Friday, January 15, 2010

Beatings, lynchings, brutality: one difference between black and white

I woke up in the middle of the night  Wednesday realizing I'd overlooked something that only a white person could overlook.  I'd written a post that day about the "lynch mob" mentality statement by Springfield Patrol Officers Union President Joseph Gentile, and saw it as a threat to the community that police would be less willing to do their jobs.  What I had lacked was the immediate emotional trigger that the words lynch mob would evoke in the African-American community. 

That's why if you're a white person committed to undoing your own racism, you have to commit to a lifelong effort.  It's painful and often discouraging but it's the least we can do: make the effort.

Yesterday the Statewide African-American Clergy Alliance held a press conference that called for full community involvement in the shaping of a new community complaint review board.  Arise was invited to attend and I heard statements from Rev. Talbert Swan, Archbishop Timothy Baymon, Rev. J.P. Morgan and Greater Springfield Council of Churches President Rev. Everett Frye Sr.  Rabbi Mark Shapiro couldn't attend but sent a statement of support.

Beyond the sensible suggestions for a new CCRB, Rev. Swan made two points worth repeating.

Holding police accountable for their misconduct is not a Black/white issue, he stressed.. He introduced Phil LaRouche, a white man who says he's also been brutalized by Officer Jeffrey Asher.  In fact, Buffy Spencer has an article in this morning's Republican listing seven different civilian complaints against Asher in the last 12 years; those complaints will be used as part of a defense strategy for a white man headed to trial who is charged with assault and battery on a police officer-- Jeffrey Asher.  I don't disagree with Rev. Swan's point but I do think that for officers like Jeffry Asher, brutality is more likely to occur when there is a perceived powerlessness on the part of the victim-- and people of color are more likely to be perceived that way.

Rev. Swan also spoke about the "No Snitch" mindset that the police-- and the community-- often run up against when trying to investigate a crime.  He said that both he and Archbishop Baymon had preached about this in their congregations.  but he also said that the same mindset existed in the Springfield Police Department, and he called on other police officers to refuse to tolerate the bad apples in their midst.

I know from experience how hard it can be to criticize one of "your own kind."  You already know there's a set of stereotypes that will instantly kick into play and which will go far beyond the specific person to castigate an entire group.  And you already know too much about how hard life can be for that kind of person, and that very  few people who haven't lived that life will be capable of  taking that into consideration.

But sometimes you just have to stop looking the other way.  You have to ask yourself to whom you are supposed to be the most accountable.  And then you have to act.  This is true for all of us but is especially  true for those who need the public's trust to do their job. 

Can we turn over a new leaf in Springfield?  History is against us, but I have always believed that if enough people want change, we can get it.  Maybe this time.

No comments: