Overcoming Racial Prejudice in America

WASHINGTON – “I have a
dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they
will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their
character.”

This sentence spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on
August 28, 1963, during the much celebrated March on Washington, was and to
this day remains the best guiding principle that should help the American
society deal with and finally go beyond its legacy of racism.

Indeed, the only way to finally “resolve” the painfully
complicated race issue in America is to finally become a truly color blind
society. The day in which anybody’s race (and also gender, socio-economic
background, faith, and more) becomes totally irrelevant in evaluating a person’s
abilities and morality, then and only then we shall be able to say that America
managed to overcome this horribly divisive race problem. 

Still striving

However, reaching this essential goal is realistically very
difficult. Like it or not, consciously or unconsciously we are all prisoners of
cultural stereotypes that we acquired over the years. These stereotypes color
our perceptions and unfortunately our opinions.

However, as difficult as this colorblindness goal may be, this
is the only way to arrive at the healthy conclusion that all human beings are
essentially equal, and should be treated as equals. Of course that does not
mean that we are all the same. We differ in terms of qualities, abilities,
preferences and moral traits. But our judgment on these traits should not be
clouded by our prejudices based on lingering racial stereotypes.

That said, we know that as a society we did not try hard enough to become genuinely color blind. We tried instead with other remedies aimed at fast tracking needed equality where there used to be none. Of course, we had to begin with the landmark civil and voting rights legislation of the 1960s. They were essential milestones. The new laws positively affirmed the equality of all, while explicitly making all segregation measures illegal.

Affirmative action

But then we added affirmative action: essentially set asides and
quotas reserved for minorities, so that African Americans could more easily
access opportunities from which up to that point they had been excluded –purely
on account of race.

In principle it seemed only fair to give a bit of a head start
to millions of African Americans who, although nominally US citizens, in
practice had been totally excluded from most opportunities when it came to education,
housing, quality health care, certain jobs, government contracts, and more. If
we look back at the policy goals, affirmative action legislation was intended
as a tool that would give a chance to those who had been historically
discriminated against. Quotas were aimed at insuring that at least some Blacks
and other minorities could make it within a reasonably short period of time. Quotas
were about providing access. Fair enough.

Unintended
consequences

Still, the unintended consequence of affirmative action seems to
be in the institutionalization of minority status that automatically entitles a
person, purely on account of race, to preferential treatment. And as
affirmative action programs became entrenched, they naturally created a
constituency that saw them not just as a temporary measure to help redress
decades of undeniable injustice; but as permanent programs.

The unintended consequence of all this is that in order to
justify special quotas for injured minorities today the proponents must
argue that the old race-based injustice lingers on. In fact they argue that, decades
after the end of legally sanctioned segregation, racial bias is still a permanent
feature of the American society. Therefore, given this reality, affirmative
action programs, viewed as measures to mitigate the ugly impact of ongoing racial
discrimination, have to be kept –in perpetuity.

When it is good to be a minority

In other words, even today, a reasonably well-educated Black
person has every interest in preserving his/her “Black identity” in order
to benefit from a system that, in the name of overcoming past injustice, allows
him or her to have an extra advantage in the competition for limited
places in a good university, or in bids for government contracts that establish
quotas for minority owned businesses. 

Which is to say that, paradoxically, in an affirmative
action context, being Black or other Minority in many instances may be in
fact an asset rather than a liability. But this realization of the advantages
of racial minority status also justifies continuing belief in the old
assumptions that justified the creation of affirmative action programs in the
first place: “I deserve special treatment today. This is a totally legitimate
way to redress past and present discrimination. Affirmative action is the
appropriate remedial tool to counter the deleterious impact of
lingering racial prejudice”. 

Reinforcing racial identity

Which is to say that the remedies included in affirmative
action legislation, even if sincerely aimed (at the time) at kick starting
the creation of a level playing field, created a new culture of entitlement.
These programs in reality encouraged “Minorities” to think of
themselves not as citizens like everybody else but as a
perpetually aggrieved group. And this is because it is this status and
only this status of discriminated against minority –therefore entitled to
redress– that allows them to claim special treatment when it
comes to competing for a place in college, getting a job, or being awarded
certain types of government contracts.

