04 December 2014

Garner

Honestly at this point I don't care if half the country gets burned to the ground and we have to start over. Nobody seems inclined to take seriously suggestions of how we get from here to there, where there is somewhere a decent people should want to go.

The Brown-Wilson case was mishandled at crucial points but there's little chance that would have gone to a conviction. The end result would have been the same; Wilson resigning. That entire case basically turns on what witnesses you believe or don't believe concerning what happened after Brown had moved away from the car and those last several shots being justified or not. All of which is enough for reasonable doubt in a court room. Of course, whether police usually receive reasonable doubt from juries when normal citizens often do not could be discussed at that point. How all of it was handled from there was an outrage, but that's a different sort of outrage than the actual death itself (leaving the body in the street for hours, running over memorials to the deceased, mistreatment of protesters and media in the aftermath, total lack of communication between protesters and security forces, deployment of military equipment for which police were not trained for use against a non-military grade threat to officer safety, PR battles which often had limited value, calling anyone who opposed police action "thugs" or furthering a "pro-thug" agenda, with all the attending racial-loaded implications of that language in the modern era, etc).

This case.... there was all kinds of evidence involved however. Police procedures were not followed. The arrest had no such import as a prospective assault/robbery suspect (however unjustified killing such a suspect was, the criminal acts for which the deceased were being accosted were miles apart in the importance of effecting arrests). The man clearly had medical issues induced from police action, and still they persisted. Heads should have rolled. Excuses piled up instead and nothing happens. The Crawford case was in the same boat, and one expects that the Rice case in Cleveland will fall under the same hand at this point.

This has to stop, but it won't.

The only way that happens, the only way we can begin to examine this corpse of our society and its presentation of justice and what may ultimately destroy us, is if we start to acknowledge we have a police problem. We have an institutional problem with the way we police, and how we look the other way when violence is meted out to those we deem unworthy of basic decent legal and moral protection. And the main reason we have such people upon which to permit, if not demand, such institutional violence is we have a race problem. Still.

It isn't just a race problem. Poverty, the drug war, media coverage of crime and criminal justice, military-grade hardware distributed like candy to police forces large and small, and the expansion of police powers and broad and vague legal codes all contribute. And it isn't just a police problem; a media climate of fear is perpetuating the feeling of a society under attack from what are largely mythical criminal acts and as a result the general public carries many of the same biases and prejudices in private and public encounters with people who do not look like us. Many of these situations would not have happened at all if someone with suspicion formed (primarily) on the basis of skin colour did not call the authorities to alert them of something that could have been handled with a simple question or conversation at the scene. The animus doesn't require the police. The fault is not in any stars. It is from ourselves.

When we put these problems together though, the explosives are made more deadly and more corrosive to the nature required of us in forming a functional and prosperous society. Where all people feel reasonably safe in their homes and neighbourhoods not just from criminals, but from the authorities as well. Where all people feel that the provision of law is not a means or tool for oppression of basic dignity, but rather a weapon for preventing that oppression of dignity. These should be our aspirations in crafting the laws, and the methods of enforcing and arbitrating violations of laws. We may never perfect the methods and means of obtaining these lofty goals. But we should at least act like we care that these are our preferences. Or we should admit that they are not our aspirations at all.

When we have one law for those who enforce and craft laws, and another set of laws for others, we cannot present a place for basic dignity. We enable those who would hide behind their position to inflict injustice where they should be in the service of justice. We can have room in our society for difficult decisions, for actions taken in self-defence or in defence of others, and we have legal codes which allow for this. Nor should we want police officers to fear for their safety anymore than we should ourselves live in fear. But this impunity before the law must end.
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