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“We Vote For Survival”: You’re Damn Right Electability Matters To Black Voters

Coming off his near-upset in the Iowa caucus and his massive win in New Hampshire, polls (PDF) are showing that more voters nationally are “feeling the Bern,” with Bernie Sanders now appearing to have the momentum against Hillary Clinton. These polls seem to confirm two theories.

First, the enthusiasm gap that many of us have long written about and that Hillary Clinton struggles with is very real.

Second, not caring about which candidate is actually electable might be one of the greatest forms of privilege there is. This is one reason why despite being more progressive than Clinton in some areas, Sanders has struggled to gain traction with black voters. Because ignoring whether a candidate is actually electable is a luxury most minorities simply can’t afford.

Here’s what I mean.

Every voter I’ve ever met has fallen into three camps: Those who see voting as a civic duty, those who only do it when they’re really inspired, and those who view it as an act of survival. For those who view it as a civic duty, voting is on par with volunteering for charity—something good, responsible people do regularly but not necessarily something they believe will immediately impact their lives. But they may believe that voting for a candidate who cares about climate change today could possibly have some impact on the world one day, like when their grandchildren are here.

We have all met at least one person who falls in the only when they’re really “inspired” camp. They only vote when a candidate makes their heart sing by saying something witty on The Tonight Show or giving one great speech.

Then there are those who vote for survival. That’s the person who votes, and gets family members to vote, to try to overturn a Stand Your Ground Law in her state, because she knows more than one unarmed teen in her community who was killed because of such a law. That kind of voter doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to be “inspired” by a candidate or to think long term about how their vote might make a difference a decade from now.

Which is why the battle between Bernie and Hillary is actually much bigger than the two of them. It’s a larger debate the progressive movement has struggled to settle within its broad coalition for years over whether considering electability is in itself a moral issue on par with the many policy issues voters and parties must consider.

For years there was a saying in Democratic circles: “Democrats want to fall in love with a candidate. Republicans fall in line.” (Obviously Donald Trump’s supporters didn’t get the memo this year.)

Hillary Clinton continues to struggle because she’s not a candidate who inspires love; admiration perhaps, but not love. The crowds at Bernie Sanders rallies could easily be mistaken for those attending a mega-church tent revival—all smiles, music and enthusiasm out the yin-yang. Hillary Clinton’s events by comparison have the more sobering feel of the Sunday School class your mom made you go to. But that doesn’t change the fact that beyond his core loyalists Bernie Sanders is not widely seen as presidential material. Yet watching Bernie Sanders gain momentum and be enthusiastically celebrated by the same people ridiculing Trump’s supporters as delusional has been a combination of ironic and baffling.

For starters, Sanders is a self-described socialist and a recent Gallup poll found that socialists are even less electable than atheists these days, which is saying something.

And in a poll released recently by Monmouth University a plurality of Democrats declared Clinton the Democratic candidate with the best chance of beating the Republican frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

But details like these have not deterred Sanders loyalists. This is not exactly surprising because we have seen this before. I mean that Sanders inspires the same measure of devotion shown to previous progressive icons like Ralph Nader, who played the role of spoiler to Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. Nader’s and Sanders’s supporters have a few things in common.

For starters, few of Nader’s supporters actually looked at him and thought, “I genuinely believe this man has a serious shot of making it all the way to the White House.” But it wasn’t actually about winning. Instead Nader supporters had a whole host of reasons why they were willing to cast a vote that would help insure a Bush victory. Reasons like:

“We need his voice!”

“The system is broken and we need to send a message!”

“I’d rather vote my conscience than vote for the winner!”

“All I care about is who is right on the issues!” (i.e. which candidate most aligns with me ideologically)

Of course the message they ended up sending with their vote of conscience was ultimately, “I’m fine helping elect Bush.”

The similarities don’t end there. According to polling research Sanders supporters are primarily white, and they have higher levels of education and income than Clinton supporters. In 2000 The Washington Post described Nader voters as “disproportionately young, white and well-educated.”

Again, this isn’t a surprise. Because if there is anyone who can afford to vote for a candidate and genuinely not care whether he or she wins or loses, it is a young person of privilege who ultimately has very little at stake. For instance, it is doubtful that many of the white, well-educated voters who comprised Nader’s core constituency were among those who ultimately comprised the young men and women who ended up losing their lives in the War in Iraq that began under the president Nader helped elect.

And if we’re being honest, a person of privilege won’t really be that affected by who becomes attorney general or who is nominated to the Supreme Court. What I mean is, a white affluent college student will always be able to secure a safe abortion if she decides she wants one, whether it’s legal or not, just as a white affluent student is far less likely to have his life derailed by an arrest for narcotics possession than a poor black one. In both cases their familial and social networks will provide a safety net for them, which is why what motivates their voting decisions will be different than what motivates others.

The fact that Hillary is trouncing Sanders in the first primary state with a sizable black population, South Carolina, speaks volumes. There she is not only leading substantially among total voters but winning up to 80 percent of the black vote.

The reason is simple. If you are worried about your black son possibly walking out the door tomorrow and being shot in either random community violence, or by another George Zimmerman, then determining whether a candidate inspires you is probably not high on your list of Election Day priorities. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Most minorities do.

Recall that even with respect to Barack Obama in 2008, some African-American voters were enthusiastic from the start, but they didn’t really go all in until after he won in Iowa—that is to say, until they saw that he was truly electable. More specifically, that he could win support from diverse constituencies—African Americans as well as voters in white states. This is something Sanders hasn’t proven.

I guess the question becomes whether the needs of less privileged voters will ever become a priority for more privileged progressives who have the luxury of letting inspiration be their guide.

 

By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, February 12, 2016

February 13, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Black Voters, Electability, Hillary Clinton, White Voters | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Official Reports Usually Side With Police Officers”: Sorry, But It’s Going To Take A Hell Of A Lot More Than An “Official Report”

One day in April of 1880, a cadet named Johnson Whittaker was found unconscious in his room at West Point.

Whittaker, who was African American, had been gagged and beaten, tied to his bed and slashed on the face and hands. He said three white cadets had assaulted him. West Point investigated. Its official conclusion was that Whittaker did these things to himself.

He didn’t, should that need saying, but I offer the story by way of framing a reply to some readers. They wanted my response to news that outside investigators have concluded a Cleveland police officer acted responsibly last year when he shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black kid who had been playing with a toy gun. Specifically, the local DA released two separate reports Saturday from two experts on police use of force. Both said Officer Timothy Loehmann’s decision to open fire on the boy was reasonable.

As one reader put it: “What say you???”

I say a few things, actually. In the first place, I say this is not an exoneration. That question is still up to the grand jury, though it’s fair to suspect these reports might be a means of preparing the ground for a similar finding from that panel.

In the second place, I say these reports sought to answer a relatively narrow question: Was Loehmann justified in shooting once the police car had skidded to a stop within a few feet of the boy? They left aside the larger question of the tactical wisdom of pulling up so close to someone you believed to be armed and dangerous in the first place.

And in the third place, I say this:

Forgive me if I am not impressed by an official report. The experience of being African American has taught me to be skeptical of official reports. As an official matter, after all, Johnson Whittaker beat, bound, gagged and slashed himself. As an official matter, no one knows who lynched thousands of black men and women in the Jim Crow era, even though the perpetrators took pictures with their handiwork. As an official matter, the officers who nearly killed Rodney King while he crawled on the ground committed no crime. As an official matter, George Zimmerman is innocent of murder. For that matter, O.J. Simpson is, too.

I am all too aware of the moral and cognitive trapdoor you dance upon when you give yourself permission to pick and choose which “official” findings to believe. And yes, you’re right: I’d be much less skeptical of officialdom had these reports condemned Officer Loehmann.

What can I say? A lifetime of color-coded, thumb-on-the-scale American “justice” has left me little option but to sift and fend for myself where “official” findings are concerned. Indeed, the only reason I was willing to give credence to a report exonerating Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown is that it came from Eric Holder’s Justice Department, i.e., a Justice Department that gave at least the impression of caring about the civil rights of black people.

Sadly, most prosecutors don’t give that impression. And that failure colors these findings irrevocably.

Last November, two police officers responded to a call of someone brandishing a gun in a park. Rather than position themselves at a safe distance and try to establish contact, as would have seemed prudent, they screeched onto the scene like Batman and came out shooting. Tamir Rice, a boy who had been playing with a toy firearm, lay dying for four long minutes without either officer offering first aid. When his 14-year-old sister ran up and tried to help her little brother, they shoved her down and handcuffed her.

And I’m supposed to believe they acted reasonably because an official report says they did?

Sorry, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than that.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 14, 2015

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Police Brutality, Police Shootings, Tamir Rice | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Consistently Stirring Up Racial Animus”: Right Wing Media And Their “Racialized Political Fodder”

In what is purported to be Dylann Roof’s “manifesto,” he writes that this is where it all began:

The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Reading that reminded me of how Ta-Nehisi Coates meticulously laid out the process by which the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman became “racialized political fodder” for right wing media.

The reaction to the tragedy was, at first, trans-partisan. Conservatives either said nothing or offered tepid support for a full investigation—and in fact it was the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who appointed the special prosecutor who ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. As civil-rights activists descended on Florida, National Review, a magazine that once opposed integration, ran a column proclaiming “Al Sharpton Is Right.” The belief that a young man should be able to go to the store for Skittles and an iced tea and not be killed by a neighborhood watch patroller seemed uncontroversial…

The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder. The illusion of consensus crumbled. Rush Limbaugh denounced Obama’s claim of empathy. The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, broadcast all of Martin’s tweets, the most loutish of which revealed him to have committed the unpardonable sin of speaking like a 17-year-old boy. A white supremacist site called Stormfront produced a photo of Martin with pants sagging, flipping the bird. Business Insider posted the photograph and took it down without apology when it was revealed to be a fake.

Newt Gingrich pounced on Obama’s comments: “Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?” Reverting to form, National Review decided the real problem was that we were interested in the deaths of black youths only when nonblacks pulled the trigger. John Derbyshire, writing for Taki’s Magazine, an iconoclastic libertarian publication, composed a racist advice column for his children inspired by the Martin affair. (Among Derbyshire’s tips: never help black people in any kind of distress; avoid large gatherings of black people; cultivate black friends to shield yourself from charges of racism.)

The notion that Zimmerman might be the real victim began seeping out into the country, aided by PR efforts by his family and legal team…In April, when Zimmerman set up a Web site to collect donations for his defense, he raised more than $200,000 in two weeks, before his lawyer asked that he close the site and launched a new, independently managed legal-defense fund…

…Before President Obama spoke, the death of Trayvon Martin was generally regarded as a national tragedy. After Obama spoke, Martin became material for an Internet vendor flogging paper gun-range targets that mimicked his hoodie and his bag of Skittles… Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.

There you have it, folks. Because President Obama simply said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” the right wing media in this country went into a frenzy. That’s when they got Roof’s attention. The rest was up to the white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Dylann Storm Roof is certainly responsible for his own horrific actions this past week. But we can’t ignore the way the right wing media has consistently stirred up racial animus amongst their viewers/listeners at every turn over the last seven years.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 20, 2015

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Council of Conservative Citizens, Racism, Right Wing Media, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unworthy Of Attention”: Why Is No One Talking About The NYPD Shooter’s Other Target?

New York City’s police commissioner is laying blame for the Saturday shooting of two of the city’s police officers at the feet of protesters participating in #BlackLivesMatter actions. Patrick Lynch, the head of the police union, claimed there’s “blood on the hands” of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who, Lynch has said, didn’t do enough to disavow and put an end to local protests.

None of this is surprising, unfortunately. The tragic killing of two officers by an emotionally and psychologically unstable shooter is being used to further the political goals of an establishment that’s been challenged through effective, largely nonviolent protest. Despite that movement’s focus on the criminal justice system as a whole, from policing to the role of district attorneys and the grand jury system, police leadership and rank and file are using this moment to claim victim status, ramping up rhetoric and participating in symbolic moves such as officers and union leaders turning their backs on de Blasio during a public appearance over the weekend.

What’s equally predictable and disappointing is the near-erasure of Shaneka Thompson from the story of Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s shooting spree. Thompson is the 29-year-old ex-girlfriend whose Maryland apartment Brinsley entered before shooting her in the stomach and leaving her to scream for help. “I can’t die like this. Please, please help me,” she is reported to have shouted as she banged on a neighbor’s door. According to news reports, Thompson is a health insurance specialist with the Veterans Administration and an Air Force reservist. Brinsley took her phone with him as he headed north to New York, using it to post self-incriminating rants to Instagram before killing Officers Ramos and Liu and, finally, himself.

Thompson is hospitalized and was, as of Sunday, in critical but stable condition. She is also the latest in a series of women who have been brutalized by men whose violence only became notable when they took on targets deemed more important, more relevant to a national or international debate already in play. On Monday Muna Mire, a former Nation intern, noted on Facebook similarities between Thompson and Noleen Hayson Pal, slain ex-wife of Man Haron Monis. Monis is the gunman behind the sixteen-hour standoff in an Australian café that earlier this month left three people (including him) dead. He had a history of violence against women and at the time of the café attack was out on bail on charges including dozens of counts of sexual assault. He had also been charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, with whom he had a custody dispute. He allegedly conspired with a girlfriend, who then set Pal on fire and stabbed her eighteen times. To frame that hostage crisis as one simply driven by religious fanaticism leaves out a key element: Monis seems to have been quite sick and is alleged to have used women’s bodies as a place to target that sickness.

Monis had been charged with these crimes recently, but he wasn’t due back in court until February. This past weekend, Baltimore police started tracking Shaneka Thompson’s phone, which Brinsley had in his possession, around 6:30 am, less than an hour after she was shot. According to The New York Times, they knew Brinsley’s whereabouts, but didn’t contact New York police until after noon. They faxed a wanted poster to a Brooklyn precinct just after 2 pm.

There may well be legitimate reasons why law enforcement could not have apprehended Brinsley earlier, even though they knew his whereabouts as he traveled north from Baltimore to New York. But in both this case and the Sydney incident, there seem to have been assumptions that public safety was not at risk despite the allegations and evidence of violence against women. Why does the threat level and stoking of public fear skyrocket when a madman is thought to be tied to an ideology that’s generally hated in the mainstream—anti-police sentiment or Islamic fundamentalism—but not when that madness has threatened a woman’s life or safety?

Salamishah Tillett raised a similar question during the trial of George Zimmerman, who had been accused of molesting a cousin as a child and of abusing a former fiancée before killing Trayvon Martin. As Tillett wrote, “Zimmerman’s attorneys successfully argued that those acts were inadmissible or irrelevant. But these accusations offer us other truths: that violence against girls and women is often an overlooked and unchecked indicator of future violence.”

It’s predictable that some opponents of police reform want to use Brinsley’s shooting spree to discredit and mischaracterize the #BlackLivesMatter movement and any politician who hasn’t tried to stamp it out. Let’s not go an equally predictable route and ignore that a woman bore the brunt of Brinsley’s instability first, before he went on to commit the type of crime that media and law enforcement consider worthy of their full attention.

 

By: Dani McClain, The Nation, December 23, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | NYPD, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’ve Seen This Before”: Michael Brown No Angel? Why Should It Matter?

You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.

Colvin, you see, did what Parks did, nine months before Parks did it. In March of 1955, the African-American high-school girl refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Local civil rights leaders had been seeking a test case around which to build their fight against segregation on the buses and briefly considered rallying around her.

But it turned out Colvin had used some pungent language in defending her right to her seat. She cried and struggled against the police who arrested her. Worse, the 15-year-old was pregnant. Knowing white Montgomery would seize upon these things to attack her, civil rights leaders passed on Colvin and bided their time.

Their patience paid off in December when bus driver J.F. Blake demanded the dignified and reserved Parks, 42, give up her seat. She said, “No,” then submitted quietly to arrest. Still, most of us would agree Colvin’s pregnancy and behavior had no bearing upon the only salient question: Was segregation wrong? Although civil-rights leaders had no practical choice but to take those issues into account, they were nevertheless irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Much as many of the questions being asked about Michael Brown are now. In the days since the unarmed 18-year-old black man was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, some of us have acted as if the important questions here are: Did he shoplift cigars from a convenience store? Did he strong-arm the proprietor? Was he a bad kid?

Here’s a blanket answer: Who cares?

Not to deny those things are newsworthy. But they are also useless in answering or even framing the one question that really matters: Was Brown, as witnesses say he was, standing with hands raised in surrender when he was killed? If the answer to any of those other questions is yes, they justify him ending that fateful day in jail — not lying face-down on a street.

We’ve seen this before. The national dialogue on the shooting of Trayvon Martin came to be dominated by arguments over how he was dressed, his suspension from school and his marijuana use instead of the central question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in following and shooting him.

Now here’s one Linda Chavez writing in the New York Post that it is somehow misleading — too sympathetic, perhaps — to describe Brown as an “unarmed … teenager,” although he was, in fact, exactly that. Meantime, The New York Times observes that Brown “was no angel.” But do you need to be an angel not to deserve getting shot while unarmed?

Some of us, it seems, need Brown to be the personification of hulking, menacing black manhood. Others, it must be said, need him to be a harmless teddy bear. But he was, by most accounts, just a middling man of both flaws and promise, challenges and hope who was yet in the process of becoming — not unlike many kids his age, black and white. Not unlike Claudette Colvin.

Has nothing changed since 1955? Must we await the coming of the Rosa-Parks-of-getting-shot-while-unarmed before we can address how the nation’s perception of young black men as somehow inherently dangerous too often leads to undeserved suspensions, dismissals, incarceration and death?

Shame on us if that’s what it takes. Human rights are not contingent upon character reference and background check. So it is immaterial whether Michael Brown was a bad kid. Or, for that matter, a good one.

He was a kid who may not have deserved what he got. And that’s the only thing that matters.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald, August 27, 2014

 

 

 

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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