Point of View Columns

Is It Only Good for the Goose?

 

To say that there are double standards in life is just another way of saying that life isn’t fair. This is not exactly late breaking news here on the Planet Earth. Nevertheless, we have seen the recent employment of double standards regarding statements that come from Progressive America as opposed to Neanderthal Right Wing America that is a cause for real concern. After all, since when is what is good for the goose no longer good for the gander?

Case in point – MSNBC commentator Martin Bashir articulated righteous and appropriate outrage to the obscene statements of Sarah Palin arguing that the national debt would bring about a condition “worse than slavery”. Mr. Bashir actually took the time to research some of the more popular tortures commonly used by white American owners of black American slaves and suggested that Ms. Palin be subjected to such treatment as punishment for her obscene and pornographic use of history.

The result – Ms. Palin and her supporters on the right wing of the right wing screamed like scalded cats. Somehow the tattered shreds of her honor were presumably besmirched because Mr. Bashir turned her obscene analogy around and she didn’t like how it felt. That should have been the end of that bit of rhetorical parry and thrust.

But it was not. Mr. Bashir was forced to take a leave of absence. Subsequently he submitted his resignation and anyone who believes that he resigned voluntarily believes in the Easter Bunny. And now it is alright for denizens of the right wing to appropriate the horror of American racial slavery to their own rhetorical purposes, and they can do so with impunity.

There is clearly a slippery slope at work and the right wing of the right wing is feeling empowered. How else to explain Rick Santorum ranting that his fight against Obamacare is similar to Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid? If he had used the analogy of the French resisting the Nazis or Polish Jews battling in the Warsaw Ghetto he would have been justifiably run out of town. But somehow Mr. Santorum can splatter his rhetorical mud on the memory of Nelson Mandela without consequence.

And just to show how absurd the goose and gander thing is getting, last week Aisha Harris, a writer for Slate, opined that Santa Claus is non-racial and should be portrayed that way. Immediately, Megyn Kelly, a Fox News commentator with an echo chamber where her brain should be, berated Ms. Harris for even suggesting that Santa Claus was anything but white. And for good measure, she reminded Ms. Harris and anyone else who isn’t white that Jesus is also white.

Ms. Kelly was neither fired nor suspended. Mr. Santorum is still raking in speaking fees at a rate that would make Midas blush. And nowhere in the mainstream media has there been any discussion regarding limits on what should be out of bounds when referencing the black experience and historic and institutional racist oppression. Respect is not just the seven letter title of a song; it pertains to the recognition of the humanity of others.

And so we prepare ourselves for another round of Martin Luther King Day White Sales at Macy’s (in light of recent Shop and Frisk incidents the irony is well, ironic). And we should also remember the cringe worthy statements of incoming New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton who promised to operate the odious and demeaning policy of Stop and Frisk “in the spirit of Nelson Mandela”.

Trivializing insult and injury is just one more step in trivializing the people who are insulted and injured. To punish, attack or ignore those who protest the trivialization is in many ways even worse than the insult and the injury.

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Point of View Columns

Ten Years a Suspect

The Law of Unintended of Consequences is one of those laws that cannot be questioned. We have known all along that the race-based and unconstitutional Stop and Frisk procedure employed by the New York Police Department has resulted in the erosion of trust and confidence in law enforcement in many communities of color. As recent incidents at Barneys and Macy’s show, it has also resulted in the general criminalization of people of color.

Just about every adult black American who lives in or near a city has a story that involves their being followed around in a department store by security. It happened to Barack Obama and if you are an adult black American reading these words, it has probably happened to you.

During the past week, however, news stories regarding the arrest and detainment of black people who have legally purchased high end luxury items makes it clear that in New York, thanks to Stop and Frisk, white paranoia regarding the criminality of black people has reached hysterical, if not historical, levels. The fact that the wrongly apprehended individuals were offered a perfunctory apology by the NYPD does not hide the fact that there appears to be a new crime in the New York State Penal Code – LWB or Living While Black.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has been hard at work here. After over 4,000,000 unconstitutional and race-based stops over the past ten years, the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy has not only trained its officers to look at people of color as likely criminals, the virus has spread.

After ten years of official criminal profiling of people of color in New York City, a policy specifically and heartily endorsed by the mayor and the police commissioner and praised by more than a few businesses, newspaper editorials and citizens groups, there should be no wonder that many white (and non-white) New Yorkers (and retailers like Macys, Barneys and others) have come down with bad cases of profile-itis.

It is an ongoing tragedy that law-abiding citizens of the City of New York should have to worry about being questioned, detained or arrested for the simple crime of LWB. White citizens in New York do not think twice about walking into a department store and going to that section of the store where the luxury items are sold.

Black citizens of New York have every right to feel that, in a similar circumstance, they are seen as escapees from some racial township in a latter day version of American apartheid. They are simply out of their “territory” and even having the funds to purchase the items that they want is not enough to keep them from being caught in the jaws of a criminal justice system seemingly bent on promoting injustice rather than public safety.

Macys, Barneys and the NYPD have already issued their precooked apologies with all of the sincerity of stale beer. But just as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly remain adamant and unrepentant with respect to the odious race-based policy of Stop and Frisk, it is certain that there will not be any acknowledgement that “Ten Years a Suspect” could be the working title for a description of how that policy has been perceived by communities of color.

Meanwhile, as an ironic footnote to this sordid display of institutionalized retail racism, the rap mogul Jay-Z is planning to launch a line of eponymous high end clothing at……..you guessed it………..Barneys. And predictably, many of Jay-Z’s fans and others have called upon him to break off his relationship with Barneys. And predictably, Jay-Z has demurred to date.

The irony is that through his outlandish lyrics and commentaries that glorify violence, criminality and misogyny, Jay-Z has actually done more to convey the perception of young black Americans as potential criminals than ten years of Stop and Frisk. Again the Law of Unintended Consequences is hard at work.

One can be fairly certain that Jay-Z has never given a second thought to the impact and effect of his promoting some kind of faux gangster lifestyle. But one of the consequences of his successful promotion is that too many people, black and white, take him seriously. And the next consequence is that people of color get racially profiled and arrested by his business partner.

One would never have thought to see the NYPD and Jay-Z as strange bedfellows – but there they are – both complicit in demeaning, degrading and criminalizing communities of color but never thinking about the consequences.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – October 25, 2013

The continued unveiling of the activities of the National Security Agency has elicited cries of “shock” from this country’s European allies. Have they been watching too much “Casablanca? Meanwhile, one of the residuals of New York’s odious Stop and Frisk policy has been the establishment of a new crime category –“Shopping While Black”. And finally, the rollout of Obamacare has been slowed by technology failures. Amazingly, the Teapublicans are outraged – and confused.

“Casablanca Redux”

It turns out that the National Security Agency has been monitoring the calls and communications of citizens in Europe. And it appears that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is included in this mix. And Chancellor Merkel was so “shocked” that she is said to have called President Obama to complain to him personally.

But what is the reason for all of this “shock” and outrage. Every developed country has an equivalent of the NSA and every country conducts various forms of industrial, military and diplomatic espionage and surveillance as a matter of course.

Chancellor Merkel may be shocked that the NSA surveillance of her communications was exposed. What she should be shocked about is that the German equivalent of the NSA or Secret Service wasn’t able to prevent that country’s head of state from being the subject of surveillance by another country for two years. Now that is shocking.

Buying While Black

The many harmful side effects to New York City’s horrible and hateful race-based Stop and Frisk policy have been recounted. The degradation of black and Latino youth and the erosion of trust of the police in communities of color are fairly obvious consequences.

And now a spate of recent news stories has revealed another consequence – the general criminalization of black people in New York. Three separate stories recount the unwarranted arrest of a black college student, a black nurse and a black movie star at prominent New York City stores – Barneys and Macy’s. Their crime? Buying While Black?”

While you won’t find this crime in the New York Penal Code, it is clear that in the view of the New York City Police Department – and local retailers – infected by the racial contagion of Stop and Frisk – feel that there is reasonable cause to arrest a black person for buying a $300 belt, a $2500 purse or a $1400 watch. Even if those purchases were purchased with the valid credit/debit card of the owner. Clearly a black person buying a high end item – or anything – is reasonable cause for arrest.

Gil Scott-Heron wrote an anti-apartheid song entitled “Johannesburg”. It might be time to change the lyrics to “What’s the word, New York New York.

Computer Blues

Since October 1st, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, has been the subject of numerous technical website problems. Although hundreds of thousands of people are already registered for affordable health care, there are millions who remain waiting online.

The Teapublicans, at their predictable knee jerk best, have convened Congressional hearings, but not for the purpose of finding out the reason for the unsurprising glitches in the most ambitious American healthcare initiative in a generation. The Teapublicans want you to believe that these absolutely correctable computer issues are justification for dismantling Obamacare in its entirety.

