One of the more persuasive arguments in favor of supporting Joe Biden is that things would go back to normal after Donald Trump leaves office. For those of us who remember what normal was, and is, that’s not necessarily appealing.
It’s one of the most common shibboleths in our culture: only a few “bad apples” among the police are responsible for the abuse. And while it is true that police abuse seems to be concentrated by certain policemen, it’s also true that the entire system is completely corrupt. That goes double when you consider the cult of silence in most police departments.
COVID-19 has created the ideal medium for a summer of continuous protest.
Political protest demonstrations used to be weekend affairs in which angry leftists shouted at empty government offices before shuffling home Sunday afternoon to gear up for the workweek. With one out of four workers having filed for unemployment and many more working from home, tens of millions of Americans have free time to march in the streets. Sporting events, movie theaters, retail stores and even houses of worship are closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.
The usual distractions of a leap year are absent; the summer Olympics are canceled and presidential campaigning is so close to nonexistent as to be irrelevant. Politics is no longer about the politicians. Politics is in the street, where there’s nothing to do but gather, chant and dodge teargas cannisters.
The vacuum created by the lockdown and the impotence of a political class that no longer pretends to lead during a staggering medico-economic crisis has been filled by Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd. BLM has won important symbolic victories like the toppling of Confederate statues and a renewed push to remove the Stars and Bars from the Mississippi state flag. As the movement against police brutality and institutional racism continues, look for more substantive systemic reforms in policing.
What comes next? The eviction and foreclosure resistance movement.
Thanks to Congress’ reluctance to pass another big stimulus package, protests in general will continue into the foreseeable future. But they won’t all be against evil cops. A looming eviction and foreclosure crisis could broaden the struggle from one centered around racial grievances into a class-based fight for economic justice.
“I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis and very quickly,” Columbia Law professor Emily Benfer, a housing expert who tracks eviction policies, told The New York Times May 30th. Without government action, she warned, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”
There is no sign that the government will lift a finger to help people who lost their jobs and will soon face homelessness. Even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the most progressive members of the U.S. Senate, refuse to consider a rent or mortgage payment holiday. They support a tepid “moratorium,” not a rent freeze. Under a moratorium back rent would pile up and all come due at once later on. Millions of people would be kicked outside this winter during a possible “second wave” of COVID-19. That’s the best scenario. Odds are, there won’t even be a moratorium. Congress will do little to nothing to help struggling tenants and homeowners.
Millions of homeowners and renters displaced from their homes during the 2008-09 subprime mortgage meltdown received zero assistance from the government. There were no protests worth mentioning. This time will be different.
First, there’s safety in numbers. The scale of this eviction crisis is much bigger. Three times more people have lost their jobs than during the Great Recession, during a much shorter period of time. Members of an eviction resistance movement can help one another block county sheriffs from kicking them out. Among those who are still working, the tenuous nature of the labor market has everyone in there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I mode. We are in this together.
Second, this economic cataclysm wasn’t some act of God. People were ordered to shelter in place by the government. That’s why they lost their jobs, not a seemingly random stock market fluctuation. Targets of eviction and foreclosure won’t internalize any shame. They know they haven’t done anything wrong. They social distanced as asked; why should they sleep on the streets now because public health officials required them to go without income?
Third, Black Lives Matter has demonstrated the efficacy of street protests and of grassroots solidarity. Cops are currently about as popular as an STD. How enthusiastically will police respond to a landlord’s request to fight their way through an angry crowd to throw a family onto the street? It depends on the municipality. Things will quickly turn ugly.
Finally, memories of how the big banks squandered their Bush-Obama bailouts on exorbitant CEO salaries and renovating luxurious executive washrooms are still fresh. Even on the right, it will be tough to garner political support for banks trying to remove homeowners whose only crime was following stay-at-home orders.
There is a long but now largely forgotten history of tenant resistance movements in this country, mostly led by the communist Left. Each 1st of the month between now and this fall brings us closer to a new radical struggle between people who ask nothing more than to keep a roof over their heads and a system that prioritizes the right to own and control property over the most basic of human needs.
That movement will bring us closer to revolution.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.
On June 5th you issued a statement acknowledging the role your newspaper has played in the racist oppression of people of color. “The Los Angeles Times has a long, well-documented history of fueling the racism and cruelty that accompanied our city’s becoming a metropolis,” you wrote. You promised reforms, including “addressing the concerns of people of color in the newsroom.”
