One rather unfortunate argument made to me, over the past few weeks, grudgingly acknowledges Ron Paul's willingness to cover up his profligate race-baiting, as well as the foolishness of his claim that rich planters should have been financially compensated for trafficking children. The argument then pivots to note that such issues are ancient history and of little importance when weighed against the great present evil of our time--the drug war.
I confess that I too get that old feeling in my leg when I hear Paul denounce both wars abroad and at home. Moreover, Paul does so with a kind of forthrightness and directness that you don't really see among national politicians. The appeal is strong, invigorating, and should be acknowledged. I am not sure whether it is the shame of our politics, or the shame of our electorate, that such topics seem so off-limits and so off-stage.But the selective abandonment of uncomfortable history is neither a viable option for my tribe, nor is it particularly wise for the greater tribe which\believes our criminal justice system to be a great failure.
It is often said that Americans aren't interested in history, but I think it's more accurate to say that people--in general--aren't interested in history that makes them feel bad. We surely are interested in those points of history from which we are able to extract an easy national glory--our achievement of independence from the British, the battle of Gettysburg, our fight against Hitler, and even the campaign of nonviolence waged by Martin Luther King. For different reasons, each of these episodes can be fitted for digestibility. More importantly that can be easily deployed in service our various national uses. Thus it is not so much that we are against history, as we are in favor of a selective history. The fact is that Martin Luther King is useful to us, in a way that Bayard Rustin is not (yet.)
Likewise, Ron Paul, and his followers are not against deploying history, so much as they are for deploying history in ways which advantages their candidate. When Paul invokes his own history of service to attack our wars abroad, no one says "That's all ancient history." The connection is obvious and advantageous. Paul's own service gives his claims a kind of moral weight, that Newt Gingrich's lack. Moreover, it buttresses Paul's credibility in an effort to sway those who remain undecided. Of course a necessary truth, follows this line of reasoning: As sure as Paul's service in the military lends respectability to the critique of our international wars, his service in the aims of white supremacy detract respectability from the critique of our national wars.
Indeed, one of the quicker ways to delegitimize the critique of the War on Drugs, in the eyes of black people, would be making Ron Paul the prominent face of the movement. That black people even need to be swayed doesn't seem to occur to Paul's supporters who, admittedly, are unoriginal in viewing African-Americans as the slick paint-job on a pre-fab argument. But the fact is that black people are far from united in their feelings about the criminal justice system in general, and drug crimes in particular.
A look at California, and the effort to legalize marijuana, is instructive. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the 25 counties of that state, blacks are arrested at "double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites" for marijuana possession. Blacks make up less than 10 percent of L.A. county's population, but they account for 30 percent of its marijuana arrests.It is unlikely that this arrest rate reflects usage, as government data has consistently found that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks.
They go before a judge who tells them they have been charged with a misdemeanor, and that if they
plead guilty they will be fined up to $100. The judges routinely recommend defendants waive their right
to a trial. Most people, wanting to get released and put this experience behind them, accept this
recommendation and plead guilty.
Most people find the money to pay the fine and court costs and give it little thought until they apply for
a job, apartment, student loan or school, and are turned down because a criminal background check
reveals that they have been convicted of a "drug crime."
Twenty years ago, misdemeanor arrest and conviction records were papers kept in court storerooms and
warehouses, often impossible to locate. Ten years ago they were computerized. Now they are instantly
searchable on the Internet for $20 to $40 through commercial criminal-record database services.
Employers, landlords, credit agencies, licensing boards for nurses and beauticians, schools, and banks
now routinely search these databases for background checks on applicants. The stigma of criminal
records can create barriers to employment and education for anyone, including whites and middle class
people. Criminal drug arrest and conviction records can severely limit the life chances of the poor, the
young, and especially young African Americans and Latinos.
