Monday, May 18, 2015

Baltimore Aflame: America's Racial Wounds, Perpetual Victimhood and the Failure of Liberalism

Yet another American city has been gripped by race riots. Yet again we see a flood of reactions ranging from the truly concerned to the ritually indignant to self-delusion and more. Does America have a race problem? Has America made any progress since the Civil War? What are the causes that led to the latest conflagration?

America has a problem with its justice system and cops. Author, columnist and commentator Jeffrey Toobin in a brilliant article, 'The Milwaukee Expreriment', in 'The New Yorker' outlines how America's judicial system aids, abets and creates racial disparity amongst those penalized by the judicial system. Anyone watching the T.V. series 'Good Wife', centered around characters in a Chicago Law firm, will realize how American judicial system cries out for transparency. Toobin underscores the fact that most defendants are at the mercy of prosecutors, who enjoy wide latitudes in deciding whom to charge and whose charges get dropped. In Milwaukee, Toobin cites a report, prosecutors dropped charges against 41% of white defendants while doing so for only 27% of black defendants. "In cases involving prostitution, black female defendants were likelier to be charged than white defendants".

In post 9-11 America cops and firemen are routinely referred to as 'heroes' and lionized for being, well, cops and firemen. Frida Ghitis, writing for, points out that in 2011 FBI reported "404 justifiable law-enforcement homicides" while "police killed six people in Australia, two in England, six in Germany". America has to stop romanticizing the idea that a cop is justified in shooting, often fatally, at not just a hint but a whiff of a hint of threat to life. A case in point is the 'Fruitvale station shooting' where an unarmed black man was shot point blank after a cop had pinned him to the ground. America's fetish for guns, thanks to the Second Amendment, plays a vital role in this mess.

Americans have more guns per-capita than any other developed country. The much vaunted Second Amendment has become a political lightning rod and the NRA (National Rifle Association) wields unbelievable clout in American politics that even Democratic Presidential nominees like John Kerry try to mute their championing of stricter gun controls to win elections. Remember the ridiculous duck hunt photos that Kerry's campaign orchestrated in 2004? What kind of civilized society thinks that an automatic rifle belongs in the hands of a civilian with little background check. Both liberals and conservatives play their games on background checks. Liberals, for their part, oppose a national registry of the mentally sick and conservatives oppose extensive back ground checks leading to a situation where more than once mentally ill people have perpetrated horrific gun crimes including a blood soaked tragedy at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. To be fair, more cops are killed in America in the line of duty than elsewhere.

The militarization of American police forces are another flash point. During the riots in Ferguson the police rolled out battle tanks onto the streets and America was dismayed. America's police departments buy military equipment from US Army. While many were dismayed at parading tanks in the streets during a race riots I am sure nobody would object when the same tanks are rolled out in search of a fugitive terrorist in an American city as it happened during the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston.

The burgeoning prison population poses a serious economic problem too. Ever since Eisenhower coined the phrase "military-industrial complex" to identify the nexus between Pentagon and arms manufacturers it has become a motif and so we now have a "prison-industrial complex". It is here that American politics and the causes of the now much talked about 'mass incarceration' of blacks starts getting murkier.

During the 1970s drug war Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican albeit a very progressive liberal, proposed and passed stiff laws for drug sentencing. US incarceration rates exponentially jumped after that. Even more insidious were the racial stereotypes between 'crack cocaine', largely used by blacks, and 'powder cocaine', largely used by whites. 'Crack cocaine' carries much harsher sentences than 'powder cocaine'. Until very recently the differences in sentencing went largely unchallenged despite mounting evidence that forms of cocaine has no impact on behavior patterns.

The 70s and then the 80s saw a rapid rise of crime rates in US across all kinds of crimes leading to politicians enacting stringent laws to punish crimes, provide more money for prisons and other efforts in an attempt to stem the rising tide of crime. In 1982 social scientists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling proposed the 'Broken Windows Theory'. The theory contended that prosecuting low level crimes such as vandalism, toll jumping etc prevents bigger crimes.

Prosecuting crime became the rallying cry of New Age Democrats like Bill Clinton and center-Right Republicans like Rudy Guiliani in the beginning of the 90s. Bill Clinton signed the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act" in 1994 seeking to strike a posture of a Democrat being tough on crime unlike the popular image of liberal democrats being soft on crime. Guiliani, heading a crime infested New York City, encouraged implementation of 'Broken Windows Theory'. The 90s did see a sharp drop in crime and a rise of in incarceration rates. The cause and effect connection is very debatable. Bill Clinton, today, accepts that the law he signed was a big reason in the 'mass incarceration' that his wife and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton alleges.

While all the above tell a certain story the story does not, of course, end there. While many focus on the racial disparity in incarceration what is often missed is that the entire range of indignation about racial disparity pre-supposes a key premise. The premise is often that racial component of offenders should be proportional to the demographical composition too. The premise is that offenders reflect the proportion they constitute in a society and therefore minorities in a society should be minorities amongst offenders too and thereby the incarcerated too. This is hogwash. A fact often ignored is that the victims of the crimes too are lopsidedly black. Meaning, blacks are more often the victims of crimes committed by black offenders. A black teenager is more likely to die from a murder attempt by a black than by a trigger happy cop. The unsavory omission in this righteous indignation about racial disparity of those penalized is the fact that the victims too are mostly blacks and the offenders are, indeed, mostly black too. Civil Rights icon Jesse Jackson spoke of walking in Chicago, "there is nothing more painful to me at this stage of my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking of robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved". That, from Jesse Jackson.

Crime Rate in NYC & Rudy Guiliani's Years.

It is also fashionable to blame tough laws as spawning their own problems. During the recent conflagration of riot in Baltimore many blamed the get-tough laws enacted by now Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of Baltimore 1999-2007 Martin O' Malley. Whether it is New York City or Baltimore both Guiliani and O'Malley inherited cities, famous and populous cities, that were considered very unsafe and crime rates were spiking. Baltimore used to have open-air drug markets. As a result of their policies the crime rates did die down.

The 'Broken Windows Theory' of prosecuting low level crimes became the focus of criticism when Eric Garner of New York died after a chokehold by a cop during his arrest for selling loose cigarettes.   While the Toobin article speaks of how whites are prosecuted less than blacks it does not, most importantly, allege that blacks are charged unfairly. This distinction is often lost on many who cite statistics. While it is politically expedient to speak of mass incarceration it is a blatant lie to make it appear as if every black who is walking down the street is hauled off to a jail. More often than not blacks who are charged or shot are caught in murky situations to say the least. Does the rare occurrence, as it did in South Carolina, never happen where a completely innocent black man or woman is killed? Of course it happens. But, to be sure and to be fair, those are indeed exceptions. Did Eric Garner deserve to die? Certainly not. Absolutely not. But he was no innocent bystander either.

Black America, a staunch voting bloc for Democrats, has often considered the GOP to be a party of White men and inimical to their interests. Yet, more often than not, it is either wanna-be tough democrats like Bill Clinton and David O' Malley (who instituted tough laws in Baltimore) that create the laws which, in the name of fighting crime, creates a racial problem. Baltimore has had a democratic mayor for 40 years. Maryland is a liberal bastion.

Blacks, by an overwhelming majority, support Big Government. From W.E.B. Du Bois to MLK Jr to the current crop of black leaders distrust of capitalism and faith in not just socialism but a deep seated hatred towards capitalism runs in the community despite all evidence to the contrary. FDR's New Deal passed with support from racist southern democrats institutionalized segregation. Later the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) which fueled the 1960s housing boom literally codified that to preserve market value of homes built with FHA assistance they should not be sold to blacks. Government engineered housing projects cater to political priorities trumping economic logic and creates ghettos. A Washington Post article bemoaned how spending $130 Million in Baltimore still could not save the city. Misguided housing projects and a work force untrained for new kind of jobs made parts of the city ripe for becoming drug infested dens.

Unions are loved by black communities for the job security they provide. What they forget is that a policeman cannot be fired for the same reasons that a teacher can never be fired. The police union is as good in protecting bad policemen from being fired as the teacher's union is militant in ensuring that short of being a murderer no teacher can ever be fired.

Black politicians love to speak of disparities between schools in black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods. A troubling fact is that Baltimore's per pupil spending on education is the second highest in the country and yet the schools are largely failing. When Michelle Rhee, Asian-American, tried to reform the notoriously failing schools in D.C. by expanding Charter schools and demanding better performances from public schools the D.C. electorate, 50% black, backed the teacher's union's campaign to unseat the mayor who appointed her. And they succeeded. When Rahm Emmanuel, democratic mayor of Chicago, wanted to extend the school day in Chicago, one of the lowest in the country, the teacher's union, largely black, went on a militant strike demanded a forbidding increase in funding. Chicago teachers earned well above the median wages in Chicago already. Incidentally the black leader of Chicago's teachers union made fun of Federal Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan's, a white, lisp. Imagine the furore if their ethnicities had been reversed.

When latte sipping limousine-liberals prevent a Wal-Mart store from opening in D.C. or New York City they not only kill jobs but they deprive the largely poor and very largely black populations in the neighborhood of shopping options that are vital to their economic well being. Not everyone can afford to shop to at Wholefoods or have a latte at Starbucks. When Coke positioned itself as the white man's drink Pepsi, trying to find a market, turned to black communities. It was path breaking to see black men in advertisements dressed up as salesmen. This is what capitalism does best, capitalizing on the desire to make money. Black musicians and athletes are paragons of capitalism. When LeBron, net worth $270 million, James auctions himself as a free agent he make it rain dollars. Thanks to capitalism B.B. King born to a sharecropper becomes a very rich musician. Together Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z are worth, $400 million, much more than Mitt Romney who holds a dual degree from Harvard. Out of its desire to make money broadcasting giant ABC even went to great lengths to get Ray Charles out of legal troubles caused by his drug habits. The black community needs to understand that capitalism is their best friend.

More often than not the disparities between blacks and whites are driven by economics than ethnicity as a factor. It is often bemoaned that luxury goods and even movies do not cater to black America. This is more a function of economics than of race. Blacks are a minority and lack the purchasing power of whites or Asians. Not everything is about race.

When Baltimore erupted in riots a straight line was drawn from the deaths of Trayvon Martin in Florida to Michael Brown's death in Ferguson to Baltimore. Amongst the three incidents the really unfair one, from comparison perspective, was the Ferguson incident. When Michael Brown was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson a trial by media ensued followed by riots and fancy chants of "Don't shoot" (with hands up in the air, suggesting that a surrendering unarmed Brown was shot dead). Many spoke of how Brown, a very stocky built boy, was a 'gentle giant'. Only later it turned out that Brown had indeed terrorized and burglarized an Asian owned store just moments before being shot by officer Wilson.

Thanks to the furore and riots a federal investigation, no less, was launched along side a state investigation against officer Wilson. Imagine being investigated by the Federal Department of Justice.  And both investigations concluded that Brown had indeed charged at officer Wilson giving Wilson no choice but to shoot at him. Wilson, in an often forgotten fact, was exonerated of any racial motives in the shooting.

In the case of Trayvon Martin too public furore made the county file charges against vigilante George Zimmerman despite the fact that an earlier review concluded that Zimmerman had acted within the 'stand your ground' law and was in fact injured by Martin. Finally Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury that included blacks. Yet, the myth persists that Zimmerman was motivated by race.