Racial prejudice still exists

That said, it is only fair to admit that racial prejudice
is still alive and well in America. Unfortunately, even today, some African Americans
are denied jobs, credit, low interest mortgages, and a lot more simply because
they are Black, and therefore assumed to be “untrustworthy, lazy,
unproductive”, and what not. Of course, none of this is done overtly,
because it would be illegal to do so. But it happens nonetheless.

Quotas fuel prejudice

However, it is also true that affirmative action provisions
(today they blend into “diversity” requirements) aimed at overcoming the
consequences of old, groundless prejudice tend to reinforce rather
than melt the racial divide. Blacks see them as necessary redress for past
discrimination and present bias. But in so doing they keep thinking of
themselves as a perpetually discriminated against “Black Minority”, rather than
US citizens, as everybody else.

Many whites, in turn, see affirmative action as special favors
bestowed for political reasons on otherwise undeserving people. To the
extent that Whites believe that Blacks get jobs they do not really deserve only
because of quotas, this helps reinforce rather than dilute racial
prejudice.

“I am an American”

How do we get out of this unproductive
way to frame the problem of prejudice and constructive ways to overcome it? It
is only by doing our best to follow Martin Luther King’s advice. Look at the person; not at their race.

In a talk
show featuring several conservative Blacks, (admittedly a small minority
within the larger minority), it was refreshing to hear that most of the
participants rejected the “African American” label for themselves. “I
am an American”,
they said. “I happen to be Black. But I am an American”.
And so they are.

I call this rejection of (perpetually) aggrieved group an
important step forward. In the end, when both Whites and Blacks will
finally reject race as an issue likely to influence one way or the other any
type of judgement on any individual, we will be able to say that America has
successfully overcome its ugly legacy of slavery and discrimination.




“And The Fair Land”: Freedom Is America’s True Blessing

WASHINGTONThanksgiving 2015 – 

The Wall Street Journal has been publishing the same “Thanksgiving” Editorial since 1961. It is titled “And The Fair Land”. it depicts America as a land of opportunity and resourcefulness. But also a land of self-doubt, fears, and internal conflict.

However, the hope expressed in this enduring essay is that we Americans shall reflect on the fact that this land was built by confident people. And they were, and we are, the spiritual heirs of the Pilgrims who came to America, so long go, carrying with them only a hope for a better life.

They celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1623, beginning a tradition that was later on institutionalized, and that we still honor today.

—————–

And The Fair Land

“Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places—only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.” [emphasis added]

–The Wall Street Journal




The Appeal Of Easy Fixes

WASHINGTON – There is great appeal in fundamental beliefs that can be summarized in short sentences. The problem is that some beliefs are better than others, while some are wrong and possibly dangerous. Choosing among them requires judgement.

Good ideas 

For instance, here is how the British magazine The Economist describes itself and its mission. “We are proud of our heritage of editorial and commercial independence, serving no master save the liberal credo of open markets and individual freedom”.

So, there you have it: The Economist’s purpose is all about promoting “open markets and individual freedom”. In a simple proposition you have the essence of the mission: support democratic capitalistic societies in which the protection of individual freedom is the foundation for the pursuit of prosperity.

While many argue against these beliefs, more than two centuries of success in America and other capitalistic countries validate these tenets. Yes, as a rule, free people who are allowed to keep the fruits of their ingenuity tend to engage in new ventures made possible by free markets. Their combined efforts usually bring prosperity to them and to their societies. On balance, the promotion of “open markets and individual freedom” is a worthy cause.

But then there are other beliefs, also expressed in succinct form, that do not support anything useful.

“I can negotiate a better deal” 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump argues that America is losing ground internationally because our leaders are “stupid” and are therefore outwitted by clever foreign negotiators. The remedy to this? Simple, elect Trump and he will renegotiate everything, with far better outcomes. Well, that’s an easy solution for our chronic balance of payments shortfalls.

Except that Trump’s way to frame the issue and the solution is wrong. Sure we could use better negotiators. And may be he could be better than most. But in the end the problem is not just about getting a better deal at the negotiating table. The problem is about American global competitiveness, or lack thereof. This is the issue. And there are no quick fixes that President Trump could mandate.

Improve the business environment 

America must address an outdated corporate tax system, patent laws that inhibit innovation, excessive environmental protection regulations, the declining quality of our work force, the mediocrity of the public education system that produces it, the excessive cost of child care and how it impacts women’s participation in the work force. All this is very important, and quite complicated. Improving all this is essential in order to make America strong. And addressing all these issues will require a lot more than a clever negotiator determined to get a better deal from China.

“Black Lives Matter”

Then you have the “Black Lives Matter” grass-roots movement. This has been prompted by what many describe as a surge of racially motivated killings of innocent Blacks by biased White police officers.

All of a sudden, the key issue confronting millions of African-Americans is reforming police departments across America in order to stop the carnage. There are some elements of truths in all this. Yes, there have been several cases of police brutality and killings, some of them apparently stemming from racial animus. This is a fact. And this problem needs to be fixed. Police officers should be charged and prosecuted. All racist officers should be expelled.

The real problem 

That said, this focus on police brutality has become a form of escapism. A few unjustified police killings are bad. But the thousands of “Black on Black” killings that take place every year in so many American cities are a lot worse. And yet they are dismissed as a non issue by most African-American leaders. It would appear that only the lives of Blacks killed by White police officers, (a very small fraction of the total number of Blacks killed), matter.

In all this, not even a word about the crisis of the African-American family. Indeed, what about the future of Black children? More than 70% of all Black babies are born out-of-wedlock. In most cases their mothers are very young, uneducated and poor.

Many studies show that young, indigent single mothers cannot provide for their children. Therefore, these kids will be raised in poverty, with some public assistance. They will not have a decent (let alone good or superior) education. In fact, a huge percentage will never graduate from high school. Most of them will be poor. Many will choose crime as a way to escape poverty.

These are the real problems. But it is a lot easier to believe that the number one issue affecting African-Americans is police brutality.

“Income inequality” 

And then you have Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his income equality crusade. According to him (and tens of thousands of enthusiastic followers) most Americans get a raw deal because a few clever people gamed the system. They managed to take almost everything off the table before tens of millions of honest workers could even begin to figure out what actually happened. Remedy? Redistribute these ill-gotten gains in a fair way. Spread the wealth. Sounds simple, and morally right.

It all sounds reasonable. And it allows the poor and the not so well off to dream of a benign President Sanders who will give them free money. But it is not so. Sadly, this is another pipe dream concocted by an old left-wing politician who calls himself a socialist.

Well, aside from the fact that Bernie Sanders has slim chances of becoming the next US President, this whole income inequality crusade is a gigantic distraction. Sure enough, we could and probably should debate the problem of inequality.

Low growth 

But the real issue confronting the US is that the great engine that powered the American economy is sputtering. We do not grow that much anymore (around 2%), and therefore there is far less wealth produced.

Redistributing what we have according to fairness principles sounds appealing; but, even assuming that it could be done without damaging the entire system, this economic justice policy will not even begin to address the loss of momentum due to lost competitiveness.

The point is that even if we decided to tax to death each and every American millionaire, that would not solve the problem of a slow economy that has lost momentum. Major income redistribution is a one time deal. What will President Sanders do to grow the economy, later on? This is the issue. (As Sanders is a socialist, he may recall that Karl Marx himself pointed out that Socialism should not be about the socialization of poverty).

Most easy fixes are wrong 

So, there you have it. People love easy answers to complicated problems. In a political campaign those who claim to know the right answers –and who act as if they really did know– get a lot of attention.

Unfortunately, they are mostly wrong. It is up to rational, reasonably well-informed voters to know the difference between plausible policy programs and feel good slogans.

 

 




The Republicans Must Articulate A Message Of Growth And Expanded Opportunity

WASHINGTON – I just read a long and detailed analysis written by a well-known conservative political commentator. The focus is on how the Republican nominee must capture a larger slice of the Latino vote in order to get elected president of the United States.

Tactics 

Well, there may be good analysis in this piece, and possibly good ideas about campaign tactics and strategies. But this is not the right way to expand your base. In this op-ed piece the argument is that a Republican (unfortunately?) will need a larger share of the Latino vote in order to gain some key states. Therefore the nominee will have to speak to the Latino voters in order to sway at least some of them.

Change your message in order to get votes 

As I said, this is terribly wrong. This approach is about saying whatever you need to say in order to get elected. And this means that a Republican candidate will have to invent a new political message that hopefully will please at least some Latino audiences. The implicit message here is: “Sorry guys. You may not want to do this. But this is how the system works. If you want to get elected president, given the changed American demographics, you must get a bigger chunk of the Latino vote. So get busy instructing your staff to put together TV commercials in Spanish. I wish it were not so, but this is what you must do in order to get elected.” 

Really? And you expect that nobody will notice what amounts to deception? You expect that nobody will see that you are engaged in cynical manipulation?

Small government and more opportunity 

The truth of the matter is that at the national level the Republicans have been unable to extend their appeal much beyond the White middle class. They are unable to explain in a convincing way how their core beliefs in individual responsibility and self-reliance are perfectly well aligned with public programs aimed at enabling the weak to stand up, and eventually become self-reliant.

Yes, the Republican Party is about small government, low taxes and minimal regulations. These are the basic precondition for having a pro-growth environment that favors the creation of new enterprises, new employment, and eventually more prosperity.

However, the Republican Party is also the party that wants to promote opportunity and wider access to opportunity for all. And therefore, without any contradiction, it is possible to talk at the same about deregulation and about ways in which the poor and the working poor can be assisted, so that they can improve their chances to get into the American mainstream.

Give tools, not subsidies

Therefore good Republicans can and should talk about true public education reform. After all, now as never before a good education is a mandatory prerequisite for having a shot at any meaningful job or career. They should have programs that will help low-income people with child care, health care and more.

Of course, there is a critical qualitative difference between public assistance designed to be there for ever and assistance programs aimed at giving people, for a limited period of time, essential tools so that they can become self-reliant and independent.

By default, if not by design, the Democrats created larger and larger social programs with no sunset clauses. The implicit assumption is that the poor and weak will be poor and weak for ever, and therefore for ever in need.

The Republicans must push for a completely different approach that can and will resonate with low-income Americans. “We are here to help. We want to give you tools. But you have to work with us. You have to do your part”. 

This is the message that should be sent out to all Americans, rich and poor. This is the way to arouse the interest of all, including millions of Latinos and other minority voters. The Republicans must believe in and forcefully articulate a message of hope and inclusiveness.

An opportunity society 

The message to the country should be: “We want to promote more growth. Once we have improved the conditions for conducting or starting new economic activities, those who already have the means will get busy. They will do well on their own.

But we know that there are others who do not have the tools. They do not have capital. They do not have enough education, they do not have skills. Smaller government, low taxes and deregulation mean little or nothing to them.

Well, here is where government and private sector organizations, working together, can provide real help. It will be hard, but it is possible to give meaningful tools –as opposed to subsidies– to those who do not have them, so that they will have a good chance of joining the mainstream. Our vision is that America has to be a truly inclusive society, with real opportunity for all”. 




The Guardian: “America Is Still A Racist Nation” – Really?

WASHINGTON‘”Still a racist nation’: American bigotry on full display at KKK rally in South Carolina”. This is the prominently placed headline in the on-line US edition of the leftist British newspaper The Guardian reporting on a KKK demonstration in Columbia, South Carolina in defense of the Confederate Flag recently removed from public grounds by an act of the South Carolina legislature immediately signed by Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

Here we go again

Reading this title, the average progressive reader would say: “Here we go again…I knew it…These Americans, with all their pretentious talk about democracy and human rights…Deep down they are just a bunch of unreconstructed racists…Can you imagine? The Ku Klux Klan having a rally to honor the Confederate Flag?”

No doubt, any news about public demonstrations staged by the KKK looks bad. This is after all an openly white supremacist, racist organization that decades ago had a massive national following. And we know that the KKK terrorized millions of African-Americans with impunity.

More than 50 demonstrators

That said, as you click on the headline and get to the actual article,  you read that “More than 50” KKK members staged this demonstration in South Carolina aimed at defending the Confederate Flag. Got that? “More than 50”. What’s that? 55, 57?

And so, here is the real story. There is no story. 50 plus people demonstrating about anything are certainly not an indication of a nation-wide sentiment, and not even of a dangerous tendency that may turn into something bigger , and eventually may sway the country one way or the other.

Besides, everybody knows that nowadays the KKK is a spent force with negligible following. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that “today, there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different – and often warring – organizations that use the Klan name.”

This is the estimated entire membership, nationwide. Please do keep in mind that the US population is close to 320 million. The activities of dozens of small KKK splinter groups fighting with one another are certainly not indicators of the feelings that the average American may or may not have about race issues.

This is agitation

To affirm that America is still a racist nation on the basis of a demonstration staged by “more than 50” KKK members or sympathizers in Columbia, South Carolina as a minimum is misleading. In fact, it is a disgraceful misrepresentation.

Is The Guardian still in the business of reporting news? This looks a lot more like openly tendentious agitation.




The Confederate Flag Will Finally Disappear

WASHINGTON – The outrage caused by the Charleston church massacre in which Dylann Roof, a deranged young racist, gunned down 9 Black worshipers provided the political cover for Southern leaders –led by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley– to hastily do what they should have done long ago: take actions to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings in the states of the defeated Confederacy. (About time! The extremely bloody American Civil War ended 150 years ago!). 

The South and its old flag

It is indeed odd (and for many suspicious) that the supposedly modern Southerners continued to cherish the symbol of a losing war fought mostly over the indefensible issue of slavery. It is even more strange that nobody thought much of this Civil War nostalgia until now.

Until now, the official (but clearly unacceptable) excuse for revering what is in essence the symbol first of slavery and then of segregation and Jim Crow laws has been that “this is the way in which people in the South honor their heritage”.

Old memorabilia 

In other words, according to this disingenuous explanation, keeping the Confederate flag on public buildings, (and many other places), has nothing to do with any explicit or implicit approval of the “cause” for which the South fought so hard against the North: i.e slavery. Likewise, it has nothing to with lingering racist feelings. This is all about innocent Southern folklore. “Trust me, we mean nothing with this. There is no political, let alone racist message. We just like our old flag”.

Well, for some it may be so. For some people the Confederate flag may be just a piece of the Old South. But for millions of African Americans and indeed tens of millions of others it is offensive.

Remove the flag 

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, (the daughter of Indian immigrants), smartly used the church massacre perpetrated in her state by an openly racist White person (who used the Confederate flag in his Facebook page) to launch her proposal to remove the Confederate flag from public sites.

And, interestingly enough, her unexpected but welcome move gave cover to all the other Governors of the South. It created an avalanche. Now practically all Southern states, many of them controlled by Republicans, have taken action to remove the Confederate flag from official sites.

And it goes further, major national retailers like Amazon, Sears and Walmart understood the new righteous atmosphere and proudly joined in, announcing that they will stop selling the flag. Giant on line auction house eBay will stop dealing with it. And others are likely to follow soon, for fear of being fingered as the last die hard racists.

What does all this mean? 

Anyway, what does all this (politically savvy) anti Confederate flag activism amount to? In practical terms not that much. These are gestures. Pure symbolism. That said, symbols do matter in all societies.

The fact that Southern political leaders all of a sudden now are afraid of looking racist because they fly the Confederate flag is important. By removing the flag from public buildings they want to convey the message that this is a “New South”. The Civil War ended long ago. Slavery is gone. Segregation is gone. Racism is gone. Blacks and Whites live peacefully together.

Removing the flag will not eliminate lingering racism

Needless to say, many people in the South, (and elsewhere, for that matter), even after the flag is removed from public sites, may and will continue to harbor racist feelings. You can be sure that many will keep their cherished Confederate flag at home. (No law will be passed that will prevent them from doing so).

And certainly this politically correct “flag removal” gesture will do absolutely nothing to improve the conditions in so many Black communities plagued by illiteracy, violent crime and unemployment.

We are better off without this symbol 

Still, all in all, the fact that America is finally removing from public buildings the banner that symbolizes the morally indefensible era of slavery and segregation is a good thing.




Is Police Brutality The Main Issue Affecting African Americans?

WASHINGTON – Thanks to highly publicized official investigations, some of them led by the US Department of Justice, America is now convinced that we have a national White police brutality issue. Yes, we are told that African Americans are routinely singled out by (racist) White police officers.

Blacks are targeted by racist police

Blacks minding their own business are stopped for no reason by police. They are arrested on bogus charges. They are treated roughly while in police custody, and so forth. While this happens all the time, in more extreme cases several unarmed African Americans have been shot and killed by trigger happy police officers who later on say that they thought the Black person they killed might have had a gun. In truth, killing Black people is now akin to a sport.

This is what we are told. And, much worse, this is what most African Americans strongly believe: “We are targeted”.

Not that easy

Well, it is not that easy. The truth is a lot more complicated. It is undeniable that there are instances of White police brutality, including unnecessary use of force, sometimes leading to the killing of people wrongly suspected of holding weapons with criminal intent.

Policing high crime areas

However, the larger issue is that there is a connection between high levels of violent crime in Black areas and excessive use of force by police forces sent in to investigate crimes. To begin with, there is a much higher level of police activities in Black neighborhoods for the simple reason that these are high crime, or extremely high crime areas, with shootings and killings occurring every day.

So, let’s establish that Black neighborhoods are not targeted. The police go where crimes have been committed. It is therefore not surprising that police officers going into a very high crime area in which fire arms are routinely used may be on edge. Being on edge may in some cases trigger unjustified actions, or over reactions. And this unfortunately leads to mistakes and unwarranted use of force.

With this I am not trying to justify the killing of innocent Black victims by police officers, (who at least in some instances are motivated by racists feelings). Police brutality does exist, and it should be prosecuted.

More police interventions

However, it is truly disingenuous to ignore the fact that extremely high levels of crime in Black neighborhoods make policing of these areas much more difficult. Police officers patrolling streets in Black neighborhood where people are routinely shot are likely to be on edge. And high levels of tension may lead to bad judgment calls, including killing innocent victims.

And yet this high crime context is routinely ignored.

Is it just about the police?

Right now the official narrative is that the only issue at hand is totally unwarranted and unjustified police brutality against innocent, law abiding Blacks unfairly targeted simply because they are Black.

Because of this finding, police departments across America need to reformed. The instances in which the use of force may be permissible needs to be reassessed.

Again, I see nothing wrong with any of this. By all means, let’s make sure that all police officers behave properly.

But it is wrong to believe that police brutality is the only issue, and that there is no connection between policing dangerous, high crime areas and excessive use of force by some police officers.

The roots of Black crime are ignored

Unfortunately, the larger context of how stressful it is for police officers to operate daily in high crime areas is ignored. Moreover, I see national indignation only when a White police officer kills a Black person. But there is zero indignation when homicide statistics are made public.

And these statistics make it clear that the overwhelming majority of African Americans are killed by other African Americans in predominantly poor Black neighborhoods. They are not killed by mean spirited White police officers. Black on Black violent crime is the real, overwhelming problem that needs to be addressed.

Police brutality is an issue. No doubt about it. But it is certainly not the main problem affecting African Americans. The main problems are ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, drugs, and marginalization. These are the toxic factors that often lead to a life of crime and violence.

We should all welcome any reforms leading to well behaved police officers. But even the best trained police officers will be unable to improve –let alone solve– any of the deep social and economic problems affecting millions of African Americans.




Black Ghetto Kids Do Not Have Options

WASHINGTON – Freddie Gray’s death forced us to focus on the careless and cruel way in which police in Baltimore and elsewhere handle prisoners. The allegation that Gray died on account of injuries he suffered during a forty minute ride in a police van looks almost incredible. Indeed, how can this be?

Horrible police practices

Apparently the police officers who arrested Gray (without probable cause) handled him in the same way the handle other prisoners. He was thrown onto the floor of the police van. No standard (and mandatory) safety rules were followed. No seat belt.

He was just thrown onto the floor. And when the injured Gray asked for medical help, he got none. In fact the police made an additional stop to pick another prisoner. It was well after the van had arrived at the police station that officers checked on Gray and found him unresponsive. At that point, it was too late to save a life about to be ended by the injuries suffered during a bad ride in a police van. A bad ride that caused fatal wounds. Amazing but true. In America, in the 21st century, a ride while in police custody may kill you.

Insensitive and cruel behavior led to a death

So, there you have it. What emerges here is a grim picture of police officers doing the dirty work of scooping up suspects in poor, high crime neighborhoods. And this practice often makes them insensitive and cruel.

I am not suggesting that the officers who arrested Gray deliberately wished to harm him or kill him. I am suggesting that they could not care less about his well being while he was in their custody. They did not listen to his requests for help. May be they thought he was faking it. May be they thought that, whatever his problem was, it could wait. And this is the sad picture about shoddy police work in bad neighborhoods. In Gray’s case, shoddy turned into criminal. He ended up dead.

Gray’s life

But this is only part of the story. If we dig deeper, it gets worse. Based on what we know, Freddie Gray was just a foot soldier in the vast underworld of petty crime afflicting Black neighborhoods in Baltimore and other US cities. By all accounts, Gray was not a dangerous criminal. True, he had been arrested many times. He had spent two years in jail. But he was not a violent gang leader ordering people killed.

