“Boldness of enterprise; initiative or aggressiveness. 2. Guts; spunk. 3. Common sense.” That’s how theFreeDictionary.com defines it. And that’s how I grew up understanding the word as I heard the old folk use it. The Urban Dictionary brings it home, with “showing balls or guts.”
Whether you think he’s timely, or comes to it kind of late in his presidency, the fact of the matter is that Obama’s stand on the tendency of some law enforcement officers to be harder on, and more violent with, blacks than they are with whites shows that the man has plenty of gumption. Because it’s long past time for the dialogue. Even those whites (and the occasional delusional black) who dispute the extent of the problem are no longer able to deny that unarmed black men and women get arrested, beaten, shot and killed for exercising their constitutional right to question a traffic stop– or for daring to run away from an officer. (By the way, fleeing the police is not an offense punishable by death in any state in the union–except when a police officer raises the “I was in fear of my life” flag).
It wasn’t always this bad I remember running away from the police as a teenager in Chicago– my friends and I were disturbing the peace at the time. I ran, the officer chased me and came so close he actually touched my shoulder. It didn’t dawn on any of us at the time that a cop would even consider killing us for making noise and running away. It probably never crossed Walter Scott’s mind that Officer Michael Slager would actually shoot him down on the day that he ran from the officer to avoid going to jail for late child support payments, either. But today things are much different.
Until video evidence of the treatment accorded blacks by belligerent and many times hostile cops became air-borne, whites could simply not comprehend black complaints because they have always been able to tell a police officer to go to hell if they like without any fear of being shot and having a weapon planted beside their dead bodies. Ask a black man if he’d ever do that outside the presence of a couple hundred video-recording cell phones.
Faced with the actual evidence of repeated instances of police impropriety, Obama has commented recently on his own youthful interactions with the law, and how he personally experienced the occasional unjust use of police authority. He has also expressed concern that as his daughters enter that age where they will be leaving the house without their parents, driving and possibly being stopped for no reason, they may encounter that officer who fails to understand that the real role of police is to serve and protect, not dominate and control. Remember Sandra Bland!
Obama has never accused police departments or agencies of wholesale involvement in excessive violence, or of promoting it– even though a good case could be made that police officers wouldn’t do it unless they thought it was somehow acceptable. So acceptable, in fact, that blacks are not the only ones subject to being shot while unarmed. Fifty-nine-year-old David Kassick, white, was shot dead as he lay face down in the snow after a traffic stop. The cop who shot him, 37-year-old Lisa Mearkle, also white, said she was in fear of her life because his hands were beneath his body and he may have been reaching for a weapon. A jury– somewhat predictably– agreed, just 5 days ago.
But blacks are disproportionately killed. And for daring to do what no president before him has had the gumption to do, Obama has become the target of right wingers like Gov. Chris Christie, who hopes to twist the President’s message into a rope he can climb into the White House.
“When the president of the United States gets out to speak about it, does he support police officers? Does he stand up for law enforcement? No, he doesn’t,” Christie said in the GOP debate of a couple weeks ago. “I’ll tell you this, the number one job of the president of the United States is to protect the safety and security of the American people. This president has failed, and when I’m in the Oval Office, police officers will know that they will have the support of the president of the United States.”
Not only is Christie wrong in his characterization of what the President has said, but his words convey a strong message that if he ends up in the White House, police won’t have to worry about a federal message that condemns the brutalizing of blacks by police around the U.S. He probably means exactly what he says. After all, Christie is a former federal prosecutor who had plenty of hands-on experience with the problem and never said a word.
Christie’s message is a dangerous one in a time when civil unrest is still smoldering in our cities. Yes, all lives matter, so clearly Black Lives Matter, and I for one am glad to have a president with the gumption to stand up and publicly say so.