Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
August 15, 2014
Mr. President: Today is India's independence day, the sixty-seventh. On that day,
India was divided; however, the relationship between India and Pakistan has been
marred by the thorny issue of Kashmir. It is one reason why development on the
subcontinent has lagged far behind its peers. While Mr. Kerry has been preparing
the way for your meeting here with Prime Minister Modi in September, it is noteworthy
that this is indeed a situation where the US can be an honest broker between the two
sides. Long term peace between these nuclear adversaries would surely be a
notable legacy for unfortunately there is little else. The world around us is imploding
and on the home front economic growth after six years is anemic at best.
The story headlining the news concerns the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of an
unarmed 18-year old black man, Michael Brown, by Darren Wilson, a white police
officer. A witness claimed Mr. Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot
several times. There have been nation-wide demonstrations in protest. What's
surprising is the photo of the police line facing unarmed demonstrators. How the
police have changed? Instead of uniforms, they are in camouflage (why?); instead of
batons, they are heavily armed, in combat gear, carrying AR-15 assault rifles (why?).
Perhaps I am lucky, living where I do, but the police here are unfailingly courteous,
efficient, helpful and surprisingly rapid in their response. It has been, therefore, a
shock to read countrywide statistics:
There are between 50 to 60 fatal shootings each month. Hence the frequent quote in
articles on the Ferguson incident claiming more Americans died at the hands of their
own police than in Iraq during the period of engagement.
The best policing is done when police have a rapport with the community where there
is mutual respect and trust. Thus the best patrolling is outside of a police car, on
foot, or even on bicycle, where there is closer contact with the public.
Why are the police being militarized under so-called terror threats, when the only
significant incident (the Boston marathon) could not and was not stopped by military
means? Who would prefer armored heavies in battle dress carrying
assault rifles over a genial Andy Griffith from Mayberry? The best place for surplus
military vehicles and weaponry from Iraq and Afghanistan is the junkyard if the
national guard cannot accommodate them. Quite aside from maintenance costs, they
most certainly do not belong on our streets.
Several issues arise from this and other similar incidents. First is the apparent
disregard for human life; but not all human life, because the victims are principally
black and Hispanic. It is unconscionable, for example, that police called in for
assistance in a domestic dispute should kill anyone. Or that they should shoot to kill
a mentally disturbed man who does not drop a knife when ordered to. Whatever
happened to disabling tasers?
Second, it is becoming increasingly clear we have allowed to develop in certain areas,
primarily minority ... a heavily armed, trigger-happy police force with a sense of
impunity. The logical counter is appropriate outside review and a rewriting of the
rules for the use of lethal force.
Third, the psychological makeup of some of the officers is open to question, calling
for stringent testing before acceptance in a police force. Anyone armed and
permitted to employ deadly force requires careful scrutiny.
With demonstrations across the country and the story making headlines in world
media, we deserved more from the White House than a note saying, the President
was having a two-week vacation in Martha's Vineyard.