And a broken-windows policy of policing is exactly what it means:
The property matters. The people can stay broken until hell freezes over.
And the ejection of these ill-bought philosophies of class and racial control from our political mainstream — this is now the real prize, not only in Baltimore, but nationally. Overpolicing and a malignant drug prohibition have systemically repressed and isolated the poor, created an American gulag, and transformed law enforcement into a militarized and brutalizing force utterly disconnected from communities in which thousands are arrested but crime itself — real crime — is scarcely addressed. To be sure, there are a great many savage inequalities in our society — no doubt we could widen this discussion at a dozen points — but now, right now, overpolicing of the poor by a militarized police-state is actually on the table for the first time in decades.
And don’t for a second think that stabbing a fork through the heart of zero tolerance isn’t job one. Nothing else changes, nothing else grows in the no-man’s lands of a war zone, and our inner cities have been transformed into free-fire battlegrounds by this drug war and all of the brutalities and dishonesties done in its name.
Yes, the charges came for the Baltimore officers and the city is now relatively quiet. But step back for a moment from the immediacy of each individual outrage — from Ferguson, from Staten Island, from North Charleston, from West Baltimore — and realize that while this systemic overlay of oppression will offer a moral exemption or two when the facts or the digital video demands it, charging an officer here or implementing a new training course for police there, the game itself grinds on. Even as they acknowledge an atrocity or two, the same voices of seeming reason continue to suggest that we needn’t abandon all the good that zero-tolerance enforcement has done for us.
Why look at New York, can’t you? Safest big city in America. Zero-tolerance works, goddammit. It makes us all safer, and our cities governable. Fix the broken windows, write up all the small infractions, punish every minor offender and soon, you’ll see, the city becomes liveable again. If you have money, quite liveable indeed.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore — as in every other city that doesn’t happen to be the recapitalized, respeculated, rebuilt center of world finance — zero tolerance has been a disaster. And the levels of police violence and incarceration that spring from this policing philosophy are proving more lethal to the American spirit and experiment than even race fear and race hatred, as ugly and enduring as that pathology is. No, this is now about class. This is those who have more using the levers of governance to terrorize those who have less, and doing so by using damn near nothing to keep the poor at the margins of American life.
Four men in four separate cities are dead over a shoplifted cigar, a single sold cigarette, a legal pocket knife and a domestic order for child support. Do any of us feel appreciably safer for the cost? Do any of us still want to talk about breaking a few eggs to make that omelet? Do any of us still want to defend the absurd and brutalizing notion that by using our police officers to stalk our ghettoes heaving criminal charge upon criminal charge at every standing human being, we are fixing, or helping, or even intelligently challenging the other America to find a different future for itself?
Why yes, yes we do. Incredibly, we do.
* * *
As much as the best slogans and the purest ideology wishes it otherwise, this astonishing edifice of American repression, built carefully, brick by brick, over decades and sustained by a paper-thin, 24-hour-a-day media culture that traffics only in fear and shock value, is not going to fall with a riot. Exactly the opposite is going to happen if rightful civil disobedience gives way to civil unrest.
When the very demand is an end to wanton and brutalizing overpolicing, a riot and all the imagery that a riot conjures is in fact the most useless thing in the great arsenal of civil disobedience and rebellion. Yes, if you want to argue anyone’s right to a burn and loot, to declare that America’s dispossessed have been violently targeted, that they are desperate, that they deserve all the violence that these state-sponsored murders elicit, then you can present yourself as a fairly sublime fascimile of Patrick Henry or Malcolm X for our time. Death or glory. Liberty or death. Your rhetoric will no doubt inspire those who are like-minded, and maybe even the folks risking all in the street, as well.
And then you — and they — will lose.
Me, I’m fucking tired of losing. For decades now, American governance has carefully leached the overt racialist sentiment from its calls for law and order. Just as carefully, with the rise of a black and Latino middle class, that governance has secured some healthy measure of minority participation in a crackdown that now targets the underclass overall. No? Look at the faces of those charged with failing to travel Freddie Gray from street to lockup without severing his spine; ebony and ivory, beating down the poor in perfect harmony. And finally, to fully insulate and institutionalize the brutality, our government has deployed it against us in post-racial fashion. If you don’t think so — if you believe that this is still merely about race — you need to spend some time in places such as Baltimore’s Pigtown or O’Donnell Heights, watching white people of little means getting their asses kicked and their rights violated with as much gusto as in West Baltimore. This war is on the poor.
And they are good at this. They understand the optics. And they believe that in these moments when the systemic nightmare that is now American policing reveals itself in a choked-to-death arrestee or a hellish wagon ride, that they can wait out the outrage, that the small bone of a singular indictment or even conviction can be thrown, that eventually the indignation of the oppressed will slip in either its intensity or its discipline, that the street theater will dissipate, or even better for their purposes, lurch into open, CNN-engorged violence. In the end, they expect any uprising to underplay or overplay even the strongest hand.
You don’t think so? One word: Occupy.
Yes, the street is essential, and more than that, the hands-up ballet that exposed the militarized police response in Ferguson was brilliant, honest disobedience. Those images — far more than anything burned or anything thrown in Missouri — moved this cause forward. Just as fundamentally, the Baltimore imagery of young men standing their ground and claiming North and Pennsie for their own, or marching peacefully in anger toward City Hall against a line of helmets and riot shields, has profound power. Stakes are high and now, with one lethal encounter after another lined up to prove the rule and not the exception to Americans who have little clue about police violence, some moral high ground is there for the taking. But Occupy proved that the street is only the opening act, and the second act of this drama — of any popular movement — has to be political.
And for a second act to even begin to happen, the optics don’t merely matter — they are everything.
The demand here is not merely to punish some police, much as some police need to be held to account. The substantive victory — the one for which there is now actually a window– is for our governance and law enforcement to take its hand from the throat of the other America, to finally and forever abandon the cruelty of an unrestrained drug war, of zero-tolerance policies, of mass incarceration. The demand has to be systemic reform: Governance must allow the dispossessed of this country to stand up and venture unmolested into the same shared future with the rest of us: This is wrong. Let them be. They are Americans. They are us.
Shame is some powerful shit, and there is so much for all of us to be ashamed about after buying into this repressive dynamic for so long. And for as long as the optics and the discipline of the uprising allow, shame and the grievous sacrifices of Brown and Garner, Scott and Gray are doing hard and essential labor here. Those who live only by the slogan, who want to assert categorically that power only yields to force, that no one ever achieved a real measure of freedom without violence — they talk as if the imagery of violent civil unrest has ever done anything in this country other than push middle Americans into the arms of fearful, authoritarian repression, or even more naively, as if the political middle is somehow unnecessary to political victory in a republic that when it governs itself at all, governs by rough consensus. By any means necessary? As fine a phrase in the cause of liberty as has ever been uttered, but in actual application, it will have to be employed as if the urban poor are not already at the margins of American life, as if their numbers are such that they can find political consensus in this country once rioting becomes the predominant visual. By any means necessary sounds great until you realize that there aren’t actually a lot of means available to the underclass, that bricks and fire will have to suffice against a policing and civil defense apparatus that is already militarized and weaponized beyond anything seen in 1968.
To embrace a riot when circumstances offer a real prize for the first time in decades — this would be a triumph of self-defeating anger, however justified or worthy of empathy, on the part of the underclass themselves. Or worse, in the case of those claiming to support the aspirations of the popular risings in the streets of Ferguson or Baltimore, it is armchair revolution, a celebration of perfect ideology ready to street-fight tyranny at the cost of someone else’s blood, someone else’s skull. To argue such desperate extremity, you have to scrub clean every lesson of the last half century that argues for organization and discipline, for mass non-violent civil disobedience and the victories won at the hands of that ideal. Selma, Gdansk, Robben Island — the transformational moments come not when the popular will indulges in violence, but after the state itself indulges in shameless violence and repression against its own people, when the tactics of brutality are overplayed and when the threat or actuality of violence reveals as hollow the moral standing of a bad government.
You think the presumption is mine, that I’m speaking for the poor from a position of affluence, or white entitlement? Perhaps. Or perhaps the presumption is yours in declaring that many, or even most of our urban poor are not themselves fully aware of the stakes, that they are too battered and enraged by years of authoritarian violence to achieve anything bigger or more lasting than a riot. Perhaps when a Baltimorean of any stripe argues against other Baltimoreans giving in to the rage of a riot when still other Baltimoreans are risking so much to actually reform something — maybe this isn’t actually as much a function of race as you think. And perhaps, too, infantilizing those participating in this uprising by rationalizing the rioting, by implying that the poor and dispossessed can’t instead organize and maintain a disciplined and unrelenting mass protest for real results — perhaps this is an ugly condescension all its own.
Real results? Not here, you say. Not now. Are you sure?
* * *
A few weeks ago, I swallowed hard, put on a tie, and drove down to Washington D.C. to eat rubber chicken and directly engage with people who are said to have some hand in pretending to governing this country. For an old reporter, and one well-versed in certain time-tested newsroom cynicisms, this was a close call. I told the organizers of the event that I didn’t want to be on some damn panel discussing everything from deindustrialization to educational equality to family values. I didn’t want to waste my time sitting in meeting rooms over five-year plans and new slogans for programs that never come. I didn’t want to be used to validate more inertia and failure.
“We can’t promise an outcome,” an organizer conceded, “but this time, it’s not just the liberals. Gingrich is a cosponsor aloing with Donna Brazille, and some of the funding comes from Koch Industries.”
“There’s honestly a chance that some movement on this stuff can happen, actually.”
Maybe I’m a chump, but I signed up. No panels, no back-and-forth on all of the global issues in which an actual attempt at reform can be lost, but yeah, I agreed to vent ten minutes on an aspect I guessed probably woudn’t be covered by people on either the left or the right: The drug war had fucked up policing. It was brutality without purpose, save for the mass incarceration of people who don’t really need to be in prison. It was, to be exact, the same set-piece rant I’ve been giving for more than a decade, but I reheated it again because I thought for once I was talking to a group that all had some feathered piece of the same agenda: The libertarians don’t care about any sense of a shared future, but hey, they see the drug war clearly for what it is, and the lefties know the smell of brutality and repression when it’s in the room. The conversatives? Hell, they can see that the costs of locking up this many human beings for all manner of infraction is more than the country can bear economically.
After I signed on, the White House called. Rather than tape his own remarks to the gathering, the President wanted to talk with me (yeah I know, WTF) and send the bipartisan symposium a 10-12 minute video arguing further the disaster that mass incarceration and an unwinnable drug war had brought the country. Huh.
So that too.
And a few days later, I’m sitting with my chicken plate between Newt fucking Gingrich and some vice president for Koch Industries listening to the sitting Republic governor of Georgia — that’s right, good old red-state Georgia — explaining how this essential reform is already happening, that in his state, for fiscal and humanistic reasons both, they are closing prisons and dramatically reducing the prison population by walking away from the notion of zero tolerance, and making a very sensible, very human distinction between “those things that we wish people wouldn’t do and those things that we can’t allow you to do.”
Still think that there isn’t a window here? This is the actual, on-the-ground statewide abandonment of zero-tolerance by a conversative Republican governor of Georgia; not a proposed change, not an argument undertaken at the fringe of a political campaign or by some gadfly critic or academician. Georgia, of all places, has just abandoned mass incarceration, broken windows and zero tolerance.
The governor’s keynote received standing applause, and why not from a bipartisan coalition that had been brought together to pursue a goal of reducing the national prison population by 50 percent? Georgia is doing it, on her own. Go figure.
I used my ten minutes as planned, arguing that even if you value public safety above all things, you needed to abandon zero tolerance. Then I sat down again, only to have Mr. Gingrich follow me and declare that while Mr. Simon makes good fictional television dramas, zero-tolerance and broken-windows policing had a real future in our country, that they have in fact claimed a great victory in making New York one of the safest big cities in America.
Yeah, this shit will not die easy. Once a myth becomes the truth, it stays true.
Mr. Gingrich came back to the table and, God help me, I can never resist a good piss in the wind: “I’d agree with you,” I assured him, “but then we’d both be wrong.”
He laughed, and I proceeded to argue to his increasing irritation that comparing New York, or London, or Los Angeles or any other world city to half-hollow, second-tier post-industrial cities was incredibly specious, that what had worked in New York had not worked because Guliani filled Rikers, or because the civil rights of every black or brown citizen walking the streets had been made to disappear in the name of public safety.
He smiled, but he wasn’t listening. Dessert had arrived.
* * *
This window is eighteen months.
After that, the Obama administration ends and whatever follows it — Democratic, Republic — will not likely have the standing or fortitude to argue on behalf of the underclass, to risk the Willie-Horton baiting that can come when a prison is emptied, to expend limited political capital on the most demonized, feared and politically disenfranchised element of our society. The poor, and largely the urban poor at that, will be reconsigned to oblivion when the new administration transitions to power and the affluent who have paid for large chunks of the election victory will have their own notions about how the new president ought to use his political capital.
If a Republican wins the White House, he will have done so by yet again promising the party base that he will be tough on crime, that small-town values are an elemental truth despite the fact that America is forever more a big-city society, that he is a law-and-order kind of guy, that drugs are bad and that whoever the Democratics send at him is weak and vacillating when it comes to keeping our streets safe.
If a Democrats wins, it will at worst be because he maneuvered to the American center and abandoned any primary-season talk about the poor, about urban policies, or emptying prisons or getting soft on crime. At best, even a Democratic president who stays true to a moral course on this issue is likely going to be denied the necessary legislative victories by a Republican congress maneuvering for the next mid-term and presidential election cycles.
At the earliest, with either party, nothing happens to help the poor or mitigate the violence directed at the poor by our government until a second term, as it was with this administration. The next window after this one will be, at best, another eight years away.
But right now, this president — as a matter of conscience, perhaps, and with no more political worlds to conquer — is speaking words that have not been heard in decades. And willing, perhaps, to grant a legacy of reform to an administration that is of no further threat electorally, his opposition is actually joining the chorus, or — as in the case of Georgia — acting unilaterally to bipartisan applause. Now, in the last years of the last term of this presidency, there is a chance to undo decades of warfare on the poor. Now, right now, the pendulum very much is in swing.
* * *
There are a lot of people who misread “The Wire” as being cynical about the possibilities of populism or political change; that’s an easy read, in my opinion. Superficial, too. Yes, the drama is a dystopic vision of an ungovernable American city trapped in a rigged game. That’s not accidental: It seems important, I think, to first call a rigged game by its true name, and for the other America, as represented in “The Wire” by certain quadrants of Baltimore, the game is truly and prohibitively rigged.
But so was pre-civil rights America a rigged game. And the economic landscape of the country in the industrial age, prior to the Haymarket and Teddy Roosevelt and the the rise of collective bargaining, was also a mug’s game for many. The Communist satellites of Eastern Europe were rigged for decades before Solidarity sat down in that shipyard, just as apartheid was its own circular argument until a growing international isolation and economic stagnation forced an illegitimate, authoritarian government to see the man on Robben Island not as their prisoner but as their only possible chance for non-violent transformation. Every era of bad or illegimate governance is rigged and rigged tight. Until it isn’t.
The last time Baltimore — and the rest of urban America — burned for the television cameras, it brought nods of understanding and empathy from the left, and it left the urban poor and their communities even more isolated and vulnerable than before. It is tempting to argue otherwise — to point to community block-grants and UDAGs and say, look what progress did follow the riots in 1968. Or to read the Kerner Commission report and think that what happened in Detroit a year earlier brought the country to some new understanding of the fire next time and how to avoid it.
But no. The greater wisdom of the Kerner report lays there on the pages still, untouched by anything resembling comprehensive political action. And as for whatever money was tossed into American cities that were leaching population and tax-base after 1968, well, the government has always been okay at regilding ghettoes. Bricks and mortar is one thing, and hey, wherever you go, a developer is always a developer. But people? Where was the grand initiative to reconnect the isolated, urban poor with an economy that was already on the move, that was increasingly rendering them irrelevant to the American future?
The hard truth is the only comprehensive and lasting urban agenda that followed the rioting of the 1960s is law and order. A healthy chunk of the DNA of our current militarized policing dynamic and unrestrained use of arrest and incarceration is there, latent, in the fear that those long summers of civil unrest produced in middle America.
And Detroit is still Detroit. And the parts of Baltimore that burned on Monday have never quite made it back from what happened in 1968. A riot in London or Los Angeles — and such events were actually used for comparison this week, often by dillettantes from London or Los Angeles — is not going to implode those cities. Damage to a world metropolis can be papered over within a year or two by virtue of the incredible economic engines that guarantee the health of such extraordinary places. What does East London or Crown Heights or South Central mean to vast, monied landscapes that are the now the fixed centers of the accumulated financial health of their entire societies?
But Baltimore? Gauging what can happen to a Baltimore or a Detroit or a St. Louis in the wake of serious, prolonged riot by referencing a world city is as specious an endeavor as say, explaining all the good that zero-tolerance policing did in a city that was soaking luxuriously in the quarter-century run up in the financial markets. New York has busied itself for three decades completely rebuilding itself and recalibrating the wealth of its population to an extent that the poor were not only priced out of Manhattan, but much of the outer boroughs as well. The only thing that is going to mug someone in Alphabet City or Astoria nowadays is the bill from a two-star restaurant.
That’s why zero-tolerance worked in New York — because one of the richest cities that humankind has ever built soon enough had many more rich people and much less poor people overall. Put Wall Street where North Avenue is and drop West Baltimore where the financial district now sits in Manhattan and see the magic happen. If the financial markets were in Baltimore or St. Louis, and decades of Wall Street bonus money was scarfing up and restoring those towns block by block, why yes, what shining new Jerusalems would result in Maryland and Missouri. And if New York were an old manufacturing center without its bedrock of financial and artistic primacy?
That civic and political leaders in second-tier cities — without the mass capital to reconstitute themselves as centers of capitalist affluence — actually followed Guiliani and Bratton into this hellhole is testament to the simplicity and easy sloganeering under which our political culture operates. To its credit, the police department in nearby Washington D.C. tried zero-policing on the poorer quadrants in Northeast and Southeast and quickly backed away. They were destroying all semblence of community-police relations and police work itself was becoming brutish and ineffective.
But Baltimore kept going. Incredibly. And “The Wire” was a show made in that time of astonishing and stubborn indifference to the facts on the ground. Our leaders here were willing to fight the theory of zero tolerance to the tune of more than 100,000 annual arrests in a city of 600,000. And while they did, the arrest and conviction rates for every single category of felony crime fell because what is the use of actual police work and crime deterrence when you can sweep the streets of the poor instead?
Crime also fell, too, during that time, or so the cooked paperwork says. But more on that later; the complexity of that lie requires a separate essay, perhaps. Again, suffice to say that this shit dies hard, and if the mass protests in Baltimore and other cities achieve only a handful of indictments or convictions, then it probably won’t end at all.
But a riot? Christ, what could be better for arguing the need for more shields and helmets, more militarized police, more prisons, more omnibus crime bills. And, of course, more unending drug war. At every level, from the federal to the municipal, American government emerged from the maelstrom of the late-Sixties rioting with a mainstream-voter mandate for law-and-order policing, for establishing layers of social control over the poor, and especially the minority poor, that no longer relied on direct racial discrimination, but on a more coded and nominally color-blind drug prohibition.
The blame is bipartisan. Democratic and Republican presidents and governors and mayors competed with each other to spike the new construct with ever greater weaponry and militarization, to make the penalties on even the most minor, non-violent offenses ever more marginalizing and draconian, to demonize and isolate the poor beyond what our bifurcated version of America had already done, to make middle-class and working-class Americans viscerally afraid of and even vengeful against those without. Some of our most populist Democratic leaders traded in this shit for maximum political advantage. I’m looking at you, Bill Clinton. You are one masterful politician, and, well, a self-preserving sonofabitch. As much as anyone, the American gulag, millions of non-violent offenders strong, belongs to you.
But hey, that was then. Right now, in this rare window, Mr. Clinton, along with others — including many Americans who occupy the political center and are necessary ballast for consensus — are today as wary of the police and the overreach of zero tolerance, of the drug war, of the mass incarceration of fellow citizens, as they are scared of the poor. It’s been a long time coming, and but for the brutal overreach of the law enforcement community itself and, perhaps, too, the small wonder of digital camera-phones, we would not be here now.
