In the wake of the recent tragedy, I attempted to contact an officer that I had met in order to get his take on the whole ordeal. To offset his side, Jeff Grunewald, who specializes in the study of hate crime, had agreed to answer some questions. Unfortunately, the officer never responded and History Books never took on the Ferguson case.
With the non-indictments of both officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I felt that I needed to write something down, say something out loud. Nothing said here will change anything, but at least for my peace of mind, I want to be able say it.
I don't necessarily have a unique view, but because of my occupation I am able to see certain sides that I think some people cannot see. Let me start with a few things.
Unless you are a police officer, you have no idea how terrifying and difficult that job can be. I have taken some 911 phone calls that have scared the shit out of me, and I cannot imagine actually being there and dealing with those people and those situations in person. I won't say it is a thankless job because they tend to pat each other on the back and there are many out there who respect what they do. I consider myself included. They put themselves at risk every day to ensure order and maintain peace.
However. . .
I have met some officers who actively seek conflict. I have watched officers who thrive off of the adrenaline rush, who create games and contests at the expense of citizens. Short tempered and abrasive, some officers demand respect, and when it is not given, things get out of hand. I have never witnessed any officer I have worked with ever display what I thought was excessive force. But I heard the stories they told and picked up on their attitudes. It's a tough job and quite possibly the only way to cope is to become tougher.
On the other hand, I met plenty of officers who truly cared about their communities, who strove to be a positive force. One explained to me that he never liked pulling over people without a good reason because he knew it was scary. I couldn't believe my ears! At one agency, the traffic stops increased when the officers got bored. I'm sure there are plenty of statistics involved and perhaps some quotas to fill. But in the end, it seemed to me, and this has been acknowledged by other dispatchers, that there are two types of officers: those who do their job and those who live their job.
Which type of officers killed those two men?
The answer is irrelevant. The fact is that both Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo took another person's life.
Whether they were good at their jobs or were bullies in uniforms does not matter at this point. There HAS to be repercussions for killing another human being.
There have been unfortunate whispers in the discussion as to why no one cares about black on black crime, or stories of a black officer killing a white citizen.These tangents do not take away the amount of black lives that have been erased by law enforcement. And shame on any of you who tried those antics. You were belittling two lives.
The "what about this?" argument accomplishes nothing. When an Indianapolis police officer passed away in the line of duty, the community mourned his loss. When people were run down in Broad Ripple, the community mourned their loss. The majority of this country does not delight in violence and whether you or the Facebook posts you read are aware of it, THERE ARE PEOPLE TRYING TO DO THINGS ABOUT IT.
Peace Over Violence
...just to name a few.
And, again unfortunately, officers are always going to back each other. It's a brotherhood that seems to ignore certain moralities and says, "I'm here for you no matter what." An admiral sentiment, and even an understandable one. No one but fellow officers can understand the hardships they face. Blind support, however, has its snags. What happens when their brothers are wrong? Neither Michael Brown nor Eric Garner had a brotherhood to lean on. The police community will rally around fallen officers or endangered officers, for good reasons. But the community has to be able to acknowledge its mistakes because these facts cannot be denied:
Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner. Neither were held accountable for their actions. Part of me thinks that the reason they were not indicted was to save Ferguson from further harm, but does the grand jury and the police force understand the message they are sending to us? Neither man's life was worthy enough to be looked at in a court of justice. Think about that. It would be one thing if the facts showed in court that there was a shadow of doubt, that there was some truth to Officer Wilson's story, and they were acquitted by a jury. But the families do not even get that.
In both cases, at least from a 911 dispatcher's point of view, protocol was broken. Speaking to a couple dispatchers, one of whom used to be an officer and another who is a veteran, provided their thoughts on the matter: If Wilson's account is true, they said, they would have fired 20 more times. But even then, they should have gone to trial to present a defense, to at least give some dignity to Michael Brown who was shot multiple times and left in the street to rot.
