War in the Streets

War in the Streets

“There is a war going on outside no man is safe from.” The words of Prodigy, one-half of famed rap duo Mobb Deep, seem to ring true in American society now more than ever. We the people are under attack. Only this attack has come from within by an enemy that walks among us. Our enemies are a part of our lives, camouflaged within normal routines and casual rigmarole.

We see them every day enjoying the elevated status that comes with power vested in them by our local and federal government. Officers of the law, sworn to protect and serve, operating almost like sleeper cells. Their victims are unaware of the brutality that is about to be inflicted upon them by someone that they have been taught to trust. Deceived by the unassuming but distinctive design of the uniforms; fooled into believing the promise of fairness and justice that the badges they wear are supposed to represent.

In 2014 we saw several instances of excessive force by police officers turn fatal. July 17th, Eric Garner was unarmed when he was killed by an officer using an illegal choke hold to restrain him. His crime in question? Selling loose cigarettes. The attack was recorded and immediately went viral. Mr. Garner can be heard telling officers he could not breathe yet the officers continued with the assault that would eventually lead to his death. Many people, including several professional athletes, began to wear t-shirts repeating his desperate plea, forever immortalizing his cry for help.

Not even a month later, with the country still reeling from the obvious abuse of power that killed Eric Garner, yet another officer decided to play judge, jury, and executioner ending the life of an unarmed teenager. The events that transpired on August 9th 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri led to a national outcry and protest in the streets. Michael Brown was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson during an altercation that is mired in controversy. From conflicting eye witness accounts, disagreements over what the physical evidence suggest, to the discovery of Brown being involved in a shoplifting incident shortly before his fatal run-in with officer Wilson, every aspect suggest the authorities trying to demonize a young man, who was unarmed, and murdered in cold blood by and officer of the law.

The news agencies that flocked to Ferguson to cover the protest of the police department were welcomed roughly by authorities. Protestors and newsies alike were bombarded by with tear gas by police. Several videos of Ferguson Police and their rough treatment of peaceful protestors and news crews surfaced as city itself began to become powder-keg of unrest that seemed ready to blow at moment’s notice. After a Grand Jury decision to not indict Wilson in November riots ensued. The people had grown tired of being targeted and decided to fight back. The riots were a misguided side effect of what had become and obvious truth. In a racially divided society officers are beginning to see themselves as being above some of the communities and people that they are sworn to serve.

I am not saying all police officers are the type to act like bullies. I want to believe that most are good men and women that do not use the job to release aggression and hatred they have toward any particular group of people, it is just my earnest belief in this day and age we need to take a second look at what we want in our so called peacekeepers.

Police brutality is a growing national problem, and even here on the streets of Rochester, we have seen a rise in excessive force by police against the citizens. It seems everyone has an R.P.D. brutality story to tell. In the course of researching brutality in our own city I can say that I have heard quite a few disturbing tales, but in the interest of staying on topic and not opening a huge can of worms we cannot close again, I only want to talk about one event. One event to get a perspective on brutality here at home.

On August 31st 2002 police responded to a disturbance call at the Wegmans on Driving Park. A mentally ill man was causing a scene. That man’s name was Lawrence Rogers. Mr. Rogers was resisting but was also obviously in a troubled mental state. Bystanders were quite vocal about the harsh treatment of Mr. Rogers and one began to record the incident on her phone. The officers apparently agitated by the presence of onlookers began accost and restrain the innocent bystanders which included two of Wegmans’ employees. One of the arresting officers then proceeded to mace Rogers and the crowd of onlookers including the amateur videographer herself.

Lawrence Rogers was pronounced dead at Rochester General Hospital shortly after his arrest. A man was dead because officers failed to assess the situation and handled it in a manner that was beyond what was needed to bring it to a peaceful end. Where they not supposed to be trained in how to handle situation such as these with a calm and level head? What about those charged with selecting officers that can carry out the duties expected of them? Who is going to hold these men accountable for actions that lead to the death of an innocent man?

The system is flawed. Our system is flawed. How many more people have to die before we decide that we have had enough? No officers were charged in the deaths of these three men. Families were forever robbed of the ones they loved while the perpetrators of these heinous acts walk free. Protest and rioting have become the avenues chosen by some to express their dissatisfaction with steps taken to punish officers that abuse their power.

Peaceful protest are obviously what we would all prefer, and in a perfect world that would be all we would need for the people to unite and incite a change for the betterment of society. What could we do to protect ourselves from those who are supposed to be here for the very purpose of our protection?

I posed this very question to Davy Vara. A very outspoken local activist here in Rochester, Davy V. is familiar with the many instances of brutality that have occurred in our city over years past. It was mid-October, a month or so before the verdict in Ferguson. Davey and I spoke in length about our views and why we were seeing increases in police violence toward normal citizens. The answer we both agreed upon was that power corrupts. Not all but some people can be easily carried away by the smallest amount of power. This is a fact that has been known to us for centuries, the real question is how to combat an enemy that is backed by the system put in place to protect us?

To this Davy told me the simplest answer is unity. According to Davy,”We all know that our collective voice is louder, and together if we are loud enough this voice can be a catalyst for change, but unity is the key. If you see something, say something. The police have always used their position to intimidate would be whistleblowers into silence, but if we do not stand up we will always be overlooked.”

I could not agree more with this sentiment, and as we talked more about Ferguson and all that had happened there, I asked if he felt people would eventually retaliate if police officers continue to get away with murder. His answer was, “violence begets violence.”, and “you could only mistreat people for so long before someone strikes back.” He could not know that on December 20th, a month after a Grand Jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, 2 NYPD officers would be gunned down in what was said to be in direct retaliation for the failure to bring to justice the officers that killed Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.

After killing two unsuspecting officers, Ismaaiyl Brinsley then turned the weapon on himself, committing suicide on a nearby subway platform as police cut off his escape. Many people have suspicions as to the validity of this retaliation, but the fact remains violence begets violence. In the wake of what was a disturbing series of death at the hands of police we see two unaware officers of the law killed in cold blood. In the months since this incident we have seen officers nationwide being indicted for shootings and assaults where obvious excessive force was used. This includes cases in both New York and Missouri.

Everyday there seemed to be more and more cases of violent acts committed by police against the citizens of this country and as I dug deeper into the subject matter I found more questions than answer. How could this keep happening? Why isn’t there more being done?
The real answers to these questions are beyond the reach of the general public. The few people that are capable of creating the type of sweeping change that is needed are unwilling or uninterested. Davy V. is the only person I know with a definitive answer that makes any kind of sense. Unity is the only thing we have and in all reality is the only thing that stands a chance of working. If we unite against unjust treatment and refuse to let our voices be ignored then we can set ourselves on the path of eliminating violence committed by the municipalities against their citizens and establishing trust that could make those charged with the protection of the afore mentioned citizens more effective and ultimately help to truly serve and protect the people of this country.