Monday, September 29, 2014


Levar Jones, 35, an assistant manager at a Subway store, was stopped in his hometown of Columbia, SC on September 4 for a seatbelt violation. After Officer Sean Groubert, 31, a State Trooper instructed Jones to produce his license, Jones, who was standing outside the vehicle, reached in the front seat to comply with the order. When he turned around, Groubert fired four shots in rapid succession, one hitting Jones in the hip. Nobody knows why Groubert fired, but other citizens will not have to worry about him, because once the powers that be saw the videotape from Groubert’s dashcam, Groubert was fired and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for the shooting. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted. He will likely also face civil charges for assault or even federal civil rights charges over this incident. It bears mentioning that Groubert is white, and Jones is black. Here is the video from Groubert’s dashcam.

What you just witnessed could happen in your town or my town; in Peoria just as easily as in Poughkeepsie. Detroit, Provo, Anchorage, St. Louis, Galveston, Jersey City, you name it. Nationwide, urban, suburban and state police forces are hiring young people (mostly male), who complete what many might consider minimal training before being let loose on the streets, with firearms and a type of authority with which most people their age are unfamiliar.  State Trooper training in South Carolina lasts 17 weeks. That’s it. Poof.  Four months and you’re a cop. No college required, just a high school diploma or a GED. Oh, and you can do all of this at the tender age of just 21. Some of these rookie cops are so young they still live with mom and dad.

For the moment, let’s travel north to Brooklyn, NY, where that same 21-year-old can become an officer with the NYPD with six months of “intensive” training. Presumably, the unnamed Brooklyn officer who tackled a very pregnant Sandra Amezquita to the ground on a city street had undergone that training. Amezquita was trying to intervene as officers arrested her 17-year-old son. Before she was violently forced to the ground, she was struck in the abdominal area with a police baton. Another woman, who tried to help Amezquita was forcefully pushed to the street by another officer.  Again, there is a video. Watch:

Of course both of these incidents come just weeks after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18 in Ferguson, MO, after Wilson considered Brown a suspect in the theft of some cigars. Wilson is a four-year “veteran” of the Ferguson police department, having served two years before that on the Jennings, MO police force. Wilson started his career at 22 years old.

While I cannot authoritatively comment on the personal lives and backgrounds of Groubert, the unnamed Brooklyn cop or Wilson, let’s just say there is an obvious pattern of brutality and abuse in these cases, and they are not isolated incidents. Jones was complying with Groubert’s order; Amezquita was visibly pregnant, and Brown, unarmed, allegedly had his hands up in the air when he was shot. 

As usual, the numbers tell the story: 
  • The FBI reports that a white police officer shot a black citizen on an average of twice a week in the seven years from 2005 to 2012 in the U.S.
  • ·Between 2003 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 4,813 people died while in the process of arrest or in the custody of law enforcement.
  •  The FBI stats indicate about 400 U.S. citizens each year are killed by police officers in acts of “justifiable homicide.” Compare that statistic to six in Australia, six in Germany and two in Australia.
  • As opposed to those citizens killed each year, in 2012 (the most recent year stats are available), 48 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.
  •  The Lavar Jones incident is the 32nd officer-involved shooting in South Carolina in 2014, according to the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.
  •  Black Americans are killed by law enforcement officers in an inordinately higher percentage than white Americans. Case in point: Chicago. In 2012, there were 57 police shootings in Chicago. Fifty of those shot were black, according to the city's own published statistics.
Former S.C. State Trooper Sean Groubert
Having chewed on these and many other statistics for the past several days, there are a number of elements of this street war culture that occur to me.  First, every local and state police organization requires officer applicants to go through a psychological evaluation, but none of them make the details of the evaluations or the individual results available to the public. Just how deeply are we delving in to the psyches of these 20-something, over-testosteroned males who are patrolling our cities? Are they being adequately tested for behavior traits such as impulse control? Are they being deeply questioned and investigated as to their beliefs about racial issues? What do the hiring agents at these agencies know about the applicants’ family and peer influences as it regards race? Why are there so many instances of police brutality and over-use of excessive force that go unpunished?

As mentioned earlier, Grouber has been heavily charged in the South Carolina case, and the buzz now is that his attorney will use Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a defense. We have no way of knowing if he suffers from PTSD, but the big question will be whether the South Carolina State Police even monitor their officers for PTSD. Is it even a topic of consideration? And if there is a rash of PTSD permeating our local and state police forces, how many other disordered, heavily armed cops are freely roaming our streets in or out of uniform?

To add to all of this, there appears to be a type of arms race between citizens on the street and law enforcement officers. There is an increased availability of firearms to almost everyone in this country, at the same time there appears to be a diminished respect for human life on both sides. That disturbing trend certainly showed itself in Ferguson, MO, when law enforcement produced military style weaponry and defense vehicles in preparation for violent rioting which never came.

I see our current cultural shift this way: Once everyday Americans become fearful of the police, rather than trusting, fewer and fewer will depend on law enforcement when the need arises. Already   
Former NOPD Officer Joshua Colclough and Wendell Allen
some citizens in heavily populated urban areas express their fear of calling the police. At the same time, once police begin to view citizens as alternately enemy combatants and expendable, no one is safe even in their own homes. Best evidence? In 2012, in my town, New Orleans, police executed a drug raid on a local home. One of the officers, Joshua Colclough, was walking up the stairs in the house when resident Wendell Allen appeared at the top of the stairs. Allen was unarmed and shirtless, and his hands were visible. Officer Colclough instantly shot Allen dead. After two years of legal wranglings, Colclough backed out of a plea deal to plead guilty to negligent homicide and was ultimately found guilty of manslaughter. His sentence? Four years in prison. Said Allen’s mother of her dead son: “He was my everything. He was my superstar.”

For the record, the white Colclough was 27 at the time of the murder (my word), and the black Allen was 20 years old.

Colclough’s case is not unique to New Orleans. Until law enforcement agencies make applicant requirements more stringent, require more education for recruits and take psychological testing and monitoring more seriously, how many more Wendell Allens and Michael Browns will there be? And why are people like Darren Wilson and Joshua Colclough immune from murder charges in cases like theirs? Sure looks like cold blooded murder to me.

Fortunately, the citizenry is beginning to demand to be heard. On Friday, September 27, a citizen rally was held in Brooklyn (right)  to protest police violence.
This came just after the pregnant Sandra Amezquita incident. In Ferguson, MO, marchers recently held rallies demanding the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Jackson. In New Orleans, still a hotbed or violent crime, Police Chief Ronald Serpas recently resigned his post. Earlier this year, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne resigned amid a number of controversies, some involving officers’ unwarranted use of excessive force. One notable case involved an officer who shot and killed a 25-year-old mother in her kitchen because he believed she was about to attack him with a meat cleaver that turned out to be a vegetable peeler with a six-inch blade. 

Marchers at the New York rally demanded the resignation of NYPD Chief Bill Bratton, carrying signs that said such things as “100 Chokeholds, 0 Cops fired; Who Runs this Town?”  Who, indeed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

You may not know it, but you could easily be on a government watch list for individuals who pose a terrorist threat.  I know; I know. It’s laughable to you that you and your infant child and overworked spouse or partner  may be a threat to humanity as you board a plane to go see your in-laws that you probably don’t want to see anyway. But your name may be front and center on a watch list. In fact, hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens have made the “blacklists.”

But have you heard of whitelists? These are the lists of certain Americans, such as legislators, Senators, judges, Defense Department employees, Homeland Security advisors, national intelligence workers and others who are eligible for expedited screening at airports, simply by virtue of the nature of their employment.  The assumption seems to be that no one who occupies any of these positions could ever snap and put a bomb in his shoe.