What do we do now? Are we to be terrified or defiant? The backlash against protesting, both peaceful and violent, has been huge. But what do we do? Our country just told us twice in a brief period of time that these two citizens, these two black men, did not matter enough to receive a fair trial by a jury of their peers. What if the only way to be heard is through destruction?
I heard this question often: why would you destroy your own community?
Because your own community just told you that your life isn't worth a god damn.
I do not hate cops. I am thankful for the service they provide and I do my best to follow the laws that they were hired to enforce.
But black lives DO matter. Criminal lives DO matter. Homeless, deadbeat, white trash, immigrant lives DO matter. Police officers' lives DO matter.
Whatever Michael Brown did that day does not matter. A confrontation occurred between an unarmed man and an officer who sat in a running vehicle with multiple non-lethal options at his fingertips, one of which he did not take with him that day because it was cumbersome. Whatever Eric Garner did that day does not matter. According to the video, he was nonviolent. And even if he said the worst possible thing a man can say to another man, Officer Pantaleo had a fucking duty to serve and protect that man. If a law was in fact broken, then there is protocol in place so that officers would not have to resort to a choke-hold--a tactic that had since been disbanded.
Now the grass is deader on every side. Black men will be more defiant, demanding to be treated as equals, to not be hassled. And officers, who are already on edge, will respond with their continued history of aggression. I can't tell you how many calls I've received saying that there were suspicious black men in the area. One time, we caught a thief! Another time, two men were sitting in their car on their lunch break. Another time, a man was stopped while walking home from work. And you know what? Nine times out of ten, the officers are RESPONDING TO A CITIZEN'S CALL. Very rarely does an officer self-initiate a suspicious activity. We are the ones asking them to see what those black men are up to.
On the other side, officers have one goal at the end of the day: to make it home. They are going to shoot you before you shoot them. And can you honestly blame them, with the shit they have to see? That badge gives you a right to carry a gun, and I think most of the general public puts their trust in you to make the right decision. You won't always make the right decision. And when you don't, you have to admit it.
Would anything have changed if Officer Wilson had come out immediately and said, "Yes, I shot and killed Michael Brown. I wish that I hadn't, but my life was in danger and it was the decision I made"? I don't know. It certainly would have been better than the PR circus that followed, slandering the deceased Brown's name and ultimately attempting to justify those shots fired.
The ends do not justify the means. Criminals are put into prison, not fired upon. And unarmed citizens should not shot multiple times or choked until they die. Again, any past transgressions are irrelevant now. Even if Mike Brown stole some cigarillos, does that justify his murder? How can a terrorist or school shooter or theater shooter be kept alive to stand trial when a man minding his own business on the streets of New York City is murdered without a second thought given to his killer?
A precedent hasn't been set--it has been fortified. Two unarmed, black citizens were murdered by police officers and not one god damn thing has been done about it.
There is an impasse: officers will not want to give up their guns. The minute they follow non-lethal protocol, an officer will be killed and we will have another controversial tragedy on our hands. But I guarantee you the man who kills him, regardless of his skin color, will see the inside of a courtroom. Here is the only point I am making: Michael Brown's life was worth just as much as Darren Wilson's life and should be treated that way. Eric Garner's life was worth the same amount as any officer. His passing should be mourned by the country. An officer understands and accepts the risks and responsibilities when he puts on that uniform--he chose this profession. What choice does a black man have? Dress the way white people want him to so that he doesn't look like a thug? What about a poor man? Mexican immigrant?
I am in NO WAY down-playing what law enforcement has to face and the demons that probably torment them for the decisions they have to make. I can almost guarantee that both Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo made a thousand good and right choices that helped citizens and their communities, decisions that hurt no one, decisions that caused them to quietly and thanklessly sacrifice certain things and we should be grateful for that duty. But they both made just one terrible decision, whether or not you think it was warranted. The bottom line is that these officers killed two black men, to add on to the growing list, and walked away without anyone in the judicial system even saying, "Wait a second, let's at least give this a once over." Both officers could have been exonerated, but at least they would have stood trial and held accountable. But they weren't, and our country sent a message loud and clear: black lives do not matter.