Sunday, August 31, 2014

America exposed: Ferguson, MO

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” ― Toni Morrison, novelist, writer and winner recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Nobel Prize in Literature and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I HAVEN'T WRITTEN anything about Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, MO because I have felt paralyzed and speechless by the callousness of his murder. And it was murder. How can shooting an unarmed teenager multiple times in the back who has his hands in the air be anything else?

The event has pulled back the wrapper on the farrago of race, racism, guns, violence, and what appears to increasing resemble a police state in America.

I'm sharing two articles with you: an opinion piece from The New York Times written by the estimable Nicholas Kristof and a news article from The Washington Post.

When Whites Just Don’t Get It
After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less

By Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
August 30, 2014

MANY white Americans say they are fed up with the coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A plurality of whites in a recent Pew survey said that the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News reflected that weariness, saying: “All you hear is grievance, grievance, grievance, money, money, money.”

Indeed, a 2011 study by scholars at Harvard and Tufts found that whites, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

Yes, you read that right!

So let me push back at what I see as smug white delusion. Here are a few reasons race relations deserve more attention, not less:

• The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)

• The black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.

• A black boy born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white boy.

• Black students are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced math and science courses than white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.

• Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high school have been imprisoned.

All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.

Some straight people have gradually changed their attitudes toward gays after realizing that their friends — or children — were gay. Researchers have found that male judges are more sympathetic to women’s rights when they have daughters. Yet because of the de facto segregation of America, whites are unlikely to have many black friends: A study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that in a network of 100 friends, a white person, on average, has one black friend.

That’s unfortunate, because friends open our eyes. I was shaken after a well-known black woman told me about looking out her front window and seeing that police officers had her teenage son down on the ground after he had stepped out of their upscale house because they thought he was a prowler. “Thank God he didn’t run,” she said.

One black friend tells me that he freaked out when his white fiancée purchased an item in a store and promptly threw the receipt away. “What are you doing?” he protested to her. He is a highly successful and well-educated professional but would never dream of tossing a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting.

Some readers will protest that the stereotype is rooted in reality: Young black men are disproportionately likely to be criminals.

That’s true — and complicated. 

“There’s nothing more painful to me,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

All this should be part of the national conversation on race, as well, and prompt a drive to help young black men end up in jobs and stable families rather than in crime or jail. We have policies with a robust record of creating opportunity: home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership; early education initiatives like Educare and Head Start; programs for troubled adolescents like Youth Villages; anti-gang and anti-crime initiatives like Becoming a Man; efforts to prevent teen pregnancies like the Carrera curriculum; job training like Career Academies; and job incentives like the earned-income tax credit.

The best escalator to opportunity may be education, but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.

So a starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.


At least 5 Ferguson officers apart from Brown shooter have been named in lawsuits

By Kimberly Kindy and Carol D. Leonnig, The Washington Post 
August 30, 2014

Federal investigators are focused on one Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, but at least five other police officers and one former officer in the town’s 53-member department have been named in civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force.

In four federal lawsuits, including one that is on appeal, and more than a half-dozen investigations over the past decade, colleagues of Darren Wilson’s have separately contested a variety of allegations, including killing a mentally ill man with a Taser, pistol-whipping a child, choking and hog-tying a child and beating a man who was later charged with destroying city property because his blood spilled on officers’ clothes.


Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd during a protest
for Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. on Sunday, August 17, 2014. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

One officer has faced three internal affairs probes and two lawsuits over claims he violated civil rights and used excessive force while working at a previous police department in the mid-2000s. That department demoted him after finding credible evidence to support one of the complaints, and he subsequently was hired by the Ferguson force.

Police officials from outside Ferguson and plaintiffs’ lawyers say the nature of such cases suggests there is a systemic problem within the Ferguson police force. Department of Justice officials said they are considering a broader probe into whether there is a pattern of using excessive force that routinely violates people’s civil rights.

Counting Wilson, whose shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 set off a firestorm of protests and a national debate on race and policing, about 13 percent of Ferguson’s officers have faced ­excessive-force investigations. Comparable national data on excessive force probes is not available. But the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project, funded by the libertarian Cato Institute, estimated on the basis of 2010 data that about 1 percent of U.S. police officers — 9.8 out of every 1,000 — will be cited for or charged with misconduct. Half of those cases involve excessive force.

The Ferguson Police Department and city officials declined to comment on the cases.

In all but one of the cases, the victims were black. Among the officers involved in the cases, one is African American.

Ferguson has plenty of company when it comes to federal scrutiny of police departments.

Under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department has initiated twice as many reviews of police departments for possible constitutional violations as the next most prolific of his predecessors. At least 34 other departments are under investigation for alleged civil rights violations.

But Clarence Harmon, a former St. Louis mayor and city police chief, said the number and types of allegations in Ferguson set the city’s department apart.

“The cases themselves are fairly extraordinary — so is the volume,” said Harmon, who in 1997 became the second black mayor of the city. “It’s prima facie evidence of discriminatory practices. I would be surprised if Justice didn’t make a recommendation that they be placed under scrutiny.”

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