The murder of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York police was too much to take. Even the right and the far right are jumping in with condemnation (good luck with that, Glen Beck, et all). Following almost immediately on the mess coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, the streets of America have erupted in protest. This is unusual. This is different. In fact, it is hard to think of any issue that has boiled over so quickly into multi-city street marches and civil disobedience
The test is to see whether a movement that is being born can continue, grow and have a major impact on American society. If the police and other civil authorities, like mayors, don’t manage to shut it down or marginalized it, we could be seeing, we are seeing, the birth of a major new national movement.
The goal is to rein in police, to make them accountable for killing people and, in the first instance, to slow them down in the use of force. Yes, this issue is overwhelmingly important to blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, but it is an issue for everyone who has any contact with police officers, for any reason, and who might be subjected to “excessive force” at a moment’s notice.
The majority of citizens don’t generally fear police officers because they have had no negative experiences with them. What is deeply troubling about the way American police officers conduct themselves is how quickly things can go from a misunderstanding, a misspoken comment or unanticipated action, like reaching in a pocket, to shooting and death. This is true to multiple degrees in black “high crime” areas of American citizens, at night or any time an officer might decide his safety is threatened in any way.
Right now, a police officer in America can kill almost anyone and claim that the person, first, resisted arrest (what does that mean?) and, two, that he feared for his life. Is this right? Is this the standard by which a democracy should judge the conduct of law enforcement officers? Where is the accountability?
The TerryReport will be posting a lot more in the coming days about the issue and the background of why people are upset. In the normal course of things, street protests and mass movements usually kick off in the warming, spring months of the year (this is true around the world). This is happening now because the outrage is now. The great challenge for the protesters is to keep things going until they can make a real difference in the way this issue is viewed and then force changes in how matters are handled in the future. Stay tuned.
Doug Terry, 12.6.14