“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
– Elie Wiesel
(See “Ramos, below.)
– Elie Wiesel
(See “Ramos, below.)
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s surprise resignation has largely been ascribed to his lack of assertiveness on key issues and a frosty relationship with President Obama, but it must be seen against a backdrop of growing war fever in Washington. Although Obama has been noticeably reluctant to become militarily involved in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, he is coming under increasing pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to employ tougher measures in all three. Hagel is believed to have supported such moves in private conversation with the president, but he has not done so in public. By replacing him now, Obama appears to be signaling his intention to adopt a more activist military posture through the appointment of a more vigorous secretary.
Hagel, a former enlisted soldier who served in Vietnam, is well liked by combat troops but was never fully welcomed by Obama’s inner circle. Moreover, he had faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans during his confirmation hearing—in part for remarks alleged to be anti-Semitic or insufficiently supportive of Israel—and so entered the administration with diminished political clout. As secretary, he has largely embraced White House policy on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but without conspicuous ardor.
Until last spring, Hagel’s principal task was to oversee the drawdown of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in accordance with the president’s stated desire to avoid entanglement in future regional conflicts—a policy Obama described as “don’t do stupid stuff.” After Russia seized Crimea and ISIS seized Mosul, however, the president’s non-interventionist stance came under fierce attack from Republicans as well as some Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. In an August interview published in The Atlantic, Clinton lambasted Obama, saying, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
In fact, “don’t do stupid stuff” is a perfectly valid organizing principle, placing the onus of persuasion on those who advocate aggressive overseas actions (see Klare, “Why Hillary Clinton Is Wrong About Obama’s Foreign Policy”). But it is not a particularly compelling argument for winning public support in what appears to be an especially threatening moment—and one in which irresponsible Republican war-mongering fills the airwaves. The fact that the current chaos in Iraq is largely a product of the misguided invasion undertaken by President Bush in 2003 doesn’t seem to register in this hothouse atmosphere.
With public concern over ISIS and its brutal tactics (including the beheading of two Americans) on the rise, and with few in Washington willing to back his stance, Obama has upped the ante in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. In September, he announced the onset of an extended air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, along with the deployment of 1,500 US military advisers to help rebuild the shattered Iraqi army; on November 7, three days after the midterm election, he announced the deployment of an additional 1,500 advisers. On November 21, moreover, The New York Times revealed that Obama had approved an extended combat mission for US forces in Afghanistan. And while the president has repeatedly stated that he has no intention to deploy US combat forces in Iraq—no “boots on the ground,” as it is put—senior military officials, including chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, have indicated that planning is under way for just such a move. “I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that [Iraqi troops] would need to be accompanied by US forces, but we’re certainly considering it,” he told the House Armed Services Committee on November 13.
Whatever Obama’s hesitations, it is becoming increasingly evident that he sees no recourse but to order ever more aggressive action in Iraq and Syria—not only against ISIS, but also against the Assad regime. The Republicans in Congress, soon to assume control of the Senate, are already beating the war drums, calling for increasingly vigorous moves. At an appearance at the Halifax International Security Forum on November 22, Senator John McCain—soon expected to assume the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee—called for a larger military presence in Iraq, more support for anti-Assad forces in Syria, a semi-permanent US military presence in Afghanistan and expedited arms deliveries to the Ukrainian military.
By all accounts, Hagel supports stronger action. But his retiring demeanor and recent association with the Iraq and Afghanistan troop drawdowns make him an unlikely leader of the newly galvanized military establishment. Evidently, Obama has chosen to put a more vigorous, authoritative figure at the Pentagon’s helm. Among those widely discussed as a successor to Hagel is a senior Democratic policymaker with a hawkish reputation: former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. The selection of someone like Carter would provide Obama with a fresh, reliable partner in managing the reassertion of American military power. (Another hawk, former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, was widely considered a top candidate until she took her name out of the running.)
For six exhausting years, President Obama has sought to reduce Washington’s reliance on military action to secure its major objectives abroad. As recently as last May, he famously told graduating cadets at West Point, “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” But now, with the resignation of Hagel and the escalating US role in Iraq and Syria, it seems that he has chosen to lift the hammer.
