So we’re not post-racial yet.
Instead, we are preoccupied with race, chafing along the color line, possessed of wildly divergent views of authority, justice and equality. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in the aftermath of widely publicized police shootings and the attacks on Dallas police officers, 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are growing worse.
Some among us lay the blame for that, absurdly, at the feet of President Barack Obama, who was supposed to usher in an era of peace, harmony and racial healing — at least according to some utterly naive predictions made at the time of his first election. Instead, it seems, his presence in the Oval Office precipitated a furious backlash, a tidal wave of resentment from those whites who see his ascendance as a sign of their decline.
But that’s not the president’s fault. He has studiously tried to avoid stirring the cauldron of race, to bridge the color chasm, to unite the warring American tribes. His only crime is in symbolizing the anxieties of those white Americans who see a black man in power as the bete noire of their nightmares.
It makes more sense to blame the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, for these troubling times. He enters his nominating convention in Cleveland as the same divisive bully he has been throughout the campaign — a man singularly ill-suited to lead a diverse nation.
Trump has not just pandered to the prejudices of his mostly white supporters; he has also encouraged them with his incendiary promises to limit immigration and his vicious insults of the president, starting with his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump works assiduously to keep us divided, a state that sharpens his political advantage.
But the simple truth is that neither Obama nor Trump created this moment. This unruly time has been more than 200 years in the making. We have not yet put away the old ghosts, so they continue to haunt us.
Take the police shootings that have prompted protests around the country during the last several days. There is nothing new about police violence toward black citizens, nothing unusual about bias in the criminal justice system, nothing unexpected about the institutional racism that conspires to imprison black Americans disproportionately.
Just read Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name,” an account of law enforcement practices in the Deep South following the Civil War. White business owners demanded low- to no-cost labor, and they got it by imprisoning black men unfairly and putting them to work.
To justify their rank oppression and their state-sanctioned violence — black people were lynched with impunity for more than a century — powerful whites trafficked in awful stereotypes about black criminality. Those old biases — those hateful stereotypes — didn’t just fade away with the civil rights movement.
As President Obama put it during his moving and elegant speech memorializing the Dallas dead, “We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation.”
Still, there are many who would dismiss Obama, whose political views demand they grant him no legitimacy. Maybe they’d listen instead to Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who rose to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to give a deeply personal account of his maltreatment at the hands of police officers.
Scott is a rock-solid conservative who rarely agrees with the president about anything. He is also black, and, as he noted, that’s enough to kindle suspicion from some law enforcement authorities.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers, not four, not five, not six, but seven times, in one year, as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reasons just as trivial,” he said.
That’s a powerful testament to the ways in which the old ghosts still haunt us, even in an age of a black president and two black U.S. senators. We are not post-racial yet, and until we can confront and exorcise the demons of our past, we will never be.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 17, 2016
Given recent violence in Texas, Minnesota, and Louisiana, race is very much on the minds of many Americans, including Donald Trump. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee sat down with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last night, where Trump was able to explain why he believes he can relate to African Americans.
O’REILLY: There [are] still some black Americans who believe that the system is biased against them. The American system because they’re black, they don’t get the same kind of shot, they don’t get the same kind of fairness that whites do. What do you say to them?
TRUMP: Well, I have been saying even against me the system is rigged when I ran as a, you know, for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system and the system is rigged.
When the host told the candidate this sentiment probably won’t lift anyone’s spirits, Trump responded, “No, what I’m saying is they are not necessarily wrong. I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play. I’m not saying that. And I can relate it really very much to myself.”
Asked if he believes he can understand the African-American experience, Trump added, “You can’t truly understand what’s going on unless you are African-American. I would like to say yes, however.”
You’ve got to be kidding me.
First, let’s quickly note that the GOP’s presidential nominating process was not, in reality, “rigged” against the candidate who prevailed. Trump didn’t understand how states chose delegates to the national convention, but that doesn’t mean the system itself was manipulated unfairly.
Second, for Trump to believe his experiences winning the Republican nomination helps him “relate” to African Americans is so painfully bizarre, it would do real and lasting harm to a normal presidential candidate.
But even if we put this aside, one of the most striking things about Trump’s perceptions of current events is his narcissistic myopia. For Trump, the importance of the mass-shooting in Orlando is something he once said on Twitter. For Trump, the importance of Brexit is how it might affect his golf course. For Trump, the importance of African-American alienation is how similar it is to his treatment during the GOP primaries.
Ask Trump about almost any issue, and he’s likely to respond with a sentiment that boils down to, “That reminds me of me.”
To put it mildly, it’s an alarming personality trait.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 13, 2016
“What You Missed While You Were Trumping”: 2015 Provided Reasons To Believe That America Never Stopped Being Great
One of the most frustrating aspects of the Year of Trump, besides everything, was the viciously cyclical nature of Trump coverage. Attention and outrage are the fuel of Trumpism, and attempts to explain his rise wound up re-inscribing the central falsehood of his campaign: that people are angry about an America in decline and a government with suspect motives and marginal competence. But what if none of that were true?
What if people aren’t really angry, America isn’t actually in decline, and our government is neither malicious nor incompetent?
Are people angry? Americans as whole say they are and I’ve been through enough counseling that I hesitate to tell anyone how they feel. But Trump supporters aren’t angry; they’re terrified. There are forms of righteous anger—the kind of communal eruption that happens when there are no other legitimate forms of expression. Trump supporters, on the other hand, do not lack for legitimate forms of expression. People are asking them what they think and feel all the time. There is not a second of time in the last 600 years that the world has had to guess at what American white people want.
Numerous progressive commentators (and Saturday Night Live) have pointed out that the nostalgia inherent in making America great “again” is little more than a pull toward a time before a gaymarriageblackpresidentscarymuslims. As one analyst put it, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Is America in decline, no longer “great”? I’m tempted to indulge in a poetic interpretation, to delve into the areas of American culture and society that produced greatness on a regular basis—from rescue workers to scientists, artists to educators. But Trump (and his supporters) are at once thuddingly literal and immeasurably ambiguous: “Greatness” seems to be a combination of economic success and world-leader dick-measuring. But if the U.S. has fallen so far in world esteem, how come the immigrants that so upset Trumpkins want to come here? Less concretely, there are actual data about how the rest of the world views America and it’s largely positive—we have an overall 65 percent approval rating, with some countries giving us the kind of marks that are a distant memory for America’s political class: 75 percent positive opinion in France (France!), 80 percent in both El Salvador and Kenya.
Economically, well, by the measure of the white, working-class, non-college-educated Trump supporters, they are either extremely late to the realization that their wages have stagnated (indeed, in real terms, the average hourly wage peaked in 1973) or—and we’re happening on a theme here—the complaint isn’t about the loss of “greatness” so much as the emergence of a perceived threat to the status quo. I don’t think it’s even about America being less great for them. It’s an alarm over the possibility that America is becoming great for people who aren’t them.
Whether American greatness is, in fact, becoming more widely accessible is a separate but related question—and it brings us to the final falsity of the Trumpian theology: Government is both evil and inept.
There’s no doubt that it can be; it’s mostly been evil and inept in the way it’s treated the very people Trumpkins worry about sharing the greatness pie with. Those communities continue to suffer, but here is where the Trump theology finds purchase: In 2015, our democracy—the functioning one, outside the circus of the party primaries—did a lot right by its citizens.
Some old wrongs began to be righted: The death penalty is increasingly unpopular not just in the public eye, but with state legislatures and judges. Courts in Texas (Texas!) issued two (two!) death-penalty sentences in all of 2015—the fewest since re-instating the penalty 40 years ago. Across the country, death sentences dropped 33 percent from 2014, with 49 people being sentenced to death this year. By comparison: In 1996, 315 people were put on death row. Also in 2015, just six states carried 28 out executions, the fewest since 1999—when 98 people were killed.
And while officer-involved shootings continue to be flashpoints for community unrest, cities have grabbed on to the Department of Justice’s best practices—hard-won lessons from Ferguson, Missouri, being put to use in places such as my adopted hometown of Minneapolis, where the biggest headline of the year might be the riot that didn’t happen in the wake of the death of Jamal Clark.
Also this year: Politicians embraced the end of the war on the drugs and the beginning of the movement to aid those in addiction. (A turn of events that may be the only lasting memory of Chris Christie’s presidential campaign.) Police departments are experimenting with a policy that puts treatment before arrest: In Glouchester, Massachusetts,, addicts who ask police for treatment will be assisted into a program—on the spot. More than 100 have found help so far. At the federal level, almost unnoticed this month, Congress ended the federal enforcement of drug laws where the state has legalized medical marijuana.
Somewhere between old wrongs being righted and new paths forward: The fight to raise the minimum wage continues to catch on among activists and allies in government. In 2015, workers won higher hourly wages in 13 states and in 14 municipalities (PDF). These weren’t just soft-hearted coastal governments’ blue bleeding hearts in action, either: Michigan and Nebraska went to $15 an hour, as well as Missoula, Montana, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, New York.
And in more forward-looking changes, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, now in its fifth year, has become the exact kind of watchdog-with-teeth Elizabeth Warren envisioned. It’s taking in a record number of consumer-generated complaints (through November: 749,400; 24,300 in October alone—more in one month than it saw in all of 2014). AND it’s stepped in on some of the longest-running but legal scams in America, cracking down on (and getting huge payouts for consumers from) payday lenders and for-profit colleges. How successful is the CFPB? Its right-wing critics have resorted to fearmongering about the importance of payday loans in the fight against terrorism.
This isn’t to say that the year didn’t also see tragedy and horror, many instances emerging from governmental abuse or ineptitude, but it’s important to remember that the fear that Trump has based his campaign on is not real.
The idea that small-d (and, occasionally, big-d) democratic government works undermines the entire framework of Trumpism. Programs like the CFPB and the slow turn toward true criminal justice are kryptonite to the strongman ideology of Trump, not just because it fucks with his message of government incompetence or maliciousness. Its successful tenure is evidence of government for the people, to be sure, but its existence is also evidence of government by the people.
The image of Obama as capricious dictator, making social-justice decrees out of pique, is Trumpkins’ favorite myth because it cuts out the part of our American story that they are the least able to explain or process: Obama and Democrats have facilitated these incremental bits of forward progress because they won. They were elected to do so.
Grappling with the fact of a functional government requires more than the admission that protecting citizens is legitimate activity—it also forces the argument that government protects and fights for people because that’s what its people want.
The fearful coverage of the Trump’s fear-filled campaign has created an echo of terror on the left, of course. Part alarmist fundraising necessity on the part of Democrats, part symptom of a conflict-obsessed media, many rational and sane Americans now think that there is a real possibility of Donald Trump will be elected president. I don’t want to encourage complacency by denying the possibility, but I do want to remind everyone: We’re better than that. We’ve shown ourselves to be better than that. Don’t be afraid. Be aware.
By: Ana-Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, January 1, 2016
A little time has passed since a grand jury in Cleveland refused to indict two white police officers responsible for the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was black.
One minute this child was playing in a city park with an air pellet gun. Seconds later, after a police squad car swooped up next to him, he was on the ground — alone and mortally wounded.
After 13 months of waiting for any sign of justice, the reaction from too many white people to the grand jury decision has severed me from my will for diplomacy. I am a 58-year-old white woman, and I am sickened by how many people who look like me talk about race.
I’m no stranger to their way of thinking. My father struggled with race until the day he died, but his fear of black people he never knew could not gain traction with me. By age 6, I knew he was wrong. Whenever he pounded the table and called them those awful names, I saw the faces of exactly half of my classmates. They were my friends.
As I wrote last year for The Atlantic, “it was not the natural order of things to be so young and know your father had no idea what he was talking about.” It framed our relationship for all of his days.
I share that story not to dishonor my father, whom I loved and miss to this day. I just want to make clear that I’m no neophyte when it comes to knowing what some white people believe about black people. Sometimes I think I’ve spent much of my career trying to make up for the harm the people I come from have inflicted on the lives of innocent strangers.
For as long as I’ve been a newspaper columnist — 13 years and counting — I’ve been on the receiving end of angry mail from white readers. One of their favorite cut-and-paste missives in emails and social media posts criticizes and even mocks what they call “black English.” How they love to spew their racist rants about dialect. It makes them feel so shiny-white superior.
Their hate is couched in white English, which has nothing to do with accents. White English is a state of mind. It turns words into weapons to dehumanize an entire population of people, and it is bubbling up like pus in a dirty wound after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty convinced a grand jury that the police were justified in killing a black child playing with an air gun.
White English casts Tamir Rice, for the first time in his short life, as an equal among men — rather than as a 12-year-old boy limited by the judgment of his years.
He “should have known better.” He should have “listened to the police,” as if there’s no reason to doubt their claim that they yelled three warnings to this child in less than two seconds.
White English repeats, over and over, that this child was “big for his age.”
