mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“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

“Mike Huckabee’s Confused Morality”: White Privilege And The Limits Of Public Forgiveness

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks in Iowa in April. The GOP presidential candidate was quick to voice his support for Josh Duggar, who this past week admitted to having molested children while a teenager.

In America, public forgiveness is largely dependent on race. In the weeks after Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, pundits and media outlets were quick to jump on a robbery Brown allegedly committed minutes before being fatally shot. Among them was 2016 hopeful Mike Huckabee, who told NewsMax TV, “It’s a horrible thing that he was killed, but he could have avoided that if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug.” For Huckabee, (alleged) theft was grounds for death.

That is, if you look a certain way. Contrast these statements with Huckabee’s recent defense of reality TV regular Josh Duggar, who admitted last week to having molested young girls as a teenager in 2002 and 2003. The 27-year-old son of Jim Bob and Michelle, Josh Duggar is a star of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting, and was executive director of the Family Research Council—a right-wing organization that prides itself on family values—until last week after news of his crimes went public. TLC quickly pulled episodes from their line-up.

After the story broke, Huckabee wasted no time. “Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family,” he posted to Facebook less than a day after Duggar went public. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things.”

Huckabee’s sentiment was echoed by Duggar’s parents and wife, who together released a statement on Facebook on May 21. The word “teen” was used four times and “mistake” was used three. Not long after, fans of 19 Kids and Counting went to the Duggar family Facebook page to voice their support for the admitted sexual abuser. But the statement of support from Huckabee, who has been close with the Duggars since they endorsed and campaigned for his 2008 presidential bid, was the strongest. Sexual abuse may be a crime, yet for a straight, white, Christian man, it seems sympathy has no bounds.

And if you fall outside of these categories, forgiveness only goes so far. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Sanford, Florida, when victims of police violence make headlines, major media scurry to dig up the often petty mistakes of their past. How many times was Trayvon Martin called a “thug”? Before his family could even bury his body, The New York Times declared that Michael Brown was “no angel.” Even 12-year-old Tamir Rice was smeared for having an abusive father. For daring to be black and exist, their names were tarnished by white America, even in death. 

But if as a teenager you molested children, even presidential candidates will give you a pass—at least, if you’re white and male.

And, it seems, even if your crimes include a cover-up. According to the police report, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar knew their son had committed these crimes. They met with church members and sent Duggar off to help a friend remodel homes—their version of counseling. They believed that this was the help their family needed. Who knows what kind of help the victims were offered—stories like these are tragic and my heart aches for the victims, who will hopefully receive any help that they want or need. For Duggar’s part, aside from his career, he’s pretty much off the hook: Arkansas law mandates child sexual abuse charges be filed within three years (Duggar’s crimes were committed in his home state of Arkansas). With charges never filed, Duggar will face no prosecution.

Of course the same is not true for millions of black Americans, who routinely face prosecution, violence, and even death at the hands of police for often minor or nonexistent crimes. Adding to this confused morality, in January, Huckabee criticized Barack and Michelle Obama for letting their teenage daughters listen to pop juggernaut Beyoncé, calling her music mental poison. If you are keeping score, listening to Beyoncé: bad parenting. Sexual abuse: forgivable.

When you’re straight, white, Christian, and male, even horrific crimes can be forgiven. When you’re a black teenager who has been accused of shoplifting, you’re a thug—your life has no value. White privilege is being a sexual abuser and finding more support than a 12-year-old shot by police while playing in a park.

 

By: Nathalie Baptiste, The American Prospect, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Josh Duggar, Mike Huckabee, Sexual Asault | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Focus On The Other Fergusons In America”: Lessons Emerging Should Guide A Nationwide Overhaul To Police Reform

A six-month Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation validated what we heard from many Ferguson residents after the August shooting death of Michael Brown drew the nation’s attention to their city: that their police department has, for several years, exhibited a disturbing pattern of discriminatory policingand, frankly, grift of its citizens.

