The Universal Notebook: Black and blue lives matter

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One morning last month I came down to breakfast to find my youngest daughter in tears at the kitchen table.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked.

“When is it going to stop?” she replied, holding up the front page story about Dallas police officers being shot and killed.

I had no answer for her, but, of course, I knew exactly what she meant. The cumulative effect of violence in this country, from mass shootings to killings of and by police, is taking a terrible psychic toll on all of us. The tension over police violence in black communities seems to have reached the boiling point and retaliation against law enforcement just exacerbates the problem.

While it should be obvious to any decent human being that nothing justifies the recent deadly attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, it should be just as obvious that the police have some of their fellow officers to blame. Every time a police officer uses deadly force unnecessarily, it inflames communities and provokes retaliation.

The last couple of years have seen a rash of high-profile incidents in which police officers have taken the lives of black men under highly questionable circumstances.

Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, for stealing a box of cigars and resisting arrest. Eric Garner was choked to death by police in New York for selling cigarettes on the street. Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times after slashing the tire of a police cruiser with a three-inch knife. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun in a city park. Walter Scott was shot in the back while fleeing a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina. Freddie Gray died in the custody of Baltimore police while allegedly being given a “rough ride.”

The two most recent controversial police killings involve allegations that the deceased were carrying guns.

Alton Sterling was selling CDs on the street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When police arrived to investigate allegations that he had threatened someone with a gun, he was tasered, brought to the ground and then shot to death while being held down because police said Sterling was trying to reach for a gun in his pocket.

Philandro Castile was pulled over in St. Paul, Minnesota, for a faulty taillight, though police later said he was stopped because he looked like a robbery suspect. Castile, who had no criminal record, informed police that he had a license to carry a gun and that he had a gun in the car. At that point the officer apparently panicked and shot Castile four times as he sat in his car with his girlfriend beside him and her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat.

In most of these cases, the police officers were not indicted despite the appearance that some of them escalated the violence by mishandling the situation or overreacting. Police officers deserve a great deal of respect for the difficult jobs they are asked to do, risking their lives for relatively little reward, but they also must be held accountable when things go wrong.

Law enforcement is a dangerous job, but, perhaps surprisingly, not one of the most dangerous, those being loggers, commercial fishing, pilots, roofers, trash haulers, farmers, steel workers, truck drivers, electrical workers and taxi drivers. Loggers suffer 110.9 deaths per 100,000 compared to 13.5 per 100,000 for police. The difference, of course, is that the deaths in these more dangerous professions are all accidental.

Still, despite the recent attacks on police, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty has fallen steadily since the 1970s. Close to 300 officers were killed in 1974; last year 123 died.

As with just about everything in America these days, the killings of and by police officers seem to have polarized people. On one side we have the Black Lives Matter movement. On the other, those who counter that All Lives Matter. But that’s exactly what Black Lives Matter means: All Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Too. People of color are being disproportionately victimized by those in power. Not to recognize this is either willful ignorance or extreme prejudice.

For good people, there are no sides to take in this matter. When police use excessive force or unfairly target minorities, they must be condemned. When angry young men target police officers, they must be condemned.

Black and blue lives matter.

When is it going to stop? My guess is not until law enforcement departments are able to weed out the bad apples, those officers who are temperamentally and professionally unfit to serve. Perhaps not until the police departments in predominantly black communities are themselves predominantly black.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Charles Martel

    “For good people, there are no sides to take in this matter.” Yes, there are. I side with the police. “When is it going to stop?” When the media and Obama stop inciting violence before the facts are in and stop purposely dividing the country.

    It would be very worthwhile to read this in depth article by a real investigative journalist:

    “The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) casts itself as a spontaneous uprising born of inner city frustration, but is, in fact, the latest and most dangerous face of a web of well-funded communist/socialists organizations that have been agitating against America for decades.” -Jim Simpson, “The Roots of Black Lives Matter Unveiled”, AIM Center for Investigative Journalism

    • EABeem

      Come on, Frank, at least be intellectually honest. AIM Center for Investigative Journalism is a rightwing propaganda organ and you know it. Here’s what Southern Poverty Law Foundation, which serves a watchdog on hate groups says:
      “Cliff Kincaid, director of Accuracy in Media’s AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, has been serving up far-right propaganda for more than 30 years. He plays to the crowd by condemning typical rightist foes such as liberals, President Obama, Muslims and immigrants, and, especially, gays and lesbians. Whatever his topic, he is usually short on facts and long on innuendo, citing friendly sources from the right wing fringe to back him up.”
      James Simpson is a partisan hack at best, a hate-monger at worst. In any event, nothing he writes can be believed.

