We gonna be burning an a-looting tonight (…) burning all illusion tonight … Bob Marley
Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards. We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (St Louis, 1961)
La notion des années 1960 selon laquelle les mouvements sociaux seraient une réponse légitime à une injustice sociale a créé l’impression d’une certaine rationalité des émeutes. Les foules ne sont toutefois pas des entités rationnelles. Les émeutes de Londres ont démontré l’existence d’un manque de pensée rationnelle des événements du fait de leur caractère tout à fait spontané et irrationnel. Les pillards ont pillé pour piller et pour beaucoup ce n’était pas nécessairement l’effet d’un sentiment d’injustice. Au cours des émeutes danoises il y avait d’un côté un sens de la rationalité dans les manifestations de jeunes dans la mesure où ils étaient mus par une motivation politique. Cependant, les autres jeunes qui n’étaient pas normalement affiliés à l’organisation « Ungdomshuset » se sont impliqués dans le conflit et ont participé aux émeutes sans en partager les objectifs. Ils étaient là pour s’amuser et l’adrénaline a fait le reste. Les émeutes peuvent assumer une dynamique auto-entretenue qui n’est pas mue par des motifs rationnels. Lorsque les individus forment une foule, ils peuvent devenir irrationnels et être motivés par des émotions que génèrent les émeutes elles-mêmes. L’aspect intéressant des émeutes de Londres était de confirmer l’inutilité du traitement du phénomène de foule par une stratégie de communication. La méthode rationnelle n’aboutit à rien contrairement à la forme traditionnelle de confinement. Cela montre bien qu’à certains moments, la solution efficace est de ne pas gérer les foules par le dialogue. Christian Borch
Le discours de l’excuse s’est alors trouvé survalorisé, les prises de position normatives ont été rejetées comme politiquement incorrectes et les policiers ont fait office de boucs émissaires. Lucienne Bui Trong
J’ai participé aux émeutes, j’ai renversé une voiture, fracassé la Banque de Montréal, les arrêts d’autobus… Une grosse soirée! Sienna St-Laurent (14 ans)
Je ne sais pas, je voulais me sentir cool. Sienna St-Laurent (émeutière de Vancouver, juin 2011)
Tous sur les Champs, on va tout casser. Cris de casseurs du Trocadéro (mai 2013)
Je ne peux qu’imaginer ce qu’endurent ses parents. Et quand je pense à ce garçon, je pense à mes propres enfants. Si j’avais un fils, il ressemblerait à Trayvon. Obama
How do we turn pain into power? How do we go from a moment to a movement that curries favor? (…) The blood of the innocent has power. Jesse Jackson
Les gens pensaient que parce que nous avions élu Obama, la société américaine était devenue post-raciale, que la couleur de la peau n’avait plus aucune importance. Avec l’affaire Trayvon Martin, nous assistons à un réveil et à une mobilisation. Geraldine Thompson (historienne et représentante démocrate de l’Etat de Floride)
C’est une honte que l’homme n’ai pas été ligoté à une voiture avant d’être traîné le long de la rue. C’est la seule rétribution à offrir à ce genre d’individu (…) Nous devons continuer à twitter, à marcher et à lutter pour Trayvon Martin afin que demain cela n’arrive pas à nos enfants. Ce crime ne doit pas rester impuni (…) Oubliez son arrestation. Le fait qu’il n’ait pas encore été abattu est une vraie honte. Voilà ce que je ressens personnellement à propos de ce sujet. Mike Tyson
Nous avons également donné de l’espace à ceux qui voulaient détruire. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (maire de Baltimore)
But what about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them? Where is the march against the drug dealers who prey on young black people? Where is the march against bad schools, with their 50% dropout rate for black teenaged boys? Those failed schools are certainly guilty of creating the shameful 40% unemployment rate for black teens? How about marching against the cable television shows constantly offering minstrel-show images of black youth as rappers and comedians who don’t value education, dismiss the importance of marriage, and celebrate killing people, drug money and jailhouse fashion—the pants falling down because the jail guard has taken away the belt, the shoes untied because the warden removed the shoe laces, and accessories such as the drug dealer’s pit bull. (…) There is no fashion, no thug attitude that should be an invitation to murder. But these are the real murderous forces surrounding the Martin death—and yet they never stir protests. The race-baiters argue this case deserves special attention because it fits the mold of white-on-black violence that fills the history books. Some have drawn a comparison to the murder of Emmett Till, a black boy who was killed in 1955 by white racists for whistling at a white woman. (…) While civil rights leaders have raised their voices to speak out against this one tragedy, few if any will do the same about the larger tragedy of daily carnage that is black-on-black crime in America. (…) Almost one half of the nation’s murder victims that year were black and a majority of them were between the ages of 17 and 29. Black people accounted for 13% of the total U.S. population in 2005. Yet they were the victims of 49% of all the nation’s murders. And 93% of black murder victims were killed by other black people, according to the same report. (…) The killing of any child is a tragedy. But where are the protests regarding the larger problems facing black America? Juan Williams
… virtual hailstorms of racist graffiti and nooses materializ[ed] on college campuses, all of which invariably end up having been put there by the alleged victims, the [mainstream media] didn’t even pause before conjuring a racist plot in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida last month. Like Captain Ahab searching for the Great White Whale, the [MSM] is constantly on the hunt for proof of America as « Mississippi Burning. »Over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the month after Martin was killed, gangs in Chicago shot 10 people dead, including a 6-year-old girl, Aliyah Shell, who was sitting with her mother on their front porch. One imagines MSNBC hosts heaving a sign of relief that little Aliyah was not shot by a white man, and was thus spared the horror of being a victim of racism. As it happens, Trayvon Martin wasn’t shot by a white man either, but by George Zimmerman, a mixed-race Hispanic who lives in a diverse (47 percent white) gated community and tutors black kids. But Hispanic is close enough for the NFM. They’re chasing the Great White Whale of racist America and don’t have time to check to see if the whale is actually a guppy.… On the basis of little else, the media conjured a Hollywood script: A « white » man was « stalking » a little black kid — who could be Obama’s son! — confronted him, beat him senseless as the small black child screamed for help, and finally shot the kid dead, « just because he was black. »Two weeks of nonstop hysteria later, it turns out that every part of that gripping plot is based on nothing that could be called a reasonable assumption, much less a fact. Ann Coulter
The absurdity of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is that they want to make a movement out of an anomaly. Black teenagers today are afraid of other black teenagers, not whites. … Trayvon’s sad fate clearly sent a quiver of perverse happiness all across America’s civil rights establishment, and throughout the mainstream media as well. His death was vindication of the ‘poetic truth’ that these establishments live by. Shelby Steele
Would Trayvon be alive today had he been walking home—Skittles and ice tea in hand—wearing a polo shirt with an alligator logo? Possibly. And does this make the ugly point that dark skin late at night needs to have its menace softened by some show of Waspy Americana? Possibly. (…) Before the 1960s the black American identity (though no one ever used the word) was based on our common humanity, on the idea that race was always an artificial and exploitive division between people. After the ’60s—in a society guilty for its long abuse of us—we took our historical victimization as the central theme of our group identity. We could not have made a worse mistake. It has given us a generation of ambulance-chasing leaders, and the illusion that our greatest power lies in the manipulation of white guilt. Shelby Steele
We can’t ignore the fact that the city is burning, but we need to be talking about why it’s burning and not romanticize peace and not romanticize marching as the only way to function. I’m not saying we should be hurting, I’m not saying we should be killing people, but we do have to understand that resistance looks different ways to different people and part of what it means to say black lives matter, is to assert our right to have rage – righteous rage, righteous indignation in the face of state violence and extrajudicial killing. Freddie Gray is dead. That’s why the city is burning and let’s make that clear. It’s not burning because of these protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray and that’s a distinction we have to make.(…) I’m not saying we should see the destruction of black communities as positive. I’m saying that we can’t have too narrow a perception of what the destruction of black communities mean and it seems we exhausted more of our moral outrage tonight and not the 364 days before tonight. I think we should be strategic in how we riot. Marc Lamont Hill
The public want us to come up and deal with a neighbour who is mowing their lawn at 3am. They want us to deal with their disruptive child. They want us to deal with the crazy person who is walking down the street shouting. American police officer
We’ve never had a population who are so well-armed. Ron Teachman (chief of police in South Bend, Indiana)
When you go to a police academy, the first thing they say to you is that it’s dangerous and you could get killed out there. Jim Bueermann (retired police chief and head of the Police Foundation)
The public needs to be educated better. We can’t let our guard down because we’re making ourselves less safe. Lieutenant
At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. (…) Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, ‘You deal with this’. Ta Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic)
The ten seconds you see of a man being hit with a baton, it looks horrible, but you don’t always know what that man was doing. Any use of force looks horrible even if it’s completely necessary. American police officer
The media take one incident and they magnify it to the point where people think that must be all law enforcement and it really hurts officers. American police officer
If I take a punch and I’m knocked out, they could take my gun. We need to stay a step ahead of them, so we sometimes use a higher-level of force. American police officer
Another worries that the fear of being criticised or indicted for using force may make cops put themselves in danger. “I think what’s happening now is that some younger officers are more reluctant to use force and they might lose a tactical advantage and be killed. American police officer
If the person is not receptive and is not willing to be coherent, all of the training in the world will fail. American police officer
Sometimes an officer feels they are left with no other choice to use force and they find out after the fact that the person was bipolar or whatever and they didn’t recognise it. American police officer
If somebody is fighting with the police and they end up getting shot, I guarantee you, there is a point where the officer gave lawful orders and you have to stop resisting. American police officer
It’s all about numbers now. Does an officer spend two shifts working on a burglary or does he go out and write 20 speeding tickets? American police officer
The people who get promotions, the people who get specialised jobs, are the people who get arrests. American police officer
It seems to me that the biggest challenge will involve changing America’s police culture. In Britain, and across Europe, police officers also spend a lot of time dealing with mental illness, drug use and the rest of it. But the number of deaths in custody per year across Britain is rarely more than handful. The annual number of people shot and killed by police has, in recent years, typically been zero. Some of this cannot be replicated: Britain is a small country with extremely tight gun-control laws and, as a result, extremely little gun crime. But some of it I think is the result of a better police culture. Since the early 1990s, when the Metropolitan Police in London was accused of being institutionally racist in an official inquiry, police services in Britain have become much more community-oriented. Problems remain, but cops increasingly do think of themselves as performing a social service. Not all of America’s 18,000 police forces suffer from the same problems, and there are certainly good examples of reform. Still, America’s police forces are largely made up of people who think of themselves as “a thin blue line (wand) ” against the bad guys. Only when that mentality changes will policing really be able to move past these scandals. The Economist
The bigger problem for Baltimore is that lawnessness is not limited to nights like tonight. As one young woman standing taking photos said to me, West Baltimore is “always like this. Well not like this, but you know, shootings”. This is a city where a young black man is killed almost every day—not by police officers, but by other young black men. The failure of the police in this city is that they cannot enforce the law even at the best of times. At their worst, as the death of Mr Gray seems to suggest, Baltimore’s police are simply another source of the lawlessness. The Economist
The reality of the job (…) is far less glamorous. (…) As crime has fallen across America since the 1990s, policing has shifted more towards social work than the drama seen on TV. Police culture, however, has not caught up. The gap may help to explain why American police are so embattled. (…) No one knows how many people die in contact with America’s roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. The FBI publishes reports, but police forces are not required to submit data. The incomplete FBI figures show that at least 461 people died in “justifiable homicides” in 2013, an increase of 33% since 2005. Other sources suggest the true number could be as high as twice that. In Britain, by contrast, police shot and killed precisely no one in 2013. American police resort to violence more partly because they meet it more. (…) Twenty-six police officers were killed with guns in the line of duty in 2013, far more than in any other rich country. Yet fewer police officers are killed now than in the past, and the number who are shot is less than the number who die in traffic accidents. Over time, suggests Mr Bueermann, a justified alertness to danger may have warped into a belief that the swift use of force is the only thing keeping cops safe. (…) force is often used to subdue low-level offenders (…), not just dangerous people. And it is unclear that armed policing is the best way to deal with all problems. At least half of all Americans shot and killed by police each year are mentally ill, says a report from the Treatment Advocacy Centre and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Police officers also spend time dealing with drug addicts, domestic disputes and, increasingly, the enforcement of civil penalties against people who have not paid motoring fines or child support. Such people are not muggers or rapists, yet cops often treat everyone as a threat. What is the solution? Many cops are pessimistic: they feel they are scapegoated for social problems (…) But improvements are being made. Sue Rahr, the director of Washington state’s police academy, says that cops need to be taught how to talk to people again. “When you approach a situation like RoboCop, you’re going to create hostility that wasn’t there before”. Since 2012, the state’s training has emphasised that people can be persuaded to obey commands, not just forced to. Military-style drills have been ditched. (…) Sadly, as the Gainesville video shows, not every police force is catching on. And as Ms Rahr admits, if you try to recruit cops by telling them they are social workers, fewer may apply. At least part of the glamour of the job is the promise that you get the chance to use violence against bad people in a way that ordinary civilians never can, except in video games. The Economist
Attention: un casseur peut en cacher un autre !
En ces temps étranges …
Où le plus rapide prix Nobel de l’histoire peut, dans la plus grande indifférence, commander tranquillement de son bureau l’élimination de milliers de terroristes à des dizaines de milliers de kilomètres de distance …
Tout en prétendant négocier de l’autre côté avec les véritables casseurs du Moyen-Orient …
Et où l’on ne peut plus avoir un suicide réussi sans entrainer 149 autres victimes avec soi …
Ou, comme l’a bien compris la maire même de Baltimore, regretter ou fêter la défaite ou victoire de son équipe favorite, sans détruire, de Vancouver à San Francisco ou Paris, une partie du quartier de ses voisins …
Comment ne pas voir …
A l’heure où, à l’instar du Pompier-pyromane de la Maison Blanche et de la dernière couverture de Time magazine comparant les émeutes post-mort de Martin Luther King à celles d’aujourd’hui, nos médias et nos habituels chasseurs d’ambulances nous refont le coup du rien n’a changé en 50 ans …
Et faisant mine d’oublier le simple attrait, pour la plupart des casseurs de nos émeutes, de l’adrénaline ou de l’occasion de pillage impuni …
Tentent de faire passer pour une question de racisme dans une ville à 80% noire, maire, chef de la police, procureur et conseil municipal compris …
Un réel problème, comme le rappelle The Economist, de formation et de changement de conditions de travail d’une bonne partie apparemment de la police américaine …
Où, victime en quelque sorte de son propre succès, une force de police formée et entrainée principalement à combattre la criminalité avec les techniques et les armes qui vont avec…
Se voit de plus en plus confrontée …
Face à la baisse de ladite criminalité et à des délits se réduisant de plus en plus, malgré certes une population de plus bien armée, à des infractions du code de la route ou des affaires familiales par une part toujours plus grande de déficients mentaux …
A des tâches qui ressemblent de mois en moins à celles que glorifient à longueur de soirée nos séries télévisées …
Et de plus en plus à celles, nettement plus prosaïques mais autrement plus complexes, d’une assistante sociale ?
Wanted: cops with people skills
When law enforcement is just about force, people are killed
Apr 25th 2015
To the sound of electric guitars, heavily armed police officers fire assault rifles, drive squad cars fast and pull their guns on fleeing crooks. “Are you qualified to join the thin blue line?” asks a narrator, in the sort of breathless voice you might expect in a trailer for “Fast & Furious 7”. The advert’s aim is not to sell movie tickets, however, but to recruit police officers in Gainesville, a city of 127,000 in Florida.
Would-be cops who take this video seriously are likely to be disappointed. The reality of the job, as one officer from a large west-coast agency explains, is far less glamorous. “The public want us to come up and deal with a neighbour who is mowing their lawn at 3am. They want us to deal with their disruptive child. They want us to deal with the crazy person who is walking down the street shouting.” As crime has fallen across America since the 1990s, policing has shifted more towards social work than the drama seen on TV. Police culture, however, has not caught up.
The gap may help to explain why American police are so embattled. The latest controversy is the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man from Baltimore who died on April 19th after being arrested (six officers have since been suspended). That followed the killing on April 4th in South Carolina of a 50-year-old man, Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by a police officer after running away from his car (the officer was charged with murder after a video of the killing emerged). In another case in Tulsa on April 2nd, a 73-year-old reserve police officer killed a man when he accidentally fired his gun instead of his taser. All three victims were black.
No one knows how many people die in contact with America’s roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. The FBI publishes reports, but police forces are not required to submit data. The incomplete FBI figures show that at least 461 people died in “justifiable homicides” in 2013, an increase of 33% since 2005. Other sources suggest the true number could be as high as twice that. In Britain, by contrast, police shot and killed precisely no one in 2013.
American police resort to violence more partly because they meet it more. “We’ve never had a population who are so well-armed,” points out Ron Teachman, the chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. Twenty-six police officers were killed with guns in the line of duty in 2013, far more than in any other rich country. “When you go to a police academy, the first thing they say to you is that it’s dangerous and you could get killed out there,” says Jim Bueermann, a retired police chief and the head of the Police Foundation, a think-tank.
Yet fewer police officers are killed now than in the past, and the number who are shot is less than the number who die in traffic accidents. Over time, suggests Mr Bueermann, a justified alertness to danger may have warped into a belief that the swift use of force is the only thing keeping cops safe. At its worst, this manifests itself in a fiercely defensive culture. For example, in Seattle last year more than 100 cops sued the Department of Justice to protest against a revised use-of-force policy, arguing that it would cripple morale and endanger cops (the case, which was not supported by the city’s police union, was thrown out).
Talking about Eric Garner, a bootleg-cigarette-seller who died in New York last year when a policeman put him into a chokehold, one street cop argues that the police should not be blamed: “He was continuously fighting with the officer. What really killed him?” This cop says that officers have to subdue people forcefully, because the alternative is to let criminals do as they please. If there is a problem, he says, it is that too many cops are not well trained in how to use force safely and so rely on brute violence or, worse, their guns. Another, a lieutenant, adds that he thinks that “the public needs to be educated better. We can’t let our guard down because we’re making ourselves less safe.”
Yet force is often used to subdue low-level offenders like Garner, not just dangerous people. And it is unclear that armed policing is the best way to deal with all problems. At least half of all Americans shot and killed by police each year are mentally ill, says a report from the Treatment Advocacy Centre and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Police officers also spend time dealing with drug addicts, domestic disputes and, increasingly, the enforcement of civil penalties against people who have not paid motoring fines or child support. Such people are not muggers or rapists, yet cops often treat everyone as a threat.
What is the solution? Many cops are pessimistic: they feel they are scapegoated for social problems (“You’re all fucking unreasonable!” exclaims one.) But improvements are being made. Sue Rahr, the director of Washington state’s police academy, says that cops need to be taught how to talk to people again. “When you approach a situation like RoboCop, you’re going to create hostility that wasn’t there before”. Since 2012, the state’s training has emphasised that people can be persuaded to obey commands, not just forced to. Military-style drills have been ditched. Ms Rahr now serves on a task force created by Barack Obama to spread such ideas.
Sadly, as the Gainesville video shows, not every police force is catching on. And as Ms Rahr admits, if you try to recruit cops by telling them they are social workers, fewer may apply. At least part of the glamour of the job is the promise that you get the chance to use violence against bad people in a way that ordinary civilians never can, except in video games.
Protests in Baltimore
Apr 28th 2015
WHAT is happening tonight in Baltimore is perhaps best described not as a riot but as anarchy. Though there are police lines, there are few protesters or people fighting the police or hurling stones. Indeed, where the police are lined up, the people standing around are mostly taking photos on their phones. Drive a few blocks in any direction, though, and suddenly it feels lawless. Groups of young men, boys really, wearing bandanas and hoodies, stand on street corners next to derelict buildings, staring at anyone passing, and occasionally throwing projectiles at cars. Young women hurry home carrying bags of stolen loot: food, clothes, and bottles of beer and liquor. On the occasional street here and there cars burn freely. Shops, of which there are not many in this abandoned corner of the inner city, are ravaged, their windows smashed, their shelves picked over. Cars hurtle through red lights at high speed, music blaring, boys leaning out of the windows. And everywhere the intense smell of smoke and the buzz of helicopters overhead.
Tonight’s events began, as riots so often have in American history, as a protest. A week ago Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in hospital, a week after he collapsed into a coma after being arrested and aggressively bundled into a police van in West Baltimore. Six police officers have been suspended. Today, at Mr Gray’s funeral, 2,000 people gathered in West Baltimore to hear eulogies to the young man. Hundreds of teenagers marched out of high school in protest at police brutality; within hours, a police cruiser had been set on fire. By late afternoon a branch of CVS, a drug store, had been looted and was alight and hundreds of riot cops were massing in West Baltimore. By 8pm, when darkness set, the fires and looting were spreading. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s new Republican governor, soon signed a state-of-emergency declaration. By 11pm the National Guard was being deployed and the city announced a curfew for all residents.
So far, however, the riots seem both enormous and minor. The scale of the destruction is tremendous. But while scores of people have been injured, and shots have been fired, so far, miraculously, nobody seems to have been killed. Baltimore will be damaged, and many of the businesses that have been burned will never reopen. The flow of people who have been moving back to this long-suffering city, gentrifying its more difficult corners, will surely grow thin. But as bleak as it all looks now, in a few years Baltimore, and this night of sudden lawlessness, will once again disappear from the national consciousness.
America’s police kill too many people. How some police forces are trying to change
The bigger problem for Baltimore is that lawnessness is not limited to nights like tonight. As one young woman standing taking photos said to me, West Baltimore is “always like this. Well not like this, but you know, shootings”. This is a city where a young black man is killed almost every day—not by police officers, but by other young black men. The failure of the police in this city is that they cannot enforce the law even at the best of times. At their worst, as the death of Mr Gray seems to suggest, Baltimore’s police are simply another source of the lawlessness.
American politics : Policing in America
What the cops say
Apr 27th 2015
FEW doubt that there is something seriously wrong with policing in America. Far too many people, chiefly young black men, are dying at the hands of police. Every new police scandal invites more hand-wringing over a law-enforcement system that often seems racist and unjust. In Baltimore over the weekend protests over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year old man who died while in police custody in Baltimore on April 19th, turned violent.
Yet few also doubt that most police officers are decent people who “risk their own safety for ours every single day,” as President Barack Obama put it recently. According to one poll, three quarters of people, including a majority of African Americans, say that they approve of the job being done by their local police department. Police officers in general seem to be thought of as decent people doing good work—and yet policing, as a practice, is widely distrusted.
What explains this contradiction?
In the Atlantic, Ta Nehisi Coates argues that part of the reason is simply that police officers are expected to do too much. “At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system,” he writes. “Vexing social problems” such as homelessness, drug use and mental illness are now handled by armed men and women, who are trained to enforce compliance, not offer therapy. “Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, ‘You deal with this’,” Mr Coates observes. Naturally this creates problems. In New York over the weekend, police officers killed a robbery suspect with a history of mental illness.
I have a lot of sympathy with Mr Coates’s view. Certainly police officers cannot solve social problems. And better regulation of cops and a proliferation of body cameras will not make America’s dark history of racialised oppression go away. But I think Mr Coates’s take—that the problems of American policing are structural and inevitable—is ultimately too pessimistic. It discounts the importance of police training, which can have a big impact on when and how often officers pull the trigger. So it is worth asking whether there is something in particular about America’s policing culture that leads an over-reliance on violence.
In search of an answer, I set out to interview a rough cross-section of American cops. I wanted to know what they think of the debate about policing that has gripped the country since the protests in Ferguson last year. My research led to this piece in the paper. But having transcribed six or seven hours’ worth of interviews with half a dozen cops from police forces across America, I felt I could add a little more. I particularly wanted to get across what ordinary street-level cops think, because their voice seems so absent from much of this debate. (As an aside, line-level cops are generally barred from speaking to the media; the ones I spoke to insisted on their anonymity, including the force they work for.)
My first, inescapable finding is that almost all cops think they get a hard time from the media. As one lieutenant from an urban Midwestern force put it, “it sometimes feels like the only voice you ever hear is criticising you… If you watch the TV news, our good work only gets two seconds. When we do something bad, it gets two minutes.” Another officer, this one a veteran from a north-eastern suburban force, says that he thinks that the media—and the rise of smart-phones—makes policing look worse than it is. “The ten seconds you see of a man being hit with a baton, it looks horrible,” he says, “but you don’t always know what that man was doing. Any use of force looks horrible even if it’s completely necessary.” A third cop says that media coverage of abuses in some places undermines cops everywhere: “The media take one incident and they magnify it to the point where people think that must be all law enforcement and it really hurts officers”.
Second, cops think that the public underestimates the threats to their life—and why the use of force is sometimes necessary. Most of the officers I interviewed say that guns poison policing in America. “They’re literally everywhere,” says one. “And the problem with dealing with guns is that if I’m talking to you and you’ve got a gun, action always beats reaction.” One female street cop points that having to carry a firearm automatically escalates violent situations. “If I take a punch and I’m knocked out, they could take my gun,” she says. “We need to stay a step ahead of them, so we sometimes use a higher-level of force.” Another worries that the fear of being criticised or indicted for using force may make cops put themselves in danger. “I think what’s happening now is that some younger officers are more reluctant to use force and they might lose a tactical advantage and be killed.”
Third, many cops seem to largely agree with Mr Coates’s view that the public have unrealistic expectations of what they can do. One from a Californian force argues that police officers cannot be expected to deal with social problems, like mental illness or drug addiction, without resorting to force. “If the person is not receptive and is not willing to be coherent, all of the training in the world will fail.” Another says that mental illness is a particular problem because cops do not know how to identify it. “Sometimes an officer feels they are left with no other choice to use force and they find out after the fact that the person was bipolar or whatever and they didn’t recognise it.” Cops who are expected to be tough enforcers of the law are not the right people to deal with people who are mentally ill, most concluded—but they have been made so by cuts to other services.
