Archive for the ‘eric garner’ Tag

Thom Stark Replies on Slavery and Social Justice in America   2 comments

Thom Stark

Thom Stark and I are continuing our debate. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a fun and safe New Year’s Eve. Thom’s post today is in response to my post from two weeks ago, on what I perceive to be the root cause of police brutality in the United States. I think it’s the size and power of government and the lack of respect for individual liberty. Now for Thom’s take. Lela

 

Obviously we both agree that Slavery Is Bad. We agree, too, that the American Civil War had more than one cause, and that the question of states rights vs central government authority was one of the most important of them. I’ll even cheerfully grant that the Reconstruction was a time of barely-mitigated Northern vengeance on the South. We begin to part company after that, though.

First of all, I think it’s been firmly established that Federal authority trumps states rights pretty much across the board. Our Civil War settled that question. Nor do I think the precedent is a bad one, either in retrospect or in the perspective of the current era. Instead, I see states rights as steadily – and rightly – diminishing as our society evolves into a single, increasingly-homogenous culture, where regionalism is rapidly becoming a moot argument. I’m certain it looks different to you, because you live in Alaska, where a highly-individiualist, frontier mentality is the norm, rather than the exception, but in most of the lower 48, and throughout the Western world, one place is increasingly becoming interchangeable with the next. The ubiquity of chain stores and big brands, combined with the smothering cultural blankets of television – which gives us an unofficial received pronunciation that’s swiftly eliminating regional dialects – and social media (which strongly encourages herd think) is combining to create an environment where, on a day-to-day, experiential level, one town is completely indistinguishable from the next. Soon, the only legitimate regional sphere of influence will be that of the local professional sports team. The argument for right of place therefore becomes increasingly hard to make – and increasingly academic, in any case.

Which takes us to the individual, and the question of his or her rights vs those of the society in which he or she lives.

Society is always going to win this one, simply because there’s more of Them than there are of Us, when Us is defined as a single individual. You can complain about the unfairness of it all, wave your fists, and beseech the heavens as suits your fancy, but, in the end you’re outnumbered and outgunned, so They get to make the rules.

To me, an elected official has an ethical obligation to try to protect Us from Them – whoever We and They might currently define ourselves as being – but only insofar as doing so doesn’t create a still greater harm to one, the other, some third party altogether, or society as a whole in the process. Unfortunately, most of our elected officials are focused, instead, on getting re-elected and on gaming the system on behalf of their campaign contributors, but that’s a product of the perverse incentives the organized bribery we laughingly call a campaign finance system creates. If our Supreme Court hadn’t spent the past few decaces trying to give the vote to corporations, things might well be different. But it has, and they’re not.

As for Eric Garner, I think your assertion that the power of taxation was the root cause of his death is … well … “reductionist” is putting it mildly. Garner was killed by white cops in a white borough of New York City because he was a black man whom the area’s white shopkeepers viewed as a nuisance. Untaxed cigarettes are beside the point. Garner was a small-time hustler. Had selling loosies not been profitable, he’d have found something else to peddle. And the cops would have hasseled him over that, instead. The only real issue worth focusing on in his demise is the ubiquitous American police culture of cowboy justice, depraved indifference to human suffering, systematic lack of accountability, and the “thin blue line” mentality. (I say it’s the only real issue, because no one is going to be charged in Garner’s murder, video or no video, so the question of whether justice will ever be done has already been answered – and the answer is “No.”)

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI’ve become acquainted with quite a few cops over the years. Some of them are fabulous officers who view themselves as public servants, take seriously their duty to protect and serve, and make it a point to treat everyone they encounter with courtesy and respect. Others are thugs with guns, who use their badges as an excuse to bully those they regard as their social inferiors. The system – and I’m talking here about the real-world, non-theoretical way things actually work – is supposed to protect the first type from the consequences of single, tragic mistakes. Unfortunately, it ends up protecting both types from any consequences of their actions whatsoever, regardless of how flagrantly they may misbehave.

Here in the USA, that’s considered normal, natural, and entirely appropriate.

I think it’s none of those things, and it needs to stop.

Lela on Slavery and Individual Rights   1 comment

Thom StarkLast week, Thom Stark expanded upon his centrist views. And, I’m still hung up on the idea of government being obligated to pursue policies for the greatest good, while also protecting the rights of minorities. I still don’t think it’s possible.

Again, we agree on quite a few points.

Slavery and US slavery particuarly are huge topics we could discuss. How a country could claim, on the one hand, that all men are created equal but allow some men to own others is incomprehensible. It’s tempting to say the Civil War was fought for wholly moral reasons and therefore was a “good” war, but I know too much about what was also going on besides the issue of slavery to agree. Just the fact that Lincoln didn’t free the slaves until halfway into the war suggests there was something more going on than slavery.

And, then you also have to deal with the repression that grew from the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction was a brutal and immoral period that raped the South economically, forced it into a subservient role for the next century, and led to Jim Crow and the eventual need for the Civil Rights movement, but worse, the abrogation of states rights has had profound negative effects on individual rights throughout the nation in subsequent years. It has been used as an excuse for repression of regionalization ever since. In effect, the moral crusade to end slavery empowered the federal repression of states and gave structure to Plato’s Republic in modern America.

But that would be a later discussion, I think.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI still believe strongly that the individual is the smallest and most powerless of minorities and that government generally is the antithesis of protecting the rights of the individual. We could certainly delve into how various minorities groups have banded together to create a statistical majority bent on forcing others to fall in line with what they want. A case in point would be the Masterpiece Cake Shop, which shows that minority group power overrides the individual right of freedom of faith.

