Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ferguson

The Holocaust, White Privilege, and American Jewry

This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

Read More

This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

The column, by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, was titled “The Holocaust Doesn’t Discount Jewish White Privilege Today” (it appears to have been changed at some point to “Does the Holocaust Discount Jewish White Privilege?”) and is specifically responding to two points in a recent Tablet column by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The general thrust of the piece was about being pro-Israel in liberal environments and how some Jews in such situations feel safer closeting their Zionism. Bovy’s critique of it is an exercise in missing the point.

The first point Bovy is responding to is Brodesser-Akner’s assertion that many pro-Israel Jews suffer in silence: “My DM boxes on Twitter and Facebook are filled with people like me—liberals, culture reporters, economics reporters—baffled and sad at the way the cause of Jews avoiding another attempt at our genocide has gone from a liberal one to a capital-c Conservative one.”

Bovy’s response is to find fault in the imputation of achdus:

When it comes to Israeli policy especially, it seems not just inaccurate but dangerous to suggest that the American Jews who aren’t, say, rah-rah for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in public are thus in private. It would play into stereotypes of Jews having dual loyalties, or all holding the same (far-right) views when it comes to Israel.

You’ll notice Bovy got everything in that excerpt wrong, from Brodesser-Akner’s intended point, to its implications, to conflating support for Israel with loyalty to Israel’s government, and even to the mistaken characterization of the views in question.

The second point Bovy is responding to, and which is relevant to the question of the Holocaust, is the following tweet, which Brodesser-Akner sent out recently and expounded on in her essay:

Bovy then does what all helpful leftists do: declare someone else’s privilege and minimize their suffering. Here’s the crux of her case against Brodesser-Akner:

It’s entirely possible for a Jew whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust to benefit from certain aspects of (for lack of a better term) white privilege. That the Nazis wouldn’t have considered you white doesn’t mean that store clerks, taxi drivers, prospective employers, and others in the contemporary United States won’t accord you the unearned advantages white people, Jewish and otherwise, enjoy. That your ancestors were victims of genocide in a different place and at a different time doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the victimizing caste in your own society, any more than having had impoverished forbears means that you can’t have been born into money. (Not, to be clear, that all Jews are!)

Again, talk about missing the point. But what I think many of Bovy’s critics are missing is that her argument, crucially, fails on her own terms too, and those of the social-justice warriors of the left. If you think “white privilege” can be reduced to the ability to get a taxi, then sure, Brodesser-Akner is probably privileged. Bovy is making what seems like an obvious point: if you’re one of the many Jews who don’t wear identifying garments, you can make white America think you’re one of them.

Bovy is also surely not the first to tell Brodesser-Akner that her ancestors might have been victims but she can also “be part of the victimizing caste in [her] own society”–this is the accusation leveled at Israel and its supporters every day, though in far uglier ways than this. More interesting is that the arguments of the social-justice left have become so rote and mechanized that they no longer seem to understand them as intellectual concepts, just bumper-sticker slogans to be deployed as trump cards.

And understanding a fuller picture of what is usually meant by white privilege–beyond benefiting from the supposed casual racism of cab drivers–is helpful here. One of the better pieces on white privilege in recent months was Reihan Salam’s column in Slate back in December. He was writing after the controversial grand jury decisions, in Ferguson and New York, not to indict police officers who killed a black man while on duty. Salam noted that white privilege was not just about law enforcement, but that there was an economic element to it as well.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but here is the part that jumps out at me in the context of Bovy’s Holocaust remark:

Even white Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves. In his influential 2005 book When Affirmative Action Was White, Ira Katznelson recounts in fascinating detail the various ways in which the New Deal and Fair Deal social programs of the 1930s and 1940s expanded economic opportunities for whites while doing so unevenly at best for blacks, particularly in the segregated South. Many rural whites who had known nothing but the direst poverty saw their lives transformed as everything from rural electrification to generous educational benefits for veterans allowed them to build human capital, earn higher incomes, and accumulate savings. This legacy, in ways large and small, continues to enrich the children and grandchildren of the whites of that era. This is the stuff of white privilege.

