Are Black Men Human Beings?

I ask that provocative question because, in the days and weeks following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — as in the days and weeks following George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and the days and weeks following the murders of any number of black men by formally or informally constituted authorities — imperfection seems to be the fundamental reason they were killed. And as we all know, human beings are not perfect.

The New York Times, two days ago:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

There’s more. “As a boy, [he] was a handful. When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it.”

Also, he was accused of stealing an IPod when he was in ninth grade — although his mother *was* able to prove, with a receipt, that the IPod was his.

However, he went to three different high schools before he graduated.

And there’s this:

He did not have a criminal record as an adult, and his family said he never got in trouble with the law as a juvenile, either.

“You may see him on a picture with some friends that may have been in a gang,” Ms. McSpadden said. “He wasn’t in a gang. He just knew how to adapt to his surroundings. Michael was so cool that he could just get along with anybody.”

Mr. Brown showed a rebellious streak. One time, his mother gave him her A.T.M. card so he could buy shoes, said Mr. Brown’s friend Brandon Lewis. Mr. Brown bought himself a PlayStation console. His mother made him give the system to his brother.

And it doesn’t end there. He talked back to his parents. His mother had to enlist the help of “family and friends, including a retired juvenile officer, to help mentor her son.”

But Michael was ungrateful:

Mr. Brown occasionally hinted at frustration with his family. Last August, he posted a message on Facebook that it was wrong “how yo own family dont wanna see you do good.” And just a week before he was shot dead, he commented that some of his friends treated him better than “my own family.”

As you can see, the boy also didn’t know how to use proper grammar and spelling.

He also got into a fight! And people were scared of him:

A contemporary they knew from the neighborhood was upset with Mr. Brown because of something Mr. Brown had said to the young man’s girlfriend. So one day the fellow, who was much smaller than Mr. Brown, took a swing at him. Mr. Brown backed up and pushed him back in the face.

“I don’t think Mike ever threw a real punch,” said Mr. Lewis, 19.

The young man’s father confronted Mr. Brown, Mr. Lewis recalled, asking him why he put his hands on his son. Mr. Brown’s father got involved, Mr. Lewis said, and they settled the dispute and went their separate ways. Mr. Brown rarely got into physical confrontations, Mr. Lewis said, because he was so big that nobody really wanted to test him. Mr. Brown tended to use his size to scare away potential trouble, Mr. Lewis said.

“He’ll swell up like, ‘I’m mad,’ and you’ll back off,” he said.

Oh heck, there are so many reasons Michael Brown was no angel that it’s no wonder police officer Darren Wilson was in such fear for his life that he had no choice but to kill him.

Let’s review:

1. He shoplifted a box of cigars.
2. He walked in the middle of the street.
3. He lived in a sketchy neighborhood.
4. He experimented with drugs and alcohol. He smoked marijuana.
5. He rapped, and his rap songs were sometimes vulgar.
6. He had “at *least* one scuffle with a neighbor.”
7. He was “a handful” as a child.
(A) He tried to climb over a
security gate his parents
put up.
(B) He wrote on the wall.
8. He was accused of stealing an IPod. He managed to wriggle out of this one because his mother had a receipt.
9. He had friends who were gang members.
10. He was rebellious. He talked back to his mother. He complained about his family on Facebook.
11. He didn’t get good grades in school.

I’m not black, and I’m not even a man, but I’m guilty of some of the sins listed above.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about Michael Brown’s “unremarkable humanity”:

These details certainly paint a portrait of a young man who failed to be angelic. That is because no person is angelic—least of all teenagers—and there is very little in this piece that distinguishes Brown from any other kid his age.

And if Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic. I had my first drink when I was 11. I once brawled in the cafeteria after getting hit in the head with a steel trash can. In my junior year I failed five out of seven classes. By the time I graduated from high school, I had been arrested for assaulting a teacher and been kicked out of school (twice.) And yet no one who knew me thought I had the least bit of thug in me. That is because I also read a lot of books, loved my Commodore 64, and ghostwrote love notes for my friends. In other words, I was a human being. A large number of American teenagers live exactly like Michael Brown. Very few of them are shot in the head and left to bake on the pavement.

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The Past Is

The past is never dead, and it’s not even past, as William Faulkner said, but it IS safe. It’s always amusing to watch people pushing the same political ideology that opposed a long-past political or social movement and disdained those who took part in it — as, oh say, conservatives did during the civil rights movement — sanctifying that movement in order to dismiss and trivialize the same injustices being perpetrated in the present day.

Forty years ago William Buckley, Jr., founder of the National Review, had no kind words for civil rights protesters, and absolutely no problem with Jim Crow or white supremacy.

Today, Rich Lowry has nothing but respect and admiration for the long-ago cause of fighting racial segregation. He praises the peaceful protesters and the volunteers who came South to register voters. He shakes his head at the police brutality.

But his attitude toward the violent police attacks against peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and his response to the outrage over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, is just as dismissive of the broader racial injustices behind the conflict in Ferguson as Buckley’s was to the vast racial injustices blacks and whites were struggling against in the Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia of the 1950s and 1960s.

Writing in 1957, Buckley insisted that whites in the South were “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, where they do not prevail numerically,” because the white race was “for the time being, the advanced race.”

And as William Hogeland points out, Buckley, too, tried to sanitize his attitude toward the civil rights movement while it was happening:

In 2004, asked whether he’d ever taken a position he now regretted, he said “Yes. I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary.”

Neatly done. Where in ’57 he’d asserted a right even of a minority of whites to impose racial segregation by literally any means necessary, including breaking federal law, in ’04 Buckley expressed regret for having supposedly believed only that segregation would wither away without federal intervention. Stupid the man was not. He gets credited today both with honesty about his past and with having, in his own way, “evolved up.” Modern conservatives, more importantly, get to ignore the realities of their movement’s origins.

And so we get Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, exhorting “the mob” in Ferguson to be more like the good protesters of yore:

The chant “no justice, no peace” is an apt rallying cry for Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters don’t truly want justice and there has been no peace.

What justice demands in the case of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in disputed circumstances is a full and fair deliberative process that goes wherever the evidence leads. But is anyone marching so that Wilson can go free if the facts don’t support charging him?

No, the demand is for him to be arrested immediately and to be prosecuted no matter what. MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes, relaying the mood in Ferguson, has said that the security problem there isn’t solvable absent an indictment of Wilson. As if a grand jury should be beholden to looters.
All of this is noxious. Just because there is a mob on the streets, as well as on the Internet and TV, braying for a rush to judgment doesn’t mean we need mob justice.

Ferguson is angry and grieving, and the rallies, meetings and prayer vigils during daytime hours are natural and commendable. The confrontations with the police, the rock throwing and gunshots, the looting and Molotov cocktails are not. They are self-indulgent, self-destructive, and (given the fate of a few businesses set on fire) literally self-immolating.

For more than a week now, there has been an effort to shift moral responsibility for this mayhem from the protesters to the police. There is no doubt that the police have acted ham-handedly and even appallingly at times (there is never any justification for pointing weapons at peaceful protesters), but at the end of the day, they are attempting to restore order to a town in desperate need of it.
To their credit, the overwhelming majority of the protesters are peaceful, and many of them have tried to restrain a lawless fringe. But one of the reasons we have police is to control such a fringe, and if it includes people who throw rocks or shoot at them, the police aren’t going to look like a friendly neighborhood beat cop from a Norman Rockwell painting.
You get the feeling that the enormous emotional investment in Ferguson from the left—from Eric Holder to MSNBC on down—reflects a nostalgia for the truly heroic phase of the civil rights movement.

They (most of them, at least) can never be Freedom Riders, but they can write blog posts complaining that the police gear in Ferguson looks scary.

They can never register voters in the Jim Crow South, but they can tweet dramatic pictures of tear-gas canisters going off.

They can never march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge circa 1965, but they can do some cable hits.

Ferguson is all they’ve got, so it must be spun up into a national crisis—our Gaza, our apartheid—to increase the moral drama.

I could go on from here to next Sunday about the insensitivity and the lack of understanding, but at the end of the day, in Rich Lowry’s cute phrasing, what it comes down to is that Lowry believes that “a full and fair deliberative process that goes where the evidence leads” is possible for black men who get shot or choked to death by the police, and most black people don’t. Rich Lowry assumes a justice system that, at least for the most part, seeks truth and provides justice, for all — just as the Pledge of Allegiance says. He believes that “Even if Officer Wilson executed Michael Brown in cold blood, he would be one murderously bad cop, not an indictment of the entire American system of justice.” I’m sure most African Americans don’t think all or even most cops are “murderously bad, ” but I don’t think they believe he’s just a lone bad apple, either.

The point is that 40-plus years ago, when William Buckley was opining about white people’s right to “prevail” against people “less advanced” than they, there were two systems of justice, one for blacks and one for everyone else, and in 2014 — not just in Ferguson, Missouri, but throughout this country, there still are. But Lowry doesn’t appear to have any insight into this reality — despite his lavish praise for Freedom Riders.

Kathleen McKinley, who is white and conservative, does:

Both sides lined up pretty much as expected over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Social media is full of people on both sides making presumptions, and believing what they want to believe.

But it’s the white folks that don’t understand what this is all about. You see, Ferguson wasn’t about Michael Brown specifically, just like the outrage over Trayvon Martin’s death wasn’t about Trayvon Martin specifically. Let me put it as simply as I can for you.

I have three sons ages 17-27. I am a worry wart. I worry about everything every time they walk out the door, but the one thing I have never had to worry about is that they would be shot by a policeman, or even another teenager. If my sons were black, I would.

That’s it. Black moms across America have that pinprick of fear in the back of their hearts every time their sons leave the house. Every. Time. Because even if you’re black and live in a upper income area, and your son is a star basketball player and makes good grades, you know the cop doesn’t know that. The cop only knows what he deals with every day.

I know what many of you thinking. You are thinking, “Your sons probably don’t rob stores of cigars or beat up on a neighborhood watchman.” Well, I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that almost all boys between the ages of 14-21 do stupid things.

My boys just don’t get shot for doing them.

Rich Lowry and others at National Review and at other online conservative watering holes love to go on about a ‘rush to judgment’ and the need for ‘a full and fair examination of the facts’ — but it’s always clear that ‘a full and fair examination of the facts’ is code for ‘The police/security guard/neighborhood watch volunteer is innocent, and the only reason the officer hasn’t already been exonerated is because the mob won’t give the system a chance to work.’

Of course, the last thing conservatives want is for the system to work in a fair and impartial way. That’s clear from the way they’ve been writing and reporting about Michael Brown. Despite an initial promising start (albeit more out of concern about the militarized response to the post-shooting protests than to the shooting itself), the right’s commentary soon descended to the same memes it used against Trayvon Martin: smearing with irrelevant information, portraying him as a thug (the convenience store robbery story, which is irrelevant to the shooting since Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, didn’t know about the robbery when he encountered him), and in general pushing a narrative in which being imperfect is used to explain being killed — but only if you’re black. ‘Turns out he was no angel’ – as if not being an angel is reason to fatally shoot someone.

There’s one more thing, particular to this case. After he was killed, Michael Brown’s dead body was allowed to lie on the street, in the broiling August heat, FOR FOUR HOURS.

Just after noon on Saturday, Aug. 9, Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer on Canfield Drive.

For about four hours, in the unrelenting summer sun, his body remained where he fell.

Neighbors were horrified by the gruesome scene: Mr. Brown, 18, face down in the middle of the street, blood streaming from his head. They ushered their children into rooms that faced away from Canfield Drive. They called friends and local news stations to tell them what had happened. They posted on Twitter and Facebook and recorded shaky cellphone videos that would soon make their way to the national news.

Mr. Brown probably could not have been revived, and the time that his body lay in the street may ultimately have no bearing on the investigations into whether the shooting was justified. But local officials say that the image of Mr. Brown’s corpse in the open set the scene for what would become a combustible worldwide story of police tactics and race in America, and left some of the officials asking why.

