Sunday, September 25, 2016

Charlotte, Police Training, Citizen Design, Mutual Responsibility

I have little time for photo-opportunity, headline-grabbing advocacy by mindless protest. I believe in advancing solutions that might make matters better.

I am truly sorry for Keith Scott and his family. As I am for all individuals who have to suffer the consequences of violent death.

Our systems of government and civil order are not perfect. But, until we change them through the channels and by the means that our communities have evolved since the founding of the United States of America, then they are the systems that apply to all of us. However unfair or unequal some of us may view them to be.

I spent some time recently advocating, as effectively as one man can, for a change in the way that policing policy in the US is devised and implemented – Citizen Design of Policing.

But, here’s the thing. How many people, whether in my immediate community of Carrboro, NC, where I specifically attended the inaugural Citizen’s Police Academy, back in 2015, so that I could address that concept, face-to-face with Carrboro police officers. How many of my fellow citizens in Carrboro, or anywhere else in the US, who may have read my posts, how many of them have taken any steps to change policing policy in their communities? As opposed to raising a fist at a football game?

What I regard as a truly realistic pathway to allow communities to design the manner in which they are policed exists right now. It requires no new legislation. No new governmental bodies. No new funding. Just the will of citizens to demand of the elected officials commanding the allocation of resources to police authorities that those elected officials immediately make the allocation dependent on those police authorities understanding that, henceforth, their rules of engagement will be defined by those allocating the resources, on behalf of the local citizenry, and with the involvement of concerned citizens. It really is as simple as that.

Yet. As much (or, as little) as I have advocated. What movement has there been among the citizenry of Carrboro, NC – my current hometown? What plans advanced by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen? Why is Carrboro important, in the greater scheme of things? Other than the fact that many within this highly liberal borough are today extremely vocal about events three hours down the road, in Charlotte, NC. Other than that fact, it isn’t. Unless you agree with my oft-stated position that, if we were to experiment with a concept like Citizen Design in a small community like Carrboro, we might then be able to export the successful notion to more at-risk communities around the US.

That would be an achievement far more effective than a raised fist, a tweet, a photo opportunity or a CNN-headlining flash mob.

Now. Citizen Design alone will not change everything. One thing I learned during my advocacy and while engaging in quite proactive conversation at the Carrboro Police Academy is that all US police training is based on suppression, not de-escalation.

Literally, the rules of engagement in any confrontation between citizen and police officer are designed on the basis of command suppression. The police officer is trained to create a command presence. Shouting commands to the citizen to comply with the commands. Lack of obedience is then used as the trigger for escalation. Leading to use of force to bring the confrontation to an early close.

In fact, we had one quite interesting exchange in one of the experiential scenarios in which we engaged after some eight hours of the Academy. My police officer team-mate ‘shot’ a fake perpetrator, as I was engaged in talking to the perpetrator. We had a quick review afterwards.

To be honest, I liked those of my hometown officers who participated. We were on first name times. The discussion was vigorous, but respectful. And that is the way it should be.

I made only a quick point. There was not time for more. But I stated that, if we had more time, I would argue that the shooting of the perpetrator was wrong.

My team-mate said that the shooting was standard policy. The perpetrator was threatening a police officer (me). I countered that, although the perpetrator had initially advanced towards me, the advance had halted when I took a deliberate step back. I was no longer in immediate danger. And the call should have been mine. I had my ‘gun’ drawn, and was fully capable of protecting myself.

I believe the latter to be a standard policing approach in, for example, the UK. Where it is the belief that most perpetrators generally are not attempting to threaten wider society, but merely to carve out a place of safety. Allow them a heavily-defined area of safety. And one can de-escalate the situation by containment.

I’m not sure I convinced my team-mate in that one brief exchange. But I did two things. I began a conversation. In which all who truly care about policing should be engaged. And I fully understood the consequences of what I believe to be the current misguided thinking behind US police training. Namely, that we are going to have many more instances of contested police shootings as long as training emphasizes suppression over containment and de-escalation.

Now. Looking to the wider picture. And to thoughts which may well unsettle some folks. We all have a responsibility for civil order in our communities. We may not like the manner in which law enforcement is legislated in our society at the moment. But it is a form of enforcement that has been evolved by communities using the existing channels of legislation and government. If we want matters to change, then we use those channels and advocate for change.

In the meantime, we should all commit ourselves to make the existing system of enforcement work. We should all get stuck in. We do not stand to one side. Yelling, screaming and rioting.

Now, let me make that point even more clear. And I may be contradicting what I have said in the past. I am not saying don’t yell and scream. In the immediate moment. I am saying, don’t stand to one side. Commit. Make that moment of law enforcement work. As best we can. Understanding that all humans are, well, only human.

Which means that. Sometimes. When the situation arises. When we personally are faced with an immediate challenge. In a law enforcement scenario that thrusts itself upon us. Very often the outcome will be one which depends upon our personal commitment, our personal morality and our personal investment.

And so. Whether it leads to outrage or not. I’m going to say it. If Keith Scott’s wife had truly wanted to protect her husband, she should have run over, put her own life at risk for her husband and inserted herself between the police officer and her husband. She should not have stood by taking a video.

Keith Scott’s wife had enough time to make a decision. And she chose to take a video rather than saving her husband’s life.

That in no way exonerates the police. That does not lessen my revulsion at rules of engagement which can only lead to confrontation and death. That does not remove responsibility from the police for their actions. But, as a statement, it does place upon Keith Scott’s widow the responsibility that is hers alone.

We as a society are responsible for what we do and what we don’t do. We are responsible when we support the existing status quo, which allows police to suppress not de-escalate. And we are supporting that status quo when all we do is raise a fist, rather than actively involving ourselves in the processes that give effect to change.

Police are responsible for their actions. They are responsible when they draw a gun. They are responsible when they fight back against citizenry attempting to take control by designing the policing policy in their community.

And Keith’s Scott widow is responsible for the decision she made. To take a video. Rather than running to the aid of her allegedly mentally unwell husband.

I’m not sure what it is. Too much social media? Too many technological advances? Too much life by instant celebrity? I truly do not know. But it seems to me that we have become a society of bystanders, passers-by.

We do not achieve. We ape. We do not commit to our own advance. We watch the virtual ambitions of others. We do not seek substantive gain. Merely fifteen minutes of personal celebrity.

There is much about our society at the moment which just leaves me puzzled. Much about our politics. Much about our elections. And much about this horrible episode in Charlotte, NC.

But of one thing I am reasonably certain. We are where we are not because one side is wrong and the other side is right. Not because one person or group of people did something terrible. And the rest of us are exonerated. But because we have all of us allowed our own personal moral compasses to become terribly corrupted. Before we look to excoriating others, we might better look to wondering about our own actions, inactions and thought processes.

And lest you think I’m totally missing what others may think is the genuine bigger picture, let me link to the Movement for Black Lives platform. With this caveat. We will only move forward together. If we start placing more emphasis on the realistic and consensual ‘yes,’ rather than an unrelenting focus on the uncompromising ‘no.’ If we roll up our sleeves and get involved, rather than merely standing by. If we say the hard things that are unpalatable, rather than always playing for Facebook ‘Likes.’

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Chilcot: The Limerick

“There was an old man called Chilcot
Whose Report on Iraq was all shot
He declared without fear
What we wanted to hear
That WMD’s there were not”

Well. We learn the lesson time and time again. And then a week later, we forget it. Whether it is Brexit, Trump, Benghazi, Clinton’s e-mails, or now, for the – how many British Iraq War Reports have there been? – umpteenth time. The more information we are given by establishment figures of supposed repute, the more we can be absolutely certain we are still in the dark.

And so. Gee. Which first? The plug? The explanation? The expose? The conspiracy theory? Tell you what. I’ll leave you to do most of the legwork this time. I’ll try to keep it simple.

I have written essentially two books. The first one, very kindly published by a wonderful gentleman called RA Kris Millegan, and entitled Maggie’s Hammer. The other is the kitchen sink version, from which the latter was artfully distilled, and is known as Dead Men Don’t Eat Lunch.

Between the two, I set out my belief that the world continues to be fed a massive lie about WMD’s in Iraq. Namely, that there were always WMD’s in Iraq. That the invasion was staged in order to make them disappear. For reasons of which I am not certain. And all the rest is establishment collusion. Also for reasons of which I am not certain.

I’m not going to feed you the rationale for that belief. If you really care, buy the books. I have only three things to say:

1) A British government scientist called David Kelly ended up dead in the woods (there was a lot of that in my story) because he believed that, in 2003, there remained substantial potential in Iraq for Hussein to construct a deadly biological weapons capability, and the British government were lying about it.

He believed this because he was the lead scientist tasked by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) with reporting in 1998 on what still existed in Iraq with respect to its biological weapons program after seven years of United Nations inspections.

