News We Never Hear About

I learned something rather shocking recently from a post by Elisabeth Rosenthal to  Rosenthal told of an article published last Sunday in The Guardian of London, in which John Vidal, the paper’s environmental editor, recalled a visit to the Niger Delta a few years back, where he literally swam in “pools of light Nigerian crude.”  Apparently, decrepit pipes and oil extraction equipment in the area have caused serious leaks and spills for quite some time: “More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico,” writes Vidal.

We Americans just don’t hear about these kinds of environmental tragedies “over there.”  After all, Nigeria is far from our thoughts, not really relevant to our lives.  Most of us really don’t even know where it is.  But the fact is according to the Vidal article, the Niger Delta supplies 40 percent of all of the crude oil imported by the United States.  Companies sucking that oil out of the ground include BP, Shell, and Exxon. 

Rosenthal makes the point that people in the United States are outraged at BP’s carelessness and indifference to our precious environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico, but shouldn’t we be equally concerned about the behavior of oil companies in developing countries, where our oil comes from?  Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people, was quoted by Vidal: “If this gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention.  This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta.”

As the oil from the Deepwater spill flows hundreds and hundreds of miles from its source, killing creatures, ruining fisheries and destroying wetlands, we realize once again that we live in one small world, and that what affects one affects us all.  It follows, then, if we drive a car or use plastics, we need to be concerned with oil spills in the Niger Delta.  It’s never “those people” or “over there”–it’s always us. 


A Fatal Police Shooting: Analysis

Let me begin by saying that I basically like and trust the police.  I have called on them more than once, and they have never failed to be friendly and helpful.  Of course, I’m white.  I don’t “wear a hoodie in warm weather” and I hardly ever cross three lanes of traffic without signaling, as did Keaton Otis, 25, on the fateful day of May 12, when he was stopped by the police.  According to police, Otis shouted profanities at them, claiming that he was stopped because he was black.  In fact, the initial reason for the stop, according to Portland Officer Ryan Foote, was that the driver “kind of looked  like he could be a gangster.”

When Otis, who suffers from mental illness, refused to get out of his car, three police officer tasered him at once.  After all, he refused to obey their order.  Is this a reason to tasor someone?  Tasoring is supposed to subdue the one receiving the pain, but this young man was enraged instead, and made a move for a gun, to defend himself.  Not the right thing to do–but a response that was all too understandable, considering the situation.  Otis shot Officer Burley in the leg, and he was then shot 23 times by three police officers, making this the third fatal police shooting this year.

What criteria do we use to evaluate police behavior in these fatal shootings?  In each incident, various reasons are given for police action leading to the death of the suspect.  And it’s difficult to blame a police officer who knows that his own life is on the line when he chooses this career.  But there is one criterion that we can use to judge all three of the shootings, and that is called “the test of result.”  In other words, is this the result we wanted?  Is this the only result possible?  I would give an emphatic “no” to both of those questions. 

The Mayor and the new Chief of Police, Mike Reese, need to take a hard look at police training, and they need to do so immediately, before more lives are lost unnecessarily.  I would maintain the following:  (1) the police do not need to tasor a suspect because he doesn’t obey an order.  In this case, they had his car surrounded by their cars.  Why tasor him?  (2) the police had no plan when they decided to remove Otis from the car, resulting in the tasoring, the shooting, and in fact crossfire that could have proved fatal to Office Pat Murphy; (3) the police have consistently shown that they have had no training in how to deal with people who are mentally ill–in some earlier cases, individuals have been shot simply for being mentally ill and not obeying orders; (4) stopping Keaton Otis was an obvious case of racial profiling, which is still going on in this city.

I am asking those in charge of our police to take steps so that I won’t open the Oregonian and discover that another individual has been shot to death, when an alternative approach could have saved a life.  Life is not cheap, ever.  A life should not be taken just because police orders are not instantly obeyed.  Let’s find a better way.