Further action by the DOJ may reform (or even overhaul) the Ferguson police department entirely. The shooting of two police officers from neighboring departments early Thursday morning in front of the Ferguson police headquarters will likely add pressure for resolution sooner than later. But, while attention to the ongoing tension in Ferguson is merited, there is a danger in Ferguson remaining virtually alone in the national spotlight. The problem of police brutality is hardly endemic to that one city. What about the rest of the 18,000 other departments across the country that may have similarly sick cultures and procedures?

Other Fergusons loom on the horizon, and we shouldn’t wait until an officer shoots another person and a city erupts to fix them. The lessons emerging from Ferguson can and should guide a nationwide overhaul to police reform. Now, while the whole country is focused on this issue, we should seize this moment to develop solutions that are as comprehensive as the problems are vast. Police misconduct and brutality are ingrained in departments thanks to bad practices, limited transparency and a lack of accountability. How does a federal government charged with protecting citizens from policing like this provide a fix that sticks?

It isn’t as if they haven’t tried in the past. In the wake of the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King in March of 1991, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed in 1994. One of the things it mandated was that the DOJ keep records and report on use of force by law enforcement. The law also empowered the DOJ to sue any police agencies they found to exhibit a “pattern and practice” of excessive force and civil rights violations, and enter with them into “consent decrees,” arrangements that give the DOJ oversight over a police agency for a designated period of time. The goal of these arrangements is to reform a police department’s policies and practices by monitoring performance and making recommendations.

In the two decades since the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed, the DOJ has entered into more than 20 consent decrees with local police departments. They have a record of effectiveness, the most notable example being in Los Angeles where the King incident occurred. A study by the Harvard Kennedy School, found that the DOJ’s consent decree with the LAPD improved the department in most ways imaginable. Public satisfaction with the police improved, the frequency of the use of serious force fell, the quality of police stops improved with stops resulting in a higher rate of arrests and charges filedall while crime rates fell.

The successful use of consent decrees by the DOJ supports the idea that comprehensive federal oversight of the nation’s police can improve outcomes. But what we’ve ended up instead with is a piecemeal, reactionary system for police accountability that can barely keep up with, let alone disrupt, the warrior cop culture that has poisoned so many departments with its misconduct and brutality.

The mandate that the DOJ record and report on use of force, for example, is hollow without the cooperation of the country’s 18,000 police departments. It isn’t enforced today, and thus we have no comprehensive count of how many people are killed each year by the policethe most fundamental information needed for reform. In addition, the DOJ currently investigates police misconduct primarily by complaint. And its consent decrees, while shown effective when enforced, are temporary and only apply to individual police departments with track records of misconduct. They are not the permanent, preventative, and national measures that are needed.

A consent decree is likely on its way in Ferguson, and it promises to be an effective step towards reform. But what happens after the DOJ removes its watchful eye from that town, perhaps to address other Fergusons that face similar treatment by their police departments?

The prevalence of police brutality has long demanded federal intervention. The White House task force prescribed in its first report last week good, common-sense measures for better policing, including independent investigations in fatal police shootings and more comprehensive data collection. But that doesn’t get close to a permanent solution.

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has demonstrated its effectiveness in addressing police misconduct through the enforcement of the aforementioned 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, as well as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Special Litigation Section currently does that work, but that unit is also responsible for protecting disability rights, the rights of the incarcerated, reproductive and religious rights.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division would be strengthened by the creation of a section charged solely with tracking, investigating andwhere a civil rights violation is foundprosecuting use of force. Such a unit would prioritize those duties and present a national solution to what is undoubtedly a nationwide problem. The department is already empowered by existing law to create such a unit that could take broader action. Perhaps the only thing standing in the way is the political will to impose a penalty if local police departments do not cooperate.

More than 20 years passed between the assault on King and Brown’s death. In that time, untold numbers of unarmed Americans have been killed by police. Their deaths did not become national news stories or spur federal investigations. We owe it to them to make fair and safe policing a matter of national interest and urgency. If we don’t, the list will grow and we’ll be here again.

 

By: Donovan X. Ramsey, The New Republic, March 13, 2015

March 15, 2015 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Justice Department, Law Enforcement, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ferguson, Missouri, Is Not An Exception”: The Whole Darn Country Has A Habit Of Racially Stratified “Justice”

By now, it should come as news to no one that Ferguson, Missouri, has a lousy excuse for a police department.

The behavior of many of its officers, as seen in news reports during last year’s protests and rioting over the shooting of Michael Brown, was thuggish, unprofessional, and contemptuous of the people they supposedly serve. Still, it’s welcome news that a new Justice Department report quantifies the department’s failings, vindicating the mostly African-American populace that has complained about them for years.

It lacerates Ferguson for “a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct … that violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments … and federal statutory law.” Ferguson police, according to the report, treat the mostly black and largely poor inhabitants of the St. Louis suburb as a municipal money machine. “City and police leadership,” says the report, “pressure officers to write citations independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget.”

We also learn that Ferguson police are in the habit of harassing and arresting people without any legal basis. One man, for example, was sitting in his car when an officer approached and, without a shred of reason, called him a pedophile and demanded to search the vehicle. When the man declined, citing his Fourth Amendment rights, the officer is said to have pointed a gun to his head and arrested him. He ended up charged with eight counts, including “making a false declaration.”

It seems that when asked for his first name, he gave a shortened version: “Mike” instead of “Michael.” The man lost his job because of that arrest.

That race is at the root of this mistreatment is attested to by statistics. For instance, the report tells us black drivers in Ferguson are more than twice as likely as white ones to be searched during traffic stops even though white drivers are significantly more likely to be found with contraband. It’s also attested to in emails sent by city officials, such as a “joke” about an African-American woman who has an abortion and is later sent a reward check from Crimestoppers.

That the Justice Department released this report at the same time it exonerated Officer Darren Wilson in the Brown shooting seems designed to make a point: That particular Ferguson police officer may not be guilty, but the Ferguson Police Department most certainly is.

Even that condemnation, though, is ultimately too small. To process this report as just an indictment of one small town is to provide an escape hatch for the many people disinclined, through their own lack of moral courage and intellectual honesty, to admit that the whole darn country has a habit of racially stratified “justice.” We miss the point if we treat Ferguson as some bizarre exception.

So let’s close the escape hatch. Ferguson’s statistics are not shocking. To the contrary, they are replicated nationally. And the Kafkaesque experience of “Michael” reflects everyday reality: Last January, a black man named Chris Lollie was arrested in St. Paul, MN for sitting on a public bench in a skyway between buildings, waiting for his children to get out of school. In September, a black man named Levar Jones was wounded by a state trooper in Columbia, SC, who shot him while he was obeying the trooper’s orders. Last Thanksgiving, a black man named Brandon McKean was stopped in Pontiac, MI, for walking with his hands in his pockets in 32-degree weather.

And so on. Black men and women being manhandled, mistreated and misjudged by the “justice” system is the opposite of uncommon. To whatever degree we pretend the biggest issue here is the sins of one small town, we sanction that ongoing injustice and postpone a reckoning long overdue.

Ferguson is not an exception. It’s an example.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr.,  Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 9, 2015

March 10, 2015 Posted by | American History, Ferguson Missouri, Police Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Concert With U.S. History”: America’s ‘Ferguson’ Confusion; Why The Problem Has Been Completely Misunderstood

Before I had a chance to peruse the Department of Justice’s long-awaited report on the killing of Michael Brown by former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, I had three predictions. The first was that the DOJ would find the city of Ferguson’s finances to be a house of cards built upon a foundation of anti-tax absolutism and white supremacy. That’s what the Washington Post’s Radley Balko found last September, and while I may not share Balko’s libertarian politics, he’s a good journalist, and that report — which described the criminal justice system in St. Louis County as one “guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment” —  is an excellent piece of investigative work.

