Posts Tagged ‘#BlackLivesMatter’

The violent George Floyd protests will backfire

August 27, 2020

Civilization is not so stable that it could not be easily broken up; and a condition of lawless violence is not one out of which any good thing is likely to emerge.  For this reason revolutionary violence in a democracy is infinitely dangerous.
  [==Bertrand Russell, in 1922]

A protest movement accompanied by vandalism, looting and mob violence will not persuade the public to de-fund the police or impose restrictions on them.

I believe the violence accompanying the George Floyd protests is worse than being generally reported.  The destruction caused in the name of George Floyd will not be balanced by any public good.

Instead it will make the re-election of Donald Trump and the Republicans more likely.

News reports say the protests are “mostly nonviolent.”  I am willing to believe that most of the protest demonstrations are non-violent and most people taking part in demonstrations are non-violent.  But this doesn’t matter.

If you have a crowd of 200 protesters, and 10 of them throw brickbats at the police and two of them throw gasoline bombs, it is not a non-violent protest—especially if the rest of the group refuses to disassociate themselves from the brick and bomb throwers.

This is why the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. exercised such tight control over the demonstrations he led.  He did not want anything to happen that interfered with his objective.  Malcolm X differed from Dr. King in many ways, but he, too, insisted on discipline among his followers.

I am an elderly tax-paying, law-abiding, middle-class homeowner.  I am not a revolutionary.  I do not condone vandalism, looting or mob violence.

But I know enough of history to know that violent and terrorist movements have sometimes brought about social change.  This requires a structured organization that is capable of taking power or of negotiating a set of demands and keeping its side of the bargain.  The BLM movement does not have such a structure.

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The way we think now

July 8, 2020

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity  [William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming“]

Statue of George Washington in Portland, Oregon

During my lifetime, I’ve seen the crumbling of elite institutions that once exercised moral authority.

Mainstream churches no longer preach the Christian creed.  Elite universities no longer commit to disinterested scholarship.  Elite newspapers no longer try to present the facts accurately and objectively.

They are being taken over by cultural radicals.  Despite or maybe because of their compromises, mainstream churches and newspapers are rapidly losing public support, and elite universities survive mainly because they are gatekeepers for the top professional and managerial jobs.

The cultural radicals have created their own set of taboos about race and gender, which, in certain sectors of society, you defy at your peril.   You can lose your job for expressing approval of ideas and values that have existed for centuries or maybe millennia.  It is widely considered unacceptable to say that “all lives matter” or that there is a biological difference between men and women.

I’m not surprised or shocked that there are who think this way, which they have every right to do.  I am surprised and shocked that there has been so little pushback against them from the nation’s supposed intellectual and moral leaders.

While there is a revolution in cultural and moral values, the structure of wealth and power stands unchanged.  The CIA, NSA and FBI, the Pentagon and the armaments industry, the Wall Street speculators, Silicon Valley monopolists—all these entities are more powerful than ever.

The power that rests on moral authority has been eclipsed.  The power that rests on money and brute force shines as brightly as ever.

The nation’s elite – the ruling class, the Establishment, call them what you will –  lack moral conviction and moral confidence.  What happened?

Lost Certainties

Someone said that 19th century America was held together by belief in three things – Protestantism, patriotism and progress.

I think this is so.  The old-time USA was much more violent than the USA today, prone to riots, strikes, insurrections and vigilante justice, even apart from the Civil War.  But there was a consensus that lay beneath all this.

Protestants believed that God ruled the world, that salvation came through Jesus, and that God’s justice.  Patriots believed that the USA was the embodiment of democracy and freedom.  Progressives believed that each generation would be better off, materially, than the ones who came before.

I myself, born in 1936, was taught to believe in all three.

This consensus was not necessarily a commitment to the status quo.  People who shared these beliefs brought about the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women and the regulation of monopoly capitalism.

The problem was that these ideas did not stand up to close intellectual scrutiny.  Once people started to question them, they could not go back to believing in the old way..

Biblical scholarship made it hard to believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Once you studied the topic, your choices were to reject scholarship, reject Christianity or believe in the Christian story in a vague way as an allegory or myth.

Historical scholarship made it hard to believe that the USA is the embodiment of freedom and democracy.  Once you studied the topic, your choices were to reject scholarship, reject patriotism or believe in American ideals as seldom-realized aspirational goals.

There are lots of reasons why it has become hard to believe in progress, which was possibly more foundational than the other two.

