People run in front of the Minneapolis Police Department, 3rd Precinct, as it burns in the background.
Cities across the country have erupted in protest following a spate of police killings of unarmed black people – most prominently George Floyd, but also Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others. Police have attacked crowds with teargas, rubber bullets, batons, and vehicles. Rioters have burned buildings and looted stores. People have been seriously injured and several have been killed.
Amid the chaos, President Trump has quadrupled down on his most authoritarian instincts. He’s frequently screamed “LAW & ORDER!” in all-caps tweets. Trump urged the nation’s governors to “get much tougher,” “dominate,” and jail protesters for “five years or ten years” so that “you’ll never see this stuff again.” He deployed the military in Washington, D.C., and threatened to use the 101st Airborne against American citizens in American streets.
The history of black oppression in America is too long for any one article, but it’s critical to understand it in order to grasp the facts of the current unrest. Racism is thoroughly baked into the history, culture, and consciousness of America. Many police forces began as slave patrols hunting down escaped slaves and then as segregation enforcers. Civil rights legislation in the 1960s formally outlawed discrimination, but did little to address the legacy of centuries of abuse, poverty, and bigotry. To this day, fully 400 years after the first slave came to America, blacks face well-documented discrimination in housing, education, business, banking, media, and of course, the justice system. Continue reading
San Bernardino shooting suspects, Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook.
Right-wing extremism received heavy scrutiny for a few days following the Planned Parenthood attacks. Commentators and left-wing politicians criticized the venomous rhetoric the right uses to denounce its opponents, one of which – the red herring cry of “baby parts” – was used by the Planned Parenthood shooter himself. Since the San Bernardino shooting, committed by Muslims a few days later, white terror has largely fallen off the radar. It shouldn’t.
What hasn’t fallen off the radar is the gun debate. It’s being waged as aggressively now as it’s been in years, with President Obama calling for restricted access to assault weapons and other mild reforms. Conservatives, as expected, reacted with total apoplexy. There has been a strange development, though, as the gun debate has become part of the discussion on Islamic terror. Continue reading
Tarantino’s short speech at a Black Lives Matter rally invited strong criticism from police unions. — Image by © M. Stan Reaves/Demotix/Corbis
Following his brief speech at a demonstration against police brutality last month, director Quentin Tarantino has experienced a backlash from police unions. In particular, Fraternal Order of Police executive director, Jim Pasco, issued vaguely worded threats about surprising Tarantino and harming him economically. Perhaps he’s bluffing. But threats from police, even nonviolent ones, against a private citizen who has broken no law are totally unacceptable. Pasco highlights just how paranoid and reactionary police culture has become.
Tarantino’s remarks were not even especially controversial. USA Today reported that Pasco’s threats were in retaliation for Tarantino’s “inflammatory remarks against police brutality.” Such a premise is difficult to understand. It’s like accusing someone of making inflammatory remarks against child abuse. What’s inflammatory is police officers going on the attack against anyone who calls out their brutality. Continue reading
Medical marijuana growing at a facility in Denver. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Citizens of Ohio overwhelmingly rejected Issue 3, a proposal that would have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use. The results are a textbook example of the messiness that ensues when business, interest groups and government all get together in the legislative process. Squirrely as Issue 3 and its corollary, Issue 2, were, the state still missed an opportunity to set a historic precedent. Continue reading
#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: A school resource officer slams a student and her desk to the floor.
At a high school in South Carolina on Oct. 26, an insubordinate student was thrown out of her desk and dragged across the floor by a policeman. It’s far from the worst overreach of force demonstrated recently, but it’s deeply emblematic of America’s police problem. The so-called “school resource officer” was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Unless that investigation determines the girl had a bomb around her waist, the violence was completely uncalled for.
Disturbing video of the incident, which was widely shared on social media, certainly offers nothing to condone the officer’s actions. According to a local report, the girl was being disruptive in class and didn’t cooperate when her teacher and an administrator asked her to leave. So the officer handled the situation the only way increasing numbers of cops seem to know how – by becoming physically violent. Continue reading
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
Toya Graham grabs her protesting son and forces him to go home with her.
Toya Graham, a single mom in Baltimore, became a viral sensation after showing up to a Freddie Gray protest, finding her son Michael among the crowd, and smacking and berating him into going home. Before their names were even known, commentary flooded social media. The consensus seemed to be that Toya did the right thing, with some even labeling her Mom of the Year. But it is her son who we should all be applauding and encouraging.
Better not to judge the parenting tactics of others – particularly single, black mothers juggling six children – so this article won’t. But the story has been widely misinterpreted as a mother shocked and appalled at her son’s riotous behavior. While Graham says she doesn’t believe violence against police is the right course to take and was disappointed in her son for potentially participating in it, the primal motivation can be heard in the video when she appears to say, “Do you want to get killed?” and in interviews afterward: Toya feared her son might end up another black kid in a headline. Continue reading
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
This innocuous-looking warehouse is used by Chicago police as a CIA-style “black site” for detaining and interrogating suspects.
If only the mildest claims about it are true, Chicago’s Homan Square is a frightening escalation in the War on America currently being waged by domestic law enforcement. The Chicago Police Department has been using the building – to outside appearances, an equipment warehouse – as an off-the-book “black site” to detain suspects without charging them or giving them access to a lawyer.
Immediately, the similarities between Homan Square and the prisoner abuse scandals in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay are obvious. Many observers already refer to Homan Square as “Chicago’s Gitmo,” and activists have begun using a hashtag, #Gitmo2Chicago. Suspects taken into Homan Square are roughed up, bound in compromising positions for hours at a time, locked in cages that resemble dog kennels, and not processed through any official booking. Attorneys are turned away at the front door. Continue reading
NYPD officers turn their backs on a video of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the memorial service for slain officer Rafael Ramos.
In times of tragedy, the first question the media asks is, “Who is to blame?” It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to investigate, but certain familiar patterns develop. In cases of serial killers, there’s usually an investigation into the killer’s background, interviews with family members, and so on. When the government is under investigation, there’s a long process of buck-passing that the media dutifully follows like a cat entranced by a laser. And in the case of political murders, blame is usually placed on the opposition party.
Since police militarization became a recurrent topic for mass media, there have been a handful of citizen-on-police killings and assaults, most notably the murder of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. And though virtually everyone has condemned the murders, they’ve nonetheless found their way to becoming a contentious political issue. The divisions, though approximately right/left, are perhaps more accurately defined as authoritarian/anti-authoritarian. Continue reading