Saturday, November 29, 2014

An objective perspective on the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

Whereas I have frequently posted regarding the shooting of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent Ferguson riots on my personal Facebook profile, I have avoided the issue as yet in this particular venue.  However, I felt that it was time to do so not just because because the issue is relevant to Missouri (relevant to the whole nation, actually) and I live within minutes of Ferguson, Missouri, but because it is relevant to permaculture as well.  Permaculture, as most of us are aware, extends beyond the garden and landscape design for sustainability of resources and a healthy environment.  Permaculture design principles apply to all aspects of life... one of those aspects being how we as a people design and manage the society in which we live.  Applying permaculture design principles to our social structures would surely lead to a socially sustainable society that is all-inclusive and champions diversity.  Before I begin presenting an objective perspective on the issue as a whole, let me just take a moment to explain my own personal experience relevant to the matter.

I served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division from 2000 to 2004.  In that time, I served in combat in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.  Shortly after I ended my contract with the U.S. Army, I gained employment as a security officer in St. Louis County/City to financially support my new family which required me to receive the same exact training St. Louis County police officers receive regarding civil and criminal law and proper use of force policies.  My first security job was as an armed officer on St. Louis' light-rail mass-transit system on a train platform in one of the 'tougher' areas in St. Louis County, Wellston to be precise, but I also, on occasion, worked on all the platforms along the entire line to include municipalities on the Illinois side of the Mississippi river.  Working on the platforms, I dealt with issues ranging from gang fights, robberies, assaults, stabbings, shootings, etc., but I gained the mutual respect of the local 'thugs' because I dealt with them fairly and within their rights as American citizens.  Out of that cultivated respect, they would not break the law on the property while I was on duty because they new that, out of objectivity and observation of my duties, I would have to address it.

After about a year on the platforms, I was promoted to fare enforcement which involved me riding the train up and down the whole line and ensuring that patrons purchased proper fare to ride the train.  You see, St. Louis' light-rail transit system was modeled after Germany's light-rail transit system that has no turnstiles and was largely dependent upon the integrity of patrons to have purchased the correct fare to ride the train.  It was a very frequent issue, unfortunately, that they did not and then I would have to address that by escorting them off the train to purchase proper fare or issue them a citation which was no different in an official capacity than any other citation issued by law enforcement to a citizen anywhere in the state of Missouri.  If they did not pay it, or appear in court to address the citation, it turned into a warrant for their arrest.  Keep in mind that many of those patrons were very much of the criminal element, many of which already had warrants for their arrest for other issues which often made things a little hairy when affecting the issuance of a citation and, as such, assaults on officers were not at all uncommon.

I worked as a fare enforcement officer for less than six months and was then promoted to Lieutenant in which position I managed over 100 officers and was responsible for nearly all aspects of the management of the public safety department.  I've been in the position of having weapons pulled on me, physically assaulted, my life threatened, affecting arrests... you name it.  I've even been in the position of having to reprimand, suspend and even terminate officers under my administration for violations ranging from company policy violations to improper use of force, restraint and other violations of civil law.  I was in that position for almost four years and then office politics led to me taking a change of pace in my professional career and I began working in a comfy corporate environment for a major Department of Defense sub-contractor in the St. Louis area.

Forgive me for having outlined all of that before proceeding with the substance of this article, but I felt it to be necessary.  I can't tell you how many times I've encountered those with a different opinion than mine on the Ferguson issue imply that I am in no position to form my own opinion because I do not know what it is like to be an officer out on the streets.  My contention is that I very much do know what it is like as I've done the same job excluding being POST certified to work as a police officer in the state of Missouri.  I still received the same training, as stated above, and I had the same exact authorities of a police officer within my jurisdiction of the mass-transit system.  I have worked and trained with many other police officers in St. Louis County and St. Louis City, many of which remain good friends.  With that said, it would be the epitome of presumption to imply that I am not very intimate with the law as it pertains to law enforcement officers and the legal limits of their authority as I had to ensure that I remained within those same limits in the commission of my own duties.  Also, if anyone thinks a police officer is not respected by the criminal element of any particular area or jurisdiction, try being a security officer and see how much less respect is afforded to you.  It pales in comparison.

The shooting of Mike Brown

Now, let us continue on with the circumstances as they took place on August 9, 2014 that resulted in the death of the unarmed citizen, Mike Brown.  Officer Darren Wilson, while on patrol in his police cruiser, encountered Mike Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, walking together in the street after an alleged theft and assault at a local convenience store which was not yet known by Officer Wilson.  He, while still in his vehicle, attempted to correct them for jaywalking with which they verbally responded with non-compliance.  He pressed the issue of them not walking on the sidewalk while still in his vehicle and Mike Brown, further expressing non-compliance, approached the vehicle.  At that time, it is reported that Officer Wilson attempted to exit the vehicle when Mike Brown pushed the vehicle door closed and proceeded to reach into the vehicle assaulting Officer Wilson by smacking him and then it is alleged that Mike Brown made an attempt to gain control of Officer Wilson's firearm.  At that point a couple shots were discharged from the firearm by Officer Wilson and Mike Brown then began to run.  Officer Wilson then exited the vehicle firing a couple more shots and it is alleged by Officer Wilson that Mike Brown then charged back at him while holding his hand inside his waistband at which point he shot and killed Mike Brown firing six to seven shots in him as it is thought one of the wounds on Mike Brown's body could have been a re-entry wound from one bullet.

While Mike Brown's body lay in the street four almost four hours, Officer Wilson was taken to the hospital where is injuries were documented as seen here...

And here is the image from Mike Brown's preliminary autopsy documenting his injuries...

The racial divide, police brutality and officers above the law

Now that we know the events as they took place that fateful day, it should be noted that most in this country want to turn this into an issue of racial profiling.  It should also be noted that nowhere within the text thus far have I mention the respective races of either Mike Brown or Officer Wilson.  That was intentional as it shouldn't matter.  We've been seeing all over social media since this situation took place the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.  I would much prefer the hashtag #livesmatter.  So, let us discuss the contentions regarding the racial divide in this country as it applies to this situation.  I could cite all day long statistics showing that more white people are brutalized and killed by police in this country than black people.  I could also cite statistics showing that more black lives are taken by other blacks than any any other race.  I am not going to do that, however, because it doesn't and shouldn't matter.  This being an objective perspective on the situation, we would all be well-served to fairly observe and accept those clear facts.  I contend that population densities and simple demographics help to perpetuate the racial perspective.  If one lives in a community that is comprised of 85% or more of African Americans, logical deduction will tell us that it will be African Americans that are the subject of more law enforcement contact.  It is further my contention that the economic status of individuals of all races leads to the majority of contact with law enforcement as it is the impoverished that is led to commit more crimes to mitigate said poverty among all races.

Now, I am not saying by any means that racism does not still exist in this nation as it clearly does and that is very unfortunate.  It is simple human psychology that our species seeks to categorize everything and that is not at all limited to race.  Furthermore, there is a psychological propensity to separate one's self in conjunction with those categorizations based upon differences in culture, race, economic status, etc.; like then reasonably attracts like.  That is why we see communities all over the country being predominately comprised of one race or the other.  I am also not saying by any means that there isn't a clear issue of how the black community in this nation is dealt with unfairly by police.  I just watched a video earlier today where an officer was harassing a black male because he was walking down the street with his hands in his pockets.  Is that an abnormal or even suspicious circumstance in the winter time when it is cold outside?  Not at all.  So, I agree that the racial divide is definitely a clear issue.  I also think that it is socially dangerous to make this issue one of a racial nature because not only will it serve to further perpetuate said racial divide, but it also will tend to negate the fundamental issue that is the problem here which I contend is police brutality and the general notion of officers thinking that they are above the law and that their vested authority remain unquestioned at all times.  Furthermore, if that core issue does not become the highlighted problem to fix in this nation, how does the Latino individual in San Antonio who was brutalized by police address his cause for justice?  How does the family of the white kid in North Dakota who was killed by police address their cause for justice?  If this becomes solely an issue of white cops brutalizing the black community, how do all the others outside of the black community take up the same banner fighting police brutality?  Do you see the inconsistencies there and how making it a race issue does nothing to address the root cause that all races are subject to?

Not only have we clearly seen in the video above, of which there are hundreds available with a simple Youtube search, that unchecked police authority is clearly out of control, but that more than one race within the American population are regular victims of crimes of police officers exacted upon citizens.  That is the fundamental issue that needs to be spoken out against... for all citizens.

Opportunistic criminals and rioting

Before I move on to address the facts of the Mike Brown shooting and why Darren Wilson should have been indicted, let me just briefly address the rioting, looting, destruction of property and further victimization that has resulted from this unfortunate situation.  Those things are no less unfortunate.  Those unproductive actions only help to perpetuate police brutality and unchecked police authority in this nation.  It helps to validate contentions that we need more law enforcement control over the masses because the masses can not seem to control themselves in a civil manner.  Short of a revolution, no law was ever passed because someone burned down a business.  No effective, positive change ever took place in this nation because cars were torched or rims stolen from a tire shop!  It should be further noted for all those in support of Darren Wilson's innocence that the looting and destruction is not representative of those who are out there peacefully protesting against the defunct 'justice' system in our nation that failed to indict Darren Wilson.  Those committing such crimes are simple-minded criminals simply taking advantage of the situation of unrest.  They are criminal opportunists; vultures, if you will, preying upon the community for personal gain and taking advantage of the taxed law enforcement resources in such moments of civil unrest.  It is sad that the general public can not make that delineation and they hold those criminals as a representation of the group as a whole who are genuinely exercising their 1st amendment right and expressing a very valid grievance that requires immediate change in our society.

Was the shoot justified?

Moving on, let us examine the technical nature of the situation in determining whether or not Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Mike Brown to death based upon the scope of the use of force doctrine and the levels of force it allows for.  The following graphic is a visual model of the use of force continuum that most police departments across the nation utilize and most police officers are trained in.  Again, drawing from my own experience and training as I described above, I can say without doubt that Darren Wilson and St. Louis County police officers are trained in the same use of force guidelines and are expected to adhere to it.

I am just going to get to the nuts and bolts of my contention here.  Based upon what we know about the circumstances that led to Mike Brown's execution and based upon what we all can clearly glean from the graphic above, it blows my mind that anyone can deem the shoot to be justified.  What further blows my mind is that most police officers are blindly supporting Officer Wilson simply out of association despite they themselves being well trained in the use of force model as shown above.  It sickens me, actually.  Now, I am by no means attempting to demonize all of law enforcement or all police officers with this article because I have personally worked with some damn fine officers with impeccable records who would never conduct their duties outside the scope of the law or outside the observance of the rights of American citizens.  Not all cops are bad cops just as not all black people are criminals.  It is the thin blue line of officer camaraderie that has led to so many injustices in regards to police brutality.  If an officer witnesses his buddy step outside the scope of the law and victimize a citizen, they are obligated to call them out on it and hold them rightly accountable!  If they do not, that makes them just as much a bad cop as the one who committed the offense against any citizen.  The most effective way for this problem to be remedied in our society is for good police to start policing their buddies outside of that thin blue line.  What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong!  Objectivity should prevail in all things and understanding of all things should be sought in an objective nature.

Most police officers will say that the use of force model is dictated by what the officer reasonably believes is the appropriate level of force necessary at the time of an incident.  That simple contention leaves things too far open.  'Reasonably believe' is very subjective in nature and open to so many different personal definitions.  That reasonable belief of necessary force is still dictated by the parameters of the use of force model as shown above.  Drawing from the use of force continuum in the graphic above, accounting for the situation as it took place and taking into account the injuries that Officer Wilson sustained as shown in the photos above, can anyone reasonably say that he was at risk of serious bodily harm or death?  Or is it more reasonable to deduce that Officer Wilson was only at risk for 'assaultive/ bodily harm' that reasonably only called for defensive tactics as dictated by the use of force continuum?  I would strongly suggest the latter.

Let us now discuss those defensive tactics.  Every officer is not only trained in, but is issued intermediate protective devices to gain submission of a suspect in all other circumstances not requiring lethal force.  You see, when an officer pulls their firearm and shoots, it is not within policy to shoot to wound for a variety of reasons.  So, when they do pull their firearm, they believe that lethal force could be necessary and when they fire that weapon, they believe that lethal force is absolutely necessary.  I have always been trained that the only justified lethal force is in the event that lethal force is presented to you or others, in the event of rape and the prevention thereof or in the event of kidnapping and the prevention thereof.  For example, if a suspect has a baseball bat... that could very easily kill someone with one good hit to the head.  So, by policy, an officer would be justified to shoot them dead to prevent such a possibility.  When there is no reason to believe that a presentation of lethal force is present, such as an unarmed suspect, then the reasonable response by the officer is defensive tactics in the way of the use of their baton/ASP, OC spray (mace) or taser.  Now, I've heard that Officer Wilson did not have on him a taser which, in my mind, is highly unusual, but nonetheless, most people are well aware of just how effective a baton or OC spray are at gaining submission in a suspect that is unarmed.

Now that we know these things, let's revisit the circumstances.  Mike Brown is allegedly charging back at him despite being shot at (as much sense as that doesn't make) and he has yet to present a reasonable threat of death.  Imagine how ineffective Mike Brown's attempts to further assault Officer Wilson with his hands would have been if he had received a good shot of OC spray to the face.  He wouldn't have even been able to see Officer Wilson to affect any further assault.  Or imagine the effectiveness an officer with a baton, trained in the effective use thereof, i.e. which nerve bundles to target, etc. against a charging unarmed man.  Can we still say that shooting him to death was the reasonable response?  I would answer with a resounding no and that is coming from someone who has been in very similar circumstances before and mitigated those threats with said intermediate protective devices.  Now, if it is true that Mike Brown made an attempt for Wilson's weapon during the struggle in the vehicle, then Officer Wilson would have been totally justified to shoot him dead at that point in time because had he gained control of that weapon, that would have been a presentation of potential death.  However, and this is where most people ignorant of the use of force continuum are getting it wrong, the use of force model is a fluid thing.  In other words, if the suspect's actions or presentation of force deescalates, then the officer's responding force should deescalate as well.  If I had a suspect with a firearm drawing down on me and threatening to shoot me I would be totally justified to shoot them dead to end that threat.  However, if while I'm drawing my own firearm to mitigate that threat, the suspect throws down that weapon and throws their hands up in submission, I am obligated by law to then deescalate my own level threat as a lethal threat against me is no longer present.  Again, I ask you, is shooting at a fleeing suspect and then further shooting them dead when they are unarmed charging back a justified level of force?  Again, I answer with a resounding no.

Recently, Darren Wilson was interviewed and, in that interview he said, "I made another mental check and asked myself, can I legally shoot this guy?"  He didn't ask himself, "SHOULD I shoot this guy?"  Or, "Is it necessary to shoot this guy?"  Which is rather telling in itself.  Furthermore, Darren Wilson said that Mike Brown was reaching inside his waistband while charging back at him.  In my opinion, his asking himself if he can legally shoot that guy and his claim he was reaching inside his waistband was completely fabricated and I'll tell you why.  As I mentioned above, I have been involved in many training classes, annual and semi-annual, regarding proper use of force.  In those classes, it is always explained that so long as you can articulate in the report that you reasonably felt your life was in danger, then your shoot should be deemed to be justified.  I can't tell you how many discussions I've had with fellow officers, off the record, regarding this and the winks and sideways glances exchanged on how to justify that you felt your life was in danger and thereby justifying almost any shoot.  One of the most popular is that, "He had his hands in his pockets and would not show his hands."  Or, "He was reaching for something in his waistband."  You see, the officer does not know if they have a weapon concealed and it only takes a matter of seconds to pull a concealed weapon and shoot.  It is now known that Mike Brown was unarmed and I find it to be rather unusual and physiologically awkward for someone to sprint towards another while reaching inside their waistband at the same time.  In my informed opinion, Darren Wilson was angry because his authority was challenged, because he was assaulted and he was afraid.  Because of those factors, he made a very poor judgment call and decided to shoot his firearm as opposed to pressing the button on an OC canister effectively mitigating the threat and leaving everyone alive.

Was Mike Brown a criminal?  Yes, absolutely he was.  He assaulted a cop and allegedly stole cigarillos from a convenient store.  My contention, however, is that Mike Brown should be sitting in a jail cell alive as opposed to lying dead in the street.  I ran into an interview with Nancy Grace and she reinforces this contention quite well...