He also points out that “all kinds of valuable social goods are transmitted through social networks.” How is this relevant to Brodesser-Akner? Well, if you’re an American Jew in Brodesser-Akner’s age range you probably descend from parents or grandparents who were less the beneficiaries of white affirmative action and more the targets of anti-Semitism, in their professional lives at least, that greatly reduced your family’s share of the wealth and access that could be passed to future generations. You are, in other words, on the outside of white privilege looking in.

And specifically, someone with few surviving relatives due to the Holocaust is someone who might not have the extended network–familial and otherwise–that would facilitate economic advancement, especially for someone dealing with the generational legacy of past discrimination.

Of course, Jews have been quite good at building networks, a skill picked up in response to societal exclusion. In this, they have much more in common with other recent immigrant groups than with “the victimizing caste” in white America.

Read Less

Eric Holder’s Ferguson Report Is a Public Service, and Conservatives Should Say So

There has been so much partisanship and misinformation about America’s police and about race in general these past few years, it’s understandable that conservatives get defensive when the topics come up–and certainly when they are fused in one story. But conservatives should set all that aside and embrace the Holder Justice Department’s thorough report on the toxic municipal policing in Ferguson, Missouri. Holder’s report is a public service. And it would be a tremendous wasted opportunity not to engage in this argument. An abusive government run amok should never escape conservatives’ ire.

Read More

There has been so much partisanship and misinformation about America’s police and about race in general these past few years, it’s understandable that conservatives get defensive when the topics come up–and certainly when they are fused in one story. But conservatives should set all that aside and embrace the Holder Justice Department’s thorough report on the toxic municipal policing in Ferguson, Missouri. Holder’s report is a public service. And it would be a tremendous wasted opportunity not to engage in this argument. An abusive government run amok should never escape conservatives’ ire.

The first thing conservatives should note about the report is that yes, Ferguson appears to have a race problem. Here are some, but by no means all, of the more troubling statistics:

African Americans are 2.07 times more likely to be searched during a vehicular stop but are 26% less likely to have contraband found on them during a search. They are 2.00 times more likely to receive a citation and 2.37 times more likely to be arrested following a vehicular stop. …

African Americans are 68% less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by the Municipal Judge, and in 2013 African Americans accounted for 92% of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued.

There certainly does seem to be a two-tiered system of justice, and no amount of racial demagoguery from this White House or its partisans should turn conservatives away from recognizing it.

But the most fascinating part of the report is that it details precisely how the abusive policing is structured. It is a damning portrait of too-powerful government in desperate need of reform, and it should be required reading for every member of Congress.

At the core of the report is the fact that the city uses its police force as a revenue-collection tool. This is not limited to Ferguson, of course. But it’s worth looking at Ferguson to see how easily the wheels come off when this is the operative strategy. “The City has budgeted for, and achieved, significant increases in revenue from municipal code enforcement over the last several years, and these increases are projected to continue,” the report tells us. The city sets a revenue target and tells the police to go get it.

The city is now raising millions a year in fees and fines. This is where the scheme really comes alive:

Our review of police and court records suggests that much of the harm of Ferguson’s law enforcement practices in recent years is attributable to the court’s routine use of arrest warrants to secure collection and compliance when a person misses a required court appearance or payment. In a case involving a moving violation, procedural failures also result in the suspension of the defendant’s license. And, until recently, the court regularly imposed a separate Failure to Appear charge for missed appearances and payments; that charge resulted in an additional fine in the amount of $75.50, plus $26.50 in court costs. See Ferguson Mun. Code § 13-58 (repealed Sept. 23, 2014). During the last three years, the court imposed roughly one Failure to Appear charge per every two citations or summonses issued by FPD. Since at least 2010, the court has collected more revenue for Failure to Appear charges than for any other charge. …

Thus, while the municipal court does not generally deem the code violations that come before it as jail-worthy, it routinely views the failure to appear in court to remit payment to the City as jail-worthy, and commonly issues warrants to arrest individuals who have failed to make timely payment. Similarly, while the municipal court does not have any authority to impose a fine of over $1,000 for any offense, it is not uncommon for individuals to pay more than this amount to the City of Ferguson—in forfeited bond payments, additional Failure to Appear charges, and added court fees—for what may have begun as a simple code violation. In this way, the penalties that the court imposes are driven not by public safety needs, but by financial interests.

