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“What Will We Do After The Next Slaughter?: Shut Up About San Bernardino, Because There’s Nothing Left To Say

The right and the left have both issued verdicts on what not to say after a mass shooting.

The right ridicules calls for gun-safety measures. The left mocks what it perceives to be hollow nostrums about “thoughts and prayers.” I think they’re both right. I think it’s time to say nothing at all.

I realized this when I discovered the most trenchant thing I’d read about San Bernardinonoting that Sandy Hook didn’t begin a national conversation about guns so much as end it—was actually written about the murders at the Emanuel AME Church.

There is no way to overdramatize the speed with which San Bernardino followed Colorado Springs; it happened too fast for hyperbole. There wasn’t even time for an idea to be proposed, much less fail. Columns written about Richard Dear are still being published even as we hunt for answers about the massacre farther west.

Sure, the particular gruesomeness of this crime—at a center for the disabled—seems like it might be enough to…what? What about this crime will shove the graceless leviathan of our national consciousness from the sludge-gummed track we’ve developed to deal with what should be unspeakable, unthinkable, at very fucking least rare?

In the hours after the California killings, heavy traffic crashed a mass shooter database. Which is more horrifying—that so many people needed the information, or that there was so much information to be had?

We have reached the point where mass shootings have a “news consumer handbook,” where the most helpful journalistic tool in covering a killing isn’t local sources so much as search-and-replace: Newsweek reporter Polly Mosendz keeps a pre-written mass shooter story fresh in her text editing files. “A mass shooting has been reported at TK, where TK people are believed to be dead and TK more are injured, according to TK police department,” it says. “The gunman has/hasn’t been apprehended.”

So I propose a columnist strike, a hot take moratorium, a sound-bite freeze. The only response that could possibly match this gut-punching tragedy isn’t made up of words but silence.

I envision blank blog posts, empty sets, magazine pages slick and white from edge to edge. I want to open up The Washington Post or The New York Times and find the grainy gray of naked newspaper stock in place of columnists’ prose.

Let’s fill Twitter with dead space and leave Facebook with a total absence of “likes.”

Let the cable talking heads mute themselves.

Hear in that noiselessness the echo all the prayers and the pleas, all the policy proposals and screeds that were written about the last mass shooting, and the one before that and the one before the one before that. Hear the thundering clap of absolute inaction in Congress, and the crazed, giddy titter of those loosening gun laws state by state. Hear the voices that don’t speak, that can’t, the conversations some families will never get to have.

What I want is not a “national moment of silence,” nor really a prayer. I don’t wish to summon contemplation or reflection but choking sobs and knotted throats. I want to share with the world the wordless groan that is the only prayer the grieving have.

I want a strike, a shutdown, a refusal to move. Not just inaction as a pause—rather, stillness as an action in itself.

I don’t think what I want to happen actually can happen, not in this world. The media machine inexorably churns and, less reflexively, our mutual ache and mourning demands recognition on screens and off.

Then again, our suspension of discussion doesn’t have to last forever. I don’t want to create a vacuum so much as create awareness about how much has already been said.

There’s nothing left to say, so let’s just not say it.

I write this, my fingers cold and my heart broken and hesitating before I press “send.” If I publish this column now, if I let this idea into the world after this slaughter…Why, then, what will we do after the next?

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, December 3, 2015

December 4, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Mass Shootings, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Potential Usefulness As A New Rhetorical Framework”: The Republican Party Is Still Trying To Decide If Minorities Matter

The Republican party has had well-documented difficulty making inroads with minority voters since the 2012 election. It’s probably more accurate to say that since the 2012 election Republicans have been engaged in a quiet and unresolved debate amongst themselves over which of the following three strategic courses to pursue:

1) Making genuine, substantive concessions to minority voters.

2) Making symbolic and rhetorical concessions to minority voters, without making significant changes to the GOP’s substantive agenda.

3) Making no concessions to minority voters whatsoever, in the hope of increasing the GOP’s already sizeable margins among white voters.

