What Would It Take (To Convince Doubters That America Is Becoming a Police State)?
For any of you who are not aware of what is going on in America now (and has been going on for a long time): Recently, just a few days ago, a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer killed an African-American man who was unarmed and, apparently (given the several videos of the event from different angles) no resisting arrest. Several other Minneapolis police officers stood around without interfering and some pushed spectators away when they were not in any way interfering with the police action. The African-American man was being arrested; he was already handcuffed and on the ground on his stomach and chest. The police officer had his knee on the black man’s neck for eight minutes as the man begged and pleaded that he could not breathe. He became unresponsive and the police officer kept his knee on his neck for at last another minute. The black man died soon afterwards. All this is beyond dispute; it is well-documented. The police officer has been charged with unintentional homicide. All four of the police officers at the scene have been fired.
The store owner or manager who called police said on camera that the black man used a “fake” twenty dollar bill to attempt to buy something in the store. He said that it is entirely possible the black man did not even know the money was fake.
This is another incident in a long series of American police officers killing unarmed black men and women. Often these incidents have been video recorded and there can be no question that the killing police officers had no reason to kill the black men and women. One was a twelve year old boy who held a pellet pistol but was not aiming it at anyone or threatening anyone. He was playing with it in a city park in Ohio. His name was Tamir Rice. I saw what happened with my own eyes and can never unsee it. Two police officers pulled up next to the boy and one jumped out of the car and shot the boy dead without any warning. The boy never pointed the pellet gun at anyone. The boy died almost instantly. The killing police officer was fired but not convicted of any crime.
This kind of thing has been going on in America for a very long time. The difference now is that the incidents, which constitute a new kind of lynching, are being video recorded. In many cases the killing police officers are either not charged with any crime or are found “not guilty” by a jury—in spite of clear evidence of guilt.
Last evening NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt reported on another incident in which police invaded a home and killed a sleeping woman ONLY because they thought there were drugs in the apartment. No drugs were found.
Yesterday an African-American CNN news reporter was arrested on camera by police in Minneapolis and detained in custody for some time when he was obviously doing nothing but reporting on the rioting taking place in the aftermath of the killing of the African-American man. The police would give no explanation for handcuffing the CNN reporter and putting him in a police van. The camera kept rolling. He was not interfering in any way with what police were doing. They never accused him of it. It was completely random unless it was because he was black.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Over and over again in America in recent years we have seen on TV what has probably been going on for a very long time—without being video recorded. Some police departments and subgroups and individuals within police departments have gone rogue; there can really be no doubt about it. The only question is why it keeps happening and why so many of them are never punished.
In the town where I live police were roughly arresting a black man on a downtown street. A newspaper reporter was video taping the incident with her cell phone from a distance not in any way interfering. A police officer confiscated her cell phone saying “We’re not doing that.” Eventually it was returned to her. I tried to follow the story but did not see any follow up about what happened to the police officer for that flagrant violation of a reporter’s civil rights.
Many American police departments are now well equipped with tank-like vehicles and heavy weapons that, in the past, have belonged only to military units for use in war. One very obvious and well-known, video-recorded use of such was outside of Waco, Texas at the end of the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1992. I watched it on TV—live—and was horrified at what I was seeing as I knew there were children inside that compound building. Eighteen of them died. Whose fault was that? Well, David Koresh’s but not only his. The use of military-like equipment and tactics on a building (or set of buildings) occupied by children was, to my way of thinking, more than ill-advised; it was vicious.
Most Americans have forgotten or never knew about other, similar incidents in Philadelphia and at Ruby Ridge. You can look those up for yourselves. The incident in Philadelphia was a police attack on a townhouse occupied by a kind of quasi-religious cult composed mostly of African-Americans. It involved bombing them. Again, there were children involved.
In America today even many white people, to say nothing of minority people, are rightly intimidated by any police. Many are not approachable about anything. There appears to be a culture and mindset among many police officers that everyone is a potential enemy.
Over my forty years of teaching students I have heard from many African-American men, especially, that they have been pulled over and searched in very hostile and intimidating ways by police officers for no reason at all, whatsoever. I know it happens; it happened to me—when I had a black passenger in my car. We were pulled over by two police officers and roughly treated. My car was searched more than thoroughly. Seats were removed. The police never said anything other than “get out of the car and stand over there.” We were never given any explanation or apology. Of course they found nothing in my car and I was just relieved that we were not harmed physically. My passenger and I had to put everything back into my car; the police left everything (clothes, books, and a seat) lying on the street as they left.
That has never happened to me other than when I had a black passenger in my car.
I disagree with the protesters’ signs that read “All police are bad.” They clearly aren’t. But that does not mean some aren’t bad. Some clearly are. And they are not being weeded out early enough—before they kill an innocent person or rob someone of their civil rights and humiliate them unnecessarily.
Because so many police at so many levels (there are many police agencies other than local) have with impunity evidenced lack of regard for people’s civil rights , I have to conclude that we are on the verge of becoming if we are not already a police state. What I mean by that is this: Most Americans seem to think that whatever police do is justified because of rampant crime. Crime is a serious problem, but no amount of crime justifies a police state in which police officers can kill or detain or humiliate or rob people of their civil rights with impunity. And many (not all) police officers violate people’s civil rights with impunity because the majority of Americans believe rampant crime justifies it. I blame television for this because it tends to blow crime out of proportion—making it appear that every U.S. citizen (especially white and middle class) is on the verge of becoming a victim of violent crime all the time. Some of the longest-running and most popular prime time television series are solely dedicated to this narrative—whether intentionally or not.
Here is what I think. When the police in Minneapolis were told to arrest, handcuff, detain the African-American CNN reporters who was obviously doing nothing wrong and was obeying all police orders and the law, they should have refused. When he asked them why they were arresting him their only response was “We don’t know; we are just doing what we were ordered to do.” Who ordered them to do it and why? And does doing something illegal just because you’re ordered to justify it? “We just did what we were ordered to do” is now well-known as the response of people with power and authority the world over who have committed crimes against humanity. That any police officer would say that as he is violating someone’s civil rights is shocking. He/they should have said to his/their superior officer “No, we can’t do that; it would be illegal.” THEN they should protest their firing if that should be the result.
No, I do not think rioting, burning and looting is a proper or helpful response to police brutality. But it could be avoided by having many more black police officers on the streets and by firing police officers who are reasonably accused of police brutality—before they kill someone.
*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).