Hands Up; Don’t Shoot!

(7-Year Anniversary Edition)

It’s time to Break It Down!

Michael Brown’s funeral was Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Yesterday Kajieme Powell‘s funeral was held at the William C Harris Mortuary in the same City. In the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting, protestors in Ferguson, Missouri (where Brown was shot), and across the country, have popularized the meme “Hands up; don’t shoot.” The words, when uttered, are typically accompanied by raising one’s hands in the familiar position assumed when ordered to do so by officers of the law.

This combination vocal/visible action is intended to symbolize the state of siege with which young black men frequently find themselves. A vociferous debate, probably the most robust since Trayvon Martin was killed, has ensued. While there are a number of elements that serve to stoke the flames of discontent, most if not all of them stem from or lead to race. Spike Lee argues “There is a war on the black male in America.”

At first blush, one might be inclined to discount Lee’s position as part of a rant. Spike and a number of African Americans associated with issues revolving around race and ethnicity are dismissively referred to as race baiters. Their points, no matter how valid, are frequently lost in the resulting din. The point of this post is to say, “Pump the brakes; not so fast.”

Marc Lamont Hill is a Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College. He has previously served as an Associate Professor of Education at Columbia University, and as an Assistant Professor of Urban Education in American Studies at Temple University, one of his alma maters. He is the author of the book ”Beats, Rhymes and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity,” and the co-author of two other books. In his spare time, Hill is a journalist and television personality. He hosts Our World with Black Enterprise, and online HuffPost Live, and is a BET News correspondent and a CNN political commentator.

Dr. Hill calls the frequent shooting of black men “Domestic Terrorism.” He has claimed several times during the recent discourse that police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African Americans in 2012. To frame that in a different way, according to a recent study, every 28 hours in 2012, a police officer or law enforcement surrogate killed an African American.

With those statistics as a foundation for the discussion, can anyone really argue with Spike Lee’s depiction, or with Dr. Hill’s characterization? I would say both men fairly accurately describe the situation. When Hill spoke of domestic terrorism, he was contrasting the rioting that ensued after Michael Brown’s death to the hyper-frequent instances of “Black Death” by law enforcement. Spike Lee was making a similar point.

Somewhere along the line, in order for this discussion to be on point, the question of accurate depictions must be raised. In short, PolitiFact.com rates Dr. Hill’s assertion as false. But, not due to a discrepancy with the number of people the study alleges were killed. Rather, because not all of them were unarmed. In fact, only 136 were unarmed. Nevertheless, that’s one unarmed African American killed every 64 hours, and still an African American every 28 hours. By my reckoning, that qualifies as an epidemic. PolitiFact that!

In addition to the killings, other methods of oppression include:

  • Mass incarcerationof nonwhites
  • Disproportionate arrests for like crimes
  • Longer sentences for the same offenses

African Americans make up 13% of the general population, but 40% of the prison population. African Americans use drugs at the same rate or less than whites, yet they are 3 to 5 times more likely to be arrested for drugs. In New York, 80% of drug stops were of blacks. When whites were stopped, 8% were frisked; 85% of blacks were frisked.

All things considered, I leave you with this note of caution. During the TV show, “Hill Street Blues, the character known as Sgt. Phil Esterhaus sent his shift off to their daily duties with the departing words, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” Unfortunately, the contemporary parallel for African American males is, “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.

To subscribe, click on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.

Consult the links below for more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post:














A Frank Discourse: Revealing America’s Dirty Little Secret

It’s time to Break It Down!

Last week I wrote about Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the expanding turmoil that has buffeted that St. Louis suburb, now entering day 12. As I engaged a cross-section of individuals in discourse about the subject, a number of those people raised a variety of issues. Some of those issues were offered as catalysts, others as part of an array of interrelated matters; some causal, others part of the multi-faceted effects.

Rather than break down the various issues into discrete categories, and spend time dissecting each one, I am going to elevate and briefly explore the one with which I take greatest exception…and for which there is wealth of easily accessible disproving data. Many of my friends and associates, and a number of media mouth pieces are quick to default to “Black on Black Crime” as the presumed elephant in the room that automatically shuts down all discourse about tragic situations such as Michael Brown being killed by a white police officer.

The typical dialogue tends to go along the lines of, “But what about “Black on Black Crime or, what about black folk who kill other black folk? Let me make this perfectly clear. I abhor situations in which people kill other people. When the victim and the perpetrator are both black, it saddens me. Deeply! To that end, I do not downplay such instances, nor give a pass to the initiators of such violence. Full stop.

Having said that, what then irritates me so thoroughly about inserting the axiomatic “Black on Black Crime label to shut down discourse when a white law officer kills an unarmed black man? I am perturbed on many levels.

First, the comparison zeroes in on two events at such polar opposite ends of the spectrum that enlisting apples and oranges does not provide metaphorical justice. When an individual kills another individual, even when unarmed, it is often a tragic matter.

