Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Trend Of Violence

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Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American high school student, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily living.  Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York City, after a police officer put him in a chokehold for 15 seconds.  A grand jury decided not to indict the officers involved.

Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  The Justice Department formally closed its investigation of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, declining to bring criminal charges for the killing.

Most recently, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who was a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, sustained fatal injuries from being shot multiple times by police officers. 

OK, Zimmerman was a civilian law enforcement wannabe, rather than an actual police officer.  However, it was his lapse in judgment, and subsequent acquittal, which, seemingly inspired, this decade’s sickest new trend, officer perpetrated crime against the public.  Granted, such abuse of power isn’t a new phenomenon.  1992 will forever be remembered as the year L.A. was torn apart following the acquittal of the officers who savagely beat, taxi driver, Rodney King.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying we’re hearing about officer on civilian violence much more often than we used to.  The question is, is it happening more often, or are we simply more aware of such events?

The tech side of me suspects that the existence of camera phones and social media has given a voice to a traditionally mute portion of the populace, making it harder for officials to sweep incidents under the proverbial rug.  Thus, it’s only our awareness of such incidents which has increased.  Of course, this explanation carries with it the unsettling implication that we’ve been blissfully unaware of the degree of oppression we’ve been living under.

Another explanation would be that the police are made up of a generation which grew up on Dirty Harry, and are more gun happy as a result.  This theory strikes me as being simple minded.  Surely, adults can differentiate between fiction and reality.

Personally, I think the explanation can be found within the realm of mathematics.  In 1974 the world’s population was 4 billion people, by 2011 that number had risen to 7 billion people.  Perhaps I’m a naive suburbanite, but I believe 99.999% of police personnel are honest hard working men & women who put their lives on the line to protect the public.  I’d argue that the percentage of officers prone to making unfortunate choices may still be minute, but because the gross number of people occupying the Earth has increased, the same minute percentage of officers prone to making unfortunate choices represents a higher number.

While math can explain the higher number of negative incidents, it doesn’t address the lack of indictments and guilty verdicts resulting from those incident.  It’s true that most of us (the public at large) don’t watch every minute of such court proceedings. Thus, there may be evidentiary factors we’re not aware of.  However, when an officer puts twelve rounds into an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, and no charges are filed, the evidentiary explanation becomes suspect.

Police, necessarily, adopt a policy of mutual support.  When they enter a potentially dangerous situation, they HAVE TO KNOW that fellow officers have their back.  Such faith becomes so ingrained in them that it becomes instinctive.  While this attitude is necessary for daily survival, it can be seen as a liability when it leads to covering for one another.  Although I have no proof such an attitude has squelched the prosecution of any of these cases, I strongly suspect this mindset to be the culprit.

The recent Baltimore riots, while destructive, have motivated officials to charge the 6 police officers, involved in Freddie Gray’s death, with crimes ranging from second-degree depraved heart murder* to voluntary manslaughter.  Millions of people will be watching to see what happens next.  Good money says, if the 6 officers are found not guilty, the public’s response will make the recent riots look like a church social.

*=(second-degree depraved heart murder holds that the suspect held a reckless disregard for another person’s life.)
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