Maplewood: A Problem with Policing

Maplewood: A Problem with Policing

It is clear that the events of recent months have let loose all the ugly underpinnings of the US. From politics, to foreign policy, to local community awareness, I believe US citizens are being slapped in the face with reality. We are seeing the actual cost of keeping our lives in relative blissful comfort, in no uncertain terms. Many of the events that the majority of US citizens have felt free to ignore for decades are asserting themselves aggressively in the public view.

This past week, in my “idyllic” community – Maplewood, NJ, we have had a recent realization that has shaken many to their core. They have had to face the truth that the ugly specter of police brutality can rear its head in any and all communities.

Over a year ago, after Fourth of July festivities that the township sponsors, a number of young people of color were herded from the event and forced by police officers to cross township lines. Most of these young people were actually residents of South Orange or Maplewood (a combined community that takes pride in being welcoming to all people).

Damningly, these young people were not moved toward Millburn or Short Hills (neighboring, largely white communities), but toward Irvington that is a township with a high population of African-American residents. Irvington also has a curfew regulation that would have immediately put South Orange and Maplewood youth at risk for breaking local ordinances. No surprise, that.

Imagine if you owned a blue car and your local police directed only blue cars to a neighboring town where blue cars were outlawed? Nice. That’s what Maplewood police did, and they got violent with the young people along the way. And they were instructed to do so by the chief of police. Ahead of time.

And when I say “herded” I am not being hyperbolic. The teens were removed from our community using threats of force, and at least one child was pepper sprayed for resisting being removed from his own residential area and another was punched and kicked while being arrested for not complying with an illegal police directive. The last time I checked, asking only children or teenagers of color to leave an area was against the law. I’ll be checking with the ACLU on that, after writing this reaction. I will update this post with the results of my inquiry.

For your information, this was not just a random event. There are recordings of the Maplewood police chief instructing the police to be on the lookout for “invaders” from other townships and to get rid of them. The police were not responding to an event, they were creating one. They were explicitly told to seek outsiders by sight only. If you do not see that as overt racism, perhaps you have been jaded by the other news events of the past year.

The police escalated the situation, instead of de-escalating it (their job), and instead of announcing a requirement for IDs, or curfew related to the event. Even more distressing is that, if the police had announced their intention to take these measures, there would have been an uproar in our community about being required to have IDs to attend a public event. Or even just be out at night in the summer as a young person of color. And that uproar would have been justified.

There is no reason why the police officers could not have asked the young people for numbers of relatives to confirm addresses and, at most, escort the young people to their homes. That’s what police are supposed to do. They are not supposed to handcuff children for being loud.

So, the police chief actively made a preemptive decision to keep this policy quiet to avoid being told that he could not or should not do it. Are those the actions of a person looking out for the welfare of a community? Probably not.

For your personal comfort, even though there are both video and audio recordings of wrongdoing, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office found “insufficient evidence to warrant criminal prosecution.” Of course they didn’t. They rely on local police cooperation to get anything done. What happens when police forces stop helping county prosecutors because police are held to the same standards as every other community member? Well, nothing, I guess. As evidenced all over the country, for decades.

What is more striking to me is that a community group felt that asking for a resignation and a temporary suspension of pay for the police chief is an appropriate response to institutionally-backed police brutality. Really, to hell with state regulations designed to recitivize corrupt policing. Make them take the action to court, if they are willing. The whole process is backward.

It appears to me that picking a group of young people of color and requiring them to leave a township is actually racist and is in direct violation of civil liberties laws. And this event is only getting the traction it is getting because, after a year of waiting, the recorded video and audio recordings have been released to the public, per a formal request. How many more events like this have gone unrecorded?

I worked in management consulting for years, in finance. I have been around for numerous high-level audits. In fact, the company I worked for at the time was seeking an initial public offering (IPO) and had to justify their finances prior to going public. If an auditor catches one grievous error, I can guarantee you that many, if not hundreds, of grievous errors were missed. That’s how audits work – that catching one problem indicates a much higher level of hidden problems.

This is not an isolated incident as evidenced near the bottom of the article in the link below:

“We stand in solidarity with all those who were hurt and traumatized by the experience of being mistreated by the Maplewood Police after the July 5, 2016 fireworks and with those now witnessing this event on the released video. Racial disparities in police conduct cannot be tolerated here or anywhere. We intend to be a model integrated community that is welcoming not just to people who live here, but also to the people in our neighboring towns who visit and participate in all that we have to offer—parks, public events, and more. The culture among our police officers should be consistent with the culture of the community: inclusive and anti-racist…”

I have archived this web page simply because it was startling to me that a local paper would produce an article that intimated proof of wrongdoing by a local police force. I’d rather later edits not become a problem when this event is referred to, down the road.

Back on topic, the group The Community Coalition on Race has made it clear that this is not an isolated instance, and that the police chief has been tapped for this sort of behavior in the past. What I am incredibly thankful for is that no young people have had to die to encourage measurable action from the township.

And yes, I am being critical of my local government. New Jersey is possibly one of the most corrupt states in the union, in terms of government paybacks and regulatory inertia. It is so bad that almost all of the state legislators voted against more stringent corruption regulation. Here’s some edification, for you:

That link above, by the way, is rife with links to actual issues in the state.

But, before community feathers get ruffled, it sounds like community members genuinely seek change. Unfortunately, the change they seek is always one step too short. After a conversation on Facebook with one of the members of the Maplewood Town Council with a Maplewood Town Council candidate, I found out that municipalities do not even have control over releasing a local police chief.

In NJ, you have to have the State’s Attorney General take action, in terms of firing a local police chief. Otherwise, you have to pay the chief to do nothing (while also paying an interim chief), and have to wait for the original chief to decide to retire or resign. That’s it. It is astonishing that this sort of regulation made it to state law and completely in character for the State of New Jersey.

I suppose that. in NJ, if your chief is being investigated for murder, with video & audio proof of complicity made public, you’ll have to wait on the State AG or a conviction to fire him. That’s simply incredible. Especially in an “At-will” state where any business can cite any reason at all to fire you as a private citizen.

So, what are we left with? Well, the police chief has been asked to resign. As far as I know, he’s still being paid. We have also hired an interim chief of police. By state regulation, that’s all we can do, other than to seek criminal court recourse, which our county prosecutor refuses to do. I wonder if they require proof in excess of video and audio in marijuana arrest cases? Jaywalking? Who knows?

I suspect that most community members don’t want to use a “nuclear” option and make this a case suitable for investigation by civil liberties groups. Get the ACLU involved? “Oh no, we don’t want to do that.” Maybe that level of action requires an actual child death and national coverage/embarrassment before we can accept that the worst of the US can happen right here in our home town. And yours.

It is my most sincere hope that the Maplewood Town Council address the current problem to the best of their ability, but also become agents for change at the state and local level and make sure that Maplewood becomes a model for police reform that the rest of the nation can follow.

And to my fellow community members? I say, “Stop accepting incrementalism and work toward measurable change.” A young person’s life may depend on your efforts. Don’t get angry, get active.

CORRECTION: I have struck through inaccurate information in my post, above. I was under the impression that  Maplewood Town Council member had engaged me on Facebook. I later exchanged emails with an actual TC member, who was kind enough to correct me.


Welcome to Trump’s America (Be at Ease, It Was Always This Way)

I’m a liberal progressive with some conservative tendencies. If, in this new America, that offends or frightens you, you should move on. If you’re actually interested in dialog, then welcome.

To me this date – November 8th, 2016 – corresponds to the assassination of Kennedy as my mother described it to me. She even made a scrapbook that I can pull out one day, mouldering in some closet at her house.

In contrast to my mother, I did not lose a beloved President. What was assassinated today was my hope. My hope for my children and my grandchildren. In fact, I think I would actively advise my children not to have children of their own, at this point. Political contraceptive.

How bizarre, you think, “What’s this he’s going on about, then?”

You see, I’ve survived this America before. For years, children in the town where I grew up ganged up and beat me, calling me “nigger.” Does that offend you? The truth of it? How do you think it makes me feel? It felt like all of the children in my town were against me, but in truth it was only a few. Some even took me under their wings in a rather negligent way – “You’re not that kind of nigger”

And while they may not have been hard-core racists (I am here writing this, after all), they taught me all I needed to know about America. That for the most part, as a non-white man, at best I will only be tolerated by the vast majority of Americans. That no matter that I’ve served my country, educated myself and worked hard for nearly 40 years, I’m only just a nigger in America. Or a “damn Muslim.”

I’ve learned that most people will stand by as I am being abused, if they are not actively participating or egging the participants on. If they are particularly tolerant, they may just look on in fear or disgust.

Perhaps even less grace will be afforded my children. Will they have to hide their beliefs as Muslims? Will they disavow culture and upbringing in order to eke out survival as brown people in America? Or will they live a hidden, Anne Frank version of Islam – the kind that comes out from the crawlspace only when the coast is clear and candles are lit?

I watch as my liberal white friends shrug and say “Maybe next time.” Or “That was disappointing.” It’s ok, I’m used to it. Trump’s America is nothing new to me. It is only the horror I have been struggling against my entire life. I went into decades long debt to bankers to raise myself up, studied hard, did the right things. But here I stand today, solidly on square one.

Maybe I and my family will be registered as Muslims. He said that, you know. Yes, he did. And you supported him in it, because both Democrats and Republicans colluded to frighten you to death, so they could make more money and garner more individual power.

You want me to be outraged by Trey Goudy’s laughable and expensive crusade against Hillary? He’s only nearly every (white) man I ever knew for the first 15 years of my life. This is nothing new to me. I learned to laugh at the fear they tried to feed me. “Is that really the best you can do?”

The real problem is that I drank the juice. When Obama was elected president, I thought, “Well now, we’ve finally arrived.” Maybe the country really isn’t mostly racist after all. But now, you and I are faced with the plain truth. That bigoted aggression was only hiding, living and growing – festering under the skin, until Trump popped our collective boil.

And, in treating that festering boil with the worst kind of doctor, my hope has finally been lost. I don’t believe in you anymore, America. Harriet Tubman did. Frederick Douglass did. Susan B. Anthony did. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did. You may not believe it, but Malcolm X did too. How? He never left. He never gave up. He died fighting for what he believed in.

Not so much to believe in, really. Just the possibly – the hope – that there could be an America where lynchings, firebombings, extra-judicial killings, segregation and mass-shootings was not “a thing.” If you think about it, that’s really what America actually stands for – order and fairness for all its citizens, and beyond that, for all the world’s citizens. But hey, America, you can’t criticize other countries for being savage any more. You’re in the dirt with them, now.

Malcolm X is my hero. As is Gandhi. And Lincoln. All men who lost their lives fighting for basic human rights. But you know what? After three centuries of concerted effort, I’m pretty sure it’s ok to say, “Hey guys, this isn’t working.” I mean, my ancestors were slaves. But they were also the first Europeans to settle this land. I wonder which is worse?

So I can tell you, because I have been living this dichotomy for almost fifty years. There is the America we’d like to believe in. And there’s the America that actually exists.

So, what’s the point of all this navel-gazing? Well, America, you’ve forced my hand. Maybe, like Richard Wright, I could find solace in residence in another country. Or maybe I just give up.

I love watching the internets talk about how Trump will bring this country together when he has spent the last two years (and longer) tearing it apart. And he’s not completely to blame. The media never kept the candidates focused on hard questions. I still really have no idea of the specifics of either party’s platform for this election, except for the vigorous wagging of fingers. Literally the only candidates who offered solid policy solutions were hushed and pushed aside.

I can tell you that that I will not wait for my property to be seized, or my far distant family to be purified in nuclear fire, or to be encamped as the Jews and Japanese were (another Nazi Germany/America correlation).

So, all you pundits espousing “hope?” Yeah, not for me. I will not live to see my daughter imprisoned, or my son relegated to camp labor for the “good of America.” Hyperbole? No, it’s what Trump promised. He has the entire Congress and will probably have the Supreme Court as well. Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz AND Michael Pence will have actual, almost completely unopposed power in this country.

Some of you really don’t see a problem. Here’s what I see. Women who die from septicemia trying to get illegal abortions (no more Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood). More police brutality and overreach (Trump promised nationwide stop-and-frisk – almost exclusively enforced on people of color). More black people being killed for no reason. The literal extinction of Native Americans (Trump and his cronies have got to make more money, after all), even more tens of thousands of Muslim lives destroyed all over the world in order to stop a few thousand extremists who pose no imminent danger to the US and nearly always only kill other Muslims.

But feel satisfied, America. You did good. You got what you wanted.

And to the inevitable liberal/progressive voices out there telling me to keep my chin up and keep protesting and being active in the government? I say, “Fuck you.” I’ve been doing that my entire life to laughs and derision. This was my reward.

Refugees and Conflicts Are Our Problem

Said as I wished to say it. I hope you’ll read, and like the original post.

If the US is truly going to stand for “truth” and “right” then we should stop supporting those who don’t.

True Boots

The last week’s news cycle has included crises of breathtaking magnitude: Congress has contended with the influx of tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, while the world has watched as Israel has pounded Gaza with missiles, killing Hamas militants, but also dozens of women, children, and other bystanders. Yet the responses I’ve seen in the mass media and on social media has been overwhelmingly about the “rightness” of Israel to destroy sites that have included a mosque, a center for the disabled, and a cafe where people were watching the World Cup; also, about the “illegality” of children fleeing the extreme violence and poverty of their home countries, and how expensive it is to feed, house, and otherwise help children in crisis–and so we talk about rapid deportations, not resolution or care. Hamas isn’t relenting, so people seem to feel that the murder of innocents is somehow justified…

View original post 1,081 more words