The problem of cop-on-citizen crime is cultural

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Police use violence to contain a crowd in Anaheim protesting police violence in 2012.

Whenever a black, brown or Muslim person commits a crime, pundits spend the next news cycle trying to diagnose what it is about those communities that produces such violence. White Americans are so convinced the problem is with the groups themselves, and not individuals or social forces, that they elected a president who wants to ban all Muslims, build a wall to keep out immigrants, and instill law and order in black neighborhoods.

Yet when a police officer kills an unarmed citizen, media presents the officer’s side of the story; digs into the victim’s past for any evidence of wrongdoing, no matter how petty; and urges the public not to turn against law enforcement. When the officer is truly indefensible, he’s cast as a bad apple. But if there’s any group in America whose violence needs to be examined on a systemic level, it’s the police. Continue reading

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America was not ready for a black president

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President Obama convened his controversial beer summit in 2009, after the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

During Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, pundits spent a great deal of time on the question, “Is America ready for a black president?” The question seemed both deeply racist – as though black people had to wait for white America to be ready for them – and insulting to all Americans’ intelligence. But after two terms of President Obama and the rise of Donald Trump, the answer in hindsight seems to have been a decisive “No.” Continue reading

In America, white terrorists are the deadliest kind

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Robert Lewis Dear is accused of opening fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three.

Around the globe, Muslims carrying out jihad are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. Americans are occupied with what to do about the problem. Terrorism is a permanent fixture of the media cycle and our politics, but the deadliest terror threat to Americans is neither foreign nor Muslim: It’s the terror from a homegrown insurgency of angry white men.

Two atrocities, both bearing the grim stamp of white terror, bookended Thanksgiving week. In Minneapolis on November 23, four white men opened fire on a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators, injuring five. And in Colorado Springs on November 27, Robert Lewis Dear opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing two civilians and a police officer. Continue reading

Trump’s extremism further divorces Republican base from reality

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After being ganged up on by civilian Trump supporters, a Black Lives Matter activist is ejected from a Trump campaign event.

When Donald Trump formally launched his presidential campaign on June 16, he brought out a seemingly contradictory response in commentators. The most straight-faced of news commentators thought he was a joke and didn’t expect him to last. Only the cynics, Sarah Palin fresh in their memory, worried that he had a real chance. Five months later and the cynics were right: Trump remains on top in the GOP primary.

According to Nate Silver, the analyst who famously predicted nearly every state in the 2008 and 2012 elections, Trump’s prospects of actually winning the nomination – let alone the presidency – remain slim. Silver may well be right, but it doesn’t mean Trump will be disappearing off American TV sets anytime soon. His mere presence in the race has already done enormous damage to our national conversation. Continue reading

Stop trying to change the name of Black Lives Matter

Protesters carry signs insisting all lives matter.

Protesters carry signs insisting all lives matter.

Since it became a national movement, Black Lives Matter has been met with antagonism for its name alone. The phrase “black lives matter” is seen by some as divisive, confrontational and perhaps even racist. It reveals a great deal about the struggle black Americans face that controversy arises when they assert the value of their lives.

But there’s an important reason why the name shouldn’t be changed: In our criminal justice system, black lives are not treated like they matter. The name is therefore both an expression of what we wish reality to be and an exposé of what reality isn’t. Continue reading

White people shouldn’t need a video to demonstrate police racism

Community-oriented keepers of the peace slap handcuffs on a dying man who the officer on the left just shot five times in the back.

Community-oriented keepers of the peace slap handcuffs on a dying man who the officer on the left just shot five times in the back.

Add another notch in the American police force’s belt. This time, it’s Walter Scott, a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, summarily executed by sociopath-in-blue Michael Slager. Scott is just one of, statistically, three people to be killed by a cop that day, April 4. But his story has generated special attention for two important reasons: first, his murder was filmed by a passerby, and second, his killer has been fired and charged.

Because of shoddy recordkeeping, there’s no accurate count of how many citizens have been killed by police, justifiably or otherwise. But in just the past eight months, several high-profile cases have made household names of black Americans killed by police. There was Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was shot for the crime of playing with a toy gun in Cleveland; Eric Garner, the man who was choked to death for selling loose cigarettes; Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot in the climax of an altercation that began with his jaywalking; and now, Walter Scott, who was executed for fleeing a broken taillight traffic stop. Continue reading