THE STRUGGLE FOR A NEW AMERICA – II

For those who do not know my heritage I am Ghanaian by birth and moved to the United States about 16 yrs ago. In the US I have never been able to escape being mistaken for a Nigerian, Caribbean American or African American among a whole host of origins and associations. I have no qualms about this because I do not believe my heritage defines who or what I am. Our genetic heritage outside of the social associations and restrictions that it may imposes upon us does not define or determine who or what we are, or become.

In Charlottesville today there are violent protests between groups on two sides of a perceived racial divide. What makes this situation so sad is that we are fighting among ourselves over the social construct of race. A social divide that we have created and reinforced over centuries to determine allocation of resources and opportunities. Slavery in the Americas is one of the most extreme forms of this social policy. I use the word policy because in those times our laws supported this practice. Today though not supported by law it still exists deeply entrenched in our society. Our society has evolved from slavery into a social system that fosters racial bias with whites at the top of the hierarchy and blacks at the bottom with Asians, Jews and Hispanics somewhere in the between.

Over the ages several writers and philosophers have come out with several theories that try to propagate the belief in white supremacy. Historical accounts that accentuate white supremacy either by design or happenstance have tended to be promoted at the expense of other groups. This has created a strong believe among some white Americans that the resources of this nation should be their one of their inalienable rights at the expense of other groups. This is probably the driving force behind the protests in Charlottesville, VA. I was not surprised to hear David Duke a former KKK leader and a strong supporter of the trump campaign for president comment yesterday on the protests in Charlottesville.  “This represents the turning point with the people of this country, we are determined to take our country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That is why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he is going to take our country back and that is what we are going to do”[i]

 Duke’s statement most likely reflects the beliefs of most of the right wing protesters in Charlottesville. When David Duke mentioned taking his country back I could only cringe at his words because, I know a group of Americans who should be singing that tune. The riches and resources of this country have been divided and shared over the years. Historically slavery and post slavery Jim Crows laws have always ensured that the sharing has almost always been unequal with Black Americans getting less of the pie.

Today if there are any groups of Americans who deserve to be taking their country back, it is Native Americans. Unfortunately today Native Americans are a minority on this continent. The sacrifices and contributions of all the various racial and ethnic groups  to the greatness of this country needs to be recognized.

Today I raise a shout to all our, Latino, White, Asian, Native American, African, Jewish and Arab brothers and sisters who are standing side by side in defense of Unity and progress. Today as we mourn the protesters who died at Charlottesville ‘I say you are all great American heroes’. You stood for what America stands for, and you will be remembered by posterity.

 

References:

[i] CNN Politics; Stories worth watching; http://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/08/12/david-duke-trump-charlottesville-protest-nr.cnn accessed on 8/12/2017

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DRIVING WHILE BLACK – IMPLICIT RACIAL BIAS AND THE SAFETY OF BLACK MOTORISTS

After watching the dash-cam video of the shooting of Philando Castile by police officer Geronimo Yanez, I was extremely shocked at the composure and calmness of the late Castile and his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds whilst the trained police officer sounded and acted very much uncontrolled and panicked. This one incident, which has been watched many times over the past year, is really sad and concerning. As a black man I have been stopped many times usually for some traffic infraction and usually get a ticket and occasionally a warning. One of the few times when I got a warning was when I was stopped in s situation similar to the Castile killing. In 2004 a white officer in LaGrange Park, IL stopped me for speeding. I was then driving with my wife while my stepdaughter slept in the back seat. I cannot say why I received a warning on that day whilst Mr. Castile ended up getting shot.  That was the first time I received a warning rather than a ticket for a traffic offence. Maybe it was because nobody had reported a burglary when I was stopped or because I did not report I was carrying a licensed firearm or just maybe my cop was a lot more experienced than Geronimo Yanez and realized that a black man or for that matter any man with his family is less likely to create a situation that could put his family in danger. Another factor may be the neighborhood, maybe Falcon Heights, MN was just more exclusively white than La Grange Park, IL and as such a black person in Falcon Heights would garner more suspicion than in La Grange Park. I have discussed this issue with a lot of people, most of them being black like myself and the consensus was that Philando Castile died for only one basic reason, he was driving while black.