He’s not 12-year-old Tamir; he’s “Mr. Rice.” Even in his grave, he grows. He is no longer 5 feet 7 inches tall.
He was 5 feet 9.
He was 5’11”.
He was 6 feet tall.
He was a man.
He was a menace.
He was a thug.
White English is the language of the Superior White Parents club, where perfect children raised by perfect parents now raise perfect children of their own who would never jump around in a park and pretend to be shooting a toy gun. They know this because they have special powers that allow them to see what their perfect children are doing every minute of every day. If you dare suggest this is not possible, they will turn on you in a hot minute. How dare you question their parenting as they pick apart Tamir Rice’s mother?
White English has no words to acknowledge that Samaria Rice loved her son. That she banned toy guns from their home. That she didn’t know he had his friend’s air gun that day.
Two months ago, in an interview for Politico, Samaria Rice told me she watches the video of the last few moments of her son’s life — when he was still very much alive. She studies it, over and over, searching for any sign of what he may have been thinking right before the bullet tore through him.
“He didn’t have a lot of suspicions about people,” she said. “I look at him in that video and I’m wondering: ‘What are you thinking right now? Do you know what’s about to happen to you?’”
She was certain there would be no indictments for those police officers, she told me. She was waiting for God to tell her what comes next.
Which is worse, having your hopes dashed or knowing you will never see justice from a system that insists your child had it coming?
He was a boy.
He was a boy.
He was a boy.
By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, December 31, 2015
What can I do?
Not quite six months ago, a reader named Tracy posed that question to me and I, in turn, posed it to you. Tracy, a 55-year-old white woman from Austin, said she was sick of hearing about unarmed African-American men being injured or killed by police. “What can be done?” she asked. “What can I do? I’m sincere in this question. I want to DO something. What can that be?”
Well, Bob has some ideas. In an email, he describes himself as a “retired professional firefighter from a metropolitan area” whose 20 years as a paramedic often required him to work closely with police.
“I witnessed many cases of police brutality,” he writes. “A stressed patient or family member would call 911 for medical assistance. We would respond as well as the PD. A situation that required a calm and caring presence and an ambulance ride to a care center or psych ward would end up in a physical altercation with mace and cuffs.”
Bob says he and his partner would talk about what they had seen on the way back to the station, “but knew better than to alert our superiors or file complaints because we did not dare open a rift with the local PD. We (and paramedics on other shifts) needed PD backup on potentially dangerous calls. So we all kept quiet.”
Based on that experience, Bob has two suggestions. One is that we should push for more thorough screening of police applicants. “We need cops to DEFUSE situations,” he writes, “not escalate. We need cops with people skills. No more bullies. Very intense psych examinations should be part of police applicant training.”
Bob’s other suggestion? Require that non-sworn civilians be part of any investigation of police brutality. Just as you would never assign a 7-year-old to solve the mystery of the broken cookie jar, he thinks it makes little sense to ask police to investigate their own.
“Do we really think cops will give an unbiased and honest effort when investigating other cops? NO! It is always the same old game. Make the investigation last for months until it is back-page news. Discount or do not document damaging statements. Intimidate convincing witnesses. Conveniently forget to note damaging facts. When all else fails, lie or plant evidence to close cases.”
From where I sit, both of Bob’s suggestions have merit, but as we approach the first anniversary of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice with no one yet held accountable, his second carries particular resonance. Even granting the need for thoroughness, it strains credulity to believe it takes the better part of a year — and counting — to decide whether to prosecute Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, especially given the surveillance video that shows Loehmann shooting the boy, who had been holding a realistic-looking toy gun, within two seconds after the patrol car skids to a stop in front of him.
Would the decision on prosecution proceed at such a leisurely pace had it been Loehmann who was shot? Would the prosecutor be agonizing like Hamlet almost a year later?
You know the answer as well as I do.
The impulse to cut cops some slack — “Hey, he was only doing his job” — is understandable. It is also wrong and, more to the point, shortsighted.
One of the most important weapons in a cop’s arsenal is his authority. But authority presupposes legitimacy and trust. How much of either can a police officer — or a police force or the institution of policing itself — command when they operate under such a blatantly different set of rules? A requirement that outside eyes be involved in investigations of serious allegations of police misconduct would go a long way toward rectifying that.
At the very least, it’s a conversation we are long overdue to have.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 5, 2015