Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Black Reels from Black Wheels
For those who seek to replace “Black Lives Matter” with “Lives Matter” – which sounds great until you scratch the surface of intention – there is a nasty undertone that suggests that black complaints are overstated, that they are no more valuable than, say, police lives. As pointed out in my October 19th Diluting the Message blog, blacks are twice as likely as whites to die in a police confrontation merits a separate statement, a separate focus. Critics of this “black” focus point out that as police have become skittish – with bodycams and the public scrutiny they never faced before – crime rates are squeaking upwards. They argue that we need to protect police as the saviors of the community of last resort.
No one is going to say police lives matter less than those of any other group. While unlike the general citizenry, cops know that they place their lives on the line every day, and that one category of citizen faces effectively a different legal standard than most everyone else needs to bother us… all of us… a great deal.
We actually hear statements that since the black neighborhoods in the inner city are the hotbeds of crime, of course we should expect greater police-citizen confrontations and shootings. So if we could find statistical proof, where criminal activity is not the measure of a police “stop,” that blacks get singled out for such confrontations disproportionately, shouldn’t that be enough to underscore even to skeptics, the silent carriers of latent (or blatant) racism, that we have a big problem if we want to take credit for a system of blind and equally-applied justice.
The New York Times Magazine (Sunday, but released October 24th) tackles precisely that subject in The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black. Focusing on Greensboro, North Carolina in order to perform a thorough analysis of a representative area that is easily digestible, the Times drilled down into public records for their results. “[An] analysis by The New York Times of tens of thousands of traffic stops and years of arrest data in this racially mixed city of 280,000 uncovered wide racial differences in measure after measure of police conduct.
“Those same disparities were found across North Carolina, the state that collects the most detailed data on traffic stops. And at least some of them showed up in the six other states that collect comprehensive traffic-stop statistics.
“Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white… Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance…
“As the public’s most common encounter with law enforcement, [traffic stops] largely shape perceptions of the police. Indeed, complaints about traffic-law enforcement are at the root of many accusations that some police departments engage in racial profiling. Since Ferguson erupted in protests in August last year, three of the deaths of African-Americans that have roiled the nation occurred after drivers were pulled over for minor traffic infractions: a broken brake light, a missing front license plate and failure to signal a lane change.
“Violence is rare, but routine traffic stops more frequently lead to searches, arrests and the opening of a trapdoor into the criminal justice system that can have a lifelong impact, especially for those without the financial or other resources to negotiate it.
“In Greensboro, which is 41 percent black, traffic stops help feed the stream of minor charges that draw a mostly African-American crowd of defendants to the county courthouse on weekday mornings. National surveys show that blacks and whites use marijuana at virtually the same rate, but black residents here are charged with the sole offense of possession of minor amounts of marijuana five times as often as white residents are.
“And more than four times as many blacks as whites are arrested on the sole charge of resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer, an offense so borderline that some North Carolina police chiefs discourage its use unless more serious crimes are also involved.
“Greensboro police officials said most if not all of the racial disparities in their traffic enforcement stemmed from the fact that more African-Americans live in neighborhoods with higher crime, where officers patrol more aggressively. Pulling over drivers, they said, is a standard and effective form of proactive policing.” Just think about the underlying assumptions that give rise to this double standard on traffic stops. Some call it “good police work;” others call it racism.
Does the massive resistance from social conservatives to a realistic immigration policy come from a desire to maintain secure borders, particularly to seal the sieve against terrorists and criminals? Then why is the entire focus on the brown border to the south and not at all against the white border to the north (which, if I were a terrorist, would be my choice of entry!)? Is it resistance to the reality that minorities typically vote against Republican candidates who favor maintaining white elitists as the shot-callers for America? Or is it just plain racism? Read the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. That’s not America!
I’m Peter Dekom, and if begin to repeal the very basis for our American democracy, aren’t we simply repealing America herself?