Saturday, December 6, 2014

Weekend Semi-Open Thread: They Serve and Speak for Power. Parsing Obama's and de Blasio's Statements About the Killing of Eric Garner

As is our routine and habit, do consider this our semi-open weekend thread.

First, I would like to thank the kind folks who donated to our annual fundraising drive. I am still writing my "thank you" emails. I very much appreciate the generosity and positive energy that the donors to WARN have shown me.

There are two more weeks remaining in the fundraising drive. I am about 60 percent to the goal which I have set for 2014. If you can, are willing, and are able, please do throw some monies into the virtual donation bucket if you find my work here of value.

As an update, my podcast conversation with journalist Nick Chiles--who is a guest on C-SPAN 2 this weekend--about his book Justice While Black will be up on Tuesday. I did not post it last Thursday because of the Eric Garner decision.

On Thursday, two days after I share the great conversation I had with Mr. Chiles, my talk with professional skeptic, Jason Colavito, about ancient, aliens, white supremacists, and Afrocentric dreamers will be posted as well. Two great shows in one week.

Recording and editing the podcast series is very time consuming. Two shows in one week requires between 8 to 10 hours of labor. Your support during the fundraiser provides some support for that work.

Yesterday, I was taking my daily constitutional in downtown Chicago. I noticed large numbers of regular and plain clothes police officers at strategic locations around the city. They were equipped with the "long beating people upside the head" riot control sticks. I then remembered that there were marches scheduled in response to the murders by cop of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

As I walked along State Street several hours later I mingled with the protesters and participated in their march in a style akin to that of Robert Freeman's work as a civil rights era freedom rider in the Boondocks cartoon series. I felt so young and invigorated.

[Have any of you participated in the marches or sit-ins related to the Eric Garner and Michael Brown tragedies? If so, what were your experiences like? Should the protesters be leery of marching with their faces uncovered because it is a near certainty that the folks who publicly rally against police brutality will end up in local, national, and state "anti-terrorism" databases?]

When the decision was made by a Staten Island grand jury to not indict the cop who murdered Eric Garner in plain sight (and was subsequently vindicated by white racial paranoiac thinking), President Obama and New York Mayor de Blasio issued public statements about that miscarriage of justice--and the broader national "crisis" wherein the police kill at least one black person every 28 hours in the United States.

Obama's and de Blasio's usual detractors complained. Their supporters were pleased. The Right-wing sewers overflowed with political feces. On cue, the Right-wing yellow journalism "newspaper" The New York Post, threw a public fit that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio would dare to mention that his son is black in the context of a public statement about police brutality.

The racial optics of two national leaders discussing the killing of Eric Garner are important--but not in the way that the racial histrionics of The New York Post would suggest.

The comments by Obama and de Blasio about police violence against black and brown people were from two men who have a familial, love, and personal investment in stopping anti-black racial violence by cop in the United States. For them, black people or "African-Americans", are not just a constituency group, nebulous Other, thing to be fascinated by but also loathed, cultural object to be consumed, or an imagined people with which they have no direct, personal interactions.

Obama can look at his wife and children and see blackness as human and familiar. He can also look in the mirror and see a black person staring back at him.

Bill de Blasio is a white man. His wife is a black woman. Deblasio's children are black Americans. De blasio and his wife Chirlane are to be applauded: rather than succumb to the post racial foolishness that are the efforts to create a class of "elevated" blacks, "mulattoes", and colonial administrator middle men, so identified because one of their parents is "white", Bill de Blasio and Chirlane have raised their children to be unapologetically "black".

Obama's and de Blasio's intimacy with blackness poses two challenges/possibilities.

One, can they channel their understanding that yes, "black lives matter", into the force of will necessary to combat police brutality?

Two, does their personal proximity and intimacy both to and with black people make them hypocrites because Mayor de Blasio and President Obama are executives in a system that routinely discriminates, punished, kills, imprisons, harasses, and limits the life chances of black Americans?

