Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Breaking the Halo of Distrust and Alienation? What are Your Thoughts on F.B.I. Director James Comey's Speech on Race and the Police?

Have you read the vaunted and much discussed speech by F.B.I. Director James Comey about race and the police?

If you have not, please do so. I believe that it will be of value to those folks who frequent WARN.

I am working on a new essay about Comey's speech. As I finish it up, your thoughts and insights would be much appreciated.

Comey has received much praise for his "brave" effort to tell the "truth" about America's police and their relationship with communities of color. I suggest that those folks who are praising Comey have not actually read the text of his speech. In much the same way as Obama's legendary 2008 speech on race received undo praise, Comey's supposed insights about police, race, and the colorline do not hold up to rigorous--or even passing--scrutiny.

The criminal justice system is one of the primary ways through which the United States as a herrenvolk white supremacist society maintains a racially hierarchical system, what is an order dedicated to the social dominance of Whiteness and those people arbitrarily categorized as "white".

The suggestion that Comey, who leads one of one of the main organs of White Power in the United States, would speak truth to power about race and police is absurd. Unless Comey can split himself in two and conduct a schizo affected conversation, no such moment of public truth-telling about race and policing can or will ever occur.

The American criminal justice system has created a type of second class custodial citizenship for poor and working class black and brown Americans. Comey can and will not substantively effect the changes necessary to empower said community.

Comey will also not make any substantive interventions to disrupt the halo of distrust and alienation that exists between the police and how they have made black and brown communities into battle zones and occupied territories. Again, such a move would be outside of the cultural history, policies, and day-to-day practices of police as a social institution that saw its birth in the slave patrols of the antebellum South.

Am I being too cynical? And what could Comey actually do as a matter of public policy that would improve how police treat black and brown communities in the long term?


grumpyrumblings said...

The clips on NPR sounded pretty good... but I think the main thing is that he was actually admitting there is a problem. I don't know that's brave (for a white guy), but it's a necessary first step. And when white guys point out race and gender problems, people actually listen (and when the messenger is a white guy, they don't tend to send rape threats or flaming crosses to his house).

The rest of law enforcement seems to be continually saying that if there's any problem it's not a problem with them, it's a problem with their victims. That's obviously not true, and there needs to be systemic change for the system to have any chance of stopping police brutality and murders. I don't know enough about how police systems are organized and the federal/state/local oversight to know what kind of leadership would be needed to make real change.

I don't think that calls from the FBI pointing out what should be obvious hurt. But yes, more needs to be done to actually make change. What can the FBI do besides point out that there's a problem, I don't know.

Justin M. White said...

Listening closely to what Comey says, he's essentially saying that high powered weapons are counter-productive for the level of social control that policing in minority communities wants to maintain. Image costs, rather than the human cost, of ricochet bullets seem his primary concern. He states that minority communities that are policed are economically impoverished: he says nothing about who contributes to that. The FBI's role in policing the police means he can undermine local police authority to an extent without threatening his department's security, and make a few anti-PIC statements. But there's an entire other industry of domestic espionage that the FBI undertakes that wouldn't need the prison system to make profits or control people. So I would assume this entire discussion has to be about the FBI's image and its own legitimacy (as wrangling the police), while at the same time tightening its own surveillance and policing powers. I don't think it's too much to suspect that the FBI could easily fill in any power void it causes by undermining local police.

kokanee said...

Given the FBI's history as America's secret police, we can hardly consider Comey's speech as sincere and unbiased. The FBI single-handedly destroyed the Black Panther Party by assassinating its leaders, imprisoning its members for crimes they didn't commit and so on.

Comey makes a false equivalence between the number of people killed by the police and the number of police killed in the line of duty. Our police forces are now killing someone every 8 hours.


chauncey devega said...

He went hard on the obligatory cops as heroes and false equivalency between the 2 police killed in New York and the wanton and systemic pattern of police abuse of black and brown people. I am not a criminologist or expert in the sociology of crime and law enforcement. I would love to see some work on police abuse of poor white people so we can get an insight into the class angle.

chauncey devega said...

That wasn't Comey in the speech.

Gable1111 said...

The speech was what one could expect coming from someone like that, in that position. Notice that those who usually feel the world is coming to an end when even the weakest voices start speaking truth to power on racism barely flinched in response to Comey's speech. He didn't turn over any stones to expose any root causes or actors. For people like that, the reasons and causes of the conditions of POC are always to be avoided. The best of them say a lot while really saying nothing. In that respect, Comey didn't disappoint.

Travis Bickle said...

My addition to this conversation will be small, but I think it is something that needs to be said. I am in nearly total agreement with what you say about systemic police abuse of our country's population segment that is seen at the "other" because of skin tone. Police historically arose in big cities as a way of protecting the rich from the poor people they systematically exploited. Today is no different. Police are, in the final analysis, muscle for the 1%. Functionally they are a violent gang, much like any other with turf, hierarchies, rituals, initiation and such. The difference is that the state has chosen to legitimize their violence. Seeing as they work for the REAL owners of this country, the corporations and propertied class, their enemy is poor people in general. People of color are dually stigmatized by virtue of melanin, but it is their poverty (I know, not all POC are poor) that scares the ownership class witless. It is my thesis that people of color, should they instantly be transported en masse to a comfortable financial standard of living, they would still be shit upon, but would be much less angry and therefor much less dangerous.

To my eyes, in addition to being a race thing, violent policing is a class thing. Most valuable lesson of my life came from my brilliant, 8th grade dropout grandfather. I was a child when he told me "Always remember this, never EVER trust rich people." I think what he realized without having the words is that they are fundamentally sociopathic.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I remember when I bought a house in England. It was a brand new development and we lived about five minutes walk from a brand new and the biggest Tesco in Europe. One of the first things that happened was that the Peterborough police set up a little shack in the development and assigned one officer to patrol. One night he came by the house and introduced himself. We introduced ourselves. He explained that he was going to every single home in the development to get to know everyone. It was his way of figuring out, he said, if a block had a lot of small children, that speeding cars would be a normal and regular complaint; or, a block had lots of children, therefore music and loudness might the the complaint. He just wanted to have a feel for each block and what might be a concern. And, we got to know him as an officer and a person. And when I met bobbies at the gym working out, they were friendly and approachable. I saw last night the "coffee with a cop" program. Police officers have to get out of their cars, when possible, and walk a beat. Get to know folks. Let folks know them. And don't look like a GI Joe ready for combat.

But, in America, there is much to change in the system. Comey did not talk about holding police accountable. He did not address the militarization of police and the changing mindset to "operators" and "forward bases." And, we cannot forget the sistas. It's not just about the brothers.

And, it is also about the failure not only of racist policies (housing and job discrimination), but the failure of neo-liberal policies.

The new scholarship indicates that without slavery, there would have been no global capitalism. Capitalism at its root incorporates labor as the slave. We are all expendable under the capitalist model. Like the alien in Independence Day, the ruling oligarchy really only want us to die for them.

chauncey devega said...

What was your time like there? Do some more sharing if you would.

chauncey devega said...

Race is how class is lived in America. How then to get more poor and working class white folks to wake up to that essential fact?

chauncey devega said...

Happens to us all. I have been mispronouncing several words for years now...with no intention of changing.

kokanee said...

Excellent addition!

1) Studies have shown that the richer one gets the more entitled one feels towards their wealth.

2) For you:

kokanee said...

We know that black and brown communities are over-policed.

We know that drug use is around the same proportion through the different communities —even more so by white according to this Huf-Po article:
When It Comes To Illegal Drug Use, White America Does The Crime, Black America Gets The Time

We know that black and brown people are grossly overrepresented in prison. In prison one becomes a slave working for pennies an hour for various corporations.

Ex-cons are treated as third class citizens: not eligible for food stamps, can't get a government (federal?) job, can't vote, etc.

We know that, in general, the bigger the city the more police there are per capita. See for 2010 data with a link to 2012 data:
Law Enforcement Officers Per Capita for Cities, Local Department

Also, I follow these guys, PROP (Police Reform Organizing Project). Here is their report on broken windows:

Re: "I would love to see some work on police abuse of poor white people so we can get an insight into the class angle."

As would I. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's not so much class as the deliberate targeting of people of color. Rule number one: target a marginalized group to strip them of their civil liberties. Rule number two: target another group...

skilletblonde said...

If the FBI wants to have a discussion on race, it can start by opening its archives on the crimes it has perpetuated against African Americans. The FBI with the full knowledge that the Ku Klux Klan, is a certified terrorist, murdering gang, felt no need to decimated it. They instead, made the Black Panthers who were in their own neighborhoods, protecting their neighbors from the police and skinheads, were made targets for extermination. So where the ordinary civil rights activists. The FBI relied on intelligence from the Klan to know the whereabouts of black activists. And they were every bit of a terrorist as the Klan. No one believes James Earl Ray is fully responsible for Martin Luther King's death.

Recently, to make themselves look good, they are questioning those still alive about the Moore's Ford Lynching in 1946. Here two black couples were lynched in Monroe, Georgia. Their bodies were so riddled with bullets- that their loved ones had trouble identifying them. George Dorsey, one of the victims was a World War II Veteran. Now think about that? Dorothy Malcolm one of the females was pregnant. The baby was cut from her body. Now think about that Right To Lifers!? Her husband, Roger, was mutilated. We all know what that means.

I believe wholeheartedly that the system of white supremacy that kept African American opressed, terroized and sequestered throughout these United States... that its federal, state, city and law enforcement entities- were always part of perpetuating and maintaining- that oppression. They know where the dead bodies are- because they help put them there. I expect nothing from Comey or any of them.

SW said...

My question is do they even want to? Whiteness is the epitome of something for nothing. You can have status, even if you are poor.

I had similar thoughts in the aftermath of the Craig Hicks' slaying of three students in North Carolina. His whiteness conferred upon him unearned status as neighborhood policeman. In his mind he was the authority who got to decide where people parked and what was acceptably "loud" behavior. In his mind, he could be these things while being poor. I'm basing his financial condition on the fact that lived in about an $800 per month apartment, was a paralegal student with no income, and has held past jobs as a grocery store bagger and auto parts salesman. Absolutely nothing wrong with any of this. It only serves to show that Whiteness works to give one unearned status despite one's class.

Speaking of class, and inevitably wealth, I ran across this article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about how wealth is extracted from the families of prisoners in America. In short the Taylor family, that owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car also founded a holding company called Centric Group, that owns an operating company the Keefe Group (all owned and operated in St. Louis), that provides services and goods to prisoners in over 800 public and private prisons across the United States. The Keefe Group extracts over $1 billion annually from prisoners and their families in exchange for over-priced phone services, financial services, food services, etc. All of this companies income comes by way of prisoners and families with no subsidy from the public. That is to say, the burden of maintaining our prisoner population is on the black and brown families whose family members are wildly disproportionately impacted by sentencing laws.


This thriving prison industry based in St. Louis, home of Michael Brown and Kajime Powell, is also home to a fairly sizable Mardi Gras celebration every year. While New Orleans Mardi Gras has deep cultural ties, it is obvious that St. Louis's version has none. As CD has said, Whiteness is thoroughly unmoored from its history. This is the story of St. Louis. A city who's sons and daughters include the likes of Maya Angelou, Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, Chuck Berry, and Donny Hathaway amongst many, many others, yet a city that has rejected absolutely all of this culture in favor of a vapid "Mardi Gras" experience based on absolutely nothing at all.

At the end of the day, status is given to those that traffic in whiteness without having to do a thing. They get something for nothing. However, Whiteness is fools gold. It enabled Craig Stephen Hicks to murder. It enables the masses of St. Louis to reject its extremely rich history, in favor of an uninspired faux-Mardi Gras party devoid of any cultural context.

So I've talked myself in a circle and have the same question as Chauncey, when will poor and working class white folks wake up?

SW said...

Not only are prisoners working for pennies on the dollar, their families have the financial burden of caring for these prisoners by buying them phone, financial, and food services amongst other things. I've often thought about the financial benefits to those that control the prison population, and aside from paying working prisoners no money, companies like the Keefe Group (owned by the Taylor family that owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car) make billions from providing over-priced services to prisoners and their families. This is an St. Louis based company. Here's a link to the St. Louis Post Dispatch that talks about this industry...in the Business Section of the paper of course.


SW said...

Just don't ever be as bad as Chris Matthews.

Courtney H. said...

CBS This Morning had a story last week about a **coffee with a cop** program in Charleston, I think. The police chief said they decided to start the program because of mistrust against the police in the Black community. The people in the community seem to like the program.

Courtney H. said...

The fact that Black and Brown families have to pay for the imprisonment of their loved in prisons sounds like the fact that the families of executed prisoners have to pay for the price of the bullet that was used to execute their loved ones. Sick!

kokanee said...

Good stuff, SW. Prisoners are the most marginalized, disenfranchised group of Americans. The US with 5% of the world's population has 25% of the world's prison population. (Source.)

Prisoners, or not, they should be able to vote and be paid at least minimum wage. They should be treated with respect and dignity and be given a clean slate when released from prison. Prison should be mostly about rehabilitation.

Good read:
The Prison State of America

Courtney H. said...

Thanks for providing the links!

Courtney H. said...

Thanks for the links! Here is a good documentary about the Prison Industrial Complex: