Archive for category: Policy & Law

The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. III

14 Aug
August 14, 2014

 

Note:  These essays were, of course, written before St. Louis County prosecutors and Ferguson police relented and revealed the identity of the officer sho shot and killed Mr. Brown.  Both the cost to their credibility in the delay inherent in their delay and to the civil peace of that town remains relevant, however.  Moreover, the problem with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationally trying to maintain anonymity in such incidents is on the rise. So the essays stand as argument,  regardless.  – DS

 

August 14, 2014

 

Mr. Thomas Jackson

Chief of Police

Ferguson, Missouri

 

Chief Jackson:

Regard this as an open letter in light of your department’s unwillingness to properly identify the officer involved in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in your jurisdiction this last week.

Understand that I am someone with a high regard for good police work.  I covered a large municipal department for a dozen years and spent that time writing in detail on extraordinary efforts by professional detectives and officers, and, too, on systemic and individual failures within that same agency.  I am not unsympathetic to the complex truths of practical policing.

To that effect, I’m offering no judgment as to the legitimacy of the police action in the death of Mr. Brown, nor am I critiquing your department’s militarized performance with regard to the resulting civil disturbances in your municipality. I leave the former for the more careful assessments of prosecutors and, presumably, a grand jury; the latter, I am sure, will be a subject of continued discussion within your community, in Missouri as a whole, and elsewhere in the country.

But for now, let’s simply focus on the notion that you, as head of a police department accountable to the citizens of your jurisdiction, actually seem to believe — along with local prosecutors — that it is plausible for a sworn and armed officer to kill a citizen and do so in anonymity.

Regrettably, I know that you are not alone in this astonishing breach of trust.  More than a decade ago, some of our most authoritative federal agencies began a tragic retreat from basic accountability, shielding their agents from any scrutiny for their use of the most signficant power that a law officer can possess — the taking of a human life as an act of personal deliberation.  Following the lead of the FBI, other large urban departments have since followed suit, or attempted to do so at points.

But the cost to our society is not abstract — and the currency in which that cost is paid is trust.  Your department has shown that you do not trust the public with the basic information about who specifically has, in the performance of his or her duties, been required to take a human life in Ferguson. And that same public is now in the street demonstrating that they do not believe that Ferguson law enforcement can therefore be relied upon for anything remotely resembling justice.  How could it be otherwise?

If you cannot see the contempt inherent in your policy, then you, sir, may need to reconsider both your own role and the premise of law enforcement in a democratic society.   You may need to yield your position to someone who retains the basic notion that your officers, armed with the extraordinary authority of using state-sanctioned lethal force on fellow citizens, are equally burdened by a responsibility for standing by their actions in full. You, your department, and the prosecutors in your jurisdiction are now running from that responsibility. In doing so, you lose the trust and respect of your citizens, your state and the nation.

I know that you wish to claim that the individual officer, if identified, would be somehow vulnerable. But this is dishonest and dishonorable, sir.  Having covered a police department in a jurisdiction even more troubled than your suburban community, I am well aware of the resources available to your department to protect one of its own against retribution. Your officers are the ones with legal authority. They are all armed. And they can maintain a presence anywhere in your jurisdiction.  Moreover, they have, if necessary, the support of your county’s prosecutors and judiciary, and all of the law itself to ensure the safety of a solitary officer.   They are, as police in Baltimore were accustomed to saying, the biggest, toughest gang out there — so much so that the claim of violent retribution against this officer is embarrassing hyperbole. The same claim was offered by a police commissioner here in Baltimore five years ago, in an abortive effort to hide the identities of officers who took life in the course of their duties. When examined in detail, the claim of any serious threat against any officer evaporated into a series of half-baked crank calls and unsubstantiated rumor.  Fears of retribution were not the issue; accountability was the real target. As it is now in Ferguson.

At this point, let’s be frank about the advantages offered to any officer in a legal examination of any use of lethal force.  We both understand, I am sure, that in presenting the facts of any police shooting to a grand jury, your prosecutors will be able to offer your officer the protection of legal standards that do not in any way address whether a given shooting was justified in a moral sense, or as a measure of good and careful police work.  No, the standard for justifying a police shooting anywhere in these United States has come down to this:  Did the officer have a reasonable belief that in using lethal force he was protecting himself or others from serious injury.  That is hole enough for a pretty big truck, sir, and it allows all but the most egregious and unjustifiable police violence to remain free of criminal prosecution, if not administrative sanction.

This may be the necessary legal standard for a world in which individual officers — even well-trained and well-meaning officers — must make life-and-death decisions in an instant. Even the best officer can give you a bad shooting; we both know this to be true.  And it may be that any stricter legal standard would result in officers unwilling to risk their careers or freedom in cases where the use of lethal force was indeed necessary to save the lives of themselves, their fellow officers or other citizens.  I grant you all of that.

But you must concede as well that the legal standard allows for the prosecutorial justification of all but the most outrageous misuses of police force — that the dynamic is already carefully protective of your individual officers.  The game is already rigged against a legal lynching. And similarly, as already noted, anyone seeking to harm one of your officers in an extra-legal manner confronts not only a lone individual, but the combined authority and force of all of your officers, of the county and state police agencies, of your jurisdiction’s prosecutors and judges.  In and out of court, no police officer ever stands alone and vulnerable — not in the manner of the average citizen.  Say, Mr. Brown, for example.

Yet incredibly, you continue to hide from any accountability by speaking of retribution against an officer.  But such retribution is wholly imagined on your part; the damage to accountability and transparency is actual and of the moment: Without knowing the identity of the officer involved in this incident, the citizens of Ferguson cannot measure that officer against his record. They cannot know if this is the first time he has taken human life, or the tenth. They cannot look to his overall performance as a law officer and know if he was inclined to brutality or insult in his dealings with the citizenry, or if he conducted himself with valor and respect for those he served.  He is hidden not from potential retribution, as you claim. He is hidden from accountability and from the discerning assessment of the citizens you serve.

In Baltimore, I covered many police shootings, most of them necessary, if tragic, and a few that were indeed questionable or dubious, if equally tragic. But in all of those incidents, a police department that remained fully accountable to its citizenry never failed to do one basic thing when a life had been taken: It stood by the body. All of those officers who took a life owned both their authority and their responsibility.  They were identified before their public, and the sunlight of public knowledge was never denied to any moment when an agent of the state, as a matter of personal deliberation and presumed professional necessity, ended the life of a fellow citizen. This was elemental, and democratic to its core.  If our country is to cease its drift toward a militarized police state, it is elemental still.

And beyond the democratic imperative, one other practical cost to Ferguson of your professional failure has yet to be tallied, but is certain and fixed: Your department, in order to solve crimes and maintain order, is dependent on the cooperation of witnesses — fellow citizens willing to trust in the process of arrest and prosecution, and in their own personal safety should they properly contribute to that process.  Yet by offering up the dishonorable claim that your department, and all the authority of the supporting law enforcement and judicial communities of Missouri, cannot protect a single officer from a series of unsubstantiated threats, or that the officer might be more vulnerable to public ridicule than, say, Mr. Brown was vulnerable to actual police gunfire, you have made this question entirely relevant:

If Ferguson police can’t protect one of their own — a fellow officer who is armed, who is allied with an entire department of armed comrades, who are themselves buttressed by their jurisdiction’s prosecutorial arm, who have the full weight of the law at hand in support of that officer — then how in hell are they going to protect me when I go down to the courthouse and testify?  How can they ask me, an ordinary citizen with no armament, alliance or authority, to stand up in open court and be identified?

The answer is you can’t.

The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of secrecy, while asking the public at large to risk all in open court, is not mere hypocrisy. It is cowardice. It is an abdication of your professional role and your basic integrity. Your actions, sir, stand not merely in support of your rank-and-file, or in defiance of a mob; that’s how you wish to be seen, and likely, it is how many will view you within the cloistered culture of the roll-call room. But to the greater public that you serve, your decision is, again, void of all honor or courage.  You have done your uniform, your department and your city a great disservice.  Some reflection and a change in policy is required before anyone in Ferguson, Missouri can be assured that you, Chief Jackson, actually remain in service of law and order in your city.

Respectfully,

 

David Simon

Police Reporter

Baltimore Sun, 1982-1995

 

The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. II

14 Aug
August 14, 2014

Seven years later, from the Baltimore City Paper of February 12, 2009, as the militarization of American police work continued apace, infecting not merely the federal agencies so much less accountible to individual jurisdictions, but municipal police departments that claimed to be directly in the service of specific communities:

Police work, it is said, is only easy in a police state.  So welcome to the city of Baltimore, where a police officer who uses lethal force and takes human life is no longer required to stand behind his or her actions and suffer the scrutiny of the public he or she serves, where the identity of those officers who use lethal force will no longer be known, where our communities are now asked to trust in the judgment of those who clearly don’t trust us.

A 61-year-old Baltimorean is dead, shot by a Southeastern District Officer Feb. 17. His death may well be a reasonable, if tragic outcome. It may even be good police work, though any veteran city prosecutor will acknowledge that having a shooting ruled “justified” by the state’s attorney’s office should in no way be mistaken for such an assessment.

But if we let stand Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld’s new policy of withholding the identities of officers who use lethal force, make no mistake, there will not be any independent public oversight of such efforts ever again. From this point forward, we are in the dark.

Discussions about what an officer did or did not do prior to taking a human life, reflections on the professional history of that officer, an accurate accounting of any other incidents, however many or few, that involved the use of deadly force by that officer—all of this now disappears behind a self-serving and Orwellian veil of secrecy.

The commissioner, backed by the police union, wants you to believe this is about a rash of dangerous threats against his officers. They testified about just such an epidemic to a City Council subcommittee that asked few questions and seemed to blandly acquiesce to the new policy.

And further, to secure the new secrecy in which his officers will now police our communities, the commissioner assures us that in the event he personally perceives that an officer may have done something illegal or against departmental codes in the taking of a life, he will decid—unilaterally and without review—to reveal the officer’s name.

On a legal note, this is remarkable, because it leaves the city’s top law enforcement officer violating the law. By statute, the Baltimore police commissioner doesn’t determine what is public information in this state, nor does the City Council or even the mayor.

The Maryland Public Information Act is a state law and changing it requires an act of the state legislature. Absent that, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled long ago that initial incident reports—the so-called “face sheet” of any police accounting of a reportable event is—are, in the whole and without any redaction, public records. Meaning, everything that belongs on that face sheet—including the name of known assailants, which are the officers in any police shooting—cannot be withheld from any citizen seeking such.

But ignoring the legal niceties, which seems of no real concern to Commissioner Bealefeld, let’s focus on the substance of this new policy.

We, the public, are to trust that the commissioner—and all who follow him in the post—will be entirely and forever honest with the responsibility of deciding what we are allowed to know about police officers who kill citizens in our city, that they will freely provide information embarrassing or problematic to the department, that in making statements that can no longer be verified by an independent press, they will tell the whole truth.

It’s nice to think that the good judgment of one man can so easily replace the free exchange of facts and ideas. But there are words for that mode of government and they sound unkind to the modern ear. Still, rather than dwell on the totalitarian impulse here, perhaps we should simply look at how honestly the commissioner and his surrogates have performed on this issue thus far.

At no point on this issue has the whole truth been in evidence. Far from it.

In his letter to City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Commissioner cited as justification for the policy 23 reported threats against officers in 2008. There were such threats, true, but the lie is one of omission, because the commissioner did not tell the council precisely this:

None of those threats involved any substantive threat against any officer in retaliation for a police-involved shooting, according to sources within the department. Not one. Nor was the number of threats against officers in 2008 in any way notable, according to those sources; there has been no significant increase in such threats in recent years.

Told of this, Councilman Jack Young (D-12th District), chairman of the public safety subcommittee, said he felt deceived. He came away from the commissioner’s testimony believing such threats were in some way related to police shootings: “How in the hell,” he asked, angrily, “am I supposed to do my job when they are lying in my face?”

Councilman Jim Kraft (D-1st District) was similarly surprised to learn in detail the limited nature of the manner in which police-involved shootings are investigated. After hearing police officials testify, he said was under the impression that first the department itself and then the state’s attorney’s office undertook separate reviews of such shootings.

In fact, the state’s attorney’s office has no independent investigators to undertake its own investigation—they necessarily rely on the department’s own investigation of itself before a senior prosecutor reviews the file and recommends action. That prosecutor or the state’s attorney can recommend additional investigation, but again, the work is done by city detectives—the department probing itself.

Furthermore, if a shooting is ruled “justified” by prosecutors, as most are, it in no way reflects a judgment that the use of lethal force constituted good police work. Legally, justification for a police shooting can result if an officer made a reasonable judgment to use lethal force in the belief that the officer, his fellow officers or citizens , his colleagues or citizens were in imminent danger.

If that reasonable judgment was wrong? If the suspect was not in fact armed, but appeared to be? If the officer’s own actions introduced more risk to the situation, or contributed to an escalation of the conflict? If the officer failed to follow certain procedures, or to undertake an action that might have minimized the risk? None of that is directly relevant to the state’s attorney’s decision to legally justify a shooting.

Says a veteran prosecutor involved in such reviews: “I’ve told the department on several occasions that while a shooting was legally justified, it should not be referred to as a ‘good shooting,’ that there was nothing at all good about it.”

As to the internal review by the department itself, rarely, if ever, does this result in departmental charges against an officer whose actions have already been sanctioned by the state’s attorney, but for a wholly different reason: Veteran investigators in the department privately acknowledge that the risk and costs of exposing the department to civil liability by finding even modest fault with officers in use-of-force cases make the internal review problematic.

“I see,” Kraft said on actually having the full process explained to him. “If that’s the way it’s done—and I did not know any of this —then I can see why there might be some concern with the new policy.”

But again, at the hearing itself, the council members asked few questions and took the commissioner’s representations—and omissions—at face value. Just as reporters were asked to take departmental representations at face value in the wake of Tuesday night’s fatal shooting.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi insists, even against state law, that he has every right not to reveal the identity of the officer who shot and killed an unarmed 61-year-old man, and further, that the public loses little of its right to know by being denied the name of the officer.

“You can still report everything except the name.”

Again, a lie of omission: Without the name, there is no conceivable way for a news organization, or a community group, or an individual citizen to evaluate the quality and consistency of that officer’s performance, to learn whether there is a recurring pattern of problematic behavior involving an individual officer, to even find out—independent of a police spokesman’s unverifiable say-so—whether this is the first life taken by an officer or the tenth.

Only after being asked directly if the 29-year-old officer involved in Tuesday’s incident, five-year veteran Traci McKissick, had been involved in any prior incident of which the public ought to be informed did Mr. Guglielmi offer what can only be categorized as a sanitized and misleading version of same.

Officer McKissick had, the spokesman said, been involved in “one other police-involved shooting. She was dragged by a car and she fired one shot. There were no injuries and the shooting was ruled justified.”

Where there any other details that the department could provide?

“No.”

By that basic reading, the officer’s performance in that earlier incident was sterling and heroic, raising no issue as to her capabilities as a street officer. Yet here is what police sources provide of the 2005 incident in which Officer McKissick fired her weapon:

During a traffic stop gone awry, the officer for some uncertain reason entered the suspect’s vehicle when the suspect was not properly detained. The suspect then drove away with the officer in the passenger seat and, as Officer McKissick had drawn her handgun, the suspect was able to seize the weapon. In the struggle, a shot was fired and the bullet was discharged into the rear of the car. The suspect threw the gun out of the window; it was never recovered.

And Tuesday night’s incident? Well, yes, the same officer—who sources describe as physically diminutive—was again in a struggle with a larger, unarmed suspect and at some point she was in danger of losing her weapon for a second time. Whether she again drew her weapon first on an unarmed suspect, or did so prematurely, is unclear, sources close to the investigation acknowledge.

During the struggle, a sergeant arrived and fired one shot, fatally wounding the suspect. Officer McKissick, still in the grip of the suspect, regained control of her weapon and fired as many as 15 shots, emptying her weapon into the suspect’s leg. All are grouped contact wounds.

A citizen is now dead, perhaps justifiably so. But, the spokesman was asked, don’t you think it might also be relevant to the public that this officer has some history of losing her service weapon in physical altercations? Do you think the public might want to know if the department is looking into that aspect of her training and performance?

Mr. Guglielmi replied that the department has “no concerns” with the officer’s performance in either incident and, further, that the 2005 event was not relevant. You don’t consider a prior incident, he argued, when investigating the current one.

True, perhaps, in terms of the officer’s legal justification. But in terms of an officer’s training, capability, and performance? What could be more relevant than a potentially dangerous—and now lethal—circumstance that has repeated itself?

Half-truths, omissions, the grudging release of favorable details, the obfuscation of problematic facts—such a performance is, apparently, the reservoir of integrity on which citizens are to drink under the new policy. So much for Commissioner Bealefeld’s assurances that we will be told what we need to know when we need to know it.

There may be many officers—younger ones, certainly, those without a sense of the department’s history—who think the new policy beneficial. There may be officers who feel that they risk their lives, that they are vulnerable in their duties, that they are entitled to an extra measure of protection.

The service and risk of a law officer is not to be denied. But the greater and more fundamental truth is that being given the solitary right to carry a weapon and take human life as a publicly sanctioned act carries with it an essential responsibility to the public.

If you cannot stand openly in sight of the community you police and defend your actions, if your service history cannot stand a full, proper, and unregulated scrutiny by that public, and if that action and that history needs to be tailored, groomed, and cleaned by police officials who don’t trust citizens with all of the facts, all of the time, then how are you deserving of a badge, a gun, or the public’s trust in any regard?

Here is a fact: Over the last quarter century, in a drug-saturated city, dozens of Baltimoreans have been slain because they were witnesses or potential witnesses in state and federal prosecutions. Still, our city leaders insist—rightly—that to make the city safer, it is essential that citizens continue to come forward, to commit to the process, to believe authorities when they say they will be protected.

In that same 25-year span, police officials can recall exactly one police who was murdered—seven years ago—after being involved in a police shooting and then testifying against the assailants. Fraternal Order of Police officials are quick to cite the case of Officer Thomas Newman as justification for the new policy of secrecy.

But again, this is half-truth where only the full measure will do.

Officer Newman would have been targeted and killed if there had never been a newspaper published in Baltimore, if the general public had never learned his name. The officer testified in open court against his assailants and he was slain in retaliation almost a year after the trial and when he was observed as a happenstance in a bar on Dundalk Avenue. Media reports of his identity played no role in his death whatsoever and his tragic death has exactly nothing to do with the present change in policy.

Instead of anecdotal equivocations, those who support this new policy might do better to contemplate this appalling and destructive hypocrisy: If those who are authorized and trained to carry a badge, who carry semiautomatic pistols and esplatoons, who are backed by their fellow officers, who are nearly 3,000 strong, who have the power of subpoena and arrest, who have the ability to pursue and charge criminal behavior—including threats on an officer—if these men and women are now too frightened to have their identities known to the public in conjunction with the use of force, then how can anyone in Baltimore law enforcement justify asking an unarmed, unsworn citizen to testify in court as a witness?

Trust demands trust. And for any citizen of this city to be asked to consign life and limb to a system in which even the armed law officers won’t stand behind their actions is an ugly affront. It is, frankly, a question of institutional cowardice: The community standing of a once-proud and responsive police agency damaged by the sight of officers seemingly afraid to stand behind their actions in the same time-honored way that generations of Baltimore police have before them.

As for Commissioner Bealefeld, his response to any of this is proving elusive. For days on end, he has not returned repeated calls on the matter. Evidently, the temptation to avoid public scrutiny and criticism, once sampled, is habit-forming.

Police work in Baltimore is being made easy. But to anyone in city law enforcement who still understands the hard job of policing a city with precision, responsibility, and integrity, this is, of course, no real comfort. It is, in fact, both shameful and frightening.

*          *         *

Eventually, pressed by the ACLU, the Baltimore department returned to a policy of identifying officers who take human life, albeit they have implemented a policy that delays the release of that name, often for days at a time — a cynical means of keeping anonymous the identity and history of officers until after media attention to a given incident has dramatically receded.  That policy, equally contemptuous of the public’s right to know the most basic information about the performance of their government, has been allowed to stand by new police commissioners, by Baltimore’s mayor and city council, and by news organizations unwilling to exert for the right to public information under Maryland law.

Which brings us to present-day Ferguson, Missouri and a new and astonishing level of dishonor.

 

 

Lost in a symptom: The Nation on marijuana reform

01 Nov
November 1, 2013

The surest way to ensure the continued abuse of people of color under the auspices of the drug war is to reduce or eliminate any corresponding threat to white Americans.  This seems to me to be such a fundamental of realpolitik in the United States that I’m still a little bit astonished that The Nation, in a recent assessment of marijuana reform efforts and racial bias, can’t see any forest from the trees.

Read more →

Doubling down

17 Jul
July 17, 2013

Among many, many others of similar passion:

  1. pat stevens ?@stevepatg39m 
  2. david simon, I hope a black guy punches you right in the fucking face just for being white..
  3. Michael Bailey ?@mikelbtko1h

    David Simon A Jewish man… “One less Jew to answer, One less Jew (cont) http://tl.gd/n_1rldj72

  4. Willy Scanlon ?@shanlone1h
  5. @7sMRD313 Then David Simon should leave for Israel with the rest of the Fucking Jews who think that they own this country.

     
  6. Robert Aguilar Jr. ?@robertaguilarjr3h
  7. David Simon can take the first Asiana flight the fuck out of here too!!

    My actual words: “Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.”

    *        *        *

    Some random moments in my lifetime when I have been intensely proud of my country:

    1.  “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

    2.   The arrival of U.S. carriers off the shores of Indonesia after a devastating tsunami.

    3.   Standing on a lawn in College Park, Md. when President Reagan arrived to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a black family that had endured a cross burning there.

    4.   The realization that if the state of Iowa — Iowa! —  could accept gay marriage, then a great wall of intolerance was certain to collapse in our own time.

    5.  The rebuilding of New Orleans with the celebration of American culture as its essential fuel.

    6.  MLK’s 1963 address from the Lincoln Memorial.

    7.  Walking among the graves at Coleville-sur-Mer in Normandy and walking the ground at Gettysburg, Antietam and Cold Harbor.

    8.  The first time I actually heard the Library of Congress recording of Woody Guthrie singing “This Land Is Your Land.”

    9.  The night we answered precisely an act of mass murder by the necessary capture or death of Osama bin Laden.

    10.  The Gourds’ cover of “Gin & Juice.”  I’m not kidding, but no, I can’t quite explain.

     

    Random moments from my life in which I have been ashamed to be an American.

    1.  The shooting down of a civilian airliner by the U.S. Navy and the deaths of hundreds of ordinary people for which a president said he would never apologize.

    2.  The assassination of Dr. King.

    3.  Our drug war and the realization of what it has done to our underclass, to the northern Mexican states and to our own civil liberties.

    4.  Extra-legal rendition and torture.

    5.  The imagery of young Americans chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A.” gleefully in the wake of the necessary but sobering death of Osama bin Laden.

    6. Listening to Irving Berlin’s sanctification of a nation-state at every seventh-inning stretch.

    7.  The federal sentencing guidelines and the evisceration of the federal judiciary.

    8.  The killing of doctors, bombings of abortion clinics and the harassment and stigmatization of patients in the name of a political cause which then claims the mantle of pro-life.

    9.  The systemic response to the death of an unarmed 17-year-old boy, profiled and shot to death.

    10.  The callow  insecurity that accompanies any cry of “America, right or wrong” or “America, love it or leave it.”

     

    As with 300 million other souls, I am fully vested in the American experiment.  I try my best to be attentive to what America achieves for its citizens and by its citizens, and what it offers the world.  When we are honorable and generous and in concert with our stated ideals, pride naturally follows.  When we act otherwise, shame is, for me, the resulting emotion.

    To those who can’t conceive of anyone ever being ashamed, or expressing shame at those moments when this country abandons or even betrays its core values, I’m actually willing to go even further than my initial comment:  You may, in fact, be the one who doesn’t understand what it means to be a proud American.  Not truly and not deeply; not without some measure of shame as well.

    Why not?  Because just as good cannot be truly understood to the marrow without a corresponding sense of evil, pride in one’s country — if it is substantive pride, and not merely the rote, pledge-allegiance mouthings of patriotic cliche — requires the sober knowledge that American greatness is neither assured, nor heaven-sent.  It comes to us from our national premise and ideals — and our willingness to maintain those things at all hazards.  And if you’ve never felt ashamed for us for having strayed from our core values in even the most appalling ways — say, the wartime detention of Japanese-Americans, or a My Lai  or Kent State , or Bull Conner, or COINTELPRO, or life sentences for juvenile defendants, or prisons-for-profit — then maybe you’ve never really acknowledged what the actual stakes are for a republic, or how much work, rather than platitude, is required to assure an honorable, democratic future.  Yes, you claim an all-encompassing pride and you wallow in it, brooking not even a mention of anything shameful that happens on our watch as citizens.  But in fact, real pride is earned and internalized only with a grown-up understanding that even a good or great nation, while deserving of our allegiance and civic commitment, can indeed shame itself. Saying so when it happens is a fundamental of self-governance, as all dissent is a fundamental of self-governance.

    I’m not going anywhere.  And I’m doubling down.  Our national response to the death of an unarmed 17-year-old, and the new legal construct that prevents any judicial redress of his death is shameful and as an American, I am ashamed.

Comments on Martin-Zimmerman. To reiterate:

16 Jul
July 16, 2013

If you go to the original post on the verdict itself, entitled “Trayvon,” you will find more than five hundred posts in which all of the issues regarding the case were debated to the point of repetition over more than 48 hours, after which, as every new comment in the last several hundred had already been addressed, we closed the comments to preserve the give-and-take of the debate — debate becing one of the fundamental goals of the website.

The dynamic is explained in greater detail in the subsequent and concluding post, “Trayvon: Calling It.”  Commentary on that post is naturally being limited to a discussion about the debate dynamic here.  A third post stands only as a corrective to the false claim that I was exhorting anyone to riot, and that the reductive medium of Twitter was being so utilized.  Commentary there is being limited largely to a discussion of the claim and the uses or misuses of Twitter.

If you have a point to argue about the issue itself — be it the false claim that SYG was not fundamental to the prosecution of this case, that black-and-black violence can be cited so that we should all turn our attention away from the slaying of Trayvon Martin because sentient humans can only be concerned about one tragedy at a time, or just feel the general need to tell me to leave the country because I feel ashamed of this verdict and what it says about our nation — rest assured that you will likely find the appropriate back-and-forth already enshrined in the comments.  Oppositional comments were not winnowed, save for those that veered into outright racism, psychosis, hyperbolic ad hominem insult and libel.  Other than that, it all got a ride.

If you’re arriving late to the party, rest assured that it’s already in the comments, ready for your perusal.  As life is short, I can’t oblige by undertaking to answer the same arguments in sidebar posts that have already been answered in detail and with diligence on the main post in the days prior.

Best,

DS

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