Monday Reads: A Change is Gonna ComePosted: July 11, 2016
I’ve been trying to sort out the events that happened over the weekend in Baton Rouge which is the capitol of the state where I have lived for over 20 years. I know it’s easy for a lot of folks to look at this as a southern problem given that this is Louisiana and Ferguson was Missouri and Dallas is Texas and you “know” the history and the attitudes of many Southern Americans. But, we’re also seeing the situation in St Paul, Minnesota. The outrageous rates of incarceration of Black Americans and black men specifically is actually worse in the Northern than in the Southern USA so it’s an American problem.
This is a problem with institutional racism that is poisoning our country and our laws. It’s killing our neighbors and stealing their future. It’s perpetuating intense animus and distrust between American police and Black Americans. It is all our problem and it is all our responsibility to end this and end the unequal treatment of Black Americans by all aspects of the Criminal Justice System including the police.
One in nine black children has had a parent behind bars. One in thirteen black adults can’t vote because of their criminal records. Discrimination on the job market deepens racial inequality. Not only does a criminal record make it harder to get hired, but studies find that a criminal record is more of a handicap for black men. Employers are willing to give people second chances, but less so if they’re black.
“Jim Crow and slavery were caste systems. So is our current system of mass incarceration,” wrote civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander in her 2010 book “The New Jim Crow.”
These consequences entangle the broader economy. Yet, many people who study employment and the job market haven’t been paying attention to the criminal justice system. That’s a big mistake, according to Western.
“From my point of view,” he says, “mass incarceration is so deeply connected to American poverty and economic inequality.”
Treatment by militarized police forces of Black Americans is well documented and is now playing out on TV much the way the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights protests did on Nightly News in the 1960s. It’s reaching a critical point with the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minnesota whose deaths were captured clearly on cameras and–in Sterling’s case–from several angles. It’s difficult to ignore the factors surrounding their deaths. Last week, a total of four black men were killed by police. One happened in Houston and the other was in New York. So, we’ve only heard about half of the incidents.
I‘m going to focus on the protests in Baton Rouge because I’ve had friends on the ground reporting from there, protesting from there, and living there. I also have access to the local media and I have a lot at stake since it appears that the Baton Rouge Police Department has violated the civil rights of protesters and the property rights of a local home owner. This will undoubtedly mean that there will be trials. These folks are my neighbors. This is my community and civil rights violations cannot stand.
It’s very difficult to talk about much of what happened last night because the BRPD response was so over the top that I felt immediately propelled to a much younger self watching the so-called 1968 Race Riots from the window of our station wagon in 1968 while driving to my Grandfather’s rest home through The Paseo area of KCMO. Between that and watching the NBC nightly news, I learned that Black Americans experience a very different reality than I did and even at that age I knew that was wrong.
I had friends on the ground in Baton Rouge on Sunday which was even more disturbing to me. One of my friends was using Periscope Live to broadcast and describe the events. Another has been on a freelance assignment for NYDN. Another was there as a free lance reporter for The Daily Beast in places where even journalists were arrested and threatened. He tweeted early on that he was being threatened and corralled . One of the most amazing things was that DeRay McKesson was arrested along with a Breitbart Reporter on the first night. Both are convinced their arrests for basically blocking traffic were unconstitutional although each blame a different root for the cause.
Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan on Saturday night found himself housed in the general prison population of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison after getting arrested while covering ongoing protests related to the death of a black man last week. But rather than blaming the police for arresting him, Stranahan, who has worked for the conservative outlet since 2010, said Monday that his arrest is symptomatic of a larger problem with the city’s Democratic mayor and Louisiana’s Democratic governor.
“You know, obviously, anybody who’s heard me on the show or reads my work knows that there’s nobody who’s a more strident supporter of law enforcement or critic of Black Lives Matter than I am,” Stranahan began to explain on Sirius XM’s “Breitbart News Daily,” discussing his work on an upcoming documentary.
One HuffPost Reporter was threatened by a young police woman with a semiautomatic. This was on Saturday night when the BRPD responded to protesters in a neighborhood looking like an invading army. Let it be noted that these were peaceful protests and that the several hundreds of people arrested were charged with things like blocking roads and evading arrest.
One officer, armed with an assault weapon, deliberately aimed the gun at protesters and journalists, forcing them to retreat. HuffPost senior crime reporter David Lohrwas among them.
Lohr arrived in Baton Rouge earlier this week to help capture moments from the Black Lives Matter protests that took over the city’s streets. He launched a live-stream on the HuffPost Black Voices Facebook page around 11 p.m. that captured some tense moments, including police making several arrests and one protester getting shocked by a stun gun. In one jarring moment, Lohr captured an officer pointing her assault rifle at protesters ― and at him.
“An officer just pointed a machine gun at me,” Lohr says in the live-stream. “I’m not quite sure what that female officer was doing; she pointed an assault rifle at us.”
I was watching the Facebook page of my friend, fellow blogger, and my pets’ favorite mommy substitute from the days when I went to Seattle to be with my father as she documented the events from Sunday. Here is the last of yesterday’s accounts from Margaret Coble.
ok, i really need to get to bed so that i can walk the dogs tomorrow, but i’m wound up from my day and also my ac in my bedroom isn’t working so i’m sweaty hot. but i could scroll endlessly trying to catch up on all that i couldn’t see today and all that was going on in other locations in BR and around the country. but i gotta at least try to get some sleep.
i didn’t go there today thinking there would really be any conflict. i was going to a peaceful march and rally organized by youth activists of BR. though the march took off a little earlier than the time they’d posted widely, it otherwise went off without a hitch, mobilizing thousands of people to march to the capital through the largely empty downtown area. the rally was great, with several brilliant young people speaking truth, offering poems and prayers, and just generally being so strong and amazing. and then we marched back to the methodist church where we’d first assembled, back to government street.
and then, there was no plan. folks stood around in the parking lot; some folks lined govt st. with their posters and banners and chanted; and eventually, someone got on a bullhorn and said why don’t we march to airline hwy. (i’m assuming they were going to the BRPD, where there had been a protest going on for much of the afternoon already.) so some folks took off down govt to do just that, but not everyone had heard and lots of folks were just standing around confused. some folks, mostly white, started to leave to go home.
we spent a few minutes google mapping to try to figure out how far it was away and whether we should maybe just drive there so we didn’t have to walk back (we are old and had already marched a lot)… so we headed towards our car and started making our way to that destination. when suddenly, about a dozen cop cars came whizzing past us in the other direction, going back to where we’d just come from, and it took us only a few beats to realize what was happening – they were going to cut the marchers off, keep them from getting to airline. (i also think they maybe thought the group was going to block the interstate, but i never heard that as a plan.)
so we turned around and headed back, taking back streets cuz govt was now blocked off, and we parked in some random business parking lot but with an easy exit access. and then we all quickly figured out how to use fb live cuz none of us had used it before and i’d forgotten to download periscope onto my phone… and well, you saw the rest. (and if you didn’t, just scroll back on my timeline.)
i can’t unsee what i saw today. it’s not that i never believed it before or didn’t get it – because obviously i did – but it’s kind of driven home in a whole new way when you’re right there seeing the line of riot cops coming at you a few feet away. and when you see a random protestor who is maybe chanting louder and angrier than others around him suddenly get ambushed by several cops who came outta nowhere, specifically targeting him amongst a crowd of others, plowing him and his partner down to the ground and violently arresting him. one of the cops pushed me out of the way as he was making his way to him. they came from behind us, as we were standing across the street from the line of riot cops. it was so sneaky. and unnecessary.
pretty much all of what i witnessed today was unnecessary. NO ONE in that crowd today was violent in any way. people were just exercising their constitutional rights to protest and make themselves heard. peacefully. and at some point, even on someone’s private property they had been invited onto. none of it mattered. the cops didn’t want us there, they’d had enough, so they used that awful siren/alarm thing that hurts your ears (wish i’d remembered earplugs – put that on the protest list of things to bring), eventually used some tear gas, tased the fuck out of some poor guy that they took down really violently, and brought in the hummer/tanks and riot gear, shields and all. it was all just so ridiculous really, but yet, ridiculous isn’t a word i can use when i witnessed people get unnecessarily hurt and arrested. last night i know they arrested a few journalists; today, they arrested at least one legal observer (really? wtf?!!). i don’t know what the total count was but it was a goodly amount.
i just don’t understand it. they created a dangerous situation where there was none to begin with. boys with their military toys is what i saw. testosterone poisoning in action. this is not what policing should be, if there should be any policing at all. WE are paying their salaries. to harass and arrest us. and, well, if you’re black, maybe kill, too.
watch the videos that people have posted. look at the pictures. read the first-hand accounts, not the stupid news channels’ accounts, but the social media accounts from real people who were there. i know what i saw. i can’t ever unsee that. and while there were maybe only a few moments where i personally ever felt unsafe – of course, my white skin privilege in action (but also we worked hard to not be up in the mix of it – none of us had gone there today intending to get arrested) – it was a scary scene there today where there didn’t need to be. at all.
i hope everyone who was arrested is ok. we did our part by identifying the guy and his partner who got arrested next to us and called the legal guild on their behalf. and gave their friend who rode there with them, someone we knew who was wandering around looking for them, a ride home, since she no longer had one.
thank you everyone who checked in throughout the day, offered advice and prayers and sent protective woo. it was helpful knowing there were lots of you out there tracking us.
ok. now i try to go to sleep.
