Why are Military Bad Apples Gun-Banned and Not Police?

Police patrol Delgado Community College in New Orleans in November. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Annie Flanagan

New Orleans    Around Christmas the Washington Post broke an important story with a Louisiana footprint, but a national shadow. The Post reporter went through some records on more than 200 police offices that had been discharged from the notorious, federally supervised New Orleans Police Department as part of their cleanup in recent years. They found that more than fifty of these officers had managed to get employment in other branches of law enforcement including a local community college, Delgado, where our union, Local 100 represents workers, and other area departments in state and out, including the neighboring Plaquemines Parish.

The story was reprinted in both the New Orleans local papers as well as many others around the country. Many people may have missed it, since Christmas week and Christmas eve are not normally big news days. Many may have tut-tutted that this is another piece of bad publicity for New Orleans and southern police departments. The New Orleans police chief and the Mayor both had to release statements and do press conferences in response.

My concern goes a step farther and more personally. One of the pictures in all of the story was of a former ACORN staff member, Ronald Coleman. Ron was a lawyer and did work in our political department. Walking in the French Quarter to his car one night in December 2006, more than a year after Katrina, Ron was accosted by a group of New Orleans police officers, perhaps for the crime of being black. He was beaten badly. Two of the officers involved were fired. Ron sued the City of New Orleans and settled for close to $20,000 for his damages. He moved to California to get away from the beating and his memories of it. He has been working as a lobbyist in that state for various organizations subsequently. One of the fired officers ended up being hired as a deputy in Plaquemines Parish. The Post reports that he was reprimanded in 2016 for an “inappropriate comment to a colleague.” He was put on probation for 90 days and sent to cultural sensitivity training. His boss now claims he’s an “excellent deputy,” but clearly in 2016 he was still possessed of the same demons as 2006 when he was among the officers beating Ron.

The question before the public is why are police fired from one department for despicable activities able to be hired in another? There will be talk of second chances, learning from mistakes, and a number of other things, and I’m sympathetic to some of the arguments, but not all of them.

Recently, there have been lawsuits and recriminations focused at the military because they are required by law to file with the national gun database that blocks anyone with a dishonorable discharge from being able to own a gun, and as the Texas church massacre demonstrated, they haven’t been doing their jobs well. Why are armed police officers who are fired for brutality not reported to the same database and restricted from being able to carry a gun again? In fact, why are armed police officers fired for other activities that would have qualified US military for dishonorable discharges including spousal abuse and similar issues, also not blocked from gun ownership in the future.

Clearly, the brotherhood of the police are more than happy to give many officers another chance and the results have not been encouraging, so at least let’s block them from gun ownership and make sure their second changes are unarmed and office bound. If Ronald Coleman was still working with ACORN, I would have him writing that bill and getting ready to lobby across the country and nationally to make it stick.

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Please enjoy John Oats’ Arkansas.

Thanks to KABF.

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Lynching, Police, and Black Lives Matter

Front page of the New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1900, after Charles was killed

Front page of the New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1900, after Charles was killed

New Orleans   A book on lynching is really not the kind of thing that a lot of people would pull off the shelves for a summer read, but they might be wrong for thinking that way, at least if listening to Dr. Karlos Hill on KABF’s Wade’s World is any indication. Dr. Hill, a professor now at the University of Oklahoma and formerly at Texas Tech, was talking about his book Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory. Although he was writing largely about the history of lynching between 1880 and 1920, he argued that history shapes the crisis in police-community relations that exists to this day and that the roots of these experiences also branch directly to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Although the rural communities of the Mississippi River delta along Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi are infamous as the heartland of racially-based lynching, Hill notes that lynching was a national phenomenon equally feared and a part of community experience and consciousness in cities from Atlanta to New Orleans to Los Angeles. Hill draws direct connections between lynching and vigilantism that many mythologize as part of the Wild West, Gunsmoke, and cattle rustling. In the post-1880 period, such vigilantism meted out rough justice in areas where there was either lawlessness or a sense that white officials would not handle crimes against black individuals. There were cases of blacks being lynched by blacks for major crimes like rape or murder. To put this in perspective, Hill examined the actual cases that he could identify during that period from his research, 14% were black-on-black hangings, while 86% involved blacks being lynched by whites.

Hill also noted that there was a change in the way victims were seen over the 40-year period he studied. In the hands of some, like muckraking reporter Ida B. Wells, victims began to be seen in a different light not in the brutish, “black beast” framework, but more as figures of resistance who were almost heroic. The week long fight of Robert Charles in New Orleans after an altercation with a policeman there was perhaps the best example.

Before anyone dismisses all of this as simply a shameful oddity of long dated history, think for a minute, as Hill and I did, about the powerful legacy such experiences have embedded in the black community and experience. Even more so consider how little modern police force and modern community policing has done to moderate this painful legacy. I can still remember my first arrest at an action in Springfield, Massachusetts. Every one of the members, black, brown and even white, were convinced that if arrested, the police would beat you. Period. No question. In fact, when I was arrested, even though I was going voluntarily and telling people to be calm, there was a tug-of-war between the police and the members with me in the middle, because the members felt this so strongly and felt obligated to provide protection for what they saw as inevitable.

Reflecting on the police killings in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge and elsewhere, Hill was careful to say that though some have seen these actions as modern “lynchings,” that they are not, but though different he believes they come from the same historical and evil seeds. Before Dallas,  he thought for a brief time there might be a real reassessment of community policing and its impact on minorities, but he fears that moment may have been lost in the confusion between black lives mattering and blue lives mattering.

In truth all lives matter, and change has to come. Hill is right: history matters. For the present we have to accelerate the process to achieve justice, because without justice, as the chant goes, there can be no peace.

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