The reality of our government watching every move we make, monitoring our behavior and deciding if we’re good guys or bad guys has gone awry.  Get this: The FBI uses the term “reasonable suspicion” to call attention to any American deemed even slightly risky. The problem is that such everyday things as a Twitter or Facebook post can pile the “reasonable suspicion” label on your shoulders for the rest of your life. I, for example, write this blog about sometimes rather controversial topics, and sometimes I take somewhat unpopular stands on issues that I feel are unjust. Over the past five years I have written pieces  about such topics as police overstepping their authority; the citizen movement for secession from the U.S.; judges who make rulings based on their personal biases; citizens who have been physical attacked by law enforcement  for videotaping arrests, and many others.  Does that make me “reasonably suspicious?”  I think not. It makes me one who honors the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Therein is the rub: You can exercise your rights in this country and easily be the subject of government scrutiny.  In July, the Associated Press reported that over the past five years, more than 1.5 million people have been added to the U.S. government’s terrorist watch lists. 
Really?  Well, you have to understand how easy it is go make the list. And once you’re on a list, other problems may confront you. If you are stopped for speeding, for example, the officer has the ability to tap into a database that indicates if you are on watch list. If you are on a list, the officer will many times dig a little deeper into your life, and that traffic stop that might have lasted 10 minutes turns into 30 minutes. I don’t know about you, but my boss isn’t real impressed when I show up 30 minute late for work.

What you also might not know is that if you’re on a watch list, screeners at the airport have the right to peruse your belongings in a much more invasive way. For example, they are allowed to look at the titles of any books you may be carrying.  So, if I’m carrying “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx, and/or the Q’uran, and if I happen to have made the cut for a watch list because of my controversial views expressed in this blog, I can be detained. The guidelines for screeners also indicate that when looking at these books, they should examine the condition – “e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened." If you feel inclined to wade through the full guidelines, clickhere.

Meanwhile, just as our government continually upgrades its capacity and authority to peek into our private lives, so do other entities, such as credit card companies and insurance companies. Exhibit A: Have you seen those little credit card reading devices that mobile vendors use to accept your payment for services?  Some drivers of cars for hire use them, as well as landscapers, home improvement workers, etc. They swipe your card in the hand held device and have you sign with your finger and the transaction is complete. What you may not know is that not too long ago, the makers of Square Reader, a highly popular device quietly and unceremoniously sent a change of terms to vendors using their device.  The terms now read, in part:
“…you will not accept payments in connection with the following businesses or business activities; sales of firearms, firearm parts or hardware, and ammunition; or weapons and other devices designed to cause physical injury.”

So don’t look for a Square Reader at your local gun show. Did someone fail to mention to Square Reader that we have a little something called the Second Amendment, which clearly protects your rights to keep and bear arms? Is it just me, or are we teetering on a slippery slope here? What’s next? Should Square Reader stop accepting payments for soft drinks with lots of sugar, or cigarettes, or vodka, or marijuana in states where it is legal, or sex toys that offend some people?  Since when do makers of these modern day cash registers decide what everyday Americans can and cannot purchase?

Under my same “what the hell is going on” category, I’d mention subprime loans for cars. If you’re a responsible, well-healed citizen you may not be familiar with subprime loans. These are loans that are made to people who may be high risk for repaying, such as unemployed people or people with very low credit ratings, or people with a lot of debt or a history of sluggishly paying their debts. And yes, the interest rates are crazy high.

But now comes new technology that allows lenders to essentially control the vehicles for which they have loaned you money. It is an ignition device that the lender can activate if you’re late with one of your loan payments. They can disable your ignition from afar until you pay what you owe.  Not only that, a few days before your payment is due, the device begins to beep, and the beeps get louder and more frequent the closer you get to your payment due date. And there’s more: the devices have tracking devices, so that if you don’t pay your bill on time, the lender can easily and instantly find you. Perhaps they will find you in the middle of an Interstate highway, or on your way to a hospital to deliver a baby, or at a stoplight at a busy intersection, with cars behind you blasting their horns because you are unable to move your car. Watch:

Said one friend of mine in her ultimate wisdom, “Everybody and their brother is in our shit now.”

That brother she mentioned is “Big Brother.” As far back as 1977, a commission charged with examining privacy among U.S. citizens stated, “The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.” Remember, this was pre-personal computing, pre- digital communication and pre-electronic tracking devices. How prescient.

In the meantime, citizens need to speak up about the loss of their rights, because history teaches us that once a right is lost in this country, it never comes back. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to  get “everybody and their bother” out of our shit, as my friend would say? I think we do. Our long-departed buddy, Benjamin Franklin said it this way:

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

Just be prepared that when you indeed do question authority, you may quickly be added to some watch list, somewhere, and you may never, ever know it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wants you to know he is “not a child abuser.” Peterson took to Twitter this week to say this: "I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser ... Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person."

These comments came after Peterson, 29, beat his son with a wooden switch, resulting in his indictment for “reckless or negligent injury to a child” on September 12, 2014. True to its own often negligent form, the NFL announced Peterson would indeed still play in the following Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. After pictures surfaced of the child’s injuries from his father’s disciplinary action, the public outcry swelled. Along with all of the other recent NFL scandals, finally some advertisers began to either pull out or express their concern. It was only then that the Minnesota Vikings management announced that Peterson was suspended.

Adrian Peterson
It has subsequently been reported that this was not the first time Peterson faced accusations of child
abuse. In June 2013, another of his children reportedly showed wounds that were inflicted by his father. When asked by the mother how those wounds on his forehead came to be, Peterson told her the child had hit his head on the car. The mother asked if he was hitting the child at the time, and Peterson said, “Yep.” No charges were filed in the 2013 incident. Peterson was not so fortunate this time.

The NFL, to put it mildly, has been lax in its approach to its players’ bad behavior. ESPN’s Tom Jackson summed it up nicely: “We started the week with players beating up women and we ended it with players beating up children. We are in a very serious state here in the National Football League.” So, what are we really dealing with here? From my perspective we are dealing with an industry – professional football – that necessarily includes a violent infrastructure. Watch football today compared with football 30 years ago, and the game is far more aggressive. There was some discussion of this on ABC’s “The View.” Here is what co-host Rosie O’Donnell said, and it makes
sense to me.

Now, if you are a hardcore NFL supporter, and/or if you don’t particularly care for Rosie O’Donnell, you may have had some trouble hearing what she just said. But don’t shoot the messenger. Here we have an entire league made up largely of 20-something-year-old men, flooded with testosterone, making way too much money for any 20-something to handle. The NFL has really taken a sort of “boys will be boys” approach to these guys, and often turned a blind eye to their mistreatment of women, their abuse of alcohol, their use of performance-enhancing drugs and even their mistreatment of their own children. As stated above, shortly after Peterson’s indictment became public, the Vikings had still planned to play him in Sunday’s game.

And therein is the essential problem: The NFL is all about its image, to the detriment of many people in the lives of its players. Not until something surfaces publicly does the NFL do anything about anything bad in their ranks. Not until the Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin walked off the field and quit the team did the issue of bullying even enter the consciousness of NFL execs, even though they knew what went on in locker rooms coast to coast. In the Martin case, the chief bully was Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito, who had a history of overly-aggressive behavior on and off the field. In fact, he had become known as the NFL’s “dirtiest player.” With full knowledge of Incognito’s “issues,” the Dolphins did nothing until Martin walked. What “issues,” you ask? Well, shortly after being suspended by the Dolphins, Incognito attacked his Ferrari, valued at $295,000, with a baseball bat. By February of this year, Incognito was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. In August, the mentally disturbed, serial harasser was cleared by the NFL to play again, and he is free to sign with any team. The buzz is that he and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pretty chummy right now.