Life has been getting worse for the majority of Americans. This is largely because of bad economic policy, but even if this changes, life will still be hard because of climate-related catastrophes, exhaustion of natural resources and new pandemics in the coming bad years.  So progress, too, has become an aspirational goal, not a reality.

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Patrisse Cullors’ Black Lives Matter memoir

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist and activist from Los Angeles, was one of three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.   She co-wrote WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: a Black Lives Matter Memoir (2017) to tell what it’s like to grow up and live in a world in which black lives don’t seem to matter.

She wrote about her childhood and coming of age, about her mother struggling in multiple low-age jobs to allow her four children to survive, about her vocations as an activist and a performance artist, and about finding love as a Queer person who doesn’t recognize gender boundaries.

The over-riding theme of the book is surviving as a poor black person in an unforgiving society, in which employers, governmental institutions and especially the police were indifferent or hostile.

When she was nine, she saw her older brothers, Paul, 13, and Monte, 11 (her third sibling is baby sister Jasmine), set upon and humiliated by police for no reason.  All they were doing was hanging out with other boys, none over 14, in an alley because they had no playground or vacant lot or any place else to so.  Police screamed at them, forced them up against a wall and half-stripped them in public—just for being boys with nothing to do.

The same thing happened to her when she was 12 years old.  Police entered her classroom, handcuffed her, took her to the dean’s office and had her searched, just like her brothers, because somebody had reported she’d smoked marijuana.

Later she visited a rich white friend, whose brother was a drug dealer was a high school student who kept marijuana in garbage bags.  He said he never was stopped by police, and never feared police.

The main thing she had going for her were sympathetic and supportive teachers, in elementary school and in a social justice-oriented charter high school she was able to attend.

Every time she writes about something awful that happened to herself, her family or her friends, she refers to some news article or academic study that indicates it was not an isolated event, but part of a pattern.

Her older brother Monte, was actually called a terrorist.

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Patrisse Khan-Cullors and liquid modernity

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele is an eloquent and just outcry against injustice.  It also reflects a world and a way of thinking that I’m not comfortable with.

A few months ago I learned a new phrase—”liquid modernity.”  The idea is that we no longer live in a world of fixed structures—political, economic, social and moral—that we can either cling to or fight against.  Everything is fluid and ever-changing, and individuals have to continually reinvent themselves and start anew.

I can best explain what I mean by comparing and contrasting Patrisse Cullors today and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.

I make the comparison not to rank them or nor to denigrate Cullors.  She has overcome difficulties I can barely imagine and accomplished orders of magnitude more in 30-some years I have in 80-some.  The comparison is to show how thinking about justice and society has changed in 50 years.

Black Lives Matter and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are not opposites.  They both engaged in non-violent protest in order to bring about social justice.  Although most Americans now venerate Dr. King, it is through a golden haze of amnesia that makes us forget he and his movement were as controversial and as hated in their day as Black Lives Matter is today.

The SCLC was tightly organized and highly disciplined.  Dr. King was highly protective of its image.  People who wanted to participate in SCLC protests had to submit to training in the discipline of non-violence and provide assurance that they would not do anything to harm the cause.

Although Dr. King had a low opinion of the average white American’s sense of justice, he was concerned about white public opinion and sought out white allies, including journalists, labor leaders and Christian and Jewish clergy.

Which is not to say he was subservient to white opinion.  His opposition to the Vietnam War, while justified in the light of history, cost him the support of President Johnson and many white allies.

Black Lives Matter is loosely organized.  In its early days, it consisted of people following a meme on Twitter and Facebook, and there was confusion as to who had a right to speak for Black Lives Matter and who didn’t.   It’s now a more formal organization with authorized chapters.  I’m not familiar with its inner structure, but my impression is that it still is not highly centralized.

This has advantages, of course.  Individuals and local chapters are able to act on their own initiative without getting permission from a central governing body.

Black Lives Matter does not rely on the mainstream press to get the word out.  Communication is by means of social media, which did not exist in Dr. King’s time.

Nor do Black Lives Matter leaders frame their statements or their actions with an eye to what white people think of them.   Its emphasis is on solidarity among black people, whether male or female, native-born or immigrant, straight or LGBTQ, and unity in pressing their case.

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Black voters matter

October 11, 2016

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Fatal police shootings of black people are fewer in states where black voter registration is higher.

Statistically, the higher the percentage of an eligible black voters are actually registered to vote in any state, the less likely it is that a black person in that state will be shot and killed by police.

LINK

An Intriguing Link Between Police Shootings and Black Voter Registration by Maimuna Majumder for Wired.

#BlackLivesMatter is a new kind of movement

September 19, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter is not an organization.   It is a movement inspired by Twitter and Tumbir accounts.   The founders and leaders exercise no power over it.

Its effectiveness—or lack of effectiveness—will be a test of whether decentralized and networked movements, enabled by social media,  will be more effective than the hierarchical, disciplined organizations of the past.

The Twitter and Tumbir accounts were launched by three black women friends in California—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—after the killing of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2013.

blacklivesmatterB8NekGarza said they wanted to counter the idea that such tragedies were part of the nature of things, that there was nothing that could be done about it, except for black people to try to avoid behavior that would trigger violence by police and others.

A protest movement sprang up around the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, following the killings of Michael Brown, John Crawford III and Eric Garner the following year.  Garza, Cullors and Tometi found themselves the leaders of the movement, which, however, was an informal network they did not control.

This was a very different kind of movement from the NAACP as I knew it in my youth—an organization where you joined, paid membership dues, elected officers in a chapter which in turn elected directors of a national organization.  Or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was run by black male ministers, who imposed strict standards of behavior on their followers.

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Campaign Zero policy platform, explained by Vox

September 19, 2015

blog_campaign_zero

Vox news had a good summary of proposals for police reform by Campaign Zero, a brother movement to Black Lives Matter.   I think it worth reproducing as a separate post.

  1. End broken windows policing.  This refers to a style of policing that goes after minor crimes and activities, based on the notion that letting minor crimes go unaddressed can foster and lead to even worse crimes in a community. In practice, this tactic has disproportionately impacted minority Americans — in New York City, the vast majority of stops in 2012 were of black or Hispanic people.  Campaign Zero proposes ending this type of policing by decriminalizing or deprioritizing public alcohol consumption, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, trespassing, loitering, disturbing the peace, and spitting, as well as ending racial profiling and establishing mental health response teams that are better equipped to deal with mental health crises (which can result in, for example, disorderly conduct) than police.
  2. Community oversight. When a police officer engages in misconduct, the most likely organization to investigate the situation is the police department the officer comes from — creating an obvious conflict of interest.  Campaign Zero proposes adding more community oversight over police by making it easier for citizens to file complaints and establishing civilian-run commissions that will help set policy at police departments and make recommendations for discipline following a civilian complaint.
  3. Limit use of force. Police officers are currently allowed to use deadly force when they merely perceive — albeit reasonably, according to courts — a deadly threat, even if a threat isn’t actually present. And police departments aren’t required to report uses of force to the federal government.  Campaign Zero proposes authorizing deadly force only when there is an imminent threat to the officer’s life or the life of another person, and the use of force is strictly unavoidable to protect life. It also proposes changing police policies, including reporting and use of force standards.
  4. Independently investigate and prosecute. Following a police shooting, investigations are typically headed by the police department and the local prosecutor’s office, which has close ties to the police department — both of which create conflicts of interest.  Campaign Zero wants governments to establish independent prosecutors at the state level for cases in which police seriously injure or kill someone, which would now require an investigation. The campaign also suggests reducing the standard of proof for federal civil rights investigations of police officers.
  5. Community representation. In some communities, the racial demographics of the police force are wildly different from the community they represent. Ferguson, for example, is about two-thirds black, but only three of 53 commissioned police officers were black at the time of the Brown shooting. Campaign Zero says police departments should develop and publicly release plans to achieve representative proportion of women and people of color through outreach, recruitment, and changes to policies.
  6. Body cameras and filming the police. Most police departments still don’t fully equip officers with body cameras, and many don’t have dashboard cameras for their cars. But recording devices have played a crucial role in holding police accountable — in Cincinnati, for instance, a body camera filmed a campus police officer’s shooting of Samuel DuBose, leading the local prosecutor to conclude that the shooting was “asinine,” “senseless,” and “unwarranted” before he pressed charges. Campaign Zero suggests equipping all police officers with body cameras, as well as banning cops from taking people’s cellphones or other recording devices without the person’s consent or a warrant.
  7. Training. Many police departments only require training on an annual or one-time basis, and the training tends to focus on use of force, not on deescalation or racial bias. Campaign Zero suggests requiring officers to go undergo training on a quarterly basis, with greater focus on addressing subconscious racial biases and other prejudices against, for example, LGBTQ people.
  8. End for-profit policing. In some jurisdictions, police are used by local governments as a revenue generator. One of the most damning findings from the Justice Department report on Ferguson is that the police department and courts issued fines and fees to help fill local budget gaps. Campaign Zero tries to eliminate these perverse incentives by ending police department quotas for tickets and arrests, limiting fines and fees on low-income people, and stopping police from taking money or property from innocent people, as they currently do through “civil forfeiture” laws.
  9. Demilitarization. The Ferguson protests captured nationwide attention after police deployed militarized equipment — sniper rifles, riot gear, camouflage, armored trucks, and chemical agents such as tear gas — against largely peaceful demonstrators. But police have this type of gear in large part because the federal government subsidizes it or gives it away to local and state police. Campaign Zero proposes ending the 1033 program that provides militarized equipment to police, as well as limiting when local and state police can purchase and use this type of equipment.
  10. Fair police contracts. Police unions have negotiated strong contracts for their officers over the past few decades, sometimes imposing big hurdles to investigations — such as the 48-hour rule, which prevents investigators from talking to an officer involved in a shooting until 48 hours pass. Campaign Zero aims to eliminate these types of barriers while requiring police departments keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to the public and ensuring officers don’t get paid while they’re being investigated for seriously injuring or killing a civilian.

Source: Vox

Click on Campaign Zero for the original, more detailed version of these proposals.

What #BlackLivesMatter is asking for

August 25, 2015

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A section of #BlackLivesMatter called Campaign Zero has come up with a 10-point program to improve policing, following criticisms that #BlackLivesMatter was merely a protest movement that lacked a positive program.

Campaign Zero translated its 10 general principles into detailed policy demands on local, state and federal governments.  BLM members should not longer be at a loss for words when asked what they really want.

Most of these principles should be self-explanatory.  You can get details by clicking on the icons on the Campaign Zero site.

“Broken windows” policing is based on the theory that minor crime and disorder should not be tolerated because it creates an atmosphere in which major crime seems more normal.

“Policing for profit” refers to practice of local governments using fines, fees and asset forfeitures as a source of revenue.

“Fair union contracts” refers to provisions in police union contracts which give police officers extra-Constitutional protections when accused of misconduct, such as cooling-off periods before being asked to testify.

Campaign Zero also has tracked the positions of the presidential candidates relevant to these issues.

The three major Democratic candidates – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have all taken positions relevant to most of these 10 points.  Interestingly, the one point on which all three have been silent so far is the police union contracts.

Among Republicans, the only candidate who has taken a relevant position is Rand Paul, who opposes asset foreiture.

I think the Campaign Zero platform is a practical program for protecting the civil liberties not just of African-Americans, but, as a collateral benefit, the civil liberties of all Americans.

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Does any one group speak for black America?

August 19, 2015

One big mistake that white people, especially white liberals like me, make is to anoint some particular group of African-Americans as representatives of all black people.

In the case of people like me, it is naivety and jumping to conclusions.  In other cases, it can be cynicism, a way to divide and rule.

When representatives of #BlackLivesMatter seize a podium, spectators not only have no way of knowing how many black people they represent, they have no way of knowing how many supporters of #BlackLivesMatter they represent, because #BlackLivesMatter is a movement and a Twitter account, not an organization.

I don’t know how representative the guy in the video is, either.

I presume that many or most black people are up in arms about the many times unarmed black people are killed by police.  I presume that many are concerned about Social Security, minimum wage and other issues.   The fact that one group concentrates on one of these issues doesn’t mean the others are unimportant.  There ought to be room for different groups, different priorities and different approaches.

LINKS

Black Lives Matter and The Failure to Build a New Movement by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

A Short Follow-Up to the Previous Post on Black Lives Matter by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

What No One Is Saying About the Killings of Blacks in America by Benjamin A. Dixon.

Dear #BlackLivesMatter: We Don’t Need Black Leadership by R.L. Stephens II for Orchestrated Pulse.

A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor, executive summary of a report by the Black Labor Collaborative.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

#BlackLivesMatter and its critics

August 18, 2015

I’ve always taken to heart the Theodore Roosevelt quote about how the man struggling valiantly in the arena deserves more credit than the critic sitting in the grandstands.

