Omar Edwards, Andrew Duton, NYPD, New York City, Civil Liberties, America, Et Al

Was race a factor in the death of  NYPD Officer Omar Edwards?


Was Officer Andrew Duton acting like a racist? Trash that question. Better ones are: Does he live in a racist society? Was his fatal mistake the result of his growing up and living in a racist society? What was his mindset at the moment he squeezed off several shots? Would he have shot a white man, woman or child under similar circumstances?

Who the hell is capable of answering such questions considering the epistemological challenges, regardless of the torrent of news reporting as well as commentary manipulated to look like news reporting?

No one.

Google, this date, listed 1,184 links to news stories about Omar Edwards’s slaying. Yet, every sane New Yorker, however, knows the answer to this one: When was the last time a black NYPD officer mistakenly shot a white police officer under similar circumstances?

The reality is this: Racism is a vicious reality of American life, an institutional disease pervading and defiling every core of every level of society. It has been sooooo easy for White America to ignore the reality and be soooo tolerant of its seismic protuberances – lynching, segregation, racial profiling – that show and have shown, like geiger counters ticking off incredible, defiling moments in this land of supposed liberty, that something is fatalistically wrong with the American dream. Everyone with a brain knows of the Doomsday Clock, that it’s five minutes to the midnight of catastrophic destruction. The way that nefarious forces have been continually savaging America’s Civil Liberties clearly shows this country needs a Doomsday Clock for its cherished principles. That is, if they are really cherished. 

White American Racism is more pernicious than any terrorist or terrorist group or nation on this globe, more fatalistic than any pandemic in play or on the horizon. It has been suborning this country’s espoused core principles since the beginning. The 9/11 attack (inspiring the Bush zombies to suborn, out in the open,  cherished Civil Liberties) is no comparison to the consequences caused by this disease.

The ubiquitous Sharpton will try to use the incident to confront a vicious reality that is constantly denied. The established news media will use his visage for the appearance of responsible reporting. A few other activists – and I mean a few – might try to emulate Sharpton or join him. The Reverend, however, carries too much baggage, one piece being this: Every time there is a seismic Omar Edwards-Andrew Duton event, and there will always be seismic events as long as America’s racism prevails, the established news media (corporate-owned and trying to present themselves as mainstream), the zombies of flawed info dissemination and who should always be under a spotlight of suspicion, will stick a camera in his face. The result is a double-edge sword that looks like authentic reporting but suborns as it is wielded. The Reverend’s solo presence on the front page clearly shows a severe problem.

African American communities need more activists and militants on center stage, that is, every man, woman and child.  Sharpton should not be the only prominent Africa American who is and it shouldn’t be left to prominent African Americans. Should Sharpton step aside? Answer: More have to make their way to the stage regardless of where the Reverend stands. A real crusade for him should be this: Getting more up on the stage with or without him.

African American communities, where the savaging takes place daily, need to galvanize another movement against racial intolerance so that residents act like every day of their lives is the day that they learned that Rosa Parks refused to live the rest of her life riding in the back of the bus and that they are ready to follow suit. There epiphanies have to inspire them to move collectively on the scale of the Civil Rights Movement, so tsunamic that each and everyone who cares can infect those who have given up and are ignorant or indifferent in order to sweep over the predacious beings and institutions who like things the way they are because of the promise that the erosion of American freedoms might be theirs for the doing if they just endure. That way  they may yet achieve that promise that was within reach for them before Brown vs. the Board of Education thwarted their dreams. 

Rush Limbaugh and his like, such as Fox News, are an excellent example, forming the perfect picture of the patriarchs for those barbarians but Rush & Company are soooo easy to target that targeting them distracts from the reality of the predation. America needs dedicated action if it really wants to be the purveyor of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. The United States never had to invade Iraq to find the weapons of mass destruction because the weapons here at home are more insidiously dangerous than those phantoms fabricated by the Bush folks.

This New York Times article stands out for the moment, cited on the quick because so much of the early reporting was sooo typically flawed. And this is the place for a editorial pause. I’m composing and writing on the QT.  Stream of conscious, that’s what attempted here. This piece would be editorially better if I tucked it away as a draft for a few days, if not for a few weeks, and then revise and revise and see the revisions with new eyes. But the moment is now and even that has passed. [Note: Google, this date, listed 1,184 links to news stories about Omar Edwards’s slaying].

