Monday, January 16, 2017

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Before New York City ended former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s stop and frisk policy, ABC News (8/12/13) showed that despite the fact that while local blacks accounted for about a quarter of the population, they accounted for well-over over half the “stops.” 90% of all such stops were of innocent people. As far as police shootings go, under restrictions lobbied into place by the National Rifle Association, the government has never really compiled a reliable database of blue-on-black killings. The Washington Post tells us that there were 963 police killings in 2016, and they intend to cover 2017 as well… the exact racial breakdown will be released soon (they’re working on it). They had to complete the survey on their own, without government statistics.
Surveys have had to rely on university or private organizational samplings to generate what common wisdom has told us for years: Blacks are more likely to be shot as an initial police response than whites… with an obviously higher mortality rate. Earlier studies from the NAACP and even local police departments (like the NYPD) have consistently shown how police rely more on shooting when confronted with alleged perpetrators who are black versus white. Despite DOJ lawsuits against urban police departments, the statistics are still pretty nasty. We’ll know more when the Post publishes its results from the above analysis.
James Hohmann (Daily 202, Washington Post, January 16th) illustrates the continuing problem by citing these stories from the second week of January alone:
  • Dash cam video shows police tackling and beating a black Northwestern doctoral student who they suspected of stealing a car. The problem: It was his vehicle.
  • A federal investigation into the Chicago police found that the department routinely uses excessive force and violates the constitutional rights of residents, particularly those who are black and Latino. (Read the scathing 164-page report by the Justice Department.)
  • A school board member in small-town Arkansas, who wore a blackface costume, refused to resign. Instead, he received an award for being “outstanding.” People from the community wore T-shirts that said “I stand with Ted.”
  • “A Dairy Queen owner unleashed a racist tirade against a customer” (and her young children).
  • Police in Rockville, Maryland, are investigating after a note containing Nazi imagery was left on a car belonging to a Jewish couple who had recently displayed a “Black Lives Matter” banner.
  • A white supremacist petition that circulated at Anne Arundel High School in Maryland described African Americans as a “scourge,” said they “invented” rape, stealing and basketball, and spoke of “the supreme White race.” The petition was labeled Kool Kids Klan — its three K’s underlined in a thinly veiled reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
Enter the Trump administration. Too many Americans have, of late, deprioritized our racial divide (with a majority of white saying things are better, according to a recent Pew study, while a majority of blacks harbor the opposite view). The Trump administration – in fact the GOP in general – seems to reflect that white majority perspective. Hell, many whites exclaim, we had a black president for eight years, so racism is clearly a thing of the past. With body cams and ubiquitous CCTV systems and smart phones, we’ve at least have a better look at a daily reality where blacks grow up with an expectation of police harassment while whites generally get stopped by their local police only when they violate traffic laws.
DOJ chief nominee, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, has already indicated that if approved, he is unlikely to pursue further DOJ actions against local police departments unless they ask for federal assistance. Right, cops are going to tell the DOJ that they need help to make them stop violating civil rights statutes. What’s worse, it does appear that the GOP’s office position is and has been, more or less, that racism is no longer an issue. Add the expected appointment of an ultra-conservative Supreme Court associate justice – the “tie-breaker” – and equal justice before the law, from voting rights to criminal justice against blacks, will be relegated at least temporarily to recent history. Expect protests-turning-violent and perhaps federal troops called in to repress. But change? If there is any positive movement, it will be slow in coming. Very slow.
Hohmann tells us what stands in the way of equal justice before the law: “[The Republican National Committee declared in 2013 [12/1/13] that racism was over… More precisely, under the leadership of incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer, the organization celebrated ‘Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism.’
“Racism, of course, never ‘ended.’ After Democrats hammered them for this, the party tweeted a clarification: Parks played a role ‘in fighting to end racism.’ But the original tweet has never been deleted…
“Trump has often used racially-charged rhetoric, and his ill-informed attacks on  beloved civil rights icon John Lewis this weekend [1/14-15] underscored how unserious he is about redemption. But the incoming president is also surrounded by people who have, at times, been tone-deaf and tin-eared when race relations come up, raising questions about who will keep his darkest instincts in check.
Stephen Bannon, who will be the president’s chief strategist, has proudly called Breitbart ‘ the platform for the alt-right. Under his leadership, that website ran stories with headlines like, ‘Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage’ and ‘6 reasons Pamela Geller’s Muhammad cartoon contest is no different from Selma.’
“A former colleague, Julia Jones, says that in their years making movies together, Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners. ‘I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’ ’ Jones recalled recently to the New York Times. ‘He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’ (Bannon’s executive assistant). He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’ ’
Jeff Sessions claims that he was only joking when, as a U.S attorney in Alabama, he said he thought the KKK was OK until he learned they smoked pot. His nomination for a judgeship was rejected three decades ago by a Republican-controlled Judiciary committee, because of other racially-insensitive comments (which he denies making) and his role in prosecuting a flimsy voter fraud case against black civil rights activists. Now he’s poised to win confirmation as attorney general.
Mike Pence said this fall that anyone who points out that there is still ‘systemic racism’ in law enforcement is using the ‘rhetoric of division.’ Amidst rioting in Charlotte, he declared: ‘We ought to set aside this talk, this talk about institutional racism and institutional bias.’
“On Fox News Sunday yesterday [1/15/17], Chris Wallace asked the vice president-elect how Trump could possibly accuse Lewis of being ‘all talk, talk, talk’ and ‘no action,’ as he did in one of his tweets: ‘Can he really say that about the man who got his head cracked open walking across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday?’ Pence replied, ‘I think Donald Trump has the right to defend himself.’”
Oh, and then there’s this: citing scheduling issues, the President-opted out of visiting Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in observance of Martin Luther King Day. Interesting message. But notwithstanding the new administration’s position, it is a two-way issue. Cops are at risk as well.
Too many police officers are dying on top of everything else. Good cops face the brunt of crazed anger incited by cops who have failed the system. 2016 also was a record year for police officers shot in the line of duty. As currently constituted, there are too many police departments who still do not get it, and there are a lot of those in black communities convinced that they have reached the point of nothing left to lose. In the end, until there is equal justice, we are all losers one way or another.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we all need to recommit to equal justice under the law or else life in these United States will just get worse for every man, woman and child in this great nation.

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