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“We Create The World We Expect”: What Happened To Protect And Serve? Cops, Civilians And Guns

If you’ll excuse my descending into cliche, the issue that began in Ferguson, Mo. is moving beyond racism to the present-day penchant of police departments to apply military thinking to civilian life.

This thinking leads cops to expect and insist on instant obedience in any interaction. If they don’t get it, they escalate.

This can naturally take things in the wrong direction, a phenomenon reinforced by the intimidating appearance of surplus military equipment, widely distributed to urban, suburban, and rural departments alike from the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters .

Cops have very dangerous jobs. Anything can suddenly move from ordinary conversation to a life-or-death matter — especially in a country that has more guns than people.

And according to the most authoritative source, the Small Arms Survey, there were least 270 million privately-owned guns in the U.S. in 2007 — an average of 88.9 guns per 100 Americans. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, another 67 million guns have been sold–a total of 337 million guns in a nation with 319.3 million people.

With that many guns out there — Americans are the world’s best-armed people — cops can’t be blamed for assuming that anybody they stop may have one. So taking this approach is probably advisable, assuming the cop wants to live.

But the result has been that cops have been encouraged to adopt the thinking of combat officers. A combat officer’s job is to protect the lives of his men. He does that by killing the enemy. It’s a brutal logic, but appropriate for the circumstances. And it’s not a stretch to say that cops are in combat 24/7 and suffer a form of PTSD, and that this reality probably helps cops to have high suicide rates.

Still, we create the world we expect, and if cops stick to this rationale, we have to expect to see more of these incidents, however you want to label them. Even if Michael Brown’s death can be explained away (I don’t think it can be), Tamar Rice and Eric Garner’s can’t be.

In any event, the fundamental premise of this thinking is badly flawed, because cops are there to protect us, and by and large, ordinary citizens–the people cops mostly deal with–are not their enemies.

Meanwhile, MOTHER JONES has just published an excellent article proving with the available statistics they have assembled that black and Hispanic Americans are much more likely to be shot by a policeman than whites.

The usual objection to statistics like this is the assertion that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be committing the sorts of crimes that cops encounter. But if we accept that almost all crime is economically-driven, and not an outgrowth of some baked-in ethnic malignity, what they really show is that by and large, the non-white population in this country is poorer than the white population. So it follows that the real issue is likewise economic, since overall, the black and Hispanic populations in America are poorer than whites.

To my mind, if we want to resolve this wave of racially-tinged, indefensible killings of civilians growing out of the militarization of the police — on December 6, Phoenix, Ariz. police shot Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed 34-year-old, because they mistook a bottle of pills for a gun — we have to address how cops are trained, the sort of income inequality that’s been produced by supply-side economics, and the relentless pro-gun drumbeat coming from NRA headquarters.

 

By: Andrew Reinbach, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Militarization of Police, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“My Brother’s Keeper”: A Helping Hand For Young Men Of Color

“My Brother’s Keeper” has a much nicer ring than “stop and frisk.” It also promises to be a more effective, less self-defeating way to address the interlocking social and economic crises afflicting young men of color.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that President Obama gets some heat for launching a program whose benefits are aimed solely at African American and Hispanic men and boys. The nation’s first black president gets slammed by critics who accuse him of “playing the race card” every time he acknowledges that race and racism still play a role in determining opportunities and outcomes.

But obviously they do. My Brother’s Keeper, which Obama announced Thursday, is the kind of targeted public-private initiative that might actually do some good, even without tons of new federal money thrown in.

I suppose other critics might ask what took Obama so long. The president bristles at this line of questioning, pointing to the fact that his most ambitious achievements — including the Affordable Care Act — have their greatest impact among disadvantaged minorities.

Obama also understands that even if he had a Congress that would give him carte blanche, solving the problems that face young men of color would take many years of sustained effort.

You’d have to fix broken schools and broken families. You’d have to eliminate the racial bias in policing and the justice system that makes African American and Hispanic men far more likely to be stopped, arrested and sent to prison than whites who engage in similar illegal behavior. You’d have to somehow bring enough commerce and industry back into hollowed-out neighborhoods to provide decent jobs. You’d have to convince millions of young men that the odds are not stacked against them, despite copious evidence to the contrary.

Where do you even start? Down in the trenches.

“We have credibility on these issues because we’ve been working on the ground,” La June Montgomery Tabron, president and chief executive of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, told me over lunch this week.

Kellogg is one of 10 major foundations that have agreed to join business leaders and the federal government in the Brother’s Keeper initiative. Collectively, the foundations are already spending more than $150 million on programs aimed at young men of color. They are now pledging to invest at least an additional $200 million, coordinating their efforts to channel the funds toward approaches that deliver measurable results.

The other participating foundations deserve a shout-out: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John R. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Thanks and kudos to all.

As the foundations identify factors that either create or destroy opportunity for young men of color, Obama has pledged to adjust federal policy accordingly. One example is the disparity in school suspensions. The Education Department recently issued new guidelines for enforcing “zero tolerance” school disciplinary policies after studies found that minorities were more likely than whites to be suspended for infractions. Students who miss class time due to suspensions are less likely to graduate. And in the case of far too many young men of color, during the suspensions — when they’re not in the relative sanctuary of school — they are more likely to find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

As Montgomery Tabron reminded me, Trayvon Martin’s home was in Miami, far from the central Florida town where he died. At the time of his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman, Martin was staying with his father for a few days because he had been suspended from school. Authorities had found what they said was marijuana residue in his backpack.