However, police officers are representatives of the state (government). They are paid with taxpayer dollars to protect and serve the public. To wit, when an officer of the law uses his/her service revolver, Taser, night stick, choke hold, or any other available mechanism to kill an unarmed black man, he or she has acted as an extension of the state to kill a citizen. In too many instances, such actions take on the appearance of a state sponsored execution.

Therefore, when individuals, or groups, or the media conflate a black man killing an unarmed black man with the state, or as some may prefer, a public servant killing an unarmed black man, there is and should be a higher standard of scrutiny. This should be an automatic and systemic response. Unfortunately, we have become collectively inured to a particular narrative. “Black people are inherently prone to crime, and therefore deserving of summary justice…even when and if that justice is fatal.

That fairly long preamble was necessary to set the stage for my main point. When is the last time you heard the phrase “White on White Crime?” In all likelihood, reading it in the preceding sentence was the first time you ever even heard of such a concept. The absence of that term as a regular talking point, compared with the prevalence of “Black on Black Crime” is an example of the subtle mind-bending and thought harvesting that frames our thinking…or lack thereof.

Well, put on your big boy/big girl pants; it’s time to shatter the myth! Did you know, on a macro scale, “White on White Crime is more prevalent than “Black on Black Crime?” Don’t lie…hell no! You did not know that because no one ever told you, and why would you ever consider such a possibility, unprovoked? Consider yourself provoked.

But the point is not just irritate you, as I am irritated by the irresponsible, and inappropriate use of the “Black on Black Crime” metaphor to shut down discourse about police killing unarmed blacks. I want to share some information that can move the dial on recognizing when someone is trying to blow smoke up an orifice rather than engage you in a genuine dialogue about this important matter.

In order to be reasonably informed on the issue, there are some things you need to know, including: 

  • In America, a white person is almost six times more likely to be killed by another white person than by a black person (FBI Homicide Data)
  • In 2011, there were more cases of whites killing whites than of blacks killing blacks
    • According to Bureau of Justice Statistics:
    • For the period 1980-2008 53.3% of gang homicides were committed by white offenders
    • For the same period, 56.5% of gang homicide victims were white
    • White men are more likely to kill than any other racial group or subset
    • Other than gun violence, which is significant, white men top the list in almost all other categories of homicides
    • Whites are more likely to kill children
    • Whites are more likely to kill the elderly
    • Whites are more likely to kill family members
    • White are more likely to kill their significant others
    • Whites are more likely to kill at their places of employment
    • Whites commit more sex-related crimes
    • Whites commit more gang-related crimes
  • Studies show that blacks are no more likely than whites to use or sell drugs, and make up only 14% of regular drug users, yet blacks are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and they receive longer sentences than whites

A simple truth is, white people kill lots of white people and black people kill lots of black people. This is not because either group is burdened by self-hate, but because murder is usually a crime of passion, or a crime of convenience. Moreover, because we have created or inherited an intensely segregated culture, within our own subgroups is where our opportunities for interaction occur most often and most organically.

White people who commit crime are considered deviant individuals. Conversely, black people who commit crime have their actions attributed to their race. Thus Chicago gang-bangers have become a symbol that black men should be feared. Yet, there seems to be no corollary assignment of fear to white men base upon brutal murders committed by Neo-Nazi skinheads.

I am reminded of the eternal wisdom of the manager on my first real job. In response to a colleague’s protestation about the unfairness of a particular “management decision,” the boss replied, “Whoever said life was fair?”

In other words, don’t get it twisted. I’m not whining about unfair treatment. In fact, I’m not whining. I am providing a public service. It behooves all of us to recognize, confront, and dispute the myths that permeate our attempts to deal with issues of race, ethnicity, and diversity (or lack thereof) in American society. If we do not, we are bound to repeat the misadventures of Ferguson. It is long past time for “A Frank Discourse: Revealing America’s Dirty Little Secret!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.

To subscribe, click on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.

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The Thin Blue Line: A Source of Deadly Force!

Break It Down!

Occasionally I am impelled to write a post. Usually when this happens, I do not want to write a particular post. I feel I need to, or have to, or simply have no option. This is one of those posts.

The Thin Blue Line, another appellation for the police, is a staple in most of our communities. Officers are sworn to protect and serve our citizens. Ideally, the relationship between policemen (and women) and citizens should be one of esteem, and respect for dedicated public servants by the citizenry, and of dutiful concern and service by officers.

As we know all too well, life is seldom comprised of a series of ideal experiences, and often composed of messy, complicated exchanges. This past Saturday, in Ferguson, Missouri, a still unnamed police officer shot an killed an unarmed teenager. The young man Michael Brown, was 18 years old, and scheduled to enroll in college this fall.

To be sure, I did not want to write this post. Let me be clear. Just as I regret writing posts about another mass shooting or the gun violence that surrounds such events, I am especially saddened to have to write about another unarmed black man whose life was prematurely ended by police officer…regardless of whether a firearm was involved, as was the case in this instance.

Police officers have challenging jobs. I readily acknowledge theirs is a responsibility I would not want under any circumstances. Those circumstances often entail doing their jobs in tense situations. Nevertheless, they are expected to maintain their cool, and to do their job, which is, protect and serve.

In executing their duties, officers of the law, are human beings, and they have an absolute right to self=preservation, just like every other human being. If an officer believes his or her life is threatened, deadly force is reasonable remedy. I am not questioning an officer’s right to defend his or her own life.

Having said that, if an officer of the law, an agent of protection and service if you will, engages with, and takes the life of an unarmed citizen, that officer has likely committed a grave atrocity. An officer typically has an array of options that precede using deadly force. While it’s true, he or she must assess these options quickly, in the most critical of situation, but still…they do have options.

Michael Brown and his family were left with no options. They cannot turn back the hands of time to Friday, they cannot command him to get up and by so doing, raise him from the dead, they cannot see him execute his enrollment into college, or cheer him on as he graduates. There will be no wedding for Michael, or spoiling his children, or even one more day of life. There was not even an opportunity to say good-bye…his parents to him, or him to them. The contrast between that officer’s options, even if they had to be scanned quickly, and his family’s lack of the same is stark.

The investigation of Michael Brown’s shooting is in the early stages and moving slowly. There is a lot to unpack regarding both local demographics, and historical context.

The town of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, is about 2/3 black, 1/3 white, while the officials and administrators, including the Police Chief, are white. Historically, the infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1857, a catalyst for the Civil War, had its roots in St. Louis.   In 1916 the city passed a zoning ordinance that explicitly restricted blacks to certain neighborhoods. When the Supreme Court struck down racial zoning laws, the city responded by enacting restrictive covenants designed to separate the races. Whites were forbidden to sell their homes to blacks. When the Supreme Court, in 1946, struck down the covenants, the city turned to redlining. All the while, whites abandoned the city for the suburbs, crystalizing the practice that became know as white flight.

Colin Gordon, a University of Iowa professor, in his book, “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City,” wrote:

“St. Louis … is a city of sealed neighborhoods, gated as a railroad crossing, of blocked-off streets and private places, chartered as a nation, zoned as meteorological maps, the enclaves and cul-de-sac of stalled weather.”

Thrust into the dynamics of this long running community dysfunction, on Saturday, an officer of the law shot and killed one of the citizens who he was charged to protect and defend. From the outset, competing narratives have emerged regarding what happened. Police say Brown attacked the officer, resulting in his having to employ deadly force. Witnesses render a completely different account, insisting that the officer verbally assaulted Brown and a friend, 22 year-old Dorion Johnson, as they were walking in the street. According to Johnson, the officer grabbed Brown and attempted to pull him into his cruiser. Brown resisted, and the officer shot him. Johnson stated that at this point Brown broke away and attempted to flee. The officer shot him again from behind. Brown stopped running, turned around, raised his hands, said he didn’t have a gun, and asked the officer to stop shooting. The officer then fired several more shots, according to Johnson.

As you can see, there is quite a deviation in the two alleged sequences of events. The police have declined to provide the officer’s name to the public. The Ferguson Chief of police said he would not do so unless the officer is charged, or he is forced by a judge to provide the name. He indicated that the department has received numerous threats, and this is a precautionary measure designed to ensure the officer’s safety.

There have been numerous protests in Ferguson, including looting and violence Sunday night, and more violence Monday night. Brown’s family has expressed disappointment, and asked the residents of the community to refrain from violence. It may be a stretch to say the community is a powder keg, but it is fair to say Brown’s shooting ignited a sense of fury in a predominately black community that has lived under a sense of hyper-scrutiny by mostly white police force.

The Justice Department has joined forces with local law enforcement agencies to investigate the matter. The local department has declined to provide a time frame for completing its investigation.

In reflecting on this most unfortunate situation, it is undeniable, blacks have the same rights as all Americans, and they deserve the same protections. However, equally clear to any sober minded individual is the fact that an individual’s rights; well-deserved and appropriately allocated as they may be, when juxtaposed against a law enforcement officer’s firearm, stun gun, night stick, or choke hold, do not make for an evenly matched struggle.

To that end, I strongly endorse your rights as an individual, while I simultaneously urge you to exercise judicious reasoning when engaged in an encounter with an officer of the law. In the heat of the moment is not likely the best time to “forcefully” explain to a law enforcement official(s) just how well-versed you are in knowing your rights. Remember, The Thin Blue Line: A Source of Deadly Force!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.

To subscribe, click on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.

Consult the links below for more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post: