A Medal for Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tony Robinson

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by Jim Dougherty

Jim DoughertyCould the military doctrine and experience of “friendly fire“ be used to help the country heal, reform and move forward from the recent police-involved deaths of unarmed African-American men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, and Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin? Can we “restore” a wrong that legal and political institutions do not seem to be able to come to grips with?

Many investigations, reviews, legal cases and reform efforts will and must follow in the wake of such tragedies, and they are essential in advancing justice and improving the police and related political structures that govern our lives and protect our rights, lives and property.

And, efforts aimed at reconciliation must not be used to deflect criticism or blame where it is due.  In addition to assessing any criminal responsibility, police procedures, training and technology must be reviewed, in Ferguson, New York City, and elsewhere, to do everything possible to minimize the risk of this happening again — while still allowing, and hopefully improving, the ability of the police to do their job in protecting the public.  The U.S. Department of Justice in its just-released report, while clearing the officer involved in Ferguson of any wrongdoing, nevertheless found a persistent pattern of racism in the Ferguson police department that may require remedies up to and including closing the department entirely.

Even if nothing different could have happened given the circumstances, still, unarmed men were killed by police officers — tragic losses that call out for some kind of action.  The protesters know this, that whatever explanations are given or investigations find, still, something profoundly wrong and unjust has occurred in the deaths of these men. Something that cannot be completely made-up for by criminal penalties, procedural reforms and civil damage awards. Most of our political and civil culture in such situations revolves around finding out what went wrong, who to blame and how to fix it.

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