Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ferguson Protestors' Rules for Police Inspiring New Era of Negotiation

The “Don’t Shoot Coalition” in St. Louis, Missouri has presented a package of requests to police officials on how to handle protests that will occur after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision on Officer Darren Wilson, investigated for the shooting of Ferguson resident Michael Brown.

Among the requests are no armored vehicles, no rubber bullets, no rifles, no tear gas, a safe house of refuge, advance notice of the grand jury decision, community-friendly policing, no mass arrests, hands off media representatives, allowing longer and more massive occupation of spaces than normally allowed, more tolerance of minor lawbreaking (such as throwing water bottles at police), no excessive force, and a few other details.

This is a great opportunity for others who anticipate criminal activity to jump on the rules of engagement bandwagon. Narcotics peddlers can begin requesting a no SWAT response to search warrants. Bank robbers should be allowed to get an ETA on responding officers to provide a reasonable lead time for their get away. Fraudulent check writers can negotiate for no prosecution unless they write a really bad check. As implied by the Don’t Shoot Coalition, all offenders should be allowed to throw things at police officers if they are sort of small things that probably won’t really hurt that much.

Sex offenders should negotiate being allowed one false identity to avoid the harassment associated with registering all the time. Arsonists, of course, would have to hold separate talks with the fire department officials to promise low water pressure on smaller fires.  Car thieves clearly would need to be assured a full tank of gas and insurance in case they crash when pursued. Unless, of course, pursuits are negotiated out of existence.

The real beauty of this expanding plan is that eventually police officers will be allowed to negotiate on some of these terms. For example, law enforcement could ask for a label on the thrown water bottles to assure that they aren’t filled with acid, urine, chlorine, or made of glass. Or we could just go with the honor system and hope the throwers stick to their principles of assaulting officers with relatively soft things.  The advance notice concept would be very helpful on all criminal activities. Even five minutes would be nice.

As for protective equipment, perhaps a provision that if one officer or more is killed or injured by that rare antagonistic, rule-breaking criminal, then a time out is called and officers can get into their gas masks or armored vehicles as deemed necessary by a standing committee.

Snarkasm aside, protests invite police attention, to be sure. But there is no reason to believe that law enforcement would interfere unless chaos and significant lawlessness break out, as happened during the initial riots. The coalition’s verbiage heavily implies that law breaking is anticipated and planned (but just a little bit). We used to call planning criminal activity “conspiracy”, not “negotiation”.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Brown, Wilson, and the History of Cop Hate

The collective pronoun "they" may be the most dangerous predictor of a tumble from impatience to harshness to hatred. "They always do that." "They need to get their act together." "They should be shot". The beginning of bigotry's hate is the convenience of category.

Comes now Ferguson, Missouri police officer Wilson in the matter of the death of one Michael Brown. Facts and physics be damned, Wilson is carrying the weight of "they" on his shoulders. From the long dead lawmen who gathered up escaped slaves to the ones who let loose the dogs and billy clubs on the Edmund Pettus bridge, Wilson shares a badge tarnished by suspicion and cynicism.

Wilson's decisions are not allowed to stand alone in the court of public opinion. He stands with the "they" of the hatred of cops by some and the love and respect of cops by others. 

Questions of why the prisons are full of young black men stand on Wilson's shoulders. Suspicion of an ever increasing Big Brother government stands there, too. A generation of self-centered, sheltered Americans leap on him. Those who never vote but readily protest and opine climb aboard. Those who fear oppression and those who fear lawlessness comprise his stand.

Darren Wilson was not every officer any more than Michael Brown was every black teenager. The ghost of all of history may hover over every "they", but when two men make individual decisions, the judgment must be framed by those individual moments.

The law is quite settled on these matters. If activists want to change the law that is another debate, but the law as it stands is clear, should anyone care to look:

"The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving - about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation." [Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)]

Popular opinion fails in precisely the way that the lawmaker's predicted when courts and juries and the calm, rational systems of jurisprudence were designed. The law does not have a chip on its shoulder because a cousin was treated badly by the police. Jurors must not make any correlation between some SWAT team's error somewhere and Wilson's trigger. Those who really want justice wait for truth to be distilled from the chaos of public opinion.

They are few. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

What Brittany Maynard Wanted Us To Talk About

I know nothing about Brittany other than what the media reported and that she ultimately made the decision to die at a time certain rather than a time uncertain.  By making this decision public she apparently wanted part of her legacy to be some discussion about – presumably leading to agreement with – a person’s right to determine when to end their own life.  I won’t comment directly on that issue, but rather about how we comment about that issue.

What disturbs me about that discussion as I’ve seen it played out on Facebook is that the real freedom to opine about the matter doesn’t exist. Much has boiled down to diatribes against Christians for being judgmental, the same tired puff we heard about reactions to Robin William’s suicide.

I’m always fascinated by the biblical literacy of those who use the only Bible verse they want to quote: “Judge not”.  It is often quoted with the implication that we can’t judge somebody else because there are no moral absolutes. The moment this is said, the speaker is making both a judgment and a pronouncement of a moral absolute.

We do assess, calculate, discern, ponder, promote, reject, accept, agree, disagree, and rant and write. What part of this is judgmental in an unacceptable way? The overarching issue of the sanctity of life, the ponderings on God’s will and purpose, the calculus of hope versus despair are all quite legitimate and transcendent things to think and talk about.

A recent post (http://bit.ly/1okZegf) was very insightful and compared Brittany’s plight with the jumpers from the World Trade Center. The writer’s point was that those who chose to jump to their death rather than be swallowed in the flame and poison of the exploding plane were no different than Brittany’s choice. The writer points out that the jumpers were considered homicides rather than suicides just as Brittany’s choice was not to die but how and when to die when faced with a certain terrible death. And I think that is a great point. But the author seems to think it important to say “Christians should be the people who are the least judgmental” in the typically sanctimonious not so subtle paraphrase of  “I wish Christians would shut up”.

I suppose, with the millions of folks commenting and claiming Christian affiliation, that there were some who said that Brittany’s choice was a choice that sent her straight down the garbage chute to hell (which would be a doctrinally unsound pronouncement). But what I heard was sadness, a desire for hope, and the very real and necessary discussion about the circumstances around a person’s right, ability, and capacity to end their own life and all of the potential social consequences attached. My mother made treatment decisions about her cancer and life expectancy. My father was on life support and we agonized over that treatment, too. I’ve assessed dozens of suicidal persons. All of us are touched by these kinds of decisions – even Christians.

Why can’t we discuss whether our hypothetical decisions to jump from the World Trade Center would be different if we knew that rescue was close, or that by suffering before we die would could lead someone else to safety, or if we knew we could actually survive but be disfigured? If we want zero suffering, the answer is pretty easy. Other than that, we need to agree that it is horribly complicated.

Let Christians campaign in extremism in favor of life over death with their worldview of transcendent and eternal consequences. Let those who favor suicide and euthanasia campaign in extremism for total individual determinism with their worldview that individual choice trumps social consequences. Why must the former be labeled hateful, the latter as open-minded, and anyone in between as anything else?