Category Archives: policing/justice

Quoted: Colorlines on being ‘masculine of center’ while black

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The weekend after the George Zimmerman verdict came down, Erica Woodland of Oakland stayed close to home. She could identify with the righteous anger expressed at the protests. But rather than join in, she canceled plans with family, postponed a trip to the laundromat and limited outings to work and the grocery store.

“I decided for my own safety, I need to stay in the house,” Woodland recalls”I knew I could be putting myself at risk for anything.”

The possibility of being targeted by police or by a fearful, overzealous civilian on account of her race was one consideration for Woodland, who is black. But so was gender. She describes herself as masculine of center, which means that her way of expressing herself – clothes, mannerisms – falls toward that side of the spectrum. It also means that like many of the black men and boys at the center of the recent conversation advanced by everyone from President Obama to Questlove, she’s been profiled as criminal or suspicious.

“We walk through the world and some of us pass as male,” Woodland, 33, says. “We get left out of this conversation.”  Read more…

Elegy: The Racialicious Review for Fruitvale Station

By Arturo R. García

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) share a moment in “Fruitvale Station.” Image via nyfcc.com.

Fruitvale Station reminds us that the story of Oscar Grant is not over. And the world seemingly took a cue from that on Wednesday, when a federal court rejected his killer’s appeal, enabling his father to continue to seek justice in his name.

The man who shot Grant dead early on New Year’s Day 2009, former transit officer Johannes Mehserle, doesn’t say anything in writer/director Ryan Coogler’s account of the last hours of Grant’s life, a choice that not only allows Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his loved ones more time to be seen and heard, but defines Mehserle as less character than calamity – a clumsy, confused-looking thing that happens. Both Grant and Mehserle are introduced from afar in the film’s opening seconds before shifting focus to follow Grant (sometimes, literally, from behind), pointing the viewer toward the same destination. But knowing what’s coming from a dramatic standpoint doesn’t diminish the visual impact.
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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

The War on Blacks: Arrests for Marijuana Posession

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

Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely than Whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite having equivalent use rates.  It’s a war on what again?

 

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New York Times, via Gin and Tacos, one of my favorite blogs.

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

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

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.

Open Thread: Fruitvale Station

 

 

This is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother, whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend, who he hasn’t been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to T, their beautiful 4 year old daughter. He starts out well, but as the day goes on, he realizes that change is not going to come easy. He crosses paths with friends, family, and strangers, each exchange showing us that there is much more to Oscar than meets the eye. But it would be his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station that would shake the Bay Area to its very core, and cause the entire nation to be witnesses to the story of Oscar Grant. IMDB