policemen in riot gear is an invitation to riot. Their use should be curtailed.
The Cost of Police Violence
Hundred of millions of dollars are spent by municipalities to pay the victims of police brutality. Prezl.com reported that in a one year period in 2010, nationally there were close to 6,000 reported misconducts by police with a payout of $347,455,000. This probably underreports the amount by many times. The city of Los Angeles alone reported paying out $54 million in settlements in 2013. Extrapolating that, the city contains 1.2 percent of the country’s population that could lead to a whopping figure of $4.5 billion projected nationally. Maybe LA is a particularly violent place, judging by the beating and subsequent riots surrounding Rodney King in 1992 and the violent police film, Mulholland Falls.
If police brutality is rampant in this city, and it is half that level nationally, that is still $2.25 billion tab, a lot of dough that could go to good use elsewhere. It is also probably the tip of the iceberg because many of these brutality settlements are unreported as part of the deal. And, God only knows, how much it really should be with all of the police brutality that goes unreported.
A Quick Means of Cutting Police Violence
Time after time instances of reported police abuse are ignored or resulted in no conviction or a slap on the wrist. “The numbers are even more skewed. There were 10,000 abuse complaints filed against the Chicago PD between 2002 and 2004, and just 19 of them resulted in a meaningful disciplinary action. On a national level, upwards of 95 percent of police misconduct cases referred for federal prosecution are declined by prosecutors because juries are conditioned to believe cops and victim’s credibility is often challenged, as reported by The American Conservative in July 2, 2014.
Now there is a major “game changer” in the fight against police brutality is on the horizon. Having each policeman with a body camera has been shown to dramatically curtail police violence. In Rialto, California “In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60 percent, and citizen complaints against police fell 88 percent says The Wall Street Journal of August 18, 2014. We have seen the cases of brutality being clarified when filmed. It is not bad to have “big brother” watching in these cases.
Look at the shooting of Michael Scott in South Carolina. The officer, Michael Slager said he feared for his life because the man had taken his taser gun in a scuffle, had run away and was threatening him. However, a video by a passerby showed the officer planting an object, reportedly the taser gun, next to body. Mr. Slager has been indicted in the death. Without that video, chances are nil the officer would be in the clink.
Transforming the Inner City
Cutting back the level of brutality will make a lot of the problems in our inner city go away. And, how about changing the “broken window” mentality and behavior of the police? This has led to the “stop and frisk” carried out in most of our big cities. Young African-American males report repeated friskings by rough policemen. This can’t engender feelings of fellowship with the men in blue.
New York City, under the progressive leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio, has ended its “stop and frisk” program. Despite fears to the contrary, in the short run, there has been no uptick in crime reported here and in Los Angeles, another city that ceased friskings, since their moratoriums.
The real way out is education. In today’s world you need an education to make a decent living. Remember stop poverty and you stop crime. Anything else we do is just stop gap unless African-Americans get a better education. This requires some long range thinking, something our country has shown itself not to do too well.
It starts at the youngest children. Congress should stop dithering around and adequately fund pre-school programs. Grants should be given so that all young children are in early childhood programs to give them a boost up in learning. Then we have to follow through in our educational system. Right now the youngest and most inept teachers are assigned to inner city schools. Actually, we should pay a premium to these teachers so they attract the best and the brightest. Special aid should be given to low income, not only African-Americans, to attend college. They should have guidance counselors along the way to help them. How much would it cost? I didn’t have the will or where-with-all to run all the numbers. But, I bet it is less than it costs society to pay for the crimes committed the damages and to jail the perpetrators.
A seemingly unlikely avenue is music programs. Having all kids K-5 play a musical instrument has been shown to be one of the best ways to improve school performance. It teaches the kids, discipline, focus, teamwork and a sense of accomplishment. According to Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, a childhood music development program, “Music learning supports all learning.”
Then there are the long range steps that can be taken by the communities themselves to foster a better climate. There are plenty of programs to improve aspects of Baltimore, and other cities like it, in place. Improving the port, better programs for kids, fellowships to help the poor and community health outreach to name a few. One avenue that is “low hanging fruit” is the Police Athletic League. Most major cities already have such programs and centers in place. They should be strengthened as an excellent mode of community outreach by the police. Such programs should be backed up by funding to lift up our cities. There should also be a decided effort to cut back on youthful arrests and incarceration for minor offenses. These only lead to greater criminal activity on their release.
Another aspect that must be dealt with is kid’s safety. The National Center for Healthy Housing had this to say: ”Used in many materials and products, lead is a heavy metal that is dangerous to human health. Since lead is a natural element it does not break down in the environment. Once lead has been dispersed and redeposited into the environment, it will remain there to poison generations of children unless it is controlled or removed. Even very limited exposure to lead is hazardous to children…Problems caused by lead poisoning in children can lead to reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia and a range of other health, intellectual and behavior problems…While lead poisoning rates have declined nationally, it is estimated to still be at around 8 percent among 1-5 year olds in poor areas, five times the national rate.” We have to have a concerted effort to keep after those slum lords who poison our kids.
To sum it up, a concerted National Inner City Bootstrap Program (my own term) is required to do the task. We aren’t helping just African-Americans when we do this; we are helping all of the under classes: Latin-Americans, Native- Americans and even some white people who have been left behind. Sure, it will have to be individualized to meet each community’s need, but it is a start. We sure need it, and whatever it costs, will be money well spent.
Printed by permission of the Groundcover News. Please feel free to pass this essay on to others and if they wish let them e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to add them to the list of recipients. Also, if you have comments on this article or any others I would love to hear from you.