Wednesday, November 26, 2014

REFLECTIONS ON FERGUSON AND THE "CONVERSATION" ON RACE

      Over the past few days, I have been making a number of extended comments on, or related to, the indictment of American justice and America’s leaders which Ferguson has become.  I collect and lightly edit a few of them here.
 

The first three items are comments posted under “How Robert McCulloch Indicted Himself” HuffPost Politics (25 Nov).


The most conspicuous failure was to make the grand jury a trial jury. The job of grand juries is to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to support a charge; it is not to balance that evidence with the evidence which undermines that support—the job of the defense at trial.  A second failure is to pretend that conflicting or even inconsistent testimony is something unusual and discrediting to a case; if it were, almost no one would get charged, must less tried, much less convicted of any crime with witnesses.  The most obvious failure was of justice, not just “for all,” but for any.  McCulloch has issues; he also has interests—like running for higher office, possibly?  His partiality corrosive of the legal system shows him to be unworthy of public trust in any capacity.


In response to which, Karen Nord writes, “Obviously you have some vendetta against Bob McCulloch…..which is totally unfounded and incorrect. He is an excellent prosecuting attorney and has been a great asset to St. Louis for many years.  You certainly did not hear (if you listened to him the other night) what I heard.  He did everything correctly and justice was served…..it’s just sad that people can’t accept the facts and live with it.  Yes, it is very sad a young man was killed, however, the Police that protect us all, also have to protect themselves and that is exactly what Officer Wilson did AND a Grand Jury proved that.  You are entitled to your opinions, however, hopefully people won’t take them as factual. Sad, sad, sad of you to lash out like you have.”  [I have to report that almost every respondent took Ms. Nord to task for her bias and ignorance.]


To which I responded, “‘Obviously,’ my arse.  ‘Totally unfounded and incorrect,’ also my arse.  I do not know the man, have had no encounters with the police in Missouri, do not live in Missouri (wouldn’t, if I had the chance), and have considered both diverse, reputable accounts of McCulloch’s prosecutorial conduct, and widespread disapproval of his actions by ‘other prosecutors, lawyers, and legal scholars.  It is absurd to claim that the police protect “us.”  Who are us?  Middle-class, white Christians only?  It would seem so.  Only if those different from that narrow norm live long enough to get to court do they get the possible chance at “justice for all.”  But usually, the non-middle class, non-white, non-Christian get summary justice by police whose response too often is the excessive use of force in dispensing summary judgment on the street.”


Widespread distrust of the police reflects the equally widespread disregard of principles of accountability.  The vague definition and virtually unchallengeable exercise of discretion means that anything goes in enforcement; the law is the law as the police apply it in the streets, with the connivance of prosecutors and judges.  Their discretion is invariably conditioned by cultural, psychological, and social factors.  The result is too often a prompt resort to excessive violence, with disproportionate casualties being blacks, especially young black men; the emotionally distraught or mentally unstable; the drug-influenced; and the homeless or the poor.  Those presumed innocent until guilty if they live long enough to get to court are not otherwise protected and served.


The most important reason for the unprofessional behavior of police officers—how good are the “good apples,” since they tolerate the “bad apples”?—is the unconscious governmental decision to employ those who are in, or aspire to, the middle class to enforce a Norman Rockwell view of America.  Such a view either does not recognize or does not respect diversity in what is regarded as the normative white Christian America.  The police are thus the approved local, state, and federal government agents to maintain a society which does not accept that “all men are equal” and denies “liberty and justice for all.”  Who can trust those whose actions undermine their sworn oaths to uphold the Constitution?


Not only is race a factor in Michael Brown’s murder, but it is also a fact conditioning the meaning of justice in America for all Americans.  Ironically, the first black—he is really half white and half black, but, in America, black is the dominant taint—Obama has proven to be both not transformative, but not even informative, not to mention helpful.  He has never been, but has not wanted to be seen as, an Angry Black Man.  He is, instead, and wants to be seen as a mild-mannered, agreeable, obliging black man.  So his words on race never rise to the level of a conversation, which he claims we need, and, of course, do not rise to an indictment of American racism, especially in the American system of justice.  Who better qualified to address this issue and lead that “conversation” than a lawyer specializing in Constitutional law and a black president?  So the disappointment in his lack of leadership on this issue is great at the opportunity lost.


Long ago, it would have done everyone a world of good if he had responded directly to the insults made possible by prevalent racism.  One such opportunity was the reception he received when he landed in Arizona, when its governor, Jan Brewer, waved a finger in his face.  He might have stopped right there and scolded her for her racist bad manners exercised only because he was a black man.  Let her explain her behavior.  Another such opportunity was the response to a portion of his State of the Union address, when SC Rep Joe Wilson called him a liar.  A presidential riff right there on the state of race relations in America would have been a powerful one.  Both responses, human responses to insult and teaching moments as well might have given pause to racists in public office, who always fear being called out for their racism.  Who besides them and their racist supporters would have been upset with his calling out these insults for what they and as seen and heard by him and everyone else in those moments.  But no; so Obama’s timidity on this subject condones the very racist behavior which he presumably would wish to condemn.  Obama is not a bad president because he is black, but his self-concept as a black man in a white society has impaired his ability to lead with confidence, courage, and conviction on this issue.


My final remark.  It is long since time that the white people of my generation especially—I am nearly 75—grow up, shed the various bigotries which their bigoted parents taught them, stop being afraid of everything today different from the way it was yesterday, and cease trying to preserve or resurrect a discredited racist past.  When I think of the troglodytes of my times, I rarely think of racists like John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and all the rest of the GOP establishment.  I think of their “base,” people like Paula Dean, who seems perfectly happy to blame her parents for her bigotry and then to think that she is blameless for continuing their bigotry and for refusing to learn or change a thing in light of the civil rights movement of our adolescence and youth.

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