The fact that millions of Americans have benefited from the passage of Obamacare since 2010 is beside the point on the Planet Teapublican. The dismantling of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement is their one and only goal.

Clearly the Teapublican Party is a one trick elephant.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

A Tale of Two Bloombergs

There is a big digital clock in the offices at New York’s City Hall counting down the last days of the mayoral tenure of Michael Bloomberg. Now that there are less than five months remaining on what will be a twelve year term, it seems that this is as good a time as any to begin a retrospective on the Bloomberg Era in New York City. And it is fair to say that any analysis will arrive at the conclusion that it is A Tale of Two Bloombergs.

Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001 as a “virtual” political rookie. Buy many people forgot the “virtual” part of the description because Michael Bloomberg may not have ever run for political office before, but he certainly was no rookie when it came to politics. He wielded his unlimited funds and his media empire in the political process and was not a stranger to the arena where he was now the main attraction.

Michael Bloomberg rode into office on a tidal wave of cash that had only one donor – himself. That meant that he was not beholden to any interest group by reason of their financial support. That also meant that he felt that he didn’t really have to listen to anyone else unless he wanted to.

In telling The Tale of the Two Bloombergs, it should be clear that Michael Bloomberg introduced the people of New York to expanded visions of what the world’s greatest could be – and should be. As a result New Yorkers saw amazing (and free) art installations that encompassed all of Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Bloomberg the visionary shared that vision with the people of New York and then, amazingly, he made many things happen. There is no doubt that Michael Bloomberg and Robert Moses would have gotten along famously if they had ever met.

Bloomberg the visionary installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and turned out to be absolutely serious in bringing about a green, environmentally friendly culture to business, industry and everyday New Yorkers. But in The Tale of Two Bloombergs, even while New York became greener, Michael Bloomberg routinely flew around the world in one of the jets from his private fleet – arguably the most environmentally unfriendly way to travel known to humankind.

Perhaps most importantly, Mayor Bloomberg implemented serious public policy measures in the area of health that have saved lives. Most famously, the ban on smoking in most public places has certainly saved thousands of lives over the past twelve years and for the foreseeable future. “Nanny State” naysayers notwithstanding, the visionary Michael Bloomberg proved once again that government can be a force in transforming – and saving lives.

The Tale of Two Bloombergs also has shown us Michael Bloomberg playing a maniacal Captain Ahab to the White Whale of “Stop and Frisk”. Even as the majority of New Yorkers, the federal court and the United States Department of Justice have seriously questioned the tactic, Michael Bloomberg has refused to even acknowledge the possibility that black and Latino young men are being constitutionally violated by the extreme measures employed by the New York Police Department.

Bloomberg The Inflexible either cannot, or will not, see that there may be another side to the narrative that he has articulated. And it is Bloomberg the inflexible who is channeling his inner Alabama Governor George Wallace by stating that his administration will not cooperate in any way with the federal court decision regarding “Stop and Frisk”. And it is Bloomberg the inflexible who has now gone so far as to suggest that public housing residents should be fingerprinted raising the specter of the Slave Codes from long ago and apartheid-era identification cards from not too long ago.

Bloomberg the inflexible has been unapologetic and unrepentant in the face of the facts that the senior officials of his administration reflect so little diversity that there almost has to be an intent to bar all but a few people of color from the higher echelons of Team Bloomberg. Indeed Team Bloomberg has turned out to be whiter that the senior team of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who is the godfather of diversity and affirmative action denial.

Finally, by spending approximately a quarter of a billion dollars of his own money in getting himself elected three times, Michael Bloomberg has skewed the political process in New York City for the foreseeable future. If he wasn’t writing the playbook on how to buy elections, it certainly looks like it.

So the Tale of Two Bloombergs is complex and not given to simple analysis. Michael Bloomberg probably doesn’t care whether history will be kind to him. We can hope that history will tell the whole truth.

Wallace Ford is the principal and founder of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm, a professor at Metropolitan College of New York in New York City and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

Stop Frisking!

The New York City Police Department has engaged in “Stop and Frisk” street crime prevention program that has been in effect for a decade. An average of 600,000 people have been stopped and frisked every year. Over 80% of the people stopped have been young black and Latino men. Less than 10% of these stops have resulted in arrests and less than 5% have resulted in convictions. Incredibly, there are many people who think that this is a good program.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, supported by the Fourteenth Amendment, prevents unreasonable search and seizure by any governmental entity, including the police. When almost a half million young men of color are stopped and frisked on suspicion of some vague notion of criminality, there would seem to be serious question about the constitutionality of such a program. The questions are more acute when it is statistically clear that the wholesale criminalization of a generation of young black and Latino men is not preventing or suppressing crime.

Right now, in a federal court in New York City, the constitutionality of the Stop and Frisk program is being challenged. Witnesses have come forward on behalf of the class action recounting the repeated humiliation, degradation and sheer terror that accompanies the Stop and Frisk program. Racial slurs, epithets, random violence and threats of violence are the unspoken accessories to this random ransacking of the Constitution.

Despite the fact that no other major city in a democratic country on the planet utilizes this awful police procedure, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly vigorously defend it. That is not surprising considering that they are the policy birth parents of this monstrosity.

What is surprising is that most of the mayoral candidates either support the Stop and Frisk program or suggest that it should exist with modifications. Considering the fact that the black and Latino population of New York City is approaching 50% it is an amazing position for a political candidate to take.

Essentially they are saying to black and Latino voters is, “stripping you and your children of their constitutional rights and degrading you and your children in the name of crime prevention is a good thing and you should vote for me”. Other supporters of stop and frisk “with modifications” also point to the need to prevent crime as the unassailable reason for continuing to violate the personhood of so many people.

Presumably, if every black and Latino young man in New York City was arrested the crime rate would plummet. If they were all imprisoned, according this way of thinking, New York would be the first crime free city in the history of world civilization.

Predictably, most of the mayoral candidates who support stop and frisk are white. Indeed, most of the most vocal supporters of stop and frisk are white. Most of these men and women (and their sons) have never been on the business end of a police stop and even if they were the odds are that they were treated with a level of dignity and respect rarely seen by black and Latino young men.

Even more interesting are the black and Latino public figures that support stop and frisk “with modifications”. The fact is that even if a person is stopped and frisked and is not cursed at or threatened with a beat down, even if that person is not thrown against a wall or subjected to racial epithets, they are still being stopped and frisked without probable cause. That black and Latino public figures would be complicit in degradation and humiliation “with modifications” is disturbing and distressing.

Black or white or Latino, it would seem that the supporters of stop and frisk either believe that only guilty people get stopped – but the statistics overwhelmingly show that this is not true. The alternative is that these apologists for illegality somehow believe that degradation and humiliation “with modifications” is a price that some people have to pay so that crime can be reduced.

The question has to be asked of these advocates of constitutional dilution – what price would be too high?

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The Four Million Man March

Here’s a number to ponder – 4,356,927. That is the number of times people have been stopped and frisked during the ten years of the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Keep in mind these numbers do not come from North Korea or Syria or the Gaza Strip. Over four million times in the past ten years New York City residents have been subjected to this highly questionable and absolutely intrusive police behavior. And, by the way, 80% of the individuals stopped and frisked are black and Latino men between the ages of 18-34. Do you detect a pattern here?

Outrageous strategies conducted in the name of some special purpose seem to be insulated from criticism. Waterboarding and other forms of torture have been justified in the name of national security. Mayor Bloomberg has sought to justify the stripping citizens of their personal dignity and human rights with the fig leaf of crime prevention.

The problem is that too many outrages have taken place in the name of crime prevention. That is why over the last century courts have ruled that homes cannot be entered without a warrant, that suspects cannot be questioned without having been given access to an attorney and why people cannot be beaten until they confess. There is no doubt that crime prevention would be a lot simpler if these restrictions on police conduct were not in place.

But the Constitution of the United States is not a pesky detail to be ignored or avoided whenever it is inconvenient. And the rights conferred to American citizens by the Constitution are worthless if they don’t apply to all American citizens.
The constitutional rights are not the sole possession of the white and wealthy.
Police intrusion for no reason except skin color or mode of dress should not be the sad inheritance of young men of color in New York City.

Here’s another number – 685,724. That is the number of people who have been stopped and frisked during 2011. Apologists for Mayor Bloomberg, a surprisingly number of whom are currently black and formerly prominent, drink the Bloomberg brand of Kool-Aid and point to suspect statistics that are supposed to describe a decline in the crime rate that is supposed to be totally attributable to Stop and Frisk.

But even if those statistics are true, and there are numerous law enforcement experts who dispute the statistics and the conclusion, how can the daily humiliation of thousands of human beings be justifiable? The fact that many criminal acts in New York City are committed by black and Latino young men does not mean that all, or most, black and Latino young men are criminals.

I cannot imagine the Justice Department going to Wall Street to stop and interrogate virtually all well-dressed white men between the ages of 30 and 50 just because most white collar crime is committed by that demographic cohort. How unfair and how outrageous would that be? About as unfair and outrageous as New York City’s current Stop and Frisk policy.

The worst part about this institutionalized degradation is that is turning an entire generation of young men into permanent suspects. It can only damage self-esteem and fan glowing coals of resentment and distrust that will burn for a lifetime and be passed on from generation to generation.

The men and women of the New York Police Department have a difficult and challenging task in protecting the citizens of New York City. Why Mayor Bloomberg wants to make their lives more difficult is incomprehensible.

There is no doubt that Mayor Bloomberg is a brilliant man and an incredibly successful businessman. There is also no doubt that there is an indelible tattoo of stubbornness that he doesn’t even try to conceal.

Instead he and his enablers are the perpetual organizers of a four million man march that will haunt the present and the future. The four million intrusions in to the lives of presumably innocent young men visit too many of them over and over until their only view of law enforcement is soaked in subdued rage and resentment.

If Mayor Bloomberg and his enablers wanted to create a generation of resentful and criminally-inclined young men who are leery of law enforcement and law and order, they couldn’t have come up with a better strategy than Stop and Frisk.

We will all grow old and die before Michael Bloomberg will admit that he is wrong. But he is smart enough to find a way out of this immoral morass.

It is way past time to stop Stop and Frisk.

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Weekend Edition – April 20, 2012

Contemporary commentary can sometimes be a sad litany of lurching steps that are taken in the direction of injustice, sometimes in the name of justice. In New York City, a “Stop and Frisk” procedure by the NYPD has resulted in hundreds of thousands of black and Latino young men being stopped and frisked without probable cause. The official reaction is that the declining crime rate justifies turning New York City into a police state. Meanwhile last year there were 5000 gun shows in the United States! That comes to about 13.69 gun shows per day. The NRA doesn’t think that’s enough. And finally, the Teapublicans in the United States Congress want to cut food assistance to needy Americans by redefining need instead of addressing the need. Where are the compassionate conservatives when you need them?

Stop Stop and Frisk

For several years the New York City police department has carried out a “Stop and Frisk” policy whereby individuals can be stopped and frisked on the streets of New York without probable cause. Last year over 600,000 people were stopped. Over 80% of these individuals were black and Latino young men and it seems that the only “probable cause” was that they were black and Latino young men.

New York City officials including the mayor and police commissioner cite the decline in the city’s crime rate as justifying this step that comes perilously close to the slippery slope of the police state. Given that only 10% of the over 600,000 “stops” resulted in probable cause for arrest that claim is tenuous at best. There was also no snow in New York City this past winter and there may be a time that “Stop and Frisk” is credited for this meteorological phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the cynical final spiral of the policy underlying “Stop and Frisk” is that if everyone was arrested, the crime rate would disappear. Constitutional rights cannot just be an inconvenient obstacle to law enforcement. Constitutional rights are part of the laws that are supposed to be enforced.

Gunmageddon

The National Rifle Association had its annual convention in St. Louis last week. In celebrating the cult of guns, the NRA has shown itself willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of men, women and children on an altar built with assault weapons, armor piercing bullets and a skewed interpretation of the second amendment to the United States Constitution that never contemplated the carnage that has been carried out in its name.

The NRA is proud to tell you that there are over 5000 gun shows in the United States every year. That comes to 13.69 guns shows per day in this country, every day. And it is at these gun shows that whatever limits and controls on the sale of weapons go up in gun smoke. Any fool meditating on committing felonies can stroll into any one of those 13.69 gun shows and purchase enough weaponry to replicate Virginia Tech, Columbine or any of the other countless massacres that ring up the NRA body count scoreboard.

While most Americans favor some kind of control on the sale and use of guns, the United States Congress has shown no interest in even minimal control of assault weapons and the NRA body count scoreboard total continues to rise.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

The Teapublicans in the House of Representatives have now come up with a proposal to cut federal expenditures for food stamps over the next five years. This proposal is not based upon some dramatic improvement in the American economy.

Instead, it is based upon the truly mean spirited notion that Americans are simply too dependent on the largesse offered by the federal government.

Incredibly, these self-satisfied and overwhelmingly comfortable gaggles of Babbits cannot even contemplate the idea that the men, women and children who rely upon food stamps are not dining at groaning banquet tables. Social responsibility entails providing for that portion of citizens who need help caring for themselves. Clearly compassion does not translate into the very special language spoken by the denizens of the G.O.Tea Party.

Have a great weekend

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