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“Race, The Police And The Propaganda”: There’s A Different Criminal Justice System For Civilians And Police, And They Know It

Welcome visitors to New York City! This has been the best time ever to urinate on a street, sneak onto the subway or run a red light, for the police force has been on a virtual strike.

Police officers may be making a point for contract negotiations. But many also are genuinely frustrated and, along with millions of other Americans, seem sympathetic to an argument that goes like this:

The real threat to young black men isn’t white cops. It’s other black men. Police officers are numerous in black neighborhoods not because they want to hang out there, but because they’re willing to risk their lives to create order on streets where too many residents have kids outside of marriage, or collect government benefits but disdain jobs. Instead of receiving thanks for their efforts, cops have been cursed and attacked. Hate-mongering led by President Obama built a climate of animosity that led to the murder of two of New York’s finest. And where are the street protests denouncing those racist murders? Don’t blue lives count?

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and de facto spokesman for that viewpoint, put it this way in November when he was asked about Ferguson, Mo., on “Meet the Press”: “I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here.”

“What about the poor black child that is killed by another black child?” he added. “Why aren’t you protesting that?”

After the assassination of the two New York police officers, Giuliani declared: “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.”

That view has gained traction, creating an astonishing impasse in America’s largest city. In one week in late December, the number of police citations, summonses and arrests in some categories fell by 90 percent from the same week the previous year.

That’s not “a few bad apples.” That’s the apple basket.

Most of us understand that police officers are often in an impossible position, and we appreciate their courage and good work. When they work.

So let’s examine the narrative that Giuliani and others have spread.

Take the argument that police killings are a red herring because the biggest threat to blacks is other blacks. The latter part is true. Where the perpetrator has been identified, 93 percent of murderers of blacks are also black. Then again, it’s equally true that 84 percent of murderers of whites are fellow whites.


How would we feel if we were told: When Americans are killed by Muslim terrorists, it’s an exception. Get over it.

Some offenses are particularly destructive because they undermine the social system. Terrorism is in that category, and so is police abuse. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that such abuse is too common.

In 2012, an African-American detective in the New York City Police Department, Harold Thomas, hobbled from a nightclub to his car (he had been shot a year earlier by a would-be armed robber). Other police officers didn’t recognize him and, according to Thomas, slammed his head into his vehicle, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him. He is suing the city.

Thomas, who retired last year after 30 years, admires the police force but says the racial bias is ingrained — caused by a small percentage of officers who “make everyone look bad.”

Reuters interviewed 25 African-American male police officers, some retired, in New York City and said all but one reported having been subjected to unwarranted incidents — from stop-and-frisks to being thrown into prison vans. Five said they had had guns pulled on them.

A 2010 New York State task force report on police-on-police shootings identified 14 officers around the country killed by fellow officers over the previous 15 years in mistaken identity shootings. Ten of the 14 were officers of color.

Then there’s a ProPublica investigation that found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men.

It’s true that some on the left who are aghast at racial profiling are sometimes prone to career profiling: We should stereotype neither black youths nor white cops. Some extremist protesters turned to the slogan “arms up, shoot back,” or to chants of “What do we want? Dead cops.” That was inexcusable. But, of course, that’s not remotely what Obama was saying.

PunditFact reviewed all of Obama’s statements and found that he never encouraged hostility toward police; it labeled that Giuliani assertion as “pants on fire.” Good for Obama and other politicians — including Mayor Bill de Blasio — for trying to shine a light on inequality in law enforcement.

“Many of my peers were deeply racist,” Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis cop, wrote in The Washington Post last month. He described seeing force used unnecessarily, particularly against blacks, such as the time a boy who couldn’t walk was punched, handcuffed and dragged by his ankles from his home to a car.

Hudson said that the fundamental need is an end to impunity.

“Cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it,” he wrote. “These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police. Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave.”

Race is a nettlesome issue, and I recognize that I’m calling for more diversity and accountability in police forces even as my own institution — the press — doesn’t look like America either.

We can all do better. Put yourselves in the shoes of the family of Tamir Rice, the black 12-year-old boy shot dead in November in Cleveland. A 911 call had reported someone carrying a “probably fake” gun, and Tamir was carrying a pellet pistol.

A white police officer, who had previously been judged unprepared for the stresses of the job, shot Tamir. A video released a few days ago shows the boy’s 14-year-old sister rushing to her fallen brother — and then tackled by police, handcuffed, and placed in a police car a few feet from her dying brother. The officers stood around and gave him no medical aid.

To those who see no problem in policing, just one question: What if that were your son or daughter?


By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 10, 2015

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Year In Fear”: From Ebola To Street Violence To Comrade Kim

There a lot of things about the Sony Pictures hack attack and the resulting cancellation of the Seth Rogen-James Franco movie “The Interview” that don’t make sense. It isn’t just that the entire episode feels fictional; it feels like a stretch as a fictional episode. Some upstart satirical novelist fresh out of the Iowa Writers Workshop writes a book in which the dictator of North Korea, the nation where every day is Throwback Thursday, forces a multinational media corporation to kill a Hollywood comedy built around a couple of snarky, self-referential stars. Two versions of meta-reality collide: the delusional gaze of dead-end Leninism meets the smug smirk of dumbed-down postmodernism, and the world explodes. Oh, come on. Couldn’t happen.

But it fed our fear. It fed our love of fear. We are a nation addicted to fear. We seek it out wherever we can find it, and we cling to it. When it doesn’t exist, we invent it. We manipulate it for cynical purposes, to sell bad products and push bad ideologies. How much have you heard about Ebola and ISIS since the Republicans won their glorious victory in the midterm elections? We invoke it soberly, on both the right and the left, as a warning from the heavens urging us to repent of sin and choose the path of righteousness. If a Bible-thumping preacher inveighing against gays and Muslims taps into our love affair with fear, so does every left-wing warning of eco-catastrophe, from Rachel Carson to Al Gore and beyond.

Not all fears are equally unreasonable, to be sure. But if we can never agree about exactly what to fear, we are unanimous in embracing fear itself, and we line up to suckle poisonous milk from its brain-freezing breast. Fear is a powerful and dreadful thing, a toxic and odorless gas that permeates all thought and all substance. It conquers reason and love. It makes us shriveled and small-minded. A society ruled by fear stumbles along from crisis to crisis, guided by no clear principles and riven by contradictory impulses. It chooses leaders who feed the fear and leaders who promise to banish it (often the same people). In the name of conquering fear, it ends by giving up everything that is not fear. Constitutional freedoms, the ideals of democracy, civil rights and even the sanctity of the human individual, perhaps the greatest innovation of capitalism – all are subjugated to the Ministry of Fear.

Here’s the detail in the Sony/”Interview” snafu I keep getting stuck on: Apparently sane and normal people had to pretend, if only as a term of art or a legal fiction, that there was something to be afraid of here. We had to “assess the risk” that the incoherent threat made by Kim Jong-un or whoever-the-hell against people who went to see “The Interview” in movie theaters, represented actual danger in the real world. (The more I reread the backward syntax and throttled grammar of that message – “Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment” – the more it sounds like the work of some cackling, bearded anarchist in Brooklyn.) I don’t mean the microscopic, act-of-God danger that can never be eliminated: A plane might crash into my house before I finish writing this column, or whatever. We had to sit around like an entire nation of TV pundits pulling on our chins and consider the possibility that the North Koreans were actually going to blow up a suburban movie theater in Syracuse or San Antonio.

Well, no, it probably won’t happen (said the sane and reasonable people, and their lawyers), but there was a threat. A “threat”! It’s not worth the “risk.” Just imagine the carnage in the food court, and the horror at Sunglass Hut, if the Shoppes at Fox Run Estates became the target of a North Korean nuke attack. We can’t be too safe. Well, here’s the thing: You can be too safe, and in a certain sense Americans are too safe. At least, we are too cosseted from life in the real world, too securely packaged in the polyvinyl peanuts of our consumer lifestyle, too oblivious to real dangers and too fixated on imaginary ones. Can I tell you for certain that no one would have gotten murdered for watching “The Interview”? No. But I can tell you that those moviegoers were far more likely to die in car accidents on the way to the mall, and that the fear of that vanishingly small possibility is more destructive than the possibility itself.

You could say that every year since 2001 has been a year of fear in America, but 2014 feels special in this regard. There were enemies both foreign and domestic to fear; there were numinous psychological terrors and dreadful real-world events. It was a year of racialized fear and sexualized fear, a year when citizens felt under attack by law enforcement and the intelligence bureaucracies, and vice versa. We were instructed to fear a deadly new plague and a murderous new Islamic cult, both presented as the potential end of civilization and requiring the further renunciation of democracy and due process. To end the year by abandoning a stupid movie in terror of a cartoon dictator from an impoverished and isolated country 6,000 miles away was entirely too fitting.

If there’s one thing we know about Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s that he genuinely felt afraid. Now, the reasons why Wilson felt afraid of an unarmed black man, and believed he had no alternative but to use lethal force, belong to a long and pathological skein of hatred and fear stretching deep into American history. I understand why many people wanted to see Wilson prosecuted, along with the other perceived rogue cops of 2014. But Wilson did not invent the climate of fear that makes black men and boys appear threatening to authority figures whether or not they are armed, and whether or not they are doing anything illegal or confrontational. He was soaked in that fear, like a piece of human litmus paper, and was too weak to resist it.

It might be tempting to conclude that the cases of Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and the other unarmed African-American males killed by cops this year were isolated instances that got blown out of proportion, rather than evidence of a larger pattern. But the fear-driven and intensely racialized response to those killings suggests otherwise. In the zero-sum game of American racial politics, a distressingly large number of white people interpret any criticism of the police, and any discussion about enduring racial prejudice or white privilege, as an all-out assault. Like everybody else of any color who has tried to write about this issue, I’ve been barraged all year long by correspondents eager to discuss the purported epidemic of black-on-white violence ignored by the media, Barack Obama’s impending “final solution” to the white problem, or the coming alliance between ISIS agents and urban black radicals aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government from within. (I heard about that one, from a self-styled terrorism expert, just last week.)

I’m not suggesting that most white Americans manifest that kind of extreme paranoia. But it isn’t as rare as those of us in liberal coastal cities would like to believe, and even the crude data of public opinion polls suggest that the climate of fear that enabled Darren Wilson is widespread in white America. Like so many other things about our perishing republic, this is paradoxical. Amid all this psychic distress, it’s easy to overlook the objective facts: Violent crime is at or near a 50-year low in this country, and by some measures an all-time low. The overt racial discord and confrontation of the 1960s and ‘70s is largely absent from American life (or at least it was, until very recently). A black man with a foreign-sounding name has twice been elected president, by comfortable margins.

If white Americans – who are and remain a uniquely wealthy, privileged and protected group as a whole — choose to view themselves through a prism of fear, invoking the same rhetoric of victimology they often claim to despise in others, they are not alone. We saw a similar defensive reaction among men during the hashtag war that erupted after the Santa Barbara shootings last spring, as if the #YesAllWomen consciousness-raising moment, which could have provoked thoughtful reflection, had been a call for a feminist police state and universal castration. Instead we learned that #NotAllMen are violent creeps. Well, congratulations.

Both of these fear-driven reactions are mimicked again, and repeatedly, on the national scale. Americans seem determined to process the trauma of 9/11 – which at this point feels like the cherished and nourished trauma of 9/11 – by convincing ourselves that we’re not actually a blundering imperial superpower but an embattled underdog, about to be overrun from outside and eaten away from within by a legion of comic-book supervillains. I’m aware this is nothing new. This current of xenophobia and panic, the terror that our shining city on a hill will be corrupted by savages and pagans, goes back at least as far as the Salem witch trials. With the delusion known as American exceptionalism comes the delusion of persecution. Remember the scene in “Fahrenheit 911” when Michael Moore gets people in the Michigan backwoods to explain why their county is a likely target for Islamic terrorists? They hate us for our freedom!

After the Edward Snowden revelations, and after the Brown and Garner grand jury decisions, many of us have found new reasons to fear the state apparatus, whether in its covert form or its paramilitary street-level domestic operatives. As I said earlier, not all fear is unreasonable, and those fears may find both positive and negative modes of expression. I will never know the vulnerable feeling of being an African-American potentially subject to street harassment, arbitrary arrest or summary execution by police. What is most noteworthy about the widespread and generally peaceful demonstrations in response to the Brown and Garner cases, in fact, is that they represent not the triumph of fear but a triumph over fear. The anguish, grief and fear of black people and other citizens have been translated into social action – into people on the street together, which is the most powerful antidote to fear.

Executives at Sony could perhaps have summoned the possibility of social action – if they lived in some alternate universe where they believed in something beyond corporate ass-covering. Since they don’t, they ditched a film they never believed in, in response to a fear they didn’t really feel, because the lawyers told them to. A profile in courage that sums up the year in fear just a little too well.


By: Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, December 20, 2014

December 25, 2014 Posted by | Fear, Police Brutality, Sony Pictures | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racial Strife Can Lead To Progress”: Learning More About How Race Is Experienced By Different People In Our Very Diverse Society

Big city mayors have to stay as neutral as possible when asked about disputes between their citizens and the police. But New York City mayor Bill de Blasio found his voice in a profoundly moving way when he responded not as a mayor, but as a parent.

His sentiments came out in a news conference and an ABC-TV interview after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the video-recorded choking death of Eric Garner, a black suspect in Staten Island.

The mayor, who is married to an African-American woman, described his own warnings to his biracial son, Dante, about making any sudden or otherwise suspicious movements in an encounter with police.

“What parents have done for decades who have children of color, especially young men of color, is train them to be very careful when they have … an encounter with a police officer,” de Blasio said on ABC’s This Week.

Asked if he felt his son was at risk from his city’s own police department, de Blasio responded: “It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country. And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, ‘Look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cellphone,’ because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

Although the mayor expressed “immense respect” for New York’s Finest, police union officials fired back. The cops felt “thrown under the bus,” said one.

But I appreciated de Blasio’s remarks. We have something in common. We are both fathers of handsome young African-American males with conspicuous hair.

Dante’s explosively huge Afro made headlines during his dad’s campaign last year as a major asset, especially with young voters. My son has long dreadlocks, today’s version of the big Afro and mutton-chop sideburns with which I upset my own parents. “Grandma’s revenge,” I call my kid’s hairstyle.

I appreciated de Blasio’s remarks because one does not often hear a prominent white official speak candidly about “The Talk,” which is what many black parents call the painfully necessary conversation they have with their kids about how to behave if stopped by police.

The Talk has slipped into more widespread conversations with the recent wave of controversial police killings of black men and boys, some of which — like Garner’s — were captured on video.

Besides Garner, who died this summer when a police officer put him in an alleged chokehold after stopping to arrest him for selling untaxed “loosie” cigarettes, there was 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, after a struggle.

More recently, a Cleveland cop fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a fake gun. Video of that shooting has run repeatedly on TV, along with the shooting of unarmed Levar Jones, 35, who reached into his car for his license too quickly in a Richland County, South Carolina, according to the officer, who has since been fired. Jones fortunately survived.

Is this why a narrow majority of Americans in a new Bloomberg Politics poll say they think racial interactions have gotten worse under President Obama? I think things only seem worse, especially to those who didn’t want to face the persistent canyon of our racial and cultural differences.

Racial discord in my view is a lot like sex: We may not be having more of it than we used to, but we’re talking about it more than ever.

In that way, we’re learning more — whether we intended to or not — about how race is experienced by different people and families in our very diverse society. Part of the thanks goes to modern media that, depending on how they are used, can shed light or more heat.

But those who expect to reach a “colorblind society” without a lot of effort and occasional setbacks are, as Frederick Douglass — one of the 19th century’s most important African Americans — said, are “people who want crops without plowing the ground.” We have many miles to go before we reap.


By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, December 15, 2014

December 16, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Create The World We Expect”: What Happened To Protect And Serve? Cops, Civilians And Guns

If you’ll excuse my descending into cliche, the issue that began in Ferguson, Mo. is moving beyond racism to the present-day penchant of police departments to apply military thinking to civilian life.

This thinking leads cops to expect and insist on instant obedience in any interaction. If they don’t get it, they escalate.

This can naturally take things in the wrong direction, a phenomenon reinforced by the intimidating appearance of surplus military equipment, widely distributed to urban, suburban, and rural departments alike from the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters .

Cops have very dangerous jobs. Anything can suddenly move from ordinary conversation to a life-or-death matter — especially in a country that has more guns than people.

And according to the most authoritative source, the Small Arms Survey, there were least 270 million privately-owned guns in the U.S. in 2007 — an average of 88.9 guns per 100 Americans. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, another 67 million guns have been sold–a total of 337 million guns in a nation with 319.3 million people.

With that many guns out there — Americans are the world’s best-armed people — cops can’t be blamed for assuming that anybody they stop may have one. So taking this approach is probably advisable, assuming the cop wants to live.

But the result has been that cops have been encouraged to adopt the thinking of combat officers. A combat officer’s job is to protect the lives of his men. He does that by killing the enemy. It’s a brutal logic, but appropriate for the circumstances. And it’s not a stretch to say that cops are in combat 24/7 and suffer a form of PTSD, and that this reality probably helps cops to have high suicide rates.

Still, we create the world we expect, and if cops stick to this rationale, we have to expect to see more of these incidents, however you want to label them. Even if Michael Brown’s death can be explained away (I don’t think it can be), Tamar Rice and Eric Garner’s can’t be.

In any event, the fundamental premise of this thinking is badly flawed, because cops are there to protect us, and by and large, ordinary citizens–the people cops mostly deal with–are not their enemies.

Meanwhile, MOTHER JONES has just published an excellent article proving with the available statistics they have assembled that black and Hispanic Americans are much more likely to be shot by a policeman than whites.

The usual objection to statistics like this is the assertion that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be committing the sorts of crimes that cops encounter. But if we accept that almost all crime is economically-driven, and not an outgrowth of some baked-in ethnic malignity, what they really show is that by and large, the non-white population in this country is poorer than the white population. So it follows that the real issue is likewise economic, since overall, the black and Hispanic populations in America are poorer than whites.

To my mind, if we want to resolve this wave of racially-tinged, indefensible killings of civilians growing out of the militarization of the police — on December 6, Phoenix, Ariz. police shot Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed 34-year-old, because they mistook a bottle of pills for a gun — we have to address how cops are trained, the sort of income inequality that’s been produced by supply-side economics, and the relentless pro-gun drumbeat coming from NRA headquarters.


By: Andrew Reinbach, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Militarization of Police, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where Anger And Fear Have Brought Us”: Children Are Children, No Matter Their Race Or Ethnicity

Darren Wilson made if very plain in his testimony before the grand jury that he was afraid of Michael Brown. As a matter of fact, his entire case is based on whether or not people believe that to be true. We also know that the officers who shot and killed 12 year-old Tamir Rice assumed that he was about 20 years old.

This is all part of a pattern that was recently the subject of research published by the American Psychological Association.

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research.

Beyond the Michael Brown’s and Tamir Rice’s, those assumptions also lead to this:

Fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13…

Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities and face increased risk of suicide.

Whether they are being shot on the street, tried as adults, or locked up in adult prisons, Jonathan Capehart is right.

In America, black children are just that, children. It’s a damned shame people’s fears and prejudices blinds them to that fact. It’s a crying shame black kids must suffer because of it.

A lot of people are thinking that the one area where bipartisanship is possible in the next Congress is on criminal justice reform. But anything meaningful in that arena has to include the premise that children are children – no matter their race or ethnicity. A system that fails to treat them as such can never call itself “just.”

Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, brings it all together when he says that these kinds of policies are the result of “a political vision that is fueled by fear and sustained by anger.” He echoes President Obama in suggesting that we have to find a “voice of hopefulness to turn these things around.”


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 6, 2014

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Police Shootings, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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