Saturday, December 6, 2014

et ceteras

Just like newfallen snow makes landscape scars vanish beneath a blanket of white, the Christmas season always lifts my spirits and helps me overcome life's irritations. For that reason, I usually spend the month of December publishing more posts about Christmas and fewer posts about politics and social issues.

This year will be no different, but before I start smiling wide and serving figurative online eggnog, I do have a few things to get off of my chest. So here goes.

"Black-on-black crime"
I would just as soon never hear that phrase again. Although it has gotten lots of mileage since the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, it's been around for ages -- sometimes used by black activists (mostly liberals) to scold their melanin-endowed brethren for behaving in ways that damage racial solidarity, and sometimes used by white commentators (mostly conservatives) as a way to change the subject rather than debate something about which they're unsure of the facts.

The problem I have is this: The whole notion of "black-on-black" crime being different than any other crime is bogus.

Most criminals target victims in their own neighborhoods, and almost all murder victims on Earth are killed by someone they know, often by someone they know intimately. Combine those truths with the fact that most Americans continue to live in racially distinct neighborhoods (and with the fact that most black Americans who "leave the hood" relocate to areas with particularly low crime rates) and you see it's inevitable that 93 percent of black crime victims are victimized by black perpetrators... For the exact same reasons, it is unremarkable that 84 percent of white crime victims are victimized by white perps... And since a large percentage of American Indians Native Americans reside on reservations where only their fellow tribesmen are allowed to live, just imagine what the rate of American Indians Native Americans burglarized by other American Indians Native Americans must be!

Nonetheless, people often talk about "black-on-black" crime and never about "white-on-white" or any other "_____-on-_____" crime, thus creating the false impression that the former is some kind of anomaly in the world of statistics. To my ears, no one comes off good when dealing in such terms because: 1) When a black person talks about "black-on-black" crime, it sounds like he's implying he would not be bothered by black criminality if only its victims were white -- even though that's not what he means; and 2) When a white person talks of "black-on-black" crime, it sounds condescending at best and bigoted at worst, like he's implying "damned if we should care about 'you people' when you don't even care about yourselves" -- even though that's not what he means.

The phrase is deceiving even if the speaker doesn't mean for it to be. Plus, it's almost never relevant to whatever topic is at hand. And to top things off, it's unproductive. Our nation would be better off if it disappeared from our discourse.

"Sexual assault"
Since I'm on the topic of phrases I would rather not hear again, can we please do away with "sexual assault" and go back to "rape"?

I remember a George Carlin skit in which he talked about society changing the words it uses to describe something, and thereby causing the meaning of that thing to get lost in translation. To illustrate what he was talking about, he pointed out that during World War I, when a soldier experienced mental trauma after witnessing and being forced to participate in the barbarism of war, the phenomenon was called "shell shock" -- but come World War II, it was downplayed by referring to it as "battle fatigue," and come Korea it was made unclear by calling it "operational dysfunction," and come Vietnam it was made even more flavorless by calling it "post-traumatic stress disorder."

In my opinion, something similar is occurring with our elevation of the term "sexual assault," which is happening in concert with an obvious (though unacknowledged) phasing out of the word "rape."

To be fair, "sexual assault" does not sound benign by any sense of the imagination. But it's not "rape" either. When you hear that a woman was raped, your eyes widen and you know she experienced terror, violence, and forced submission, and you know she was branded with emotional wounds that might never heal. But when you hear there was a "sexual assault," you tend to wonder "so, what exactly was it that happened?"

Somehow, the term "sexual assault" sounds more legalistic than humanistic, and at the end of the day that is a disservice.

Obviously I am not against justice. I am, however, against any corruption misuse of the word "justice," which is another not-new phenomenon that has been on heightened display since the Ferguson grand jury made its decision.

Unsatisfied with Darren Wilson losing only his job, Al Sharpton intoned: "We weren't after Darren Wilson's job. We were after Michael Brown's justice."

The student newspaper of Santa Monica College reported: "A group of Santa Monica College students lead (sic) a protest on campus yesterday afternoon demanding justice for Michael Brown."

Jared Keller of News.Mic remarked that Brown's parents "aren't through seeking justice."

NAACP President Cornell William Barnes spoke of "bringing about justice."

Writing in USA Today, Tavis Smiley opined that "this case reeks of social injustice." He also referred to the grand jury's "failure to indict" and remarked that the U.S. Justice Department "appear(s) to have failed to find a civil rights violation," clearly implying that Wilson should face legal punishment -- even though Smiley concedes, in the very same article, that where this case is concerned "the facts were always a bit more stubborn, and to some degree, in doubt."

Facebook pages called "Justice for Michael Brown" and "Justice for Mike Brown" (as well as a page on the NAACP's web site titled "Justice for Michael Brown") have drawn flurries of updates and comments.

The problem I have is that justice is what happened when the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, yet none of the above parties are willing to entertain the idea that such might be the case.

If Michael Brown had been surrendering, if his hands had been in the air, the people seeking "justice for Michael Brown" would be in the right. However, the combination of forensic evidence (especially the blood spatters) and eyewitness testimony shows he was charging at Wilson when he was shot, his hands were not raised, and that he confronted Wilson inside the squad car.

Every principle of justice dictates that when a person is being attacked he has a right to defend himself; and that when he believes the attacker might kill him, he has a right to defend himself with deadly force. There is more than ample reason to believe that Wilson thought his life was in danger, not only given the evidence and testimony but also given Brown's violent theft of Swisher Sweets earlier that night. The surveillance video from the convenience store showed that Brown was willing and able to practice brutality, and that he in fact did practice it in the hours leading up to his demise.

To shackle Darren Wilson and put him through a trial, when it is abundantly clear that his actions were justified, would be the opposite of justice. Had the grand jury done that, it would have been not because of evidence and logic but because the jurors feared the mob beyond the gates... And if they had been swayed by their fear, who's to say that the people on the subsequent trial jury would not also have been swayed by fear and opted to convict in order to avoid the backlash? That would result in a man who was not proven guilty being sent to prison without regard to facts and evidence.

If that had occurred, it would have been one of the most grotesque injustices in the recent decades of American history, yet it is precisely what is desired by people claiming they want justice. Like someone once said, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Eric Garner
Different story. He was wronged and now he is dead, and his death is an example of the police state gone awry. And the protesters are right.

I know of one hard-assed prosecutor (is there any other kind?) who has written that he "cannot in good conscience say there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Pantaleo for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide."

Yes, Garner resisted arrest. But he did not resist violently, and nobody -- not even the officers involved in taking him down -- has claimed he was a threat to anyone's safety. He was bigger than any of the cops in the video, but seriously, since when do we as Americans think it is okay to dispatch four officers of the law to take someone down for selling individual cigarettes on the sidewalk? That is dictatorship-type stuff, and in this instance, a man died because of it.

I know a number of police officers, and I know that police officers know of something called positional asphyxiation, which in plain English means you can die of suffocation if left cuffed in a prone position for a period of time. In order to prevent positional asphyxiation from happening to people who are under arrest, cops are supposed to put them in a sitting position after handcuffing them. This is not secret voodoo type stuff, it is basic common knowledge in law enforcement -- and if you watch the Garner video, you will see that instead of putting him in a sitting position, the arresting officers left him prone even after he told them he couldn't breathe. Right there is your "negligent homicide" charge.

I do not know if Pantaleo would have been found guilty at trial. Nor do I know if he should have been found guilty, since I have not seen all of the information the grand jury reviewed. But I am certain that Daniel Pantaleo (and not only him) should have stood trial for Eric Garner's death.

Until next time:  au revoir! 

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