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“Ben Carson, And The Failure Of Black Conservatives”: The Belief That Individual Resolve Is Enough To Fend Off Structural Racism

I was a 17-year-old teenager growing up on the west side of Detroit when I first read Ben Carson’s biography Gifted Hands.

The first thing that caught my attention were the similarities in our childhoods: He grew up poor; so did I. Carson’s mother couldn’t read; my grandmother, who was my legal guardian until she died soon after I finished high school, could only read and write her name. Young Carson got in trouble as a teen and nearly stabbed a friend; when I was 12 years old, I had an almost fatal run-in with my uncle while he was high on drugs. Carson earned his bachelor’s from Yale University and finished medical school at the University of Michigan. Though I would eventually receive both my undergrad and graduate degrees elsewhere, I, like many kids from Detroit, often dreamed of being a Wolverine.

And though I had no idea what I wanted to be in life, I knew I wanted to do something great. Maybe I wouldn’t become a neurosurgeon famous for separating conjoined twins, but perhaps I could become something equally spectacular.

I knew nothing of Carson’s politics back then. I was 17 and didn’t care. He was a black man from the hood who “made it.” His was an inspiring story, full of adversity overcome, of hard-work and perseverance. That’s all that mattered to me. What I didn’t realize as a teenager, however, was what that same story would one day mean to white, conservative America.

Ben Carson is now not only running for president as a Republican, but he’s arguably leading the GOP field. And in an era where the biggest cheers of the Republican debates go to takedowns of “political correctness” and the media, Ben Carson is taking advantage, warping his personal story into misbegotten political and racial analysis.

In August, when a Fox News moderator asked Carson during a GOP debate how he would address strained race relations in America, he said that the “purveyors of hatred take every single incident between two different races and try to make a race war out of it and drive wedges into people.” He said nothing about the structural issues causing the racial divide between black and white Americans; he just blamed the media.

In September during his tour of Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by former police officer Darren Wilson, Carson said, “We need to de-emphasize race and emphasize respect for each other.” He added that he was raised to respect police and “never had any problem.”

This is Carson’s M.O.

When Carson speaks to the mostly white audiences who support him, he positions himself as a black person who doesn’t “complain” about racism. He argues that we need to move beyond having difficult discussions about race.

And his messaging during his campaign has been crystal clear: I am who I am because I worked hard, and that is the best way to overcome racism. If you are black and cannot succeed like me, he tells his mostly white audiences, then only you are to blame for your problems — not police brutality, an unfair criminal justice system, or racist hiring practices.

It’s a classic case of black conservatism, the belief that individual resolve should be enough to fend off structural racism. But Carson’s auto-biography pokes holes in his own story. When you read about his life, you see someone who was not only exceptionally hard-working, but like all successful people, at times exceptionally lucky.

Had Carson actually succeeded in stabbing the friend he claims to have attacked as a teenager, Carson likely would have served time in jail and struggled to find work as a convicted felon; his right to vote probably would have been revoked, too. Carson likes to discuss how his short temper led to him go after people with rocks, bricks, baseball bats, and hammers. Hundreds of thousands of black people who made similar mistakes are caught in the racially predatory cycle of the criminal justice system that refuses to grant them second chances. Yet, he abhors the Black Lives Matter movement for daring to challenge the racist policies that could have very well prevented him from rehabilitating had he been been jailed for his wayward behavior.

Here’s another telling anecdote: In his 1999 book The Big Picture, Carson wrote about an incident involving his mother being arrested in a suburb of Detroit because she, according to the arresting officer, fit the description of a woman who abducted an elderly couple; the charges were later dismissed with the help of a prominent lawyer friend who was also a fellow Yale alum.

Only a black person who reached the highest summit of social and professional achievement could have called his Ivy League buddy to get his mother out; the residents of Ferguson who were daily targets of rampant racial profiling, according to a Department of Justice report, did not enjoy such social pull.

But Carson, the presidential candidate, doesn’t tell his white supporters about the pitfalls he narrowly avoided; he only talks about the heroic leaps he took in avoiding them. When I read Gifted Hands nearly 18 years ago as a young teenager, I never envisioned Carson becoming a 21st century Nat Turner — but neither could I foresee him dismissing racial injustice entirely. The culmination of Carson’s success, as I now know, was not designed to accommodate any sense of responsibility for those in the black community who didn’t “make it.”

Instead, it is only tailored to assure white voters that they don’t have to bear any of the racial baggage that comes with being black in America.

 

By: Terrell Jermaine Starr, The Week, November 5, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Criminal Justice System, Structural Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“So Killing Tamir Rice Was…Reasonable?”: A State-Sanctioned Drive-By—And Nobody Will Pay A Price For That

He is going to get away with it.

The Cleveland police officer who shot an unarmed 12-year-old boy will never spend a day in jail. He will never be charged with any criminal offense. He will never be booked and fingerprinted, never handcuffed. He will never be forced to explain himself before a jury of his peers.

Few things unnerve me. I am slow to anger and am not prone to tears.  But I was both Saturday night—pissed off and crying—because somebody somewhere said it was OK to kill a black child. Two investigators, working at the behest of a local prosecutor, said killing Tamir Rice was reasonable.

For nearly a year, that same prosecutor has been looking for a way to cover his proverbial ass, to assuage public pressure and help us all forget that a rookie cop who repeatedly failed field and fire arms training before getting kicked off another department shot a black kid without provocation.

Tamir was shot on sight.

It was clear that the officers did not know the entire incident was captured on camera. They said Tamir was sitting at the table with a group of people when, in fact, he was alone.

They said Tamir reached into his waistband and pulled out the toy gun before he was then shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann. “He gave me no choice. He reached for the gun and there was nothing I could do,” Loehmann told a fellow officer in the moments after he shot Tamir.

That was a lie too. The video clearly shows that Tamir used both hands to hold his shirt up to expose the BB gun just before he was shot and fell from the table.

Another demonstrable lie: Loehmann also claimed that he repeatedly ordered Tamir to put his hands up. In fact, Tamir was shot within two seconds of the squad car door opening. The wheels were barely at a complete stop. There was no time to order Tamir to do anything, let alone three times, as Loehmann contends, and no time for Tamir to react.

Tamir never removed the toy from his waistband and never pointed it at the officers, thus at no point could they have determined whether the orange safety tip was missing. Tamir presented no threat to anyone and, even if the gun were real, Ohio is an open-carry state. The minimum age is 18, but remember the officers said they thought Tamir was in his 20s.

As Tamir lay on the icy concrete fighting for his life, neither Loehmann nor his partner Frank Garmback thought to render first aid. An FBI agent who happened to be in the area working a bank robbery came by a few minutes later and tried desperately to resuscitate the boy.

In the end, none of that will matter. Not the videotape, not the lies, not the failure to render aid to a dying boy. There will be no grand jury indictment and the probability that Loehmann will face criminal charges is hovering around zero. Even if Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty were of the mind to take this case to trial, the deck would be stacked against him.

Such charges against a police officer are extraordinarily rare in Ohio or anywhere else in the country. When there is a grand jury indictment, the probability of a conviction is even smaller. Convincing 12 people that a member of law enforcement acted with illegal force in the killing of a suspect is a steep hill to climb. When the officer is white and victim is black, the pathway to justice grows even rockier.

However, McGinty appears to be participating in the card shuffling. The investigation has dragged on for nearly a year. If the roles had been reversed—a 12-year-old black boy shooting a white police officer—Tamir would have been indicted on first-degree murder charges and tried as an adult. Had Tamir lived, he would have faced criminal charges. An incident report filed a full week after he died alleged “aggravated menacing” and “inducing panic.” Those charges were “abated by death.”

Without question, tape or no tape, if the roles were reversed, McGinty would have sprinted to the grand jury room and dared anyone to challenge that decision. He certainly would not be gaming the public and rigging the process by releasing two reports that appear to exonerate the officers on a Saturday night before a grand jury has had a chance to review the evidence.

We should be troubled by the notion that Loehmann was an officer at all, that somebody on the Cleveland police department saw fit to hand him a badge and a gun in the first place. Another department in the area previously fired him because he was unable to follow “basic functions as instructed.” He experienced a “dangerous loss of composure” during a weapons training exercise and his performance was “dismal,” wrote a former commander. The written memo said further that Loehmann demonstrated “a lack of maturity.”

“I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies,” the author of the memo wrote.

I resent that there is a system in place designed, ready, and eager to protect Loehmann. Hiring him without reviewing his personnel records was nothing short of malfeasance. I resent that anyone deemed him worthy to serve and protect.

But more than that, I resent the notion that our sons are required to meet a different standard when confronted by police or other people in authority. I resent the fact that my sons and daughters cannot play with the same toys. I resent the fact that young Tamir could not play in a public park without the threat of death or jail. I resent that anyone anywhere would dare blame Tamir’s mother for her son’s death. I resent that fact that open-carry laws are not designed to protect my black children and me, but rather to protect society from me and my black children.

Whether driven by implicit racial bias or plain incompetence, despite assurances from the district attorney that he will take the matter to a grand jury, I do not harbor a scintilla of confidence that Loehmann will ever answer for killing this child.

I resent the fact that Tamir is dead—killed in a state-sanctioned drive-by—and that nobody will pay a price for that.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, October 12, 2015

October 13, 2015 Posted by | Cleveland Police Department, Police Shootings, Tamir Rice | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Free Stuff!”: Jeb’s Outreach To Black Voters; It Isn’t ‘We’ll Take Care Of You With Free Stuff’

Man, Republicans just can’t help themselves, can they? Here’s Jebbie in South Carolina talking about reaching out to African-American voters, per a report from WaPo’s Sean Sullivan:

“Look around this room,” a man told Bush, who spoke to a mostly white crowd. “How many black faces do you see? How are you going to include them and get them to vote for you?” asked the man, who was white.

Bush pointed to his record on school choice and said that if Republicans could double their share of the black vote, they would win the swing states of Ohio and Virginia.

And if they had some ham, they could make a ham sandwich, if they had some bread. But I digress.

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

The “free stuff” reference sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

According to a pool report, [Mitt] Romney, who struggled badly with minority voters in the 2012 election, said during a Montana fundraiser that year: “I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff.” Romney was explaining his remarks that day at the NAACP’s national convention, where he was booed.

Now in commenting on this latest Bush gaffe, the ever-fair Greg Sargent notes that Jeb’s not attacking po’ folks for taking “free stuff:”

Bush was not criticizing recipients of government help as self-designated victims. Rather, he was implicitly criticizing the Democratic vision of government, suggesting that Dems want to use government handouts (“free stuff”) to destructively trap people in dependency (“take care of you”) in order to capture and hold their votes.

As applied to African-Americans, this is the old “Plantation” meme, according to which Democrats have ensnared people by the diabolical means of helping them stay alive and make ends meet, as opposed to “empowering” them with benign neglect.

This sort of rap coming from the scion of a rich and powerful family might go over better if he were preceded by some commitments to letting African-Americans vote and abandoning mass incarceration as a social control mechanism and taking seriously complaints about police misconduct. As it is, it’s just free rhetoric.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 25, 2015

September 27, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black Voters, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Battle Cry Among Some In The Academy”: My Police Academy Teaches The ‘War On Cops’ Myth

The trumpets of the thin blue line and right-wing news sources have been sounding, piping out warnings of a “War on Police.” You may have heard it on talk radio, seen it on Fox News or even read it in the New York Post, but now the rhetoric of charlatans has reached me in class at my police academy in a Northern red state.

The War on Cops is a grossly inaccurate response to recent police killings which are on track for another year that will rival the safest on record. Gunfire deaths by police officers are down 27 percent this year, according to the Officer Down memorial page, and police killings in general are at a 20-year low, given current numbers for 2015. Police deaths in Barack Obama’s presidency are lower than the past four administrations, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Not a single iota of evidence supports a War on Police, but it has become a battle cry among some in the academy.

Over 80 percent of police departments in the United States are facing issues with low recruitment numbers. As an Iraq War veteran I sought to solidify my chance of employment working in law enforcement by attending a local police academy. I enjoyed serving my country as military police and will do such now as a sworn police officer back home.

What are they telling us in a post-Michael Brown academy? The culture of police brutality is infrequently addressed, but what is continually mentioned is the notion that there is a War on Police. By whom? Depends on whom you ask.

Some instructors blame the Obama administration, which has provided extra funding to police departments to hire Iraq War veterans such as myself. Others, citing news organizations and politicians, try to pin it on the Black Lives Matter movement.

How are they attempting to substantiate this? By highlighting a few high-profile police killings in the past few months, especially the tragic, execution-style death of a Texas sheriff at a gas station. Many activists tried to tie the accused murderer, Shannon Miles, to the Black Lives Matter movement in the immediate aftermath as a motive. He had no ties to the movement.

Miles, however, had been previously declared mentally incompetent.

“The Obama administration and Eric Holder are undermining the police. We have officers dying left and right and he’s dicking off in Alaska,” says one of my instructors, referring to the president’s trip to Alaska last week.

Our instructor is likely trying to warn us to take heed of the dangers of the job, and not expect to be thanked by politicians for doing it. But he has made the government and the people we’re meant to serve out to be boogeymen in the process.

Bad guys have been shooting cops for years, but this is neither a new nor growing phenomenon. A whole generation has grown up knowing the phrase “fuck the police” as a song lyric, a response to the mass incarceration culture spawned from a War on Drugs that numbers show disproportionately and unfairly targets black Americans.

I understand as a law enforcement professional—and as someone capable of fairly reading mountains of data—that the Drug War has been unfairly used as a tool of oppression against the black community. It is why the American public overall has shown they have less confidence in police in recent times.

But there is no War on Police. This Us vs. Them mentality still prevails even in fresh academy cadets. Perhaps some of these people will become future jackbooted, truncheon-wielding oppressors. Or perhaps they will encounter the reality that betrays the fear they are taught.

 

By: Clayton Jenkins, writing under a pseudonym, is an Iraq War veteran training to become a Police Officer; The Daily Beast, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Deaths, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Violent Crime Is Largely Intra-Racial”: Black-On-Black Violence Demands Our Attention

Black lives matter.

That’s the powerful and relevant message that a loosely organized group of young activists have used as a clarion call to bring attention to the crisis of police violence against black citizens, usually unarmed black men. And its mere utterance is a scathing commentary on the current state of race in America, a reminder that it must be said. Shouldn’t it be obvious that black lives matter as much as white ones?

That’s true, by the way, no matter how those black lives are snuffed out, whether by powerful figures acting under the color of law, or by other black men who are angry, violent and unrestrained. The senseless loss of black life demands a response.

So let’s talk, too, about the surging rate of homicides in certain big cities around the country, including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, and New Orleans. The crimes are occurring mostly in poor neighborhoods, and the victims — and perpetrators — are overwhelmingly black.This is a sensitive subject, a topic rarely broached in public by prominent black political and civic figures. Perhaps that’s because ultraconservatives, especially the racial provocateurs among them, use the numbers as a bludgeon, hammering away in order to muddy the debate about police violence. They try to excuse police brutality by evoking black criminals — as if law enforcement officials should not be held to a very different standard.

Moreover, they fail to note that violent crime is largely intra-racial — that is, committed by people against their own ethnic group. In other words, whites tend to assault and kill whites, while blacks tend to assault and kill blacks. “From 1980 to 2008, 84 percent of white victims were killed by whites and 93 percent of black victims were killed by blacks,” says PolitiFact, the fact-checking organization.

In any event, the ranting of right-wing rabble-rousers is no reason to shield our eyes from the worrisome incidence of black homicides and their debilitating effect on black families and neighborhoods. In 2013, the last year for which figures were available, homicide was the leading cause of death for young black men between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a special 2014 report, “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States,” the Violence Policy Center wrote: “Blacks in the United States are disproportionately affected by homicide. For the year 2011, blacks represented 13 percent of the nation’s population, yet accounted for 50 percent of all homicide victims.” As stunning as that statistic is, it doesn’t adequately convey the shattered lives, the broken families, the decimated neighborhoods it represents.

If homicide were a disease wiping out black people at this alarming rate, we’d be demanding research, solutions, a cure. If a foreign enemy had laid siege to poor black neighborhoods in the same way, we’d send in massive manpower to root them out. But we’ve been peculiarly passive in response to black-on-black homicides, as if there is nothing we can do, as if it’s too difficult and too controversial to tackle.

Certainly, there is controversy aplenty, starting with legitimate differences among law enforcement experts about how to tackle the problem. Indeed, there are those among law enforcement officials who insist that heavy-handed police tactics, such as New York’s “stop and frisk” policy of random searches, are a useful tool in curbing criminal activity.

That seems unlikely. If oppressive policing were the solution, a city such as Cleveland ought to be one of the safest, given its documented history of out-of-control cops. Instead, it’s one of the most dangerous, according to FBI statistics.

But well-trained and diverse police departments, staffed by officers committed to treating citizens fairly, are certainly one part of the solution. Curbing our cultural obsession with guns would help. And, undoubtedly, so would ameliorating the root causes of the frustration that breeds violent crime, including joblessness, poor educational opportunity and inadequate housing.

None of those fixes will come quickly or easily, but they won’t come at all unless we find the will to acknowledge the problem. Publicly.

Black lives, including those lost to black violence, matter.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, 2007; The National Memo, September 5, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Violence, Violent Crimes | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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