The Baltimore case is even murkier because of the fact that of the 6 officers charged 3 are black including a woman, whose last name is White. Yet it is being made out in the media that its all about the dead black man. Cops, black or white, act like cops do, with an air of entitlement and righteousness. This is the classic case of 'power corrupts'. Baltimore police force is 46% black. In the infamous case of the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr while the arresting officer was white there was, at least, one other black cop on the scene. And there too, the officer was later exonerated of any racial bias though the arrest itself was termed 'avoidable'. Avoidable and stupid it certainly was.

When Ferguson and Baltimore burned people feel free to lecture America on the vestiges of racism that are alive and kicking. Yet, not many even know how Philadelphia, a very major city, was ransacked for several nights by black flash mobs, not in response to any injustice but merely as sport. Black mayor Michael Nutter addressed a church congregation and scolded black youngsters in very blunt words and even told them to "pull up your pants, buy a belt". Words, which a white mayor could never have uttered.

Whether it is mayor Nutter or presidential candidate Obama or popular T.V. personality Bill Cosby offering words of stern advice to fellow blacks the reaction from the black community is swift and mercilessly against them for 'acting white'. Black leaders, especially race hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, specialize in playing the victim card. Obama who was raised by a single white mom after his black father deserted them spoke of how black men abandon families on Father's day. Jesse Jackson responded, on what he thought was a switched off microphone, by expressing a desire to 'cut his nuts off'. Cosby was called a race traitor for calling attention to how black families raise kids. A Washington Post op-ed identifies the desire by black commentators to ask those who advise blacks to couch their advices along side scolding of white America as the 'politics of patronizing'.

The black community's overweening desire to play the race card does the greatest disservice to blacks themselves besides issue of an iniquitous judicial system and trigger happy cops. Michelle Obama excels in playing the race card when it suits her. Mrs Obama recently listed all the ways in which black America is at the receiving end of a society that is still divided along racial lines. This from a woman with a Princeton degree, whose brother and husband went to Princeton and Harvard respectively and whose husband got elected as President with the thinnest resume in American history. What she failed to mention was the love-hate relationship that her own husband shares with the black political establishment.

When Barack Obama sought to get elected for Congress from Chicago charges of 'he's not black enough' was started as a whisper campaign, not by whites but by the black establishment itself because he did not want to hitch his wagon with them and nor was he deferential towards them. Obama's Harvard degree and inability to speak like the 'typical' black man were cited as his lack of black character. This is a depressing phenomenon that black students continue to battle. Black students who excel in studies are often shunned by fellow black students as 'acting white'. Mac Arthur genius award winner John Dabiri in an interview to NPR spoke of it. Now, Roland Fryer, winner of the Clark medal (an Economics prize for the most promising economist under age 40) actually did a statistical research and proved that when black students excel in studies they tend to lose friends amongst blacks.

Michelle Obama was happy to list the ways in which blacks could be discriminated against and their achievements belittled. What she failed to say was that there are many situations where it is advantageous to be black too. Chiefly, in education and jobs, affirmative action makes it far easier for a black student or applicant to get a place at Harvard or at a job. Black students typically need to score 300 points less than Asian students to get into Ivy League universities. A black employee cannot be fired that easily.

In Federal and State jobs promotion exams are carefully constructed to ensure that black applicants score and win else the very fact that blacks may not have scored would by itself used as a justification to throw out the results. 11 firemen, one Hispanic and the rest white, had to go all the way to the US Supreme Court to re-instate their promotions after the State rescinded their promotions because no black fireman had scored enough to be promoted in the test. Not having scored enough to merit a promotion black firemen filed a lawsuit that the test was 'biased'. The Hispanic firefighter, a dyslexic too, had sacrificed his second job and paid for a person to read his test materials to him since he was dyslexic. After the state proved that the test was not biased the black firemen still went to court and Sonia Sotomayor, a self-professed 'affirmative action baby', who sat on the appeals court dismissed the claims of the promoted firemen without an explanation. The aggrieved firemen then got their justice only in US Supreme Court. Now, Sotomayor sits as one of the justices in the US Supreme Court. 'The Economist' magazine notably, in a major cover story, called for an end to affirmative action.

Another fact that Mrs Obama forgot  to mention was how the Department of Justice, as reported by New York Times, headed by Eric Holder, a black, routinely supports police in cases where they used force. Mrs Obama conveniently ignores government programs targeted towards blacks like the 'Head-Start program' that have become grotesque gravy trains for political patronage. Running at a cost of 7 billion dollars for 1 million kids (per capita $700,000) is nothing but a jobs programs that is absolutely ineffective except as a political patronage for an important vote bank.

President Obama, given the community organizer that he once was, loves to speak of the responsibility of society more often than he does of personal responsibility. A key initiative of his is the 'My brother's keeper' initiative. What a load of nonsense. College Board's analysis of SAT scores show that blacks from families with more wealth than white families still score less on SAT. The differences, College Board, says start much earlier and at homes. What in essence it says is that the government and society can dream up any number of programs but ultimately the home is where the real task is. A relative of mine once joked that at a certain place the tuition center Kumon and a ballet teaching center were located along side each other with identical time slots for classes. It was funny, she said, to see that when the time for a class comes Asian kids stream into Kumon and white kids stream into ballet classes. As much as we all hate stereotyping the differences start there.

Yes, compared to whites blacks do perform badly on every social indicator. But what explains the fact that even Hispanics, subject to the same forces of poverty and racism still perform better on all indicators? In fact Hispanics lack access to social welfare schemes available to citizens because most them are illegal immigrants. Black community, statistics from Pew research center shows, was the hardest hit in the recent financial crisis and still lags behind Hispanics in bouncing back during the recovery. Interestingly another Pew Survey statistics also shows that Hispanics are more willing to relocate in search of a job.

On the subject of the black community's strident support of big government and near total absolute loyalty as a voting block for Barack Obama, it is perplexing because both are inimical to the interests of the community. The banking regulations put in place and championed by Obama is choking of access to credit by low income groups, most of whom are blacks. In the current regulatory regime it is almost impossible for anyone with less than impeccable credit and adequate financial resources to secure a loan. It should be noted here that the seeds of the financial crises contained within it desire by liberal groups to loosen credit for those with insufficient credit profiles, most of whom were blacks and Hispanics. Failure of lending agencies to lend widely to a vast strata of socio-economic groups was considered racial discrimination notwithstanding the fact that economic factors should drive such decisions more.

Unemployment within black community is still above the national average and yet Obama is championing the legalizing of nearly 14 million illegal immigrants most of whom are competing for the same low-wage jobs that blacks apply for. Legalizing the 14 million has its own economic rationale, let alone humanitarian, but somebody has to pay the price and it is the black community that will pay for it. If a white GOP president had fired Shirley Sherrod (see note below in References) the NAACP would've cried murder and yet since it was Obama that did it he not only escapes censure but it is Sherrod who was censured. This is what happens when politicians are guaranteed the votes of a demographic bloc.

The acquittal of the police officers who attacked Rodney King sent Los Angeles into a burning fury. A subsequent re-trial saw justice done. Yes, it was race that was the motivating force of those officers.  That said, black America often forgets the cases of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson. Simpson murdered a white woman and was arrested in the most publicized chase in recent US history. The trial was historic and sentiments about his innocence was divided along racial lines with blacks considering him innocent and whites otherwise. Thanks to a high priced lawyer and an effete prosecution Simpson was acquitted. Michael Jackson was accused of pedophilia and was acquitted thanks, again, to a a very high priced legal team.

Neither the acquittals O.J. Simpson or Michael Jackson or even the recent execution style killings of cops in NYC and elsewhere have occasioned riots by whites. To say that rioting is what gets attention is a travesty of truth and belies ground realities of political power wielded by blacks as a demographic group. Rosa Parks had more justification to burn a cop's car than the hooligans of Baltimore. During Civil Rights marches the crowd marched proudly with uncovered faces and dressed in suits unlike the hoodie clad, underwear baring, masked rioters of Ferguson and Baltimore. Both convey very different image and evoke very different reactions from viewers at large. As unfair as it may seem optics matters.

The black community is also ill served by leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Both of them can be unhesitatingly called race hustlers and shakedown artists. Al Sharpton notoriously rose to fame when he falsely alleged that a black girl was raped by white cops. He also played a role in inflaming racial tension between blacks and Jews in the Crown Heights riots. Another case where whites were charged by a black girl leading to a highly publicized trial and later acquittal of the accused was the Duke Lacrosse case. A group of white students from Duke University were charged with raping a black stripper. An overzealous prosecutor charged the students and the case fell apart during trial. There were no riots either leading up to the trial or once the case fell apart with a thud that it was trumped up.

In today's America it is not easy for any injustice to go without it gaining attention and a chorus of support. Riots are the least effective ways to gain attention and they are, without exception, counter-productive.

Amidst the din of racial injustices towards blacks what is completely ignored is that blacks can be racist too. The black community's attitudes towards Asians and Hispanics is no less racist. Homophobia runs high in black churches. Black churches in California, of all places, were instrumental in helping pass Proposition 8 to ban gay marriages. This is sheer hypocrisy in a community that was wrecked by the AIDS epidemic. When Barack Obama discovered, expediently, that it was politically virtuous to support gay marriage he had to, according to a New York Times report, personally call and mollify black church pastors. When Jeremy Lin, an Asian, stormed the basket ball courts, he was taunted by black athletes. Former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry wanted "asians's dirty shops to go" and for black shops to take their place. In a city like Los Angeles where blacks hold political power Hispanics are given a raw treatment. In fact the schism between blacks and Hispanics was so bad that during 2008 election there was fear that it could impact Obama's chances in a state like California. Power corrupts all.

It is highly unfair to not give even a modicum of credit to the  progresses made by America in racial integration and ensuring that the society is more just. It is, of course, as it should be, a work in progress. From music to sports to politics to academia blacks have made great strides. Events like that of Baltimore should serve as continued reminders of work that remains to be done. The work that remains to be done is on several fronts. The society has to continue to evolve and hold itself to higher standards of equality. The community too needs to introspect its weaknesses and sociopolitical choices that are stumbling blocks to progress.


1. Prison Industrial Complex–industrial_complex
2. "Police Shootings in US out of hand" - Frida Ghitis's column
3. Rockefeller drug laws
4. Myths about Cocaine
5. Crime Rate in US
6. Bill Clinton's "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act"
7. Broken Windows Theory
8. Crime in New York City
9. "Why $130 Million Couldn't Transform Baltimore" - Oped from Washington Post -
10. Jesse Jackson on walking in Chicago
11. Arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr
12. "Axe Head Start Programs" - Joe Klein in Time magazine,8599,2081778,00.html
13. Roland Fryer and research on 'acting white'
14. Shirley Sherrod case
15. "The Milwaukee Experiment" - Jeffrey Toobin in 'The New Yorker'
16. Eric Garner chokehold death
17. Video of Michael Brown allegedly stealing from store and threatening store owner
18. "Time to scrap affirmative action" -- Cover Story by 'The Economist'
19. Former DC mayor says "Asians' dirty shops to go"
20. Obama's call to pastors for support for gay marriage
21. "Baltimore's Poor Not Helped by Liberal Policies" - Column by Rich Lowry

1 comment:

shankar said...

Thanks, a great article. African-Americans will remain the permanent underclass if they don't change their ways.

When Kennedy used the phrase affirmative action, this is what he said: "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.". Simply stated, he said "don't discriminate, provide equal opportunity", but this definition is slowly being perverted to state that "affirmative action" means "reservation" a la India. I sincerely hope the 14th amendment of the US constitution holds.