Our Umpteenth Effort to End Racial Murder and Abuse

June 28, 2020

I wanted to deliver this last week but Trump’s use of the military against domestic protestors had me fear for the future of our republic and I put this off.

But I want to talk about these horrible scenes of murder of African-Americans by police. People killed who posed no threat, where the police had everything well under control, and it wasn’t even clear if the victim had done anything meriting police attention, let alone murder. Breonna Taylor, an EMT, was killed in her bed in Louisville.

This reminds me of the Civil Rights Movement I grew up with. People in prayer outside boards of election that wouldn’t let them register. 14-year- old Emmet Til killed on a visit to Mississippi relatives, accused of whistling at a white woman. Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights worker shot in her car. Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, an integrated trio of civil rights workers, released by police in front of thugs who followed, murdered and buried them where they were not expected to be found.

The murders and lynchings stayed in front of our eyes until we hurt, just as we are hurting for George Floyd, choked to death in Minneapolis; Walter Scott, over a brake light in Charleston, SC; Ahmaud Aubrey, killed for jogging while Black in Georgia; Tamir Rice, a twelve-year old, in Cleveland; Stephon Clark, killed for holding a cell phone in his grandmother’s Sacramento backyard;  Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Eric Garner, in Staten Island; Tony McDade in Tallahassee; and Trayvon Martin, a teenager, killed by a neighborhood vigilante who thought he didn’t belong, compounded by the jury’s acquittal. Their stories, and so many more, are unacceptable. The police are supposed to protect us. But they kill too. African-Americans have learned not to call the police in order to protect their own families. I can’t forget the acquittal of four officers here in Albany for killing Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, in a barrage of forty-one shots for trying to put a key in his door.

The U.S. Supreme Court enabled a century of lynching in 1876 by holding that a U.S. Attorney had no authority to prosecute the perpetrators of the Colfax Massacre.[i] After that, police and the Klan, which also infiltrated the FBI, acted with impunity in much of the country. The Court now does its best to restore the worst abuses of that century of intimidation and impunity.[ii] I recently worked on a brief in support of the family of a Mexican boy, in a cross-border shooting by American officers for playing too near the border. The Supreme Court protected his killer. As Pete Seeger asked, “When will it ever end”?

And yet we can’t get tired, we can’t stop, we can’t let all the abuses this country has tried to stop elsewhere define life for a third of our citizens at home. No one is free when anyone is in chains. I don’t want to have the deaths of thousands of decent people on my conscience. I don’t want my darker skinned friends, colleagues, clients, neighbors, essential workers, athletes, entertainers or any other good people and their families having to worry day and night about eluding people who want to kill them or think they aren’t worth living?

When Yugoslavia started to come apart, we had an exchange student living with us who was from Belgrade. She cried about what was happening to her country – the whole country, Yugoslavia. There was intermarriage, friendship, strong neighborhoods, business partnerships, and none of that protected people. When things start to fall apart, there is no safety. We need to stand up for decent people of all backgrounds. And remember that none of us and none of those dear to us are safe when shooters are empowered, with or without a badge.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on the WAMC Northeast Report, on June 30, 2020.

[i] LeeAnna Keith, The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction (Oxford Univ. Press 2008); Charles Lane, The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction (Henry Holt & Company 2008); and United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876), the case that turned a massacre into a century of intimidation and impunity.

[ii] Stephen Gottlieb, Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics 189-208 (2016).


Testing Republican Loyalty on the Route to Dictatorship

June 22, 2020

My heart wants to talk about the momentous things happening in our country but the disloyalty of this president is too frightening to talk about anything else.

He keeps firing people who’re trying to follow the law. He’s stripping government of the people who protected us from disease, poison and catastrophe, from dangerous workplaces and frauds, leaving most of us with little ability to protect ourselves. We’re out of work, out of money and have lost control of many boards of elections. When does it become too much?

He’s allied himself with the most extreme racists, people who’ve little compunction at brandishing, intimidating, threatening the rest of us with their weapons. Who’s safe then?

FBI records have made it clear that the – I refuse to use the name they call themselves – but the alt-sickos he praises and incites are the same ones who have been responsible for the vast majority of domestic terrorism in this country. Some of you may be too young to remember Timothy McVeigh who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing that killed and injured nearly a thousand people including 19 children in a day care center. He came from the same sewer of hate. The alt-screwed up wing that Trump insists on encouraging has been the source of the mass shooters that have caused so much grief. They’ve united law-breakers with political enmity. The combination is deadly. Do we need more proof?

Encouraging violence, creating chaos and then posing as the savior is a path tyrants have followed all over the world to take power, and, gaining power, turned their followers loose on the population until everyone bows in feigned allegiance to avoid their own and their family’s arrest, rape and murder.

The other major path is to gain control of the military. Trump has been firing everyone inquiring into his misbehavior. He’s fired much of the top brass of the military for daring to say that the military must stay out of politics or otherwise stand up to him.

How far is Dangerous Donald trying to go? And what will happen to us if he gets what he wants?

If this president attempts to take over by force, who will stand in his way? Will the Senate be loyal to Trump or to America and the rule of law and democracy? Will the Army be loyal to Trump or to America, the rule of law and democracy now that he has been stripping responsible military leaders of their stripes? Will there be anyone left to say no and lead the troops against a presidential putsch? Is it too late for the Court now that they have authorized massive stripping of voters from the records? Will we stop this slide into tyranny before it’s too late?

To allow this President to take over the reins of power he believes are his, will erase all efforts to make this a more decent country. This is a real test of the loyalty of Republican Senators – to Mr. Trump, or to the Constitution that so many Republicans have so loudly proclaimed as if they alone obey it. Are they loyal to the law and its superiority over everyone, high and low, or are they devoted instead to the notion of impunity, that some people can do any damage they choose to other people, to our government and to America itself without facing justice. Frankly, I am guessing that we are going to see immense disloyalty to America and failure to insist that the president has an obligation to our country and not just to his own ambitions. If you could read the records of the Founders of our country, you would quickly discover that Trump is the man they were afraid of.

There is no second chance. Republicans must show their courage now or survive only in infamy.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on June 23, 2020.


To Reinvent the Cops, Disarm Them

June 15, 2020

The Governor wants us all to reinvent policing in our own communities. Let’s pull that apart. He wants each separate community to have a conversation about policing and reset everything. Sounds good. Community is a lovely warm word. But I think the reality is a lot different than it sounds.

Lots of folk assume what academics say is just theory. But the difference is addition. Academics add up all the examples. They take what Google calls the satellite view. They don’t necessarily interview people like cops and lawyers. They want the big picture – what’s happening. And when you do all the examples and add it up, what you discover are vast numbers of communities engaged in keeping everybody else out – using everything from acreage requirements to zoning. So, Governor, are you telling us all to rebuild segregation by having each of our communities use policing to keep everyone else out? “Looks like he doesn’t belong here; get rid of him.” Some communities will try to protect everyone, but they’ll be surrounded by rules and cops that say keep out.

So I don’t expect anything constructive to come out of the Governor’s mandatory conversations. Breaking us down into our little private sanctuaries, the game is already stacked.

Forgive me for repeated something I’ve said before, but guns should need an excuse and a warrant before they’re pulled out in public, because guns make bullies of us all. My cure for police misbehavior? Firearms aren’t always used, but to change the culture, to motivate people to use their heads, I’d put an unarmed force between the police and the public and call for arms only when necessary. Guns and ammunition can do a lot of harm – even if only by intoxicating the officers with a sense of power.

An unarmed force would need to use their heads, to de-escalate conflict instead of aggravating it with belligerent language and a show of force.

I was asked to speak to a group of high school students alongside a policeman about relations with the cops. He told them to show respect and everything would be OK. What about the adult? The police also have an obligation to show respect for people, old and young, upset or calm. Those guns make bullies of us all – cops included.

I have no objection if the cops think wireless video connections should be provided so the department could rush help if there really is any danger. But a video stream would be more effective than a gun in convincing people to cool it. I’d put officers on the street without their guns.

I helped do a memorial for a friend a few years ago – we were both on the NYCLU Board when Jerry died. Forty years before that he was in charge of a group of attorneys in Mississippi during Freedom Summer 1964. A historian, Thomas M. Hilbink, had done a study of that group of lawyers and, reading his paper while preparing for the memorial, I discovered that Jerry had been in numerous life or death situations. Down there, by the way, the police were closely allied with the Klan. But Jerry came back healthy and strong – one of the best litigators the Civil Liberties Union had. He used his head. He de-escalated. And he protected everyone working with him.

OK, Jerry was extraordinary. So was Mississippi that summer. Jerry was truly brave, not just filled with the bravery of firearms. And he wasn’t so foolish as to pack or pull heat.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on June 16, 2020.


Trump’s Second Amendment Hooligans

June 8, 2020

The pandemic has been making life quite difficult for many of us, but if we don’t figure out a way to deal with Trump’s invitations to violence things can get a lot worse.

Gun owners are not made in cookie cutters and the differences are large. I know lots of people who own guns and it’s never given me a moment’s concern. Many if not most gun owners are responsible and trustworthy. They are not killers and they’re not using their guns to play rough with people.

But there is a minority that believe that gun rights, or what Mr. Trump prefers to call Second Amendment rights, give them the privilege to threaten, intimidate and even kill to make things come out their way. Threats, intimidation and murder are not protected by the Second Amendment. They’re crimes. People who believe the Second Amendment gives them such rights are hooligans or terrorists, not responsible people who deserve anything but the insides of jail cells or loony bins. Those people are “deplorable.”

The statistics make clear that they’ve done more damage in America than the foreign terrorists we say we fear. Trump wants us to believe that there are, as he put it, good people on both sides, but White Supremacists account for the vast majority of home-grown terrorism in this country. And they reliably respond to his invitations, resulting in a very clear and present danger of violence and bloodshed.

When Mr. Trump told people to liberate Michigan with their Second Amendment rights, he was not suggesting that they keep their guns holstered or cased or even pointed at the sky. He was appealing to hooligans and terrorists to force the rest of us to do their bidding.

When Mr. Trump took office the Constitution required him to:

“solemnly swear (or affirm) that [he] will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Millions of Americans have taken oaths that we were

“not a member of the Communist Party or any other organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government by force or violence.”

In fact Mr. Trump is trying to overthrow it. A leading, so-called birther, he denied Obama’s right to the office though Obama was properly elected and behaved in a careful and thoughtful way for the good of all of us. By contrast, Trump uses the classic methods to try to overthrow the government by force and violence. Budding dictators encourage violence, create chaos and then pose as the savior to take over. When Trump creates a clear and present danger of violence by inviting gun owners to use their Second Amendment rights, they get the signal, and Trump relies on their lawlessness to put people in terror if they oppose him. Like other budding dictators who’ve called out the military against their own people, Trump called out a show of military force against domestic demonstrators to clear his path to a photo op in front of a Washington church and over-awe Americans with his control of the levers of deadly power. A would-be dictator, Mr. Trump is repudiating his American citizenship.

Guns owners who respond to Trump’s incitement are giving a very bad name to responsible gun owners, to owners who don’t use their guns and their votes to constrain political behavior like that. It’s time to take back the NRA from the unreconstructed Civil War rebels, terrorists, hooligans and their enablers who claim the protection of their guns and the Second Amendment in your name. It’s time to break the White House link with liars, hooligans, and terrorists.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on June 9, 2020.

REFERENCES:

New America Foundation, IN DEPTH, Terrorism in America After 9/11 https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/terrorism-in-america/what-threat-united-states-today/;

Daniel Byman,  Right-Wingers Are America’s Deadliest Terrorists, Slate, Aug. 5, 2019, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/08/right-wing-terrorist-killings-government-focus-jihadis-islamic-radicalism.html.

DANIEL MORITZ-RABSON, New NRA President Is Board Chair for Organization Managing Country’s Largest Confederate Monument, Newsweek, 4/30/19 AT 10:52 AM EDT – https://www.newsweek.com/nra-president-chairs-organization-country-largest-confederate-mounment-1409648

How the NRA went from a marksmanship group to a controversial political powerhouse. In his new book, investigative journalist Frank Smyth explores the group’s rise to favor, particularly under the Trump administration. By Hope Reese  Updated Apr 2, 2020, 11:00am EDT, The Highlight by Vox, https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/3/24/21191524/nra-national-rifle-association-history-frank-smyth-wayne-la-pierre

 


Cops, Blacks, Presidents and Stereotypes

June 2, 2020

After practicing law, it’s hard to stick to stereotypes about people, whether the police, the looters, whites, presidents or anyone else. Lawyers see the best and the worst, Mother Teresa and Jack the Ripper. The good and bad aren’t predictable.

We have lots of stereotypes about African-Americans. I’ve worked in and for the Black community but I’ve never met the stereotype. Instead I’ve gotten to know a lot of wonderful people at all levels of American society.

Police? Actually I think the police are like rest of us in all other walks of life, comprised of everyone from the best to the worst. We stereotype the police. Since they’re brave, we stereotype them all as good people. Americans don’t like to call people they despise brave, but if risking death is brave, the cops share that honor with lots of the people they pursue – gangsters, gang members and terrorists. So it’s pretty obvious that I don’t see the connection between bravery and decency. There are police who heroically track down dangerous people and rescue the innocent. But there are other police convicted of everything from fraud to the murder of women and children as well as unarmed and peaceful African-Americans.

Presidents? It had to happen that we would have one who’d try to preserve his power against the wishes of the American people. He fans the flames and encourages chaos so that he can gather the military and pretend to put out fires that he fanned, using the military against domestic dissent. He stripped many of the finest military men from command to quote “work” in his White House, and when they discovered they could not behave intelligently and patriotically they resigned. Monkeying with military leadership is dangerous. And Trump is using his die-hard armed supporters with their “Second Amendment rights” as Storm Troopers in disguise. It couldn’t be clearer that he wants to become dictator. That’s the route they take – encourage violence, create chaos and then pose as the savior.

The men who created our country knew that power corrupts. They made no assumptions but tried to create checks and balances to counter against the certainty that it would happen. They didn’t figure out how to control the Senate before it made a mockery of the impeachment process. Yes, he’s guilty of lying and a cover-up, but no matter, that’s not serious enough. Is abandoning world leadership to the Russians and Chinese disloyal enough? Is a daily string of lying to the American people and making up fake quote “facts” serious enough? Is threatening insurrection with what he refers to as “Second Amendment rights” serious enough? Is there a Second Amendment right to storm state houses and threaten governors with their weapons? Is that serious enough? Is trying to poison Americans with fake so-called “cures” serious enough? Is the slaughter of a hundred thousand Americans because he dithered in dealing with disease serious enough?

Yes, along with decent and heroic officers, there are some who are intoxicated by the power of their weapons, corrupted by their stereotypes of African-Americans, and protected by a culture of silence and solidarity. But their faults are encouraged by a pretender in the White House for whom nothing is too much to keep him in power.


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