Updated: 43 min 54 sec ago
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 08:11
Some "Star Wars" fans weren't happy to see a black man, John Boyega, featured so prominently in the recently released trailer for "The Force Awakens."
The actor's response? Too bad. He posted the following on Instagram:
A photo posted by @jboyega on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:37pm PST
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 07:58
NBA Hall of Famer and current TV analyst Charles Barkley never misses an opportunity to beat the black community upside the head with his bootstrap logic. He recently called Ferguson protesters "scumbags," and in a lengthy interview with CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Tuesday he reiterated his point that he doesn't believe white police officers shoot people because of racism.
Some notable quotes:
- "We as black people, we have a lot of crooks. We can't just wait until something like (the Brown shooting) happens. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror," he said of people in black communities.
- "There is a reason that [cops] racially profile us in the way that they do. Sometimes it is wrong, and sometimes it is right."
- "Anybody who walks out peacefully, who protests peacefully, that's what this country was built on," he said. "But to be burning people's property, burning police cars, looting people's stores, that is 100 percent ridiculous."
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 07:51
Just in time for the two-year anniversary of the fast-food workers' Fight for $15 campaign, Chicago yesterday adopted a higher minimum wage. The city's new $13-an-hour wage floor is expected to be phased in by 2019 and comes less than a month after nearly 70 percent of Illinois residents voted, in a nonbinding referendum, for a new $10-an-hour state minimum by 2015. Fast-food workers kicked off their fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage with national strikes in November 2012 and have been at the forefront of calls throughout the country for similar increases from low-wage workers in other industries like healthcare and retail.
The Illinois state minimum remains $8.25-an-hour. Some officials, according to Northern Public Radio, are worried that during this session the statehouse will consider business-backed legislation prohibiting municipalities from raising their minimums above the state's. Franchisee owners are mobilizing nationally to counter the growing union-backed movement for a higher minimum wage, the Wall Street Journal reports.
San Francisco recently became the second U.S. city this year to join Seattle in adopting the highest minimum wage in the country at $15-an-hour.
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 07:15
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- Judy Huth sues Bill Cosby for sexual battery; Huth claims Cosby attacked her in 1974, when she was only 15 years old, inside the Playboy Mansion.
- Iran denies Pentagon claims that it's launched airstrikes against IS in Iraq.
- Just three doctors and five nurses run the secret Kobane war clinic that treats IS opposition fighters.
- A Staten Island grand jury is expected to decide whether to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner; his death from a chokehold has already been ruled a homicide.
- A St. Louis grand jury can't seem to indict Darren Wilson, but police are looking to possibly charge Mike Brown's stepfather, Louis Head, for talking about it.
- The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case that will determine whether employers are allowed to discriminate against pregnant workers.
- In a move that would satisfy consumer demand, the high fructose corn syrup in your Hershey's Kisses may soon be replaced with sugar.
- Brian Williams slow jams the immigration executive action news on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon":
- Sony has supposedly cleared all leaked versions of "Annie", staring Quvenzhane Wallis, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, from file-sharing sites; the FBI is investigating.
- Stephen Hawking reminds us that artificial intelligence could mean the end of the world as we know it.
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 13:12
Are police unions choosing labor rights over the public's safety? That's the question Conor Friedersdorf raises in a provocative op-ed in The Atlantic today. It's a timely look at allegiances given the St Louis Police Officers Association's letter threatening boycott and condemning Rams players' "hands up" gesture during Sunday's pre-game introductions as well as its fundraising effort for Darren Wilson. Friedersdorf culls examples of police unions' influence in protecting the jobs and pensions of officers who have been disciplined. One such example is Oakland policeman Hector Jimenez, a case that reporter Ali Winston covered for Colorlines in 2009 and 2011. As told by Friedersdorf:
In 2007, [Jimenez] shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man. Just seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him three times in the back as he ran away. Oakland paid a $650,000 settlement to the dead man's family in a lawsuit and fired Jimenez, who appealed through his police union. Despite killing two unarmed men and costing taxpayers all that money, he was reinstated and given back pay.
There are other egregious examples like Chicago's Jon Burge, 66, who, despite torturing at least 100 black men while police commander, this year got to keep his $54,000-a-year pension. His supporters on the pension board, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, were police officers.
Friedersdorf notes that, "[not] every officer who is fired deserves it, [and not] every reinstated cop represents a miscarriage of justice"--but his small sampling of disciplined-then-reinstated officers, alone, also illustrates a need for reform.
Read the full story at The Atlantic.
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 13:09
A highlight of a new interview with "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" actor Terry Crews is when he tells a story of his 6-year-old son's shame at having to admit feeling afraid in front of him (12:45-15:07). He saw himself in his son's vulnerability and handled it in a way that's perhaps different from how he grew up in 1970s Flint, Mich. Crews recently keynoted a Canadian conference, "What Makes A Man," and sat with Elamin Abdelmahmoud* to talk feminism ("it scares men") and manhood. His talk comes at a time when a number of high-profile and beloved male entertainers--Bill Cosby, Ray Rice and, in Canada, Jian Ghomeshi--are forcing public and revelatory conversations about the bounds of appropriate manhood. Crews, who's spoken openly about growing up watching his father hit his mother, doesn't mind all the debate though. He thinks it gives men an opportunity to re-direct and choose healthier ways to be.
* Post has been updated since publication with the correct name of Crews' interviewer, Elamin Abdelmahmoud of "The Agenda with Steve Paiken."
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 12:05
Fred Loehmann, father of one of the two police officers who shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland on November 22, says his son Tim Loehmann believes he had no choice but to shoot the 12-year-old African-American boy, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported.
"He's living his life," Loehmann said of his son Tim, an eight-month rookie with the Cleveland police academy. The officer was with his partner, veteran Fred Garmback, when they sped up to a park gazebo where Rice was playing with an airsoft gun. In an exchange that lasted just two seconds, Loehmann jumped out of the car and shot and killed Rice as his partner Garmback pulled up to Rice. "I had no choice," the elder Loehmann recalls his son telling him.
Rice's shooting death came amidst the final days of tense anticipation as the nation awaited a St. Louis grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teen.
A funeral for Rice is being held at 11am ET on Wednesday, NBC reported.
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 11:10
Good news, Toni Morrison fans. She's got a new novel coming out in April of 2015 called "God Help the Child." From BuzzFeed:
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish...Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother...Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she's suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother... and Sweetness, Bride's mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."
It'll be her Morrison's 11th novel and serve as proof that, at 83, she's still got it.
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 08:05
Maya Schenwar, a longtime journalist and editor-in-chief of the progressive website Truthout, recently released her first book, "Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better." It's a quick-but-devastating read that reinforces what many of us already know: The criminal justice system is incredibly fraught and racially biased. Schenwar weaves her own research and reporting--collected over years of writing about prisons and policing--with a personal narrative about her sister's repeat incarceration. The book also features the voices of other incarcerated people with whom Schenwar has corresponded over the years. I spoke with Schenwar via telephone to dive a bit deeper into some of the themes presented in the book.
How did you begin writing "Locked Down, Locked Out"?
Over the past 10 years I'd been covering policing and incarceration, both as a writer and an editor [who was] commissioning stories. At the same time the issue had been coming home to me through my own sister [who was] cycling through the system. [Then] in May 2012 when the NATO protests happened in Chicago there were these arrests of activists. They arrested these guys on trumped up terrorism charges and Truthout's readership got very riled up about this. I wrote a column [in response], "35,948 Arrested Yesterday." My point was: We need to take a step back, and while it's important to talk about these white political prisoners, it's more important to talk about the fact that tens of thousands black and brown people get arrested every single day and it's normal. The column went over well and I thought this might be the seed of an idea, to write about the ways we disconnect with the prison population.
Talk about how the prison industrial complex in the U.S. is gendered. How do the experiences of men and women differ with incarceration?
Even though women are the fastest increasing group in prison, most people in prison are men; more than 90 percent [of incarcerated people] are men. But when men are incarcerated it always impacts women. Beth Ritchie writes about this really well. The impact of men's incarceration on women happens through families. It imposes these huge, huge burdens on women because when men go to prison, women are responsible for maintaining financially but also being responsible for supporting the man--paying for phone calls, commissary, transporting kids to visits.
Why are women the fastest growing prison population?
Because they are there for drug crimes and often they are there as accomplices. They are convicted of being present. Danielle, [who I write about in the book], has a life sentence for cocaine conspiracy and her partner is already out of prison, [even though] she's been there for decades. A lot of trends have fueled [women's incarceration]. Occasionally these types of feminism emerge that intersect with the criminal legal system in shitty ways. Carceral feminism a lot of times is advocating for the idea that the way to deal with domestic violence and violence against women is to arrest men. Marissa Alexander's case is such an intersection of all of these issues tied together.
Can you say more about the distinction you draw in your book between so-called crimes and acts that cause harm? Why is this an important distinction?
I think that the word "crime" is tricky because it's based on law. A crime is something that is against the law and it's also just something that's in the hands of the police and the criminal legal system to define. That's not shaped by [the question of whether] this act hurt someone. Law is shaped by all sorts of factors--including racism, ableism, transphobia and anti-blackness. Certain actions are criminalized based on who is doing them. How do we unravel what prison is used for now? It's being used as a mechanism of social control, and it's also being used as a really dysfunctional tool for trying to address harm and violence against some people.
So much of your book focuses on alternatives to incarceration. Do you think that they, collectively, could represent a true alternative to the prison industrial complex?
A lot of the alternatives to the prison industrial complex [are] going to be about creativity and all of us thinking about how we keep ourselves safe and healthy and keep our communities strong. It's very much got to be a collective thing if we're not relying on violent systems of state power for safety. One of the things that I was really grappling with is [that] it's hard to come up with a happy, clean definition of transformative justice because it means a different thing for every situation. How do [we] address problems where they are happening, in the actual community, with the actual people involved? So I tried to show that this is being done. I also think that it's really important to not think that those examples are what needs to be reproduced everywhere.
Talk more about how what it would take for transformative justice.
Mariame Kaba, a Chicago prison activist, always talks about how abolition and transformative justice have to be collective, that they have to be things we're all going to invest in. A lot of it really does come from the fact that you're reversing where accountability comes from. Accountability comes from community as opposed to being imposed upon communities. The word "safety," what it so often means is "protecting white people," or "protecting white people's property."
Women who give birth while incarcerated, like your sister whose story you tell in the book, have gotten a lot more attention in recent years, particularly through campaigns to end shackling during labor and programs that offer doula support for prisoners. What do you think about these efforts and increased media attention?
I think they are really important. Women who are going through pregnancy and birth in prison are some of the most vulnerable. Even though I knew the facts, I was still shocked at every turn with my sister. I was shocked that she had to labor alone for 36 hours with a guard. They way it's affected her would be so different if she'd had a doula there.
When my sister was pregnant in prison, I got a lot of people saying to me, "Why should she be in prison? What good is it doing anyone for her to be in prison?" She was this sympathetic character. Because she was pregnant, and because she is white, it had these characteristics of a perfect little story. Every time I get a letter [from someone in prison] I am reminded [to ask] "What good is it doing anyone for this person to be in prison?" It isn't to say that shackling pregnant women shouldn't be publicized, but we need to look at how we frame it because it can always turn into [a] good prisoner, bad prisoner [dichotomy].
I'll admit that just a few pages into your book, I flipped to the end and read the last few paragraphs. It was like I needed to know there was some sort of happy ending to get through the hard realities that you focus on. What's the "happy ending" or hope that keeps you moving forward and working on these issues?
The thing that kept me going in writing this book was the fact that as I was writing it, things were changing and things were getting better. I noticed people were having victories. Prisons in Illinois were closing. People in prisons were winning victories like [with] the hunger strike among California prisoners in solitary confinement. There were all these moments of triumph. It was really great when you could see how people inside were driving some of these movements. It's not an ending, but it's happy in many ways.
Tue, 12/02/2014 - 07:40
This is what I'm reading up on today:
- Sony Pictures withstood a crippling computer attack on Monday; leaked documents from the studio revealed the severity of its race and gender gap.
- Seventy nine people were arrested in San Francisco during protests over Ferguson. The ruckus sparked this racist column.
- ISIS leader's wife and child were detained by authorities in Lebanon.
- The body camera business is booming.
- One season of high school football may have lifelong consequences on the brain.
- Terry Crews: Modern day masculinity can be just as dangerous as the Taliban.
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 14:27
Temple University issued a statement today confirming that Bill Cosby has resigned from its board of trustees. Cosby is a Temple alum and had been an active supporter of his alma mater where he has been a board member since the 1980s. Several colleges and universities have now cut ties with Cosby, but among them Temple University may be the one with which he is most closely associated.
Up to 20 women have stepped forward in recent weeks alleging that since at least 1965, Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted them. One of those women is Andrea Constand, former director of operations for Temple's women's basketball team, with whom Cosby settled a civil suit in November 2006.
(h/t USA Today)
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 14:13
As people of conscience continue to mourn the slaying of Michael Brown and protest the St. Louis grand jury's decision not to indict his killer, Officer Darren Wilson, we're also in search of solutions.
That's why Colorlines, in partnership with EBONY.com, The Guardian U.S., The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The St. Louis American and St. Louis' Riverfront Times, has helped launch FergusonNext.com and #FergusonNext, a website and hashtag that invites users to share their ideas about how to make change.
On FergusonNext.com and via #FergusonNext on Twitter and Tumblr, you can share your solutions to the perfect storm of problems that lie beneath cases like Michael Brown's. In 750 characters or less, take on racial segregation, law enforcement reform, court reform, and other issues. On the website you can also find the partners' latest work and donate to the Brown Siblings Memorial Fund.
The core question of the project: "How can we work together to find justice?"
Join us in finding the answers.
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 13:55
Grace Lee Boggs, the pioneering Asian-American activist who's helped inspire generations of community organizers, is near death. Boggs is 99 and has been in hospice care since September, and now those closest to her are urging supporters to donate what they can to help aide her final transition. From a website set up to accept donations:
Grace has always put the needs of others before her own. But now she is in need of your support. In September 2014, Grace went into hospice care. Over the last month she has become stronger, and it seems will be with us for much longer. She has been welcoming old friends and keeping up on world events. Still, she requires 24-hour care.
As you might know, there is very little public support for quality care to keep our elders in their homes. Grace's resources are nearly depleted and those of us around her are limited in how much financial support we can all provide. Her care costs $8,000 per month. This is frankly more money than we have ever raised.
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 10:34
Ahead of the December 12th opening of his new movie, "Top Five," comedian Chris Rock sat for a long interview with New York magazine's Frank Rich. They cover a bit of everything from Rock's comedic influences to working around his daughters' school year. As usual, Rock's at his best when dissecting race in America:
When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it's all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they're not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before....
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he's the first black person that is qualified to be president. That's not black progress. That's white progress. There's been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship's improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, "Oh, he stopped punching her in the face." It's not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner's relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn't. ...
It's about white people adjusting to a new reality?
Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it's unfair that you can get judged by something you didn't do, but it's also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn't work for.
Check out the "Top Five" trailer above and read the rest of Rock's interview in New York magazine.
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 10:10
There have been many responses to writer Daniel Handler's racist joke about watermelon at this year's National Book Awards ceremony. Handler, who was emceeing the event, leveled the joke at Jacqueline Woodson, who'd ironically just won the night's honor for young adult literature for her memoir "Brown Girl Dreaming." "I told Jackie she was going to win," Handler said. "And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer -- which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind."
Though Handler issued an apology on Twitter, the reaction was swift and severe. Nikky Finney, who won the award for poetry in 2011 and added a blistering acceptance speech, wrote on her personal website that Handler's remarks were just one example of the casual racism that's endemic in the literary world.
The words Handler spoke were spit and spoken into my face just as they have been spit and spoken into my Black face for most of my life. The truth is: his words were spit and spoken into all of our faces. His racist 'unfortunate' words are part of what keeps us where and what we are as a country that refuses to deal with 'race.'
Now, Woodson herself has responded to Handler's racism with a moving essay in the New York Times. In it, she talks about how so-called humor is often used to minimize the resilience of black folks.
In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I've ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from. By making light of that deep and troubled history, he showed that he believed we were at a point where we could laugh about it all. His historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance.
"Brown Girl Dreaming" is the story of my family, moving from slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, and ends with me as a child of the '70s. It is steeped in the history of not only my family but of America. As African-Americans, we were given this history daily as weapons against our stories' being erased in the world or, even worse, delivered to us offhandedly in the form of humor.
Read more at the New York Times.
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 08:44
Janay Rice broke her months-long silence over the Thanksgiving holiday. In an interview with ESPN's Jemele Hill that was done back in November but published over the weekend, Rice addressed the assault she survived by her husband, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and video of the incident that went viral and sparked a national discussion about domestic violence.
Looking out over the media, I became angry, seeing all the people who had been covering this and adding to the story. I wanted to tell everyone what was really on my mind. When it was my turn to speak, I said I regretted my role in the incident. I know some people disagreed with me publicly apologizing. I'm not saying that what Ray did wasn't wrong. He and I both know it was wrong. It's been made clear to him that it was wrong. But at the same time, who am I to put my hands on somebody? I had already apologized to Ray, and I felt that I should take responsibility for what I did. Even though this followed the Ravens' suggested script, I owned my words.
Later, she describes the fallout from her husband's dismissal from the Ravens and indefinite suspension from the league (a decision that was recently overturned on appeal):
I'm a strong woman and I come from a strong family. Never in my life have I seen abuse, nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused. I have always been taught to respect myself and to never allow myself to be disrespected, especially by a man. Growing up, my father used to always tell my sister and I, "We don't need a man to make us, if anything it's the man who needs us.
I've learned a lot about myself. I've realized how strong I am. People ask me how I've gotten through this and I honestly cannot put it into words. I have grown closer to God. My faith has gotten me through each day. It's been hard accepting the fact that God chose us for this, but at the same time it's put us in the position to help others. We know our incident led to very important discussions to hashtags of "why I stayed" and "why I left." If it took our situation becoming headline news to show domestic violence is happening in this country, that's a positive.
Mon, 12/01/2014 - 07:06
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- Obama will be holding a meeting with cabinet members, civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials to talk about Ferguson.
- Ferguson Action organizers are calling for a nationwide walkout from schools and work today at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.
- St. Louis police are mad that a handful of Rams players particpated in a "Hands up, don't shoot" pre-game demonstration this weekend.
- Darren Wilson resigns from the Ferguson Police Department, apparently without severance.
- Black Friday sales were down, and Cyber Monday sales are expected to be as well.
- Did you like "Breaking Bad"? A trailer for a spin-off named "Better Call Saul" is here.
- It's World AIDS Day--and the HIV virus is spreading faster in the South than anywhere else in the U.S.
- DNA scientist and well-known racist James Watson is auctioning his Nobel Prize because no on really likes him.
Wed, 11/26/2014 - 19:59
Before Michael Brown and John Crawford III and Eric Garner and Aiyana Stanley Jones and Akai Gurley there was Oscar Grant. The transit police killing of the 22-year-old at Oakland's Fruitvale Station on New Year's Day in 2009 sparked national outrage when video of it went viral. Finally, there was recent proof that black men face an outsize risk of death at the hands of law enforcement. For killing Grant, former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted for involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. He only served 11 months.
While covering the trial, my colleague Julianne Hing wondered how best to pursue justice for black victims of police killings. "Criminal prosecutions are a necessary salve for families who want personal accountability for their deepest losses and courts remain the most public venue to demand justice for police officers' violent behavior," she wrote. "But for many organizers and academics who work on police brutality issues, they are not the most effective. Prosecutions so often end in acquittal, for one--as the painful verdicts for the cops charged with attacking Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Abner Louima and Rodney King all illustrate this."
ProPublica analyzed the FBI's data from 2010--the year of Mehserle was convicted--through 2012 and found that young black men are 21 times more likely than their white peers to to be killed by police.
Yet it's extremely rare for officers to face indictments, much less receive lengthy prison sentences.In California, for example, a 2013 analysis of on-duty officer-involved shootings by The Center for Investigative Reporting found that since 2005, only three officers -- including Mehserle -- have been prosecuted.
