I need a second to absorb this verse, but Kendrick Lamar on this Big Sean, Jay-Electronica joint is basically insane (if unquotable within the august walls of The Atlantic).
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.
I need a second to absorb this verse, but Kendrick Lamar on this Big Sean, Jay-Electronica joint is basically insane (if unquotable within the august walls of The Atlantic).
When I was a boy--not older than two--my mother and father left me with my grandmother and drove to Oklahoma. My father is a resurrector. His business, if you may call it such a thing, is scouring the histories for books about people of African descent that have fallen out of print and bringing them back. These were the early days of his trade, his sixth son and his soon to be second marriage. He was rugged. His beard was untamed. His Afro was pathetic. His resume was reckless--military police, canine handler, Vietnam vet, fallen Black Panther lately dubbed "Enemy of the People," advocate for political prisoners, uncompromising autodidact.
And now, each night I count the stars.And it was over. Every time he brought me before a great poem I was injured, because I knew that I would never say anything that beautiful. Yusef Komunyakaa has this line--"her red dress turns the corner\like blood in a man's eye." I read that when I was 19, and thought "If this is writing, then I will just go ahead and hang myself right now." I was injured because this was one less beautiful thing in the world waiting to be written, and even though I knew there were many others, I would never get to write them.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted
I count the holes they leave.
A federal judge has ruled against the city and its racist application of Stop and Frisk. Here is the excellent news:
In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision. These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Judge Scheindlin found that the city "adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data." She rejected the city's arguments that more stops happened in minority neighborhoods solely because those happened to have high-crime rates.I'm still wending my way through the opinion but this portion is very, very important:
Based on the expert testimony I find the following:As I've noted before, Ray Kelly and Michael Bloomberg justify the number of stops by arguing that black and Latino men commit the majority of violent crime. This position intentionally ignores the data which shows, even after controlling for crime rates, the NYPD still discriminates. It's very important that people interested in this case understand that. And as always, anyone who is interested in the case really needs to listen to This American Life's reporting on Officer Adrian Schoolcraft.Expect the city to appeal.
(1) The NYPD carries out more stops where there are more black and Hispanic residents, even when other relevant variables are held constant. The racial composition of a precinct or census tract predicts the stop rate above and beyond the crime rate.p> (2) Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to be stopped within precincts and census tracts, even after controlling for other relevant variables. This is so even in areas with low crime rates, racially heterogenous populations, or predominately white populations.
(3) For the period 2004 through 2009, when any law enforcement action was taken following a stop, blacks were 30% more likely to be arrested (as opposed to receiving a summons) than whites, for the same suspected crime.
(4) For the period 2004 through 2009, after controlling for suspected crime and precinct characteristics, blacks who were stopped were about 14% more likely -- and Hispanics 9% more likely -- than whites to be subjected to the use of force.
(5) For the period 2004 through 2009, all else being equal, the odds of a stop resulting in any further enforcement action were 8% lower if the person stopped was black than if the person stopped was white. In addition, the greater the black population in a precinct, the less likely that a stop would result in a sanction. Together, these results show that blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites
And then, in the final round, "Sex and the City" pulled its punches, and let Big rescue Carrie. It honored the wishes of its heroine, and at least half of the audience, and it gave us a very memorable dress, too. But it also showed a failure of nerve, an inability of the writers to imagine, or to trust themselves to portray, any other kind of ending--happy or not. And I can't help but wonder: What would the show look like without that finale?
I don't think this point takes away from the sexism critique, either. The Wire's fifth season was, by far, its weakest.--The great Rebecca Scott on slavery in France. Maintenant. (En français.) I've long resisted comparisons between the slave society of the antebellum America with modern slavery, because I feel that people who do this are often looking to traffic in the moral capitol of that past, as opposed to illuminating the present. But Rebecca is a serious historian who knows both episodes. I'm slowly wending my way through this piece.
--Eagles wide-receiver Riley Cooper was caught on tape threatening violence against a black security guard who didn't allow him backstage at a Kenny Chesney concert. Cooper's words were objectionable ("I will jump that fence and fight every nigger here, bro.") But his words on returning to camp are some of the best I've seen from someone whose done or said something racist:
"I told them, 'I don't want you to forgive me, because that puts the burden on you, and I want it all on me,'" Cooper said.This is really really important. A few years ago we had a discussion here about atonement, forgiveness and white guilt. My argument was that white guilt is a destructive force, and seeking "forgiveness" isn't much better. As Cooper says it puts a moral burden on the injured party; the injured having already lost his dignity at the hands of the aggressor, is asked to give one more thing. I'd argue it's better to seek forgiveness of oneself, to learn from one's own wrongs. An apology made in hopes of getting something is already compromised. (Witness the era of "if I offended you.")
Neighborhood social disadvantage has durable properties and tends to repeat itself, and because of racial segregation is most pronounced in the black community. I would add a related implication or subthesis: black children are singularly exposed to the cumulative effects of structural disadvantage in ways that reinforce the cycle.More:
The data thus confirm that neighborhoods that are both black and poor, and that are characterized by high unemployment and female-headed families, are ecologically distinct, a characteristic that is not simply the same thing as low economic status. In this pattern Chicago is not alone. To probe the implications of this point in a different but more concrete way, I calculated the per capita income in the year 2000 in black compared to white neighborhoods in Chicago (defined here as census tracts with 75 percent or more of each group). The result was that not one white community experiences what is most typical for those residing in segregated black areas with respect to the basics of income--the entire distribution for white communities (mean = $42,508) sits to the right of the mean per capita income of black communities. Trying to estimate the effect of concentrated disadvantage on whites is thus tantamount to estimating a phantom reality.This is going by income, not wealth which would likely make matters look a good deal worse. At any rate Sampson is observing something similar to what both Patrick Sharkey and John Logan have observed--that the black community because of segregation is singular. One to one correlations, talk of a "white working class" and a "black working class," or a "white elite" and a "black elite," even controls for income, are myopic. There is a great challenge here for traditional "lift all boats" liberal thinking--black America is not merely a community with a disproportionately large impoverished class, but a class onto itself. This is not surprising. Creating a separate class was precisely the intent of roughly 300 years of white supremacist policy (commencing with Virginia's slave codes.) The expectation that this could all be wiped away with 50 years of good feelings was magical thinking. The domestic policy of this country in its pre-history, and most of its actual history was the creation of a peon class, denominated by melanin. The policy has been wildly successful.
--Kevin Hart licking shots at Skip Bayless and Stephen A is hilarious.
--Le complément d'objet direct. Le complément d'objet indirect. Oh Mon Dieu. Aidez-moi.
--I don't know much about teaching foreign language. But if I were king for a day, I would mandate that the first week or two go to drilling the IPA system into heads of schoolchildren. Especially for French. /aʒute/ for "Ajouter" makes the world an easier place.
--I've been going through recent back-issues of the X-Men titles. Second Coming is how crossovers should be done. I thought this when I first read the series, but had it confirmed when I went back over it. That story is what the X-Men are all about. (The scene with Xavier and Legion is just lovely.) Unfortunately the rest of the "Cyclops as Malcolm X" era is more hit and miss. There's a beautiful panel with the Hulk and Captain America in AvX ("Yes. Hulk will smash for you.") But I'm not really feeling the X-Men of the "past" now living in the "present." There's a lot going on. I wish Marvel would just settle down for a moment and let the stories breath. Also. Less Storm is always a bad sign.
As I mentioned, I've been reading Primo Levi's If This Is A Man. I finished last week, but I feel like I need to reread the entire book (which I'm doing) before I give a serious considered response. It's easily my favorite memoir this side of The Life And Times of Frederick Douglass, but there's more to be said.
I'll also say that I wasn't really prepared for the ways in which Levi unwittingly evokes the black experience in America. I don't mean this in the sort of cheap way you see The Holocaust deployed as a trump card ( "the black Holocaust") in the Olympics suffering. I mean this in the sense that Levi is writing about genocide, and slavery. There's a gripping chapter where Levi describes the camp awaiting the selections--which is to say the time when certain Jews will be taken out and killed. Reading it, I found myself thinking of my ancestors and how they waited, in the run-up to the fantastic end to American slavery, to see who would be selected and sold into the oblivion of Mississippi.
Here is a passage that wrecked my world:
But where we are going we do not know. Will we perhaps be able to survive the illnesses and escape the selections, perhaps even resist the work and hunger which wear us out but then, afterwards? Here, momentarily far away from the curses and the blows, we can re-enter into ourselves and meditate, and then it becomes clear that we will not return. We travelled here in the sealed wagons; we saw our women and our children leave towards nothingness; we, transformed into slaves, have marched a hundred times backwards and forwards to our silent labours, killed in our spirit long before our anonymous death. No one must leave here and so carry to the world, together with the sign impressed on his skin, the evil tidings of what man's presumption made of man in Auschwitz.
That is an old Negro spiritual. That is the Middle Passage. That is how I see my African ancestors here in America, suddenly aware that they will never go back, that they are dead to everyone they have known and loved.
I've said before that I never really understood why so much ink was spilled over the relationship between black people and Jews. Jews were white people in my eyes, perhaps white people of another tribe, but white people nonetheless. And yet it was clear to me that some black people -- activists and academics -- really saw Jews as "different," and also that many Jews saw themselves as "different." My readings over the past year have begun to bring home why. As well as my travels. There's something illuminating about living in a place with other foundational myths, and other foundational evils.
A week after I arrived here, I gave a talk at the American Library in Paris. The talk was supposed to be about my book, The Beautiful Struggle. But the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial came down earlier that week. I decided instead to say a few words about the long historical process that led to Martin's death. For those of you who regularly read this blog, a lot of this will be familiar. For the talk I pulled from the growing notebook that is this space.
My class at Alliance Française is international. The students come from Italy, Spain, Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Brazil, Venezuela, Germany, China, Australia and everywhere else. Virtually everyone here is learning their third language--and many are on their fourth. There was a young lady in my class a few weeks ago who spoke Spanish, Catalan and English. All I could think about was how 10 years ago I didn't even know what Catalan was, how I thought that all European countries were united in language. They are white so (unlike us) they must be united, n'est-ce pas?
In his lectures, the historian John Merriman said that as late as 1789, only 50 percent of the people in France spoke "French." In the west along the Atlantic coast, it might have been Breton. In Normandy it might have been a patois. Further north it could have been Flemish. In Alsace or Lorraine, Merriman says you could have asked someone "What are you?" and they might reply "I am French"--in German. These are the sorts of things you miss when you can only picture Europe as a unified unerring mass of white folks.
You must sing. Specifically you must sing Claude François. I'd love to know this dude's dancing influences. Lots of Motown going on there. Whatever. This is a great song. It's got me stumbling around Rue Oberkampf, yelling "C'était l'année! Soixante deux!"
Andrew Sullivan offers a defense of Anthony Weiner, who has recently been shown to have continued his online affairs even after he resigned from Congress:
No one outside a marriage can fully know what's in it, or what makes it work. For my part, I favor maximal privacy for all married couples in navigating the shoals of sex and life online and off. Monogamous, monogamish, and open relationships are all up to the couples themselves and all have risks and advantages. But ultimately it is up to the spouse to decide if there has been a transgression or not, and whether to forgive and move forward or not. The truly awful spectacle yesterday was seeing Huma Abedin being forced to undergo another public humiliation as the price for her husband's public career. But she clearly stated she was not abandoning her husband. And for me, as for us, that should close the matter.
And let's be clear, there is no victim here. A flirty, horny 22-year-old who talks a great sex game is not a victim. She's a player - and good for her. This nonsense about her being "immature" and Weiner being "predatory" is belied by the facts. She knew he was married when she sexted him and he returned the favors. The only salient question is whether, having lied in the first place about sexting, Weiner was caught deceiving the public again by claiming he had stopped sexting and re-built his marriage, while the compulsion was clearly not over. That's a question of public trust, and there's little doubt that Weiner has squandered it. On the question of lying, the NYT's harrumph this morning is a valid one. Once a politician has deceived people, he gets a second chance. When he deceives them a second time on the same issue, he loses whatever public trust he might have hoped for.
But I see no reason why that trust should not be tested where it should be: at the ballot box. Weiner should not, er, withdraw prematurely. He should do us all a favor, if his wife agrees, and plow on until we can all smoke a collective cigarette. In this new Internet Age someone has to be the person who makes sexting not an excludable characteristic for public office. If it becomes one, then the range of representatives we can choose from in the future and present will be very, very different in experience and background than the people they are supposed to represent.
There's a lot here that I agree with, but I don't get many opportunities to get to the right of Andrew. In all seriousness, I think there are two separate issues. The first is the idea that there is something wrong with online sex. We can dispatch that fairly easily: There isn't. The second is that the mere act of infidelity makes you unfit for public office. I don't think there's much ground for that argument either.
