[This story happened back in November (see KCRA News Clip for example)— a
tempest in a teapot, except that it Z's close to another story
('Trespass') we're covering in this edition."
Speaking of which, isn't it time to give up the 'he-she/she-he, hishe/shehis shish&hish' crap
we use to politically mangle our writing... Unless its really
germane to say what the subject has between
their legs, the third-person plural does fine for a
genderless render. come'on folks. - z-ed ]
This issue we have a few stories that confront our 'language gotcha's' and the theater
of misconstruction. So this article seemed worth retaining for that reason. Was this really some kind of racial snipe
by the Mayor? The Police union?... or just more of the same word-play-for-power returns we see so much these days.
It does get serious when people authorize themselves to fool
around with the language and work up a head of steam over anyone
who dares slit-their-tongue on some vagrant dark thought. Do
we really want to live in that reality? Because it will come
back to haunt all of us in due time. Count on it.
Johnson draws fire for a language crime
over his Ferguson remarks while the real gaff is designed to escape our notice
and go scot free.
The recent war-of-words between mayor Johnson and Sacramento police
officers over the lessons of Ferguson are just a little side-show
which our local press is all to happy to repeat and milk for theatrical
interest. The real reasons we need to pay close attention to those far
away events have nothing to do with the mayor's "disappointment"
or the police union's "embarrassment".
Of far greater importance is how the mayor and the police managed
their performance and scripted its conclusion to a two-part
photo-op of mutual agreement that 1) "Sacramento is not Ferguson";
and 2) our cops are not like theirs. "If I gave offense... I didn't
intend that," the mayor said insulating his remarks from having any
relationship to Sacramento.
After narrowing the scope of his remarks to ones about
how the families of Ferguson feel and the president of the
Police Officers Association tempering matters to a simple scolding
for the mayor's "broad strokes...[that]
brings it right back home to Sacramento," the two of them exit stage
left and right with an agreement to "examine how they communicate with one
And now everybody can go home thinking the matter has been taken of.
It hasn't. Nor will it be, even with promises of honing their
communication skills or of attending to additional sensitivity
training, racial diversity and "community outreach", which the parties
assure us are being seriously engaged.
What this little media assisted circus did manage to do was carefully
conceal the real and systemic failings of our legal system and it's
institutions, whether they be our courts, our grand juries or our
various law enforcement agencies. Failings which will continue to
meet such events as Ferguson with ever more legalized aggression and
provocation. An unchecked mission creep of our entire legal system
which is not changed at all by simply adding more racial, gender, LBGT
or other "minority" enclaves to our law enforcement agencies. That may
be a good thing to do, but it isn't the thing we really need to do.
Ferguson presents us a rare opportunity to look beyond the instant
and ask ourselves how matters really got to this stage. But it is a
moment that will quickly pass unless we notice how our attention is
being narrowly diverted from a more universal and systemic problem,
one that reaches even further than race or police brutality.
What we've been handed is the chance to notice what has happened to the
instrument that was designed to protect us from such excessive abuses of
power and how that mission has been co-opted and why, in it's now
weakened and corrupted state, it fails to prevent such things as
Ferguson from ever happening.
Four-thousand pages of testimony over one specific case can lead to little understanding of what really happened that day in Ferguson. Other than opinion wars about cops vs. us, our focus on a single event and using it as a metaphor for what ought concern us all about justice in America, permits one of the most important actors in the proliferation of injustice to sneak away—the grand jury system itself.
While we may notice, react, even boil over at times, about some "bad decision" of some particular grand jury, our failure to notice the central role of grand
juries in protecting everyone from many kinds of state
abuses of power in addition to our common understanding
of its role in providing due process in criminal
indictments, hardly gets any attention at all. Indeed,
so weakend and co-opted has the grand jury system become
thoughout the nation, that it should come as no surprise
that Fergusons happen all the time, whether we notice
them or not, or that cities like Sacramento are no more
immune from the devolution of justice through the
corruption and state control of our grand juries than
any other place in America.
While Ferguson, Sacramento, and every other jurisdiction might like to keep their grand juries out of that spotlight, the Z believes these events are a perfect time to do exactly the opposite - to shine a brighter light on something we have left all to long to its own devices, often the devices of those who have re-designed and control our grand juries to advance their own ambitions.
Occupying our grand juries, however, is quite a different matter. For it is the power of a reckless state that has siezed our grand jury system and turned it into little more than an agency to facilitate or excuse the exercise of that power. In the words of David Friege, writing for Slate Magazine (
"The Independent Grand Jury That Wasn't"
"So despite what McCulloch [the prosecutor] might want, the rage
that is spilling over in Ferguson shouldn't be focused on the
grand jury, but rather on the corrupting role of a governmental
power that has so neutered the traditional function of grand
juries that even when they are supposedly open they cannot truly
escape the long shadow of prosecutorial
Unfortunately, there is no way to address that issue but to focus directly on the grand jury system and contest the government's right to occupy what was originally and wholly intended to be a people's institution—an institution meant to prevent the state from excesses such as those we see unfolding in Ferguson with the grand jury's passive assistance. It is time we brought our grand juries out of the shadows where they have been kept hidden far too long.