Author Archives: PB Goodfriend

Bottoms up – starting a conversation for change in the rural South

“I’ve always believed that change doesn’t come from the top down; it comes from the bottom up.”

-President Barack Obama, September, 2009

It’s been Obama’s mantra since the beginning of his administration, and even before, when he first ran for president in 2008. Search for “top down bottom up,” and you will be overwhelmed by the number hits. Change comes from the bottom up. Politics comes from the bottom up. Economic growth comes from the bottom up. Innovation comes from the bottom up.

It’s a little bit ironic, then, that when the red states in the Old South take a bottom-up approach that appears to gain some traction in getting us out of the socio-political wilderness, the national party – seeing the potential for dollars and power – sweeps in to scoop us up, as if to say, “Thanks for all you’ve done. We’re professionals. We’ll take it from here.”

Jeana Brown, Dawn Collins, Haley Shank, Sharon Hill

Participants deliver their message at a conference for Team Rural in Brunswick, Georgia, March 21, 2015. Clockwise from top left: Jeana Brown, Dawn Collins, Haley Shank, Sharon Hill

That is exactly what happened in the 2014 midterms, according to a small group of rural progressives gathered in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia, Saturday, to lament about last year’s elections and the overall attitude state and national party officials have toward the folks who have a lot of passion about the direction of our communities but not enough money to be heard.

The sense of abandonment was palpable. “This shit’s got to stop,” railed an impassioned Jeana Brown, the Democratic activist from Georgia who organized the one-day event under her Team Rural banner. “We’re the ones [out here] doing this.”

“The messaging is pitiful with the Democratic Party,” complained Dawn Collins, a political consultant and former Democratic chair from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She described the passion of the party for the rural voter as milquetoast, at best. “They’re so afraid of upsetting the conservative base, so fearful that they won’t get [the votes of] a few conservatives,” she said, that they spent very few resources “preaching to the base and rallying up the base.”

The party’s message was “neither hot nor cold,” she said, quoting a verse in Revelations. Rather, she said it was “lukewarm,” as the passage goes, and so, she warned, we “will spew you out.”

It’s the kind of message that resonated with the mostly rural crowd. “What can we do,” a frustrated attendee asked, “to come back from this staggering stupidity?”

“We have to keep it real,” Haley Shank, a self-described Jewish Democrat from a small, southwest Georgia town, and a former candidate for the state legislature answered. “We cannot be holding on to [candidates who] are bringing down our hard work” just because of their lust for power. “Your candidates,” she advised, “if they’re not reaching out to you in between election seasons, then they’re not doing their job, and they’re not going to do it for you in [government].”

Collins agreed, and had a message for the state and national parties, and elected officials. “What we have to do different is operate in integrity,” she said. “Don’t sell your people out.”

Brown insisted that grassroots, rural movements can only succeed through action. “One of the first things we learned in the [2008] Obama campaign was strategy. If you get a roomful of people, get them to do an action.”

Getting involved and staying involved is “politics at its best,” agreed Sharon Hill, a political consultant from just outside Atlanta. She was advocating for growing the local Women’s Political Caucus. “We hold them accountable. That’s what we haven’t done.”

One way we can do that is to work together to fix things. “We have to reach across the aisle,” Shank said. “I think putting ourselves in that bright blue box can be kind of limiting at times, when a lot of our issues are not Democrat or Republican.

“Banning fracking in the United States is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Ending these pipelines and getting rid of eminent domain, this is not Democrat or Republican. In fact, Democrats will find that a lot of times, Libertarians line up with them on these things.”

The inaction and apathy isn’t just a problem for Democrats either, Shank told the group. It’s an issue for Republicans, too. After all, monied interest have also co-opted some of their grassroots groups. That puts the burden on all Americans who work to improve the future of our country. “We’re all kind of failing,” she added, near the end of the day. “We’re all kind of failing to meet each other where we are.”

As Hill noted, “This is a ‘we’ thing. When we join together, we get it done.”


