Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Police Can't Be Punished for Wrongdoing

There have been many, many cases where police officers have very likely been guilty of some sort of wrong-doing. They seem, at times, to be too quick to beat, Taser, or shoot an alleged or suspected "perpetrator," frequently one who was unarmed--the more so, it seems, if the perpetrator is black (and this has at times included Latinos and even Asian Indians). Thus America's African-American population sees racial bias in this police behavior, and we have had riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and most recently in Baltimore over the treatment African-Americans receive at the hands of the police.

It's possible that sometimes the police officer's use of force was justified but it should be clear to any open-minded person that the police sometimes do wrong. Maybe at times it's an error of judgment that should not be judged criminal; but many times the police are pretty clearly in the wrong and even literally get away with murder. (A disclaimer: I generally try not to come to a conclusion as to whether a jury's verdict was correct because the jury members heard all the facts and I did not.)

In a recent case where a policeman fired shots into or at a group of people, the judge basically dropped the case. In Ferguson, the officer in question was not indicted by the grand jury. Where charges are pressed and the case proceeds to trial, the officer, if found guilty, gets no more than a slap on the wrist. As one example, there was a case here in Chicago where an off-duty police officer was tried for basically beating up a female bartender, half his size, who refused--as she should have--to serve him further drinks because he was drunk.  This event was caught on video and posted on YouTube, where it has had half a million views: Officer Anthony Abatte Beats Female Bartender  This officer was found guilty but his punishment was probation.

I think that the police get a break and get a blind eye turned to their guilt at every stage of the judicial process. Basically it is nearly impossible to convict and punish a police officer. Here are some of the reasons:

  • First, public prosecutors, district attorneys, and such are reluctant to bring the most serious charges that they could against a police officer. The reason for this is that prosecutors need the good will of the police collectively because they know that they are going to need the police to testify on their side, the prosecution, in future criminal trials.

  • Second, judges and juries are predisposed to be sympathetic to the police, to not only give them a lot of deference and sympathy but to believe their testimony. Again, in the typical or common sort of criminal trial, it's a case of the "good guys"--the police, representing law and order--testifying against defendants who, despite the supposed presumption of innocence, are likely to be seen as the "bad guys."

  • Third, police are extremely unlikely to testify against other police. They have a solidarity with one another such that they will lie and conceal or distort evidence in order to help to acquit another police officer. And police hierarchy, police unions, and "police spokesmen" (really no more than public-relations professionals) universally defend the police and are totally unwilling to ever admit that a police officer could be at fault in any particular case.

An interesting statistic: for the latest year for which statistics are available, police in America shot 111 people. That is more than were shot in the United Kingdom since 1900. One big difference in the police procedures of the two countries is that U.K. police most of the time do not go about armed.

I don't know whether the riots we have had are ultimately going to do any bottom-line good, but if justice is to be served in America and unjustified killing is to be even reduced, we need some changes in how the police are treated by our  judicial system. Another approach might be to avoid hiring as a police officer any man or woman who has excessive aggressive tendencies or might be racist. But here I might be putting too much faith in the ability of psychological testing to identify those who ought not to be made police officers.

Copyright (c) 2015

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oklahoma! and Oklahoma (the show and the state)

Recently PBS, America's public/educational television network, has been broadcasting a recording of a recent performance of the 1943 Broadway musical show Oklahoma!
I am afraid that Oklahoma! upsets me, as I see it as very politically incorrect.

Let's look at several aspects of the past and present of the real entity that is Oklahoma-- that is, the state.

Beginning in 1831,* President Andrew Jackson, in defiance of the US Supreme Court, forcibly uprooted the Indians of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and several other tribes who had been living in the Southeastern United States and compelled them to migrate hundreds of miles--with enormous hardship including hunger and even death--to Oklahoma. Oklahoma was then known as "Indian Territory" and was to be a home, in fact essentially a refuge, for the Indians--theirs and theirs alone.

However, it was only a matter of a few decades before this promise was broken and Oklahoma was opened up to settlement by white settlers. True, a fairly sizeable tract of the state of Oklahoma is today Indian reservations, but they do not comprise a majority of the state's area.

Now, to look at Oklahoma today: Oklahoma is one of the most conservative states in the US. The city of Norman, Oklahoma, being the seat of the University of Oklahoma, is generally considered liberal; but evidently liberal relative to Oklahoma is still not really very liberal. In an event that was the subject of another PBS program, the following occurred in Norman: The Norman City Council attempted to issue a proclamation recognizing Gay History Month. This might seem harmless to a great many people, but evidently in Oklahoma such a move is controversial. A number of people, including the assistant pastor at a local church, stood up to make speeches attacking gay people, usually using false "facts." For example, the assistant pastor asserted--wrongly--that nearly half of LGBT people are infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
There was a young man in the audience that day, and he listened to those speeches. He himself was gay, and hearing how gay people were so reviled in his community--even in supposedly liberal Norman--caused him to commit suicide.

The assistant pastor, certainly one of the people whose words so tragically influenced this  young man, will not admit that he and his words had any role in the young man's suicide, though, I believe, he has admitted that his statistics on gays and STDs were incorrect. And, he later was elected to the City Council, replacing a woman who, at least at the time of the election, was widely known to be a lesbian.

So my knowledge of these past and recent events associated with Oklahoma affects my view of the state and is the reason why any praising or aggrandizing of Oklahoma by the musical show bothers me.
Maybe I need to keep in mind that Oklahoma! is a work of art and not see it as a political or social statement. However, its composer and librettist, Rogers and Hammerstein, are the same Rogers and Hammerstein who, six years after Oklahoma!, in 1949, wrote the musical South Pacific, in which they did in fact attempt to make a social statement, a statement about racial prejudice which was definitely ahead of its time.


*The removals took place over several years. The Choctaw were the first to be relocated, in 1831, and the Cherokee the last, in 1838. Data from Wikipedia.
Copyright (c) 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A New Archbishop for Chicago

Just now, our local (Chicago, Illinois, USA) television concluded the broadcast of the installation ceremony of a new Roman Catholic archbishop for Chicago. For those who care, his name is Blase Cupich and he had been the bishop of Spokane, Washington. More important, he is expected to further the policies and attitudes of Pope Francis.
I'd like to share some thoughts and reflections on this event.

I am not a Catholic nor even a Christian, but who the local Roman Catholic archbishop currently happens to be still might affect me. Who the archbishop happened to be at the time undoubtedly affected my Jewish ancestors in Europe as it could be a matter of whether they, as Jews, would be persecuted or, more likely, how vigorously they would be persecuted. (I find, more and more, that when I think about cathedrals or the Catholic Church I think about the persecution of Jews by their Christian neighbors for nearly 2000 years.)

And even today, I can still be affected by who currently is in power in the Roman Catholic Church because, if the Church preaches anti-gay prejudice, that has the potential to stir up those who hear such words and incite them to anti-gay prejudice and even anti-gay violence which I could be the victim of. Also, the Church has been influential in opposing anti-gay discrimination laws and same-sex marriage at the legislative level.

So, who the leaders of the Catholic Church are has the potential to affect me personally in several ways, and I am glad that the current pope and similarly his appointee, the Archbishop of Chicago, show signs that they are going to be more liberal, more human and more humane.

Copyright © 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Money in Politics.... Or, How Much Will That Office Cost Me?

In the recent election in my state, Illinois, the Republican candidate for governor was a man named Bruce Rauner. Rauner is a billionaire, and his annual income (as he released the figures during his campaign) is 60 million dollars.
I did not vote for this man. I'm not likely to vote for a Republican, but also, in this particular case, I felt that he believed he could buy the election--personal wealth, when put into a political campaign, translates into more TV campaign advertising--and the election results proved that he was right.
Generally, in America, there is not much class resentment. The poor don't resent the wealthy and mobs don't stone the Rolls-Royces as they roll by. One reason is that people still buy into the great American myth that anybody can "make it," that you might be rich some day.

And how might that come about? Well, some people live in hopes of winning the lottery. But rags-to-riches is a myth for most people during waking hours. While occasionally someone starts as a mailroom clerk and ends up president of the company, it's more the rule that your socioeconomic class tends to stay the same throughout your life.

I don't know the whole story of Rauner's financial success, but he owns a number of businesses. To put Rauner's wealth into perspective: there are not many avenues, not many occupations, that will give you an income of 60 million. Some professional athletes have multi-million annual incomes, but I don't think they typically make 60 million. An Elvis Presley or a Michael Jackson makes that much. I would not be surprised if J. D. Rawlings (author of the Harry Potter books) has made that much.
Copyright (c) 2014.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Shoot Your (Ex-) Boss

There have been numerous incidents in the news of disgruntled employees shooting their bosses, particularly employees who have been fired, going back to the workplace and shooting the person who had fired them.

I've had a number of bosses who were truly evil; and I've been fired more times than I care to admit. But I can't say that it occurred to me to go and shoot them, or even that I think that doing such a thing is reasonable. But yeah, I get it.

So, much as I abhor guns, I was thinking about how you'd want to do it.

It's easiest to sneak in a small gun. Mind you, I know almost nothing about guns, but I have absorbed the fact that a small gun may well just wound, rather than kill. So it might take more than one shot.

However, after the first shot, people who heard a gunshot will come running. Maybe that's why so many of these boss-shooters, when they're caught in flagrante delicto, as it were, turn the gun on themselves.

Well, I think this is how you want to do it: First, shoot the boss once. Then—assuming you had been planning to off yourself as well, rather than face all that nasty business of a trial and probable imprisonment—shoot yourself. Then, if you are still alive and able to manage it, fire one or two more shots into your boss. Sic semper tyrannis!

Copyright © 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Columbus' Stupid Mistake

Every time someone uses the word Indian, it requires clarification. Does it refer to a person from India, or a Native American? The problem stems from what I call "Columbus' stupid mistake."

As every schoolboy knows, when Columbus reached the New World, he thought he had reached India, which was what he had set out to get to. (At some point he realized, "This is not India." I don't know how long the realization took.)

Well, actually, it may be wrong to accuse Columbus of having been stupid. The ultimate cause of the error was that he had bad information on the size of the Earth. He thought, "It's x number of hours' sailing to India—based on what I know to be the diameter of this planet. I have sailed for about x hours; therefore I must have reached India." But the Earth is bigger than he thought, and he had no way of knowing that there was a very significant land mass between Europe and India (going west). So—maybe a reasonable mistake.

But his naming the New World natives "Indians" has caused a problem for more than 500 years. I imagine the Native Americans never cared for being called (and apparently confused with) Indians from India.

The British get around  the problem by using the term "Red Indian." Of course it would also help if we always, or reliably, used Indian only to refer to someone from India and used Native American (or "First Nations," as I believe they say in Canada) for the other meaning. It also works if you use "East Indian" for the Indians from Asia.

Copyright © 2014.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Social Inequality, Then and Now, There and Here

The British-produced television series Downton Abbey has proved very popular with American public television audiences. Somewhat in the tradition of an earlier series also shown on PBS, Upstairs Downstairs, it's about an English family of high social class and depicts the dramas in the lives of both the family (the "upstairs" part) and their servants ("downstairs").

Since Downton Abbey begins in 1912, when Lord Robert and his family receive the news of the sinking of the Titanic (and thus the loss of the heir to the family's title and property), we can say it shows life as it was 100 years ago. The lives of the family members who live in the grand house, Downton Abbey, are contrasted with the lives of those downstairs—the family's many servants who include a butler, a housekeeper, a cook, many subordinate kitchen servants, a valet, a lady's maid, a chauffeur, footmen, and more.

The family (and their guests) eat sumptuous food; whereas the servants eat simpler food.

The family eat their food off splendid china, silverware, crystal, and so forth. It's not too clearly shown but we can be sure the servants eat off more rustic china, and so forth.

The family have better clothes, and they don't dress themselves—don't button their buttons nor tie their ties--because that's what the servants are for.

Where does the hereditary wealth and power of this and other, similar familes originally come from? Sometimes it stems from the grant of land by the king to an ancestor, 400 or 500 years ago. Or the family may be descended from the conquering Normans who seized all of England in 1066 and thus had the power to take the land from the Saxon nobles who had previously possessed it.

There are other cultures with similar and perhaps even greater social inequality, for example India, with its caste system (now officially and/or in principle abolished) or Ecuador, where the people of native blood, the Indios, are discriminated against and have a very lowly status.

People in England, at least before the system began to change after the First World War, took all this inequality and the class system for granted. People who live under such a system usually accept, with little or no questioning, that there are one's "betters," who are worthy of their superior wealth and power. The idea has even been promulgated that all this is divinely ordained, that God decreed or created a hierarchical system.

I write this from the perspective of an American of the 21st century. Not that there is not and never has been any social inequality in America, or any class system--there is in fact considerably inequality of wealth and it has been worsening--but Americans do not believe that one's station is part of one's fate in life and decreed at (and by) birth. There is no hereditary privilege similar to the right to serve in the British House of Lords, which was in fact recently abolished. This was put in our Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal." And Americans have always had faith that under our system it was possible to rise. In the Great Britain of Downton Abbey, a man could achieve wealth through business but he might still not be completely accepted by the aristocracy. He would still lack the "breeding."

Thus, inevitably, I think that an American watching Downton Abbey has to find the social-class system, as depicted there, quite a curiosity.

Copyright © 2014