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“A Collective Media Shrug”: Just Because No One Died in the NAACP Bombing Doesn’t Mean The Media Should Ignore It

The NAACP chapter in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is located on South El Paso Street in a one-story building with faded redwood siding, where it shares space with Mr. G’s Hair Design Studio. The surrounding streets are lined with modest, largely single-story homes. The men and women who work herenot just in the NAACP building, but also in the neighborhoodhave been very busy lately, organizing local vigils and sending out e-mail blasts in response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.

Late Tuesday morning, an improvised bomb exploded outside the building. No one was hurt or injured, though three people were working inside in Mr. G’s salon and two staffers were in the NAACP office. The explosion scarred the outside of the building, and knocked a few things off some shelves inside. The FBI has indicated that the bombing could well be motivated by hate, but that other motives are possible, too. Amy Saunders, a spokesperson for the Denver office of the FBI, told The Los Angeles Times that it wasn’t yet clear “if the motive was a hate crime, domestic terrorism, a personal act of violence against a specific individual,” or something else entirely.

The FBI is looking for a balding white man in his 40s who may be driving an old, dirty pickup truck. News organizations initially refused to identify the man’s race as “white,” though, despite having that fact in handa refusal that extends one of the principle benefits of white privilege to someone suspected of domestic terrorism.  The New York Times, cribbing an Associated Press story but eliding the question of race, indicated that authorities were searching for “a man.” At least they covered the story, though. Many news outlets simply ignored it all together. And then, in what has become a ritual, outlets were called out on Twitter and Facebook for ignoring the bombing. “PLEASE,” actress Rashida Jones tweeted, “everybody, mainly national news outlets, CARE MORE ABOUT THIS.” If not for this grassroots #NAACPBombing campaign, we might not even be talking about this today.

It is too easy to explain the national media’s silence. The collective shrug in the first 24 hours after the event was, perhaps, evidence of a sort of racial fatigue, a consequence of the country’s collective desensitization to anti-black violence, to the drumbeat of stories about men and women and children who’ve been shot or tasered or thrown in jail. But it was also a reflection of the scarcity of details, and concern about covering a fast-moving story from a distance. The news moves so quickly, and a failed bombingfailed, that is, because no life was taken, no property destroyedmay have seemed hardly worth reporting. And then, even as the events in Colorado Springs slowly caught the attention of some, word came of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The eclipse of the story only added to the frustration. On Twitter and in Colorado Springs, what began as a heartfelt plea for media attention quickly became a complaint about the algebra of media coverage, which makes room for only one big developing news story. This bitterness is understandable. It is a terrible thing to be caught up in a traumatic event of local significancescrambling to learn more, earnestly believing that your story is a part of a long national nightmare linked not just to Ferguson but to violence against of NAACP offices a century agoonly to have an even more traumatic event, one that’s part of another nation’s growing nightmare, draw all the news attention. You might, in this set of circumstances, begin to suspect that your trauma will never even be seen, that it doesn’t even deserve to be forgotten. “Dear so-called journalists,” another tweet reads, “even if you don’t cover #NAACPBombing, it still happened.”

#NAACPBombing skeptics have wondered why so many have jumped to conclude, without supportive facts on the ground, that race was a factor in the bombing, asking instead whether there might not be a more pedestrian explanation. Indeed, it is unclear right now whether this bombing was an act of domestic terror or even a hate crime, but the assumption of domestic terrorism is a reminder that instead of becoming a post-racial nation with President Obama’s election in 2008, as many hastily proclaimed, organized white supremacist and anti-government groups are been on the rise (as are gun sales).

The enumeration of hate groups is perhaps less significant, though, than the depth of individual feeling, the darker passions that enable one to sit in a garage or a basement, stuffing a small pipe with loose metal fragments and gunpowder. Crafting a homemade IED and detonating it outside an NAACP office isn’t an act of whimsy. It emerges from the worst fever swamps of racism. Those can’t be so easily measured, because they are usually kept secret or private. It’s one thing to launch a white supremacist website, sell David Duke t-shirts, distribute leaflets, spray-paint swastikas, and build a firing range. These acts don’t tell you whether someone is willing to try to kill. The true temperature of hate is best measured through an accounting of things like bombs.

 

By: Matthew Pratt Guterl, The New Republic, January 9, 2015

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Hate Crimes, NAACP Bombing, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For NYPD, No Defense For The Indefensible”: Support Good Cops, Oppose Bad Ones

This should not even need saying, but obviously, it does. So, for the record:

To oppose police brutality is not to oppose police. No one with a brain stands against police when they do the dangerous and often dirty job of safeguarding life and property. But no one with a conscience should stand for them when they assault or kill some unarmed, unthreatening somebody under color of authority.

Support good cops, oppose bad ones: You’d think that a self-evident imperative. But it turns out some of us are unwilling to make the distinction. For them, the valor of the good cops renders the bad cops immune to criticism.

As you’ve no doubt heard, an unstable man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley went cop hunting in Brooklyn on Dec. 20. He randomly shot to death two police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in retaliation for the unpunished police killings of two unarmed African-American men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.

What followed was tiresomely predictable. Erick Erickson of Fox “News” said President Obama and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio had “all but encouraged retaliation” against police. Rudy Giuliani accused the president and the mayor of putting forth propaganda that “everybody should hate the police.” The National Review Online blamed Obama and de Blasio for creating a “racially charged, rabidly anti-police” atmosphere.

It might be hard to tell from that superheated rhetoric, but the sin they refer to is as follows: Obama and de Blasio called for reform as people vigorously protested the Staten Island and Ferguson killings.

Tempting and easy as it might be to deconstruct all that right-wing drivel, what should truly trouble us is the behavior of the police in the wake of the shooting. Meaning those New York cops who pointedly turned their backs on the mayor as he spoke at Ramos’ and Liu’s funerals. The NYPD has also engaged in a work slowdown — arrests, tickets and summonses down sharply over the last two weeks.

With this temper tantrum, this turning its back on the representative of the people it serves, the NYPD shames itself, shames its profession, and dishonors the memory of its slain men. It also, paradoxically, makes stronger the case for reform.

What other profession behaves this way? Do good lawyers see an attack on bad lawyers as an attack on them all? Are good firefighters threatened by criticism of incompetent ones? Yet this behavior is routine among police — something to keep in mind when we talk reform.

It’s all well and good to say we need body cams, but that’s just a start. As the cases of Rodney King in Los Angeles and Eric Garner in Staten Island make apparent, a visual record is useless if people are unwilling to see what is right in front of them. And yes, there should also be some state-level mechanism for a special prosecutor in cases like these, so we are never again asked to believe impartial justice can be meted out to a given cop by people in the local courthouse who work with him every day.

But the behavior of New York cops, their righteous pique at the idea of being questioned by the people they work for, suggests another needed reform. We must find ways to change police culture so that it becomes easier for cops to police themselves, to name and shame the brutal or trigger-happy incompetents among them.

Yes, that will be much easier said than done: In no other job might your life depend tomorrow on the colleague you stand up against today. But the alternative is this status quo wherein police are effectively above the law they swear to uphold.

Where bad cops cannot be questioned, good cops cannot be trusted — and all cops are undermined.

There’s something else that should not need saying, but does.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 7, 2014

January 8, 2015 Posted by | NYPD, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Selma Is Hardly History”: Yet After Ferguson And Staten Island, We May Be Less Optimistic Today

I’ve never forgotten what it was like to be in Selma at the start of the March 21, 1965, Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March, but I’ll still be in the ticket line for the opening of the new feature film, “Selma.”

I’m anxious to see how Selma is portrayed by a director and actors for whom it is history rather than personal experience.  The college students I teach have only a hazy knowledge of Selma and its impact on the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, though, Selma has taken on new relevance as it approaches its 50th anniversary.  The failures of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, to indict the police officers whose actions led to the deaths of two unarmed black men has made the gross injustices the civil rights movement fought against in the ’60s seem part of our times.

I am not nostalgic about Selma, but I am struck by how, despite the explicit racism of the South in 1965, there was more optimism then about America’s racial future than we have today.  In New York, where I live, nightly  #blacklivesmatter marches protesting events in Ferguson and Staten Island have been able to disrupt the city to a degree unthinkable 50 years ago, but among the marchers with whom I have spoken, their hopes are modest and specific.  They want to change how policing is done in communities of color, and they are calling for special prosecutors in cases of alleged police misconduct.  Few, though, speak of a new racial day in America arriving any time soon.

In 1965 I was far less sophisticated politically than today’s marchers.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference had been conducting a voter registration campaign in Selma since January 1965, but my awareness of SCLC’s efforts did not come until the night of March 7.  That was the date on which everything to do with Selma changed.   Shortly after 9 o’clock, ABC interrupted its Sunday evening movie,”Judgment at Nuremberg, with pictures from Selma that showed Alabama State Troopers attacking a column of black demonstrators while jeering crowds rooted the troopers on.

What shocked me about the attack, which quickly became known as “Bloody Sunday,” was that the troopers made no effort to conceal their actions from the television cameras. They were confident they would not be called to account.

The story of Selma has been told movingly by a number of historians — particularly, David Garrow in “Protest at Selma” and Taylor Branch in “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68.”  But in March 1965 when I cut my graduate classes at Brown and headed south, I had little sense that a historic undertaking was about to happen. A second protest march, this one on March 9, had been peaceably turned around, and  I worried that the March 21 march might remain small, even with Martin Luther King and a series of celebrities heading it.

I was encouraged by the fact that on March 15, in a nationwide television address, President Johnson announced that he was sending a voting rights bill to Congress, and I took heart from the fact that Johnson followed up his address by calling out the Alabama National Guard to protect the March 21 march. Nonetheless, when I got to Selma on the night before the march, my worries continued.

The arrival of outsiders like me put an enormous strain on the black families in Selma who were supporting the march. The racial tensions in Selma and the surrounding counties — already high — were heightened still more by our presence.  I was lucky.  A black family opened up its house to me and several others, but many who arrived at the last moment ended up spending the night on the pews of Brown Chapel, the church at the center of civil rights activity in Selma.

In contrast to the end of the march, when 25,000 gathered in Montgomery to hear Martin Luther King speak, the crowd on that first day of the march was just 3,200 — an estimate that still strikes me as high.  It did not take King’s assistant, Andrew Young (then Andy Young), long to organize us.  Wearing bib overalls and a blue jacket, he stood in the middle of the street in front of Brown Chapel and got everyone into rows that would later fill Highway 80, from side to side.

For a moment, the march felt like the start of a small town’s Fourth of July parade, but things quickly turned ugly as we began moving through Selma.  I remember the car that played “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” over its loud speakers and a homemade “Coonsville U.S.A” sign that was impossible to miss. Later, the cries of “White N****r,” especially from teenagers who enjoyed shouting in unison as if they were spectators at a football game, became routine along the march route after we left town.

The following day, with a group of volunteers, I helped clear the pasture where the small band of marchers making the complete trip from Selma to Montgomery were scheduled to spend the night.  Clearing the pasture meant gathering up the cow manure that was everywhere. It was a thankless job, but in the warm Alabama sun, our work went without incident until early in the afternoon when a caravan of cars with gun racks on their roofs and Confederate flags on their doors pulled up.

There was no place to hide, and in this pre-cellphone era, no way to call for help. Scattered over several acres, we were easy targets for anyone with a gun. The men in the cars cursed us for a while over a bullhorn and tried to provoke a fight, but when nobody reacted, they finally got back in their cars and drove away. For those of us clearing the pasture, it was a lesson in the kind of vulnerability anyone who was black faced for trying to register to vote in Alabama. My fear stayed with me for the rest of the afternoon, but when it went away, I was not relieved.  I felt once again how small my role at Selma was.  I could count on being safe the minute I got back on a plane and returned North.

When the 50th anniversary of the Selma march is celebrated this year in Alabama, I’ll make sure to stay in the background if I go, but right now I’m leaning toward staying at home.  I think the money it will cost for me to travel to Selma might better be spent on working for change in the present.

 

By: Nicolaus Mills, Professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College; Salon, December 26, 2014

December 27, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism, Selma | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tribal America”: How Do We Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’?

Within hours of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, protests erupted across America. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, they brought the issue of race and policing to the front burner once again. The heat has now ignited a man who assassinated two New York police officers in a fit of calculated retaliation. The peaceful protesters condemned those murders. The police condemned the protesters, and both condemn politicians. Welcome to tribal America.

