It’s becoming increasingly hard to resist the temptation to be an angry black man. All my life I’ve tried to straddle the line between objective fairness and Black homerism. This past week pushed my sensibilities to the limit. Tuesday was one of the most emotionally draining days of my life. What started Monday night, as an annoyance, ended Tuesday as full-blown disappointment. As people I respect, intelligent people, classmates, long-time friends, and other weighed in on the aftermath of the Darren Wilson grand jury announcement, many – dare I say too many? – were quick to point to the conclusion of the grand jury as evidence that no crime was committed. Proof, these folks said, that our justice system works!
But did the justice system work in this instance? There are a lot of questions about Attorney General Robert McCullouch, and whether he possessed the requisite credentials to properly try this case before the grand jury. I can’t escape the feeling that he should have recused himself – he having a well-documented, chummy relationship with local law enforcement, including serving as president of a local organization that fundraises for officers in Missouri and Illinois – from a situation that was bound to raise eyebrows no matter the outcome. What has become of prosecutorial ethics? During the press conference, McCulloch did everything he could to discredit witnesses who did not support the grand jury’s conclusion.
Yes we’ve made great strides in our attempts to become a post-racial America, however, it’s clear we still have a long road to hoe before we can celebrate equality before the law. The facts don’t lie: Black men (and other racial minority groups) are targeted by the criminal justice system. Black, Latino, and Asian Americans make up 26% of the general population, yet they represent 58% of the prison population. Black Americans are particularly susceptible to prison time. In Christopher Stone’s 1999 study Race, Crime, and the Administration of Justice: A summary of the Available Facts, Stone notes the prevalence of Black faces behind prison walls. Nationally, Black Americans accounted for fewer than half of the arrests for violent crimes, but they accounted for about 60% of prison admissions. A 2007 study conducted by Yale University College of Law concluded that Black defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. Furthermore, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.
Given the history of racial antagonism in Ferguson and McCulloch’s cozy relationship with local police, one can’t help but question the process and the evidence presented to the grand jury. Furthermore, the relationship between Ferguson’s largely Black community and its nearly all-white police force, is strained to say the least. According to Newsweek:
A recent report by the legal defense nonprofit ArchCity Defenders found that 86 percent of vehicle stops in Ferguson involved a black driver, although just 67 percent of the city’s 21,203 residents are black. These traffic violations, which sometimes lead to weeks in jail, are an enormous burden on the black community. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases—“about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household,” the report said. Fines and court fees are Ferguson’s second largest revenue source.
“We’re just used to raise revenue,” said Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township. “On traffic day in these little municipalities, you usually find a white judge in the courtroom, white prosecutor, and you find lines of black people lined up around the corner that have been charged with these tickets.”
This constant low-level harassment of the black community has become the main point of contact between most black residents and the criminal justice system. And it always comes with the threat of violence. As multiple news reports since the Brown shooting have revealed, police in North County too often use excessive force against the black community.
Though the facts remain unclear, it appears Brown’s deadly confrontation with Officer Wilson began as a jaywalking stop. McCulloch isn’t involved in traffic stops, but the people of North County see the Brown shooting and the excessive traffic tickets as part of the same oppressive system. “To me, this is all police brutality, this is all excessive force, this is all racial profiling,” said Bynes.
When I speak of White Privilege, I talk about the unspoken advantages and lens through which many of my white brothers and sisters view the world. Often it’s due to ignorance and lack of exposure, other times it’s willful ignorance of the facts. White Privilege is real, and Michael Brown’s death allows us to reexamine how it shapes inter-racial interactions and how it challenges some of our deeply held beliefs about our country and justice system. Ferguson can not be analyzed in a vacuum. It must be viewed through the lens of 400 years of history, oppression, persecution, and fear-mongering. It should be understood through the eyes of a Black American citizen living in Ferguson, under the auspices of police practices that are suspect at best, and at worst, a blatant example of racial profiling. If a Black person is upset at the loss of life and the perceived lack of justice, you should be empathetic to their plight, understanding that it’s the latest in a line of slights, and perceived injustices. Those people deserve to at least have their viewpoints respected. Understand the end of slavery didn’t suddenly usher in an era of economic and political justice, it was merely the beginning of a fight for equality that continues today, and our broken justice system is proof of that; what happened in Ferguson is proof of that. The murder of Michael Brown was not the start of racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri, it was merely the spark that triggered the ire of a community at loggerheads with its police force. Those folks who are looting, burning buildings, and using civil disobedience to protest what they see as an injustice have apparently come to a conclusion: marches and rallies only get you so far, the political & economic justice they seek must be taken.
Its been a couple of days since the announcement, and I am still angry, still teetering between hopelessness, numbness, and the small space that separates each. But I am naturally an optimist, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. And that’s why I’ve chosen to be a lawyer, so I can impact people, and my community in positive ways, using mechanisms that bring people together, with justice as the overriding principle. I’ll leave you with the words of hope, and encouragement that Professor Myles Lynk left with me last Tuesday night:
[A]s law students now and as lawyers to be, you should engage with your communities as a public citizen to improve: the substantive law, access by all to the legal system, the administration of justice, and the quality of legal services. As a volunteer lawyer or an elected official or in a professional career as a criminal prosecutor or a criminal defense lawyer, you should work to help bridge the gap that often exists between minority communities and the majority-white police departments that police them. Does the community feel it is being served by the police, or being contained by them? There is so much that you as a lawyer will be able to do. We do not have the time or the luxury to be depressed or dispirited by what has happened. We are lawyers. “We Can Handle It!” What we need to do is help the communities and the individuals who cannot.
I love you all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
After the recent outcry over the fraternity “MLK Black Party” that took place several weeks ago & my subsequent blog which you can see here, I received the usual praise, primarily from White folks, & the usual criticism, primarily from Black folks. Let me be clear: I am no race-baiter, I am no opportunist, I am nothing; but with your help, your input, your ingenuity, we can not only sustain, but improve & enjoy more successful race relations. I am only an individual with a desire to bridge gaps, create understanding, & build a better community. We live in the greatest country, in the greatest time, with great opportunity as well as great privilege. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, & those of their ilk, I am not.
I write to open minds, shed stereotypes, & ignite discussion. Imagine my surprise when successful, intelligent Blacks whom I admire, chastise me for being too real, hitting too close to home & holding my community accountable. Often times I am labeled a Black Republican because of my contrarian views, contrasted with those within the Black community. However, even I am guilty of taking the “Black position” (see my thoughts on Justice Clarence Thomas). Even though I am a Black-American, that is only one aspect of who I am. I am an individual, & I’ve learned that I respect those who exercise freedom of thought, & do not fall into the trap of taking a position simply due to their racial makeup, their nationality, or their socio-economic status.
It is never my intent to disempower anyone. That being said, from a kid who lived in the projects growing up, I have lived a blessed life. It’s easy for me to sit from my perch & talk down to folks about what they’re doing wrong & how they could be better. It’s easy for me to talk about opportunity when I’ve been blessed with so many, some that many of my young Black brothers & sisters can only dream of. I’ve traveled, I’m cultured, I know which fork to use at a formal dinner, how to set a table & what to say & how to dress for any social situation. I sit where I am because the community has embraced me, supported me, & encouraged me. I am cognizant of all these blessings, & I take none of them for granted. However, the underlying principles of my life, the things that have made me successful, things like personal responsibility, accountability, perseverance & integrity are the principles on which my personal success is built. These are foundational elements, & we should exalt them, not disregard or downplay them. We, as a Black community, spend too much time being victims, & encouraging others to settle into the victimhood mentality, & this is one of my greatest sources of frustration with my Black community. We can never make progress if the conversation is consistently about who to blame & how we can escape accountability; this is the mindset I am fighting against.
When I talk to my Black family about accountability & the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, I am often met with resistance. Instead, we focus on past wrongs & blame others for our shortcomings as mothers, fathers, & citizens. We can no longer live like this. This is the victimhood mentality that has paralyzed our community & stunted our political, social, & intellectual growth. We have to identify the people & the issues that are stunting our growth and address them head on. We cannot expect the Jay-Zs, the Kanyes, the Sharptons, et. al. to fight those fights for us. Those folks espouse the philosophy of NEW SLAVERY, a mentality that values materialistic conquests & the perpetuation of a victimhood mindset. We need a narrowly focused effort that unifies & educates the family, in the home. Strong homes, make stronger citizens, make great communities. Instead, we have young men & women who idolize the aforementioned celebrities & value a lifestyle that is shortsighted & unrealistic.
The Marcus Smart situation is a prime example where personal responsibility & accountability should be at the forefront of our minds. (In case you haven’t seen it, see the clip here. The fan who was shoved allegedly hurled that racial epithet toward Smart. What the fan said doesn’t matter, Smart shouldn’t have put his hands on him.) Sadly, the majority of my Black brothers & sisters have shown support for Smart & his actions Saturday night. Let me be clear: support for the young man’s actions is misdirected, misguided, & only empowers his sense of entitlement & lawlessness. He has to learn to conduct himself with the aplomb expected of a (potential) professional athlete. Going into a rage & assaulting a person because they dropped that racial epithet is never the appropriate response. Can I knock someone out at my firm because they drop that word? On the street? Anywhere? For those who support Smart’s actions, tell me the logical conclusion of his rage every time some drops that word to disparage him?
By all means this young man has a bright future ahead of him, yet, without accountability he will never have an opportunity to see the NBA riches he covets. The correct response isn’t support for his actions, but constructive criticism for his lack of self-control. We need to distinguish him as a person from his actions Saturday night; condemning him for one should not be confused with condemning him for the other, & this is what we have failed to do as a Black community. Smart was forced to apologize; he should be. He was suspended for three games; it’s warranted. Don’t undermine the disciplinary process by telling the young man his actions were acceptable Saturday night, it gives mixed messages & more importantly, the wrong message. The young man has a history of tantrums, hopefully this is the wakeup call that helps him toe the line.
The praise from my White colleagues about the blogs I’ve written often make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I ask myself, am I a conduit through which they can voice an opinion they wouldn’t say aloud? This troubles me.
To my White friends & family, I urge you to be cautious in your words. Your experience is not the Black experience; your hasty disregard for your Black brothers & sisters story undermines the relationship we need to build. That relationship can be built if we listen & are receptive to what they have to say. To say that slavery does not affect you, to say that you haven’t struggled, to say that your experience is not worthy of my time, is to silence that person’s story. You’ll never understand being the only black person in a corporate meeting, or being the only kid in your class who is Black, or being told you can’t get into a Scottsdale club because your jeans are too baggy or you’re wearing Jordans, or whatever creative euphemism the doorman gives you that night. I would also caution you about your insistence that racism is nonexistent (it is very much alive & well), & the idea that it only exists in Black folks’ minds. Consider this: poverty is cyclical, & for a family, especially a family whose ancestors were firmly rooted in Jim Crow, slavery, & inequality, the cycle continues to this very day. This is not just Black families, but many white families as well. Once we understand the cyclical nature of poverty, it becomes abundantly clear why access & inequality still exist. In many places, we are living with the “badges & incidents” of slavery from decades past. Hell, inequality is written into our Constitution (check out that whole 3/5ths thing).
The sheer bigotry & vitriol for President Obama is enough to make even the most optimistic Black American suspicious of the political process & the true motives of the Right. Our history is littered with injustice (for a graphic recount of the lynchings & sheer terror Black Americans experienced, particularly Black women, go here), & when we turn on the news & see George Zimmerman go free (in some cases lauded as a hero) for the death of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or Kimani Gray or Ervin Jefferson, or Timothy Stansbury Jr., or Sean Bell, or Victor Steen, (Start the video at 1:00 to see footage from the patrol car of Victor being run over by the officer), or Oscar Grant or even Emmett Till, how can we believe in a fair & just system? Compare that to Casey Anthony. How many of you have been stopped & frisked by NYPD because you fit a stereotype? When you say things like “get over it,” or “stop complaining,” not only is it insulting, it’s infuriating. Don’t cursorily dismiss any Black person’s situation, frustrations, & social misgivings. There is an abundance of evidence that lends credence to the thought that Black folks don’t get a fair shot in this country, even if one has made it to the White House. This is not meant to reinforce White guilt, this is meant to raise awareness; be cautious before you dismiss our story.
If you’ve made it this far, I’ve probably pissed you off, or maybe you agree with what I said. The point is I want to challenge your assumptions, have the discussion, shed stereotypes & promote understanding. We each have an important role to play in the discussion on race, we can contribute to it, or we can detract from it, but it is long past due for us to address it respectfully in the spirit of unity, brotherhood, & greater comprehension.
I love you all, & there’s nothing you can do about it.
Family, I want to take a minute to discuss a trial that has gripped the nation the past year. A trial that has served to only further separate us from achieving any kind of racial harmony. As I write this I want to be clear, I am speaking to my African-American family and their response to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin (“TM”) case. Furthermore, I am not talking about the inherent facts of the case, the fact that George Zimmerman (“GZ”) racially profiled TM or any of those elements, I am speaking specifically about the verdict, what led to that result, and the bigger message we can glean from this tragedy.
The death of a young man, a kid who was by all accounts was no different from you and I, is always difficult to stomach. I want to offer my sincere condolences and prayers to TM and his family. Your son should still be with us today. Proms, graduations, and marriage, were just a few of the things TM never got to experience and never will experience because of a fateful encounter with an overzealous neighborhood watchman. I grieve your loss, along with millions of others across the nation. TM did not die in vain, it is my hope that this post will open eyes to see the larger lesson in this tragedy.
Family, inside every tragedy, every failing, every misstep is an opportunity. This is a chance not to racialize something (yes we get there were racial undertones in the trial, but at the end of the day it was bound to be because the victim was black and the perpetrator was of a different race), but to think LOGICALLY about why GZ walked. When you chalk up the resultant verdict to racism, it precludes any discussion of logic. It essentially ends the discussion before it can truly get started. The attempt here is to start the discussion.
When you invoke the race card, you’re automatically putting yourself in a victim role. Logic is removed & emotion substituted instead & no dialogue takes place. Folks we, as the Black community, have been doing this for years & it’s counterproductive. In fact it’s detrimental to the African American community. Why? Because the thing about a victim mentality is that it never requires you to take personal responsibility for your actions. Since you can always lie blame at the feet of others, you are never forced to look in the mirror & critically analyze your misdeeds. The race card has become carte blanche for black folks to forever be victims. When a verdict doesn’t go our way: racism. When we don’t get a job: racism. You black? Something bad happen to you? Clearly its racism. ENOUGH! We need to stop using this horrible crutch called the race card. It’s crippling us, It’s taking us out at the knees. The race card allows black folks to be victims & remain victims. Reducing this verdict to a racial result only furthers that victimhood mentality. We are grown, and a childish response to a grown up problem is inappropriate.
Family, this is a chance to teach our children that they don’t have chained by the shackles of victimhood. We’ve shopped on Irresponsibility Blvd, gone into a store & tried on the victimhood outfit that we’ve donned the last 300 years. No more. Enough. Being a victim is about telling someone what they can’t do; I have no intentions of telling my child what they can’t do, only what they can accomplish. I see these “black leaders” on TV who are outraged at the verdict & I shake my head. I see people post on Facebook about telling their children not to wear hoodies & I am disappointed. This is counterproductive: all you’re doing is sowing the seeds of doubt, self-hatred & inferiority in our children, & it needs to stop. Reducing this verdict to race is poisonous to our psyche, & I’m looking for the antidote. It lies in logic, communication, & thought-provoking responses to problems we face as a people. Wielding the race card in situations like this don’t achieve any of those lofty ideals. The facts of the case were unlikely to produce a guilty verdict, the burden of proof was simply too high for the prosecution & the evidence was flimsy. BUT NO IT’S A RACE THING! Uh, no. Not likely. Until we stop being so quick to use race as the root of problems, it will continue to be a problem. Do we live in a perfect society where racism doesn’t exist? Of course not. There are examples where a racial analysis would be appropriate; this is not one of them. However, if you project an image of always being a product of some racist result then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you’ll be mired in a circle of irresponsibility.
I welcome all respectful commentary. Please share your thoughts, agree, disagree, or indifferent.
I love you all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.