My second prediction about the DOJ report was that it would find the Ferguson Police Department to be rife with bigotry, which would manifest itself most conspicuously through emails filled with the kind of racist “jokes” that many Americans prefer to call “politically incorrect.” I guessed this not because I had any special insight into the office culture of the Ferguson PD, but because the embarrassing disclosure of racist jokes disseminated among employees by email has become a recurring media story throughout the Obama years. And if the problem is widespread enough to infect the self-styled Hollywood progressives at Sony, it’s hardly a stretch to figure it’s prevalent within a police force with as much historical baggage as Ferguson’s, too.

My third and final prediction, meanwhile, was that the media’s coverage of the DOJ report would devote much more attention to the second prediction (the racist emails) than the first (the systemic dysfunction); and that the response on the part of Ferguson’s civilian leadership would similarly concern itself more with “politically incorrect” jokes than with institutional corruption. I imagined that it would play out this way primarily because that’s how it always does. For a recent example, look no further than former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who saw a decade-spanning empire, which was always fundamentally built on an edifice of bigotry, crumble because he was caught saying what any right-minded person already assumed him to think.

Well, now that the DOJ report has finally been released, and now that I can look back with the benefit of hindsight, the verdict is in. And wouldn’t you know it, I went three-for-three. The report says the Ferguson PD is structurally driven to extort its African-American subjects to fill budget gaps. It also says the Ferguson PD’s email server was a like an online Comedy Cellar for the kind of racist jokes that middle schoolers tell one another when trying to be edgy. And the media has since devoted far more time and digital ink to cataloging jokes unworthy of even Carlos Mencia than it has explaining how a municipality could allow itself to so obviously rely on a system of race-based plunder.

What’s more, the early indications from authorities in Ferguson suggest that I was right to expect their response to focus primarily on the nasty jokes. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, last seen informing the folks at MSNBC that his city suffered from “no racial divide,” was quick to respond to the DOJ’s damning report — by firing or placing on administrative leave three officers involved with the racist emails. While he refused to answer any questions, Knowles also informed the media that the police department had recently hired three African-American women, was launching programs intended to build a stronger relationship with Ferguson’s African-American communities, and would institute mandatory diversity training for staff. Knowles also mentioned a few administrative tweaks intended to make the city’s criminal justice system less rapacious, but he also said “there is probably another side to all of [the DOJ report’s] stories.” Gotta hear both sides.

Before you start trying to make “Isquith” and “Nostradamus” rhyme, however, you should be aware of a few realities (besides that being impossible, I mean). For one thing, I’d strongly suspect my predictions were widely shared by those in the American media who focus on politics and race because, again, this story is fundamentally nothing new. For another, not everyone in the media chased the shiny red ball of racist emails, which aren’t even bad in themselves, anyway, but are simply too numerous. Lastly, while it’s very tempting to throw all of our culture’s shortcomings on these issues at the feet of the media — which, to be clear, is far from blameless — the press’s failures here are the result of larger, society-wide problems that are more deep-seated than our fondness for listicles or our penchant for calling others out.

Because, as Ta-Nehisi Coates implies in his response to the DOJ report, one of the major stumbling blocks separating the Fergusons of today from what a city in the United States is supposed to be is a level of historical ignorance and denial that makes confronting white supremacy head-on all but impossible. So long as the mainstream refuses to own up to the way race-based plunder is not contrary to but rather in concert with U.S. history, we will continue to understand racism as what happens when a bunch of mean cops sit around forwarding each other racist jokes. And until we’re willing to recognize that Ferguson is New York City is Los Angeles is Chicago and so on, fewer “politically incorrect” emails is all the change we’re going to get.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, March 7, 2015

March 9, 2015 Posted by | American History, Ferguson Missouri, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: