Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lest We Forget, Racism Isn't Over in the US


Bill Hudson's photo (courtesy Wiki), shot in Birmingham on May 3 1963, shows Parker High School student Walter Gadsden being restrained by a white police officer so the dog could lunge at his stomach.

There’s been a lot of talk since Barack Obama was elected that racism is over in the US. The Civil Rights Movement was successful; everybody’s equal now and responsible for making their own lives work; poverty is a choice. Right.

Lest We Forget. Originally it was from Recessional, a poem by Rudyard Kipling entreating God to save Brits from their propensity to over-celebrate their power and lapse into indulgence and profanity. It refers to Christ’s alleged sacrifice on the cross. As a child I associated it with Hitler’s slaughter of 6 million Jews. But name any atrocity, really, at a personal or societal level.

Powerful phrase, that, Lest We Forget. The thing is, we do forget, all the time. It’s inconvenient to remember. Then every now and then the consequences of what we don’t want to acknowledge explode in our faces.

The following passages are from the Justice Department Report on their investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. Italics are mine.

…We have discovered evidence of racial bias in emails sent by Ferguson officials, all of whom are current employees, almost without exception through their official City of Ferguson email accounts, and apparently sent during work hours [between] several police and court supervisors, including FPD supervisors and commanders. The following emails are illustrative:
  1. A November 2008 email stated that President Barack Obama would not be President for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”
  2. A March 2010 email mocked African Americans through speech and familial stereotypes, using a story involving child support. One line from the email read: “I be so glad that dis be my last child support payment! Month after month, year after year, all dose payments!”
  3. An April 2011 email depicted President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee.
  4. A May 2011 email stated: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.’”
  5. A June 2011 email described a man seeking to obtain “welfare” for his dogs because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddies are.”
  6. An October 2011 email included a photo of a bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”
  7. A December 2011 email included jokes that are based on offensive stereotypes about Muslims.
[There were many others. The senders were not reported or disciplined and the emails were usually forwarded along to others.]

…African Americans experience disparate impact in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system. Despite making up 67% of the population, [they] accounted for 85% of FPD’s traffic stops, 90% of FPD’s citations, and 93% of FPD’s arrests from 2012 to 2014.

While the record demonstrates a pattern of stops that are improper from the beginning, it also exposes encounters that start as constitutionally defensible but quickly cross the line. For example, in the summer of 2012, an officer detained a 32-year-old African-American man who was sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball. The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code.

Without cause, the officer went on to accuse the man of being a pedophile, prohibit the man from using his cell phone, order the man out of his car for a pat-down despite having no reason to believe he was armed, and ask to search his car.

When the man refused, citing his constitutional rights, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head, and arrested him. The officer charged the man with eight different counts, including making a false declaration for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”) and an address that, although legitimate, differed from the one on his license. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in possession.

The man told us he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government as a result of the charges…

…Officers command dogs to apprehend by biting even when multiple officers are present. They make no attempt to slow situations down, creating time to resolve the situation with lesser force. They appear to use canines not to counter a physical threat but to inflict punishment.

They act as if every offender has a gun, justifying their decisions based on what might be possible rather than what the facts indicate is likely. Overall, FPD officers’ use of canines reflects a culture in which officers choose not to use the skills and tactics that could resolve a situation without injuries, and instead deploy tools and methods that are almost guaranteed to produce an injury of some type

Then there’s the University of Oklahoma’s SAE frat house chant recently captured on video: “There will never be a n****r SAE, you can hang them from a tree but they will never sign with me. There will never be a n****r SAE.”

Sure, racism is a thing of the past in America.