transparent opacity?

Yesterday, two videos, from police body and dashboard cameras, of the shooting and killing of Keith Lamont Scott were released to the public. This followed a press conference by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney who, among several points, stressed his efforts at transparency. Neither video, from my perspective, proves definitively the assertion either of the police that Mr. Scott had a gun and, thus, was considered “an imminent threat” or of his family who maintained that Mr. Scott, holding only a book, posed no harm.

The authorities are in possession of additional video. To achieve the aim of transparency, why not share all recorded footage with the public? I’ve not heard, again, from my perspective, a justifiable rationale.

This is my argument for fullest disclosure…

No matter what the videos show and don’t show, all who view them will evaluate what they’ve seen through the lenses of their individual perceptions and opinions, in part, freshly formed in the moment and in equal, perhaps greater part wrought from their personal histories and their memories of their life’s experiences and their suppositions about the way things are. This is to say that there will not (and never will or can) be one truth, one explanation of what happened, one way to interpret the evidence.

At a deeper degree of existential complexity, verily, difficulty, an underlying matter – hardly the proverbial elephant in the room of a conspicuous concern that no one wants to identify and address, but rather an issue long named and known – is trust between, at the least, a portion of the populace and the police. I also believe that the loss of trust is mutual. Some people have little to no confidence in anything the police say or do and some police feel a similar lack of assurance in the intentions and action of some people.

One (though surely not the only) way to attempt to restore not merely the idea of faith, but its reality, “good faith”, is to have all share the same information. Transparency without fullest disclosure remains a convenient word or an idealized concept, ever apparent, but never actual.

the protests ought continue until black li(v)es matter

On Tuesday afternoon, September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year old African American, was shot and killed by Officer Brentley Vinson, also an African American, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Police Department.

This is irrefutable. All else concerning this tragic encounter is in dispute.

The police claim that Mr. Scott wielded a gun and refused several commands to drop the weapon. Considered an “imminent deadly threat,” Mr. Scott was shot. The police maintain that the weapon in Mr. Scott’s possession was recovered at the scene.

Mr. Scott’s family counters that he was holding a book and posed no danger to anyone.

The authorities are in possession of video footage recorded on police body and dashboard cameras. To date, it remains kept from public view, both Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney citing the necessity of maintaining the integrity of the police investigation.

Yesterday, Mr. Scott’s wife, Rakeiya Scott, released a video of the incident taken on her cell phone. Watching the video, I heard her ardent appeals to the police not to shoot her husband, telling them that he had a traumatic brain injury and had taken his medicine, her pleading with Mr. Scott “not to do it” (what “it” was being unclear), the sound of gunfire, and Mr. Scott’s fallen body surrounded by police officers.

The killing of Mr. Scott has provoked several days of protests. Charlotte Uprising, “a (community) coalition…committed to ensuring the safety of their communities…police accountability, transparency and social and economic equity,” has developed a list of ten petitions under the heading We Demand. Number 5 reads in part: “A release of the police report and body camera footage connected with the killing of Keith L. Scott…”[1]

I think the authorities ought[2] to release the police video for public viewing because I believe what’s at stake is more important than police investigative procedures. The issue is one of public trust that black lives matter enough to be protected; the reinforcement, the refurbishment of which cannot begin, much less be achieved without fullest transparency. If and until that happens, I believe the protests, peaceful and involving no harm to human life or property damage, ought continue…

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On a related note, the Republican Party presidential candidate, Donald Trump, at an evening campaign rally, coincidentally in North Carolina and on Tuesday, September 20, declared that black communities in America are “absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever…You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They’re worse – I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”

This statement is a part of Mr. Trump’s presumed appeal to African American voters, “What have you got to lose (in voting for me)”; though oddly, I think, in this recent instance and at other times previously, proclaimed before largely white audiences.

Yes, I believe African Americans, relative to white Americans, continue to experience, to suffer disparities of opportunity and fulfillment in the vital fields of economics, education, health, and social justice.[3] Yet these substantial difficulties cannot compare to the horrors of institutional slavery and the era of Jim Crow law.

Mr. Trump has proven himself to me to have a feeble grasp of history and a more fragile hold on truth. His statement, woefully lacking in accuracy and in reality is a lie about black people and, thus, a black lie.

The protests – by all people who treasure truth – ought continue until black lies matter enough to be rejected.

 

Footnotes:

[1] See http://www.charlotteuprising.com/charlotte-uprising-information.html

[2] For me, ought, along with must and should, is always a heavily morally-weighted-and-freighted-word, inferring to do otherwise is immoral. Because this triumvirate of terms bears an unmistakable force of judgment, I use them infrequently and carefully.

[3] See The National Urban League’s Locked Out – Education, Jobs, Justice: A Message to the Next President (www.stateofblackamerca.org)

Friday, September 16, 2016, Tulsa, Oklahoma, approximately 7.30 p.m.

Terence Crutcher

yet another

son, brother,

and father

put down

on the ground;

an unarmed

black man

(really?

truly!)

banned

from life –

permanently, perpetually

irreversibly, irretrievably –

shot to death

by police,

white police.

 

What is, will be the excuse, the rationale

justifiable,

the reason or rhyme

this time?

 

And where,

oh, where

are the critics’ voices

who condemned Colin Kaepernick’s

and others’ choices

to express

their protest

against the racial disparity

of our country

by first sitting,

then kneeling,

(in a more respectful manner)

at the playing

of The Star-Spangled Banner?

 

Are they, these critics, unaware

or do they not care

that the point of the protest

sadly has been made manifest

again?

 

Oh, when

will we understand

that Black Lives Matter

because they,

we,

I

don’t…

not yet?

the sin of blame

The Lord God called to the man, saying, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”[1]

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (c. 1426) Masaccio (ne Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone) (1401-1428)

According to the Genesis story, the first act of the first humans, first having defied God’s will, was to deny all, any responsibility for their actions; the man blaming the woman, the woman blaming the serpent, and both blaming God, explicitly and implicitly, respectively. So it seems that a chief manifestation of human sin[2] is to shirk accountability, pointing a finger of reproach somewhere else at something or someone else.

July 5-17. In the dizzying, disorienting heart-rending spin of thirteen days, two black men were shot and killed during encounters with police and two black men, with declarations of retaliation, in separate incidents of ambush, killed five and three police officers. These tragic events are microcosmic elements of the American dis-ease of strained, estranged race relations, particularly in regard to the police community.

Today, the Republican National Convention begins in Cleveland; a week later, in Philadelphia, the Democratic National Convention. I will watch and listen, praying mightily to see and hear deeds and words of prescience and prudence, reason and respect in relation to race and the myriad of difficulties facing the nation and the world. For the last thing I believe we need is the first thing the first humans did when confronted by God.

 

Illustration: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (c. 1426) Masaccio (ne Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone) (1401-1428)

Footnotes:

[1] Genesis 3.9-13, emphases mine.

[2] I define sin (from the Greek hamartia, literally “missing the mark”) as our innate human propensity, whether involving an individual or a family, a clan or a tribe, a community or a society, a people or a nation, to exercise our self-will in self-(often selfishly)interested ways  that violate a right (holy, wholesome, healthy) relationship with God, others, and ourselves.

another night of horror

Last night, another deadly (will this, I dread, be daily?) horror. During a public demonstration in Dallas, Texas, hundreds of marchers walking in peaceful protest against the days before police-involved killings in Minnesota and Louisiana, shots rang out.

The assailant. A sniper.

The target. Police officers. Several were wounded. Five are dead.

The day. The deadliest for law enforcement in the city of Dallas and one of the deadliest in the history of American law enforcement.

The reason. As yet, not fully known. Although a nearly conspicuous immediate speculation, if not conclusion, might name the cause as a violent, vengeful reaction to fatal encounters with the police. There is and can be no justification for this wholly unconscionable, utterly contemptible attack.

I grieve for the slain and wounded officers, for their families, friends, and fellow officers, for the city of Dallas, and for (again, I must write, for I, over time, have learned and deeply internalized at my soul’s depth the necessity of including) all of us who love life, our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of all, for all lives matter and who, therefore, hate violence and vengeance.

In this spirit of revulsion, I reflect on the tellingly prophetic words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.[1]

In the Spirit of love, I remember names. Names are important. For me, the most important words I know, for they bear the power of recognition and recollection of our incredibly individual, yet wondrously common, sacred humanity. So, as it was and is essential that I remember Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the men killed by police in these immediate previous days, it is and will be equally imperative that I memorialize Brent Thompson, 43, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer; to date, the only identified victim of last night’s deadly assault.