Kelly produced a 100-page report setting out all that still remained in Iraq in this latter regard. This was no ‘sexed-up’ report. No Blair pipe-dream. It was Kelly’s factual account. And it related only to biological weapons. Similar reports were produced in respect of Iraq’s continuing chemical and nuclear ambitions.

2) Nick Cohen, currently a columnist with the respected (London) Observer newspaper, laughed at me in, ooh, I dunno, about 2005, when I ran by him my rationale for suggesting that the Iraq invasion was merely a cover to make Iraq’s WMD’s disappear.

He did me the courtesy of not laughing when I asked him the following, rather convoluted question: Ok Nick, so, when the US and the UK governments told you and the rest of the world’s gathered media that, oops, there aren’t any WMD’s after all, how many of you stuck your hands up in the air, and said, um, hang on, holding all the UNSCOM reports here, the ones from 1998, when their inspectors were thrown out by Saddam, the ones with the pretty maps showing us where all the weapons sites were/could be/should be. Er. When are we going to be taken on the grand tour, to prove to us that all these sites no longer exist?

Not only did Nick not laugh. He did me the further courtesy of saying, in no particular order: huh, good question, and, er, no-one …

Mind you, he didn’t want to talk to me any more. This might have been ‘cos I didn’t know when to stop. And I might have made the rather dry point that, he and the world’s gathered media simply bought the first explanation on offer from the very same people they had just accused of lying …

3) Would anyone care to explain to me how it was that ISIS, you know, the nasty military group headed by Saddam’s former generals, how they managed in 2014 to lay their hands on the very same chemical weapons in Iraq that, you know, weren’t supposed to exist?

I think I’ll leave it there. You read Chilcot. Believe what you want to believe. Then, construct your own conspiracy theory …

Friday, June 24, 2016

David Cameron's Resignation

I may be the only Tory in the universe to say so, but I'm going to miss David Cameron. The British Conservative Party is a broad church. It's why, even though my politics have shifted leftwards during my lifetime, I have still been able to accommodate my British politics within the rather nervous embrace of that Party.

But now, we enter a time of darkness. Not just for the British Conservative Party, which is about to be taken over by the neanderthals (think Donald Trump, with an Oxford accent). But for Great Britain generally.

The European Union is going to strip Great Britain bare, before it throws it out ignominiously. All this talk of the rest of the world still respecting Great Britain will be seen to be so much tosh. Great Britain has become little more than the City of London, surrounded by a rather quaint tourist attraction called 'the Queen and her lands.' For sure, folks will do business with Great Britain, but on their terms, and at their pace. Not those of Great Britain.

For six years as Prime Minister, and for ten years as Leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron kept his cool and his pride, as the media treated him as the 'not' guy. Not-Thatcher, not-Blair. He was denigrated, diminished and denied. He did make tough decisions. That wasn't just a testosterone battle cry. He coaxed Great Britain out of one recession. And laid the foundations to help it survive the next one. He didn't please everyone. He didn't try to. He knew that was impossible. He just attemptied to do the right thing for the country as a whole.

His brave decision to move the British Conservative Party closer to the center of political thought was not just show. Many of my friends may disagree with that sentiment. But he took on the right within his Party. Those who now crow at his demise. And time and again, he put his credibility on the line when a progressive issue close to his heart was on the agenda. Not least the issue of gay marriage.

The irony of his resignation, indeed the opposition to him over ten years from those within the right-wing of his Party and in the right-wing media, the irony is that, tacky politics aside, it was his decision to hold a referendum on Europe that was the cause of his leaving. They may laugh now. But ultimately, they will thank him for the opportunity he gave to the British people to have their voice heard.

History will show that Cameron was a seriously underestimated man. He won two General Elections, in very difficult circumstances. He gave the British people three opportunities to express themselves on issues central to modernizing British politics and the nation - the voting system, Scottish independence and then Europe.

But for me, I will remember him as a leader who surprised and then warmed with a no-nonsense, man-of-the-world, self-confident, courageous and compassionate approach to the business of guiding the people for whom he clearly cared through the complexities and dangers of an increasingly intense world.

Now, let's not get too mushy. Fact is, and this is perhaps the most surprising item of all, Cameron has not yet even turned 50. Many years left. Though I expect for the next decade he will want to focus merely on raising his young family, and supporting his wife in her career ambitions.

In the meantime, it would be an idiot who does not see a likely parallel in American politics. In which case, since folks seem to be turning against progressive elites who do not listen to them, Hillary should be very scared right now ...