Tom doesn’t cotton to Iran, Obama or the rest of the world

Diplomats around the world continue to scratch their heads over freshman Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Arkansas) stunt insulting the Iranians and upsetting the integrity of U.S. negotiated agreements with foreign governments. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate committee, Wednesday, the letter “risks undermining the confidence that foreign governments in thousands of important agreements commit to with the United States.”

As to the Iranians, Cotton certainly doesn’t care what they’re take on the letter was. “Our constituents elected us to the Senate, in part, to protect them from bad agreements like this and to help ensure their safety and security,” he wrote in an unapologetic op-ed in USA Today, “[a]nd that is what we intend to do.”

“What’s the point of writing to the Iranian mullahs,” Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked the smug senator during an interview he had with her, Tuesday night. “They’ve dismissed it already as ‘pfft, whatever…'”

“We need to be crystal clear with the leaders of Iran,” Cotton explained to Kelly, “Any deal that’s not approved by Congress, won’t be accepted by Congress – not now and certainly not in the future.”

Tom Cotton and the other 46 members of the Republican Party who share his ignorance are having trouble distinguishing the difference between a treaty, which must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, and an executive agreement with a foreign government, which does not require Congressional approval. As the State Department explains on a web page titled “Treaty vs. Executive Agreement:”

“…there are two procedures under domestic law through which the United States becomes a party to an international agreement. First, international agreements… whose entry into force with respect to the United States takes place only after two thirds of the U.S. Senate has given its advice and consent… are ‘treaties.’ Second, international agreements brought into force with respect to the United States on a constitutional basis other than with the advice and consent of the Senate are ‘international agreements other than treaties’ and are often referred to as ‘executive agreements.'”

Many of the signatories to the letter are just waking up to the realization that their misguided enthusiasm to go all out against the international group negotiating the agreement with the Iranians has wider ranging implications, when all they really wanted to do was take a very public stand against Obama. They didn’t understand that confronting Obama challenges “more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy,” as the Secretary of State put it.

At Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) admitted Obama was the target of the letter all along. “I signed the letter to Iran, but you know what, the message I was sending was to you. The message was to President Obama,” Paul said. “The letter was to Iran but it should have been CC’d to the White House.”

The GOP signers were just trying to be a bigger pain in Obama’s arse than they already are. In a piece on The Daily Beast, Tim Mak writes:

“Republican aides were taken aback by the response to what what they thought was a lighthearted attempt to signal to Iran and the public that Congress should have a role in the ongoing nuclear discussions. Two GOP aides separately described their letter as a ‘cheeky’ reminder of the congressional branch’s prerogatives.

“‘The administration has no sense of humor when it comes to how weakly they have been handling these negotiations,’ said a top GOP Senate aide.”

Yep, jeopardizing our international standing over domestic politics is a regular riot. It leaves our allies shaking their heads and the Iranians grinning from ear to ear.


Israel, Iran and the chutzpah of Netanyahu

Netanyahu campaign posters in Jerusalem

Netanyahu campaign posters in Jerusalem during 2009 Israeli elections. (By David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons)

The speech is over, in all its anti-climactic glory. Bibi stood up for Israel, and roughly ninety percent of the U.S. Congress stood up for him – over and over and over again – except when he praised President Obama and all he has done for the Jewish State, when only the Democrats in attendance stood up.

“I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention,” he insisted. But it was, and not only here, but in Israel, where elections are only two weeks away.

“The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics,” reads a January op-ed on Ynet, an online news site for the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth. “They are helping Netanyahu beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their rival there. It’s dangerous. It’s poisonous. It’s not so amusing anymore.”

A poke in the eye – that’s how the media is portraying Speaker of the House, John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister to speak to the Congress of the United States on Iran, its nuclear program and the push for stronger sanctions against the Shi’ite Islamic Republic.

The ploy is as obvious to the White House as it is to the Israeli public. But it’s not so much to “humiliate” Obama that they want to hear from Bibi, as much as it is to remind us all what it was like in the Bush years, when we didn’t negotiate or have any kind of meaningful dialogue with the two remaining members of W’s “axis of evil,” Iran and North Korea. To them, any negotiation is appeasement, any dialogue a validation of a wretched regime.

The talks are nothing more than “appeasement, conciliation, and concessions toward Iran,” and should be abandoned in exchange for a push toward “regime change” in the ancient Mideast power, freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) told a Heritage Foundation conservative summit, earlier this year.

“We negotiate from a position of strength,” Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz told CNN, Monday. “We do not do this through appeasement and bickering.” And how would the sabre rattling Republican show strength? “If it was up to me,” he told Wolf Blitzer, “if I was the President of the United States — we would take out that threat.”

And it seems Netanyahu also was referring to Chamberlainization of Western nation negotiators when he said to Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, who attended his speech to Congress, “I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past; not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.”

[Read the transcript of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress]

Bibi was explaining the importance of the post-Holocaust standard “Never Again!” He promised the Jewish people, through the great Elie Wiesel, “I can guarantee you this. The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.” And because we have Israel, and Israel has a strong army, “For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.”

Listen, Bibi, you arrogant chutzpahnik, don’t think you can turn Jewish pride in Israel into pride of your defense of Israel, and don’t lecture me on the meaning of “Never again!” Your implication that those of us who disagree with you are the same as the passive faithful who were tragically led to the slaughter is wrong and insulting. Activism wears many hats in the Diaspora and in Israel, where this stunt of yours might not defeat you (regretfully), but it should make you think about what you’re saying and to whom you are speaking.

A Jew who does not stand with you, Mr. Prime Minister, is still a Jew. It could be argued that real passivity lies in the acquiescence to your leadership. It’s easy for a Jew to do. It involves pride in Israel, which most of us, including myself, were raised on. It’s cathartic, but the goal is for Israel to be a country that survives not only out of the strength of its army, but also out of the power of its diplomacy.

The problem for you and the Republicans is you both see negotiating with the enemy as a weakness. You both seek capitulation through intimidation. For Republicans, it’s the fantasy that it was Reagan’s powerful persona that ended the Cold War.

For you, it’s faith and birthright and the incredulous notion that security comes from the belief that Israel is most safe when it gives no quarter. It is true that as a people, Jews have none to give, but to be a respected player in the world of nations, the State of Israel must show a commitment to negotiate for peace. She cannot last forever as a country with her dukes up and her back against a wall. Other prime ministers have realized that. Why not you?

The weakness of the stance Netanyahu is taking was not lost on members of Congress, even the Jewish ones. “He seemed to say that there was no way, in any way, to ever trust Iran. Which says to me you can’t have a deal with Iran,” Sen Barbara Boxer (D-California) told reporters, “and then he said, ‘Well, why don’t you work for a better deal?'”

“I don’t know what he’s saying,” she added, “I think he had circular reasoning.”

Kentucky Democrat, Rep. John Yarmouth, who is also Jewish, called the speech “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook,” and echoed many who found the prime minister’s tone “condescending,” as if “he didn’t think anybody in Congress or the country understood the threat that a nuclear, weaponized Iran poses to his country, to the region and to the world.”

Where Bibi sees this as a negotiation to avert war, negotiators are engaged only in talks to avert a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu’s idea of successful negotiation would be one where “world powers… insist that Iran change its behavior” in regard to what he called its role as the “foremost sponsor of global terrorism.”

Not surprisingly, it’s very similar to his attitude toward the dormant peace process between his government and the Palestinians. Some may say that arrogance is as Israeli as a kibbutz, but Netanyahu took it to a new level last summer, when, in a news conference conducted solely in Hebrew, he told reporters what he really thought of the two-state solution and any effort by the U.S. to negotiate peace in the region. As the Times of Israel reported:

“He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. And he more than intimated that he considers the current American, John Kerry-led diplomatic team to be, let’s be polite, naive.”

That goes a long way to explaining his condescension to Congress, Tuesday, and I’m sad to say, confirms his unwillingness to be a partner for peace, as long as his party runs the Israeli government. Maybe it will all backfire, and Obama and the 60 or so Democrats who did not go to the joint session to hear Bibi, by not wanting to appear to interfere with the upcoming Israeli elections, will, by their absence, have done just that.