No one is arguing that young men of color are all angels. Obama has consistently preached the need for at-risk youths to take personal responsibility for their lives. Some commentators have criticized the president — unfairly, he feels — for “blaming the victims” rather than the societal forces that work against them.

But the reality is that if you’re male and African American or Hispanic, you can’t afford to make the same youthful mistakes that your white counterparts get to make. For example, blacks and whites are equally likely to smoke weed, according to surveys. But blacks are four times more likely to be arrested and jailed on marijuana charges.

That’s one of the many reasons why this race-specific initiative is so badly needed. My Brother’s Keeper isn’t a solution. But it’s a start.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ending Stop-And-Frisk But Keeping The Racism”: Systematic “Post-Racial Colorblind Racism” In All Its Glory

On Monday, US district court judge Shira Scheindlin dealt a serious, but non-lethal blow to the New York City police policy known as “stop-and-frisk.” After weeks of testimony and evidence presented in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk violated individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. She did not, however, call for an end to the policy altogether, instead opting to appoint an independent federal monitor to oversee the program and the implementation of reforms that would bring it in line with the Constitution.

Undoubtedly, this is a huge victory for the activists who have been doing work around the issue of stop-and-frisk for years, and perhaps an even bigger victory for the black and Latino young men whose lives have been disproportionately disrupted by repeated violations of their rights. In her ruling, Scheindlin wrote that “the policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling.” The ruling may not put an end to stop-and-frisk in its entirety, but at the very least there was a recognition from the court that for years the city’s police force has engaged in a racist practice that has infringed upon the rights of millions.

The same can’t be said of NYC’s current political leadership. In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly were visibly dismayed with the ruling. Stop-and-frisk has been a signature crime-fighting tool during the Bloomberg years, one that defines his legacy. Kelly has received praise from high places, in large part because of the work he has done in executing the stop-and-frisk policy. For a judge to rule their “success” unconstitutional surely grates. But their defense of “stop-and-frisk,” despite weak attempts to deny as much, went on to show just how racist it is.

To start, Bloomberg noted the racial diversity of the NYPD, presumably to protect against charges of racism by pointing to the fact that people of color are active parts of the police force. But having your rights violated by someone who looks like you doesn’t somehow make that violation less racist. The fact is that out of roughly 5 million stops conducted over a decade, an alarming majority of them involved black or Latino men, and almost 90 percent of those stops turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. You can add some color to the faces conducting the stops, but that’s an institutionalized form of racism that doesn’t rely on white skin to operate.

He didn’t stop there. Bloomberg then deployed some lazy racist rhetoric about how the greatest perpetrators of crime happen to be young black and Latino men, so it only makes sense that the stops would disproportionately affect them. It’s the close relative to his argument that the NYPD has been, given crime statistics, stopping too many white people. Bloomberg and Kelly added the paternalistic line of reasoning that it was young black and Latino men who would also disproportionately be the victims of crimes stop-and-frisk has prevented, so the policy is really for their own benefit. Aside from erasing the opinions of those whom the policy is supposedly meant to protect, that reasoning also perpetuates the racist idea that black and Latino men are inherently violent and criminal, and therefore ignoring their rights is a necessary measure of protection. It also flies in the face of the evidence—stops of white people turn up higher rates of criminal activity. Based on the results of their own policy, it would have been prudent to shift the tactic to include more stops of white people, something that never happened and would likely have caused actual riots in the street.

But none of that is what Bloomberg and Kelly wanted us to focus on. Their most compelling argument: stop-and-frisk works. The city’s homicide rates are down and the police have recovered more than 8,000 guns that may have been used in potential crimes. For the sake of argument, let’s say that stop-and-frisk actually did reduce crime (a claim for which there is no actual evidence, only Bloomberg’s anecdotal belief that it instills fear in would-be criminals to the point they decide a life of crime isn’t worth the police harassment they’re going to receive). Even if that were the case, it still does not justify the use of a racist tactic that violates basic rights guaranteed to every citizen of this country. It’s disingenuous to suggest that the only way to reduce crime is to decide that the rights of certain segments of the population can and should be violated. Not only does this ignore the true drivers of crime (and not call into question whether some of these infractions should even be crimes, e.g., marijuana possession), it’s a frustratingly insidious justification for racism.

To recap: Bloomberg and Kelly denied that stop-and-frisk is racist, but then claimed it wasn’t racist enough, and now want everyone to believe that even if it is racist it doesn’t matter because it works. This is post-racial colorblind racism in all its glory.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what type of reforms to stop-and-frisk are implemented in order to make it constitutional, though I doubt it can be any less racist. We are a society that starts with the presumption the greatest purveyors of crime are young black and Latino men. Any policy based around the idea of reasonable suspicion that then leaves that up to the discretion of people reared with that pervasive racist ideology will be disproportionately suspicious of men of color. Declaring stop-and-frisk unconstitutional is an important first step, but undoing the racism that creates the justification for the policy will be a much longer process.

 

By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, August 13, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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