Archive for the ‘Race’ category

Eric Garner’s Killer Won’t Be Indicted

December 3, 2014

Another grand jury somehow manages to avoid indicting a cop who put an unarmed man in an illegal chokehold and, ignoring his pleas (“I can’t breathe!”), strangled him to death.   Eric Garner’s crime was peddling untaxed cigarettes on the sidewalk.  He was a husband and the father of six.  And he was a black man.  I hope I may be forgiven for believing that last fact to be germane, both to the confrontation in which he died and the fact that his (white) killer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, now escapes any scrutiny of law.

Hans_Memling_057

Another district attorney somehow managed to avoid gaining an indictment within a grand jury process he entirely controlled.  It is said that any competent prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, if that’s what’s desired on the day.  I hope I may be forgiven for believing that Staten Island DA Daniel M. Donovan Jr. had no intention of putting a cop on trial.  Never mind that Officer Pantaleo was captured on video tape performing an illegal act that led to the death of a human being who’s threat to society consisted of dodging local tobacco taxes, cancer stick by stick.

I got nothing.  This is not a justice system.  This is not policing in any form that I understand.  This is how law serves as cover for power when the forms but not the substance of civil society are all that is left.

I got nothing at all.

Image:  Hans Memling, Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, (detail), 1480.

 

 

Asked and Answered In Ferguson — A Tale of Two Times Stories

November 26, 2014

Here’s a fact The New York Times seeks to explore in the wake of the decision to let the killer of an unarmed youth go free:

A nation with an African-American president and a significant, if struggling, black middle class remains as deeply divided about the justice system as it was decades ago. A Huffington Post-YouGov poll of 1,000 adults released this week found that 62 percent of African-Americans believed Officer Wilson was at fault in the shooting of Mr. Brown, while only 22 percent of whites took that position.

The Times notes that this divide is nothing new:

In 1992, a Washington Post-ABC News pollfound that 92 percent of blacks — and 64 percent of whites  — disagreed with the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the videotaped beating of a black man, Rodney King.

“What’s striking is just how constant these attitudes have been,” said Carroll Doherty, the director of political research for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington.

This particular article doesn’t go into much depth on who might be right — the white majority that sees justice being done from King to Brown, or the African American majority that sees culpable killers go free, but it does make clear that the experience of everyday life is … well, it’s the great grey lady (formerly) of 43rd Street, so this is how the sociology passage begins:

That whites and blacks disagree so deeply on the justice system, even as some other racial gulfs show signs of closing, is perhaps not as odd as it seems.

Not odd at all, as it happens, on the evidence of another long analysis piece in today’s paper the Ferguson decision:

But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.

William_Hogarth_004

And what might have prompted such unpleasant suspicions about an upstanding public servant?  Perhaps this:

Officer Wilson, in his testimony, described the encounter in terms that dovetailed with a state law authorizing an officer’s use of deadly force …

In some cases the questions seemed designed to help Officer Wilson meet the conditions for self-defense, with a prosecutor telling him at one point: “You felt like your life was in jeopardy” followed by the question, “And use of deadly force was justified at that point in your opinion?”

Might as well have just used cue cards.

Defense witnesses — which is to say that those witnesses with testimony to exculpate the voiceless dead against the charge of he had it coming — did not receive such helpful guidance:

Though the prosecutors did not press Officer Wilson and other law enforcement officials about some contradictions in their testimony, they did challenge other witnesses about why their accounts had varied.

Prosecutors did not seem to shy from pointing out the discrepancies between multiple interviews of a single witness, or at some points exploring the criminal history of some witnesses, including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Brown’s friend.

And you know something:  priming works.  This was a prosecutor/cop defense attorney who knew exactly what he was doing:

Over the months, the jurors seemed to focus intently on the final movement that Mr. Brown may have made toward Officer Wilson, after a brief chase. The prosecutor asked witness after witness if it seemed as if Mr. Brown were reaching for a weapon, though few said they saw anything like that. Mr. Brown was found to be unarmed.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Or rather, this is an answer to the question implied in its companion article.  If blacks and whites view the criminal justice system differently, then, obviously, as the Ferguson trial of that dastardly murderee, Michael Brown, shows so clearly, that’s because it is different for white and black.  Or more precisely to the point made brutally clear in the sorry history of the Ferguson grand jury, both black victims and those African Americans accused of crimes cannot expect the abstract ideal of the rule of law to reach them.

