On the day we discover that the Grand Jury refused to indict the NYPD cop who allegedly, in July 2014, choked Eric Garner, a 43-year-old, 400 pound, asthmatic black father of six to death by heart attack (see video), we might want to absorb the following backstory.
Again, I ask, is Ferguson a tipping point? And if so, what kind? Are we becoming more empathic with age-old, systematic domination, abuse, and even genocide of those with a skin color “darker” than “white”? Or are racial divides hardening. It’s up to us. Which shall it be? Let us learn to see through to the soul of each and every person we encounter.
P.S. It’s not just the cops. The cops R us.
1. The US has the world’s second-highest incarceration rate (after US drone base/Western colonial victim the Seychelles), the world’s largest number of prisoners, the world’s largest number of female prisoners (comprising about 1/3rd of the world’s overall number of women behind bars), and the world’s highest youth incarceration rate. The US uses for-profit prisons, prison labor, and widely tortures (and here) prisoners, including juveniles and people with mental disabilities. Using the world’s most massive imprisonment/torture/labor system, the US in some ways, consciously or not – certainly both – disproportionately targets its ethnic minority citizens, particularly African Americans.
- “The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project reports African Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.” – Law Professor Bill Quigley
- Jonathan M. Feldman cites, for example, “A 2009 article by Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Patricia Warren revealed systemic racial biases tied to racial profiling, particularly in Missouri: “Missouri, which has been collecting data since 2000, still has large race disparities in searching “practices among its police officers.” Data for 2007 “shows blacks were 78 percent more likely than whites to be searched” and “Hispanics were 118 percent more likely than whites to be searched.” Furthermore, “compared to searches of white drivers, contraband was found 25 percent less often among black drivers and 38 percent less often among Hispanic drivers”.
2. Professor Quigley notes in the Huffington Post that: “The [US] criminal justice system, from start to finish, is seriously racist. Professor Michelle Alexander concludes that it is no coincidence that the criminal justice system ramped up its processing of African Americans just as the Jim Crow [segregation] laws enforced since the age of slavery ended [in 1965]. Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sees these facts as evidence of the new way the US has decided to control African Americans – a racialized system of social control.”
- The US mass-incarceration explosion has had no correlation to crime rates, and continued to rise sharply whether rates increased, decreased, or remained steady.
3. Anthony DiMaggio, Ph.D., Political Science, University of Illinois, Chicago, notes: “…racial profiling, abuse, and discrimination on the part of law enforcement … has been documented in great detail by sociologists, political scientists, and those in the field of criminal justice through observational and statistical analyses of community and highway arrest rates by race (particularly as related to drug searches).”
- In the wake of the Ferguson decision, it is this “broader significance” with which DiMaggio is chiefly concerned. It includes “deference to authority figures” – an “American tendency to simply side with police over alleged victims of police brutality”, and “reluctance to even consider [that] police brutality stems from racist stereotypes that endure in the minds of citizens”.
4. The US (often alone and in dubious contrast to neutral, authoritative investigators) regularly claims to have precise numbers, down to the person, for people killed in countries that the US seeks to conquer, such as Syria. However, US reps conveniently do not report full “body counts” (Gen. Franks), in foreign countries or domestically, of people killed by the government that happens to kill the most people, theirs. Thus, noting that the available information necessitates “a conservative estimate”, Mother Jones and the Center for Disease Control find that the data on police killings – unsurprisingly – fit with the USA’s wider, fully documented pattern of apparent institutional racism. They find that in the period since Jim Crow segregation laws ceased being mandated by the US government in 1965 (1968-2011) black people are on average over 400% more likely than whites to be killed in a confrontation with police.
5. Noting the apparent trend, The United Nations Committee Against Torture reported on the US last week:
- “The Committee is concerned about numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals, racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities. The Committee is particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police 13 Department (CPD) officers.”
- “It also expresses its deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
- “…no Chicago police officer has been convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring. While noting that several victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, the vast majority of those tortured –most of them African Americans–, have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered.”
6. Due to the off-the-charts US penchant for stockpiling weapons and WMD, carrying out killings and other acts and threats of violence, and garrisoning the globe with some one thousand foreign military bases (compared to Russia’s 12, China’s 0, and former champion the British Empire’s 40 foreign bases), the International Criminal Court system introduced in 2002 has been forcibly controlled chiefly by the US. While the USA’s domestic regime disproportionately targetsits own vulnerable/minority groups, mainly African Americans, the international system under the US stranglehold disproportionately targets African nations, as the West has done for centuries. Of the nine official ICC investigations that have taken place, allare of African nations. Of nine preliminary investigations being conducted, three more are African nations, all but two are non-white (and all are conducted against ”people the West doesn’t like”).
