Tag: Ferguson

No, They Weren’t Overreacting: Ferguson & The Future

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old ManThe grand jury and the Department of Justice have both come to the conclusion that now former Officer Darren Wilson should not face charges in the shooting death of Michael Brown. This was not a surprise, based on the legal standard in police shooting cases, as well as the forensics in this case.

What is also not surprising to me is the rest of the Department of Justice report, which points out a plethora of civil rights violations in Ferguson and surrounding communities in St. Louis.

The reason why I am not surprised is the fact that the people of Ferguson had such a visceral response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and that they were so quick to believe that Officer Wilson shot the young man out of malice. Many like to believe that the residents of Ferguson were either racist, victims of “race baiters” (whatever that means), or just devoid of any independent thought.

I however felt differently. I believe that where there is smoke, there’s fire. I always questioned that there had to be something deeper under the surface. The shooting of Michael Brown was just the tip of the iceberg and now the Department of Justice has provided empirical evidence that support the residents’ claims of systemic racism and wrongdoing.

The reality is for many years, the Ferguson Police Department has been violating its people. They have been arresting African-Americans in that community at a higher rate; African-Americans in the community have been levied fines at a higher rate than their white counterparts; and they struggled to pay those fines, doing what they had to do to be responsible citizens. Yet, they found no relief. When the tragic shooting of Michael Brown occurred, this was the tipping point. That is why the people reacted in such a violent angry way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  While I do not in any way shape or form condone the violence or the rioting that occurred, it originated as the means and the method of people that feel they had no voice. The courts provided them no remedy — they were excessively fining them.  The police were abusing them (as proven by the DOJ report). Voting was ineffective, because the candidates they elected were not bringing their concerns to the forefront. When the people that are in power are exchanging racist emails,  joking about the ability of an African American man to hold a job for a prolonged period of time, or that aborting an African American baby would positively affect the crime rate, where is one to go to get justice?

So what now? What needs to happen is that law enforcement around the country must take a long hard look in the mirror at their practices, their recruiting methods, and how they are interacting with the community. Because like President Obama said in a recent speech, this is not an isolated incident. There are Fergusons throughout this nation. And if we do not take proactive steps to fix this, we are doomed to have a repeat of the horrible events we saw around the country in 2014. And no one wants that. It is critical to have diversity at all levels of the criminal justice system. I can assure you that the abuses would not have been as rampant in Ferguson if there were more African-Americans on the police department. The same goes for in the court system, as well as in the prosecutors and defense offices of Ferguson. The racist emails are a clear indicator that these actors in the criminal justice system do not care about the well-being of the people that they are tasked with protecting and serving. This is an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.

scandal-lawn-chairIn last week’s episode of Scandal, writer Shonda Rhimes took on the issue of race and policing with a storyline of a police officer shooting an unarmed teen. In one of the closing scenes, the police officer goes off on a very anger filled rant, where he states some key points which I have heard before. He says “you people have not taught your children to respect me“, and secondly “I kiss my wife and kids goodbye, and drive 40 miles to protect these people, for what?
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The reality is, African Americans (like most people), raise their children to respect law and authority. The “rub” is when you have a situation like Ferguson, where the trust and belief of the system has been eroded by abuse of authority. Then that respect that was taught,  turns to resentment, then anger. Once that trust is broken, it takes a very long time to rebuild, requiring a conscious effort from both sides.

The second point is the heart of the balance in policing. When officers do not live in the communities they police, an air of detachment forms. It’s going home to your palace, as others go home to their hell. There needs to be a more concerted effort for police to reside in or close to the communities they police; and when they start to get burnt out or resentful of the people they are charged with serving, then be rotated to a different area.

It is clear from the evidence that the DOJ has uncovered that the people of Ferguson had no voice for a very long time. Now, this study has given them a voice. Hopefully changes will come from this.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers — but we have to try. Lives depend on this. ALL lives.  Because all lives matter — civilian and police. No matter the color of the skin or the badge you are wearing, a mother’s tears are the same.

Knowledge Trumps Racism, Part II

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New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio came under fire for regarding comments he made regarding what he has told his son about how to interact with law enforcement.

Mayor De Blasio, who is married to an African American woman and has a biracial son, stated in a recent interview:

“It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country,” de Blasio went on. “And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cell phone, because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

The head of the New York City Police Union was infuriated, and stated that the Mayor “threw cops under the bus” and was not helping race relations.

Here’s the deal.

Mayor De Blasio a white man, and a parent, is speaking his truth.

He’s speaking of the discussion that thousands of African American parents have with their sons across the country on a daily basis.

He’s a responsible parent, making sure his child knows how to act appropriately in a police encounter. Be polite, don’t make any sudden movements, don’t do anything to escalate the situation.

He’s also being practical! As angry as Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch may be, does he really want people making sudden movements in police encounters, creating situations where officers will have to draw their weapons?

I should hope not!

Mayor De Blasio’s statement is actually helping race relations…because when African Americans make similar statements, it can be viewed as an overreaction. “Their kids must be doing something bad.” “They’re just paranoid”

But the Mayor says it…this draws attention to the fact that this is a real issue.

So before dismissing his comments, listen.

Knowledge trumps racism.