The single essential requirement for justice within a justice system is that the institutions and individuals involved receive genuinely equal treatment.   As we can see from the top level decisions made in this case down to the fine grain of particular questions and answers, Darren Wilson benefited at every stage from the unequal approach prosecutor McCullough chose to employ.  (Take a look at this New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin for a fine account of just how thoroughly the fix was in from the moment McCullough chose to go the grand jury route.)   Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address pondered out loud the mystery that two sides, each believing in the same God and in their claim on the blessings of heaven were still locked in an utterly destructive struggle.  How could that be so?  Perhaps, he said, in what seems to me to be the most devastatingly honest utterance by any American president ever:

The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The offenses still come.  It’s a good thing that in twenty first century America a child can no longer be sold away from its parents.  It’s a step in the right direction that the act of looking at a white woman whilst being a black youth is not still a capital offense.

But a century and a half after a president counseled his war-riven nation, the offenses still come.

The death of a teenager who, we are told, it was OK to kill, simply adds this latest harvest of blood to the debt that Abraham Lincoln sought to settle so long ago.

Image: William Hogarth, The Court, c. 1758.

Annals of “If Anyone Was Offended” — Post-Racial America Edition

October 29, 2014

Via TPM I came across this repulsive story:

Officials have confirmed that an offensive Halloween display at a Fort Campbell residence has been removed.

A ClarksvilleNow.com reader sent a photo of the display, which shows what appears to be a black family hanging from a tree in a yard on Litwin St.

The child in the display has a knife in its back and one of the figures holds a sign that is not legible in the photo.

Officials at the base got in touch with the resident, and, as reported,

[Public Affairs spokesperson Brendalyn] Carpenter said it was her understanding that the display was not intended to be offensive, but authorities deemed it could be interpreted as such.

Zero_Hour-_the_Mareth_Offensive,_1943._Cameron_Highlanders_Art.IWMARTLD3398

Pretty on-target deeming there, I’d say.

The display itself is ne plus ultra of the insult here — but that “not intended to be offensive” is in some ways the longer knife.  That someone could  say that is at once a display of enormous contempt for those who know what that little tableau actually means, and, if it were in any way a sincere expression of someone’s regret, testimony to the “airborne toxic event” quality of 21st century racism.  How much awful stuff does one have to simply accept as the natural order of things to be unable to  see that putting up a lynching diorama in your front yard is the work of a thug, a vicious and actually threatening act.

Worst of all:  this is done in the context of Halloween, which means whoever did this was ok with a bunch of little kids — many of them (army base and all) African American — walking by.

But, of course, John Roberts with his co-conspirators have told us that race is no longer an issue in this country, and he is an honorable man. So are they all honorable men….

Image: Jack Chaddock,  Zero Hour- the Mareth Offensive, 1943. Cameron Highlanders1943.  I have to admit that I was at a loss as to how to illustrate this post.  What image captures without celebrating the wretchedness?  So I’ve opted for this:  how to be offensive intentionally.

Wha’d You Bring Him In Here For?

April 20, 2014

A11336.jpg

Sad news:

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former boxing champion whose conviction for a triple murder was overturned after he served nearly 20 years in prison, has died of prostate cancer. Carter, whose story inspired a Bob Dylan song and a Denzel Washington film, was 76.

Too soon gone; too much life stolen.

Carter fought the good fight — long after his days in the ring were taken from him:

He was active in the movement to free wrongfully convicted prisoners, reports Jon Kalish for our Newscast unit.

“There are far more people who are wrongly convicted than people would like to think about,” Carter said of his activism. “And this is my work because people came to help me when I was in dire need of help.”

Those who talk of post-racial America forget too easily, I think, how ferociously state violence was employed to enforce racial hierarchy here.  For a different story that conveys this, check out Devil in the Grove, and consider how long the sheriff at the heart of the judicial murders documented there held on to terrifying local power.  It’s a little less explicit now — but those days aren’t all gone yet, not by a long shot.  That’s why, in part, Carter’s post prison cause could keep him so fully occupied.

But for now, let us remember Rubin Carter himself.  A 20th century American life.

R.I.P.

Image:  George Bellows, Both Members of This Club, 1909.

On Money, Power, and How John Roberts Forged One More Link In The History Of White Supremacy In America

April 17, 2014

Yesterday  an essay I wrote appeared over at the Atlantic’s joint. (Originally on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog, the editors there moved it over to Politics after a bit.)  It’s attracted a fair amount of comment over there, including severe disdain from some folks that I infer are somewhat more right of center than your humble blogger.

In it I argue that the McCutcheon decision eliminating some campaign finance limits shows how White supremacy operates in a post slavery-post-Jim Crow-post-Civil-Rights-era environment:  not by targeting race explicitly, but by constraining the paths on which African Americans could engage and acquire power.

E11554.jpg

Here’s a taste:

A drastically shortened version of Coates’s analysis is that white supremacy—and the imposition of white power on African-American bodies and property—have been utterly interwoven through the history of American democracy, wealth and power from the beginnings of European settlement in North America. The role of the exploitation of African-American lives in the construction of American society and polity did not end in 1865. Rather, through the levers of law, lawless violence, and violence under the color of law, black American aspirations to wealth, access to capital, access to political power, a share in the advances of the social safety net and more have all been denied with greater or less efficiency. There has been change—as Coates noted in a conversation he and I had a couple of years ago, in 1860 white Americans could sell children away from their parents, and in 1865 they could not—and that is a real shift. But such beginnings did not mean that justice was being done nor equity experienced.

Once you start seeing American history through the corrective lens created by the generations of scholars and researchers on whose work Coates reports, then it becomes possible—necessary, really—to read current events in a new light. Take, for example, the McCutcheon decision that continued the Roberts Court program of gutting campaign-finance laws.

The conventional—and correct, as far as it goes—view of the outcome, enabling wealthy donors to contribute to as many candidates as they choose, is that this further tilts the political playing field towards the richest among us at the expense of every American voter. See noted analyst Jon Stewart for a succinct presentation of this view.

I then go on to cite a study that analyzed just who belongs to the exclusive club directly affected by McCutcheon — the about 1,200 people who brushed up against the limits in dispute.  After going through the predictable demographics — the group is overwhelmingly white and mostly male, I added this:

People of color are almost entirely absent from the top donor profile, and none more so than members of the community that white Americans enslaved for two centuries:

While more than one-in-six Americans live in a neighborhood that is majority African-American or Hispanic, less than one-in-50 superlimit donors do. More than 90 percent of these elite donors live in neighborhoods with a greater concentration of non- Hispanic white residents than average. African-Americans are especially underrepresented. The median elite donor lives in a neighborhood where the African-American population counts for only 1.4 percent, nine times less than the national rate.

…This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.

That seems to me to be pretty obvious — but what really got me going, and what seems to me the crux of the matter, is that McCutcheon isn’t a stand-alone judgment:

combine…decisions [on campaign finance] with the conclusions of the court on voting rights, and you get a clear view of what the five-justice right-wing majority has done. Controlling access to the ballot has been a classic tool of white supremacy since the end of Reconstruction. It is so once again, as states seizing on the Roberts Court’s Voting Rights Act decision take aim at exactly those tools with which African Americans increased turnout and the proportion of minority voters within the electorate. There’s not even much of an attempt to disguise what’s going on.

Add all this to the Roberts decision to free states from the tyranny of being forced to accept federal funds to provide healthcare to the poor. When John Roberts declared that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would be optional, the decision sounded colorblind—states could deny succor to their poor of any race— [but] in practice, that is to say in the real world, this decision hits individual African Americans and their communities the hardest, as Coates wrote way back when.

I’d add to that the last step in the syllogism: make money the measure of political speech and inhibit the ability of one group to accumulate not just wages but capital…and that’s a denial of the rights of citizenship just as much as any direct attack on access to the voting booth.

White supremacy as a social reality isn’t (any more) a matter of folks in white hoods or politicians standing around with axe-handles at the ready.  It comes cloaked in elaborately distanced language, through actions that appear on the surface to be aloof from any consideration of race.  Surely campaign finance law would seem to have no connection to civil rights jurisprudence.  Perhaps as a matter of abstract argument, of judicial logic-chopping (and very selective historical memory) it doesn’t.  In the real world, it does.

I’m not arguing that Roberts and his four co-conspirators are racists. I don’t know or care what they feel or how they perceive themselves. The matter is rather, do the actions of the Roberts Court support an ongoing use of power that has a racist outcome?  That question, I think, answers itself.

A nation that can elect Barack Obama is not John Calhoun’s America; it isn’t even Strom Thurmond’s.  It’s ours, and for all the changes I’ve seen in 55 years lived between our two shining seas, it’s one that continues to tell the old story of white-erected obstacles to African Americans seeking to exercise political power.  Again, you can check out the full piece over there.

Image: Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of the Marquesa Elena Grimaldic. 1623.

Yup. Holder Goes There. (About Damn Time Too)

February 11, 2014

Here’s Eric Holder on the systematic elimination of political rights from millions of Americans:

“It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.” [Via TPM]

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_037

And just who might be disproportionately represented among those barred from giving their consent to their governing?

African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting, according to the Sentencing Project, a research group that favors more liberal sentencing policies. And in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans has lost the right to vote. [link in the original]

And the last question in this mockery of a catechism, what lies behind the desperate push to of keep ex-cons from resuming full participation in our polity? The question answers itself:

Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote. [link in the original]

In Florida, the state that tipped that election, 10 percent of the population is ineligible to vote because of the ban on felons at the polls, Mr. Holder said.

Denying those who’ve completed the sentences the law requires for their acts the right to vote is nothing new.  It’s just the latest in a guerrilla campaign running more than a century now, one aimed at reversing the results of the shooting war that only nominally ended in 1865.  Bad enough that African Americans could no longer be bought and sold, but heaven forfend that they actually exercise the essential rights of any citizen.  Or, as Holder put it in terms suited to the meanest understanding:

“Although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable” he said….

The sad truth is that Holder and the Department of Justice can’t do much here.  States retain the right to set election law, and, as the Times noted,

The question of how people vote is contentious, particularly since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year. That decision allowed states to pass voting laws that would otherwise have needed federal approval.

But still, good on him for getting this out there, and in the terms he used.  Racism isn’t a residue of times gone by, eroding with each passing year.  It’s not a state of mind, something that is or isn’t in someone’s heart.  It inheres in the actual decisions made, consequences sought and embraced, that result in harm done to specific individuals and groups.  It lies at the heart of the choices being made right now, overwhelming by one political party, the GOP, as it attempts to return to the pinnacle of power.

Holder’s making that clear in surprisingly  (to me) uncompromising language.  Good.  This is how both Overton Windows and, over waaaaay too much time, actual policy shifts.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Prisoners Exercising, 1890. (Yeah. I’ve used this one before. You gotta problem with that?)

Today in GOP Sociopathology

December 20, 2013

We’ve got two headliners today.

First up, child labor cheerleader Jack Kingston, a congressman from Georgia now looking for a promotion to the Senate, claimed that he’s no hater of the poor for saying this:

“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money,” Kingston said at a Jackson County Republican Party meeting, according to video surfaced by the Huffington Post. “But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

But nah, that wasn’t aimed at shaming and constraining the poor, swears Kingston (R-eternally misunderstood).  Rather,

“This is not targeted to any one group,” Kingston said. “It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic group to do chores and learn the work ethic….I never did say poor kids.”

Over to you, M. Anatole France:

Thomas_kennington_orphans_1885

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

And then there is that noted scholar of the Civil Rights era, Ian Bayne, a Republican candidate running for the nomination to challenge Rep. Bill Foster, an actual smart person and a Democrat representing Illinois’s 11th district.  Mr Bayne identifies the ties that bind two characters most observers of lesser penetration would never have uncovered:

“In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians,” Bayne wrote in the email. “What Parks did was courageous.”

Bayne added in the email that “what Robertson did was courageous too.”

That would be Duck Dynast Phil Robertson, who, as we all know, is convinced that African Americans with whom he worked in the pre-Civil Rights era were, as he put it “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”  And who says in the context of a current civil rights struggle, that gay men and women are bound not for equality before the law, but for Sheol:

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. [via Ta-Nehisi Coates]

So, let’s recap:  Rosa Parks risks jail, bodily harm, quite possibly death to secure the minimal rights of citizenship for Americans who have been subjugated through a reign of terror for a century since the end of outright chattel slavery.  Some guy spouts hate at blacks and gays.

Just the same.

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  Your modern GOP.  A party that does not vomit out such characters cannot be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.

Or, as my man Cato would say, Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

Image: Thomas Kennington, Orphans,1885.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,515 other followers