New Orleans Weeks and months are now passing by since the grand jury failed to indict in Ferguson, Missouri and the drumbeat of cities with police forces similarly culpable continued to pile on top of one another in a sick body count. Importantly, the protests also continue in no small way because organizers have found important tactical responses and symbols that using excellent organizing are imminently replicable throughout the United States and the world. The combination of such clarity and replicability has kept the anger in check, the dialogue intense, and the protests alive.
The New York message blazoned even on NBA players t-shirts, including those of megastar Lebron James, saying “I Can’t Breathe!” have huge power to communicate. NFL and college football players that have run into the end zone and then held their hands up high in a memorial that has also been effective.
Nothing though has been more powerful or dramatic than the “lie-ins” where protestors have laid silently and “dead” in protests of these killings. Interestingly, this has been a tactic that works with small numbers. Certainly some of these die-ins have involved hundreds, but for the most part many are very dignified and effective protests in unlikely venues with numbers more often in the tens and twenties. The surprise that is confounding the press and attracting them like candy is that some of these protestors break the usual stereotypes and press pigeonholes because they are “suits,” lawyers and law students, doctors and med students, and people simply moved to act.
Until the recent crazed killing of two innocent policeman in New York City, the right had no response and were forced to focus on race and the law, appropriately. Now some of the Fox News types are trying to see if they can shift the blame from justice to provocation on the part of protestors and politicians like the progressive Mayor de Blasio of New York City who has argued for more accountability. More soberly I listened to a caller on Travis Smiley early in the morning saying he feared for his son of similar age and what might happen when they were now conditioned to fear those that they should see as protectors.
Disturbingly, the caller also felt the police over reaction dated to Obama’s election as President. There is conversation and a culture shift that has to happen in the United States about race now. The back patting of the elites on Obama’s election continues to mask deep issues that must be resolved.
The New York Times in a recent study found that reporting to the FBI on killings by police annually was wildly inaccurate and left unreported more than 500 such killings nationally by their count. Many no doubt were in the line of duty, but part of the problem is that the definition of duty and the training to fulfill those responsibilities is clearly out of whack. The notion of “appropriate” response seems missing, and the proportionality that the “broken windows,” “no crime is too small” strategy calls for between incident and reaction is more broken than any windows. There is no rationale for a death sentence for selling a “loosie” cigarette on the street for goodness sake. The small Covington, Louisiana police force in a suburb of New Orleans hit the streets in the holiday season to play “secret” Santa and give out $100 bills to random, passing motorists. It’s not a solution, but at least it’s an idea.
We need a lot more. The tactics are good, so the protests might continue long enough to force some real discussion, and maybe some realization that change has to finally come around police methods and tactics as they look at all who are different as “invisible assailants,” and even more importantly about race and what we all need to do to close the divide.