I hesitate to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement for the same reason I hesitated to criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement, because, whatever their flaws, they’re struggling valiantly in the arena and I’m the critic in the grandstands.

blacklivesmatterB8NekWhat both groups have in common is that they are protest movements, not political movements.  They exist to call attention to injustice.  They do not seek political power to correct injustice themselves.   I do not criticize them for that.

But that means somebody else will have to do the job of enacting the needed laws and seeing that they are enforced.  BLM will always be on the outside, never exercising power or taking responsibility

I’m a liberal middle-class white man, and I am righteously indignant about the routine indignities and occasional mortal danger suffered by poor black people at the hands of police.   But abusive police behavior is not something I think about all the time.   #BlackLivesMatter keeps me from forgetting.

I’m not saying that all police are bad, or that white people are never mistreated by police.   I’m saying that the threat of being mistreated or killed for no good reason by police is not something I have to consider in my daily life, and it is something that black people can’t afford to forget.

John Dewey once said that you don’t have to have the knowledge of a shoemaker to know that your shoe doesn’t fit.   #BlackLivesMatter, unlike Occupy Wall Street, does have specific demands, but I think the movement’s importance is in never allowing the American public—the white American public—people like me—to forget how, so to speak, the shoe pinches poor black people.

thetalk_363_275The way #BlackLivesMatter does that is through its continuing protest demonstrations, but, more much importantly, its documentation of police misconduct through the social media.

Occupy Wall Street never had a formal organization, just people who wanted to join in, and the same is true of #BlackLivesMatter.    It means that individuals can do whatever they see fit in the name of the movement, and there is no central authority with the power to tell them to stop.

The shutdown of Bernie Sanders’ speeches evidently was the action of a few individuals rather than a decision of the leadership.  But, as a matter of strategy, it does make sense for a protest group to concentrate on those who might respond to their protest rather than those who most certainly won’t.  Bernie Sanders did respond.

The best result #BlackLives Matter can hope for is that the powers that be respond to their protest.  But so long as it is merely a protest movement, other people make the decision as to just what that response will be.   Somebody else will have to take the responsibility for turning #BlackLivesMatter goals into law.

LINKS

Who Really Runs #BlackLivesMatter? by Ben Collins for The Daily Beast.

Black Lives Matter and the Failure to Build a Movement by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

Right Now #BlackLivesMatter Is Wasting Everybody’s Time by Oliver Willis.

How Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter taught us not to look away by Nicholas D. Mirzoeff for The Conversation.

Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Bernie Sanders and African-Americans

July 28, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders, whose voting record is rated near-perfect by the NAACP, has a problem relating to African-Americans.

His recent mishandling of a #BlackLivesMatter protest at the Netroots Nation convention shows how style can matter as much to people as substance.

Bill Clinton was a master of style.   My guess is that more poor black people remember Clinton playing the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show than his 1994 crime bill or 1996 welfare bill.

I have no reason to doubt that Clinton genuinely liked black people, but the important thing is that as a candidate for Governor of Arkansas, he needed the votes of black citizens.

Bernie Sanders' 12 points

Bernie Sanders’ 12 points

Bernie Sanders is from Vermont, a state that is as near to 100 percent white as it is possible to get.  When talking about civil rights, he talked to other white people about the principles of justice.  He never had to convince black people that he represents their interests.

I am sure that he, like me, is righteously indignant about the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail after being arrested for no good reason.  But I do not think of the deaths of Sandra Bland, or all the other black people recently in the hands of police, as something that could happen to me.   My guess is that the same is true of Sanders, and that is why the #BlackLivesMatter protestors found Sanders wanting.

Sanders’ 12-point platform is a program for economic justice, not specifically for racial justice.  (Double click on the graphic to read it.)  There is a point about equal rights for women, but not one for equal rights for racial minorities.

I don’t take this to mean that Sanders is indifferent to racial justice.  I take it to mean that, as a product of the socialist tradition, he sees economic justice as the fundamental question and that, as a practical politician, he sees economic justice as the issue that will bring him the broadest support.

You can’t have racial justice without economic justice, or vice versa.   The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent as much time speaking in union halls as he did in churches, and his last campaign was the support of a garbage collectors’ strike in Memphis, Tenn.

LINKS

Can Bernie Sanders Be Less White? by Barrett Holmes Pitner for The Daily Beast.  Thoughts of a black man who once worked in Sanders’ Washington office.

Give the People What They Want by Seth Ackerman for Jacobin.  Opinion polls indicate that economic justice is not a “white” issue.

On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears by John Halle on Outrages and Interludes.