Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shutting Up

On the day after the Ferguson grand jury brought back the expected but still gut-punching decision not to indict, followed by a wide range of reactions across the country, some of which were given press coverage and some of which were not, there is a tremendous temptation to pontificate-- particularly among those of us who are in the pontification business.

White folks feel various self-imposed combinations of guilt, pressure to show they're on the right side, pressure not to yield to that pressure. At the same time a million fault lines in our culture open up in sharp relief, from our uneasy relationship with our own justice system to our racial issues to the question of how well we can trust the media (and is that trust enough to conduct a trial in it of anyone) all the way to observations like this one

There's an impulse that people sometimes have in moments of trouble, an impulse to Say Something that will Make Things Better. At times, this impulse does not serve them well, particularly if they don't really know what they're talking about. At times like that, it's best to just shut up. At times like that, it's best to pay attention, to watch, and to listen.

There are a million ugly things crawling out from under the rock that is Ferguson right now, and while shooting from the hip is my usual stock in trade, now is not the time. The truth is I'm a white teacher in a rural school where the population holds at a pretty steady 98% white. For me to understand Ferguson and the places like it, I need to look and listen and shut up long enough to really hear what is happening.

On the topic of Ferguson, I have kept my mouth mostly shut and will continue to do so. I am sure that I'll shoot it off at some point, when I have been able to process enough to have something useful to say. I know the broad strokes-- when policing in a community is so effed up that a jay-walking stop turns into a shooting, there's something terribly wrong with how power is being exercised, and when you are telling people who have been punched repeatedly in the face that they should complain more politely, you're not getting it. This is not how policing is supposed to work. This is not how a community is supposed to work. But to learn more through the filter of highly selective reporting is a fool's errand, and social media at the moment simply makes me cringe with the number of people shooting off their mouths as if the tiny bits of information that has made it to them filtered through mainstream news is a full picture.

So invite other under-informed folks in far away places to join me in shutting up. Not forever. But long enough to watch and listen and learn and understand. Nobody else has a responsibility to explain things to us, but we do have a responsibility to try to understand before we make noise. As for blogging-- what's called for are conversations, and this is not the format for that. We'll have conversations in my classes today, I'm sure, but it won't be me providing The Answers. So, on this topic, for the moment, I am shutting up. I invite other under-informed people to do the same.


  1. You say we should all shut-up, and yet you cut loose with statements such as: "when policing in a community is so effed up that a jay-walking stop turns into a shooting, there's something terribly wrong with how power is being exercised." That's not really "shutting-up" and allowing things to percolate.

    Without getting into the larger issues, I will just say that we pretty much know the established facts of the Michael Brown case, based on surveillance video, (black) eye-witness testimony, and forensic evidence: A kid hopped-up on drugs strong-arm robbed a convenience store and was later told by a police officer to stop walking down the middle of the road. The kid attacked the officer ("head down, like a football player," said one witness), punching him in the face and trying to take his gun, and was then shot at close range during the struggle. No one on the "protest" side has even attempted to refute these facts with counter-facts, only assertions and emotion.

    No, this was not just a "jaywalking stop." And no, I don't think it is exactly out of line to demand that the "protesters" not burn down buildings and destroy vehicles.

    No matter how one views the "larger societal issues" and whatnot, the facts of this case are pretty clear, and indicting that police officer would have been a gross violation of justice. The incentive system cases like this one create is one where no one will want to take on the dangerous, thankless job of being a police officer in a community with a high minority population. It seems to me this is not an incentive system any of us should want to encourage.

    1. You're selectively quoting "facts": "said ONE witness." Where is your source for the "hopped-up on drugs?" The police haven't even finished their investigations-they rushed the grand jury because of the unrest. Everything needs to be seen in context-it's the only way anything has any meaning, which is why the "larger societal issues" are more important than any one incident; but incidents like this have been many. One of the proposed solutions is to have more minority police officers in communities with a high minority population.

    2. The toxicology report was leaked weeks ago. Context is fine and wonderful, but in a criminal case, it's all about the facts of the case at hand. Putting someone on trial due, not to the specific facts of that case, but rather to address "larger societal issues" by proxy is both inhumane and a violation of justice.

    3. Toxicology report is here, if you are truly interested:


    4. So is this the story we're expected to believe: http://preaprez.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/darrien-wilson-told-this-story-with-a-straight-face-and-the-grand-jury-said-they-believed-it/ ?

      And I guess we're supposed to believe that Trayvon somehow went for Zimmerman's gun at the same time as he was bashing Zimmerman's head against the sidewalk? And that Zimmerman nevertheless got the gun unholstered, safety off and shot Trayvon "in self defense"? And that Trayvon said "You got me"?

      Some people watch too many movies. In fact, too many people watch too many movies.

    5. I hadn't seen the toxicology report. It indicates that Michael Brown had smoked cannabis; I would just say that I think that most people would not describe people who have smoked cannabis as being "hopped-up;" that would more accurately describe someone who has taken a strong stimulant or something like PCP. From what I can tell, there is a lot of contradiction in witness statements, and the Supreme Court said that police officers should not shoot at unarmed people who are fleeing. Why do you say this was not "just a jaywalking stop"? Not because it wasn't a jaywalking stop, but because you believe it was Michael Brown's fault it turned into a shooting death? I assume from what you say that the struggle you post about was the initial one while the police officer was in his car, about which there is also conflicting testimony. But I thought the description by one witness of charging "head down, like a football player" applied to afterward out of the car. I myself am very confused by all the contradictions in testimony and also in statements by the police. I am not suggesting that anyone should be judged in a particular case on "larger societal issues." But in light of the many recent incidences of unarmed African-American men and boys being shot to death by police, it seems to me that it is the larger issue, rather than one particular issue, that is most important to be addressed. And as I said, one of the proposals to address the situation is to have more minority police officers in high minority communities.

    6. The idea that pot always mellows people out is a myth, particularly given that you don't always know exactly how potent the stuff you buy on the street corner really is. Pot can lead to both aggression and psychotic episodes:


      Yes, I was somewhat sloppy in my recounting of events for the sake of brevity. And while there was some conflict in the witness testimony, the forensics evidence supported the claims of witnesses whose stories gibed with the officer's story. That is, Brown attacked the policeman through his window, striking him in the face and (apparently) trying to get his gun. That is when the first two shots were fired. Blood splatter in the car and powder burns on Brown verify this.

      Brown then tried to flee but was ordered to stop by Wilson who, naturally, intended to arrest him. Brown may or may not have put his hands up initially, but he did not have his hands up when he was shot because the bullet that hit his arm went through the front (if his arms had been raised, the bullet would have entered through the triceps). The fatal shot entered through the top of Brown's head. Particularly given how much taller Brown was than Wilson, this is an unlikely place for Wilson to hit him, but it is consistent with the eyewitness testimony indicating that Brown lowered his head and charged at Wilson.

      Despite the impression sensationalized media coverage may leave, there actually haven't been very many incidents of unarmed black men and boys shot by police recently. The kid recently shot in Cleveland, for instance, had a realistic-looking toy gun, so the police thought he was armed. The notion that there is some sort of epidemic of these cases is just not true.

      It may very well be that having more minority police officers would be helpful, and I don't know of anyone who would object to that. However, cities have been desperately trying to hire more of them for a couple of decades now (at least), and they are finding very few who are interested and/or qualified. It's a quandary.

    7. I suppose we could debate how "realistic" this toy gun was, but the video clearly shows him standing there just holding it at his side with no one around him. He was a threat to no one.

      And it's such a shame that there just aren't any qualified minority candidates for police officer positions. Guess it's true that blacks just really are inferior. Because I'm sure it couldn't possibly have anything to do with bias/racism.

    8. Give it a rest, Dienne. Many of the cities in question have black police commissioners, so accuse them of "bias/racism" all you want. You can only hire from the pool of people who want the job.

    9. Actually, black police commissioners are as steeped in the white supremacist hierarchy as white commissioners, so yes, they do tend to be racist. If anything, moreso, because they have to prove that they're not going to be "soft" on members of their own race.

    10. Oh, brother. Do you realize how far up your posterior your head has to be shoved to believe that kind of thing? Yowza.

    11. And do you realize that when you have to resort to personal insults you've lost the argument? Have a good day!

    12. Maybe, but that wasn't a personal insult, merely a metaphorical observation. But I can completely understand why, at this point, you would prefer to declare victory and run, rather than continue saying foolish things.

    13. Guess it's not surprising that someone so caught up in his own white male privilege that he doesn't even recognize when he's slinging insults also doesn't recognize racism.

    14. You're just one trite cliche after another. Well, when you've lost the argument (or failed to present one that isn't utterly laughable), hiding behind the skirts of a "racism" and "white male privilege" charge is about all you have left, I guess.

  2. I agree with your idea about shutting up, Mr. Greene. Stick to the subjects of your blog: educational theory, practice, and policy, as its title suggests. I greatly respect your common sense and experienced perspective on the field and its concerns, and, despite the fact that I would still respect your opinions on other subjects, I do not read your blog to witness know it all busybodies ignorantly ranting about police commissioners, racism, and "facts" they think they know.

  3. "social media at the moment simply makes me cringe with the number of people shooting off their mouths as if the tiny bits of information that has made it to them filtered through mainstream news is a full picture."
    Prime example: the comments right here on this blog. Thank you, Peter, for your compassion and common sense.