Tag: Black-Lives-Matter

It’s Time To Stop Talking About Racism With White People

No more arguing with disingenuous folks who have nothing to lose.

As reports of police overreach and brutality in the black community become more and more commonplace in mainstream news, many black people are feeling a strange combination of frustration and relief — relief because the shootings of unarmed citizens have become part of a national discussion, but frustration because, time and time again, we hear the same dismissive and deflective responses from white America:

“There must be more to the story.”

“If you people would just do what you’re told.”

“Cops have a hard job.”

“White people get shot too.”

“He was just another thug. Good riddance!”

“Why do you people make everything about race?”

“What about black on black crime?”

All lives matter.”

I’ve grown too disillusioned to be relieved and too numb to be frustrated. I’m just tired.

I’m tired from sacrificing millions of once healthy brain cells reading through the comment sections of race-based web articles — thread after thread, chock-full of black folks trying to navigate oblivious whiteness. At some point, we really need to ask ourselves: Why even bother?

Why are we losing solid hours out of our day, wearing our fingertips numb on keyboards and touch screens in an attempt to explain to some dense dude-bro why “All lives matter” is a messed up and functionally redundant response to “Black lives matter”?

We’ve spelled it out for white America a hundred different ways that their beloved police forces are full of officers who are simply more volatile, fearful and prone to harassment and abuse of power when dealing with us — and it’s costing us our lives. We’ve laid out all the statistics and all of our millions of personal testimonies. We’ve made it clear that even though the subject of police brutality, as a sensationalized national discussion covered by mainstream media, is a relatively new phenomenon, it is an issue as old as our involuntary occupation of this country. With all of this information readily available and reiterated constantly, it’s beyond ridiculous that the simple words “black lives matter” require any added explanation at all. And yet, here we are coming up with a dozen analogies trying to, even further, simplify it.

“Hey man, you wouldn’t go to a cancer rally shouting ‘All diseases matter,’ would ya?”

“Hey Scottie, ‘Save the rain forest’ doesn’t mean ‘Kill all the other forests.’ ”

“Hey Kip, when a house is burning, you don’t turn the fire hose on some non-burning house because #AllHousesMatter.”

Can we please stop?

We need to stop acting like white people don’t take the same reading comprehension portions of standardized tests all through middle and high school that we do. They know how analogies work. They got it the first time — they just didn’t care.

If they really considered the affirmation of one life mattering to be a denial of the same for all others, then they would consider “Blue Lives Matter” to be just as offensive as “Black Lives Matter.” But they don’t.

Not only are they unoffended by #BlueLivesMatter, but they consider any concession or policy change aimed at countering black vulnerability to be unearned special treatment — while they actively advocate giving police officers protected class status, oblivious to the fact that they already have it.

Only, I’m not sure they’re legitimately oblivious. They know damn well there isn’t a state, city or county in this country where the penalties for crimes committed against cops aren’t a hell of a lot steeper than they are for civilians. They know they don’t need a protest, riot or hash tag to ensure that thorough investigations will be done to bring cop killers to justice. They’re not worried about dead cops being put on trial for their own murders. They’re not worried about a not guilty verdict for the murderers of police officers or even a reluctance to bring charges. No one’s looking into a dead cop’s record, fishing for reasons to justify his or her demise. They know that cops have the delusional admiration of the vast majority of (white) America in their corner.

So how could anyone possibly believe that we, as a society and as a system, don’t already do everything in our collective powers to ensure that value be placed on police lives?

Could it be that white people actually aren’t as concerned with supporting the police as they are in maintaining a counter-narrative to black complaints about racist police misconduct? Could it be that their counter-narratives to race issues in general are largely disingenuous and, often, just plain spiteful?

Not only are they unoffended by #BlueLivesMatter, but they consider any concession or policy change aimed at countering black vulnerability to be unearned special treatment — while they actively advocate giving police officers protected class status, oblivious to the fact that they already have it.

Only, I’m not sure they’re legitimately oblivious. They know damn well there isn’t a state, city or county in this country where the penalties for crimes committed against cops aren’t a hell of a lot steeper than they are for civilians. They know they don’t need a protest, riot or hash tag to ensure that thorough investigations will be done to bring cop killers to justice. They’re not worried about dead cops being put on trial for their own murders. They’re not worried about a not guilty verdict for the murderers of police officers or even a reluctance to bring charges. No one’s looking into a dead cop’s record, fishing for reasons to justify his or her demise. They know that cops have the delusional admiration of the vast majority of (white) America in their corner.

So how could anyone possibly believe that we, as a society and as a system, don’t already do everything in our collective powers to ensure that value be placed on police lives?

Could it be that white people actually aren’t as concerned with supporting the police as they are in maintaining a counter-narrative to black complaints about racist police misconduct? Could it be that their counter-narratives to race issues in general are largely disingenuous and, often, just plain spiteful?

So we need to let them cry. Let them gripe about how white is the new black and they are now the true victims of racism because their black co-workers don’t invite them to lunch or some black guy on the train called them a cracker or because black people on the interwebs hurt feelings. (How nice it must be to have the option of simply logging off of your oppression.) We need to let them cry. And we need to learn how to just sit our intellectual selves back and enjoy it.

When Rachel Dolezal got her counterfeit black card snatched, we struck comedy gold for black meme-makers all over the web. The “Ask Rachel” hashtag was born, and scrolling through your Black Twitter feed became something like running a marathon, only the people on the sidelines were handing out little paper cups filled with white tears instead of regular drinking water. But instead of enjoying ourselves, far too many of us were arguing with smug white people about why this is completely different from Caitlyn Jenner and why this doesn’t, in any way, make “black privilege” a thing.

When Beyoncé released the video for “Formation,” featuring a black kid in a hoodie, a “hands up, don’t shoot” banner and a sinking police car — then performed the song while paying homage to the Black Panther Party smack in the face of white America during the Super Bowl halftime show — she provided us with a bottomless open bar of white tears. But instead of getting good and drunk like we should’ve, too many of us were arguing with white folks about why nothing she did was racist, “reverse racist” or anti-cop. We should’ve just taken the win and left the field.

During the Republican National Convention, Melania Trump plagiarized a chunk of a Michelle Obama speech. And a lot of you were out here arguing with Trump supporters and other assorted delusional white folks who had the audacity to claim there was never any plagiarism at all. What you should’ve been doing was joining me, Jesse Williams and our beloved Black Twitter in intentionally misattributing black quotes to Mrs. Trump because it was fun.

If Colin Kaepernik’s decision to stand against social injustice by sitting during the National Anthem has shown us anything else, it’s that much of white America is more bothered by our methods of protest than they ever will be about the injustices we’re protesting. Let’s dispel the notion that if we only protested better, white people will miraculously become more receptive of our message and less scornful of our audacity in speaking out.

The fact is, we can fight systemic racism without white validation. We can continue shutting down bridges and highways every time there’s a new Alton Sterling, Philando Castile or Korryn Gaines in the news and let white folks complain about the intrusion on their lives. We can continue moving our black dollars into black banks and keeping our money in our businesses and communities. We don’t need them to “get it” for us to keep fighting.

And likewise, white people who truly want to be allies can find their path to ally-ship without black validation and without us having to take time out of our days to educate them. They can find their own curriculum and figure out for themselves how they can do their part in fighting the good fight. And they can do it without the promise of black praise. And, I’m not about to keep checking to see if they’re doing that much. Because it’s not my job – and it’s not yours, either.

Black people, it is long past time for us to start practicing self-care. And if that means completely disengaging with white America altogether, then so be it.

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*Originally published on Washington Post.

Why #BlackLivesMatter Doesn’t Focus On ‘Black-on-Black’ Crime

The Black Lives Matter movement is in the national spotlight again this month, following the high-profile killings of two black men by police and the killings of police officers by black men in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

With the movement’s attention comes a familiar refrain: Why doesn’t Black Lives Matter focus on “Black-on-Black” crime?

It’s a question asked, in various forms, from Facebook to cable networks to comments on this site. The answer, one writer says, is Black Lives Matter isn’t solely focused on the loss of Black lives but also on a lack of justice.

“When a civilian has committed a violent crime, they’re generally arrested, tried and then convicted,” Franchesca Ramsey, a writer and activist who discusses race, explains in the MTV series Decoded (which you can watch here in full).

“Conversely, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for excessive force. And an indictment is just a trial; it isn’t even a conviction.”

“Black Lives Matter isn’t just about the loss of life, which is always terrible. It’s about the lack of consequences when black lives are taken at the hands of police.”

Police officers shot and killed nearly 1,000 people last year, according to a Washington Post database. Eighteen officers faced charges for such shootings that year.

While nearly twice as many white Americans were killed by on-duty officers than Blacks, the Post’s updated data showed, black Americans remained 2.5 times as likely to die at the hands of police when adjusting for population.

