The Situation with Police Isn’t Changing…

Back in 2014, a young man was shot in the middle of the street in Ferguson, MO, reputedly in cold blood by a renegade cop who shot first and asked questions later. As the investigation played out, however, it was found that the young man, who was black, was possibly a suspect in a convenience store theft and allegedly reached inside the officer’s (who was white) car and wrestled for his weapon. Thus, the proper investigative organizations – including state and federal agencies and a grand jury convened for the case – decided not to press charges against the police officer, who summarily quit his position as a member of the force and disappeared.

Many have called the situation that occurred in Ferguson the spark of what has been an increase in attention to the conduct of police in the United States. While it was wrong in this case – the police officer was well within his authority to use his weapon against a suspect who had previously attacked him – there have now been a litany of other cases that have come up (perhaps thanks to the attention brought regarding police conduct in the Missouri case) that show the situation with police isn’t changing.

The true “spark” might have been the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a 43-year old father who, while allegedly selling loose cigarettes to people, was allegedly choked to death by police. After a great deal of investigation, a Staten Island, NY, grand jury found that the officer in question, Daniel Pantaleo, might have used an illegal move in restraining Garner but he wasn’t responsible for his death. While you might think that police would have gotten a bit smarter about the situation after this, it instead has become obvious that the cases of police misconduct are much more prevalent than we previously thought.

2015 saw the spark turn into a wildfire. In April, the confrontation between Walter Scott and officer Michael Slager in North Charleston rattled the nation. Claiming that Scott had (at the minimum) grabbed at his Taser, Slager said that he “feared for his life” (get ready, you’ll hear this frequently) in shooting Scott to death. This would have probably been the story that was accepted…until video came out that showed Scott, running away from Slager, mercilessly shot several times in the back and, as he lay dying, Slager come up to him and drop the Taser beside his body. That case, in which Slager was charged with murder and dismissed from the police force, is still pending.

Also in April, the death of Freddie Gray in a Baltimore paddy wagon – despite telling officers he needed medical attention and allegedly having his injuries made more severe through a “rough ride” (a jerking and rough treatment in the cage of a paddy wagon of a person under arrest for causing “problems” for officers) – set the Maryland skies ablaze. Rioting in the inner-city Baltimore neighborhoods brought back sad and eerie reminders of the Ferguson rioting a year earlier, but it seemed to calm once the District Attorney in the case indicted six Baltimore police officers on varying charges related to Gray’s death. One of those officers had his case end in a mistrial and will be retried in 2016; the other five are still awaiting trial.

This isn’t even looking at the case earlier in 2015 in Texas. A 17-year old girl, who had walked into a Longview, TX, police station, was gunned down by police. With a knife in her hand and four words – “I have a gun” – written on her hand, Kristiana Coignard was surrounded by three officers, with one of them shooting the teenager, who was obviously mentally off. After investigation by the Texas Rangers (the law enforcement arm, not the baseball team), no charges were brought against the officers involved.

Now, as we approach the end of 2015, one case from 2014 and several others in one major city over the past couple of years are painting law enforcement in an ever-worsening light. The November 2014 shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police officers was a tragedy that shouldn’t have occurred. According to testimony, Rice was carrying an air pistol – a BB gun, basically – and menacingly holding it out at passersby and cars. Police were called and, after two seconds of being on the scene, one officer, Timothy Loehmann, pulled his weapon and shot Rice in the torso; Rice would die the next day from the single shot.

From the start, this case has been a clusterfuck. The Cleveland DA, not wanting to taint his relationship with Cleveland police, laid the case at a grand jury’s feet while allegedly trying to ensure that charges wouldn’t be brought against the officers through manipulation of the evidence (such as getting paid experts to side with the police officers’ side of the story, something unheard of unless in a trial, among other things). This is despite evidence that Loehmann had been found to be an “emotionally unstable recruit unfit for duty” by a previous employer in law enforcement. The DA’s work prevailed as it was announced charges would not be brought against the officers on Monday, putting an entire city on the razor’s edge.

Another city that has been walking the tightrope of tension is Chicago. In a police shooting against a man in November 2014, city officials had dragged their feet on the investigation, including not releasing the videotape from the police cruisers at the scene that reportedly showed Officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down 17-year old Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street. After a Freedom of Information Act request from a local blogger wasn’t blocked by the courts, Chicago government authorities released the video to the general public in all of its ugliness and charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder…more than a year following the shooting.

The video showed McDonald, erratically walking down a street and allegedly waving a small pocketknife around (it cannot be seen in the video until it is kicked away from his body at the end), as police attempted to control the situation with their squad cars and their experience. Allegedly Van Dyke showed up to the scene and, within six seconds of arrival, pulled his weapon and pumped a full clip – 15 shots – into McDonald, who was spun around after two shots and laid prone on the ground as more shots entered his body. He laid in the street for several minutes, without any medical attention, while police cordoned off the scene.

Once again, video was the thing that brought out the discrepancies in the story. Van Dyke alleges that he felt “in fear of his life” in shooting McDonald and that McDonald had lunged at him; in fact, McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when hit with the first shot. After emptying his clip, Van Dyke was reloading his .45 automatic and preparing to shoot some more until a fellow officer issued a “stand down” order. Perhaps more problematic that Van Dyke’s actions, for which he is currently charged with murder (the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with murder since 1968) and will face trial in 2016, other officers AGREED with Van Dyke’s account, stating they immediately went in to provide medical attention to McDonald following the shooting.

Now there is another shooting that is roiling the Chicago landscape. The day after Christmas, 19-year old Quintonio LeGrier, allegedly wielding a baseball bat following a domestic disturbance, was shot to death by Chicago police. LeGrier wasn’t the only fatality, however; a 55-year old neighbor, Bettie Jones, was hit by stray police gunfire and died during the shooting. The investigation is ongoing in this case.

It is painfully obvious that there is a need for seismic change in the way police officers are trained and how they conduct themselves in the “real” world. Although it may be claimed that these are “isolated” incidences, when you add in other situations such as those in Alabama and in Maryland, it is happening far too frequently for it to simply be “rogue” officers (this doesn’t even bring up the embezzlement that the Illinois police officer had done for years before he committed suicide – while trying to make it look like he was killed in action – this summer). Through these simple steps, there might be a change in how officers are hired, trained and kept on the force.

Every two years, a police officer – regardless of position or power – should be subjected to a complete physical, psychological and financial review. These reviews would be withering, looking into social media usage and actions outside of the workday (hey, if we can fire teachers for starring in porn videos outside of school hours, we ought to be able to fire officers for being aligned with the KKK, as some in Missouri have alleged to have been) and into their personal lives. If an officer doesn’t agree to such testing, he should lay his badge and gun down then and there and leave the force.

In an effort to further ensure that the truth is discovered, all patrol cars should have video cameras on them and officers themselves should be wearing personal cameras. The penalties for not operating these devices should be dismissal from the police force and banishment from law enforcement. Through the usage of these devices – and the FULL release of said video on demand of the public (several locales are looking to block the public from seeing these videos, corrupting the system rather than making it more transparent) – the truth, more often than not in the favor of law enforcement, would be demonstrated.

Yes, a job in law enforcement is highly dangerous and can result in a person’s death. This doesn’t give a person the right to be the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to situations on the street. It also doesn’t give them carte blanche to indiscriminately fire weapons, as it appears this latest incident in Chicago was.

It is time there was definitive change in the way police conduct themselves for the constituency they are supposed to serve. The day of being able to “fudge” reports, plant evidence (remember the Charleston case) or skew a case through the appropriate language (“in fear of my life”) being used should be long past over. Stand up and take responsibility for what you are doing, law enforcement, or face even more problems down the road.

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What to Expect at the First Democratic Debate

DemocraticCandidates

Just when you thought that the political world had calmed down, the first of a planned six debates from the Democratic Party will be held on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. The five announced candidates – former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, current Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee and former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb – will take the stage around 9PM Eastern Time on Tuesday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, presenting their reasoning for being the party’s selection for the 2016 Presidential nomination. It may not be as visually exciting as what the Republican Party have been able to put on in their previous two clashes, with their myriad of candidates all saying the same thing but trying to sound different, but these debates are just as important as those on the GOP side.

With President Barack Obama heading off into the sunset following his two terms in office, it is up to one of these five people to try to maintain the legacy of the Democratic Party for several reasons. One, the next President will probably have at least one and potentially as many as three Supreme Court justices to name in their 4-8 year term, basically allowing for a reshaping of the Court towards a more conservative or liberal bend. Two, if the next President is one of these Democrats, they will be able to firmly ensconce the Affordable Care Act – “ObamaCare” to many – as the “law of the land” and make it even more difficult to take away through repeal as it becomes more entrenched in the U. S. psyche. And three, the Democrats would be able to maintain the current foreign policy viewpoint of diplomacy before dominance – the major difference between them and the GOP, who want a war on all days that end in a “y.”

Anyone who says that the Democrats didn’t think that this would be a simple coronation for Clinton on the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016 would be out-and-out lying. After getting stunningly pummeled in 2008 by Obama, Clinton did her duty in first accepting the Secretary of State role in the Obama Administration and then in not trying to usurp Obama is 2012. Her reward for this party loyalty was supposed to be a free pass to the Democratic nomination in 2016 but, along the way to the coronation party, someone threw a huge monkey wrench in the plans.

Sanders, the genial, grandfatherly Senator from the Northeast who calls himself a “democratic socialist,” has been stealing a great deal of Clinton’s thunder, especially in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Part of the appeal of Sanders has been his Quixotic-tilt against the uber-rich, banks and corporations, which has struck a chord with the young and the downtrodden. His firm stance against all military action in the Middle East has also drawn comparisons of Sanders to fellow Kentucky Senator and Presidential hopeful Rand Paul – you know, back when Rand Paul was cool before he became a Republican.

Sanders has become so popular with some Democrats that the threats against Clinton in the early primary states have forced her into campaigning much sooner than she would like to have done. The Clinton team is looking to get her through the first few primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, ready to take a second place finish behind Sanders, and prepare for the “SEC Primaries” at the beginning of March in the South, a traditional stronghold of the Clintons that would allow her to be able to thwart a Sanders attack through numerous victories.

There are a few differences between Clinton and Sanders, but there is more diversity when you toss the other candidates in the mix. O’Malley is a “law and order” type that, as mayor of Baltimore, was able to lower crime rates and improve the city’s image (it is also alleged that the tactics employed by O’Malley – the “stop and frisk” utilized by police officers, in particular, where officers could stop anyone for investigation despite not visually committing a crime – were a major impetus for the Baltimore riots of earlier this summer). Chafee is a former Republican who first became an independent before moving to the Democratic Party, while Webb is almost a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) as he supports the “close the border first, then maybe amnesty” program popular with Republicans as well as reining in the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulatory authority.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room will be the specter of current Vice President Joe Biden. Supposedly considering a third run for President, Biden has not committed to this debate as of Monday, but CNN has stated that a podium will be on hand should Biden state he wants to take part in the festivities. With Biden polling better than Sanders (but still behind Clinton), Biden would be an immediate (and strong) challenger to Clinton, forcing her to fend off not only Sanders but also Biden.

What exactly is going to happen in the debate? First off, Sanders and Clinton – and throw Biden into the mix should he show up – will not attack each other as the GOP candidates did in their second debate. First, moderator Anderson Cooper and his panelists, CNN reporter/anchor Dana Bash, CNN anchor Don Lemon and CNN en Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez, are not going to ask the “challenging” questions that saw the Republicans rip into each other during their debates. “I think it’s just as interesting to kind of learn about some of these candidates who the American public doesn’t really know much about,” Cooper stated in an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources over the weekend, “as it is to hear from some of the candidates you do.”

There has also been a remarkable bonhomie between Sanders and Clinton in that they haven’t brought the knives out against each other. Sanders, in particular, has been given multiple opportunities to rip into Clinton over a variety of problems she has faced (her private e-mail server, her work with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative and how it affected her time as Secretary of State, her vote for the Iraq War in 2003, etc.), but he has refused to do any mudslinging and instead concentrated on his message. That is a bit refreshing in this current day and age of politics.

Both Clinton and Sanders are going to continue with their own presentations of what their plans as President will be, which differ in some areas. Sanders in particular has made many suggestions regarding what he would do as President – free college for all students, raising the minimum wage to $15 nationwide, universal health care (going beyond ObamaCare) – but he will also have to answer about how he’s going to pay for those things; if Sanders’ plan to increase taxes on the 1% (for your information, that would be anyone who makes more than $344,000) and reduce military spending doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny, then his other plans won’t be taken seriously.

The ones who have nothing to lose are O’Malley, Chafee and Webb. Any airtime they get during the debates would be welcome as the three men currently are barely even making an impact on the polls (Webb is averaging .9%, O’Malley .6% and Chafee .2%, according to Real Clear Politics and their national polls). They also have to make viewers/voters remember them, so taking some shots at Clinton, Sanders and/or Biden (if he shows up and he’s polling at 18.6%) might help them out. If these candidates can’t get a bump out of this debate, they may not get another shot at the next debate in November, especially if Biden announces a run for the Presidency and their numbers stay the same.

One thing that will NOT happen is any of the candidates making a serious faux pas. All of them are experienced debaters and, as such, will be able to withstand the slings and arrows that come from their opponents. Only the introduction of Biden into the mix (due to preparation by the candidates for those that are currently on the dais and not an 11th hour introduction of another player) or a change in tactics by Sanders regarding his “no mudslinging” tactics with Clinton might change the game.

It might not be as electric as the GOP debates have been to this point, but the Democratic debate should provide viewers/voters with more substantive information on the candidates. It will also mark the drive towards next November when the next President of the United States will be chosen.

Tough To Get Upset With Ferguson This Time Around

It’s been a year since the stunning shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO, police officer Darren Wilson. A year that has seen not only a grand jury but a federal inquiry decline to indict Brown for the shooting of the young man (who allegedly had stolen cigars from a nearby convenience store, intimidated the owner and then tried to reach in Brown’s patrol car – for what reason nobody seems to know – before the shooting) while riots tore up the city. Since then, we’ve had much more legitimate complaints regarding law enforcement treatment of blacks in areas such as Baltimore and Charleston, which have pushed Brown’s case and its myriad of grey areas into the shadows.

With the anniversary of the shooting, there have come new peaceful protests and calls for changes within the system, not only in Missouri but also in the United States as a whole. For the most part, these have been orderly situations where the protestors have been able to put their message out there for the people to hear and, for the most part, law enforcement has been respectful of these protests. That seemed to change on Monday night, however.

On Monday night, law enforcement contends they were the targets of a shooter/shooters among a crowd of people who were “peacefully” protesting at night, never a good recipe for anything. As you can tell from the video released by the Ferguson Police Department, it does appear that one person may have had a weapon in their hand and may have been trying to blend with the crowd to try to get away from the police.

Then there was this situation, allegedly taped yesterday showing a “peaceful” protest blocking one of the thoroughfares in Ferguson. The protest makes its point – while blocking those that might have to get to jobs or, perhaps worse yet, have an emergency they have to attend to – while the police make their point by telling the protesters they have to move out of the road because they are impeding traffic (a misdemeanor offense). The idiot at the end gets what he deserves for not listening to the officers.

Finally, we have the Oath Keepers, those vaunted individuals who have deemed themselves the righteous protector of all and enforcer of laws where there are none. This gang – and that is what it is, a gang – is being allowed to walk the streets in Missouri armed (as is permissible by law) but the reciprocity isn’t being extended to those that march for the other side. They are still walking the streets of Ferguson today, not doing anything to calm the situation but inflaming it even more.

The problem with these incidences is that they aren’t doing anything to further either the cause of racial equality, equal treatment by police or improving the situation for anyone in such straits. All they seem to be doing is continually pulling the scab off an already sore wound, never letting it heal fully and never providing it the medications that are needed for it to do just that. By continuing to flood the streets, it makes it tough for anyone to get upset with what is going on in Ferguson this time.

The peaceful protests were played out the first time around, soon after Brown was shot and then again after the Grand Jury refused to indict Wilson on any charges. The anniversary does bring a moment to remember the situation, not a weekend of protests that now has dragged on into the following week. For those who protested over the weekend, it seems as if they were organic and looking to effect change in their community; in those that have gone on since then, it seems they have been spearheaded by those looking to commit crime or, in the case of the Oath Keepers, someone looking to do some human target practice.

In the Brown case, it was shown that Brown at least violated Wilson’s police vehicle (sure, Wilson could have planted that evidence, but I don’t think Barney Fife had the ability to think that far ahead in the situation) and, after Wilson pursued him, at least turned around to confront Wilson. This is a fact from the autopsy. While Brown can be mourned for his death, he cannot be celebrated as a martyr for a cause (that should be left to Walter Scott, the man needlessly gunned down in North Charleston). The peaceful protestors should, at the minimum, disavow those causing the problems, which I haven’t heard.

Law enforcement also has their burden to bear in this situation. They can admit to the long line of actions they used to put down certain races in the Ferguson area (and many others) and commit themselves to eradicating the problems from their divisions. They can also order the Oath Keepers to return to whatever militia they scurried out from under as they are simply causing more problems than their presence is worth.

Maybe come next August, the remembrances will be smaller but the message will resonate larger. Maybe next year there won’t be the need for arrests or weapons to be used. Maybe next year the Oath Keepers will keep their asses at home instead of flouting a questionable message and inflaming the tensions in an already boiling cauldron. For this year, however, the message has been bastardized and no one is listening.