Back to the stream.

I was a police reporter a few years in Rochester, New York, for the Democrat & Chronicle and in order to cover my beat the way I believed it had to be covered, I virtually lived in police cars. As I was leaving the D&C for the Washington Star in Washington, D.C., a lot of cops learned that I had been a reporter, not one of their own, that I was not an undercover cop who had been talking and jiving and drinking booze/coffee with them, a reporter who had been showing up at scenes, plaincothes, any time of day and night, with a portable radio that tethered me to my news desk and a portable Bearcat scanner that tethered me to the police dispatchers. The tethers made me look like an undercover/plainclothes cop. I got along with cops better than I did with my editors.

I know that sounds weird, this comportment with police (many white, some Spanish-speaking and a few black) but that was emblematic of the wry realities of the brutal reality of this society. I was always living on the edge, and I never, absolutely never, portrayed myself as anything other than a reporter. 

I wanted the police beat – needed the police beat – after of a friend, Alvin White, was killed by a Nevada State Trooper who said in the reports that Alvin was reaching for a dark object (a comb?!?!?!) and because many others were abused when not shot or beaten. There are googobs of stories of cops shooting blacks reaching for dark objects, reaching for shiny objects, reaching for wallets. I needed to get the fear of police out of my blood …  so I became a cop reporter. I did some police reporting later for the Washington Star, a spattering here and there, compared to what I did in Rochester.

The fear is gone; caution remains.

When I left D.C. in an U-Haul (the Washington Post having crushed the Star and the Star also being crushed by its own business arrogance), I was stopped 10-12 times, all illegal, on the New Jersey turnpike by New Jersey State Troopers; my brother was with me. He was helping me move to the Big Apple to start a job at Time magazine (and I later worked for the New York Post, both with way too many editors and reporters as loathsome as any errant bigot of a cop I had met or would meet, on or off the job). Quote Marks for Effect: “So, will you tell the other guys ahead that I’m legit,” I told the last New Jersey State Trooper about 20 miles south of New York City. 

Later on, after Time and after the Post, there I was teaching journalism at the New Brunswick branch of Rutgers University (where there were loathsome colleagues like those at Time and the Post and the Wasington Star, the latter embroiled in a major EEOC classic action lawsuit for racial discrimination in its newsroom, a reality which never showed up in any Washington Star eulogies, that’s for sure, for something like, QMfE:  “… and the Star was embroiled in a bitter lawsuit because its editors treating its journalists of color as if they were third-class citizens.”

At Rutgers, I would frequently check out any news reporters whose paths I crossed. Check them out? That was, engaged them in conversation about my 10-12 stops on the turnpike in order to prompt a conversation for me to evaluate their worthiness to call themselves reporters. Many regaled me with their knowledge of the racial profiling going on not only on the turnpike but in some areas in the immediate vicinity of the campus, like the Highland Park police department. One African American professor who was not in the Department of Journalism and Mass Media where I taught but had lived in Highland Park, said to me one day, QMfE: “They stopped my husband so many times, that we had to move.”

He was also told by one of the cops who had stopped him – he was stopped numerous times until he and his wife fled Highland Park – that someone like him shouldn’t be walking around in that neighborhood of Highland Park so early in the morning.

But not one news reporter for the local newspapers ever did a news story. It was like this big news media secret: Everyone knew what was going on but no one did one fucking news report, though those that I had engaged were ready to commiserate or express sympathy about the Jersey Turnpike-stop experiences that I had described to them and the stops that were going on, them advising me in what they considered a sympathetic/commiserative manner, that I should be careful where I drive and where I walk in Jersey.

Sympathy? Commiserate? That’s why I don’t have much respect for the Jersey news media. Though some news media did spring into action, so to speak, when, subsequently, two New Jersey State Troopers were caught lying about their pumping bullets into the passengers of a car with young black males on their way to a basketball event. Subsequent criminal and civil trials caused, for serious moment, a light to be shown on The Racial-Profiling-State-Troopers-of-the-Garden-State. Yes, that last sentence has to be in italics.

But did anyone ever ask where the hell the news media had been when all of this had been going on for years?

I learned more when I witnessed a New Brunswick cop walk into the downtown NJ transit station and, in front of me and lots of people waiting for the train to NYC, threatened to kill a posse of homeless men sleeping in on the floor. With his hand on his holstered gun, he said, QMfE: “I’m going to kill you if you don’t move.” I wrote the police department a detailed description – I described him kicking the ones moving too slowly – and I sent a local police reporter a copy. And this is what she said, QMfE: He [the cop] does that all the time. Don’t worry about not knowing his name or badge number [I was too afraid to demand it from the cop]. They know who he is.”

That’s how the city cleared the homeless out of downtown New Brunswick, she and others said in other conversations.

I wrote the letter, despising my cowardice as I wrote (still despising but not as much). Too scared to approach the cop for his badge number, nor shout something to get him to stop, nor tried to galvanized the other witnesses into action (such as, QMfE: “Hey, are we going to just watch until this cop-hating-human-being shoots them – and maybe us”).  Nor did I rush to a pay phone (no cells then) to tell 911, One of your cops is here in the train station threatening to shoot homeless people. Send backup.

I should have, at the very least, interviewed or try to interview the dozen or so NYC-bound passengers who had witnessed this tyranny. I didn’t. But I did write the letter.

Did the local reporter ever do a story? Did the local newspaper ever do a story? Did the local police department ever respond to my letter? Hell no.

Read this from the blog of the Investigative Reporters & Editors about the 2009 third-place winners of the Philip Meyer Journalism Award.

Third Place:  The Philadelphia Inquirer for “Too Tough: Tactics in Suburban Policing,” Mark Fazlollah, Dylan Purcell, Melissa Dribben, Keith Herbert:

“The Inquirer’s team studied arrest and court data from police departments in the suburbs that surround Philadelphia and [my emphasis] found towns where blacks were being arrested in extraordinary numbers for minor offenses such as loitering or jaywalking. Their follow-up reporting uncovered jails where thousands of illegal strip searches were conducted, police dogs were used to control black children walking home from school and traffic citations were filled out in advance of arrests.

Sounds like Alabama and Mississippi (Nina Simone’s Mississippi) circa the lynching days.

Now, there are probably people who believe that the Inquirer story reveals an isolated regional occurance, the suburbs of Philadelphia. But then there’s the recent reports by the New York City Civil Liberties Union about the NYPD stopping innocent New Yorkers:

Police made more than 151,000 stops of completely innocent New Yorkers – the overwhelming majority of whom were black and Latino. These innocent people did nothing wrong, but their names and addresses are now stored in a police database.

This is insane but millions and millions can accommodate this insanity as easy as millions and millions lined up to support the Bush administration’s Iraqi invasaion to find the WMD.

This is insane but millions and millions can accommodate this insanity as easy as millions and millions lined up to support the Bush administration’s Iraqi invasaion to find WMD.

Or that I was stopped several months ago by two New Jersey City cops as I was riding my bicycle home from a public swimming hole. They were looking for a robber, one eventually said. I had fitted the description. Black man on a bicycle. I showed the cop, Hispanic looking, standing in front of me with his thumb resting on his holstered weapon, my wet trunks and towel. I let him – I didn’t have to – peek in my backpack. I hadn’t expected the shove from the cop, white, who had come up behind me surreptitiously to thrust his hands in my pockets. 

Groped by cop?

It was a provocative shove. I had learned not to react suddenly in a threatening manner towards men with guns, mace, bully clubs, handcuffs and the law on their side. Anyway, I immediately raised my hands above my head so that all those people on the sidewalk and those in their cars —  the stopped patrol car had created a mini-traffic jam in the narrow lanes of that avenue — could see that I wasn’t carrying a weapon, didn’t have one in my hand, wasn’t about to make one of those sudden moves that got Alvin White shot dead. After the cops fled – there was a crowd lingering and staring – I thanked everyone for sharing the moment.

I should have filed a complaint even though every resource I checked about police stop-n’-frisks indicated that the two cops hadn’t done anything illegally, per se. But I should have filed anyway. Nevertheless, I have no doubt there will be more. And I am better prepared. In a need to step up to the plate, I’ve been experimenting with a Civil Liberties project for the WORD. I need to do more, much more than just beat up on The Four Barnacles of the Apocalypse and their like. I need to get more serious. I need to infect others, so, that none of my grandkids will ever have to ask: Hey, grandpa, where were you when the cops were beating up black people.

They will know.

I needed to get this off my chest.









I plan to revisit this post and tweak and rewrite until I decide to leave it up absolutely or take it down, absolutely.

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