And when unarmed, the data showed that Black Americans were five times as likely to be fatally shot as white ones.

Black Americans do find violence within the Black community troubling: A YouGov poll from April shows a plurality of Black Americans think it’s a bigger problem than racial injustice, as Vox’s Victoria M. Massie notes.

“(The) survey underscores what the people in these communities have long argued — that police brutality and crime are not mutually exclusive concerns for African Americans,” she wrote.

Black Americans have launched anti-violence efforts in their communities (Ramsey mentions a PBS documentary about them, The Interruptors). But many in the Black Lives Matter movement have described “Black-on-Black” criticisms a diversion that ignores underlying issues like poverty.

“What we know is that gun violence absolutely presents tragedy every single day,” said Brittany Packnett, a prominent voice in the movement, on PBS NewsHour in December. “But if Black life really matters to people … who insist that Black-on-Black crime is the real issue, then pay attention to poverty.”

Poor white Americans experience violent crimes at rates virtually equal that of poor Black Americans, as Massie points out in a 2014 Department of Justice study. Black and white Americans kill members of their own races at similar rates, too.

According to 2014 FBI data, 90% of African-American homicides were committed by African Americans. Similarly, 82% of white American homicides were committed by white Americans—what we might, but don’t, call “white-on-white” crime.

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*Originally posted on USA Today.

Everyone Has The Legal Right To Mouth Off To Cops (unless you’re a minority, that is)

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“Fuck tha police!” The protest refrain provokes feelings of sympathy, ambivalence, or dismay, depending on the listener. It is also a song by the rap group N.W.A., and a young man named Cesar Baldelomar was blasting it from his car last Thanksgiving when Hialeah, Florida, police officer Harold Garzon took offense.

“Really?” Garzon allegedly said to Baldelomar. “You’re really playing that song? Pull over.”

Police response to perceived disrespect is not unusual, as the tragic case of Sandra Bland, who died of a reported but disputed suicide in a Texas jail, has reminded us this week. Bland was driving when she was pulled over on July 10, and a video from arresting State Trooper Brian T. Encinia’s dashcam released this week shows that the officer appears to have escalated a simple traffic stop into a violent arrest—all because he didn’t like that Bland admitted that yes, she was annoyed at being pulled over.

Being rude to police, however, is protected by the First Amendment. And it doesn’t even seem that Bland was particularly rude. Rather, she just honestly responded to his statement: “You seem very irritated.” That should have come as no surprise.

“Newsflash: people don’t like getting pulled over,” says Jason Williamson, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. “People don’t enjoy interactions with police if they can avoid it.”

Encinia’s reaction, however, didn’t surprise him either.

“The police officer in the Sandra Bland case and police officers everywhere often respond in kind when they think people are being disrespectful to them,” says Williamson.

Such police responses can be dangerous. Bland’s offense appears not to have been rudeness but rather her failure to be sufficiently deferential to Encinia’s authority and ego. In short, she did not grovel. Bland was well within her right to speak out. And Trooper Encinia’s escalation of the situation appears to have been in retaliation for her exercising that right.

“The police officer is supposed to be the professional in this situation and he could have very easily deescalated that encounter, and we would’t be talking about this today,” says Willamson. Instead, “he took it to another place.”

The right to be rude to cops is well established.

“People generally have a right to mouth off to (or give the finger to) members of law enforcement, as long as they do not interfere with (i.e., obstruct) ordinary law-enforcement operations,” emails Ira Robbins, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and the author of the law review article, “Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law.” “This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a wise thing to do, however, as many police officers are thin-skinned and have not been trained well enough to let these slights roll off.”

The slightest insult, perceived or real, sets some cops off. And sometimes those insults are imaginary, or profoundly misconstrued. In March, a video of NYPD Detective Patrick Cherry delivering a three-minute-plus rant to an Uber driver became an internet sensation. The offense that merited mockery of the driver’s English, threats, and insults? Reportedly, he had either gestured or honked at the officer’s unmarked car because it was blocking the street. The detective said that he was trying to park. A passenger said that could not be discerned because he had not activated his turn signal, though the detective said he had his turn signal on.

A similar case took place in 2011, when an East Harlem man allegedly gave the finger to what he described as an annoying driver—who turned to be a cop. The cop then allegedly opened the driver’s car door, pushed him, pulled his key out of the ignition and broke it. It was only the man’s provocatively aggressive behavior, according to K.C. Okoli, the complainant’s lawyer, that made him realize the aggressor was a cop.

