Archive for Race


The pigment tax

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Reading Charles Blow’s New York Times column this morning, one phrase stopped me cold: a pigment tax. That, essentially, is what the Justice Department’s report charges the Ferguson Police Department was extracting from African American citizens:

The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.

Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.

Take this passage from the report:

“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”

The report, writes Blow, reads like an account of “a shakedown gang.”

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Categories : National, Poverty, Race
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On the origin of “lynching”

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Two postings this weekend involving lynch mobs led me to an interesting bit of history from the Revolutionary War. Reading the L.A. Times op-ed title, “Southern ‘Hanging Bridge: A monument to Judge Lynch,” made me gasp. It had never occurred to me that lynching derived from someone’s name.

Jason Morgan Ward, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, begins:

On Feb. 10, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization Equal Justice Initiative released “Lynching in America,” a searing report that documents 3,959 lynchings in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. The researchers note that their count exceeds that of previous studies by at least 700 victims. The news media seized on the numbers and paid less attention to what the group characterized as an “astonishing absence” of lynching memorials in communities that boast monuments to Confederate soldiers and architects of the South’s Jim Crow regime.

As it happens, an abandoned, rusted bridge on a dirt road near Shubuta, Mississippi stands as a makeshift monument to the lynchings that occurred there between 1918 and 1942. When Ward asked locals if the new road bypassing the “hanging bridge” had anything to do with its history, a local told him, “People don’t need to see that.”

But Ward’s op-ed did not explain who Judge Lynch was.

It was news last week when Oklahoma legislators voted to cease funding an Advance Placement history course, echoing a key critic of the curriculum who believes “the concept of American exceptionalism has been deliberately scrubbed out of this document.”

At Crooks and Liars, Dave Neiwert suggests that one motivation for the legislation may be that Oklahomans do not want to see their own unflattering history revisited: the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the Osage Reign of Terror, also from the 1920s. In the first, white lynch mobs obliterated a prosperous black neighborhood – even dropping fire bombs from airplanes (one might consider that exceptional) – and in the second, white fortune hunters exploited and murdered Osage tribal members to gain control over oil rights. Combined, hundreds died. Neiwert explains:

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Categories : Education, History, Race
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Gettin’ medieval

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With 2014 gone (and good riddance), perhaps in 2015 America will look itself in the mirror and reflect on what it means to behave as if civilized rules only apply to everyone else. We look somewhat less exceptional from across the pond. Take this op-ed from Christian Christensen, a professor in Stockholm, for example:

… 2014 has been a year in which the mythology of domestic U.S. legal egalitarianism — reinforced by the mantra of blind justice and a near religious reverence of the U.S. Constitution — was exposed as a pretense. As abroad, so at home: Some people are more equal than others.

After the police killings of unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner; after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma; after the SCCI report on a torture program approved by the White House — more brutal than the world already knew, and in violation of domestic and international law; and after a majority of Americans when asked approved the torture; on reflection, exceptionalism looks more like license. There are not two sets of rules in America, Christensen concludes, but three: “one for white killers, one for black killers and one for police officers who killed black suspects.” And a fourth for rich, Wall Street bankers, I might add.

Christensen continues:

One thread ties together all these cases: The willingness of the U.S. to bend the law and condone the barbaric treatment of human beings is grounded in differences of race, ethnicity or religion. Police violence, the death penalty and torture are predominantly applied to nonwhites or non-Christians. How supportive would white Americans and lawmakers be of procedures such as “rectal rehydration” — a gruesome procedure that, according to the torture report, was applied to hunger-striking inmates — if they were performed on white Christians? How long would they would be to willing to tolerate routine police killings of unarmed white citizens?

It all seems, I don’t know, a little medieval:

Perhaps critics are right. Perhaps we’ve been wrong to base interrogation and prisoner treatment on traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe as citizens of a democratic republic we should strive in the 21st century to live up to our lofty, Enlightenment ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Maybe instead of falling prey to jingoism, we should reflect, examine our assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a “scientific method”. Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, law. Perhaps it could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance! … Naaaaaahhh!

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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What’s in a racial label?

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Esther J. Cepeda’s Washington Post op-ed discusses a study by Emory University researchers, “A rose by any other name?: The consequences of subtyping ‘African-Americans’ from ‘Blacks’”. Specifically, the study looked at how white people responded to the two terms and their attached stereotypes. Notice, there’s as much class as race here:

The researchers conducted four distinct studies in the realms of employment, media and criminal justice to determine the perceptions of the two labels in different contexts.

The data they collected point to whites believing that the label “Black” evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status, education, positivity, competence and warmth than the label “African-American.” And whites “will react more negatively” toward “Blacks” than toward “African-Americans.”

Even more chilling, the researchers found that use of the label “Black” in a newspaper crime report is associated with more negative emotional words than in an article featuring the words “African-American.” And whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when that person is identified as “Black” versus “African-American.”

Wonder how they’d react to calling them “citizens” or “people”? Or “neighbors”?

I noticed how both Cepeda and I both typed lower case above when writing “white” as though it is an ordinary adjective and less of a racial label, while the study prefers “White.” Race is always there, Cepeda notes, because “no matter how post-racial any of us thinks we are, we’re all carrying around varying degrees of racial and ethnic bias.”

For example, this reference in the report to another study jumped out at me for some reason:

Participants, who were predominantly White Americans, rated “poor Blacks” low in both warmth and competence and perceived them similarly to poor Whites and welfare recipients (Figure 1, p. 885, 887, Fiske et al., 2002). Conversely, participants rated “Black professionals” as having high competence and high warmth and perceived them similarly to Americans, the middle class, Christians, the Irish, and housewives (Figure 2, p. 638, Cuddy et al., 2007).

The Irish? HEY! What’s up with that?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Poverty, Race, Science
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A 21st-century lynching?

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Neely Ferry1Neely Ferry2Neely Ferry3Questions surrounding the August hanging death of Lennon Lacy, 17, of Bladenboro, NC have been percolating since the summer. With fall election campaigns and higher-profile deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, the black teenager’s hanging death, quickly ruled a suicide, went largely unnoticed outside North Carolina. But Lacy’s family did not accept the official conclusion that the youth killed himself. Lacy was found hanging by a dog leash wearing someone else’s shoes. Two sizes too small:

Days after he was buried, Lennon’s grave was defiled – an act of vandalism that Lennon’s family believes supports their claim that he was killed in a racially-motivated homicide.

After calls from the North Carolina NAACP and Lacy’s family, the FBI has stepped in:

The FBI will investigate the case of Lennon Lacy, the black teenager found hanging in August from a swing set in North Carolina, whose parents have disputed the official ruling that he killed himself and asked whether his death amounted to a modern-day lynching.

It was confirmed on Friday that a federal agent has been assigned to investigate what happened to Lacy, 17, a budding high-school football prospect found hanging in the middle of a predominantly white trailer park in Bladenboro, North Carolina, on 29 August. The move follows a formal request from the Lacy family and from the North Carolina branch of the NAACP to the US attorney asking for the federal authorities to throw their weight behind the investigation.

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Categories : News, North Carolina, Race
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“There’s a history we have to overcome”

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So, by now you know that the New York grand jury we wrote about on Tuesday returned its decision yesterday not to indict NYPD’s Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the July 17 chokehold death of Eric Garner. The 43 year-old black man died gasping “I can’t breathe” while in the custody of white officers outside a Staten Island convenience store after being accused of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. The death was ruled a homicide by a New York medical examiner in August.

Oh, but the grand jury did indict the man who videoed the whole thing on his cellphone, so there’s that.

Protests broke out over the grand jury’s non-indictment, as expected, disrupting the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Plaza. Police made about 30 arrests.

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Categories : News, Race
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“Little techie brats”

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LRAD device on top of the New York City police Hummer. Image via Wikimedia Commons by Peter Bergin.

Up Next: Staten Island.

Protests continued across the country (and on the floor of the House) over a St. Louis County, MO grand jury’s decision not to indict former officer Darren Wilson for the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. But in Staten Island, police are bracing this week for a local grand jury’s decision in another case involving a police officer and the death of an unarmed black man:

With a grand jury expected to come to a decision in the in-custody death of Eric Garner this week, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton met with Staten Island leaders Monday to discuss community concerns and new NYPD initiatives.

The grand jury is to decide whether Officer Daniel Pantaleo will face criminal charges in Garner’s July 17 death outside a Staten Island convenience store. Garner died after being placed in an apparent chokehold during an arrest attempt. Police suspected Garner of selling illegal cigarettes.

Cigarettes? Cigarillos? Perhaps the Surgeon General should add a health warning on tobacco products about the risk of death by summary execution. You don’t even have to smoke them.

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Categories : National, News, Race
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Let’s talk

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Nicholas Kristof this morning calls for an American Truth and Reconciliation Commission in “When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 5.” He cites most of the articles I had collected to write about race anyway, so as he says, let’s talk.

We had an experience recently that showed us just how much we don’t get it. Commenting on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ stunning “The Case for Reparations,” I wrote:

On a long drive in the last year or so, we were trading notes with a friend about where we were born, how long we had lived in North Carolina, and something about our family history. It was all pretty light conversation until our friend remarked that her knowledge of family history went back only as far as her great-grandparents in the Caribbean. She didn’t have to explain why. Because before that was Africa.

In white America many take pride or at least an interest in family history. We mostly take it for granted. I certainly did. What jerked us up short was realizing that our friend didn’t have one and why.

Three-quarters of whites have only white friends, Kristof begins, one big reason “we are often clueless.” Then there is the everyday racial profiling we never see. Like being followed around by security in a department store, as our friend experiences, or the professor falsely accused of shoplifting in a chain store here last year. Kristof writes:

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Categories : Race
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The #Ferguson #fail

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Eugene Robinson this morning does more criticism of the #Ferguson #fail. Robinson calls out the police, for treating the citizens of Ferguson more like “subjects,” and Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch for not acting like one:

The way McCulloch conducted the grand jury probe was anything but ordinary. Evidence is usually presented in the light most favorable to the prosecution; the idea is to seek an indictment and then figure out guilt or innocence later at trial. McCulloch presented both sides of the case in great detail, essentially asking grand jurors — not trial jurors — to be adjudicators of the facts. He put Brown on trial, not Wilson.

In his rambling, self-justifying news conference announcing the no-indictment decision, McCulloch made clear that he believed the eyewitnesses who supported Wilson’s version of events and disbelieved those who did not. Moreover, he questioned the motives of those who disputed Wilson’s story, as if they could not be relied on to participate in an honest search for the truth.

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Categories : Local, National, News, Race
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A Painful 15 Minutes

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Asheville resident Russell Johnson gets his 15 minutes and a dislocated shoulder in Missouri:

Russell Johnson, 45, a Navy veteran who was arrested Wednesday during a protest at City Hall in St. Louis and suffered a dislocated shoulder, told the Los Angeles Times that many of the demonstrators believed they needed to unite around a meal, not a cause, on Thanksgiving.

“You know how at halftime during a football game you get to rest,” he said. “You get that motivational speech. Then you come out stronger for the second half.”

Categories : National, News, Race
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