Black Lives Matter – sort of (part III)

If you haven’t read parts I and II, you should. Click here.

Let me be clear: one’s race should have no bearing on the question of what “matters”. A black person’s life matters as much as a white or Asian, etc. person’s, everything else being equal. I do NOT subscribe to the notion that everyone’s life “matters” equally, however. The life of someone in the final days of cancer or any disease does not matter as much as the life of a healthy young person. The life of a criminal doesn’t matter as much as that of an honest person. The lives of those two black muggers did not matter as much as my life. Skin color or ethnicity should have nothing to do with it. But in my opinion it’s misleading to says that all lives matter. For that matter (no pun intended) that meme has been adopted by overt white supremacists to mean only white lives matter and in my opinion the phrase Black Lives Matter is also racist because by excluding other races it implies that only black lives matter.

Slogans and memes are not really the point. The key issue is racism (or not) by police toward blacks, especially black men. Is it real? Yes. I know of many racist police and even a few overtly racist FBI agents, although the vast majority are not based on my experience. Many, probably most, racist officers don’t even think they are racist. They just behave towards blacks differenetly and tell racist jokes that they don’t realize are racist. The stories I’ve heard from agents in the Midwest about local police, e.g. downstate Illinois and Indiana, are especially appalling. However, it’s also true that many of the shootings or other killings by white police of black men and women were legal and reasonable. It’s too simplistic to say that just because an officer killed an unarmed black person, it’s due to racism, or that it’s illegal. People have a knee-jerk reaction to every such killing, immediately leaping to the defense (or offense) of one side or the other.

The Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, for example, which started off the movement, was justified in my opinion. Brown was a strong-arm robber who refused commands by the officer and in fact reached into the squad car to try to take the weapon of the officer just as he had taken cigarillos from the store he had robbed. Brown weighed almost 300 pounds, about 80 pounds more than the officer and it’s reasonable to assume he would have killed the officer with his own gunĀ  had he succeeded. The officer managed to retain control of the gun and shot Brown in the hand during the struggle, then chased him outside the vehicle. Brown turned to face him and the officer shot him again, killing him when Brown refused to obey commands. He did not shoot him in the back as has been alleged by some. Although he was unarmed, he had tried to arm himself to attack the officer. Brown had attacked a police officer with deadly force and was trying to escape. A peace officer, unlike a civilian, has a duty to arrest criminals and protect the public, so allowing Brown to go would have been a dereliction of duty and Brown’s refusal to comply posed a real threat to him. I don’t believe race had anything to do with it. In my case with the muggers, I had no such affirmative duty since I was off-duty and robbery is not a federal crime within my jurisdiction as an FBI agent in any event, any more than giving out parking tickets would be, so I would not have been justified once they turned and left.

The George Floyd case was very different. I’ve tried to imagine any set of circumstances that would justify kneeling on his neck for eight or nine minutes while he was handcuffed and lying on the street. I cannot conceive of any. That was a clear case of murder in my view and likely racism played a big part. The carotid restraint cases are seldom cut and dried, but I can confirm that I was taught that method at the FBI Academy as a new agent. The Breonna Taylor case is also difficult to judge because of conflicting information and lack of access to all the facts. I think there was fault on all sides, including Breonna’s boyfriend and the officer who prepared the warrant. At the very least, officers should not be shooting blindly without knowing for sure who they are shooting at and having a clear view. The warrant shouldn’t have been served at night. It’s important to serve a warrant on an occupied dwelling when the residents can see that you are police. Uniforms or raid jackets should be worn. They also shouldn’t shoot unless they know there’s no innocent party (i.e. Breonna) who could get hit by their shots, even if they are being shot at. Those officers shot blindly and wildly all over the place, including into neighboring houses, as soon as gunfire erupted. That’s gross negligence and not proper police methodology, but it’s not murder and race probably had little or nothing to do with it.

Perhaps worst of all, the extremism on both sides of this issue has resulted in demonstrations that have turned violent and divided the nation. This only plays into the hands of the worst elements of our society. It was right-wing Boogaloo Boys who killed two officers and seriously wounded another during a BLM demonstration in Oakland, not pro-BLM marchers. Looters take advantage of the chaos to steal and vandalize. Police chiefs and good officers end up resigning or being fired while the bad street cops often retain their jobs. Other officers become convinced that demonstrators are anti-police and that sometimes justifies in their minds the very behavior the demonstrators are protesting against. BLM marches do more harm than good in my opinion. What is needed is a better system for holding police accountable. There should be no police unions. There should be an expert panel judging such cases of police misconduct and it should not consist of people who are dependent on police support, such as elected judges or arbitrators. I have no solutions to the race-police problem, but I can tell you that the BLM movement isn’t one. It’s harmful.

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