45 – The Presidency White (Male) Privilege Built

Some will remember 2016 as the year a reality show host was elected to the nation’s highest office.  I will remember 2016 as the year the U.S. media trivialized dissent and trivialized the concerns of Donald Trump’s most vocal critics. Some media personalities did so directly, others passively, while many more were bystanders.  “Democrats are alarmists”, “Our Democracy is safe, we have structures in place to protect it.”, “Dems have Clinton, on one hand, and the pretense of an impending doomsday, on the other”, “The Democrats are hysterical”.

I can hear the Trump-warnings as clear as a ringing bell.  Democrats from the grassroots to the Presidential level warned about the danger Donald Trump posed, and not just to the American Presidency, but to the nation, as a whole.  He was on a two-year media tour with zero plans to govern the nation, while the media found Hillary Clinton “too-prepared” and “too-rehearsed”.   It was clear that Trump didn’t know the difference between the U.S. Constitution and a poorly written “Celebrity Apprentice” script.  Hillary Clinton was “too wonky”,  by comparison.  Despite the numerous run-ins with the law at federal, state, and local levels, and a smug disdain for authority – other than those who sided with him politically, Trump’s legal issues were largely ignored.  Clinton was always “allegedly-guilty” in the eyes of the media and some voters.  Proof of guilt was never necessary.

Trump’s harshest critics were women, and African-Americans.  While 42% of women supported him, only 8& of African-Americans did.  Why?  As a woman of color, I can tell you why I believe most of us never bought into the argument that our structures (courts, judges, law enforcement, and ultimately the voters) would hold Trump accountable.

As people of color, here is what we know from firsthand contact and generations of survival weariness: the structures that so many in the, primarily, white (male) media thought would constrain a uniquely unqualified white (male) candidate are neither tangible nor rigidly applied.  They are structures that work when the people who apply them do their jobs – without bias. The experiences of African-Americans in the U.S. have led us to understand how fragile those systems are.  We knew what it meant that Trump stirred deep racial animus among his supporters.  We knew what it meant to hear crowds chanting about their passion to  possess the American dream, for themselves, and to dispossess others of that dream.  There was no way those structures were going to hold for long (see the Muslim travel ban).  We also knew that the man who would be granted the power to push the boundaries of those structures would do so gladly, and most likely succeed.

African-Americans have seen this particular shit-show up close and personal, many times before.  We know it does not end well not matter what anyone tells you.  We watched post-civil war Reconstruction become secondary slavery and lynching.  Our 40 acres and a mule became sharecropping and convict leasing.  The right to vote became the poll tax and grandfather clauses.  Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice replaced Emmett Till.  Recy Taylor, “4  Little Black Girls (Addie Mae Collins [age 14], Carol Denise McNair [age 11], Carole Robertson [age 14], and Cynthia Wesley [age 14] become Sandra Bland, Gynnya McMillen, Cyntoia Brown, and countless others.  Redlining, the unholy banking and real estate alliance that deprived generations of African- and Latino-American families of a home surrounded by a white-picket fence in tree-lined suburbs, became affordable (segregated) housing- turned untended housing projects and untended rental property.  Outlawed redlining became modern-day redlining.  How many examples do you need?  I have more.

Almost every major stumbling block dropped into the lives of people of color took place IN SPITE OF the structures of society that were designed to ensure equality and fairness.  In many cases, those structures aided and abetted the destruction of minority lives, placing  blocks at the local, state, and federal levels.  Individuals, like Martin Luther King, Jr, and the contemporary Black Lives Matter heroes, end up on watchlists and are described as potential threats to our freedoms and/or safety. They are placed alongside the names of spies who sell out the nation’s interests to hostile, and friendly, foreign governments. Those structures, at times, treat the people who fight for a fairer America with the same disdain as those who would do her harm – especially when the fight centers on racial equality.

The very fact that media sources and politicians play the game, “What if Barack Obama did that?” shows the tacit acknowledgement that #44, by virtue of his race and the bigotry of those who were determined to see him fail, could never have gotten away with behavior for which Trump has been given a pass.  Trump’s behaviors range from sheer incompetence to potentially traitorous.  The same “structures” that demanded perfection of Obama, and still rejected his best efforts, are the very structures that demand almost nothing of value from Trump.  Why?  Those structures are ideas, accepted and put into practice by people, who have to hold to those values despite personal beliefs and biases.

So you see the problem here?  If the answer is yes, you know what African-Americans knew when we gave him only 8 percent of our vote (and by the way “8%”, you are not invited to my cookout – and you know what that means).

The bottom line is that, yes, we will survive Donald J. Trump, whether he is in prison by the end of his term, or simply voted out of office.  The problem is that with any major tragedy, we run the risk of surviving but without being able to recover the delicately progressing nation we  were before Trump came along.  We run the risk that the privilege that afforded this grand opportunity to the most uniquely unqualified man, in history, will lead us all to pay for it, for the rest of our lives and part of the lives of our children and grandchildren.

The next time the primarily (white, male) media tells you to “calm down” or that you are being “hysterical”, vote like your lives and futures depend on it.  They just might.

