2015.72: Black Lives, Cop Lives, Dangerous Rhetoric

Black lives matter.

This is not to say that other lives don’t matter.

It’s gertruding, sorta. Saying “black lives matter” calls attention to the question of whether black lives matter like white lives matter. Responding “all lives matter” denies the importance of the question.

And it is a fair question: do black lives in America matter the way white lives do? The question has been raised lately in the cases of police shootings, with account after account of cops getting away scot-free after killing black people.

A digression: I’m not nearly as interested in writing about unjustified police killings as Scott Greenfield and the boys at F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s-  …

F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s? …

F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s?  …

Fault Lines (whew!) are. What used to be the criminal-defense practical blawgosphere has turned into the police-misconduct blawgosphere.

It is tragic, but killings by cops are banal, a predictable symptom of the predominant cultural diseases of the 21st century, in which fear leads to trust in government leads to more fear, and police mistreatment of the citizenry leads to public resentment leads to more police mistreatment of the citizenry. Prosecuting cops for their killings would at best be an aspirin, temporary treatment of a minor symptom while the disease eats the rest of our freedom.

Maybe it’s a topic of such compelling importance that criminal-defense lawyering pales in comparison; maybe they love writing about it; or maybe blogging criminal-defense lawyers fetishize police misconduct for other reasons.

End digression.

The truth is that cops are going to get away with their killings regardless of their victims’ race. Which is not to say that black lives don’t matter less than white lives to the American criminal-justice system, but only that cop lives matter more than either.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman says, “cop lives matter too.” Yeah. No shit. The law and society already treat cops like special snowflakes with their own set of rules. It’s a felony to assault a cop; it’s a capital felony to kill a cop; when a cop is killed every other cop in town drops everything to find the killer; a cop can’t get indicted for murder in this town; corrupt judges will not find lying cops to be dishonest because they fear the judgments of police unions. That our society treats cop lives as mattering more than others is beyond obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

Hickman also

said the attack “strikes at the heart of law enforcement” and noted the “very dangerous national rhetoric that’s out there today.”

And when it gets to a point where cops are being assassinated, he said, this rhetoric is “out of control.”

A guy kills a cop for no obvious reason, and we immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s because he was a cop. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable conclusion, but would we jump to it if police didn’t think and behave like occupiers?

In truth, police officers are safer now than ever before: in 2013 there were 107 law-enforcement deaths in the US, the lowest annual number since 1912, when the population of the U.S. was less than a hundred million. It’s hard to see how the national rhetoric is “very dangerous.”

But rhetoric is speech. It ought in any case to be out of the control of people like Hickman. What Hickman and his ilk seek is two things: for the rhetoric to be controlled, and for cops to be treated even more specially than they are now. “It is time to come forward and support law enforcement,” says our DA, Devon Anderson.

Right. In Harris County, people don’t support law enforcement. I don’t know whether Anderson is delusional or cynically manipulative. The American public, out of irrational fear fed by people like Anderson, give law enforcement obeisance and tribute enough already.

That obeisance and tribute fuel anti-cop rhetoric. Treat cops like they are a class above, and the classes below will resent it, will talk about that resentment. Their talk will do no good, and they will occasionally resort to violence in their frustration. Calling for more obeisance and more tribute will do nothing to diminish the resentment and frustration.

We human beings are in no position to name anyone who deserves to be gunned down from behind. Goforth didn’t deserve it, and his wife and kids didn’t deserve to lose him. Killing him was a shitty thing for the killer to do.

Turning his killing into a political platform is a shitty thing for Hickman and Anderson to do, and ultimately counterproductive.

 

16 Comments

  1. That’s not fair. First, it’s unfair to question why someone writes about a particular subject, as if they need to justify it to anyone. You write what interests you. Others write what interests them. Why is this an issue?

    But second, we are looking at a time when killings, by cops and to cops, are hardly banal. I can’t recall any time in my career when the public was as aware, and interested, in the law and propriety of police shootings. I credit it to the confluence of video and the number of dubious needless killings of unarmed citizens.

    Perhaps this will blow over, as so many things do. But perhaps this is an opportunity to bring the depth of the problem to broader light, including questioning the law of Graham v. Connor. I see this as a very worthy use of my time and soapbox. I’m not suggesting you are obliged to agree or do so as well, but it’s also not something to trivialize if there is any possibility of changing public perception of police killings, and what might follow from that.

    Carry on.

  2. Political platform, completely. Taking “proper” (cynical use, here) advantage of situations like this will elevate a Sheriff or D.A. to the next political position in their careers. Just a problem with having law enforcement heads or D.A.s, A.G.s elected…cannot see that ever ending. Good post.