      • Jimmy_John67

        “James Simpson is a partisan hack at best, a hate-monger at worst. In any event, nothing he writes can be believed.”

        Pot meet kettle.

        • Charles Martel

          See above dink-weed.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Hey genius, I would point out my comment was in response to Mr. Beem and tell you to work on your reading comprehension skills but I won’t since I can see from your subsequent comments that you are just the far right wing version of Beem so I’m guessing both your functioning brain cells are busy keeping you breathing.

          • Charles Martel

            Thanks for your in depth analysis.

      • Charles Martel

        Simpson works for the Center for Security Policy. Frank Gaffney’s one of the most intelligent in-the-know people on the planet. I’ve met him and attended a number of his conferences especially on the threat of Islam to the West.

        The So. Poverty Law Center is further Left than Karl Marx or the ACLU which was founded by Roger Baldwin an avowed communist. Simpson stayed in my home when we met with Gov. LePage to discuss refugee resettlement. He is a genuinely good person, not a hack.

        Intellectually honest is not your forte for sure. I can’t understand how you or your ilk think. I’d recommend you see D’Souza’s documentary, “Hillary’s America”, but it would do no good. Anyone who votes for Hillary is a damn idiot and a Kool-Aid drinker.

        I’d be embarrassed to be defending BLM, OWS, GLBT, modern feminism, Islamic invasion (hijra), Common Core, re-distribution of wealth, the Clintons, Obama, the Democrat Party and so on. But, then again, you’re a progressive who has no conscience or knowledge of history or economics.

        When can we meet for a cup of coffee?

        • EABeem

          As soon as you understand that your sources are almost always far right and not objective. Maybe not even then. Why would I want to have coffee with someone who does nothing but insult me?

          • Charles Martel

            Good night, coffee?

          • EABeem

            No thank you. No point. I know what you think. You know what I think.

          • Charles Martel

            I expected that you would decline the invitation.

  • Chew H Bird

    There are obviously more weapons with more capability in the world today compared with 50 years ago. The threat of violence is actively fueled by media reporting and there is always some tragedy to be broadcast regardless of the details of circumstance.

    What seems to be rarely mentioned is that as a child in Maine in the 1960s, just about every family on my street had one or more guns. As neighborhood kids we were taught to use them in a safe manner even if shooting rats at the town dump doesn’t pass today’s political correctness test.

    Racial tensions have always been real, (since the beginning of time), but being isolated in Maine the reality never seemed close.

    I am guessing, in a very unscientific manner, that increased population density (in general), coupled with poverty, poor education, single parent families, play a role in what we are seeing reported in the media. I also suspect the “instant communications” of today’s world reinforce and document to the less fortunate just how much they do not have… When “everything” is on line and “everything” costs more that a person has, and “everybody” seems to have “everything” that the less fortunate do not, the growth of helplessness and frustration rises.

    I believe we are currently on a path where the violence will continue to escalate until we actually make some very difficult choices concerning education, personal priorities, and real job opportunity combined with somehow returning to an economic stability where a household can be supported by a single wage earner.

    • Ted

      Well said.

      I’ll add to that the perception that there is terrorism in every town in the USA. Right here in Brunswick, the BPD recently added an armored vehicle to its fleet. Whether such a vehicle is necessary or not in Brunswick, Maine is debatable, but the perception it engenders just adds fuel to the fire. And when we see police in larger cities in black para-military gear with military-grade weapons hanging off black MRAVs, well…

      And perception is everything. As you alluded to, just about everyone in the world can now compare their lives to that of everyone else, and that’s a recipe for a lot of dissatisfaction, jealousy, and anger. Throw in 24/7 demagoguery via the media and campaign trail, a ton of high-powered semi-automatic weapons (on both sides of the equation), black tactical vehicles, racial/social/economic inequality, and more, then stir the pot…and we get what we have.

  • Chebeague1

    Ignorance must be bliss. The author conveniently (read: intentionally) overlooks important points such as the assault rate on cops, the increased rate at which blacks commit crimes compared to other races, the lower rate at which cops use deadly force against blacks compared to whites, and the skyrocketing numbers of ambush murders against cops this year.

    Excretes the author, “The tension over police violence in black communities seems to have reached the boiling point and retaliation against law enforcement just exacerbates the problem.” Unfortunately the author can’t see the forest for the trees. The problem is not police violence in black communities, no matter how often or how loud he says so. The problem is people committing crimes, including refusing to submit to arrest. We are a nation of law and order. If you disagree with a cop, you fight in court – not on the street.

    Most of the author’s cherry-picked examples of officers using “controversial” deadly force involve criminals failing to submit to arrest. The author could have used the power of his column to educate the public on this point. Unfortunately, the author chose to go in a different direction, which is no surprise given his perpetual “fight the man” stuck-in-the-60’s anarchist attitude he has exemplified over the years. The author intentionally downplayed and omitted relevant facts in the examples he listed. Michael Brown committed a strong-arm robbery and tried to disarm a police officer. Freddie Gray was on drugs and fled from the cops. Eric Garner was morbidly obese and resisted arrest. And so on, and so on, and so on…

    Of the tens of thousands of encounters cops have every year with people, an incredibly small percentage result in the use of force. An even smaller percentage results in the use of deadly force. The overwhelming majority of encounters with cops are peaceful, brief, and uneventful.

    What I find most troubling is how the author attempts to justify the assassination of law enforcement officers by linking them to a handful of “controversial” uses of deadly force. There are certainly some troubling cases involving the use of deadly force. The killing of Walter Scott seems to be one example of this. Understand that no one is more critical of a cop’s decisions than other cops. The overwhelming majority of cops want incompetent cops off the job. But to suggest that there is some kind of equivalence between the deaths of officers and the deaths of criminals is disgusting. While committing a crime is not a death sentence, let’s keep in mind that NONE of these “controversial” deaths would have occurred if people had not committed crimes. I am not excusing any [incredibly rare] illegal behavior on the part of cops here; I’m simply stating a fact.

    I know the author. I know that he has never been in the position to defend himself from serious bodily injury, let alone death. He has no idea what it takes physically and emotionally to detain a person or effect an arrest. He likely knows as much about law enforcement as he does quantum mechanics, yet he has the audacity to make assumptions and draw conclusions on cases including Sterling, Castile, and Gray. I guarantee that when the author hears something go bump in the night, he will expect the Brunswick Police Department to be at his home yesterday and will expect them to handle the situation with perfection. And because I know the statistics and the personnel at BPD, I think I can safely say he’s 99.9% likely to see perfection.

    Along those lines, allow me to make one final point. In any occupation filled by humans it is unreasonable to think that improper performance will not occur – accidentally or otherwise. Perfection is a fine goal and we should hold our public servants to this gold standard of “Do No Wrong.” I am just curious: does the author expect perfection from doctors? Lawyers? How about “loggers, commercial fishing, pilots, roofers, trash haulers, farmers, steel workers, truck drivers, electrical workers and taxi drivers”? Is it okay to justify the murder any of the aforementioned because they erred, intentionally or accidentally?

    Law enforcement procedures and processes are in place to handle improper employee performance, including administrative, civil, and criminal actions. This is more than can be said for most other occupations. The author’s statements will only enflame the tension between cops and society by attempting to perpetuate lies and half-truths, reality be damned. This dangerous rhetoric endangers citizen lives and cop lives irrespective of skin color.

    Shame on you, Edgar. The Forecaster should be embarrassed for publishing this trash.

    • EABeem

      I’m just talking about the “[incredibly rare] illegal behavior on the part of cops.” But to suggest that residents of black communities are not victimized by those in power at a higher rate than residents of white communities are would either be willful ignorance or racial prejudice.

      • Chebeague1

        PSSSST – BLACKS COMMIT MORE CRIMES THAN WHITES in the community you are referring to. I know that is a terribly bitter pill to swallow and an inconvenient truth. Thus it is only likely there there will be MORE police encounters with blacks, no?

        How many “controversial” deaths are we talking? Please enlighten us. You called it a “rash of high-profile incidents.” For someone who values ALL lives like myself, one is too many. But I also live in the real world. Please do us a favor and contextualize the matter and put in in perspective: just how many “controversial” deaths are we talking about??? 10 a year? 100 a year? How do these deaths compare on a grand scale?

        How many BLACKS are murdered by other BLACKS in places in just one city on a yearly basis. You imply a completely black community may be a completely safe place, no? Or do you mean a completely safe place for criminals?

        It’s clear you have no grasp on reality and enjoy sitting in your glass hurling rocks. I hope in your next column you detail the horrible rash of deaths attributed to medical malpractice on an annual basis (one estimate is 250,000), and tear into some surgeons as you puff up your chest and explain where they went wrong and how you would do it better.

      • Chebeague1

        “Innocent people”?

        “Fellow officers to blame?”

        Hah. I’ve wasted enough of my time, not sure why I bothered.

        • EABeem

          Funny, that’s what most people ask me. Why do you bother answering people who don’t even have the courage to identify themselves? Why? Because I believe what I write and I am willing to defend the stands I take. You, like many anonymous online critics, did not read what I wrote, you just perverted my words and read what you thought. I cannot imagine any good reason why maintaining that black lives and blue lives matter should offend anyone.

          • J.D.

            Edgar, consider yourself lucky that you have the privilege to fly your opinions without chance of repercussion. You CHOOSE to broadcast your opinion on a site that invites feedback. More of the same libtard logic.

          • EABeem

            Most columnists do not reply to anonymous online posters. And what makes you think there are no repercussions? I was CHOSEN to write a liberal column because I have close to 50 years of journalistic experience and I have been able to deliver provocative columns every week for 13 years. The publishers do not share my political views, but they publish a variety of points of view and they understand that my column attracts readers. I would have been gone years ago if my column did not deliver the goods.

          • Jimmy_John67

            50 years of experience and your career peaks in a weekly column in a small unknown, free newspaper where anyone can be (and is) an opinion columnist. I would make a joke but that fact that you are bragging about that is funny enough for a week of laughs!

          • Charles Martel

            “journalistic” ?

          • poppypapa

            You should be pleased, JD. At least he didn’t resort to reciting the hugs and kisses he gets in the fruits and nuts section at Hannafords after each column.

            It’s pretty obvious the publishers do share his political views. There are no disclaimers on their part, and all you have to do is trace the ownership connection. Remember, the paper is free as well. Newspapers with paid subscriptions are going in the tank for a number of reasons, not the least of which is playing to one side of the populace only. If Beem was such an attracter of readers, the PPH and others would have been fighting over adding him to their stable at far more than he gets from the freebie.

            BTW, here are the leading synonyms for “provocative:” aggravating tops the list, followed by challenging, disturbing, exciting, inspirational, exciting, offensive, and outrageous.

            Wow; what a wonderful thing to be.

          • Jimmy_John67

            “You, like many anonymous online critics, did not read what I wrote, you just perverted my words and read what you thought.”

            Sounds like a response right out of the Trump and LePage playbook. Yet another way you are just like them! Trump, LePage and Beem…three angry, old, sexist, ignorant bullies.

    • EABeem

      “But to suggest that there is some kind of equivalence between the deaths of officers and the deaths of criminals is disgusting.”
      Now there is a statement that is offensive on many levels. You seem to identify “black” with “criminal.” You also seem to believe that some lives matter more than others. Not sure what theological or moral system you subscribe to, but in the Christian tradition all lives are sacred and there is no basis for sorting them out by more or less worthy. So you believe the lives of police officers are matter more than the lives of criminals (and, some of the black men killed by police were not criminals (Tamir Rice and Philandro Castilo, for example). I would be interested, therefore, in hearing how else your moral or religious system values people. Do white people matter more than black people? Do rich people matter more than poor people:? Do Christians matter more than Jews? Buddhists? Hindus? Muslims?

  • David R. Hill

    A lot of the comments this week are very disturbing. Why can’t we just agree that violence and killing are not acceptable activities for our civilization? And then work towards solutions? I believe that is what Edgar is saying.

    Oh, in case anybody was wondering, I am not Chebeague1.

    • EABeem

      Thanks, Dave. Yes, as you say, I was simply saying that violence should be condemned no matter who commits it. But there are some readers who habitually pervert anything and everything I write to fit their personal agendas.

      • Jimmy_John67

        “But there are some readers who habitually pervert anything and everything I write to fit their personal agendas.”

        Once again you sound exactly like Trump and LePage. It is about as believable an excuse from you as it is from them. I guess birds of a feather stick (and lie) together.

  • Charles Martel

    The BLM movement announced their demands today. Haven’t we heard this drivel for the past 50 or so years and already spent trillions of dollars? Where has it gotten us even with a black president?

  • Charles Martel