But again, we have at best a year and a half before this political window closes. Hell, it may snap shut before then if the leaders of the mass civil dissent in Baltimore and elsewhere can’t sustain the civil disobedience and mass protest, if a mere indictment or conviction sends everyone to a warm coda of self-congratulation. And the window will certainly close if those leaders don’t stay organized and in control of the agenda, if they lose the optics to burning and looting. The American center stared at that shit once before and replied with Nixon and Reagan and three decades of omnibus crime bills, mandatory sentencing, and rampant prison construction. A good, robust riot now brings at least a decade more of the same misery.
* * *
The morning after the day when I apparently engaged in the unpardonable effrontery of urging, on this site, fellow Baltimoreans not to diminish and betray the moral authority and power of the ongoing protests by indulging in violence, I took drove to North and Pennsie to spend the morning, along with many other city residents, picking up trash.
It’s too much to claim I was at that point motivated by any hope of communal affirmation — though seeing hundreds of us — most black, but some white — walking the streets and alleys of Penn-North doing the same thing was pretty damn affirming. Mostly, though, I just woke up sick to my stomach at the thought of CNN and Fox reporters doing their Tuesday stand-ups with burnt trash and broken glass as their backdrop. I wanted the images of the previous day and night overtaken by something else.
After the trash was gone, even from many of the rear alleys, I joined the renewed occupation of North and Pennsie for a time. The intersection was closed for the day and the police line in riot gear seemed to have little appetite to push anyone off the real estate. The young protestors stood their ground, some bantering with the police and others glaring implacably. It stayed that way for a good while until some asshole threw a bottle at police and then, some other asshole, safely ensconced behind helmet, Kevlar and shield, replied by firing mace into the eyes of the front row of protestors. The throng in the intersection broke in a spray of shouting humanity.
The worst kind of shit seemed to be starting again, until a cadre of young men came off the corners, arms raised, shouting for peace, telling everyone to calm down. Stand your ground, but keep calm. Peace, they chanted repeatedly, and the moment held, with the protesters and police settling in against each other in tempered hostility for the rest of the afternoon.
I am honestly not sure that I have ever been more proud to be a Baltimorean than at that precise moment. And I am certain that I have never had more belief that right now, for the first time in decades, something real can actually be won.
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Twitter
[…] the context in which she lived and how it pertains to the police and the ill of Little Rock. Gaines lived in a city that has arrested at least 1/6 of its mostly black population. She worked in a town that has used police force not to improve safety, but to buttress the […]
[…] to winning against urban crime, but over time its limitations have become painfully clear. As The Wire creator David Simon, that long-time student of Baltimore policing and urban decay, has put it: “A broken-windows […]
[…] to winning against urban crime, but over time its limitations have become painfully clear. As The Wire creator David Simon, that long-time student of Baltimore policing and urban decay, has put it: “A broken-windows […]
[…] that, it’s also worth noting that David Simon has been particularly vocal over the past month, crediting O’Malley with initially taking proactive steps to lower crime […]
So… what can we do in this time frame? I live in Chicago, and while I don’t think we have a zero tolerance policy (I could very well be mistaken), the authorities do play the stats game. And then of course we have the whole Homan Square thing. It’s hard to get people out of their apathy here. Well, it’s hard anywhere, but especially here because corruption has always been such an integral part of the city, it takes a real scandal to piss people off. I mean, I’ve been canvassed outside of polling stations twice just before voting, and at the time I didn’t even think about it, since it’s Chicago. Vote early and often, don’t you know.
But seriously, what can we do in this window of time? Even though my neighborhood has a fair amount of gang activity (and worse, I’m set to move to cut my commute), being white and middle class, I feel pretty removed from the effects of the national discussion.
[…] in the way that true stories are, messy and confused and kind of distantly sad. 3. David Simon, “Zero tolerance is exactly what it sounds like” on his blog. Simon responds to the legion of lefty trolls attacking him for telling people not to […]
[…] Simon kommentiert angesichts zunehmend häufigeren Ausschreitungen in US-Großstädten zur Null-Toleranz-Politik: […]
I realize I’m late to this party by about a month, but beautiful essay Mr. Simon. But I really wonder whether we’re asking the right questions when it comes to violence vs. nonviolence for political agitation: http://badprophet.weebly.com/home/violence-nonviolence-or-should-that-be-the-question
You hit the nail on the head with why the zero tolerance policy is in jeopardy … because all the political parties have something to benefit from abolishing it. Now, how do you build that same coalition for something like getting a body camera on every police officer? If that happens I guarantee you that will make one of the biggest differences in urban policing that we have ever seen. Several months ago, Obama proposed something like $263 million with addition to state funding to help make this happen. It needed congressional approval so naturally it went nowhere. What if one of the main messages people got out of the riots was that the people protesting were demanding that in exchange for the funding for body cameras, they were willing to cut an equal number of spending for food stamps. Whatever it took to get a deal done. Sure, that’s a shitty and unfair deal for the poor, but republicans house and senate members would be able to go back to their constituents and say that this funding would make government more transparent and they’re helping people get off government dependence. Bam, you got the body cameras, and these types of injustices go own very rapidly.
Hopefully the solution would not have to be as extreme as the food stamp example, but it’s something that shocks people and gets the national conversation on how to pragmatically get a deal done, instead of every group going into their usual talking points and nothing changes.
In the mid 1600’s Maryland and Virginia specifically codified “whiteness” into existence, for the first time. With the express purpose of this codifying being the dehumanizing and reducing of all non-white peoples to the status of non-citizens. And conversely elevating the status of all whites to “God-ordained” preeminence. As very clearly evidenced by the primary focuses and penalties of those original codes. Since those humble beginnings, there has literally not been one second of American history that has avoided the astronomically putrid stain of those original acts of racialization! EVER!
So, as long as the original distinction that is whiteness (that ultimately started the ball rolling on all this garbage in the first place) continues to exist, EVERY discussion like these that presumes to discuss the plight of any “non-white” is ultimately nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Because, without first discussing the real underlying disease that is the fundamental illegitimacy of the continuing existence of this arbitrary thing called “whiteness”, it’s all just a huge and self-perpetuating shell-game of egotistically pontificating about the seemingly endless correlating symptoms, without ever actually addressing the causation of the disease itself.
And the disease is: That there continues to be a thing called “whiteness”, more than 350 years after it was created out of thin air. With utterly no scientific basis for such a distinction. And along with that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, created strictly for the purpose of justifying “RACE” discrimination, in the first place!
So the discussion we need to all be endlessly having is: “How do we FINALLY get rid of the fundamental, scientifically illegitimate distinction called “whiteness” that precipitated (and continues to justify) all this mess in the first place???” As opposed to pointless and distracting BS debates about “the n-word” and/or “redskins”, that are in fact, very direct outgrowths of the creation of “whiteness”, in the first place.
From indentured servitude to full on enslavement, miscegenation laws, “Indian” Wars, death marches and reservations, non-citizenship for Asian railroad workers, 3/5th Compromise, Emancipation Proclamation, Slave catchers, KKK, lynchings, sharecropping, convict leasing, Oregon state constitution, Reconstruction abandoned, strict racial quotas on immigration, “Birth Of A Nation”, northern white race riots, Tuskegee experiments, forced sterilizations, segregated military, internment camps, Dixiecrats, FHA set-a-sides for whites, welfare creation for whites, southern strategy, George Wallace, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, David Duke, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News, national highway system, northern school desegregation riots, white flight, redlining, prison industrial complex, war of drugs, Tea Partiers, police brutality…and on and on…
What ties ALL these things together? They are an unbroken chain of events that have specifically served to endlessly dehumanize minorities, since shortly after the first settlers on these lands. And all discussed ad nauseam. But, much, much more importantly, they have been instruments specifically designed to perpetuate the concept of “whiteness” in America for over 350 years. A concept that, nonetheless, scientifically has never existed.
How do we start a conversation on getting rid of this “thing that doesn’t actually exist”??? Yet figuratively, has been creating “hell on Earth” for people of color since 1493? Instead of another endless stream of periodic masturbatory dissertations on “the apparent problems of black culture”. Followed shortly thereafter by another highly predictable round of “our” recommended solutions to “their’ problems. Because the fundamental issue has always been the creating of (and allowing to continue) a lie called “whiteness” for far, far too long one. **
**Note: Not “white people” (that’s a completely different waste of time).
Georgie, I doubt many here fundamentally disagree with you. And your point is an important one, but its relevance to the discussion at hand is overstated. Sure, it’s a root cause of the “disease”, but it’s not the disease itself. It may once have been, but the disease has mutated. The “anti racism” based meds proved just effective enough to expand the scope of the disease past race, into class. Both the perpetrators and victims of these injustices are now multiethnic.
More tangibly, while (again) your point is not wrong, its fervor overshadows real solutions, policy solutions that can have legitimate results: ending zero-tolerance. Why deal exclusively in philosophic exclamations when legislative action is available? And conversely, why undermine an important philosophical argument – that our society needs finally to move past racial distinctions – by centering a policy debate on race when it doesn’t need to be? I’d argue that moving past “whiteness”, or more generally, capital-R “Race”, foremost requires us to have these conversations in a post racial manner. if we can do that, parallel but not conjoined with the continued true assertion that race is bullshit, our society will – hopefully – eventually give up on racism.
Being white in a nation that has collectively been saturated in white supremacy for over 350 years greatly distorts ones ability to process moral reality. It’s like some sort of very powerful and seductive drug that generally can’t be perceived by those partaking endlessly in it’s subtle, conscience destroying, high. White arguments surrounding “race” seem quite logical to them. But to non-whites living with it’s endlessly exhausting consequences daily, they are about as distorted as Hell itself!
Once again, what was codified into the very fabric of this nation starting in the mid 1600’s was, and is, white supremacy. Based on the foundational concept of the unending preeminence of white skin and white culture. And likewise, on the concept of the “God-ordained” — this part is massively important — inhumanity of those with “non-white skin”. Thereby, justifying all manner of unspeakable crimes against them. In addition, It is a policy that, if we are willing to be fundamentally honest with ourselves, has been predicated on endless amounts of kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering of “non-white” peoples, without legal repercussions for such crimes, since long before we became an actual nation. Because that lack of repercussions was, again, codified into the very fabric of our legal system from it’s very earliest beginnings. And as a result, due to the specific unsubtle racial content of those very first legal distinctions being fundamentally predicated on “whiteness” in the 1650’s, the message has been clear and unending, from that day to this…”non-white” lives don’t matter! (Sound familiar?) NOT “lower class” people, but people of color, very, very specifically! Our history is littered with millions upon millions of examples of the differences between the two. Slavery, Indian wars, death marches, forced sterilizations, our basic immigration policy until the 1960’s, post-slavery race riots, Jim Crow laws, secret STD experiments, racilized restrictions in the original FHA program, redlining, overflowing prisons, the evolution of welfare, internment camps, non-citizenship for Asian railroad builders, the War on Drugs… All acts of fundamental inhumanity, very, very specifically targeting “non-whites”! Race-based atrocities! Not in any way, shape or form capable of being confused with class warfare!!! And while these things (and a thousand others like them) have, indeed, sometimes affected poor whites, real honesty dictates admitting that they fundamentally targeted (and most assuredly continue to target) people with non-white skin extremely disproportionately. And not just 60 years ago…right now! The Justice Department didn’t exactly “close up shop” with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And 100 years of Jim Crow laws did not, by any means, just coincidentally appear, in the name of making life hell for poor people, after the abolition of race-based slavery.
Need more proof?
Let’s look somewhat in the opposite direction…
Ala the late, great James Baldwin: From coast to coast, what do the vast majority of those seated in our highest institutions of wealth and power continue to look like physically, now 350 years later? And what does that continuously unchanging demographic (granted, with scattered very token and very vetted exceptions) continue to say to the “non-whites” in this country? I contend this: Those at the very top remain almost exclusively white. While those specifically suffering the absolute WORST acts of abject inhumanity at the bottom STILL continue to be almost exclusively “non-white”. Not just “poor”…”non-white”.
So therefore, attempting to make an absolutely unbroken 350-year old chain of legalized white supremacist kidnapping, rape, torture and murder suddenly about class is, at best, wishful thinking. And at worst a subtle and underhanded attempt to whitewash the sordid and poisonous truth of our collective racial history (and present) into a much more convenient and palatable lie about “class”. A more simplistic way to describe it is this: As long as the lowest class of white person can, nonetheless, STILL look down on even the most successful “non-whites” as JUST “niggers”, “spics” and/or “chinks”…we still aren’t even close to it being about “class”!!!
So, until we definitively get to a point at which the LEGAL foundations of institutionalized white supremacy have been LEGALLY replaced with considerations of “class”…those foundations still stand…PRECISELY as originally intended! And the theory that the disease has recently changed is nothing more than a lie created to minimize the ugliness of a STILL very distorted reality.
Your proposal regarding a colorblind society is itself an example of a very distorted reality rooted in a pathological need to minimize the truth. “It will NEVER come even remotely close to working that way!!!”
And yet tomorrow the actual extant world of practical politics will nonetheless offer the opportunity to make things incrementally worse, or incrementally better. And it will do so regardless of the historical themes and truths that you hope will resonate.
And I think the question that was posed to you, boiled down, is this: What can be done now, by a consensus of Americans of all races, to produce some actual, specific reform in this particular moment, involving these deaths from police violence. If you say that a continued and protracted discussion of American racial pathologies, however accurate, gets you to anything transformational, I would argue that you are delusional. After ten minutes, you’ll be talking to yourself and those who are already like-minded. The rest of the political spectrum will have walked away. It is, I argue, a moment that you will have squandered in order to enjoy the sound of your own rhetoric.
I’d rather see, I don’t know, a mandatory national data base on police violence created, or the worst aspects of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights repealed by various states, including Maryland. A plurality or majority of Americans can be mobilized against evidence of fundamental unfairness in very specific ways. Wrapping that unfairness in comprehensive lectures on America’s tortured racial history may be legitimate academics, but it will not pull its weight in the political arena. It will take the air out of the fundamental struggle to actually change specific things for the better.
Also, your belief that the war on the poor doesn’t extend to poor whites is belied by my experience in Baltimore. I’ve covered callous indifference and brutality by police, white and black, in O’Donnell Heights, Armistead Gardens and Pigtown going back generations. In truth, I once covered the wagon death of a white woman hauled off of S. Stricker street that certainly showed enough callous indifference to warrant the negligence charges brought in the death of Mr. Gray. She was not left to suffocate in the wagon back because she was a racial minority, and her case was not ignored by investigators because of that status. She was just poor white trash from Pigtown and treated as abysmally as anyone living ten blocks north of her. It’s important not to shape the reality to fit only your concise and preordained ideologies.
First, I didn’t at all say it didn’t affect poor whites. I said it wasn’t specifically aimed AT them. Particularly from a historical perspective. That should not imply in the least that they don’t sometimes get caught in the disgusting net that is white supremacy. Because the institutions of white supremacy have a long and clear history of sacrificing “a few of their own” in order to “keep the overall machinery in tip-top running condition”. In addition, I specifically emphasized the most heinous, blatant and clearly unjustifiable (if not outright in clear view of the general public) violence. And again, not just right now, but over an unbroken and uninterrupted 350-plus year period. So when you start talking about the “absolutely inconceivably evil and out in the open” shit, non-whites have had the market practically cornered on that for a VERY, VERY long time.
Practical politics my ass!!!
The institutions of white supremacy are unequivocally a crime against humanity! By any rational measure! They’re a fucking blight on humanity! For 422 years straight! And the various “non-white” peoples around the world who have been endlessly suffering under the weight of such an unmitigated 400 year atrocity are under no constraint whatsoever to negotiate politically for it’s utter and unconditional demise! None! Now here’s the catch… Despite white supremacy creating and endlessly peddling the term “minority” for the last several decades, “non-whites” are now , in fact, over 90 percent of the world’s total population. So, one way or another, the 400 year old lie that is white supremacy is going to end very soon. The only question is whether it’s going to end violently or peacefully — for whites! Again, contrary to your oft repeated personal belief in the moral and political power of non-violent resistance, people who are perpetually conscious of having endured literal torture for over 400 years may or may not have any real capacity left for committing themselves to the principles of non-violent resistance. And every day that people like you continue to tell them to wait and trust the very political process that created their predicament in the first place, you’re unknowingly (at least I hope) playing a game of Russian roulette. Because, as I said, whites actually make up less than 10 percent of the world’s overall population. And the other 90 percent is slowly awakening to the realization that those proportions are virtually the opposite when it comes to money, resources, power and most of all PAIN and SUFFERING.
For exhibit A I give you South Africa. Practical politics had almost nothing to do with the final fall of apartheid. It was the stark realization that continuing on the path of violent white supremacy in a country that was 12 percent white was very, very soon going to result in an absolute bloodbath — for whites. It was strictly Nelson Mandela’s personal commitment to avoiding bloodshed (on both sides) that kept whites from being utterly annihilated. Again, the rest of the black population in SA was nowhere close to being collectively constrained to the principle of “turning the other cheek”. And even the most staunch supporters of apartheid knew it emphatically. That’s the ONLY real reason that they surrendered power!
So, believe it or not, as much as I personally believe in the principles of non-violent resistance — just like you!!! — I nonetheless believe that, like SA, politics will not solve our seemingly endless racial problems in this country. I believe it will ONLY be when whites begin to realize what a literally suicidal course they are ultimately on by continuing to try and sustain, by incremental political manipulations, such a morally soulless system, until they have utterly no other choice but to either surrender it or deal with millions of people who are mindlessly angry after 400 years of literal torture. And who have no further use for either slow-moving, manipulative politics or protests (peaceful or otherwise).
It is one of the most primal instincts that exists in living beings: For 350 years they have been starved for plain, simple self-determination. Because white supremacy does not allow such a thing. But one way or another, they will get it! And eventually, it will no longer matter to them whether it comes through peace or violence.
And that day is fast approaching…
…far faster than you might think!
“First, I didn’t at all say it didn’t affect poor whites. I said it wasn’t specifically aimed AT them. Particularly from a historical perspective.”
Again, your passion for a historical perspective has academic merit. But no one arguing over political solutions cares much about a historical perspective. Whatever its origins, the drug war targets all of the poor, regardless of color, right now…
Secondly, with regard to practical politics being shown your ass: It doesn’t work that way. It’s the opposite. In the end, when all is said and done, your ass will be shown practical politics. And all of the slogans and speeches and pontificating will not move anyone but those who are already singing in your choir. Your belief that the moment of a racial-based revolution is right around the corner works well as unsupported optimism, but as you note we are more than 400 years into this mess and thus far — even with black life held much cheaper and the situation more dire in any number of earlier eras — a full-blooded revolutionary moment has not appeared. And now, with a black and Latino middle class firmly established, and even partially co-opted against the underclass, there is some additional longevity in certain repressive policies. Witness the faces of the officers in Baltimore, or the racial dynamics of leadership and policing in the city.
Your argument that this is singularly about race has been carefully covered and countered by authoritarian forces that understand that the racial rhetoric of the past can no longer engender support. They’ve cooled and expanded the original racial fearmongering that fueled draconian law-and-order policies with something more insidious and comprehensive. In practical terms, they’ve successfully moved the battlefield and lowered their vulnerability to your racialist critique, much as you enjoy making it. It’s why they’ve been able to carry this to the extremity they have, for as long as they have.
But that’s me again, being practical, and hoping we can change what is in our power now to change, and knowing with certainty, what will surely not amount to more than sound and fury, achieving very, very little in the end.
“…knowing with certainty, what will surely not amount to more than sound and fury, achieving very, very little.”
Apparently, we will have to agree to disagree.
Because as I tried to convey with the South Africa example above, I am likewise entrenched in believing that the institutions of white supremacy are not just wrongheaded, they’re full-blown crimes against humanity. Not to mention that they’re fundamentally predicated on a 400-plus year old lie. And as such, their demise is, most assuredly, inevitable. Likewise, based on worldwide population demographics (and by extension, the percentage of humanity that feels the same), that inevitability will be sooner rather than later.
(Apparently, our level of disagreement centers around whether non-whites “in America” are somewhat angry and looking for change or whether non-whites “worldwide” are getting completely fed-up and considering full-blown revolution. And likewise, where you see incremental progress “in America”, I contend they see 400 years of unbroken and dehumanizing “worldwide” racial violence.)
So I end with this:
Based on my South Africa example above: If I’M wrong, how many more non-whites eventually die of white supremacist violence “in America”? But, if YOU”RE wrong, how many whites potentially die “worldwide” when white supremacy finally results in a non-white breaking point? Again, based on worldwide demographics, money, resources and power are astronomically disproportionate in white hands. And with it, the power to inflict more and more race-based violence.
Therefore, I say, “the clock’s ticking”…
If there’s been no racial progress in America since the 17th Century, then yes, it’s time for a violent rebellion against the United States by its non-white citizens. But I can’t take seriously the argument that you see merely “incremental progress” for African-Americans from slavery through Jim Crow to the present. You have made an argumentative predicate of the notion that white respondents here are blind to the full context of the reality that Americans of color experience. No doubt in many respects this can be the case. Do you have any sense that perhaps your assessments of where we are, and where we are headed as a society, might be similarly shaped by where you stand, and that perhaps, a little more proportion in your verbiage is called for. Everyone is somewhere, and everyone has his or her own prism, apparently.
I respond to your question with another that is not my own.
It’s a paraphrase of the great James Baldwin.
What message did our highest institutions convey to non-whites about race 350 years ago, and what do those same institutions convey about race to non-whites now?
If by “our” you mean American institutions, then the answer for 350 years ago would be that non-whites, and those of African descent are of value as chattel only, and are inferior in all respects. If 200 years ago, pretty much the same, although now they had value for purposes of a national census as being three-fifths of a white citizen. A 150 years ago, those same institutions allowed them the rights of citizens by Constitutional Amendment but failed to ensure the practice of those rights under the actual application of law. By 100 years ago, in fits and starts, and subject to geographic variance, our institutions began to incorporate more participation by African-American citizens while at the same time maintaining a legal basis by which segregation could still be practiced. By 60 years ago, those institutions terminated the legal grounds for such segregation and ten years after that the overt practice of such segregation in public accommodations and securing not merely the right to vote, but the right to do so unimpeded by local established measures to effectively deny the vote. The ensuing century has seen voluntary and mandated efforts both to promote the actual integration of a variety of national institutions, from the civil service to private corporations to media outlets, law enforcement, and politics, including notably, national politics at the highest level. The opening of American society in that time has in fact created a substantial black middle class and notable pockets of black affluence.
None of the above obviates the fact that an entrenched underclass is still poorly treated, disdained and subject to draconian policies, that pronounced racism is still endemic in a meaningful, but statistically smaller subset of the white majority, or that racial insensitivites or indifferences are endemic among many whites of goodwill, or that even the most affluent or accomplished African-Americans do not routinely encounter and endure encounters with racism or racial insensitivity.
But it does directly answer your question about what our institutions conveyed to non-whites 350 years ago and what those same institutions now convey. Wild hyperbole is a motherfucker until you take a moment to run it down.
Once again I asked one very specific question and you answered a completely different one. “…our highest…” As in Wall Street, Congress, CEO’s, Governors, Federal Reserve Board, etc. Where the REAL decisions that affect our children and grandchildren are truly made. The TRUE power-brokers. The “Captains of Industry”. How different are the occupants of THOSE seats from 350 years ago? And especially…why?
Great answer otherwise…just ignores that one specific word… “highest”. Where lives are truly made and broken is still an extremely lily-white club, pretty much regardless of what happens in the rest of America. So the basic question was, ” what does THAT fundamental constant at those levels of power continue to say to non-white America?
But good answer otherwise.
I’m truly lost. Are you suggesting that people of color have not penetrated those strata, that those institutions are still as white-dominated as they were a hundred or two hundred years ago? Really? Again, your hyperbole is crushing.
Let’s just go with government. Given the African-American percentage of the population, is the racial makeup of the Cabinet, in the last fifty years, inconsistent with a pattern of growing integration. The number of national candidates for President? Mr. Obama, notably, as the first man of color to be president? Has the number of African-American general officers risen since Vietnam, including a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? Are the numbers of African-American legislators and state legislators rising to reflect a growing political dynamic, or are they the same as they were in 1950? Bear in mind the actual census figures for African-Americans as part of the general population. Is there more to be accomplished? Truly. Does the trend justify your claim that nothing has changed in 350 years? No. Unequivocally.
It’s interesting that you should bring up South Africa, because to me, one of the things that made changes in the country so authentic and admirable was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
It’s incredible to me that they created a space where both victims and perpetrators could come and speak their truths in safety. Here we all talk past each other. I think there would be great value in a TRC for the United States. Victims and perpetrators alike.
It’s what I think Elizabeth Alexander meant when she read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at Barack Obama’s first inauguration:
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
What was interesting is how deeply ambivalent the ANC was about the few instances in which white civilian South Africans were killed by an ANC action, even though that violence as clearly undertaken against an illegitimate regime. Mr. Mandela and others insisted that the Reconcilliation Commission was an appropriate venue for those excesses as well, which many in the ANC regarded as a blemish on a movement that while it originally and formally took the right to resist the state violently, had — at the time of the Rivonia trial of Mr. Mandela — largely confined itself to blowing up radio towers and such. When at the height of the struggle there were instances in which civilians were harmed, there was, within the ANC, considerable self-criticism and recrimination. Given that the international sanctions and hard bargaining between Mr. Mandela and the Afrikaans produced, in the end, a remarkably peaceful transition to democracy, the ANC was certainly willing to throw its own relatively limited history of violence out of the boat and include it among the crimes that required reconciliation and apology.
Again, I am as strong of — if not stronger — a proponent of non-violent resistance than yourself. But why do you keep insisting that people who’ve been endlessly tortured, for literally hundreds of years, nonetheless, MUST exhibit an absolutely superhuman ability to instantly forgive and “be the better men” and not respond with violence of their own against those who have done absolutely unfathomable torture? Philosophically I agree with it. But it’s a very simple fact of life that actual torture often changes people drastically…and often in hideous ways.
I’m not insisting that anyone must do anything. I’m simply affirming my belief that non-violent mass disobedience has achieved more politically and socially over the last 75 years than violent resistance. I am not moralizing so much as I am speaking of actual efficacy.
There is a single ingredient that was present in South Africa at that time that we are nowhere close to: desperation.
South Africa was a hair’s breadth away from unfathomable bloodshed against it’s white citizens (if not out-and-out annihilation). Had that happened it would have absolutely destroyed their economy. Which in turn would have probably led to all-out civil war. Not just Nelson Mandela, but every major player of the world stage knew it. So they had to do something EXTREMELY drastic to save their country from the virtually inevitable genocide of whites, total economic collapse AND THEN civil war.
So chances are very high that we won’t come even remotely close to doing anything similar unless we are facing circumstances that are just about as dire…for quite a few of the same reasons…and with just about all those reasons connected either directly or indirectly to the same kind of institutional white supremacy. Plus our demographics are drastically different from theirs.
Georgie, I’m having trouble with your logic.
Just so we’re all on the same page, and so you don’t need to risk finger damage with more furious atrocity listing: NO ONE with their head squarely on their shoulders is arguing the significant validity of your points regarding the depth and breadth of the white supremacy problem in this country. It’s real, and the history is well documented. Perhaps the magnitude of your hyperbole is overdone, but whatever: arguing just HOW BAD worldwide racism is or has been will yield nothing. Where I – and I think DS (correct me if I’m being presumptuous here) – are struggling is with your proposals or, more loosely, your implications.
First (lets call this point [A]), you made a valuable – if intangible – plea to free our minds from flawed conceptions of race. They are not supported scientifically, and yet they lend themselves to such awful effects. Agreed.
You follow that important and nuanced point up with feverish proclamations [B] that the issue of police violence cannot ever be disassociated from racial lines. Perhaps too vague to be explicitly contradictory to point [A], but you surely understand my hesitation.
Further still [C] you claim that in order for the issue to free itself from class distinctions “the LEGAL foundations of institutionalized white supremacy [will have to be] LEGALLY replaced with considerations of “class””.
Continuing, [D] you claim that no good can come of practical politics, that a full-scale revolution is imminent. you may notice this one feels more explicitly contrary to point [C]
And finally – of course ignoring a handful of “points” lost in the last 10k words – you assert [E] that America (or the world at large) is nowhere near as desperate as S Africa 30 years ago, and so drastic solutions are impossible.
E and D appear contradictory, as do D and C, and B and A. And of course B through E all undermine the nuanced quality of A – an important initiative that should and can co-exist with concerted efforts to address the practical ramifications of both white supremacy and – more generally – authoritarian tendencies (as DS has so eloquently put it).
So what’s the root of your “argument”? What are you saying other than “the world is super racist” and “racism is super bad”? If you are saying that revolution is imminent, then who are you trying to convince? Surely it doesn’t matter what any of the, likely white (or at least educated and ‘privileged’), opinionated blowhards on a wonkblog like this might think. If you think, rather, that there is a practical way to handle our society’s very real problems, what are they?
Is there a way to undo the “legal foundations of institutionalized white supremacy”? How about 3 solid examples?
If “400 years of white supremacy” around the world really is (and continues to be) a “crime against humanity”, should we try the perpetrators? If yes, who? If no, what good does addressing it do?
These are serious questions. And if you can’t answer them, what good can your pontification do?
PS. Sorry for perpetuating this DS – I know it feels futile, but I think we can both admit that the futility is fun.
Since you agree with [A], I’ll start with [B]. The key word in all this is “institutional”. We tend to want to see shocking acts of racism as random, unforeseeable aberrations. They are not. Every single one of them is a direct descendant of 1650’s legal precedents that created the concept of the preeminence of “whiteness” (“in the eyes of God”). Followed by creating complex financial, legal and political structures that insure the preeminence of “whiteness” throughout perpetuity. And lastly, the institutional underpinnings that established (and ordained) those “institutions of whiteness” in the 1650’s are still virtually entirely intact today. Quietly, methodically, and most of all, highly discretely slanting the tables of justice almost as highly in the direction of “whiteness” at this very minute as then. Now where that directly intersects with today’s blazing headlines of “extra-judicial killings” is that since the end of the Civil War, the police have literally been (and continue to be) the single biggest instruments for preserving that fundamental status quo.
Now to [C]. You highly misinterpreted my response to DS. I believe he highly overestimates the role of class in these types of debates. To the point that I see it as virtually a non-starter. And worse yet, simply an instrument for watering down the overwhelming role that the 350-year old deeply rooted institutional structures, built very specifically around race, continue to play in this current society. So, in fact, I wasn’t talking at all about legally replacing one with the other. I was actually trying to express how immensely disproportionate race is compared to class when it comes to these types of discussions. Moreso, I personally believe that such attempts to somehow equate the two are fundamentally rooted in attempts to minimize the issue of highly institutionalized white supremacy. And instead, try to frame it all as random acts of individually twisted outliers (and of course, class). And as much as possible, disconnect these current acts from their immensely institutionalized and directly connected historical context.
Now to [D].
The attitude you see there is founded in the simple belief that “you can’t fix a problem that you won’t admit is a problem. Ala alcoholism. It is also rooted in a very personal belief that “race” is a truly massive problem in this nation at an institutional level. To the point that people of color STILL perceive themselves as being literally violently tortured, because of the color of their skin. NOT mistreated somewhat, tortured! And that is almost exactly the same type of highly internalized perception that non-whites had over 350 years ago. Seemingly endless institutional violence. And as I somewhat expressed to DS earlier, people rarely respond to long-term violence either rationally or logically. Most often it’s with violence for violence. Thus the not-so-subtle references to revolution.
Now to [E].
Except the answer is a repetition of my [D] answer.
I believe as a nation we are suicidally determined to believe that because we’ve cut down from a massive amount of alcohol(racism) to a slightly less massive amount, we’re now doing just fine. Um…no. The people that are being pissed on our alcoholic stupors have some very, very, very different opinions as to what is really going on here!
It’s ironic that Freddie Gray is being held up as an example of the “intolerance” of “zero tolerance”. The same man that by age 25 has nearly 20 arrests of either possession and/or distribution of narcotics represents nothing remotely close to being a victim of a zero-tolerance police culture. If the policy were true to it’s name Mr. Gray never should have been on the street that day. He’d have been behind bars. The libertarians have been banging on about ending the drug war a good while now, and it’s become fashionable for others to get on board as well (Mr. Simon, whose made this a steady cause for a while now, excepted). But, if the nation were to evolve toward a policy of diminishing the “drug war”, then what? Tolerate the crimes the addicts will inevitably commit in order to satisfy their addiction? Offer, and pay for, drug treatment instead of jail/prison sentences? What to do with those that refuse? What about the poor populations that have to live with addicts and sellers in their midst? It’s my experience that those poor populations prefer a police presence to that of drug dealers and junkies, do they get to voice their preference or do they just get to live with the fashionable decision of decriminalizing drug use made by “their betters”? What do we say about the statistical proof that overall criminality has diminished over the last few decades while the militarization of police has increased? These questions shouldn’t imply my support of either the drug war or the current harshness of the police state, but they questions that need to be tackled head-on with practical policy ideas by those advocating changes to current policy. Mr. Simon, while I’ve not yet watched any of your stuff, I understand these topics are all themes in your work, and you deal with them here in your blog — what are your policy ideas as replacements to the status quo?
Here’s the lie of zero tolerance:
Maryland has about 22,000 prison cells for all crimes, all counties. In Baltimore city alone — which is only one of two dozen Maryland jurisdictions including the populous Baltimore County that surrounds it and counties of Prince George’s and Montgomery in the D.C. suburbs, there are said by state health officials to be between 20,000 and 35,000 chronic users of heroin and cocaine.
You can keep locking them up for loitering, for failure to obey, for drug possession, for drug paraphernalia, for a dozen different charges and you can do it over and over. But where are you gonna put them? By the numbers, the drugs have won this war and there is no way you can arrest you way out of the problem. Not unless you spend billions to house a mass population of non-violent offenders by building prisons from here to Hagerstown. And unlike the federal government, Maryland can’t operate at a deficit. Every prison cell we build and fill sucks money out of the general fund.
Crime is down, but so is population in places like Baltimore. Indeed, the key cohort of 18-26 year olds is a smaller entity now. So that by raw numbers, crime is down, but by rate, not so much, and violent crime is again rising. Why? Because no one is solving crime. They are busy hunting the Freddie Gray’s of the city, rather than making cases against those who are actually making the city less safe, fundamentally.
Medicalize this problem and pour money into treatment beds and job training. It can’t make things worse. And yes, if it were up to me, I would practice harm reduction. Baltimore has lost more than a third of its population since 1960, we have significant non-residential real estate to which we could push the illegal drug trade to marginalize its effect on neighborhoods, schools, commercial areas. Such practical policing, rather than this ridiculous stat game, would be greated by most neighborhood leaders as a tactical victory, if only because they could reclaim their own blocks. It won’t solve the long term dilemma of mass addiction and mass unemployment — that’s an epic fight to turn back decades of neglect and deindustrialization, for sure. But it acknowledges a fundamental reality in a way that zero tolerance does not.
In your last paragraph, where you actually begin dealing with policy, I detect some level of hesitation or maybe lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps I’m misreading, but, if so, it need not be. I think anyone that’s looked at the numbers/statistics for non-violent drug offenders can’t escape the notion that this is unsustainable, at best. At worst, we’re ruining the lives of non-violent offenders, and, in some cases, making violent criminals of them. I think the more difficult reality to confront is that the prescription you’ve mentioned, and many of us endorse, won’t keep criminals out of the poor areas of cities (or the rural trailer parks). The meth-heads, coke and heroin addicts will continue to have a disproportionate negative impact that will require some type of police reaction.
We will be doing triage, yes. And we will be practicing harm reduction in various ways, by pouring resources into treatment, job training and, god willing, some version of a modern CCC or New Deal-jobs facsimile. Too costly? We’re spending far more than that to practice triage that simply brutalizes — those addicts and petty criminals aren’t exactly going to prison for good, either. They’re on the streets just the same because we can’t arrest our way through such numbers. I’d rather practice triage, though, with better tactics and without the bullshit that credits the arrest of people like Freddie Gray with accomplishing anything.
Fresno went the opposite way amid a gang-problem and considerable violence. They stopped harrassing their underclass and instead turned communities against the violence. By distinguishing between non-violent offenses and real crime, they reengaged with the community in fundamental ways and actually began to make the worst parts of the town more liveable. And of course Spain and Portugal were warned that legalizing drugs would create a swarm of unrepentent and uncontrollable users who could never be reasoned with. It didn’t happen.
We wanted a war and we got a war. It’s time to try the opposite of war when it comes to drugs.
Mr Gray, at one point, was found to have huge amounts of long term lead poisoning in his system…Lived in a city with an unemployment rate two to three times normal for people like him…And, for all intents and purposes, died of Government torture.
While we collectively hold ourselves up as the greatest nation on Earth.
So in light of all that (and LITERALLY millions more similar cases throughout our relatively short national history)…
Do you even remotely believe his arrest record is the most important thing going on here???
You blame all the anti crime laws and zero tolerance policing on the riots (rebellions). Using that logic, segregation and the the rise of the KKK were caused by the reforms carried out under Reconstruction, the populist movements in the South in the 19th century, the black migration to the cities and the civil rights movement in the 20th century.
I could go on, but I won’t….
Be careful to be a bit nuanced here. I said the DNA of the 1966-68 riots were contained in the national resolve to implement a new Jim Crow under the semantically color-blind premise of the drug war, zero tolerance and mass incarceration. Middle-American fears of urban disorder was a fertile field in which these seeds could be planted.
Have you read Ms. Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”? I am saying nothing outside of her own compelling case. The civil rights gains made the overt racial targeting of people of color more problematic, but middle America could be carried to the same effective result through the war on drugs and mass incarceration. There are other contributing factors to be sure, but the riots and their after effects are in the DNA. That is what I said.
Am I reading you correctly here? Are you really implying that the war on drugs was primarily a subversive continuation of Jim Crow by proxy carried out for the benefit of “middle America” ?! Are you that ready to shit on all of the people who, in good faith, press for equality in America while desiring to simultaneously avoid the abyss of drug addiction’s effects on communities? You and I are both old enough to remember the rise of cocaine use in the late 70’s and early 80’s along with the subsequent crack epidemic and inner city gang problems that followed in the late 80’s. Those were real issues that the wealthy and the poor of all races felt compelled to fight with same enthusiasm. That same enthusiasm to fight the stark violence of inner city gangs, in no small part, drove the polity’s acceptance of the militarization of the police.
I think many good people were under the misapprehension that this war was being prosecuted fairly and judiciously as a war on dangerous drugs. I think many good people believed that in earnest. Many still do.
It became a war on the poor, and it provides a perfect overlay to consign the American poor, through mass arrest, to a status of non-voting, unemployable, heavily incarcerated and socially and economically controlled second-class citizens. That is its effect. Was it everyone’s plan? No. Did it dovetail with enough white fear so that it became a plan for generation of political leadership who were willing to marginalize the poor to secure middle-class votes and personal advancement? Yes, I believe this.
You missed something in your description of what you call the “hands up ballet.” Hands up might be dramatic, but it is also a form of capitulation “that ironically accommodates the very goal of police brutality — to intimidate and immobilize black citizens, forcing them into a defenseless posture if they hope to survive.”
YILYASAH SHABAZZ, in an Op-Ed called “What Would Malcolm X Think?” in the NY Times, FEB. 20, 2015.
Disagree. I think it shamed the shit out of the police and became a cogent reply to the death of an unarmed man.
I really like what Malcolm X’s daughter had to say about that on the anniversary of his assassination.
Shamed??? Is that all it takes to change things? Just make the authorities feel ashamed of themselves??? Are you kidding me?
Your eye is off the real goal here with the hands-up, non-violent optics: You are trying to swing the mass of middle Americans — not the authorities, but the entire political consensus of the country — away from these policies. Do you wish to suggest that the drug war, mass incarceration and zero tolerance policing haven’t lost traction over the past several years, and now, with these senseless deaths, continue to do so?
No, I am not kidding you. Explain what is happening in Georgia. Under a Republican governor. Actually happening; not being discussed, but happening. Do you think that Georgia’s governor and legislature continues to deemphasize non-violent drug arrests and empty prisons if tomorrow, Atlanta burns in a riot? Or does law and order return to its place as the certain political mantra in that state?
The riots helped give Nixon and Reagan and years of counter-revolution when it came to urban policies. Law and order became a go-to political plank to stoke middle American fear. Shit, Agnew would not have had a political career had it not been for his use of the Baltimore riots as a backdrop to vocalize white fear and anger. Two years after the American cities burned, a drug war was declared. It didn’t slow down for the next four decades.
Shaming middle Americans is not all that is required to change things, no. That’s your hyperbole. But without some new consideration of the drug war, of zero tolerance, of militarized policing by a consensus of Americans larger than urban America and its finite number of lefty allies, nothing is going to change. And a bad riot or two guarantees it.
The government had confronted a mass movement through the 1960s. When the economic crisis hit in the early 1970s, unemployment skyrocketed. How does a government keep control under those circumstances? It first targets the “dangerous classes.” That’s what they used the drug war to do.
To put any blame on the earlier riots is not correct. For one way or another, there was a mass movement that expressed itself in many different ways.
One way or another, the government, and the capitalist overlords who it defends, were going to use repression. And they would have invented any excuse to do it.
And yet the excuse that they have used to such draconian effect has been the drug war, mass incarceration and zero tolerance policing, coupled with the militarization of the police response. They have transformed the poor into a profitable commodity — not for society as a whole — but for certain sectors of law enforcement and the prison-industrial complex.
Do you really think this is possible without middle America — voting America, the plurality of the country that views the inner-cities and burned-out dystopias as ever too close to their own world — being even more alienated and distanced from the poor by what the riots wrought. Sure racism is the original sin here, but didn’t the riots exacerbate white fears and accelerate the the flight of capital and tax base? Have you been to Detroit? To Gay Street in Baltimore? To Camden? To the cities that burned? Their core areas of poverty were systematically isolated and marginalized, so that the economic future of the country — tech centers, service industry jobs — rushed to Dearborn or Ann Arbor, Owings Mills or Bel Air. I agree that the riots are not the only thing in the DNA that has segregated the poor from the rest of us and made possible this open warfare on them, but by what logic do you claim that “to put any blame on the earlier riots is not correct.” You talk about the jobs loss of the 1970s in a vaccuum, as if white flight post-1968 wasn’t a part of that. Sure, deindustrialization accounts for a good, healthy chunk of the inner city’s high unemployment. But so does the fact that until relatively recently, most of the job creation of the last thirty years — the run up in the service economy especially — departed the inner cities for the suburbs at an accelerated rate once the riots held sway. Detroit literally packed up its economic base and moved it to Dearborn, where it lives today. Baltimore’s Gay Street corridor, which burned on the Monday, never came back from 1968. The money and the jobs ran elsewhere, and the industry that remained, the drug trade, brought its own miseries and then was followed by a war that compounded those miseries. And to bring the drug war to its current levels of punitive brutality — this could only happen in a place utterly divorced from the rest of America, a world apart economically, socially, racially, politically. The riots did that magnificently, creating an unseen America where different and brutal methodologies of policing could be practiced out of the middle American eyeline. At least until all the personal cell phones had cameras, anyway.
Are you suggesting that the riots in 1968 were not merely inevitable, or justifiable — which is one thing — but were, in fact, a good thing for the cities that burned? Then why is Detroit still shit? And why is Camden gone? And why is Baltimore only now digging out of that deep hole. And why is Pittsburgh, which did not burn, so much better economically? After all, we’re not making steel in this country either.
Detroit is still shit because we are in a depression, David. In a very real sense, this depression didn’t just start in 2007… but 1973. Just look at what has happened to wages and benefits since then, not to speak of government spending on social programs, social services and infrastructure.
You say that we’re not making steel anymore in this country. That is a myth. Industrial production has more than doubled in the last 30 years. But employment has plunged because of high productivity and outsourcing in this country. In a way, industry is following what happened in agriculture. As opposed to a century ago, when half the population still made their living making food, today, one or two percent of the workforce produces food– and not just for this country, given the high level of exports. Of course, given the productivity increases, people should be working less and getting more. Instead, all the benefits are going to the capitalist class, the bankers and all the rest.
So, I think you have your cause and effect all mixed up.
I cringe at the term “middle America.” You seem to love it. But what is that supposed to mean? The Middle America that I am familiar with is catching hell. And it is looking for solutions. And if it doesn’t find them on the left, it will be attracted to the right.
What you seem to run away from is that this country has a long, radical tradition. Hard to believe, but it was actually created by a revolution… two, as a matter of fact. But you want to cover all that over, smother it in piety and religiosity.
In your scenario, people say, Hands Up! I submit! And the authorities are shamed and change their ways.
Most of the characters in The Wire wouldn’t believe such nonsense.
We’re in a depression for 48 years, really? Not even a recession, but a depression. Wow.
And how, amid the last twenty-five years of GDP growth, have other American cities — not those that burned in the riots, but others that did not see massive white flight and capital deinvestment — manage to have better outcomes than Detroit? You’re speaking in generalizations that are not only hyperbolic economically, but that don’t answer the question about why Pittsburgh or Atlanta aren’t Detroit, or even Baltimore? Those are very different civic outcomes.
As to the Hands up-I submit characterization, that’s your language only. Resistance as armed struggle can claim far fewer victories than resistance as non-violent civil disobedience. Selma was Selma. Gdansk was Gdansk. And apartheid fell not because the ANC actually embraced armed struggle, blew up a few radio towers and provoked a single massacre that led to real reflection within the organization. They began to win when Mandela stood up at Rivonia, and they triumphed when the international community so isolated their economy in support of Mandela and the ANC that the Afrikaaners began to see the man on Robben Island as their only way out. Does the arc of non-violent resistance require time and pain and sacrifice? It does, sometimes grieviously. Can it claim more of the last century’s victories over authoritarian rule than violent resistance. I believe it can.
Please cite for me, in terms of modern history, the victories that have come through the actual use of mass violence against either an authoritarian regime or the misuse of state power by that regime’s own people. I’ll stack my list against yours.
Lastly, the term middle America. Cringe though you will, we need a large plurality of the American voting public — the middle-class, the working-class — to support some agenda other than law and order and all that the law-and-order mantra has come to entail over the last thirty years. You need the national legislature to reform the sentencing guidelines, to restore federal parole, to accede to an emptying of the prisons. You need them to support an executive administration that ends the militarized giveaways from the Pentagon to local law enforcement. You need allies because, regardless of what you believe is right, you are subject to the realities of, at best, a politically centrist electorate that has proven itself responsive in the past to authoritarian calls for overpolicing and mass incarceration. This is now happening — and moreso than at any other point in the last thirty years. The drug war is being openly questioned by politicians, even nationally. States have started to rethink mass incarceration and cities are moving away from zero tolerance. It was happening before Baltimore or even Ferguson — though these incidents of police violence are also now essential evidence for that reconsideration.
Do you want to win some of these battles? Do you want to see the pendulum swing back from the worst excesses of the last thrity years? Do you want to pull the necessary political ballast to turn the ship closer to keel? Or do you just want to raise your fist in the air and adopt a better and more affirming slogan? I want to win some things back that were given away over the last three decades because of this war on the poor. I am thinking of specifics. I am thinking, frankly, of the Grants and Scotts to come if there aren’t actually policy changes that are achieved. Convicting some cops? Certainly appropriate in most of these cases. But if you think the dynamic actually changes by making an example of a select number of foot soldiers in this war, well, good luck with that. The rules of the game have to change. For that, you are going to need to join those people vicitimized by this brutality with a significant plurality of those who have not been victimized, who have for thirty years had this war fought in their name. You can cringe at that reality, which is called politics, and you can pretend that the optics of rioting have no effect on the process, but hey, that’s just delusional. You’re asking the American electorate, as liable to fear-mongering, racism and classism as it has proven, to walk away from a militarized police response amid the imagery of actual civil unrest. Cringe away and keep your first raised in absolute solidarity with armed insurrection, but honestly, your failure is assured.
I am sorry, you just want to pick and choose the parts of social movements, the kinds that you like, led by liberal organizations. Selma wasn’t just Selma. And it certainly wasn’t just Martin Luther King. You can’t just isolate it. It was part of a broader struggle that included a lot of different things, like the riot in Birmingham and the riots in Harlem and Bed-Stuy — which were harbingers of what was to come. By the time of Selma, already, the younger generation was radicalizing, and trying to find their way out of the political straitjacket of the preachers, at the head of the movement. And that’s not to speak of Malcolm X, who was a reflection of what was going on in a big part of the black population. “Malcolm didn’t create black anger with his speeches — he organized and gave direction to it,.” wrote his daughter, ILYASAH SHABAZZ. The same goes for South Africa — which was characterized by a massive revolt of the black working class.– something you didn’t mention, but which, more than anything, forced the issue. The tragedy in all these movements is that the people who did the actual fighting and dying were not the ones who gained power. Instead, the middle and upper classes did, in their name. And that has left the masses of people in basically the same shit as before. just look at the Marakana massacre, carried out by the ANC and Cyril Ramaphosa, who used his position at the head of the trade unions to become a billionaire. As for the black movement in this country — well, most of the gains have been going down the toilet, haven’t they? Except for maybe a small sliver of those who climbed their way to the middle and upper class.
A couple of other points: I believe it is a depression when peoples standard of living goes down. And by almost every measure, that has been true for the working class. And not just in relative terms, which would be bad enough. And in that sense, Detroit is just a harbinger of things to come for ordinary people everywhere in this country.
Finally, as you may tell, I don’t hold much stock in elections and what they can gain people. As Helen Keller said — if elections actually could change anything, they would be made illegal.
Are you claiming Selma as a victory for by any means necessary, or more specifically, for the Harlem or Bed-Sty riots? I’m not sure that was what America saw when the networks went live to the Pettus Bridge.
Selma was one battle in a much larger war.
For every Martin Luther King, there was a Malcolm X. For every Selma, there was a Watts. But they are all part of the same war.
You pick and choose the battles and leaders that you want to talk about., to fit your liberal political viewpoint– which I don’t share, at all.
I am not, as you say, holding my fist clenched in the air. I am simply trying to describe a historical process, in which you have two very, very opposed social forces, which can never, eve be reconciled.
This country was built on slavery. It was a slave society for more years than it has been so-called free. And it is still based on the super-exploitation of black people. They have always had a “special” or “peculiar” place in this society — more unemployment, poverty and repression has always been reserved for them. It is the way this ruling class has ruled since its inception, and it won’t change until the entire society is changed.
Which battles were victories and which battles, less so? I keep asking.
Watts was a victory.It forced employers to hire black people in the aerospace industry for the first time. Lockheed rushed to open up a factory in Watts. The country built a big hospital near Watts… and named it after Martin Luther King.
Detroit was a victory. The auto industry hired black workers for the first time in big numbers on the assembly line.
And if you want to keep on insisting that the riots led to Detroit’s decline — and not an actual economic crisis — then I will say the same holds true for Selma — which is suffering from more unemployment and poverty than Detroit.
Detroit was a victory. I get it. We had to destroy the village in order to save it.
And Selma, for the love of all that is honest rhetoric, was not about Selma, Alabama. It was about the enfranchisement of the African-American vote under federal law throughout the entire country.
Amazing that you can be so grandoise about the great achievement of the 1967 riot that began the flight of capital from Detroit and marks that city’s rapid decline, but you can be so ridiculously narrow at what Selma and the Voting Rights Act were. Ellis, we are just not going to agree on the fundamentals here. It’s cool, but it’s so.
I wasn’t being grandiose about what happened in Detroit or LA. I was giving you facts — which you dismiss with the back of your hand. And I wasn’t dismissing what happened at Selma. I never did. I was just trying demonstrate how cause and effect can be twisted..
Yes, you did indeed affirm how cause and effect can be twisted.
I generally respect you, even if we disagree. But you are being disingenuous as fuck to describe Mike Brown’s death as “over a stolen cigar”.
It was a robbery by threat of force by someone who then punched a cop in the face and tried to rob him of his gun.
Be critical all you want about the cop or the DA or the grand jury. But don’t fucking lie about it.
Yeah, I have to second that – the police admitted at the timr that Brown was not stopped in conjunction with any crime.
If you want to get technical about it, he was stopped for jaywalking. That’s a capital crime now, you know.
It certainly escalated from the shoplifted item. First to an apparent common misdemeanor assault by Brown, then to the worst, laziest and most provocative stop of a pedestrian a law officer might undertaken, then to an assault on an officer and an apparent struggle for his weapon, then to flight, then to a police-involved shooting.
I have no problem agreeing that a grand jury might find an indictment in the Brown shooting to be a problematic. I do too.
But it began over a stolen cigar, or following up on that origin, a cigar and a misdemeanor assault. Are you suggesting that there is a level of policing in which such things should have a body count?
Once you put your hands on a store employee, a misdemeanor shoplifting charge turns into a felony robbery. Even if, say, an employee tries to grab you while you’re walking out and you just pull away from them. That’s all it takes for it to be considered “theft by force.”
Indeed, in Maryland the charge is “strongarm robbery” which combines the theft with a common assault. It is not armed robbery without a weapon, of course. But KT notes correctly that he wasn’t stopped for any of this. The confrontation with the officer was actually over jaywalking as the officer had no knowledge of the incident in the store.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Send ’em a few bucks.
You said that this is primarily about class and not race. I agree. But would you agree that the primary reason one race tends to suffer more in this economic class system is that the exoskeleton for which this class system is based upon is in the face the same one that support a racist system?
I certainly would. Even with the rise of a multi-racial middle-class over the last half century, the economic fault lines in our society still skew racially.
I applaud you for this, David. Not to play the sycophant or anything of the sort, as I feel I am rational enough to see reasons for the tone, but I swear this is the most savage I have ever read of you.
And goddamn justly so.
So, tip of the hat from here in Bardstown, KY.
While I know this is out of your wheelhouse, Mr. Simon, I wanted to drop this link here for readers. I think one of the great overlooked issues is the effects of lead paint.
Here’s an article from 538 about the history of Baltimore (and other cities) with regards to lead paint.
What a fucking sad state of affairs.
Bad times make great art though, right? At least, that’s what I’m clinging on to.
By the way, I was playing a little Fats Domino at my mum’s birthday.
Her eyes lit up in memory, and even my dad woke up (he can only take four beers these days before he’s out) to do a little jig with her.
Sometimes, the good things aren’t good enough to ride out the bad. But at least, they’re there.
Hope things get better soon.
Fats can salve a lot, can’t he?
I heard “Walking To New Orleans” on the night that the night after the levees collapsed and the city flooded like a bowl. Even then, it seemed to help some.
While I’m thinking about it, Newt Gingrich has officially changed his name to Newt Fucking Gingrich, so from now on, in the interests of orthographic correctness, the “f” should be capitalized.
I probably could have left his middle name out.
Hey, he chose it in ’96, and now he gets to live with it.
It seems like you’re the only left-leaning journalist – maybe the only journalist, period – with an insightful, nuanced view of the issue of police brutality and how, in the cities at least, it’s directly related to the war on drugs. The rest, out of intellectual laziness or bias or ideology or I don’t know what, want to oversimplify it as strictly a racial issue, even to the point of cherry picking stories for national attention and mindlessly parroting the idea that it’s only blacks that are affected by it, and just generally pushing this narrative that our entire society is built for the sole purpose of crushing and belittling minorities; that white people are all just walking around with sacks of money slung over our shoulders like the fucking monopoly man that we all got working in cahoots with one another at the expense of blacks, knowingly winking at the police that drive by us on their way to sodomize those same blacks with night sticks while we head back to our mansions in our gated communities.
Having grown up in Gloucester City, New Jersey, the epitome of a working class town, and having spent close to a decade battling opiate addiction in one form or another – percocets, oxys, dope, methadone maintenance, suboxone etc., – I am intimately familiar with the drug war on the streets of Camden, New Jersey, and North Philly, aka “the Badlands.” and I can personally attest to the fact that it don’t matter what fucking color your skin is when it comes to the judicial system, the only color that matters is green.
I remember one time walking down the street in Camden when a cop car pulled up beside me, one of the officers jumped out, ran at me full speed, tackled me like fucking James Harrison, mushed my face in the pavement, handcuffed me, then picked me up on my feet by my hair – all before saying even one word to me. Granted, I was going to cop, but still… the nerve of this guy, he didn’t even ask me if I had my white privilege card on me first. Of course, after I showed it to him he apologized to me, didn’t even give me a five hundred dollar ticket for “loitering in a drug zone,” he even went as far as to drive me to the set so I could cop my dope, let me shoot a bag in the back of his patrol car, then drove me home. When we got to my house I thanked him, and he said no problem, anything to help out a fellow white man. Gave me an FOP sticker for my car, too.
No, but seriously, the first part of that story, and getting the ticket for “walking while white,” actually did happen. I’ve gotten more “loitering in a drug zone” tickets than I can count, which – the entire fucking city of Camden is a drug zone according to the police. And if you’re white, it stands to reason that the only reason you’re there is to buy them. I’ve gotten loitering tickets while on my way to the methadone clinic, a perfectly legitimate reason to be there, but the cops don’t give a fuck. If you’re a white junkie in Camden, they are gonna shake you down for every penny they can. And if you can’t pay then you take a vacation in the County. And let me tell you, for a city that’s 99 percent black and Puerto Rican, there are a shit load of white boys in there, a disproportionate amount. I’ve kicked dope in a two man cell with five people stuffed in it numerous times, shelled out thousands of dollars for loitering and possesion of hypo fines. Surprisingly, the only time I actually got caught with dope on me it was by a black officer who took the bags and my works, told me to “go the fuck back to Gloucester and don’t come back.” Didn’t charge me for any of it. I’ve spent eight months in that same county on charges stemming from my addiction, I’ve lost close to twenty friends friends, neighbors, classmates, etc, over the years to overdoses, and I’m only 32. My buddy got robbed and shot in the head up in North Philly, dead. Another buddy of mine started robbing banks to support his addiction, he’s doing like 15 years in federal prison. One of my ex-girlfriends just overdosed a few weeks before Christmas, left a two year-old daughter behind, the father is in Rahway State. For what? Guess. Another ex overdosed two years ago and left two kids behind.
I’ve had service pistols pointed at my face by Philly cops, and a few years back, an unarmed white kid, Billy Panas, was shot and killed by the PPD, but you didn’t see that shit making the national news because it doesn’t fit the narrative. Apparently only black lives matter when it comes to police brutality. I turn on the TV and see some geeky Ivy League, ivory tower motherfucker like Chris Hayes, who, the only time he’s been around black people is when he was getting pelted with rocks by em reporting in Ferguson, self-flagellating on behalf of all us privileged whites and I wanna throw the fucking TV out the window. What kind of fucking bubble do these people exist in?
I’m not looking for sympathy or fishing for pity or nothing like that, ultimately we make our own choices in life and suffer the consequences. The point I’m trying to make is: nobody gives a fuck about white trash, either, black people, so don’t think you’re fucking special in that regard.
Anyway, yeah… thanks for bringing some balance to the discussion.
On a related side note, quick question: I noticed while watching The Wire the way the sets, i.e., drug blocks were set up one guy would collect money from the customers while another distributed the drugs. I was wondering if that’s the way they work it in Baltimore, or if that system was of your own creation? Because in Camden/Philly the cardinal rule of copping in the hood is never ever ever, under any circumstances, hand anyone your money until you’ve got drugs in your hand – that’s just asking to get beat. And this rule is tacitly adhered to by both the hustlers and the fiends. No serious drug dealer would expect you to give them your money before they give you drugs. If someone says, “give me your money, I got you,” you’re about to get beat or robbed. Or arrested.
I remember watching one of those scenes when the show first aired and thinking, oh no, he fucked that part up. That would never happen in real life.
That’s the way they did it. General belief being that if you’re seen handing off and getting paid, you’ve given an observing officer all he needs to make an arrest, but by dividing the work among the crew, and giving the drug transaction to a minor or to a low-ranking member of the crew, you provide some insulation.
Crews do that all the time in Baltimore. Or at least the moderately organized ones do. Single dealers working small packages don’t have that option, but the organized crews very much do. And yes, you can be burnt that way. But it’s a sellers market.
I’d be outraged that Donald fucking Rumsfeld is saying rioting in certain circumstances is understandable (not desirable, but understandable) and you’re still not getting it, but between that and Newt Gingrich arguing for doubling the NIH budget, apparently we are through the looking glass and I don’t know what to think about anyone anymore.
Also, the BPD acquaintance I mentioned who was telling me all week there’d be no charges (and is now insisting the charges are all political and will be dropped) has been illegally surveilling me — I shit you not, I guess the BPD gives zero fucks about “optics” either, who’da thunk it — so now I have to get a fucking civil rights lawyer once they’re all done trying to get the teenage kids the BPD has rounded up out on their $500,000 bail and such, and that’s taking up most of the energy I’ve got left for any of this.
So anyway. The 300 Men group is looking for volunteers (black, white, men, women) if you’re interested; I bet you’d be good at it. Let me know if you want more info.
They were great at North and Pennsie.
I do understand that you are being unequivocal and saying that no one white has the right to ask anyone not-white, who is oppressed, not to riot. I hear you loud and clear.
I don’t agree. I’m a Baltimorean and a human being talking to other Baltimoreans and human beings. Even if I wasn’t seeking the same political and moral outcomes, even if my agenda was somewhere else on the political continuum, I have an innate right to ask others not to employ random violence in their cause. Follow your notion of standing and entitlement to its final result, and no one can ask various nationalities or sects not to randomly bomb markets and bring down airliners and kill civilians whenever they so feel the need. It is possible to see violence as human failure regardless of the cause or creeds involved.
I did not say that. I never said that. Throughout this debate you have been making up words, placing them in my mouth and then arguing against them. I forget what that’s called — straw men? — but it’s a weak tactic for debate and an ineffective one for discussion. I can make up shit you didn’t say either — “you shouldn’t have said all rioters and protestors are thugs who should just pull their pants up and get a job, David!” — but I don’t find that particularly productive.
No one has been criticizing you on this because you are white (at least not solely, but I’ll come back to that). This is about your timing, your tone, and your choice of focus.
I will break it down for you again as simply as I can:
We did not hear from you the day after Freddie Gray died, when the horrible and suspicious nature of his death was already hitting local news and was all over social media. Lot of Nina Simone’s “Baltimore” being posted that day.
We did not hear from you during the first week of peaceful protest.
We did not hear from you on the Saturday before the riots, at Camden Yards, when (this has been documented) drunk white bar patrons decided to throw bottles and at least one bar stool at protestors, thus provoking them. A stunning echo of the first skirmish of the Civil War on Pratt Street, btw, for you history majors looking to write your theses, just a hot tip.
And yes, a couple of cop car windows got busted that day. Boo fucking hoo. As Peter Staley (long-term AIDS/HIV/gay rights activist) just said in his talks at the Embassy of Berlin, we — including our own President — now celebrate Stonewall and to some extent the White Night Riots, when a dozen cop cars went up in flames, as important events in moving the gay rights movement forward. But not when young black men are expressing their fury and desperation…
We did not hear from you that Sunday when the media narrative was already “oh, the burden on the taxpayers, the protestors don’t even pay taxes!”. As though a couple of cop car windows are more expensive than the roughly $1.5 million we’re paying out in police brutality lawsuits every year.
We did not hear from you until the city was on fire and then your first and only comment was “rioters you’re being selfish, go home”. We did not hear any acknowledgement from you that many of the “rioters” were children that were jacked off their schoolbuses when they were trying to go home, and roughed up by police in the Mondawmin parking lot. We still do not hear any acknowledgement from you that black children and young men in Baltimore are fucking TERRIFIED by the police — as well they should be — and may feel no fucking choice in certain moments other than to pick up a piece of *gravel* or a goddamn bottle and toss it at their potential murderers, who may point out, have armor protection and semi-automatic weapons.
This is not about you being white. THIS IS ABOUT YOUR TIMING. This is about you adding to and reinforcing the unconscionable narrative of “thugs” and “looters” that dominated the media and would have continued to do so if activists didn’t make a point of getting out there and documenting the bullshit that was really happening (and has been going on for a long, long time in Baltimore).
As for your concern about ongoing riots: there has not been a single riot since Bloody Monday. I am really not concerned about the bottle being tossed at the police that you witnessed. Was it a glass bottle, btw? Doubt it and even if it was there’s much worse behavior going on from white kids in Powerplant any fucking night of the weekend and they don’t end up getting maced. (In fact I once saw a brawl of 30-40 white kids outside Powerplant that pulled in a half dozen squad cars, two police on horses, any number of foot patrol and two helicopters. DIDN’T EVEN MAKE THE LOCAL NEWS.)
No one is sitting around planning the next riot as a political tactic (unless they’re plants from the government a la COINTELPRO, it happens in every activist movement so why not this one). In fact, from what I hear the goddamn Bloods, Crips and Black Guerrilla Family are banding together to keep peace in the neighborhoods. I just hope they set up a security hotline b/c at this point I would much rather call them for help than 911.
Riots are not political tactics and nobody thinks they are. They are acts of collective insanity when living in an insane environment, fueled by emotion and desperation, nothing more, nothing less. There is no sense or logic to them, and standing around writing thinkpieces about them is pointless. Nobody’s stopping in the middle of busting up a CVS out of pure rage and hopelessness at being trapped economically and physically in Abandoned America where you can be executed by the police for your skin color, to check the David Simon blog and see what he has to say.
And before you fall back on that “I never said I was a spokesman, this is a part-time endeavor, etc. etc.” please note that you said “YOU RISK LOSING THIS MOMENT FOR *US*”. Those were your words. It is not anyone else’s fault that you claimed ownership of Baltimore and then subsequently refused responsibility to it.
So, keep on hand-wringing I guess, but FYI, the only danger of further riots will come if a) BPD savagely murders another dude in the worst possible way for absolutely no reason on a bad arrest in the near future (sadly not unlikely) or b) all six of these dudes get acquitted. That one seems much less likely, but hey, the fucking Fraternal Order of Police managed to get Gahiji Tshamba’s charge reduced to manslaughter when he shot a guy 14 times, off-duty, with his hands in the air begging “please brother don’t shoot” in front of like 50 eyewitnesses, simply b/c his victim was bigger than him and took a single step towards him. So YOU NEVER KNOW IN THIS FUCKING TOWN.
But you can save your worrying for then. Don’t let it eat up your nervous system now, when you’re on a deadline. Trial’s gonna take months anyway. Hopefully long enough that the DOJ indictment of the BPD comes through first 🙂
p.s. Regarding you being a white upper-middle class male it does not help your “optics” on this stance either, but that’s between you and your brand name. It’s certainly not the main point.
“You risk losing this moment for all of us.” Indeed, I included myself in the mass of Baltimoreans — and Americans — who want to see the opposition to this litany of police violence accomplish something substantial and transformative for our society. Because this bifurcated system that marginalizes and brutalizes the poor has a cost not merely to the immediate victims, but to the society as a whole. Saying “us” does not claim ownership for Baltimore. Not in the fucking slightest. The pronoun serves for the collective of people who want change, who want the protests to achieve not merely a criminal indictment or conviction, but a reconsideration of the very policies that underlie these deaths. How did you get from that simple, communal assertion to anyone claiming ownership of any real estate anywhere, other than your own presuppositions about who is entitled to speak when riots are popping off?
If I have misunderstood your words here, I apologize. I took your opening comment about Rumsfeld to say: I would be upset even if the most right-wing fellow fell short of unequivocal support for the riots, or, conversely, even a Rumsfeld commenting sympathetically on the street theater in Baltimore would upset you because white viewpoints are unwelcome in any discussion about black political action. Either way, it seemed to me a comment about standing or privilege, and well, as we have already discussed, I don’t think that critique means very much in a discussion about ongoing civil unrest between citizens of the city that is burning at that precise moment. I think that what is left of the phrase white privilege after it is invoked in such circumstances isn’t worth very much.
I said what I said when the optics of rioting and looting overtook the heroism and commitment of protest. My heart sank to see what the country was now seeing of Baltimore’s affirming civil disobedience and demand for justice, and how that might in fact excuse a continued reliance on militarized law enforcement. And I said so, under the heading, “first things first,” then followed it with considerably more verbiage about law enforcement policy, the drug war, and the paradigm for political change. And you’re upset about the admonition and plea against rioting? Really? Okay, but I don’t disown my desire to see the protests stay non-violent and Baltimore stay unlooted and unburnt. I want those things. And I spoke to those things at the moment that they were in the balance.
And now — and before — I write about a good many other issues and circumstances. Christ, there’s some click-baiting fellow over at The Nation explaining why “The Wire” doesn’t have enough police brutality or community activism in it. The entire police-community storyline of “Treme” — rolling over 35 hours of television — was only about police brutality and corruption and community activism in the wake of that brutality.
Not every film is about everything. Not every story is about everything. Certainly, not every blogpost is about everything. If they were, they would be long, useless and shitty. You have narrowed your focus to the post you dislike and disagree with. Okay. You can do that. You are entitled to feel as you do. I just disagree.
“Chuffed” means pleased, proud, delighted, etc. I think you mean chafed. Not to be a dick b/c I suffer all the time from the lack of edit ability on these blog comments but, hey, I’m an editor and you’ve dealt with that before. LOL
And I’m still chafed b/c you’re still quadrupling down on it and preaching against riots that aren’t happening and haven’t been happening. No riots are scheduled! Bulletin alert, I repeat: no riots are scheduled!!! Everyone can come out of their Panic Rooms and spend a little money in the city, that would certainly be useful.
I haven’t read THE NATION article but it sounds like bullshit. I prefer not to click on clickbait out of principle, even just to see how stupid it is (clicks, after all, are what they are going for) but I’ll take your word on it.
As for the rest of it, I’ll say like I said before, I am sorry it takes the city being on fire for you to get off your ass and react to something like Freddie Gray’s death. But apparently, that is true of most of America. I expected better. Still do.
I knew it as soon as I read it back, but thanks. I already changed it even before I saw your post.
I am glad that you have the memo on when shit is going to pop off, Kt. I am not on that distro list.
Seems to me, though, that there is a pregnant moment waiting for all of us if a Circuit Court judge grants a motion to send the trial of those six officers out of town for change-of-venue, or if too many of the original charges are dismissed, or if a jury doesn’t find sufficient guilt on enough counts. Or, of course, if another Baltimorean is caught up not merely in unjustifiable police violence, but even in a police-shooting that is proven by the facts to be unequivocal or justified. The city is at edge and the stakes remain high for all of us. And it may be a long summer.
Let me ask you something, because I have to say, there is a simplistic dishonesty in you claiming some perceived breach of faith because I didn’t leap to comment on or condemn the death of Freddie Gray post haste. Am I under obligation to respond to every policing affront in Baltimore, or nationally? What about other issues? On which ones do I prove myself callow when I am in the next county over, working or writing on the wrong thing in your eyes?
I spent the last four years laying down a storyline based explicitly on the police violence in New Orleans that followed Katrina, the coverups that ensued, and the community activism, civil rights lawyering and journalism that were required to show that people of color had been targeted on the Danzinger Bridge, in Algiers and elsewhere. On the blog, I went all in on Trayvon Martin and the horror of stand-your-ground laws. I was muted on subsequent shootings of African-Americans in Florida. Meanwhile, I’ve been editing film and writing a new foreward for Belkin’s “Show Me A Hero” on desegregation and public housing, and giving speeches and taping interviews against militarized policing and mass incarceration, but I wasn’t typing in the days after Billy Murphy brought the Gray case into the media and the protests first swirled into the streets. I was watching, and listening, and yes, waiting for both an autopsy report and a statement from city prosecutors. And a riot popped off. If there is more police violence in New Orleans, how fast do I have to make myself into a human microphone before you’re disappointed. Of if something slips at one of those East Yonkers townhouses, how quickly do I need to assert for that which you believe before you expect more of me? And then how quick do I have to rush back to Baltimore if they change the venue on this police trial to Kent County and shit goes bad again? I’m writing in the margins of ordinary life and real time like everyone else. I get to some things early, some things late, and most things — never. Like most everyone does.
Do you see how silly this is? And how indifferent I have to be to your personal expectations?
“Seems to me, though, that there is a pregnant moment waiting for all of us if a Circuit Court judge grants a motion to send the trial of those six officers out of town for change-of-venue, or if too many of the original charges are dismissed, or if a jury doesn’t find sufficient guilt on enough counts.”
I am not saying this is not a concern. Noted this above. But we have quite a while to wait on that one, and personally, I prefer to hope for the best. Given the lack of decent excuses the police have been able to come up with so far for even ARRESTING Freddie Gray, let alone failing to call for medical attention repeatedly (and the mysterious “second stop”), the other witness in the van, and a State’s Attorney who happens to be a black woman from Baltimore with a family steeped in policing (don’t it hurt, FOP! Mosby for Mayor!!), I prefer to be optimistic, I dunno. Shit, none of us thought there were going to be charges in the first place, not after the shit the BPD has gotten away with in the past, so it’s a celebration even to get this far.
Also, maybe I need to clarify that I am an avid follower of your work, you really don’t need to explain the plot of TREME to me (I watched it repeatedly and thought the police storyline was incredibly well-researched and sensitively acted by David Morse — perhaps the difference there is that you waited until you had DONE the research to speak on the matter), nor what you are working on now. I watch and read all your stuff, pretty much. We watched HOMICIDE in my house coming up, b/c my parents are hip (Jon Seda was an early crush, so I was pleased to see him return to the David Simon Theater Company in TREME). I read the CORNER, watched the miniseries. Also watched THE WIRE repeatedly. I know as much information about SHOW ME A HERO as is available out there. I read your interview lamenting that no one will watch it. I watched your panel with Barack Obama. I’ve read numerous of your essays on the incarceration state. The only reason I didn’t watch GENERATION KILL is I don’t like war movies. (Is this getting creepy yet?) I know what you have been up to. I know you’re busy.
Nonetheless, the impression of your principles that I have taken away from your work and from your previous posts on this blog, I’m sorry, simply do not jibe with the reaction you had in this situation. I understand people say what first comes to them in the heat of the moment, but you are still insisting on being right about this and clutching your pearls about the riots about to bust out any minute in your mind, and honestly, it is fearmongering — fearmongering about a city that already has enough of that from the mainstream media to begin with.
As many people have pointed out, when white kids in Kansas burn a couple of cop cars b/c their sports teams lost, it’s “just high young spirits”! When young black men in Baltimore do it b/c they’re running from the goddamn riot cops that pulled them off their schoolbuses, it’s fucking Armageddon? I honestly don’t see what purpose it serves to have you adding to the perception that young black men are savages prone to pop off at a moment’s notice. This was not an unprovoked riot sparked by nothing. It was sparked by an obviously savage police murder that went unresponded to for a week before riots, two weeks before charges, and which the police union is still trying to defend!
Please stop judging Baltimore by its behavior during the most extreme and egregious circumstances.
As for your questions:
“Am I under obligation to respond to every policing affront in Baltimore, or nationally?”
Not everyone, but this was kind of an important one, don’t you think?
And to be honest, yes, I think if you are going to make your art about disenfranchise people and make a paycheck off that (please don’t put me on Marty O’Malley’s side on this, Jesus) then you do have something of an obligation to continue to speak on behalf of those communities when it is necessary. Sorry if that is holding you to too high of a standard, but I assure you I hold everyone else to it (including myself) too.
“I was watching, and listening, and yes, waiting for both an autopsy report and a statement from city prosecutors”
Oh honey waiting for full reports from the BPD to come through? You have been off the beat too long. I know you’ve asked Justin Fenton how long he has to wait for this shit sometimes.
“If there is more police violence in New Orleans, how fast do I have to make myself into a human microphone before you’re disappointed. Of if something slips at one of those East Yonkers townhouses, how quickly do I need to assert for that which you believe before you expect more of me?”
Timing really depends on the situation going on in the world. During Katrina, for example, I would say serious writers and thinkers who cared about New Orleans needed to be there the first week (how about you?). Ditto Baltimore after Freddie Gray died. I’m not so familiar with the culture or backdrop of what might pop off in Yonkers.
Now I understand not everyone can get to a place or do the research in time, but in that situation — and this is just me, grain of salt — if you can’t get there before the riot, maybe don’t write about it DURING the riot, at least not in a short, glib way. Wait until afterwards when reflection sets in (as you did with TREME, THE WIRE, and much of your best work). The above essay would have been perfectly fine and entirely appreciated by me, except you’re still have to defend yourself for making an unhelpful comment.
“Do you see how silly this is?”
I don’t see that much about what’s going down in Baltimore is silly, but okay.
“And how indifferent I have to be to your personal expectations?”
And yet…you certainly, in your original blog post on it, expected a whole fucking lot of the beleaguered people of Baltimore — more than, as you have stated on this very blog in your “Trayvon” post, you would expect from yourself — and you still expect us to care.
Expectations are a two-way street. If you possess them of others, they will possess them of you. And nobody’s free from criticism.
Ok. I tried.
Ok, I caved and read that NATION article. It’s not as much of a hatchet piece as you’re making it out to be. It’s a thoughtful critique from a young person and you don’t have to agree with it but you could just listen to it.
Pessimism CAN be a luxury. Assuming and anticipating the worst of your fellow man can be unhelpful (particularly when FOX News is already there to do that for you). A little optimism wouldn’t kill you. “BELIEVE”, as the bumper stickers used to say.
1984 was such a downer. The pessimism of Brave New World was such a luxury. Why couldn’t those guys imagine a happier future for everyone?
I’m not comparing “The Wire” to those classics. I’m just pointing out the empty critical stance that says a reader or viewer is owed either a happy ending, or a roadmap of how a conjured, dystopic world can end well. But again, if you prefer such an outcome, maybe avoid “The Wire.” Maybe “Treme” is more the ticket.
Just a point but 1984 was wrong. Certainly some things in it have metaphorical resonance. But here is 2015 and the state has not yet come up with ways to make all undesirable information disappear (or to outlaw sexuality or split the world into three superpowers or whatever else is in that book, I read it 20 years ago).
Never got around to reading BRAVE NEW WORLD (shoot me) but from what I gather it didn’t exactly come true either.
Disagree. Aspects of both books are still in play.
I have never been able to finish 1984; I know how it ends and I can never get past the feeling of hope that occurs half way through.
I also feel both books are in play. I have often seen people argue of which book is closer to reality, perhaps it’s human nature that makes us try to choose one narrative over another with out seeing the similarities between both?
I would also suggest adding Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to the discussion. It is another book that feels more like a prediction then fiction.
I have to point out though, your thought on “why couldn’t both author’s imagine a happier future…” I don’t believe that either book was written with the intent to depress. But were more intended to be used as a warning. It is our own misfortune that our reality follows fiction. And perhaps our own shortcomings that we have fallen into the very traps we should have been aware of ; The Cassandra effect at work perhaps?
I think Zirin was onto something. Along similar lines I’ve become concerned that “The Wire” provides an inadequate representation of Greek dramatic tropes. I now believe that there is too much “Antigone,” too much “Oedipus the King” and not enough of the “Bacchae.”
Also, someone who thinks it is a meaningful discussion whether “The Wire” is “greater” than “Breaking Bad” directed me to a tweet in which the author was complaining about the “The Wire”s depiction of Black America (I wasn’t aware that was what you were doing but …) and, in particular, having a small Black child commit a murder in season 5. Apparently, the tweeter believed this dramatic episode could be refuted by an absence (or claimed absence) of any record of a child that age having commited a murder with a gun. I suggested that the internal logic of the show and the mythology of the murdered character required that only a child could commit the murder (nemisis had to take the form of a child). After Zirin, I realize that if the murdered character had been a realistic representation of his type that would not have been necessary. Obviously, you made a mistake.
And where are the crack dealers, Mr. Simon?
“This is about you adding to and reinforcing the unconscionable narrative of ‘thugs’ and ‘looters’ that dominated the media…”
For what’s worth, I’ve been watching and reading and I just don’t see this. In this post and earlier ones there has been no lack of empathy or understanding; no criticism of people, only of tactics.
“Riots are not political tactics…”
Not employing tactics where tactics could help seems worthy of comment, if not outright criticism.
“Nobody’s stopping in the middle of busting up a CVS… to check the David Simon blog and see what he has to say.”
So what would have been the value of him saying what you wished he said, or when? Is it really your argument that anyone was checking the David Simon blog before leaving home to go bust up a CVS? What’s the value of anyone ever saying anything?
David Simon has a fairly well-established axe to grind on this subject. David Simon (among others) has long been employing tactics in this arena for an achievable end. It seems unfair – if nothing worse – to expect him to abandon his tactics – even momentarily – for someone else’s “acts of collective insanity,” however sympathetic.
You don’t think “you’re being selfish and risking losing this moment for us” is a criticism of people who are reacting in panic and chaos to years of unfathomable police brutality?
I thought it was pretty personally aimed. There was a lot of the word “you” in that post.
And I don’t expect him to abandon anything, just the opposite — I expect him to stay true to what he’s said previously. He doesm’t have to agree riots are great — nobody does, that’s ridiculous! — he simply needs to recognize where such events are coming from. As he ALWAYS did before, and somehow decided to abandon overnight (I refer you again to his “Trayvon” blog).
Just out of curiosity Mr. Simon what did you think of the riots after the Rodney King verdict?
Aimed not at people protesting, but at people who want to go with the brick? I thought it was accurate, and far more restrained than the words of, say, the African-American mayor, congressman and president who actually categorized the rioters personally, rather than characterized their actions. I chose my words to say what I believe.
There is more at stake than defeating a line of riot police or emptying a CVS or a liquor store, more even than punishing the individual officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray and doing so in a manner that displays dispassionate justice rather than the fear of civil unrest. There is a chance to change some of the structural firmament of repression. Anyone who wants to trade that chance for some liquor, toilet paper and a burnt construction site — and a moment of gratifying anger — is, I would argue, not thinking on behalf of what can be gained for all of us. Do you not see that rationalizing the rioting as the best that you believe the underclass can do for itself is, in its own way, condescending?
I think if you don’t understand why people in Baltimore might be stealing toilet paper you might be way more out of touch than you realize.
Is there anything you can’t rationalize?
The difference between “you’re being selfish etc” and “you are selfish etc” may arguably be semantic or pedantic or something else, but the fact of a difference is fairly undeniable. The former does put focus on actions where the latter is more concerned with character. He criticized actions, not people. Further, these words, taken within the context of everything else the guy says and writes on the reg, just don’t sound to me like what they apparently sound like to you.
“…he simply needs to recognize where such events are coming from. As he ALWAYS did before…”
That’s ultimately exactly my point above. He’s said it so much in the past… do we really need to hear it one more time? I take it for granted that this blog post doesn’t expunge years of other writing and speaking, but takes off from the foundation it established.
That Trayvon Martin post you refer to – that post that also ultimately praised the patience and patriotism of a community that refused to be moved to violence – caused a stir for allegedly condoning or trying to incite the opposite. What do you think – maybe more importantly, what do you think David Simon thought – when he considered what to write now in the midst of actual rioting? What fresh ammunition would he himself supply to proponents of the militarized police state and the drug war by saying anything other than what he said smack dab in the middle of shit popping off?
I don’t believe reform is possible, given how rigged the game has become. It would not surprise me at all if the riot started because some FBI paid person was inflaming the crowd. It’s happened before.
I’ve seen so many videos of cops hurting women, people in wheelchairs, old and or homeless people that I now believe cops are amped up on steroids as well as being way over armed. Happens all of the time all over the country. Protect and serve is over.
I also have come to believe that militarizing the police is part of the plan. Climate change is going to wreak such havoc that civil unrest will become the norm. I think we are seeing some grooming going on here. It’s not like cop shops are buying arms on the streets, now is it?
The people who really run this country are psychopaths.
Is that audacious despair or what?
You qualify, yes.
Another thought-provoking and thoughtful essay from Mr. Simon. Thank you very much. I don’t know if I’m too cynical to hope you’re right, but if the window is only 18 months, then we’d better start seeing some movement, from everyone, pretty damn soon. An election year sure doesn’t make it any easier…
I just wanted to make the point that while Malcolm X has sadly been reduced by some (not Mr. Simon) to a few out-of-context slogans that falsely (and with depressing regularity) associate him with violence, Malcolm X was never involved with any riots or violent acts himself. There are, in reality, no examples of him urging violence in any speech or interview. No really, not one. There are, of course, lots of examples of him urging self-defence against someone coming at you with a rope or a gun or a noose with ill-intent. While he understood the anger of black America better than almost everyone else, it never manifested itself simply as a thuggish call to violence as some would like to pretend.
Malcolm X spent the last year of his life urging people to register to vote and get involved in the political process. He met with heads of state in Africa and the Middle East to build bridges between America and the rest of the world. He had a plan to bring formal charges against the United States in the UN for its treatment of black people the way others had done against Portugal and South Africa. On a personal level, he probably got more black people off drugs and alcohol than any other single individual in America between 1955-1965. Violence? Where? Ironically, his actual message of economic self-determination, political engagement and cultural rejuvenation is exactly the sort of thing we need now, but that message takes a backseat to the hackneyed lie about a violent revolutionary that would make a better TV segment. But why study history when you can throw a brick and say you were there?
“The only thing that is going to mug someone in Alphabet City or Astoria nowadays is the bill from a two-star restaurant.”
Malcolm was a hero. So was Patrick Henry.
But they are the authors of a couple phrases that define unapologetic rebellion.
No doubt. And I think that in their respective cases, they were justified. They were clearly talking about, and involved in, life-and-death circumstances. Baltimore is obviously life-and-death but hardly on the verge of a violent revolution or civil war.
That’s one of the things I find interesting about Malcolm X’s speeches. Because he was careful about what he said, he could get away with some pretty incendiary rhetoric, but he always had an “out” for the oppressor. The ballot OR the bullet. If we don’t get full and complete human rights as American citizens right here, right now….who knows how bad things could get?
“Whoever heard of a sociological explosion that was done intelligently and politely? And this is what you’re trying to make the black man do. You’re trying to drive him into a ghetto and make him the victim of every kind of unjust condition imaginable, then when he explodes, you want him to explode politely. You want him to explode according to somebody’s ground rules. Why, you’re dealing with the wrong man, and you’re dealing with him at the wrong time in the wrong way.”
He knew the score.
Just so. And yet this drives me back to the drier plain of efficacy, as boring and unpassionate as that is. Non-violence and mass disobedience works. A riot, not so much.
Indeed. I think you made an excellent point about repression igniting reform. I personally think the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was the defining moment for the Civi Rights movement. Once that happened, America decided. “No. This is too far.” How was that reform achieved? Many, many, many people in the streets saying, in effect, “If we don’t get full and complete human rights as American citizens right here, right now….who knows how bad things could get?” To me, it’s astonishing the role the digital cameras are playing in all this. Anyway, thanks again for all your hard work!
This is a good examination of such a complex issue. However, I believe the first steps to fixing inequality amongst the myriad of other issues facing America are simple. We need to reform the manner in which the political system operates before we can seriously address these problems.
The selection process for our political leaders has always been skewed, but it seems to be getting worse. The fact that we now have billionaire kingmakers openly deciding which candidates get attention will make true reform much harder. Take gun control for example. The vast majority of American supported background checks and other common sense measures, but nothing happened because the representatives were worried about the NRA throwing mud.
I’d say let’s take care of gerrymandering and campaign finance first, and then the will of the people will be able to truly confront inequality. Do you agree Mr. Simon?
There are many things that require reform, and the political process is certainly broken.
But I don’t think the underclass, as targeted as it is by law enforcement right now, can wait for as long as such vast reform will require. People are being killed now. I think we’re going to have to provide some immediate reform within the construct of the flawed system we have now, regardless.
David, your position on Baltimore kind of escapes the core of the issues, & the reason why I think that it takes on this position is because you are not from Baltimore. More specifically, you are not from Black Baltimore. As a 37 year old Black man who was born & raised in East Baltimore, all that you gripped from writing about Baltimore from the Sun newspapers or using consultants for The Wire does not justify a clear conviction that permits your insight to be accurate for the fate of what goes on in Black Baltimore.
You spoke of Oppression, zero tolerance & how these merging points were/are linked to some political or drug war agenda. Your points are based on a surface scale that does not go into the veins of being Black in Baltimore or any Black city for that matter.
Let us face it, your most successful show (in terms of ratings & acclaim) was based off of Black plights in East & West Baltimore. Your literary work that guided you into an HBO office with intentions to transfer your literature into a mini-series was from a book based on a Black teenager growing into a young man in West Baltimore.
Just because you have this surety that allows you the luxury to write about us, does not turn your grumble into a philosophical platform that can posses a proliferation in expounding on societal ills as a common goal that undo our Oppression. As much as I believe in equality, let us face it, being Black in Baltimore, Harlem, or Chicago is not the same as being white in Baltimore, Harlem or Chicago.
Yes, you may know your way thru the streets of Baltimore, but so does Barry Levinson & John Waters. These two filmmakers explained a visual Baltimore that does not try to pull over a gregarious set of political platforms that justify hammering out Baltimore into a gem that they only understand. The Baltimore that Barry & John write about is not a part of the Baltimore cultures that I am from; however, it is one that I know as a different aspect of Baltimore—white, middle-class, (Barry) & white, gay, quirky (John) stories that as a Baltimore native, we can laugh & say, “yeah I saw this or that in Fells Point or in Liberty Heights.”
Yes, you may show the grit that European explorers utilized while looking for a new country (& I say this metaphorically) to shower the natives with your expansive thinking that can solve or offer insight to our problems, but the point is that your problem of traveling & being there has not ever been expressed.
I bet that when you do have this self-awakening (which is explaining why you present our Black problems with so much thinking & answers that tend to go back your own rescue mission) you will gravitate towards expressing to the world that you are doing us a favor or two. Just as I am sure that you will apply the rioting that happened in Baltimore as some form of fuel to drench over your writing. Perhaps a mini-series or evening drama show that have four Black families in West Baltimore, a week before the riots. Your expertise on Baltimore is why Black Baltimore writers, producers, & directors are overlooked when they have the direct stories linked to losing Black brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, & best-friends to years & years of the drug-culture, police brutality, the prison & education systems. CNN will interview you, the major media with their publications in magazines & newspapers will quote you profusely, because you are the white man who was the explorer into Black Baltimore.
Do not get me wrong, I do not base good, or great entertainment or art on a racial qualification. However, when I happen to see your prolific work-rate dedicated to Baltimore from the Corner to the Wire to your partnership in the Civil Rights project for HBO, & then I see you going into these elaborated disdain objectives about society with a cover that goes into the issues that Blacks suffer world-wide—-it just makes me think about telling you to step back & let us speak for ourselves.
There is a reason why Martin Scorsese can depict Italian films about the underworld, mafia or New York living to a precision that you can smell the pretzels near Central Park. Steven Spielberg’s who has a history of doing films that are pop-corn friendly, took on Schindler’s List, because it was necessary for him to visually articulate a religious history connected to his existence.
I am sure that you will dismiss what I am saying, & if you respond, it will be with the philosophical mettle that overrides with digressions that you have the specific right to write about what you know, because Baltimore has a quiet voice due to your loudness on leading the cavalry to your own self-awareness.
Peace & keep winning those awards.
P.S. Here is my piece on growing up in Black Baltimore. No consultants needed, no studies needed.
Just living & seeing: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-gray-la-20150427-story.html
Schindler’s List, as you mention it, was written by a Gentile. America in the King Years, by a white guy. Madame Bovary, by a man. I’m not merely going to suggest they had a right to pen whatever was in their heads and hearts, but that I’m glad those works exist. If anything I’ve written doesn’t pass muster with you, then that is sufficient for you disregard it or criticize it, or me, or my abilities.
But let’s be honest and direct here. THis issue has been joined because of what I have written about what happened in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, and further, what is happening with regard to law enforcement, the drug war, and the growth of the prison-industrial complex in America. And to the extent there is any controversy over my standing it stems not from me writing about what I think it means to be an African-American in Baltimore. That’s not how my comments are actually framed. That’s your language.
WHat I have written, more specifically, is about policing, law enforcement and what has become of probable cause in Baltimore. On this issue, that’s the meat of what I have offered up. In addition, because I want to see certain outcomes, for the city in which I live and on national issues such as mass incarceration and drug prohibition, I did not want the images of civil unrest to thwart or malign the pattern of ongoing protest, not merely in Baltimore or nationwide.
Yes, I reject the notion that white writers should only write white characters or narratives, or that black writers are similarly confined, or that racial or religious or geographic categories are non-permeable barriers to any journalism, or art, or empathy in any form. The work is the tell. We are going to disagree on that. But it seems your stance is even more radical: Are you suggesting that everything I learned from covering the police department for 12 years, or from the year spent in the homicide unit, or the year spent at Monroe and Fayette Street are insufficient for me to have an opinion on how the city is policed, or what has gone wrong over the last decades with how the city is policed? Or, because I am white, I have no standing to express dismay at the images of rioting two weeks ago that threatened to define the protests in Baltimore? If it’s white privilege for a Baltimorean to praise the ongoing protests but plead against burning and looting, then I would argue that you’ve defined the term out of all meaning.
Do you see that you have drawn the line telling me to shut up not merely at the boundary of me supposedly writing about the black experience, but more liberally, at speaking to issues of law and justice in my own city, or further, in urging fellow citizens, regardless of race, not to riot? Not that what I say isn’t open to all due criticism on the merits — it is, and, it is — but are you simply saying only black folk can say stuff?
And what black writer or filmmaker is being stifled because I speak my piece? I’m writing what I think on this blog; you’ve been published in the Baltimore Sun. It isn’t as if you had to fight your way through my verbiage to claim that space.
David, let me start with the artistic area. Freedom of expression is afforded to every artist, but a profound artist will understand that originality does not start off with tracing a masterpiece—I use the term masterpiece as a reflection of a civilized culture, be it: a sub-culture or a chief culture. When you marry politics & artistic expression, if you are not from an area as deep as race or religion that you are taking vows with (in this case, Blacks dealing with Oppression), you are asking to be invited into a place where those that live it will see it as exploitation.
“Images are face replacing words as our primary language,” is a quote from Kathryn Walker, the narrator for the documentary, “Richard Avedon-Darkness and Light.” Thomas Keneally penned the novel, but Steven Spielberg shaped the visual images for people to see for themselves. Could this be the reason why when Steven asked Martin Scorsese to direct Schindler’s List, Marty declined the offer—instead he became an encourager who told Steven that he should produce & direct the picture. This is the same Martin Scorsese who turned down directing Clockers (who as you already know, the Jewish writer Richard Price penned) because he felt that Spike Lee would be a better fit for visually writing out the story of Blacks in Brooklyn dealing with slanging drugs & living amongst Black Brooklyn. Was it Spike Lee who had an issue with Steven directing the Color Purple?
Remember, “Images are fast replacing words as our primary language.”
If Eminem produced & recorded a gangster rap album, does the significance of him being a white M.C. play a part in people finding his music unbelievable? Even if he had a gangster rap album with hardcore Detroit, Chicago to L.A. street-gang members, would he still be considered gangster enough to make a hard-core gangster album that uses the n-word, describing how to hustle crack-cocaine, heroin? Would he be able to say, “hey, this is what I see, I am an urban journalist, a writer within my city who is only rhyming about what I see.” My point of contention would be this: the differences in racial relations are injustices within a systematic oppression that exploit the Black culture, worldwide (from African Americans, to Afro-Latinos to the natives in Africa). There are things in Black Baltimore that you would be unaware of, nor able to visually explain, because you have not been oppressed to the point that the system is stacked up against you.
Just look at the Blaxploitation films in the 1970’s that took off with Melvin Van Peebles with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song & Gordon Parks Shaft. Films that would serve as a method of tracing for white filmmakers to flood the market with stereotypes about Blacks being pimps, dealers or hookers.
So, do you still think that a white man or woman stepping into the narration, visually or literary wise, standing up & speaking for Blacks, completely a blueprint for figuring out Oppression—even though, you speak about Baltimore, the politics & the drug war issues in a fullness that construes us as a society; however, you pinpoint Blacks & their plights as a storyline that pulls out this interest from the world. I am just waiting for the chance for a white man or woman artist to say, “I do not know why Blacks are going thru oppression, but I will be a quiet optimist & say this, I believe that some great Black minds will figure it out.”
Even in your response, you dance around this conception with putting a foot down on all of us being equal under a system of injustices, only to trace Blacks & their experiences while throwing them into your pot of writings. Of course, I am expressive in my language, as a Black child who grew up in Baltimore, within a Black community in East Baltimore—who happened to see childhood friends become drug-dealers, drug addicts, killers & lost in the system of correctional institutions, I think that my language on this topic does carry a bit of a personal approach. Yes, you will hear my voice, clearly & convincingly.
Now, does this make me radical because I believe in being Black & that we have the power to write, produce & express our own stories? Just as in the past, you called those who were involved in the commotion going on in Baltimore rioters; however for the ones who experienced growing up Black in Baltimore—some of us viewed it as an uprising.
Do not get me wrong, I do not condone burning down a community, but the issues of police brutality goes back generations; especially since I was raised in home that had a family grocery store near John Hopkins hospital. I have heard the stories as child growing up in Black Baltimore from the older teenagers, my uncles & my elders. When I grew into my teenage years, I would see it for myself. I am 37 years old, so the 1990’s were a mural of zero-tolerance, false arrests, being handcuffed for 20 or 30 minutes because some cops had the power to tell you to sit down while they figure out what to do with you.
You were paid to report on Black Baltimore. I was born & raised in Black Baltimore. You came to see. I was born to see.
Your Baltimore is Fells Point, Paterson Park in the 1980’s or Canton, maybe those big houses in Roland Park. You traveled & explored Black Baltimore, because you had to write about it, but you cannot carry that as a vocative baton to hand off as an indication of fixing Baltimore, because your political agenda is philosophically sound. There are still parts of Baltimore that is segregated, from the neighborhoods to the prisons to the churches.
Your political points are fantastic, maybe there is a situation ethics appeal to them, but the continuation of Blacks in Baltimore to Harlem to D.C. to Philadelphia is that we handle a different form of political mindfulness.
You can stop writing about Blacks or African-Americans tomorrow. You could go write a Broadway musical & title it, “The Glory in Optimism, how Love met Freedom” cast all white actors & actresses while aligning all sorts of political ramifications inside of your musical, with a great band playing original musical pieces. Not one person will say, “He is from Black Baltimore, he needs to tell our stories again, & he has sold out.”
Please understand, I am talking about the serious topics addressed in your television & literary works. If you were behind a sit-comedy or some soap-opera with imaginative plots, I would just say that can you were in a lane to entertain as you feel, without offering a disposition that is about race, oppression or societal ills.
I am based in New York. Do you know how many times I have met people who would ask me where I am from? When I respond Baltimore, they base their entire premise on Baltimore from what you pushed with your words in The Wire? Yet, when I ask them about Barry Levinson or John Waters, their faces tend to go blank with wrinkles in their foreheads that is a body language speaking to me that retorts, “Huh?.” When I ask them about the 1970’s film, “Amazing Grace” they are unaware. There are parts of Baltimore in these films that speak beyond the preconceived notions that Baltimore is some 3rd World country in the United States.
So to name specific Black filmmakers & writers who cannot escape into the mainstream flow would be a study that would take years & years to compile. Just as when we hear the term that Eminem is the greatest M.C. in Hip-Hop, do you know how many Black or Latino (Hip-Hop came from the Bronx & from the Black American & Latino experiences to put poetry & music into a music culture that had the elements to make it significant) M.C.’s & rappers are left in the cold because of the white writer or lover of our culture, plights & issues run with the opportunity to be our writer, director, producer, & the controller of our freedom to express ourselves?
How can I name a specific, when we are talking about cultural oppression in putting our stories into a realm where the editors (your newspaper days) & producers (your HBO days) can relate to you, Mr. Simon, because you look like them, you live in their neighborhood. HBO built your Niña, Pinta & Santa Maria. You are a safe journey for them. Now, you are an exceptional writer, so my position is not one to layer out your writing—I am talking about the content, the core of the ocean.
I would love to see a Baltimore or a world that Dr. King mentioned in his, “I Have A Dream” speech. But, as the great Malcolm X once said, “Whites can help us, but they can’t join us. There can be no black, white unity until there is first some black unity. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”
However, I expect you not to see it my way & this is fine. But as I always say to the people who ask me about Blacks, Baltimore & the Wire, “Baltimore is bigger than the Wire.”
Baltimore is bigger than the “The Wire” to be sure. Bigger than any single narrative. I’m certainly glad, for example, that the Sun was a vehicle for you as the NYT was a vehicle for D.Watkins. It’s certainly my hope that more black filmmakers will find their way to HBO and elsewhere.
I’m having trouble with The Sun website, as an aside. What day did your piece run? I can find it that way, as your link isn’t working for me.
Bottom line: There are stories that I do not know and can’t tell, and stories by a multitude of others that need to be told and heard. And telling whatever stories I do, doesn’t change who I am or allow me to claim membership or even alliance with any ethnic or religious group other than my own. Perhaps it bears noting that I didn’t wake up at any moment with the express plan of writing some stories that involved African-Americans.
I got hired out of college by the Baltimore Sun and assigned to cover crime on the city desk in a town that was majority black. I did the best I could and then instead of getting sensibly promoted to another beat, I got more and more interested in systemic issues such as the drug war. To this moment, I don’t think I have ever thought of myself as writing about the black experience. I don’t think I have. I’ve written about dynamics and systems that matter to me.
We will not agree on the overall, but we do agree in points. And we are probably close enough in certain respects to have a good, circular argument — which I enjoy. I am headed back to NY for film editing, but I would probably enjoy sharing a cup of coffee and debating this further, if you don’t mind me contacting you by email at some future point. Assuming you are presently in Baltimore.
David, I believe that the world listening to you about Black Baltimore goes deeper than just your progress & fate that allowed you the passageway to be successful with HBO or with your literary work. If Spike Lee had made Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg) or Charles Burnett had made Sophie’s Choice (Alan J. Pakula), would the trajectory of two Black filmmakers stepping outside of explaining their typical Black experiences be uninteresting to the masses, because these two men do not know about the Jewish experience? One has to think about this, if we summarize this whole concept of how white filmmakers, writers, & directors can genre jump with the machine behind them to push their work to the masses. People (the industry) expect a Spike Lee Joint or for Charles Burnett to make some small film with a narrative that is conscience to the Black man, woman & child, which is not that of a pimp or hooker.
I am in Baltimore this weekend. Of course, we can meet for coffee.
My e-mail: [email protected]
Feel free to write to me there & I will give you my contact number.
The date that my article was published: 27th of April, 2:45 p.m., the title is Police and Black Baltimore, written by Shaun La.
If this is not effective, just let me know in an e-mail & I will try sending the direct link in a reply.
Will be in touch. As I said, I am on the way back to NY next week to finish some editing. But soon. Coffee on me.
Safe travels & enjoy your weekend.
Shaun, I’m wondering if Schindler’s list is particularly the right film to bring up in this debate. I wouldn’t say it’s really about the Jewish Experience – The themes that come up in that film seem to be more about the moral truths of an individual overcoming his sense of self-preservation in a society that has chosen a horrifically immoral path, and the “list” is the living testament to his heroism. In this sense, perhaps what we see is Steven Spielberg telling what is more aptly viewed as a German story.
Sophie’s Choice is more directly related to the Jewish experience, and was actually directed by a jewish director, Alan J. Pakula. What’s interesting about that, is that Mr. Pakula also directed “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is more a less the story of a white person’s awakening to the concept of Civil Rights. Now, that film is pretty well regarded too, but it’s director was a White Jewish man from the Bronx. What right did he have to tell Scout’s story, her being a young christian girl from the south? Furthermore, extending this logic to the plot itself, does Atticus Finch not have a right to tell Tom Robinson’s story by defending him in court, because he cannot come from a place of identical understanding? Should Harper Lee have not written her story about a broken America in the first place?
And what about Quentin Tarantino telling his revisionist revenge tales with “Django”, a story about a black slave, and “Inglorious Basterds”, a story about jewish men trying to kill Hitler? To be honest, I dislike both these films, but that puts me in a very small group. An even smaller group is the one which questions whether or not he has earned the right to tell those stories.
And why are you focusing on Spike Lee? The man has done his share of genre jumping. Yes, he was responsible for films specifically about race and violence, such as “Do the Right Thing,” one of my favorite films, and Malcolm X. But he also directed “Old Boy,” originally a Korean film based on a manga, (whose only fault was being a pretty unnecessary and watered down remake) and “Inside Man”, which in my opinion was a pretty great and underrated heist film.
My point is, why are you holding David Simon to a standard that no artist, writer, or storyteller working today actually holds themselves to, (Alfonso Cuaron, first film “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, writes/directs blockbusters Gravity and Children of Men, Guillermo Del Toro bounces from personal spanish projects “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone” to writing and directing “Hellboy” and “Pacific Rim”. Stanley Kubrick isn’t Russian and didn’t fight in Vietnam, but he gives us the films Lolita and Full Metal Jacket.) These are all fine films, made with the power of empathy, not with personal experience.
All this too, particularly when it’s clear that David’s goals aren’t even aligned with what you imagine them to be. Earlier in these comments, David remarks (I paraphrase) that he found many people’s reading of the Wire to be more cynical than it is meant to be. I agree; I’ve read Homicide as well, and watched both the Wire and Treme through a few times through (I suppose by your logic, the Wire by David Simon should have lasted one season, and have been a buddy cop show, in which McNulty and Prez investigate the Sobotkas, and Treme could have ended with Creighton’s suicide).
What I admire most about your writing, Mr. Simon, (And I’m afraid I’m in the drooling variety of fanboy) is how well you identify and explain problems, which is the most important step to finding the solutions. It is both methodical without feeling forced, as eye-opening as it is entertaining. Be that as it may, I would think it highly inappropriate to introduce you to others by saying, “Oh, he writes excellent stories about black people.” Come to think of it, I can’t think of anyone who has defined your work in that manner, until seeing this conversation.
So, Shaun, what I’m wondering is how far exactly does this logic extend. This is important to me because I’m currently writing a novel that centers around the theme of violence, which contains references to and characters involved with these riots and protests. Some of these characters are black, and I have wondered about the rights that I have, as a white kid who grew up miles away from this explosive form of racial tension, to include those stories in my work. Is this something I should avoid, in your view?
Once, a professor in a film class outright asked me what my opinion on abortion was. I told her that I felt uncomfortable giving an opinion on the subject, because I lacked the critical knowledge of being a woman, with a woman’s pregnant body. She asked me, “That’s interesting. But aren’t you a human being?”
I haven’t written about abortion yet, either, but I haven’t really come up with a good answer for her either.
Look into Spike Lee & Charles Burnett. How can you not mention Black filmmaking, & not mention Spike Lee?
Yes, the man does digress & can be a bit irrational, but he has written & directed more films that has advanced Black actors, actresses, & cinematographers more than any other Black filmmaker/writer in the history of cinema. Besides Oscar Micheaux, the man is the most prolific Black filmmaker ever, & in the last 30 years, he is the most prolific after Woody Allen. Speaking of Wood Allen, was it not Woody who answered the question about not having enough Black people in his films with the following reason & this is not a direct quote, but he stated something along the lines that he could not write about Blacks, because he feels as though he does not know enough about Blacks? His life is about Upper Manhattan, stories of growing up Jewish with a witty sense of humor or when he does the drama pieces, White women dealing with life.
All that you explained points right back to my basis that BLACKS do not have a say in their films. Was it not Ava who said that Selma was criticized because it did not have enough White people in it—or that it left out the Jewish contributions to Dr. King’s movement?
Spielberg is a genius, & I am sure that part of the reason why Schindler’s List has so much success, mainstream wise to the scholarly appreciation that guides it into being played in some high-schools curriculum for study & discussion is because the director is Jewish.
We still live in a society where a White actress can wear makeup & play a Black woman, because she has a name.
Get out of here with those diversions of trying to explain a logic that can not be measured.
Blacks in cinema & in the Arts (overall) has been having their stories stolen & cultures recycled for centuries.
Your answer to your professor’s question about abortion was an answer, it might not have been an answer that sits on contemplation, but it was an answer.
Some topics, you can touch with your fingertips, & other topics you can pick up with your hands.
Blacks going thru Oppression is not a fingertip topic. There is no way in the world that you could tell me that if Charles Burnett wanted to make a cable series about the riots in L.A. or the gang life in L.A., it would be approved by HBO or Showtime.
This is neither here nor there. It doesn’t validate “The Wire” or me. It is an ad hominem endorsement and therefore as subjective as any other critique that one might offer. But, still, I can’t resist.
You bring up Spike. He, um, loved “The Wire.”
David, some one mentioned the Wire. I did not say that it validated you as a writer. As I stated earlier, you are an exceptional writer. But, if Picasso had painted the Black Chicago that Gordon Parks lived in—I would still say that Picasso was an exceptional painter, but…..
I respect Spike Lee & I called out his comments of liking The Wire as well. This is the same man who called out Tyler Perry for his modern minstrel shows, but he applauded two White men who wrote about Black Baltimore, won money, fame & more production deals. Yet, he had an issue with Spielberg doing the Color Purple or Mann directing Ali. Then he got on Clint for not having Blacks in his two films covering World War II. However, he made this rant when his film Miracle of St. Anna was about to premier, a year or so after those set of films from Clint.
I never said that Spike was perfect, but I can not knock his accomplishments as a Black man who has went against the mainstream Hollywood system—the man is the higher level of success that the LA Film School of Black filmmakers & writers were aiming for.
He is another mind that I would like to sit across from & have coffee with. I am willing to bet that after he spoke with me, he would have a different viewpoint of accepting The Wire as a complete whole portion of Baltimore—at the very least, he would have a Black Baltimore man point of view to merge into what he saw on television from you & what he would be hearing from me.
I’m honestly not tracking. When Spike calls out what you want him to call out, he’s insightful? When he doesn’t, he’s in error?
Look, I don’t care if you like anything I write or not. And I don’t buy into any straight-out-of-1974 declarations about who can tell what story. I hold that stuff in low regard, to be sure. But I don’t expect you to be convinced.
But the intellectual dishonesty of evaluating art based on a compartmentalizing of the artist is just fundamental. If Picasso went to the south or westside of Chicago and painted the Great Migration scenes that inspired Jacob Lawrence, those might well be some amazing works of art. They wouldn’t be the work of Lawrence, but they’d be Picasso and they could well be of considerable merit. And if Lawrence found himself in Guernica and painted the fascist torment of that place, it wouldn’t be Picasso but I think it would probably be quite resonant as well. The human heart can travel, Shaun.
But do you know the only thing that would prove or disprove my above assertion?
Yup. The paintings.
David, that would not be Picasso if he painted the South side of Chicago. Those odd shapes (dare not to call it abstract) would fall flat if this European stood in the same locations where Black Chicago in the 1940’s rivaled Harlem with Blacks being independently cultured with a society within a community. Then again, who knows, maybe Picasso would have won a bunch of awards & respect with being an Eye who saw the sufferings or the successes of Blacks in an inner city America.
Again, another explorer. Picasso did utilize African masks for some of his art-work, so I guess he had some form of understanding that the resources leading up to being called Art can be powerful if it is guided by a White European.
An Artist has a choice. Oh, I did not state that you being an exceptional writer as a praise. Do not confuse my acknowledgement as a measurement of approving your work or not. I stated this, to let people who are fans of The Wire or any of your other literary or television works know that I am not talking about the surface context of your show (s) or bookwork. As in, I do not like the cast, the narrative or any other surface critique that fans of the show argue with people who are not fans.
Of course you are going to think or favor the conception that anybody can write about anything, without having to address the serious nature of it–if they decide to dive into the depths of racism, oppression & a system that favors one race over the other.
If you did sit-comedy work, I would not say one word to your witty approach to making races laugh at punchlines.
This is the mere reason why Black writers & filmmakers are asked to edit their “too Black-ness” or “Pro-Black” stances in their works. Perhaps, this is why some of their works do not get the green-light. We can play the gangster, mystical drug-dealer, but that producer’s, network executive’s chair or that head writer hat is not made for us.
I do not even complain about it anymore.
As you stated, you are not buying into that 1974 declaration—I did not know that Black history or the cultural ramifications of the past, present & the future was on sale.
I guess if there is script mindset to it all, I would be judging on what to buy or not to buy as well.
Wow, you know Picasso inside and out. Pretty cool. You don’t even need to look at the paintings. I get it.
I always found Picasso presence as an Artist to be polar opposites of success battling the need to be original.
Leah Dickerman from MoMa did a terrific interview about Abstract painting on Charlie Rose, some months ago. In was in this interview where she declared that Picasso got close to the edges of Abstract & then stepped away without ever returning to such a movement.
Not to digress from the topic at hand, I just wanted to explain some strings tied to my point.
In the simplest of English: Mr. Simon you’re not getting IT.
At one of the most fundamental levels, it appears extremely important for you personally to see these struggles as being primarily about class. Conversely, for almost 100 million people of color experiencing everyday life in this country under a system founded (and partly, first codified in none other than 1650’s Maryland, I might add) inarguably on the concept of white supremacy, that perspective is literally insulting to both their intelligences and the realities of their accumulated life experiences.
Why? Because if we will be brutally honest, every one of those 100 million people continue to carry the constant weight of still instantly being capable of being reduced to non-human stereotypes (and by extension tragedies), at a moments notice, in a society still predicated on white supremacy. No matter what their level of achievement. President, talk-show billionairess, world-renowned university professor, or driver with broken tail-light. And as such, living in at least some degree of perpetual fear of the self-perpetuating institutions of that white supremacy at all times. The recognition of that fundamental fact has been a literal matter of life and death for them for over 350 years. And they have never had the luxury of viewing it through the lens of it being both a “race” and “class” struggle. Since the first shiploads arrived on the eastern shores of the Atlantic, they’ve had to learn in unfathomably microscopic detail what “CRAZY” looks, smells, tastes, sounds and feels like. Or else! And as such, your adamance in the rightness of your analysis of what THEY should consider “crazy” in America is unintentionally (one would hope) insulting to 100 million people. Because they have been forced to live it every second of every day. Or else. While you have the privileged option of taking time off from such considerations whenever you feel the need, without consequence. And as “Shaun” somewhat mentioned, even potentially going into a completely different realm of the entertainment field, if you so desire to escape the craziness. Likewise, you have the option of being wrong in your analysis of what’s going on here, with potentially only “embarrassing” consequences. Thus rendering endless debates about the intersection between race and class a very “fascinating” exercise. They, on the other hand, literally DIE when they guess wrong about how to define “CRAZY” in a white supremacist society. It’s fascinating and passionate stuff for you “most of the time”. But for them it is a perpetual matter of life and death at ALL times. With the fundamental implication of that being that they have a multitude of reasons why they HAVE TO know much, much more about this stuff than you.
Now back to the IT part that you keep missing…
Not one word of these debates should even remotely begin to imply that white people are therefore unqualified to write and/or speak about things related to the realities of the lives of minorities!!! That’s clearly where your oversized hot button is that’s causing you to not hear the rest of what’s being said!!! In fact, in a white supremacist society, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future it’s still predominantly the white writers and speakers like yourself that are going to most often be in a position to get the ear of those in power. So, unquestionably, people like yourself play an astronomically huge role in relaying the things you’ve observed. But understand emphatically, that no matter how much you’ve invested to this point you’re still strictly an observer. And as such, there is a very large percentage of the more subtle realities of life as a minority in a white supremacist nation that you’re never going to have the slightest hint about. Even if you’re the most dedicated observer that has ever lived!
So the IT (of all this mostly wasteful noise) is suppose to simply be a not-so-subtle reminder to be enormously respectful, at all times, of how much you CAN’T know. Regardless of how much time you’ve spent working there. And likewise, regardless of how passionate you may get about this stuff sometimes. So therefore, this is a reminder to periodically remember to acknowledge to those in power (and more importantly, to those you are reporting on) that you are, in fact, strictly a limited observer and reporter. And as such, there are much more deeply invested and passionate voices than yours, being systemically stifled right now, that truly must to be heard eventually…or else!!! Because if this incredibly brutal system of white supremacy is to finally be dismantled (peacefully, as you insist), then it is an absolute imperative that those very people at the bottom must eventually have a full seat (and full voice) at the table of real power. And not just have their messages relayed by very, very passionate, honest, thoughtful, kind, sympathetic (and a host of other adjectives), observers.
That’s the IT.
In the simplest of terms, I’m not buying it. I believe what I believe and I write what I write. If it has no merit for you, or if you disagree with either the premise or the execution, then surely, you should avoid my work. Which is fine.
Holy Shit Batman!!!
I’m not sure what you were trying to convey with that, but on the surface of it it sounds like…
Leni Riefenstahl and D.W. Griffith eat your hearts out!!!
I agree. I don’t think you are sure what I conveyed either.
I doubt if they will ever have us at the table, & if they do, we won’t be able to sit down, because there is not enough chairs in the room for us to enjoy the invite. Just as we were maids & butlers, awaiting orders—we still await orders on how we should tell out stories. Then, people wonder why we are frustrated when we see some White corporation makes a visit to our communities, get the content, win the awards, profit with huge recoups, cast some Black actors & actresses, sell the show, the soundtrack & the story with interviews & fame.
No, we won’t ever be seated at the power table. What kind of power would want to give up, fame, fortune, & fun?
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I greatly disagree!!!
Georgie, disagreeing is your right. I am an optimist, but as a Black man, I do not see Blacks sitting at the power table while being respected enough to have a voice in the meeting about their issues. If it does happen, I doubt that it will evolve in my Lifetime.
Oppression is foundation. Even if we get rid of racism, another, “Ism” will come into its place & the next level will be built on Oppression.
Dr. King was a remarkable man & thinker, but so was Malcolm X. & The Black Panthers. There are so many aspects to being Black, worldwide that the global powers that spin does not want equality.
Slavery was the biggest business ever. You have years & years of not paying someone to tend to the oppressor’s land or product. Then you take that structure & apply it to a philosophical balance towards saying that a Black person is property—free them as your property & teach them a lesson in wanting “freedom” by segregating when you want control or desegregating when you want to use something from our culture.
I have heard political commentators & talk-show hosts mention that Baltimore has a Black mayor, a lot of Black officers & a Black City D.A..
We have a Black President as well. Just because you put the power of position into an accomplishment as the 1st Black or that many Blacks are in the leadership seat (I say standing up just like butlers & maids awaiting orders) it does not justify that they have the control. Checks & Balances is not just a doctrine for democracy, it is controlling method that is unseen as well.
White supremacy is morally wrong. And as such it is not a sustainable concept. Period! People will not continue to fight for something that they ultimately know is morally. At best it’s adherents will eventually become indifferent. But sooner or later the immorality of it will cause it to collapse under it’s own weight. It’s strictly a question of when.
Georgie, I agree with you, it is morally wrong, but power is a selfish ambition & I doubt if equality will become humble enough to say, “hey, let us all share the power.”
We are so high-tech today, we can build space shuttles, send out e-mails, hold video calls from a mobile device. Yet, race is still a topic that meets, “Oh, that was in the past, Blacks, Latinos & the Jews are this or that,” let us talk about right now.
Historical wise, World War II, the Civil Rights movement & immigration issues that date back can be as close as Mexico to the U.S. are not that old. Those issues were only a century ago.
So, that question of when can end up being a perpetual question.
Just for grins and giggles, you might want to peruse the first couple comments under the “Maryland Festival” posting. I think you’ll find the similarities to this particular exchange rather “interesting”.
“Years ago when “The Wire” was on the air, people use to question me about why I would decline to watch it; I would answer, “two white men are the creators of this show, and one is a former Baltimore City cop.” I knew that I would lose them if I went into the details like I did in the paragraphs above this one, so I would stop my reasoning right there.”
Woah…Did you really never even watch it? I mean that’s fine, watch whatever you want, but criticizing the author without even becoming familiar with the work puts me in mind of all those parent’s preventing their kids from reading Harry Potter because “It promoted Satanism”. I was wondering why your accusations sounded so general; I would be interested to know precisely what you think the Wire got wrong.
TORGO, no I did not watch the Wire. However, I did watch some episodes of Homicide, & I did watch The Corner mini-series. You said that I generalized, yet you are doing the same thing.
A child does not need to know what a tree looks like in order to put the puzzle piece together to recognize the shape of a tree. He or she is will pick up the pieces while being raised in their household, whenever they hear the description of a tree from their parents. This is why parents smile when a child point at a tree & retort out aloud, “Tr-e-e.”
I was born & raised in East Baltimore. In one year during the 1990’s, I lost 30 something family or friends to murder. There have been times when I would be hanging out on a social level, & I would be with 5 of my friends, sitting around on the steps, Summer time Baltimore & it would hit me that all of us have been shot—myself included. I came up in the Baltimore school system. There are friends of mine doing hundreds of years in prison.
Not to mention, the real life drug-dealers whose lives were mirrored in some of those Wire episodes, I knew them, either their family or friends.
Even though I did not watch the show, I would hear people talk about it. So, it was not hard for me to figure out that the same two White men who was painting this visual picture of Baltimore with mainstream success were not from the same Black Baltimore that I was born & raised in.
My parents died in Baltimore, they are buried in Baltimore. I learned how to read & write in Baltimore, picked up my 1st camera in Baltimore, my 1st girlfriend was from Baltimore.
If I was some man from Iowa talking about, “I do not watch the Wire” & I had these views, perhaps your generalizing question & assumption might hold a balancing act.
However, Baltimore is on my mind, every day. Even when I am in New York or lost in some other city, Baltimore makes me think.
I can not explain to you what The Wire got wrong. You see people tend to defend their favorite show(s). Which is fine. I did not ever say that The Wire suck or it had bad acting with a incomplete storyline.
I am talking about the core. You are asking me to explain the Soul, which is more about feeling than being poetically real with words.
I’m a white woman whose life is far removed from West Baltimore. Injustice and inequality have always been of interest to me. I loved The Wire – it showed both the systemic root causes of the problems and a look at the real human toll those problems take. I felt the systemic piece made it unique.
I didn’t feel it was some sort of voyeuristic exploitation, or some sort of presentation of “The Story of Black America.” It was one story among many although those stories are pathetically underrepresented in our media and in our awareness.
A lot of your points resonate with me. I have many experiences of not being heard, especially when the same words spoken by me and by a points made by me and by a male are received differently. Men are often conferred a greater authority which edges out and eventually drowns out the rest of us. I know that frustration.
When that happens, though, is it fair to blame the proverbial messenger? Especially when that messenger is well-intended and open to helping to change the system? When the messenger is using his/her standing in society to bring about change?
You speak of the movie Schindler’s List, but what about Schindler himself? He was part of the power structure that committed genocide; as an insider he even benefited from it.. He used that privilege to do good work from the inside, despite personal failings and his inability to save everyone or to save perfectly.
I guess my rambling point is this — in your estimation, what is the appropriate role for someone like me? Sometimes I feel like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It seems like you are saying here that Simon should stop writing about West Baltimore and we should all stick to our own visceral experiences. Is that what you are saying and how would that ever change the world?
Good day Katie. I think that you took on the surface points of The Wire & Schindler’s List & applied them into a commonality that has the “reality” cover but with The Wire, such a reality cover is not necessarily the core. People can say whatever they want about the film, “Schindler’s List” but when the debate about who made the film (even thought he bookwork was from a man who is not Jewish, the visual language from a Jewish filmmaker made the book alive again), what was the intention of such a film? The intention points back to a Jewish filmmaker taking on an important historical event under horrible & idiotic conditions directly & indirectly linked to an ignorant world leader (Hitler) who had so many issues.
I find it revealing that some white people who I have met or had some correspondence with tend to think that I am ordering David Simon to stop writing about West Baltimore or Black Baltimore in general. When in fact, I have not said or wrote that in any of my statements or responses.
I guess that these same people take my questioning or communication as a challenge to stop. Which is baffling to me.
My point is this, how can a white man speak or explain Black Baltimore & its issues to a core reason? Then you see these political answers where as, Baltimore has this problem & that problem, if we fix this, the Blacks in Baltimore will have a better chance at being a success story.
I just think some white people should just be quiet when it comes to addressing the issues that are heavy in the Black community. Yes, I understand that some white people may have the urge to help, from running into an African nation & adopting a child, or marching along some protest in the inner city while reflecting enough to remember to get some book or television material to make your “artist” voice louder than the protestors. I do not want to deconstruct someone’s compassion, because the World certainly requires a lot more good energy. But being quiet is a powerful energy as well. There were Jewish leaders who helped Dr. King, could you imagine if their names overshadowed Dr. King? Of course, back then, the nature of being opportunistic did not have the wheels of becoming famous thru social media & people knew their place a lot more keenly than today. However, even the so-called equality banter that the outsiders bring forth can overshadow those who suffer from the racism & inequality. The major networks who were camped out in West Baltimore knew who to interview—they knew how to script a “news story” to be swallowed up by some political base that these major news networks market towards. How is that philosophically different than what HBO put forth with The Wire?
I remember when I heard that Charles Dutton pitched a show to HBO about Blacks being given back half of the United States & from there, they would govern themselves. Did it receive a green-light from HBO? To my understanding, it did not. That was the first & the last time that I heard of such a show pitched. Charles is from Black Baltimore. Yeah, people are quick to toss up the logic that famous Blacks, filmmakers or actors & even politicians love The Wire. But that is all surface. You can go on You Tube & find someone doing something silly & that video footage could have 120,00,000,000 views—does that constitute it being real? We confuse fame or followers as a form of success that dignifies the surface. Nobody said that the show sucks—even though I have not watched the show, from the adverts, the cinematography, editing & the actors looked professional.
Yet, I am talking about the core.
I wonder if the mighty writer & poet Gil Scott Heron had some prediction laced insight when he said, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Could it be that he understood that the producers, writers & directors would not be of the same struggles—the opportunity to cash out while writing about us when it was not from us would become a level beyond the realm of propaganda? Oh, Gil had to know about the effects of Blaxploitation being bigger than the silver-screen.
So big, that I bet that some outsider is reading my words right now, going to use it & not even credit me. This is how we live today. See it, use it, distant yourself from it & call it what you want.
It is like European colonialism towards Africa—but on a level of using Black actors, actresses, an urban city narrative, white producers, a white mainstream cable network & then when the ratings goes thru the roof, who win the awards? When these Black actors & actresses excel in their career, who do they thank for allowing them their big break into the industry? That show about being Black or Black issues, but was not produced, written or directed by Blacks.
This tradition of Blacks not telling our own stories run thru a century or more of neglect, it expands beyond just America. Just as in Africa during the 20th Century, specific nations would shut down African filmmakers who made content that was not kind to the European governments that was subsidizing the government & its economy.
So step back & look at how Martian Scorsese can always say that he is Italian & his badge of visually showing his culture in various lights from the mafia to Jake LaMotta without exploiting his culture, because he has the right to see his people his way. The same can be said about Francis Ford Coppola & the Godfather films. People can say what they wish about Francis & Mario Puzo, but when the critique stops, they have a cultural voice that expresses how they see lives, & customs of their people. There are core to their stories.
I am sure that if some Black child located anywhere in this world happen to see an all Black cast & crew working on a mainstream film or television show, being broadcasted on a major network owned by Black executives, it would confidently change their world view that they could be a part of that Black World.
Thanks for the follow up. Much food for thought.
A much more simplistic response to your original question…
Do absolutely everything you can conceivably do. But understand emphatically it’s about raising up their history, their lives and their voices to full equality.
So if we turn on the TV and see: “CNN Live reporting on race from Baltimore, starring Katie.” Followed shortly by, “NBC News special report, on race, with special guest Katie.” And then, “HBO’s premieres it’s newest show on race, presented by Katie”. And lastly, “join us for an all-white panel discussion on ‘Meet The Press’ about our race problems, starring Katie”. You quickly start to give rise to the question that it’s STILL probably not about them, it’s about you.
That’s fundamentally what the perpetuation of white supremacy is: Always being in a position of preeminence even when it’s situations that very clearly are not suppose to be. And in many cases, even looks downright idiotic to even the casual person of color.
So does this imply that whites should be excluded? Not one tiny bit.
Just simply not perpetually THE preeminent voice when it comes to race.
Good day & you are welcome, Katie.
Peace to you & your new week as well.
It is becoming quite fascinating to see the similarities, at a “core” level, of what you and I are trying to convey, using nonetheless very, very different wording. In no uncertain terms, I agree emphatically with what you are fundamentally trying to say here (ESPECIALLY when you bring Gil Scott-Heron into the equation -LOL)!
Alas, I think you are soon going to be going on without me here.
I’ve expressed the sentiment repeatedly here that there is one single thread that ties that first tribesman standing on the banks of the Niger river, who ended up in the bowels of a slave-ship, with every AA since that time: The need to quickly and decisively identify “CRAZY”… …and very, very quickly get the living hell away from it!!!
…and I think I’m starting to smell something crazy off in the distance.
So, I think I’ll be here a bit longer… but, I suspect, not very much longer.
And one final thought: Based on current and projected WORLD population demographics, I don’t think the end of this 500-year old lie that is white supremacy is anywhere near as far off as you tend to think.
George, I know that I may be late with my response, I have been busy. Even if the near is closer, the concept of something being perpetual will recycle itself into other forms. People barely want to talk about race on a worldly platform, outside of the major news networks or the mainstream elements that want to publish a book or green-light a television show.
You actually have people who believe that racism does not even exist, because we have our 1st Black U.S. President or that Oprah is a Black woman who is a billionaire.
So, I go right back to the core, where Black families have to deal with a cheap inner city educational system, a prison system that could be connected to racial profiling (some cases, not all, I am not saying empty the prisons but to look at the cycle of Blacks feeding that prison food chain) in the justice system & then our stories end up being budgeted for films, television shows, or a album full of music—only to be played over a mobile phone commercial where we see white actors or models dance to a radio-friendly hit that edited out the N-Word.
Of course, we are closer than you think if you are coming down on racism because it is trendy.
Meanwhile, my Black race is still marching, different causes but against the same Oppression, which is not trendy but traditional, & by the way, those 500 years of consistency made it a tradition.
Thanks for this and the panel tonight. I believe that transformative change is necessary, and I don’t like the easy policy prescriptions that can often flow off the tongue in our op-ed culture.
But the concept of transformational change can be a different sort of con. I don’t see how institutions transform other than by relentlessly pushing a slew of discrete, sometimes seemingly boring individual reforms. Though we need the motivation and depth it provides, we have enough searching, moving commentary about American poverty to last ten lifetimes. I think sometimes that by reading it and viewing it I am tricking myself into thinking that I am helping. Of course, those who make it are actually helping–it’s just that the audience is often comprised of people who don’t lack for money or awareness to pass a bill, rebuild a block, save a life. We see moments of opportunity for transformational change, but often simply wait to be transformed.
Perhaps it’s time to take policymaking back from academic journals, ALEC, and the developers. What would you like your readers to do tomorrow, next week, next month? How about your top three discrete changes nationally, and your top three locally?
Good questions. I’m on the spot. I’ll try to post something explicit this weekend in reply.
“Until it isn’t.”
Until it’s taken more like. I love what you have to say, but I can’t help thinking it’s simplistic hippy shit most of the time. The world has never changed through peaceful protest. It’s just not the case. That’s the ideal, sure, but it rejects human-nature, let’s not forget the horizontal violence perpetuated by the aggressors. Every significant change throughout history has come through bloodshed on the streets. Maybe I don’t see the same movies as you do, or watch the same documentaries, or read the same books. I just don’t buy into “if we can just love each other, everything will be alright”. It won’t.
Thanks David. I don’t begrudge Ta-Nehisi his comments from the last couple weeks given all the deep diving he’s done the past few years into the history of slavery and white supremacy and all the violence upon black bodies that history entails. Still, I agree with you about the politics of the moment, the window of reform they offer, and how easily friends of zero tolerance could ride a riot’s coattails. Moreover, as a small-potatoes journalist, I was glad to see some comment on why it was important to you to wade into the field of White House optics and mostly staged conversation. Thanks also for the blog. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
I don’t begrudge Ta-Nehisi anything. I think he’s one of the most valuable voices on this stuff we have. When he pulls me up on something, chances are I need to at least think twice. Were you at the panel tonight?
I wish I’d been at that damn panel! Eagerly awaiting the you tube post so I can catch it from out here in southern Colorado. Hope all involved got their money’s worth.
It was mostly our talking about trying to get our heads around the substance of Taylor Branch’s amazing trilogy.
And because of the drug war (along with insidious, unyielding woman-hatred), we find ourselves at a similar moment of reckoning when it comes to rape. New York and L.A., and then Baltimore, NOLA, Cleveland, Memphis, Cook County, Detroit, St. Louis, Houston, and other places that don’t have a savvy reporter or bold advocates making noise about it yet–they all have UCR rape numbers that are speciously close to their homicide numbers. And they tossed tens of thousands of rape kits on warehouse shelves for decades, especially when the victims were poor, dark-skinned, young, or disabled.
It seems with police brutality that the nation is having a long-overdue wake-up moment, and as you described in this post, there are calls from all sides for accountability. But not so with law enforcement’s gargantuan failure to investigate rape. Rape is in the spotlight lately, and all that awareness is an accomplishment in itself. But by and large, it’s seen as a law enforcement training issue (which it certainly is to an extent) and a forensics issue (which it also is, but not nearly to the extent Law & Order has convinced people it is). That rape has essentially not been regarded as a crime by police and prosecutors in so many major American cities, especially over the past 30 years as rape awareness has grown, is also a direct result of the drug war and its subsumption of money, resources, and attention.
Everyone wants to fix the rape problem these days. That sure is nice, but it’s really time to recognize that fixing the rape problem means ending the drug war, too.
Yeah, Baltimore’s been known to toss some spoiled rape kits (b/c of a bad evidence refridgerator) in the dumpster before. Whoops.
There was also a case some years ago where the BPD refused to take a report from a prostitute who wanted to file a rape claim, and she subsequently went to the hospital for an independent kit which indicated she had in fact been raped. I think that woman sued, but I never heard any follow-up on whether she settled.
Mr. Simon, I agree with your message but do you think those policemen would have been charged but for the riots?
Maybe, maybe not. At this point, I feel obliged to give the state’s attorney the benefit of the doubt. She charged as soon as the autopsy and police reports were available to her.
But let me turn that around on you. Do you think that Ms. Mosby was right to charge the officers, and to do as promptly and as aggressively as she did? If you do, then concede that you diminish her integrity and performance by saying that the riots helped to decide the matter. And further, acknowledge the truth that had Ms. Mosby been able to act without the trauma of rioting as her preamble, that she and her action would not be subject to the cynical critique now in evidence in the mainstream media and among the right-leaning commentators that says she charged on something other than the evidence.
The riots were no friend to Ms. Mosby. Her actions look better amid a backdrop of non-violent protest, to be sure.
I agree that they were charged for the right reasons, as should have the officers in Ferguson, Staten Island and every other place this kind of atrocity happens… and I am ignorant of the timelines of when things were available to her (or not). Not to mention that I am in no way qualified or equipped to judge a Civic employee’s actions, or lack thereof because I have no clue what they have to deal with on a daily basis….
I just don’t know (and want to believe) that the riots didn’t have anything to do with it. That’s what you’ve been preaching (and I am in agreement) on this forum. I cant say that for a fact though…because to me (and much of America) they charged as soon as the riots went out of hand.
True. They also charged after the OCME autopsy findings and the police investigative file were handed over. They couldn’t have done it sooner.
I have concerns about the second-degree murder charge against the one officer, but the case for involuntary manslaughter in a negligent death seems viable.
Staten Island, I don’t understand how they avoided involuntary manslaughter. North Charleston was firmly handled. Ferguson? That was awful police work, if not rank incompetence. But once they found Michael Brown’s blood inside the vehicle and the officer’s claim of a fight for the gun was at least partially corroborated, I couldn’t see an indictment from that grand jury.
“Do you think that Ms. Mosby was right to charge the officers, and to do as promptly and as aggressively as she did?”
I wish the police had turned their reports over to her a week prior and the charges been made then, how about that? Then all this would have been avoided to begin with.
But as I said above — waiting for reports of highly suspicious civilian-in-custody deaths released in timely fashion from the BPD these days? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL
I don’t know who you’re talking to that thinks Mosby looks bad. I haven’t met or talked to one Baltimorean (and many outside the city, really) in the past week who isn’t in love with her and rooting for her to be, like, the first black female President. The guys were putting on fresh shirts and doing their hair talking about wanting to go holler at her but I had to tell them their shot was slim.
Oh, wait, maybe you were talking about Fraternal Order of Police. Yeah, they’re not happy with her. BIG SURPRISE.
KT, death investigation isn’t done in an hour or two. It takes time to work up the investigative reports. A post-mortem alone from the OCME, which is a state agency and over which neither the BPD nor the SAO has control, requires some time-eating testing procedures. I’m not making this up to thwart your scattershot criticisms of everything that doesn’t please you with its promptness. I watched about two hundred prosecutions close up. In the cases where cause and manner of death were complex — i.e. not a gunshot wound with witnesses, for example — the investigation could go on for quite a while. Unless, you prefer charging people on half-assed and incomplete information. That’s prompt, alright, but it offers other problems.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, I am not a smart man, but I know nobody severs their own spine, and I know regardless of any other circumstances there is no excuse for police to repeatedly refuse to call for medical attention. Those facts have been known from day one.
A post-mortem determines cause and manner of death to a legal precision that allows authorities to charge murder or manslaughter. A pathologist doesn’t merely determine the most obvious or apparent fatal injury, he determines whether that is the only explanation for death. He eliminates all other possible causes, or preceding or contributing trauma. For example, a tox screen makes it clear that a victim such as Mr. Gray hadn’t overdosed in the wagon contemporaneous to the neck injury. Did he go flying into a wagon bulkhead because the driver was rough-riding a handcuffed unrestrained man? Or did it happen to a man who had already lost consciousness? A tox screen is therefore part of every autopsy.
This may seem like a matter of little consequence or weak speculation to you. But imagine the mayhem that results when a prosecutor charges second-degree murder claiming that the driver showed reckless disregard for the manner in which the victim was transported, and then a defense attorney produces a tox report with a lethal level of opiates and tells the jury that there was no way for the police to know that the man in the back of the wagon was going to do an unguarded header into the bulkhead.
And further, all that could be known about the narrative chronology of Mr. Gray’s time in the wagon — all of the stops, and all of the repetitive failures to render him medical assistance — could only be known after the police officers had made statements, which the LEO bill of rights that is Maryland law, regrettably, delays for a notable interim. The detectives, the prosecutors all had to wait days to obtain those full statements.
Yet you want a prompt criminal charge within a day or so? No one is fast enough for you there, KT. It’s a theme. You want the world a la carte, on your schedule only. But honestly, what you think you know in your layman’s first understanding of a case is actually insufficient and incomplete for professionals who are responsible for the decision.
I’m just saying the suspicious nature of the death was immediately apparent to any citizen.
Anyway, this is all a moot point now that it’s been ruled a homicide.
Actually, you said you wanted to see criminal charges promptly filed before the Monday unrest.
I can’t really argue with this wonderful essay, or the containment of (understandable) rage at the injustice of it all, but….good lord, we ask so much of those that we’ve given so little.
After the last spirited discussion here about the merits of rioting, I heard a story on NPR’s Morning Edition about the health care consequences of the rioting. Namely, elderly and other people in fragile situations suffering from the effects of the violence, like no access to medication because the neighborhood pharmacies were destroyed. This is infuriating.
I agree that sustained attention to this is critical – but I’m afraid our nation’s attention span gets shorter every day as we jump from crisis to crisis.
Can this get printed in the NYT or the WP?
Probably not with all the profanity.
Why don’t you run for office and try to affect change that way? You really don’t think you couldn’t unseat an incumbent mayor in Baltimore, white or black?
Too fucking profane, for one thing.
Take out the swearing? This is an epic!
Swearing is fucking cathartic and visceral. I love it.
It is, but if you want to get a wider audience for an important message in the press? Maybe replace the words fucking, etc, with something more appropriate to a wider audience. The message would still retain the key elements.
Derek’s right. I’m fucked for mainstream media.
Nothing is fucked here, dude. You just don’t want to fucking play the game anymore.
At my son’s middle school, some unknown girl scribbled a threat on the wall of a bathroom stall. In response, they evacuated the school, called in the bomb squad, and swept the school for an hour.
Afterward, we got an email from the principal, essentially congratulating himself on his ‘zero-tolerance’ of the situation and promising to prosecute the child offender to the fullest extent of the law.
My reply to the email was:
“Zero-Tolerance = Zero Judgement”