Thanksgiving…a time for all of us to join together with our families and friends and truly demonstrate that we are grateful for the bounty that our lives have provided for us. I was feeling quite heartened by these spirits as Thanksgiving Day elapsed, having a great time preparing (OK, thanks to Harris Teeter, there wasn’t much preparing) our Thanksgiving dinner with my lovely wife as our son bounded about watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (probably the first year he actually paid attention to it). The very next day, the bullets continued to fly as it ruined any amount of goodwill I might have mustered from that one day.
It started on Tuesday and I did try to ignore it but, as the news continued to grow, I grew more irritated at our current condition. Last Tuesday, city officials in Chicago finally got around to releasing the dash cam video of the death of Laquan McDonald, the 17 year old who was allegedly gunned down by police in an attack that dated back MORE THAN A YEAR PREVIOUSLY. The investigation supposedly had been going on that entire time and officials reluctantly (after being forced by an FOIA request from a journalist) released the video to the general public late in the afternoon. They also decided to charge the officer responsible for the shooting, Jason Van Dyke, with first degree murder while releasing the video.
If you haven’t had the chance to watch the dash cam video of that fateful night, it is angering. With no audio from the dash cam (a violation of Chicago videotaping procedures, by the way), we see McDonald (who was found with PCP in his system in the autopsy afterwards) acting erratically as he walks down a city street carrying what would later be learned to be a pocket knife. Several police officers, either in their cars or on foot, are following McDonald from a distance as they try to get the situation under control.
What happens next is outrageous. Van Dyke allegedly pulls up on the scene and steps from his vehicle, drawing his weapon. Within six seconds of Van Dyke’s arrival on the scene, the bullets start to fly from his weapon. In total, McDonald was hit sixteen (16) times, Van Dyke emptying a full magazine into his body. There are even shots hitting McDonald’s body while he is on the ground and no longer moving. The act takes all of 10-15 seconds and no other officer fired a shot that night; in fact, Van Dyke allegedly went to RELOAD and continue firing before an officer called him off. These other officers did add to the egregious nature of the act, however, by not offering any medical assistance to McDonald, even though that is what they wrote in their reports.
Van Dyke surrendered to authorities on Wednesday and it became known that the officer had 18 complaints against him over the 14 years that he had been on the Chicago Police Department rolls, but he had never been reprimanded in any of those cases. These incidences, which ranged from “roughing up” suspects to usage of racist language, are unfortunately common – if someone is getting arrested, it sometimes slows their prosecution process down to accuse the arresting officer of some malfeasance – but perhaps in this instance were indicative of something more.
What finally got me, however, was the support of Van Dyke from his union, the Chicago branch of the Fraternal Order of Police. In a Yahoo! article Saturday, the FOP admitted they were actively trying to raise bail money for Van Dyke (first through a GoFundMe account that was closed soon after launch and then through the chapter’s website) and providing an attorney for him. One of the officers from that chapter of the FOP even stated to Yahoo! “First degree (murder) is a high bar to set and of course it is political (the charges),” indicating some level of support for Van Dyke.
I know it is the job of a union to support its members, but we’ve seen this type of story far too often. Be it in North Charleston, the streets of Staten Island or even on a playground in Cleveland, police officers nowadays are far too often shooting first and asking questions later. I leave out Ferguson because, after all the evidence was in, there were some grounds for the officer’s actions in that situation. It is then followed up by fictionalized police reports – the same documents that are admitted as EVIDENCE in a court of law – and fellow officers who tacitly support ANY officer whose actions are questioned.
The Chicago situation is particularly angering on several fronts. We’ve mentioned the lack of medical attention provided and we’ve talked about the unduly long time it took to even bring charges against the officer, but what hasn’t been mentioned are the supposed “good cops.” Sure, you can write off some of these acts as that of a “bad apple,” but “bad apples” continue to fester when the “good apples” don’t get them removed from the barrel. The continued silence and/or tacit approval (as what the Chicago FOP is doing) of anyone’s actions is wrong, nearly as bad as that of the actual killing.
There was one suggestion that I made in a discussion that, when heard by a former officer, he responded as if I was cutting off one of his limbs. Every two years, an officer should go through a thorough performance, psychiatric and financial background check and review to determine their mindset and stability to remain on the active police force. Enforcing such a program as this would have found the Fox Lake, IL officer who, after a lengthy mourning process for a “hero” that was gunned down by a trio of “bad guys,” was found to have committed suicide because he was embezzling money and threatening public employees; in the Chicago case, there could have been more focus on the complaints against Van Dyke that might have prevented what happened in 2014.
The role of law enforcement officers isn’t an easy one. It also isn’t one where you are given free reign over all who are “beneath you” by your viewpoint, to do whatever you feel is appropriate. The people you are supposed to protect also have to know you’re equipped to handle the job…if not, then you shouldn’t be on the street. Perhaps if the bi-annual reviews were done (and other things more immediate, like video cameras appropriately used), we’d weed out the “bad apples.”
If that wasn’t enough, then Friday came along. Instead of the usual reports of “Black Friday” idiocy such as an old woman having that $99 HDTV “Black Friday deal” snatched from them by an 18-year old (you know, those heartwarming Christmas tales), the attack of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, dominated the news. As we know now, a man who was obviously mentally off somehow penetrated the doors of one of the most secure Planned Parenthood branches in the United States and proceeded to kill three people and injure nine others. If this doesn’t bother you, then the callous response from a particular branch of politicians is probably up your alley.
During the day on Friday and into Saturday, NOT ONE of the GOP candidates for President issued a statement in support of the employees of Planned Parenthood nor those that were injured in the shooting. A few mumbled some support for the officer who was killed in the Colorado Springs shooting, but nothing about the business or the people who were there for the services. As of Monday, these GOP “leaders” are trying to come out with their lame statements even as they try to keep from even being seen as showing any support for Planned Parenthood.
Yes, these are our choices for the Republican nomination of the President of the United States.
When you lead this country, YOU LEAD ALL. If you cannot fashion the words, “The shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic, despite my objection to the clinic’s purposes, is completely wrong. The people killed and injured is a tragedy that shouldn’t occur in the United States. My campaign extends our condolences to all at the clinic and to the state of Colorado” into a cohesive statement within hours of the arrest of the suspect, then you do not have the ability to lead the nation. Just because you have an opposition to an issue is no reason to remove the humanity from it. But, then again, we are also talking about the same party who believes that shutting the door in the face of refugees is the correct course to take.
While the two issues aren’t connected, they do show the continued degradation of our society. Continually allowing the “bad apples” – whether they are politicians or police – to ruin the whole batch can be changed. The question is whether anyone is willing to take on the dirty work to do it or not.