Sunday, July 10, 2016

Scapegoating Freedom Of Expression

Mourners seek comfort in downtown Dallas 
The decision of 25-year-old Micah Jones, a deeply disturbed former member of the U.S. Army Reserves who'd served abroad in Afghanistan, to use a peaceful demonstration in downtown Dallas to senselessly murder five law enforcement officers last Thursday night was a heinous act of murder with repercussions that will continue to echo across the nation for years to come.

Was this latest mass shooting in America truly motivated by racial hatred as the suspect's words to police negotiators would seem to suggest?

Or did the events of the past week that surrounded the senseless deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota serve as some kind of deep psychological trigger that (in his mind) served as what he saw as some kind of moral justification to set in motion the killing spree he unleashed on innocent men?

It's obviously way too early to understand exactly what set him off, we may never really know.

But Jones' statements and the apparent support he expressed for black nationalist groups on his Facebook page sound eerily like those of the Orlando nightclub mass shooter Omar Mateen; who told negotiators that he embraced two different radical Islamic groups that totally oppose one another, and that he hated homosexuals even though there is evidence to suggest that he himself was homosexual.

As depraved as Jones' actions in Dallas, and the thinking that prompted them were, the reality is that they had nothing to do with the wider protest movement against the rampant killing of people of color in America by some police officers.

Ex-San Jose PD detective Ron Martinelli
It's been astonishing to see how quickly some people have moved to vilify the Black Lives Matter protest movement as some kind of insidious plot.

For example, yesterday Michel Martin hosted a segment on NPR's All Things Considered that listened to various views on the events of the past week exclusively from the perspective of current or former law enforcement professionals.

She spoke with Ron Martinelli, a former officer and detective who served 25-years with the San Jose, California Police Department.

Martinelli, who makes a handsome living working as a paid court witness giving expert testimony on police tactics and procedure, claimed that Black Lives Matter is engaged in a "war" on police.

When pressed to explain, Martinelli told Michel Martin that Black Lives Matter, "...want to defund law enforcement. They want to diminish their involvement in the community and their stature, and they basically want to dissolve law enforcement. 

And the reason is because police officers are protectors of the rule of law, and the Black Lives Matter movement is a black nationalists revolutionary Marxist movement that is tied into a much larger international movement referred to as One World One Struggle." 

Of course, none of those things are true, but click the link above if you want to read a full transcript of his comments.

He's one of many conservatives in this country who've seized on the heinous actions of a lone, mentally disturbed gunman to mischaracterize a grassroots protest movement that was formed by three women in the wake of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and killer George Zimmerman's being acquitted of any legal responsibility for his death.

Activist DeRay McKesson
The tone of some of these comments (and others opposed to the BLM movement) are dismissive of nationally-recognized BLM activist DeRay McKesson's 1st Amendment rights to free speech.

As was widely reported, he was arrested (on live video stream) Saturday night by Baton Rouge police for allegedly stepping over a white line onto a roadway during a protest against the killing of Alton Sterling.

News of his arrest exploded on social media.

Funds for his legal defense and that of other protesters arrested in Baton Rouge poured in from around the world and the phone number of the Baton Rouge Police Department was posted online for people to call to demand his release.

As video of his arrest under false pretense spread around the globe and backfired for the Baton Rouge PD, McKesson was released earlier today.

But despite that, as I was reading through the reader comments on a New York Times story about his arrest this morning, many people have reduced his commitment to speaking out against the rampant and unwarranted use of deadly force by some members of U.S. law enforcement to a simplistic exercise in vanity - I'm not sure where that's coming from.

The killing of five Dallas police officers by a madman was wrong, and maybe Texas legislators need to rethink the absurd open carry laws that let people stroll around the streets armed with loaded assault rifles like it's Mogadishu instead of a major American city.

But it's also wrong to channel outrage over the murder of those poor officers onto DeRay McKesson, and use him as a scapegoat for the racial tensions that have simmered beneath and above the surface of this nation for decades.

He didn't start the fire. So instead of blaming him for pointing to the flames, maybe some of the critics calling for his head should spend a few minutes and actually listen to the man speak, as he did in a revealing interview on the Brian Lehrer Show earlier this year during an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Baltimore.

He's a rational, highly intelligent advocate for justice who speaks eloquently on issues related to the impact of race on the American landscape - to reduce him to the kind of one-dimensional "narcissistic anarchist" stereotype being peddled by conservative talking heads is to completely miss the man and what he's actually about.

In the meantime protests over the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile continue in cities across the United States.

What does it say about this nation that some Americans seem angrier about protesters exercising their 1st Amendment right to express outrage over unjustified police killings, than they are about the police killing people of color for no reason?

The high profile deaths of seven people last week were the result of unspeakable acts; but is the expression of the 1st Amendment right to free speech and to assemble a worse act than intentional police misconduct that results in the unjustified loss off life?

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