Saturday, December 6, 2014

Parallel Universe

"Something's happening here -- what is is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware... it's time we stop, children, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down..."-- For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills

"White cop shoots unarmed black teenager..." happens every single day. There seems to be an epidemic of near-genocidal police violence against black youth. I have heard people of all races say "If they didn't talk back, it wouldn't happen." Since when is a teenager talking back to authority a capital offense? Or even unusual? 

One of the developmental tasks of teenagers is to separate from the adults and become independent. Kids do this with varying degrees of effectiveness. Sometimes they are pretty cool about it and just ease into it. Sometimes they wrench themselves away with near violence and disrupt the life of the family or the community. It would be wonderful it they could just grow up gently and get on with their lives, but that's often not how it happens. They rebel. It's what they do. They're programmed for it. They talk back. They act out. It's part of the process. They grow up and get on with their lives. 

If it's a white kid, especially an affluent one, it's written off as "He's just letting off steam." If it's a black kid, especially a poor one, he can easily wind up lying dead in the street with his killer exclaiming, "He was like a demon!" The difference, beyond skin color, I think, is fear. 

There is nothing so dangerous as an armed man who is frightened, especially one with a little authority. That's why the good police departments screen for psychological fitness. A scared and nervous cop is a tragedy waiting to happen. 

I think that's what happened in Ferguson. A scared cop shot an unarmed if unruly kid because he was afraid he might get punched. What the grand jury did about it was unbelievable. It came to light afterward that they had been given the wrong instructions and were told only that the cop thought he was in danger was enough justification to use deadly force -- they left out that it had to be backed up with credible evidence of immediate, life-threatening danger. 

That was horrific, but just weeks later, another grand jury failed to indict an officer we all saw use unnecessary force and a chokehold, which was forbidden by the NYPD, on an unarmed man who was complying with police directions. There were about 5 officers present. That policeman's life was not in danger. His action caused the man's death and left his six children fatherless. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, yet the grand jury still failed to indict. A man who filmed the incident said the jury didn't even listen to him -- talking among themselves and eating lunch, not paying attention at all. The man had simply been selling a couple of loose cigarettes on the street -- so far as anyone can tell, not a death penalty offense; neither is being a smartass teenager. Neither is walking home from the store with Skittles and a cold drink. All those people are dead. So is a 12 year old child who had a toy gun in a park. So is a young unarmed man shot in a dark stairwell in Phoenix Arizona by a scared rookie. What those people all have in common is that they were black and the officers or citizens who killed them were not. 

Racism is rampant in the United States, though the Supreme Court justices think all is well. Racism is deadly in the United States, though comfortable white people prefer to turn a blind eye to it. We see it in the unreasoned hatred of our president, which crosses over into sedition, yet is ignored.  

We need to face it directly. We need to talk openly about it. We need to confront it and eliminate it. It is toxic and it is killing our children. It is also killing our country. 

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