– Protest signBy Mark L. Taylor The Daily Call (11/29/14)
Tomas Young was one of many young men moved by the sight and sound of plucky George W. Bush standing with bullhorn in hand on the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center several days after the 9/11 attacks. Young, 22 at the time, genuinely believed Bush when he said the United States would hunt down the “evil doers” behind the attacks. Young called a military recruiter that day.
While the attacks (if you believe the official story, which I don’t — wasn’t born yesterday, after all) was supposedly hatched in Afghanistan, Dick Cheney told boy George they needed to rush into Iraq (oil fields, after all). What the hell, Tomas wondered; after all, he had signed up for Afghanistan, but it was too late; he was off to Iraq. Five days after arrival in country, on his first mission, he was hit in the back by a sniper and paralyzed from the mid-chest down.
When he awoke, Young found himself at Walter Reed and life as he knew it was at an end.
Despite constant pain and mounting medical infirmities that were poorly managed by the VA, Young spoke out against the war. He lost his struggle to live recently, his broken body exhausted and finally stilled.
Phil Donahue’s documentary of Young’s brave campaign, “Body of War”, is a tribute to all those who were squandered and sacrificed on the Cheney/Bush altar of necon corporate war. Yesterday, I had time to finally watch the film and found it intensely moving.
The video shows the bravery and goodness of a young man juxtaposed with the cynical roll call blather of well-rehearsed senators and representatives all parroting the same canned arguments and manufactured lies as they fell into line voting the nation into the greatest foreign policy disaster in our history. If there was ever a question that the people of this country are ill-served by the criminally-inclined corporate stooges in congress this film settles the issue.
As the stories in today’s Daily Call about the removal of Chuck Hagel from the War Department warn, the neocons are ramping up again. Obama has fallen obediently into place and we are headed back to war in Iraq and, soon enough, Syria. Already, despite smooth talk to the contrary, as the New York Times reported this week, Obama secretly ordered additional American troops back into Iraq. The proverbial boots are back on the ground.
Pay attention to what is happening and get ready for the Iraq mess to heat up again. Watch and don’t believe a word as the propaganda war ratchets up the spin and hysteria about Syria. Let Tomas Young show you what war is really about. Hs gone, but there will be plenty more wounded vets coming home.
Truly, we are governed by idiots and sociopaths.
You can watch “Body of War” on Netflix. Read his moving letter to Bush and Cheney, below. We all owe Tomas Young and his brothers at least that much.
All eyes are on Ferguson after the grand jury investigating Officer Darren Wilson’s conduct involving the shooting death of Michael Brown came back with no indictments. This has resulted in new focus on not only the evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury, but to the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch himself. And this focus has revealed a disturbing link between fundraisers tied to each man.
In addition to his duties as the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch is also the president of The Backstoppers, Inc., an organization used to fundraise for the men and women in uniform in both Missouri and Illinois. And, in August, his organization was affiliated with a t-shirt drive featuring a picture of Missouri and the statement “I SUPPORT OFFICER D. WILSON” which was set up to raise money for the Darren Wilson Defense Fund as well as The Backstoppers.
Backstoppers runs a multitude of fundraising campaigns, but they also directly support the officers they fundraise for. According to their website, within hours of a traumatic experience, Backstoppers offers a variety of help, including:
This is on top of any other support which Backstoppers will offer. Not all who Backstoppers supports will get all assistance, so it is unknown what, if anything, the organization may have done to assist Officer Wilson. The shirt itself was set up by an anonymous third party, with page links to both entities, creating what may potentially be an inadvertent conflict of interest.
The t-shirts are a link which open up disturbing questions we must ask about the prosecutor’s ability to do his job impartially in the Darren Wilson grand jury investigation. As his organization appears to have been partially funded by these handful of shirts, it is a cause for concern. Are there other cases where some form of double-dealing has occurred?
The National Bar Association put forth reasons why a special prosecutor was needed for this case. This evidence demonstrates clearly that they were right to be concerned. Is this why he failed to actually prosecute before the grand jury, and instead engaged in character assassinations against Michael Brown? Is Bob McCulloch a mere stooge for the police department, enabling them to get away with a wide variety of abuses? Or does he just have so little respect for the position he holds that he sees no issue with shielding those who must uphold the public trust against any accountability for their actions?
When this tie was first revealed, Backstoppers stated that they had no affiliation with the sales, but due to how it was set up they could not determine what donations could have been from the anonymous operator. They also felt that there was no question of impropriety, despite being made fully aware that they were directly profiting off of a fundraiser for Officer Wilson’s defense. And they were not going to pursue any follow-up, declaring arbitrarily that no laws were broken.
Regardless of the situation, there now exists an argument that Prosecutor Robert McCulloch was in a conflict of interest in the case. That he proceeded anyways should tell us of the ethical standards by which he operates, and how valid his prosecution before the grand jury is.
Now we need to have an investigation on Prosecutor McCulloch to discover if this is an isolated incident, or something more widespread. This might be why the t-shirt sales were done in the first place, to create such a scenario and poison trust in the prosecution’s case as presented. The actual case it turns out did enough of that, but back in August, it may have seemed a good idea to someone seeking to hide the truth. It needs to be uncovered who did this, and to put steps in place to prevent similar incidents in the future. That Prosecutor McCulloch’s organization has already rejected any such investigation leaves open the question – what it is that they are afraid to uncover? Are these ties far deeper than just a random t-shirt sale?
– Benjamin Barber, author of “Fear’s Empire”, interviewed in the movie “Ethos”.
For the past two nights protesters dismayed by the outcome of the Ferguson grand jury have taken their defiance to the streets of cities across the US . Now they are redirecting their anger about police brutality towards a new target – the splurge of conspicuous consumption that is Black Friday.
Twitter has begun to sprout a crop of hashtags calling on people concerned about the Ferguson shooting to zip up their wallets on 28 November. The main hashtag, #BoycottBlackFriday, has already been circulated among more than 7 million Twitter users , and there is also sizeable traffic to hashtags such as #BlackOutBlackFriday,
The thinking behind the boycott is spelled out in a video produced by Ryan Coogler, the director of Fruitvale Station, the indie movie that dramatizes the police killing of Oscar Grant at a Bart station in Oakland, California, in 2008. Coogler founded the group Blackout for Human Rights shortly after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson in August.
The video shows clippings of police officers beating and kicking a succession of unarmed black men over a soundtrack of the anthem of the holiday season, Most Wonderful Time of the Year. “This season show your worth,” the video exhorts its viewers. “Help stop police brutality by $peaking a language everyone understands. Don’t shop November 28th.”
The call for a boycott has been given a push by celebrity supporters like Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams who tweeted : “No justice, no profit: corporate /public power only speaks $.”
Despite the evident passion that is swirling around Twitter and Facebook , the boycott’s organizers and participants have a mountain to climb if they are to make their non-buying voices heard on Friday. Against them is the full weight of a consumer culture that equates happiness with spending.
The National Retail Federation predicts that stores and internet shopping sites will be inundated this weekend by 140 million people hunting for bargains. If those numbers are realized it would represent the biggest surge in retail sales for the season since 2011.
Jorge Ramos delivered an emotional and powerful speech Tuesday night at the 2014 Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Awards.
Ramos was the recipient of the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, given for “lifetime achievement in defending press freedom.”
Ramos, the Univision News and Fusion anchor and best-selling author, who has become one of the most respected and outspoken journalists in the United States, spoke about the importance of challenging forces of power, asking the tough questions and pushing back against press censorship worldwide.
“The best of journalism happens when we take a stand: when we question those who are in power, when we confront the politicians who abuse their authority, when we denounce an injustice,” Ramos said before a packed ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. “The best of journalism happens when we side with the victims, with the most vulnerable, with those who have no rights. The best of journalism happens when we, purposely, stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize that we have a moral obligation to tell truth to power.”
“When we deal with the powerful, we have to take a stand,” he went on. “I’m a reporter, I don’t want to be your friend. And trust me, you don’t want to be my friend.”
Ramos has used his passion for journalism to take a public stance on controversial issues like immigration, press freedom and abuse of political power. He spoke in detail about his own journey as an immigrant to the U.S., where he finally found his voice.
“Let me tell what it means for me to be a journalist and to be an immigrant,” he said. “This defines me. I came to the U.S. after they tried to censor me in Mexico. So this country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me. And, of course, when it comes to immigration, I take a stand.”
Still, there is so much more that must be done to achieve justice for journalists around the world and we cannot stay silent, Ramos said. Silence, he reiterated firmly, is the enemy of journalism.
“Sadly, we stayed silent before the war in Iraq and thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraq civilians died unnecessarily,” he continued. “We have to learn from that. Silence is the worst sin in journalism. But the best is when journalism becomes a way of doing justice and speaking truth to power.”
Ramos pointed to a quote by the great Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel to bring his point home: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
In closing, Ramos dedicated his award to all the journalists who have died in Syria and Mexico, including two U.S. journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, earlier this year.
“You were our eyes. Now you are part of our soul,” Ramos concluded.
Following his re-election, Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans immediately began talking about their “aggressive” agenda — including their continuation of privatizing public education. Not on their minds? Policies that actually help middle-income families thrive, like fair wages, a progressive tax structure and public investments.
And as Republicans plot to use more taxpayer dollars to pay the private school tuition for children already attending private school and balancing their $2.2 billion deficit on the backs of low- and middle-income families, they balk at a modest funding increase for our public schools.
Yet the newly elected crop of Republican legislators did not campaign on expanding voucher schools. Instead, they touted their “support” for their local schools and equal pay for women.
Simultaneously, the American Federation for Children, which exists to privatize public education and whose senior adviser for government affairs is corrupt former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, paired up with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which exists to maximize corporate profits. They infected legislative races with an avalanche of cash and the most salacious campaign literature in recent memory. These groups clearly divvied up their targets and vast resources to push candidates who would back their corporate agendas. At last count, Jensen’s group alone spent at least $148,000 to defeat the only public school teacher in the state Assembly. In total, outside groups spent at least an estimated $747,000 to $1 million in seven targeted state Assembly races.
We are entering unprecedented territory in legislative races, as money from conservative outside groups floods in at unprecedented levels.
So what is the answer for Democrats, who can’t compete with the cash?
In the last two weeks of the election cycle, I spent time in rural Wisconsin — in Rice Lake, Junction City, Rudolph, and Barron. As I knocked on doors in many small towns, the only noise breaking the afternoon quiet was the sound of children at their public school.
And as I talked with people in these communities, they indicated support for increasing the minimum wage, BadgerCare expansion and public school investment. They were struggling in the Walker economy, where only the wealthy seem to thrive. But they vote Republican.
In messaging, Democrats need to boldly tout our economic populist agenda, which Republican candidates obscured with a feigned interest in local schools and fair wages. At our core, Democrats are committed to creating a fair economy that works for those willing to work hard, through competitive wages and fair taxes and by investing in our communities and our children.
And we need to get back to what we do best — basic grass-roots organizing on the ground all year, not just during election cycles, around issues and values that are relevant to people’s daily lives. We need to contrast our agenda, which improves people’s lives, to the Republican agenda of improving corporate profits.
But it’s not just about finding a resonating message, but about delivering the message. So many people I spoke with who leaned Republican were unaware of the massive cuts to public education, and Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage and making sure the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes. A media structure in our state that can help get our message out is sorely lacking, but desperately needed.
The time for this work is now, not 2016.
Chris Taylor is a Democratic Wisconsin Assembly member from Madison.
It doesn’t matter.
Ever since the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline exploded three and half years ago, that’s been the argument from the project’s liberal supporters. Sure, the oil that Keystone would carry from the Alberta tar sands is three to four times more greenhouse-gas-intensive than conventional crude. But that’s not on Keystone XL, we’re told. Why? Because if TransCanada isn’t able to build Keystone to the south, then another pipeline will be built to the west or east. Or that dirty oil will be transported by rail. But make no mistake, we have long been assured: all that carbon buried beneath Alberta’s boreal forest will be mined no matter what the president decides.
Up until quite recently, the tar-sands boom did seem pretty unstoppable. The industry regularly projected that production would soon double, then triple, and foreign investors raced to build massive new mines. But these days, panic is in the air in formerly swaggering Calgary. In less than a year, Shell, Statoil and the French company Total have all shelved major new tar-sands projects. And a rather large question mark is suddenly hanging over one of the world’s largest—and dirtiest—carbon deposits.
This radically changes the calculation confronting Barack Obama. His decision is no longer about one pipeline. It’s about whether the US government will throw a lifeline to a climate-destabilizing industrial project that is under a confluence of pressures that add up to a very real crisis. Here are the four main reasons that the tar sands are in deep trouble.
1. Oil prices are low. In mid-November, oil prices dipped to levels not seen since 2010. Ahead of the recent G-20 summit, Vladimir Putin spoke of preparing for further “catastrophic” drops. This matters nowhere more than in the tar sands, where the semisolid bitumen is hugely expensive to extract; the sector really started booming when it looked like $100-a-barrel was the new normal. Prices may well rebound, but the dip has been a vivid reminder of the inherent risk in betting big on such a high-cost extraction method.
2. Tar-sands pipelines are protest magnets. Supporters of Keystone frequently claim that if the oil doesn’t go south through the United States, it will simply be piped west, through British Columbia, and make it onto tankers that way. They might want to pay closer attention to what is going on west of the Rockies. Since November 20, more than sixty people have been arrested outside of Vancouver as they attempted to block the expansion of a tar-sands pipeline owned by Kinder Morgan. Further north, Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, another would-be tar-sands escape route, is even more widely rejected. Indeed, opposition to increased tanker traffic along their beloved coastline has united British Columbians.
So what about east? Well, on November 21, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec signed a joint agreement that erected a series of obstacles to TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, which, if completed, would carry tar-sands oil to the East Coast. The move came in response to strong opposition to the project in both provinces.
Some members of the “it doesn’t matter” camp point out that tar-sands oil is getting out anyway through the existing infrastructure. This completely misses the point that Keystone XL has always been linked to plans to greatly expand the amount of heavy oil being extracted. And the capacity to transport that oil isn’t there, which is why, when Statoil nixed its mine (reportedly worth $2 billion), it cited “limited pipeline access” among its reasons.
3. Indigenous rights keep winning in court. Adding more uncertainty is the fact that all these projects impact land to which First Nations people have title and treaty rights—rights that have been repeatedly upheld by Canada’s Supreme Court. Most recently, in June, the high court ruled unanimously that development couldn’t happen on the lands of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation in BC without seeking their consent. The pipeline companies do not have First Nations consent—on the contrary, dozens of indigenous communities have vigorously asserted their opposition. Canadian courts are already jammed with pipeline challenges, including nearly a dozen targeting Northern Gateway alone.
4. Climate action is back. Yes, the targets in the US-China deal are wholly inadequate, and so are the sums pledged to developing countries for climate financing. But there can be no doubt that climate change has landed back on the world stage in a way not seen since the failed Copenhagen summit in 2009.
That’s another strike against unchecked tar-sands expansion, because those mines are the main reason behind Canada’s status as the world’s foremost climate criminal, with emissions nearly 30 percent higher than they should be under the Kyoto Protocol. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper got away with laughing off his country’s international commitments when other governments were doing the same. But now that the United States, China and the European Union are at least making a show of taking the climate crisis seriously, Canada’s defiance is looking distinctly rogue.
It is in this rapidly changing context that Barack Obama must make his final determination on Keystone. A jittery market is looking to him for a signal—not just about this one project, but about the much larger and consequential one at the mouth of that pipe. Are the tar sands a long-term business prospect, a safe haven in which to sink hundreds of billions of dollars for decades to come? Or was the whole idea of flaying a huge, beautiful swath of this continent to exploit an energy source that is guaranteed to help cook the planet merely a brief folly—a bad dream from which we all must awake? All eyes are on the president. Yes or no?
Either way, Keystone matters.
In response to President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration Thursday, Republican lawmakers have threatened to sue the president or block his judicial nominees on grounds that the president overstepped his constitutional powers.
Obama’s unilateral action, which will grant deportation relief to roughly 5 million undocumented immigrants, came almost a year and a half after the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform measure. House Republicans have refused to take up that bill but also failed to move an immigration plan of their own, saying they will pursue a more piecemeal approach to the issue.
While the constitutionality of the president’s order has been cleared by both liberal and conservative legal experts, GOP lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), are still calling the action illegal.
Following Obama’s announcement, Boehner accused him of acting like a “king or emperor,” adding that Republicans “will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk.”
During a Fox News interview Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued that only Congress is authorized to legislate federal immigration policies and said Obama was “defying the law, defying the constitution” and “behaving in an unprecedented way.” Congress’ exclusive immigration powers include ending all deportations and permanently altering a specific group’s immigration status. Obama’s order does neither.
While Obama’s new policy may be more expansive than previous presidential orders on immigration, the order itself is certainly not unprecedented.
Since 1956, two presidents – both Republican — have employed executive orders to implement immigration reform. In 1981, Ronald Reagan moved to defer the deportation of roughly 100,000 undocumented immigrants. In 1990, George H.W. Bush also used his executive powers to relieve 1.5 million undocumented immigrants of deportation.
In fact, Obama has issued fewer executive orders than every president since 1901. While Democratic presidents have relied on executive orders more frequently than Republicans over the last 100 years, Obama’s average executive orders per year in office fall nearly 3.3 points below George W. Bush, 8.4 below George H.W. Bush and roughly 14.5 points below Ronald Reagan …
WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Borowitz Report)—The United States of America, a nation with a population of approximately three hundred million people, totally accepts that the next President of the United States can only be selected from two families.
In interviews conducted across the country, Americans acknowledged that, while the United States boasts many exceptional people in the fields of technology, business, public policy, and government, none will be offered to voters as candidates because they do not come from one of the two families deemed eligible.
“No doubt about it, there are a lot of great people out there who could be President,” said Stoddard Vinton, of Toledo. “But I guess our system of choosing people from just two families has worked out pretty well.”
Leslie McEdwards, of San Jose agreed, that, while “it would be cool” to choose a President from more than two families, “on the plus side, we voters don’t have to learn a bunch of new names.”
“This country is facing unprecedented problems, and it’s going to take some fresh ideas to solve them,” said Doug Chessing, of Grand Rapids. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that someone from one of those two families can do it.”
The fact that the current President, Barack Obama, belonged to neither of the families “always felt kind of weird to me,” said Halynn Cross, of Knoxville. “He tried really hard and all, but, after eight years, it’ll be nice to get back to someone from the two families.”
In one of the strongest endorsements of America’s two-family system, Rick Keelins of Albany said that he is “sick and tired” of people complaining about it. “At least we have two families to choose from,” he said. “A lot of countries, like North Korea, just have one.”
― Meister Eckhart
Dear Fellow White People,
As White people who aren’t seething with racism, we have the duty to show solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision. We have the duty to listen, and not lecture. And we have the duty to speak out just as loudly against police brutality, even if we aren’t the ones who are the most directly affected.
Today, a White police officer kills a Black person every 28 hours. In Utah, police are responsible for more homicides than gangs, drug dealers, and child abusers combined. And the number of Black people killed by police has now outpaced the number of Black people who were lynched during the Jim Crow era (which never really ended, when you consider this statistic). FBI data shows that Black teenagers are three times more likely to be killed by police than White teenagers. In 2012, FBI statistics show police departments claimed “justifiable homicide” 426 times. To compare with another Western nation, police in Germany only fired a total of 85 shots over the course of 2011. Forty of those were warning shots, and only six were fatal. In Japan and the UK, there were zero police killings of civilians that year. The U.S. is far and away the leader in police acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Now, can you start to understand why the Ferguson community is so distraught by the loss of a teenager and the lack of even a show trial for the White police officer who killed him?
It’s about more than Michael Brown
But the anger Black America is currently expressing is more than just anger over Michael Brown’s killer walking away unscathed. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was just recently killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed in Detroit by a police officer conducting a raid who accidentally discharged his weapon (the officer, Joseph Weekley, has escaped charges twice). And Black America isn’t just targeted by the police. In the last several years, Black youths were killed by racist vigilantes for playing loud music and wearing hoodies. Only one of those vigilantes was brought to justice, and that was after he was taken to trial for a second time. Darren Wilson’s non-indictment means he won’t even face a trial for firing 12 rounds at an unarmed teenager who was over 100 feet away from him at the time of his death.
