Should America change its automatic acceptance of the word of police over that of eyewitnesses and the alleged culprit?

In light of the recent revelation in Chicago of the details of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke – along with the many other questionable killings of Black people by the police, should America change its policy on how it defines justified use of lethal force by police?  Since the police have repeatedly lied about situations involving the use of force – especially lethal force – and their superiors and ambitious politicians have conspired with them in covering it up, should the ludicrously high bar that must be surmounted in order to convict a police officer of a crime be lowered?  Should they be treated the same way that every other American citizen is treated when they are alleged to have broken the law?

For example, when a person who has committed a crime(s) in the past is caught and faces a jury in court lawyers for the plaintiff and lawyers for the defendant will vet the opposing witnesses to determine their credibility.  If a witness is a liar, substance abuser, has a criminal history or whatever the case may be this is brought to light so that jurors can factor it into their deliberation.  If that person is convicted, the judge takes their past criminal history into account when he sentences them.

Why shouldn’t it work this way with police officers, whether they are witnesses or the defendant(s), when they find themselves in untenable situations?  This is not to say that the nature of their job and the stress that is an inextricable part of it should not be given special consideration and if there is sound reasoning, allowed to mitigate the ultimate determination as to whether their actions were justified.  But when there is overwhelming evidence that their actions were not justified the problem should not be winked at because they are police officers and it would be too hard to overcome the high bar that would allow for a conviction.  They must not be allowed to go unpunished because what they did would reflect badly on the police department or because ambitious politicians want to avoid having such a loss reflected on their record.

It is reasonable to assume that to not hold police officers accountable for their actions would only embolden bad police officers, reinforce their negative behavior and create a systemic problem involving excessive use of force and other abuse of authority by unscrupulous police officers.  It appears that this is what has already been allowed to happen in police departments throughout the country and that it will only get worse if it is not faced up to, addressed and corrected.  If history is the prologue, neither police officers on the streets nor management in police departments will voluntarily take the lead in fixing this problem and ambitious politicians will continue to do what ambitious politicians do.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that social and political pressure will need to be applied to force those responsible to address and correct this problem.

This problem is not something that is new!  We can go back decades and come all the way up to the Laquan McDonald case and time-and-again find that in too many instances management and political leaders have completely shirked their responsibility or done just enough to dispel the publics’ outrage.  The very people that are supposed to be serving and protecting us at times commit crimes to protect those who serve and protect us but abuse their power in the name of serving and protecting us.  This is not acceptable and must not be tolerated or condoned.

Many times, as in the Laquan McDonald case, police officers who abuse their authority and commit crimes are only held accountable when there is visual evidence – such as a video, that in essence catches them in the act.  Even then, a great majority of them have been exonerated, allowed to go free and remain on their job; this should not be!  Police management and police unions, which have a fiduciary responsibility to fight for its members, should fight to protect police officers.  But they only sully their reputation by being overzealous in protecting dishonest police when they know that they are guilty.  They must find a way to honorably fulfill that responsibility and let the lawyer(s) of those accused handle a vigorous defense of them.

When politicians are a part of the problem and/or solution they too often place their career ahead of a true solution to the problem and resort to sophistry or some other smoke and mirrors approach in order to accomplish their proverbial kick the can down the road routine.  Case in point, the announcement by Chicago’s Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, on the day before the dash cam tape of the shooting of Laquan McDonald would be released, that she charged police officer Jason Van Dyke, the policeman that shot and killed Mr. McDonald, with first degree murder.  Authorities had fought against the release of this tape for at least fourteen months and during that time officer Van Dyke had remained on the police force.  Why did Attorney Alvarez decide to charge Officer Van Dyke the day before the release of this tape and immediately promulgate her decision?  And why did Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel suddenly decide that after this fourteen month period it was now time to request help from local religious leaders?

Regardless of what the rationale might be for how the shooting death of Laquan McDonald was handled, my point is that there continues to be a problem with the policing of American citizens.  And further, if our leaders do not address and correct this problem; at best, it will slowly continue to grow and at worst, it will spiral out of control and create even greater problems that have the potential of wreaking havoc in communities throughout the country.

Eulus Dennis

Police, Politicians, Politics and the Supreme Court

There is no doubt that to talk about the police, politicians, politics and the Supreme Court in one article, make it interesting and have it make sense without it being so long and boring that none of you will have the stamina, let alone the desire, to read it would be a yeoman’s task; but I will try to accomplish that task.  If you made it passed the first sentence then I am going to trust that you will make it through the entire article as well.

I will keep it as short as possible while making sure that I get my point across and provide the reader with food for thought on some very important current issues.  I also hope that this article will motivate you to get informed and get out and vote in the upcoming 2016 presidential election and any other elections of officials to public office.

Although some of the positions that candidates are vying for – especially at local levels – may appear to you to be lowly and insignificant and not worth the time that you would spend to vote; most times, somewhere along the way, those who hold these positions will deal with issues that will ultimately have an impact on you and the community in which you live.  That is just one among the many reasons why you should always take the time to vote.

I haven’t posted an article for quite some time so please bear with me if this one becomes a bit lengthy.  America is faced with many problems right now, domestic and foreign, that should be receiving our full and most sincere attention.  Yet, our politicians continue to purposely create situations that require government to divide its attention and divert some portion of it from the real problems in order to address ridiculous self-made problems that are a result of petty partisan politics.

Although given America’s and the world’s current situation this is hardly the time for such partisan politics, the atmosphere and tone of the 2016 Republican presidential debates seem to be an harbinger that says a new leader will exacerbate the problem rather than give one hope for the future and the feeling that things will change for the better.  Specifically, this seems to indicate that rather than pulling America together and healing festering wounds, there is great potential that a new leader selected from among these existing 2016 candidates will instead rip the scabs from even more wounds and widen the social and financial gaps that already exist.  None of these candidates appear to possess the gravitas that is required of a person who is worthy to occupy the Oval Office.

There are those in our society who believe that America is so far advanced now that the playing field has been leveled and there is no longer a need to monitor social issues or be concerned about how America’s wealth is distributed because everyone has an equal chance to prosper.  They believe that there is no longer a need to monitor America to assure that all of her citizens are treated equally and have the same opportunity to achieve the American Dream based on their own effort and willingness to work hard.  It appears that the highest court in the land agrees with those who feel this way because in 2013 U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, whose opinion carries an extreme amount of weight, said that Section 4 (b) of the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.  When we look at what has happened in many states to obstruct the ability of American citizens to vote or completely block them from voting we can see that we have not yet eradicated America of the prejudices that exist in the area of voting rights.  It is obvious that these prejudices have a disparate impact on people of color and the poor.

If we delve deeply into the rationale of the Voting Rights situation in these states and examine it closely, we will find that this line of thinking is not focused solely on voting rights but on social issues as well.  Whether or not it is the result of collateral damage, this approach to governance also impacts on financial issues between the subject group and those at or near the top of the social stratum ladder.

And, again unfortunately, voting rights and even some semblance of a level playing field as regards financial opportunities, which impact on the distribution of wealth are not the only areas where we continue to struggle to achieve a level playing field; we are still struggling to achieve equal justice under the law for all of our citizens.  Police brutality is still rampant, especially as regards African Americans, and sentences for African Americans who break the law are much more severe than they are for their White counterparts.

The Voting Rights Act was gutted in June 2013 because the US Supreme Court believed that the section that it rendered void was no longer needed.  This appears to be in error based on what is occurring in many states with regards to the obstruction of citizens’ ability to vote; with these states working to make it harder rather than easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote.

I continue to come across and read many articles about police brutality and police officers abuse of their authority.  Those who reject and speak out against this behavior and want it to be corrected are not saying that all police officers are bad and they hate them; they simply want this behavior to be corrected.  That is why I continue to be amazed at how Patrick Lynch, who is the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and should be providing an example of leadership, consistently labels anyone who does this as police haters.  He did it to President Obama, he did it to Mayor Bill de Blasio, he did it to Reverend Al Sharpton and he did it to anyone who showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and those who joined them in protests against police brutality and the use of excessive force by police.

I recently read a number of Associated Press articles about what is happening at the University of Missouri, the demands that African American students have made there and how those demands raise memories of and almost mirror those of the demands that were made at that university in 1969.  I also read an article in the Washington Post about Margaret Spellings being named as the University of North Carolina (UNC) system president.

I mentioned police brutality and how the police abuse their power and the articles regarding the demands that African American students are making at the University of Missouri along with the decision that the Supreme Court made to gut the Voting Rights Act for the purpose of providing examples.  These examples are beneficial in explaining why congress should correct the Supreme Courts misstep in its decision on the Voting Rights Act as soon as possible; before things blossom into the kind of problem that America is experiencing with policing its citizens and what appears to be history repeating itself with the civil rights movement.

Example one, there is no doubt that police officers have an extremely hard job to do and they face death every day that they put on their uniform.  They face individuals daily who are angry, frustrated and disillusioned, any one of which could snap and try to maim or kill them.  This is stressful and likely keeps them always on high alert.  That notwithstanding, they must still treat all of those whom they police equally, exercise control and use only the amount of force necessary to bring those who resist their authority under control.  Currently this is not the case.  Instead, police brutality is entrenched in police forces around the country, police officers regularly abuse their power and police and the communities that they serve and protect are at odds and have a strained relationship.

Example two, as already mentioned the demands that young African American students are making on college and university campuses around the country now are much like those that were being made in 1969 during the latter stage of the 1960 Civil Rights Movement.  The 1960 Civil Rights Movement includes Bloody Sunday, which occurred on March 7, 1965 shortly before the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

Based on these examples and what is currently happening in our country, it appears that we are in danger of coming full circle on these issues.  The situation can only be exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act and congress’s refusal to correct this change and make any required adjustments to assure that the law will withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.  Congress should look closely at history and learn from it.  They should also consider our current situation with respect to the overall justice system and continue to work hard to prevent things from getting out of control while they work to correct the problem.

Politicians and politics are at the center of many if not all of these problems that we are experiencing and that is why I mentioned Margaret Spellings being named as the UNC system president.  Ms. Spellings was the Secretary of Education while George Bush was President and was responsible for the No Child Left Behind program.  She is a controversial figure and some members of the board that selected her and many of the UNC students opposed her appointment.  According to an article in The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss dated November 14, 2015, she was appointed by way of partisan politics.  Since politicians are at the center of these problems voters must work to assure that they are at the center of solving them.

One can understand if many of us harbor some ambivalence and are frustrated, afraid and anxious about what is happening around us and are intimidated by the pace at which it is happening; especially if you are a part of a majority that will soon become a minority.  I am of the opinion that even African Americans who have long been among the minorities have some anxiety and ambivalence about the impact that the current majority among the minorities will have and which direction they will press America to take.

The constant beacon of hope is that Americans have always been and still are a resilient people.  That is why we must get passed our frustration, fears and anxiety and elect politicians that will work hard to assure that they find the best path forward for our country.  I believe that we can and will do this because we know that it will make our democracy stronger and more representative of whom we really are as Americans.

Eulus Dennis

Denver School Board At-Large; Happy Haynes Versus Robert Speth

Our community, our children, our schools and our vote are up for grabs until 7:00 p.m. today, November 3, 2015. As voters, we have the power to determine the outcome for all of them.

Our community: as residents of our various communities we have the power to determine what those communities will look like – not just in terms of neighborhood schools, but in every way.

Our children: we have the power to determine whether they will be in the hands of a school board that will place our children’s best interest first or whether they will place their political ambitions first.

Our schools: we have the power to determine whether available resources, financial and human, will be put into improving and strengthening our neighborhood schools and keeping quality teachers in place or whether we will replace these current teachers with teachers that are less experienced and still in need of training. At the same time, we can determine whether our neighborhood schools will either be dismantled and replaced by charter schools or – if they are not dismantled, forced to share their space with them.

Our vote: we have the power to determine whether we will discount the power of our vote and not vote or just be too complacent to do so, our vote is for sale to the candidate that receives the most money – whether transparent, dark or both, the candidate that has the larger number of – especially last minute – telephone calls made on their behalf, the candidate with the most sleek sound bites; or if it is not for sale and will be cast for the most qualified candidate of our choice.

The polls close at 7:00 p.m. today so whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent be sure to cast your vote in time for it to count. Be sure to drop off your ballot at a Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC) or at a 24-hour ballot drop-off box by 7:00 p.m. this evening, November 3, 2015. It is too late to mail it in; it will not be received in time to be accepted.

You can find the VSPC and ballot drop-of box information on the “HOW TO RETURN YOUR BALLOT” card that was enclosed with the ballot that you received in the mail. And always remember, your vote is the most important one of all…unless you don’t use it! So find out where to drop off your ballot and be sure to vote!

Eulus Dennis