Understand what the other side is saying. Mayor De Blasio is speaking his truth. So speak yours and let’s have a productive dialogue on how to move policing forward as opposed to “us” vs “them”.

Not all kids of color are bad; not all police officers are bad.  If we start from that premise, we may actually get somewhere!

See my list of my practical tips on interacting with law enforcement here.

Feel free to weigh in!

M.

Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

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I’ve stayed pretty quiet in recent weeks, absorbing all that has been going on. One thing is incredibly clear; education is needed on both sides. If we don’t know the rules that govern us, as well as our past, we are doomed for the future.  If we don’t understand each other, we are doomed period.

So here is Part 1 of my series entitled “Knowledge Trumps Racism” — because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, knowledge is power.

I start from a historical perspective —  David Ovalle from the Miami Herald wrote a very thoughtful piece on the last time a police officer was indicted in Miami for a shooting death in the line of duty.  It was 25 years ago last Sunday, and left a long legacy.

In a city long torn by racial tension, a uniformed police officer fatally shot a black man. Days of upheaval and rioting riveted the nation.

A series of investigations scrutinized the officer’s use of deadly force. He claimed self-defense. Would the cop face criminal charges?

The case that exploded in Miami in 1989 still resonates today, echoing the murky, racially charged confrontation that has put a 24/7 media spotlight on the small Missouri town of Ferguson.

Twenty five years ago Sunday, after a trial that lives on in local legal lore, jurors convicted Miami Police Officer William Lozano for shooting and killing a motorcyclist. It was the last time any police officer in Florida was convicted for an on-duty shooting.

Read more here.

The Time For Talk Is Over!

I’m not much of a “let me take a selfie” kind of woman, but it’s all about the evidence (I am the Resident Legal Diva after all).

So here it is. I early voted today.

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On Miami Beach, it wasn’t too bad. Definitely more people than during the primaries; but certainly low numbers. I’m hopeful that the numbers will increase as early voting comes to a close, and as November 4 arrives.

There are two themes that keeps recurring. One is “I’m so tired of those nasty ads on television and radio. How do I know what’s true? One is as bad as the other”

The second theme is “I know I’m supposed to do my research, but I’m busy. Being an informed voter takes WORK. I have a job, family, kids….ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Well, here is my answer to both.

That magical thing called the Internet.

There is a great site called Politifact that is run by a group of non partisan journalists. They fact check the claims of politicians across the country, and rate them as True, Half True or False. You can even submit facts for them to check or requests for corrections. That’s a great way to see if what was said in debates or in the ads was true.

Also, go on the election website for your county. You can check out a sample ballot to see what amendments are on the ballot. Usually, the main newspaper in your area will break down the issues and endorse or object to an amendment. You don’t have to agree…but what you gain is the explanation in plain English. It makes it easier to make a decision from there.

Lastly, if there is one person in your circle that you trust, task them with doing the research. But also make them break it down for you so that you understand the issues. At the end of the day, YOU are responsible for your vote — make sure you are clear on what you are voting on!

Voting determines our destiny as a nation. If it wasn’t so important, voter suppression wouldn’t be an issue. Voting fraud wouldn’t be a crime. Voter ID laws wouldn’t be so hotly contested.

This is your life. Your future. So many are quick to complain, march and protest; while it is important that your opinion be heard, politicians respond to the power of the ballot box. Use it or lose it!

M.

Black Voters in St. Louis County Switching Parties?

Since it is 20 days away from election day, I’m shifting my focus to politics and the law. I am a firm believer in educating yourself on the issues and knowing what you are voting for.  All elections are critical, not just the presidential years!

vote-smart-button An interesting article was published by the Associated Press today, indicating that the frustrations of the community in St. Louis have risen to new heights.  There has been a movement by some African American voters in St. Louis County, in response to the events in Ferguson, to vote for Republican candidates in the upcoming election. The feeling is that the Democrats in power, from the local level to the governor’s office, have ignored the needs of the community that has supported them faithfully for decades.

The emotion that some voters have of being “used” is not uncommon.  Time after time, candidates and elected officials across the country appear in the communities that need them the most only during the election cycle; they are not seen again until the next election.  Certainly, those politicians should be held accountable.

But as the old phrase goes, “look deep before you leap”.

Make sure to research whoever you are voting for.  Votes should not be cast out of anger, or revenge, because it is the community who suffers in the end.  Take a look at each candidate, and look at where they stand on ALL the issues.  If they are in the legislature, pull their voting history.  Look at what organizations or charities the candidate dedicated his or her time to.  These are all signs of whether or not the candidate’s interests align with yours.

If the Republican candidate appeals to you across the board, fine.

If you find that your values are not compatible, then the next best strategy is to put pressure on the leaders of your local Democratic party, letting them know that the current slate is unacceptable.  Find a candidate and back them, whether via write in, or a grassroots movement. As we have seen in recent history, social media is a powerful tool in getting information, and creating campaigns. This is why it is critical to vote in your party’s primaries — the primary votes send a clear message to the party as to whether or not an elected official is on the right track.

Another article came out today indicating that a record number of African Americans are seeking elected office right now.  Some of those candidates are running as Republicans. See the article here. This is a perfect example of taking charge of your destiny, and being the change you want to see.

Food for thought!

M.