Posts Tagged ‘Black Lives Matter’

Predictably Pre-conditioned Police

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

The lead pre-cog in “Minority Report.”

The lead pre-cog in “Minority Report.”

     Most recent lockdown movie watched was “Minority Report,“ starring Tom Cruise. Talk about synchronicity.

     Cruise plays a police officer in the mid-21st century who is part of a special unit that arrests people for “pre-crimes.“ That is, crimes they were about to commit. Usually, the “pre-crime“ is murder.

     The “pre-crimes“ are predicted by pre-cogs — three drugged human beings floating in a pool of warm water who are wired to a computer system that allows others (the police) to monitor what is going on in the pre-cogs‘ minds. Precognition. The three, one female and two males, can see the future. They predict pre-murder victim and pre-murderer, as well as date and time. Cruise has to figure out where and get there in time to stop the crime and make an arrest, even though no crime has been committed. The pre-cogs are supposed to be infallible. It turns out they’re not. Cruise finds this out when he himself is named as a pre-murderer and has to prove his innocence before any crime is committed. 

       By now, the police in the film have become pre-conditioned to believe in precognition: This is what the precogs say, so it must be true. You did intend to kill this person. You are under arrest for the pre-crime of homicide. It’s kind of like some police today have become preconditioned to believe that if a male is black, he must be guilty of something and is dangerous to boot, so use whatever force is necessary in making an arrest. And the system says it’s justified.

        Just as the pre-cogs’ reputation for accuracy was based on a lie, so the preconditioning of some of today’s real-life police officers is based on generations of lies. George Floyd’s death in the custody of police in Minneapolis is the latest in a dismal series of similar incidents that entered my consciousness in Middletown, N.Y., in 1986. That the country and, in fact, much of the world has risen up to protest Floyd’s death is encouraging, but tragically long overdue.

       I was writing editorials for The Times Herald-Record, the local paper, when Jimmy Lee Bruce, a 20-year-old black man, died in the back of a patrol car near Middletown on Dec. 13, 1986. He and a group of friends from Ellenville, N.Y., had gone to a movie theater in a mall outside Middletown. The group became rowdy. There was drinking involved. Two white, off-duty Middletown police officers, acting as security guards, escorted the group out of the theater. A scuffle ensued. An officer applied a chokehold to Bruce and tossed him in the back of a police car, which had brought two on-duty Town of Wallkill police officers to the scene.

       The police then drove around for 7½ minutes looking for Bruce’s friends. When they returned to the theater, a state trooper, who had also arrived on the scene, shined a flashlight in the back of the patrol car and noticed the young man was not responding to the light. Police rushed him to a nearby hospital, but attempts to revive him failed.

       In my previous experience as a reporter talking to plenty of lawyers I had been told that any district attorney worth his salt could indict a ham sandwich. Apparently this was baloney. A grand jury considering the case ruled that Bruce’s death was an accident because the officers had used a technique – the chokehold (they called it a “sleeper”) — for which they had not been trained and which actually was prohibited by their department.

        There have since been too many similar stories between Bruce and Floyd, including Eric Garner, a victim of a chokehold applied by police on Staten Island in 2015. Excessive force used by a police officer resulting in the death of a black male and, most of the time, no action taken against the officer. You could almost predict it. Preconditioning.

         Following Bruce’s death, I wrote an editorial (later read into The Congressional Record on March 25, 1987 by Rep. Matthew F. McHugh) that said the grand jury that cleared the four police officers had actually indicted a system that had failed to properly train its police in handling such situations and for being slow to investigate the case, “raising suspicions of bigotry.” Would that I had the pre-cogs available to me then.

         The same factors, predictably, applied to the Eric Garner case 18 years later. Precognition? No. Preconditioning. Little had happened in the ensuing years to change the way most police departments recruit, train and discipline police officers. In fact, the situation was worsened by the giveaway of all kinds of military grade weapons to police departments. Without the proper training and handling of civil disturbances, such weapons will be used. And they were.

          So now, in the face of massive demonstrations including in front of the White House where a cowering Donald Trump fled to the bunker in the basement, politicians and police officials are finally recognizing what needed to be done more than 30 years ago: Diversify police recruiting. Weed out applicants with sketchy records. Give recruits more training on how to talk to the public, how to de-escalate tense situations and how to use force properly. Make it their duty to speak out about improper use of force. Get rid of that military hardware. Stop dressing like storm troopers. Become involved in the community. Act swiftly and surely to punish officers who abuse their position. Reestablish justice department review of police departments whose behavior is challenged by the public. Educate all officers on the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly. Make the entire community part of this reconditioning process.

      It’s not impossible, not even difficult. It just needs a unified commitment to doing so. There have been moderately successful efforts in cities across the country to reform police departments in the wake of public outcry over the deaths, usually, of black males at the hands of police. Here in Middletown, police actually joined demonstrators recently in marching peacefully for reform. 

      “Black Lives Matter“ has now made this a national priority. In fact, the House of Representatives and the New York State Legislature have introduced legislation to ban the use of chokeholds by police — 34 years too late for Jimmy Lee Bruce, but perhaps just in time for future generations of black males.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

The ‘White-on-White’ Crime Problem

Friday, September 9th, 2016

By Michael Kaufman

Colin Kaeperneck ... kneeling to make a point

Colin Kaeperneck … kneeling to make a point

Why is it that no one seems to be addressing the serious national problem of white-on-white crime? Did you know that 85 percent of all homicides of white people in the United States are committed by other white people? Or that most victims of white pedophile clergymen are white children? Speaking of child molesters, weren’t all of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s victims white youths? And when it comes to gun violence, nobody can shoot white schoolchildren, teachers, moviegoers, celebrities, or elected officials better than a white guy.  And let’s not forget the Unabomber, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy (white guys all).

In our region alone reports of white on white crime appear regularly in the media, although never identified as such. Recent headlines include “Two men plead guilty to elder abuse,” “Kayak murder case could begin in October,” and “RABBI CHARGED IN KJ MURDER PLOT.” So far I haven’t heard anyone say that the “white community needs to have a conversation” about the problem.

On the other hand I have heard many white people decry “black-on-black” crime when talking about shootings in black neighborhoods in cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Last week I heard a white talk-radio host in New York say the black community in Chicago needs to have a conversation about the black on black shootings in that city.

“Suddenly everyone is having a ‘conversation,’” wrote the late great journalist Alexander Cockburn in 2008. “The word has come of age. I see it bowing and scraping on the opinion pages and TV talk shows three or four times a day.” In the above example it is obvious the talk-radio host has no personal contact with anyone who actually lives in a low-income, inner city neighborhood beset by a host of problems including street crime and gun violence.

The rhetorical call for a conversation was part of a longer rant that began with a criticism of Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who has chosen to kneel when the National Anthem is played prior to a game. Kaepernick says it is his way of drawing attention to the ongoing mistreatment of people of color in the United States and an expression of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the talk-show host, Kaepernick is being disrespectful to veterans: “My father is a veteran and maybe that’s why I feel so patriotic … I know there are still some problems with regard to race in this country. I get that, but …” And that’s when the call came for the black community to have a conversation.

Do the people who say these things realize how obnoxious and patronizing they are? Do they not know that people talk to one another about conditions in their neighborhoods?  Ironically, the neighborhoods in question are the same low-income areas once inhabited by Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants who faced similar conditions.

The Purple Gang in 1920s Detroit, for example (composed entirely of Jews), has been described as “the most efficiently organized gang of killers in the United States.” According to the Detroit police it killed more people than Al Capone’s mob in Chicago. Most of its victims were other Jews. Members of the Purple Gang grew up in an east side neighborhood described by historian Robert Rockaway as “one of the least desirable areas of Detroit in which to live.” The district was “more crowded, had higher rents, and higher disease and death rates than other parts of the city,” wrote Rockaway.  An article published in the Jewish American, Detroit’s Anglo-Jewish weekly newspaper, deplored the prevalence of “tenement houses that are actually unfit to live in: old, decrepit, polluted and infected hovels, where human beings endeavor to exist and where a young generation is reared.”

“The members of the Purple Gang were bred in this environment,” said R0ckaway. The gang extorted protection money from cleaning and drying businesses, almost all of which were owned by Jews. Those who didn’t pay were subjected to fires, dynamiting, stink bombs, thefts, beatings and kidnappings, and at least two were murdered in cold blood. Would it have been any different if a Gentile on the radio told the Jews in Detroit that they should have a conversation?

Michael can be reached at Michael@zestoforange.com.