As White people, the police treat us very differently. I stole candy from convenience stores as a kid and was never caught, let alone even suspected. But even if I had been caught any of those times, I have the privilege of knowing that because I have blond hair and blue eyes, at the very worst, I would have been required to pay a fine and do community service. I would even be given a second chance and the benefit of the doubt by future employers. And whenever I have encounters with the police and I’m not at a protest, I almost always get away with a warning, no matter how fast I was driving, what time of night it is, or what neighborhood I’m driving in. And if I refuse to consent to a search, the officer respects my assertion of my rights and backs down.
White mass murderers get treated better
But even White people who commit heinous acts of mass murder were treated better than Michael Brown, who was, at worst, an alleged suspect of petty theft at a convenience store. James Holmes, who killed 12 people in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and wounded many others, surrendered after the act, was brought in peacefully, and got a trial. This is all despite the fact that Holmes had an AR-15 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and had booby-trapped his apartment with deadly explosives. Jared Lee Loughner, the man who killed six people in Arizona and almost killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was also taken alive by police despite his having shot a member of Congress in the head. Now, White people, can you start to understand why Black America is taking to the streets?
Sadly, a large portion of White America has been taken in by the corporate media’s over-hyping of the riots and looting following the grand jury announcement. A lot of you have said, “Why don’t they act more like Martin Luther King,” without taking into account that Martin Luther King was violently killed just the same, and that in 1999, a Memphis jury found local, state, and federal government agencies guilty of a conspiracy to kill Dr. King. Malcolm X was also killed for his beliefs, even as he grew more moderate over time. Medgar Evers was killed in the driveway of his own home, in front of his family, by a White man who wouldn’t face justice for 30 years. The list of slain Black leaders goes on.
The option of not understanding
Other well-intentioned White people are chastising those who have looted stores, saying corporate property destruction hurts the protesters’ cause, without taking into account that the Boston Tea Party, which led to the bloody revolution that created our Constitution, was, at its core, an act of corporate property destruction. Just as the Boston Tea Party participants did in their day, the people of Ferguson are simply expressing their rage in the only way they have left – by rioting – in the absence of accountable elected officials, a rigged justice system, and a militarized occupying force that terrorizes their neighborhoods and slaughters their children with impunity. White people who don’t understand this have the option of not having to understand this, which defines our privilege.
This week, White families all over America will celebrate a holiday that began with White genocide of Native Americans, and will do so with family members they love and assume they will see again the following year. But the families of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Ramarley Graham, Ezell Ford, and so many others won’t have that privilege. We as White people must acknowledge that the problem of police brutality isn’t just an issue for members of one particular ethnicity to deal with – it’s a human rights issue. The Americans who protested in solidarity with Palestinians who lost lives, families, and homes from the Israeli bombing of Gaza did so regardless of their nationality. And so, White people must protest this week in solidarity with the Black community regardless of our ethnicity. Martin Luther King was right when he said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of a teenager will not end Wilson’s legal troubles.
Though the decision is likely the last word from Missouri’s criminal courts, Wilson, whose shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown provoked months of protests, could face civil rights charges brought by the Justice Department or a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by Brown’s parents. Attorney General Eric Holder says the federal inquiry into incident “remains ongoing.”
Wilson could have been charged with first- or second-degree murder or manslaughter. At issue was how Brown died in the shooting Aug. 9. Police say Brown, who was unarmed, struggled with Wilson inside his police car, then reached for Wilson’s weapon. Brown’s family and some witnesses say Wilson killed Brown as he raised his hands in surrender.
Police officers rarely face indictment for on-the-job shootings. The FBI defines “justifiable homicide” by law enforcement as “killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” In 2011, police killed 404 people in the line of duty, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report said. In 2012, officers killed 410. In 2013, the number grew to 461 — the most in two decades.
The FBI data don’t include any information on criminal charges.
The grand jury, which convened Aug. 20, did not weigh whether Wilson had a justifiable reason to shoot Brown.
“They did not find probable cause to believe a crime was committed and Darren Wilson committed it,” said Susan McGraugh, a criminal defense lawyer and a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law. “They don’t have to explain their reasoning, and they won’t. They simply have a form and sign something that says ‘no true bill.’ ”
“They are not making a decision on Officer Wilson’s guilt,” said Peter Joy, a criminal defense attorney and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
Wilson has been on paid leave from the department since the incident. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told MSNBC that Missouri law would allow Wilson to return to the force if he is cleared of any charges. The Police Department would conduct an internal review of the Brown shooting to see whether Wilson violated any policies.
