Tased And Confused

Yet another video has surfaced that shows that being a black man in America comes with special responsibilities, like, say, staying out of public spaces so as not to arouse the suspicions of white policemen. Depending on the day and the city, arousing the suspicions of white policemen may get you tased and arrested or, well, killed.

Fortunately for the guy in the video below, Christopher Lollie, he was only tased and arrested. I guess it was his lucky day.

I suspect that most of the readers of this blog will find the video quite disturbing, as it not only demonstrates how stupidly reactionary some cops can be, but how racial profiling works in the real world and why it is un-American. But I also want you to think about something else. Tea Party enthusiasts and sympathizers say they hate big government. Some of them even went so far as to defend militia types earlier this year when they took up arms against federal agents in Nevada, after Cliven Bundy decided he was entitled to graze his cattle for free on federal land and then would not recognize federal authority to stop him. Many people made the point at the time that had the New Black Panthers taken up arms to defend a black freeloader, the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world would have declared the end of civilization. But the Bundy case was a white man standing up against, let’s face it, a not-very-white Barack Obama. Thus, in that case big government police were the bad guys and gun-toting government-haters were the good guys.

To be at least somewhat consistent, if Tea Party conservatives—and they do most of the talking for Republicans these days—were genuinely disturbed by big government and its overreach, they should be outraged at what happened to Christopher Lollie at the hands of St. Paul, Minnesota, cops, who are, after all, government employees. But I doubt you will find too many of them who are willing to express outrage. My guess is that most of them will say that Lollie should have just done what he was told by the police and nothing would have happened to him. Because, ya know, black people have no rights that white policemen are bound to respect, and Lollie should have known and understood that reality and been willing to live with it. For his own good.

The truth is that when it comes to most conservatives, they don’t like big government when it is dispensing food stamps to black people. Oh, they hate that kind of government. But they like big government when it is dispensing Taser-powered electricity to black people just before hauling them off to jail. Or, as in Ferguson and elsewhere, shooting them dead in the streets.

Watch:

Beware Of Dogmatists

dog·ma·tism: the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

When writing critically about religion, it is sometimes hard to adequately convey both the idea that fundamentalism is undesirable and dangerous and that other, less dogmatic, forms of spirituality can be, and often are, forces for good. People often conclude from some of my criticisms of religious faith: “You hate religion, period.” Well, I don’t. There are many religion-motivated people who do a lot of good in our communities. Each and every day. Thus, allow me to explain, in more detail, where I’m coming from. Then, I promise, I will resume my blogging on politics.

What I don’t like, and what I believe all thinking people should aggressively attack, is any form of religion that does not admit to what a couple of commenters on my latest piece (“‘Without God, I Am No One’—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention“) called “humility,” the idea that one’s vision of God is not necessarily the correct one and that “the next person may understand God even better than I do.”  I have no quarrel with anyone who holds religious views in that context.

My quarrel is with the dogmatists. I believe, and I think the evidence from history supports it, that religious dogmatism is mostly a destructive force, even if it isn’t (these days) always manifested in violence against others. I ambrose biercehappen to think that dedicating precious time and minds and other resources to discussing or settling dogmatism-inspired controversies is a colossal waste, a form of destruction. (And I am one who has spent a lot of time exploring the meandering contours of Christian theology.) So, I want to be clear that the form of religion I dislike is not the kind that admits to uncertainty or doubt. With increasing passion, I am attacking the kind of religious dogma expressed by people like Douglas McCain, whose fanaticism and dogmatism may have finally led him to Syria to kill and be killed in the name of his religion, but who first began by embracing incontrovertible beliefs and essentially enslaving himself to his unquestionable notion of God.

Evidence should always be our guide, wherever it leads. As a former evangelical Christian, I am now open to evidence that God exists or that he doesn’t exist. I have to admit that most of the evidence is for the latter, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I have before described myself as a theist, even though my faith is really a hope that there exists a being who will enforce common notions of justice at some point in the life of this universe or beyond. Really, I suppose, I am an agnostic. I don’t know if it is even possible to discover the existence or non-existence of God. But I do know that I don’t have much faith that a collection of old writings, written by ignorant and bigoted men, has anything at all to do with finding God. In fact, in so many ways, they lead the other way.

One commenter wrote,

It is entirely possible to be a serious, devout Christian and still maintain an awareness that, however binding you may personally find the Bible, the next person is entitled [to] view things differently.

Of course that is true. Most serious, devout American Christians do believe people are entitled to view things differently. After all, we live in a country with a secular Constitution that values no religion over another, and most of us have been taught to respect the religious views of others.

But my argument is not about whether this or that religious dogmatist thinks others are or are not entitled to hold one view or another. I am not saying that zealous believers necessarily want the government to step in and demand that people become fellow fundamentalists and fanatics. My argument is with the zealotry, the fundamentalism, the fanaticism itself. It is about whether we should continue to leave unchallenged the views of people who say things like, “Without God, I am no one,” or, “The Bible is all I need in this life,” people who enslave themselves to their necessarily imperfect idea of God. And I especially think we should challenge the views of people who teach their children such dangerous and injurious ideas. Deliberately closing the minds of children, essentially drowning their imaginations in dogmatism, shouldn’t be something our 21st-century culture accepts in silence. We should object to it, and loudly.

In addition to all that, I think we should challenge religious dogma because—and this may be painful for some to hear—there is an element of narcissism involved in its expression. If you think about it, it is an amazing expression of egotism, even if it is in our culture a regrettably acceptable expression of egotism, to say after some personal escape from calamity, “God blessed me today.” Let me give you an example.

The Christian medical missionary, Dr. Kent Brantly, was recently released from the hospital, to much fanfare, after he was apparently cured of Ebola. No one can say for sure that it was the experimental drug he was given or whether it was his own immune system or some other treatment or mechanism that made him well. It even may have been the prayers that people offered up to God that did the trick. That is certainly what Dr. Brantly claimed:

…there were thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world praying for me throughout that week, and even still today…what I can tell you is that I serve a faithful God who answers prayers…Through the care of the Samaritan’s Purse and SIM missionary team in Liberia, the use of an experimental drug, and the expertise and resources of the health care team at Emory University Hospital, God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.

“God saved my life.” How often have we heard people say that? After the 2011 tornado here in Joplin, I heard that a lot. And I always wondered what those other people, those who didn’t survive the tornado, did to not deserve God saving their lives. And I wondered, when I heard Dr. Brantly talk, why those other people, now in the thousands, who have died or will die at the viral hands of Ebola, did to not deserve God’s blessings? Is Dr. Brantly’s life worth more to God than those others? Are those who survived the Joplin tornado worth more to God than those who didn’t?

People who claim that “God saved my life” should be challenged to explain why others were undeserving of such salvation. They should be challenged to explain why they were so special to the Creator Of The Universe. We would certainly challenge them if they said, “God exempted me from income taxes,” or “God has a plan for my life that includes being President of the United States.”

I submit to you that in any other context what Dr. Brantly said, and what some of those who survived the Joplin tornado said, would be taken as expressions of an unhealthy narcissism. But we don’t bat an eye when people talk that way about God saving them after an illness, a car wreck, or a horrific storm. And my argument is that we should bat an eye. In fact, both eyes, and say, “How do you know?” Or, more to the point, “How can you know?”

I will end this with a YouTube video that was put together by someone named Devon Tracey, an atheist (unfortunately, a much too dogmatic atheist) who took a presentation by Sam Harris and cleverly matched it with images and other video to make Harris’ speech on God and morality much more entertaining. Although there are some points I would quibble with, I urge you to watch with batting eyes:

“Without God, I Am No One”—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention

Fundamentalism kills. In more ways than one.

NBC News has reported that an American—a 33-year-old who was born in Illinois, raised in Minnesota, and studied in California—has now died in Syria, as a fighter for the barbaric jihadist group, ISIL. He was killed by another group of anti-Assad fighters, the Free Syrian Army.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, according to those who knew him, was a “a good guy who loved his family and friends,” a smiling joker who loved music, liked to dance and play basketball. “He was a goofball in high school,” one of his classmates told NBC.

Sometime in 2004, though, Douglas McCain apparently started taking religion seriously, as many Americans do. He posted on Twitter in May: “I reverted to Islam 10 years ago and I must say In sha Allah I will never look back the best thing that ever happen to me.”In sha’Allah” essentially means “God willing.” Lots and lots of people, especially Christian people, say “God willing” and say that their faith is “the best thing that ever happened” to them. It’s pretty common and not all that radical, unfortunately.

