CULTURAL REFLECTIONS III
A. Oliver found guilty
When a Texas jury found former police officer Roy Oliver guilty of murder August 28 for shooting and killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, it marked one of the rare times that a cop has been convicted in a criminal proceeding. Many times prosecutors don't even bring these officers to trial, or they are simply booted off the force but don't face any criminal penalty for their actions, no matter how egregious. But in this case Oliver's actions in firing into a car full of youngsters trying to get away, plus the subsequent attempts at covering up his actions by claiming that the teens had tried to ram him with their car, was too much for the prosecution to stomach.
Indeed prosecutor Faith Johnson called Oliver "a killer in blue," and had sought a 60-year sentence. The defense argued for 20 years, and Oliver got 15. While it no doubt will be appealed, this case is a blueprint for the importance of video cam footage. It was dash cam footage that showed conclusively that Oliver and his fellow officers, who are now facing various charges of conspiracy and lying on a police report, were trying to cover his tracks when he claimed that he had to shoot in self defense. While Edwards mother was disappointed that he didn't get anywhere from 25-50 years, at least she knows her son's killer will be going to prison.
Sadly, the same things can't be said for the families of Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or many others, young and old, who have been shot and killed in highly questionable shootings. The next headline case begins next week in Chicago, where Jason Van Dyke goes on trial for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald. Here's another situation where a police officer initially claimed that someone was trying to attack them, only to later have that contradicted by video footage. McDonald was shot SIXTEEN (16) times by Van Dyke, who emptied his weapon within seconds of arriving on the scene.
One of the things that you often hear in supposed defense of police officers is that "this is a tough and thankless job." Yes, it is, and yes, it should be because police officers take an oath to protect citizens. No one is forced to become a police officer. Their job is only easy in a police state. The role of the police is to arrest suspects and bring them in for trial, not to perform summary executions. Certainly if someone attacks or shoots at a police officer, or if someone is threatening the lives of innocent citizens, then they are authorized to use deadly force.
But what really irritates so many Black citizens is the disproportionate number of Black suspects that get killed, especially unarmed ones, as opposed to all the times you see Whites brought in alive, even those who've fired on police or killed others prior to their arrest. The Dylan Roof case, where he kills multiple Blacks in a church, then gets a chance to eat lunch before being brought in alive, is just one case among many that really rile and aggravate the already bad relationships between police and the Black community.
These are rough times in many neighborhoods, and police are needed to protect communities from predators. But when police emulate or utilize the tactics of criminals, then citizens in turn have no more respect for or trust in them than any other criminals. Until there are more convictions of police who betray their oath, and more willingness of police officials to understand and try to deal with the distrust that so many ordinary citizens have towards them, a bad situation will only get worse, and the problem of crime will go unresolved.
B. - "Black KKKlansman Controversy"
Spike Lee's latest film "Black KKKlansman" has gotten some of his best reviews in many years, and plenty of coverage. But it wasn't until last week that it encountered any substantive negative attention and it came from someone who has previously cited him as an influence and inspiration. Director Boots Riley, whose current film "Sorry To Bother You" explores racism in telemarketing and public relations, attacked Lee for "doing a propaganda film for the police department."
The main story is about '70s Black cop Ron Stallworth, who managed to convince KKK leader David Duke that he was a supporter of his cause, and somehow even became a card carrying member of the Klan. His White Jewish partner infiltrated the Colorado Springs branch of the KKK using Stallworth's identity, and the two eventually foiled a plot to destroy the Black Student Union at Colorado State University and disrupt a major event. But Day's piece, which can be read online via the Black Agenda Report, also accuses Lee of misrepresenting his film as a completely true story, when there are multiple elements that are fictional.
"The real Ron Stallworth infiltrated a Black radical organization for three years (not for one event like the movie portrays) where he did what all papers from the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro), that were found through the Freedom of Information Act, tell us he did -- sabotage a Black radical organization whose intent had to do with, at the very least, fighting racist oppression. Cointelpro papers show us that these police infiltrators of radical organizations worked to try to disrupt the organizations through things like instigating infighting, acting crazy to make the organizations look bad, getting physical altercations happening, and setting them up to be murdered by police and others. Ron Stallworth was part of the Cointelpro. Cointelpro’s objectives were to destroy radical organizations, especially Black radical organizations."
Riley goes on to say that while the FBI also infiltrated the KKK and Neo-Nazi groups, they didn't try to disrupt or destroy them the way they did the Black Panthers and other Black radical organizations. He doesn't tell people to boycott or not watch the film, but does harshly criticize both Lee and Stallworth. Lee thus far has not attempted to defend the film, nor directly respond to Riley's comments other than to disagree with the contention that the police are the enemy. "Look at my films: they’ve been very critical of the police, but on the other hand I’m never going to say all police are corrupt, that all police hate people of color. I’m not going to say that. I mean, we need police."
Setting aside the undeniably sad aspect of one gifted Black director attacking another, and one who influenced him to get into the business in the first place as well, Riley raises some important points. My initial impression upon seeing "Black KKKlansman" was that it was indeed a true story, but I allowed for some creative license. However if it's true Stallworth was part of Cointelpro that definitely changes my views regarding him. Also the portion featuring him in conflict with a Black woman he became involved with during the undercover operation was apparently also a fictional creation.
I agree with Lee though that ALL police cannot be dismissed or assumed to be enemies. However far too many are engaging in acts of misconduct or brutality, and the entire institution as a whole has been sullied. It is very hard for people to trust those they deem corrupt, and too many Blacks for too many decades have seen police engaging in violent, criminal and often fatal actions without retribution or punishment. It is way past time for police officers who do not endorse or embrace brutal tactics, nor engage in misconduct, to stand up and speak out against those who do, as well as insist that police unions stop routinely defending any and all actions done by officers.
I still think "Black KKKlansman" is among Spike Lee's better films, but some truth in advertising might have prevented this. Had he simply said or at least said more prominently that this film is "based on a true story" or was "inspired by a true story," then even if Riley makes those claims, they carry less weight because this wasn't being marketed, presented or even implied to be a completely accurate account. Instead, there's now a controversy, and what should be a moment of triumph is instead shrouded in dispute.