In that same Spirit-love, I pray that we, as Americans, with our nation, our very selves so terribly, tragically divided, whatever our thoughts and feelings, opinions and convictions about police killings and the killings of police, will not be driven to fear or given to greater suspicion of “the other.” Rather, still within the bright light cast by our annual July 4th national celebration of the ideal (still to be realized fully) of our unity in liberty, that we will gather the bloodied threads of this and all tragedy to create, indeed, to recreate a bond of our common destiny.

To do that, I believe, is to make America great again. To do that is to hear and heed another of Martin’s prophetic teachings: We must live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.

 

Footnote:

[1] Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), page 67

fatal encounters…again and again

On July 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, a 37-year old African American man, was shot and killed by police. Police had received an anonymous tip that a man, wearing a red shirt and selling CDs outside of a convenience store, had brandished a gun. Sterling, matching those two descriptive elements, was confronted by police officers, who tackled and pinned him to the ground. Amid the tussle, an officer yelled, “He’s got a gun!” At least one officer fired his revolver at pointblank range into Sterling’s chest. All this, captured on a bystander’s video.

On July 6, 2016, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, Philando Castile, a 32-year old African American man, was shot and killed by police. Pulled over for a broken taillight, Castile, according to the eyewitness testimony of his girlfriend, Lavisha Reynolds, riding in the front passenger seat, informed the officer that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry. Reaching for his identification, the officer commanded Castile to keep his hands in view. Castile complied and, nevertheless, was shot 3-4 times, within moments, dying. Reynolds then livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting via Facebook.

I have a variety of responses…

I cry. Foremost, I grieve for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, their families and friends, and (as I’ve learned to think and to feel over time in reacting to these all too many shocks to the soul) for all of us for whom death, especially needless, unavoidable death, enshrouds our hearts with sadness.

I call for the advance nationwide, continuing in some jurisdictions, only beginning in others, of the reformation of police policy and procedure, particularly in regard to the black community and elements of criminal-profiling related to race. How much of the latter was involved in these instant cases? It’s difficult to know. However, historic mistrust between police departments and black communities and the intensified scrutiny of fatal encounters with police tracing back in near time to the August 9, 2014, killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, provoke suspicion. DWB, WWB, SWB, BB (driving while black, walking while black, sitting [or standing] while black, being black) remain cautionary classifications for many African American parents in counseling their particularly male children about public life in America.

I confess my wariness, my lack of sanguinity about the wholesale benefits of police reform. Policies and procedures and with them instruction and training of police officers can, must change, but none of it has any necessary causal relation to the transformation of hearts and souls, for there, racism abides.

I confess, too, my anger; ever a companion of my sorrow. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are but the latest killings (murders?) that stir in my bowels my racial animus. A few years ago, I crafted a shorthand self-statement: “I am a 60+ year old African American man born and raised in America”; my Cliff Notes autobiographical testament to my ever-present lens of race through which I look at life and the world. Sadly, angrily, I see no reason to dispense with it.

numbers – a slice of life and strife in Chicago and in America

In Chicago…

10-20-2014: the date Laquan McDonald was shot and killed on a Chicago street by police officer Jason Van Dyke

17: Laquan McDonald’s age at the time of his death

16: the shots fired by Officer Van Dyke

15: the seconds it took for 16 shots to be fired

30: the seconds Officer Van Dyke, accompanied by fellow police officers (8 or more), arrived on the site of the encounter

6: the seconds, after arrival, Officer Van Dyke began to fire his weapon

4: the length of the knife Laquan McDonald held in his hand

10: the distance in feet Laquan McDonald stood when walking away from the officers

5: in April, the millions of dollars in settlement the city of Chicago agreed to pay the McDonald family, although the family had yet to file a lawsuit of wrongful termination of life

400: the days between Officer Van Dyke’s encounter with Laquan McDonald and the court-ordered (“…by November 25”) release of the police car’s dashcam video of the shooting

1: the degree of murder with which Officer Van Dyke, upon turning himself in on Tuesday, November 24, was charged and held without bond

100s: the protestors on the streets of Chicago

In America…

countless: the police officers nationwide who perform their duties to protect their communities with the deepest respect for the people they serve and the highest regard for professional standards

countless: the people who believe that race is a demarcating line delineating acceptable law enforcement practices, and, given that, those who believe…

2: the unofficial, but no less real Americas that exist; one for white-folk and one for black-folk, and, given this obstinately abiding existential state of being…

0: American winners, and, given this truth…

321,605,012: (being the United States population) American losers