Thursday, June 11, 2015

 

Political Mayhem Thursday: The Pool Party

By now, just about everyone has seen this:



When I first saw it, I thought it must be fake. There was something about the crazy cop (Eric Casebolt) doing a barrel-roll right in front of the camera that just seemed staged-- that it would turn out to be filming for a Will Farrell movie or something. But, as the scene continues, it becomes clear that it is no fake. It's just really disturbing.

The police officer who does the barrel roll-- and then manhandles a 15-year-old girl in a bikini-- has now resigned and issued an apology. Well, kind of an apology:

“He never intended to mistreat anyone,” his attorney, Jane Bishkin, said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “He apologizes to all who were offended.

There are three problems with this statement. First, he wasn't there when the statement was made. Second, it's hard to see how he "didn't intend" his actions. By any reasonable definition, his actions were intentional. What's the non-intentional scenario?" That he slipped and then his knee fell on her back, and then it was all just a big misunderstanding… that just doesn't work.  Third, the apology is to those who "were offended." When a person's misdeed involves physical violence, the problem isn't people being offended. He needed to apologize to the black children he threw around.

The apologists for Officer Casebolt seem to want everyone to believe this had nothing to do with race, but the incident was racial from the very beginning. There was a scuffle between a black woman and two white women over a racial comment. The kids coming out of the party seemed to be sorted out for differential treatment by the police on the fly, with the black kids being the targets of the police.

I find it odd that so many people are committed to the thesis that there is no racism in the United States-- that every event that seems racist can be explained away somehow. Of course there is racism in the United States. What is so difficult to fathom about that?

Comments:
PART I:

As you know, I do not shy away from the "conversation on race." In fact, I have been "twitter blocked" on several occasions by people purportedly desirous of a conversation on race but, evidently, deeply disturbed by the discussion I wanted to pursue.

In truth, race plays an incredibly important role in our modern culture. Anybody who disagrees with that is either insane, disingenuous, or egregiously out of touch. Race is everywhere. What we are really contesting is what role race plays in society: how much "Jim Crow" inherited prejudice remains and what impact it has on modern life? Are the emblematic tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner really analogous to Emmett Till? Are black men really being systematically targeted and incarcerated because of their race?

Are the powers that be systematically placing obstacles in the path of black people that preclude African Americans from accessing economic and social opportunity and equality? Is the black experience in America still defined primarily by race? Is the black experience in American monolithic? Are black people (unlike every other ethnicity and immigrant group that assimilated into the American mosaic) singularly oppressed and ostracized in 2015 as a result of historic and persistent racial animus? These are just a few of the vital questions out there that deserve serious discussion. There are many, many more.
 
PART II:

As readers of the Razor may remember, I found myself gobsmacked by the Speech on Race offered up by FBI Director James Comey back in February of this year. Widely applauded at the time by liberal commentators (and viewed with suspicion by conservatives), I continue to view it as the most honest public musing on this subject to date, and I continue to recommend it to all serious people who would like a serious starting point for a serious "conversation." I will add the full link below--but chew on this extended excerpt as an appetizer.

"But racial bias isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts. In fact, I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for a living—people who risk their lives because they want to help other people. They don’t sign up to be cops in New York or Chicago or L.A. to help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people. And they do some of the hardest, most dangerous policing to protect people of color.

"But that leads me to my third hard truth: something happens to people in law enforcement. Many of us develop different flavors of cynicism that we work hard to resist because they can be lazy mental shortcuts. For example, criminal suspects routinely lie about their guilt, and nearly everybody we charge is guilty. That makes it easy for some folks in law enforcement to assume that everybody is lying and that no suspect, regardless of their race, could be innocent. Easy, but wrong.

"Likewise, police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel.

"A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street—even in the same clothes—do not. The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black. And that drives different behavior. The officer turns toward one side of the street and not the other. We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve.

"So why has that officer—like his colleagues—locked up so many young men of color? Why does he have that life-shaping experience? Is it because he is a racist? Why are so many black men in jail? Is it because cops, prosecutors, judges, and juries are racist? Because they are turning a blind eye to white robbers and drug dealers?

"The answer is a fourth hard truth: I don’t think so. If it were so, that would be easier to address. We would just need to change the way we hire, train, and measure law enforcement and that would substantially fix it. We would then go get those white criminals we have been ignoring. But the truth is significantly harder than that."

"Hard Truths," James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., February 12, 2015: http://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/hard-truths-law-enforcement-and-race
 
The "mental shortcut" Comey talks about is a reality. We seem stuck in looking at racial intent (which is often hard define and almost always hard to prove); really, disparate racial outcomes should be enough to tell us there is a problem, and lead us to address those problems.
 
Oh, and I think there is a clear answer to this question: " Are black people (unlike every other ethnicity and immigrant group that assimilated into the American mosaic) singularly oppressed and ostracized in 2015 as a result of historic and persistent racial animus?" The answer is yes. I do think that black Americans face more bias than members of any other group.
 
My friend Deidra Riggs just wrote about this for the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/09/why-a-pool-party-fight-in-texas-can-help-us-all-consider-who-we-call-my-people/
 
I have been driving around Detroit neighborhoods looking for photo opportunities. I was in a beat up part of Southwest Detroit where the air is yellow and opportunities are nil. There were a few homes still around but only one person. It was an older black man sitting on a block of cement who stared into my windshield as my car drove by with his right arm raised giving me the finger. I was at first taken aback, then began to think about this man's honest gesture. He was straightforward and maybe a little astute. The more that I thought of it, the more I wanted to have a conversation with him.

I will never know if he gives the finger to just white tourists or anyone that comes by.
I would like to sit down next to him and give the finger to those who had created the condition he has lived in and those who don't care.




 
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