Satire, rhetoric, war and truth

If the pen is mightier than the sword, but words can never hurt you because only sticks and stones will break your bones, then the truth is that the power lies not in the weapon, but in the intentions of those who wield it.

As the late comedian, George Carlin, said in his 1972 monologue, Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television:

“I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal. It is a matter of how you pick them… [There are] no bad words, [there are] bad thoughts, bad intentions and words.”

There can be no doubt that the intention of the now infamous Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continue to be used to hurt, to incite a negative reaction among the billion plus Muslims around the world. The French will tell you that it is precisely because the Muslims are offended that the cartoons must continue to be published. It is, after all, their right to poke fun at others whom they see as unenlightened. It also seems very French, and smacks of the worst elements of European colonialism, the prevailing attitude that European culture is superior to the savage tribal hordes’ visceral attachment to superstition and mythology.

Photo by Prose and Thorn

Photo by Prose and Thorn

In the ten days since the vicious attacks in Paris, I find myself reflecting on the way we showed support for the victims. When we march holding signs that say, “Je suis Charlie,” does it mean we are supporting the offensive content of the magazine, or merely the right of a satirical newspaper to publish that material? If I am Charlie, then I bear some of the responsibility for the mass demonstrations across the Arab world, no?

On the other hand, if by claiming to be Charlie – or Ahmed or a Jew, as some signs said – we are declaring that we are all potential victims of intolerance that can result in murder, that takes us to a much deeper place. There, we are both Charlie and the Muslim demonstrators, we are Jews and anti-Semitic journalists and jesters. We are Israel and Gaza. It’s really difficult to feel superior if we see ourselves as both the victims and the perpetrators.

Indeed, it creates an opportunity to experience the true brotherhood of humanity. We can hold tightly to isolationist notions of exclusivity and superiority based on faith or culture, or we can see that what we all really fear about each other is that we know the murderous depravity people are capable of.

Despite the perennial global discord that results in murder and rape for the sake of God and/or country, we have always found our way to peace. Always. Maybe that’s harder now, in a connected world where everyone has a voice, and every voice has a following, but history tells us that it is within our ability to start a different conversation, where the intention of our words allows for rehabilitation and promotes reconciliation and healing.

Good thoughts, good intentions and words.

“He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial.” – General Horace Porter, describing Gen. Robert E. Lee, after the surrender at Appomattox that concluded the American Civil War


Je suis…en silence

It was a protest without chants, a demonstration where the response to the call was only footfalls.
The hundreds gathered in Atlanta, Sunday, to remember the 17 murdered around Paris, this week, marched in silence.
Only the voices of the children calling for each other and their parents – “Gaspard,” “Maman” – ruffle through the crowd alone with their thoughts.
Why march in silence? “What else is there to say?” asked one marcher, rhetorically. “Everything that needs to be said has been said. Just shut the fuck up and be with the peace.”




Freedom and the assertion of the true self

We are all prisoners, bounded by the limits of our skin and our society. Anytime we take liberties with our self-determination, there’s always someone to say we are being reckless, stupid, naive, brave. My own mother, may her memory be blessed, who felt the cold hand of murderous oppression at the hands of the Nazis, often warned me to be careful in my criticism of government, to be wary of the direction my literary fingers pointed, lest there arose in our government an enemy of free thought.

While I’ve always been somewhat dismissive of those concerns, given our country’s promise of liberty and free expression, I respected the dire circumstances from which her fear arose. Truth be told, I’m more afraid of the unpredictability of the populace than I am of our government, and that is a direct result of her experience.

Perhaps paradoxically, another important lesson I learned from my mother, through her own behavior, is if something is bothering me about the actions of my community, I will not let it pass. With some discretion, I echo her words. “What am I supposed to do,” she would ask, rhetorically, “sit there and say nothing?”

