Texas may have a Whore house in it, but Anthem has a prison. Well, sort of. It’s not really within the township limits, but FCI Phoenix (that’s Federal Correctional Institution) is a mere five miles from the center of town. Not that I’m worried. I figure if someone escaped (it’s a medium security facility) they aren’t likely to head into town. That’s just stupid. Anyway, FCI Phoenix is hardly a tourist stop, but I’d seen it from the highway at night (I doubt solar power is keeping all of those lights on), and I’d been curious, so I drove over to take a look.
If you’ve never seen a prison (movies don’t count) let me tell ya something; they look pretty scary. And that’s from the outside. I cannot imagine how it must feel to be a guest. As I drove past the quadruple chain-link fence, topped with coiled razor wire – both gleaming as though they’d recently been polished – I couldn’t help but think about recent events, both global and national, that dominate our headlines. Long ago I warned (in personal circles) that a revolution was coming. “It won’t be bloody,” I speculated, but now I’m not so sure.
As a student of history I could spend hours (pages) droning on about what has lead us (in my opinion) to this point. Drawing from our past to answer the questions the plague us today. Why is there a growing distrust between the government and the governed? Why is there a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots (the 1% – v- the 99%)? Why is anti-Semitism making a comeback? Why does racism continue to thrive? And a hundred others. Even if it were in my power to answer these questions it would be like closing the preverbal gate after the cow has left the barn.
Yet I feel compelled to vent about one issue that seems to be the Mount St Helens of the group. The clashes between multiple police forces and the black community.
Let’s begin with the police. Once upon a time, cops were not supposed to draw their weapons unless there was an imminent threat to themselves or others. And at that point, when an office deems deadly force was warranted, it is exactly that; deadly force. In a combat situation (and that is precisely what this would be) there is no aiming to wound. That is a Hollywood myth. The office is firing to remove the threat, and the largest target of opportunity is center mass. That is the center of the chest. But today it seems the rules of engagement are to shoot first and conceal the evidence later. The admirable actions of most police officers are shamed by the actions of a few: Michael Slager (North Charleston), Bob Bates (Tulsa), and Timothy Loehmann (Cleveland) just to name 3 of the so far 156 officer involved shooting in 2015. In each of those incidents the victim was either running from the officers or otherwise posed NO IMMINENT threat. Non-lethal measures should have been employed. Additionally, the police seem to be needlessly endangering both the suspects and the public. Eric Garner, for example, was choked to death for the heinous crime of selling bootleg cigarettes. Really? And high speed chases through Los Angeles are so common as to hardly warrant news coverage, but the scene is all too common. From the perch of a helicopter we see the suspect dodging through traffic leaving a wake of destruction until finally being apprehended in some bone-jarring collision. I have to ask. If you have visual contact by helicopter, why chase him? Let him go. Let him drive peacefully and calmly to wherever he is going then arrest him there. Duh!
Make no mistake, I have the highest respect for our law enforcement professionals. Those brave men and women who, on a daily basis, face a world of unknown threats, and thoughtlessly run toward the chaos while the rest of use run from it. I could not, and would not do what they do. I believe our police force is grossly under paid for what they do. It should be hard to be a cop. It should require as much effort to become a law enforcement office (ya know, those people who wear badges, carry guns and have impunity to kill or detain us) as it does to become a brain surgeon. Then they should be highly compensated and highly admired.
But the problem, as I see it, does not lie only with the police. There is a reason why the police are far more leery of a black male than a white male. The statistics from the department of corrections bear this out. There are seven times more black people incarcerated than white. These are just the facts. Perceptions must change, but so too must the culture. Individual communities must police themselves.
Let me just say now that I’m going to speak my mind and although I will endeavor to be respectful, I will undoubtedly breach political correctness. That said, I (white, male, educated, privileged back ground, no kids) will never, ever connect with the people of Ferguson or Baltimore. I will never know what it feels like to walk into a clothing store and feel the clerk’s eyes upon me (unlike Oprah and President Obama). I will never know the indignation of racial slurs. But the President does. Ms. Winfrey does. As does Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Rita Frances Dove, and of course Martin Luther King just to list a few. All came from humble beginning, overcame tremendous obstacles, and achieved greatness by anyone’s standard. These pillars of the any community should be the role models of all our young people, but especially those in the black community. Yet it is the angry voices of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton that fan the flames of hate. It should be the example of Dr. King, Gandhi and Christ that influence civil disobedience, instead it is the battle cry of militants that thrums in the frustrated ears of black youths, and perhaps too in those influenced by ISIS.
Within each community there are those with powerful voices. Leaders like Toya Graham the single mother of six in Baltimore. While watching the protesters on TV she recognized her son among the black-clad demonstrators. Though his face was covered, she recognized his eyes, and when she saw him throw a brick at one of the police cars, she went down to the protest line and literally slapped some sense into him before ordering him to go home. Way to go mom! Young people need leaders like that (not necessarily the slapping part, though maybe sometimes). Usually it’s their parents, but sometimes it a teacher, a coach or a neighbor. Men and women who will tell these children that it is NOT ok to wear their pants around their ankles, speak incoherently, or be disrespectful to women. Leaders who will tell the youth that being a gangster is not cool and that while becoming a pro athlete is an admirable goal, the odds are slim so they should excel scholastically. This is hardly a new concept. Growing up I constantly heard stories about the Asian families who came here and while sleeping on flour sacks in the back of the bakery insisted that their children learn English and study their tails off. Today those kids are running multi-million dollar corporations, and their hardworking parents have beach houses on Maui.
The United States is a land of freedoms. If you wish to dress, act, speak or live in a way that is unique, you certainly have the right to do so. But make no mistake. With your freedom, comes a price. If you dress and act like a thug, the price you pay may be the respect of others, and the police may be far more likely to shoot first. It’s just that simple. But if you wish to function within the boundaries of a corporate, or scholastic, or otherwise socially productive society, you must conform to those standard, at least while you are in them. What you do on the weekend is your own business.
It has been said (ad nauseam) that is takes a village [to raise a child]. OK, but that goes both ways. A village can fail a child, as it did with Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The simple truth is that Mike Brown was a thug. He was well known in the community for being a thug. In addition, his mother and step-father were also thugs – both were career criminals. On the day he was killed, Brown robbed a store, attacked a police officer (which included trying to wrestle away the officer’s gun), then Big Mike (a very large “kid”) charged the officer who by this point had every right to believe that he was in mortal danger. The result was not only justified, is was predestined. Obviously Michael Brown had no parental compass for his life, but where was the community to tell him that any of those actions were wrong?
As for protesting, that’s your right. It’s even your duty as a member of our society to demand change when the government abuses its power:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Declaration of Independence (emphasis added)
But mob mentality and the destruction of your own community only reinforces the negative stereotype. It paints you as a criminal. While it is true that historically armed conflict has precipitated change, how many lives would have been spared had cooler hearts filled with love, compassion and understanding ruled the day?
We are one country with many, many individuals. It is our greatest strength, and our greatest weakness. Our history is stained with much blood, but wounds can heal, if we let them.