Last week was a bad week in relations between black men and police officers in the United States. First, on Tuesday, the day after Independence day, we had the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Then, on Wednesday we had the shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Then, on Thursday, we had the retaliatory shooting of twelve police officers in Dallas by Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran. Five of those officers were killed. In addition, two civilians were also injured. This took place at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
In the aftermath of these three events, a lot of commentators and people on Facebook noted that there is no contradiction between supporting the police and also wanting a few police officers to stop shooting young black men just because they are young and black. But, as was to be expected, certain elements of the right wing and certain police groups went about blaming President Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, leave it to the right wing.
Black Lives Matter
If I were a young black man living in the United States today, I’d probably want to shoot me a whitey or two. I wouldn’t do it, because unlike Micah Xavier Johnson, I’m not a sociopath. But after Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose and Freddie Gray, and now Alton Sterling and Philado Castile, you can understand why young black men in America would be a little bit paranoid. And those are only the incidents we have video of. Imagine the hundreds and thousands of encounters we don’t have video of.
So, when people say “black lives matter,” it’s obviously not because other lives don’t matter. The point is clearly that the way young black men have been treated, especially by the police, is as if black lives don’t matter. That is so clearly the point.
There have been enough painful recitations of stories about how black families have to instruct their black sons on how to deal with police in order not to get shot. And yet, even when those black sons do exactly as they are supposed to – as appears to be the case with Philando Castile – some of them still get shot.
Some people have noted the irony that young black men fear the police, and a lot of police officers fear young black men. But police officers are in positions of authority. They are going to have to get over their fear of young black men if they want to do their jobs.
Some commentators have also noted the irony that people like Micah Johnson and Dylann Roof are actually on the same side. They’re on the side of the race war. As William Saletan writes in Slate:
This is the central thing to understand about what happened in Dallas: Black people who target whites are fundamentally allied with white people who target blacks. They’re on the same team: the race war team. It’s a lot like the global struggle over jihadism, in which Muslims who hate Christians collaborate, in effect, with Christians who hate Muslims. In the case of jihadism, the real struggle isn’t between two religions. It’s between people who want religious war and people who don’t. The same is true of race: Either you’re on the race war team, or you’re against it.
So blaming the supporters of Black Lives Matter for Micah Xavier Johnson makes about as much sense as blaming all conservative Christians for Dylann Roof. In other words, no sense at all.
“This is now War. Watch out Obama. Watch out Black Lives Matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
So, this would be like a black congressman, after the Dylann Roof shooting, telling white conservative Christians that “Black America” was coming after them. How do you think that would go over in “real” America?
Blue Lives Matter
Back in the days of the Vietnam War, I remember that there were people who were asking Vietnam Vets why the hell they had gone over there to “kill gooks.” These veterans had done their duty for an unpopular cause – mostly not because they had a choice about it, but because they were drafted – and they were received back home in the most despicable way.
We’ve come a long way since then. For the most part, veterans, police, firefighters and other people who “put their lives on the line” are lionized in today’s society. The death of a cop is always big news, and the officer is normally honored publicly in a big way. Police officers have the thin blue line which represents both their loyalty to each other, but also the ideology that they may not rat out each other.
The attack on these twelve police officers was despicable. Any person of conscience recognizes that. In one of the little ironies noted in the news, one of the victims of Micah Xavier Johnson was Patrick Zamarripa, 32, and a fellow veteran. So one veteran shot another.
In reality police officers run the gamut from heroes to assassins. Many of them become police officers because they want to be protectors of society. Others become police officers because they’re intoxicated by the power that it brings. Many do it for both reasons, and other combinations as well. That duality is symbolized nicely in the 2004 film Crash, in which the character played by Matt Dillon first assaults a professional black woman, and then later in the film he rescues her from a terrible car accident.
But when it comes to the shooting of Alton Sterling there is really no other reasonable way to look at this than as an assassination. The video doesn’t lie. Sterling was prone on his back with two cops kneeling over him. He had already been tasered earlier in the confrontation. One of the cops puts a gun directly to his chest, and pulls the trigger. What did he expect would happen?
And what was Sterling’s crime? He was selling CDs after hours in the parking lot of a food mart.
I have done investigations professionally both for the juvenile justice agency of the Commonwealth as well as for other human services providers. One of the things that has changed over the years is that many juvenile facilities now have cameras in the common areas, and the cameras don’t lie. Oh sure, an investigator can find out circumstances before and after what was caught on camera that provides additional context for an event, but essentially the camera doesn’t lie. And in the Alton Sterling case, it’s clear that one of these two officers basically assassinated the guy.
It’s time for police officers to stop defending guys like this. Guys like this are dragging their whole profession down. Police officers should want to get rid of these bad apples, these guys who are causing entire communities to be distrustful of the police.
And one thing is clear already: after this election, where Donald Trump will hopefully not be elected President, we’re going to have to do a lot of work to try to heal parts of this country.
 By the way, this guy, Micah Xavier Johnson, is also a veteran that we sent over to Afghanistan, where he most likely got his brain scrambled. That’s what happens to a lot of guys sent into war zones. They get their brains scrambled. So maybe this wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t sent this guy to Afghanistan in the first place.
 What is this whole thing with “real” America? Do you have to be a certified idiot to qualify for that club?
 One of the additional ironies here is that the Dallas Police department is, by reputation, one of the more progressive police departments when it comes to community relations, especially with the African-American community. Much of that apparently has to be credited to the leadership of its chief, David Brown.