Ferguson, Poverty, and Education

Specters of Poverty
Specters of Poverty and Reaction

 Ferguson has flared up again.

Aside from the temporal specifics of this event, the real question we have to ask is how do we move forward?

What can we do to learn something from this event, and improve the lives of citizens in the process?

First the facts. A young, unarmed Black man, Michael Brown was shot by a White police officer, Darren Wilson and was killed; Brown was shot multiple times. There are differing accounts of how the young man was shot and why, but forensic evidence is in line with a very close encounter between the police officer and the young man. Leaving all testimony aside, the forensic evidence would tend to support that the police officer was in very close proximity to the victim, and one particular shot was fired to the head.

Moreover, the victim himself had a few run ins with the law. As he was videotaped shoplifting earlier during the day, and by all accounts the police officer followed orders to locate someone who matched Brown’s description.

These are the particulars of this incident. But sad as they are, the underlying set of problems that generated this incident in the first place are what should now be studied carefully if anything good can come of a tragedy like this.

What can we learn from this?

In the end the only thing to be gained by these sad events is a knowledge that prevents their repeat, while at the same time improves the underlying quality of life for those still trapped under poverty’s heavy hand. Perhaps this is the real cause of events like this one: poverty.

Chronic Poverty and Crime

Too many communities in the US suffer from chronic poverty and the reasons are many. What is true is that these communities leave many young people to suffer unfairly and unjustly and this suffering itself becomes reactive often. After awhile Robin Hood becomes the hero, and this is nothing new, nor is it specific to any particular community. Poverty will often breed respect for the anti-hero, the criminal who fights for the sake of the people against the corrupt rulers. But this sentiment does not usually lead to a positive outcome for anyone.

We should admit to ourselves that most people living normal law abiding lives are not going to get shot by a cop on a Sunday morning stroll through the park. That’s pretty much supported by the statistics, and overwhelmingly so.

Most shootings, even unarmed shootings by the police are in the course of police activities relating to some recent crime, and criminal activities. There is in general an atmosphere of high crime surrounding these shootings and this cannot be denied. The real cause of most events of this nature is crime, and chronic criminal activity in the community.

The police must follow protocol. This is clear, and any failure to do so is inexcusable in most instances.  But there is only so much that can be expected from any professional, and the Police Officer is no exception. Crime happens quickly, and unexpectedly, often catching even the seasoned police officer by surprise. This would be no different than an ER surgeon being overwhelmed by a particularly gruesome case of trauma.

Police Need the Best Training

The vast majority of police officers are trained to do a job according to the law and in the vast majority of cases do it as prescribed. However that job is very complex at times, and very dangerous. They are tasked with keeping order, even where order is not present, or desired, or diligently supported. That is a difficult task for any human being to accomplish, and the police too are human beings replete with the flaws of humanity.

True, police must be very well trained, and must be tested, and must be well informed as to proper protocol, and procedure in particular situations and communities. Often it is these failures that lead to problems, as for example the most recent case in NYC where a police officer shot an unarmed young man while descending a dark stairwell. The officer involved in that shooting claims his gun went off “accidentally” but what more likely happened is that this officer was not well prepared, and protocol failed, and general procedure failed. Two cops should not have been in a darkly lit stairwell under difficult circumstance without some kind of general backup. There are rumors that the officer himself was not particularly happy with this assignment. Here too, we can conclude that only those officers both qualified, and well prepared should ever be assigned to difficult neighborhoods if failures like the one in New York City are to be avoided.

We must understand that cops are human beings, and will have human problems, and will at times make simple mistakes. For this reason protocol and training, as well as testing and preparation for particular duties in particular communities is absolutely necessary. This well principled administration can have great implications for the sort of problems encountered in Ferguson.

Some have even suggested body cameras which would record all activity. These can go along with cameras which are presently being used on Police Cruisers. This might not be such a bad idea. It would protect the cop in the performance of legitimate duty, or in the case of unforeseen accidentals that lead to the use of lethal force. At the same time cameras can also protect a community from the occasional rogue cop that fails to be diligently committed to the lawful performance of his duty. The expense will add to the overall cost of police enforcement, but it may increase efficiency beyond the costs of effectuating lawful authority in a particularly troubled community.