McCain also posted a picture of himself holding a Quran, with the caption,

The quran is all I need in this life of sin.

If you replace “quran” with “Bible,” then you have a typical statement from many American Christians, a statement I have heard countless times in one form or another. Again, although it is unfortunate, there is nothing all that radical about someone claiming that an old, old book is all they need in this life, of sin or otherwise.

Another social media posting from McCain expressed what he believed was the source of his existence:

Allah keeps me going day and night. Without Allah, I am no one.

Let’s remember that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” In other words, what McCain posted was this:

God keeps me going day and night. Without God, I am no one.

Again, I have heard that same idea expressed numerous times by Christians I have known. Right now you can check out your own Facebook page, if you have one, and probably see a version of it someone has posted. It is all too common to hear people, people who live in your neighborhood and share space in your community, say such things. As I said, it is unfortunate that such sentiments are so prevalent among us.

It isn’t exactly clear how Douglas McCain went from expressing such things, such things that a lot of people express on any given day in America, to actually joining a group of bloodthirsty jihadist killers in Syria. It’s not clear Image: A Facebook profile photo of man identified by NBC News as Douglas McAuthur McCainhow he became “Duale ThaslaveofAllah,” which reportedly was his Facebook name. We will probably never know the mechanics of how that transformation happened, even though it would help us all to know.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people who say the things that Douglas McCain said don’t end up either killing for, or dying for, their deity. Those who think their religion is the best thing that ever happened to them, or who believe an ancient book is all they need to guide them, or who believe that they are nothing without God—a being they have never seen and can’t possibly “know”—most of the time live their lives relatively peacefully, many of them even doing a lot of good in the world.

But I have come to believe that we, those of us who have not utterly surrendered our minds to an unseen—and presumably unseeable—deity, those of us who maintain that any religious views should be accompanied by some degree of doubt and uncertainty, must call out those who say things like Douglas McCain said.

It is time that we make people—especially our young people—uncomfortable when they say things like, “Without God, I am no one.” It’s time we call bullshit on such sentiments. It is time we take on parents who teach their children that they are nothing without God. Or teach them that an ancient, pre-scientific book is an infallible source of information, especially about God, or history, or morals. It is time we stop being afraid of criticizing people’s religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs include offering up their minds, or the minds of their children, as slaves to some Bible- or Quran-revealed divine being.

Because even though we don’t know what exactly led to Douglas McAuthur McCain giving his body to a radicalized and militarized incarnation of Islam, we know that it began with him seriously surrendering his mind to Allah, to God, to a bloodthirsty being first brought to us by ancient and ignorant people who told us their God once murdered “every living thing on the face of the earth” (the Bible) and who told us that God will punish unbelievers “with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter” (Quran).

We should do our best to make sure that people understand what it means to completely turn their lives over to the very flawed star of a faith that first came into being in the Bronze Age. Perhaps, and only perhaps, we may be able to prevent more Douglas McCains from wanting to kill and die in the name of God.

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall On “The Worst People On Earth”

“Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?”

“I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'”

“I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall”

—Bob Dylan

At times they cut the throats of children, or hang them or shoot them. At other times they, quite literally, saw off with dull knives the heads of men, women, and children, or hang them or shoot them. They rape. They rampage. They slaughter. And they openly teach their own children that such bloodthirsty acts are noble and godly, and a necessary and proper way to praise and honor Allah.

Example:

This photo, of a seven-year-old boy clad in a kids’ Polo golf shirt and struggling to hold up a severed head, was posted on Twitter by a proud dad. That proud dad’s name I won’t share with you. That’s exactly what this sick creep, a loser who left Australia with his family to become a jihadist in Syria, wants. This proud dad represents the kind of people I have described. In a very rare moment of agreement with a conservative columnist, I second Charles Krauthammer:

These are the worst people on earth.

These “people” are, of course, members of ISIL. And as Krauthammer said,

These are not the usual bad guys out for land, plunder, or power. These are primitive cultists who celebrate slaughter, glory in bloodlust, and slit the throats of innocents as a kind of sacrament.

And trust me, after doing some research on what ISIL has done in the past year or so, all of that is a serious understatement.

Speaking more clinically, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said of these jihadists,

This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.

“Eventually” has already started. And those limited U.S. air strikes against ISIL have done a lot of good. More, many, many more, need to follow. And follow.

I heard someone say the other day that, when it comes to going after the ISIL bastards, he would countenance a hefty raise in his taxes. Me, too. I would gladly pay much more in taxes, if I knew the money was going toward missiles and bombs that would rain down hard, like a land-cleansing monsoon of justice, on the heads of these fundamentalist Islamists. On the heads of anti-humans who, in the name of Allah-God, commit intolerable, and I mean intolerable, acts of terror against not only Christians and people of other faiths, but of fellow Muslims.

President Obama, very soon, needs to address the country and make the case that the United States should, along with the Iraqi military who would provide the foot soldiers for such an effort, make a decisive war on the so-called “Islamic State.” We should also undertake air strikes in what used to be Syrian territory in order to hit ISIL there. No need to worry about borders at this point. They have essentially been erased. If other nations around the world want to join us, and they should, that would be better still. If they don’t, if they continue to tolerate these barbarians and continue to pay them ransoms for hostages or otherwise support them, then to hell with them. We can still act.

I would ask my fellow liberals again, many of whom are confidently balking at such a move by President Obama, just what the hell is our military for, if not to protect the interests of our own citizens right now—one of the best of them was just openly and barbarically beheaded by these bastards, after a failed mission to rescue him—and in the future, when a stronger ISIL may in fact, rather in the poisoned imaginations of these jihadists, actually have a real state? Not to mention help protect the interests of our friends, the Kurdish people? And help protect the rest of the Iraqis, to whom we owe at least something, after we destroyed their country and raised up and supported Nouri al-Maliki, who then helped make Iraq a place where ISIL could do its demonic work? And, finally, what is our military for if not to help ensure that the word civilization retains its meaning in this century?

Now is the time to rid the world of these, its worst people.

“Barking Orders At A Person With Serious Mental Illness Doesn’t Work”

Let’s move a few miles away from Ferguson to the city of St. Louis.

On Tuesday I listened to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson describe the shooting of yet another young black man, Kajieme Powell, who was killed that afternoon by St. Louis police, after he refused to put down a knife as he moved toward officers.

Those officers were responding to a call made by a store owner, who said Powell had stolen some energy drinks and pastries and was behaving strangely. Powell was, Chief Dotson said, chief dotson and overhand grip“acting erratically, walking back and forth, up and down the street” while talking to himself. When officers arrived, Dotson said they exited their vehicles without initially drawing their weapons. He also said that Powell did not respond to“verbal commands to drop his weapon” and walked toward the officers, yelling, “Shoot me now! Kill me now!”  And, most important, according to Dotson’s version of what happened, the officers shot Powell because he had “closed within three to four feet with the knife in what is described as an ‘overhand grip.'”

At the time, the explanation seemed reasonable to me. It seemed the shooting was justifiable. Claiming the man was only three or four feet away with a knife menacingly raised in the air seemed to leave the officers little choice. It seemed like a case in which a disturbed young man—neighbors later said he was mentally ill—had threatened the lives of two policemen and they responded with life-taking and life-saving force. But that was the picture the policemen painted of the scene, which often is the only view we get in matters like these.

But not this time.

As you probably already know, someone had a video camera and captured the shooting. And that video shows that what Chief Dotson said wasn’t entirely accurate. And where it wasn’t accurate, it happens to skew in favor of the shooters, the cops. In case you haven’t seen it and want to, here is the video of the killing (be warned, it is graphic):

As you can see, the officers got out of their vehicles with their guns drawn, contrary to what Chief Dotson claimed. And as you can see, Powell did not have the knife up in an “overhand grip.” Nor was he within three or four feet of the officers. And something Chief Dotson did not explain at his press conference on Tuesday was why the officers, between both of them, fired nine shots into Powell, at least two of them after he was down on the ground and clearly not a threat. Those last two shots are perhaps the most disturbing thing, among many things, about the video. Those last two shots certainly seemed gratuitous and seemed like one or both of the officers were in some kind of adrenaline-fueled shoot mode that they could not easily turn off.

The police union told St. Louis Public Radio that the video, which was released by the police chief with the union’s consent, was “exculpatory.” I suppose that is in the eye of the beholder. What I see when I see that video is a disturbed young man, who those around him find mildly amusing. The fact that he has a knife, of course, makes him a dangerous and disturbed young man. But all over this country, each and every day, police confront dangerous and disturbed people. And at least some of the time, perhaps much of the time, things don’t end up like they did in St. Louis. Why is that? Why did these two officers respond the way they did? Why did they get out of their patrol car with weapons drawn? Where were their Tasars? And why have most people in law enforcement, perhaps some who would not have responded as those two St. Louis cops did, defended what happened on that St. Louis street on a Tuesday afternoon?

I suppose it all comes down to perception. And cops seem to have a different way of looking at their jobs than those of us who have never been in the position of a gun-toting authority. But surely it is not unreasonable to expect more out of the police than what they gave us in St. Louis. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect a little more patience from them, at least a little more than 15 or 20 seconds, when dealing with what they had to know was a disturbed man—who else yells at guns-drawn policemen, “Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me now, motherfucker!”?

Policemen wear uniforms for a reason. Those uniforms show that they are in a special category of people, people who have the authority to kill in the name of not only the law, but in the name of all of us. When they draw their weapons and aim them, much less shoot, we have every right to expect that they do so only when necessary. We have every right, as citizens, to hold our police to high standards of conduct.

But cops are only as good as the training they receive. Here what Salon’s Joanna Rothkof has to say:

The stigmatization and lack of information surrounding mental illness directly affects the criminal justice system, resulting in inadequate treatment, inappropriate prison time and numerous deaths at the hands of police. Prisons are home to 10 times more mentally ill Americans than state psychiatric hospitals. The Los Angeles County Jail is the largest provider of mental healthcare in the country. Appallingly, 50 percent of Americans killed by the police every year are mentally ill, and this largely has to do with police training.

That is shocking. If police aren’t receiving adequate training related to dealing with the mentally ill, then it seems unfair to blame them when they pull up to a situation, like in St. Louis, and demand compliance from someone who simply can’t comply in the same way you or I could. Rothkof quotes a report (“How lack of police training can be deadly for the mentally ill“) by Aaron Ernst and Christof Putzel:

“Traditional law enforcement tactics are rooted in logic, in reasoning – and in issuing commands for someone to comply so that we can make the situation safe right now by taking a person into custody,” said Douglas County Police Capt. Attila Denes, who has spent much of his career in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado trying to improve police interaction with the mentally ill. “But barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn’t work.”

Of course it doesn’t work. But it goes on every day. And, in the end, if we the people allow it to go on, if we don’t insist that our police officers get the training they most desperately need and then hold them to a high standard of conduct, we will continue to see cops killing mentally ill people and then having to defend themselves against the perception that something else could have, should have, been done.

“No Just God Would Stand For What They Did”

“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”

—President Obama, August 20, 2014

If I were a member of ISIL, the wicked Islamist group that even other terrorists find intolerable, I wouldn’t be planning any “Islamic State” celebrations anytime soon. Or ever.

No amount of prayer to Allah, or whoever it is that these fanatics pray to when they are not killing and raping, will stop what will, eventually, happen to them. President Obama, speaking a short time ago on the execution of journalist James Foley, in a way that did not well hide his subterranean, and righteous, anger, said this:

Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declare their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail.

And these people will ultimately fail because of us, because of the United States of America. If there is a God, and if he is just, we will be his primary instrument of justice. The President, as anyone who watched him give his remarks could see, has had enough of ISIL, calling it a “cancer” that must be extracted “so that it does not spread,” and saying:

We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

Time will tell just what “everything that we can” means. But President Obama has, rightly, put himself and the country on the right side of history by declaring that “a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” And for those, especially my friends on the left, who don’t think he is on the right side of history, then they should declare just what kind of values, what kind of principles, this country and the civilized world actually do stand for.

More than that, those who oppose the United States helping to root out ISIL—killing every single member if necessary—have a duty to explain exactly what “civilization” means, if a group like ISIL is allowed to openly and proudly murder and rape in civilization’s cradle, when we—Americans—most certainly can do something about it.

What A Nail Sees

A reader wrote a comment on my post about what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri,(“GoveWhat a nail seesrnor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police“) that went like this:

The events occurring there only show the militarization of many police forces across the US. Surplus automatic army weapons and armored vehicles give local cops an opportunity to use them as lethal weapons. Remember the adage, “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

My response:

Yes. And when you feel like a nail, as many African-Americans do, everything coming at you looks like a hammer.

If you don’t understand that, if you can’t fathom what it might be like to be the nail and also believe, with good reason, that those charged with enforcing the laws of this society have hammering on their minds, then you don’t understand what is going on in Ferguson and elsewhere across the country.

Governor Nixon Steps In

“What’s gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri is about, it is not what Ferguson is about. This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church, a diverse community, a Missouri community. But lately it has looked a little bit more like a war zone, and that is unacceptable.”

—Missouri Governor Jay Nixon at a press conference in Ferguson on Thursday

Things may be getting better in Ferguson:

Jay Nixon announcement

From The Washington Post:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has given control of security operations in Ferguson to Missouri State Highway Patrol. Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, who heads the highway patrol’s troop in the region, and will now direct the law enforcement response in the riot-riven city.

Johnson—unlike the overwhelming majority of police officers who have been on the scene—is African American—like the majority of people living in Ferguson. He also happens to be a 27-year veteran of the highway patrol who says he grew up in the community and has made it his home. He also said something that should have hope-generating relevance and comfort-generating resonance for Ferguson citizens and protesters:

I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and our officers will respect both of those.

Amen.

And thank you, Governor Nixon.

huffpo banner

Governor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police

Posted at 11:10 p.m. local time on August 13, 2014:

On Tuesday night Governor Nixon publicly admitted that he “prayed for the parents and loved ones of Michael Brown,” the 18-year-old-African American gunned down by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. He said he also “prayed for the residents and businesses and children” of the community. He further claimed that he had “prayed for justice” and “for wisdom” and “for peace.”

Well, there is no peace in Ferguson. There isn’t much wisdom, and certainly, at least right now, no justice.

What looks like an occupying force, complete with military-esque armaments and attitude, has threatened the citizens of Ferguson, trampling not only their constitutional rights, but arresting and teargassing reporters who were guilty only of committing journalism. That occupying force is local police. Missouri cops.

This has to be stopped.

Where is not only the Democratic governor of our state, but where is our Democratic attorney general, Chris Koster? He’s the top law enforcement official in the state. His job is to protect Missouri citizens, even if that job involves protecting those citizens from Missouri cops. The attorney general’s only statement on what happened in Ferguson, as far as I can tell, is this:

I support Governor Nixon’s call for a thorough, independent investigation by the United States Department of Justice of the circumstances leading to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. An outside inquiry led by the DOJ provides both impartiality and credibility to the inquiry’s ultimate findings.

That’s as it should be. But what about the conduct of the local police departments after the shooting? What about this:

Occupation of Ferguson Mo

What happened on Wednesday night here in Missouri is outrageous. We employ a governor, who is the commander-in-chief of the Missouri Army National Guard, and attorney general to deal with such matters. They should stop hiding behind prayers and the federal Department of Justice and do their state jobs. Word is out that Governor Nixon has decided to go to Ferguson on Thursday. Good.

But he should be bringing the National Guard with him.

[Top photo: AP]

“Takin’ It To The Streets” In Ferguson, Missouri?

“There was an eerie flashback to 1965 in parts of the St. Louis region Sunday. Riot gear. Tear gas. German shepherds. Looting. Stores on fire. Dozens arrested.”

—Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Today, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was supposed to start classes at Vatterott College, presumably to pursue his version of the vanishing American Dream. According to a childhood friend, he wanted to start his own business, “make something out of nothing.” But Michael BrownMichael Brown is dead. On Saturday, in the early afternoon, a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, shot him multiple times and killed him, even though he was not armed. Reportedly, his uncovered corpse was left in the street for four hours. There are conflicting versions of what happened, with the police saying there was a struggle for an officer’s weapon and witnesses saying the black teenager was shot while he was running away, frightened, with his hands in the air.

Senator Claire McCaskill said she was praying that the “God-loving people of Ferguson will find peace and patience as we wait for the results of what will be numerous and thorough investigations of what happened.” Senator Roy Blunt said that Michael Brown’s “recent high school graduation should have been a beginning of better things. 

Ferguson, population 21,000, is part of greater St. Louis, and advertises that it is, “Proud to be a Playful City USA community!” Last night there was nothing playful about the rioting and looting that went on during what was supposed to be a consciousness-raising vigil for the dead young man, who was on his way to his grandmother’s house when he was killed. During tFerguson QuickTrip lootedhe mayhem, a couple of policemen were injured, one after a brick was thrown at him, and many police cars were damaged. Shots were fired at officers and at a police helicopter, though apparently all missed their targets. There have been 32 arrests so far, with more on the way, according to police.

The mayor of Ferguson and its police chief said they were sure the rioters and looters were not from Ferguson, but came from other communities just to take advantage of the situation. Many local residents who were there said the same thing, and most of those interviewed by reporters were appalled at how the night developed, as USA Today reported:

 “Most came here for a peaceful protest but it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch,” said Deanel Trout, 53, who has lived in Ferguson for 14 years. “I can understand the anger and unrest, but I can’t understand the violence and looting.”

And that is exactly right. Anger and unrest may be appropriate, but violence and looting never is. And that is the problem with this situation. People will tend to focus on the latter as an excuse to ignore the underlying causes of the former. In so many communities, black people have a sense that the lives of their children don’t matter all that much to the aRiot breaks out, store looteduthorities, whether those authorities be police officers or politicians. And in some more dire situations, the children themselves don’t see much point in participating in a civilization that they believe not only ignores their interests, but is outright hostile to them. CNN caught a local cop on camera yelling at protesters in Ferguson: “Bring it, you fucking animals! Bring it!”

According to the Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post Dispatch,

Ferguson…is an inner-ring suburb, a place where it’s easy for the economic recovery to bypass the poor. It’s a city of 6 square miles, about 10 miles north of downtown. About two-thirds of the residents are African-American. The median income is $37,000, roughly $10,000 less than the state average. Nearly a quarter of residents live below the poverty level, compared with 15 percent statewide.

It’s part of north St. Louis county, where whites left en masse beginning in the 1960s, creating one of the most extreme cases of “white flight” in the country. But many who remained in power are still white, including much of the law enforcement. A local lawyer said whenever she goes into the North County courthouse all the defendants are always black, the cops always white.

Sultan claims that,

The most economically depressed and violence-torn parts of the city and county, predominantly black neighborhoods, are largely ignored by the civic establishment, unless to explain why the city’s high rank in violent crime isn’t an accurate depiction of the region.

Until we can tell our children — and ourselves — a more honest story about race in this region, we will be left with far worse tragedies to explain.

Hopefully, we will soon find out whether this killing was justified. For now, as Aisha Sultan points out,

For those who have been on the receiving end of disrespect, mistrust, suspicion or brutality, the impulse is to believe Brown was brutally gunned down.

For those who are fearful anytime they cross into the city limits, most likely only for a sporting event, the young man must have done something to “deserve” his fate. 

The FBI is opening an investigation of the shooting. Senator McCaskill said that Missourians “will not be satisfied until we have a complete and transparent understanding of all the facts and circumstances that led to this young man’s death.” Along with that, we need some kind of understanding of why it is that there exists in some American communities, whether it be Ferguson or elsewhere, a group of people who think that violence and looting are acceptable responses to real or perceived injustices. We need to figure out if listening to grievances and addressing the injustices will help reduce the violent responses.

We also need to know why it is, as American Progress points out, that, “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.” Or why it is that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime,” and “African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.”

And on and on. There is much to know and understand. Including why it is that a lot of Americans think angry blacks protesting the killing of a teenager in Missouri are thugs and angry whites threatening federal officers on a ranch in Nevada are patriots.

You have probably heard of one of Ferguson’s most famous citizens, Grammy Award winner Michael McDonald, who was born and raised there. McDonald sang a lot of hits for The Doobie Brothers, and, ironically, the first hit he had with that band was one he wrote, Takin’ It To The Streets:

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living Hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon, the time will tell

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets

Take this message to my brother
You will find him everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets

[Photos: top, from a posting on Facebook; riot photos, from stltoday.com; Doobies, Warner Brothers]
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