Or we could tear an example from the headlines.

Eric Garner was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island — coincidentally only blocks from one of the neighborhoods my husband grew up in. First a single police officer confronted him with the victimless crime. I’ve seen the video. He was agitated and loud, but never violent toward the officer, but it quickly escalated into four officers holding him on the ground, one with his knee in Garner’s back and another with his hand pushing Garner’s face into the concrete. Yes, very much police brutality, but while we’r freaking out over a symptom of government repression, I want to look at the cause.

I hate cigarettes. They’re stinky, unhealthy and produce trash that I usually end up having to clean up.  I hold similar attitudes toward marijuana and alcohol. I do not see these things as societal goods. I can understand why folks would ask their politicians to regulate them for the “maximum good”. I also think all such attempts at prohibition are stupid ideas.

That “societal good” zeitgeist and desire to prohibit or regulate individual liberty is the root cause of Eric Garner’s death. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — vices like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs fall under either the liberty or pursuit of happiness clause. When society tries to tell individuals they can’t do something (usually because it’s unhealthy), individuals find a way to continue doing it. Unable to prohibit tobacco, people who hate cigarettes asked their government to do something to curtail its usage — make it difficult for individuals to smoke by increasing taxes. Sounds good. You let those individuals continue to smoke, but you give the do-gooders a warm-fuzzy feeling of having done something to discourage them. Except ….

Every time they walk by a group of smokers and get their panties in a knot that their efforts have not made everyone stop that vile unhealthy habit, they lobby their legislators to raise the tax a little higher … which led to a market for untaxed cigarettes. Had there been no market for “loosies” the New York Police Department would have had no cause to harass Eric Garner that day and he might be alive today (I say “might” because he was obese and that’s another do-gooder target for societal improvement). Yes, you can blame Garner’s death on lesser causes like police brutality and racism, but if government had not been given the power to restrict individual liberty for “societal good”, any racism in the hearts of the cops would have been moot because they would not have been given permission to deal with Eric Garner.

I think it’s these little compromises with individual liberty — usually under the guise of something good for society as a whole — that lead us toward full scale repression. It happens gradually and so we don’t object until we see it working to kill citizens, but far too often when we seek to fix what our policies have wrought, we don’t acknowledge the cause, but try to fix the symptoms while leaving the cause in place. You can modify police training and try to modify police racial sentiments, but those efforts will be of limited effect because the real cause is inherent lack of respect for individual rights that is part and parcel with majority rule. When a societal consensus has been reached on any given issue, government feels it has a mandate to repress the individual for the greater good.

I wanted to talk about capitalism here, but I’m hitting my 1000-word guideline, so I may post something about it later.

Revolution Is Coming   Leave a comment

And not for the right reasons!

After six years of the race card being retread over and over and over, the country is ripe for another round of riots like swept the country in the late 1960s.

We see it percolating in Ferguson and New York. Black people think the cops are treating them unfairly and that white culture is to blame.

And sometimes that may be true. But it would be lovely if we could approach these situations with common sense.

Michael Brown was a large aggressive young black male who robbed a store and, according to WITNESSES (almost all of whom were black), refused to stop at the direction of a police officer and then physically charged that officer, who subsequently shot Brown.

If a white young man had exhibited the same behavior, the outcome would have been the same. The officer feared for his life and moved to protect himself. Not having a gun or a knife did not make Michael Brown not dangerous. More people die in this country every year by being beaten to death than by being shot — by a factor of 5.

Unless we want to have the conversation about whether we need cops to protect the community from people like Michael Brown or the other conversation where we disarm cops completely and leave them as vulnerable as the Village Police Officers in Tanana, Alaska, then we must accept that it is reasonable for a police officer to take steps to protect himself from physical assault by a man who was much larger than himself.

141204-siegel-protests3-embedEric Garner was a completely different case, however. He was breaking the law, but a pretty silly law — selling untaxed cigarettes on the streets of New York City. It was a non-violent crime. When the cops approached him, he cooperated. I’ve watched the video and there is no evidence that he resisted. I’d be willing to bet that the police academy training Officer Pantaleo is referring to is Advanced Mandt which does not teach chokeholds and constantly reminds trainers and trainees not to compress the chest. In other words, the officer is lying or the Academy is violating its own training procedures.

But understand that is the difference here. Eric Garner was committing a non-violent crime and when approached by a police officer did not react with violence. Michael Brown had already robbed someone and was aggressive to the officer.

These cases are not the same at all, except that Garner and Brown were both black and the officers were both white.

I wish we knew why the New York grand jury ruled the way they did. That should be public information so that we can determine if the decision is racially motivated, as we can determine in the Ferguson case that the decision was behaviorally motivated. If you attack a cop, you should expect the cop to take measures to protect himself. If you’re not acting violently, then you should have the expectation of not being killed by the cop who is arresting you.

Ultimately, we in this country must stop judging these cases by the color of the people involved and start judging them by the behavior of the actors. There would be very different grand jury outcomes if that were the case. The officer in Michael Brown’s case would be allowed to return to duty after an investigation that revealed witnesses who saw what happened. Officer Pantaleo, however, based on the video, should be facing manslaughter charges.

I would also note — in Ferguson, they rioted and looted shops in the neighborhood Brown was already terrorizing. In New York, so far, the protests have been non-violent. It’s interesting that the protests in support of a violent young man turned violent while the protests in support of a man who was strangled to death on tape did not.

Anyone want to comment on that difference?

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