Thursday, December 4, 2014

Some Final Words on the Michael Brown, Ferguson Incident

Some final words on the Michael Brown, Ferguson incident.  It is with some sadness that I see this growing racial divide in our country.  I thought we were making good progress over the years; but now it seems we are in a period of regression or entrenchment.  It makes me wonder what is going on.  Has our President, and his recent comments, reduced the racial divide or widened it?  More likely the latter, in my opinion.

I suppose, as many have said, there are numerous reasons:  unemployment, poor schools, and the breakdown in the traditional family unit, on and on.  There are, of course, no easy answers.

I am supportive of the police.  Generally speaking they do a very good job under difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.

As an FBI Agent in the 70s, I considered myself racially unbiased – for the most part.  In my prior military experience, I worked with many minorities.  In the military, quite frankly, one becomes ‘color blind’ to that sort of thing.  A couple of my best friends were African Americans – wonderful guys.  There were ‘Black’ Agents in the Bureau as well – and my feelings were the same for those of them who were my co-workers.

On the other hand, in the San Francisco Bay area, during the 70s, this was the era of the Black Panthers, the SLA, the Black Liberation Army, the Weather Underground, the Red Guerilla Family, etc., etc.  The individuals who made up these groups; well, let’s just say, I had nothing in common with them.  Many were dangerous criminals.  They were the enemy.  Harsh words, I know.  And, I also am aware that many people, now, have an idealized, albeit unrealistic image of the 70’s groups referenced above.  I do not.  All I can say is that you were not there, you didn’t know these people like I did.

Let me describe, very briefly, a typical arrest in the Oakland projects.  Four Agents would go inside the multi-story building to make the arrest.  Two Agents stayed behind, on the street, to protect the Bureau cars.  While you waited on the street, you had a bit of a dilemma.  You couldn’t hide or show fear.  Standing in plain sight, as each second passed, you wondered if someone was taking aim at your head from an adjacent building.  Going inside, well, that was like entering another world, filled with sullen, hateful, alien eyes.  You moved as fast as you could, hoping that everything would go smoothly with no confrontation.  If the subject resisted, all hell would break loose.

Are there some ‘white folks’ out there, liberal types, who would say, “I’d love to have that job.”?  I doubt it.  Are there ‘blacks’ out there who would welcome the opportunity to make an arrest in the ‘projects’?  I doubt that too.  African American Police Officers and Agents know the dangers more than anyone.

So what can we conclude about those in law enforcement?  Surprisingly, most of the guys and gals are pretty high quality, and quite rational.  Law enforcement personnel, many of them, are a cut above.  Yes, there are more than a few bad cops.  But, the majority risk their lives to protect us – and we should honor them.

Police work is not, should not, be considered warfare.  The mission of the police is to serve and to protect.  And, arresting bad people is part of protecting honest citizens.  But, in a microcosm, in the rare one on one confrontation, there are similarities to warfare.  And, we the public, should understand that.  There are risks, dangers, fears, and even sometimes collateral damage involved in enforcing the law and protecting the majority.  That’s the way it is.  That’s the way it has always been.

If I could quote John Stuart Mill (a liberal in his time) briefly, and in a slightly redacted form – with the understanding that he was speaking of war, not law enforcement.  That said, might there be some relevance in Mill’s words that we all should consider?

"The person who has nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

                                                               John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

True Nelson
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