Monday, December 01, 2014

In honor of the innocent ones

On 25 November 2014, the Albina Ministerial Alliance--the association of African American ministers in Portland, Oregon--held a rally to stand with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri who are protesting both the shooting of unarmed young black man Michael Brown and the failure of the Ferguson grand jury to indict the cop who shot him. I went because it was called by the AMA and I have respect for them.

I have no idea if the event is a one-off or if the AMA intends to build a movement to achieve a particular goal, since no goal outside of end the killing of citizens by cops was mentioned as a goal by the main AMA speaker. That is a great goal. It is calling for the deepest systemic change possible because no differentiation was made between armed and shooting victims who were then killed by police, knife or toy gun-wielding victims, and unarmed people who were killed by police.

It is legitimate to have that overarching goal, but in terms of recruiting sympathizers and activating the public, it is far more strategic to draw that clear line. Killing a gun-wielding suspect is a Bad Thing that will be seen as a shoulder-shrugging "tough luck" problem by much of the public. Killing an unarmed person is radically different. Lumping them all together is what the "radicals" want and it's what the police hope happens, since then the public will default back to the "too bad so sad" moment just before they go on about their lives.
Kendra James, 21-year-old mother of two

So this is my special honor of Jose Mejia Poot, Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, Aaron Campbell, and James Chasse. None of them were armed AT ALL (several others were shot dead carrying knives or toy guns). All of them were in some way afoul of the police and, amongst all of them, the reason for being afoul of the police involved exceedingly minor glitches, the most serious of which was the only white person, James Chasse, who was seen--gasp!--peeing in public into some bushes. Yet they all suffered what amounted to summary execution by cop. Were they all innocents? What kind of question is that? Of course not, none of us are. But they were all innocent of anything that approaches a capital offense in the US legal system. In that sense, they were all innocents.

There are thousands of facts, some relevant, some irrelevant, associated with each victim. I only want here to make that note. All have been murdered by police since I moved here in 2000. The first three--Poot, James, Perez--were killed because the officers claimed to be afraid, though none were armed. Really? No human Portland Police Bureau member has been shot this millennium (one poor dog was), but they have killed five unarmed people. Even the feds have noticed.

This is flat wrong. How can we stop this? Some ideas and I hope others come up with more and smarter possibilities:

  • cameras for all officers that they cannot turn off and that instantly send recorded footage to both the police and civilian oversight for archives
  • insist on ongoing de-escalation training (which includes mental health issues, basic nonviolent communication, "verbal jiu jitsu," and intercultural communication and conflict management)  for police, by initiative and referendum if necessary
  • develop new contracts for police that make them legally culpable for any misbehavior
  • a new law that requires a detailed paperwork for each time a gun is drawn
Each of these goals might require a campaign and each is achievable. If these are all completed and the problem doesn't stop, more measures would be needed. Do we want to face this again? Or is it long past time to fix this?

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