This hints at the over-arching problem with looking to Obama, as President of the United States, and de  Blasio, as Mayor of New York, for "progressive" or "radical" action on the police policies that led to the killing of Eric Garner (and so many other black men in the United States).

Obama and de Blasio are representatives of power and the powerful. By definition and obligation, they care more about stability and serving elite interests than in responding to the demands for justice being voiced by those who are disgusted by the killings of Garner and Brown. As the United States' first black president, this is especially true for Obama, as on matters of race, justice, and civil liberties, he is maneuvering in a very tight space.

Obama's statements on the Eric Garner and Michael Brown murders are clear reflections of his relationship to institutional power. After the Ferguson decision, Obama told people to not use violence, to obey the rule of law, and to trust the system. In response to the Garner decision, Obama said the following:
"And I say that as somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job; that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us; that they have the right to come home, just like we do from our jobs; that there’s real crime out there that they’ve got to tackle day in and day out -- but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system
"And right now, unfortunately, we are seeing too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. And in some cases, those may be misperceptions; but in some cases, that’s a reality. And it is incumbent upon all of us, as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem, and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem.
These comments are products of the same political imagination that produced his troubling 2008 "A More Perfect Union" speech on race relations in the United States, a speech where he pandered to white racial resentment and grievance mongering by reducing black justice claims to being somehow on the same moral plain as white hostility towards them.

As a representative of Power, Obama cannot tell the truth: the police must earn the respect of the communities they patrol; police violence and brutality are inexcusable under any circumstance and should not be framed as some gap in communications and understanding between the cops and "urban" residents.

Obama, like so many other politicians, opinion leaders, journalists, and other "respected" voices, leads with the default statement of permission for bad behavior by the police instead of empathy for their victims, that "law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job".

Obama can and will not ask the essential question, "why trust a system that has shown no respect for you?"

Likewise, while summoning his love for his son as a way of showing concern about the Eric Garner decision, in the service of Power as Mayor of New York, de Blasio told a lie about a basic fact:
And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there's a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there's a fear. And for so many of our families, there's a fear. 
So I've had to worry over the years. Chirlane's had to worry. Is Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities—crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods—but is safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors.
Police in the United States have their origins in the slave patrols and paramilitary anti-black forces of the American South. The police also protect the interests of the propertied classes. They continue to function as the front line of American Apartheid and the racial state in the post civil rights era. The American legal system is the New Jim Crow. Contrary to de Blasio's unqualified assumptions, the police do not exist to protect black and brown people. Nor, do they serve as the protectors of black and brown communities. The police exist to "police" communities of color; they do not serve and protect them. The subtle distinction is very important: white supremacy works through the carceral society.

Obama and de Blasio made very basic and conservative statements about police brutality and violence against people of color. They are operating from a concern about social stability, and how events such as Ferguson are international embarrassments that undermine American credibility on issues related to human rights and democracy.

The New York Post and other Right-wing elements in the United States are aroused to anger by Obama's and de Blasio's basic statements about police violence because of their moral deficits and anti-black sentiments. In all, white supremacy as a habit and lifestyle is aroused by the mere thought that black and brown people will be treated as full citizens and do their human full human rights without qualification or exception.

The possessive investment in Whiteness does not allow such empathy, nor does it demand a high level of morality or civic virtue from the white folks who are still signatories to the birthright contract that are white privilege and white supremacy.

Ultimately, the American legal system is racist because White America wants it to be.

As is our habit and tradition, do you have any news items or other matters of public or private concern to share? What are your thoughts about police policy in the aftermath of the Eric Garner murder? What would you change?


Justin M. White said...

If you look up police killed in the line of duty by year, something like half of them die from car wrecks or heart attacks or other issues. I saw a post online claiming 18 percent of police killed are from automobile accidents because they weren't wearing seatbelts. I'd think the average per year is that under 60 are killed by actual assaults. I saw another post on police rapists. I wouldn’t be surprised if police rapists alone outweighed cops killed by "felonious actions" over the same span of time. Nevermind other crimes police are regularly convicted of, despite having every escape from the legal system imaginable (aside from extreme personal/corporate wealth).

I've been seeing a lot of young Black people in my social networks becoming increasingly 'radicalized' by police violence (their term). They're not so much radicalized as much as they are bringing discussions about armed self-defense back to the fore, despising the attempted control by religion and nonviolent absolutists on what they rightly see as their movement (Al Sharpton has been getting it from Millennial Activists United), and a growing acceptance of using their online communities to strike back at vehement Internet racists via doxxing.

I think the only sensible solution going forward is to treat the police as what they are: the footsoldiers of the New Jim Crow, and mount a campaign on disassembling their power as much as possible. Cutting funding, appointing special prosecutors against cops in grand jury trials, creating civilian oversight committees, and essentially reigning in police power wherever possible. The goal should be convincing the American public that we just don't need this kind of policing. This ties into ending the war on drugs, ending private prisons (and eventually all prisons), and a host of other issues that activists have been talking about for years. Putting the emphasis on police means stopping the injustice system before it even gets the chance to start, and I think would be one of the most effective ground-up ways to go forward. Of course I'm always eager for correction on these issues if I'm mistaken.

chauncey devega said...

Great comment. We are on taboo subjects. On the police is a dangerous job assumption, firefighters also have relatively safe jobs w. great benefits. Those job sectors are great work for white ethnics and semi-skilled folks--especially if you have the family connections...which is why there were protected so intensely as the property of whiteness. If you want to talk about another off limits subject, see all the cops and firefighters on 9-11 who were summoned to do their jobs and faced no danger who are now retired because of how overtime pay and retirement pensions are computed.

kokanee said...

I'm such at a loss for words these days. I'm so angry, frustrated and disgusted with everything that is going on. I do want to correct something I said earlier something along the lines of racist police officers protected by the justice system. It's so much worse than that. From stop and frisk, broken windows, racial profiling, relentless fines and ticketing of people in black and brown communities, harsher sentences and filling up prisons with people of color —all this comes from the top. Police are trained to view black and brown people as the enemy. And so once the "enemy" has been neutralized, we see such depraved contempt for the already shot or non-breathing human being. It's sickening and deplorable.

One quote:
White Americans have essentially never internalized the Kerner Report.
Assembled by Lyndon Johnson to address what was laughably referred to as
the Negro Problem, the panel very quickly saw that this was a joke.
There is no Negro Problem in the US, but rather a white people problem.
FIFTY years ago (let that sink in), it opined, “Our nation is moving
toward two societies, one black and one white—separate and
unequal…Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of
American life; they now threaten the future of every American.” The
report explained that the race riots were rooted in segregation,
inadequate housing, poor access to quality education, systematic police
violence, and labor market exclusion. For these factors, the report
concluded, “White racism is essentially responsible.” —Whitey To Whitey: It Is White Privilege That Needs To Change

Buddy H said...

Another taboo subject: a few years ago I kept getting phone calls, requesting donations for police and troopers. The aggressive sales pitch was that the money would go to the widows of these fallen heroes. In return, they send you a little sticker you put on your car "I donated to the police benevolent" or whatever. (People think if they have that sticker, cops will think twice before issuing a speeding ticket - maybe it's true).

But the police are in a strong union, stronger than any union I've ever been in. I'm sure the widows are very well compensated, without my help.

joe manning said...

The Populist Progressive 1900's movement extruded POC, and the "new ethnicity" of the 70's was a countervailing reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. Likewise, the white ethnic municipal unions are microcosms of the ongoing macrocosm of stratification based on nepotism, dynasty-ism, and the heredity principal.

chauncey devega said...

Historical amnesia that is willful. As I have been fond of saying as of late, the cause of these problems is not an "unknown unknown". The answers are readily available. But, the con game involves some type of revelation that white racism and white supremacy are real as individual moments and acts, then doing the Total Recall memory implant/erasure/dream (depending on one's take on the movie), then going through the cycle again.

total bs. but it works to maintain white dominance.

chauncey devega said...

