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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why The System Isn't Working

To put it mildly, this has been a troubling July and we are only just a few days into the month. From the news that Hillary Clinton will not face charges for her mishandling of e-mails and classified information, to the news about the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, it's been, to put it mildly, an ugly week.

Before people get tuned up about how the situations above are not related to each other, hear me out. I am not saying they are related. But there is a theme rolling through this country about how many United States citizens don't trust the government and its institutions these days. Regarding Hillary Clinton, she served as Secretary of State at the time of her deeds, she has previously served in the United States Senate and she is the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Therefore, she is part of the government. As for the deaths of Castile and Sterling, they both came because police officers shot them. And like it or not, police officers work for a government entity, so they are part of the government, too.

And in both cases, there is a lot of outrage about how things went down, which goes back, in part, to the perceptions the people have about the government, or to put it another way, that the system isn't working. There may be different reasons why people believe this to be true, but the common theme shared is they see a broken system and are angry about it.

I will say a few things before I begin: I cannot relate to what goes on in the armed forces because I never served, I cannot relate to what happens with classified government materials because I have never held such a position, I cannot relate to what police officers go through in their daily lives because I have not been an officer, and I cannot relate to what African Americans have experienced when dealing with officers because -- and I'm not ashamed to say it -- I have benefited from white privilege.

However, none of these things mean I can't go around saying the system is broken, because I know enough information to see that it is. Nor does it mean I should demonize any of these people; instead, I should show more empathy and recognize situations for what they are, while still recognizing that some things need to change.

Starting with the whole Clinton e-mail ordeal, based on everything I have read, I do not believe that Clinton should be sent to jail. Nor do I believe that FBI director James Comey or Attorney General Lorertta Lynch need to resign. With that said, if one sits down and reads the report, it's clear that Comey believes that Clinton was careless and negligent. At the very least, it would indicate that what Clinton did should at least result in her paying a substantial fine. She may not have engaged in a true criminal activity, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be held accountable to some degree.

With that said, I have read up on, for example, Army Private Chelsea Manning enough to know that she should not be serving prison time for what she did. Fine her, yes. Bar her from certain tasks and duties, yes. But not prison. And the fact that Hillary Clinton is the one that decide to go hard after Manning with reasoning that basically boils down to "well, it could have done serious damage." That's like saying that a sober person who is responsible for a vehicle crash in which there are no injuries should be slapped with a vehicular assault charge because "well, it could have resulted in injury." And while that may not be the best analogy, I would think it at least gets the point across that Clinton and company overreacted to what Manning did.

Because Manning is an army private, she did not have the connections that a member of the elite and well connected (and that's what Clinton is and it's not up for debate) would have and she was in a position in which it was arguably easier for the government to press its case against her. And when those who are not part of the elite and well connected are, for practical purposes, having to fight the system on their own, it's no surprise they face an uphill battle, which fuels the perception that the system allows people like Clinton to get away with everything while the common person suffers.

As for what happened to Castile and Sterling, I am aware that we don't have all the details yet and that Castile and Sterling are far from being patron saints. And, once again, I will admit I have benefited from white privilege and cannot relate to the ordeals that many black citizens deal with.

With that said, I am appalled that people think there is nothing wrong with police officers assuming the worst in every case they approach. Yes, I know many police officers have lost their lives while performing their duties, but that does not mean they should treat every citizen they approach as the enemy. That may not be what police officers intend, but it's the impression they are leaving, fair or not.

Of course, we must ask ourselves if it's really the officers on the street who are to blame, or the officers who work alongside them and don't speak up. No, I am not talking about the individuals they have shot. I am talking about the people who rank above the officers and have played as much of a role in the issues that plague police departments.

I will say that I would never take a job as a police officer for this reason: I have a temper problem and don't always think straight. (Yes, this may be a surprise to some of you who read my blog, but it's true.) And while I don't know everything there is to know about being an officer, I have observed enough to know that officers need to keep a level head at all times and carefully weigh their decisions.

I think back to the case of Tamir Rice, who died after he was shot by police officer Timothy Loehmann, who was an officer that, at a previous job, had been recommended by the police chief that he be discharged, but choose to resign -- or to put it another way, he quit before he could be fired. I do not know what happened in between the time he held that previous job and what happened in Cleveland, but I have reason to believe that Loehmann suffered from a mental issue that would prevent him from properly doing his job. In other words, I don't think Loehmann should have been a police officer.

So how did Loehmann get the job with the Cleveland Police Department? I don't know that, either. But I've heard plenty of stories about the difficulty various cities have with finding officers. These stories range from the pay not being enough, to qualified candidates seeking employment outside of law enforcement, to city council members who pressure police chiefs to quickly fill a vacancy rather than take time to evalute applicants. And while I realize there is a lot of additional work that comes for other officers when a position is vacant, the worst thing you can do is hire the first person you see for the job.

But there's more to it than just what the officers themselves are doing. We have a system that is built from the top down in which the federal government is funneling money to departments for various types of equipment, all in the name of making sure officers are prepared, just in case. This leads to the militarization of the police, a practice that is going to do more to make citizens wary of the police than thinking of the officers as part of the community.

We have the example of Ferguson, in which the city was dependent on collecting fines to fund its budget, fines mostly paid by poor citizens. That most of these citizens were black did not help Ferguson's case. And, worst of all, the elite and well connected of Ferguson were using those connections to ensure they didn't have to pay fines for tickets, all while the poor, black citizens of Ferguson weren't even allowed to pay installments on fines due and got tacked with more fines on top of what they owed.

Then there was one example that did a lot more to illustrate the problems in Ferguson than people may have realized: An officer was told he could not play basketball with the kids, and by the way, the basketball nets have been taken down because we can't afford them. Not only do the poor, black citizens see the basketball nets disappear, but they are given the impression that the police are not part of the community; they are above the community.

So why should anyone be surprised that Black Lives Matter came about? And why should anyone who wants to proclaim "all lives matter" or "police lives matter" get met with a roll of the eyes or worse? It's clear that many African American citizens are seeing a system that isn't working and they are upset. Any variant of "lives matter" does nothing but give more reasons for the African American citizens to be upset.

With that said, while I recognize that racism remains a major problem in this country, it's not the only one and, needless to say, it isn't number one. Problem number one is the elite and well connected, who never suffer the bad effects of the bulk of policies that are implemented in this country, who seldom can relate to the struggles of the average citizen and who, while some may have good intentions and want to do the right thing, are mostly paying lip service to the average citizen while hobnobbing with their fellow elite and well connected members and continuing to advance bad policies.

That is not to say we should ignore racism -- we need to confront it, difficult as it may be. But we must remember that, as we address racism, we address other issues alongside it. And that means holding the elite and well connected accountable. For those who strongly oppose racism, I ask you to remember that the elite and well connected have done as much to fuel racism for their advantage as much as the hardline racists do. Because the elite and well connected use it not to advance what you believe is important, but to distract everyone else from the other problems that exists.

But regardless of where anyone stands on the issues, we all need to be honest: The system is broken and it is doing nothing to help the common citizen. And the elite and well connected are the ones most responsible. We can no longer ignore this and we need to stop pretending that if we don't let them run the show, they'll leave and we'll be screwed.

That does not mean we go at with an "off with their heads" approach. Instead, we need to find people who truly empathize with the situations the common citizen faces. There have been those in the elite and well connected who, while not perfect, at least showed empathy for the plight of the average citizen. Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner were among those Congressmen after the Civil War who truly empathized with the freed slaves and realized that their work was not done just because slavery was abolished. Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that he couldn't just implement programs; he needed to communicate well with voters impacted by the Great Depression to make sure they knew he had empathy for them. Ronald Reagan understood the importance of empathy, particularly when people were still feeling the sting over the Vietnam War, Watergate and were worried about the Iranian hostage situation.

The two candidates who represent the major parties for the Presidency are nothing like FDR and Reagan. I've already gone over the Democratic candidate, a candidate who has admitted she's not that good at communicating with the average voter, and that's a problem that signals to me she is going to be more like Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter. And then there's the GOP candidate, who only reminds me of this Benjamin Franklin quote: "Here comes the orator! With his flood of words and his drop of reason."

Regardless of where you stand on the issues, it's time to start demanding candidates who truly empathize with the average American, not just those who play to the lowest common denominator or those who can't shake the impression they are above everyone else. And that means speaking out more against the elite and well connected. It can start by making them pay attention to how their policies and approaches are only hurting the little guy.

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