Two developments in the past month—the mass killing of black worshippers by a white supremacist at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—have thrown into stark relief how badly option one lost out to options two and three. The ongoing Republican presidential primary has become a contest to determine which of the latter two approaches the party will adopt in the general election next year.

The Emanuel AME killings set off a furious backlash to the southern right’s glorification of the Confederacy. And after a brief but conspicuous stumble, Republican presidential candidates neared a consensus that the party should no longer support conspicuous celebrations of it. Republicans began lowering Confederate battle flags from government buildings, and, in South Carolina, have begun the legislative process required to place the Confederate flag flying on the state’s capitol grounds into a museum.

This isn’t a meaningless concession. A CNN/ORC poll taken in late June found that 66 percent of whites, 77 percent of Republicans, and a majority of the country at large view the flag as a symbol of Southern pride more than a symbol of racism—a view that, while wrongheaded, suggests Republicans were willing to commit an affront to their own voting base in order to demonstrate that the Charleston killings had moved them in some meaningful way.

After initially whiffing on the Confederate flag question, former Texas Governor Rick Perry dedicated a major presidential campaign speech to acknowledging that the Republican party’s minority rut is one of its own making:

Blacks know that Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 ran against Lyndon Johnson, who was a champion for Civil Rights. They know that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He felt parts of it were unconstitutional. States supporting segregation in the south, they cited states’ rights as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table.

As you know, I am an ardent believer in the 10th Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, as part of our Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved for the states respectively, or the individual. I know that state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government.

But I’m also an ardent believer in the 14th Amendment, which says that no state shall deny any person in its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. There has been, and there will continue to be an important and a legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing Civil Rights.

Too often, we Republicans, me included, have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th. An Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the great contributions of Republican party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery. For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote, because we found we didn’t need it to win. But, when we gave up trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all.

It’s exceedingly, depressingly rare for conservatives to admit that African-American support for Democrats is historically well grounded. Held up against that low bar, Perry’s clarity here is refreshing. But the meaning of this passage lies less in his concession to historical reality than in his stipulation that “state governments are more accountable…than the federal government” and his promiscuous use of the term “message.” Perry’s interest in the 14th Amendment isn’t a harbinger of his support for, say, same-sex marriage. It is mostly limited to its potential usefulness as a new rhetorical framework in which to squeeze existing conservative policy commitments that have little or nothing to do with equal protection or due process.

If Perry represents the Republican faction committed to improving the Republican party’s “message” to minority voters, then Trump represents the faction that believes conservatives should run on the presumption that Republicans still don’t need minority votes to win.

Several Republicans, including Perry, joined the immense backlash to Trump’s suggestion that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately rapists and drug criminals. But the right didn’t react in lockstep. Among presidential candidates, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson have all spoken up for Trump, as have conservative intellectuals like Rich Lowry, who argued that “Trump’s rant on immigration is closer to reality than the gauzy cliches of immigration romantics.”

The view that there are enough aggrieved white voters in the country to elect a GOP president no longer dominates Republican strategic thought as it once did, and it will probably shrink further over time, as changing demographics make it less and less tenable politically.

But in this election, with this primary field, it could win the day one more time. What it lacks in broad appeal it makes up for in its ability to lend Republican policy arguments internal coherence. The range of issues that both affect minorities and demand substantive concessions from Republicans is growing, and that will make Perry-like efforts to smooth the sharp edges of conservative policy with gentler rhetoric more tortured as time goes on. In the long run, the only real option is for the GOP to change party dogma on issues like voting rights or immigration or social spending.

But for now, the notion propounded by Trump and Cruz and others, is that the Republican party doesn’t need to go to any trouble at all.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, July 8, 2015

July 9, 2015 Posted by | Minority Voters, Republicans, White Voters | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Inevitable Unhinged Danger And Terror”: Coming Next To The South Carolina Statehouse Grounds; The Klan

On July 18, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—“The Largest Klan in America!” according to the group’s website—are holding a rally on the South Carolina statehouse grounds to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag.