Brown’s family could sue Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department for excessive force and wrongful death, said James Cohen, a professor at Fordham University Law School.
In a civil trial, Brown’s family could seek monetary damages, as the victim’s family did in the case of football player O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted in a criminal trial of his wife’s murder but ordered by a court in a civil trial to pay millions to her family.
The federal government’s probe could have wide-ranging consequences not only for Wilson but also for the entire Police Department.
“Their claims would not just be excessive force, which would be directly associated with the police officer, but failure to adequately train the police officer,” Cohen said. “Then, you sort of implicate the whole department and its structure.”
More unlikely, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney could take a crack at Wilson. The grand jury’s decision would not preclude a prosecutor from bringing new evidence to another grand jury or bypassing the grand jury entire by filing a criminal complaint, McGraugh said.
Wilson may never escape public infamy, but he won’t have a criminal arrest record, McGraugh said. Since St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch did not bring a criminal complaint against Wilson and he was never charged, arraigned or arrested, she said. McCulloch also took the unusual step of presenting both incriminating and exculpatory evidence, she said.
In Ferguson, a wound bleeds.
For 108 days, we have been in a state of prolonged and protracted grief. In that time, we have found community with one another, bonding together as family around the simple notion that our love for our community compels us to fight for our community. We have had no choice but to cling together in hope, faith, love, and indomitable determination to capture that ever-escaping reality of justice.
After 108 days, that bleeding wound has been reopened, salt poured in, insult added to the deepest of injury. On August 9, we found ourselves pushed into unknown territory, learning day by day, minute by minute, to lead and support a movement bigger than ourselves, the most important of our lifetime. We were indeed unprepared to begin with, and even in our maturation through these 108 days, we find ourselves reinjured, continually heartbroken, and robbed of even the remote possibility of judicial resolution. A life has been violently taken before it could barely begin. In this moment, we know, beyond any doubt, that no one will be held accountable within the confines of a system to which we were taught to pledge allegiance. The very hands with which we pledged that allegiance were not enough to save Mike in surrender.
Once again, in our community, in our country, that pledge has returned to us void.
For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should “let the system work,” and wait to see what the results are.
The results are in.
And we still don’t have justice.
This fight for the dignity of our people, for the importance of our lives, for the protection of our children, is one that did not begin Michael’s murder and will not end with this announcement. The ‘system’ you have told us to rely on has kept us on the margins of society. This system has housed us in her worst homes, educated our children in her worst schools, locked up our men at disproportionate rates and shamed our women for receiving the support they need to be our mothers. This system you have admonished us to believe in has consistently, unfailingly, and unabashedly let us down and kicked us out, time and time again.
This same system in which you’ve told us to trust–this same system meant to serve and protect citizens– has once again killed two more of our unarmed brothers: Walking up a staircase and shot down in cold blood, we fight for Akai Gurley; Playing with a toy after police had been warned that he held a bb gun and not a real gun at only twelve years old, we fight for Tamir Rice.
So you will likely ask yourself, now that the announcement has been made, why we will still take to the streets? Why we will still raise our voices to protect our community? Why will still cry tears of heartbreak and sing songs of determination?
We will continue to struggle because without struggle, there is no progress.
We will continue to disrupt life, because without disruption we fear for our lives.
We will continue because Assata reminds us daily that “it is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Those chains have bound us-all of us- up for too long. And do not be mistaken- if one of us is bound, we all are. We are, altogether, bound up in a system that continues to treat some men better than others. A system that preserves some and disregards others. A system that protects the rights of some and does not guard the rights of all.
And until this system is dismantled, until the status quo that deems us less valuable than others is no longer acceptable or profitable, we will struggle. We will fight. We will protest.
Grief, even in its most righteous state, cannot last forever. No community can sustain itself this way.
So we still continue to stand for progress, and stand alongside anyone who will make a personal investment in ending our grief and will take a personal stake in achieving justice.
We march on with purpose. The work continues. This is not a moment but a movement. The movement lives.
RoundRiver Institute LLC