Do Black Lives Matter?

Melissa Harris-Perry noted over the weekend that a lot of protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere have been chanting, “Black lives matter.” The MSNBC host asked the question: Do they? Do black lives matter?

Well, do they?

By now you have seen all or parts of the video in which 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an Africa-American boy who had been playing in a Cleveland park on November 22, was gunned down by a police officer.

The sixth-grader, besides smashing snowballs with his feet, had been playing in the park with a cheap Airsoft pistol, essentially a toyish gun that, minus its orange safety cap, from a distance looked like the real thing, even if Tamir Rice didn’t look like a real adult. Shooting: On Sunday, Tamir's father, Gregory Henderson, said the youngster had his whole life ahead of him when he was gunned down outside Cudell Recreation Center. Above, the BB gun that Tamir was carryingThe cop who shot him had been on the force for only a short time, just over eight months. His partner, who was driving the car and who pulled right up next to Rice, was 46 and had been with the force since 2008.

A concerned citizen at the park had called 911 and told the dispatcher that someone, “probably a juvenile,” was pointing a gun at people, even though the caller thought the gun might be “fake.” In response to the dispatcher’s inquiry, the caller identified the gun-wielding kid as black. By the time word got out to the cops on patrol, the part about the juvenile and the part about the potentially fake gun got lost. Responding officers were essentially looking for a black male with a dangerous weapon who was threatening people with it, and since young black males are 21 times more likely to get shot by the police than young white males, no one should be surprised that Tamir Rice is now dead.

According to Cleveland police, after arriving at the park where the boy was sitting on a picnic table in a gazebo, it took the rookie cop less than two seconds to shoot the kid when he approached their car. “Shots fired. Male down, black male, maybe 20, black hand gun,” one of the cops tells a dispatcher. Rice never had a chance to explain to officers that he was, presumably, just doing what many boys, including myself, have done: pretending to shoot the bad guys with a pretend gun. And the boy never received immediate first aid from either of the responding officers. A detective and an FBI agent arrived on the scene some four minutes later and tried to save him. He died the next day in the hospital.

The policeman who fired the deadly shots is 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann. He has a degree in Criminology/Sociology and had completed law enforcement training at the local police academy. According to one report,

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said he spoke to Loehmann and said he ‘is broken up about this’ and ‘didn’t want to do this, but had to protect himself’.

I hope all of us can understand that cops have a legitimate right to protect themselves. They should get to come home at the end of a day’s work just like anyone else. But it seems to be the case that when it comes to the police, especially the white police, the response when encountering a black suspect is to aggressively act first and then figure out what is going on later. We have to ask ourselves why that is and, more important, what we should do about it. It might be a way of affirming that, indeed, black lives matter.

Are police trained to shoot first and ask questions later, when it comes to black males? Putting aside what happened in Ferguson—and putting aside what happened in Nevada earlier this year when a group of white people with guns took aim at federal agents, doing so with impunity—there are plenty of examples of this shoot-first mentality in practice, if not in theory. Here are just a few:

♦ In August police in Ohio shot and killed John Crawford in a Walmart. Crawford was a 26-year-old African-American. He was walking around the store, talking to the mother of his kids on his cell phone, while carrying an air rifle that the store sold. Police responded to the scene as a result of a 911 call from a citizen who exaggerated Crawford’s actions. When police confronted Crawford, they started yelling and shooting at him at about the same time. He had no chance to tell them what was going on.

Neither of the two officers involved in that shooting were indicted by a grand jury even though a video from a surveillance camera clearly showed how hastily the officers acted.

In July, police in New York City killed Eric Garner on the sidewalk by placing him in a deadly chokehold, a move that is banned by the NYPD. Garner’s crime was selling untaxed cigarettes, which apparently is a capital offense on Staten Island. The officer accused of killing the unarmed father of six testified before a grand jury ten days ago and a decision is expected next month. A video of that deadly incident is also available, otherwise it is quite likely there would have been no grand jury at all, since police accounts of such incidents are always designed to protect and serve the police.

