Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Ways that Racism Killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner

A New York City police officer put his arm around Eric Garner’s neck and choked out his life as he screamed “I can’t breathe!”

A police officer in Ferguson, MO aimed his gun at Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager and shot him multiple times while he reportedly pleaded, “I don't have a gun. Stop shooting!”

Michael Brown lay dead in the street for hours. The police treated his body like common street refuse.

While the police ended the lives of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, it was white racism that actually killed them.

American society is organized around the maintenance and protection of white privilege.

Racism is not an opinion. Racism is a fact. 

The reality of the color line, how whiteness is a type of material and psychological privilege, and that people of color are disadvantaged in American society, are among the most repeated findings in all of the Social Sciences.

Critics of white supremacy and white racism work from the reasonable and informed belief—given the mountains of empirical data in support of the claim—that racism is one of the most powerful social forces in the United States. White racism deniers, and those others who have perverted the notion of “colorblindness” in order to advance and protect white supremacy as one of the United States' dominant ideologies, proceed from the opposite assumption.

Gravity is a fact. It does not need an extraordinary proof. Likewise, the fact of how racism continues to structure life chances in the post civil rights era should be a given for any fair-minded and intelligent person.

Colorblind racism and the white racial frame invert and distort reality: reasonable and sensible claims are rejected in favor of extraordinary proofs for the well documented social reality that is white racism. As such, for white racism deniers and their allies, the standards of evidence are made so absurdly high as to be virtually impossible to satisfy or meet with any degree of confidence or certitude.

Events such as the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown are a nexus where white racial resentment and white supremacy are made to confront black pain, reasonable hurt and righteous anger.

From the American lynching tree of the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the police harassment and racial profiling of the present, white racial logic deems black humanity to be a type of perpetual threat and poison in the white body politic. The black body must be controlled and terrorized in order to create a sense of safety (and community) for the white public.

Consequently, white racial paranoia twists the murder of two unarmed black people by the police into “justifiable” acts, where the victims of gross and unjust violence are somehow made responsible for their own deaths.

Colorblind racism, white racism denying, and police brutality do the work of white supremacy. They are also micro-aggressions, the goal of which is to exhaust and confuse black and brown people by invalidating their life experiences and assaulting (quite literally in the case of police violence) their personhood. 

Colorblind racism, and the related claims that racism does not influence how police and the broader criminal justice system interact with black and brown people, are also assaults on empirical reality and the truth.

Justice for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the many hundreds and thousands of innocent black and brown people who have been killed by the police requires a clear and direct engagement with the twin facts of American racism and white supremacy.

Eric Garner and Michael Brown were killed by white racism. 

What is my evidence for this claim?

1. The United States, from its founding to the present, is structured around maintaining the dominant power position of those people who are categorized as “white”.

America, as a society structured around racial inequality and hierarchy, will reflect that dynamic in its politics, culture, and social institutions. Thus, the legal system and the police will reflect America’s dominant ideologies. America is a racist society; it logically follows that its social and political institutions will channel those values.

2. In his essential book, Discipline and Punish, preeminent social theorist and philosopher Michel Foucault detailed how a society’s legal system and approach to punishment and incarceration reflect the values and norms of its elites and dominant group.

The law is a social construction. It is not a “natural” arrangement. Elites make the law in order to serve their own interests. For example, the distinction between “white collar” and other crimes are but one way that those individuals who make the law can insulate themselves from its full consequences.

The class and racial disparities in American law and punishment are not accidents or a coincident: they are how the dominant and in-group protect their own interests to the disadvantage of the Other.

3. Police in America can trace their origins to the slave patrollers and “paddy rollers” of the antebellum South. Their goal was to support and protect the Southern Slaveocracy by terrorizing black people. The violence, terror, and harassment of black and brown communities, and the violation of the civil liberties of black and brown people, are not aberrations or outliers. They are part of a long cultural habit and tradition of racist behavior by American police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

4. As Michelle Alexander and others have extensively documented, there is racial bias against black people at every level of the criminal justice system. The cumulative effect of institutional and interpersonal racism by police and other law enforcement agencies is that black people are disproportionately incarcerated, receive longer sentences for the same crimes as white people, and are subjected to supervision and harassment by the legal system throughout their lives. The United States is a two-tier racially ordered society where the color line extends to the criminal justice system.

5. A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice details how police and other elements of the criminal justice system have a remarkable amount of discretion in how they choose to punish or otherwise interact with citizens. Those agents use their discretionary powers to disproportionately and unfairly harass, arrest, and punish blacks and Latinos as compared to white people.

6. Police mirror the broader racial biases of white Americans towards African-Americans. The association between black people and criminality has been reinforced by a racially biased media, educational system, entertainment industry, and other agents of political socialization for centuries in the United States, specifically, and the West, more generally. In fact, researchers at Stanford University have recently demonstrated that white people have been so deeply taught to associate black people with crime that they continue to support racially biased sentencing even when shown that it is unfair.

7. While white people were found to be more likely to have drugs or weapons on their persons, African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately targeted for “stop and frisk” police searches in major cities such as New York. “Quality of life crimes” and “broken windows” police tactics are disproportionately used in black and brown communities. The systematic harassment of innocent black and brown people by the police creates a space for negative encounters which may end in incarceration or even police violence.

8. Communities of color, both because of race and class inequalities, suffer under aggressive and hostile police tactics. The militarization of the United States’ police departments is a national problem. This dynamic is amplified in black and brown communities, where for decades, American police departments have viewed them as territories to be “conquered” and its citizens as “enemy insurgents” or “combatants”. Because police see black and brown communities—and their residents—as threats, they are much more likely to use violence and draconian tactics against them.

9. Recent work by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a think tank and social justice research and advocacy organization, reveals how police, street vigilantes, or security guards have killed one black person every 28 hours.

A common scenario involves the police shooting and killing unarmed black people who are holding harmless objects in their hands—with the former claiming that they thought that a wallet, house keys, or even a telephone were “guns” or other “dangerous” objects.

Psychologists have conducted research which suggests that implicit racial bias influences how white people (and others) may actually “see” non-whites in a negative manner. Thus, the subconscious thinking processes of white people may actually be transforming black people into threats where none actually exist.

Other research complements this disturbing finding: researchers at the University of Chicago and elsewhere have reported that white police officers (and others) are influenced by racial bias in their decision-making processes regarding when and if to shoot (unarmed) black people. The research on implicit bias and racial attitudes indicates that white racial animus and subconscious racism influences how police interact with black people—often with deadly results.

10. As Assistant Professor Vesla Weaver of Yale University deftly argued in an excellent piece for the Boston Review, black and brown Americans who live in low income and working class communities are denied the full rights of citizenship by an expansive, punitive, and intrusive state bureaucracy and legal system. Consequently, police are much more likely to come in contact with innocent black people than they are whites who are involved in criminal behavior.

As a result, white criminals are more likely to be ignored by police; innocent black people are harassed and often arrested by the police.

Blackness is judged by the White Gaze as de facto criminality. Whiteness is judged by the White Gaze as innocent and harmless. 

This racist logic creates a type of path dependency that justifies the disproportionate incarceration, harassment, and killing of black people by the police. In a perverse twist, the over-policing of innocent black people also offers protection for the white criminals who prey on the white community.

The police reportedly have a saying that, “I'd rather be judged by 12, than carried by 6”. The governing logic is simple: if in doubt, shoot and kill someone because you would rather be alive and put on trial, than be dead and in the ground. That logic is increasingly applied in an unrestrained manner by police who see the black body as a primordial and imminent threat, and consequently do not hesitate to use lethal, and very often, unjustified force against it.

The police channeled this racism to kill Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The killing of unarmed black people by American police is a human rights issue. It should also be a concern for all people, on all sides of the color line, who care about civil liberties, rights, and freedom. Why? The terrorizing of black and brown communities is a preview of what a militarized and fully unleashed police department, enlisted in the service of the surveillance society and a culture of cruelty, can (and will) do to white Americans in the future.


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I don't think it will turn on white Americans en masse. This is something in particular to black people and other people of color living in a white supremacist state.

joe manning said...

If nazism is any indication things will escalate to a war on anybody and everybody.

joe manning said...

White supremacy produces a climate of sadism, brutality, and demoralization throughout society. The sacrificial caste are scapegoats for the in-group and getting poorer whites to vent their aggression. Specific acts of murder and violence by police symbolically and vicariously reassure the in-group and demonstrate to marginals that they could have it a lot worse. The police state puts everyone on notice that "we're the badest, most lethal gang in town because we act with impunity and immunity." Its a system of social control that ossifies and magnifies class divisions by institutionalizing ideocracy.

BobbyV said...

Did the media's obsessive focus on the looting that followed the shooting of Michael Brown undermine the people's fight for justice in Furguson MO? Did the image of young black men clutching bottles of looted whiskey strengthen the negative stereotypes tentatively held by the white majority?

