BY IAN PATTISON
Spare a thought for the cops. Not the bad ones, but the many good ones doing their best to “serve and protect” under constant observation, persistent criticism and relentless political pressure. They are the men and women that many love to hate but who are expected to come running whenever there is trouble. And we’ve got plenty of trouble these days.
The graphic death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, under the knee of a casually violent police officer aided and abetted by three nonchalant colleagues, has proven to be the proverbial straw that broke the back of public patience. This feels like a turning point.
Floyd’s death is one of thousands at the hands of the kind of police officers who like to show whomever they encounter who’s boss. But this death, captured on a cellphone and shared widely, was the flashpoint for simmering American public anger.
It’s the same everywhere there is a minority community that does not share in the bounty that a modern society provides. That’s where public policy needs to pivot. Beyond that, police training needs a re-boot to acknowledge racism in society and why its victims feel powerless.
Born poor and black the the United States is mostly a ticket to boredom, frustration and, very often, trouble. Seeing no way to escape their fate, millions of young black men turn to crime to try and emulate the life they see their monstrously wealthy sports and entertainment idols enjoying.
It is easy to say these young men should simply “get a job,” but there are myriad strikes against them before they even try.
The larger the cities, the larger are the minority communities, and the larger the criminal element that develops within them -- out of desperation or opportunity. More get into trouble and so more are in jail. It’s a sad but true reality. And it’s getting worse as one deadly confrontation after another leaves blacks dead and black communities furious.
Poverty breeds desperation which too often ends in an encounter with the law. There are bad apples on both sides and both make life a lot harder for those trying to do their best in their own unique circumstances. Mind you, as Chris Rock once said, “I know it’s hard being a cop. But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like, pilots.”
Here in Thunder Bay, Police Chief Sylvie Hauth is working to effectively counter generalized findings of racism within the force based on interactions with Indigenous people. Her approach is crystallized in a statement that she issued on the eve of Friday’s Black Lives Matter rally in Waverley Park. “We stand today and every day in solidarity with our community and most importantly, with those who experience racism and discrimination in all forms . . . We have reached out to the event organizers and support their goal of making this event a peaceful protest . . . Our purpose in attending the protest on Friday will be to ensure public safety." As it turned out, the rally was peaceful.
For the past week, U.S. police have been getting tough on some of those demonstrating violently in the George Floyd case. In cases of peaceful protest, flagrant uses of force against protesters end up on social media. Largely unseen are most police who are patient and even interact with those demonstrating peacefully, as most are.
While the civil rights marches of the 1960s drew mostly blacks to the streets, demonstrations on behalf of George Floyd see at least as many marchers who are white, Asian, Latino. Such is the level of overall public disgust with repeated examples of cases like Floyd’s. This time, all four of his police assailants face charges. But police have awfully good lawyers so don’t expect a slam dunk case against them in spite of the video evidence.
News media don’t escape bad cops, either. The Australian prime minister is demanding an explanation after two Aussie journalists were assaulted by police on live TV outside the White House Monday during a bizarre series of events orchestrated by the U.S. president.
In film seen and marvelled at by most people on Earth by now, peaceful protesters were mowed down by shields and truncheons after Donald Trump’s team ordered police to clear a path from the White House to a nearby church and be tough about it.
Then along came Trump in some weird, triumphant march to the front of a church where he clumsily held aloft a Bible (upside-down and backwards, it is said) for a cheap photo-op aimed at keeping his Christian right base intact (televangelist Pat Roberts criticized the stunt) and burnishing his bravado after being embarrassed by reportedly being hustled into the White House bunker during protests outside.
No one’s ever accused Trump of being subtle.
Church leaders roundly criticized the president for using religious symbols for personal and political gain.
Surely we are nearing a point where even many of Trump’s most ardent admirers are saying to themselves, ‘This guy’s out of control.’ They’ve got important examples in growing numbers of religious, military, intelligence and GOP leaders who feel they can no longer stay silent.
The current Defense Secretary said Wednesday he opposes the use of the military to quell violence in U.S. cities, a stance that ran counter to Trump’s vow to invoke the Insurrection Act.
Trump’s former defence secretary James Mattis said Wednesday. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us.”
Former Republican president George Bush said it is time for America to "examine our tragic failures" and called the protests that have gripped the nation and angered Trump a "strength."
Bush and Sen. Mitt Romney say they won’t support Trump’s re-election. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he will vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Longtime conservative commentator George Will wrote this week that not only must Trump be voted out of office, so must his Republican enablers in Congress.
Trump will be livid, but finally some sense and guts are emerging in Republican ranks. Whether it extends to the basest of Trump’s backers in time to defeat him in November’s election remains to be seen. His pattern of dangerous and erratic behaviour is only getting worse, so there’s hope he’ll be gone before he goes off the deep end.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.