The delay helped fuel the outrage,” said Patricia Bynes, a committeewoman in Ferguson. “It was very disrespectful to the community and the people who live there. It also sent the message from law enforcement that ‘we can do this to you any day, any time, in broad daylight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ ”
Sometime around 4 p.m., Mr. Brown’s body, covered in a blue tarp and loaded into a dark vehicle, was transported to the morgue in Berkeley, Mo., about six miles from Canfield Drive, a roughly 15-minute drive.

Mr. Brown’s body was checked into the morgue at 4:37 p.m., more than four and a half hours after he was shot.
Mr. Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, were walking down Canfield Drive at 12:01 p.m. when Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department encountered them. Moments later, Mr. Brown was dead, shot at least six times by Officer Wilson.

To my knowledge, not one of the right-wing bloggers who have had so much to say about “the mob’s unfairness to Darren Wilson, or about criminal behavior, looting, and rioting, have said word one about the fact that the corpse of an 18-year-old kid who would have been on his way to college a few days later if he had been allowed to keep his life was allowed to remain, spilled blood clearly visible despite the attempt to cover him, for hours and hours and hours and hours. Not one word that this happened — much less any recognition of the disrespect, the contempt even, this communicated. Much less any hint of understanding of how such callousness might contribute to the anger level of Ferguson residents, or their unwillingness to believe in the professionalism of the police and the probability of a just fact-finding process.

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The Crazy Au Droit

Right-wing craziness keeps getting crazier. There are seemingly no limits:

A Republican official in Iowa urged Americans not to compare child migrants to their own children but to instead consider them dangerous threats.

Tamara Scott, a Republican National Committeewoman and state director of Concerned Women for America, made the comments Thursday on her weekly radio show, reported Right Wing Watch.

“When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds, maybe homeschoolers — excuse me, middle-schoolers,” Scott said.

But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year-olds fighting in our revolution, and for many of these kids, depending on where they’re coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans,” she continued.

Crawling into the mind of someone this demented would be fascinating.

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Let’s Teach People Not To Care If They Can’t Feed Their Families

Garett Jones, writing, in Reason, about Thomas Piketty’s new study of capitalism and income inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty claims to have uncovered “the central contradiction of capitalism.” When a major scholar like Piketty—a man who has made genuine contributions to empirical economics—makes such a bold claim, it deserves to be taken seriously.

That’s the opening paragraph. He then proceeds, for the next two pages, not to take Piketty seriously.

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GOP Gets Well-Deserved Smack for Holding Up Bundy Family as “Patriots”

Conservatives begin backing away after Cliven Bundy’s remarks disparaging ‘the Negro’ (via Raw Story )

Republican politicians began backtracking on their support of Nevada anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy after the New York Times caught Bundy making racially-inflammatory remarks blaming African-Americans for willingly submiting to dependency on federal…

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Phil Robertson, Sin, and History

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a superb article about Phil Robertson’s views on homosexuality and racism. I’m just going to quote part of what Ta-Nehisi has to say on Robertson’s comments about African American history, since those seem to have gotten a bit lost in the reaction to his suspension from Duck Dynasty for comparing homosexuality to bestiality:

I’ve yet to take in an episode of Duck Dynasty. I hear it’s a fine show, anchored by a humorous and good-natured family of proud Americans. I try to be good natured, and I have been told that I can appreciate a good joke. I am also a proud American. With so much in common, it seems natural that I take some interest in the views of my brethren on the history of the only country any of us can ever truly call home:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field …. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

That is Robertson responding to a reporter’s question about life in Louisiana, before the civil-rights movement. I am sure Robertson did see plenty of black people who were singing and happy. And I am also sure that very few black people approached Robertson to complain about “doggone white people.” 

I have some idea why:

The corpse of 16-year-old Freddie Moore, his face showing signs of a severe beating, hands bound, remained hanging for at least 24 hours from a metal girder on the old, hand-cranked swing bridge spanning Bayou Lafourche.

Hanged by the neck the night of Oct. 11, 1933, in a mob lynching, the black youth had been accused in the death of a neighbor, a white girl …

Arrested Oct. 10, 1933, in the slaying days earlier of Anna Mae LaRose, a 15-year-old girl who was his friend, Moore was pulled from the parish jail in Napoleonville the next night by an angry mob of 50 to 200 armed and unmasked people who had the prison keys.

Some accounts say the lynchers were unknown and from out of town, as far away as New Orleans, while others say the mob was known to authorities. A coroner’s jury, impaneled by then-parish Coroner Dr. T.B. Pugh, said Moore “met death by a mob of unknown persons,” according to news accounts.

After being hauled from the jail, Moore was brought to the field where LaRose’s body was found, according to an Oct. 14, 1933, account in the black-owned New Orleans newspaper, The Louisiana Weekly. With a rope around his neck and clothes stripped to his waist, the teen was then marched, while being beaten, from the murder scene to the bridge and subjected to a branding iron whenever he fell.

Hanging from his body, a sign offered the final indignity: “Niggers Let This Be An Example. Do-Not-Touch-In 24 Hr. Mean it.”

As white people reviewed the scene on the bridge and black residents were warned to stay away, Moore’s body remained within sight of a school and the venerable St. Philomena Catholic Church, its spire above the fray.

One should not be lulled into thinking that the murder of Freddie Moore was out of the ordinary in Louisiana. Between 1882 and 1936, only Georgia, Texas and Mississippi saw more black people lynched. For part of that period four of Louisiana’s parishes led the nation for counties with the most lynchings.

That is because governance in Phil Robertson’s Louisiana was premised on terrorism. As late as 1890, the majority of people in Louisiana were black. As late as 1902, they still lived under threat of slavery through debt peonage and the convict-lease system. Virtually all of them were pilfered of their vote and their tax dollars. Plunder and second slavery were enforced by violence, as when the besiegers of Colfax massacred 50 black freedmen with rifles and cannon and tossed their bodies into a river. Even today the Colfax Massacre is honored in Louisiana as the rightful “end of carpetbag misrule.”

The black people who Phil Robertson knew were warred upon. If they valued their lives, and the lives of their families, the last thing they would have done was voiced a complaint about “white people” to a man like Robertson. Ignorance is no great sin and one can forgive the good-natured white person for not knowing how all that cannibal sausage was truly made. But having been presented with a set of facts, Robertson’s response is to cite “welfare” and “entitlement” as the true culprits.

I’m not as good-natured as Ta-Nehisi, at least not on this subject. I’m part of the demographic that is privileged not to have to know about the history of black people in this country, but even when I was a teenager and in my early 20s — well before I started to read about that history in a deliberate, planned manner — I *did* know enough to know why no black person would have complained about white people to a white person. I can’t say exactly *how* I knew. I *was* raised by very liberal parents — and European ones, who for that reason could perhaps better recognize certain things for what they were because they hadn’t been immersed in it all their lives. Maybe I partially learned enough about the history of blacks and whites in this country in school. I don’t know for sure. All I know is that even when I was in high school, I could have seen what was screwy about someone who thought black people in Jim Crow times (which actually were the contemporary times when I was in high school) were happy and content and never said, “I tell you what. These doggone white people.”

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Victory for Abortion Rights in Wisconsin

A lower court’s decision to block an admitting privileges law was upheld on appeal:

he U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit today upheld a lower court’s decision blocking a Wisconsin law that singles out doctors who provide abortions for medically unnecessary restrictions. A challenge to the law was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

“We’re glad that the court has prevented this law from taking effect,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “These kinds of decisions should only be made by a woman, her family and her doctor. Politicians should have no place in the complicated and personal decision about whether or not to end a pregnancy.”

Doctors and leading medical groups, such as the American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Wisconsin Public Health Association, have opposed such requirements because they are unnecessary for the provision of safe, high-quality health care, and because they prevent women from getting necessary services. Wisconsin law does not require doctors providing surgery at other health centers to have admitting privileges even for more complicated procedures.

“Across the country, extremist politicians are trying to shut down women’s health centers and make it more and more difficult for women to access abortion care,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “These laws have nothing to do with women’s health and are designed to unfairly target medical professionals who provide safe and legal abortions.”

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