What follows is a far-from-exhaustive, intensely human look at how the data bears out. The guiding question: Can law enforcement be held accountable in a justice system that's set up to support their actions?
Wed, 11/26/2014 - 17:41
Did the legal system fail to deliver justice for Michael Brown when a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed him? Or, was it working exactly as it's designed? These are the questions many are asking in the wake of yet another defeated attempt to punish yet another cop for the killing of yet another unarmed black man.
Accountability for police violence is so rarely found in the courts that many are urging for a more expansive definition of that elusive justice. What's more, individual prosecutions of police officers are ill-suited, activists say, to deal with the root of the real problem: racism, and an irrational fear of black people.
"We work to hold individual police [officers] accountable," says Monifa Bandele, a member of the New York City chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), "But if we don't really dissect the cancer that is racism in the U.S. it's just going pop up in other parts of the body."
There's an undeniable emotional allure, and even a public mandate, to turn to the courts for accountability for the black boys and girls and men and women whom police kill. "It is the only outlet that's available right now. It is the only venue we have as a community," says Sheila Bedi, a professor at Northwestern University's School of Law, describing the bind that black people and their allies are in. "Where else are communities supposed to look for justice?"
Yet Bedi, herself a practicing civil rights attorney, minces no words about the legal system. "In terms of a social good, the criminal justice system was an accomplice to Michael Brown's murder."
She, like many, predicted that the grand jury would decline to indict Darren Wilson. In fact, that Wilson would escape indictment was accepted knowledge among those well-acquainted with the workings of the U.S. criminal justice system long before Monday's announcement came down. "The system is not about justice for black and brown men, as it's been proven over and over again," Bedi says.
A 'Reasonable Fear' of Black Boys
The matter of whether Wilson's killing of Michael Brown constituted a crime was never an open question to his family or to protestors who took to the streets in Ferguson. But the legal standard to determine what makes a killing a crime, particularly if a police officer is involved, all but ensured that Wilson would not be indicted. While the Department of Justice has an open investigation into Wilson's shooting of Brown, media reports have predicted little chance at a federal lawsuit. Should the Brown family choose to file a civil lawsuit against Wilson, the legal bar there will be tough to reach as well, say legal experts.
"The law recognizes that police officers are going to make mistakes, allows for them to do so, and acknowledges that life [may be] the cost," says Katherine Macfarlane, a professor at Louisiana State University's Paul M. Hebert Law Center who, prior to her appointment, defended New York City and police officers against civil suits, including excessive force claims. Those protections for cops are enshrined in legal doctrines that first allow a police officer to use force--including deadly force--against an apparently unarmed suspect if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect "poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others," Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote in his opinion for the 1985 case Tennessee v. Garner. That case concerned the killing of 15-year-old Edward Garner, a black boy who was unarmed and holding a purse and $10 when a police officer shot and killed him while responding to a report of a nearby home robbery. As it was, the Supreme Court found the police officer's actions unconstitutional--Tennessee law at the time allowed for an officer to fatally shoot a fleeing suspect in order to secure an arrest. The Supreme Court raised the bar for when force could be an option, but also may have inadvertently supplied every subsequent accused officer the defense they needed to utter in order to be set free: "I feared for my life, or the lives of others."
Indeed, Wilson said a version of this when he sat before the St. Louis grand jury. "[Michael Brown was] obviously bigger than I was and stronger [and] I've already taken two to the face I didn't think I would. The third one could be fatal if he hit me right," Wilson said of his decision to reach for his gun during his interaction with Brown, according to transcripts of the grand jury proceedings published by the New York Times.
Separately, police officers sued for excessive force are to be judged based on a standard of "objective reasonableness," which was set forth by the Supreme Court in its 1989 ruling in Graham v. Connor. Determining whether an act of alleged excessive force violated the law means asking whether another reasonable officer would have acted similarly. If an officer "reasonably" believes they are in danger, they are legally allowed to use deadly force.
"In most police cases there's deference given to police officers," Macfarlane says. "In excessive force claims in particular the jury doesn't get to judge the police officer's actions with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. A juror will be asked to consider whether an officer acted reasonably under the circumstances, which might include stress and very short timeframes in which to act."
