Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas is Over and It Still Sucks to be Black in America

While I was on my Christmas Break, Black Lives Matter protesters  were pulling actions like this Die-in at Barkley's Center in Brooklyn on December 17.

For the month of December this blog has been pretty much all holidays all the time.  It wasn’t accidental.  Part of it, of course, is that I am a sentimental old fool with a childish spot in my heart for all things Yule and Noël.  But an even bigger part this year when I dredged up every old Christmas related post I could find to fill the days, was because I was sick in that same heart by assaulting waves of bad news and outrage from around the world.  It was as if I could stick both fingers in my ears and loudly sing to myself some comforting carol it would all go away.  And it sortta worked. 
But not for long.  Christmas Day has passed and before New Year’s can ring in, I am forced to  face the fact that the real reason I could dedicate a month to tinsel, dreams, and pious proclamations of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men was simply that I am imbued with white privilege.  It wasn’t my life or my family’s, or my secure sub-urban town, or all the good folks in my loving and supporting church community that were in anyway really threatened, that were uprooted and displaced, that were despised and shunned, that were mocked and sneered at by crypto-fascist politicians, that were reminded daily that they just don’t matter.  Looking away and hiding, even for a little while, was just another of the infinite gifts of that privilege.
But Black Folks were reminded time after time over those same holidays that after more than two years of protests and marching that in America Black Lives still don’t matter.  In fact they were shelled with almost daily reminders.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota tensions have been running high since 24 year old Jamar Clark was shot in the head and killed on November 15 after supposedly interfering with paramedics who were treating a victim in an earlier shooting. 
Several witnesses have reported that Clark was shot while handcuffed, an accusation denied.  Minneapolis, like many cities has a history of officer involved shootings and harassment of the Black community. 
Young people there have led an active Black Lives Matter Movement with aggressive demonstrations, including a die-in at the Mall of America last Christmas season that resulted in dozens of arrests and heavy charges against both demonstrators and alleged conspirators to lead the protest on private property.  Most of those defendants recently had their cases thrown out of court.

Protesters faced down heavily armed police at the Minneapolis 4th District Police Headquarters occupation.

The Black Lives Matter Movement swung into action again with a series of demonstrations at City Hall and an occupation of the 4th District Police Headquarters—actually a continuous vigil outside the station.  Five demonstrators there were shot and wounded by three armed white supremacist counter demonstrators on November 23.  Two men have been apprehended and charged.  The shooting only steeled the resolve of protesters.  On December 4 police rousted the encampment at the 4th District.  Protesters responded with a march on City Hall.  The group vowed to keep up pressure as more bad news poured in from around the country.
Three days before Christmas on December 22 a Texas Grand Jury failed to indict the jailers of Sandra Bland who was found hanging in her cell in the Waller County Jail on July 12.  Bland, you will recall, was the young woman traveling to a bright future at a new job at Prairie View A&M University when she was arrested by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia on the petty charge of improper lane usage. 
A young white woman stopped for the same offense would probably have been issued a warning or at worst issued a ticket and sent on her way.  But Bland, a Chicago area woman was lippy, insolent, and uppity—three words repeatedly used to justify her detention by white social media commenters after controversy about her arrest and death spread.

Sandra Bland died in custody after being jailed on a ridiculously minor traffic offense in Texas.

Bland’s family has always been skeptical of the judgement that she committed suicide when she had too much to live for.  Authorities quickly dug up a medical history of being treated for mild depression like millions of other Americans.  Various forensic experts concluded the strangulation death was a suicide.  Even if that was the case, it begs two critical questions—why was she in jail to begin with and why was she monitored so poorly that signs of despair were not observed.  She was monitored in jail almost exclusively by video cameras with almost no direct human contact with her jailers.  The frequent regular bed checks by personnel which are standard in many jails were not performed.
A Black special prosecutor in the case was unable to get a Grand Jury indictment for her jail care.  The same jury will hear charges in January against Trooper Encinia over the arrest itself.  At this point hardly anyone expects a different result.  The family’s civil suit and a Federal probe of the jail are likely the only avenues open to anything resembling justice in the case.
Things got worse, if that was possible, in Chicago on Christmas Day where tensions have run high over police killings, especially the execution of 17 year old Laquan McDonald on October 20.  An apparently disoriented McDonald was seen wandering a South Side street.  Several officers tracked his movement down the center of a nearly deserted Pulaski Road after he slashed the tire of a squad car cracked a window with a small pocket knife.  He walked slowly and made no other threatening moves to officers on the scene when Officer Jason Van Dyke arrived late at the scene, quickly exited his car, and without warning pumped 16 rounds into McDonald who was walking away from him at the time.  He had to be restrained from re-loading to fire again.  The boy bled to death with not a single officer on the scene attempting to render him aid.

