Paul R. Lehman, Lessons of the Ferguson grand jury finding

November 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, Civil Rights Ats, democracy, discrimination, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, grand jury, justice, Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama, socioeconomics, whites | 5 Comments
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The finding of no indictment by the grand jury in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson should have come as no surprise to people who are familiar with the history of America’s justice system and its relationship to people of color. The grand jury’s finding underscores the primary reason why African Americans and other people of color have problems of trust with the justice system in America and the law enforcement arm of that system. Even more to the Brown case and the lack of trust in the County prosecutor Bob McCulloch as a representative of the justice system is his recent record of no convictions of police officers involved in shootings.
One of the legitimate concerns of the people of Ferguson at the beginning of the case was the decision to take it to a grand jury. What that decision did was to remove from involvement the citizens of Ferguson from the final outcome of the case in that the grand jury reflected the demographics of the state and not the city of Ferguson. European Americans represent seventy percent of the state of Missouri, but only about thirty percent of Ferguson. A total of twelve members made-up the grand jury with nine European Americans and three African Americans. A total of nine votes were required to decide the outcome of the case. To increase the control of the justice system in this case, everything was kept secret even after the finding—no information on who voted for what or why. Some citizens of Ferguson stated that they believed McCulloch elected to go with the grand jury to shield him from having to take any responsibility for the finding. That self-protection tactic was apparent during his report to the nation when he deferred many of the questions asked by the reporters as being part of the secrecy of the grand jury process.
Although many questions remain to be answered relative to this case, the grand jury’s finding of no indictment indicates a need to address some serious concerns, namely, the state of the criminal justice system in America as it applies to African Americans and other people of color; the need to address the value of African Americans and people of color in American society; the protection of the police force over and above the protection and rights of the citizens of color; the need for the involvement and support of the European Americans in addressing the problem of bigotry.
From the very beginning of his address, McCulloch’s comments were focused on the rights of the police officer Darren Wilson and how the evidence underscored his report of what actually happened during his confrontation with Michael Brown. The problem with that approach was that Wilson was not the victim, Brown was, but no comments or evidence was offered for Brown by McCulloch. What that says to the public is that the value of the police officer’s life is considerably more than that of the citizen. Why? If Americans are to feel and believe that the justice system works for everyone equally, then some attention must be paid to how the daily operations of that system is informed and functions relative to all citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.
Looking nationwide at the frequency of occurrences of police shootings of unarmed African Americans and other people of color, one is faced with the question of human value in American society. If all Americans regardless of their identity and social status are not treated equally with respect and dignity by the justice system and more specially, the law enforcement agencies, then changes must be made to educate them to meet that standard. One problem in the past regarding pronounced bigotry in crimes against people of color by law enforcement agencies is that no serious repercussions are suffered by the law enforcement agencies; the individuals or the agency is usually exonerated; for example, simply look at Ferguson. Regardless of what the grand jury’s finding was, the fact remains that Michael Brown is dead, Darren Wilson who fired twelve shots at him (not all hit him) and killed him is free of any charge. The public is left with the suggestion that nothing of consequence really happened. We can all forget about the incident because of the grand jury’s findings and go on about our lives and businesses. We need to be reminded that regardless of the circumstances, a human being was killed and that life was valued.
Another lesson we can take from the grand jury’s findings is that if changes of a positive nature are to come to Ferguson and America, then the involvement of European American citizens must be forthcoming. We may try and pretend that bigotry is on the decline in society, but all we need to counter that notion is to look at President Obama and how he has been treated because of his ethnicity. The grand jury’s findings give us an opportunity for soul searching and pause regarding the kind of society we want to become. We know that bigotry is alive and well now, but we also know that the demographic of society is also changing. By the year 2050 many professional social scientists predict that the majority citizens will be brown or non-European. One wonders how the European Americans would want a society to treat them where they represent the minority population.
Society is changing and part of the problems we are experiencing can be seen as growing pains. The old guard that includes bigoted attitudes is trying to maintain the status quo because it represents power and control in most areas of society, but as society changes that power will shift. So, it would behoove the involvement of all citizens to make society what we want it to be based on our democratic government. The Michael Brown case in Ferguson shows us where we are as a society as well as where we need to go. The choice is ours to make and in the words of the late Dr. King, we can “either learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.”