But the problem that I suspect a lot of people have with Anthony Weiner is not that he had an affair, but that he does not seem particularly good at the job of politics. Part of being good at politics is being good at pitching your arguments. Part of pitching your arguments is your public image. We know this. Those of us who are partisans do not examine "favorable and unfavorable" ratings in our polls simply for amusement. We examine them to see who might make the best pitch for the policies we endorse. The actual reasons why some people are viewed favorably and others are not may not always strike us as intelligent. But they are real. Politicians know this and thus guard their image accordingly.
Anthony Weiner is a politician who relished antagonizing the opposition. His appeal was singular and tribal -- in an age of seemingly vacillating, gun-shy Democrats, Weiner took on whoever may come. You never once got the feeling that he was ashamed to be a liberal. He must have known that this made him a target for conservative activists. A wise man in Weiner's position would be watchful. But Weiner is not a wise man. It is not his desire to get off that offends, it is the thick-wittedness of sending nude selfies on Twitter. It is the incomprehensible silliness of handing your opponents a gun and saying, "Please shoot me." Repeatedly. It is wholly sensible that those of us who believe the liberal project is about more than embarrassing Republicans would not want Anthony Weiner as a pitchman.
There is something else at work here also -- a lack of compassion. Here is where I differ with many of my liberal and libertarian friends. I believe that how you treat people matters. It is folly to embarrass your pregnant wife before an entire nation. To do the same thing again is cruelty. And there is the promise of more to come. One argument holds that what happens between Weiner and his wife is between them. I agree with this argument. But cruelty is not abolished by the phrase "consenting adults." And the fact that the immoral is not, and should not be, illegal does not make morality meaningless. Huma Abedin has one choice. We have another. The choice should be made by voters -- there should be no sense that if not for the powerful editorial pages Weiner would have won. As a city we deserve to see who we are, and what we actually care about.
I don't think it is wrong to care about how people treat each others, which is another way of saying I believe that morality is important. I find the argument for same-sex marriage compelling not in spite of morality, but because of it. I think public office is an honored, and honorable, position. I do not think it is wrong to ask that our officers be compassionate. I do not believe it is wrong to ask that our officers be wise. I do not believe that it is the fate of all men to send dick pics hurtling through cyberspace. And I do not believe that Anthony Weiner is the best we can expect from maledom, to say nothing of New York liberals.
Hieronymus Bosch, The Adoration of the Magi. (Museo Del Prado.)
Continuing our conversation around learning and understanding, one of my favorite passages on the life of the autodidact comes from the great George L. Ruffin's description of Frederick Douglass's odyssey from downtrodden American slave to premier American intellectual:
His range of reading has been wide and extensive. He has been a hard student. In every sense of the word, he is a self-made man. By dint of hard study he has educated himself, and to-day it may be said he has a well-trained intellect. He has surmounted the disadvantage of not having a university education, by application and well-directed effort. He seems to have realized the fact, that to one who is anxious to become educated and is really in earnest, it is not positively necessary to go to college, and that information may be had outside of college walks; books may be obtained and read elsewhere. They are not chained to desks in college libraries, as they were in early times at Oxford. Professors' lectures may be bought already printed, learned doctors may be listened to in the lyceum, and the printing-press has made it easy and cheap to get information on every subject and topic that is discussed and taught in the university. Douglass never made the mistake (a common one) of considering that his education was finished. He has continued to study, he studies now, and is a growing man, and at this present moment he is a stronger man intellectually than ever before.
There is a wonderful, if problematic, tradition in the black community of intellectual pursuit as a "macho" activity. Book learning was something that "they" did not want us to have and in seizing it we were, somehow, claiming our manhood. The tradition is problematic--or perhaps anachronistic--because manhood doesn't have the same meaning today. In fact I am not sure if it has, or ultimately will have, any meaning at all. What happens to categories born out of power after power is dislodged? No one goes around talking about "property-owners" in relation to voting rights today.
In his autobiography, Malcolm X does not claim his manhood through an act of vengeful violence, or by sexual access to white women but through the reclamation of his intellect. Douglass becomes a "man" when he physically subdues the slave-driver Covey, but his mastery of literacy is at least as influential and ultimately more enduring.
I think we can substitute "humanity" for the word "manhood" today and see that this idea of reaching a level of consciousness makes us feel more human, more in touch with the world swirling around us. In becoming intellectually aware, Frederick Douglass began to ask questions and confront problems that never had occurred to him before. It was in following the intellectual questions that slavery and abolition raised about humanity that Douglass found himself to be a "woman's rights man." His last public act, indeed his last thoughts evidently, were not on the boundaries of color, but of gender.
I feel that expansion constantly here--new questions constantly popping up around me. The other day we sat in a very nice restaurant near the Canal St. Martin. I took courage and drank a lot of red wine. Then I ordered a blood sausage--in direct violation of every law of the black nationalist kosher code. It was incredible. It was not so much a sausage as a savory chocolate pudding. There was a party beside us. Within that party there was a woman with blond hair wearing a pink dress. She stared at us for fully half of our meal. When we left I saw the people around us staring. Perhaps it was because I'd said "Bienvenue" when we walked in the door. Or perhaps it was because we were black. I couldn't know. I didn't care.
We walked outside and there were people all along the canal. They were drinking from open bottles and eating dinner. They were seated with their legs dangling over the edge into the water. A young white girl sat on the lap of a black boy. They looked at us and yelled "BON SOIR! BON SOIR! BON SOIR!" And did not stop until I turned and yelled "BON SOIR!"
I have an experience like that at least every day. Something bizarre and incomprehensible hovering at the limits of my dim understanding. The panhandlers here are largely Roma. They sit on the streets with their children, or they humbly approach those holding forth in the outdoor cafes. And every time I see them I am shocked by their whiteness, shocked that one need not be black to be someone's nigger, and that says nothing about them and everything about me.
Are the Roma a "race?" No. I am a prisoner of my own vocabulary and addled understanding. Race is an invention of racism. I know this. I have written this. I know that Europeans interacted with Africans for hundreds of years, and only after the slave trade did they conclude that by dint of our skin, we were dumb, bestial and sexually profligate. I have known this since my days in Howard's history department. Racism without power has no actual history and no discernible meaning. I have always known the facts of this, but I have not always understood it.
It is the manner in which I come to my French class. I can drill myself on the rules of conjugation. I can force myself to remember the difference between tenses of the future and past. But to feel it like instinct, to feel it like religion, to run The French No Huddle, is somewhere beyond "knowing" and closer to understanding. I once used a particular future tense while talking to someone. It was, according to the rules, correct. But the person said to me, "We just wouldn't say it that way, it sounds ugly." That was knowledge beyond the rules; it was understanding.
How do we cultivate this in our children? How do we stress the importance of rules, and the equal importance of their irrelevance? How do we stress the necessity of rote memorization, while at the same time stressing the need to not end there? Many of us "know" geometry, but do we understand how it is actually used? Can we walk down the street and point out its effects? Should we even look to a public education system to teach such things? Or is understanding a private act, something best left to intellectual entrepreneurs, hard students and those who, for whatever reason, burn to know?
I can't call it. But I think about Frederick Douglass a lot these days. And I think that as much as he understood the import of justice, he must have also understood the import of death. Once you get the great effort it takes to go from "knowing" to "understanding" you get how little you will ever truly apprehend. Whole lives surround you. Whole ways are distant from you. Entire streets, ancient cultures , beautiful people are all shooting by. And there is sadness in this because truly we know that there is life in outer space, that there is life in the Parisian streets, that there is life in those West Baltimore streets, that there is life in these worlds around me, life in these blue worlds so close, though light years away.
Chart courtesy of "Stop Question And Frisk Police Practices in New York."
Yesterday Ray Kelly took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to defend NYPD's Stop and Frisk tactics and its indiscriminate spying on Muslim communities:
Since 2002, the New York Police Department has taken tens of thousands of weapons off the street through proactive policing strategies. The effect this has had on the murder rate is staggering. In the 11 years before Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, there were 13,212 murders in New York City. During the 11 years of his administration, there have been 5,849. That's 7,383 lives saved--and if history is a guide, they are largely the lives of young men of color.
So far this year, murders are down 29% from the 50-year low achieved in 2012, and we've seen the fewest shootings in two decades.
To critics, none of this seems to much matter. Sidestepping the fact that these policies work, they continue to allege that massive numbers of minorities are stopped and questioned by police for no reason other than their race.
As one of Ray Kelly's critics, and a citizen of New York, I will say that the declining murder rate matters a great deal. But the question before us isn't "Do we want the murder rate reduced?" The question is "Is Stop and Frisk a moral and effective policy?" We could also start punishing all murderers with public torture and beheading. That too might reduce the murder rate. Or perhaps the murder rate might fall for less conspicuous reasons, and those who endorsed public beheadings can loudly claim the credit anyway. At least we'd have correlation. Presently that is more than you can say for Stop and Frisk. Kelly rightly points out that the murder rate in our great city is falling. But for some reason he neglects to mention that Stop and Frisk numbers are falling too.
Perhaps there is some relationship between the long drop in homicides and Stop and Frisk, but Ray Kelly has never furnished such actual proof. Understanding why crime rises and falls has bedeviled social scientists for decades, so it's not surprising that Kelly would have trouble offering hard evidence. But we can certainly examine Ray Kelly's claim that Stop and Frisk is responsible for large numbers of weapons coming off the street.
During roughly half of all stops in 2008 (54.40% or 293,934 stops), officers reported frisking the suspect. Officers are legally authorized to pat down the outer clothing of a suspect in order to determine if the person is carrying a weapon. As shown in Figure 6, a very small percentage (1.24%) of total stops resulted in the discovery of a weapon of any kind (gun, knife, or other type of weapon). A slightly higher percentage (1.70%) resulted in the discovery of some other kind of contraband. Contraband is any item that is against the law to possess, including illegal drugs.
Given Ray Kelly's claims about saving black and brown lives, it's worth seeing how these numbers correlate to race:
In terms of recovering weapons and other contraband, stops of Whites yielded a slightly greater share, proportionally, of contraband other than weapons (1.98% versus 1.75%). The difference in the recovery of knives and weapons other than guns is greater among Whites as well (1.46% compared to 1.06%). In terms of recovering guns, the situation is reversed: proportionally, stops of Blacks and Hispanics were slightly more likely than stops of Whites to result in the recovery of a gun (0.17% versus 0.07%), but this difference is extremely small - 0.10%.
Finally, we should look at how the seizure of guns correlates to an increase in Stops:
While the total number of stops annually has climbed to more than half a million in just a few years (up from 160,851 in 2003), the number of illegal guns discovered during stops has remained relatively steady and modest in comparison. As Figure 8A shows, the number of guns recovered over this six-year period ranges from a low of 627 (2003) to a high of 824 (2008), averaging 703. It should be noted that over this same period, the number of stops more than tripled, meaning the yield of guns per stop has declined considerably (see Figure 8B).
Any serious proponent of Stop and Frisk must grapple with the fact that gun recoveries during Stops are vanishingly small, that they are vanishingly small regardless of race, and that there is little, if any, correlation between a rise in Stops and a rise in gun seizure.
The deeper and more poignant charge is not simply that Stop and Frisk is a bad tool for recovering guns, but that it amounts to systemic discrimination against black and brown communities. Ray Kelly frequently faults his opponents for measuring the demographics of Stop and Frisk against the demographics of the city. Kelly asserts that in a city where much of the violent crime is committed by black and brown males, it is logical that they would constitute the majority of the stops.
I agree with Kelly that it is not particularly telling to look at census data and extrapolate. It would be much more telling if we could somehow control for the actual commission of crime and then see if there was any bias in Stop and Frisk.
In the period for which we had data, the NYPD's records indicate that they were stopping blacks and Hispanics more often than whites, in comparison to both the populations of these groups and the best estimates of the rate of crimes committed by each group. After controlling for precincts, this pattern still holds. More specifically, for violent crimes and weapons offenses, blacks and Hispanics are stopped about twice as often as whites. In contrast, for the less common stops for property and drug crimes, whites and Hispanics are stopped more often than blacks, in comparison to the arrest rate for each ethnic group.
That was the conclusion of Columbia professor of Law and Public Health Jeffrey Fagan in 2007. Perhaps, since then, Ray Kelly has managed to craft a bias-less policy of Stop and Frisk:
NYPD stops are significantly more frequent for Black and Hispanic citizens than for White citizens, after adjusting stop rates for the precinct crime rates, the racial composition, and other social and economic factors predictive of police activity. These disparities are consistent across a set of alternative tests and assumptions.
That is from Fagan's 2010 study. It's important to understand that this data is widely available to the public. So when you hear Ray Kelly say something like this...
"It makes no sense to use census data, because half the people you stop would be women."
...you should understand that he is not telling bold truths, he is confronting the weakest arguments he can find.
Kelly offers some apparent sympathy, conceding that it is "understandable that someone who has done nothing wrong will be angry if he is stopped." But that category of people stopped who've "done nothing wrong" and are understandably angry are not a small minority, but a large majority of the people being stopped and frisked:
Arrest rates take place in less than six percent of all stops, a "hit rate" that is lower than the rates of arrest and seizures in random check points observed in other court tests of claims similar to the claims in this case.
I am not totally opposed to policies in which individuals surrender some of their rights for the betterment of the whole. The entire State is premised on such a surrendering. But at every stop that surrendering should be questioned and interrogated, to see if it actually will produce the benefits which it claims. In the case of Stop and Frisk you have a policy bearing no evidence of decreasing violence, and bearing great evidence of increasing tension between the police and the community they claim to serve. It is a policy which regularly results in the usage of physical force, but rarely results in the actual recovery of guns. But don't take my word for it. Take Ray Kelly's:
"A large reservoir of good will was under construction when I left the Police Department in 1994,'' Mr. Kelly said. ''It was called community policing. But it was quickly abandoned for tough-sounding rhetoric and dubious stop-and-frisk tactics that sowed new seeds of community mistrust.
That was 13 years ago. Times have changed. The evidence has not.
National Review's Victor Davis Hanson takes on the president's comments with predictable results. Here Hansen counters The Talk that African-American parents give their children about the police with his own version of The Talk:
Attorney General Eric Holder earlier gave an address to the NAACP on the Zimmerman trial. His oration was likewise not aimed at binding wounds. Apparently he wanted to remind his anguished audience that because of the acquittal of Zimmerman, there still is not racial justice in America. Holder noted in lamentation that he had to repeat to his own son the lecture that his father long ago gave him. The sermon was about the dangers of police stereotyping of young black males. Apparently, Holder believes that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yet I fear that for every lecture of the sort that Holder is forced to give his son, millions of non-African-Americans are offering their own versions of ensuring safety to their progeny. In my case, the sermon -- aside from constant reminders to judge a man on his merits, not on his class or race -- was very precise. First, let me say that my father was a lifelong Democrat. He had helped to establish a local junior college aimed at providing vocational education for at-risk minorities, and as a hands-on administrator he found himself on some occasions in a physical altercation with a disaffected student. In middle age, he and my mother once were parking their car on a visit to San Francisco when they were suddenly surrounded by several African-American teens. When confronted with their demands, he offered to give the thieves all his cash if they would leave him and my mother alone. Thankfully they took his cash and left. I think that experience -- and others -- is why he once advised me, "When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you." Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like "typical black person." He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young -- or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime. It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping. When I was a graduate student living in East Palo Alto, two adult black males once tried to break through the door of my apartment -- while I was in it. On a second occasion, four black males attempted to steal my bicycle -- while I was on it. I could cite three more examples that more or less conform to the same apprehensions once expressed by a younger Jesse Jackson. Regrettably, I expect that my son already has his own warnings prepared to pass on to his own future children.
I really, really hope not. By Hanson's own admission this "Talk" has done very little to protect him, and he implies that it didn't help his father either. That is not surprising given that this is the kind of advice which betrays a greater interest in maintaining one's worldview than in maintaining one's safety.
Let us be direct -- in any other context we would automatically recognize this "talk" as stupid advice. If I were to tell you that I only employ Asian-Americans to do my taxes because "Asian-Americans do better on the Math SAT," you would not simply question my sensitivity, but my mental faculties. That is because you would understand that in making an individual decision, employing an ancestral class of millions is not very intelligent. Moreover, were I to tell you I wanted my son to marry a Jewish woman because "Jews are really successful," you would understand that statement for the stupidity which it is.
It would not be acceptable for me to make such suggestions (to say nothing of policy) in an enlightened society -- not simply because they are "impolite" but because they betray a rote, incurious and addled intellect. There is no difference between my argument above and the notion that black boys should be avoided because they are overrepresented in the violent crime stats. But one of the effects of racism is its tendency to justify stupidity.
Those of who have spent much of our lives living in relatively high crime neighborhoods grasp this particular stupidity immediately. We have a great many strategies which we employ to try to protect ourselves and our children. We tell them to watch who they are walking with, to not go to neighborhoods where they don't know anyone, that when a crowd runs toward a fight they should go the other way, to avoid blocks with busted street-lights, to keep their heads up while walking, to not daydream and to be aware of their surroundings.
When you start getting down to particular neighborhoods the advice gets even more specific -- don't cut through the woods to get to school, stay away from Jermaine Wilks, don't got to Mondawmin on the first hot day of the year, etc. There is a great scene in the film The Interruptors when one of the anti-violence workers notes that when she sees a bunch of people in a place, and then they all suddenly clear out, she knows something is coming down. My point is that parents who regularly have to cope with violent crime understand the advantages of good, solid intelligence. They know that saying '"stay away from black kids" is the equivalent of looking at 9/11, shrugging one's shoulders and saying, "It was them Muslims."
It should come as no surprise that Victor Davis Hanson's generational advice has met with mixed results. But when you are more interested in a kind of bigoted nationalism than your actual safety, this is what happens.
These two strands -- stupidity and racism -- are inseparable. The pairing seem to find a home at National Review with some regularity. It's been a little over a year since the magazine cut ties with self-described racist John Derbyshire for basically writing the same thing that Victor Davis Hanson writes here. Hanson couldn't even be bothered to come up with anything new. He just ripped off Derbyshire. His editors could evidently care less. A few days later the magazine cut ties with Robert Weissberg for offering pro tips to white nationalists. I'm not quite sure why they bothered with the kabuki. You are what your record says you are and at some point one must conclude that these are not one-offs, that the magazine which once blamed the Birmingham bombing on "a crazed Negro," is dealing with something more systemic, something bone-deep.
My earlier criticisms notwithstanding, I think these comments (brought to you by my label-mate Garance Franke-Ruta) by Barack Obama, given his role as president of the United States of America, strike precisely the right note.
I could nitpick about a few things, but I think it's more important that people take this in. As far as I know, these are Barack Obama's most extensive comments regarding the impact of racism since he became president.
I would like to highlight this:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away. There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
I think this this is a very good primer on how it feels to be black and consider your relationship to law enforcement. Or people who think they are law enforcement.
I have had my criticisms of this president and how he talks about race. But given the mass freak-out that met him last year after making a modest point about Trayvon Martin, it must be said that it took political courage for him to double down on the point and then advance it.