In his provocative book, Moral Tribes, Joshua Greene argues that morality evolved to solve the problem of fighting among those who had to cooperate in order to survive. Shared moral rules were evolution’s way of keeping “you” and “me” from mutual destructiveness. “You” and “me” became “we” in service to our shared needs. But when other groups showed up, “we” became “us,” a tribe opposed to “them.” Violence and destruction too often followed, and we still search for a shared morality that works across tribes.

Tribes today can be close geographically as well as virtually, aided in both cases by social media. Common values, customs and ways of thinking bind each “us” and separate it from “them.” Widely dispersed Americans angry at racial injustice form a tribe, as do strong supporters of law enforcement – no matter where any of them live.

Tribes can be helpful or harmful, depending on whether their members work to bridge the “us-them” divide or deepen it. Unfortunately, what we are seeing as police and protesters square off is unproductive.

Ferguson and New York are brush strokes on a wider canvass of tribal behavior in America. On a host of social, political, economic, environmental, and educational issues, tribes abound. Like-minded people find each other and push their agendas. To a point, that is both appropriate and useful as well as consistent with American republican government. But when it goes too far, as it does on many issues, it frays the fabric of the very society it aims to fix. When protestors loot and burn, when an angry man kills police officers, when a mayor tries to distance himself from the police, when police officers turn their back on the mayor, when a former mayor blames the president, and when the chief of police tells the mayor he has blood on his hands, what good is served?

We rightly condemn destructive tribal behavior in places as far flung as the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Why don’t we recognize and restrain it at home? If we want to cure our country, it’s time for tribes – and those who wish to lead them – to have the courage to act differently.

Tribes need to listen. This means managing their emotions and practicing the art of dialogue. Listening (not talking) and understanding (not necessarily accepting) the values and views of others helps set angry advocacy aside. Such a respectful, open stance humanizes “them” as well as “us.” When people listen to “them,” it tells them that they have been heard. Until this happens in Ferguson and New York, where most people in both tribes still claim they have not been heard, collaborative solutions will be elusive.

Tribes need to learn. Their tendency is insular – to see from the vantage point of their own biases. They defend and rationalize rather than explore their core assumptions. They get information by cherry picking from sources that are “trusted” because they agree with tribal views. They have an ax to grind, but axes cut things down rather than build them up. Protesters need to learn what the police fear and understand how many are killed or injured in the line of duty. Police need to understand what a black man feels when a police officer approaches and how to alter their own behavior during those encounters. When tribes embrace learning, their views (and then their actions) will change.

Tribes need to focus on the purposes they share with other tribes. Citizens and police both want safe streets and communities. But right now, they are dug in around their positions – what they demand from others, not what they can do for each other and by working together.

Tribes need leadership – from within and without – that does not seek personal gain by showing how much anger they share but seeks to bridge the chasm between them and other tribes. Where is the protest leadership that asks its tribe to calm down, respect the great bulk of police who are doing their best under trying circumstances, and offers solutions that demonstrate not only their own needs but the rightful demands of others? Where are the police chiefs and mayors who are willing to acknowledge and admit that they sometimes make terrible mistakes, that they can and must do better, and that they are asking their communities for constructive suggestions?

Tribes also need supportive politicians and media. The former have been too quick to take sides and inflame. The latter have been too willing to hype the conflict. What percentage of news stories on the events since Michael Brown’s death have focused on those seeking to foster better police-citizen cooperation and understanding? How much coverage have the media given to quiet healers as opposed to those whose anger makes a more enticing sound bite?

We will soon celebrate the birthday and life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribal behavior was rampant in his day as well, but King was a “crossover” figure. He urged his followers to love their opponents, and his goal went beyond desegregation to a universal brotherhood. Police and protestors today could learn a lot from this man, for whom there was only one tribe, the tribe of humanity.

 

By: Terry Newell, Founder, Leadership for a Responsible Society; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 24, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Politicians | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rep Michael Grimm, Tax Evader”: The Felon Who Wouldn’t Leave Congress

Michael Grimm just got re-elected to Congress in November, so why should he resign over a minor detail like pleading guilty to a felony?

As first reported by the New York Daily News, the Staten Island Republican will plead guilty to one count of tax evasion in federal court on Tuesday afternoon. Grimm, who was indicted in April on 20 counts of fraud and tax evasion stemming from a health food store he once owned, is apparently going to try to keep his seat in Congress. While he said during his re-election campaign that he would resign if “unable to serve,” initial reports indicate the Republican congressman does not think his conviction should keep him from serving his constituents in New York’s 13th District.

The news that Grimm was set to plead guilty sent shockwaves through the leadership of the Republican Party on Staten Island. The two-term congressman cruised to re-election in November despite the ethical allegations swirling around him, besting former city council member Domenic Recchia by 12 points. Grimm had planned on regaining his Financial Services Committee membership, which he gave up under pressure when he was first indicted. Grimm has even been actively trying hire staff members for his office in recent weeks after several former aides deserted him.

Reached by phone after news of Grimm’s plea broke online, Guy Molinari, a longtime Island powerbroker and personal patron of Grimm’s, said he had not heard the news and declined to comment. The office of House Speaker John Boehner also declined to comment. John Antoniello, the chairman of the Staten Island Republican Party, said he had not been informed either but that the party continues to support Grimm.

Meanwhile, politicos were already trying to figure out their next play. Some Staten Islanders predicted that Boehner would only try to oust Grimm if he thought that the seat was likely to stay in Republican hands—a good prospect, many analysts suggested, considering Grimm’s easy win the last time.

The name that most Republicans seem both to expect and dread to consider running is Vito Fossella. The former congressman, a longtime fixture in Staten Island politics, stepped down when it was revealed after a drunk driving arrest that he had a second family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The Republican has frequently sparred with Grimm and thought about running in 2014, but it remains to be seen whether Fossella can withstand the scrutiny of another run, even in an era when scandal-scarred New York pols like Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer have come back to run again.

“Does he have the balls to run again after someone resigns over ethical issues?” asked one Staten Island Democrat.

Daniel Donovan, the well-regarded Staten Island district attorney who has come under criticism for failing to win an indictment in the Eric Garner case, is not widely thought to want to leave his post.

On the Democratic side, many expect former Rep. Mike McMahon to make another run at the seat. McMahon took over when Fossella resigned but was edged aside two years later by Grimm in the Tea Party wave election year of 2010.

Neither McMahon nor Fossella returned calls for comment.

In the meantime, Grimm faces no legal pressure to leave office. There is no requirement for a member of Congress to resign after pleading guilty to a felony. However, House Rule XXIII suggests that a representative who has been convicted of an offense that may result in at least two years’ imprisonment should “refrain from voting.” A report by the Congressional Research Service notes that members are “expected to abide” by this rule, even though it is technically advisory.  Tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of five years, and thus it seems likely that Grimm would be covered by the provision. Tom Rust, a spokesman for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment to The Daily Beast.

Grimm could be forced from office if he is expelled by a two-thirds vote of the House. The penalty is only rarely imposed, as members often resign before they can be voted out of Congress. Only two members of the House have been expelled since the Civil War, and no one has ever been expelled for a felony committed prior to serving in Congress. As the Congressional Research Service notes, an offense leading to expulsion “has historically involved either disloyalty to the United States or the violation of a criminal law involving the abuse of one’s official position, such as bribery.” Interestingly, if Grimm is expelled, he is not legally prohibited from running in the special election for his seat. And if he is re-elected, the House advisory rules prohibiting him from voting no longer apply.

Should Grimm choose to fight back under those circumstances, he would likely have an easy go of it on Staten Island, considering his clear win in November and the fact that he is pleading guilty to a lesser charge. “Voters knew about this and seemed not to care,” said Roy Moskowitz, a leading Democratic consultant on Staten Island.

Still, his conviction will restart a House Ethics Committee investigation into his actions. The bipartisan committee had originally started to probe Grimm in 2012 but had then deferred any action after a request by the Justice Department. Once Grimm has pleaded guilty, it is unlikely the Justice Department will have any qualms about the House Ethics Committee resuming its investigation. Further, the committee’s rules mandate that it “shall” begin an investigation as soon as a member of Congress is sentenced in federal court.

The conviction won’t be Grimm’s first brush with notoriety. The congressman has been investigated in the past for campaign finance irregularities involving an Israeli businessman who allegedly illegally funneled money to Grimm’s campaign. He also sparked controversy earlier in 2014 when he threatened a reporter on live television after President Obama’s State of the Union address by saying, “I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

 

By: Ben Jacobs and David Freedlandlander, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Felons, Michael Grimm | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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