Category Archives: discrimination

White Times: 5 Keys To American Racism (Plus 3 Reasons For Hope) [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Hari Stephen Kumar, originally published at Kinetic Now

Trayvon Martin Protest Photo, by Flickr User WorldCan’tWait

Shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted, a friend said that “these are dark times in America.” To which I said, “No, these are white times in America, as always.”

In the month since the Zimmerman acquittal, the mainstream conversation about the case has morphed into a personal verdict on Trayvon’s behavior and a cultural indictment on black people more broadly. When even the President of the United States, a black man, begins his heartfelt statement on the issue by saying that he wants to address “the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling,” you already know that in the public imagination the case of Florida v. Zimmerman has become instead a Trial of Trayvon.

And when the President ends his speech by asking the American people to ask ourselves, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., “Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” you cannot help but reflect on all the ways that it was indeed Trayvon’s character that was judged and assassinated in both the legal courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

For many, this is one of the strangest things about the case: why did the trial’s focus shift to Trayvon instead of Zimmerman? After the verdict, why has the so-called “national conversation on race” become so fixated on “problems” with “black culture”? Why did the acquittal give license to commentators from across the racial and political spectrum to speak so bluntly in blaming black people for Trayvon’s death? How do we make sense of the ugly racial rhetoric coming from white commentators like Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and NRA board member Ted Nugent who are so quick to condemn the character of “the black community”? Why do their talking points get repeated across online comments and in personal conversations?

And why do so many such conversations begin with “I’m not racist but …”?

I mean, there’s even a satirical app called iNotRacist which allows anxious white people to demonstrate their level of non-racism by surrounding themselves with tokens of minority cultures:

In all seriousness, though, how do people across the racial spectrum get to ask genuine questions about race with each other? What about people who recognize that there is indeed something deeply odd about race relations in America but are not sure how to begin asking about it without getting accused of being racists?

In summary, here are five keys that explain how mainstream conversations and perceptions about race in America contribute to a broader history of racial injustice:

  • Key #1: Practice racism without being racist
    American racism is more of a color-blind cultural racism than a personal racism. This kind of racism allows people to believe cultural stereotypes about minority communities in general, without feeling like they are being personally racist against minority individuals.
  • Key #2: Continue a long American tradition of condemning blackness (while confirming whiteness)
    American cultural stereotypes linking blackness to criminality go back a long ways, to discriminatory social policies and Jim Crow laws instituted after the Civil War that condemned black people as a group based on biased crime statistics. Meanwhile, similar patterns of crime by white immigrant groups were instead humanized and individualized.
  • Key #3: Use new Jim Crow methods to legally profile black/brown men with “reasonable suspicion” 
    Our current legal system enforces a new kind of Jim Crow policing and segregation in urban black/brown communities, while largely ignoring suburban white communities, through the court sanctioned use of de facto racial profiling and discriminatory sentencing in the War on Drugs. This results in a disproportionate suspicion of black/brown men.
  • Key #4: Rely on whiteness to deny ‘neighborliness’ to black/brown neighbors
    White privilege shapes the ways people interpret and suspect the actions of their non-white neighbors. This happens even if the person suspecting the neighbor is non-white, because whiteness is a system of beliefs that we are all immersed in, so you don’t have to be white in order to uphold the normalcy of whiteness.
  • Key #5: Stand your (white) ground by supporting gun laws based on white supremacist talking points
    Laws like Stand Your Ground (which, by the way, was absolutely part of the Zimmerman defense) reflect fears and paranoias that once were the domain of white supremacist groups but are now a part of mainstream NRA talking points that openly encourage violent white vigilantism as a “reasonable” response to suspicious behavior in “your” neighborhood.

These keys interconnect to explain how so many Americans believe and act upon a deeply entrenched set of cultural prejudices that make black/brown bodies automatically suspicious in everyday encounters, suspicious enough to justify an aggressive and even violent pre-emptive response. The next few pages explore each key in more depth, but there are also significant reasons for hope. Continue reading

Roundup: Reactions to Stop and Frisk Ruling

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Yesterday, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the stop-and-frisk policies of the New York City Police Department violate the constitutional rights of the city’s residents. (Read the full opinion.) While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have cited stop-and-frisk as a key factor in decreasing NYC’s murder and major crime rates, data tells a different story and the tactic has long been criticized for its focus on black and Latino residents. What follows is a roundup of reactions to the ruling. Share more in comments.

The New York Times compiled a video of reactions to the judge’s ruling, featuring residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Says one young man, identified as Darnell Rose:

“It’s definitely a good thing. Definitely. Because I don’t have to walk and look over my shoulder and worry about, you know, undercovers running up on me, jacking me up, harassing me…I could be coming from the store, minding my own business or getting off of work and they just look at me and feel like, ‘Yeah, let’s get this guy right here.’ Like, hey buddy, what’s the problem? It’s uncalled for.”

I. Bennett Capers, wrote in a Times editorial:

MY husband and I are about the same age and build, wear the same clothes and share the same gender, but I am far more likely to be stopped by the police. This isn’t because I have a criminal record or engage in furtive movements. Nor is my husband a choirboy. Statistically speaking, it’s because I’m black and he’s white. [...] even if these practices were constitutional, they’re still a bad idea. Of course, one wouldn’t know that listening to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other true believers, who insist that aggressive stop-and-frisks have reduced violent crime. But they’re wrong.

The most obvious reason is the brute numbers. For every 100 individuals stopped and frisked, only about 6 are arrested, often for minor offenses like marijuana possession. The success rate for finding a gun borders on the nonexistent: 1 in every 1,000 stops. In fact, purely random stops have produced better results. [...]

And there is a more important argument that isn’t captured by the numbers. Aggressive stop-and-frisks sow community distrust of the police and actually inhibit crime control, creating a generation of disaffected minority youths who believe that cops are racists. Read more…

In an insightful conversation on Branch, participants debated the merits of the ruling, with Al Jazeera producer Osman Norr offering:

“I think, taken together with Holder’s comments on mandatory minimums, the DoJ is starting to carve out a distinct position.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates recommends readers revisit the This American Life piece, “Is that a Tape Recorder in your Pocket or are you Just Unhappy to See Me,” about Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly recorded his supervisors telling officers to manipulate crime statistics and make illegal arrests:

 

 

Ira Glass: Adrian Schoolcraft says he isn’t exactly sure when, but at some point he had decided that it was important to document the orders that he was given that he thought were out of line. He recorded roll calls where officers were constantly being told to do more stop-and-frisks, even though it’s illegal to stop a random person on the street and frisk them without reasonable suspicion. In December 2008, a sergeant tells officers to stop-and-frisk quote, “anybody walking around, no matter what the explanation is.” He recorded Stephen Mauriello, the commander the 81st precinct– and the person Adrian Schoolcraft says really brought the hammer down for higher numbers– ordering the officers to arrest everyone they see. This happens in a couple of recordings, like this one from Halloween 2008.

Stephen Mauriello: Any roving bands– you hear me– roving bands more than two or three people–

Ira Glass: He’s saying “any roving bands of more than two or three people”– he’s talking about just people going around on Halloween night–

Stephen Mauriello: I want them stopped–

Ira Glass: I want them stopped–

Stephen Mauriello: –cuffed–

Ira Glass: –cuffed–

Stephen Mauriello: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Ira Glass: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Stephen Mauriello: You’re on a foot post? [BLEEP] it. Take the first guy you’ve got and lock them all up. Boom.

Ira Glass: You’re on a foot post? F it. Take the first guy you’ve got, lock them all up. Boom.

Stephen Mauriello: We’re going to go back out and process them later on, I’ve got no problems–

Ira Glass: –go back out and then we’ll come back in and process them later on.”

Adrian Schoolcraft: Yes. Yeah, what he’s saying is, arrest people simply for the purpose of clearing the streets.

 

The blog Civilly Minded wondered whether law enforcement should have their own version of the physicians Hippocratic Oath:

The physician’s oath — ‘First Do No Harm’ — is well known.1 It is also well conceived. A human being is a complex organism.  A physical intervention can have unintended consequences.  In the worst cases, the results of the intervention can be irreparable and even deadly.

The Hippocratic Oath is said to encourage rigor, honesty, and integrity among physicians, and helps ensure the minimization and justification of any adverse effects their work may have on people. Perhaps the police should swear to a Hippocratic Oath of their own. Read more…

 

Image Credit: The Guardian

Open Thread: Stop and Frisk Ruled Unconstitutional

South Asians protest against Stop and Frisk, via HuffingtonPost.com

The New York Police Department deliberately violated the civil right of tens of thousands of New Yorkers with its contentious stop-and-frisk policy, and an independent monitor is needed to oversee major changes, a federal judge ruled Monday in a stinging rebuke for what the mayor and police commissioner have defended as a life-saving, crime-fighting tool.

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin said she was not putting an end to the policy, but rather was reforming it. She did not give specifics yet on how that would work but instead named an independent monitor who would develop an initial set of reforms to the policies, training, supervision, monitoring and discipline.

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she wrote. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting “the right people” is racially discriminatory.”

Police brass received warnings since at least 1999 that officers were violating rights, she said. “Despite this notice, they deliberately maintained and even escalated policies and practices that predictably resulted in even more widespread Fourth Amendment violations,” she wrote in a lengthy opinion.

She also cited violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Far too many people in New York City have been deprived of this basic freedom far too often,” she said. “The NYPD’s practice of making stops that lack individualized reasonable suspicion has been so pervasive and persistent as to become not only a part of the NYPD’s standard operating procedure, but a fact of daily life in some New York City neighborhoods.”
The Associated Press; August 12, 2013

 

Quoted: White people believe the justice system is color blind. Black people really don’t.

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From the Poli-Sci Perspective Blog at The Washington Post: John Sides interviews the authors of  Justice in America: The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites. When asked how different perspectives on the justice system affect black and white views of issues like the recent Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case, they responded:

These separate realities are consequential in several important ways. First, when blacks are cynical and whites are sanguine about the justice system, they tend to interpret the behaviors of agents of the system (such as police officers and judges) through these lenses, leading to what might be a perpetual spiraling effect. In one study, we gave individuals a chance to explain the behaviors of police officers in different scenarios—for example, whether the police department could conduct a fair and thorough investigation into charges of police brutality. In one scenario, the brutality victim was described as white, and in the other scenario he was described as black.

Blacks believed that the police could conduct a fair investigation into brutality charges—but only if the victim of the brutality was white. If he was black, black respondents doubted that the police could be even remotely fair. To whites, however, the race of the victim was irrelevant. They tended to believe the police department could do its job fairly regardless of whether the victim of brutality was white or black.

In another scenario, we described a police search and arrest of two men, identified as either white or black, who were walking by a house “where the police know that drugs are being sold.” Again, when the two men were identified as black, African Americans were extremely skeptical about the circumstances surrounding the police search and were much more likely to think the police planted the drugs on the men. By contrast, whites trusted the police because they think the system is fair and color blind. Thus, in both the police brutality and the racial profiling scenarios, when either the victim or the suspects were identified as black, African American respondents reacted with great skepticism, whereas whites appeared to form their impressions in a racial vacuum, as if unaware of the many sources of injustice that blacks face on a regular basis.

President Obama talked about this discrepancy as well: “And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?” In these words, the president summarized the views of many African Americans that the justice system is not a level playing field. Read more…

 

Image Credit: longislandwins on Flickr

Quoted: President Obama: ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago’

Partial transcript:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
- Full transcript available via The White House

Five Bright Spots Amid The Zimmerman Industrial Complex

By Arturo R. García

Several young black men are brought to the stage in a show of unity at a rally seeking justice for Trayvon Martin on July 14 in San Diego, CA. Image by Arturo R. García.

It did not take long for business interests and other unsavory elements to pop up in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Beyond the professional ghouls, bloviators and racial profiling apologists to Zimmerman’s brother acting as a media surrogate to, perhaps even more disturbingly, one of the six jurors attempting to cash in on her brush with “fame.”

But thankfully, there are already people, online and off, in the streets marching and working from their homes, and even from behind bars, pushing back against this odious tide.
Continue reading

Does Black Life Matter More When Raised and Nurtured By White Hands?

Man at Amadou Diallo protest. Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Man at Amadou Diallo protest. Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

 

By Guest Contributor Chad Goller-Sojourner

In preparation for my one man show, Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, I did a significant amount of research, most of it unpleasant — like the weeks I spent combing the Internet for stories about unarmed black men shot down by the police. Talk about depressing. To be young, black and innocent is to live in a world full of folks who will always see you differently than you see yourself ─ a world where folklore, statistics and conjecture deem you dangerous until proven otherwise.

As I combed through story after story, I noted a disturbing trend that, contrary to what you might think, isn’t just happening in big cities, but everywhere–big cities, small cities, north, south, east and west. Wherever there are unarmed black men, there are police (and wannabe police) shooting them. When it comes to unarmed black men, what does it take to be proven innocent–to  have your keys, wallets, cellphones and candy bars  be seen as keys, wallets, cellphones and candy bars, rather than guns?

Twenty-two-year-old Amadou Diallo was shot dead in his Bronx doorway by four plain-clothed police officers who mistook his wallet for a gun and opened fire, unleashing 41 bullets, 19 of which struck his body. He had just returned from a late meal and was resting on his stoop–a rest interrupted by four white men in street clothes, getting out of an unmarked car, bearing guns.  Diallo fled to his apartment, reaching at some point for his wallet, perhaps for a key. We’ll never know, because all those officers saw was a gun [that wasn't there]. It was only later, at a trial in which they were all acquitted, when officers admitted that they had failed to consider the situation from the point of view of an innocent and unarmed black man minding his business on his stoop and suddenly confronted by four white men in street clothes brandishing guns.

Of course, the killers of black men don’t even need to report seeing anything resembling a weapon. They can, for instance, claim to have seen the victim reaching for his waistband.

Portland police were sent to do welfare check on Aaron Campbell, who had been distraught over his brother’s death. Campbell emerged from the Northeast Portland apartments with his back toward officers and his hands behind his head. But the officers wanted more. They wanted his hands in the air. And so they fired six beanbag rounds at him. (Nothing gets your hands in the air quicker than being shot in the back.)

As Campbell ran for the cover of a parked car, he was shot in the back with an AR-15 rifle. Later, officers would claim, they saw him reaching towards his pants for a gun. This despite police brass testimony stating Campbell did not–DID NOT– pose an immediate threat. The officers’ actions were not only inconsistent with their training, but they also failed to consider, that 1) Campbell may have been unarmed and 2) he may have been reaching for a part of the body just struck by beanbag rounds. The Grand Jury returned a finding of no criminal wrongdoing.

One must wonder: When it comes to unarmed black men being shot down by the police, why do so many of them go reaching for non-existent weapons in their waistband? If the number one reason given by the police for shooting unarmed black men is that they are reaching for their waistbands, what black man in his right mind would be reaching anywhere near that area in the presence of law enforcement?

Clearly there is something missing here. How else do you explain a system where, mistaking a Snickers for a gun is par for the course? It occurs to me: Would this reasoning be palatable to the public if the victims’ parents were white? Not if the victims were white–I think we all know that answer–but if the victim’s parents were white. Like mine.

Would an officer, police department, city or even a nation, be okay with telling my parents: “We’re sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Goller, but your son, Chad, was killed by an officer tonight. No ma’am, he wasn’t armed, though it appears the officer saw him reach towards his waistband. Again, we’re so very sorry.”

Would society abide delivering that excuse to white celebrities with black kids? Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw? How about the white gays and lesbians raising black boys?

I suspect not. 

In fact, I suspect in all of these scenarios, nothing would be okay for a really, really long time. This is the ultimate question: Does black life matter more when raised and nurtured by white hands?

Sadly–Yes.

One of the first things I learned about having white parents was that when it came to dealing with people in authority, they got listened to. In sixth grade, after still another racially-charged incident, mom threatened to go to the papers and for the rest of the year things actually got better. In junior high, the Black Parents Association enlisted Mom’s help. Suddenly, it got a whole lot harder for the school administration to write them all off as hysterical, over-reactive black parents.

By high school it was clear that, at least in the eyes of the authorities, having white parents was a powerful thing. With white parents comes white neighbors, friends, classmates, relatives, privileges and experiences.  With white parents comes witnesses– white witnesses [able to use their privilege] to vouch for me, go to bat for me and stand in the gap for me. And should the police have killed me, it would be they who spoke from my grave for me.

Have you any idea what that’s worth?

The above is an excerpt from the author’s Solo Performance, Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness. For info and/or booking inquires please visit www.ridingincarswithblackpeople.com

Stand Your Ground Increases Racial Bias in “Justifiable Homicide” Trials

Rally for Trayvon Martin at the University of Minnesota. Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue on Flickr

Rally for Trayvon Martin at the University of Minnesota. Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue on Flickr

 

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph. D.; originally published at Sociological Images

Today a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. It is widely argued that Florida’s stand your ground statute, which was considered by the defense, and which Zimmerman previously studied in a criminal litigation course, was at play. The statute allows people to use proportionate force in the face of an attack without first trying to retreat or escape. More than 20 other states have such laws.

At MetroTrends, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.”  In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2% were deemed such.  This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.

But which homicides?

Ones similar to the one decided in favor of George Zimmerman today.  A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person.  At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved.  The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.

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Notice, however, that white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.

It’s simple: We are already biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim. Stand your ground laws give jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt.  This increase even further the chances that a white-on-black homicide will be considered justifiable because jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory but, in practice, it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.

It is contested whether stand your ground played a role in this case, Media Matters offersstrong evidence to suggest that it did. Cross-posted at Ms.PolicyMic, and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.