By Max A. Joseph Jr.
Fascism is the fundamental nature of all governments seeing that a powerful and proficient state must be authoritarian. What sets apart totalitarian and democratic systems is the dosage. In this great country, the United States prides itself as the uncontested defender of human rights and dignity; the dosage however, has unfortunately steadily increased. It helps explain the unmitigated approval of police tactics by the establishment whenever any threat, real or perceived, against the state and its institutions arises.
May 9, 2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, one of the most important episodes in this U.S.’s somewhat nascent history. Interestingly enough, the jury is still out on the cause of the conflict, with both sides articulating compelling arguments in support of their hypothesis. Likewise, the causes of ill-timed deaths of many African-American men as a result of routine encounters with the police could possibly be debated for centuries to come because nothing can easily be explained in this ideologically-fixated and racially-polarized society.
However, the country seemed to have experienced an epiphany on policing and race consciousness, when a Staten Island grand jury failed to return an indictment in the July 12 tragedy in which Eric Garner, a father of five, senselessly lost his live. Caribbean parents finally realized they were not raising Jamaican-Americans, Haitian-Americans or Trinidadian-Americans, but African-Americans whose young lives could be irreversibly affected in a routine encounter with the police. Many white evangelical pastors have also gotten into the act by asking their parishioners to consider analyzing this societal scourge from the African-Americans’ perspective. House Speaker John Boehner has not ruled out holding a hearing on the issue of police brutality/black victimization. Indeed, there is a problem but will there be a solution?
Because of the racial discrimination and animosities that span its entire history, everything that happens in this country is racially tinted. For that reason, policy brutality and black victimization will remain forever intertwined, even though many Americans are arguing for the decoupling of the two issues. This argument might not be without merits, provided it fingers a probable other culprit: the “human factor,” which transcends race and everything else.
Notwithstanding the fact that the nation’s police departments are diversifying, albeit not fast enough for those advocating for changes in police tactics, composition, and behavior, police officers are humans with failings and qualities that mirror society as a whole. As in the larger society, the great majority of police officers are civic-minded citizens that do their job with integrity, compassion, and selflessness. They play with and feed poor kids in the community they patrol; provide material comfort to the homeless and protect everyone without regard to race, religion and nationalities. Conversely, there is a small percentage of criminally-minded individuals that should not be on the force, period. They lie, cheat, steal, and even commit murder. But unlike the ordinary criminal, they enjoy the added protection of a system that is neither ready nor willing to address its shortcomings.
Given that no amount of vetting could conceivably prevent psychologically unfit individuals from joining the NYPD, the emphasis should be on applying the “broken window theory” to the department as well. The broken window theory suggests that policing minor crimes, such as loitering, prevents more serious crimes like rape, from occurring in a community. Aptly, the process of removing rogue police officers from the force should be streamlined so that a seemingly petty offense such as, perjury in traffic court, results in a mandatory and expeditious dismissal. A police officer that intentionally lies under oath is indicative of blatant disrespect for the law, which is a reliable underpinning of criminal behavior.
Should the system be faulted for police brutality? Partly yes, because it creates the conditions that promote impunity in the defense of the proverbial ‘law and order,’ and remains too protective or tolerant of rogue police officers. But is racism the overriding factor? While no one can fully ascertain that it is, the knives have nonetheless been sharpened and the battle lines delimited on the issue. Like the thorny issues of abortion and guns in this country, even looking into the merits of the other side’s perspective is tantamount to capitulation. Nevertheless, an earnest dialogue on police brutality/ black victimization has become all the more imperative in light of the many deaths and broken lives associated with it. The execution-style murder of two NYPD police officers by a collector of injustices/vigilante is a dangerous precedent that must be condemned by all, including New Yorkers that may have felt wronged by the police.
Humans are inherently imperfect, thus cannot create perfect societies. However, the illusion of a perfect society endures, even though history is littered with the carcasses of many great nations that once considered themselves the “apex of human achievement.” Like all preceding great civilizations, America unreservedly embraces this fantasy which causes it to consider self-introspection an alien if not a dangerous concept. Although the death of Eric Garner over the sale of loose cigarettes offers America the best opportunity to steer away from this infallibility syndrome, would the hopelessly divided country see a need for addressing the issue?
“Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling” said Abraham Lincoln, who presided over the Civil War (1861-65) and paid the ultimate price. On April 14, 2015, the 150th anniversary of his assassination, the best way to remember him is to heed his words.