Posts Tagged ‘Minneapolis’

Good News, from Back to Front Page

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

 The newest Yankee pitcher, Gerritt Cole, pitches batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Spring training has been delayed.

The newest Yankee pitcher, Gerritt Cole, pitches batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Spring training has been delayed.

  The boys of summer are going to finally start playing baseball … in July. Better late than never. Basketball and hockey players will be busy, too. For them, it’s unfinished business.

    This falls in the category of good news, for the players and fans, not to mention team owners and all the ancillary employees. Sports may be considered a diversion by some, a trifle to others. But to millions, sports are a welcome, even healthful, escape. As citizens of an agitated world, we can all use something to, if only temporarily, take our minds off, you know, things. Something to at least start the day without anxiety and angst.

     I began following the late Earl Warren’s formula for starting the day in my late teens: Begin reading in the back of the paper with the sports pages. Warren said: “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.“

     For me, it was the New York Daily News. Look at the other stuff later; it’ll still be there. I figured if it was good enough for a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it was good enough me. Who won? Who pitched? How many, how fast, how about that?

     Later, when I was a sports editor for a couple of years, I tried to make my pages entertaining enough for other followers of Warren‘s philosophy. Here’s your morning jolt, sports fans! I don’t know if I succeeded, but it was certainly fun for me.

      So when they stopped sports along with everything else four months ago, it was bad news. There was nowhere to go for diversion. Netflix has served a purpose, but it’s tough to start the real day with fantasy heroes. Who hit the buzzer beater? Did the Knicks actually win? Who’s playing shortstop for the Yankees this year?

       I know it won’t be the same for a while. Maybe ever. So it’ll be different. But it’s likely that there will be pro sports later this month and, more likely, pro football in the fall. Go Giants! That’s good news.

      If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on good news here, it’s because of a comment Emma Gonzalez-Laders, a faithful reader, made on my most recent column: “You’re not normally the bringer of good news. I like this twist.”

      The “twist” she was referring to was taking a week’s worth of events that didn’t go the way Donald Trump would have liked — Supreme Court rulings, botched firings, campaign rallies in empty stadiums, stuff like that — and reporting it as good news. It’s what one has had to do to find “good news” in an age of all-Trump, all-chaos, all the time. It can get exhausting.

       But, nothing is forever. Witness the results of a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll, taken shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, reported that about half of American adults believe police violence against the public is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem. Last September, that same poll showed only about one-third of American adults felt that way.

       That is a significant change in a short period of time on a controversial social issue. The poll also revealed that 61 percent of Americans say police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than a white person. That compares with 49 percent in 2015. And only about a third of Americans say the race of a person does not make a difference in the police use of deadly force. In 2015, half of Americans felt that way. Significantly, 65 percent said that police officers who cause injury or death in the course of their job are treated too leniently by the justice system, a 24-point increase over 2015.

        The poll results, along with the nationwide demonstrations protesting the way police took Floyd into custody — an officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes while three officers stood by and watched — suggest that Americans are finally ready to  rethink the role of police in their communities. Indeed, there has been a flurry of legislative action at city, state and federal levels to redefine the police mission, reduce police budgets, rethink training and recruiting, strip forces of military hardware, even eliminate police forces since Floyd’s much-viewed death.

         The fact that Floyd’s death was recorded and played millions of times on social media and that, subsequently, other examples of police violence against peaceful protesters were similarly recorded and played on social media for the world to see certainly had to play a role in this dramatic sea change in public opinion, as compared to the slow change in societal attitudes on other issues such as same sex marriage. It was finally hard to deny what people were seeing with their own eyes, over and over again. 

        The polltakers say the sudden, dramatic change suggests that this may be a permanent shifting in attitude, rather than the transitory flurry of outrage that has followed school shootings, for example.

        This is, to me, good news. Long-overdue, perhaps, but still good news. Like the long-overdue beginning of the baseball season.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

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

 

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.