The objective reasonableness doctrine "is protective of officers and their need to make split-second decisions," says Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law. "Excessive force and other legal doctrines make it very hard for those who have been injured to recover."
In a culture where fear of black people, and in particular a fear of black men and boys, is a socially acceptable more, the colorblind legal doctrines nonetheless authorize police officers to shoot and kill black people. Even when those black males are teen boys. Even when they are unarmed. Even when what spooks the police officer is the flash of their partner's muzzle.
If, as in the U.S., white supremacy is the prevailing power structure, and anti-blackness the flip side of that coin, "then the reasonable fear standard will always work against those who are deemed sub-persons," argues Falguni Sheth, a professor of philosophy and political theory at Hampshire College.
If we wanted to be honest with ourselves, Sheth says, "we have to pull it apart and say: Look, this is the world that is the result of all these horrible histories. The history of slavery, the history of Black Codes, the history of Jim Crow. So the reasonableness standard has to be accompanied by the question: reasonable for whom?"
It could be more aptly described as "a reasonable standard for those who have a fear of blacks and who have arms," Sheth says.
The 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman--not an officer himself, but a neighborhood watchman who'd deputized himself as a citizen cop--is a prime example of this, says Macfarlane. "The jury in the Zimmerman case could understand his illogical, subjective fear of a young black man and think of it as reasonable. It seeps into the police force, and every aspect of our culture."
The Real Work
The ability to be wholly unsurprised in and yet simultaneously outraged by the criminal justice system is a recurrent paradox in an era where the arc of the universe is taking its sweet time bending towards justice.
"Disgusted, full of rage," said activist Patrisse Cullors, describing her state of mind Monday night after a Ferguson grand jury declined to indict Wilson for killing Brown as she expected."[My] heart is broken," added Cullors, the director of the Los Angeles-based police accountability and prison reform group Dignity and Power Now and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
Cullors has organized on police accountability and prison reform issues for years and knows that Brown's police shooting death will hardly be the last she'll protest. After all, in the three and a half months between Brown's August 9 killing and Monday evening's grand jury announcement, police around the country have killed 25-year-old Ezell Ford, 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr., 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 28-year-old Akai Gurley, all of them black.
Given the track record--in the last year, grand juries and district attorneys have declined to indict officers who killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray, 22-year-old John Crawford III and 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, all of them also black--Darren Wilson will not be the last police officer to escape criminal charges for killing an unarmed black boy or man. The criminal justice system has proven itself to be disinterested in defending black people's humanity.
"We cannot indict our way out of white supremacy," Cullors says. And in the coming days, as public pressure likely shifts to calls for a civil rights lawsuit or pressure on the Department of Justice, neither can people "solely call on the DOJ to take action against law enforcement," Cullors says. Change, she says, will come from people who take to the streets to shut cities down. "We must demand for all government officials to sit at the table with us to move towards greater accountability. Every law enforcement agency must be under constant scrutiny by the people they serve and the bosses [who] govern them."
Bandele of MXGM agrees. She says the group will continue to train people in other cities to conduct their long-running police observation program, and to fight for legislation like the anti-racial profiling policy community groups won last year in New York City. "When things happen like Amadou Diallo, like Sean Bell, you would think people would give up," Bandele says, letting out a short laugh at the absurdity of the political reality. "But we know you can't give up. There's no option. We can't live like this. We can't live and have people shot in our community."
She isn't ready to give up on a political strategy that includes going after cops in court either. "No one is saying [the courts] are the only field you can play in to get justice," Bandele says. "We are at such a crisis level that we have to double down on whatever we have available to us. We've got to play them all."
Wed, 11/26/2014 - 13:14
In the second installment of Officer Darren Wilson's interview with ABC, he revealed that not only is his new wife, fellow Ferguson police officer Barbara Spradling, pregnant, but that he'd also like to move on from the aftermath of his killing Michael Brown by giving back to others.
"I would love to teach people. I would love to give more insight on ... into the use of force and anything I can," Wilson told ABC. "Anything that I can get out of this career I've had so far and of the incident, I would love to give to someone else."
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@JamilSmith The distorted #media depiction of African American men & boys has real life consequences, again. #mediadiversity #Tremaine