Several of the half a dozen cops I interviewed argued, in one way or another, that if people did not resist arrest, they would not be hurt by police officers. “If somebody is fighting with the police and they end up getting shot, I guarantee you, there is a point where the officer gave lawful orders and you have to stop resisting,” says one. Another argues that people need to get used to cops acting forcefully: “I would say that we need to train the public.” These cops—a significant minority—seemed to suggest that the use of force is always justified when people resist arrest or disobey orders.
Can things be improved? Part of the problem, admitted one officer, is that a narrow focus on criminal behaviour sometimes misses the big picture. “We arrest drug users and dealers and people who do all of these awful things. The problem is that those people don’t always do those things all of the time. They’re also people who are loved by people,” she says. This would seem to strengthen the argument for community policing, whereby officers get to know not just the criminals on their beat but also the business owners, teachers and local families. This approach to law-enforcement, which often involves getting officers out of their cars and on the streets to mingle with the community they are working to protect, can build trust and reduce crime. But many cops in America are deeply sceptical of community policing (“boutique policing”, one called it to me).
Another problem is that officers are often judged according to how many people they arrest, not how many crimes they prevent. “It’s all about numbers now”, laments one suburban cop. “Does an officer spend two shifts working on a burglary or does he go out and write 20 speeding tickets?” There are few incentives for trying to solve problems, explains another: “The people who get promotions, the people who get specialised jobs, are the people who get arrests.” New ways for assessing performance, with data that measures crime prevention, could encourage new and less violent forms of law enforcement.
It seems to me that the biggest challenge will involve changing America’s police culture. In Britain, and across Europe, police officers also spend a lot of time dealing with mental illness, drug use and the rest of it. But the number of deaths in custody per year across Britain is rarely more than handful. The annual number of people shot and killed by police has, in recent years, typically been zero. Some of this cannot be replicated: Britain is a small country with extremely tight gun-control laws and, as a result, extremely little gun crime. But some of it I think is the result of a better police culture. Since the early 1990s, when the Metropolitan Police in London was accused of being institutionally racist in an official inquiry, police services in Britain have become much more community-oriented. Problems remain, but cops increasingly do think of themselves as performing a social service.
Not all of America’s 18,000 police forces suffer from the same problems, and there are certainly good examples of reform. Still, America’s police forces are largely made up of people who think of themselves as “a thin blue line (wand) ” against the bad guys. Only when that mentality changes will policing really be able to move past these scandals.
28 Apr 2015
As rioters rushed through the streets of Baltimore, torching police vehicles, looting local stores, and attacking police officers and reporters alike, some intrepid leftists justified the activity.
Marc Lamont Hill stated on MSNBC, “There shouldn’t be calm tonight. I think there can be resistance to oppression, and when resistance occurs, you can’t circumscribe resistance.” He added that the riots should be called “uprisings. The city is not burning because of those protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray.” Sally Kohn of CNN tweeted, “Looting is a real shame. But FAR MORE shameful is pattern of police violence against black community! Perspective, people. #BaltimoreRising.”
Baltimore’s riots have prompted a state of emergency in the city, as well as the calling of the National Guard. But the riots should also demonstrate conclusively that leftist myths about what drives race riots are just that: myths. It turns out that all the excuses given for the riots in Ferguson simply do not apply to the situation in Baltimore.
The “White Police” Myth. As rioters tore up Ferguson last year in the aftermath of the justifiable shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, media members rushed to explain that the disproportionate whiteness of the police force was to blame. Media outlet after media outlet after media outlet after media outlet blamed the unrest on the failure of the police department to reflect the community. But as of 2010, “Half of the sworn command staff are minorities,” according to the Baltimore Sun. And in Baltimore County, 55 percent of new applicants to the police department are minority, a number the police department has been attempting to boost. Racially reflecting the community, in other words, doesn’t seem to be helping.
The “Evil Police Chief” Myth. In Ferguson, the media targeted as its chosen villain Chief Thomas Jackson, who is white. After the Department of Justice found that the Ferguson Police Department had serious racial problems thanks in part to its disproportionate whiteness, Jackson stepped down. Media found Jackson particularly galling because Jackson released footage of Michael Brown strong-arm robbing a convenience store minutes before his confrontation with Wilson. It is difficult to blame the riots in Baltimore on similar circumstances. The police chief, Anthony Batts, who is black, said in February that crime should be addressed “through social justice as a whole,” and added that “Leadership should be focused not just on crime-fighting, but tackling racism.” He then stated, “When I go to Baltimore, on the East Coast, I’m dealing with 1950s-level black-and-white racism.”
The “Evil Mayor” Myth. As Ferguson burned, media focused in on Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, a white man. They suggested that Knowles didn’t understand his own community thanks to his race, exacerbating racial tensions. He’s currently at risk of recall. The same is not true in Baltimore, where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake runs the show. Rawlings-Blake, who is black, said a month ago, “To this day, if I go out with a mixed crowd, people are automatically suspicious, questioning: ‘How do you know this person?’ We have a long way to go…Baltimore, like many other cities, still faces the challenges of racism.” As the riots spun out of control, she infamously commented, “It’s a very delicate balancing act, because, while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” That didn’t stop the riots.
The “Disproportionate White Power Structure Myth.” The nation watched the recent local elections in Ferguson, Missouri, of the City Council with baited breath. That’s because the media suggested that the power structure in Ferguson, being disproportionately white, had somehow contributed to shadowy racism within the city. The Washington Post complained, “while Ferguson is 67 percent black, five of the six council members and the mayor are all white.” Not so in Baltimore, where the nine of the 15 council members are black. The mayor is black. The police chief is black. Baltimore burns anyway.
The “Not Enough Government” Myth. In Ferguson, the media and governmental actors suggested that lack of governmental intervention led to the riots. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote an open letter in December 2014 suggesting just that:
We should take away from Ferguson that we need a conversation to rebuild those relationships, throughout the country, and that need is urgent. It needs to involve everyone – our young people, our parents, our schools, our faith communities, our government officials, and the police. It needs to happen now.
Lack of government is not the problem in Baltimore. Every single member of the Baltimore City Council is a Democrat. All 15 of them. The mayor is a Democrat. Baltimore has not had a Republican mayor since 1967. The tax rates in Baltimore are astronomical; the city carries the fourth highest tax rate of any city in the nation. The poverty rate within the city is nearly 25 percent. Households in Baltimore earn approximately 56 percent of the overall state average. Crime rates, of course, are out of control.
Modern race riots do not occur because of the supposed white superstructure or a legacy of governmental underservice. They occur because valueless rioters act in valueless ways. Baltimore is evidence that glossing over lack of values with leftist pabulum about social justice doesn’t stop cities from burning.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.
Voir de plus:
Richard Thompson Ford
The American interest
August 10, 2012
American society is neither post-racial nor stuck fast in a racist past, but fantasies of monolithic racial communities are distorting our national conversation on race and public policy.
African Americans were once united and to some extent even defined by the experiences of slavery, Jim Crow and the quotidian humiliations dealt out by an overtly and habitually racist society. But today overt racism is almost universally condemned, and Americans grow more racially tolerant with each generation. African Americans now occupy some of the nation’s most coveted and prestigious positions. Black culture, once treated with contempt, now produces much of the nation’s most celebrated popular music and many of its most emulated celebrities. Although racism is an enduring feature of American society, for a growing cadre of successful and well-positioned blacks it is more an annoyance than a serious threat to personal well-being. By contrast, today’s poor blacks endure social conditions that are arguably worse than those of the era of Jim Crow-style racism. For members of the black underclass, broken families, malnutrition, joblessness, crime and entanglement with the criminal justice system are endemic and devastating problems; opportunities for upward social mobility are arguably more limited today than at any time since Reconstruction. But is this because of racism, or other institutional deficiencies?
This divergence in experiences and life chances now divides the black community as sharply as the color line once divided Americans. The fracturing of the black community is a challenge to conventional ways of thinking about race, identity and social justice, even as it opens some new possibilities for human flourishing and for a more just society. Although we still typically think in terms of a single black experience, a unified black community and a common black identity, these assumptions ever more starkly spite the facts of daily life. Our failure to come to grips with the new realities of race in America has distorted our analysis of social problems and undermined our efforts to find viable solutions. Increasingly desperate attempts to cling to outdated ideas of racial identity and solidarity have bred a fundamentally dishonest racial conversation that warps individual psychological development and confounds cross-racial understanding.
Police in New York City stopped more than 680,000 people last year; 84 percent were black or Latino. The overwhelming majority (88 percent) of the stops did not result in an arrest.1 For young men in New York’s tougher neighborhoods, police stops are a regular occurrence. One young man told a New York Timesreporter he was stopped more than sixty times before he turned 18 years old.2 And although some officers are courteous in their questioning and respectful in searches, all too often the stops include insults, threats and physically rough treatment. For instance, when two Latino teenagers stopped by police in Queens complained and asked why, the officers shouted expletives and told them to “shut up”: “Say one word and I’m going to make your parents pick you up in jail. You guys are a bunch of immigrants”, one officer barked.
New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy is the new face of racial profiling. Of course, police deny that they target people based on race. Instead the stops focus on high-crime neighborhoods (where a disproportionate number of minorities live) or on specific suspect descriptions (a disproportionate number of which specify a minority race). Police also have probable cause to stop and question anyone they reasonably suspect of committing a crime, such as carrying a concealed weapon or narcotics. Many of the reasons police cite for such suspicions are vague, to say the least: “furtive” movements is the most common. Dress and demeanor also certainly play a role. Young men in baggy pants, basketball shoes and hoodie sweatshirts fit the profile, so to speak, although more conventional attire is no guarantee of immunity. There are good reasons to believe that stop-and-frisk policies reduce crime, to the benefit of the disproportionately minority residents of high crime neighborhoods. But there is also no doubt that the costs of the practice fall disproportionately on innocent minorities living in those neighborhoods, a fact of which the courts are increasingly taking notice.3
The face of racial profiling looked very different three years ago, in the summer of 2009, when Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. returned home after an overseas trip and found his front door was jammed. He forced it open with the help of his driver. One of Gates’s neighbors saw the men forcing the door and called the police to report a burglary. Cambridge police officer James Crowley responded to the call and demanded (or “asked”, depending on which account of events you believe) that Gates come outside to answer some questions. Gates refused and a confrontation ensued, which ended in Gates being placed under arrest for disorderly conduct. Predictably, many commentators described the incident as a case of “racial profiling”, connecting it to the controversial traffic and pedestrian stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately affect racial minorities. But the clash between Gates and Crowley was very different in both its causes and its effects than the stops conducted in poor minority neighborhoods by New York police and countless other police departments. Describing them both as instances of “racial profiling”—with the clear implication that the main cause of both encounters is simply police racism—encourages misleading diagnoses of both kinds of incidents.
Race still matters in casual encounters, long-term relationships, job opportunities and run-ins with the law. But increasingly the way race matters differs depending on one’s wealth, social standing, education and acculturation. The once iron law of racism is now a mesh of flexible guidelines, full of loopholes and exceptions. Yet almost everyone—from politicians to civil rights advocates to academic commentators—continues to think of race as a simple trait and racism as a unified phenomenon. Instead of looking with fresh eyes on the new and more complex racial problems of today, we analyze today’s problems using the ideas, diagnoses and prescriptions of the past. So racial disparities in criminal sentencing and incarceration are a “New Jim Crow” and voter ID laws are like “poll taxes.” Not only do we reflexively think of new racial problems as nothing other than subtler versions of old ones, we also think that all racial problems flow from a singular cause: racism. That’s how a police officer responding to a report of a break-in becomes a case of racial profiling.
The Gates case, of course, did not involve “profiling” at all: The police were responding to a call reporting a possible burglary at Gates’s address. Perhaps Officer Crowley assumed the worst because Gates is black, and maybe he would not have sought to arrest a white man under similar circumstances. But that account doesn’t square easily with the fact that Crowley had been hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits how to avoid racial profiling.
Moreover, it’s well known that many police demand deference and submission from anyone they encounter while on duty and find reasons to arrest those who challenge them, regardless of race. Those who dare to question or disagree with an officer are held “in contempt of cop” according to the common argot among police and civil libertarians. This is a serious civil rights violation: Police are not entitled to arrest anyone who disagrees with them. All too often they do it anyway, but it is very different from racial profiling, and very different from the type of police racism residents of inner-city neighborhoods confront on a regular basis.
The resentment engendered by traffic stop and stop-and-frisk practices stems from the dysfunctional relationship between police and minority communities. Decades of blatant and pervasive racial discrimination, poor urban planning and failed economic and labor policies have left blacks disproportionately jobless and trapped in poor ghettos across the United States. Faced with few opportunities and sustained by few positive role models, disturbing numbers of people in those neighborhoods turn to gangs and crime for money, protection and esteem. Rather than improving those neighborhoods and helping the people who live in them join the prosperous mainstream, we as a society have given the police the dirty job of quarantining them from the rest of us. Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised if bigots and power-hungry sadists are drawn to a job with such a mandate. Moreover, even otherwise decent, fair-minded officers, faced with the day-to-day task of controlling some of society’s most isolated, desperate and angry populations, might develop some ugly racial generalizations. In a sense, police racism is as much a symptom as a cause of the larger injustices faced by disadvantaged blacks.
As a result, poor blacks living in inner cities suffer numerous tense and humiliating encounters with police, each run-in made worse in turn by the cumulative effect of past run-ins and by the knowledge that any encounter might end in arrest, violence or death. Contrast this with Professor Gates’s world: It would be surprising if he ever had another negative encounter with the police. And that’s not just because the scandal over the Crowley incident will deter racist officers; it’s because Gates doesn’t live in the kind of neighborhood where most police abuses occur, and because he doesn’t demonstrate the demeanor that provokes police suspicion.
In the retelling, the Gates-Crowley confrontation somehow became a social justice parable crossed with 1970s cinéma vérité, with Gates, played by Sidney Poitier, the dignified African American high achiever, who despite his accomplishments and status faces harassment at the hands of a bigoted cop; or, alternatively, Crowley, played by a young Michael Douglas or Clint Eastwood as an honest, plain-spoken and hard-working public servant besieged by mau-mauing opportunists and cowardly, politically correct politicians. But these morally loaded archetypes don’t describe the most serious racial problems.
Most of the people who used the Gates incident as an example of racial profiling did so with the best of intentions. Their hope was that the arrest of an exemplary black man—well-educated, dignified, refined—would dramatize the long-troubled relationship between police and minority communities and the much more severe problem of police abuse suffered by less fortunate blacks. If even a distinguished Harvard Professor suffers from racial profiling, just imagine how bad it must be for the typical black person! But the Gates encounter, while troubling for its own reasons, lacked almost every feature that is distinctively bad about most encounters between poor blacks and police.
In order to confront today’s racial injustices, we need to move beyond the much-too-neat and false equivalences we have inherited from earlier times. We have to confront the fracturing of the black community and question the idea that race in and of itself explains much of what ails our inner cities and the black and brown people who live in them.
When Barack Obama was inaugurated as the nation’s first black President, a surprising number of people believed the day marked the beginnings of a post-racial society. Several racial scandals and a beer summit later, it’s clear that America is post-racial in the same way the milieu of the television show Mad Menis post-modern: We haven’t moved past race, but our relationship to it has become exaggerated and stylized. We experience racial identity—both our own and that of others—at one remove: hypercritical, affected and self-conscious. We are so afraid of complications we sense but don’t fully understand that we yearn for a script of some kind to play our part. From the predictable racial scandals that are a staple of talk radio and television news to the caricatures of black masculinity offered by professional musicians and athletes, today’s race relations are insincere in a profound but mostly accidental way. We are reciting lines written for characters we were supposed to be, wish we were or are afraid of becoming.
Consider rap music, which sells an “authentic” black experience to a largely white audience. The hip hop subculture’s obsession with racial authenticity—the relentless focus on “street cred” and “keepin’ it real”—amounts to overcompensation for what are basically contrived racial performances. Perhaps it’s enough to point out that the supposedly street-hardened hip hop gangsters telling ever grittier tales of black urban life are, in the final analysis, professional entertainers who are well compensated for selling a mystique. It would all be harmless fun, except that too many impressionable young people, particularly young black men, take the show seriously and seek to act out the romance of the urban primitive. As life imitates art, the persona of the black urban hustler effectively produces its own authenticity. If there weren’t legions of young black men living the dangerous and destructive life depicted in gangster rap music before it became the soundtrack of American youth culture, there are now.
So if the characters in the hip hop narrative are not authentic, which characters are? It’s hard to say what counts as “authentically” black on the other side of this funhouse looking glass. It’s hard even to know what the question could mean. Perhaps this disorientation began after the simple idea of biological race was discredited. Thankfully we’ve rejected the one-drop rule, opening up the possibility of mixed racial identities and some degree of individual choice in racial identification. Most sensible people now agree that race is not a simple matter of biological or genetic inheritance. Anyone who attended a decent liberal arts college or four-year university since the early 1980s has been told repeatedly that race is not a simple biological fact but instead a “social construction.”