And yet, with this backdrop, efforts to decriminalize marijuana have only limited support in the black community. Last year, when activists in California attempted to legalize marijuana through Proposition 19, only 47 percent of the black community supported the measure. I find that unsurprising. Unfortunately, black people have disproportionate contact with crime and criminals. That contact often doesn't breed sympathy, but severity. And as Adam Serwer once noted, it isn't just true of marijuana:
The fact was that crack panic had gripped many black leaders as firmly as everyone else, and the belief that it was some kind of nigh-supernatural demon drug lead the Congressional Black Caucus to support the bill, unaware of the real nature of crack or the harm the law would ultimately do. It was precisely because crack seemed to be so prevalent in black communities that black legislators supported the tougher penalties.
Those of us who are invested in the effort to roll back the drug war, take the support of the black community for granted at our peril. These are my people. And I have always known them to reflect many of the characteristics of any other group of Americans who are disproportionately less wealthy, less educated, more religious, and more Southern. Black America, like the rest of America, will have to be convinced. I would submit that, in that fight, invoking the dude who attacks Lincoln with the Confederate flag as a backdrop, who inveighs against the Civil Rights act, and once ran a white supremacist racket may be something less than a trump card.
I would also submit that it is worth exploring the uncomfortable origins of the greater fight. Our criminal justice system is a moral, and practical, catastrophe. Once again:
The United States has 756 people in jail per 100,000 people. No other country has more than 700, and only two are over 600 Russia (629) and Rwanda (604).
Of the 2.3 million people in American jails, 806,000 are black males. African-Americans--males and females--make up .6 percent of the entire world's population, but African-American males--alone--make up 8 percent of the entire world's prison population. I know there are people who think some kind of demon culture could create a world where a group that makes up roughly one in 200 citizens of the world, comprises one in 12 of its prisoners. But I kind of doubt it.
Some thought should be given to how we came to tolerate such large numbers of African-American removed from society and remanded to the soothing hands of the state. I don't think it's too much to say that were the rest of country imprisoned at the same rate as black men, our criminal justice policy would look different.
So what are the origins of that discrepant attitude? Are they wholly unconnected with a general animus visited upon blacks, in this country, since the mid-17th century? Are they unconnected to the willingness to protect an older system of torture and coercive violence which blots the origin myth of our country? Does that feeling share any relation to the sense that the violent end of that system was, somehow, a greater tragedy than the system itself?
And what does it mean for a man, in this day and age, to go before his country and claim that a group, even today viewed through the lenses of stock price...
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
...should have always been viewed as such? Nothing says privilege like watching a presidential candidate argue that slaveholders should be compensated, in a world where compensation for slaves, and the descendants of slaves, has never enjoyed a scintilla of respectability.
In the present business, there are those of us who are not so recent to inveighing against the evils of mass incarceration. We spent the 90s watching the prisons bulge with our brothers. Where was Ron Paul? Did he then voice his concerns about the impact of a "racist drug war" in his periodicals? Or was he off cashing in on that old American hatred that give that has always given our drug wars their animating force?
It would be so much easier if the racism in Ron Paul's newsletters. his flirtation with the Confederacy, his opposition to civil rights legislation, his denunciations of Lincoln had no connection to our incarcerated present. But our histories don't exist to make our world easier. We are forced to grapple with them. Morality compels us.
More: You can view the other portions of this series here, here, here and here. I'm pretty sure this is the last one.
More #2: A commenter below makes a good point and answers the question of "Where was Ron Paul?" in the 90s. Inveighing against the drug war, it seems. Thanks for the correction. People are complicated. It's a rule worth remembering.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
On “Back to Back Freestyle” and “Charged Up,” the rapper forgoes the high road in his beef with Meek Mill.
Once upon a time, Drake made a vow of silence. “Diss me, you'll never hear a reply for it,” he said on “Successful,” the 2009 song in which the Toronto rapper correctly predicted he’d soon be superwealthy. This week, Drake has broken his vow twice over, a fact about which he seems conflicted. “When I look back,” he says on the new track “Back to Back Freestyle,” “I might be mad that I gave this attention.”
“This” is the beef started by the 28-year-old Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, who recently tweeted accusations that Drake doesn’t write his own material. Depending on who you talk to or how you look at it, this is either a big deal or no deal at all. On Instagram, Lupe Fiasco had a good take: “Ghostwriting, or borrowing lines, or taking suggestions from the room has always been in rap and will always be in rap. It is nothing to go crazy over or be offended about unless you are someone who postures him or herself on the importance of authenticity and tries to portray that quality to your fans or the public at large. Then we might have a problem.”
Even when they’re adopted, the children of the wealthy grow up to be just as well-off as their parents.
Lately, it seems that every new study about social mobility further corrodes the story Americans tell themselves about meritocracy; each one provides more evidence that comfortable lives are reserved for the winners of what sociologists call the birth lottery. But, recently, there have been suggestions that the birth lottery’s outcomes can be manipulated even after the fluttering ping-pong balls of inequality have been drawn.
What appears to matter—a lot—is environment, and that’s something that can be controlled. For example, one study out of Harvard found that moving poor families into better neighborhoods greatly increased the chances that children would escape poverty when they grew up.
While it’s well documentedthat the children of the wealthy tend to grow up to be wealthy, researchers are still at work on how and why that happens. Perhaps they grow up to be rich because they genetically inherit certain skills and preferences, such as a tendency to tuck away money into savings. Or perhaps it’s mostly because wealthier parents invest more in their children’s education and help them get well-paid jobs. Is it more nature, or more nurture?
The Vermont senator’s revolutionary zeal has met its moment.
There’s no way this man could be president, right? Just look at him: rumpled and scowling, bald pate topped by an entropic nimbus of white hair. Just listen to him: ranting, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent, about socialism. Socialism!
And yet here we are: In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.
He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser. Shocking the political establishment, it is Sanders—not Martin O’Malley, the fresh-faced former two-term governor of Maryland; not Joe Biden, the sitting vice president—to whom discontented Democratic voters looking for an alternative to Clinton have turned.
Today's cities may be more diverse overall, but people of different races still don’t live near each other.
Nearly 50 years ago, after a string of race-related riots in cities across America, President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned a panel of civic leaders to investigate the underlying causes of racial tension in the country.
The result was the Kerner Report, a document that castigated white society for fleeing to suburbs, where they excluded blacks from employment, housing, and educational opportunities. The report’s famous conclusion: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”
Much of America would like to believe the nation has changed since then. The election of a black President was said to usher in a “post-racial era.” Cheerios commercials nowfeature interracial couples. As both suburbs and cities grew more diverse, more than one academic study trumpeted theend of segregation in American neighborhoods.
Samuel DuBose’s death at the hands of a university police officer points to problems with piecemeal approaches to reform.
During a news conference Wednesday, discussing the killing of Samuel DuBose, Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor Joe Deters said several remarkable things.
“This is without question a murder,” he said, adding that Ray Tensing, who killed Dubose—an unarmed black man pulled over for a missing front license plate—“should never have been a police officer.” Deters said, “This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make.”
Amid a string of cases where police have killed black men, what makes this case different, as Robinson Meyer notes, is body-cam footage that captured the incident, and helped bring about Tensing’s indictment for murder. But the case is also interesting because Tensing wasn't a Cincinnati police officer. He was employed by the police department of the University of Cincinnati—a fact the prosecutor lamented.
His press conference announcing murder charges had just one flaw: He understated how often police officers shoot unarmed people in traffic stops.
On Wednesday, as officials in Hamilton County, Ohio, released video footage of University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing shooting unarmed motorist Samuel DuBose in the head during a traffic stop, prosecutor Joe Deters conducted himself as professionally and appropriately as any prosecutor I’ve ever seen in a similar situation.
The 30-year veteran, who announced that officer Tensing was being indicted for murder, took immediate care to affirmatively state that the victim in the case was not responsible for his fate. “This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make,” he told reporters. “People want to believe that Mr. DuBose had done something violent toward the officer; he did not. He did not at all. And I feel so sorry for his family and what they lost. And I feel sorry for the community, too.”
During the multi-country press tour for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, not even Jon Stewart has dared ask Tom Cruise about Scientology.
During the media blitz for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation over the past two weeks, Tom Cruise has seemingly been everywhere. In London, he participated in a live interview at the British Film Institute with the presenter Alex Zane, the movie’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, and a handful of his fellow cast members. In New York, he faced off with Jimmy Fallon in a lip-sync battle on The Tonight Show and attended the Monday night premiere in Times Square. And, on Tuesday afternoon, the actor recorded an appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, where he discussed his exercise regimen, the importance of a healthy diet, and how he still has all his own hair at 53.
Stewart, who during his career has won two Peabody Awards for public service and the Orwell Award for “distinguished contribution to honesty and clarity in public language,” represented the most challenging interviewer Cruise has faced on the tour, during a challenging year for the actor. In April, HBO broadcast Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear, a film based on the book of the same title by Lawrence Wright exploring the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a high-profile member. The movie alleges, among other things, that the actor personally profited from slave labor (church members who were paid 40 cents an hour to outfit the star’s airplane hangar and motorcycle), and that his former girlfriend, the actress Nazanin Boniadi, was punished by the Church by being forced to do menial work after telling a friend about her relationship troubles with Cruise. For Cruise “not to address the allegations of abuse,” Gibney said in January, “seems to me palpably irresponsible.” But in The Daily Show interview, as with all of Cruise’s other appearances, Scientology wasn’t mentioned.
“If nobody respected the Taliban leadership anymore,” said one analyst, “then you have no one to talk to.”
Reports on Wednesday that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died will be rightly hailed by some as the demise of an American nemesis. But the death of the one-eyed Afghan commander may also scuttle the most promising peace talks in Afghanistan in a decade.
Omar’s direct role in day-to-day Taliban operations had been declining for years, according to Western diplomats in Afghanistan. Even if he is alive, the former leader of Afghanistan is believed to be severely ill.
But the myth that surrounds Omar is a key element in determining whether peace talks can succeed. With the Islamic State and other jihadist groups vying for the loyalty of young Taliban fighters, it is unclear whether any leader except Omar can hold the movement together and then get its members to accept a peace settlement.
The authors in the running for Britain's most prestigious literary award come from seven countries and include seven women writers.
The longlist for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards, was announced Wednesday. For the second year, the prize was open to writers of any nationality who publish books in English in the U.K., and this year five American writers made the list of 13 contenders, chosen by five judges from a pool of 156 total works.
The U.S. is, in fact, the most well-represented country, with other entrants hailing from Great Britain, Jamaica, New Zealand, Nigeria, Ireland, and India. There are three debut novelists and one former winner on the list, and women writers outnumber men seven to six. From dystopian and political novels to a multitude of iterations on the family drama, the selections capture the ever-changing human experience in very different ways.
An off-duty Medford, Massachusetts, cop threatened a motorist during a traffic stop. His colleagues seemed unperturbed by his behavior.
Three years ago in Medford, Massachusetts, narcotics detective Stephen LeBert calmly told the brother of a man he was arresting, “He’s selling drugs illegally. What they should do is just take him up to the railroad tracks and tell him to lay down.” He knew he was being recorded as he made the comment, as moments earlier, the footage shows him licking his finger and wiping saliva on the citizen’s lens. Medford Police Chief Leo Sacco says that he was counseled after the incident.
After watching that video, it comes as no great surprise that Detective LeBert was suspended earlier this week for another instance of misbehavior recorded by a citizen:
The footage, captured by the dashboard camera on a motorist’s vehicle, begins shortly after the driver got confused at a roundabout in an unfamiliar neighborhood and wound up briefly driving on the wrong side of the road (an error for which he would repeatedly apologize). At first, the motorist is terrified and starts to flee because Detective LeBert, who is driving an unmarked pickup truck and plainclothes, does not identify himself as a police officer, even as he is upset that the motorist doesn’t defer to him. “I’ll put a hole right through your fucking head,’’ LeBert says. “Pull your car over. I’ll put a hole right in your fucking head. I’ll put a hole right through your head.’’ The motorist begins to cooperate as soon as a badge is produced.