While I was very afraid for the health and safety of folks that I knew attended the protest, I was even more concerned about this black woman who gave permission for about 100 people to stand on her property. Their first amendment rights were violated. Her fourth amendments rights were decimated.
This woman had her constitutional rights violated — her “right to pursue happiness” in her own home was violated by out-of-control police officers, who appeared as if they were conducting urban warfare in Fallujah, Iraq.
And, let’s be clear, the homeowner was committing no crimes.
Can you imagine this kind of police response to an out-of-control pool party in a wealthy white suburb — with underage drinking, weed smoking and coke snorting, and prodigious noise violations? Nope!
I want to be crystal clear: American police officers are absolutely out-of-control.
Even when hundreds — thousands? — of people were engaging in violent behavior in Marseille, France following a football game, the French police showed more restraint than American police — in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, and New York City — show when confronted by a peaceful protest, where the only “crime” committed is blocking traffic for a few hours.
I truly believe, having traveled all over the world, including in a number of post-conflict countries, that American police are some of the world’s least restrained.
And, in communities like Baton Rouge with a history of social exclusion, racism, segregation and slavery, I suspect the police response is pathological: racist officers triggered to commit acts of violence against black people refusing to “know their place.”
Ironically, though, it’s American police officers that must “know their place.” Until the Justice Department starts dropping the hammer on local police departments, we’ll continue to see the basic constitutional rights of minority citizens violated, and we’ll continue to see execution-style deaths of black men and women, boys and girls.
The job of a police officer is to protect the constitutional rights of citizens — life, free speech, property. The job of a police officer is not to demand obedience. I truly believe many, many American officers fail to understand this crucial distinction.
This is getting long and it’s not as cogent as I really wanted it to be because there are so many more things to write about and say here including the experience of DeRay and others. I’m going to just let some of this soak in for awhile as I work. I did want to get the post up. I did want to do some of this while my shock, awe, grief, worry and frustration was raw and evident.
We should never take anything for granted here because there are folks that really don’t know what they’re doing out there in positions of authority. Just as women need to be warned not to do things to invite rape, black children are warned not to do things to attract police attention. This is similar but not quite the same because black parents are teaching black children to be afraid of their own government and the people they pay to protect them.
I can relate to this on the level that I adjust my behavior and dress to avoid sexual assault, harassment, etc. but that’s by one man or a group of men and at worst they’re colleagues or bosses or part of a social group. It’s not a huge group of people that are part of our government hired to serve and protect. It’s highly systemic. It’s not just one or two bad actors. How can any one think that having to teach your kids to behave differently because of your own government’s unconstitutional behavior is anything but the repressive effects of pernicious institutional racism?
No black person is safe or immune. Not one. (H/T to Lester Perryman.) Abhorrent treatment and disrespect doesn’t depend on their profession, their education, their job status or anything other than pigmentation. That is the ultimate message and impact of the statement we should all feel deeply: BLACK LIVES MATTER!
We divided our lives between a house in a liberal New York suburb and an apartment on Park Avenue, sent our three kids to a diverse New York City private school, and outfitted them with the accoutrements of success: preppy clothes, perfect diction and that air of quiet graciousness. We convinced ourselves that the economic privilege we bestowed on them could buffer these adolescents against what so many black and Latino children face while living in mostly white settings: being profiled by neighbors, followed in stores and stopped by police simply because their race makes them suspect.
But it happened nevertheless in July, when I was 100 miles away.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when my 15-year-old son called from his academic summer program at a leafy New England boarding school and told me that as he was walking across campus, a gray Acura with a broken rear taillight pulled up beside him. Two men leaned out of the car and glared at him.
“Are you the only nigger at Mellon Academy*?” one shouted.
Certain that he had not heard them correctly, my son moved closer to the curb, and asked politely, “I’m sorry; I didn’t hear you.”
But he had heard correctly. And this time the man spoke more clearly. “Only …nigger,” he said with added emphasis.
My son froze. He dropped his backpack in alarm and stepped back from the idling car. The men honked the horn loudly and drove off, their laughter echoing behind them.
Black Lives Matter. ALL of them!! No American should experience this level of civil rights violations let alone an entire class of people.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?