This new complexity not only has made race relations more fluid; it has also made racial identity much less certain and thereby weakened the boundaries that defined the black community and the bonds that kept it together. It has given rise to the persistent, nagging suspicion that, stripped of its biological foundation, race is simply a pernicious fiction that we should reject outright; but would that make racial solidarity a holdover from an unfortunate chapter of the past that has outlived its usefulness? It is easy to see the benefits of debunking race as a biological fact—much easier, in fact, than to jettison the psychological stability of racial affinities.
In response to these threats to identity and solidarity, many people settled on the idea that racial identity is a question of culture. The black community is defined not by its common blood but by its common norms, practices and beliefs. But increasingly the idea of a “black culture” looks questionable, too: Given the difference between rich and poor, well-educated and culturally deprived, long-suffering descendants of American slaves and recent immigrants from the West Indies and the African continent, there are, as Professor Gates himself once put it, at least “1,000 ways to be black.”
The new consensus seems to be that what joins these discrete and increasingly divergent black communities is the struggle against racism. For instance, the cultural critic Touré insists that, “There is no consensus on what it means to be black and never has been.” But a few sentences later he assumes just such a consensus, writing that “just because someone gets expelled from the race the way, say, Clarence Thomas has doesn’t mean they don’t continue to battle racism on a daily basis, so what does expulsion really mean?”4 Battling racism, then, is the defining and unifying black experience (even if there is no such factual thing as race).
But is it? As late as the 1980s it would have been reasonable to insist that all black people—even the wealthiest and most powerful, suffered from racism “on a daily basis.” But frankly, it’s hard to imagine that in 2012 most wealthy and socially privileged black people—much less an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court—find much in the way of overt racism to battle. When they do encounter racism, it is typically of the subtle, ambiguous and relatively inconsequential variety—mild slights, snubs or concealed contempt. We can be certain that no bigoted potential employer will deny Clarence Thomas a job, no bigot will call him a nigger, no power-hungry police officer will rough him up for sport, no paranoid vigilante will shoot him as he walks home from the convenience store. These kinds of injustices and indignities, once the defining features of the black experience, are now familiar only to a portion of African Americans.
Today’s race relations are a good news, bad news story. The good news is really pretty good: Since the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, life has gotten much better for blacks with the resources, skills and socialization necessary to enter the American mainstream. Racism has consistently and steadily declined, and opportunities for well-educated blacks have expanded even more quickly than a rapidly expanding economy. American racism is in steady decline as the aging white supremacists influenced by Birth of a Nation or Father Coughlin are replaced by a generation raised on The Cosby Show and Oprah Winfrey. Legally enforced segregation is a thing of the past: Today the law prohibits race discrimination by government, employers and landlords. Wall Street banks, white-shoe law firms and ivy-league universities aggressively seek out minority race applicants. For well-educated blacks, acculturated to the norms of the prosperous American mainstream, racism is rarely a serious impediment to success, esteem and well-being. Yes, there are still the vexations caused by petty insults and slights, but for many blacks the once ubiquitous iron law of white supremacy is now an occasional and petty hindrance; the once arrogant and terrifying bigot is little more than a pathetic annoyance; the menacing Jim Crow has been reduced to an irritating mosquito.
The bad news, as already suggested, is that things have actually gotten worse for those blacks without such advantages—just as, by the way, they have gotten worse for whites without the resources, skills, socialization and education to stick to the mainstream. But it has been worse for poor blacks in large part because the exodus of the more successful blacks left poor blacks without economic capital and positive role models. A changing economy shed many of the once plentiful, well-paid, blue-collar jobs. The War on Poverty morphed into a war on the poor: social welfare programs yielded to a “tough love” that slashed benefits and pushed millions into homelessness and abjection, and a zero-tolerance approach to law enforcement led to the incarceration of unprecedented numbers of black men. Many of America’s cities are as racially divided as they were during the era of southern Jim Crow segregation, racial discrimination in employment and housing stubbornly persists, racial stereotypes are a staple of popular culture, and hardly a month goes by without a new race scandal to occupy the intense if fleeting attention of the mass media. Racist cops, prejudiced employers and bigoted landlords seem to have little trouble knowing whom to discriminate against. In these and many other respects racism and race seem as blatant and implacable as ever.
Yet today “racism” does not describe a single attitude or phenomenon but a number of distinct and often unrelated social problems. The joblessness, isolation and despair that afflicts poor blacks in inner-city ghettos is different in kind, not simply degree, from the subtle bigotry, ambiguous slights and “soft” exclusion encountered by black people lucky enough to write books, teach at elite universities or serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The success of the blacks who can tell the good news story does not suggest any improvement in the dire circumstances of the blacks who must live out the bad news story. Nor are the benefits of policy reforms designed to help the former group likely to trickle down to the latter group. The idea of a single American black community is an anachronism. Today there are at least two black communities that are joined by a shared history—no small thing—but increasingly divided by lifestyle, values, norms of behavior and life prospects.
Most middle-class blacks of my generation were taught that all blacks are joined in unavoidable struggle against a common enemy and that we had both a personal interest and a moral obligation to keep faith and solidarity with other blacks, especially the less fortunate. “There but for the grace of God go I”, we said whenever a black person suffered an injustice that we had been spared. This ethos had the considerable virtue of encouraging emotional empathy and political solidarity with the less fortunate. But it also encouraged a distorted image of the contemporary racial landscape. It suggested that it is wise and virtuous to emphasize potential racial threats and, conversely, naive and blameworthy to downplay them. And the imperative of solidarity requires us not only to sympathize with other blacks but also to see our social situation as continuous with theirs, to see their plight as our plight and their injuries and deprivations as our own. This keeps our attention relentlessly focused on the perils of life in a racist society and on the victims of that racism. So we effectively define the black experience as one of constant peril and in terms of the suffering of the most disadvantaged, victimized and unfortunate blacks: poor blacks living in violent inner-city neighborhoods, victims of police harassment and brutality, gang members, criminal recidivists.
At best, this is a useful fiction that encourages us to work to improve the plight of the disadvantaged. But at worst it’s a way of staking a claim to sympathy for injuries suffered by other people. Consequently, public policy too often addresses only the problems faced by the most vocal and influential members of minority groups. For instance, preferences for minority-owned businesses and affirmative action in higher education are thought to help “disadvantaged minorities”, but few of the benefits of these policies trickle down to poorly educated and low-skilled minorities. If such policies are to be defended (and I believe many should be), they must be justified in terms of their true effects and their true beneficiaries—not in terms of “the disadvantaged” or “racial justice” generally. Meanwhile, the truly disadvantaged are in desperate need of policies closely tailored to the unique problems they face.
In the 1970s sociologist Nathan Glazer argued that the black experience was best understood in comparison to the experiences of other distinctive ethnic groups in American society, such as the Irish, Italians or Jews.5 Like blacks, these groups were the targets of pervasive discrimination and prejudice, and yet they eventually assimilated into the prosperous mainstream of American society and have largely shed the stigma they bore in the past. With the benefit of civil rights legislation, the hypothesis went, blacks too would take their place in this nation of minorities, and the distinctive stigma of black race—W.E.B. DuBois’s badge of insult—would fade to insignificance. Time has not been kind to this hypothesis. Indeed, some three decades later, Glazer himself repudiated it: “[E]ven after taking account of substantial progress and change, it is borne upon us how continuous, rooted and substantial the difference between African Americans and other Americans remains.”6
But maybe Glazer’s thesis wasn’t mistaken, just incomplete and premature. Today Americans are learning to distinguish between elite blacks, whom they increasingly treat like members of any other ethnic group, and the underclass, whom they continue to treat as a despised and inferior race. By and large, today’s successful blacks are those who assimilate (or, increasingly, those, like the President, who never picked up distinctively black affectations in the first place.) The patterns of speech, posture and dress of the black underclass, according to Glazer, “suggest the possibility of trouble to the dominant caste” and hence can inspire negative reactions in employers and police officers who might react favorably to blacks with more bourgeois cultural styles.
Ironically, the affectations of poor urban blacks are also the coveted indicia of cool young men of all races, thanks to the popularity of black popular music. The style of society’s most stigmatized and underprivileged group sells luxury goods. It’s the soundtrack of choice on haute couture runways, in exclusive clubs and at fashionable parties. The top rap musicians are among the highest paid celebrities in the world and enjoy the lifestyle once reserved for A-list Hollywood stars, captains of industry and European aristocrats.
