Don’t Mess With The Narrative

On August 9, just a couple of weeks ago, Michael Brown was shot in the street by a Ferguson police officer.  Because Brown was an 18-year-old black male, naturally, and unarmed, he has become the newest cause in the vein of Trayvon Martin.

We didn’t even have all of the facts, and by the end of the day – the day he was killed – he was being immortalized as a “gentle giant” who had been shot by a racist white cop.  By the next day, protests had turned into riots.  The riots are continuing today, with everyone from the rioters to the governor of Missouri to the President calling for the officer, Darren Wilson, to be immediately and vigorously prosecuted. 

Who gives a damn what the facts are, right?  Michael Brown was a little angel who was innocently walking home and a cop randomly executed him because of his skin color.  Darren Wilson, if you’re buying the media’s story and that of the rioters, was a racist who committed cold-blooded murder and that’s all they need to know.

As is always the case, facts have come out since then that have shed a lot of light on what happened, but to see what’s still going on you’d never know it.  Last night two white protesters trying to defend the officer from the mob were violently chased until police put them in cruisers and physically drove them far from the scene.  Fully 57 rioters were arrested, yet only four of them were even from Ferguson – and of the 53 who were from out-of-town, another 16 were from other states.

Here’s what we have so far between the police and witnesses.

At 1201 local time, officer Darren Wilson was headed to a nearby convenience store that had been robbed when he spotted Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson walking down the middle of the street.  While still in his cruiser, he asked them to move to the sidewalk and out of the street; Brown and Johnson mocked the officer and refused to comply.  Wilson stopped, exited his cruiser, and again asked the pair to move out of the street.  Brown shoved Wilson back into his cruiser and began assaulting him, punching him with his fists and then struggling to take his gun from him.  At some point during the struggle, the gun went off, and Brown began to flee.  Wilson got out and leveled his weapon at Brown, commanding him to “freeze!”  Brown turned and said, “what are you gonna do, shoot me?”  Brown then rushed Wilson and Wilson fired several more shots until Brown finally fell dead in the street.

Some of this information has been disputed.  The original story was that Brown had his hands up and was surrendering, and the officer – out of spite or hatred – just decided to keep shooting.  A video was released, however, proving that to be false – a video of several witnesses in the neighborhood watching the crime scene and talking about what happened.  Then there’s the position of Brown’s body.  He was in the street, his head toward the cruiser, facedown.  Add that to the bullet trajectories, and the evidence shows that Brown was probably running when he was shot.  If he wasn’t running away from Wilson, that means Wilson is likely telling the truth.

Wilson was also badly injured.  We don’t know all of the details, but we know that he was taken to the hospital with severe facial bruising and swelling and it was discovered that he had an orbital socket blowout – meaning that the bone surrounding his eye had been shattered.  That takes a great deal of force to produce and normally requires surgery to repair. 

Then there’s statistics.  Those don’t lie.  According to the FBI, between 2003-2012 a total of 25 officers were killed with their own service pistols.  That means that the perps in these cases struggled with the officers, took their guns from them, and killed them.  That sort of situation is at the forefront of every officer’s mind.  If a man is willing to physically attack a uniformed and armed police officer, that officer is trained to assume that the perp has that very intention – now their life is in danger and they have no other option.  Since he had already struggled with Wilson once, I think we can assume that’s exactly what Brown had in mind.

But what about the robbery video, Mel?  If Wilson didn’t know about the robbery yet, why would they have released that video?  Well, let’s talk about that.  First of all, we don’t know if Wilson knew about the robbery; it is believed from several reports that he had heard about it and was heading toward the store that had been robbed, but we don’t know for sure.  Whether he knew about it or not, that video is evidence of something very important here, something I shouldn’t have to explain to anybody. 

Motive.

Do you think an 18-year-old boy is going to believe that a police officer asking him questions isn’t interested in him because of the crime he had literally just committed minutes before?  I promise that’s exactly what he thought.  Since he thought he was being contacted because of the robbery, I guarantee he felt like he had nothing to lose. 

Being unarmed does not mean he was innocent, nor does it mean that he posed no threat.  The fact that he was 18 doesn’t mean he was a boy; he was 6’5″ and weighed 250 lbs.  The fact that the officer might not have known about the robbery doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a reason to ask Brown and Johnson to move out of the street.  Brown’s parents should have taught him more effectively to respect the authorities in his life.

All of these people who are out in mobs rioting and demanding justice against an officer who is likely innocent are not making things better.  Rather than being violent and insisting on the outcome they want, they should be insisting that the truth come out – and be willing to live with whatever the search for truth comes up with.  If and when officer Wilson is vindicated, nobody currently screaming for his head is going to settle for that truth.  Governor Nixon won’t step forward to apologize.  Al Sharpton certainly won’t apologize.  Nobody is going to learn from this.  This incident isn’t about finding the truth…it’s about getting what they want, and what they want is to continue in their belief that the black community bears no responsibility for their current condition.  They want to believe that everything going on is someone else’s fault.  Until that mindset is challenged from their own leadership, nothing will change.

Oh, and about Dorian Johnson…he currently has a warrant out for his arrest in St. Louis for giving a false report to a police officer.  Don’t make him out to be innocent.

As for officer Wilson, his life is over.  He will never be allowed to live in peace again, and that is a travesty that cannot be put to words.  I am sorry that the Brown family lost their son.  It appalls me, however, that they are so willing to allow that officer and his family to have everything they know and love taken from them by the rabble.

Police Brutality

People are often far too eager to claim police brutality. I’ve seen false claims happen right in front of me. What happened yesterday in Pittsburgh appears to be one of those instances – a young woman claiming police brutality to save face.

It helps her cause that she’s a lesbian who was taking part in Pridefest. Because homophobia.

During the gay pride celebration in Pittsburgh yesterday, several Christian groups were protesting within legal parameters. Ariel Lawther was engaged in a heated argument with 36-year-old protester Eric Moure. Lawther’s age has been reported at somewhere between 19 and 22 years of age. According to Moure, Lawther became physical, shoving him – that’s when rookie officer Souroth Chatterji intervened. Both Moure and Officer Chatterji told the same story: upon the officer’s intervention, Lawther turned on him, hitting him with her fists and kicking him in the groin.

That was when things got hairy. Only ten seconds of video was recorded by a bystander. That was of Officer Chatterji pulling Lawther out of the crowd by her hair and punching her in the abdomen.

The video really doesn’t tell us much. It was captured at the end of the altercation and shows nothing of what was going on between Lawther and Moure. Officer Chatterji says he had already admonished Lawther and her friends not to engage in an argument with the protesters as it would lead to a fight. Officer Chatterji also says he clearly heard her tell Moure, “I will f—ing kill you!”

First things first. The protesters.

I do not give a damn how angry you may be at any protesters. I don’t give a damn what they are saying. Christians are going to protest outside of gay pride parades and festivals. It’s going to happen. We all know what those protesters are going to say. It is nothing new to anybody. You need to let them do what they’ll do and say what they’ll say. The instant you talk smack, issue threats, or get violent, YOU are the one in the wrong – it matters none what they have said or done. You deserve to go to jail. You are wrong and should be ashamed of yourself. I grew up in Evangelical Christianity and I know perfectly well how unpleasant those protesters can be; know now that nothing they do or say can ever excuse your boorish behavior if you refuse to control yourself.

You need to walk away and leave them alone. If they put their hands on you, attract all the attention you can before you fight back. Unless they do intend to do physical harm, you have no business at all engaging in any argument with them. WALK AWAY. That is what adults in the real world do.

Second…the arrest.

