by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
Eric Gardner was a man who was barely getting by.
He was in poor health. He was morbidly obese. He had been arrested multiple times for minor infractions. He was selling individual cigarettes in order to make money. On this particular street corner, he was actually known as a peacemaker.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a Black male, had just broken up a fight. The police were called. They saw Eric Gardner. They confronted him with regard to the sale of individual cigarettes. (This is illegal because it is not taxed.) Officer Daniel Pantaleo tried to handcuff Eric Garner. Mr. Gardner resisted. The police officer then wrestled Eric Garner to the ground using an illegal chokehold. Mr. Gardner was allowed to lie on the ground for seven minutes. Motionless. He was completely unresponsive. He was declared dead several minutes later on arrival at the hospital. No one went to jail.
In July 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over by police because he (and his girlfriend, who was also in the car) “look like people that were involved in a robbery.” It was 9 o’clock at night. Maybe the police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, had x-ray vision. Maybe he had one of those biotic implants that the television character, Steve Austin, had in the hit show The $6 Million Man. In what can only be described as the worst misunderstanding of all time, Yanez asked for Castile’s license and registration. Castile mentions that he has a gun in the car. He reaches for his license and registration. He states that he is not pulling a gun out. Yanez repeats, “Don’t pull it out.” “I’m not pulling it out.” Then Yanez fires seven shots at close range. Mr. Castile is killed on the spot. Although Yanez was indicted, the jury voted to acquit.
Tyre Nichols was a 29-year-old Black man. He was stopped for reckless driving. Exactly what this means is unclear. Without any explanation, you know what happened. Basically, there is a confrontation with Black police officers. Mr. Nichols tries to run away. There is another confrontation in which it appears that all five Black police officers beat Mr. Nichols. Mr. Nichols is declared dead at the hospital hours later. After an investigation, the police officers have been fired. They have also been arrested on multiple felony charges.
A video has been released by the Memphis Police Department. This shows the death of Mr. Nichols. I will not be watching the video. There is nothing in that video that’s going to calm my nerves or change my mind. An unarmed American should not be beaten to death because of reckless driving. It is that simple.
It has been almost 10 years since the Eric Gardner tragedy. Yet, I’m hard pressed to think of any major reforms that we’ve seen over the last decade. We’ve had protests. We have had heated rhetoric in state capitols. At the end of the day, not much has changed.
In fact, little has changed in more than 40 years! After all, back in 1979, Arthur McDuffie—a Black man, an ex-marine—was pulled over for speeding. He led the police on a high-speed chase. When he was caught, he was beaten to death by four police officers. In 1979.
Many Americans were shocked that Mr. Nichols was beaten and killed by Black officers. While race may play a minor part in many of these tragedies, I believe that the majority of these incidents revolve around respect and authority. The police officer desperately wants to be treated as a respected member of our society. At the same time, the person of color, who is usually a person of color, wants to be treated as an American citizen. How do we fix this problem?
We must recognize that we are all human. I know this sounds corny. It sounds like a cliché. But I don’t think it is. Instead, we must recognize that humans act differently in intense, high-pressure situations.
Once our brains perceive that we are in a life-and-death situation, rational thought is shut off. We have now initiated the “fight or flight” response.
Neurochemicals are released, which cause us to act differently. We are now in survival mode.
In my opinion, this is why these five police officers acted like a pack of animals. This is why officer Yanez shot an unarmed man. As soon as he heard there was a gun in the car, he perceived a serious threat. His ability to rationally take in stimuli, verbal stimuli, was gone. So, the answer to this puzzle is to avoid putting police officers in these positions where they think they are in mortal danger. Allow them to retreat to their police cars and call for backup. As they’re waiting for backup to arrive, the immediate threat lessens. Their blood pressure and pulse will slowly return to normal. Their ability to think rationally will return. Police officers must be better trained to de-escalate situations.
These “elite” police squads are a huge red flag to me. On TV, these police officers always make the right decisions. They never go over the line unless it is absolutely necessary to apprehend the bad guy.
But in the real world, these squads have been the source of intimidation, fear, abuse, and lawlessness. In Detroit, in the ‘70s, there was an elite squad that was given leeway to clean up crime. They abused citizens, and they planted evidence. Their low point was when they raided a “drug deal.” The drug deal turned out to be a card game between off-duty Black police officers. Several officers were shot. One was killed.
The Detroit squad was disbanded—as the Memphis squad has been this month. There are examples of these squads across the country, from Memphis to Detroit, LA to New York. The Memphis squad was an elite unit called SCORPION, of which all five fired police officers were members. All of these elite units end the same way, with mixed results in combating crime but a clear history of abuse and killing American citizens at an alarming rate.
But we know this. Right!?!? We know that if you give humans control of another group of humans without oversight, abuse will occur. In a simple psychological experiment performed at Sanford in the early 1970s, volunteers were randomly assigned to be prisoners or guards. Within days, the guards were treating the jailed as lesser human beings.
The experiment was stopped on day six because the guards were inflicting extraordinary abuse on these prisoners. The lesson from this experiment is that we as human beings can be cruel and inhuman if we are not given supervision. Now, let’s give a group of police officers super status. District attorneys and judges will look the other way just as long as these super cops are getting results. This is not a formula for community trust. It is a formula for disaster.
It appears the United States and France are going to send much-needed tanks to Ukraine. In my mind, war is never good. Sometimes, you must fight back. This is one of these times. This war is about world peace. It is about democracy. It is about not allowing Russia to do whatever it is they want to do. Understand that China is watching this extremely closely. If the world allows Russia to get away with invading, annexing, and subjugating Ukraine, Taiwan is next.
It appears that President Joe Biden has had classified documents. No, these documents are not at the White House. Instead, documents have been found at the Penn Biden Center for Democracy and Global Engagement. Several weeks later, documents were found in a storage area at President Biden’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. A “thorough” search of Biden’s home revealed more documents. These documents have been handed over to the National Archives. A special prosecutor has been named to look into the situation. (This is a mess. I was hoping that President Biden would hold a press conference and clear the air. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.)
Former Vice President Pence has also been found with classified documents. The vice president said in a statement that he was unaware of any classified documents. What now?
That sound you hear is aides to former vice presidents and presidents sifting through thousands and thousands of documents trying to make sure there are no classified documents in their possession. I think, I don’t know, that Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden did not knowingly remove classified documents from the government. This means we need a better system to sift through all of these documents and try to figure out what is classified and what is not. I am hopeful that Congress and the White House can put in place some method to avoid this problem in the future.
Let’s not confuse what Joe Biden and Mike Pence have done with what Donald J. Trump has done. Boxes and boxes of classified material ended up at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. This was intentional. Trump went out of his way to try to hide and conceal those documents, ignoring valid search warrang issued by a federal judge, and lying to FBI investigators. A whole different thing than what former VPs Biden and Pence did.
A video of Paul Pelosi and his attacker has been released by the San Francisco police. This is another video that I will not be watching. Seeing an 82-year-old man fighting for his life as he is struggling with a much younger man and a hammer is not my idea of entertainment.
There is nothing new that’s going to be revealed in this video. The attacker, David DePage, has admitted that he bought into all of those right-wing conspiracy theories. He thought that Democrats were harming America. He thought that Trump won the election. This was domestic terrorism. I hope and pray that Paul Pelosi has a full recovery.
Propaganda, rhetoric, and outright lies
Somehow, we have to figure out a way to remove inflammatory rhetoric from the public space. This should be our number-one priority. This propaganda needs to be removed from social media. It needs to be removed from the airwaves. It needs to be removed from our televisions. The idea that if you would disagree with me that you are un-American, an enemy of the state, a pedophile, an offspring of Satan, and are somehow subhuman, is simply wrong.
If we are going to move this country forward, we have to figure out a way to discuss our differences and find common ground. This is the only way that we are going to be able to tackle the complex problems facing our country—poverty, wealth and income disparities, underemployment, healthcare, undereducation, and climate change.
Bait and Switch
I’m really not a big fan of the State of the Union address. Unfortunately, over the last decade or so, it is devolved into a staged affair just like Macbeth or Fiddler on the Roof. The president will stand at the lectern and tick off his list of accomplishments. His party will stand and cheer. The other party will sit stone-faced and scowl.
This is exactly the way this State of the Union started. But something subtler was happening in the background. Joe Biden was congratulating not just the Democrats but also the Republicans for coming together and getting significant legislation passed. He actually went out of his way to thank Republicans for their support.
Then, in what can only be called political jujitsu, President Biden led the chamber down the primrose path. It was a path that was completely factual. Some Republicans decided to do their best Congressman Joe Wilson impersonation and act like children. (Joe Wilson was the congressman who yelled out during Barack Obama’s State of the Union address “You Lie!” He received a meaningless reprimand from the House.)
With some Republicans displaying behavior (yelling, catcalls, and the like) that could only be appropriate at a WWE wrestling match, Biden then asked the chamber a series of questions, and before you know it, the Republicans had agreed to protect Medicare and Social Security. Call it jujitsu. Call it the old Jedi mind trick. It was masterful. Suddenly Joe Biden does not seem too old and feeble-minded to be President of the United States. I have never seen anything like it. Biden was like a seasoned comedian putting the drunk heckler in his or her place.
Our old dog proved that he still has a few new tricks.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed here, as well as assertions of facts, are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of The Urban News.