Redemption


Theo Scott, Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Theo Scott, Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Remember the ‘Jena 6….a group of young black men who were charged and convicted of beating one of their white classmates in Jena, Louisiana? One of them, Theo Shaw has gone on to make a name for himself by being admitted and receiving a full scholarship to the University of Washington Law School in Seattle, Washington.  That law school, which U.S. News and World Report puts in the country’s top 30, has chosen Shaw as one of the incoming class’ five William H. Gates Public Service Law Scholars. It’s a full scholarship, covering tuition, books and even some money for room and board and incidental expenses.

Shaw has also distinguished himself by advocating for juvenile justice reform in a very unconventional way calling for the state of Louisiana to close down or not fund juvenile prisons in the hopes that they won’t be filled needlessly by offenders who don’t belong there in order to continue receiving state and federal money.  Such reasoning should make him a darling, and justifiably so, among many in his state who want to reduce spending and also show that redemption is uplifting for all.

 

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Police Brutality in a ‘with us or against us’ society


brutalityThe public displays of police brutality caught on tape are stark, violent, gut wrenching, heart breaking, and indicative of an age old problem of us and them politics.  It used to be such rawness wasn’t seem by most of us in main stream society, because it was done to “other” people secreted away in “their” communities and never under the omnipotent eye of video cameras but times have certainly changed and today can police brutality smack us in the face as powerfully as it does the victim at the end of an officers arm, baton, taser, gun.

The most egregious example of brutality involved an EMT with a patient on the way to a local hospital in Oklahoma.  There’s a video on youtube if you can bear to watch it without hurling either your lunch/breakfast/dinner or your computer through the nearest window.  In that video an Oklahoma highway patrol officer berates the EMT driver for not pulling over while he, the trooper tried to pass.  The video was shot by a family member of the patient riding in the ambulance.  In that video you can see the victim of the police brutality calmly tell the family member who was shooting the video to remain calm, not interfere with the patrolman, stay out of the way, don’t do anything to provoke the officer and let the EMT people handle it.  The person giving this advice was the one assaulted by the officer, who literally had both hands around the neck of the technician!  It was like watching a legal lynching, and given the characters and setting it probably felt that way for many who saw the incident.  The EMT, Maurice White had done nothing to provoke this officer who felt justified in trying to restrain him by choking him?

Another widely publicized example of brutality where size, experience, weight were far more on the side of the law enforcement officer than the victim is the case of Malika Calhoun, a teenager who was pummeled by a King County sheriff’s deputy, Paul Schene in Seattle, Washington, because she was “lippy” an offense for which police assault is most likely NOT the punishment.  The video can be seen at the link below.

One wonders whether the offending officer treats women as callously in his social reactions with them as he did in this professional encounter with a teenaged girl.  Regardless there is no excuse for such excessive physical force and one can only hope the officer is relieved of his duties permanently.

What is distressing is in each of the examples mentioned above, the offending officer had a partner with him who did nothing to restrain him, or even is not responsible for revealing the brutality to their superiors or the public in general.  In both cases officers were caught by the unblinking eye of video cameras they either ignored or didn’t realize were present filming their indiscretions.  In many cases, therefore, I would assert the partners of the offending officers are just as responsible for the brutality we see as the assaulting officer himself, and should be disciplined as well.

How does this get to the us and them theme of my title?  There has always been this idea among law officers that they were the last bulwark against a marauding public hell bent on destroying all we hold dear….almost the same thing said about the Muslim hordes we’ve told we must  detest and distrust.  Police who got carried away in the performance of their duties were exempt from punishment and their excesses were viewed with a blind eye, or a wink and a grin by superior officers because cohesion of the “force” was more important than the rule of the law.  The public that these offices were sworn to protect and serve were all too often the victims of these officers who found purpose in protecting one another from “them” the public.  There was nothing to restrain them, except an all too infrequent application of the rule of law against them.  In some cases that worked, however!  Witness Norm Stamper’s claims.

Forty-three years ago I was an idealistic, vaguely liberal 21-year-old when the San Diego Police Department hired me. The last thing on my mind was taking to the streets to punish people. And lest there be any doubt about the department’s policy, the police academy, even then, drove it home: excessive force was grounds for termination.

So, why did I abuse the very people I’d been hired to serve?

Not to get too psychological, I did it because the power of my position went straight to my head; because other cops I’d come to admire did it; and because I thought I could get away with it. Which I did–until a principled prosecutor slapped me upside the head and demanded to know whether the U.S. Constitution meant anything to me.

It comes down to this: real cops, those with a conscience, those who honor the law, must step up and take control of the cop culture.

The turnaround for this officer was the application of the law AGAINST him, not by him, for his illegal activity; that was all that was needed to get him to see the error of his ways, and likely spare a lot of innocent people from his lawlessness.  This brings me to the present and where we are as a country.  We pride ourselves in being a country where the rule of law reigns supreme, is equally applied to all and insures a social harmony that preserves our values and way of life.  That said, we should see and insist  the rule of law apply to lawless law enforcement officers as well as lawless politicians, no matter how high they are in the political hierarchy.  Doing so preserves our way of life as vigorously as fighting terrorists on foreign soil.  This notion that we have to aggressively fight an external foe that means us harm in ways that are universally considered illegal with no legal consequences to us is the type of hubris which causes nations to disintegrate, diminish and disappear over time at varying rates of  speed.  The polarization of such a society into those who are the enforcers and those who are the victims of that enforcement leads to civil unrest and violence, certainly anathema to our ‘way of life’, yet both sides would claim vociferously they are defending it!  There is no other recourse than the unwavering application of the law against all who break it.  Doing so restores confidence in all to the principles which this country was founded, and gives meaning to those who’ve sacrificed for it.

Somalia-Somalis trying to stay out of the bullseye


There’s been a lot written about Somalia, Muslims, piracy, and terrorism and most likely most of it like all the rest of the news on those subjects  is hyperbole.  In order to combat even that, however, a group of Somalis in Washington state came out in strong denouncement of piracy and terrorism.

“We, the Somali-Americans in Washington State, are denouncing our youth to participate in any kind of violence here and back home. We see this as an opportunity to clarify our perspective, as a community and United States citizens, and we (are denouncing) the piracy act in Somali shores.”

I applaud their unequivocal stand on the issues at hand which affect their community, even though they like most other Americans are not as informed about them as we should be.  In typical western arrogance we have ascribed bad motives to a group of people who take over ships on the high seas, even though  the idea based on what we know about Somalia is rather preposterous, and we never once considered that perhaps these people are acting in the best interests of their country with noble intentions.  So it is that a reporter raises that possibility by suggesting these “pirates” are themselves trying to stop illegal activity on the part of shippers in Somali waters.  It seems the international community has taken advantage of the absence of a controlling legal authority in Somalia and decided to dump its waste, toxic, nuclear and otherwise  in Somali waters, wrecking havoc on fishing for Somalis and endangering the lives of Somalis.

As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to”dispose” of cheaply.

It’s really the typical imperial trick of using or abusing the natural resources of a hapless nation state and then waging war on that country when it decides to mount even a minimal protest  at being raped and plundered.  Which is why we see this sudden interest in east Africa and the presence of a couple dozen Taliban/al-Qaida types infiltrating the area and causing widespread panic and concern in the halls of this once great republic, America; justification for intervention when all that is needed is adherence to the rule of law. Then there’s this:

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

In the past, American heroes would wax poetic about the importance of liberty and how insignificant death is in comparison, but such sentiments are not allowed for an agrarian society whose only importance, it seems, to imperial designs is as either an international garbage dump or a source for fish. Instead of taking advantage of a lawless vacuum, western powers should start negotiating with the government, any government is better than no government, to define territorial integrity and fishing/dumping rights off the Somali coast.  We know however why they don’t do that; caught up in the grips of Islamophobia and unable to seat a government to their liking, western powers are pillaging the coast of Somali for every industrial advantage available to them and labelling any resistance to this policy piracy.  Change anyone?