The group is protesting “the Confederate flag being took down for all the wrong reasons,” says James Spears, the Great Titan of the Pelham, North Carolina chapter of the KKK. “It’s part of white people’s culture.” One does wonder what Spears thinks the right reasons would be.

Despite the KKK’s abhorrent beliefs, it has a right to assembly and hold a rally on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds because groups cannot be excluded because of their ideology, according to Brian Gaines of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, which oversees reservations.

Yet the KKK is not solely a group of white individuals in hooded cloaks who spew a vile ideology of hatred of African Americans and other non-whites (it’s pretty anti-Semitic, too). It is a group that has repeatedly inflicted physical terror for generations upon those it hates. The concern is not primarily its ideology of hatred and white supremacy, but the fascist terrorism it inflicts upon those it despises.

As an African-American male I have learned to accept that some people just will not like me or may judge me negatively because of the color of my skin. This is an unpleasant part of life. You cannot remove all the bigots and racists from the world. We all have an equal right to live, but what must always be considered unacceptable is inflicting physical violence and terror upon those you hate.

The KKK is far more than a hate group, and its racist propaganda extends beyond hate speech and into what is known as dangerous speech—a form of hate speech that clearly seeks or at least has the clear potential to incite violence.

Susan Beseech, the director of the Dangerous Speech Project, in her paper, “Countering Dangerous Speech: New Ideas of Genocide Prevention,” (PDF) writes that “by teaching people to view other human beings as less than human and as mortal threats, thought leaders can make atrocities seem acceptable—and even necessary, as a form of collective self-defense.”

When Spears was asked about his thoughts on Dylann Roof’s terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church that killed nine African-American worshipers, he said, “I feel sorry for the boy because of his age and I think he picked the wrong target. A better target for him would have been these gang-bangers, running around rapping, raping, and stealing.”

According to Spears, the problem was not the killing of African Americans, but Roof’s decision to kill African Americans in a way that would draw so much unwanted attention. Roof could have easily chosen to kill black “gang-bangers” and much of this hassle could have been avoided, according to a Great Titan of the KKK.

And before Roof began his killing spree he said to one of his victims, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”

There should be no ambiguity that Roof and the KKK not only use a dehumanizing hate speech that presents African Americans as mortal threats to “white culture,” but also feel justified in using force to create terror within the black community.

The danger posed by this ilk is more than theoretical or emotional.

Internationally, the discussion regarding dangerous speech and possible legislative applications has progressed much further than in America. The catalyst for the conversational shift from loathing but allowing hate speech to exploring ways to prevent dangerous speech has begun due to acknowledgement of the impacts of leaders of mass social movements in Rwanda, Srebrenica, and other mass atrocities disseminating ideologies of hatred to spur their followers to act, cow bystanders into passivity, and justify their crimes.

In America, the KKK is the embodiment of this threat. Yet disturbingly, the group’s continuing presence in our society, and its primary targets of abuse—African Americans, who have historically been legally dehumanized by the state—results in America being less alarmed by the Klan’s presence despite knowing about the terror it and like-minded individuals inflict.

According to a recent report (PDF) by Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, 3,960 African Americans were lynched from 1877 to 1950 in 12 states, all in the South. Additionally, despite the magnitude of this report it would be incredibly difficult to record all the other killings and injuries that the KKK and other racist gangs have inflicted upon African Americans. The numbers reach into the hundreds of thousands by most estimates.

To many Americans, the KKK seems to be a relic of the past, but a reduction in terror is not a removal of danger. In April, three Florida Klansmen were arrested for plotting to kill an African American man. And since the Charleston shooting on June 17, African-American churches have been set ablaze at a rate reminiscent of the 1960s and prior. None of these has specifically been connected to the Klan, but Klansmen and church-torchers slink out of the same fetid swamps.

In response to the race-driven attacks inflicted upon African Americans, some people feel inclined to deflect blame or present non-sequitur statistics such as crime in black communities to downplay the impact of these actions, while also dehumanizing black Americans.