♦ A dash cam video from the car of a former South Carolina state trooper showed us all what might happen if a black male is stopped for a seat belt violation in that state: he might get shot. Fortunately, 35-year-old African-American Levar Jones lived to tell about his September encounter with a white cop, Sean Groubert. Jones was merely retrieving his wallet, in response to a command from Groubert to get his license, and for that he was yelled at and then shot. In this case, the trooper has actually been charged with “assault and battery of a high and aggregated nature.” Comparing the video evidence to what Groubert said about the incident clearly shows the officer’s self-serving account was an attempt to cover up his panicked behavior.

Which brings us back to Tamir Rice.

Here’s the way The New York Times reported on the Cleveland Police Department’s explanation of why the 12-year-old was killed:

The police said the officer yelled at Tamir three times to show his hands, but the boy instead reached to his waistband for the object, which turned out to be a fake gun.

Well, maybe all that can happen in less than two seconds, but I have serious doubts. It is more likely that a rookie cop did what so many other white cops have done when it comes to black males: shoot first and then appeal to the public, the white public, for understanding later.

In the mean time, the hunt for dirt on or around the Cleveland sixth grader has begun. How about this headline:

Tamir Rice’s father has history of domestic violence

Or this one:

Lawyer representing Tamir Rice’s family defended boy’s mom in drug trafficking case

The publisher of those two articles, Northeast Ohio Media Group, defended the effort to dig into the background of Tamir’s family this way:

In a city where…police are quick to resort to force, a 12-year-old randomly aiming a gun in a public place is in mortal danger. One way to stop police from killing any more 12-year-olds might be to understand the forces that lead children to undertake behavior that could put them in the sights of police guns. 

So our reporters at NEOMG have been looking into Tamir’s background, to see if he lived a life exposed to violence that could explain why it might be normal for him to randomly aim what looks like a real gun in a public place.

I suppose there could be a special “background” reason why Tamir Rice was playing with a non-lethal gun in public, something I did as a kid countless times, even if it was unwise of Tamir to point it at strangers. Maybe it is the case that revealing the “criminal records involving violence” of his two parents will “shed further light on why this 12 year old was waving a weapon around a public park.” But what it won’t do, what it can’t possibly do, is shed further light on why it is that to be black in this country, even in this the 21st century, means that even sixth grade African-American students had better be careful how they spend their play time.

So, do black lives matter? Yes, they matter. Even the life of a little boy whose parents weren’t necessarily the best role models, a naive kid who apparently trusted the police enough to approach them without fear, a misplaced trust that cost him his life.

_________________________

The following is the entire available video of Tamir’s last minutes on earth. His family approved the release of the video so that the public could see the actions of the officers involved. The family has also asked “for the community to remain calm,” and they want to use the emotions associated with this tragedy “in a way that will contribute to positive efforts and solutions that bring change to Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and cities across the nation as it relates to how law enforcement officials interact with citizens of color.” 

Cliven Bundy Just Put Away The Dog Whistle, That’s All

I don’t know, I really don’t know, what everybody is so upset about.

So Cliven Bundy said the following, via The New York Times:

I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

So what? Why are so many people, who jumped in bed with Cliven Bundy and began a rather lurid affair (Have a nice day, Senator Dean Heller!), now scurrying around looking for their clothes and the door? What is in Bundy’s racist remarks that hasn’t been endorsed, in one form or another, by any number of Republicans, especially during the 2012 presidential election? There are many examples to choose from, but I will give you only two.

Remember back in 2012 when two GOP presidential candidates—I said, presidential candidates, people!—Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, signed a “Marriage Vow” pledge that included the following as a preamble:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President, according to the document.

Translation from Cliven Bundy: “Are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things…?”

But we don’t have to go back to 2012, which featured Mitt Romney’s class warfare on the mooching 47%. His partner in that presidential run, Paul Ryan, recently made remarks that mirror Bundy’s comments about how blacks “never learned to pick cotton” because of all the government subsidies they enjoy. On right-wing Bill Bennet’s radio show Ryan said:

Bennett: You gave a talk about poverty, lifting people out of poverty. A great party has a plan to help people get out of poverty. What’s the plan? What are the broad outlines? What’s the roadmap, as someone might say?

Ryan: In a nutshell, work works. It’s all about getting people to work. And when you were one of the leaders of welfare reform in the late ‘90s, we got excoriated for saying you know what, as a condition of welfare, people should go to work and it should be a bridge, not a permanent system. And it worked very well, but there were dozens of other welfare programs that did not get reformed that have sort of overtaken events and have now made it harder for people to get into work. We call it a poverty trap. There are incentives not to work and to stay where you are; that’s not what we want in society. 

And later he told Bennett:

Ryan: And so, that’s this tailspin or spiral that we’re looking at in our communities. You know your buddy (conservative scholar) Charles Murray or (public policy professor) Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this, which is we have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work; and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with. 

The only difference, to my ears, from what Ryan said and what Bundy said is that Ryan was careful to substitute “inner cities” for “Negroes.” The rest of it is essentially the same idea: if you don’t make black people work by threatening to starve them to death, then what will happen is that all the older blacks will sit on the porch and count their food stamps, while their young girls get pregnant and then get abortions and their young boys commit crimes and end up in jail.

So, let’s get off Cliven Bundy’s racist ass and congratulate him for saying plainly what many, many Republicans have been saying in code for so long.

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Hanoi Huckabee And Hanoi Hannity

In 1972, actress Jane Fonda, at the height of her youthful popularity, went to North Vietnam, against whom we were still warring, and toured the country for two weeks. While there, she denounced U.S. military policy and did something she later said “was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done.” That something was posing for pictures on an anti-aircraft gun outside of Hanoi. “I will go to my grave regretting that,” she said in 2005, adding,

The image of Jane Fonda, Barbarella, Henry Fonda’s daughter—just a woman—sitting on a enemy aircraft gun, was a betrayal. It was like I was thumbing my nose at the military. And at the country that gave me privilege. It was the largest lapse of judgment that I can even imagine. I don’t thumb my nose at this country. I care deeply about American soldiers.

Fonda did not apologize, though, for being photographed with seven American POWs and for making broadcasts for Radio Hanoi:

Our government was lying to us, and men were dying because of it. And I felt that I had to do anything that I could to expose the lies, and help end the war. That was my goal.

Obviously her trip to Hanoi earned her the lasting ire of many veterans, who would refer to her as “Hanoi Jane” forevermore. Many still consider her a traitor and many lies have grown up and multiplied around that trip in 1972, including a vicious lie, still circulating on the dark side of the Internet, that some POWs passed to her notes to take back home that she allegedly turned over to the North Vietnamese, who then supposedly beat to death some of those POWs.

Fonda’s trip to North Vietnam also made her a legend in the conservative movement, if only as a poster child for all that was wrong with liberals and leftists, all that was wrong with radicals who did not necessarily embrace the idea that if America was doing it, it must be right. Many conservatives over the years have used Fonda as an example of someone who portrays their own country as the “enemy,” and who is either unpatriotic or treasonous for doing so.

Now we come to Mike Huckabee. By now you have heard him say the following, uttered this past weekend at a gathering of Obama-hating right-wing extremists called the New Hampshire Freedom Summit:

Freedom of speech in this country, that for which the men grabbed their muskets off the mantel, did never mean that we’re to have fewer voices, but more voices…My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States…

Especially in context, those remarks should offend and outrage any American, whether you like Barack Obama or not. I don’t think that Jane Fonda ever said anything as offensive or outrageous as comparing the United States unfavorably with a despotic shit hole like North Korea.

But before he said those offensive and outrageous things, Huckabee said something that I find even more outrageous. Read the following demagogic commentary the law-and-order-loving Huckabee gave on the dangerous drama going on in Nevada—where a delusional rancher has been illegally grazing his cattle on federal government land for twenty years and who says he doesn’t “recognize [the] United States Government as even existing” and who is essentially leading a group of crazed people with guns who are willing to kill federal authorities trying to enforce the law:

There is something incredibly wrong when a government believes that some blades of grass that a cow is eating is so an egregious affront to the government to the United States that we would literally put a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him over it. [Interrupted by applause.] Here’s what I’d have to ask: Is this government more interested in some cows eating grass in Nevada than they are as to why Brian Terry was murdered with guns that our government provided drug dealers in Mexico? [More applause.] Somebody help me understand that? Is this government more concerned about a few hundred head of cattle grazing on some land than they are as to why four Americans were murdered in Benghazi? And nobody answered the phone at three o’clock in the morning! [More thunderous applause.] The threats and affronts to our liberty today are so incredibly frightening…

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what Mike Huckabee is saying here. Besides his attempt to appeal to the worst elements of the Republican base—those who think Barack Obama and Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton are essentially murderers or complicit in murder—he is essentially saying that the government should ignore a freeloading lawbreaker in Nevada, a freeloading lawbreaker who has become a folk hero on the right, because that lawbreaking rancher’s crimes aren’t worth enforcing the law. When Huckabee made those remarks he knew that right-wing groups, including Americans for Prosperity, had been championing rancher Cliven Bundy’s cause to the point that reactionary militia members from all over the country were on the scene in Nevada with their guns in order to provide an “armed response” to what the Bureau of Land Management was trying to do. Huckabee knew that. And yet he ignored all that and focused on Fast and Furious and Benghazi. I remind you that besides being a former governor, the man is a bleeping Baptist minister, for God’s sake.

Now enter Sean Hannity. After the Bureau of Land Management decided to wisely back down and not get into a shootout with hysterical reactionaries at this time, Hannity offered the Bundy family yet another opportunity to make their case against the federal government’s authority over the land in Nevada, the land that the Bundys had been profiting from by grazing their cattle on it for free (some dare call that welfare). I will provide you with part of the transcript of that disgusting Fox “News” segment, a transcript that appeared on Fox Nation under the headline:

Cliven Bundy on Harry Reid: ‘I Don’t Think There’s Any Hope for Him, He Needs to Be Kicked Out of Office’

HANNITY: This is a “FOX News Alert.” The federal government has caved to public pressure in the battle against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over cattle grazing rights. Now, in just a moment, Cliven, his two sons will join us for their first exclusive interview since the siege ended.

But first, the government surrendered this weekend after tensions escalated in the week-long standoff between Bundy family, supporters, and of course, federal agents. Now, the Bureau of Land Management released the 400 cattle that it seized from Bundy and removed its heavily-armed agents from the ranch.

Get that? The federal government “caved” and “surrendered.” Hannity was siding with the armed resistance. He was siding with the lawbreakers who believe the federal government is their enemy. And it was as if Hannity and Friends were cheering for a different outcome, one with, say, blood and death. Hannity even went so far as to claim that Democrats were involved:

HANNITY: …From my perspective, as somebody that follows politics very, very closely, I think that they — I think the politicians were watching this, Democrats in particular, and that they knew if something bad happened here, and they were the ones ratcheting this up – – I mean, we have rapist and murderers and bank robbers and pedophiles out there, and they’ve 200 agents, you know, surrounding your ranch because your cows are eating grass on land that they don’t even want or need and that you’re arguing isn’t even theirs.

So they realized, I think, at some point, politically, that this was going to backfire on them. So I think this was done for political reasons.

As outrageous as Hannity’s promotion of these right-wing extremists was, as outrageous as his claim that Democrats, presumably in Washington, surrendered to gun-toting lawbreakers in Nevada to avoid bad publicity, there was another outrageous thing that happened on his show. Cliven Bundy, the man at the center of this right-wing sanctioned freeloading and lawbreaking, had the following exchange with the Fox host:

HANNITY: Well, let me ask you, because Harry Reid just spoke earlier tonight and he said that, well, it’s not over. He said, quote, “We can’t have American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

What is your response to Harry Reid?

CLIVEN BUNDY: I don’t have a response for Harry Reid, but I have a response for every sheriff across the United States, every county sheriff across the United States. Disarm the federal bureaucrats. Take the federal United States bureaucrats’ guns away. That’s my message today.

What? “Disarm the federal bureaucrats?” Take their guns away? Sheriffs are suppose to walk up to federal agents and take away their weapons? Huh?bundy ranch sniper

Now, one would expect that Sean Hannity, who thinks people here without citizenship are lawbreakers who should pay fines and not get federal subsidies and should be forced to learn English and suffer other penalties for not being legal Americans like him, one would expect him to tell Cliven Bundy that he was out of his mind for thinking that sheriffs could and should disarm federal officials. One would expect Hannity, who refers to President Obama as lawless, to tell the disturbed rancher that this is a nation of laws and that no law gives a sheriff the right to take a gun away from a federal official who is authorized to possess it, and certainly no law gives people the right to get into a gun battle with government agents carrying out their official duties. But no. Our law-loving conservative host responded with this:

HANNITY: You said that to the sheriff, Cliven. You said to disarm the Park Service, meaning the Bureau of Land Management. I mean, there were, what, 200 people surrounding your ranch and there were snipers and — I mean, it was really a precarious situation there all weekend up until this got resolved, right?

CLIVEN BUNDY: Yes. And if the county sheriff had have taken away the weapons from the BLM, those pickets (ph) would not have to march before these guns. And that was — that’s a terrible thing to put American people in that situation, and — but they did.

And we didn’t have a county sheriff. We didn’t have a state government. And we the people marched, and the BLM backed down. Now, they backed down — let me tell you how they backed down. They backed down. They run. They got on the freeway and went to Mesquite and grabbed their stuff and moved out of the state. Now, the state — towards the state of Utah. Utah County sheriff’s finished this job that Gillespie didn’t do, take the guns away from these federal bureaucrats.

HANNITY: Is your contention that this is state land and that they have no authority or business being there?

CLIVEN BUNDY: They have no authority.

HANNITY: All right, let me ask you about…

“All right.” That’s it. No lecture to Mr. Bundy about the need to obey the laws. No admonition that he and his family were putting government officials in danger. No scolding him for picking and choosing which laws he would like to obey. No moral sermon about how awful it is for the Bundy family to be part of Mitt Romney’s 47% who are mooching off the federal government. No, none of that. In fact, Bundy later spoke again of disarming the enemy, the federal officials trying to enforce the law:

CLIVEN BUNDY: …They might have took over our Clark County sheriff, but they never took over we the people, the sovereign people of this nation. We’re standing and we’re going to stand until we take the guns away from those bureaucracies, and then we’ll start making America great one more time.

To that, I swear to God, our Constitution-loving, Obama-is-a-lawbreaking-radical-who-pals-around-with-terrorists Fox celebrity said:

HANNITY: Did you lose many cows? I understand that some of your cows died.

It’s all about the cows.

Conservatives, those who tacitly defend or openly promote what the Bundy family and their gun-packing fellow travelers are doing in Nevada, at the very least owe Jane Fonda an apology.

In the mean time, if you want a look at real stupidity and lawlessness and mob mentality, I suggest you watch the following video in its entirety (beware: the reactionaries call federal officials some vile and profane names), a video recorded by someone who is proud of what happened in Nevada:

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