"Obsessive coverage of urban crime by local television stations is one of the engines driving lingering racism in the United States."
Jerry Kang, UCLA law professor in Harvard Law Review, Spring 2005

chauncey devega said...

I saw that. Very powerful regarding media framing and bias.

chauncey devega said...

There is lots of great work on media bias. One of the repeated findings is how black people are extremely over-represented on the news as criminals while people who commit crimes are grossly under-represented relative to the real percentages. Given that the masses are asses this creates a misperception of reality.

Wild Cat said...

Check this out (via Louis Proyect):

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

Chauncey has just nailed this argument. There were reports from KMOV, based on police source(s), that police faced gunfire, including firing at a police helicopter. That is single source reporting that may or may not be accurate and reliable.

But, the overall heavy military presence regarding the NAACP meeting and peaceful protests is not accidental. It is a mindset that has most likely been absorbed from the military.

The first time I deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo at SFOR headquarters was 1996 as a military analyst. Due to my job and hours, I was basically confined to the base, though I got out a little for duties. The war had been over one year. I returned for a nearly two-year deployment in 1998 as a civilian analyst.

As a civilian analyst, I was given free roam to move about the country. The Multi-National Division North (MND-N) was the American zone. Every morning they would report their situation via secure radio with the greeting, "Good morning from Danger Forward." Now, that is not to say that there were zero dangers in the northern zone, but the city of Tusla where MND-N was headquartered was a Muslim-dominated city, with some Croats and Serbs, and had been the focal point of Bosnian Serb attacks during the war. It was the city where the victims of Srbrenica fled after the massacre. The Muslims in the city, in other words, were extraordinarily friendly with Americans and grateful for having finally ended the war with an air bombardment of the Bosnian Serb military, as well ground attacks from Croat and Muslim forces. There was no "danger zone" in Tusla. To be sure, whenever the Bosnian Serbs wanted to make a ruckus in Brcko over the return of Bosnian Muslims there was danger.

The first time I went up to Tuzla I had no idea what to expect. I had a reservation in a local hotel where I stayed for a couple of nights. On the drive up (me in SUV), I kept seeing American Humvees with mounted M-60 machine guns and soldiers in full battle rattle. That was outside the city in the rolling countryside of farms and rural villages. They drove that way in Tuzla. American soldiers were not allowed to go into Tuzla. They remained walled-off not only from the local residents, but from reality. They had an exaggerated sense of threat and danger that had no basis in reality.

A visit to Banja Luka, the headquarters of the British-led Multi-National Division West was completely different. British troops patrolled in softcap berry's with no mounted machine guns. They interacted with local Bosnian Serbs. To be sure, there were tense and dangerous times. But even then, British troops did not get into full battle rattle but showed they were fearless and in control of the situation. The same was true of the French-led division headquartered in Mostar, a bitterly divided city between Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosnians. When the French division's forces faced extremely hostile Croats who threatened violence, the French were adequately prepared almost all of the time.

The militarization of the police--with their tanks or armored personnel carriers and mine-sweeping vehicles, kevlar vests and kevlar helmets, and assault training--has infected American police forces with a battlefield mentality derived from the U.S. military. They have an exaggerated sense of threat and danger.

Mind you, my direct, first-hand experience with the U.S. Army on deployment was in 1998--three years before 9/11 and before Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a mentality that was not only fatal to Afghans and Iraqis (see Blackwater for example), but is also fatal to Americans--black, brown and white. These militarized police forces are a standing army.

To serve and protect who?

chauncey devega said...

Since you had experience. Who decides the tactical and force orientation for a "mission" such as the one being conducted in Ferguson? It seems to be contrary, based on my semi-layperson's knowledge and passing grognard interest--in how riot control is supposed to be conducted. Seems very old school and amateurish; kids with big toys who don't know how to use them.

chauncey devega said...

With increased resource scarcity and the neoliberal order, I have to disagree. The former white middle class, now poor and working classes will be rolled up by this machine. Then they will cry in shock, aghast at what is happening. Again, the masses are asses.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

If you do not think race has anything to do with the police killing young, unarmed black men, consider this. A white "sovereign citizen" in Dallas opens fire on firefighters called out to a fire in a dumpster in a fancy neighborhood. Obviously, an ambush. No firefighters are hit. Man continues to fire at Dallas SWAT and police officers. White man plants explosive devices. Eventually, a police negotiator talks the man out. No police hurt. White man with a gun not hurt. Ferguson, Missouri: black kid killed while hands in the air with no gun, shot several times by police. See

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I have no expertise on police operations in general or SWAT operations in particular.

kokanee said...

We all have implicit bias which is formed by the time we are six and stays with us for life. Source. Usually, our explicit bias goes away by adulthood. Our implicit biases are learned at an early age. Source. My daughter had a horrifying preference for white faces even though we're a mixed family and there were many black and brown skinned people in her life from the very beginning. Still, she has many friends of all different ethnicities but that implicit bias never goes away.

When I was in kindergarten, I went up to a blonde kid with curly hair and said matter of factly, "You're ugly." I recall not liking the curly hair. He rightly retorted, "No I'm not. You're ugly." I was dumbfounded. It was a significant teaching moment for myself and I was better for it ever since.

When the Department of Homeland Security gives local police forces military equipment, what's the police going to do with the equipment but use it?

Microaggression: Haven't seen that word in a while. Important topic!

So what's the solution? The US is a speeding train wreck. So there's racism coming from the bottom up and there's racism coming from the top down. We're losing ground on racism and sexism. We're losing ground on human rights, democracy, free speech, free media and even free thought (cognitive liberty). What to do?

Mary Burrell said...

Another young black man in L.A. was gunned down while laying on the ground. 25 year old Ezell Ford. is dead shot in the back by the cops.

Miles_Ellison said...

In the United States, liberty and freedom are defined as the right to terrorize and kill non white people with government sanction and no accountability. It is the poisoned bedrock on which this republic is built.

skilletblonde said...

I'm not surprised at all. As a matter of fact, some join the force ,specifically, to act out their racism.

chauncey devega said...

Got you. That is why you have credibility--you are willing to say "I don't know". Can't wait for our convo on the podcast.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I watched videos yesterday and last night from Ferguson, as well as looking at Antonio French's tweets. Here is some preliminary analysis on last night.

First, every deployment--whether it be military or police--is based on an intelligence assessment of the threat. Based on that, it is possible to reverse-engineer the police/SWAT deployment in Ferguson, MO.

Their position throughout the day and into evening was unchanged. Police in full battle rattle--assault rifles, tear gas masks, bullet proof vests, kevlar helmets like those worn by Special Ops operators--was apparently based on an intelligence assessment that they faced no threat of violence. Lined up in front of their vehicles, weapons slung down, indicated a relaxed posture. Had they faced a threat that was posed by the militia at Bundy's ranch, they would have been behind their vehicles and their machine gun on top of the vehicle less exposed. It is unclear whether or not they had snipers on the rooftop. No one in the media apparently trained their cameras upward. But, certainly the police had no fear of snipers or counter-snipers aimed at them.

Thus, the deployment strongly suggests that the police perceived no threat from Ferguson's residences who had gathered to protest during the day and into the night.

What was the purpose of the deployment and its tactical formation? In my professional judgment, it was a "show of force" and meant to "intimidate." Others may disagree, but if a military/police force faces no violent threat from firearms or Molotov cocktails, then the police's display of weaponry is meant to intimidate. Having stood out in the sun all day, they were probably itching for a chance to inflict pain on Ferguson's residents.

What happened at night, in my view, was a police riot. The police caused the disturbances by lobbing stun grenades, smoke, and tear gas. The smoke grenades caused initial panic while the stun grenades produce disorientation, deafness, and panic since the explosion could be a bomb or a grenade.

This is an occupation army, not a domestic police force. I've seen that in Bosnia-Herzegovina with military forces.

Last night, also, the police demonstrated a mindset that they were relying upon intimidation and brute force when they arrested two journalists, one white and one black, from the Huffington Post and the Washington Post, respectively. As the white reporter told MSNBC's The Last Word, if the SWAT in broad daylight were willing to assault him in a McDonald's with the media watching, what were they doing to Ferguson's black residents when the cameras were not rolling. He acknowledged that his white privilege helped uncover the underlying racism of the local police.

That the police do not care if they assault and falsely imprison journalists is more proof of their mindset of intimidation.

Before anyone else is murdered by the police, the Governor of Missouri, a Democrat, must get the police out of their riot gear and have a less intimidating presence on the street. The police are on the verge of going completely out of control. Hopefully, cooler and saner heads will prevail.

Buddy H said...

From The Onion:

FORT WAYNE, IN—Explaining that his sole concern is serving and protecting his community, Fort Wayne police officer Vincent Turner told reporters Wednesday that he does not see any difference between black and light-skinned black suspects. “As an officer of the law, I am committed to administering justice swiftly and even-handedly, regardless of whether the suspect has dark skin or really dark skin,” said Turner, adding that he has no problem giving a full pat-down to any potential criminal or hauling them down to precinct headquarters in the back of his patrol car, even if they are more of a light mocha color. “When you’re responding to reports of gunshots fired, or sprinting down an alleyway, you’re not thinking about where the suspect falls on the spectrum of African-American skin tones—you’re thinking about doing your job. Heck, the guy could be a very dark-looking Latino, for all I care—I treat every one of them the same. He’s still just a suspect to me.” Turner added that his dedication to upholding the law stems from a belief that all local residents should be able to walk their streets without fear, whether they come from an affluent white neighborhood or a working-class white neighborhood

Lkeke said...

On this, you and I are in full, wholehearted agreement.

I've long been an advocate of the belief that ALL of the worse things happening in Black neighborhoods will soon be visiting a working /middle class suburb nearby. Drugs, crime and now this.

In my mind, what's happening in Ferguson is just opening salvo for the Police State that EVERYBODY will be living in in 10 or 20 years.

Give it a few more years. This is how the police will be handling everyone regardless of color.

Buddy H said...

Have you seen "Little Big Man" the 1970 Dustin Hoffman film? It tells the story of a white male child raised by the Cheyenne nation during the 19th century. The united states cavalry are depicted as villains. General Custer is portrayed as an ignorant, egotistical fop. I remember sitting in the movie theatre being blown away by this film, because it turned all the racist "cowboy movie" conventions upside down. There are scenes that would bring you to tears. Chief Dan George was nominated for a supporting actor oscar.

I have said before that racist "cowboys & indians" movies did a lot to contribute to the attitudes of cops and the white right. They see themselves as noble settlers surrounded by violent savages. Not a coincidence the title "Fort Apache The Bronx"

Anyway, I recommend "Little Big Man" to anyone who wants to see The Big Lie exposed. It is a powerful film, way ahead of its time.

balitwilight said...

We don't even have to go as far afield as New York's apartheid stop-and-frisk laws. Right there in Missouri where Michael Brown was murdered, the state's attorney general published statewide traffic stop statistics. According to Missouri's own statistics, "blacks" were 66 percent more likely to be stopped (a number increasing for the 11th time in the 14 years of data collection). Also according to Missouri Attorney General, so-called "blacks" and "hispanics" are almost TWICE as likely to be searched than "whites" - although police found contraband MORE OFTEN when searching "white" drivers(!) (This was a similar result to New York stop-and-frisk).

Remember these statistics when some crypto-nazi racist moron justifies these continuing murders by claiming that "blacks" are the ones committing more crimes. Also, next time you watch any American movie set (unquestioningly) in a prison filled with "authentic black bodies" in the background, remember these statistics and remind others that American-Apartheid-sorting is how the prison gets it's skin tones - and not that prison is just the natural habitat of "black" people.

balitwilight said...

August 3rd: Steve Lohner, 18, stopped by the police for walking with a loaded shotgun on the streets of Aurora, Colorado (where in 2012 James Holmes killed 12 and wounded 70 in a mass shooting). Lohner claims he is doing it to make public "more comfortable” around guns.

Lohner was stopped by police responding to 911 calls. When asked to provide ID proving his age, Lohner refused and then argues with the officers, refusing to show them ID or hand over the shotgun. Steve Lohner walks away on a misdemeanour, home to his family, without any bullet holes in him, his neck unbroken by choke holds, and without a felony record. Steve Lohner is "white". (That was the important part).

joe manning said...

Its a dress rehearsal for what they have planned for the rest of us.

joe manning said...

Execution isn't enough, they feel compelled to mutilate and dismember to exhibit in-group hatred.

joe manning said...

The two best Westerns are Little Big Man and Blazing Saddles. Richard Mulligan's portrayal of General Custer is uncannily accurate in my opinion. Soldier Blue is spot on too.

Mary Burrell said...

We are becoming a police state the horror taking place in Ferguson Missouri and the murder of Eric Garner is like something in Nazi Germany.

Powkat said...

Thank you.

SteveBiko said...

I'll watch that movie, thanks for recommending it.

kokanee said...

Mission complete. Great movie! It reminded me of the Nazi's Lebensraum (living space) which was no different than America's Manefest Destiny. Just like South African Apartheid was modeled after Jim and Jane Crow and segregation in the US.