To his credit, presidential candidate Julian Castro retweeted an image of yet another black man being choked by an aggressive white police officer. Not so much to his credit he failed to grasp that the problem is systemic.
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.)
The city of New York has paid $5.9 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who was choked to death by New York police on Staten Island and whose dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became an iconic symbol of police brutality. But no cops have been charged and the city hasn’t formally accepted responsibility. Isn’t it absurd to pay for a death for which you refuse to acknowledge responsibility?
America has a problem that afflicts both her foreign policy and domestic affairs: cowardice.A nation of wusses. That’s us.
That’s not how we see ourselves, of course. Whatever our flaws – impetuousness, naïveté, our sense of exceptionalism – few Americans count pusillanimity among them. For conservatives bravery as a national trait is a given; if anything, progressives wish we’d walk it back a bit, toning down the testosterone in favor of a little humility.
From the outside, however, we look like a nation happy to inflict all manner of mayhem on people all over the world, yet unwilling to put our own precious skins in the game.
Drones are the ultimate manifestation of America’s newfound risk aversion. After more than 12 years of remote-controlled aerial killer robot warfare, the statistics are undeniable: unmanned aerial vehicles are a ridiculously sloppy assassination method that kills anywhere from 28 to 49 times more innocent civilians than targeted alleged terrorists. With the myth of accuracy thoroughly debunked, drones remain popular with the public for one reason: they don’t expose American soldiers to return fire.
What we see as an advantage, however, sparks contempt among foreigners that our adversaries in this war for hearts and minds exploit in their recruitment and fundraising efforts. You see it in the faces of the Afghans and Pakistanis I have interviewed: if the United States military had any honor, they say, it would come and face our warriors man to man, on the battlefield, rather than pushing a button thousands of miles away. Every “terrorist” we blow up makes us look worse.
Moreover, cowardice is unproductive on a psychological level.
During the early years of the American occupation of Iraq, British forces (who patrolled the region around Basra) suffered lower casualty rates in the zones under their control than their American counterparts. One reason, according to military psychologists, is that British troops presented themselves as more willing to expose themselves to the Iraqi public and less afraid of being hurt or killed. Whereas US forces wore wrap-around sunglasses and set up checkpoints behind sandbags and blast walls, sometimes identifying themselves only by shooting at approaching cars – which caused confused Iraqis to floor the gas, prompting US forces to kill them – the Brits acted more relaxed, like traffic agents standing right out on the road. Americans covered themselves with Kevlar and automatic rifles; the British wore formfitting uniforms, eschewed helmets and satisfied themselves with sidearms. Sunglasses were banned. The American approach seemed safer, but the opposite was true. It’s easier to shoot at something – the Americans looked like fascist robots – than someone.
For a country that used to pride itself on a certain stoicism, the United States has become a land of whiny little boys and girls.
Oh, how we cried after 9/11. 3000 dead! Those “Wounded Warrior” TV ads asking for donations to support Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans – excuse me, but why am I spending 54% of my federal tax dollars on defense if I also have to donate to a sketchy charity? – use the same melancholy tone and weepy delivery as Sally Struthers’ classic “save the children” messages. Obviously, it sucks to lose your arms and legs, but let’s grow a pair. Fewer than 7,000 Americans got killed invading two countries they had no business in in the first place.
Let’s put those numbers into proper perspective, shall we? The Soviet Union lost 20 million people fighting the Nazis (who invaded them, by the way). France lost 11% of its population during World War I — the equivalent for us would be 34 million Americans. But the Russians or French don’t bitch and moan as much as us.
Speaking of which, Americans have a lot of balls calling Frenchman “surrender monkeys” considering that nearly twice as many French soldiers were killed in in the 1940 Battle of France over six weeks as the United States lost in Vietnam over the course of a decade. Meanwhile, we’re still whining about the 58,000 we lost in – no, invading – Vietnam.
Here at home, we’re infested with wimp cops.
In recent weeks, we have been treated to grand jury testimony in the shootings of two black men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.
Both killer cops are bruisers — big, muscular guys. Most of all, they are cops. Cops have partners. They have the backing of the state. They carry tasers. They have nightsticks. They go to the police academy, where they train long hours in the art of subduing human beings. And as we well know, they have access to military style hardware and defensive gear.
As these two sniveling wimps tell the tales, however, they were in desperate fear of their lives.
From two guys, both now dead, who were morbidly obese.
Not to mention unarmed.
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (6’4″ 210) claimed that Brown (6’4″ 292) terrorized him. “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” he testified. Brown “had the most intense aggressive face,” he said. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”
The NYPD’s Daniel Pantaleo told a grand jury that, after he got his arm around Garner, he was terrified that the two of them would crash through the thick glass window of a storefront they were leaning against.
Both grand juries declined to indict the cops.
Sure, these were the testimonies of two heavily lawyered defendants following a script that has gotten countless white policeman off the hook for killing unarmed black men in the past. But you still have to ask: aren’t those big “brave” policemen ashamed of themselves? I’m not sure which is worse, pretending to be afraid of an unarmed civilian – in the New York case, the guy wasn’t even resisting arrest – or the possibility that they actually were scared.
There’s nothing wrong with being scared in the face of danger. Bravery, after all, is the act of keeping cool in the face of danger.
In the United States in recent years, however, bravery has been in short supply – even in the face of very little danger at all.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
A New York City grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer despite videotape that clearly shows Eric Garner, an African-American father of six about to be arrested for selling untaxed loose cigarettes, being strangled to death by the cops. Takeaway: symbolic changes like an African-American president won’t change the system itself.
In both the cases of the police officer who shot unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the one who strangled Eric Garner to death in Staten Island, New York, grand juries and prosecutors bent over backward to consider evidence that they might be guilty. What if the system treated blacks suspected of killing white cops with the same deference?
Ferguson, Missouri offers a lesson for those of us who are trying to make life more fair: if you want the powers that be to pay attention, violent protest is more effective than nonviolence.
At this writing, race riots following the shooting of an unarmed young black man by a white cop in a suburb of St. Louis are dominating newspaper headlines and network news coverage. Federal and state officials have taken the rare step of chastising local police authorities, with the second-guessing going so far as to include a do-over of the autopsy of the 18-year-old victim, Michael Brown.
Violent demonstrators have the attention of the attorney general and the president of the United States, the latter of whom broke away from his vacation to call for both “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.” (After his administration’s coordination of the brutal crackdown against the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement, and his decision to shunt marchers at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions into distant, hidden, caged “free speech zones,” Obama’s defense of the right to protest is a startling 180° turn.)
After years of ignoring the problem, we are finally beginning a national conversation about police racial profiling of African-Americans, especially young men. “Driving while black,” “stop and frisk” and the militarization of local law enforcement that always seems to fall heaviest against black communities (c.f., New Orleans during Katrina) have gone on for decades — but no one besides blacks seemed to care.
Thanks to Ferguson’s rioters, mainstream (white, wealthy) America is questioning those oppressive tactics.
This is a political breakthrough. And it’s only happening because people are throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, and breaking windows and looting, and coming out night after night to confront the police even though — arguably because — the police are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at them.
Michael Brown’s death fits a standard narrative: White Policeman Shoots Unarmed Black Youth. Happens all the time. White cops who kill unarmed black people are rarely charged with a crime; those who get charged are rarely convicted.
As far as I can tell, no white policeman in the United States has ever received a lengthy prison term for killing an unarmed African-American civilian.
Police shootings provoke anger among the black community — and there it remains. This is because black political and religious leaders usually persuade citizens to limit their tactics to peaceful protest.
Peaceful marches don’t scare the ruling classes. Which is why they don’t lead to meaningful change.
Nonviolent protest was the reaction last month when a NYPD officer killed 43-year-old Eric Garner, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes, using an illegal chokehold. “We’re not gonna start fighting and pushing each other and breaking windows, right?” Garner’s mother urged at a rally.
So far, the protesters’ decision to respect private property rights has had zero effect. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, yet the cop remains at work and uncharged.
Also in New York, another unarmed 18-year-old, Ramarley Graham, was shot to death by an undercover narcotics officer who broke into his apartment without a warrant in 2012. Protesters adhered to the usual nonviolent tactics. As usual, results were nil. From The Los Angeles Times: “A judge threw out a manslaughter indictment against the officer who shot Graham on a technicality. A second grand jury failed to indict the officer, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge him. Graham’s family and local lawmakers have called for the Justice Department to investigate.”
I’m a white guy, so I don’t have to worry about getting shot by cops if I’m in a car accident. As a black man, however, Manuel Loggins, Jr. wasn’t so lucky. After Loggins wrecked his SUV, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy shot him — he was unarmed — in front of his 9- and 14-year-old daughters because he had a “mean” expression. This was in 2012. Again, there were peaceful protests. As usual, the deputy was not charged.
This is how it always goes.
Ferguson’s protesters include old-school nonviolent civil rights types as well as younger activists who are fighting back against the police in kind. At a meeting, The New York Times reported, “clergy members despaired over the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the protest movement and the flare-ups of violence that older people in the group abhorred.” The paper quoted an older man from East St. Louis: “These kids do not understand why the nonviolence movement is the best way to get done what we need to get done.”
Given how quickly the young firebrands are getting results, the old folks are the ones who don’t understand.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM