This Should Never (Ever!) Have Been Necessary – But, Sadly, It Was

 

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The Washington Post has reported on – and posted a video of – a nine-year-old girl testifying before the Charlotte VA City Council against the mistreatment of African-Americans by the city’s police – and “y’all” in general. This should never have had to happen.

But a sense of racial injustice has become so severe in Charlotte, Virginia’s largest city, that it prompted a nine-year-old to stand up, not before a classroom of her peers, which is always hard enough at her age, but before a collection of adults who have the power, but apparently not the will or the guts, to make a difference. To bring the police department to heel; to make whatever efforts are required to work with civic groups – including churches of all types, fraternal organizations, and whatever other groups exist, particularly in predominantly Black neighborhoods – and to work in whatever way necessary to change mindsets that, in one way or another lead to situations like this.

‘This,’ in this instance, was the shooting to death of a Black citizen by a (coincidentally white) police officer. Neither of two videos of the event released, under pressure from the public, by the police department clarified whether the victim was carrying a gun, as police contend, or not. A cell phone video shot and quickly released by a family member similarly failed to clarify what prompted the officer to what sounded, in the family member’s video, like close to half a dozen shots into a man standing less than ten feet away. (All else aside, that doesn’t speak well for the officer’s confidence in the Charlotte P.D.’s target practice standards!)

(An interesting, possibly critical point: The Charlotte P.D. has admitted that one officer failed to turn on his body camera when he responded to the scene. That’s a violation of department practices, and a pretty serious, we’d reckon. I mean, police departments are spending tens of thousands of dollars equipping their officers with those cams and shoulder mics (which, by the way, were being used – the mics, not the cams – by the Metropolitan Police — the ‘bobbies’ — in London as long ago as the 1980’s!)

I recently attended a church-sponsored ‘block party’ in my small Virginia town. Along with the face-painter, the bounce tent and several other attractions for kids, there was an ‘example’ of a local police department car – with doors open, and an unspoken invitation for kids to climb in either the back or the front. And climb they did: The car was seldom empty throughout this hot August afternoon, and the by-standing police officer readily answered any questions any kid had.

An incredible example of ‘community relations’ work that, in effect, cost the town nothing, as it is common practice to make an officer and car available just in case there’s a need at most, if not all, of this town’s public and open-to-the-public events, as this one was.

In the course of setting up an interview for tomorrow with our town’s police chief – I write for the local paper and another one – he noted that he’d recently met with officials of police departments in Tempe AZ and Dallas TX. He said that the more he gets out and about on visits like that – he was set to lecture in each of those to cities – “the more I find community support behind what police departments are doing, and I’m encouraged by that.”

That is good, but, sadly, not good enough: I fear that the more police departments militarize – accept from the U.S. Army armored vehicles and the like the military no longer wants or needs (because, no doubt, they’ve graduated to even more frightful, and frightening ‘tools’) – the more police officers will come to view themselves as ‘combatants’ of one sort or another. Meaning, in effect, despite whatever efforts their communities undertake to reduce the incidence of violence, individual cops will fall back on the old ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ formula. Too often, of late, a deadly formula.

When police officers in small (and ever smaller) towns get to access, free or at bargain basement rates, ‘weapons of war’, in the form of armored vehicles, high tech surveillance and communications gear and whatever, they are going to want, child-like, to try out their new ‘toys’. And one way or another, in controlled environments or on the streets, try them they will.

The generation joining police departments today grew up playing video games, too often violent ones. And while many of the early and current video game fans would deny they are victims, many among them come to have a diminished sense of responsibility, or ability to distinguish, regarding the respective relative to push-a-button versus pull-a-trigger reality.

Zianna Oliphant’s comments before the Charlotte City Council should – if they haven’t already  – ‘gone viral’, whatever that means. (I don’t understand how that happens and wouldn’t care in the least unless something I said did so, and resulted in lots more followers of this (YouSayWHAT.info) or my other blog (FoodTradeTrends.com).

(Zianna’s video isn’t long, but if you don’t want to take the time to watch it, as you surely should, here’s the essence: Y’all [whomever she meant that to include] are treating Black people bad – however you want to interpret that.

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“We are black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this,” Zianna said, sobbing. “We shouldn’t have to protest because y’all are treating us wrong. We do this because we need to – and have rights,” she said.

 

What a sad, but hopeful, day: When a nine-year-old (some media have said she’s ten) is so distressed that she has to trek to City Hall and put herself in a role she probably never imagined playing -that of ‘interpreter’, or spokesperson, for an under-served,  under-appreciated community. Some 13.5% of the population there, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A minority, yes, but an important one — that does, among other things, low-wage job members of the majority refuse to. Too often collecting some kind of ‘benefits’ instead.

If you want a clear (as any) picture of how sad this current presidential election campaign, and how inadequately the candidates have failed to address, or propose realistic solutions to major structural and societal issues in this country – including the issue that inspired that brave nine year old to so eloquently speak out as she did – see this clip, from Steven Colbert’s live show Monday night. He sums the whole mess up wonderfully, in one word.

Regardless of your preconceived ideas about who’s right and who’s not (but not necessarily) left, watch it.

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