  3. In trying to fight a horrific racial profiling case on my own, got everything dismissed, including denial of counsel so my search for someone to assistance me march’s on today. Can /will you assist me in talking back the right’s the cops and judge stole from me ?

  4. All lives should be equal.
    As you articulated, in the criminal justice system all lives are hardly equal.
    All lives will be more equal if and when killer cops are prosecuted with the same fervor as cop killers. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Until then, to paraphrase George Orwell,
    All lives are equal, but some lives are more equal than others.

    Robb Fickman

  5. Mark,

    Thank you for the post. In 1999, I wondered whether Serbian lives mattered to Americans when America was bombing the shit out of Serbia, the country of my relatives (my father and mother are both Serbs). The US news media did not care. Over 500 Serbs died when Clinton lied and no one cared at all. 73 days later, the bombing stopped when Serbia gave Kosovo to the USA which the USA still controls to this day. 15 years later the USA has hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed there in KOSOVO. What do the people have to do to stop the “bombing”? What do the people have to give? Black lives do matter and the harassment and killing will not stop until drugs are legalized and civil liberties are restored by limiting the number of law enforcement officers who work the streets looking for crime instead of responding to crime.

  6. The black lives matter started on a shitty platform, too. Just saying. If you read the witness statements, you know why the cop in Ferguson was no billed. My favorite witness was the one who kept changing which window he witnessed it from because none in his apartment actually had a view of the scene. If it was wrong of Anderson and Hickman to politicize, then it was also wrong that that the police shooting was originally politicized, too.

    Where were the intelligent bloggers to point out that this cop (who apparently inspired the BLM campaign) practiced lessons learned from previous attacks on police. Look up David Smith from Village of Johnson City and I don’t even have a clue what color the shooter was.

    If it’s okay to acknowledge that black lives matter, then let us acknowledge our blue families’ lives matter, too. And you can just politicize that as much or as little as you desire. If it doesn’t bother you that some people want to raise awareness to black lives, or gender equality, or trans this or that, or which ever cause du jour that excited the social justice warriors that week, then just show that same tolerance and peace to those of us who value our own blue family members.

    Oh, you we think police lives are MORE important than black lives? If you see it that way, then we’re all valuable people. That means you have compassion and understand cops are just people who make mistakes and deserve second chances, just like anybody else.

    If you are more disgusted by rotten cops than a young man who made his own lapse in judgement and finds his way into your office, then you do hold them to a higher standard. This entire profession is put up to an impossible standard on the one hand, and then on the other, they apparently don’t deserve special acknowledgement by choosing to wear a badge and uniform, and then being killed for it.

      1. Right: let’s pretend for the sake of argument that all public servants’ lives are treated the same as cops’. They’re still treated as mattering more than ours.

        If you’re not more disgusted by rotten cops abusing their power than by other criminals, please don’t vote: you’re a danger to freedom. (Not that you’re special. Most people agree with you.)

      2. You always seemed wiser and fair to see both sides. I’m disappointed you went to assume I’m not disgusted by cops abusing their power. Not that I care for your blessing to vote.

        You’re not so special either. I’ve been stereotyped plenty. I really like your blog and your work anyway. I thought you might be more open to different perspective. That’s all.

      3. Your “different perspective” is that of every right-thinking person everywhere, and is enshrined in law, which is why when you say “cop lives matter” I say “yeah, no shit.”

    1. His point is not that “black lives matter” in generality. But that making that statement is basically raising the question “do we treat them as if they matter as much as white lives or any other color lives?”
      By responding that blue lives matter too, you are missing the entire point. ALL lives matter. And they should ALL be treated as such. No one is saying because black lives matter, blue lives don’t. But you are astronomically ignorant if you think the thin blue line doesn’t already get much MUCH better treatment than the rest of us: black, white, yellow, or brown.
      Yes. Blue lives matter. More than anyone else’s, judging by society’s response when one is lost. So they don’t need anyone to stand up and fight for acknowledgment because they already have it. Black lives matter too. The difference is; they need someone to stand up and fight for acknowledgement because they aren’t getting it.

      1. Someone smarter than me explained it simply: implicit in “black lives matter” is “too”:

        Black lives matter too.

        It’s indisputable that our culture values cop lives, and to a lesser extent white lives. Maybe it values black lives too, maybe it doesn’t. The question is the point.

  7. The Walter Scott case is straight up murder. Check it out it’s on YouTube. But that’s the only case, of the four or five others the media has shown, that really got my attention. The ferguson case, for example, Michael Brown, the one that started it all…the evidence is that there was a struggle between the deceased and the officer through the driver’s side window. Eye witness accounts and also there was blood on the side of the cop car. If I’m a cop, im going to assume that people know im armed, so if someone attacks me im going to assume they’re going for my gun.

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