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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Crime and Justice: Resurrecting Tragedy, Perpetuating Negative Biases

Stop the ride spinning, I want off.

Spinning in the wrong direction…either way.

     I’m going to start this one off by saying that I apologise. I apologise for the hard feelings that might be had by some who will read the following piece, and I apologise for the mere fact that the piece is necessary at all. With that being said, let’s dive into the murky deep together, my fine young readers.

     In August of last year, in the village of Maywood, Illinois, a tragedy occurred. This tragedy involved an off-duty officer, a four-year-old girl, and her 26-year-old father. After sifting through the many accounts of the story, here’s what I gather happened on that fateful night last year:

     At around 22:00, an off-duty Chicago PD officer was on his way home after his shift, riding his motorcycle through Maywood. At the same time, four-year-old Taniyah Middleton was walking down the street, accompanied by her eighteen-year-old cousin. At some point, the four-year-old entered the roadway, directly in the path of the officer. According to authorities, the officer ditched his motorcycle in an attempt to avoid striking the girl, however the bike still managed to clip her, causing injuries to her face and other “bruises and contusions,” according to news reports. (1) (2)

     What happened next, did not have to happen. The girl’s father, 26-year-old Christopher Middleton, along with another relative, came out of a nearby restaurant, and confronted the officer. A scuffle ensued, with the elder Middleton striking the officer in the face, and another party hitting him (the officer) in the back of the head. The officer in turn, drew his weapon and fired once, striking Middleton in the groin. Christopher Middleton was taken to Loyola University Medical Center, where he passed away from the gunshot wound at approximately 22:30. Both the officer and Taniyah were also transported to Loyola, and were placed under observation for their injuries.

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Since this incident occurred, the media has, as they have with all other stories of this type, had a field day with it. While those on the right paint the father as a despicable attacker, and the officer as a valiant public servant, those on the left use the opposite brush, painting Christopher Middleton as the tragic victim of an unwarranted shooting by yet another power-abusing cop…while neither perspective, nor those who pen them, bring anyone directly involved in the tragedy any true justice.

     In addition, I now must take issue with certain publications that, almost a year and a half ex post facto, would resurrect the story and use it to perpetuate biases against either the deceased father, (3) or the police. (4) Regardless of which side this story is viewed from, there are a few basic truths that come out in the light of time. First, like I stated earlier; this didn’t have to happen the way it did. Had it been me running out of that restaurant that night, my primary concerns would have been in caring for my injured daughter, not taking reactionary vengeance on the officer. It was a bona-fide accident, and accidents, even tragic ones, do happen. Second, no one should have to take a beating as a consequence of an accident, especially when they did everything they could to prevent it, and not be expected to justifiably defend themselves. (Had the officer actually meant to take this young man’s life, I highly doubt that the shot would have been to the groin!) If anything about this is certain, it is that the entire incident took place within a very short timespan, as evinced by the 10:00 P.M. time of the initial accident, and the 10:30 P.M. time of Christopher’s demise.

     I find it unfortunate that we live in a society, where partisan media has no qualms with taking a piece of old news, resurrecting it and using it to further divisiveness. All of that spin surely has a dizzying effect, which makes it all the more difficult to focus one’s eyes on the actual truths of a matter. The truth, my fine young readers, is this; sure, there are some pretty bad apples out there on the force. Sure, there are some pretty bad “fathers,” if that’s what one can call them, out in the world. In this particular instance however, I don’t see either. I see an off-duty officer, who tried like hell to keep a bad thing from happening, and I see a caring father, distraught over his daughter’s suffering. Where these two intersected in the manner that they did, I see unfortunate, unnecessary tragedy.

Faith and Religion: Of Faith and Friendship

It's all about PERSONAL accountability.

It’s all about PERSONAL accountability.

“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
(“Slim”, from the novel “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.)

     Last night, I lost a friend. No, this friend didn’t pass on to the great beyond, (despite suffering from serious health issues) nor did I misplace them. Quite the contrary, this person dropped me as a friend, quicker than dropping a fire-heated stone. “Over what?” you might ask. The answer unfortunately, is religious perspective and how it relates to Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut.

     You see, many people are still in a state of shock over the shooting, and that’s understandable. Out of that shock, many are starting to look for someone or something to place blame in / on. Some, including this friend of mine, are placing the blame on the declining role of religion in modern society. In an effort to express this assertion, she posted the following text graphic to her Facebook wall;

Blaming the "Godless society."

Blaming the “Godless society.”