Gray was the product and to a large extent the victim of a an urban Black subculture shaped by ignorance, illiteracy, drugs and chronic under achievement. To make things worse, as a child he was exposed to extremely high levels of lead poisoning due to lead paint used in his home. In fact there are thousands of “lead kids” in Baltimore and elsewhere. Like many others, Gray benefited from a settlement coming out of a law suit.

Lead poisoning

But the irreversible damage to his body was done when he was a toddler. According to most medical experts, high levels of lead poisoning impairs cognitive abilities, while it may be a factor in the onset of ADD. So here is Freddie Gray for you. An impaired young man whose mother is an illiterate former heroin addict. Gray never finished high school. He ended up in jail. He made a living selling drugs.

Personal accountability

America’s culture is shaped by the principle of personal accountability premised on the assumption that all people, no matter their level of education or station in life, must know right from wrong. Therefore, if you are a criminal, it is because you chose crime. If you dropped out of school, this means that you do not value education and the opportunities that it can open up for you. Which is to say that whatever happens to you on account of your bad choices, this is ultimately what you deserved.

Well, in principle this is the correct approach. There has to be personal accountability. And yes, in most cases people know right from wrong.

A child does not have real choices

But what we see here is a child growing up poor, ignorant and physically damaged. This is not his fault.

Of course, one can always think of a different scenario. The boy from the ghetto one day sees the light. He understands there is a better way. He finds a mentor. He goes to school. Against all odds, he gets a diploma. Through other help, he even gets a scholarship to go to university. And there he really blossoms. With a good degree he can start a promising career. And so he does.

And, after many years, the former ghetto kid writes a book in which he describes his story whose meaning in that “everybody can make it America, if they only show fortitude and perseverance”. Look, these rags-to-riches stories do occur. And this is great. But they are rare.

Sadly, by far the the most common story is Freddie Gray. A young man trapped in semi-poverty by ignorance and lack of opportunity. A young man who could not see much beyond his life of petty crime –a life that eventually, in a twisted way, got him killed when he was arrested because he run away when he saw police officers coming.

In truth, did Gray have real choices? As someone who knew him well commented: “What did you expect him to become? A stockbroker? “. Indeed.

Fix the police, help the underclass

And so here we have two issues. Teaching police officers how to properly do their job, while difficult, is doable.

The real challenge for America is to find practical and constructive ways to help the underclass get out of an endless cycle of self-perpetuating poverty and join the main stream.

This is going to be hard. Really hard.




Seeking Justice in Baltimore

WASHINGTON – Freddie Gray was a 25 year old Baltimore small time drug dealer. He was just another member of an all too familiar urban underclass of petty criminals who  had chosen drug dealing and/or other illegal activities mostly because they have preciously few options.

Crime is the only career

I say this not to justify or condone crime. This is to say that when young men grow up in a semi-lawless environment that does not provide any real opportunity, sadly for many of them crime becomes the default option.

A bad day

It so happened that on April 12 Freddie Gray had an extremely bad day. Gray saw some policemen, and then he run away. The policemen chased him, arrested him and then they threw him into a police van. Based on the results of an investigation, Freddie Gray suffered fatal injuries while in the van, and then he died a few days later because of the consequences of his injuries.

In another era, a non event

In another era this might have been treated as a non-event. Freddie Gray would have been considered an unfortunate casualty that occurred on yet another busy law enforcement day. He was after all a known criminal, with a long history of arrests.

The very fact that he run away when he saw some policemen proves that he had reasons for fearing the police. In other words, most likely he was guilty of something. And therefore the police had every right to pursue him and apprehend him. The fact that he suffered injuries while in police custody is just a sad complication. Nobody meant to kill him. Case closed, let’s move on.

A higher standard?

Well, this time it is different. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s Chief Prosecutor charged all six officers involved in the incident. The driver of the police van has been charged with second degree murder. The others with manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office depending on their actions during the incident.

If Mosby’s charges will stand in court, she just created a new standard –Thank God for that! Here is the thing. Freddie Gray had indeed a criminal record. But the police had no right to pursue him and arrest him on April 12, because they had no “probable cause”. There was no evidence that Gray had committed any crime, at that moment. And the manner in which he was treated after his arrest is criminal. He was treated like an animal. He was thrown into the police van. He suffered injuries. He was not given any medical attention. And therefore he died because of his injuries.

Sure, you can say that if Mr. Gray had been a regular, law abiding citizen he would have had no reason to run away from the police. Therefore, no arrest, no injuries and no death. From this perspective, his death is ultimately his on fault.

We can and should do better

Yes, except that this is The United States of America in the 21st Century. This is not Europe in the Middle Ages. No, you cannot arrest people without probable cause. And, even assuming that the arrest was justified, the police are responsible for the well being of any prisoner in their custody. Any injury to the prisoner is their responsibility. And yes, police officers must seek medical help in case of any injuries to a prisoner in their custody.

These six officers, based on the outcome of the investigation, did none of that. And this why Freddie Gray is dead. This is not to say that they deliberately killed him. But it would appear that they treated him like an animal. They injured him, and then let him suffer, without any real concern for his well-being.

We shall see how all this ends up. An indictment does not automatically imply a conviction. Since we are in America, all citizens accused of a crime, and that includes police officers, are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

But at the very least Ms. Mosby, with her decision to indict, made the point that police forces have to uphold a high standard of behavior.

The problem of the urban underclass will not go away

That said, no matter how this case will be adjudicated after a trial, the underlying problem at the root of Gray’s death –poverty, ignorance, alienation and crime– will stay.

Freddie Gray was a petty criminal who had  a bad day. A horrible day that cost him his life. Sadly, thousands of young Black men will continue their lives of crime because they see on alternatives. May be they will be treated better the next time they are arrested, but their journey to nowhere good will continue.

 

 

 




The Killing Of Freddie Gray Reveals A Huge National Tragedy

WASHINGTON – In Baltimore, on April 19 Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African American, died of a spinal injury that occurred while he was in police custody. We do not know all the facts. But what we know invites the worst possible speculations.

Killed by the police

It is not clear what Gray did that justified his arrest. Still, whatever the charges against him, it looks that he was severely beaten by the Baltimore police. In fact, he died because of the severity of the beating.

This is positively awful. This is the United States of America, a country of laws and due process. A country founded on the proposition that the government’s main purpose is to secure and protect individual rights. And yes, people under arrest have the right to be treated properly by the police.

Killing Blacks OK?

The notion that a young African American can be arrested and killed while in police custody, and that this criminal tragedy may be explained away as “an unfortunate accident” makes the whole country look like we are still in Alabama circa 1950. In the bad old days, a policeman killing a Black person, intentionally or unintentionally, would not be in any serious trouble.

The broader picture

That said, if we look at the context in which the killing and its aftermath took place, the picture gets a lot darker. What happened in Baltimore in the aftermath of Gray’s killing shows a racially divided American society.

It also shows how within this divided society we have a large underclass of disaffected young African Americans who (in this case, as in many other cases) have used the legitimate protests as an opportunity to loot, steal and destroy almost everything in sight.

So, here is the thing. There are some plain racists within the ranks of at least some police forces. For them using excessive force and brutality is perfectly OK when it comes to young African Americans. This pattern of gratuitous police violence justifies strong anti-police feelings among a majority of American Blacks.

To all of this we have to add the toxic mix of extreme poverty, broken families and crime that plagues so many urban Black communities. A lot of crime invites more police interventions. And repeated police interventions may result in tragedies like Gray’s killing.

Easy to ignore the larger problem

As President Obama said, it is easy to ignore this social tragedy of young African Americans trapped in perpetual poverty, until something like the Baltimore riots happens. But then, after making some noises about the need to “do something”, when quiet returns we simply go back ignoring the root causes of crime and gang violence.

Sure enough, we can and should deal with the bad policing issues. It must be possible to identify, weed out and prosecute bad cops. But, as the President said, this is just the beginning.

The urban underclass

The broader issue is that in America we have a large urban underclass living in poverty and ignorance. For many of its members crime seems to be the only possible career.

Given this horrible mix, when something really outrageous happens, like the Gray killing in Baltimore, all restraint disappears. When criminal gangs take over, it takes minutes to transform a peaceful protest into mayhem, with stealing, looting and arson.

Again, this is a lot more than a law and order issue, with the police called upon to do the dirty work of arresting gang members.

We have a big problem

Given all this, it is clear that we have a big problem. A really big problem that goes way beyond a few bad cops who engage in criminal behavior. If we are serious about getting to the bottom of this, we have to educate millions of disaffected young people. We have to show them that there are credible and viable alternatives to crime and violence.

And yes, we also have to prosecute racist, violent cops who somehow believe that beating a Black prisoner to death is OK.

As I said, this is a really big problem.