Memphis et al
The headline of today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune was hardly a surprise. Here it is, as found at our door this morning.
I don’t find much point in commenting directly about the latest tragedies. There is an abundance of news. Tyre and the others are not the first and unfortunately not the last. I’ve commented on many of these situations before. May 29, 2020, was the first of 39 blogs in the past 3 years that at minimum mentioned George Floyd; before that, July 9, 2016, was the first of four posts with mentions of Philando Castile’s death. And so on.
What I prefer to do is to share a small amount of personal perspective, along with a recommendation for personal reflection.
First, the recommendation. Recently, Sonya recommended a 1964 book by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Strength to Love, which I mentioned a week or two ago: see MLKs birthday.
I’ve had the book for years, and decided to re-read it, one chapter a day, each chapter about eight pages or so. Today was Chapter 12 – I have 5 to go, It is an enriching collection of food for thought; for personal centering in these confusing times. Whatever your ‘brand’ of belief, or your bias, it will give you something to think about – your relationship to today and to the future.
The book is an expansion of sermons given by MLK early in his career in Montgomery, Alabama, (1954-60) essentially around the period after the Bus Boycott of 1956.
What is most remarkable to me is that King, born January, 1929, would have been in his 20s and early 30s when he preached these sermons.
You can read his thoughts for yourself.
In each reflection, my opinion, MLK acknowledges that we are all individuals in this world of often conflicting beliefs and ideas.
The search for our own ideal is never to be found – there is no pot of gold at the end of our rainbows – but we can contribute to a better world, one deed at a time, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances.
Some, like MLK, seem to make a bigger difference than others, but even King’s perceived success was built by legions of individual acts of courage by the people who participated.
I think back to my own imperfect days as an advocate for public school teachers, which began over 50 years ago.
By circumstance more than design, I happened to become a teacher representative coincident with the negotiation of the first collectively bargained contract under a new Minnesota bargaining law which took effect in 1972.
None of us, management or labor, were very conversant with the new rules of engagement. Management didn’t know how to collaborate with labor; labor didn’t know how to exercise its new power. There was an abundance of mistakes made by all parties, on both sides, including within labor and the community at large.
One of the early observations I made, as a novice, was that our side, represented by our bargaining team, was always frustrated at the end of negotiations. We never, ever, reached our goals, which we always thought were reasonable. The teachers we represented probably agreed with our assessment. Always we found ourselves compromising on some never-give-up item or other.
Each time, two years later, back to the table we went, same process, same results.
One year, maybe five or six years into my career, I took a bit of time to try to quantify whether or not we had accomplished anything at all on one crucial issue about which we couldn’t even legally bargain, but which was a constant frustration to our members.
Long story short, I was astonished at how much progress we had actually made in those years, but hadn’t recognized, because each time we were looking at what we hadn’t achieved, rather than valuing what we (labor and management) had, together.
I’ve never forgotten that.
Looking to the present, the years MLK became enrolled in the movement, the status quo was indeed dismal for his constituency.
By no means has the promised land been reached in 2023, but the foundation and the lay of the land is much different now than it was…if one takes the time to reflect back on the fact that a great deal of positive has been accomplished, while continuing the great deal of work remaining towards building a better future for us all.
Keep on, keeping on. As the saying goes, “be the change you wish to see”.
POSTNOTES: Joyce Vance, The Importance of Video
Last night we watched the latest remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the classic about the end of WWII. It is not a ‘feel good’ movie, that is for sure; but like Memphis and all the rest the movie provides a huge amount of food for reflection.
I felt similarly after viewing the latest SciFi hit, “Avatar, the Way of Water”, last week.
COMMENTS (more at end of post):
“Our Librarian Was Forced to Remove a Quote by a Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel.”
Tragic and nothing can explain what happened let alone why the severe beating and death occurred. Generally peaceful protests have followed the release of the video given that the officers involved were all black. Had they all been white, the protests would have been much greater and much more intense.
Respectfully, I disagree with your last point “all been white”. I have watched this process over the years, and it has been my observation that there has been an intentional change in tone of demonstrations especially in the non-white community. In the Memphis case, you might recall the mother of the victim in Memphis publicly and almost immediately urging non-violent response. There is always potential for unrest as you know. The community, writ large, can and does help to set the tone. There is a great deal more to be said. We’ll see what transpires.
Memphis: the matter at hand is not racism when 5 African American cops murder 1 African American man. The matter at hand is for a variety of reasons American police respond disproportionately in many cases, and they are trained that the first mandate is compliance. While there are “bad apples”, I think something more is going on, it is related to training, mentality, power. 25% of USA police officers are ex military, and while that is not an indictment, there is “warrior” training across the country for officers that respond to American citizens deemed constitutionally innocent in a way that is similar to wartime response to terrorist or hostile combatants. Disturbing.
The good news is that videos, body cams being required work(though officers seem to have noticeably been moving away from the activity occasionally in a deliberate manner, and that should be addressed in a punitive manner within cities and departments). Less than even 10 years ago this might have been explained by the old trope of the “suspect tried to take an officers gun” and therefore what happened , happened.
I havent seen “All Quiet on the Western Front” yet. I have seen the first version done very soon after the publication of the novel, and the 1970s version. I read one review of it which suggested it might be a bit too violent, a friend who is well read on WWI military history suggested that it wasnt possibly an accurate representation of the actual history, mainly because it condensed the chaos and violence into too broad a context, his take was like many wars, the actual situation was one of days or weeks of boredom and quiet followed by short bursts of extreme violence. (neither seems a good thing) The other thing the movie review suggested is that politicians interfered with the actuality of the war, extending the madness, and by implication affecting the conduct of the army involved. I havent seen it again so I dont know this, however the reviewer made the point that this is a dangerous argument particularly in Germany as it comes very close to the “dolschstosslegende” or stab in the back theory that lit the extreme right Nazi movement in the Weimar period and was directly linked to anti Semitism. Any thoughts on that?
My Grandpa Busch was the first from his family to migrate to the U.S. in 1870 or so. He was well educated. It was said that he came specifically because of the war winds beginning to blow hard in Germany (the Kaiser and the pretensions of a second Reich, the first being the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne…). The story made sense, but it was only a story. Grandpa’s brother, in a 1925 letter back to the home country, in a long letter in German (which I had translated) lamented the lust for war and its cost.)
Your other general comment about condensing violence is probably true. I only had two years of pre-Vietnam experience in the Army, and what was true in training is also true in war: long periods of (expletive deleted) nothings; interspersed by extremely hard and sometimes dangerous maneuvers playing war. The Medals of Honor go to those who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and reacted out of instinct rather than pre-planning on being a hero. And, of course, a lot of Medals of Honor go to people who didn’t live long enough to receive the honor, or even get home alive.
The movie is worth seeing. I didn’t see the prior films.
I watched the versions of the four videos that the Washington Post posted yesterday, all four, all the way through. I watched a couple of them several times. …as I have with others of the recent past (George Floyd, and, unfortunately, others.) And I find that I am getting really perturbed over the way US media – print and electronic, at least – describes these videos in words, both before and after their release – poisoning the well of public opinion. One is tempted, after reading the descriptions, not to watch the videos themselves. They will be too horrific, and one already “knows” what happened. This time may have been the most disconnected from reality. To anyone who thinks they know what happened in Memphis because they’ve read the accounts, I say – Watch the videos.
Dick, your correspondent Jeff D. Pricco is correct that in America the police “…are trained that the first mandate is compliance…” Yes, true, and that is for the most excellent of reasons – without compliance, the job of interacting with the most dangerous elements of the public become exponentially more dangerous. I reject categorically any suggestion that any citizen does not owe a Police Officer, acting in his official capacity, full compliance in the moment.
I have interacted on multiple occasions with Police, and, sadly, not only for traffic stops. On traffic stops, I have been ordered at one time or another to move the car, to not move the car, to stay in the car, and to get out of the car. I have never even considered not complying with WHATEVER I have been ordered to do or not do.
My late father, a member of what we now call “the working poor” gave me age-appropriate versions of “The Talk” (the sex one, too, but here I’m talking about the cops one) numerous times as I was growing up. No, “The Talk” is not just for members of minority populations, and it never was. All my white working poor friends in Chicago in the 60s and 70s got it too. Dad gave it to me, my brother, and both my sisters multiple times (always individually, one-on-one) as we were growing up, in spite of the fact that his best friend throughout his 20s and 30s (and Best Man at his wedding) was a Chicago traffic cop. Or, maybe because he was… Though he never said this, perhaps he just wanted to be sure that some random cop was not to be confused by any of us with our friendly “Uncle” Ken. I gave The Talk to my daughter. Even though I’m nobody’s idea of working poor. Every parent should give The Talk. And it should touch on both fear AND, especially, respect.
I remember the one upon getting my driver’s license at age 16 most clearly. The highlight was that when the flashing lights go on “…you have already lost. There will be no more winning today. You can lose a LOT more, but you cannot win. Cooperate, and do everything asked of you without complaint. If you feel strongly that you NEED to win, that you are right and he is wrong, remember all the times you drove 10mph over the speed limit, or slow-rolled through a stop sign, or forgot to signal a turn, and didn’t get a ticket. Even if there was no cop around at the time, THOSE were your wins, and you are way ahead on the scoreboard. If his flashers are on, you lost today and it’s over already. Cooperate and be polite. You don’t know what the rest of his day has been like. He may already be pissed over someone else. Take it to court later if you need to. You don’t win today.” And in fact, I have done that. And I have both won(!) and lost in court, too.
When I look at those videos, what I see is a motorist who, from the very first instant of interaction, is outrageously non-compliant. Just over-the-top noncompliant. And things escalate from there. And, incredibly, at no time, until we get to the part where we can’t really tell whether he is even conscious or not, does he become compliant.
I can well understand why some jurisdictions are banning this kind of Police activity (chase, struggle in the face of non-compliance, etc.) when the subject is easily identifiable (they had his car, after all…) and presumably will be easier to arrest later, and there is no immediate threat to the life of any other(s). Because what you see in those videos is ABSOLUTELY a consequence of noncompliance in the absence of such restrictions. We cannot reform “cop training” to eliminate this without getting cops killed by actual criminals. This was not a gratuitous beating. It was a beating in the act of obtaining necessary compliance. If all one does is read the media accounts, you develop a mental picture of five cops surrounding a helpless guy, punching and kicking him. WATCH THE VIDEOS. That is not what is on the videos. This motorist was not even compliant while they were in the process of restraining his wrists and ankles. It wasn’t until they finished both of those tasks, and he COULDN’T move, that he finally stopped moving in ways that they were TELLING him NOT to move.
Watch the videos. Count the orders. I lost count, but there are over 100. None are affirmatively complied with. None.
There were way more than five cops involved. I expect there will be more charges, or at least more disciplinary actions. If nothing else, the cops there, but not directly involved, and the paramedics who arrived, are likely to face some kind of consequences for doing next-to-nothing for over 20 minutes after the subject is subdued. He’s obviously hurting. And even if it hadn’t been so obvious that he was hurting, you’d think the officers who were directly involved would know that he HAD to be hurting, and instructing the later arrivers to care for him. Nobody at the scene seemed to care. I get it – They’re really pissed at this guy, and justifiably so. Five seconds into the first video, I’M pissed at this guy. But they’re also sworn to serve and protect, and after subduing him, the burdens shift. They needed to be able to make that shift, or they are not fit to serve.
I know I, or anyone else, saying what I’ve said here will be accused of “blaming the victim”. I’m mature enough not to care about that sort of nonsense any more. I’m blaming everyone, here, because there was no one involved who was blameless. And I’m saying with full conviction that until they ignored the health of the man finally in their custody, there WAS no “victim” – just a motorist, pulled over, who was grossly non-compliant, and cops who were trying to subdue him to obtain the necessary compliance to proceed with their jobs. Unless Memphis is a jurisdiction that has banned that, they were doing their jobs.
Again, watch the videos.
Thanks again Dick for a thought-provoking article and for reminding me to check out some of MLKs writings for their current value for my personal journey. I appreciate the advice not to only look for the ideal way to personally make a difference, but rather remember to appreciate the contributions one has made and continue to make small contributions every day. Sometimes looking for the perfect prevents the better from happening. Great advice!