     Immediately after she posted this, I responded with the following question; “”Godless society”? Are we really going there again?” No sooner had the screen refreshed a second time, then her post was gone…all of her posts were gone from the newsfeed. My friend…had “unfriended” me.

     At this point, please allow me to clarify a few things. First, this friend is someone that I’ve known for over twenty years, dating back to my time in high school. I always thought of her as being pretty level-headed and reasonable. Second, regarding the text graphic on the left, I agree with the assertion that if someone wants to commit harmful acts, they will find a means to do so which doesn’t necessarily involve firearms. But I digress…

     Immediately following the “unfriending”, I sent her e-mail, asking her “what gives?” A second message followed, in which I expressed the following sentiments;

“If I placed you in a position where you felt you had to choose between our friendship and your faith, and you chose your faith…I can’t fault you for that. I won’t lie and say I’m not hurt by this, but what ev.”

     She responded, accusing me of…let me reread the reply and make sure I get this right, “…bashing my Christianity.” I replied in turn, assuring her that it was not my intent to do so, and that I was simply positing an interrogative statement. I also stated that I supported her rights of free speech and religion, as guaranteed by our constitution. I wound the whole thing up with the following thought;

“If you want to burn bridges with everyone who disagrees with you, I can’t stop you. All I know is that if I did that, my world would become a very lonely place, wicked quick.”

     I apologised for having troubled her. I also posted to my own wall, a counter-assertion graphic, the same one presented at the top of this article. She in turn…blocked me.

“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”
(Luke 12:51, KJV)

     My immediate (gut) reaction was to blame Christianity, and religion on the whole for the loss of this friendship. The divisiveness of religion can most assuredly be a real pain in the arse, and has been since the advent of the institution. Then however, I started thinking. If I blame religion for this friend dumping me, then I am no better than those who blame society for the actions of one person. It would be yet another in a long litany of pots calling kettles black, wouldn’t it?

     As I’ve stated previously within the hundred-or-so entries here at The Cybersattva weblog, I have faith. I believe in God, Christ and the Trinity. I have faith that basic truths regarding the nature and purpose of our existence here on this ball of dirt, can be found in the Bible. I also believe in not foisting my faith off on others, favoring instead the freedom of each person to choose their own way in life. In addition, I believe that each person is, and should be held, accountable for their own actions and statements. As for Friday’s tragedy, I hold the shooter accountable, not some nebulous concept of a “Godless society”. Likewise, I’m hurt by my friend’s actions in dumping the friendship, simply due to her own beliefs and an overactive sense of persecution.  It saddens me, more than anything else, that so many people of faith these days insist on wearing the “victim here!” shirt. (Then again, the constant shaming and ridicule by some of the atheistic factions of society can’t be helping that situation either, can it?)

     What it boils down to is this; we’re all living in the same reality, the same society and the same timespace. We each must deal with the things that we are dealt in our own way, and we must be accountable as individuals for the ways in which we interact with the world around us, as well as those in it. They are our fellow travelers here on spaceship Earth.

“Be excellent to each other.”
(Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

CHASER SPECIAL: Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

President Obama addresses the nation following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. on 12/14/2012.

President Obama addresses the nation following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. on 12/14/2012.

     This morning has been a blur. As I’m sure most of you know, there has been a tragedy of immense proportions in the town of Newtown, Connecticut. This morning, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, and took the lives of six adults, as well as 20 young children. Even as I type this simple blog entry, the investigation into this tragic shooting continues.

     The one word on everyone’s lips, the singular though in everyone’s minds right now, is “why?” Why would someone walk into a school…any school, and just start killing innocent children? Honestly friends, I have no clue. I don’t think anyone can come up with a definitive answer that explains something this unthinkable, this…unbelievable.

     My thoughts harken back to September 11th of 2001, and the days that followed. Just like then, each one of us will end up dealing with this tragedy, and all of its implications, in our own personal ways. Parents will hug their children a little tighter today, schools across the country will begin examining their safety procedures, flags will be lowered to half-mast, and we will grieve. Yes, we will grieve.

     I can’t help but think of the 26 families in Newtown, whose Christmas will never be celebrated. My tears run like waterfalls for the 20 children, whose presents, wrapped in beautiful paper and placed lovingly under the tree, will now remain forever unopened. My heart aches for the families and friends of the victims of this…I don’t quite know just what to call it, even though there are probably a myriad of descriptive words out there.

     I’m sure that in the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of introspection, questions, politicking and debate stemming from this…but today is not for that. Today, we mourn…together.