- For itself, the US has made up and passed a policy known as the “Hague Invasion Act” that says the US will use violent force to prevent any member of the US government from being subjected to justice in the international system. This has implications for the dynamic in the US domestic system, as well. The worst and most prolific killers in US history, such as Bush Jr., have been white and have gone unpunished and usually been highly praised by white-dominated culture.
7. Prof. Noam Chomsky reminds us of our culture’s trajectory: “What’s happening in Ferguson is a reenactment of five hundred years of American history. It goes back to 1619. Slaves were brought over, they were tortured, terrorized, treated hideously. You want to know how they were treated? Take a look at this morning’s New York Times. There’s a very evocative article on ISIS and how it treated Yazidi prisoners. That’s American history. That’s the way our African American population was treated. Worse than that, in fact, and for a long period – in fact, as I said, there are only a few breaks in it. Militarization was one of the techniques of crushing the slave movements, and everything that followed… Now it’s incarceration and militarization of police. We’re reenacting five hundred years of American history. You have to understand that, and that’s hard to deal with, but it has to be faced seriously. You can argue about the details of what happened in Ferguson, but the background and the general framework is hideously clear. It should be perfectly obvious to anyone who knows anything about American history. It’s with us all the time.”
- Will extremist outlets and pundits like Fox News begin condemning the Yazidis for not “fitting in” to the culture imposed by their exploiters? Will Fox invite on Yazidis who apologize for “their people” who act out and refuse to “assimilate”? Pro-ISIS outlets certainly will and constantly do behave this way.
- In 1967, two years after Jim Crow “laws” had been removed from US officialdom, the Kerner Commission concluded that “African-Americans saw the police as an occupying force, dispatched to protect the privileges of whites, and insensitive to the protection of the minority community’s lives or rights” (Rev. Jackson, Sr). Who would seriously argue that race-based practices mandated de jure by a highly racist society would simply disappear within two years and not be implemented de facto to some degree? Who would seriously argue that such dynamics would completely disappear a mere fifty years later, following hundreds and hundreds of years of Western exploitation of Africans in perhaps the most extreme example of predation in human history? We know very well who would make this argument. See preceding bullet point.
8. “It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization…
American slavery [was] the most cruel form of slavery in history…
There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States.”
– Historian Howard Zinn (PhD, history, Columbia University)
9. To dwell on or encourage others to dwell on peripheral and minor criminal elements around the pro-justice Ferguson protesters reveals either ignorance or a desire, perhaps a malicious one, to maintain the status quo. First, there is virtually no case in history of a large scale protest wherein crime was not involved in some way. Should all protests thus be condemned and forbidden? Crimes around protests in no way bother the US or its synchronous media companies when they are perpetrated in countries the US is targeting, such as China. Second, this is not a case like the recent one in Ukraine, wherein foreign governments, chiefly the US but also Poland and others, helped extremist elements organize, form battalions, and physically overthrow the elected national government, then wage an ongoing terrorist war and possible genocide against resisters – actions the US continues to support materially and politically. No one worthwhile thinks the Ferguson protesters are going to overthrow the US government.
10. Racism is far from being the only issue. The US is also an outlier in terms of overall brutality and killings by police. While the US system is oppressive to the majority of its citizenry, African Americans have a much worse history under the US. However, protests are also carried out in response to police killings of unarmed white people, like mentally disabled young man Kelly Thomas. Police smashed him while he cried for his dad, triggering large protests.
General police brutality is front and center in the Ferguson movement for reasons including:
- Killings by police “reached a record high last year , while the number of officers killed in the line of duty fell to its lowest level in decades .” (By comparison, police in the UK, Germany, Japan, and Australia killed under ten people each, and some years kill none.)
- In addition, the figures for the US are “widely acknowledged to be an undercount, according to the [Washington] Post…”
- A community study that tracks killings by police by analyzing news reports finds that there have been “At least 1,769 [people] killed [by police] since May 1, 2013″, and “1,015 … since January 1, 2014″.
- This while policing is not even one of the top ten most dangerous jobs, and most police deaths “occurred accidentally rather than feloniously … not in some heroic high speed pursuit of a child murderer, but in routine traffic accidents.”
By way of moving forward, it must be understood that racism is indeed an unconscious evolutionary tool, but is also contrived and fostered by those in positions of power to justify and maintain their acts and systems of predation. To these ends, the quack pseudo-science of “phrenology” was used, along with countless other crackpot theories and proclamations over the centuries, many of which we are still treated to today.
In reality, there is virtually no difference between the “races” (which themselves are unscientific, indistinct social concepts). NY Times reports that most scientists are:
…convinced that the standard labels used to distinguish people by ”race” have little or no biological meaning.
As it turns out, scientists say, the human species…has simply not…divide[d] itself into separate biological groups or ”races” in any but the most superficial ways.
”We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa…”
Thus, Feldman (cited in point 1) suggests that a key step in bringing about change will be to reform media, educational, institutional, and other areas. This Mother Jones article, “The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men“, looks in depth at the biology of racism – we are essentially all at least unconsciously racist – and shows scientifically determined ways racism can be combated, which include telling stories in which a white person’s life is saved by a black person. It demonstrates that while overt, admitted racism has dwindled, subconscious racism is prevalent, including in police officers who insist they are “not racist”, and are shocked and upset when shown that they are.
This leads to a point not addressed by the Jones article but touched on by Feldman: the importance of altering the very power dynamics that allow racism to harm people, and from which racism also flows as ad and post hoc justification (and/or confabulation) for acts committed for reasons of predation. The tectonic re-balancing process has gradually proceeded from the relatively recent time of de jure slavery, with great, violent resistance from the dominant, predatory culture, which reacts to the remaining possible extent with new modes of oppression.
The federal government violently crushed slave uprisings, including ones that may have been able to overthrow slavery, up to the Civil War, which was engineered and led by the dominant, white power structure – not by the slaves – to ensure that it remained in power. After the war, laws were created that allowed the virtual continuation of slavery through prison labor, as African Americans were imprisoned for crimes like looking the wrong way at someone. (Northern wage labor was considered another form of slavery, particularly by Republicans). Harsh segregation was “legally” required.
Soon, Black Panthers and other civil rights movements worked to “creat[e] alternative bases of power, e.g. structures be they in law, mass mobilizations or community organizations that went beyond venting a narrative” (Feldman).” The US supports these kinds of efforts when they work in favor of US power, as in the case of Israel’s colonization of Palestine to form a Jewish state(/proxy attack base for the US) or the current jihadist “rebel” operations in Syria. The US smashes such efforts when they stand in the way of or seem like they could pose a challenge to US power, as in hundreds of cases including the Native Americans and African American civil rights leaders.
Panthers and other African American leaders were taken as political prisoners or began to experience alarming rates of murder as their groups were targeted. One leader known to have been targeted by Herbert Hoover, Fred Hampton, was drugged so he would be unconscious, then executed while unconscious by US forces with point-blank shots to the head.
Hoover’s Hampton surveillance squad had reported back to him that “in his city, at least, [Hampton and] the Panthers were primarily feeding breakfast to children. Hoover fired back a memo implying the career ambitions of the agent were directly related to his supplying evidence to support Hoover’s view that the BPP [Black Panther Party] was ‘a violence-prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means’.”
After the execution, FBI “Special Agent” Gregg York lamented that his posse was only able to kill “two of those black niggers… Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.”
Another leader, MLK, Jr., was found, by jury trial, to have been assassinated with US government complicity.
The US power structure fought to maintain South African apartheid, was an accomplice in the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, and kept him on the US “terrorist” list until Bush Jr. removed him in 2008.
Obama was recently an accomplice in the lynching of Mandela’s ally Muammar Gaddafi, who had attempted to unite Africa (see link).
As noted above, a massive prison/labor system that primarily targets African Americans is in full swing, a continuation of the post de jure slavery structure.
However, Europe also fights internally, as in the split between Europe (plus US), and Russia, and various other inter-European conflicts that have occurred. This demonstrates that it is not all about going after people with different skin complexion. That is partly a coincidence, which “racism” seeks to explain, justify, and continue after the fact. It’s really all about power and wealth, which our chimpanzee ancestors also seek, through almost the same means we use – gang warfare – with differences in scale.
Europe’s position of global dominance is due to no superiority (remember, there are no real differences between “races”). The key factor was that, by random circumstance, Europe happened to advance in the field of weaponry. It then used this advantage to subjugate and de-develop – to increase its own power and luxury – virtually the entire world, largely justifying its actions by making up claims about racial and other forms of supremacy, but sometimes simply admitting it acted (and acts) the way it did because it could (and can).
This ongoing global dynamic is extremely brutal, but will continue to be counter-balanced, its structures, both domestic and global, democratized through efforts like the Ferguson movement.
Robert Barsocchini focuses on global force dynamics and writes professionally for the film industry. Also see: Hillary Clinton’s Record of Support for War and other Depravities. Follow Robert and UK-based colleague, Dean Robinson, on Twitter.