An army general admits to sexual misconduct and other serious offenses and gets his wrist slapped while keeping his pension. Police brutality in California screams for reform while an offending officer is dubbed “the best deputy in the department.” Congress yields to pressure against a potential Surgeon General because the NRA doesn’t like him calling gun violence a public health issue.
Who says this country isn’t all bravado, big brass and balls?
The case of Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair underscores that the epidemic of sexual abuse in the military continues. Sinclair plea-bargained his way out of jail for heinous crimes against women including sodomy, death threats and forced pornography. He perpetrated these behaviors in four countries over at least three years. At his court martial Gen. Sinclair crowed “the system worked.”
But it’s a badly broken system. The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 incidents of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2012. No wonder Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was appalled when her attempted legislation to remove prosecutions in the military from the chain of command failed to garner 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.
When Daniel Johnson’s disabled father dropped a cigarette on the ground in front of his California home in late 2012, the elder Johnson little expected that the involuntary act would lead to his 26-year old son having his genitals burned with a Taser because a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy thought he was out of line.
The deputy issued a $1,000 fine for “littering” when he saw Daniel’s father, who drops things because of medically documented nerve damage in his hands, let go of the cigarette butt. When Daniel explained that the “littering” was accidental because of his father’s medical condition the officer threatened to ticket him too. Daniel pleaded with the officer to let him retrieve the butt because they couldn’t afford the fine. That’s when things got scary. Another deputy slammed Daniel against the patrol car and the initiating officer beat him. This assault was followed by the Taser attack as his horrified parents watched. Daniel, a UC/Berkeley graduate who like his father is black, was arrested for battery on a police officer. Charges were never filed. Daniel’s lawsuit is pending.
A recent TV expose on Aljazeera America helps explain why there is an epidemic of police brutality in America. According to its program Faultlines, “federal money and combat equipment is transforming U.S. police departments into military-like forces.”
Increasingly, police departments, which receive billions of dollars in Homeland Security grants along with free post-conflict military equipment, are using military-style tactics for routine daily operations. SWAT teams have grown exponentially along with the number of police officers who once served in the military. And non-violent protesters who want to see an end to “war games” and “urban warfare” are likely to be designated “domestic terrorists” when they dare to raise their placards at events like the trade show held in the San Francisco Bay area last year where vendors hawked everything from automatic weapons and surveillance drones to “crowd control” weapons.
Despite the fact that the number of innocent people (mostly black or Hispanic and young) killed by police is escalating, cities like Boston are now arming police cars with military weapons. The tragic reality is that kids are killed every day by overzealous police, and Daniel Johnson’s awful experience is not uncommon.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, the president’s nominee for Surgeon General, knows a lot about senseless killing. Harvard educated with an MD and M.B.A. from Yale, he has seen plenty of gun violence victims in emergency rooms. That’s why in 2012 he declared that “guns are a health care issue.” You can imagine how that went down with the NRA. But his colleagues say they “are appalled that a candidate of such high caliber – with impeccable credentials, a well-earned reputation as a ‘doctor’s doctor’ and formidable experience in management and leadership – could be derailed for a moderate position on gun violence that aligns with the vast majority of America’s health professionals.”
The 36-year old Dr.Murthy works at a Harvard-affiliated hospital in Boston and teaches at Harvard. He co-founded TrialNetworks to leverage technology to improve clinical trials and he started a non-profit educational organization, VISIONS, to address HIV/AIDS. He also supports the Affordable Care Act. No wonder the far right can’t abide the thought of him as America’s top doc.
As writer Lauren Friedman and other social critics have noted on various websites, “gun violence unquestionably is a public health issue.” In 2009, it caused over 31,000 deaths and guns were involved in more than 73,000 non-fatal injuries. The American Public Health Association calls gun violence in the U.S. “a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death.”
And yet we continue our destructive bravado. Like a frenetic ‘film noir’ in which brutalities flash across the wide screen that is American life, our psyches are bashed until we are inured to the underlying violence.
That in itself, it seems to me, is a public health issue.