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Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tactics of DeHumanization

If the Hose Fits... (Moore, 2011)
When does the national conversation change? What is the trim tab that adds a new word to the general lexicon, one that was only being whispered in the back rooms of the old south as a spitten curse. Equalitization. Is it a photo? A video? A speech?

In 1963, images printed in Life Magazine told the story. Systemic arrests and harassments by local officials in Birmingham, Alabama were nothing new, but self awareness is a hell of a thing. Large crowds of people were starting to march led by a young preacher named Martin Luther King. Not yet a doctor but already a Reverend, he had a vision of change and a way of getting others to believe in that change.

Walter Gadsden being attacked by dogs in Alabama, 1963
(Hudson, 2011)
Peaceful clean cut kids who gathered in Alabama that fateful summer, with intelligent messages and a need to have their voices heard, were protesting the Jim Crow state of affairs in the area. Birmingham's Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connors, wasn't having any of that. There were laws enforcing segregation.

On a hundred degree day, the simple relief of a swimming pool in a public park could not be enjoyed by people whose skin was considered too dark to be human. You want to swim to cool off now, $1.50 will take that 103 degree day in D.C. into a manageable zone at one of many public park pools, regardless of race. In that summer of 1963 in Alabama, they were experiencing 110 degrees in the shade. It's not dry heat, it's not humid heat, it's some other kind of heat that beats down on you. A person of a pale complexion would have their neck turn bright red in that heat rather quick.

Bull and his buddies thought some bullying was in order, so they took out the hoses. And the dogs. DOGS. On a hot 110 degree day.

What has been seen, can't be unseen
(Colorado edu, 1968)
In 1968, 5 years later, they came again. Bunch of really smart kids calling themselves "Yippies" took over a park, wanted to the change the world, or at the very least, that national conversation. They were getting together peacefully to listen to music and have a few free drugs and some free love back then. Oh yeah, and to protest outside the Democratic National Convention about the seemingly endless Vietnam War. The people in THAT park from THAT time who were sick of war and calling for peace got hit with much worse than just hoses and dogs. Much, much worse. Like Bunker Hill worse. (Go to your local DVD download portal and see Chicago 10 to have all your questions on that one answered if you want to know more.)

Tanks? Really? Mine resistant Tanks? Yes, In Ferguson this week
(International Times, 2014)
The last four days, newspapers, websites, social media, and cable news are awash with images of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets being lobbed at innocent citizens on the street in 'ol Mizzou. Local residents were getting together peacefully to listen, to march, to sing, chant and pray the pain away after what seems like the senseless death of yet another unarmed teenager. Oh yeah, an unarmed black teenager.

When local police officials are embarrassed by an officer stepping over the line, protocol seems to be to attack those who complain until they shut up. Fear them into submission. Tell them they can't assemble after dark. Peaceful protesters, an alderman, and members of the Fourth Estate being arrested and harassed just because local officials are embarrassed. That's all it takes, shame and a desire to cover up mistakes made by a police force that has made too many of these mistakes in the past.

Militarized Police Overkill in Ferguson
(ABC News, 2104)
Rachel Maddow of MSNBC put it best today when she reported, "This is a policing failure on a huge scale. This is terrible, terrible policing. What is the justification? Terribly conceived and terribly done. The decision to treat this like a military operation is a failure in its own level, but the lack of professionalism, the lack of restraint, deliberately going after the media time after time after time to stop coverage of what they are doing is hard to fathom in its incompetence."

Perhaps shame has its rightful place here. Shaming the local police for their response to an active community of people who feel it is not only their right, but their duty to protest the gross distortions leading to multiple deaths of young black men. Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen offered this insight, "Our entire criminal justice system has mushroomed, in large part because certain politicians have made it a strategy to stoke fear among white people - fear about young black men. Young men like Michael Brown - and their families - are paying the price."

Police advance through smoke, Wed. August 13 in Ferguson, MO.
(MSNBC, 2014)
This time, caring and mourning patriotic protesting civilians were set upon by militarized officers launching teargas canisters into a milling crowd of the thoughtful. A real pressure cooker for the bubbling up of fear and hatred is being built and it's being stoked by local officials and local law enforcement. This should be a revolution of thought and process, shedding light on the entrenched racism rampant in the St. Louis police department. It should be. Self awareness is a hell of a thing. Do these cops need sensitivity training, or racial boot camp?

What is clear is that there is an urgent need to have this Ferguson police force adequately represent the local population of the people they protect. Today, Ferguson is nearly 70 percent black, but the law there is still enforced by a police department that is more than 90 percent white, a fact that helps engender widespread distrust of officers. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson confirmed, "50 of the city's 53 police officers are white.

Lone Protester Surrounded By Tear Gas Explosions
(USA Today, 2014)

After all sorts of complaints and concerns poured into the United States Justice Department in the wake of the last four days in Ferguson, the local police have been replaced with the state highway patrol and a brave Captain named Ron Johnson is at large and in charge. What a difference a day makes. This captain and his tactics have turned the situation around 180 degrees today. Tonight there is very little police presence. Young people are directing traffic and neighborhoods are self-policing their areas. It is a peaceful though raucous night in Ferguson this evening.

Tensions Ease As Highway Patrol Captain Marches With Ferguson Protesters
(BuzzFeed, 2014)
Will that be our trim tab? Will the photos of those hit with rubber bullets and covered with welts open the eyes of the sleeping? Will the video of people being gassed in their own front yards settle the issue of the use of excessive force by police officers in this country? Ah, if only this warranted a 'mission accomplished' banner. But we are far from a solution when it comes to racial bias in this country.

One all encompassing and remarkably easy deterrent against any unlawful bad apple police brutality is instituting the practice of placing cameras directly on the front of police officers. In the wake of the ongoing and numerous fatalities coming out of police/citizenry encounters, many talking heads in search of an answer to the problem are calling out for just that. The San Diego Police Department has reported making a large purchase of "body-worn" video cameras this year. Recently, Dallas police got a glimpse of what Chief David Brown calls "the future of law enforcement" when an officer's uniform worn camera recorded a fatal police shooting for the first time. Of course, that was June. There has been no report as to the outcome of the review of that footage. Hmmm.

Today, Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe used his bully pulpit to advocate that, "police officers ought to wear cameras. They really should. The only ones afraid of wearing cameras are bad cops and criminals. So let's make it a national thing."

Another "watershed" moment is right in front of us. This revolution, apparently, will be televised. Don't you just love history in the making? All power to the people and the policy they invent.

Lisa, The Policy Geek

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