Thursday, August 21, 2014


Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Pedneault
    Executed by an IS jihadist, American journalist James Foley is the most recent to die while pursuing news.
   Faces of journalists killed in the line of duty.  Below is the memorial wall at the Newseum in Washington D.C.
   Most give very little thought to the dangers encountered by those who work to keep us informed.  We are in their debt.
      In critiquing the performance of the police in Ferguson Missouri, Norm Stamper the former police chief in Seattle told the LA Times the first thing he thought when he saw the images was "When will we ever learn?", the lines from the Pete Seeger song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary.
     He said he was thinking, "please learn from my mistakes." Stamper made a few when his force was vilified for the way they over reacted to the WTO protests in 1999. The incident spawned books and movies.
     Scenes like those in Ferguson are familiar to many of us. If you are old enough you remember police dogs and fire hoses being turned on civil rights protesters and the media by police and sheriffs in the south in the 1960's.  Most infamous perhaps was racist Bull Connor in Birmingham Alabama.
      The 1967 Kerner Commission report on the spate of riots and violence in American cities concluded that frustration at lack of economic opportunity was the powder keg.
      In that same era I covered protests, street violence and police thuggery.  In 1968 the Walker Report called the action of the Chicago Police Department a "police riot" during the Democratic National Convention.
      I've been tear gassed, and bullied by police, knocked out by flag pole in a scuffle between anti war and pro war demonstrators and I've seen protests from Washington to conflict zones in Central America, the Middle East and Africa. There was a time when it seemed police had learned, as Norm Stamper did, though in his case after the fact.
      Ferguson reminds us there is still a long way to go. There are a few simple things that can happen immediately-
       ---police need to remember that a peaceable assembly to protest is a guaranteed freedom.  And protesters need to remember the good lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King-peaceful protest or civil disobedience, which will precipitate likely arrest, but in a peaceful way.
       ---As Stamper said "don't tear gas non violent and non threatening protesters and for God's sake don't bring dogs out…it's a throw back to Bull Connor."
       ---Stamper and others who are experts in law enforcement and security also decry the militarization of local police departments.  They look like army units, ready for invasion. Maybe there's a place for that, but it's not in an emotionally tinged protest over questionable use of lethal force. Pointing loaded weapons, that look like instruments of war, at unarmed civilians is stupid and dangerous. It is a scene you'd expect from Syria, Russia or someplace other than the American heartland.
       I've accompanied police on armed drug raids, waited hours with SWAT officers in highly charged hostage sieges, and seen officers, including friends, gunned down in shoot outs. I've been there as folded flags that draped a coffin were presented to grieving wives and children.  It is dangerous work they do, but that is no excuse to trample liberties, rights or to abuse people who have committed no crime. Restraint is required on both sides of the line and the same goes for the media.  In our case, the media, we need to remember proportionality and perspective. The sun needs to rise on reason.

    In normal circumstances this wetland and pond would be alive with birds.

   See you down the trail.


  1. While your land is drying, mine has been drenched this month. "All my life's a circle" . . Harry Chapin.

  2. In California we are hoping it doesn't get windy! BTW I'd bet old Fred would have a choice "My Town Indy" calling BS on the militarization of the cops. If there was one he didn't tolerate was BS from anywhere, any time.

  3. I write this during a momentary downpour, mixed rain and snow....on the 21st of August....wish we could send some your way.
    The journalists that have died reporting the story are our real defenders of the first amendment. They have my respect.
    From my view, your remarks on Ferguson are spot on, and I'm busy revising my views on swat teams and the like.

  4. Certainly the police should not over-react nor use excessive force; however, if it turns out that the police officer was in fact attacked and used deadly force to protect himself, then the media also has some soul-searching to do about their "rush" to judgement. I asked a long-time friend of mine who trains Indianapolis police and sheriff's officers on the use of their firearms. He stated that it was possible that in the course of a struggle that six rounds could have been fired at the victim, but he is awaiting further information before stating his opinion about the officer's use of deadly force. The city of Indianapolis recently (July 5th) lost a veteran decorated police officer whom was shot as he got out of his patrol car by an intoxicated 20-year-old man armed with an AK-47, at East 34th Street and Forest Manor across from the Forest Manor Methodist Church. The mother of the shooter (who obtained the AK-47) has been quoted as saying that if the officer had not gotten out of his car, the officer would still be alive. The sad fact is that there are a few vocal members of the Indianapolis African-American community whom have blamed the victim for his fate and defended the shooter, whom was resusitated from his subsequent gunshot wounds from the accompanying police officers and has recovered and been released from the hospital. The shooter is awaiting trial on capital (death penalty) murder charges in the Marion County jail. Both Ferguson and what has happened in Indianapolis show that the racial divide is still significantly wide.

  5. A couple of excellent posts, followed by equally fine photos.

    We might do much better if our police thought of themselves as peace officers rather than law enforcement. That's the approach of the British, and the relationship between police and citizenry is far more cordial there.

  6. Good analysis of the responsibilities that get lost in the heat of the action. Been watching a BBC series in which the police keep the peace without using firearms. A far cry from our gun-drenched society.