The infamous video showing Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke opening fire on Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke was an officer with a history of more than 20 civilian complaints lodged against him including charges of excessive force and two about fire arm use.  None resulted in action against the officer—citizen complaints in Chicago are almost never upheld.  But one jury in a civil case awarded $350,000 to the victim of excessive force in a routine traffic stop.  Van Dyke was also implicated in covering up evidence in a high profile 2007 police shooting by failing to turn in an original incident report, but copying statements handed to him by officers on the scene after they had agreed on a story about the shooting.
The case was controversial from the beginning, but erupted into a major crisis when the city was forced to release a patrol car dashboard video which disproved all previous police accounts and excuses.  Rage filled demonstrations erupted in the neighborhoods and on downtown streets demanding justice and the resignations or Mayor Rham Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alverez. 
Alverez was forced, against all of her instincts and previous history to indict Officer Van Dyke for murder.  Two weeks later she reverted to form when she refused to indict officers involved in the shooting of  Ronald Johnson more than a year after he was killed while fleeing police despite another dash cam video which failed to show him with an alleged weapon.
Meanwhile Emanuel scrambled to cover his ass with the sacrificial firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, a round of ritual public apologies, and the appointment of yet another civilian investigation body.  He was forced to recant opposition to a Federal Justice Department investigation of the Police Department.  Still protests, led by a new generation of young Black activists continued.
Emanuel was on vacation in Cuba when in the wee small hours of the morning after Christmas Day Chicago Police demonstrated once again that they would ignore the rising outcry against their behavior and continue to “aggressively police” the Black community with indiscriminate deadly force.
Officers responded to a 911 call from Antonio LeGrier asking for assistance with his 19 year old son Quintonio LeGrier.  The two had an argument earlier on Christmas Day.  The older man woke up to his son banging on his locked bedroom door and yelling.  He had an aluminum baseball bat.  The son has some history of mental problems.  The father hoped that the police would intervene to calm the situation. 

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier, latest victim's of the CPD"s shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality.
He called his friend and downstairs neighbor Bettie Jones in the two flat West Side building.  He asked her to keep an eye out for the police but not to open her door for Quinatonio.  Jones told him that the young man was outside with the bat.  Jones, always helpful and concerned for both men, kept an eye on things.  Before police arrived Quinatonio returned inside the building.
Police arrived on the scene and knocked on outside front door shared by the two flats.  Jones may have opened the door for police, but Quinatonio was also in the foyer still holding the bat but apparently not making any threatening moves against the officers.  Without hesitation the officers immediately opened fire striking Quinatonio 7 times but also hitting Jones.  Both quickly bled to death at the scene.
Jones was a 52 year old grandmother whose family had gathered in her home for Christmas earlier and who expected to return later that morning.  She was known as a friendly, active woman who was involved with local anti-violence projects. 
Both families and the community expressed outrage at the needless shootings.  The officers have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, but even normally police friendly media acknowledge that shooting seems unjustifiable.  Mayor Emanuel rushed home from Cuba and has announced plans for new deescalation policies and training for the entire force plus equipping every officer on patrol with a Taser.  Currently there are only 700 available through the entire force.  The theory is that Tasers will give officers a non-lethal alternative to gunfire.  However field experience has shown that officers equipped with Tasers are quick to use them in situations in which no weapons at all would previously have been deployed and that applying repeated jolts to already subdued subjects has led to serious injury and death.  Details of this plan are to be provided in a joint press conference by the Mayor and Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante later this afternoon.
Growing protests are not satisfied and calls for Emanuel’s resignation or removal have escalated.  Last night, December 29 activists staged a noisy but peaceful protest outside the Mayors comfortable North Side Ravenswood neighborhood home demanding that he go.
As if all of this were not dispiriting enough on December 28 a Cleveland, Ohio Grand Jury failed to indict the officer involved in one of the most notorious of the festering wounds to the Black community—the shooting of 13 year old Tamar Rice in a park on November 23, 2014. 