You admitted that this is merely a start and asked for suggestions for how the Times can redeem itself and earn the trust of readers, especially people of color.
I will take you at your word.
To begin with, the Times should come clean about its longstanding, cozy relationship with the LAPD. And it should end this deep conflict of interest, which makes it impossible for your paper to report objectively about the police. When the media fails to hold the police accountable they are free to abuse the citizens they are supposed to protect.
My case shines a light on how the media censors critics and breeds self-censorship by journalists. I was the Times’ editorial cartoonist from 2009 to 2015. My cartoons often criticized police brutality and racist policing. Instead of stopping their abuse of minorities, however, the police repeatedly demanded that the papers that ran my cartoons fire me. Those requests fell on deaf ears until 2014, when the Times brought in a new publisher, Austin Beutner. Beutner, a hedge fund billionaire who is now superintendent of LA schools, midwifed a deal by which the $16.4 billion LAPD pension fund purchased #1 shareholder status in Tribune Publishing, which owned the Times and 14 other newspapers. (Yes, it’s legal for the cops to buy media companies.) Sealing the deal and in violation of the Times’ ethical guidelines, the LAPD police union gave an award to Beutner.
The LAPD police union has a history of buying newspaper stock. They don’t hide their motives. They seek to remove negative coverage of the police from “their” papers. “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced,” the union’s president explained in 2009, after it acquired interest in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Months after the LAPD-LA Times deal, then-LAPD police chief Charlie Beck arranged a secret meeting at Beutner’s office. Fire your cartoonist, Beck demanded. Beutner agreed.
But firing me was not enough for Beck. The LAPD also wanted to send a chilling message to journalists throughout the Southland: if you criticize the police, we will destroy you. So the Times published a smear job about me.
The Times’ article didn’t mention the meeting between Beck and Beutner. It didn’t talk about the LAPD pension fund’s ownership of the Times. To this day, those facts have never been revealed to Times readers. The piece relied upon faked evidence provided by Beck to characterize me as a liar (in a blog about jaywalking, of all things). I proved the evidence was bogus and that I had been truthful, yet editorial page editor Nick Goldberg—under orders from Beutner—ignored it.
Goldberg later admitted that the truth didn’t matter. The Times was determined to ruin me and didn’t care that I had done nothing wrong. Inexplicably, Goldberg still works at the Times.
My case is not just about me. It opens a window into why and how the Times’ relationship with the police corrupts its commentary and coverage.
It shows why and how victims of police brutality have been ignored or diminished.
It explains why and how police narratives are taken at face value, no matter how ridiculous. While I was being given the bum’s rush, reporter Paul Pringle, assigned to be the Times’ hatchet man, told me that he had verified that the bogus LAPD materials were authentic. How? I asked. “The LAPD told me,” he said. I laughed. He was serious, though. Pringle still works at the Times too. He recently won a Pulitzer Prize.
How can anyone read about what happened to me and still believe anything the Times has to say about cops?
Mr. Pearlstine, if this is not empty talk, if you are serious about turning over a new leaf, you should address my case. Hiring more people of color in the newsroom is overdue, important and necessary. But black reporters aren’t more likely than white journalists to go after the police if they’re equally afraid of getting fired. Everyone at the Times knows what the paper did to me; they know it can happen to them too if they go “too far” against the cops.
The LAPD got rid of their most irritating critic and a pundit who made going after police brutality a priority. The Times never replaced me.
The LAPD terrorized other journalists. They won.
Rehiring me would make a powerful symbolic statement that the Beutner era of corruption and complicity with the police is finished. It would demonstrate you do not edit a police propaganda rag. You could take down the two libel-filled articles about me that are still on your website. You could issue a retraction and an apology.
The LAPD has since divested itself of its Tribune stock. The Times’ current owner, Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, should pledge not to enter into financial partnerships with law enforcement agencies.
Like many other papers, the Times relies on the police to tip off reporters about breaking local news. This relationship should be severed. Reporters ought not socialize with cops, much less rely upon them for stories. Refusing to be a police lapdog requires hiring more journalists—but Soon-Shiong is a biotech billionaire. He can easily afford them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
After years of no one – at least not the white people who control the media – giving a damn about what happens to black people at the hands of white cops, suddenly the terrible relationship between people and the police is a huge problem.
This is what happens when the power dynamic gets reversed, when aggressors find themselves in the unhappy role of victims. First, five policemen were assassinated in Dallas, as payback for police violence in general. Now three more have been killed in Baton Rouge, apparently to retaliate for the murder of another unarmed black man, Alton Sterling, by local police.
Cops are getting shot. So the media is finally paying attention.
Airing the issue is long overdue, but as usual it’s playing out in hackneyed catchphrases that are unlikely to lead to meaningful improvement.
What we need, liberal wise men of the media tell us, is more community policing. Cops and the community need to get to know each other. Cops should get out of the squad car, walk around, talk to the locals before they shoot them.
Conservatives have a different answer: they think people, especially black people, need to have more appreciation for the extremely hard job the police are asked to do. Except that being a cop isn’t really that hard or that dangerous. You are far more likely to die on the job if you are a logger, a pilot, a steelworker, a garbageman, a construction labor, a farmer, or president of the United States. The reason so many people join the police is that it’s actually a sweet gig: pretty well paid (especially with overtime), and you get to retire after 20 years.
Fixing people’s terrible relationship with the police who are paid to protect and serve them will require radical rather than incremental change.
(Notice that I said “people,” not “minorities.” The racial dynamic between police and minority neighborhoods that they patrol like occupied enemy territory in a war zone captures the headlines, but not the reality of a country in which many people, not just blacks, view the police with a mixture of fear and contempt. 41% of whites, for example, don’t have a high degree of confidence in the police or view them as being honest.)
Three major structural changes would go a long way towards fixing the problem.
First, the police should stop carrying guns.
In many countries, including countries where citizens have the right to bear arms, the police generally don’t carry a weapon on duty. Places like Norway, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Britain, and Ireland haven’t disintegrated into anarchy as a result. Nor have many policemen lost their lives. There are, of course, many reasons why disarming the police works, but there’s one that jumps to mind right away: when you get pulled over by a cop here, you know that the only way you’re going to get away clean is by shooting the police officer. Traffic stops often turn deadly. Taking guns away from the police reduces the stakes in confrontations between law enforcement and suspects. It makes everyone, including the police, safer.
If someone is robbing a bank, there’s the option of picking up some guns at the police station and waiting outside. That’s what they do in Britain.
Second, cops shouldn’t be writing tickets.
As school children, we learned that Officer Friendly is here to help us in the event that we run into trouble. In other words, the police are our guardians. But how do you reconcile that image with getting pulled over for a minor traffic infraction like a broken taillight?
If the police were really here to help us, if they were here to protect us, the policeman who tells you about your broken taillight wouldn’t write you a ticket. He certainly wouldn’t use that traffic stop as an excuse to search your vehicle for drugs or other contraband, much less steal it through “asset forfeiture.” He would tell you about the problem so that you could fix it. Period.
For the vast majority of Americans, the typical interaction with law-enforcement – indeed, their typical interaction with their government – is a police officer issuing them a parking or a traffic ticket. The role of government shakedown thug/municipal revenue enhancement is incompatible with the role of a guardian. A guardian wants you to drive safely. He doesn’t sit cleverly behind a tree at the bottom of a steep hill, where the last speed limit sign was hard to see, in order to extract a few hundred bucks from your wallet. Ask a kid who wants to be a police officer one day whether she wants to catch bad guys or write tickets. You know the answer.
At bare minimum, municipalities should create separate agencies for parking and traffic enforcement. It would be better, of course, if traffic safety had nothing to do with fines. Raise taxes on the rich if you want to replace the billions of dollars collected annually from tickets.
Third, we need a federal agency to appoint independent federal prosecutors to replace the current system of local district attorneys.
When the police are charged with wrongdoing against civilians, the odds are that they will get away with it. In fact, the odds are that they will never face an indictment. In 2015, 85% of police shootings were handled by DAs who work closely with the officer’s own department.
Which isn’t surprising considering the fact that the DA who decides whether or not charges get filed has to have a high conviction rate in order to get reelected or reappointed, which requires him or her to have a friendly relationship with law-enforcement. It’s a ridiculously brazen conflict of interest that ought to have been done away with a long time ago.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 26th and is now available for pre-order.)
A spate of shootings of innocent black men by white police was followed by a mass shooting of 12 policemen in Dallas. Afterwards, Very Reasonable People assured us that it was up to “both sides” – blacks and the police who oppress, abuse and kill them – to put their differences aside and compromise to achieve peace. Actually, it’s always up to the oppressors to stop oppressing.
Racism is complicated. When America’s most brilliant thinkers set out to explain its nature in terms as clear as the English language allows, as Michael Eric Dyson did in his searing July 7th essay “Death in Black and White,” even the relatively sophisticated readers of the New York Times didn’t get it. Commenters didn’t understand that Dyson wasn’t criticizing every white person, but “white America” — shorthand for a dominant power structure that is fundamentally racist while (of course) not every white person is.
If anti-racist white people take writing as straightforward as Dyson’s personally, if they take offense at his passion and so miss his message, is there any hope of “black America” and “white America” just getting along?
It’s been a hell of a week. Two more black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, were gunned down by the police under the usual incomprehensible circumstances — events the media, and thus the government, are paying attention to only because someone invented the smartphone. Then a 25-year-old sniper, a veteran of America’s brutal war against Afghanistan, shot 12 police officers at a march in Dallas protesting the deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana. Five died.
Needless to say, the Dallas cops didn’t have it coming. They didn’t have anything to do with what happened in entirely different states.
Well, it shouldn’t need to be said. But it does. Because, no matter how many times we hear public officials tell us that the police protect and serve us, it doesn’t ring true. Three out of four African-Americans tell pollsters they don’t think police are held accountable for their actions. So do 40% of whites.
The truth is, Americans don’t like cops.
Let’s be honest. If we think about them at all, we don’t mourn the slain Dallas police officers as deeply as we did the children who died in the day care center blown up in Oklahoma City, or the nightclubbers murdered in Orlando.
We need to talk about why that is.
We have been hearing more about racial profiling, how blacks are targeted by police officers more than whites, how they are physically assaulted more often, how they are charged with more serious crimes for the same offenses, how they get longer prison sentences and harsher fines. Good. This discussion is long overdue. Way too many people still don’t get it.
It is right and proper to focus on Black Lives Matter. To say it. To believe it. A retort that All Lives Matter is far worse than pabulum. Because it distracts from a point that still hasn’t received proper consideration in the media or in electoral politics, All Lives Matter is racist. Even the first black president has addressed the racism behind police violence only in “it sure is sad, we should do better” niceties rather than meaningful, sweeping policy changes. (He could start with blanket presidential pardons of black inmates serving ridiculously long prison sentences.) Black Lives Matter. That’s what we need to talk about now. For a good long time, too.
One possible place to start is the reaction of many people to the Dallas sniper attack. Like 9/11, it was shocking. Like 9/11, it also wasn’t surprising. You can’t go on acting like a bully forever. The powers that be can’t pressure their victims forever. Eventually the prey strike back. No, it isn’t justified. Nor is it right. But it is chickens coming home to roost.
Like the Bush Administration after 9/11 (“Why? Why do they hate us?”), the police and the political elites the police actually protects and serves look silly when they pretend that they can’t possibly imagine why anyone might dislike them. “There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement,” President Obama said after Dallas. No justification? Sure.
No possible justification? Before they blew him up with a robot bomb in an extrajudicial assassination (there weren’t any hostages), suspect Micah Johnson told police negotiators that he was “upset about the recent police shootings…[that] he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” You’d have to be especially thick, or really really white, not to see why a black guy might snap after watching the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile snuff videos.
Obama continued: “Anyone involved in the senseless murders will be held fully accountable. Justice will be done.” Naturally, Obama was referring only to justice for the murdered police officers. There’s never any justice for those murdered by police officers (c.f., Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, etc.).
There’s a lot to worry about in all this. As for me, I’m concerned that the true nature of the police, the roots of its brutality in its role as the armed guards of the ruling classes, has been obscured by the racial divide. Racism is real. It’s complicated.
So is class warfare.
Even if you are privileged as I am – white, male, able-bodied, Ivy League-educated – odds are that your interactions, like mine, with the police are generally unpleasant. Mostly, I run into them when they pull me over to give me a ticket. If I’m lucky, they are merely rude, overbearing, aggressive and condescending. Once in a blue moon, a cop manages to be merely gruff. And I’m lucky. I’ve seen the way cops act in black neighborhoods. It’s much, much worse. They’re disgusting.
I had a bad experience with a Los Angeles police officer in 2001. He arrested me for jaywalking — falsely. He roughed me up and handcuffed me. This being America, I couldn’t help wonder whether he might have targeted me because he was black and I was white. But he never said anything that indicated that. Maybe he had a quota to fill.
Black or white, the police are paid to oppress, not protect. Black or white, citizens have good cause to be afraid of them. That’s the nature of the system. It’s another reason the system has got to go.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)