 And of course, not until Ray Rice, 27 punched his then fiancĂ© (now wife) to unconsciousness in an elevator did the NFL suddenly show a social concern about domestic violence. Just days later similar
Ray and Janay Rice
news emerged about Greg Hardy, 26, who has been charged with throwing his girlfriend in a bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. Then came word that Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer, 25, was arrested for aggravated assault against his wife. That was just before we learned that San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, 29, was arrested on a felony charge of domestic violence. Earlier this month NY Jets rookie Quincy Enunwa, 22, was arrested on a domestic violence charge of “grabbing the victim by her ankle and pulling her off a bed causing her to strike and injure both her head and finger,” according to the police report.

All of this follows the long-reported legal battle between the league and former players who suffered head injuries that in many cases debilitated them. Some even committed suicide. In the end, the Federally tax-exempt NFL, which reportedly takes in $9-10 billion dollars a year, settled the case for $765 million. If that sounds like a lot, it’s not. There are roughly 4500 players involved in the suit, many suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer's that they blamed on blows to the head. Once again, the NFL did nothing until the situation was made public. The suit alleges the NFL knew about the proliferation of head injuries, concealed the information and routinely sent injured players back onto the field.

If anything good has come out of the NFL’s inexcusable “business model,” it may be this: The Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal re-ignited the national conversation about violence in relationships. Within two days of the Rice story being made public, The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported an 84 percent increase in phone calls. The Adrian Peterson child abuse case has resulted in a firestorm of discussions about neglect and mistreatment
Brett Favre
of children. Hyper-awareness of potential long-term consequences of a football career has caused some players like Denver Broncos guard John Moffit, and Cincinnati Bengals guard Jacob Bell to quit football for fear of ending up physically damaged or dead. Even veteran NFL player Brett Favre came forward to say if he had a son he would hesitate to let him play the “violent game of football.”

Let’s get real about the NFL. The league’s management certainly encourages overly-aggressive playing and often poor sportsmanship. Young guys just out of college are being paid exorbitant salaries, with no guidance in how to handle sudden fame and unlimited cash. Very bad behavior off the field is routinely overlooked, as long as the players bring money and attention to the franchise. Even criminal behavior is sometimes tolerated, so long as it doesn’t make headlines. The NFL is now the emperor who has no clothes. We all know its dirty secrets and we are beginning to pay attention. The good news? Sponsors are speaking up – sponsors like Nike, Radisson Hotels, Verizon Wireless, Pepsico, Federal Express, Marriott and Cover Girl has all issued statements questioning the values of the league.

And the NFL knows it’s in deep trouble, when none other than Anheuser Busch says this: “We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

 I smell radical change in the air. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Here’s a tough question for you: What do the late Michael Brown, a young black man of Ferguson, MO and I, an older white man living in New Orleans have in common? Give up? The answer is simple: We went to the same high school and we grew up about 10 minutes from each other’s neighborhoods. Michael and I both attended Normandy Senior High School, albeit more than 40 years apart. I graduated in 1971 and Michael was a recent graduate. So what, you might ask.

 I started Normandy in 1968, at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, which is generally held to have taken place from 1954 to 1968. 1968 was the year both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were killed. It was also the year that 10 white highway patrol officers opened fire on black protestors in Orangeburg, South Carolina, killing three teenagers who were about Michael Brown’s age, and injuring 28 others. In Orangeburg, authorities tried to justify their use of excessive force by claiming the protestors were armed. When the dust settled, no evidence was ever presented that they were armed. As “they” say, the more things change…

 When I was a senior at Normandy in 1971, the majority of the student population was white. But the black student population was increasing year by year, and there was an emerging undercurrent of racial tension on the multi-building campus. It played out this way: One morning in the cavernous cafeteria a chair went flying across the room and hit a young white girl in the head. From there the conflict escalated into a black vs. white uprising.
It was violent and somewhat prolonged. Another day when my school bus pulled into the massive parking lot behind several other busses, a school administrator approached the bus and would not allow us to disembark. We found out that a large group of black students had staged a “sit-in” in East Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. Fearing violence, the school administrators decided to send us all back home. Another day a standoff between white and black students began early in the morning in the parking lot, and rapidly became an out-of-control situation that required St. Louis County police officers to surround the parking lot – again we were sent home. These incidents kept happening that year.

Normandy High, once a relatively calm institution became a racial battlefield with armed security guards in each building. Much like Ferguson in 2014, the underlying racial tension in the school community would inevitably surface and permeate the culture. But unlike Michael Brown in 2014, those of us in 1960s St. Louis County (home to Ferguson and Normandy) never expected to fall victim to a street war with law enforcement. Here is the major difference between my moment of youth and Michael Brown’s: When I was 18 years old, young black men were not being shot dead on pavements coast to coast.

 Does that sound like an exaggeration to you? Well, I could mention the obvious – Trayvon Martin – but let’s focus on those who have actually been shot by over zealous cops:
 • Inexplicably lesser reported is the case of Kimani Gray, 16, shot four times last year by New York cops after he left a friend’s birthday party. He was unarmed.
• Just a few weeks ago Eric Garner (right)
was choked to death by a white police officer in broad daylight on a New York sidewalk, after being suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner was unarmed.
• While riding his bicycle earlier this month, Dante Parker, 36, was tasered to death by police who were on the trail of a robber who was reportedly riding a bicycle. Parker was not that man. He was unarmed.
• After an investigative traffic stop in South L.A., Ezell Ford, 25, was shot by police when he was reportedly face down on the ground. He later died during surgery. He was unarmed.

 And then came Michael Brown. And then came late nights of demonstrations in steamy Ferguson, MO. Ferguson Police Department somehow became armed with equipment from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which runs a program called 1033 that has provided law enforcement agencies around the country with military style weapons.
What the hell are police officers doing with armored vehicles, grenade launchers and M-14s? By arming urban police officers with the same equipment that might be used in a military operation, there is an assumption made that all police officers are mentally, physically and psychologically prepared to use the weapons properly. Do we citizens honestly believe that the same cops who shot Erica Garner, Kimani Gray, Dante Parker, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown and scores of other young black men are to be trusted with the most high-powered weapons available in war efforts? I think not, and evidently I am joined in this skepticism by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder who told USA today, "It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”

Only about 20,000 people live in the six-square-mile municipality of Ferguson. The unemployment rate is considerably higher than the national average and the average income is substantially lower. The population is more than 60 percent black, but of the 53 police officers in the town, only three are black. That perfect storm of stats makes Ferguson ground zero for the renewed national debate about race relations. It is a sticky debate, because most of the participants have already made up their minds about how they view race in America. It is often difficult to persuade people to change their attitudes about race, but the debate that has been raging for hundreds of years has resulted in moderate societal change, albeit at a snail’s pace.

 For several nights after Brown was shot six times and mercilessly left face down on the August-hot street for four solid hours before being moved, I watched reports of police in full riot gear patrolling Ferguson. It was as if media [read: “CNN”] were waiting for an inevitable outbreak of violence. That violence never came. There were some tense moments, but overall it was peaceful. The only thing not peaceful about it was the sight of those cops and their tank-like vehicles and high powered weapons. The resounding mantra of the protestors, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”
will haunt all of us for a long time to come. At this point, I say, put your hands down, bow your heads and think hard about where we are in our cultural racial division, and about where we came from. Ask yourself why no one is requiring greater diversity among the police forces in places like Ferguson? Why is there no-training in multi-cultural communication happening in those same forces? Why are we trusting officers with two to three years of policing experience with M-14s? How deeply are we really vetting individuals who decide to craft a career in law enforcement? And where will the inevitable next Michael Brown meet his untimely death? Perhaps in your town?