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Recently the library where I work finished installing new carpeting  as well as upgrading the building in other ways such as moving shelves around.  In that three month process we, myself and the other librarians, wound up moving the books numerous times; over here, over there, over here again, then over somewhere else.  In doing so I got to see in more detail how our books were organized.   And it got me thinking.

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Let me start those thoughts with what I encountered when moving the African American fiction.  While doing that move I came across a book that had not only the author but who it was edited by, which gave me pause.  I had never seen a book, a novel, which had an editor’s name attached to it also.  In looking at it I found that The Bondswoman’s Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates, is the first novel written by a black women slave.  It is the only novel by a fugitive slave woman.  And it was written sometime between 1853 and 1861.

My first thought was to ask why this was put in African American fiction.  I would think this would be something that people beyond just African Americans would enjoy.   While a novel and fiction, it was based closely upon events that the writer actually experienced as well as the experiences of other African American slaves.  Although very much a product of its times, it is fascinating reading, both intellectually and, more importantly, emotionally.

I am not going to review it here, other than to say that if you are interested in people, the effects of slavery on people, and the human condition, then this is a book you should read.  Just as the Diary of Anne Frank’s appeal goes far beyond Jews and being a Jew in Nazi Germany, so too does this book have a message beyond just being a black slave.

And that is why I wondered why it was buried under African American fiction, where its light could not shine for those who may need to read it the most.

Then I came across Toni Morrison.  The Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award winning writer. The Nobel Prize winner.  A writer who I greatly admire and whose works I have enjoyed.  Why is she in African American fiction and not among the broader category of novels?  As if what she wrote could only speak to African Americans and not to all of humanity.  As if writers have to be first and foremost categorized by the color of their skin rather than the quality and scope of their writings.  As if blacks and whites and Asians and Native Americans and Hispanics, as if people, do not have a shared core created by all of them being human.

Now, I know that there are reasons, and some good ones at that, for having a separate African American section.  But, I think those two books also show the limitations and problems that doing so creates.

There was one other categorical head scratcher for me that I think worth mentioning. That was when I found Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karina” when moving the Romance books.  I know that the plot contains some elements of romance, but come on… Anna Karina is considered to be one of the best novels ever written.  Would you classify Romeo and Juliet under Romance?

But, there it was, with a call number of ROM TOL on its spine.

My thoughts on this paralleled that of finding Morrison’s and Craft’s books in African American fiction, how limiting.  But in thinking about it I began to wonder.  Would more people be  willing to pick up and read Anna Karina in the category of Romance than they would if it were in the category of Classics?  Instead of limiting the potential readers of Anna Karina, could this categorization of it., instead, expand the number of readers?

If true, then Anna Karina being categorized as a romance would be a good thing in that it would expose this novel to more people.  With Toni Morrison and Craft though, the opposite is happening.  Not many people other than African Americans look at the African American section, limiting these books potential audience.

Which got me to wondering how best to balance these needs, categorizing works so that those who are interested in one area but not the others can still easily find works that interest them while, at the same time, providing those who are just looking without a fixed goal in mind, a chance to read something outside their norm.

The problem with the easy answer of not having categories is that categories are useful.  There is a reason they come about.  If I am in the mood for a Science Fiction book, I really do not want to spend time finding the science fiction novels amid all the mysteries, classics, African American novels,  mainstream novels, romance, westerns, and religious novels.

Besides, creating and dividing things, and people, into categories seems to be a basic human trait, one that is not going to be going away until humanity is gone too.

That being said, the real question then is not how to get rid of all categories, but rather how do we create and maintain categories?   How to do so with the recognition that, like life, there is considerable overlap from one category and another, that the same book can be categorized in many different ways, and that all categories share the trait of being novels.

For example, in the library, perhaps it would be better to have all novels grouped together, but have the call labels be color coded to designate African American, Romance, Classics, Science Fiction, Mysteries, etc.  Yes, people would browse looking for the color code of their interests, but in doing so they have a better chance of seeing something, seeing a novel or author, that they might not have ever noticed before.   Proximity creates opportunities for something new.

The downside of doing it this way though is that those who come in and want to read only mysteries are now going to have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries too, and in the process of using up precious time, you might not find that one mystery that would have made your year.  The upside is that they will have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries, and so perhaps come across a treasure that they never would have encountered otherwise.

To me, since we live in a world that offers only imperfect solutions to societal issues and problems, this trade off would be a good one.  We need to learn to re-categorize things in order to grow.  We need to also learn that there are few hard and fast categories.  Instead, categories, especially as they relate  to humans  are fluid and overlapping.

For fun, here are the links to two videos, video one and video two, that highlight the fluidity and overlapping nature of human categories.

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I had an interesting and enlightening conversation the other day with an older black woman.  I found it so because of the light it shines into one reason why so many blacks distrust the police and our justice system.

This woman is, as I said an older black woman.  She has grandchildren, one of whom is 27.  She was married to a man in the Air Force and did quite a bit a traveling until he died unexpectedly in the 90s.  She has a degree in Social Service and Political Science.

During the course of our conversation she related this story about her father.  Or more accurately, her father’s murder.  It happened when she was 13.  And it happened here in Texas.   And it happened in a sundown city.

For those too young or who may have never come across this adjective before, a sundown city was a city or town that had posted a sign stating some version of the following:

“Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In [Insert name of city here]”.

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There were over 10,000 of these cities across the US up until the late 60s.  The city where I currently reside was one such, and, at least until the late 90s, was still a prime area for the KKK.  Today I still see a large number of confederate flags around.  These cities though were not limited to the south but extended to Glendale, California and up to Levittown, NY.  Indeed, most of the towns in Illinois were Sundown cities.

In fact, there were so many of these cities, and so many areas where the Jim Crow laws were strongly enforced, and so many areas where police were more threat than protection for blacks, so many areas where blacks just disappeared, that a book called the “Negro Motorist Green Book” was published annually from 1936 through 1966 by a New York travel agent named Victor H. Green.

This handy book was for blacks traveling in the United States.   This book warned the black traveler of the worse areas (at least the known ones) and about the specific dangers of that area.  It also provided the names of hotels and restaurants that would not serve blacks, and of car repair shops that would not fix their vehicles.

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine this; the country into which you were born, the country of which you are a citizen, the country in which you live and work and raise a family, this country that is supposedly yours too being so dangerous for you that you need a guidebook to help navigate its perils in as much safety as possible.  A guide for traveling in a dangerous country.  One not needed for its white citizens.

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And all of this going on until the mid 1960s.

Just stop and think of that too.  The mid 1960s is not ancient history.  It is not something from our founding.  It is recent history, a history of which millions of Americans (including myself) have personal memory of.

As does this black woman I met.

Which now brings us to what happened to her father in the not so distant past, a past that is recent in fact, recent in both years and memory.  What happened to her father when she was 13?

Or to ask another way, what happened to blacks who were caught in those sundown towns after dark?  If they were lucky they were picked up and arrested by the police, then either escorted out or jailed, and possibly roughed up.  If they were unlucky, then much worse happened; as happened to this woman’s father.

He was found the next morning strung up by his ankles from a tree.  He had been gutted and his intestines soaked the ground under him.  But that was not all.

His penis and testicles had been cut off.  But that was not all.

His penis and testicles were not near him as his intestines were.  They were missing entirely.  The sheriff told this woman’s mother that they were probably fed to the pigs.

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This happened within living memory.

Yes, we have changed laws and processes to reduce and de-institutionalize these more overt forms of racism and bias.  But, do those who would deny that racism plays any significant role today in hiring, in education, in justice, in law enforcement, in society; do those who would argue that there is no real racism in our institutions other than what is being played up and stoked up by trouble makers and liberals out to make political hay; do those people really believe that such deeply embedded institutions, deeply held beliefs, deeply held hatreds, do they really believe that these can be changed as quickly and as easily as a law?

Really?

Laws change more easily and more quickly than attitudes.  Laws change more easily than institutions.

The 1960s were the start of significant and needed changes in regards to race in our country.  But a start is not the finish.  To pretend that it is, to deny this basic fact is then to work to undo that start and push us back to that a different version of that recent past.

The vast majority of blacks realize that the changes needed to enact true and equal justice for all regardless of color is still only in its beginnings.  They have the stories of their still living mothers and fathers, the stories of their still living grandmothers and grandfathers, the stories of their still living uncles and aunts and cousins to tell them so. Stories of loss, of denial, of pain and suffering, of injustice backed by government and institutions, stories of death.

Stories that are reinforced and proven true in their daily lives today.  And by the fact that

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so many whites deny them the lessons of both their personal history and their own current experiences.

They have good reason to be distrustful of police, of the justice system, and of our government overall.   It has been changed, but not totally reformed.  And they remember.  As should we all.

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DISCLAIMER

Since I have in the past, and will probably again despite this statement, been accused of excusing the acts of individuals by looking at why they did what they did, let me state unequivocally, absolutely and sincerely that those who have recently shot and killed police in Dallas and in Baton Rouge are and should be held responsible for their own actions.  Had they survived their encounter I would have fully supported going after the maximum sentence possible short of the death penalty (which I oppose).   They deserve our utter condemnation for their brutal and inexcusable actions.

Sigh.  I am pretty sure this disclaimer won’t make a lick of difference, but there you go.

 

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There is a relationship between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the recent shootings on police officers.  However, it is not the nice and tidy narrative that many people, especially conservatives, believe.

It is not that there is no problem with racial inequality in either our legal system or in our law enforcement.

It is not that any racial unrest is being fomented by Black Lives Matter/ liberals/Obama/ Hillary or a host of other liberal rabble rousers.

It is not that this is something that can be solved solely by condemning these murderers and cracking down on law and order.

No, that is not the relationship.  Instead, the true picture is something more complex.

The first relationship lies in the fact that there really is a problem with our justice system and law enforcement system in regards to racial equality.   Instead of going into all the data and make this blog way too long, let me refer you to a recent and excellent blog by Libby Anne titled “The White Invisibility of Racism”.

Let me though show this video of two police officers serving an arrest warrant for a man named Michael.  The only problem is that the man they arrest is named Patrick.

Now, to be fair, the police say that this video has been deceptively edited.  They have released the full 30 minute video of this incident.  You can view them here.

A few take aways from this.

First, Patrick did identify himself as Patrick.

Next, although later in the video the officers say they asked for his ID three times, they never did.  They assumed that he was lying and acted on that assumption without asking for his ID.

Ask yourself, would this have been as likely to happen with a white person?   Statistics strongly say no.

The next take away is that they arrested him and took him in even though he was not the person they came to arrest.  Now, this man who had committed no crime, will now have to post bond.  Given that I doubt they have a lot of money, this plays into creating a hardship on them.  If it takes some time to arrange bond and get him out, he could miss work and wind up losing his job.  As I discuss later, this is a domino effect that plays out all too often in the black community.

Statistics show that if he had been white, this probably would not have happened, and if it did there would have been no arrest.

And now that I am thinking about it, there is another take away.  The fact that the police department thinks that there is something in the complete video that vindicates the actions of  these officers.  Since the differences occur after they did not ask for his ID, did not show him the warrant as he requested, and had tased him twice, I think the police are really reaching with that.

I also found the discussion at around the 28:28 mark, between one of the officers and another black man who was trying to explain how their approach instilled fear and helped give rise to some of the actions of Patrick, who was thinking about losing his job and such due to being arrested, informative.  Especially when the police officer says that if he had done nothing wrong he would have nothing to fear.

And this is the issue in a nutshell.  The officers are unaware of their own actions and how they are perceived by the black community.  They honestly thought they had asked for ID when they had not.  And they did not see themselves as being threatening to anyone who had done nothing wrong.  Yet do not see the irony of Patrick having done nothing wrong but being arrested anyway.  And they do not seriously consider the black man’s statement at all about blacks being afraid of police and instead blow it off.

 

When watching this, ask yourself, what do you think would have happened if Patrick had been white?  Would the police have been less likely to do strong arm tactics?  When he said he was Patrick and not Michael would they have been more likely to ask for his ID?   While in some cases they may have acted the same.  In all too many though, they would not.  Being white makes a difference.

And what makes this so “invisible” as Ms. Anne puts it, is that these reactions are unconscious.  These officers did not say lets go harass a black man today.  Instead it is a matter of who they find more threatening.  More suspicious.  Who they find more resistant and how they feel they should deal with that resistance.

This is what causes a black person to be treated differently from a white person on average.

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The other point from Abby’s blog that I liked was that Black Lives Matter was sparked by more than just police shootings of unarmed blacks.  That is only the tip of the iceberg of a full weight of grievances and injustices.

I think about all of this when I hear white people claim that if black people would just comply with police they wouldn’t get in trouble. This isn’t just about black people killed by police. It’s also about all of the times black people are stopped and asked for their ID for no reason whatsoever, all of the times black people are treated by police as inherently criminal, all of the times when black individuals are given longer sentences than white individuals accused of the same crime. It’s about black parents having to give their sons “the talk” to ensure they won’t end up killed by police, and about a population that feels under siege every single day.

As she also states in her blogs, it is the constant being pulled over for no reason.  It is being used as a money stream for cities despite being usually the poorest community, as happened in Ferguson.  It is being followed in a store when whites are not.  It is the accumulation of thousands of grievances.

 

Or consider the case of Philando Castile, the black man who was shot and killed in St Paul Minnesota, who had been stopped by police at least 46 times (of which only six were items the police would notice from outside the car).   His life is a perfect example of how this system harms blacks in several regards – emotionally, always being suspected, being harassed, the one who gets caught and fined due to the color of your skin.  And then the financial impact, the always having to find money to pay fines, not being able to afford insurance because of this and then being fined again.  Losing your job due to lost time due to being in jail for not being able to pay your fine.

As in Ferguson, this was a money stream for the city based upon those who could least afford to pay.

From the NPR story on this, “The Driving Life and Death of Philando Castile”.

This week, the St. Anthony Police Department released statistics on its traffic stops. They show that officers issue citations at the same rate as neighboring suburbs, but police disproportionately arrest African-Americans.

About 7 percent of the residents in the area patrolled are African-American, but this year they make up about 47 percent of arrests. The data show that since 2011, African-Americans have been making up a larger percentage of arrests.

………..

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University and the author of Crook County, which documents the problems in the criminal justice system of Chicago, said Castile was the “classic case” of what criminologists have called “net widening,” or the move by local authorities to criminalize more and more aspects of regular life.

“It is in particular a way that people of color and the poor are victimized on a daily basis,” Gonzalez Van Cleve said.

Many times, both Gonzalez Van Cleve and Sandvick agree, the system leaves citizens with no good choices — having to pick, for instance, whether to pay a fine or pay for car insurance.

There are three things that make this very real problem so easy to ignore and pretend that it doesn’t exist for so many.

First, as I said, it is not an explicit sort of racism usually.  It is more in the unconscious ways risks and decisions are made.  Unconscious choices that wind up benefiting the white person but harming the black.

The second issue is that this shows up in statistics most clearly.  On a day by day basis some whites, some blacks, some Hispanics and so forth are stopped, arrested, and fined.  But, at the end of the day, the ones who are stopped most often, who are fined most often are the blacks.  And they know this.  Instead of being a statistic, for them it is a frustrating reality.

Finally, the third thing that makes this so easy to ignore is that police departments vary greatly across this country.  This is a widespread problem, but it is not universal to each and every police department.  So the fact that one does well with race relations makes a convenient excuse for many to ignore the many more who do not do well.

The good news is that this is starting the change.  More and more cities are learning and establishing polices and training to improve.  Dallas has done well with this, implementing many of the recommendations from President Obama’s commission on police.  They stressed taking the time to evaluate and de-escalate situations.  They provided training on implicit biases.  They worked to establish ties to the community.  And when shootings occur they are quick to get in touch with the community and are open and forthcoming on the whats, whos and what is happening now of a shooting investigation.  Because of this, they have not experienced the riots and violent protest other places, such as Ferguson, that were not doing this.  Dallas is far from perfect and  has more work to do, but they are going in the right direction.

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In fact, before the tragic shootings in Dallas that took the lives of five police officers, many of the Black Lives Movement and the police were taking pictures together and talking.

And this is the first relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and police.  It was the inequalities in our system, most especially in our justice and law enforcement ones, that created the need for Black Lives Matter.  The very public shootings of unarmed blacks by police was the spark but the tender had been accumulating and building for decades and longer.

Black Lives Matter is needed to keep this issue front and center because so many deny implicit racism’s very existence.  Without their pressure this is a problem, an injustice, that would be remedied only with an explosion of even worse violence.  And only after more black lives have been harmed.

 

 

As for the other relationship between the Black Lives Matter and police, it inflames emotions.  This is unavoidable.  The emotions are there and for better or worse, Black Lives Matter helps provide a focus for those emotions.

For the majority this will have the result of driving them to make speeches, vote, support candidates, push for laws and policies, etc.  But, at times, for some, the rhetoric becomes too heated and slides over the line.  And then for even fewer, but too many nonetheless, it slides over to taking lethal action against those seen as oppressors.

In other words, the Black Lives Matter movement provides a focus for anger and frustration.  For most, that is good in that it calls them to take action to change things.  For a few others, it instead leads to action of another type, lethal and murderous.

Despite this, Black Lives Matter is necessary.  Just as police are despite the issues mentioned.

I do know that if we ignore its message, do not deal with the problems that created this movement, the problems will only get worse.  Today there are serious issues in regards to racial inequality, but in the 50s and 60s there were even more serious and resulted in more violence than we are experiencing today.  If we want to avoid that then we need to have politicians, law enforcement, black leaders, Black Lives Matter leaders meeting to discuss their differences and issues, and finding common ground upon which to work.  President Obama facilitated just such a meeting after the Dallas shootings.  A meeting that most say was productive and worthwhile, but whose true worth can only be determined by follow up meetings and actions.

Some of the needed actions to my mind are:

  • First and foremost, acknowledge that there are real issues with racial bias in our law enforcement system.
  • Work together with law enforcement and others to find ways to improve. There has been some good movement here and there in this regards.   But so far it is in a minority of police organizations and needs to become the majority.  For something about what Black Lives Matters is promoting in regards to change, click on this link to a good piece from Atlantic Magazine about it.  Or this piece from the Black Lives Matter site.
  • Watch the language carefully to avoid unnecessarily inflaming passions too far. And continue to condemn the actions of those who murder police, or advocate doing so.

Let me briefly mention one common argument that is used to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement.  Black on black violence, that if you are so concerned about blacks deal with the bigger issue of black on black violence.

This is something I addressed in my blog “On the Irritating Wrongness of the Black on Black Violence Counter-argument“.  Instead of rehashing all of this again, I have provided a handy little link to that blog.  Let me though just summarize the problems with this argument.

  • It assumes that you cannot be working on both at the same time.
  • It assumes that both issues are the same. They are not.  Black on black violence is indeed terrible.  But, they are not the police, not the people who are supposed to unbiasedly enforce the law equally and to provide protection for the citizens.  The former is a terrible crime.  The latter harms our societal structure.
  • Related to the above, it assumes that you cannot be outraged over unjustified killings of blacks, about the racial bias targeting blacks unless you get black on black violence down. It further assumes that there is no link between the two – poverty, lack of education, etc.
  • It assumes that no one is working on reducing black on black violence. In fact, there is much being done to decrease black on black violence, much of it successful.  This includes, by the way, sit ins and demonstrations in many different cities.  Just because they are not getting as much news coverage nationally does not mean they are not happening.
  • It assumes that there has been no improvement in regards to black on black violence. The reality is that there has been improvement.  However, in the last 20 years there has been a decrease in black on black violence.  The victimization rate has fallen from 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to roughly 20 homicides in 2008.  And the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 per 100,000 offenders in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008.

All of these are dealt with in more detail and with supporting links in my blog about this.  However, there is one other problem with this attempt to use black on black violence to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement.

No one denies that black on black violence exists.  No one denies that black on black violence is a real problem.  However, too many people do deny that implicit racism and institutional racism are affecting our legal system.  Too many people deny that this is a real problem.  Too many people would rather remain ignorant and let the pressure of continued injustice build.

And that is why Black Lives Matter matters.

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Soon after the vicious and brutal murder of nine blacks at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by Dylann Roof I started to hear conservative commentators commenting on how different the reaction of the Charleston community to this killing of blacks by a white than that of Ferguson; about how the Charleston community, both black and white, pulled together in unity while that of Ferguson erupted in violence.

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The clear inference (one often made explicit by some conservative commentators) was that there really is no underlying race problem in America and that those who say that there is are race baiters intent upon stirring up racial conflict and hatred for their own personal and/or political benefit. The reality, according to these commentators, is that our society and its institutions are largely free of racial bias. That, contrary to the stated experiences of many millions of blacks, that our police departments are enforcing laws and reacting to citizens without regards to their color, that our justice system dispenses justice to black and whites alike largely without regards to color, that our educational system treats all students alike regardless of color, and that job opportunities for black and white are such that skin color plays no role the vast majority of times. In other words, that our society has achieved racial equality.

I call this Kum Ba Yah bullshit.

The danger of conservative’s kum ba yah bullshit is that It puts the responsibility for all change firmly on the backs of blacks. They are responsible for creating better families, for better educating their children, for better following the law and the police, for doing better on finding jobs. They are responsible for their culture and it is the black culture that is the problem. Blacks, according to this “logic” just need to work and try harder. No need for whites to change anything.

Now, in a discussion on this with a conservative a few weeks ago, he used a baseball analogy to try to bring home his point. He said that my position was akin to defeatism, that if we tell blacks that they cannot do it, that their problems are the result of institutional racism and unconscious biases and prejudices instead of them, then we are like the coach of a team telling his team that they are losers. And that by so doing that team, and blacks, do lose.

I applauded his analogy. And I agree, blacks do need to work hard at changing things, at trying to achieve goals and change their culture. However, I pointed out that a better analogy would be that of two teams playing a game of baseball. One team has the standard three outs in order to get hits. The other team though only has two outs before they are retired. No matter how good the coaching, no matter how much that team works at it, no matter how motivated they are, they are going to lose most of the time. Not because of talent or ability, not because of motivation and persistence, but because the rules of the game are rigged against them. And until those rules are changed to be fair and just no matter who is playing the game then members of that team are, justifiably, going to feel anger, are going to feel frustrated. So much so that they may take out their anger on the other team or on the umpires of the game. Or even those of the spectators watching the game.

Yes, the black community needs to continue to work hard to improve their culture and lot, but at the same time they are operating under a handicap even more severe than that of a baseball team playing with only two outs in hand. They are operating within a society that still has institutional racism as part of its fabric and in which largely unconscious biases and prejudices still hold sway in determining the actions of those in power. What makes it worse, so many do not even acknowledge that such problems exist and deny them totally.ferguson-riots-lin_3116889k

Black culture. That is the favorite response of the conservative when asked what is at the root of the disparities in education, economic status, and justice between whites and blacks. And to an extent they are right. However, they never ask the more important question of how black culture was formed and what maintains it today. Instead, they seem to see black culture as something of a virgin birth or as something coming fully formed from the foam.

Conservatives ignore the fact that black culture was formed from the brutality that was slavery, modified by them chains of Jim Crow laws and lynchings, formed by government policies and industry actions, and reinforced by the media.

Black culture was formed by the broken families of the slave era, by the repression of the Jim Crow laws and actions of the KKK and others. It was formed by practices such as redlining which from 1934 – 1962 kept blacks form getting any of the 120 billion dollars handed out by the government for home loans which thus forced segregation by forcing blacks into living in ghettos. This has the ripple effect in that blacks, unlike the whites who received these loans, did not have property they could pass own to their children and use as a basis for creating wealth for themselves and their family.

Or consider the effect this had on education. Schools are funded by property taxes. Since the vast majority of blacks could not afford to live in good homes and could not get the loans to attain good homes, they did not have the tax base to create good schools. Combine this with the segregation effects and you have the basis for the educational disparities we see today. All of which then lead to less opportunities for getting better jobs.

And that is just one example of what is called institutional racism. Another is how blacks are portrayed in the media – tv, radio, newspapers, magazines. White skin and standards are held up as beautiful, blacks are not. Blacks are shown as criminals much more often than they are in real life, and whites much less than they are in real life.

Such practices as these and more effect all areas of society – medicine, justice, and family. They are what helped form black culture. And without efforts on the parts of whites to acknowledge this and change it, then blacks can only go go far, can only do so much. Individuals can overcome it – after all there are great people of all races, but most people of all races are average, and it is those people who are going to continue to suffer the most from this unresolved racism.
And then there is the very real effects of unconscious bias within our society. It affects whose resume will result in a call for an interview and whose will not, it affects how police and judges and jury react and dispense justice., it effects teachers and educators expectations.

The only way true racial justice and equality is going to be achieved is if all or most whites will recognize this problem. Many already do. However, this is a blind spot of most conservatives. They refuse to see this and thus make huge mistakes in judgements and in recommendations on what needs to be done. Mistakes that not only do nothing to solve the problems, but often actually make the problem worse.

For example, comparing Ferguson with Charleston. Yes, in both cases a white person killed a black person or people. However, that is as far as the comparison goes. In Ferguson, a white police officer and member of a police force that was found to be engaged in racist practices, shot and killed an unarmed black man. In Charleston nine blacks were killed by a lone racist gunman who belonged to no government organization or private one apparently. That lack of government affiliation makes a huge difference. Ferguson experienced riots not because a white had killed a black person, but because a white representative of a government agency which had been engaged in racist practices killed an unarmed black person. Charleston did not erupt into violent protests because the gunman was working on his own and did not represent a government with power over the black community.

A clear and easily seen difference. And yet, one that so many conservatives seem to be blind to.

Just as they seem to be blind to the problems inherent in the government flying the Confederate battle flag. Conservatives article-2249806-168FF9A7000005DC-246_634x423insist on defending this as just an exhibition of pride in their heritage. Pride in a heritage that included the attempted dissolution of the United States in order to protect their right to treat people as property, of no more worth than a hog or a cabinet. Yes, many like to phrase this in terms of state’s rights, but it was the state’s right to allow whites to own blacks to do with as they wish. It was a state right to refuse freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly to those who advocated for abolition; to confiscate abolitionist literature and burn it, to break the presses of those publications advocating for the abolition of slavery, it was the fining, imprisonment, flogging, and tar and feathering of those who advocated for treating blacks as free people.

Those are the heritage that conservatives want to remember and honor? Yes, many brave and good men fought and died for the south. But so too did good and brave men die fighting for Nazi Germany. I wonder, if the conservatives would make the same argument for those who would honor the Nazi flag.

And finally, one last area of racial blindness conservatives seem to suffer from. Today, a podcast came out, an interview with President Obama by Marc Maron in which President Obama used the word “nigger”. Conservatives are jumping all over President Obama’s use of this word. However, just as in their comparison of Ferguson with Charleston, and defense of the Confederate flag, their blindness to context and meaning is apparent. Here is the full quote:

obama2010“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination… Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

And this actually does a good job of summing up the problem with most conservatives. They believe that since we have made the use of nigger in public a thing to be ashamed of, since we have gotten rid of most of the overt discrimination that discrimination does not exist at all. And that is foolish of them. As President Obama said, “societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior”. In fact, I would amend that statement to say even as recently as the 1960s and 1970s this overt racism was still prevalent. And that past still lingers and impacts us today.

And this is something most conservatives do not see. They point to the very real gains that have been made in civil rights since the 1960s and declare victory. However, it is not. That was only the start of the victory. It is as if General Eisenhower had declared victory the day after the D Day invasion of Normandy and stopped all further actions since victory had been achieved. Blindness.

The greater struggle is with us now, the struggle to deal with those aspects of racism that are not so easily seen by those not on the receiving end of it. Change the institutional racism that still exists and make clear the hidden biases and prejudices that effect our decisions and then victory will be achieved. . And the first step that is needed to deal with this is to acknowledge that it exists.

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An unnamed medical legal examiner who responded to the shooting testified before the grand jury that he or she had not taken any distance measurements at the scene, because they appeared
“self-explanatory.”

BrokenJusticeMoney

Now that the Grand Jury has decided to no bill Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, to too many people, especially to too many white people, what happened in Ferguson on August 9, 2014 is “self explanatory”.
In the words of Elizabeth Powell’s letter to the editor in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

“I would dare say that after 70 hours of listening to witnesses and evidence and 25 days of courtroom time that the Ferguson grand jury came to a just and fair decision.

It obviously wasn’t made flippantly.

As law-abiding, responsible, intelligent people, they came to their decision not to indict. They made that decision based on facts and science, not emotion or hypotheticals.

If all the facts and evidence result in that decision, then the public needs to accept it.

If the public doesn’t, then they are merely saying that they don’t care about truth and facts, they just want a decision based off of what they feel and want. This is tantamount to lawlessness.

We live in a society today that largely rejects any form of restraint and personal responsibility. These two ingredients make up complete lawlessness.

Truth must always be upheld, no matter what the cost.”

What the grand jury decided is the truth… “self explanatory”. No debate, no questions, no doubts. And her voice is far, far from the only one saying this.

As noted in my quote above, the Ferguson police did not feel that distances between Michael Brown’s dead body and the police car needed to be measured because what had happened was “self explanatory’. Fortunately some other law enforcement agencies felt that it was necessary and, perhaps, not so self explanatory.

The first police officer to interview Wilson about the shooting did not record that conversation, did not take notes about the conversation, and did not write up his memories about the conversation until much later. As he stated later when asked about this breach of protocol in police procedure – “I didn’t take notes because at that point in time I had multiple things going through my head besides what Darren was telling me.”

Even worse, Wilson had called this officer personally after they had both been interviewed by investigators and went over his account of the tragedy again. The officer stated that there were no discrepancies between Wilson’s first account and the one given over the phone. But, if his mind was so filled with items other than Wilson’s testimony during the first interview, so much so that he could not take the time to take notes on it, then how could he be sure that they were the same? A distracted mind and all you know. Or, perhaps, one now guided by the questions posed to both of them by the investigator who interviewed them.

broken-gavelBut then, what happened was “self explanatory.

Officers did not test Wilson’s gun for fingerprints. That is normal police procedure that was among many normal police procedures – such as measuring distances and recording interviews for example – that were not followed. Had Brown’s fingerprints been found then that would have provided more support for Wilson’s story. Had Brown’s fingerprints not been found on gun though…well, questions would have been raised. Now we will never know.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

Other violations of normal police procedures in shootings include:

– The initial interview being delayed while Wilson was sent to the hospital, in a car with a lieutenant colonel of the Ferguson police force and another Ferguson police officer. While initial interviews are sometimes delayed for medical reasons Wilson did not appear to need medical attention and later testified that he did not.

– Wilson not turning over his gun to a supervisor or someone designated by the supervisor but, instead, bagging it himself.

– Washing away the blood on him before samples could be taken.

– Not photographing the crime scene (fortunately another law enforcement agency was).

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

During the grand jury process more self explanatory happened.

In a highly unusual move, instead of arguing for one or more charges prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch made no argument for any charge. Instead of finding the best evidence for any of the possible charges he made no argument and overwhelmed the jury with all of the evidence, burying them alive in information.

Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor who spent six years trying violent crimes, including homicides, told Vox’s Amanda Taub in August that the strategy raised concerns about McCulloch’s commitment to seeking justice in the case:

So when a District Attorney says, in effect, “we’ll present the evidence and let the grand jury decide,” that’s malarkey. If he takes that approach, then he’s already decided to abdicate his role in the process as an advocate for justice. At that point, there’s no longer a prosecutor in the room guiding the grand jurors, and — more importantly — no state official acting on behalf of the victim, Michael Brown…

Then, when you add to the mix that minorities are notoriously underrepresented on grand juries, you have the potential for nullification — of a grand jury declining to bring charges even when there is sufficient probable cause. That’s the real danger to this approach.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

In another highly unusual move prosecuting attorney McCulloch had Officer Wilson testify. And did not cross examine him, letting his testimony stand as is. To have the accused testify before a grand jury is unusual enough in and of itself. To let him testify without cross examination or criticism amounts to letting the accused present his side and only his side to the grand jury – especially since prosecuting attorney McCulloch refused to fulfill his prosecutorial role at all, instead preferring to play the role of a passive defense attorney.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

There were conflicts between Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury and his initial interviews. In the initial interviews he did not know that Brown was holding stolen cigarillos in his hand, noting only that Brown had handed something off to his friend before punching him. In fact, Wilson denied knowing that Brown was a suspect at all in the convenience store robbery. However, in his later testimony that changed and Wilson stated that he did suspect Brown was the suspect in this robbery and he did know that Brown was holding cigarillos.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

Wilson claimed that he feared for his life in his fight with Brown. Yet his injuries consisted of only a slight bruise…not much for a life and death struggle.

But then, what happened was “self explanatory”.

More, much much more could be listed here. But by now it should be “self explanatory” what happened in Ferguson. At least for those who look at the evidence and the facts, the conflicting testimony and the gross negligence on the part of both the Ferguson police and prosecuting attorney.

It is obviously self explanatory that due to racial bias and prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious, and to the knee jerk reaction of the thin blue line to protect one of their own that a gross miscarriage of justice has occurred.

I do not know for sure what happened that day between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson. However, I do know that there is now a dead youth whose death will never be explained due to the fact that those in charge of the system decided to short circuit it and avoid a trial that would have examined in detail all of the conflicting testimony and evidence, argued it out in public and come to a conclusion about what really happened.

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Now we are left with suspicions and pain and suffering and the justified feeling on the part of the black community that once again they are denied even a chance at justice.

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