No president has ever done this before. It does not matter that the competition is limited. The impact of the highest official in the country directly feeling your pain, because it is his pain, is real. And it is happening now. And it is significant.
Weaving race, class, sexual orientation and politics -- as well as the evolution of rap music -- into a wistful tapestry of male disaffection, the film's writer and director, Neil Drumming, introduces three not-so-young men whose friendship fell apart 15 years earlier along with their rising hip-hop group....As Mr. Drumming's whip-smart screenplay effects an uncomfortable group reunion, the film's playlike structure and relaxed rhythms perfectly frame conversations infused with pre-gentrification memories and music industry nostalgia. Throughout, his droll, insightful dialogue has a natural pop and sway that the actors clearly relish -- especially Yaya Alafia, magnificent as a coolly self-possessed dancer who sees right through John's smoke screen of apathy. Warmly photographed by Cliff Charles, "Big Words" is an engrossing, coming-of-middle-age drama that shows how disappointment can fester and derail a life. By the end, hope and change seem possible but far from guaranteed.
It will come as no surprise that I wholly agree. Every single African-American who ever complained about not seeing "us" in all our complexity on shows like Girls or Mad Men has a moral obligation to see this film. You must tell your stories. Other people will not do it for you.
My column in The Times today tries to grapple with the president's flirting with the idea of naming Ray Kelly, the author of the most prominent profiling operation in the country, to head the Department of Homeland Security:
It is often said that Obama's left-wing critics fail to judge him by his actual words from his candidacy. But, in this case, the challenge before Obama is not in adhering to the principles of a radical Left, but of adhering to his own. It is President Obama's attorney general who just this week painfully described the stain of being profiled. It was President Obama who so poignantly drew the direct line between himself and Trayvon Martin.It was candidate Obama who in 2008 pledged to "ban racial profiling" on a federal level and work to have it prohibited on the state level. It was candidate Obama who told black people that if they voted they would get a new kind of politics. And it was State Senator Obama who understood that profiling was the antithesis of such politics. Those of us raising our boys in the wake of Trayvon, or beneath the eye of the Demographics Unit, cannot fathom how the president could forget this.
My label-mate Conor Friedersdorf offers the chilling details on Kelly's operation:
Under Ray Kelly, the NYPD infiltrated Muslim communities and spied on hundreds or perhaps thousands of totally innocent Americans at mosques, colleges, and elsewhere. Officers "put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity," AP reported, citing NYPD documents. Informants were paid to bait Muslims into making inflammatory statements. The NYPD even conducted surveillance on Muslim Americans outside its jurisdiction, drawing a rebuke from an FBI field office, where a top official charged that "the department's surveillance of Muslims in the state has hindered investigations and created 'additional risks' in counterterrorism." Moreover, "In more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques," the Associated Press reported, "the New York Police Department's secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation." The horrifying effects on innocent Americans are documented here. But despite the high costs and lack of counterterrorism benefits, Kelly stands behind the surveillance on Muslims.
Anyone who wonders how we get to Trayvon Martin shouldn't simply think about Stop and Frisk, but should check out the AP's award winning-series on the NYPD spying on Muslim communities in the Northeast. I also suggest you watch this segment from Chris Hayes on Ray Kelly's record below.You should read the Village Voice's reporting on the case of Adrian Schoolcraft. And I suggest you listen to the episode of This American Life which recounts the Schoolcraft case with audio. You should also watch this short film produced by The Nation which offers audio from a Stop and Frisk.
Communities do not become pariahs simply through the actions of independent citizens. Policymakers send signals about what is acceptable and what is not. Should Barack Obama appoint Ray Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security the signal will be clear: Profiling is not, as Obama once claimed, "morally objectionable" and "bad police work," but an acceptable tactic presently condoned at the highest levels of government. Such a development -- in Obama's second term, no less -- would be a betrayal of African-American voters who endured long lines and poll tax tactics to elect this president. This should not happen. This can not happen.
Yesterday Richard Cohen wrote this:
In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects -- almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.
Those statistics represent the justification for New York City's controversial stop-and-frisk program, which amounts to racial profiling writ large. After all, if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk.
Still, common sense and common decency, not to mention the law, insist on other variables such as suspicious behavior. Even still, race is a factor, without a doubt. It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.
I wish I had a solution to this problem. If I were a young black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated. If the police are abusing their authority and using race as the only reason, that has got to stop. But if they ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.
It is very important to understand that no one is asking the NYPD to "ignore race." If an officer is looking for an specific suspect, no one would ask that the NYPD not include race as part of the description. But "Stop And Frisk" is not concerned with specific suspects, but with a broad class of people who are observed making "furtive movements."
With that said, we should take a moment to appreciate the import of Cohen's words. They hold that neither I, nor my twelve year old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state. Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality. It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all. Cohen argues that that majority should unduly bear the burden of police invasion, because of a minority who happens to live among us.
Richard Cohen concedes that this is a violation, but it is one he believes black people, for the good of their country, must learn to live with. Effectively he is arguing for a kind of racist public safety tax. The tax may, or may not, end with a frisking. More contact with the police, and people who want to be police, necessarily means more deadly tragedy. Thus Cohen is not simply calling for my son and I to bear the brunt of "violation," he is calling for us to run a higher risk of death and serious injury at the hands of the state. Effectively he is calling for Sean Bell's fianceé, Trayvon Martin's parents, Amadou Diallo's mother, Prince Jones' daughter, the relatives of Kathryn Johnston to accept the deaths of their love ones as the price of doing business in America.
The unspoken premise here is chilling -- the annihilation of the black individual. To wit:
Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.
I think we would concede that it would be wrong of me to assume that every Jewish person I meet is good at chess, physics or medicine. This year I am working at MIT where a disproportionate number of the students are Asian-Americans. It would be no more wise for me to take from that experience that individual Asian-Americans are good at math, then it would be for anyone to look at the NBA and assume I am good at basketball. And we would agree with this because generally hold that people deserve to be seen as individuals. But by Cohen's logic, the fact of being an African-American is an exception to this.
Perhaps the standards should be different when it comes to public safety and violence. But New York City's murder rate is as low as it has been in 50 years. How long should a racist public-safety tax last? Until black people no longer constitute a disproportionate share of our violent criminals, one assumes. But black people do not constitute such a group -- victims of hundreds of years of racist state policy constitute that group. "Black on Black" crime is the racecraft by which the fact of what was done to us disappears, and the fact of our DNA becomes criminalized.
I think Richard Cohen knows this:
The problems of the black underclass are hardly new. They are surely the product of slavery, the subsequent Jim Crow era and the tenacious persistence of racism. They will be solved someday, but not probably with any existing programs. For want of a better word, the problem is cultural, and it will be solved when the culture, somehow, is changed.
This paragraph is the American approach to racism in brief. Cohen can name the root causes. He is not blind to history. But he can not countenance the import of his own words. So he retreats to cynicism, pronouncing the American state to bankrupt to clean up a problem which it created, and, by an act of magic, lays it at the feet of something called "culture."
To paraphrase the old Sidney Harris cartoon, the formula for weak-sauce goes something like this
(Forced Labor + Mass Rape)AUCTIONING YOUR CHILDREN
+ (Poll tax + Segregation + Grandfather clause)THE KLAN
+ (Redlining + Blockbusting + Race Riots)CUTTING YOU OUT OF THE NEW DEAL
- THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS
= "Meh, you figure it out."
An capricious anti-intellectualism, a fanatical imbecility, a willful amnesia, an eternal sunshine upon our spotless minds, is white supremacy's gravest legacy. You would not know from reading Richard Cohen that the idea that blacks are more criminally prone, is older than the crime stats we cite, that it has been cited since America's founding to justify the very kinds of public safety measures Cohen now endorses. Black criminality is more than myth; it is socially engineered prophecy. If you believe a people to be inhuman, you confine them to inhuman quarters and inhuman labor, and subject them to inhuman policy. When they then behave inhumanely to each other, you take it is as proof of your original thesis. The game is rigged. Because it must be.
You should not be deluded into thinking Richard Cohen an outlier. The most prominent advocate of profiling our current pariah classes -- black people and Muslim Americans -- is now being mentioned in conversations to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Those mentions received an endorsement from our president:
Kelly hasn't spoken about whether he wants the post, but in an interview with Univision, the president said he'd want to know if Kelly was considering a job change. "Ray Kelly's obviously done an extraordinary job in New York," Obama said. "And the federal government partners a lot with New York, because obviously, our concerns about terrorism often times are focused on big-city targets, and I think Ray Kelly's one of the best there is.
What you must understand is that when the individual lives of those freighted by racism are deemed less than those who are not, all other inhumanities follow. That is the logic of Richard Cohen. It is the logic of Barack Obama's potential head of the DHS. This logic is not new, original or especially egregious. It is the logic of the country's largest city. It is the logic of the American state. It is the logic scribbled across the lion's share of our history. And it is the logic that killed Trayvon Martin.
There's a counter-intuitive notion taking hold out there that the George Zimmerman's case had nothing to do with Stand Your Ground. This argument is most explicitly made by Jacob Sullum in a column entitled, "Sorry, The George Zimmerman Case Still Has Nothing To Do With Stand Your Ground." Here's Sullum:
The story that George Zimmerman told about his fight with Trayvon Martin, the one that yesterday persuaded a jury to acquit him of second-degree murder and manslaughter, never had anything to do with the right to stand your ground when attacked in a public place. Knocked down and pinned to the ground by Martin, Zimmerman would not have had an opportunity to escape as Martin hit him and knocked his head against the concrete. The initial decision not to arrest Zimmerman, former Sanford, Florida, Police Chief Bill Lee said last week (as paraphrased by CNN), "had nothing to do with Florida's controversial 'Stand Your Ground' law" because "from an investigative standpoint, it was purely a matter of self-defense." And as The New York Times explained last month, "Florida's Stand Your Ground law...has not been invoked in this case." The only context in which "stand your ground" was mentioned during the trial was as part of the prosecution's attempt to undermine Zimmerman's credibility by arguing that he lied when he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he had not heard of the law until after the shooting. During his rebuttal on Friday, prosecutor John Guy declared, "This case is not about standing your ground."
I think this is overly broad. It's very true that Zimmerman's narrative holds that he never had the opportunity to retreat, and thus SYG was not relevant to his specific defense. It is certainly not true that "the only context" in which SYG came up was from the prosecution. As I wrote yesterday, SYG is explicitly mentioned in the jury instructions:
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Sullum says how the jury instructions apply "to the facts of this case." But this is changing the argument. Bill Lee's decision to not arrest George Zimmerman also don't apply to the facts of this case. They apply to Sullum's stated argument--"The George Zimmerman Case Had Nothing To Do With Stand Your Ground."
I do not mean to be pedantic here. The decision to not arrest George Zimmerman is critical in understanding why Trayvon Martin is a national cause célèbre and Justin Patterson is not. In looking at that decision, it is important to understand the changes enacted in Florida law in 2005, under SYG. Among those changes--making it very difficult to arrest someone who claims self-defense:
776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.--
(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term "criminal prosecution" includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.
(3) The court shall award reasonable attorney's fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).
The language here is interesting. It says that making a claim of self-defense grants immunity from arrest. It then adds exception for probable cause, which is the standard by which police make an arrest anyway.
It then finishes by noting that should the court find the that the claimant is immune to prosecution, they can recover from the state all expenses. I'm not clear on all of this because the language is so tangled. But my reading is that the pre-trial hearing is where such an immunity from from prosecution determination would be made. If immunity is found, then the state is on the hook for all the claimants bills. I don't see anything here that excludes people arguing that they could not retreat (like Zimmerman) from such a hearing.
This language was added to Florida's law books in 2005, exactly at the time that Florida put codified "stand your ground." They were part of the same reform, and have always been understood to be as such--even by Stand Your Ground's proponents. :
Marion Hammer, the NRA's Florida lobbyist, said the measure was needed to prevent authorities from harassing law-abiding people with unwarranted arrests. "The law was written very carefully and it means what it says: You have a right to protect yourself," she said...."There is nothing wrong with the law," she said. "Some of the state attorneys and law enforcement officers are complaining because they can't just go arrest everybody and sort it out later."
Sullum criticizes Ben Jealous for inveighing against Stand Your Ground, but correctly invoking the set of laws by the name which they have long been known.
It's very nice that Bill Lee now claims that the decision not to arrest George Zimmerman had nothing to do with SYG and its attendant reforms. But Bill Lee's statements today, must be weight against what the city of Sanford actually said at the time:
"Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense, which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony," the letter, signed by Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr., says. "By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time."
The killing of Trayvon Martin was not the first time law enforcement officials in Florida reached this conclusion:
It took Hillsborough County deputies two days to arrest Trevor Dooley, the school bus driver accused of shooting and killing a Valrico Air Force veteran on a basketball court. The arrest on manslaughter charges may have been complicated by the state's "stand your ground" law, which allows the use of lethal force if a person feels threatened by another with great bodily harm. The law makes it more difficult to make arrests and prosecute assailants when there has been a fight.
The thing to understand here is that Stand Your Ground laws do not exist in some segregated section of Florida's criminal code. They are not bracketed off from the rest of Florida's "standard" self-defense laws. Stand Your Ground laws are integral to the very meaning of self-defense in the state.
I do not think you can argue that Zimmerman would have been convicted if not for Stand Your Ground. But you certainly can't argue that the law had "nothing" to do with this case. And you most certainly can argue that SYG reduced the chances of Zimmerman being arrested. If that arrest had happened we probably would not be talking about this case right now.
COOPER: Because of the two options you had, second degree murder or manslaughter, you felt neither applied? JUROR: Right. Because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground. He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right
Again, it is simply not supportable to say that Stand Your Ground had "nothing" to do with this case.
In trying to assess the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicting truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice. In examining the first conclusion, I think it's important to take a very hard look at the qualifications allowed for aggressors by Florida's self-defense statute:
Use of force by aggressor.--The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless: (a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or (b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
I don't think the import of this is being appreciated. Effectively, I can bait you into a fight and if I start losing I can can legally kill you, provided I "believe" myself to be subject to "great bodily harm." It is then the state's job to prove -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that I either did not actually fear for my life, or my fear was unreasonable. In the case of George Zimmerman, even if the state proved that he baited an encounter (and I am not sure they did) they still must prove that he had no reasonable justification to fear for his life. You see very similar language in the actual instructions given to the jury:
In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real. If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
There has been a lot of complaint that "stand your ground" has nothing to do with this case. That contention is contravened by the fact that it is cited in the instructions to the jury. Taken together, it is important to understand that it is not enough for the state to prove that George Zimmerman acted unwisely in following Martin. Under Florida law, George Zimmerman had no responsibility to -- at any point -- retreat. The state must prove that Zimmerman had no reasonable fear for his life. Moreover, it is not enough for the jury to find Zimmerman's story fishy. Again the jury instructions:
George Zimmerman has entered a plea of not guilty. This means you must presume or believe George Zimmerman is innocent. The presumption stays with George Zimmerman as to each material allegation in the Information through each stage of the trial unless it has been overcome by the evidence to the exclusion of and beyond a reasonable doubt. To overcome George Zimmerman's presumption of innocence, the State has the burden of proving the crime with which George Zimmerman is charged was committed and George Zimmerman is the person who committed the crime. George Zimmerman is not required to present evidence or prove anything. Whenever the words "reasonable doubt" are used you must consider the following: A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt. On the other hand if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find George Zimmerman not guilty because the doubt is reasonable. It is to the evidence introduced in this trial, and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof. A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of George Zimmerman may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence. If you have a reasonable doubt, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty. If you have no reasonable doubt, you should find George Zimmerman guilty.
This was the job given to the state of Florida. I have seen nothing within the actual case presented by the prosecution that would allow for a stable and unvacillating belief that George Zimmerman was guilty.
That conclusion should not offer you security or comfort. It should not leave you secure in the wisdom of our laws. On the contrary, it should greatly trouble you. But if you are simply focusing on what happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history and bought into a idea of fairness which can not possibly exist.
The injustice inherent in the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was not authored by a jury given a weak case. The jury's performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair. The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy, for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming. It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have done very little to arrest.
One need only look the criminalization of Martin across the country. Perhaps you have been lucky enough to not receive the above "portrait" of Trayvon Martin and its accompanying text. The portrait is actually of a 32-year old man. Perhaps you were lucky enough to not see the Trayvon Martin imagery used for target practice (by law enforcement, no less.) Perhaps you did not see the iPhone games. Or maybe you missed the theory presently being floated by Zimmerman's family that Martin was a gun-runner and drug-dealer in training, that texts and tweets he sent mark him as a criminal in waiting. Or the theory floated that the mere donning of a hoodie marks you a thug, leaving one wondering why this guy is a criminal and this one is not.
We have spent much of this year outlining the ways in which American policy has placed black people outside of the law. We are now being told that after having pursued such policies for 200 years, after codifying violence in slavery, after a people conceived in mass rape, after permitting the disenfranchisement of black people through violence, after Draft riots, after white-lines, white leagues, and red shirts, after terrorism, after standing aside for the better reduction of Rosewood and the improvement of Tulsa, after the coup d'etat in Wilmington, after Airport Homes and Cicero, after Ossian Sweet, after Arthur Lee McDuffie, after Anthony Baez, Amadou Diallo and Eleanor Bumpers, after Kathryn Johnston and the Danziger Bridge, that there are no ill effects, that we are pure, that we are just, that we are clean. Our sense of self is incredible. We believe ourselves to have inherited all of Jefferson's love of freedom, but none of his affection for white supremacy.
You should not be troubled that George Zimmerman "got away" with the killing of Trayvon Martin, you should be troubled that you live in a country that ensures that Trayvon Martin will happen. Trayvon Martin is happening again in Florida. Right now:
In November, black youth Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old Jacksonville resident, was the only person murdered after Michael Dunn, 46, allegedly shot into the SUV Davis was inside several times after an argument about the volume of music playing. According to Dunn's girlfriend, Rhonda Rouer, Dunn had three rum and cokes at a wedding reception. She felt secure enough for him to drive and thought that he was in a good mood. On the drive back to the hotel they were residing at, they made a pit stop at the convenience store where the murder occurred. At the Gate Station, Rouer said Dunn told her that he hated "thug music." Rouer then went inside the store to make purchases and heard several gunshots while she was still within the building. Upon returning and seeing Dunn put his gun back into the glove compartment, Rouer asked why he had shot at the car playing music and Dunn claimed that he feared for his life and that "they threatened to kill me." The couple drove back to their hotel, and claim they did not realize anyone had died until the story appeared on the news the next day.After killing Jordan Davis, Michael Dunn ordered a pizza.
When you have a society that takes at its founding the hatred and degradation of a people, when that society inscribes that degradation in its most hallowed document, and continues to inscribe hatred in its laws and policies, it is fantastic to believe that its citizens will derive no ill messaging.
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.
To paraphrase a great man: We are what our record says we are. How can we sensibly expect different?
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