FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ferguson is a Wake-Up Call For America

by

Police officers killed 400 people in the U.S. in 2013. Most died with barely a public trace – brief news coverage, a grieving family, a sparsely-attended funeral.

Michael Brown’s death was not unique. He was African American, young, and male. He was unarmed. The white, Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot him six times while Mr. Brown faced him in broad daylight, too far away to be an immediate threat. Mr. Brown’s offense was apparently that he ran away when Officer Wilson tried to arrest him for jay walking.

But then it hit the fan. The rage of a community sick and tired of life in a city with a poor, Black majority and a police force with three African American officers among 53 police. Poverty. Unemployment. Bad schools. Bad housing. Hopelessness.

It could happen anywhere. Including Oakland, where Alameda County sheriffs shot and killed the apparently unarmed 23-year-old African American man Jacorey Calhoun two weeks ago. Mr. Calhoun was allegedly a suspect in a crime that had occurred almost a month earlier, but no-one is explaining why he was killed. Deputy Derek Thoms, who killed Mr. Calhoun, has a history of misconduct complaints.

Our community has many questions to answer. Two stand out:

(1) What is the role of our police agencies?

(2) Can this nation ever rebuild its social contract?

Let’s start with the police. They play contradictory roles – people want them to safeguard our lives and property. Society employs them for social control.

Sir Robert Peel, who served as the English prime minister during the first half of the 1800s and created London’s Metropolitan Police Force in 1829, set out a set of principles still widely quoted by professional police officials. He declared, “The police are the public and the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

Peel also said, “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions,” and “police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.”

Whether policing in the United States, particularly in cities like Oakland, ever conformed to Peel’s principles is surely subject to debate. What is not controversial, however, is the reality that Oakland’s police are not members of the community. The vast majority do not live in Oakland. And they do not solve the majority of violent crimes that afflict our neighborhoods.

But Oakland is infamous for the police violence that led to 541 police abuse lawsuits from January 1, 2000, to August 21, 2012. According to the City Attorney’s office, Oakland paid out $11,466,868 to resolve 20 of these cases. This figure does not include the millions spent to hire outside counsel to defend the City or the $10.9 million spent to settle the Riders case and the millions more spent to monitor and to continue to argue about OPD’s compliance with it. Or the $7.0 million spent to resolve the Occupy Oakland cases.

KTVU Channel 2 did a study of total costs spent by Bay Area cities on police abuse cases. It showed that Oakland spent over $57 million from 2001 through 2011. By comparison, two cities with populations more than twice that of Oakland’s, San Francisco and San Jose, spent $28 million and $8.6 million, respectively.

Oakland’s police, like those in Ferguson, were transformed by the military hardware that began to arrive with the “war on drugs” in 1980 – tanks, helicopters, assault rifles, and night vision goggles. As in Ferguson, Oakland’s militarized police use this equipment to suppress protests – as it did against the Occupy movement in 2011.

And what about the social contract, the unwritten agreement between individuals and the government under which people accept the government’s authority over many aspects of their lives in exchange for the security and other benefits the government provides? When tens of millions of people are excluded from the benefits provided to the majority, social decay and disorder are inevitable.

In the U.S. today, the richest one percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. In Oakland the top 20 percent of households receives 49 percent of the total income, the bottom 20 percent receives three percent. Unemployment in Alameda County is 11 percent; for African Americans you double that number.

Three-quarters of our Oakland students qualify for free or reduced priced lunches; 42 percent are Hispanic, 29 percent are African American. Only 50 percent of African American and Latino students graduate from Oakland high schools within four years of starting. The state average is 80 percent.

This situation is not only morally wrong, it is a recipe for disaster. The future health of American society will depend upon its ability to close the income and privilege gaps that divide the rich and the poor, particularly low income people of color.

We can begin making the change we need. We can re-focus the police department to serving our communities and protecting us from violent crime. We can return the military hardware to the federal government and adopt a zero tolerance policy for police misconduct.

We can improve our schools and insist on the right of every child to learn. We can raise the minimum age to $15 and create good jobs for working people – working in our new hotels and restaurants, installing solar power, and providing other services.

We can protect tenants’ rights against evictions and build affordable housing for working people with contributions from the developers who want to create high-end housing.

Changing the world is tough. But we can create a new Oakland based on the principles of social and economic justice – beginning November 4.

Dan Siegel is a candidate for Mayor of Oakland.

February 10, 2016
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: the Primaries Begin
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail