Thursday, August 28, 2014

Empirical Data, Michael Brown, Ferguson, and Race: How do Police Decide if You are 'Suspicious'?

Why am I still writing about the murder of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown by the thug cop Darren Wilson?

The problem of police brutality, militarization, and the violation of the American people's human rights is an ongoing problem. The black community in Ferguson still lives under under the boot of a herrenvolk gestapo. Michael Brown's family, friends, and people remain traumatized by his murder. Most importantly, the police and the prison industrial complex are the brass knuckles on the fist of white supremacy and white privilege in the United States and the West. As such, the murder of Michael Brown is one example of a centuries-long institutional process in practice.

There is a diminishing amount of interest by the mass public in the Michael Brown murder. This is a result of the following dynamics.

The 24/7 corporate news media creates a public hysteria which then reaches a crescendo. The now fully misinformed public is made to feel exhausted. The media and the public then transport their manufactured outrage to another issue. In a modern corporateocracy, the media serves an "agenda setting" function in which they help to frame issues and set boundaries on what issues are considered "important" matters of public concern. The 24/7 news media is also a type of spectacular entertainment that overwhelms the viewer with sound, noise, fury, and "information". However, the same media--because they serve elite interests and not those of a radical, liberated, or forward thinking democratic populism--is not interested in substantive social or political change.

The corporate news media serves Power; it does not contradict or subvert it.

The occasional public criticism of some branch of elite authority by the corporate media is just in-fighting within the same clique.

Social media such as Twitter is one of the new technologies that Power can use to monitor, manipulate, and maintain control over the mass public. As the Arab Spring and other people's uprisings have demonstrated, social media and the Internet can be powerful tools to fight power and create social change. However, social media by itself is not a stand-in for substantive and meaningful political behavior in the public sphere. "Twitter" or "hashtag" activism can be symbolic and emotional politics in the worst sense as people pursue low cost, minimal risk, performative politics that are ego gratifying and soothing, but that ultimately do nothing to effect real social change. Individuals can find a virtual community online; this virtual community does not necessarily translate into activism which challenges, subverts, or reorients Power via institutional politics or other means in the public sphere.

Social media is a complement or auxiliary to political change and social movement behavior; it is not a substitute for it.

A more crude and raw analysis would reduce politics down to "are you willing to die for your cause?" Alternatively, "politics is about who gets what, when, how, and why". Are you willing to commit blood, money, and resources to get the outcomes and resources which you desire? Anything short of that is just conversation, bloviating, and mouth-breathing.

One of my repeated complaints about the news media's coverage of the events in Ferguson, Missouri has been focused on the way that it framed the murder of Michael Brown--and the righteous anger of the residents of that community--as constituting some type of mystery or surprise. There are serious people who have spent their professional careers researching, writing about, and documenting the causes of social unrest and civil disorder. There are many more people who can put Ferguson within a broader context of race, the color line, and policing in the United States.

The civil rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri was not some type of "unknown, unknown".

There has been some great commentary and analysis on the murder of Michael Brown by the coward thug cop Darren Wilson. Henry Giroux's recent essay is essential. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Nation's interview with professional wrestler "MVP"--yes, a professional wrestler--who went to Ferguson and shared his thoughts on the murder of Brown here. Historian Christopher Hayes smartly put the police riot in Ferguson within a historical context that he grounded in the 1964 Harlem uprising.

As a social scientist by training, I am drawn to empirical data. The Black Youth Project has issued a new report on young people's attitudes towards the police. Alas, the divides along the color line are a depressing portrait of how young people of color have very different experiences of citizenship and justice as compared to their white peers. Robert Jones, writing for the The Atlantic also tried to explain the racial divides in public opinion about the events in Ferguson (and police violence more broadly) by drilling down to how social networks and segregation create different life worlds for whites and non-whites in America.

The murder of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson is one event within a system of power relationships known as the prison industrial complex. The over-policing of black and brown (and poor/working class communities) is a social policy that rests upon an assumption that African-Americans are a unique criminal class, one which is inherently "suspicious" and dangerous.

The notion of what constitutes legitimate police "suspicion" is a foundational assumption that has not been directly engaged in most of the news coverage of the murder of Michael Brown. Of course, it is talked around by a news media that has "niggerized" Michael Brown specifically, and black people, more generally with the language of how "big", "tall", "strong", and "intimidating" the victim of Darren Wilson's many bullets was in life. White racial logic defends the murder of Michael Brown by offering up a type of common sense that is nothing more than the white racial frame in action, with the empty question, "who wouldn't be scared of Michael Brown?"

I recently discovered that there is research on the concept of "suspicion", and how police use it as a tool to decide who to harass/investigate. The paper "Police Officer's Decision Making and Discretion" can be found here. It is part of a large body of research in criminology and policing. Of course, there are problems with the findings (in my opinion they are much to sympathetic to the police; and apparently race has nothing to do with how police decide who is "suspicious"...this finding is so bizarre as to be unbelievable) and the methodology.

["Police Officer's Decision Making and Discretion" is worth reading. I am curious as to your take on its findings.]

But the broader point remains: there are serious people who study psychology, race, and policing. Yet, they were noticeably absent in the news media's 24/7 feast on the spectacle that was and is the murder of Michael Brown by the coward cop Darren Wilson.

The American people make poor decisions because they are not given the necessary information and context to make better ones. The events in Ferguson, and the mass (white) public's passing interest in them is proof of that fact.


Adepsis said...

The police decision making paper actually does note that suspicions are more frequently formed for AAs, particularly young males, and that more stops are made in AA areas. What I noted in reading (exec summary)is that the authors emphasized long before revealing this pattern that it did not correlate with eventual stops (hmmmmm...). I suspect that the fact that they were being observed resulted in more care about making stops.

chauncey devega said...

That is what I think in terms of the methodology. They were being watched and some of the data is self-reported. Plus, it is financed by the DOJ.

KissedByTheSun said...

Saw this image making the rounds today.
Empirical data indeed.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I like social media because during police action against the resident's of Ferguson people could share videos and photos at the source while media was kept back by police as well as the magnitude of their equipment.

If these police feel so threatened by suspicious people (of color) then why do they initiate close physical contact? Mike Brown's friend said the cop pulled up so close to them that his door hit them and closed back on him and that Wilson grabbed Mike Brown by the neck through his open window or door.

There's now that video of police feeling threatened by the cell phones of a group of young black men filming them, smacking their camera's out of their hand and ripping them from the car and throwing them on the ground at gun point.

My mom's gone wild with her pro-Darren facebook posts. I think I'm going to delete my page, I don't know what to say to her. Sharing a video of a black man punching an officer in the face and saying, "This is why Darren Wilson had to do what he did."

You know if they aren't big like Mike Brown their quick as lightning, and once they are close to you, "everything is a weapon."

She's sharing those stories of white kids getting killed by black cops and I know she feels complete sympathy for the white kid, but you know they are always willing to sacrifice some of their own to maintain their hegemony.

kokanee said...

Would The US Military Fire On American Citizens?

Courtney H. said...

Thanks for the article. It is very thought-provoking.

joe manning said...

"They" can't fool all the people all the time and articles like this put the herrenvolk, the corporate media, and officialdom on notice that a growing informed public is demanding justice for all in real time.

chauncey devega said...

I think sharing information is important. New media is good for that. However, sharing info is not a substitute for "real politics". Sorry about your mom. Is she just stuck in and sucked in by the Right-wing echo chamber? It is very hard to help people who are fully propagandized.

chauncey devega said...

Is there a growing informed public? On many measures the public is more ignorant and disinformed than ever.

kokanee said...

Hi Courtney -- Anytime. We all know who the government will come for first, don't we?
I still haven't see the video you recommended. I hope to see that this weekend. Hours after I watched "5 Broken Cameras" on YouTube, all full copies in English were taken down. Anyway, it's on Netflix. If you don't have it, email me at kvmann at riseup dot net and I'll email you my account info.

kokanee said...

Hey Myshkin - My mom's the same. She's devolved from a pro labor stance to a far racist right-wing conservative. I think it was you who described Tim Wise's mother who was very progressive activist fighting for equal rights until her old age and then she became a racist and even using the n-word. As the outer brain degenerates the inner brain takes over. F&*k, I'm going to have to stop doing drugs and alcohol or that's going to be me...

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Obama-induced negrophobia.

I don't think there is any winning her over. Sucked into and spewing out right wing talking point hate race baiting propaganda. She told her friends I am a brainwashed liberal thanks to my northern (West Virginia) college education.

I think 9/11 really enabled these people to become overtly racist (at least as far as I know being a millennial). They sanctified themselves in the blood of the innocent on that day and only need a renewal every now and then, which makes Benghazi and Jim Foley perfect for their hawkish screeching.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Try meditation, clean up the trash.

My back is feeling better right now. If it continues, I may take it up.

kokanee said...

Great news!

Mine is better too. My sciatica completely went away --for now. I had one regular flare up when my back went out for a day or two but overall, really good.

Remember Bryan Ortez? He had back problems too. He's over at CDV's Facebook page. I saw that he commented there the other day.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

That's me ;)

kokanee said...

Get out of here!

Myshkin the Idiot said...

surprised you remembered my name. Decided to go more anonymously after a conversation with a tiresome troll on this site.

kokanee said...

I used to go by my real name too but almost everyone else around me were not. I'll friend you on Facebook to level the playing field or just for fun.

liddy said...

An explosive new lawsuit filed in St. Louis seeking the release of Michael Brown's juvenile criminal record alleges the slain teen was a gang member and faced a second degree murder charge.

The citizen journalism website GotNews took St. Louis County authorities to court Wednesday to secure the release of the records because it believes they do not need to be kept private since he is no longer alive.

The unarmed Brown was fatally shot earlier this month by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. He has no criminal record as an adult, but only because he had recently turned 18, claims GotNews Editor-in-chief Charles Johnson.

The citizen journo wrote in a Wednesday afternoon post to his site and on Twitter that he was told by law enforcement sources the black teen has a juvenile arrest record that is being kept private.
Is Michael Brown really someone that black people should have turned into a national, even international, symbol of black disenfranchisement in America?

Courtney H. said...

Okay. Thanks.

kokanee said...

A victim's past has absolutely no bearing on a case whether she's a rape victim or a black kid shot by a police officer.

Now whether Michael Brown's juvenile record is released, the damage is done. If his records are not released, there's going to be suspicion that there's something there. If they do release his records and find something incriminating, it will reinforce the character assassination of Michael Brown as a thug. --all of which has exactly zero bearing on the case which is, for the recod, a white police officer killing a black unarmed teenager in cold blood. Charge and arrest Darren Wilson for murder now.

Hands up. Don't shoot.

joe manning said...

Your points are prescient and right on, they ring true to all but the most obtuse, generating mass moral outrage, a strong motivator. Beyond this, an much stronger motivator is the mass realization of a threat to survival; the perception that the 'powers that be' cannot guarantee our security. The threat of extinction is much more pressing than mere moral outrage. Theoretically and adaptively, It forces mass society to transform into class conscious society, made up of informed publics. Like Irving Goffman said "nothing focuses the mind more than the knowledge that one will be executed in a fortnight."

liddy said...

Kokanee, what you said is true as far as it goes. However, most "respectable" people are not going to care if it turns out that Michael Brown was indeed a gangbanger and MURDERER.
My question remains "Is Michael Brown really someone that black people should have turned into a national, even international, symbol of black disenfranchisement in America" given his apparent background?
The aforementioned question is totally separate and apart from whether Wilson is guilty of "murder" based on the letter of the law.

Jyqm said...

I won't claim to speak for "black people" en masse, but I would suggest that Michael Brown makes for an excellent symbol of African-American disenfranchisement, regardless of his background. It's exceedingly easy to feel for the plight of a straight-A chess club "angel" (to use the NYT's apparent standard of human worthiness). It is precisely those who might not readily arouse our sympathy who should be a major focus of civil rights discussions. The point is that *all* African-Americans deserve to be able to enjoy the fullness of their civil rights in this country, not just those who are "twice as good."

Gable1111 said...

I'd like to go scientific in answering that question, in terms of how suspects in crime are identified, based on witnesses, background, circumstantial evidence, etc. But the reality is, racism in America depicts all black people as criminals, period. This is why the cops went on a wild goose chase looking for black men when Susan Smith killed her kids in SC, and why they did the same when that guy in Boston killed his wife. In both cases they actually picked up and questioned black men as suspects in these crimes, and Smith and her counterpart in Boston KNEW that, prejudice being what it is, their claims that the perpetrator was a black man would make the police actually pick up someone like that and possibly even charge someone, even though he would have not been the guilty party.

And keep in mind, we have a long history in our "justice system" of arresting, charging and convicting people just to satisfy a case, even though it is known that the person charged could not have committed the crime. How many instances have we had of men being freed from death row and otherwise exonerated after its been found they were innocent? And how many times have we seen stubborn prosecutors, even after evidence clearly shows the person was innocent, refuse to acknowledge, even in the face of clear evidence?

In the case of Brown, Garner and others, racism says that, if you are black, you must be guilty of something, and even if you were not guilty of whatever led to your death, then it was deserving anyway because you being black meant there was a crime in your life somewhere that you got away with, because you are black, and this is "justice" just catching up with you. This is why they released that video, and claimed it was of Brown stealing, even though there is some doubt about what the video actually shows, when it occurred,and that it has nothing to do with why he was accosted by Wilson. Doesn't matter, because it fits the racist narrative that all blacks are criminal by virtue of them being black. And keep in mind this video wasn't released by the store owners or some private entity, this was released by the police department, and here we see the institutional aspect of support for this kind of racism.

Nina Flowers said...

I'm with you on that one. The public is so ignorant, it's scary! I cannot have any type of conversation with my relatives because they know of nothing that goes on outside of their bubble.

Nina Flowers said...

It's no surprise to me that on the political pages on FB, the wing-nut trolls are always typically old white folks. They lived "the good life" back in the day of the car, the house and the rest of the dream when they had the legal right to oppress others and not have to prove themselves. They went nuts when they realized that they lost their absolute right to superiority in the eyes of the law. That being said, they're still around and in charge. There's way too much to be done still.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

White people have been and are the most coddled and cared for group of people in American history. Everything anyone in this nation has done has been for their benefit. Even holding their hands as they wade through history and patting their heads when it gets uncomfortable.

Entitlement culture is rife and destructive in conservative America.

kokanee said...

Hey Courtney — I listened to Prof. Griff and Zaza Ali last night. Thanks it was good. I remember Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and "911 is a Joke" well. The new term I learned "am-negro-esia" was worth the price of admission.

5 Broken Cameras (Turn off annotations - click on the gear at the bottom right):
Watch it while you can!

Also, Democracy Now aired "Blackwater's Youngest Victim" today (Tues. Sept. 2) starting at the 23 minute mark. It was particularly heartbreaking.

Obamadoeshisdog said...

How do they decide?
1) Is he a nigger?
No=probably not.

Courtney H. said...

Thank you, Kokanee. I greatly appreciate it. I really enjoy listening to Professor Griff and Zaza Ali. They are both intelligent people and they use and cite a lot of sources, and break down things beautifully!