I started this blog ten years ago, this month, in reaction to the reelection of George W. Bush. Although I did some campaign work for the Democrats in 2004, I felt that I didn’t do enough, say enough, risk enough, to have a part in changing the direction of a government lassoed by our cowboy president and his chortling arms tycoon, Cheney. I could no longer “sit there and say nothing.”

That brings me to the tragic events in Paris, Wednesday, when Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo, and a team of committed cartoonists were murdered, just for presenting a wry view of the relationship between fundamentalism and a free society. He refused to stop, even after the paper’s offices were firebombed in 2011.

“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” Charbonnier famously said, a few months later, when he published another provocative issue.

They had something to say, these journalists. They could not say nothing, even though it was obvious their government could not protect them. Like abortion doctors in America, who continue doing what they believe is right, despite the threats and website “most wanted” lists, they took precautions and kept publishing. It was their nature. “You cannot say, ‘I will not fight,'” the Bhagavad Gita advises, “Your nature will compel you to.”

Being true to one’s nature is being true to one’s self, to an inescapable purpose. That is the freedom for which all who express through words and pictures strive. For ten years I’ve wanted Prose and Thorn to be “the prick that makes you think.” My pricks are bumps compared to the gang at Charlie Hedbo, where the skill of the witty provocateur is not only in holding a mirror up to the foibles of a dysfunctional society, but in the fear and the worry that runs beneath the drollness of a phrase like, “100 lashes for you if you don’t die laughing.”

Laughing is a good idea, or crying or dreaming if it helps you. Just express, and assert your true self.



Have a Havana again, maybe

“I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

President Barack Obama, Wednesday, announcing his intention to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba

Southernmost Point, Key West

This is how close most Americans are used to getting to Cuba – Key West, Florida. (wikimedia commons)

Following the release of a U.S. assistance program prisoner who has been held in a Cuban prison for five years and an unnamed agent who has been held for twenty, and a reciprocal release of three Cuban prisoners held by the United States, the president is finally moving forward in reestablishing diplomatic relations with the island nation.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the diplomatic agency would be sending a delegation to Havana in January to continue talks about migration between the two countries. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said at his announcement.

Cuban-American politicians in Washington, D.C., not surprisingly, were not wholly supportive of the president’s initiative. The reaction came from both sides of the aisle. According to USA Today’s story:

“Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said ‘President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.’

“Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida and a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said he rejoiced at Gross’ release. But he condemned the rest of the deal as ‘the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.'”

Really Sen. Rubio? Appeasement, as if making it easier for people with a mission to travel to Cuba were like handing Czechoslovakia to the Nazis?

But if that is the prevailing sentiment of the incoming, Republican dominated Congress, it will be exceedingly difficult to get the embargo entirely lifted, as Congress has to vote to do it.

Still, given the changing attitude most Cuban-Americans have about America’s decades long stand against the Castros, there is a good chance Republicans will find enough courage to include Democrats in their voting bloc.

“Florida International University in Miami has been polling Cuban-Americans since 1991,” NPR reported, Wednesday. “Back then, 87 percent of Cuban-Americans supported the embargo…but in the 2014 poll, conducted this summer, a [69%] majority…favored lifting [most of] the embargo.”

Read the FIU 2014 poll

The numbers for those wanting to restore diplomatic relations were overwhelming: 68% of all respondents and 88% of young people, under thirty.

More importantly to the folks on Capitol Hill, the FIU poll also concluded that 55% of registered voters approve of restoring diplomatic ties. If the Republicans want to be the party of the future, they can’t ignore that FIU says it’s only the 70-plus crowd that want to maintain the status quo.

Still, the rhetoric of cautious responsibility is par on this course that crosses the Florida Straits, especially when we’re talking about swing-state politics. “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship,” former Florida governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, told reporters.

Even President Obama, in his announcement, Wednesday, warned that this was not an unfettered approval of the Cuban leadership’s practices. “I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” he said. “The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.”

At the same time, as Sec. Kerry said, “Today’s step…reflects our firm belief that the risk and the cost of trying to turn the tide is far lower than the risk and cost of remaining stuck in an ideological cement of our own making.” And that is what will take convincing for the conservatives in Congress, that we, and we alone, are responsible for a meaningless and unproductive embargo, not the Cuban people, and they shouldn’t be made to suffer because of our own stubborn lack of political will.

Now, if we can only get Israel to put an embassy in Tehran.


The galling and the brave – police unaccountable to justice

Demonstrators in Atlanta. Photo by Steve Eberhardt. All rights reserved.

Demonstrators in Atlanta, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, protest recent decisions that leave police involved in the killing of unarmed African American men unindicted and uncharged. (Photo by Steve Eberhardt. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.)

“…the way we do policing needs to change.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reacting to a grand jury’s decision not to indict in the death of Eric Garner.

After September 11, 2001, there was no pedestal too high on which to place the brave members of the NYPD, and by association, those who served all other police departments. But that deification of the duty-bound washed out to sea with the ashes and dust clouds of the fallen. Respect for their bravery has turned into resentment of the gall with which too many carry out their daily chores. The veil has been lifted, and now justice is in pursuit of those for whom it has often been a shield.

Following the Staten Island, New York, grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, President Obama said he is “somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job; that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us… but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system.”

The lawman carries a gun, and a Taser and a nightstick. If those fail, he can always use pepper spray or even his fists. These are his crime-fighting tools. Too often, as Attorney General Eric Holder announced in Cleveland, Ohio, last week, the use of those tools can result in the loss of our Constitutional rights, because of bad training and an “us vs. them” mentality.

“We have determined,” he said, “that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force – in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and as a result of systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.”

It’s important to note that the Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland police began in March, 2013, well before the recent, tragic shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed by a young officer who CNN discovered had previously been cited for:

“…’a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions,’ a ‘dangerous loss of composure during live range training’ and an ‘inability to manage personal stress.'”

Although the Tamir Rice incident is not part of the events detailed in Justice’s report, it is consistent with its accusations of bad “pattern or practice,” including:

  • The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;
  • The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists;
  • Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and
  • The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable.”
  • What the DoJ is pointing out is the one tool that the Cleveland police consistently fail to use – good judgement and discretion. It concludes that “this pattern of excessive force has eroded public confidence in the police. The trust between the Cleveland Division of Police and many of the communities it serves is broken.” The result? It isn’t crime the Cleveland Division of Police is fighting with their often deadly implements – it’s people. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. People.

    And when the people he is taught to target are always targeted, always harassed, always arrested or charged, based on the melatonin in their DNA and their zip code, he has lost their respect.

    “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me… every time you see me, you want to harass me,” exclaimed the late Eric Garner, before an overzealous, poorly supervised police officer choked him to death.

    We are no longer talking about police committed to public safety, but to a methodology that supports a community corroding agenda. Whether it be filling privately run prisons or the county coffers or their own incentivized arrest performance, it seems that cops are expected to be, and are rewarded for being, more Dirty Harry and less Andy Taylor. Maybe part of it is a holdover of swollen post-9/11 pride, where no wrong can be done in pursuit of justice. Maybe it is the recent wars, where we give no quarter to disruption, giving undue attention to the benign in pursuit of the horrid.

    The head of the NYPD Police Benevolent Association issued a statement, last week, blaming the victim in the Garner case, in the same way many blamed Michael Brown for the tragedy in Ferguson. “Mr. Garner made a choice that day to resist arrest,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said, adding, “You cannot resist arrest. Because resisting arrest leads to confrontation. Confrontation leads to tragedy.”

    But unless the suspect draws a weapon, resisting arrest shouldn’t result in tragedy. Never, ever. A cop yelling, “Stop, or I’ll shoot,” at a fleeing suspect, and following through on that threat, was ruled a civil rights violation by the United States Supreme Court in 1985 (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1):

    “The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against, as in this case, an apparently unarmed, nondangerous (emph. mine) fleeing suspect…”

    In the case of Eric Garner (no relation to the Tennessee victim), not only was he “unarmed” and “nondangerous,” he wasn’t even fleeing. The officers had many alternatives, but the choice was theirs to gang tackle and choke Eric Garner to death – not the victim’s. Resisting arrest, if that is what he was doing, is not a capital offense.

