November 28, 2014

Black and white rage in Ferguson

Repetitive Motion Disorder: Black Reality and White Denial in America

By Tim WiseI suppose there is no longer much point in debating the facts surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown. First, because Officer Darren Wilson has been cleared by a grand jury, and even the collective brilliance of a thousand bloggers pointing out the glaring inconsistencies in his version of events that August day won’t result in a different outcome. And second, because Wilson's guilt or innocence was always somewhat secondary to the larger issue: namely, the issue of this gigantic national inkblot staring us in the face, and what we see when we look at it--and more to the point, why?

Because it is a kind of racial Rorschach (is it not?) into which each of these cases--not just Brown but all the others, from Trayvon Martin to Sean Bell to Patrick Dorismond to Aswan Watson and beyond--inevitably and without fail morph. That we see such different things when we look upon them must mean something. That so much of white America cannot see the shapes made out so clearly by most of black America cannot be a mere coincidence, nor is it likely an inherent defect in our vision. Rather, it is a socially-constructed astigmatism that blinds so many to the way in which black folks often experience law enforcement.

Not to overdo the medical metaphors, but as with those other cases noted above, so too in this one did a disturbing number of whites manifest something of a repetitive motion disorder--a reflex nearly as automatic as the one that leads so many police (or wanna-be police) to fire their weapons at black men in the first place. It is a reflex to rationalize the event, defend the shooter, trash the dead with blatantly racist rhetoric and imagery, and then deny that the incident or one's own response to it had anything to do with race.
And:Reflex: To deny that there's anything at all racial about the way that even black victims of violence--like Brown, like Trayvon Martin, and dozens of others--are often spoken of more judgmentally than even the most horrific of white perpetrators, the latter of whom are regularly referred to as having been nice, and quiet, and smart, and hardly the type to kill a dozen people, or cut them into little pieces, or eat their flesh after storing it in the freezer for several weeks.

And most of all, the reflex to deny that there is anything racial about the lens through which we typically view law enforcement; to deny that being white has shaped our understanding of policing and their actions in places like Ferguson, even as being white has had everything to do with those matters. Racial identity shapes the way we are treated by cops, and as such, shapes the way we are likely to view them. As a general rule, nothing we do will get us shot by law enforcement: not walking around in a big box store with semi-automatic weapons (though standing in one with an air rifle gets you killed if you're black); not assaulting two officers, even in the St. Louis area, a mere five days after Mike Brown was killed; not pointing a loaded weapon at three officers and demanding that they--the police--"drop their fucking guns;" not committing mass murder in a movie theatre before finally being taken alive; not proceeding in the wake of that event to walk around the same town in which it happened carrying a shotgun; and not killing a cop so as to spark a "revolution," and then leading others on a two month chase through the woods before being arrested with only a few scratches.

To white America, in the main, police are the folks who help get our cats out of the tree, or who take us on ride-arounds to show us how gosh-darned exciting it is to be a cop. We experience police most often as helpful, as protectors of our lives and property. But that is not the black experience by and large; and black people know this, however much we don't. The history of law enforcement in America, with regard to black folks, has been one of unremitting oppression. That is neither hyperbole nor opinion, but incontrovertible fact. From slave patrols to overseers to the Black Codes to lynching, it is a fact. From dozens of white-on-black riots that marked the first half of the twentieth century (in which cops participated actively) to Watts to Rodney King to Abner Louima to Amadou Diallo to the railroading of the Central Park 5, it is a fact. From the New Orleans Police Department's killings of Adolph Archie to Henry Glover to the Danziger Bridge shootings there in the wake of Katrina to stop-and-frisk in places like New York, it's a fact. And the fact that white people don't know this history, have never been required to learn it, and can be considered even remotely informed citizens without knowing it, explains a lot about what's wrong with America. Black people have to learn everything about white people just to stay alive. They especially and quite obviously have to know what scares us, what triggers the reptilian part of our brains and convinces us that they intend to do us harm. Meanwhile, we need know nothing whatsoever about them. We don't have to know their history, their experiences, their hopes and dreams, or their fears. And we can go right on being oblivious to all that without consequence. It won't be on the test, so to speak.

Being Black: The Real Indictment in Ferguson and the USA

By William C. AndersonNow that the grand jury has returned with their decision on the extrajudicial killing of Michael Brown, we should be reminded that even though Darren Wilson was not indicted, Blackness was certainly indicted by the grand jury.

Darren Wilson is free and the police continue to be empowered to kill with impunity. Blackness was found guilty yet again, as witnessed by the many Black slain and their stories. The color some of us carry around can exact a death sentence at a moment's notice. Ever since the formation of the world's greatest empire, Black people have been the eternal scapegoat for all that's been wrong. Our blood waters the roots of war.

There is nothing that can be expressed but grief, anger and frustration at the depraved patterns of this consistently immoral farce that calls itself the "criminal justice system." Kill the Black body and then blame the corpse. This happens repeatedly. Anything is a good excuse to kill a Black person. In Michael Brown's case, stolen cigarillos were worth his death. In 12-year-old Tamir Rice's death this week, it was his unmarked toy gun. And recently, Tanesha Anderson's mental illness made her death worth a violent killing in front of her own family. No matter what, the dead Black body is at fault.

The United States was born out of an incident where a Black man was victim blamed for his murder. It was the Black blood and "mad behavior" of Crispus Attucks that led founding father John Adams to defend the beguiled crown when Attucks was the first American shot down leading up to our nation's birthing revolution. What was his defense of the British patrols overzealous policing? Adams uttered words that would cement our ever-present pattern, stating it was the fault of Attucks "whose very looks was enough to terrify any person." Two hundred and forty-four years after the moment that sparked the fight for independence, we are still dealing with this type of thinking.

Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

Violence works. Nonviolence does too.

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
In 2008, Barack Obama's task was to capture the presidency of a country which historically has despised the community from which he hails. This was no mean feat. But more importantly, it was not unprecedented. And just as Léon Blum's prime ministership did not lead to a post-anti-Semitic France, Barack Obama's presidency should never have been expected to lead to a post-racist America. As it happens, there is nothing about a congenitally racist country that necessarily prevents an individual leader hailing from the pariah class. The office does not care where the leader originates, so long as the leader ultimately speaks for the state. On Monday night, watching Obama both be black and speak for the state was torturous. One got the sense of a man fatigued by people demanding he say something both eminently profound and only partially true. This must be tiring.

Black people know what cannot be said. What clearly cannot be said is that the events of Ferguson do not begin with Michael Brown lying dead in the street, but with policies set forth by government at every level. What clearly cannot be said is that the people of Ferguson are regularly plundered, as their grandparents were plundered, and generally regarded as a slush-fund for the government that has pledged to protect them. What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who "bulk up" to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.

What clearly cannot be said is that American society's affection for nonviolence is notional. What cannot be said is that American society's admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. increases with distance, that the movement he led was bugged, smeared, harassed, and attacked by the same country that now celebrates him. King had the courage to condemn not merely the violence of blacks, nor the violence of the Klan, but the violence of the American state itself.

What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works. "Property damage and looting impede social progress," Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. They describe everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining.

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress.

By Carol AndersonNow, under the guise of protecting the sanctity of the ballot box, conservatives have devised measures—such as photo ID requirements—to block African Americans’ access to the polls. A joint report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the NAACP emphasized that the ID requirements would adversely affect more than 6 million African American voters. (Twenty-five percent of black Americans lack a government-issued photo ID, the report noted, compared with only 8 percent of white Americans.) The Supreme Court sanctioned this discrimination in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act and opened the door to 21st-century versions of 19th-century literacy tests and poll taxes.

The economic devastation of the Great Recession also shows African Americans under siege. The foreclosure crisis hit black Americans harder than any other group in the United States. A 2013 report by researchers at Brandeis University calculated that “half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession,” in large part because of the impact on home equity. In the process, the wealth gap between blacks and whites grew: Right before the recession, white Americans had four times more wealth than black Americans, on average; by 2010, the gap had increased to six times. This was a targeted hit. Communities of color were far more likely to have riskier, higher-interest-rate loans than white communities, with good credit scores often making no difference.

Add to this the tea party movement’s assault on so-called Big Government, which despite the sanitized language of fiscal responsibility constitutes an attack on African American jobs. Public-sector employment, where there is less discrimination in hiring and pay, has traditionally been an important venue for creating a black middle class.

So when you think of Ferguson, don’t just think of black resentment at a criminal justice system that allows a white police officer to put six bullets into an unarmed black teen. Consider the economic dislocation of black America. Remember a Florida judge instructing a jury to focus only on the moment when George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin interacted, thus transforming a 17-year-old, unarmed kid into a big, scary black guy, while the grown man who stalked him through the neighborhood with a loaded gun becomes a victim. Remember the assault on the Voting Rights Act. Look at Connick v. Thompson, a partisan 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2011 that ruled it was legal for a city prosecutor’s staff to hide evidence that exonerated a black man who was rotting on death row for 14years. And think of a recent study by Stanford University psychology researchers concluding that, when white people were told that black Americans are incarcerated in numbers far beyond their proportion of the population, “they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities,” such as three-strikes or stop-and-frisk laws.

Only then does Ferguson make sense. It’s about white rage.

The Right’s Vile Ferguson Ploy: Why They Really Want to Focus on the Riots

Supporters of Darren Wilson and apologists for Ferguson officials are desperate to change the subject.

By Elias Isquith
[W]hile some of the biggest names out there fell for the trick, focusing on the small number of rioters instead of Wilson’s verdict, most editors understood that the controversy in Ferguson remains what it’s always been: A jarring reminder that the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of universal human equality (the “promissory note,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once called it) remains, for millions of Americans, a debt unpaid.

There’s a lesson here, one that those outraged by what’s happened this year in Ferguson—and happens countless times throughout America, each and every day—should keep in mind as they contribute to our amorphous yet powerful national conversation. We must not allow supporters of the Wilson verdict to distract us by making this a conversation about rioting or poverty or race. That’s not to say we should condone the riots; and it’s not to say we should avoid subjects that involve issues of race and poverty. What it means instead is keeping in mind that riots are nothing new, that the unique struggles of the African-American community can’t be simply attributed to poverty, and that discussions of “race” that aren’t linked with specific policy changes often result in little more than frivolous declarations of privilege.

If we can combat the dual influences of a Ferguson elite that wants national attention to drift elsewhere; and a national media that dislikes policy and favors more watchable, clickable, shareable and fundamentally empty manifestations of the culture war—if we can do that, there’s hope that even though the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson will always be an obscenity, it won’t have been entirely in vain. Let’s ignore those in American society who would rather debate the merits of trashing a bodega than the killing of an unarmed man, and let’s not listen to those who would use this opportunity to relitigate the civil rights movement, the Rodney King riots or the Trayvon Martin case. Let’s honor the wishes of Michael Brown’s parents and decline to “just make noise” in favor of making “a difference.”

How to define that difference—whether through body cameras on police, constraining the power of prosecutors, mandating that police departments reflect the communities they serve, etc.—is the debate we need to have right now. The culture war can wait.

America’s toxic race rule: Why Ferguson protests revive the ugly “twice as good” myth

Comment:  For more on Ferguson, see Prosecutor's Bias in Ferguson Shooting and Wilson's Testimony in Ferguson Shooting.

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