Is the Police Reform Movement Getting Legs?
How and why certain events in politics and culture coalesce into a critical mass is always an interesting thing to ponder. Sometimes it can happen when all hope has been lost.
In chaos theory, there’s the enigmatic image of the butterfly in the Amazon whose wing fluttering cascades into a hurricane in the northern hemisphere. How to explain the instantaneous shifting swings and swoops of swarming birds and schools of minnows? In politics, some like to cite the downfall of the Soviet empire: seemingly eternal and invulnerable one day, gone the next. I’m wondering: Are we seeing an example of such mysterious critical mass now in the sudden focus on excessive police behavior in America?
Police and prosecutorial misconduct is hardly a new phenomenon. But it seems to be getting worse as the crime rate goes down. I can’t recall anything like the wide-spread and continuing citizen and media reaction following the events in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Cleveland, Ohio. (We humans seem to like to arrange things in threes, which may be aesthetically and politically the most satisfying clumping of events.)
Ferguson set things off due to the excessive number of gunshots used by an inexperienced cop to kill an unarmed 18-year-old Black male. The town is an example of white leadership over a predominantly Black population, a condition following a demographic shift. Right-wing, knee-jerk defenders of police fell in line and put the cop on a pedestal and defended the prosecutor whose slick grand jury manipulation deflected any accountability for police misconduct.
Soon, as if written in a script to accentuate the police misconduct in Ferguson, a Staten Island prosecutor guided a grand jury to let off without even a shaming finger shake a pack of cops who strangled a 43-year-old, unarmed Black male for selling “loosies” or untaxed, individual cigarettes to feed his family. It was like Jean Valjean and that famous loaf of bread. And it was all on videotape, precluding the officers from making a waistband plea to the court -- as in, “He seemed to be reaching into his waistband.” Once the obese man was subdued and dying, incredibly, police officers -- first responders! -- are seen standing over the body like they were waiting for the donut truck.
The video was so damning the right-wing police defense league broke apart. Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer, Rand Paul and others went soft. Something was terribly wrong here. The big family man was an American entrepreneur and the cops were working for The Taxman! How could this happen in America?