Tag Archives: excessive use of force

#BlackLivesMatter and the misappropriation of a Theme?

black lives matter

Sam Dubose. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. These names are now a part of the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not famous for their lives. Tragically, they are famous only in wrongful death.” [HuffPo]  and altogether too many others.

It’s been interesting to watch the white American reaction to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the range of those reactions.  From the white’s-right end of the spectrum came the #AllLivesMatter theme – including, we presume, those of white officers being charged (or remaining uncharged) for their excessive use of force or poor professional judgment.  No sooner did the #BlackLivesMatter signs appear than there was an all too predictable white backlash:

“A Saint Louis-area minister, for example, wrote of a “Black Lives Matter” sign being defaced with “All Lives Matter” written on the front and a racial slur written on the back.  The fact that “All Lives Matter” is being used to argue against the idea that Black lives matter is proof that (1) People spreading that slogan don’t really believe Black lives matter, at least not equally, and (2) It’s therefore not true that all lives do matter equally in their eyes.  The statement’s use belies itself.  If all lives matter, then black lives matter, so why the argument?  Why the comeback?  The comeback proves that statement false, and proves it for what it is — a response born of fear and racism.” [Schade, November 2014]

The point has been made repeatedly that the response “All Lives Matter” is (1) a way of diluting the sting of direct allegations of police brutality, use of excessive force, bias, discrimination, and/or profiling; after all, “white lives” matter too? Right?  The problem, of course, is the disproportionate use of force against people of color. [ProPublica] and (2) a theme useful in an attempt to appear “post racial.”   The erasure of “race” is as silly as it is counter-productive.

Another form of reaction comes from those writers and pundits who opine that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is congenitally flawed, based as it is on whether or not Michael Brown raised his hands, or if a flight from an officer constitutes  a defiance of law and order, or if the individual victimized had in some way been the instrument of his or her own destruction.

This utterly misses the point. The individual character flaws of individual actors – real or speculative – is not the origin, nor the basis, of the movement.

“To even lightly advance the idea that Michael Brown’s alleged transgressions make him incapable of being a symbol of the movement is to entirely miss its point. When people say Black Lives Matter, they mean every single life. If Michael Brown committed a petty crime and behaved disrespectfully to a member of a police office department that has been since proven to be predatory to its Black residents, it has no bearing on the fact that police officers across this country have bad habits that they disproportionately dish out on people of color.” (Michael Arceneaux)[NewsOne]

In addition to the backlash trap, and the basic flaw trap, there’s the dilution trap.

If #BlackLivesMatter then what of the unborn, the animals, the lives affected by climate change? Okay, fine – but those are separate issues entirely.  The wailing and whinging is ear splitting – why are people so upset about police assaults but not about abortion? – why are people so enraged about the killing of Cecil the lion but not about the deaths of African Americans?  First, and obviously, people have different personal interests and agendas. If one is an environmental activist that doesn’t necessarily include or preclude one’s participation or support for #BlackLivesMatter.  If one is opposed to abortion that, too, doesn’t include or preclude interest in #BlackLivesMatter.  If a person is opposed to trophy hunting for exotic animals that doesn’t automatically include or preclude interest in #BlackLivesMatter.  Purity can be a lovely thing, but even Ivory Soap was forced to advertise that it was 99.44% pure (pure what they never told us?)

If the #BlackLivesMatter advocates can wade through the backlash, the “basic flaw,” and dilution fever swamps, there’s at least one more to go.  It’s the “What Do You Want?” trap.   Evidently, by modern media standards, a movement must spring full born from the Head of Zeus, complete, and replete, with convenient press releases and position papers outlining precisely what the organization wants.  Detailed, of course, preferably with bullet points, for easy translation into quick copy.  The #Occupy movement was battered by the media for not being “well organized,” and too amoebic for translation into action, it never occurred to some media lights that perhaps there was a wide range of individuals uncomfortable with and opposed to the various implications and results of corporatism?

The basic concept behind #BlackLivesMatter is to make it stop.  “It” being the excessive use of force against people of color.  Beyond and beneath that aspiration isn’t a bedrock of easily digestible sound-bites, but a plethora of less specific topics we need to discuss; for example, the recruitment, training, and professional development of law enforcement officers.  Another element is the possible restructuring of judicial systems such that officers with dubious records in community relations aren’t pre-judged innocent before being held accountable for their actions.  Still another, the implementation of community policing strategies and programs.  Complex issues don’t lend themselves to sound-bite solutions, and racism in American life is an extremely complex issue.

Nothing better illustrates the racism implicit in the opponents and critics of #BlackLivesMatter than the institutional reaction to their organization.  “ZeroFox,” a cyber-security firm was hired to provide surveillance of the #BlackLivesMatter leadership, whom it deemed a “high” threat, and potentially “physical.” [MJ]  If this is reminiscent of the FBI tracking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. then we should note that it was the FBI who recommended ZeroFox to the city of Baltimore.  According to at least one source, the DoJ has been monitoring the movement since the demonstrations in Ferguson, MO. [FL.org]

Could this be because African Americans are “emotional,” “violent,” and easily led to acts of destruction?  If that construct informed any of the surveillance and subsequent reporting, then we do, indeed, have a long way to go in removing institutional racism from American governance.  Did some observers or officials find such surveillance and reporting “comforting,” assuaging as it might the biases underpinning notions like Blacks are Destructive unless kept under close watch and control?  If so, we haven’t moved far enough away from the Slave Patrol mentality of the 19th century – and that needs to be discussed.  The reports on possible graffiti knitting ought to make fascinating reading?

Perhaps we’ll get,”Twelve parking meters were assaulted (read: covered) with 100% acrylic Red Heart fibers (read: knitting yarn) overnight in the east metro suburb of Keenpeele. Profilers tell us the possible perpetrators are female, between the ages of 15 and 95, carrying sharp needles.”  Meanwhile, we’d not want to give away the location(s) of those ladies who are crafting scarves, sweaters, and baby booties while discussing how to improve race relations in the U.S. of A., and inviting other women to join their productive efforts.

we need to talk Seriously, the #BlackLivesMatter movement could do with more support and less surveillance.  More understanding and less pontificating analysis. More serious discussion and fewer sound-bite sensationalism pieces.  More honesty and much less rationalization on the part of its critics and opponents.   More focus on the extent of the problem and less narrow focus on the individuals actors involved.  We do need to talk instead of appropriating and misappropriating the #BlackLivesMatter topic.

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The Wells’ legacy and Pompous Post Racialism

Ida B Wells 2

Google is honoring Ida B. Wells-Barnett today for her journalism and activism on behalf of African Americans who were being lynched at alarming rates in this country.  She was born a slave in 1862 and lived until 1931.  How ironic that today we’re addressing issues involving the excessive use of force against African Americans by law enforcement authorities.

Among some white conservative elements there appears to be a protracted, if not profound, attempt to assert that there would be no racial problems eighty four years after Mrs. Wells-Barnett’s death if people would just stop talking about IT.  Witness Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly’s recent rant:

“O’Reilly ripped into liberals who he says are “demonizing” America by saying America is “a country dominated by white supremacy… to keep black Americans down.” And this goes “unchallenged by a cowardly media,” as he put it. He got really teed off as he insisted “there is no organized effort to harm black people by white people,” and then declared, “You want a war? You got a war! I’m not going to sit here any longer and take this garbage.” [Mdite]

The most obvious issue with O’Reilly’s rant is that racism doesn’t have to be organized to be pervasive.  The second problem is that we do have some demons which need to be faced down.

We do need to analyze and act upon information which persistently demonstrates that some police officers treat African Americans differently – out of fear? Out of biases? Out of lack of appropriate training?   One question that keeps rising out of the fog of information regarding the shooting of unarmed black suspects is “Did the officer perceive a greater threat because the suspect was African American?”  (Michael Brown) Or, “Did the officer lack sufficient self control to manage an arrest of an African American suspect?” (Walter Scott) Or to deal with a situation involving African Americans (McKinney, TX)?

Are African Americans treated differently, or abused, in police custody. Texas authorities have been called in to investigate the death of Sandra Bland, arrested in Waller County, who police reported had committed suicide in her jail cell. [ChicagoTrib] The family vociferously disputes this possibility.

Again, white supremacy needn’t be as blatant as that of the Council of Conservative Citizens, or the KKK, or any other associated hate group.  We can see it at work in the sentencing of black and white convicts, as described by a study conducted by researchers from Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Pennsylvania University:

“The researchers divided judges into categories based on level of race bias. To make these results concrete, they compare two examples. There are two identically situated defendants, who differ only by race – one black and one white. If they are sentenced by a judge who is among the least affected by racial bias (meaning in one of the best case scenarios), the black defendant is still 30% more likely to end up in prison. If they are sentenced by judge who is among the most affected by racial bias (one of the worst case scenarios), the black defendant is almost twice as likely to end up in prison.” [TP]

ALL other elements being equal, a black defendant is still 30% more likely to be sentenced to prison than a white defendant. Why?  If we take the discussion out of the realm of the institutional and into the general population we find that racism is far from a minor irritant under American skin.  Perhaps it would be instructive to take a closer look at the nature of white complaints.

One of the more illogical is the fallacious argument of “reverse racism,” which is used to cover a range of territory from opposition to affirmative action plans to the justification of person racial prejudice.  In definitional terms, the assertion fails to differentiate between racism (a social construct) and prejudice/bias (a personal trait.)  Additionally, it all too often relies on broad generalizations based on limited personal information or experience.  Contentions that entire population segments are “lazy,” or “criminal,” or otherwise socially unfit require the speaker to ignore all but that data which substantiates his position.  Yes, the unemployment rate for African Americans in this country is 9.5% [BLS]  However, that obviously means that 90.5% of working age African Americans are, in fact, working – hardly proving that they are “lazy” or disinclined to accept employment.

A variation on the “reverse racism” contention is the “they are taking our jobs” assertion.  This can be quickly, and relatively easily debunked:

“Although many are concerned that immigrants compete against Americans for jobs, the most recent economic evidence suggests that, on average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans.  Based on a survey of the academic literature, economists do not tend to find that immigrants cause any sizeable decrease in wages and employment of U.S.-born citizens (Card 2005), and instead may raise wages and lower prices in the aggregate (Ottaviano and Peri 2008; Ottaviano and Peri 2010; Cortes 2008).”  [Brookings]

So, if we do have legitimate questions regarding the interactions between members of minority communities and law enforcement institutions, and at least two of the most common racially based complaints are illogical or downright false, why the current interest in “Our Heritage?”  There’s nothing all that new about this, as Salon explained back in 2013:

“The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat. First the attempt of white Southerners to create a new nation in which they can be the majority was defeated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Doomed to be a perpetual minority in a continental American nation-state, white Southerners managed for a century to create their own state-within-a-state, in which they could collectively lord it over the other major group in the region, African-Americans. But Southern apartheid was shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic. Some opt for jingoistic hyper-Americanism (the lady protesteth too much, methinks) while a shrinking but significant minority prefer the Stars and Bars to the Stars and Stripes.”

It’s that shrinking minority which greeted our first African American President in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

csa flags obama trips

Complete with those Stars and Bars.  And in this instance we may be seeing another element in play.  There are those who cannot efficiently handle the difference between criticism and an attack.  No one is actually attacking American culture.  What is happening is that it is no longer socially acceptable to use the N-word, at least in public. It is no longer socially acceptable to slap Mary Jane on the fanny down at the garage.  It is no longer socially acceptable to call the Gonzales family the W-B term.  It’s true, Native American women take offense at the S-word.  Nor, is it socially acceptable to use the F-word as shorthand for members of the LGBT communities.  In short, it is no longer socially acceptable to view members of ethnic and gender minorities from the Olympian heights of assumed white supremacy.

Those people who are uncomfortable with this state of affairs may be longing to “take our country back.”  But, what do they mean by that statement? 

At one end of the spectrum there are the white nationalists, the fringe groups of the malcontents and the downright disturbed who cheered the actions of the Charleston Church shooter. It is harder to categorize the other delineations on that spectrum of opinion.  There are, of course, those who would happily pepper their conversation with the racial epithets which are no longer useful or appropriate, and who would gladly practice discrimination if it’s in their power to do so.  There are those who would like to use their unacceptable vocabulary (and related ideas) but don’t do so in public, and bristle at the thought they would personally be capable of bias or prejudice.  And there are the insensitive or ignorant who simply don’t know that some words and items are offensive and slip up in situations they later regret. (Example: Tom Petty’s apology for using the CSA battle flag on a 1985 album)

A person may well be suffering from “white supremacy” syndrome if he or she is aware that the CSA (KKK) battle flag is offensive, but waves it anyway because it is emblematic of their discomfort and their longing to return to a time when they weren’t aware the LGBT community existed (outside closets), when African Americans “knew their place,” when everyone spoke English (never since the expansion of the US after the Louisiana Purchase, and questionable before then), and when they could talk about tolerance without actually having to practice it.

So, the contention that we’re “post racial” is as inaccurate as it is pompous. It is little more than a thin layer of Kawamata silk which fails to even barely disguise the efforts to cling to their sense of self-worth on the equally fragile social ladder constructed of outmoded ideas, and outdated vocabulary.

Meanwhile, let’s join the celebration of Ida Baker Wells-Barnett and her legacy of journalism and civic activism.  No flags are required.

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