    The police in all these cases have lost their perspective. Like a soldier who has been deployed too many times for too long, the method has replaced the mission. That is what Mayor de Blasio meant when he said, “…policing needs to change.”

    Stop-and-frisk was bad policing because, like an antibiotic, it affects good cells as well as bad. The good cell doesn’t care that you think this is all for the betterment of the community. It only knows it’s under attack. Likewise, busting drug users on a possession charge doesn’t get rid of drug dealers. It treats a symptom of the crime and not the reason for it.

    “Stop because I told you to,” is the language parents use with unruly children because they have the authority. It cannot be the language we use with self-determined, adult human beings. The authority of police is delusional when it is based on power – having carte blanche to hassle and bully, and the means to beat, maim and kill – instead of on the law they are supposed to represent, and their respect for the community they are sworn to serve.


    Recommended reading:

  • The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate, by Matt Taibbi (
  • Ferguson fallout: justice dancing on the head of a pin

    The skin remains thin where old wounds receive no healing salve and are not allowed to mend. The scar is prodded by forces seeking control and picked at when it tingles in a sadly familiar way.

    There is little sympathy for those robbed of justice when their justification for anger crosses over into mob hysteria. Moreover, it harms the community in which they live and, more importantly, the cause for which they were marching in the first place. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that police aren’t always the “good guys” and their claims are never unassailable.

    By (Kane Farabuagh/VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Riot police prepare for unrest on the streets of Ferguson after a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 24, 2014. (Kane Farabuagh/VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    People in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country marched this week for a cause deeply rooted in the story of America – the fight for equal treatment under the law, and a fair shot at justice. Through the smoke of burning businesses and lost jobs and racial epithets and Klan threats it may be hard to discern the silhouettes of purposeful people looking to wrest reconciliation from the restless mobs. Attacking the status quo with bricks, bats and bottle glass only maintains it, while power’s grip hides behind riot shields and rolling clouds of teargas.

    Yet we cannot walk away from this fight, and while changing it from the outside is tantamount to attacking a retracting tortoise, the old reptile understands that in order to breathe free, he must acknowledge the threat that looms outside his shell. When the rabble rouses to anger, only real change appeases. It then falls to the earnest and purposeful to calm both sides and find a way to mediate peace through mutual respect.

    Our racial dysfunction “has led – for whites, blacks and Hispanics as well – to a widening sense of disrespect,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks opined on the PBS Newshour, Friday, “that not only is there no opportunity, but they’re being disrespected by the people with authority, and that’s especially true with African-Americans because of the historical legacy of racism in this country.”

    Respect is not born from threats of violence, neither from a hysterical mob nor a policeman’s gun. Some suggests body cameras to protect officers’ reputations and the rights of civilians, and though recent studies have proven the devices to be an effective bulwark against use-of-force excesses by police in some communities, it is like attaching training wheels to a bicycle even though the rider should be expert without them. The problem is with the bicycle, not the rider.

    We don’t have to teach the police they have to be watched to be effective. We have to teach them that proper policing is being civil, especially in the face of communities that have an existential fear of their relationship with the cops. The onus is, and has always been, on the police, here.

    Regardless of whether Michael Brown is responsible for the interaction with Officer Darren Wilson that precipitated the tragic events of August 9, as the grand jury seemed to believe, a policeman chose to use deadly force because he could, not because he had to. In that context, “good guys” with guns shooting “bad guys” without guns means, to me, that the so-called “good guys” should not have a gun, at least not until they receive more complete training.

    When a police officer, who is sworn to protect a community, pulls a weapon and fires, he must have an understanding of the impact of his actions. He is shooting not only at an individual who may or may not be armed; he is aiming to kill a member of his community, even if they have nothing in common other than a similar zip code. The shooting will have an impact. The policeman must comprehend that, just as he must have an understanding of why he takes any punitive action.