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Paul R. Lehman, Real changes in the community must come from the top down

September 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Posted in African American, blacks, discrimination, equality, European American, fairness, liberty, lower class, poor, Prejudice, race, racism, socioeconomics, The Huffington Post, whites | 1 Comment
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When the Michael Brown tragedy occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, many people were dismayed that such a thing could happen. Sometime, it takes a tragedy to bring to the surface other equally discomforting things as well. We hear about people organizing to make things better for the community and especially better police and community relations. Usually, the focus of attention is on the event that just occurred and what caused it. In Ferguson we learned that out of a total of fifty-three policemen, only three or four were African American, when the population percentage of African Americans is around sixty-seven percent. The answer to resolving the police-community relations problem, according to some, is to hire more African Americans on the police force. Unfortunately, that would not solve the problem.
If we want to get to the heart of the problem that contributed to the death of Michael Brown, then hiring more police will not accomplish that objective. The real problem has to do with the treatment of African Americans with respect to fairness and justice. The problems of fairness and justice for African Americans will not be addressed or resolved by adding more African Americans to the police force if the perception, attitude, and behavior of the people in charge of the police do not change.
What incidents like the one in Ferguson shows is that the problem of community relations does not rest with the police force; the problem is systemic. The police behavior is simply one manifestation of the mind-set of the community leaders. The various elected officials from the mayor to the dog-catcher play a part in forming the attitude of the community relative to its citizens. Therefore, when searching for a cause of the problem relative to police behavior towards the African American community, one has to look at who controls the police.
One journalist looking into the community relations in areas near Ferguson discovered a pattern of unjust actions that places undue stress on the African American communities in the St. Louis area. For example, the greatest police-related instances taken from police reports occur in African American communities. The greatest percentage of traffic violations reported occurred in African American communities. The greatest percentage of arrest reported by the police occurred in African American communities. Why? We can not simply look at the police force for an answer.
Taken individually, the statistics seem to suggest that the African Americans are the worst drivers in the area, and they give the police more cause for arrest. However, when looked at collectively, we recognize that the majority of the African Americans stopped for traffic violations are poor, low-wage workers. When stopped by the police, whether they committed a violation or not, they do not usually complain. They do not complain because of the history of negative consequences associated with being African American and uncooperative with the police. The police not only know that African Americans understand this situation, but also depend on it working successfully in issuing tickets. The entire process is part of the system for general income for the community.
Many police departments depend on the poor, powerless communities of people of color to generate money to operate their local government. Usually, the poor do not have the extra money available to pay a large traffic fine. So, in some communities, if one cannot pay, they go to jail. If they go to jail, the family, friends, and often the employers of the jailed person will come up with the money. If not, the person jailed will usually lose his or her job, incur bills that cannot be paid, leave children to the mercy of available family or foster care, and in some instances lose their home and transportation. Why? They get caught in the system because they are powerless and defenseless and therefore, easy prey. The cause of their problems is not the police force; they just follow the instructions of the administrators.
Part of the problems comes from ignorance and prejudice of European Americans towards the African American and people of color in the community. The ignorance and prejudice comes from perception. Sean McElwee, in an article for Huffington.com, “Five Signs We’re Not a ‘Post-Racial’ Society” noted that
“In the wake of the Ferguson shooting, a recent Pew poll finds that 47 percent of whites believe that “race is getting more attention than it deserves,” with regards to the death of Michael Brown, while only 18 percent of African-Americans feel the same. Meanwhile, a similar Pew study found that whites are far less likely to see discrimination in the treatment blacks receive by the education system, the courts and hospitals. Such views are held by many Americans, who believe that “blacks are mostly responsible for their own condition.” Police killings of unarmed blacks are certainly the most visible manifestation of systemic racism, but data show that racism still manifests itself frequently in everyday life.”
The shooting of Michael Brown created an opportunity for all the citizens to see the actual conditions of the community and not rely on rumor and opinions. Armed with the facts of just how much African Americans are treated unjustly and unfairly, the citizens can began to organize themselves into groups that will act to address many of these problems. When concerned people in the community realize the degree to which the poor and people of color are exploited, they should be moved to some level of action.
Change will come to the community, not just Ferguson, when the leaders from the top on down adjust their attitudes and become better informed relative to the people they serve, all the people they serve. Likewise, the poor, and people of color need to realize that they have power through the vote and public protest to make positive changes. However, as McElwee stated: “In America, race determines not just where someone lives and what school he or she attends, it affects the very air we breathe. Although many whites wish to believe we live in a “post-racial” society, race appears not just in overt discrimination but in subtle structural factors.
So, the problems relative to the police and the African American communities are not simply police problems, but problems that involve the entire system of government that devalues and under represents many of its citizens of color. Problem solving, however, must began at the top.

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