Too often municipalities face significant costs from legal actions proceeding from police actions that lead to injury of individual citizens. At times these costs can debilitate a community’s ability to effectively apply police enforcement and stability to the more troubled sectors of a community. The economic costs may be even more exaggerated as particular sectors become inhospitable to commercial activity. For these and other reasons it may actually be profitable for a community to consider the use of cameras in police enforcement, especially in high crime areas. Use of monitoring police actions may in some high risk areas lead to greater accountability to the community, and a more transparent and fair view of police actions. Both the police, and the communities may ultimately see a benefit exceeding the initial costs of implementation.

Better protocol, better community involvement, more representative ethnic makeup might also do some good here. But in the end all of this will cost more to effectuate, and will in some ways bring more criticism from some segments of the public that might question the expenditure of tax dollars on enhanced police protocol. The costs too are salient and should be respected. The police force too must be cost efficient, like everything else. So there is a limit to what can be done and how quickly it can be done, or how justly. But after all is said and done protecting both the community, and the officers involved may outweigh these costs.

 Education is Crucial to any Improvements

However, overhauling the police departments procedures is not enough. The underlying causes of high criminal activity in particular neighborhoods must also be studied in order to make any headway.  Again, it is unlikely someone is going to get shot by a cop unless this person confronts the cop or attempts to undermine the performance of their lawful duties. This is heavily supported by statistics. Most of these incidents take place in unstable situations where criminal activity is present. In reality, this presence of chronically debilitating crime is also a highly significant factor in incidents of unarmed shootings by the police. The underlying integrity of a community as a factor shouldn’t be dismissed or made to seem unimportant. The cops are usually involved in a questionable use of force  if a crime has taken place, and more often than not this crime takes place in communities plagued with chronic criminal activity. The reasons for this criminal activity in certain neighborhoods also needs to be studied, and rectified if we are to prevent the loss of life in the course of police enforcement.

The reality is that if a cop is assaulted or in any way feels threatened, he will have lawful authority to protect himself by the use of imminently lethal force. That cannot be undone or changed and in the process retain an effective police force, or the maintenance of stable productive communities. Especially since many criminals are very well armed. The Police officer has the right to use deadly force if there is the threat of imminent loss of life and  that must remain the case if we are to have a stable, safe society. It’s very likely the majority of Americans will agree to the necessity of an armed police presence with the authority to use that force if need be-even against unarmed civilians if they should become dangerous to either the community or the officers involved. This is the price we pay for safety, and the application of the laws that hold our civilization together.

But what is quite obvious here in most of these cases, is that the underlying stability of the community is already compromised in these types of shootings. And this is a very significant cause that must be addressed independently if we are to have far fewer incidents of police shootings of unarmed civilians.

Some communities are troubled systemically and plagued by long standing criminal activity. These communities are usually poor, but not always. What is important is that this criminal activity tends to destroy many lives, and most of these lives are innocent.

The Children are the Innocent Victims

Often the children who live in these communities face unreal horrors as they see their friends and family shot and killed in the streets for one reason or other. These events leave horrible scars on these children which later become the cause of unstable perceptions about the underlying realities they experience. To many of these children the world is not just, is not right for if it were right, they wouldn’t have to endure what they have endured, being innocent. The psychological and social damage done can be traumatic and often insurmountable. Too often it becomes multi-generational and therefore systemic, and intractable. Not addressing this phenomenon and its causes will often lead to the overall failure of policing these troubled communities. If we want to make things better, we really have to find out why there are places in the nation where crime seems to have become a permanent problem that has lasted for years, and even decades. The underlying corruption, no matter its source, must be repaired.

Communities must be Healed

What must be done for Ferguson and places like Ferguson should be directed to healing communities afflicted by the ravages of systemic and chronic criminal activity. This is the real key. Education is critical. Yet often the education is subpar in these communities. Counseling and community presence, and respect for principle is also critical. The earlier ideas of value are introduced into the community, the more likely they will have a useful effect. Educating the young is critical. Giving young kids a sound world view is the only way to change troubled communities. Too often the mind set is wrong from the start, and only tends to amplify the inherent poverty, and generally unfavorable social condition that afflicts these communities. A community is an organism, and how it responds to change is to be found in the thinking of its members. This process cannot be understated, and is always, in all communities fatal when ignored. The mind set is a large part of the problem, and simply saying it isn’t is not going to change anything.