Extremely well compensated. Again, being a cop or firefighter was/is one of the ways for white ethnics to become middle and upper class. Graft is part of it.

chauncey devega said...

Great and well put. And again, a clear and well founded thesis that you won't here from the MSM. Matthew Frye Jacobson is another essential voice that should be on the TV and radio all the time but does not get that shine.

Gable1111 said...

"I can't breath" is a perfect metaphorical response to a system that has become corrupt, racist and broken. Its choking the life and aspirations out of all of us. Institutional racism in the forms of an unequal and hostile "justice system," an economic system that as a feature has an unemployment rate for POC that is more than twice that of whites, educational and health care systems that exist as profit centers. Actual education or health care are nothing more than side effects that are not guaranteed.

As for the powers that benefit the most from white supremacy, the end game is really to pit us all against each other in order to free up the wealthy so they can turn this country into an oligarchical mess. The biggest fools in all of this is not black people, but those whites who actually believe blacks are the enemy here.

Thus the police are the foot soldiers; the tip of the spear so to speak to protect this process and make it happen. As technology progresses and less people are needed to make and do things, then what? All this "training" in the form of live experience in combat and control, rather than "protect and serve" will prepare them for what they will need to do to protect the few against the masses.

kokanee said...

...the end game is really to pit us all against each other in order to free
up the wealthy so they can turn this country into an oligarchical mess.
That's already happened. Republicans (more overt authoritarians) vs. Democrats (non-overt authoritarians of all stripes). And we are an oligarchy/plutocracy already. From Piketty's book to the Gilens/Page Princeton/Northwestern study on democracy, the research says that it's true. Case in point: the middle class pay a higher rate income tax than the super rich.

The police protect and serve the interests of the oligarchs/plutocrats. Is it any wonder the US is one of the most heavily policed countries in the world?

Gina said...

Hi Kerry - The insanity is definitely on the white-supremacy-side:

The prevailing culture & ideology is of European origin, but certainly not of the French, Italian or Slavic one. ... There's a lot of primness, severity & disciplining which definitely is the cause of insanity, & these people stubbornly (compulsively?) won't see it.
Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile egg-shell mind
(Jim Morrison, "Peace Frog", in Morrison
Of people like Jim is often spoken as 'larger than life', but they ARE life. The establishment is so scared of vitality that they do everything to wipe it out wherever there is glimpse of it.

They can't stand it.

Gina said...

Great quote! White people don't dig it that they are targeted as well. This christian-white-supremacy stuff is so deeply rooted & they're blinded by it. In addition to this there is an unnatural attitude towards life. I'm speaking from inside.

Jon said...

For some exciting news from the North, see Spend some time with it. Real citizen challenge to the status quo!

joe manning said...

Most of what purports to be left/liberal media is fake activism with a stake in preserving the status quo. Thankfully your voice and Jacobson's get down to the real nitty gritty.

Buddy H said...

And of course this is all a big joke to some people; a bar in Missouri is offering a "Michael Brown Drink Special" six shots for ten dollars:

SW said...

As evidenced by Ferguson, the system's main concern is not justice or human rights, but the protection of property.

kokanee said...

Hey SW!

Where ya been?

Re: "As evidenced by Ferguson, the system's main concern is not justice or human rights, but the protection of property."

That's so true and, ultimately, the whole protection of the status quo is to protect the elites' property and everything that comes from it. (power, status, etc.)

kokanee said...


One of the yelp comments:
Just wanted a cool beer or two with some co-workers while we were in
town, but once we got in we could tell this place did not care for
minorities in their bar (one of us is half black and another is Latino).
We played some pool while old country music blared on the jukebox,
but then some guy supposedly named Rodney kept making racist jokes until
we finally left and then Rodney said something like "hope to see you
come back a little later tonight". I have no idea what he had in mind
for us later at night, but I don't think I'll be back at this hickster's

SW said...

I'm here, just general holiday and end of year busy-ness. I have been reading, and digesting...a lot of good stuff on here as usual.