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Response to Recent Police and Civilian Killings, Part Five

August 3, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry


Whenever the policemen are caught in acts of blatant brutality or killings, there’s always a cry for more training. There’s never an equal cry for justice. Depending on the severity of the crime, a flood of recommendations are put forth. The call for more training obviously suggests that the officer(s) did something wrong. Still, seldom, if ever, there’s any punishment.

In the late 1960s, during the urban unrest, President Lyndon Johnson created the Kerner Commission. There were recommendations regarding police-community relations. Arthur Miller was killed by a police chokehold in 1978. There were recommendations regarding police chokeholds. In August 1979, when Luis Baez was killed, there were proposals on multiple shootings by police officers. It did not stop police acts in either case. Chokeholds and multiple shootings continued.

In 2010, when I served on Governor Patterson’s task force on police-shooting-police, we made recommendations. There’s President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing with 59 recommendations. It was developed in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. There were NY proposals which came after the death of Eric Garner.

There are the Nine Principles of Policing established in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, the founder of Metropolitan Police in London. After all of these proposals, the problems remain. Clearly, there is something deeper that training can’t resolve. I will say a thousand times, I believe what is critically important, may be the missing link – “the police must police the police.” The police needs to be held accountable for their behavior.

According to the New York Police Department, it has undertaking a strategic change in how it forms its critical police mission. They call it the 5 T’s – Trust, Training, Technology, Terrorism, and Tackling Crime.

Recently, in the Amsterdam News edition, July 21st-July 27th, 2016, Commissioner William Bratton, in an article entitled, “Is this War? I Don’t Believe So, and I Certainly Hope Not,” he wrote about bridging the gulf between the police and the community. He said there were three primary fronts where communities and police departments can move forward and make significant progress: Minimize, wherever possible, police force (the idea is to cut back on the use of force); training and re-training (all officers are to undergo periodic retraining); and, police in patrol cars (rather than ping-ponging here and there, a saturation of particular area is to be implemented).

2. Peace/Calm

Inevitably, whenever there is a police killing or brutality, and the community expresses its outrage, there is an immediate call for peace and calm. Persuasively and passionately, public officials of every description tell the protestors and all who will listen that violence is counterproductive. The way to achieve justice is through peaceful expressions, they say.

Regrettably, the unfortunate fact is there has been no significant social change without violence, would to God it were not so. History teaches and the present confirms this hard fact: without violence there is no change. Somebody will pay with blood. There are those who say that the Civil Rights Movement was non-violent. They point to the gains which were made to bolster their argument.

The Civil Rights Movement was far from non-violent. Go tell the loved ones of Mr. Medgar Evers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. James Reeb, Ms. Viola Liuzzo, and the many others who were killed that the Civil Rights Movement was non-violent. Go tell the countless men and women who were brutalized in various ways; and, go tell the marchers who tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL that there was no violence.

What a glaring contradiction: we called the Selma March non-violent! At the same time, we called it “Bloody Sunday.” Then, we say that the marchers achieved Voter Rights through non-violence. Rev. Jesse Jackson said it more accurately: “The Voter Rights Bill was signed in ink, but written in blood.”

The so called non-violent Civil Rights Movement was one of the most violent times in American history. What those who espouse non-violence as a tactic to achieve their goals mean is that they will be non-violent. They feel it is the most effective option available to them. Others adopt non-violence as an absolute principle of life, or the philosophy of life. But, even they have qualifications. If their spouse and children were being attacked in their home, they are not opposed to using violence to protect them.

When Eric Garner was choked to death, there were demonstrations, but no violence. When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, MO, and a few stores went up in flames, and there was some inflammatory language, President Barack Obama felt it was time to speak out.

Former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder even went to Ferguson. Why Ferguson and not NYC? We still don’t have a Federal indictment. In fact, we couldn’t get a Grand Jury indictment of the killer cops. We were peaceful in NYC. However, we did get some changes, including a Special Prosecutor in the NYS Attorney General’s office.

The same time that Michael Brown was killed, Lavon “Mo-Mo” King, an unarmed Black 18-year-old lad, was killed in a backyard in Jersey City, New Jersey. A witness heard him say to the police, “Why did you shoot me?” We held his funeral. Then, we marched 30 blocks across Jersey City to a designated place. We marched silently except for our drumbeat. We held a ceremony. It was all quiet and peaceful. Afterwards, we went to my church for a repast. When it was all over, no public official paid us any mind. There was no media attention.

The next day, we carried Mo-Mo’s body to the burial place. The only voices which broke the silence were the weeping and sobbing of loved ones. As I drove away, I couldn’t help but compare Jersey City with Ferguson and many other cities which got attention when there was violence.

I wondered if my peaceful tactics were effective. Perhaps, I should have urged people to throw some stones, burn some buildings, or scream inflammatory language through the city. Maybe, the President and others would have talked about Jersey City, and the US Attorney would have paid us a visit.

It is significant that President Barack Obama made emotional appeals for peace and calm, and argued passionately that violence would only hurt the cause of the protestors. During the same time, he decreed that Stonewall Inn should be a national monument. Well, what happened at Stonewall? In 1969, the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community fought back in a bloody confrontation with the police. Here we are in 2016, and the President wants a national monument erected to that bloody event with the police.
So, we see the regrettable lessons of history. Whenever there is a threat or a disruption to the lifestyles of those who are in power, or the privileged class, they call for peace and calm. They stigmatize those who are struggling for justice and liberation, and call them “rabble rousers,” “hoodlums,” “criminals,” etc. Years later, if the strugglers or freedom fighters win, or even put up a gallant fight and effectuate change, they become “heroes” and monuments are built for them. If they lose, then they are jailed, killed, disgraced, discredited, etc.

I think it is insensitive and self-interest-driven to try to persuade grief-stricken families in private and public through words and actions to appeal for peace. They should be left to their pain and desire for justice. Ninety-nine percent of the victims’ loved ones know nothing about history and the dynamics of social movements or how to get justice.

I must confess when I read history and survey the contemporary scene, I become very sad and angry. It seems that the human family will never learn how to settle difference or make necessary social change without violence. When police killings or cruelties occur, public officials, clergy, educators, and the majority of the population do little or nothing until the people protests – even burn a few buildings or throw a few stones.

… to be continued.