Crime and Justice: For What It’s Worth

Three days of tragedy.

A tragic week in America.

There’s something happening here;
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware…

 

 

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind

…..

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come,
and take you away…
(from the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”, ©1966.)

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article far exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers. My apologies ahead of time, but please read on…

     Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills penned these lyrics in response to the “Sunset Strip Riots” of the summer of ’66. During the Vietnam era, the song was adopted and interpreted as an anti-war anthem. Fifty years later, these lyrics remain just as pertinent to the atmosphere in America as when “For What It’s Worth” was first released. During the past three days, our nation has borne witness to tragedy upon tragedy, as a direct result of both the lingering, systemic biases within law enforcement, and the public’s festering fear and anger over the outward examples of these biases.

     On Tuesday, July 5th, 2016, Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling’s life was cut short by two police officers, who were responding to a phone-in complaint of a person threatening others with a firearm outside of a local convenience store. While we don’t exactly know what led up to it, we do know, from cellphone video that was taken of the incident, that one of the responding officers fired six shots into Sterling, at near point-blank range while both officers had Sterling pinned to the ground. The cellphone video of the incident went viral on the internet shortly afterwards, resulting in both national outrage, and the local authorities calling on the DOJ to launch an investigation. The owner of the convenience store, Abdullah Muflahi, has stated that Sterling was “not the one causing trouble” during the events that led up to the incident.

     Alton Sterling was a black man, the two responding officers are white.

     The very next day, near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, two officers of the St. Anthony Police Department pulled over a vehicle belonging to 32-year-old Philando Castile, reportedly for a broken tail light. Also in the vehicle at the time of the stop, were Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and Diamond’s four-year-old daughter. During the stop, one of the officers, Jeronimo Yanez, asked Castile for his license and registration. The officer was informed by Castile that Castile was carrying a firearm, and that he was licensed to do so. At that point, reportedly while Castile was putting his hands back up from reaching for his wallet, in an effort to comply with the officer’s orders, the officer drew his service weapon, and fired four shots into the vehicle in rapid succession, striking Philando Castile in the arm and torso. Castile’s girlfriend then began live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. At the time of the shooting, Reynolds’ daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle. Castile subsequently died as a result of the shooting. The governor of Minnesota has also called upon the DOJ to investigate.

     Philando Castile was black, the officer who took his life…was white.

      Then, all hell broke loose, and the world once again seemed that it was going off of the rails. On the evening of Thursday the 7th, in downtown Dallas, Texas, as a peaceful local protest against the prior two days’ killings was winding down, gunfire erupted from an elevated sniper’s nest, as 25-year-old Army Reservist Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, aimed his weapon at police officers, shooting 10 from the Dallas PD, and two Dallas Area Rapid Transit officers, all of whom were present at the protest to ensure public safety. Also struck, were two civilians. As a result, four of the Dallas PD officers, and one of the DART officers, succumbed to their wounds and lost their lives. It was the deadliest attack for law enforcement since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

      During the ensuing standoff with the assailant, Johnson stated to law enforcement negotiators that “the end” was coming, that he was upset about the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and that his aim was to kill white people, and specifically white police officers. He also stated that there were numerous explosive devices in the area. One suspicious package was indeed discovered, and Johnson was subsequently killed during the detonation of that package.

     In the aftermath of this week’s violence, a great many people are struggling to wrap their heads around what has taken place. My fine, young readers, that includes me. Just yesterday, after reading about the killing of Philando Castile, I was musing to a good friend that there seems to be a systematic “something” that’s happening in this country, and that it’s being fueled by racial divisiveness and preconceptions. On further examination, I tend to think that what ails us as a nation runs far deeper than just racial biases within the system. In fact, just a few days ago, I made the following observation on my Facebook wall;

“Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that, unless you’re super-rich or super-notable, we live in a country where we’re increasingly being discouraged from asking that favorite question of scientists and young children, “why?”, about the things that REALLY matter, like why we still have a problem with racial prejudice, or why our government never listens to or submits to its citizenry?

I’m sorry, but from where I’m sitting, it looks suspiciously like we’re being beaten down by a system that’s been rigged against us, a system designed to keep us, for the most part, pacified.

It’s times like these that trouble me the most.”

     I think that it’s safe to say that I’m far from being the only person who feels like we live in a country where the average Joe has little to no say in how their government is run, and lives with a fair amount of trepidation of that same government. From fears over what would happen if we’re pulled over by a police officer having a particularly bad day, to being audited by the IRS, to whatever governmental mechanism that might go haywire in our particular direction, the people live in fear of the government. John Basil Barnhill stated in 1914, that:

“Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”

     What has occurred over the past three days, is indeed tyranny.

     My friend and I also discussed the state of the nation, and whether the penchant of certain people for displaying an upside-down flag on their profiles, a sign of a nation in distress, was appropriate. She (my friend) stated that she didn’t believe that our nation was in distress…this was before the events in Dallas. When I spoke with her again after the events in Dallas, I got the distinct impression that maybe her assessment of the situation had changed somewhat.

     My fine, young readers, we are indeed a nation in distress. This distress has claimed at least eight lives in the past three days; five officers in Dallas, Texas, an angry U.S. Army Reservist, a black man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and another in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This distress will, unfortunately, claim many more lives until it is alleviated. While I’m sure that there are many opinions on how this distress might find its remedy, one thing is sure; this nation is doomed to perish without that remedy, because as our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

“…because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”
(Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1849.)

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