All this is despite the fact that much of the point of gangsta rap is to suggest trouble to the dominant caste. Rap lyrics chronicle and often glamorize crime, violence and rough treatment of women; the most popular rap artists emphasize their criminal backgrounds in a competition for all-important “street cred”; rap fashion sense is deliberately rough, slouchy and unrefined; and rap artists are responsible for popularizing the playful use of the racial epithet “nigger”, reminding us of an ugly and overt racism that many people would prefer to forget. Rap’s crowning post-racial victory has been to sell this angry countercultural fantasy image to the mainstream. The black elite and even more so the striving middle classes typically avoid any underclass affectations like a disease, but the clothing and speech patterns of gangster rap are studied and emulated in the leafy suburbs of the privileged classes.
To some extent this is the old story of the glamour of the outlaw and the charisma of the troubadour. Just as Al Capone charmed law-abiding citizens nationwide from a Chicago courtroom, so rapper “thugs” seduce the impressionable with ostentatious wealth, swagger and bravado. And just as young men once copied the style and panache of Rat Pack crooners and rock and roll stars, today’s kids want to be like rappers and ballers. Kids look up to Jay-Z and 50 Cent because they’re first-rate entertainers—like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and John Lennon before them.
That’s show business. But for the young person in search of identity and belonging, it creates an environment filled with mixed signals. On the one hand, mainstream authority figures—teachers, parents, police—discourage such affectations. On the other hand, the media sends the opposite message: The affectations of the ghetto are cool, high status and symbols of wealth, prestige and privilege. For blacks, ghetto cool comes with distinctive risks. The focus on “street cred” and authenticity leads the credulous and the impressionable to try to live out the gangsta lifestyle. Indeed, as economist Roland Fryer has shown, young black men self-consciously cultivate the gangsta image because it offers social status and popularity—ironically, “keeping it real” often begins as a contrived affectation, a deliberate put-on.
Here, perhaps, we have an illuminating gloss on the now well-known phenomenon that black students ostracize and ridicule their high-achieving peers for “acting white.” One explanation for this disturbing trend holds that blacks, convinced that discrimination would render their educational accomplishments largely irrelevant, develop an “oppositional culture” in reaction to white racism. A competing explanation, however, is that blacks, aware of the humiliating under-performance of their race, engage in a self-destructive form of “therapeutic alienation” from mainstream white society and its norms. Harvard economist Roland Fryer has offered a new and more convincing explanation, one that focuses on the fracturing of the black community: The “acting white” insult is an embattled group’s implicit strategy for disciplining members most likely to abandon the group.7 As anti-discrimination laws and the decline of racial prejudice opened new opportunities, blacks with educational credentials and acculturation to mainstream norms could find jobs, housing and companionship outside the group. Assimilation and educational achievement effectively send two signals to two different audiences. For employers, landlords and potential neighbors, the message is, “I am a person who is capable and willing to work hard and conform to mainstream expectations—a good employee, tenant or neighbor.” But to the racial group, many of whom are likely to remain stuck in poverty, the message is, “ I am preparing to leave you behind in favor of better opportunities.” The “acting white” insult discourages blacks from investing in the skills and acculturation that will lead to success and esteem in mainstream society by making those skills a mark of shame within the racial group.
Fryer’s account explains some otherwise puzzling features of the “acting white” idea. For instance, the “acting white” problem is most pronounced in raciallyintegrated public schools. This is hard to understand if the problem stems from an oppositional culture or from therapeutic alienation, both of which should be most pronounced among the most desperate and isolated blacks. But it makes perfect sense if the problem stems from the possible defection of talented members of the group, for it’s precisely in integrated settings that the risk of defection is greatest and most apparent.
These phenomena are not subtler versions of some familiar racial injury that finds in roots in slavery or Jim Crow; they are as much the result of the decline of racism as of its persistence. Black gangsta culture is cool in large part because it has been accepted and embraced by the mainstream. Jay-Z and Kanye West can drink champagne in Paris and wear designer clothing in the company of beautiful women because they are popular with a multiracial audience—an audience that barely existed for black artists in mid-century America and that existed only for a highly assimilated and unthreatening few until very recently.
The defining feature of cool is the ability to transgress but remain just inside the mainstream, to threaten but not truly destabilize, to be intriguing and titillating rather than actually menacing. Gangster rap can strike this balance because racism is still prevalent, but also in decline, because the racial stereotype of the black thug is still in circulation, but is less universally believed in and less thoroughly reviled. Also, of course, at some level everyone understands that it’s all for show: The gangsta rapper offers a controlled and domesticated thrill without real danger, like an amusement park roller coaster or a roaring lion in a circus. But for the unfortunate kids who emulate gangster rappers, the delicate balance is thrown off: They are simply threatening and off-putting living embodiments of a still powerful stereotype that gangsta rap helps to perpetuate.
Similarly, the “acting white” slur emerges as a reaction to expanded opportunities for blacks. It’s only when the more successful blacks might be able to leave the less successful behind that there is the need to reinforce distinctive in-group behavior. Even in today’s unfavorable economic climate, blacks with a good education and socialization to mainstream norms have more and better opportunities than ever before. But those who, through bad luck and bad decisions, don’t have these crucial assets don’t want their more impressive peers to abandon them.
This suggests a remarkable opportunity and a serious challenge for American race relations and racial policies.
The opportunity: For the first time in American history, it’s plausible that a solid majority of Americans actually wants a racially just society. Of course there are many serious disagreements about what that would mean and how to achieve it. But the hard-core racists—those who will fight to defend a social hierarchy based on race—are a rapidly dwindling minority. Many have overestimated the significance of Barack Obama’s election as a barometer of race relations, but just as many have underestimated it. Obama’s election does not suggest that racism is a relic of the past, but it does prove that racists no longer have a stranglehold on American politics as they did during the long ascendency of the Republican Party’s “Southern strategy”, which successfully undermined Democrats by associating them with civil rights and racially tinged social welfare policies.
The challenge: The fracturing of the black community means that simple analyses, policies and prescriptions focused on a monolithic evil called “racism” will not do. A black kid stopped and frisked by aggressive police in Queens is facing a largely different problem than a black professor confronting an overzealous cop near Harvard Square. The success and esteem enjoyed by black rappers tells us very little about the reception that the black high school student who mimics them is likely to receive. The typically subtle and ambiguous racism that well educated and acculturated blacks confront is not of a piece with the racial injustices that keep poor blacks caught in a cycle of poverty, isolation and crime.
We need new ideas based on the more complex and varied nature of racial injustice today. These ideas need to confront the specifics of varied forms of racial inequality rather than painting them all with the same broad brush as simple racism and proposing the familiar but often unworkable civil rights solution of prohibiting “discrimination.” For example, if employers shun and police target young black and Latino men who adopt gang-banger fashions and affectations, there are at least two potential solutions. One is to prohibit the predictable reactions of employers and police as forms of racial discrimination. The other is to try to change the social pressures that lead young men to make self-defeating decisions. So far we have only tried the first approach, with limited enthusiasm and even more limited success. Fryer’s analysis suggests that the latter approach, while more arduous, is much more likely to succeed. But of course looking at the problem in terms of the complex social dynamics of an underprivileged group would undercut the simple solidarity narrative that insists all blacks are united by a struggle against a common enemy, and it would pull the rug out from under the comfortable moral story that blames mean-spirited racists for all racial inequality.
It’s harder than ever before to say what it means to be black in America today. Or more precisely, there are many different answers, which have less and less in common with each passing day. For a black community that has long defined itself in terms of the injustices it has suffered collectively, this threatens an identity crisis, even as it promises new freedoms and broadened horizons.
1Julie Dressner and Edwin Martinez, “The Scars of Stop and Frisk”, New York Times, June 12, 2012.
2Dressner and Martinez, “The Scars of Stop and Frisk.”
3Russ Buettner and William Glaberson, “Courts Putting Stop-and-Frisk Policy on Trial”, New York Times, July 10, 2012.
4Touré, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? (Free Press, 2011), p. 24.
5Glazer, Affirmative Discrimination: Ethnic Inequality and Public Policy (Basic Books, 1975).
6Glazer, “In Defense of Preference”, The New Republic, April 6, 1998.
7Fryer, “‘Acting White’: The social price paid by the best and brightest minority students”,Education Next (Winter 2006); Fryer and Paul Torelli, “An Empirical Analysis of ‘Acting White’”,Journal of Public Economics (June 2010).
Richard Thompson Ford is George E. Osborne Professor at Stanford Law School and author of several books, including Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality and The Race Card: How Bluffing about Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.
Voir de plus:
The Myth of Police Reform
The real problem is the belief that all our social problems can be solved with force.
Apr 15, 2015
There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, « Were they justified in shooting? » But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, « Were we justified in sending them? » At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.
When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Michael Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, « You deal with this. »
Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was informed of the killing of Tony Robinson by a police officer. Robinson was high on mushrooms. The police were summoned after he chased a car. The police killed him. A month earlier, I’d been thinking a lot about Anthony Hill, who was mentally ill. One day last month, Hill stripped off his clothes and started jumping off of his balcony. The police were called. They killed him. I can’t see the image of Tamir Rice aimlessly kicking snow outside the Cleveland projects and think of how little we invest in occupying the minds of children. A bored Tamir Rice decided to occupy his time with a airsoft gun. He was killed.
There is of course another way. Was Walter Scott’s malfunctioning third-brake light really worth a police encounter? Should the state repeatedly incarcerate him for not paying child support? Do we really want people trained to fight crime dealing with someone who’s ceased taking medication? Does the presence of a gun really improve the chance of peacefully resolving a drug episode? In this sense, the police—and the idea of police reform—are a symptom of something larger. The idea that all social problems can, and should, be resolved by sheer power is not limited to the police. In Atlanta, a problem that began with the poor state of public schools has now ending by feeding more people into the maw of the carceral state.
Blue Lives Matter
There are many problems with expecting people trained in crime-fighting to be social workers. In the black community, there is a problem of legitimacy. In his 1953 book The Quest For Community, conservative Robert Nisbet distinguishes between « power » and « authority. » Authority, claims Nisbet, is a matter of relationships, allegiances, and association and is « based ultimately upon the consent of those under it. » Power, on the other hand, is « external » and « based upon force. » Power exists where allegiances have decayed or never existed at all. « Power arises, » writes Nesbit, « only when authority breaks down. »
African Americans, for most of our history, have lived under the power of the criminal-justice system, not its authority. The dominant feature in the relationship between African Americans and their country is plunder, and plunder has made police authority an impossibility, and police power a necessity. The skepticism of Officer Darren Wilson’s account in the shooting of Michael Brown, for instance, emerges out of lack of police authority—which is to say it comes from a belief that the police are as likely to lie as any other citizen. When African American parents give their children « The Talk, » they do not urge them to make no sudden movements in the presence of police out of a profound respect for the democratic ideal, but out of the knowledge that police can, and will, kill them.
But for most Americans, the police—and the criminal-justice system—are figures of authority. The badge does not merely represent rule via lethal force, but rule through consent and legitimacy rooted in nobility. This is why whenever a liberal politician offers even the mildest criticism of the police, they must add that « the majority of officers are good, noble people. » Taken at face value this is not much of a defense—like a restaurant claiming that on most nights, there really are no rats in the dining room. But interpreted less literally the line is not meant to defend police officers, but to communicate the message that the speaker is not questioning police authority, which is to say the authority of our justice system, which is to say—in a democracy—the authority of the people themselves.
Thus it was not surprising, last week, to see that the mayor of North Charleston ordered the use of body cameras for all officers. Body cameras are the least divisive and least invasive step toward reforming the practices of the men and women we permit to kill in our names. Body cameras are helpful in police work, but they are also helpful in avoiding a deeper conversation over what it means to keep whole swaths of America under the power of the justice system, as opposed to the authority of other branches of civil society.
Police officers fight crime. Police officers are neither case-workers, nor teachers, nor mental-health professionals, nor drug counselors. One of the great hallmarks of the past forty years of American domestic policy is a broad disinterest in that difference. The problem of restoring police authority is not really a problem of police authority, but a problem of democratic authority. It is what happens when you decide to solve all your problems with a hammer. To ask, at this late date, why the police seem to have lost their minds is to ask why our hammers are so bad at installing air-conditioners. More it is to ignore the state of the house all around us. A reform that begins with the officer on the beat is not reform at all. It’s avoidance. It’s a continuance of the American preference for considering the actions of bad individuals, as opposed to the function and intention of systems.
Voir de même:
April 27, 2015
10:51 p.m. Eastern
MARC LAMONT HILL: No, there shouldn’t be calm tonight. Black people are dying in the streets. They’ve been dying in the streets for months, years, decades, centuries. I think there can be resistance to oppression and when resistance occurs, you can’t circumscribe resistance. You can’t schedule a planned resistance. You can’t tell people where to die in, where to resist, how to resist and how to protest. Now, I think there should be an ethics attached to this, but we have to watch our own ethics and be careful not to get more upset about the destruction of property than the destruction of black bodies and that seems to be to me – to me what’s happening over the last few hours and that’s very troublesome to me. We also have to be very careful about the language we use to talk about this. I’m not calling these people rioters. I’m calling these uprisings and I think it’s an important distinction to make. This is not a riot. There have been uprisings in major cities and smaller cities around this country for the last year because of the violence against black female and male bodies forever and I think that’s what important here. I agree with you, Don. We can’t ignore the fact that the city is burning, but we need to be talking about why it’s burning and not romanticize peace and not romanticize marching as the only way to function. I’m not saying we should be hurting, I’m not saying we should be killing people, but we do have to understand that resistance looks different ways to different people and part of what it means to say black lives matter, is to assert our right to have rage – righteous rage, righteous indignation in the face of state violence and extrajudicial killing. Freddie Gray is dead. That’s why the city is burning and let’s make that clear. It’s not burning because of these protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray and that’s a distinction we have to make.
JONES: Well, I think he was taking more of an agnostic view that we need to give some space for a range of tactics. I would say – I would disagree. I think we should be showing moral leadership and saying, you know – I keep hearing riots are the language of the unheard. The reality is, in this situation, the voices, at least about police brutality, have been heard. Certainly CNN and other news agencies have been giving space to those voices. So –
LEMON: For hours and hours and hours of coverage daily.
JONES: And so, it’s going to be a tough conversation to have, but I want to say: Yes it is true. Dr. King said riots are the language of the unheard. It is, in fact true, and important that people recognize that the conditions in Baltimore for black teens are worse than conditions for teens in Nigeria. So, the outrage should be of course about the incredible injustice both from the police, but also the economic deprivation and I want to have a conversation. But I do want to be able to draw a line to say that the righteous outrage – we can take a moral position, as a part of this movement. Black lives matter, but you know what? Black jobs matter, and black businesses matter, and black neighborhoods matter and I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to give any kind of suggestion that the destruction of black communities is a positive or can be positive in this context.
HILL: I’m not saying we should see the destruction of black communities as positive. I’m saying that we can’t have too narrow a perception of what the destruction of black communities mean and it seems we exhausted more of our moral outrage tonight and not the 364 days before tonight. I think we should be strategic in how we riot.
LEMON: Marc, I got to tell you this. I understand – yes, we should be outraged and we get that, we understand that and we devote so much coverage, not only this network, but other networks that I’ve seen, to talk about all of those issues that we’ve seen. We’ve exhausted many times the viewer with that, and we should continue to, but we’re trying to figure out exactly what is leading to what we’re seeing tonight and I agree with Van Jones, we cannot give credence to people who want to go out and burn down buildings and to hurt people.
HILL: What I’m saying is we can’t pathologize people who, after decades and centuries of police terrorism, have decided to respond in this way and when we use the language of thugs, when we use the language of riots, we make it seem as if it’s this pathological, dysfunctional, counter-productive –
LEMON: I haven’t heard anybody say thugs.
HILL: Are you serious? That’s all I’ve heard stuff.
LEMON: If anyone said thugs on this air, I haven’t heard that. I’ve haven’t heard thugs and that’s not come out of my mouth.
October 30, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Fans of the San Francisco Giants took to the streets to celebrate on Wednesday night after their team won the baseball World Series, topping the Kansas City Royals, but the festivities were marred by raucous fans and fires.
Hundreds, many clad in the team’s orange and black, flooded Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District after the final out in the seventh game of the baseball championship. Some perched themselves on bus stops, while others set off fireworks, hugged, high-fived and cheered with beer and champagne in the middle of the street.
« (Pitcher Madison) Bumgarner blew my mind tonight! » said Beau Adams, a San Francisco native sporting a Giants tattoo.
« The balance of superstition and belief and pride and confidence makes it all come together, » he added.
As the celebrations dragged on late into the night, fans set fires in the streets while others gawked as people took turns jumping over each other. Police, many in riot gear, were out in force and broke up the more unruly demonstrations.
Fans embrace in the Mission district after the San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals to w …
KTVU, a local television station, reported police made numerous arrests during the night after some threw bottles at officers, but did not provide an exact tally.
The TV station also said two people were shot in the city during the late-night festivities, though it was unclear whether the shooters or the victims were revelers themselves.
Police department officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency late Wednesday suspended all bus service in the city due to safety concerns.
It was the eighth World Series title for the Giants, and the third in five seasons after victories in 2010 and 2012.
Bumgarner was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series after sealing the Giants’ 3-2 game seven victory over the Royals, with five shutout innings of relief.
« I think (Bumgarner) should be president, » said lifelong Giants fan, Nacho Ramone, after the win. (Writing and additional reporting by Curtis Skinner)