Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Response to J.R. Labbe Editorial on Police Shooting

Jill Labbe would have some of her readers believe that we did something wrong in attending a community forum designed to “discuss police issues and policies that affect east Fort Worth”. We were invited by the FWPD itself. And, Chief Jeffrey Halstead promised to “field questions from the community”.

Labbe characterized the meeting as a “black vs. white grievance” session, because it was called in the aftermath of a white police officer shooting and killing of a black subject. But those who attended went to great lengths to play down the race issue and show that it was a community relations issue with the police department. Only Labbe could contrive this meeting as a black versus white hostility issue- no doubt, a product of her own subjective assumptions and fertile imagination. Nevertheless, she, in turn, has fueled a slew race tinted letters-to-the-editor condemning the black community for its outpouring.

Had she attended the forum, she would have seen speakers of all races: black, brown, and white. Had she attended, she would have heard what she claims was missing from the news clips, that someone did indeed mention that the subject Charal Thomas put himself and his children in danger. She would have heard that suggestion quickly dismissed because “no one knew, for a fact, what happened”. Is this not why there is investigation? And even she acknowledges that the investigation is ongoing. So how then did she reach a conclusive judgment that Charal Thomas endangered anyone, except that she bought into a one-sided inconclusive police report?

Herein is the problem. Labbe writes: “For many whites, Thomas represents generations of black men whose criminal behavior is excused by their community as an acceptable byproduct of that historic abuse.”

What if I we were as callous as to suggest that Labbe’s “many whites” were bias, pious, and hasty to judgment? The Star-Telegram’s depiction of “RaRa” Thomas, along with its selectly published letters to the editor, has hurt the bereaved family as much as the shooting.

Where is the “criminal behavior” of which Labbe speaks? How does a traffic violation get escalated to criminal behavior? It is ASSUMED that he was engaged in drug trafficking. But no drugs were found. It is ASSUMED that he was doing something wrong and that put his children and his passenger in danger. On top of this, based on these assumptions, Labbe places blame on the community “that willingly paints Thomas as a victim” and boast of the fact that he was not “black man beat down by ‘the man’ unjustly.”

No, Thomas was not beaten down by “The Man”. (Where did Labbe get this outdated 1960s movie idiom of so-called black slang?) No, Thomas was not beaten down by “The Man”. He was shot twelve times by a Fort Worth police office, and it made no difference if he was man or woman, black or white.

Yes, of course, RaRa’s family and friends are grief stricken, upset, and outraged. Even if it were an accident or committed by a civilian, they would still be angry. Isn’t that only human? Even during bible times, they provided cities of refuge from the “avengers of blood”, whenever death of a person was at the hands of another. Family and friends of the decease will be upset and angry. And had this happened at the hands of a civilian, we might be talking about gang-style retaliatory violence, instead of this conjured up black-white hostility issue.

Labbe is simply wrong in judging the right to anger of bereaved family.

In adding salt to insult, she further writes: “For many blacks, Romer (the shooting officer) is the physical embodiment of centuries of mistreatment of African-Americans in this country at the hands of powerful whites.”

Where did she get this perception of “powerful whites”? Certainly, she could not have gotten it from black people. Had Officer J. Romer been hurt or killed in this ordeal, some of the same people who attended the forum would have shown their condolences to his bereaved family. No civilized and rational person would have cheered, as Labbe’s white readers cheer the death of as this “convicted criminal”.

Without exception, everyone who spoke at the forum expressed their condolences to the family of the deceased. And, if there were any victims, it was Thomas’ children. When Labbe spoke of the angry 4-year old she once saw during her ride-along with police in another city, she might understand why one of Charal Thomas’ children slapped the officer who shot and killed her father.

If anything is true in Labbe’s article, it is the fact that this type of anger is generational, and it is not because of skin color.

The purpose of the community forum was two-fold: (1) For the family and friends of Thomas needed to vent their anger and frustration, especially in how the children were treated during and after the ordeal; and (2) For the community to raise questions about police policies, practices, and procedures.

People have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances. Is there a grievance here? Is the family not aggrieved at the loss of their loved one? Is it not the responsibility of ministers to minister to their pain?

Lest we forget: Grievance derives from grief, and the root of Redress is dress, as in dressing a wound or addressing the cause of the injury. Does not the community have these right, without being condemned for giving aid and comfort to the family of the deceased, without Labbe and her likes accusing us of justifying an accused criminal?

Which is more wrong: Passing judgment upon a deceased who is only guilty of nothing other than being a suspect, or calling a public servant into question about the circumstances surrounding a citizen’s death?

Labbe rather passes judgment in her article and incites her white readers to do the same, casting the tragedy as a black-white issue. To stir the caldron, she quotes a man who tells the chief of police, “I don’t like you.” But she does not quote his saying that this was “not personal”. Neither does she know his change-of-heart sentiments afterwards.

Many citizens who attended the forum- black, brown, and white- came away feeling that the community had taken a positive step toward healing. Some of us are dealing with the anger issues of family and friends, with hopes that time will heal. Maybe community relations will improve with a police review board.

Whatever the case, this so-called “festering and unresolved black vs. white grievance” and this figment of an officer being “the physical embodiment of centuries of mistreatment of African-Americans in this country at the hands of powerful whites” is a product of Jill Labbe and Labbe’s alone, just as she claims that Charal Thomas alone was the cause of the escalation that ended in his death.

It is always convenient to blame the dead, just as it is convenient to blame the black community and its criminal element for the lack of respect from the police department.

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