This perpetuates a vicious cycle of abuse toward black Americans, as the rest of society finds illogical justifications for ignoring terrorism.

Eventually, as a society we will have to accept that black lives matter even if that results in a dismantling of notions of white supremacy. Anything else is a tacit endorsement of a society that condones dehumanizing propaganda and the inevitable unhinged danger and terror that will befall certain segments of society.

In less than a month, the largest chapter of the KKK will hold a rally on government property to express its disapproval of the removal of a flag that represented a treasonous American faction. To many Americans the rally will represent bigotry, racism, and hatred that we would like to move beyond. To African Americans it will represent a continued terror that condones and encourages the killing and maiming of black life, the burning of black churches, and various other forms of intimidation.

An unwillingness to recognize this danger and explore solutions can no longer be the status quo of American society.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, July 6, 2015

July 8, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Ku Klux Klan, South Carolina | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Ferguson Report Offers A Damning Indictment”: In Clear, Concise Language Of An Affidavit, How Far We Have To Go

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate: Last week, barely five days after Dylann Storm Roof allegedly killed nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Justice Department’s The Ferguson Report (New Press; 174 pages, $20 paper), first made public in March, came out in book form.

What do these events have in common? Nothing, and everything. One is an act of domestic terror, the other an account of what appears to be a long-standing pattern of discrimination by the Ferguson, Mo., police department. But what they really trace is a kind of through line, in which we are reminded, again, how deeply disrupted our supposedly “post-racial” society is over the question of race.

“One of the hallmarks of American racism has been the devaluation of black lives,” writes Theodore M. Shaw, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in his introduction to “The Ferguson Report.” “… Ferguson puts the lie to twenty-first century America’s claim of post-racialism.”

That’s not new information. Ferguson, after all — like Charleston — is part of a continuum. “Black lives matter,” Shaw observes. “Yet even after Ferguson, unarmed black men continue to die at the hands of police.”

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray: This is just a sampling from the last 12 months.

Still, The Ferguson Report is especially damning, for it reveals an institutional culture that targets African Americans. From the report: “Nearly 90% of documented force used by FPD officers was used against African Americans. In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.”

And this: “We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson. For example, we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, inkling one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.”

Abortion as a form of crime control? If a single image can encapsulate an entire story, this one does.

Part of the problem is that Ferguson’s policing has been corrupted by a civic culture that values revenue generation over public safety. According to the report, “City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget.” As a consequence, “[o]fficers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter. Indeed, officers told us that some compete to see who can issue the largest number of citations during a single stop.”

It is not the job of the police to serve the citizens, in other words, but to shake them down.

To be fair, this is not overtly a racial issue, but a social one. The insistence on maximizing income closely mirrors America’s corporate culture, in which growth trumps all concerns and workers are expected to produce more and more by executives who see employees and customers alike as commodities.

In a community, though, such as Ferguson — where an African American majority is policed by a largely white constabulary — race can’t help but be a dominating force. “Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014,” the report explains, “shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population.”

I could go on, but it’s too depressing — or perhaps not depressing enough. By that, I mean that even in light of all this data, change is not assured.

The Justice Department, for instance — even as it issued this report — did not bring federal charges against police officer Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. When officials such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have spoken out on police violence, they’ve been accused of not having their officers’ backs.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, debate is amping up again over the Confederate flag that flies at the state capital. Finally, I want to say, although this is about 150 years overdue. And yet, it seems to fit a pattern: Something happens, and we talk about it for a while, then forget until it happens again.

And happen again, it will. If The Ferguson Report has anything to tell us, it is that. It is a chilling, disturbing account of police dysfunction, but even more of social dysfunction, of the lies we tell ourselves.

In Ferguson, the report reveals, officials argue “that it is a lack of ‘personal responsibility’ among African-American members of the Ferguson community that causes African Americans to experience disproportionate harm under Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement.” These same officials, the report continues, routinely fix tickets for one another, as if the law did not apply to them.

Personal responsibility. I believe in it. As I believe that the law is a two-way street. The Ferguson Report, however, insists otherwise, reminding us in the clear, concise language of an affidavit, how far we have to go.

 

By: David Ulin, Los Angeles Times (TNS); The National Memo, July 5, 2015

July 7, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Ferguson Missouri, Ferguson Police Department, Justice Department | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberated By Grace”: No Shootings, No Bombings, No Fires Can Destroy This Faith

For those who see religion as primarily an opiate, African American Christianity offers a riposte. For those who see Christianity itself as a faith that encourages quiescence and conservatism, the tradition of the black church is a sign of contradiction.

Over the last few weeks, white Americans who never paid much attention to the religious convictions of their brothers and sisters of color have received an education. As has happened before in our history, much of this learning is prompted by tragedy, beginning with the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and also a series of church burnings, not all of which have been explained.

The African American Christian tradition has been vital in our history for reasons of the spirit but also as a political seedbed of freedom and a reminder that the Bible is a subversive book. In the days of slavery, masters emphasized the parts of Scripture that called for obedience to legitimate authority. But the slaves took another lesson: that the authority they were under was not legitimate, that the Old Testament prophets and Exodus preached liberation from bondage, and that Jesus himself took up the cry to “set the oppressed free” with passion and conviction unto death.

The church was also a free space for African Americans, not unlike the Catholic Church in Poland under communism, that provided dissidents with room to maneuver. Even when segregationist Jim Crow laws were at their most oppressive, their churches provided places where African Americans could pray and ponder, organize and debate, free of the restrictions imposed outside their doors by the white power structure, to borrow a phrase first widely heard in the 1960s.

It was thus no accident that the black church was at the center of the civil rights movement. And it’s precisely because of their role as an oasis from repression that the churches became the object of burnings and bombings. The freedom enabled by sacred and inviolable space has always been dangerous to white supremacy.

But the church is about more than politics, and a liberating gospel is also a gospel of love. The family members of those slain at Emanuel AME Church astonished so many Americans by offering forgiveness to the racist alleged shooter, Dylann Roof.

There was nothing passive about this act of graciousness, for forgiveness is also subversive. By offering pardon to Roof, said the Rev. Cheryl Sanders, professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University’s Divinity School, the families of the victims demonstrated that there was “something radically different” about their worldview. The act itself “was a radical refusal to conform to what’s expected of you. It’s a way to avoid hating back.” They were, she said, following Jesus, who declared on the cross: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

President Obama created an iconic moment when he sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Few hymns have greater reach, not only across denominational lines, but also to nonbelievers who can identify with its celebration of personal conversion and transformation — of being lost and then found.

But Sanders, who is also pastor of the Third Street Church of God in the District, points out that the hymn has particular meaning to African Americans. John Newton, who wrote it in the 1770s, was a slave-ship captain who converted to Christianity, turned his back on his past (“saved a wretch like me”) and became a pastor. Newton eventually joined William Wilberforce’s Christian-inspired movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.

The African American church tradition teaches that Christianity’s message resonates far beyond the boundaries of any racial or ethnic community, yet also shows that particular groups of Christians give it their own meaning. The idea that all are divinely endowed with equal dignity is a near-universal concept among Christians. But as Sanders says, an insistence on “the dignity and humanity of people in the sight of God” has exceptional power to those who have suffered under slavery and segregation.

“The whole story to them is ‘I can be free,’” she says. “If I am poor, poverty doesn’t invalidate my humanity. If I am humbled, I can be lifted up by God.”

And scholar Jonathan Rieder noted in his book about Martin Luther King Jr.’s ministry, “The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me,” that the Resurrection and the Exodus stories were rich sources of hope, especially in the movement’s darkest moments. “God will make a way out of no way” was King’s answer to those whose spirits were flagging.

No shootings, no bombings, no fires can destroy this faith.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 5, 2015

July 7, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black Churches, Christianity | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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