Over the past two weeks, the nation has watched a suburb of one of our major cities turn into a war zone. We all know why: on August 9th, police officer Darren Wilson–according to three eye witnesses–shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown. According to an independent autopsy, Brown was shot SIX TIMES. And he was black.
That cannot be understated. Black Americans–especially men–are more likely to get pulled over, more likely to be arrested, and more likely to get killed by the police during an arrest, than any other group of people in the U.S. Consider, simply, our prison statistics: per every 100,000 African Americans in our population, 2,207 are incarcerated. The rate of whites is 380, Latinos 966.
And it is NOT–racist Tea Party idiots who carry nooses to rallies and think Obama’s from Kenya–because black people commit more crimes. It’s because they’re much, much more likely to be caught when they do AND because police consistently target minorities when pulling people over or stopping to question them on the streets.
A Kansas University study found blacks were three times more likely to get pulled over than whites, and documentation of New York City’s Police Department found that in 2011, 87% of police stops were of blacks or Latinos. In fact, the NYPD stopped more African Americans between the ages of 14 and 24 (168,126) than actually live in the city (158,406).
Plus, it seems that at least once a year–if not every couple of months–an unarmed black American is killed by police, or someone acting in their stead. Just last month, NYPD police officers choked Eric Garner to death. He wasn’t resisting. He wasn’t armed. Neither was Trayvon Martin, who was stalked and killed by George Zimmerman. And now, we have Michael Brown, a teenager about to head off to college, shot dead in the streets for reasons the cops in Ferguson still haven’t explained.
So I understand why black people are mad. I understand why people living in Ferguson are rioting. It doesn’t help that the police, at every turn, are acting like a bunch of patronizing assholes arresting reporters and menacing crowds who’re mostly exercising their First Amendment right to protest. But this goes deeper than that. This is about the systematic targeting of black people by police across this nation. And it destroys lives–in Michael Brown’s case, literally.
The question then, is what we can learn from Ferguson. Hopefully, people will recognize that racism exists, even if the Supreme Court thinks it doesn’t. And I’m sorry, but there is partisanship here. Awhile ago, a friend asked me whether I thought Democrats were playing the race card; I never wrote that blog, but I’ll give you the answer: yes. Democrats play the race card. And they should continue to do so, because it’s entirely justified.
Why? Look at who votes Republican. In a recent poll, 28% of Americans who identified as Republican said they “knew for sure” Obama was born outside the U.S. Another 38%–again Republicans–said it was possible he was born inside the U.S.–in other words, they weren’t sure. As I’ve stated before, this is an inherently racist position, because there’s no way such a high number of Americans would ever believe this about a white President. They hated Bill Clinton, they hated Jimmy Carter, but they didn’t question their national origin. Suddenly, however, we get a black man in the Oval Office, and opponents question his birthplace. Racist.
Moreover, look at the issues Republicans are concerned about: immigration, voter ID, and food stamps. Why are they concerned about immigration? They don’t like brown people. Look at the fits people threw during the “border crisis” involving children from Central America fleeing violence in their countries. Listen to the cries to declare English the official language of the U.S. Recall the nasty things said about shooting immigrants who try to cross the border, and consistent drumbeat to build a fence across its entirety, as if we’re defending ourselves from an invasion of animals. Racist.
Let’s move on to voter ID, an entirely manufactured crisis that’s being used to prevent people–especially black people–from voting. A recent study cited in the Washington Post, found that in the more than one billion ballots cast since 2000 in primary and general elections in the U.S., there have been only 31 instances of alleged voter fraud, and not even all of those were thoroughly investigated or prosecuted. Yet, Republicans in states all over the U.S. are pushing these laws–why? Racism. A USC study found that state legislators who supported voter ID laws were almost 20% more likely to respond to a person with a white sounding name (Jacob Smith), than they were to a person with a Latino name (Santiago Rodriguez), when a letter from that constituent was sent to them asking if they could vote without a driver’s license. And that doesn’t even begin to delve into the fact that voting restrictions and voter ID laws have been shown to disproportionately affect African Americans, Latinos, and young people, all of whom tend to vote for Democrats. Racist.
Finally, look at the Food Stamp issue. To begin with, Obama’s been labeled by the Right as the “Food Stamp President”, but what are they really concerned about? It’s not white, rural people getting food stamps–go back to Ronald Reagan, Republican God, who warned of the “welfare queen,” a clear dog whistle to racists everywhere referencing a black woman living off of the government, having babies left and right, totally irresponsible. Racist.
But this idea that it’s black people who’re taking advantage of food stamps and other social welfare programs is still alive and well today in the Republican Party. Look no further than Paul Ryan, who, when contemplating poverty in America, said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” He may not have said the words “black” or “African American” but that’s sure as shit what he meant. And rest assured, the Tea People and his Republican supporters thought to themselves those damn “takers” living on welfare and food stamps are sucking this country dry–the blacks and illegal immigrants. Racist.
The truth is that poverty among rural whites is nearly as high as it is in the “inner city”, and white people live in impoverished urban areas too–not just people with black and brown skin.
So if you’re a black American, you’re more likely to be stopped, harassed, arrested, and incarcerated by the police; if you’re killed–even if you’re unarmed and haven’t done anything wrong–and your killer is white, especially a police officer, it’s likely he won’t be charged with a crime; and one of the two major political parties in this country, the Republicans, have made every effort to restrict your right to vote and scapegoat you as “takers” and “welfare queens.” Moreover, they’ve made every vicious attack possible on our president short of assassination, because he’s an African American.
Make no mistake: racism in the U.S. is alive and well, and it’s being fostered by the Republican Party for political purposes. So Democrats are right to play the race card, and the citizens of Ferguson have every right to protest and be angry.
I sure as hell am.