This is a situation while being common and easily identified has roots that go so deep that we continue to have problems with this irrespective of the extensive training given to cops. There have been many other incidents involving cops and unarmed black people usually men, that suggests that just training is not enough. Blacks in America have dealt with a lot over the centuries from slavery to institutionalized racism and Jim Crow laws. Today we are dealing with racial prejudice and a more insidious cancer; implicit racial bias. The problem with dealing with implicit bias is the fact that the person acting out this behavior directed by his or her biases fails to recognize that their actions are based on racial bias. In a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia a white man who had an adopted black daughter reports catching himself act in a way that he had warned his daughter she may be treated just because of her race [1]. This gentleman realized what he was doing because he is the father of a minority child and re-evaluated his actions. In the real world unfortunately most of us just act out our biases without any thought of what we are doing. When asked if we acted that way because of race we would most probably genuinely say no.

On account of the multiple traffic stops with disastrous outcomes involving minorities Stanford University started a project called The Open Policing Project to study this problem[2]. Since 2015 the program began requesting data on police traffic stops from across the country. To date, the project has collected and standardized more than 100 million records of traffic stops and search data from 31 states. Twenty states provided enough detail in their data to allow statistical analysis to determine racial bias in policing. The findings of this project that I present below is based on data from sixteen states; Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin does suggest some racial bias policing. The Open Policing Project data suggest that Blacks tend to get stopped more often than Whites whilst Hispanic are stopped at about the same rates as whites (see the graph below).

Figure 1 – STOP RATES BY RACE

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 3.49.52 AM

The researchers also went on to look at search rates after a stop and in this case it appears that both Blacks and Hispanics motorists who were stopped were much more likely to be searched compared to whites. This can be clearly seen in the graph below in Figure 2 showing that white motorist were searched in less than 6% of stops with the exception of one outlier whilst Blacks and Hispanic searches ranged all the way up to 10% of stops.

Figure 2 – SEARCH RATES BY RACE

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 3.51.02 AM

The above graph though did not account for what factors cops were using to determine whom to search. It is possible as in the case of Trayvon Martin who was deemed suspicious by John Zimmerman because he was wearing a hoodie that the black and Hispanic motorist just plain appeared more ‘shady’ if I should use the term than their white counterparts. To account for that the researchers used a threshold test, which is a modification of a model, proposed by Gary Becker an economist for studying racial bias in policing in the 1950s. This model used the interplay between search rates and positive search outcomes to infer a threshold for search used by officers. When this test was applied to the data it suggested that tens of thousands of searches of minority motorists would be avoided if traffic cops used the same standards for searching whites as they did for minorities. As can be seen in the graph below White search thresholds are definitely higher than Black and Hispanic search thresholds.

Figure 3 – SEARCH THRESHOLD BY RACE

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 3.53.10 AM

There is always going to be a lot of debate on this issue because other studies done looking at racial bias in policing failed to find any bias. Overall though most people of color and some whites will tell you they do not need any fancy analysis to know that there is bias or discrimination involved in policing. The negative impact of these biases and discrimination can be very clearly seen in cases such as Philando Castile or Sandra Bland who ended up dead after such a stop. For a large majority of motorists though these stops may be just a nuisance. What however needs to be addressed is the fact that on account of ingrained or implicit bias our law enforcement machinery is being used as a tool for racial discrimination against minorities. This is something that has to be addressed by specifically by our justice system and the society at large.

 

References

  1. National Public Radio (NPR) (Producer).(2017).  The Culture Inside: Alix Spiegel [Audio Podcast]. Available from http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/
  2. The Stanford Open Policing Project 2017, The results of our nationwide analysis of traffic stops and searches. Available from https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/

     

DARRYL F GATES OF BLESSED MEMORY – AN UNLIKELY HERO FOR IMMIGRATION

Special Order No. 40; I heard of this policy on one of the podcasts that I listen to, and thought that was really smart thinking so I decided to look into its origins.  After reading about this I gained a lot of respect and admiration for the late Darryl F Gates, Los Angeles Police Chief 1978 – 1992.  While Chief Gates was also known for aggressive policing in LA, he was the one who in the interest of public safety and community collaboration with law enforcement enacted this very important policy for his police department.  This rule prohibited LA police officers from initiating contact with anyone for the sole purpose of learning their immigration status and ruled out arrests for violation of U.S. immigration law. Over the years this has been adopted in various forms by many other police departments across the country[i]

Today the Trump administration in its aggressive stance on illegal immigration is looking at this policy and making efforts to withhold federal law enforcement funding from cities and counties that have adopted this policy. There are currently more than 400 sanctuary cities in the US today and whilst the Trump administration’s efforts to force such jurisdictions especially big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco to change policies related to local policing and immigration may have little real impact on decades long policies that police departments believe keep their cities safe, the constant wrangling over such issues is not conducive to the health of both legal and illegal immigrants in this country.

IMMIGRANTS IN US CORRECTIONS CRIME TYPE

Immigration-and-violent-and -nonviolent-in-US
Crimes statistics for immigrants in our correctional facilities – Source: The Sentencing Project

Current LA police Chief Charlie Beck said his department will follow its decades-old policy of keeping officers focused on local crimes, leaving federal violations such as entering the country illegally in the hands of immigration officials. He reported that since January 2017 there has been a 25% drop in sexual assault and 10% reduction domestic violence reports by Latino women. Some counselors involved in cases of domestic abuse involving Latino women reported that some complainants have withdrawn their cases.  These withdrawals are due to fears among these women that either they themselves or their abusers could be deported if they went forward with their cases[ii]. The economic benefits of tighter and aggressive immigrations statutes and its impact on public safety in this country has been seen by many individuals involved in these issues to be mostly negative[iii]. That may be why no other person than Darryl Gates a Los Angeles police chief renowned for aggressive policing was the one who proposed and instituted this policy. The one reason why this has been adopted by more than 400 cities and counties across the county is because it keeps our cities safe. Up until his death in 2010 Chief Darryl Gates supported this policy which has come under attack by several presidents and politicians in various municipalities. Special Order No.40 has not only survived close to 40 decades in its city of origin Los Angeles; it has actually been adopted by several cities and counties across the country. If tougher immigration enforcement breeds crime then I believe our law enforcement officials will no better.

GRAPH OF IMMIGRATION AND VIOLENT CRIME

RATES OF VIOLENT CRIME AND IMMIGRATION
Data from The Sentencing Project on immigration and crime

After 38 years Special Order No. 40 a policy enacted by a Los Angeles Police Chief who was accused of racism in several instances still survives today, more than 7 years after his death.  Today in America the seed that was planted by Darryl Gates and has flourished and spread far across the country is under attack by the Trump administration. Our president has promised to keep us safe and I would like to believe that he is sincere when he says he is for public safety. Any attempt at using reduction in federal law enforcement funding to force cities to change a policy that most police officers believe works to satisfy a small minority of his electorate is federal overreach and violates the 10th Amendment.

I would like to remind Mr. Trump that he did not win the popular vote he only won 46.1% of the popular vote and Hillary Clinton won 48.2%. A recent poll suggests that only 30% of republicans and 11% of democrats support tougher immigration enforcement[iv]. This suggests that all his executive order on illegal immigration is not supported by a majority of American voters and is mostly unpopular among local law enforcement. I would like to let our president know that we trust the decisions of our local municipalities on how best to keep us safe. I don’t believe Americans want our presidents to determine how our police departments keep us safe

Bibliography

[i]  Smith D, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 5th 2017, How LAPD’s Law-and-order chief revolutionized the way cops treated illegal immigration, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-special-order-40-retrospective-20170205-story.html

 

[ii] Michael Balsamo, The Independent, March 22 2017, Latino population in LA reporting fewer sex crimes over deportations fears; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/la-latinos-sexual-assault-reports-drop-donald-trump-immigration-fears-a7642956.html

 

[iii] Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Josh Rovner, The Sentencing Project, March 17th 2017, Immigration and Public Safety, http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/immigration-public-safety/#IV. Police Chiefs believe intensifying immigration law enforcement undermines public safety

 

[iv] Mark Hensch, The Hill March 17 2017, Poll: Most support path to legal status for illegal immigrants, http://thehill.com/homenews/news/324435-poll-most-say-citizenship-path-top-immigration-priority

 

 

 

The struggle for a new America

On a flight back home from Seattle, Washington last month I had a conversation with the lady seated next to me about the political situation in America today.  She happens to be white and since I am black man and happened to live in Baltimore I believe it was only natural that issues related to Black Lives Matter came up in conversation.  She had the impression that the Black Lives Matter Movement was trying to limit access to their struggle by non-blacks.  Before I continue though I must state that; I am in no way a representative of the Black Lives Matter Movement and as such any explanation given in that conversation was only based on my beliefs.  Well my response to her observation was that on account of the history of black oppression in American which happens to continue in a different form today people of African descent tend to harbor some learned distrust of whites. The movement was most probably worried that over involvement by non-blacks will dilute the cause of the movement or possibly diverts its focus. This situation is in no way unique to the black lives matter movement.

In the early days of the feminist movement in America males were totally excluded which makes sense in a way for women.  If you do not have a vagina you cannot understand what a woman feels and as such cannot be a real supporter.  Early in the gay rights movement in the 1960s lesbians and gays did not initially consider each other as allies. The movement has come a long way because now we hear of the LGBTQ Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer which is the composite term for individuals who do not fit the normative male female cis-gender stereotypes that we have been taught to be the norm.

 Immigration issues have come into the forefront of the political agenda in America today and many undocumented immigrants are living in fear of deportation. This has given birth or really a new lease on life to a movement that is growing right under our very eyes. The Sanctuary Church Mission;  this is movement is based on the a clause in our immigration policy that prevents Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from making any efforts aimed at arresting individuals from sensitive sites such as places of worship, hospital and schools to ensure access to these sites by undocumented immigrants[1]. While this appears a reasonable clause what it means is that for an individual at risk of deportation to avoid deportation they must remain at these sites. Since November 2016 with the election of President Trump the number of churches declaring sanctuary status has doubled [2]. These churches are really doing what their religion teaches.  Christians who actually read their bibles know exactly what the bible says about immigration. I will have to mention the names though of some important Christian leaders who are on the other side of this struggle. Franklin Graham son of Billy Graham who unfortunately sounds more like a politician than a Christian Leader says this is not a bible issue [2]. The other great name in the Christian community who supports the Trump administration immigration policy is Jerry Falwell Jr, President of Liberty University a non-profit Christian university located in Lynchburg Virginia [2].  In a prior blog post I quoted Matthew 25 vrs 34 – 40 to show the total lack of any biblical support for the views of these “Christian” leaders [3].  Fortunately most of our Christian pastors and community churches know what they should do in such a situation.

Today’s struggles which appears to have divided America into the us versus them, is just part of larger wave of change that is sweeping over the world.  The world has gotten smaller and we are all having to deal with beliefs and ideas that are very different from what our parents taught us.  Humans have always held self identity as a very important attribute of our humanity. In this context any idea, behavior or belief that fails to fall in line with our acquired sense of self can be very threatening.  We all hold on to beliefs that do not work for us because we have been told that without those beliefs we are totally lost.  I must admit that as a person who had struggled most of my life to shed off some of my held belief systems and ideas, you do really feel lost when you realize those beliefs are wrong and you have to give them up. All too often rather than abandon our beliefs we look for validation from other sources so we can go back to the safety of our old belief system.

Some white Americans today are struggling with a belief system that has been propagated over the years that America is a white country. Unfortunately when one looks at this in a different way one could say that America has to remain white because increasing minorities will create a third world America if I could use that term.  This is the belief system that made the slogan “Making America great again” resonate with many Americans, in this case mostly white Americans.  What most of these Americans heard candidate Trump say was ‘making American white again’?  It is therefore no surprise that the immigration ban and current immigration enforcement happens to be targeted towards mostly non-white immigrants. Please let us all examine the beliefs that we hold dear to our hearts as closely and clearly as possible and ask ourselves this question “What do I really think of a person who has such a belief?”  

Bibliography

1.       Jason Hanna; CNN; February 17, 2017, Can churches provide legal sanctuary to undocumented immigrants; accessed from  http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/17/us/immigrants-sanctuary-churches-legality-trnd/ , on 4/1/2017

2.       Joel Baden; Washington Post; February 10, 2017; Acts of Faith; Franklin Graham said immigration is ‘not a Bible issue.’ Here’s what the Bible says,  accessed from, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/02/10/franklin-graham-said-immigration-is-not-a-bible-issue-heres-what-the-bible-says/?utm_term=.e0a854522103, on 4-1-2017

3.       Leonard Sowah; Improvng Healthcare one person at a time March 1, 2017; My brothers Keeper -Healthcare in Trumps America, accessed from, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/02/10/franklin-graham-said-immigration-is-not-a-bible-issue-heres-what-the-bible-says/?utm_term=.e0a854522103 , on 4/2/2017