Yet too often it is easier for those who gain politically or financially from these events to point their fingers elsewhere than where the problem really lives. Sadly there are many who have an abiding interest in seeing social decay continue, as astonishing as that may sound. Some of these sources are within the troubled communities, and some are outside. Yet many are those who are eager to blame anyone else than to ever look at the true underlying causes because that’s how the visceral support is harvested. Many are the politicians whose sole claim to power is little more than rabble rousing, and these exists in every community. There are actually benefits for some in seeing the continuation of depressed troubled communities.

But in troubled communities, the anger is thick and powerful, and so it’s much easier for some to point to a target outside the community than to address the real underlying causes that live within. Yet without addressing these issues thoughtfully and truthfully, it’s very unlikely that any lasting improvement can ever be attained.

The heart of the issue in most of these situations is crime. And until that criminal activity becomes unpopular and ineffective there will be no change. This is why the police are there in the first place. Remove the crime, and the police will have better things to do with their time.

Only Real Education can Lead to Improvement

But to remove the crime takes determination, and intelligence of the highest order. Alternatives to any incidental prosperity must be found! Otherwise, too many people will take the easy way out. Only true and productive reasonable alternatives to prosperity can ever lead to real improvement. This is what must be attained if this kind of decay is ever to become a thing of the past. A strict and genuine dedication to education, and principle. Nothing else will work, no matter what is claimed. People must be offered alternatives to the way of life that plagues their stability. These alternatives can only come through education, and adherence to principle, and should be taught while kids are still young, and are receptive to these ideas and way of life. If the ideal person is to be a criminal with more money than he or she knows what to do with, there is not going to be much hope, ever. Not only does this apply to these particular communities that we are now referring to, but to the nation at large. What makes civilization is principle. The laws are supposed to be derived from the higher principles. If these principles are mocked, there is no hope. Not only is Ferguson doomed, but the rest of the nation as well.

There’s too much emphasis on easy wealth in the nation as a whole. There is often less popular emphasis on how real wealth is actually attained. Too often the terms training and innovation are used, but these are shallow words that belie the truth which is that any innovation is based on the understanding of fundamental principles of nature, and these are not all that easy to come by. Yet these principles of natural science, and philosophy are what have created lasting civilization in the first place. Ignoring this fact, or making little of it can only lead to social degeneration. This is true of Ferguson, or all of New York City. Failure to emphasize the fundamental principles will eventually destroy an entire nation. There are countless victims throughout all of history. Great civilizations perished overnight for lack of principle. Make little of this truth, and failure will soon become the norm.


What happened in Ferguson happened because there was an underlying instability in the community. This instability may have far wider sources, and may well begin in the wider mind set of the nation as a whole.

The simple part is that a cop will defend himself if assaulted, or if he or she feels there is the threat of imminent fatality to either an innocent person, or to himself. You cannot touch a cop, or resist arrest. They have under some circumstances the right to use deadly force. This should be understood at an early age. That’s the simple conclusion. That  police eligibility selection, protocols and procedures can be improved is also a simple conclusion. That determination of psychological propensities of individual officers should be assessed and monitored is also simple to implement. That the community can take some simple actions to improve its rapport and interaction with the police force is also possible and simple. That some new technology(cruiser and body cameras) might be used to allow for better accountability of the police force to the community is also possible, and a relatively simple, cost effective step to take.

What is not simple is changing the mindset of the individual members of a community. Adherence to principles, and an understanding of natural laws is difficult. Yet this is what civilization is really based on. These insights can only be grasped, and appreciated through a good educational system that is both effective, and efficient. Unfortunately we see little effort in this direction, even in large cities like New York, where even now the emphasis seems to be more on profits for a few, than on the application of real education to those who most need it. Without a significant change of mind, there is very little chance of improvement no matter how many “simple” steps are taken.

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