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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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Black Lives Matter, and So Does Yours

Uploaded: Jul 14, 2016
It is with some trepidation that I step into this radioactive topic.

The startling events of last week are cause for reflection. One of my Facebook friends living in Berlin asked me whether these events were a result of gun control (or lack thereof). In formulating a response to him I ended up with the seed for this commentary. Firearm regulations, and culture, vary by state, city and county. California is quite restrictive; Texas is minimally restrictive. Nonetheless, gun control mantras took a back seat last week. That silence was probably due the gravity, complexity and the need to digest what we all observed nearly simultaneously.

My first impression, during this election cycle was that Black Lives Matter (BLM) could be ambiguous in usage. There is a formal group called BLM, as well its use as a social commentary and aspiration. I was confused by a lack of distinction. Early in the recent presidential primary cycle BLM supporters interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally. Bernie quickly responded, “All Lives Matter.” Bernie’s comment was also my immediate reaction upon hearing an implication that only one ethnic group’s lives matter. Bernie took a lot of flack.

A few years ago while bicycling up Palm Drive on the Stanford campus, I witnessed a police stop of a SUV. The driver of the SUV, a black gentleman, trained his cell phone on the police officer to record the interaction. I dismounted my bike and watched. I was surprised by two things: that this occurred at Stanford; but more perplexing to me, what in this man’s experience prompted him to feel it necessary to record his session with the police? Recording with my cell phone certainly wasn’t anything that I would naturally do.

But now, I understand.

Minneapolis, Permitted Concealed Weapons, Instantaneous Decision Making

On July 7, Philando Castile was a passenger in car driven by his girlfriend. Because of an allegedly broken taillight the police stopped this car. While reaching for his wallet, presumably to present his concealed carry weapon permit, Castile was shot in the arm and killed by the police. His girlfriend had the presence of mind to live-stream the interaction via Facebook. This video brought to millions of people a crystal reality concerning race in America and police. I was stunned, appalled, and this immediately illuminated for me the context from which the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement emerges, as well as what I saw on Palm Drive.

Recording Truth via Cameras

Many police organizations have as part of their equipment body cameras intended to record close interactions between the police and the public. These document the interactions for future use. For example, in a domestic violence call the actions of the parties are recorded so that not only physical expression, but emotion and expression is on the record. This is also used a record in the instance that parties fail to appear in court. The use of body cams is disputed and subject to various rules such as length of retention, who may view the video and when. As cameras could record unflattering views of the police, there is a suspicion that the cameras and/or camera content may be altered retroactively before police reports are manually written. The question is: whom do the cams protect? They are to record facts, no matter the consequence. Their use needs to be consistent and reliable.

“Only two of three Menlo Park police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect on Nov. 11 were wearing body cameras. One camera may have been turned on after the shooting, and one may have been left off…”

See, Menlo Park Shooting May Not Have Been Recorded.

See, Body cam policies of various US cities.

There’s an App for That

Of course there is.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has state-specific cameras software for download. See, ACLU Apps Record Police Conduct

See, Mobile Justice California

Stop and Frisk

Much of this discord arises from a philosophy of ‘stop and frisk’. In response to a high level of crime in impacted communities in New York City, then Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg instituted a targeted, stop-and-frisk policy used by the NYPD to get illegal guns of the street. It was successful, improving the safety of citizens, while putting pressure on potential bad actors. Crime rates declined. When Bill De Blasio succeed Bloomberg in 2014, Mayor De Blasio attempted to reform the implementation of stop and frisk. See, Did Bill De Blasio Keep His Promise To Reform Stop-And-Frisk and

Stop and Frisk in New York City

Some parts of Menlo Park, and NYC and elsewhere have a much greater need for uniformed and non-uniformed support, compared with other districts. Much of this is at the request of the people who live there – they want safer streets and homes. I’ll add that the Menlo Park Police, as well as other districts, play important unsung roles of social worker, crisis intervener, and family counselor. These stories don’t make the papers.

‘Black Lives Matter’, and ‘All Lives Matter,’ are not mutually exclusive. But as has been amply demonstrated the decision process before the use of deadly force needs to be reliable, and only as a last resort.

(I am not ignoring the terrible event in Dallas. I wanted to simplify this post. I'll come back to Dallas, but the big takeaway for me was the unintended consequence of open carry of firearms, and how that added to the confusion.)

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Edward Syrett, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jul 14, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Edward Syrett is a registered user.

I'm glad you went to the trouble of watching the Philando Castile video before commenting on that case. The S.F. Chronicle the other day published a truly ignorant police-apology piece by some retired psychotherapist, making much of the stress under which officers work on a daily basis (as if a single mother working two jobs to support latchkey kids for whom she can't afford day care doesn't work under similar stress--any day, she could arrive home to find her kids missing!). But in that op-ed piece, the author asserted that Mr. Castile's killer might have panicked at the sight of Mr. Castile's gun. Hello? That gun was in the glove compartment before, during and after the shooting. The only gun the officer could have seen was his own, until his backup arrived and drew down on Castile's daughter and her mother, while allowing Mr. Castile to bleed to death without trying to apply any kind of first aid OR calling an ambulance.

And mind you, this was from a supposedly "liberal" author in a purportedly "liberal" or at least centrist newspaper. Just shows how far we have to go in conveying the understanding of what African-Americans need to warn their children about.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Jul 14, 2016 at 2:41 pm

I heard it put this way: telling someone "All Lives Matter" after they say "Black Lives Matter" is a bit like telling your child who is complaining that they aren't getting their fair share that "everyone should get their fair share!" - and letting their old siblings eat all of the cake. Of course, everyone deserves their fair share - but it's a particular kid who is missing out. "Black Lives Matter" is bringing attention to specific injustices; "All Lives Matter", while true, may come off as being dismissive.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jul 14, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The issue is not only which lives matter but rather how do we actually begin to break down the persistent racism in our society - starting right here in our community.

A superb religious leader friend (who was banned from South Africa for being the first priest to speak out against apartheid from the pulpit) recently shared these thoughts with me:

""I'll tell you one reason why [a recommitment to principles is not enough]: the apartheid we have in the US in residential housing. How many black families live on XXX Road [where we live] or YYY Avenue [where my friend lives]? How many black people do you or I have as close friends? Speaking for myself, I have two. (details deleted by Peter) But they are the exceptions that prove the rule: most black families have to live in places they can afford on low or extremely low incomes, and these tend to be only in run-down neighborhoods, not the affluent urban or suburban areas and geographically distant from them. Until we can have integrated housing we won't have integrated churches, or communities, or police forces. And I frankly don't know how we can build affordable, integrated housing without governmental leadership. Trump for sure is not going to provide that. Nor is Hillary, unless she has the house and the senate to back her up. So the disparity in income between the 1% and the 99% translates into residential apartheid and the unbridgeable divide this has caused and is causing. Maybe the initiative has to come from the 1%, not the government. But all that I see the 1% doing in terms of housing is driving prices in desirable areas (like Palo Alto, Atherton, Woodside, Menlo Park, or Portola Valley) out of reach of all but the wealthiest.
I am sorry to be so negative. But I really don't see a viable way forward until this one core issue can be addressed."

So what are WE going to do?

Posted by Ernle Young, a resident of another community,
on Jul 14, 2016 at 5:34 pm

I applaud Peter for his insightful comments. Affordable housing close to where there are employment opportunities, or at the very least close to good public transport enabling people to commute to work in a reasonable amount of time, is essential if we hope to have integrated neighborhoods and communities. Only as we break down residential segregation will black and white and brown people be able to come to know each other, respect each other, and learn from each other as members of the one human race. One possible step toward this goal might be for action committees comprised of representatives of various ethnic groups to come together collectively to think about how best to address this issue--to identify possible sites for affordable housing projects, to enlist the help of those in the wealthiest one percent in subsidizing these projects, and to engage those whose immediate reaction to these projects will be "Not in My Back Yard" (NIMBY).

Posted by pogo, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Jul 18, 2016 at 7:38 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Two quick points...

1. "While reaching for his wallet, presumably to present his concealed carry weapon permit, Castile was shot in the arm and killed by the police."

You have NO IDEA what happened and to state this as "fact" is dishonest. Initial reports from these police encounters (Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.) are fraught with misinformation. People would be wise to allow the investigation to proceed before restating information that may be false.

2. Mr. Carpenter makes an excellent point. The next time you are in a restaurant in Menlo Park, Palo Alto or San Carlos, take a look around you and let me know how many African-Americans are dining. It's easy for those of us living in our tony, little cities and towns to decry racism elsewhere. You do not have to look further than your own downtown.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jul 18, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

On another Forum thread there is a discussion of how to deal with proposed housing projects and a recurrent theme is preserving neighborhood character:

" The issue is maintaining the character of the neighborhood .."

Is this not just an excuse for maintaining whatever economic (and hence ethnic) segregation that exists in any community?

How do we go from our currently highly economically segregated communities to ones that have a much more diverse socio-economic profile if we must maintain the character of our neighborhoods???

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