Speaking of the inherently fallible nature of the grand jury process, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch got exactly what he wanted just as Nancy Grace in the interview above implied.  You be the judge on that, however...

What has happened here, the failure to indict a fully indictable Darren Wilson for the unjustified execution of Mike Brown is more than disgusting.  It is downright despicable.  The average American who is in support of of Darren Wilson's actions only support those actions out of their own ignorance of the law and the proper use of force continuum.  Knowing what proper use of force is now, there is no way a reasonable person can say that shooting Mike Brown dead in the street was appropriate regardless of how much of a 'thug' he was, regardless of how many packs of cigarillos he stole and regardless of smacking cop or anyone else.  The question here is was he deserving of death?  Again, I answer with a resounding no.  Darren Wilson should have been indicted by the grand jury and he should be brought to trial and held accountable for his poor judgment.  I am more than willing to afford him his due process that is the right of every American citizen.  It is just sad and disgusting that Mike Brown wasn't afforded that same right of due process.

I know my informed opinion is not the popular one and I know that I may even lose many friends, personal and professional, as a result of my vehement contention against the actions of Darren Wilson on that fateful day, but what it right is right and what is wrong is wrong.  Out of pure objectivity, I honestly can not see how the general public can think that Darren Wilson was not worthy of indictment and, as mentioned above, it absolutely sickens me that the majority of the law enforcement community, despite knowing the clear parameters of the proper use of force, continue to blindly support Darren Wilson just because he is a fellow officer and just because Mike Brown was a criminal.  Criminal or not, he was an American citizen with rights of due process and that was robbed from him, his life robbed from him, because a poorly trained police officer made an egregious judgment in shooting him dead in the street.

How can we then move beyond this?  How can we now apply permaculture design principles to affect a better society?  We accept the feedback for what it is objectively now understood.  We then adjust how we respond to police brutality in our nation based upon that objective acceptance of what this situation truly is and we take the measures necessary to ensure that police no longer perceive themselves as being above the law.  'We the people' have the same power to affect our government now as we did in 1776 and it is beyond the right moment to exercise that inherent power, find some cohesion among us and not allow these injustices against citizens to take place ever again.  It is time to send a clear message to those bad cops that they aren't going to get away with it any more.  They'll no longer be able to depend on that thin blue line of blind support and protection outside the scope of what is right and just.  I am not on either 'side' and no one else should be either.  We all, collectively and individually, should be on the side of objectivity, truth and reason in all things.  That is the only way we can all forge a truly just society together.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Casting call for FOX's upcoming reality show "Utopia"

Interested in showing the world how permaculture can build the perfectly sustainable society? 

Here's your chance...

I am quite happy to bring this information to the permaculture community in and around the St. Louis area. I've been contacted recently by a representative of The Conlin Company, the production company responsible for casting FOX's new and upcoming TV reality show "Utopia." I was asked to pass along the information regarding the casting of the show as they are interested in casting individuals with a background in permaculture which, again, I am pleased to do.

Here is an excerpt from the message I received describing what they are looking for...

"We are taking a group of 15 people, selected from across the country, and filming them for a year, as they work together to create a new, ideal society.  They will get to choose how they will live, what kind of rules they will have, how they will make money, and more.

We are going to be in St. Louis, April 27th - April 29th, interviewing people who want to audition for the series.

I want to find people who truly have a desire to put their ideas to work, to find out if their ideas for creating a new "Utopia" would work.

I am looking for all skills and backgrounds - everyone, including farmers, lawyers, doctors, artists, green and sustainable food growers, inventors, chefs, you name it! Basically, people who want to know if their ideas would work. If you had the chance to create your own ideal society, what would you do, and how would you do it and how would you teach others - that is what I am looking for.

I am contacting you because I am trying to reach out to people in the permaculture community. I thought you might be able to help put the word out."

More focus on permaculture ethics and principles in the mainstream has been sought after by permaculturists for so long now. Here is an opportunity to begin doing just that. I sincerely hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity. They will be at Earth Day in Forest Park interviewing those of you interested.

Here are links through which you can apply for a casting interview in the event you can't make it out to Forest Park for Earth Day on the 27th...
The Conlin Company - casting, development, & production