    Even if a police officer is just pulling someone over for a traffic violation, is he doing it because they were being careless and dangerous on the road, or because he has a mandate to raise revenue for his municipality? Is his performance evaluation based on how many tickets he writes and arrests he has made, or is he judged on how well he gets along with not just his fellow officers, but with the community he serves?

    The system is broken, if a police officer’s job is to help keep the court dockets and jails full and the pockets of the county’s general fund overflowing. His job is, and should always be, policing first, arresting second, shooting last. That is his link in the chain of justice. There is no room in a civil society for anything else.


    A line too long: no choice but action on ‘Broken immigration system’

    President Obama speaks at Del Sol High School, Las Vegas. Nov. 21, 2014 (

    President Obama speaks at Del Sol High School, Las Vegas. Nov. 21, 2014 (

    “Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time — and everybody knows it.”

    -President Barack Obama, addressing Las Vegas high school students whose families are affected by his use, this week, of executive authority on immigration reform

    The Republicans know it. The conservative cabal that pulls the party’s purse strings knows it. They would have you believe that getting in the “back of the line” is the only fair way to handle immigration reform. The problem is, some people are doomed to wait in line for almost 25 years, and the more people we put in the line, the longer that line gets.

    Maybe that’s what the far right wants, a broken system where, as the president said, Friday, families are “stuck in line for years.” After all, it fits in with their narrative of a broken and incompetent government.

    The State Department has three major categories of visas it considers: family members of U.S. citizens, employment based visas (for which there is a relatively short waiting period) and diversity visas (a quota system for global regions that is only good for the fiscal year in which the application is filed).

    “There are so many different lines. It’s very hard for people to understand that there are so many different categories and that each wait time is different,” Mary Giovagnoli, of the solutions oriented Immigration Policy Council, told the Washington Post in January.

    A year ago, according to the State Department, there were 4.3 million people with family sponsored visa requests. The latest bulletin from Foggy Bottom says that the last family visas for siblings from Mexico it was considering were applied for in February, 1997. For married children of U.S. citizens, the last visas approved for Mexicans were applied for in November, 1993. If you are a citizen and want a visa for your sister in the Philippines, the last visas granted were for people who applied in May, 1991!

    And just because someone applied for a visa back then doesn’t mean they are next on the list, because only a limited number of employment based and family requested papers are available every year to applicants from each country.

    “The idea that the people can simply get in the back of the line is a little bit simplistic in practice,” Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration policy think tank supported by philanthropic and government policy advocacy groups, told the Fiscal Times, this past spring.

    At least one Republican considering a 2016 presidential run seems to understand the difficulties of the “wait in line” concept. At a panel of GOP governors who are seen as contenders for the nomination, Ohio Gov. John Kasich went counter to the crowd and the rigid stance of his on-stage colleagues in Boca Raton, Florida, when he admitted:

    “My sense is I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it. It may be a laborious and tough process. I would never say we would never do it. … At the end of the day it may be necessary.”

    President Obama’s executive action acknowledges that reality, and he admits he can’t do anything about the wait, right now. His order, though, is neither amnesty nor a path to citizenship. That, he admits, requires Congressional action. The only thing it does is keep law abiding, tax paying folks who have children who are citizens or are otherwise here legally, from being deported. As he said on Friday:

    “If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law.”

    The only line that may be getting shorter is the one for employment based visas.

    Both the memoranda the president signed are geared to spur the executive branch to find means and methods, with the help of immigration advocacy groups and technology companies, to expedite repairing the broken process for everyone. That is well within his authority. It is unrealistic to expect the Republicans in the upcoming Congress to have the political courage to do any meaningful immigration reform, that takes into account the affect our inaction has on millions of families.

    “The U.S. is kind of torn between wanting to be generous, yet not wanting to be too generous,” Sumption said in May, “And that means that on paper U.S. laws pretend to give people the right to come to the country, but in practice they have to wait so long that many of them may as well not have that right.”

    – PBG

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