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I thank all the people who consoled me on my father's passing. I had mentioned it here so publicly, partly because Dad's death rests so heavily on my soul right now and partly to explain my uncharacteristically dour mood, which has flooded my perceptions of this violent week across America.

officer-involved shooting

Will America's Hard Week Lead Anywhere?—Dick Price

Around here, I'm known as the "glass half-full guy," the one who can always find that ray of hope, that way to accentuate the positive, that reason to get up and take another run at things.

This soul-saving approach to life comes in part, I think, from the years I spent working at a halfway house for recovering alcoholics and addicts. Far too frequently, one or another of them would find reason to give way to the madness, according to their temperaments and the circumstances of their lives at the moment, by putting a gun in their mouth or pitching one last epic bender to drown themselves in blood from the ruptured veins in their throats.

If you couldn't find a way to lift your spirits in that work, you would be tempted to drive down to the beach yourself and swim out in the general direction of Hawaii until the muscles in your arms and legs gave out—if that matched your temperament.

And so I became the Glass Half-Full Guy in part out of necessity.

But sometimes, as in this week filled with police murders of innocent black men, coupled with the murders of police officers, you have to suspect that this irrepressible optimism you're blessed with has a strong admixture of self-deception to it.

But sometimes, as in this week filled with police murders of innocent black men, coupled with the murders of police officers, I have to suspect that this irrepressible optimism I'm blessed with has a strong admixture of self-deception to it.

More Guns Than People

This week's survey asked your views about gun violence generally and particularly police murders of innocent black and brown men. I encourage you to read the many responses.

In both cases, and especially around gun control, solutions abound. The problem? The lack of will to do anything about it.

As Janey Mitchell responded, we need to…pass sensible gun control laws without loopholes."

Perhaps we could treat guns like cars. To get a driver's license, typically you have to take some training, pass a written test, and then score well on a driving test. And at some point if your behavior shows you can't drive responsibility, you lose your right to drive. You have to have insurance, you have to register your vehicle, and you have to care for the vehicle responsibly—and you can't drive an Abrams tank down the street.

Just so with guns. Let’s make it so you have to show that you're responsible enough to own a gun, that you'll use it properly, that you've got it properly registered, that your weapon isn't designed to mow down soldiers in battle—and if you fail to follow through on those things, you'll lose that right to own a gun.

But nothing like that is going to happen.

The howls from Second Amendment defenders would be deafening, reminding us that in a different world altogether two and half centuries ago our sainted Founding Fathers wanted to guarantee our right to mosey down on Saturday afternoon to the town square where we could join our mates in practicing close-order drill before quick-timing it over to Farmer Brown's pasture, there to take turns taking potshots at cow pies. Militia indeed!

Our "leaders" in Washington can't even figure out how to stop people pretending the semi-automatic military rifle they brandish is there for self-protection or hunting quail. No, there's way too much money in the manufacture and sale of guns. In America, we've got more guns than people. Just think of all the profit there is in that!

I do rather like Larry Wines' idea of attacking the culture of violence:

"The standard TV fare cannot be shoot-em-cop shows and murder mysteries. The most common item from the prop department cannot be a gun. If we must, we should pass financial incentives to promote programming about people making a difference for others and for trying, as doubtful as it is that we can succeed, to save the planet and assure that our species has a future as part of a necessarily diverse and integrated and healthy functioning ecosystem."

Here’s another instance where our technology is outpacing our human abilities to deal with it. We can only suspect what thousands of hours watching gun violence on a screen or killing digital people in a video game does to our brains—and especially to our children’s brains.

Not good things, certainly, but look at all the profit in that. Money rules, especially for people who have mountains of it, so let’s move on. Get over it. Thirty years from now, with the the sea levels rising to our doorsteps from climate change, we'll still be arguing how many AR-15s a person can own. You watch.

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Police Shoot Yet Another Unarmed Black Man

Sensible responses to the drumbeat of police shootings of black and brown men emerged from this week’s survey as well:

Clearly the recent militarization of our police has only produced more death and distrust on both sides of the equation. Who we hire as police, how they are trained, and how they interact with our communities are all in need of re-examination before more people get killed.— Tony Butka

Our justice department can begin by starting an investigation into every police shooting in the last 5 years, and hand down serious sentences where they are merited.— Hugo Leal

We can train police officers out of their inherent bias against black men, so they will be less fearful and behave more rationally towards black people. We could also emphasize de-escalation in encounters with black people.—Lee Marshall

Several of you offered more radical approaches:

End the constant regime change Wars that dull our senses of outrage over killing innocent people. End the War on drugs. End the hiring of military veterans as police. End military hardware for police. Disarm the police. End poverty.—Dick Chase

If the death of civilians was just a matter of training and not hiring crazies and incompetents, we’d see black, white, brown people killed at the same rate. We don’t. That fate falls mostly on persons of color. I see pure neo-Confederate racism.—Radhika

To which I say, sure, we need reforms. We need to fight for civilian oversight of police departments, for full accountability and transparency for police officer activities.

Yes, we need better police officer training—the outrages this week, like other prominent ones in the past, displayed deplorable police tactics for dealing with the public.

Yes, we need better police officer training—the outrages this week, like other prominent ones in the past, displayed deplorable police tactics for dealing with the public.

Based on my own experiences from Vietnam, I think we need to look at the hiring of combat veterans for our police forces, too. The instincts and techniques you need to survive in combat are just not what work on our streets filled with civilians. I wonder how many veterans-turned-cops have been triggered into inappropriate violence. And let’s stop tricking out police officers to look like space age paratroopers while we're at it.

Absolutely, we need to redefine a policeman’s role in our society. A great many things are dumped on police departments, functions that could better be served elsewhere, leaving police officers to deal with actual crime. Helping the homeless, selling individual cigarettes, crowd control, treating the mentally—there are lots of things other, less militarized, less lethal, government workers could do.

But right now, some these steps seem like band-aids, necessary in some cases to staunch the bleeding—or at least to give that appearance—but not nearly enough to cure the patient.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I’m glad to see that protesters are out marching in the streets tonight, holding rallies, closing down freeways—efforts I hope will bring the national conversation around police violence and gun control to more productive places.

But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? And we know we’ll get here again…and again…again. On on a different night, in a different mood, I might think any of this will make a difference.

Here are three areas where more fundamental change might be in order.

Looking back, our nation has never fully taken responsibility for the centuries of slavery we imposed on the Africans we captured and brought to our shores as slaves to fuel our economic growth. We have never had the kind “Truth and Reconciliation” South Africa had in atoning for Apartheid. Instead, we have kept African Americans in one kind of bondage or another to this very day.

Looking forward, somehow we need to figure out how to live together—not in the same vast country, not in the same states, not even in the same cities, but in the same neighborhoods. Black, brown, yellow, red, and white—our kids need to go to the same schools, we need to shop in the same stores, we need to walk the same streets and greet each other as we go out to pick up the mail. If we knew each other as friends and neighbors, we’d be much less like to create police officers who kill some of us but not others.

Right now, we need to solve poverty. Our politicians always like to talk about what they’re going to do for “hard-working, middle-class Americans.” That’s well and good, but there’s an awful lot of “desperately poor Americans,” too. No one ever uses them as steppingstones to higher office. We need a new War on Poverty, a real Homeland Security Department that would focus on bringing some piece of the American Dream to all of us.

dick-price-hat

Maybe in time I’ll get my “Glass-Half Full Guy” face on and think some of this could happen. Maybe in time.

Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive