Let It (All Hang) Out

Our sorry excuse for a newspaper has a feature–common to many papers–called “Let It Out,” where readers can comment on the news of the day. I generally scan it, despite the relative absence of anything that might be considered insightful, since it is one of the few features (especially at this time of year) that isn’t an ad.

Yesterday, there was a particularly smug, utterly clueless sentiment about the mess in Ferguson: if African-American parents are concerned about what to tell their children about interactions with the police, the reader wrote, they should just tell their sons to obey the law, and then they won’t have any problems.


I guess all those statistics about disparate law enforcement are irrelevant. (Driving while black, anyone?) I guess the disclosures by Anonymous (the internet hackers who took over the Klan’s twitter account a couple of weeks ago, and found KKK members among police in several cities) are just evidence that cops are jolly joiners. And all those personal stories in the newspapers and on our Facebook feeds? Just anecdotal; ignore them.

Let’s get real, as the kids might say, and concede that none of us–on the left or right–knows what happened before Michael Brown was shot six times. The exoneration of the police officer in this particular case–irregular as the Grand Jury proceedings evidently were–may have been totally justified. And nothing excuses rioting and the destruction of the property of innocent shopkeepers.

Nothing excuses wholesale condemnation of the police, either. I teach a required course in a school with a well-regarded criminal justice program, so I teach a lot of police officers. Most of them are genuine public servants, trying to do a difficult but necessary job that sometimes requires them to make split-second decisions.

All that said, it takes a special kind of intentional blindness to ignore the fact that there are some very bad apples drawn to a line of work that confers power over others. (When I was in City Hall, we tried to weed those people out with psychological exams, with spotty success.) It takes a perverse and selective understanding of the American landscape to ignore the extent to which racism still characterizes the experience of the black community, and to ignore the reasons why some members of that community might periodically explode with anger.

And it takes an offensive and deliberate moral arrogance to lecture mothers who are desperate to protect their children from encounters that every sentient American knows are far from rare.

When you “Let it Out,” what comes out can sometimes be pretty horrifying.


  1. These problems are wide-spread and all-encompassing of dark-skinned individuals. My grandaughter’s 20 year old Mexican friend (an American citizen) was stopped two years ago for as yet unknown traffic violations. He did not have a drivers license but this was unknown till the police stopped him; Roberto was arrested and jailed and NOT ALLOWED to make a phone call for four days. Meanwhile his family and friends had contacted police a number of times and had filed a missing persons report by the time he was finally allowed to call family. No charges other than driving without a valid license were ever filed. We are all grateful Roberto wasn’t shot for his unlawful action. Police do not have to explain their actions but are allowed to provide excuses for their behavior. Fortunately for Ferguson, MO, and even more fortunate for Darren Wilson himself, he is resigning his job with Ferguson Police Department because it will no longer be safe for him to remain on the police force. He has been on paid administrative leave since the killing and will continue to be paid until he has completed his resignation requirements. THEIR tax dollars at work. Will Wilson be safe anywhere in the St. Louis area; he will be readily recognized wherever he goes.

    Here in Indianapolis we should not forget the 15 year old boy yelling profanities at police officers arresting his brother and refusing to back away. Five grown men, supposedly trained police officers, beat the hell out of him. Is this a regular part of police training in this city? The two white cops who traumatized my white daugher, three white granddaughters, two white great-granddaughters and went into my daughter’s home to mace her barking white German shepherd were never reported because my daughter was threatened with charges if she continued “harrassing” police headquarters. My granddaughter’s ex-boyfriend had badly beaten her again at her home, chased her six blocks to her mother’s home where she was finally able to call 911. She was arrested and jailed, my daughter and other granddaughter were threatened with arrest for demanding the ex-boyfriend be arrested for the beating and for trespassing; he was allowed to leave after my granddaughter was taken to jail. They were not allowed to wipe the blood or her running nose before she was removed with her hands cuffed behind her. Nor were they allowed to give her anti-seizure medication. In court the following morning there were no charges listed against her and the cops didn’t appear. My daughter is a home owner and worked in the same job for 24 1/2 years, the two grown granddaughters had jobs and shared a home with their two children. This is not only a racial problem; this is a police abuse of authority problem and it is rampant. It causes problems and endangers the lives of the many police officers who do their job without unnecessary violent actions or killing. But – how are we to know which uniformed person with a gun on their hip is one of those who deserve our respect rather than our fear?

  2. Self control is one of the hardest values to instill as a parent. I still struggle with it myself sometimes. What makes the parenting challenge even greater is that it really needs to be instilled before puberty sets in as the consequences of risky behavior skyrocket. There are not many days where we aren’t exposed to news of a death due to lack of self control.

    What makes Ferguson stand out is that not only was there Mr Brown’s death but immense property damage and wide spread loss of respect between American communities that are forced together in the cities where most of us live. There will be more deaths and damage as the impact ripples through our cultures.

    Some good could also come if black parents saw and taught the extreme consequences of young people’s behavioral risks due to inadequate self control and ditto for police forces and government legal servants. But, I see little evidence of any of that happening.

    Why? We are too busy defending the party most looks like us in this scenario with certainty that they were the victims of the others inadequate self control.

    Any one off the three main parties involved could have prevented this tragedy (for all of us, for America). None had sufficient self control to pull that off. There will be other situations where the spheres of influence of out of control people collide with similar tragedy. This one will have promoted the next ones.

    Will we ever learn?

  3. To those who think that people (black or white, though clearly being black is more dangerous) are bringing it on themselves, what about the middle-aged veteran who called the police because he heard a prowler and was shot in his own home? What about the young man pulled out of his car in his own driveway for not wearing a seat belt? What about the EMT who was pulled over (also for not wearing a seat belt), got out of his car with his hands showing, was asked for his wallet and then shot for leaning back into the car to get it? What about the drunk college kids looking for help after running off the road? Would you want anyone you love to be hurt or killed for these behaviors?

    Last time I checked, selling loose cigarettes wasn’t a death penalty offense.

  4. Irvin; there are background reports on Michael Brown. Information given to reporters in all forms of media by different authorities and published on Google. Let’s see; he has a juvenile criminal history as long as your arm, he has no juvenile criminal history, he does have a serious criminal history including second degree murder, etc., etc., etc. Some reports came from unnamed police sources, some from unnamed juvenile authorities. Eenie, meenie, miney, moe – take your pick and grab his toe. There have also been reports about Darren Wilson leaving the St. Louis Police Department due to racial problem with officers in that area. He is now leaving Ferguson P.D. due to racial problem in that area. He was not alone in those racial/police problems; they seem to be departmental in nature. I won’t argue the fact that more blacks are committing crimes but…no one can argue the fact that police abuse and kill more blacks.

    Can’t remember which city this happened in recently but a Hispanic couple was stopped by police because the man was believed to be a drug dealer (no idea if this proved to be true); he was accused of swallowing a sweatsock full of drugs, pulled out of his vehicle and beaten in the face and head to dislodge the sweatsock full of drugs so he wouldn’t choke to death on it. His pregnant wife got out of the car begging police to stop beating him; they knocked her legs from under her causing her to fall flat on her 7 month pregnant belly. They were both arrested for child neglect because their child was in the car and witnessed this event. Guess he successfully swallowed that sweatsock full of drugs. The fact that these abuses on people of all skin colors are terrible in their intensity and their growing numbers bu… how stupid are police who attack people in this manner knowing there are dozens of people around them with camera phones?

  5. In this case I give credit to our, “…sorry excuse for a newspaper…” for posting this sentiment (as smug and naive as the sentiment might be.) We’d all be having a fit if our newspaper were to have deemed it as not fit for publishing simply because they feared a good number of readers wouldn’t agree with this person’s letting it out. If they hadn’t published it we wouldn’t have the chance to visit this discussion, which is an important one given there are so many people with the same sentiment as this misguided soul in the rant. We wouldn’t get this chance to move forward in the discussion about our individual or collective intentional or unintentional racist thinking.

    We know that this person’s sentiment is naive and absurd and we’d be wasting our words trying to convince the like with evidence of racism. After all, using the ranter’s convoluted logic, would we expect parents to teach their children to not play with toy guns in fear that their child could end up as a shot-dead-by-a-policeman boy of only 12 years? Tamir Rice. He’s a dead black boy. 12-years-old is still considered a child, correct?

    If you don’t have a black son, here’s a test for unintentional racist thinking. Think of your 12-years-old son, or your 12-years-old nephew, or your 12-years-old neighbor boy. What do you see? Now think of a shot-dead-by-a-policeman, 12-years-old black boy. Honestly, first thought, what do you see?

  6. Phil, I have thought about the case of the 12-yr-old shot while reaching for a gun in his pants. And my parents taught me not to play with guns on the school yard (especially realistic guns that fire BBs) and they taught me not to threaten police officers. I’m sure that the officer is guilt-stricken for having shot that boy. But he couldn’t know that his life wasn’t in danger.

  7. I wonder how many of the folks blaming Brown and defending ANY police violence against people of color know the history of federal policy that openly discriminated against people of color. My history and social studies left me thinking that ghettos were all the fault of evil realtors. Only recently did I learn that there were deliberate federal and state policy and law that created ghettos and barred people of color from decent jobs.

  8. Sheila; I had a thought this morning while reading the USA Today article, “Ferguson could spark a new civil rights era”. What we are seeing with the riots, looting, violence and senseless deaths across the country in response to the Michael Brown shooting and Darren Wilson absolved of all guilt in the killing, is what we would have seen years ago had it not been for the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his non-violent movement. I also remember the senseless loss of hundreds of lives of black Americans and total destruction of their property and entire neighborhoods with no wrong doing on their parts other than the color of their skin. I remember the bombing of a church which killed four young girls. Jim Crowe laws are still with us and have come out in the open recently. Wrong as all of the current violence is – on both sides – I am also reminded of that old adage,”What goes around, comes around.” And, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” I view it as the loss of government “of the people, by the people and for the people” due to everything in our lives now being in the contol of pseudo-religious politicians – not only laws but our voting rights, control of health care including women’s vaginas, our sex lives and ability to marry whom we choose. President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Attorney General Robert Kennedy are great losses to this country today. Their lives cut short in acts of violence with no true justice for these acts. I fear greatly for my three biracial great-grandchildren and my Mexican-American great-granddaughter due to these escalating violent current events; my heart will never be at rest for their lives are in jeopardy.

    The Star article you referenced is protected by the 1st Amendment and your blog did give many of us another opportunity for our voice to be heard. Statistics, facts and the truth seem to be unimportant to those in control of many states…with Indiana at the top. The fact that Ferguson, MO, is now a highly publicized statistic will fade from front pages and the minds and memories of all who are not intimately involved in this tragedy. How many readers remember those four dead little girls in the church bombing; no legal rights to protect them or prevent the bombing. Will Michael Brown’s death and Darren Wilson “resigning” his position as police officer change anything? I don’t believe it will; it cannot undo the wrongs on both sides nor will we see a change in attitudes or laws to prevent these acts from recurring and continuing. You may be jaundiced, Sheila, I passed that stage years go but I greatly appreciate you offering your daily blog, giving many of us the opportunity to “Let it all hang out”.

  9. I’m an old white guy and I happen to own a car that my father-in-law bought new in 1978 – Oldsmobile Delta 88. I have been stopped a few times when I haven’t been speeding or breaking any other laws, I am sure because my old car is stereotypical for a certain portion of our population. People of color do not get equal treatment under our laws, especially our law enforcers.

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