I am an American by choice. It’s possible that this fact allows me to keep my eyes wider open to this country’s race history than is possible for Americans by birth. I am quite sure none of my ancestors owned slaves; I am sure none stopped a person of any race from eating lunch at the public counter. I am not affirming this, just speculating forcefully. This does not protect me from the collective sort of guilt that comes from supporting a polity that descends directly from the oppressor polity of yesteryear. At any rate, I am one of those Americans who believe that America never really closed the book on the two and half centuries of atrocities that was black slavery, nor on the century of injustice that was legal segregation and systematic persecution of blacks, of black males, especially.
One of my WASP friends says that 500,000 white men’s deaths in the Civil War was a sufficient price to pay for the ill-treatment of the past. I don’t think it fixed the problems left behind by this ill-treatment. As a conservative, I believe that good things and bad things happen through the family. It seems self-evident to me: When people are not allowed to form normal families, bad behavior gets transmitted through the generations until something virtuous intervenes to break the chain. For one hundred, two hundred years, you ask? Why, yes.
Yes, I am talking about reparations. Why not? The unspoken notion that coming to this land of opportunity in chains vs elbowing one’s way aboard an immigrant ship amounts to a small difference is stupid and morally bankrupt. The people who want to lead peaceful and productive lives in this country will not have the moral high ground until these monstrous historical injustices are righted, once, for good. In the meantime police officers and other officials don’t know whether they should act according to what their reason tells them or in some other, ill-defined away.
All this to talk about the protests, the riots, and the lootings in Ferguson Missouri where a police officer shot an unarmed young black man to death ten days ago.
This is one situation where rationality, judgment is needed. First things first. Many police agencies in the country seem to be operating under fudgy guidelines about using firearms on citizens. That’s intolerable. Police violence and, possibly, even more so, the pervasive threat of police violence are not trivial matters. The fear of those we hire to protect us undermines severely the pursuit of happiness, one of he foundations of our society. In a period when crime by criminals has been decreasing steadily in our society at large, there is zero excuse for criminal behavior by our police, Even tolerance for accidental shootings is too broad.
Uniform law enforcement dogma in this country should be strictly that officers do not discharge their weapons except to protect lives, their own included. The threat should be unambiguous. Yes. officers would die. I know that this sounds callous but it’s their job to risk death in the street, like soldiers. It’s not a bad job overall. I doubt there would be trouble recruiting for it under narrower strictures for firing on civilians. Law enforcement officers should know every time they fire on someone that they are probably losing their job. Life against job; it’s not a bad bargain.
By the way, my father who was a Paris cop told me something I never forgot when I was 14 and he was reading law in preparation for a promotion exam. He said that cops who don’t have the option of using force become better cops, that they find alternative ways to win confrontations with the bad guys.
(He passed the exam; thank you for asking.)
Is it likely that police officers throughout this country are more likely -other things being equal – to shoot at a black suspect than at a black suspect? I would guess so. The second day of protest in Ferguson turned into looting. A young black man dies, others get a mountain bike, their sisters get platform shoes. (I watched looting scenes on MSNBC; all the looters shown were black.) The victim of this particular shooting was a hoodlum, a large hoodlum. (The same video that shows that he did not rob a shop minutes before he was killed shows him manhandling the diminutive shopkeeper.) The weekend following the Ferguson shooting seven young black men were shot to death in Chicago. They were shot by other young black men of course, as is almost always the case. Police officers operate under the impression that African-Americans are more likely to be criminal – and, by extension, more dangerous than whites. Go figure!
Digression: A month ago, I spotted four young black men on my street trying to hot wire an old classic American car. The car was in some disrepair. The young men wore full ghetto outfit. It’s a rare thing in white-and-brown Santa Cruz. Here, one only sees pale imitation of ghetto dress on downtown whiggers on skateboards. UC students who are black wear normal semi-hippie outfits, like everyone else. I called the police. It turns out, it was their car that would not start the natural way. Did I jump the gun, (so to speak)? Did I profile racially? What would you have done? And, incidentally, I would not know how to hot wire a car. Do you?
As completely expected, the national media, almost universally liberal, is camping in Ferguson day and night. They are clinging to an exhausted, obsolete narrative of injustice for which they have no substitute. The liberals’ lack of liberal imagination is striking. They are helped by the usual racial and misery pimps and extortionists from outside the town. The old civil rights aristocracy is humming along, terrified that one in their own midst will start speaking aloud about black social dysfunctions. The television commentator Juan Williams, a black man, does it all the time but he is not part of this aristocracy; he is a marginal figure; he can be ignored, so far. The total amount of intellectual cowardice in the coverage of the Ferguson shooting is overwhelming. It’s overwhelming on issues of race in today’s America in general.
Yes, young black men often act as if they felt disenfranchised. They are, I think. Black spokespersons have been railing for thirty years or more about police not looking like the “community” they police. In general, I think the idea that black cops are more likely than white cops to defuse problems involving African-Americans seems reasonable. It does although the veteran black state police officer put in charge of keeping order in Ferguson after a few days did a piss-poor job of it. The liberal press pointed out that Ferguson Missouri population is 2/3 black. It makes me wonder why the town’s black population did not use its large majority to vote out the white municipality and to create an all-black (or nearly all-black ) police force a long time ago. No one, not one, in the media has wanted to raise that simple, self-evident question. We are still not talking clearly in this nation when racial matters are involved.