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Re: Police Brutality/Fatal Shootings, we are telling only half the story…

Admittedly, I am not over the live stream of Philando Castile’s death. I am not over the deaths of Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin (who died at the hands of a “neighborhood watch” member), Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, John Crawford, nor of our Latin/Hispanic brothers and sisters whose names and stories are often ignored by the media – despite their incredibly high risk of being fatally shot while unarmed. I am not over the untimely deaths of all other unarmed Americans whose lives were cut short because of someone else’s fear or biases. Each new death rips open a barely healed wound while adding the weight of its own mass.

I am not anti-Police but I am, unapologetically, anti- senseless death and anti- brutality.  That Robert Johnson’s name wasn’t added the list above, gives me no comfort.

 

The longer video (sound kicks in during the skirmish)

 

 

I believe in the necessity of a defense / peace force that serves and protects American communities.  I also believe that most of the individuals who serve as part of that force are honest, serve with good intentions, and serve to great effect.  Those who poorly serve their communities not only risk harming innocent citizens, but create unnecessary burdens for their fellow brothers- and sisters-in-blue.  They tarnish the legacies of hardworking officers and ruin their relationships with citizens whose trust and support are necessary to create effective neighborhood partnerships – partnerships which save lives.

Where we have, societally, missed the mark is that the focus is almost always on the individual(s) involved in fatal shootings.  We should want to know the details of each shooting, for the sake of the public record and for the sake of families traumatized by these events. It is not unreasonable to invest our hope in making  significant changes in policing, and policies, by learning the details of each shooting.  Officers involved in the fatal shootings of unarmed citizens present only half the story – the latter half.  While no one officer may be a problem, it is possible that the process of determining fitness to serve is the problem. That is where the story begins.

  1.  What is the process for determining fitness for duty of new recruits/trainees?  Is the entire protocol state-wide, or are some standards local/regional?
    • Officers are typically held to the standards and regulations put forth by the state, but how different is evaluation process from state to state – and regions within states?
  2. What part of that initial evaluation process is used to assesses potential racial/ethnic/gender/religious biases against others?
    • Humans are prone to bias, so most of us show some form or bias, but some of us show stronger biases than others.  What kind of anti-bias training is offered prior to hiring, and after?  How extensive is the training?
  3. Which specific psychological evaluations are used?  If none are used? Why not?
  4. Who gives and scores the evaluations?
    • What are the qualifications of those individuals?
    • Are their resumes/CVs available for review?
  5. Are there differences in evaluations administered in-house vs those administered by private agencies?
  6. Are police departments tracking the records of officers involved in cases of brutality/corruption complaints to determine if the same individuals/organizations are responsible for the pre-hire (and any subsequent) evaluations of those officers?
  7. Are warning signs identified by evaluators ignored or downplayed by departments?
  8. Are there policies for follow-up evaluations (every five years, for example)?
    • Given the high levels of stress officers face, in the best of circumstances, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a psychological “check up” be given throughout the course of an officer’s career.  Every officer should be given the ability to address job-related stress and then return to duty.
  9. Are the INITIAL evaluations re-examined, in cases where brutality/corruption complaints are filed against officers or when unarmed citizens are shot?  Are there details in the initial evaluation that were deemed irrelevant then, that would later  carry greater significance?
  10. Is there a mechanism for police officers to recommend re-evaluation when there are concerns which are not yet reported as brutality complaints or concerns which may stem from daily conversations between officers.  Imagine if an officer had the ability to safely recommend re-evaluation in this case:

Racist texts read at trial of Inkster police officer accused of beating black motorist

“At least give me the satisfaction of knowing you were out there beating up n*****s right now,” said a text sent to Zieleniewski earlier this year. It was read aloud in court.

“LOL,” Zieleniewski said in his text response. “Just got done with one.”

Floyd Dent was the target of Officer William Melendez’s attack.  Auxiliary Officer John Zieleniewski was reportedly Melendez’s trainee/partner.  Floyd Dent’s name is not on the list, above, but under different circumstances, it could have been.

We know that the majority of officers never fire their weapons during the course of their service,  and rarely, if ever, have altercations with members of the community.  It is why we should be especially concerned in cases where this does occur,  even more  when the victims are unarmed and not a threat to the officer(s) involved.  Members of police departments, who fully understand the job – having their own experiences to rely on, should be the most concerned.

Just as minority communities are plagued by being defined by our most troubled members, oddly enough, police officers suffer the same fate.  It would, in almost any other circumstance, be the first step in creating a common understanding.  These are communities that understand that the overwhelming majority of its members are good people who only want to live in peace and coexist with others.

Police departments should never hesitate to take the same advice it gives to communities of color, in particular: “Stand up to your most problematic members.  Turn them in if they behave in ways that are violent or threatening.  If those in charge aren’t doing their jobs, do it for them.  Keep us all safe.”

Public service, in all of its manifestations, is both a privilege and a responsibility.  Lasting relationships are formed between citizens and public servants (at all levels) who honor policing as a privilege and responsibility.  While we focus individual cases and the circumstances which have contributed to each unfortunate death, there are bigger questions to ask.  Asking them is not about blaming.  Asking bard questions strengthens our defense/peace forces AND the communities they serve.  Telling half the story, the latter half, will never get us there.  We must tell the full story.  We deserve no less.