Wait, what?

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By , August 26, 2014 7:43 am

“A free society cannot tolerate its tolerance being trampled on,” Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP), the Austrian Interior Minister, was quoted as saying.

When I first read that, I thought, “Oh, she’s strongly protective of free speech and doesn’t wany laws that would restrict unpopular speech.”  But I was wrong, I guess, because it seems that she made the comment in the context of supporting a proposal that Austria should ban membership in Isis and ban the wearing of all Isis symbols.

Read more on The Local, which I go scratch my head some more and get more coffee.

Blue on black has got to stop.

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By , August 19, 2014 6:06 pm

For some background, see my previous post.

Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller have an article in the Wall Street Journal today: “As Arrest Records Rise, Americans Find Consequences Can Last a Lifetime.” The article goes on to point out that approximately 1 in 3 Americans are in the FBI’s criminal database, with serious consequences, even when charges are dropped.

That’s certainly concerning, but it can be even worse than that for some people who have never even been arrested but just get stopped by police because of the color of their skin. You know what I’m talking about: DWB (driving while black) stops are rampant. And it’s cost at least one young black man the job he wanted.

“Joe” (not his real name) is a young black man who wanted to be a police officer. He has no history of arrests, never belonged to a gang, never been in any kind of trouble, had good grades, has no tattoos, and did superbly on every test and screening for a Florida police department, scoring in the high 90’s or getting perfect scores. But he got rejected.

Why? Because, they said, his record showed he had been stopped numerous times by police while driving. He never was arrested or even ticketed, but the fact that he was stopped numerous times cost him the job.

So because racist cops stop young black men who have done nothing wrong other than being black, the young black people may lose out on jobs?

How can this be right or just?

When the young man’s father – who is himself a police officer in New York City – told me the story, I was outraged, and we talked about his son filing an EEOC complaint.

And in the process of discussing his son, he told me more about his own background – how he had originally applied to be a member of FDNY and had been denied because of discrimination, despite passing the physical and scoring highly on the written test and screenings. Eventually, he became a cop – not really to protect and serve others, he said, but to get the cops to stop harassing him.  He had been stopped by police so many times  – without cause – and decided that if he had a badge, maybe they would at least leave him alone and not harass him more.

It works, he told me. He still gets stopped a lot, but now he just shows them his badge, and he’s allowed to go on his way. Not even an apology from those stopping him.  I wonder how many other black police officers are also frequently stopped or harassed by police when they are off-duty.

Someone shouldn’t have to become a police officer to stop harassment by the police.

Tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder will be in Ferguson, Missouri. He says he’s unhappy with how some things have been handled there. He’s not the only one. But the blue on black problem is a national problem and needs a national solution. No young man should lose a job opportunity because of unwarranted and racist stops by police.  No man should be treated like a suspect or harassed by police just because of the color of his skin.

Enough already. If we need to implement punitive measures to discipline cops who make stops not based on reasonable suspicion, then let’s do it. And let’s make sure all cops are wearing their name badges with their numbers so that the public knows who stopped them and can file complaints.


How could it be that Darren Wilson did nothing wrong in killing Michael Brown?

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By , August 19, 2014 6:03 pm

The last time I posted on this blog was back in February, and it was about the pervasive racism in our country that results in the killing of black youth with some impunity:

My heart goes out to the families of  black youth who were and will be killed because they are black. I could not and likely would not have said what Jordan Davis’s mother said after the jury verdict yesterday.  Her comments may have prevented riots, but Jordan Davis did not get justice yesterday. And nor will the next black teen unless there is a tectonic shift in our country.

There has been no tectonic shift since then, and now Ferguson, Missouri is dealing with yet another senseless death of a teenager – this one at the hands of a police officer who was sworn to protect and serve.

There are those who argue that since Mike Brown was unarmed, there’s no excuse and the officer, Darren Wilson, should be arrested and charged. There are those who argue that Wilson’s actions were justified. In what rational universe can the killing of an unarmed teen following a stop for walking in the street ever be considered justified? Would that we were living in a rational universe.

Yesterday, I took Baden’s preliminary autopsy results diagram to a cop I know. I won’t name him, but will just describe him as a black cop in New York City who’s almost exactly the same size as Michael Brown. And I said to him, “Show me how police can explain or justify this pattern of gun shots and this killing when Michael Brown was unarmed. How can this possibly be a justifiable killing?” The cop, who hadn’t followed the latest developments in the case glanced at the autopsy diagram and then said, “It’s easy. I’ll show you exactly how it probably went down.” And then he proceeded to demonstrate it for me, placing us about 30 feet apart.

He said from the gun shot pattern, Mike Brown probably charged the officer or kept coming towards him and wouldn’t stop.

“The kid has to get down on his knees when told to,” he said. “If he keeps moving towards the cop, the cop will fear for his own safety and will shoot.” In other words, the kid has to cooperate with the cop – or else. His words were echoed today in an OpEd headlined I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me..

“How long do you think it will take me to get to you from here to where you are?” he asked me from 30+ feet away. I looked at the distance and calculated that with his long stride, it would take less than 2 seconds to cover the distance if he charged me, longer if he just walked towards me.

“At what point do you start shooting at me if I won’t drop to the ground with hands up?” he asked me. “You can’t wait until I’m 5 feet away to start shooting because even a shot to the chest isn’t going to bring me down or stop me. You have to start shooting when I’m further away to bring me down.”

And so he demonstrated the scenario the autopsy results suggested to him, and I stood in Darren Wilson’s place and felt the fear of a huge man coming towards me and not stopping.

Would I have shot in that situation if there was already some scuffle or problem between us, as has been suggested by some witness reports? Most likely, yes.  And yes, I know Officer Wilson is younger than me, bigger than me, in better shape, and is trained and had a gun and Mike Brown was unarmed, but in that moment with a huge man coming at me and not stopping, I could understand fear – if that’s what happened.

But is that what actually happened when Mike Brown was killed? I don’t know. Some witness reports say that Wilson opened fire on Brown before Brown moved towards him. All I do know is that the police keep leaking information to bias the public against Mike Brown. But even if Brown had robbed a convenience store and even if he had smoked pot, neither justifies a cop killing an unarmed man. Nor does contempt of cop justify the killing. Perhaps the only defense for Darren Wilson is that he feared for his own life in that encounter.

But then why not get back in his car and call for backup? Why pursue Brown and force the issue? How did it get to that point of no return? 

There are those, like my friend in the police department, who may pragmatically say that Mike Brown’s killing was avoidable if only Brown had dropped to his knees with hands up.  That may be true at that point, but how Officer Wilson handled the encounter at the very outset likely led to what became the fatal interaction. Did Wilson harass Brown or was he disrespectful to him? Would the fatal shooting have occurred if Wilson had handled things differently at the beginning? Probably not.

In considering Officer Wilson’s responsibility for the killing of Mike Brown, we should not overlook or downplay the decisions he made at the outset and the way he approached Brown and Brown’s friend at the beginning of the incident because when all is said and done, Wilson killed Brown. If you want to excuse or rationalize it by decisions Brown made in responding to the situation, then you must also consider decisions Wilson made at every stage of the interaction. Despite his huge size, Brown was just an 18-year old kid. The officer was the one with the training and duty to handle this better.

But I’m still struck by how my friend, an experienced police officer, immediately understood how this could all happen and be considered  justifiable  in the police’s eyes.

Yes, I know what some of you are likely thinking now. “Well, he’s a cop, so of course he’ll just try to justify this or see it this way or lie to cover up wrongdoing by Wilson. Even though he’s black, he’s blue.”

And nine out of 10 times, you’d probably be right, except that my friend actually hates cops and only became a cop to get them to stop harassing him. But more on that in my next post.

Racism excuses murder? Again?

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By , February 16, 2014 10:04 am

Words fail. To those who said the justice system worked when George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, what say you all now that Michael Dunn’s jury hung on the charge he murdered Jordan Davis?  Will you stand there and tell me that our justice system worked because the jurors didn’t have enough evidence to warrant a conviction?

Or will you, at long last, be honest and acknowledge that in our country, racism is so pervasive and runs so deep that all a white person needs to claim is “I was afraid of that black person” and a jury will relate to that and see reasonable doubt for a murder charge?

Three words. “I was afraid.” That’s all it takes, it seems, to justify deadly force against an unarmed black youth who was just playing music loud.

And if we spend our lives in isolation and perpetuate the myths and racism, we can then use that as an excuse to kill black youth?

I feel sick inside today.

There are many commentaries all over the Internet, but Ta-Nehisi Coates’ column reduces me to tears.

At long last, have we made no progress in this country?  Was electing a black president a sign of progress, or did we just put an “oreo” in the White House so we could tell ourselves and the world that America is not a deeply racist country?

My heart goes out to the families of  black youth who were and will be killed because they are black. I could not and likely would not have said what Jordan Davis’s mother said after the jury verdict yesterday.  Her comments may have prevented riots, but Jordan Davis did not get justice yesterday. And nor will the next black teen unless there is a tectonic shift in our country.



Saying goodbye to a great dog

By , December 11, 2013 12:05 pm

It was more than 14 years ago, and my daughter was in the hospital, gravely ill. She had already been in the hospital for over a month, and I was desperate to motivate her to fight to recover and get better. And so I made her a promise: after she got out of the hospital, I would take her to get a puppy. We already had one dog, but he was clearly my dog, and she had always wanted one of her own.

It took another month, but finally she was able to come home from the hospital. True to my word, off we went to the shelter the next day to find her a puppy. She had had her heart set on a black lab puppy, and they actually had some very young ones there, but I could see by the way she held the puppy and the way the puppy responded to her that it wasn’t the right puppy for her.  And so I wandered around the shelter, looking at all the puppies – including the older puppies who were in a different room.

And that’s where I spotted her – a 4-month old German Shepherd/collie mix. There were other puppies of about the same age in other cages, but there was something about this one…

I went and got my daughter and persuaded her to consider an older puppy. And when we took this puppy out of the cage, the puppy went nuts licking and kissing my daughter. The puppy was overjoyed, and my daughter laughed with joy – for the first time in months. So we sat there for quite  a while while my daughter experienced the kind of unconditional love only your dog can give you.

“I think I’ve picked my dog,” my daughter said.

“No,” I said, smiling. “Your dog has picked you.”

After we got her home, we discovered that while she was affectionate and loving to us, she was fearful and aggressive with most men and all young children.  Something bad must have happened to her in young life before we got her. It took a lot of patience and time, but eventually she lost her fear of men and children. But always, always, she protected “her pack,” and looked out for us – including another dog we adopted when she was 5 years old and depressed after the death of my dog.

For over 14 years, she was part of our family and her tail always wagged happily. It was only a few weeks ago that she first showed signs of illness and we discovered that like my dog before her, she had liver cancer. Even then, her tail wagged happily as we talked to her and comforted her.

As we all gathered around her in her final moments last night, my daughter and I wept openly, remembering the day when this wonderful dog had chosen my daughter. The shelter had thanked us for rescuing her. Little did they know that we didn’t rescue her. She had rescued my daughter.

The house feels too quiet this morning.  I console myself thinking of her on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, reunited at last with my dog, as they run and play together again. And I reach down to console our other dog, and I tell her that one day, we will all be together again.


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