“My client’s a big guy compared to the detective. He understood then if you weren’t a cop, you wouldn’t be doing this,” he told the Daily News.

Okoli says that a lawsuit over the incident is in state court.

Policing, in both its historical origins and in practice, is in large part about maintaining public order, and police operate within a street-level symbolic economy centered on respect and offense. They expect to be respected.

Police respond harshly “once their authority gets challenged, and once an order is not being complied with,” says David B. Rankin, a civil rights lawyer at the New York firm Rankin & Taylor, PLLC. “The ultimate noncompliance is running and trying to evade their authority.”

Met with defiance, he says, “the cop will use overwhelming force, either verbal force or physical force, to deal with that. And that asymmetric reaction is what we see again and again.”

Rankin says that his firm has litigated hundreds of civil rights cases alleging police misconduct. Most, he says, have a police officer’s insistence on imposing their authority at their root. One client is Cecile Gogol, 47, who says she was walking to take the crosstown bus near Carnegie Hall, in Manhattan, when she saw that the street was closed down. When an officer passed, she asked what was going on. He allegedly said, “step away!,” and “very rudely. And I’m like, step away where?” As she started to walk away, she says, she called out “hey, courtesy and respect,” repeating a portion of the the NYPD slogan emblazoned on squad cars citywide.

“And then I hear him behind me say, ‘do you have ID?” She continued to walk toward the subway, she says, and he followed. He asked for ID again. Gogol, according to her account, asked whether she was under arrest. “He said, ‘I’m going to arrest you if you don’t show me ID.’ And I put my hands behind my back.” Gogol was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of government administration. She agreed to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD, which means that she has not admitted to any wrongdoing and that the charges will be dropped if she doesn’t get arrested again soon.

Gogol is now suing in federal court.

“I didn’t feel I should have my civil rights violated, so I was adamant about that,” says Gogol. “I was born in Russia and my parents came here in the mid-’70s for personal freedom, for civil rights basically. He touched off a special nerve with me, asking to show my papers for no reason.”

Gogol works for the Sheraton hotel chain and lives on the Upper East Side, and says that the officer related that he’d previously been posted in the South Bronx. She suspects he had been accustomed to greater deference.

“I didn’t feel I should be intimidated by him,” she says.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, says that the Bland case shows the importance of a current push to train officers in deescalation. Wexler, who says that watching the Bland video was “painful on a number of levels,” mentions the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge—an arrest that was followed by President Obama’s comment that the officer had “acted stupidly” and the famously strange “beer summit” held after that remark sparked controversy.

“When we were asked to examine the [Gates] arrest… we came away with the conclusion that in these kind of encounters it is very important for the police to recognize that by stepping back from a heated encounter (that is only being fueled by the officer’s presence) you achieve the best possible outcome,” emails Wexler, a Boston Police Department veteran. “At the same time we forget that police are human and subject to the same frailties of all humans and therefore hope that another officer is there to be able to intervene and take over should an officer begin to act unprofessionally.”

I’ve seen police officers act with the sort of restraint Wexler advocates myself. Last year, I walked past a porch in West Philadelphia where an intoxicated-seeming man was engaged in some sort of altercation. I watched in awe as the police calmly let him spin his belligerent wheels, refusing to contribute to the problem. Emails one of the Philadelphia Police officers involved, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press:

“I remember it came over the radio as a priority call ‘Person Screaming’ … but when we got there we realized it was a neighbor dispute about loud music or something. … We tried to cool everyone out, and then we left.

“Basically, when you have people that are loud, upset, rude … you want to act like a professional. What that means specifically is that you make eye contact and listen; let them ‘get it out,’ whatever it is. … [E]xude a calm demeanor, and don’t say anything until you’ve gathered enough info to make an educated suggestion to the parties. Then suggest a solution or two and leave; sometimes a police presence by itself can escalate a situation… . If things get heated again, they can always call back.”

This officer says that most cops he knows are like that. But clearly not all.

“You can see in the [Sandra] Bland video, the trooper is almost like this naive guy who is used to this Mayberry-type, bucolic setting where everyone on a car-stop is courteous and respects law enforcement and will do anything he says.”

*****

The courts have made it clear that individuals have a right to insult police officers. In 1987, the Supreme Court decided in City of Houston v. Hill that the First Amendment allows for a “significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers,” ruling against a Houston, Texas, ordinance making it “unlawful for any person to assault, strike or in any manner oppose, molest, abuse or interrupt any policeman in the execution of his duty, or any person summoned to aid in making an arrest.”

The case involved a gay rights activist who had been arrested numerous times for allegedly interfering with the police.

The First Amendment, the court noted, does not protect “fighting words,” statements “that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” But criticism, even when angrily voiced, is protected.

“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest,” Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote for the majority, “is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”

That case built upon the 1974 decision in Lewis v. City of New Orleans, when the court ruled against an ordinance in that city making it “unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”

The Lewis case involved a couple following behind a squad car that was taking their young son away. Another officer pulled them over and, after the woman got out, allegedly said, “you get in the car woman. Get your black ass in the god damned car or I will show you something.” The police officer testified that the woman said, “you god damn m.f. police – I am going to [the Superintendent of Police] about this.” The woman denied using any profanity. Either way, the court ruled that the ordinance under which she was arrested was so broad as to apply to “speech, although vulgar or offensive, that is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., in a concurring opinion cited by Justice Brennan in the 1987 case, wrote that police should be able to deal with more offensive language than a private citizen—meaning that verbal abuse had to reach a higher threshold to count as fighting words when they are directed at a cop.

That abuse can run quite high and stay within constitutional bounds, something that a cottage industry of people who make a point of testing cops on their First Amendment knowledge by giving them the middle finger has proven.

In May, a Saratoga Springs, New York, police officer was placed on administrative leave after he was videotaped arresting Adam Rupeka. Rupeka had given him the finger and was told he was being placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and pepper sprayed. All the while, he is audibly explaining to the officer that he has a legal right to flip off police. Rupeka, who has a YouTube channel dedicated to filming the police, says that he came to Saratoga Springs at the request of a resident, who wanted him to film the police there. He said the resident was a friend of Darryl Mount, Jr., a man who died last year after allegedly falling from scaffolding during a police chase the year prior—an account that Rupeka and others have called suspicious.

“I am a normal person that has had enough of police acting badly,” emails Rupeka, who is white. “When I arrived in the city I just randomly gave the middle finger to the first cop I saw. I knew it was rude but also not illegal.”

Earlier this month, it was reported that the offending officer, Nathan Baker, resigned in the face of a plan to fire him. During the incident, Rupeka announced, “I’m going to sue the shit out of you guys.” And indeed, he tells me, he has a lawyer and is in the process of doing so.

He could stand a very good chance.

In 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers New York, ruled in favor of a man who was arrested for disorderly conduct after he reportedly “expressed his displeasure at” an officer using a radar gun “by reaching his right arm outside the passenger side window and extending his middle finger over the car’s roof.”

America’s most famous middle-finger-to-the-man aficionado is Robert J. Ekas, who won a small settlement after being stopped twice by Clackamas County, Oregon, Sheriff’s deputies in 2007 after flipping them off. Ekas was mocked and celebrated on The Colbert Report as a fighter for the right to be an asshole.

Ekas is white. It’s not clear how many, if any, black people are engaged in such middle-finger-first free speech surveys. It’s probably wise that they don’t, says Williamson.

“For people of color that’s not something I would advise folks to do. It’s part of the privilege of being white in the United States just to test and see what happens. And as we’ve seen over the past couple of years… young black men and women don’t have that luxury, and you could very well end up dead.”

In Rankin’s practice, white victims of police mistreatment or abuse are often fuming mad. Black victims are afraid. Earlier this week, Rankin was speaking to a client who “was clearly getting arrested unlawfully and he wanted to emphasize to me how compliant he was to the officers at every point in the interaction… what was coming through in that conversation was his terror that he was going to be beaten or killed.” Black people, he says, are “terrified that they’re not going to be able to leave the situation with all their limbs intact.”

It is entirely understandable for people to be annoyed or angry about their treatment by police, says Williamson. But he encourages citizens to be polite and closely document police mistreatment with an eye toward filing complaints and lawsuits later—and avoid eliciting a retaliatory charge or violence.

“Part of why we stress being wise about this, particularly for people and communities of color, is because there’s the law, and then there’s the practical reality of how the law works on the ground. If your life or your safety are at stake, we’re certainly not going to encourage people to put their lives on the line in order to make sure a police officer knows that you understand your rights.”

Whether or not being rude or critical or assertive is wise, it is nearly always legal. Speaking one’s mind, as long as the words are not threatening, is no reason to end up in a Texas jail.

SandraBland

*Originally posted on City Lab.