She clearly assaulted a protester and needed to be arrested. According to her own statements to officers after her arrest, she knew she was being violent and that it was wrong. She apologized to the officer and told him, “I didn’t know you were a cop.” She admits to assaulting him in that phrase. If an officer is being assaulted, he has every right to use force to subdue his attacker. Period. The teenager (yes, she was 16 years old) who took the video with a cell phone (who can be heard screaming “what are you doing?!?”) claims that she didn’t see Lawther get violent with the officer; she’s probably telling the truth. She also probably didn’t see what precipitated the moment she filmed. There was a pretty good-sized crowd there and the video shows that crowd getting in the way just before the officer throws punches.

Incidents like these do not help the cause of gay rights. They only serve to thoroughly embarrass us. Young gay people are essentially being taught that self-restraint is a thing of the past – you should express yourself regardless of how negative your emotions are.

Learn now a very important lesson, kids. Self-restraint is very important in the real world. You are going to hear people say things that offend you or otherwise hurt your feelings. No amount of offense will ever excuse losing your temper, starting an argument, or becoming physically violent in any way, shape, or form. I have had members of the Phelps clan say things far worse than anything those protesters were saying to you in Pittsburgh. I never yelled, never spit, never shoved, and never hit. You need to learn to tolerate people you don’t like…just like you’re demanding of the extremist religious types you can’t stand.

Don’t get into those kinds of altercations and you won’t have to deal with the police.

The Last Full Measure

In your city, it’s been eleven years since a firefighter was killed in the line of duty. Your department is busy, but you are good at what you do and it’s rare to see one of your own die in service.

A week ago, the unthinkable happened. Now you’re burying your brother.

You aren’t used to standing at attention for long periods. It’s been a long time since you did that. Three minutes doesn’t sound like much until you have to hold a sharp salute for that long. You didn’t even want to think about it because you didn’t want to face reality.

You’re called to attention. You snap to. Heels together. Feet planted at a 45-degree angle. Knees slightly bent. Shoulders back. Chest out. Hands closed, thumbs lined up with the seams of your trousers. You’ve been trained by the military, so you can assume that position without thinking.

“Pre-sent…ARMS!”

Four-count up; open your right hand as you bring it to your eyebrow. Keep your hand perfectly bladed. Straight line from your elbow to the tips of your fingers. Upper arm at a 90-degree angle to your body. Don’t waver, no matter how tired your arm may be. If, God forbid, a tear makes its way down your face, it must go unattended. Your muscles are screaming. Do not break your salute.

“Order…ARMS!”

Four-count. Drop your hand slowly, closing it again when it returns to your side. Hike to your rig, already parked in position for the procession. When you get in, you talk and joke a little bit to try and take your mind off of the gravity of what you’re doing; you do it every day after rough calls so it’s second nature by now. This isn’t the movies – you sit and wait 45 minutes for the procession to begin. After 20 minutes you thank God that the techs fixed your air conditioning yesterday.

The procession winds its way through the city. The entire route is lined with people. It seems as if the city has emptied to pay their respects. You didn’t know that so many still cared. This isn’t a parade, they told you, but you can’t help it. There are kids in the crowd. You wave back. At every intersection closed to make way there is a fire unit, its members lined up beside their rigs. Police squads, even the ones normally off duty during daylight hours, are crisply lined up along the route, standing and saluting your brother.

At the end of his final tour, you line up with your brothers and sisters for a long time, patiently waiting for everyone in the procession to arrive. His flag-draped casket is lowered from the engine. The captain calls everyone to attention.

“Pre-sent…ARMS!”

Four-count up. Hold it. God, it’s hot. My buddy would be laughing and calling me an pansy right now if he were with me.

“Order…ARMS!”

Four-count down.

The bell tolls 333 – three rings of the bell three times.

“Ceremony…REST!”

You relax. The honor guard folds the flag. You see his young wife stunned to the point of being nearly expressionless. You think about how brutally unfair it is to her. You think about what an amazing father he would have made. You silently berate God as the flag is presented. Why him? Why now? He’s too young!

Then you realize: there is never an acceptable time. Ten years? Twenty years? It would still hurt in ways that you don’t even want to imagine. Why him? Because he was a good man willing to put himself in harm’s way to try to make the world a better place.

It’s going to hurt. There is no way to stop that, but you know that your hurt is nothing compared to his wife, parents, and family. There is no way to stop the pain. You know that death is a part of life, but you can’t stop it from hurting – and you know you shouldn’t try.

A lone bagpiper begins the strains of “Amazing Grace.” After one verse, the full pipes and drums join in. You tell yourself to hold it together. When the full corps falls silent the lone piper, still playing, walks away, the fading cry of a familiar hymn echoing through the silence.

You hear the last call. You pretend you aren’t affected. The dispatcher – whom you know personally – calls him by name three times, then calls his final resting place by its address, and you wonder how he does it without losing his vocal cadence. The dispatcher calls the address of the cemetery and announces that your brother’s resting place is exactly where you are standing.

“Atten-TION!”

Snap to.

“Pre-sent….ARMS!”

Four-count up. The bugler plays Taps. This is where you always lose it – at every military and police memorial you have attended in uniform, tears always begin spilling down your face at this part. Today is no exception. Don’t move. Hold your salute, no matter what.

“Order….ARMS!”

Four-count down.

“Dis-MISSED!”

As you walk back to the rig to return to the station, you suddenly feel a pang of desperation. You’re leaving him here. The finality hits you in a way it hadn’t before. You remember when you tripped over your own two feet one night and bit gravel, then heard his voice behind you chuckling just before he ran to your side and playfully did a mock patient assessment, saying, “don’t worry, I’m here to help!” Then he pulled you to your feet and clapped you on the shoulder. He didn’t have to ask if you were okay, because he knew from experience that even if you were hurt, you wouldn’t have admitted it.

With that happy memory, you walk to the rig without looking back. In 48 hours you’ll be back, and you’ll wish he was there. You still have all your other brothers and sisters with you. You’ll carry each other. You’ll never forget his promise, no matter what the cost, to pay the price. You silently make the same promise.

By Thine Own Hand

Friends who helped in NYC in the wake of 9/11 began wearing their shrouds today.

NYPD officer Stephanie Moses, who had literally become “the face of NYPD” after last year’s wreath-laying ceremony at Ground Zero following the death of Osama bin Laden, committed suicide in her home yesterday. The 17-year veteran of the force was 40 years old. She shared her home with her lesbian partner, Melissa McCoy, a retired NYPD detective.

While there has been some speculation about her reasons I will not post them here. Speculation is meaningless to me. Being in public safety myself, three of those I have worked with, trained with and deeply respected have committed suicide. Having seen many suicide scenes while on duty myself I often ask not to be told how they chose to leave this life; I don’t want to picture what they probably looked like. In every case I’ve heard the speculation on why they did it – financial hardship, relationship woes, things on the job just got to them. I have watched more police officers, firefighters and medics kill themselves than anyone else in any other profession I’ve been involved in.

Every single time I’ve been taken completely by surprise. All three of them had young children. Four others that I knew professionally but didn’t know personally well have also committed suicide. Every time it happens I wonder what is being done. In our world, there is never any warning – we all know what will happen if we do tell someone. There will be reports involved. People we know may end up coming to our home and seeing us in that dark place that we never want to admit we’re in. We may be required to check in to a hospital and begin taking medications that will drastically alter our lives. There’s often a deeper stigma involved where people you’ve worked with and trusted with your life suddenly keep their distance if they know. On the few occasions when one of us has sought help, it has ended up hurting more in the end.

And still those in command wonder why we don’t reach out.

I wish more than anything that it weren’t like this. My heart breaks for Officer Moses’ partner, family and fellow officers. I know that feeling all too well – how did this happen? How did things get so bad that this was the only way out for her? What could I have done?

You will never stop asking those questions. I wish I could say that you may someday have the answers you seek, but you won’t. I will pray that God gives you peace even though you never understand they whys or wherefores.

To those I know – and those I don’t – who are in public safety, I offer an admonition: please, even if you don’t reach out to another officer or firefighter, reach out to someone. Take care of yourselves. Don’t let the darkness win.

To Officer Moses…rest in peace. You will be missed.

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