Tamar Rice, partially obscured behind a post being shot by Officer Timmothy Loechmann less than two seconds after he arrived on the scene.
Rice was playing alone near a swing set with a toy pellet pistol when someone called 911 to report “someone with a gun” at the Cudell Recreation Center.  The caller even stated that it was “probably a fake.”  Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback pulled up to the scene.  As recorded by park surveillance camera before the squad car even rolled to a complete stop and less than two seconds after arriving, Loehmann fired two shots hitting the boy once in the torso.  The toy gun was at that point tucked in Rice’s belt.  Loehmann claimed that he “made a motion for it” and did not respond to three orders to “show your hands”—a physical impossibility in less than two seconds.
As the boy bled the officers delayed calling for medical assistance, presumably to get their story straight.  When the boys sister quickly arrived on the scene, she was grabbed, restrained and thrown handcuffed into the back of a squad car and told that she would face charges for assaulting police.  She was later release uncharged.  Tamar died of his wound the next day in a hospital.
The police story quickly fell apart as protests erupted not only in Cleveland but around the country. They said that they assumed the boy was an adult.  But if that was the case Ohio is an open carry state and it would have been perfectly legal for any adult to be in the park armed with a real gun.  Swaggering white gun nuts, in fact, routinely parade around with weapons, including assault rifles daring anyone to “interfere with their rights.”  And Ohio police have been meticulous in observing those rights.  Alleged rights, however, apparently are erased by skin color and the reflexive fear of Black males that is epidemic among police.
It was also reveled that the shooter, Lehmann, had been dismissed from his previous job in Independence, Ohio after being found too emotionally unstable and unfit for duty.  Cleveland had no qualms about hiring him anyway.
Despite all of this Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty not only could not get a Grand Jury indictment of Lehmann, he didn’t even try.  In his press conference announcing the decision not to indict he actually bragged about leading the Grand Jury to that conclusion because it was “not likely to result in a conviction and would have been a “violation of my professional ethics” to prosecute.  He called the shooting merely a “perfect storm of human error and miscommunication.”
Dismay and disbelief by family members was quickly followed by demonstrations not only in Cleveland but in New York City as well.
No wonder American Blacks feel that they walk the streets of our cities with targets pinned on them and a free pass for assailants in Blue.
The press and public official routinely call for calm after each new outrage.  But there is no calm—only more demonstration.  Meanwhile Whites seem to continually find ways to blame each new victim for their own executions—they didn’t respond quickly enough to orders, were disorderly, had some criminal past.  In the case of Tamar Rice, his parents’ arrest records were held against him as proof that he was a threatening gang banger.  Politicians who used to use code words for such racism are beginning to follow the lead of Donald Trump who has shown that overt racism pays off handsomely.

Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted holiday travel at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Not to be dissuaded protests around the country have only intensified.  In Chicago a series of demonstrations disrupted holy Christmas shopping on the Miracle Mile.  In Minnesota protesters returned to the Mall of America but in a piece of brilliant misdirection used a feint there to cover a disruption of holiday travel at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport.  New Yorkers protesting the Tamar Rice whitewash took to the streets like Occupy marches and led police on a merry chase ending with traffic disruption on the Brooklyn Bridge.  More protests have been planned and announced in coming days.
The press has editorially virtually universally condemned protests that “inconvenience innocent citizens.”  But that fails to acknowledge that just such inconvenient protesting has wrung what few concessions have been made to the Black Lives Movement and will likely bring more.  The national media has once again put coverage of protests around the corner on the back burner even when local markets cannot ignore them.  The growing boycott of coverage is eerily similar to the sudden retreat from covering the spreading Occupy movement three years ago—which turned out to come after secret appeals from Federal security operations.  The idea is to convince Americans that the movement is burning out. 
In fact, it is not only smoldering, it threatens to erupt into a conflagration.
In all of this some white allies have stood resolutely on the streets with Black protestors.  Others have found different ways to stand in solidarity.
I have been AWOL.  But it is time to report back to duty.  Just tell me where to stand and point me in the right direction. 
I hope a lot of readers of this blog will share the call.  It’s not too late.

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