And how do such “violations” pile up? The report tells us that “It is often difficult for an individual who receives a municipal citation or summons in Ferguson to know how much is owed, where and how to pay the ticket, what the options for payment are, what rights the individual has, and what the consequences are for various actions or oversights. The initial information provided to people who are cited for violating Ferguson’s municipal code is often incomplete or inconsistent.”

In the interest of space, I’m forgoing the excerpts of personal anecdotes. But I recommend reading the report for those as well, to see how these actions affect the lives of the city’s residents. The crux of it is this: the city instructs the police to raise a certain amount of revenue. They do so by issuing various citations on skimpy or nonexistent evidence and which at times plainly violate Ferguson residents’ constitutional rights.

The municipal court then structures the payment procedure in a way that encourages additional violations. They put up obstacles to payment and don’t follow their own rules. For example, they leave the impression that in-person payment is required in far more cases than it actually is. They then close earlier than the posted closing time. It’s as if they don’t want to take your money–but that’s only because they want you to end up owing more, and then take that.

And why does the court do this? Jumping back earlier in the report, we learn that “Ferguson’s municipal court operates as part of the police department. The court is supervised by the Ferguson Chief of Police, is considered part of the police department for City organizational purposes, and is physically located within the police station. Court staff report directly to the Chief of Police.” Additionally, “the Court Clerk, who is employed under the Police Chief’s supervision, plays the most significant role in managing the court and exercises broad discretion in conducting the court’s daily operations.”

The game is rigged. And conservatives have a real opportunity to talk about why. This is the community-policing version of the regulatory state. There is a tendency among the right to counter attempts to gain sympathy for criminals by saying something like, “well don’t break the law.” And I suppose that’s true as far as it goes. But here’s the thing: it’s no longer so easy not to break the law, in all sorts of respects. And the proliferation of ticky-tack charges makes it that much easier to run afoul of the law.

Again, racism is certainly a part of this too in many cases. But the government exacerbates the problem by encouraging the police to see law-abiding citizens as potential piñatas. When you pass a law you put the state’s monopoly on the use of force behind it. And when you add a significant price tag to such arrests policing becomes like a video game. And when you bring the arms of municipal government under the unified command of the police, you remove the potential for necessary oversight.

The government has ballooned its own spending to the point where arresting citizens, and turning the innocent into criminals, has become a new form of stealth taxation. It’s dehumanizing, and limited-government conservatives are missing a real opportunity by not shouting it from the rooftops.

Read Less

The Racism Narrative and Attacks on Police

Last night’s shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri repeats a pattern of behavior that should shock Americans to their core. After the release of a Justice Department report alleging systematic racism by the police in Ferguson, and statements by Attorney General Eric Holder that appeared to delegitimize the entire law enforcement establishment in that town, there were demonstrations followed by what is described as an “ambush” of the police. While the responsibility for this crime belongs only to the person who fired the shots, it is still necessary to point out that those, including some of the highest officials of the land, who have sought to exploit charges against police in order to further their political agendas need to understand that inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t help heal our racial divide or promote peace on our streets.

Read More

Last night’s shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri repeats a pattern of behavior that should shock Americans to their core. After the release of a Justice Department report alleging systematic racism by the police in Ferguson, and statements by Attorney General Eric Holder that appeared to delegitimize the entire law enforcement establishment in that town, there were demonstrations followed by what is described as an “ambush” of the police. While the responsibility for this crime belongs only to the person who fired the shots, it is still necessary to point out that those, including some of the highest officials of the land, who have sought to exploit charges against police in order to further their political agendas need to understand that inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t help heal our racial divide or promote peace on our streets.

The shooting particularly resonates because it was less than three months ago that similar events unfolded. In the aftermath of controversial rulings that absolved policemen of criminal charges in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, the country was convulsed by demonstrations and condemnations of law enforcement personnel. But after statements by the Obama administration, the mainstream media, and those claiming to speak for the civil-rights movement blasting police, the national conversation was altered by the murder of two New York City policemen by a person who claimed to want revenge for Brown and Garner.

That tragedy allowed the nation to put these incidents in perspective and to appreciate that there was more to these issues than the narrative of racism we had been hearing so much about. But that didn’t stop the administration and its cheering section of racial hucksters such as presidential advisor Al Sharpton from returning to the rhetorical excesses that helped gin up violence in Missouri and New York last year.

The Justice Department’s reports on Ferguson deserve particular scrutiny because they illustrate just how wrong-headed much of our national conversation on race has been in the last several months. After months of harangues about the shooting of Brown being indicative of racism, the federal review of the case confirmed the decision of the Grand Jury that refused to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson for the incident. The claim that Brown had put his hands up and cried, “don’t shoot” to Wilson was rightly labeled a lie. But after the mantra was repeated endlessly in social media, demonstrations, and stunts by celebrities and athletes, for many people the truth didn’t matter.

But not satisfied with debunking the myth that Wilson had murdered Brown, Justice also issued another report nonetheless blasting the Ferguson police for racism. The rationale for the report was largely statistical. As John R. Lott wrote in the New York Post earlier this week, there is reason to dispute the report’s conclusions that the numbers demonstrate bias. But even if we are to accept the idea that Ferguson’s law enforcement practices were flawed and concede, as we should, that racism still exists in this country, it must be understood that Holder’s willingness to go so far as to dismantle the Ferguson police department in a federal purge of local authorities was an attempt to ignore or to obfuscate the facts in the Brown case. After spending so much effort demonizing police because of the Ferguson incident, the agenda here was not so much reform as it was to revive the discredited claim that Brown’s death was an apt symbol of police brutality against minorities.

What we should have learned in December and ought to finally grasp now is that those who have sought to exploit extraordinary cases like those of Brown and Garner are keeping the racial pot boiling for political purposes.

The acts of violence against police ought not to silence discussions about race or of wrongful actions on the part of law enforcement authorities. But what Holder, President Obama, Sharpton, and those who have echoed their charges in the media have done is to create a narrative of police racism that isn’t always justified by the facts. More to the point, they have created an atmosphere in which violence against police becomes not only thinkable but also expected.

After all, even before the shooting of the Ferguson cops yesterday, the New York Times was reporting that police were no longer handing out traffic tickets or doing the same sort of patrols they had done before Brown’s death because of fears of violence against them. By demonizing the police, the civil-rights movement had essentially created a law-free zone in Ferguson that cannot have done much to enhance the quality of life there. Most of all, it should be remembered that the months of demonstrations and condemnations were rooted in myths and outright lies that were given credence by national figures who should have known better.

The latest shootings should, as the December killings did, cause those trumpeting often-dubious claims of racism to think more carefully about what they are doing. Moral leadership from Washington is necessary to make good on the promise of American freedom and to recognize the achievements of the civil-rights movement. But all too often what we have gotten instead are statements aimed at wrongly portraying the America of 2015 as little different from that of 1965. Racists must be condemned and out-of-control and prejudiced law enforcement must be reformed. But what must also be changed is the kind of rhetoric that incites violence and promotes harmful myths that encourage hate and division.

Read Less

Obama’s Multipronged Assault on Truth and Reality

President Obama is fond of invoking the term “narrative,” so it’s worth considering several instances in which he invokes exactly the wrong narrative–the wrong frame–around events.

Read More

President Obama is fond of invoking the term “narrative,” so it’s worth considering several instances in which he invokes exactly the wrong narrative–the wrong frame–around events.

The most obvious is the president’s repeated insistence that militant Islam is utterly disconnected from the Islamic faith. As this much-discussed essay in the Atlantic points out:

Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

The author, Graeme Wood, adds this:

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

President Obama continues to insist the opposite, pretending that what is true is false, and even suggesting those who are speaking the truth are actually endangering the lives of innocent people. This makes Mr. Obama’s comments offensive as well as ignorant.

But that hardly exhausts the examples of false narratives employed by the president. As this exchange between Fox’s Ed Henry and White House press secretary Josh Earnest demonstrates, in its statement the White House avoided saying that the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by members of ISIS were Christian, even though that was the reason they were beheaded. At the same time the president suggested that the murder of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina was because they were Muslim, when in fact that wasn’t by any means clear when the White House issued its statement. (The shooting appears to have involved a long-standing dispute over parking.) So when Christian faith is a factor in a massacre, it’s denied, and when there’s no evidence that the Islamic faith was a factor in a killing, it’s nevertheless asserted.

And then there was the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, in which the president and his attorney general constantly spoke about the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson as if race was a factor in the shooting. That assertion is fiction. It was an invention, just as it was an invention to suggest, as the president did back in 2009, that the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley was racially motivated.

Here, then, are three separate examples of the president imposing a false narrative on events. (I could cite many others.) Which makes Mr. Obama a truly post-modern president, in which there is no objective truth but simply narrative. Mr. Obama doesn’t just distort the facts; he inverts them. He makes things up as he goes along. This kind of thing isn’t unusual to find in the academy. But to see a president and his aides so thoroughly deconstruct truth is quite rare, and evidence of a stunningly rigid and dogmatic mind.

The sheer audacity of Mr. Obama’s multipronged assault on truth is one of the more troubling aspects of his deeply troubling presidency.

Read Less

The Return of Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani never fully left the national political scene after his brief run for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2008 election. New York is too newsworthy a place, and Giuliani too newsworthy a figure, for him to fade just yet. But it’s clear now that with the issue of policing minority communities in the news and with the NYPD at the center of it, Giuliani has become a prominent spokesman for the police once again. Hizzoner never shies away from a fight, and the media has gone looking for one. (Which may help explain why Rudy, and not the current mayor’s immediate predecessor Michael Bloomberg, has been the go-to pol on the issue.) And yet again, the press has gone looking for a fight it hasn’t figured out how to win.

Read More

Rudy Giuliani never fully left the national political scene after his brief run for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2008 election. New York is too newsworthy a place, and Giuliani too newsworthy a figure, for him to fade just yet. But it’s clear now that with the issue of policing minority communities in the news and with the NYPD at the center of it, Giuliani has become a prominent spokesman for the police once again. Hizzoner never shies away from a fight, and the media has gone looking for one. (Which may help explain why Rudy, and not the current mayor’s immediate predecessor Michael Bloomberg, has been the go-to pol on the issue.) And yet again, the press has gone looking for a fight it hasn’t figured out how to win.

The media’s beclowning at the hands of the man who played a major role in saving New York City from the left began, unsurprisingly, with the new breed of liberal columnists calling themselves “fact checkers.” The moniker is usually the columnists’ way of cutting corners on reporting and research and appealing to authority instead of to facts. The Washington Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee picked a fight with Rudy in late November and thoroughly embarrassed herself.

The background was that after the Ferguson, Missouri death of Michael Brown after a struggle with a police officer, Giuliani appeared on Meet the Press to talk about the often fraught relationship between the police and the communities they serve and protect. Giuliani doesn’t mince words, so when he made a comment about black-on-black crime, liberal grievance mongers perked up and went to work trying (unsuccessfully) to slime him. One of those was Michelle Ye Hee Lee.

The “fact-checked” comment was Giuliani’s claim that “93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks.” The Post checked the numbers and found that Giuliani was correct. Case closed, right? Of course not. Citing a lack of “context” (more on that in a moment), the Post gave Giuliani’s 100-percent correct statement two Pinocchios. The explanation: “Ultimately, it is misleading for Giuliani to simplify this topic to the 93 percent statistic and then omit the corresponding statistic for intraracial white murders.”

This is exactly wrong. Giuliani was asked by Chuck Todd (as the Post noted in passing) about the racial makeup of police forces and the corresponding racial makeup of the communities they serve. The question was about whether a place like Ferguson was a powder keg because it has a police force much whiter than the town. In other words, would racial homogeneity be a solution? Giuliani’s response was perfectly on point: No, racial homogeneity does not reduce violence according to the government’s own statistics. Giuliani didn’t mention white-on-white crime because he wasn’t asked about it, but it also proves his point.

Giuliani would become something of a ubiquitous presence on cable news and political talk shows when the controversy made its way to New York, after an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer during an arrest and the officer was not indicted by the grand jury. Mass protests ensued, the relationship between Mayor Bill de Blasio—a former admirer of Marxist revolutionaries and an acidic critic of the police—deteriorated, and two police officers were executed on the job by a man claiming revenge for both recent police incidents.

Giuliani criticized de Blasio, whose handling of the situation (he lost influence among the leftist protesters as well, making him almost irrelevant to solving the escalating tensions) could hardly have been worse. He also criticized President Obama, who had been elevating the anti-Semitic extremist Al Sharpton in profile as an advisor on race. Giuliani was right, of course, but he actually defended de Blasio at times as well.

He refused to blame the political leadership for the murder of the two cops, rebutting the claim by some on the right that de Blasio had “blood on his hands.” He also criticized the police for turning their backs on de Blasio in public. But that didn’t stop the left from simply pretending Giuliani said things he didn’t.

Haaretz columnist Peter Beinart wrote a mildly delusional piece criticizing those who criticize incitement. This was Beinart’s way of furthering the deeply unintelligent meme that Benjamin Netanyahu belongs not in his own country but in America so he can join the Republican Party. But smearing Giuliani was also part of the argument. Early in the column, Beinart wrote:

Earlier this week, after a deranged African American man murdered two New York policemen, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani blamed “four months of propaganda,” led by U.S. President Barack Obama, which convinced the killer “that everybody should hate the police.”

In fact, the opposite is true. If you follow Beinart’s link (which shows that he must have known what he was writing was completely untrue), you come to a Politico story that debunks the accusation. The line just before saying who Giuliani blamed says that when Giuliani was specifically asked “if he had ever seen the city he once governed so divided, Giuliani shook his head and said, ‘I don’t think so.’”

Giuliani was pointing fingers at the political leadership over the divided atmosphere in the city, not the murders. When people started assigning blame to de Blasio, Giuliani fired back at his own side, telling them to dial down their rhetoric:

“Stop this stuff with ‘the blood is on his hands.’ The blood is not on his hands,” the former mayor told 1010 WINS. “I don’t think the mayor is responsible for this. I think that’s an incorrect and incendiary charge…I do think he should change some of his policies.”

So why are people spreading easily disproved fabrications about Giuliani? The answer might lie in his latest date with the Washington Post’s fact checkers. Just before the year was out, Michelle Ye Hee Lee took one more swing at Hizzoner, and missed badly. The statement being fact checked was Giuliani’s claim that Obama “has had Al Sharpton to the White House 80, 85 times. … You make Al Sharpton a close adviser, you are going to turn the police in America against you.”

The Post again checked Rudy’s stats, and again found them to be correct. But he still received one Pinocchio for the part about Sharpton being a close advisor. Giuliani was referencing reporting that Obama had made Sharpton just such an advisor on race issues. He was right again. But the Post disagreed because … well, because they didn’t want him to be right.

Giuliani has a habit of saying the truth in the least-equivocating way possible. It sounds inflammatory, and he is forever offering uncomfortable truths. If you accurately report what he says, you undercut, if not demolish completely, the left’s argument. And so those with an agenda appear incapable of telling the truth when it means they agree with Rudy Giuliani.

Read Less

De Blasio Can’t Turn His Back on Sharpton

Today, both New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani termed the reaction of cops to the appearance of Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funeral of one of two assassinated policemen as “inappropriate.” The decision of police officers to turn their backs to the mayor en masse was a dramatic illustration of their lack of confidence in his leadership and a sign of the crisis for law enforcement that has been exposed by recent events. Nevertheless the rift between the mayor and the police could be healed by, as Giuliani also noted today, by a clear apology that shows he understands that he was wrong to join the gang tackle of the cops after Ferguson and the Eric Garner incident. But anyone expecting that to happen understands nothing about de Blasio or contemporary liberalism, which is waiting impatiently for the second murdered officer to be buried before trying to turn the national conversation back to a false narrative of racism from one of the left’s ideological war on the police.

Read More

Today, both New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani termed the reaction of cops to the appearance of Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funeral of one of two assassinated policemen as “inappropriate.” The decision of police officers to turn their backs to the mayor en masse was a dramatic illustration of their lack of confidence in his leadership and a sign of the crisis for law enforcement that has been exposed by recent events. Nevertheless the rift between the mayor and the police could be healed by, as Giuliani also noted today, by a clear apology that shows he understands that he was wrong to join the gang tackle of the cops after Ferguson and the Eric Garner incident. But anyone expecting that to happen understands nothing about de Blasio or contemporary liberalism, which is waiting impatiently for the second murdered officer to be buried before trying to turn the national conversation back to a false narrative of racism from one of the left’s ideological war on the police.

Giuliani, who had many run-ins with the police during his eight years at City Hall over contractual issues, rightly understands how dangerous the breech between the police and the political leadership of the city can be for public safety. Thus, his plea for De Blasio to swallow his pride was good advice: “Mayor de Blasio, please say you’re sorry to them for having created a false impression of them.”

Giuliani was also right when he said what de Blasio most needed to do right now was to disassociate himself from Al Sharpton, the nation’s current racial huckster in chief. Sharpton has earned the obloquy of the nation with a lifetime of incitement and lies. But he was a crucial supporter of de Blasio’s mayoral campaign last year and has become an unexpected power broker in the Obama administration that has come to view the former sidewalk rabble-rouser and current MSNBC host as their go-to person on race issues.

But while the lame duck Obama may think there is no cost to his associating with Sharpton, de Blasio has a great deal to lose by doing so even if he doesn’t appear to understand this fact.

After only a year in office, de Blasio finds himself in a crisis largely of his won making. Having won by a landslide last year as the overwhelmingly liberal city elected its first Democrat in 24 years, the mayor clearly thought he had carte blanche to govern from the left. On many issues, he might well have gotten away with that decision. But having antagonized the police by campaigning against stop and frisk policies, he went a bridge too far when he joined in the chorus of those treating law enforcement as the enemy after Ferguson and then the non-indictment of the officer accused of choking Garner. That rhetoric created the impression that de Blasio agreed with those who have come to view police officers as guilty until proven innocent when it comes to accusations of racism or violence against minorities.

The police are not perfect and can, like politicians, make terrible mistakes. But the problem with the post-Ferguson/Garner critique that was relentlessly plugged by racial inciters, the liberal media and prominent political leaders such as Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder is that it cherry picked two extraordinary and very different incidents and wove it seamlessly into a highly misleading narrative about racism that might have been applicable in Selma, Alabama in 1965 but doesn’t reflect the reality of America in 2014. That this argument has roiled the nation and harmed racial understanding in a country that elected and then re-elected an African-American to the White House goes without saying. But the assassination of the two cops revealed that the cost of this egregious piece of incitement could be deadly.

That’s why it is past time for de Blasio to break ranks with Sharpton and his crowd and begin a process of healing that will save his city and his administration much grief in the next three years.

But the problem here is not just that de Blasio owes Sharpton and rightly fears what would if he chose to make an enemy of him. It’s that de Blasio, an aging radical who doesn’t particularly like to listen to advice from those who don’t already agree with him (a personal flaw that he shares with President Obama) is an ideologue that actually believes in the skewed racial worldview that an unscrupulous racial profiteer like Sharpton promotes. This inability to meet the police and the citizens they protect may well doom the city to years of racial strife and a rightly discontented police force. This could all be averted if de Blasio were wise enough to drop Sharpton and begin speaking as if he was mayor of all the people rather than just his considerable left-wing base. But even if it could allow him to better govern the city, de Blasio is no more capable of moving to the center than the president.

Read Less

Even the NY Times Can’t Save de Blasio

It’s been an awful week for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The man who was elected in 2013 on a platform of cop bashing has faced the fury of the police and the public after the murder of two members of the force exposed the ugly face of the post-Ferguson/Eric Garner protests. Like most politicians backed into a corner, de Blasio has lashed out at the media while proving unable to either make peace with the cops or to control his leftist allies who continue to conduct anti-police demonstrations. But de Blasio is not completely without friends. He still has the New York Times, which weighed in today with an embarrassing piece of flummery intended to reassure New Yorkers that everything was OK because the mayor was “calm.” If that’s the best they can do, de Blasio may be in even more trouble than his critics thought.

Read More

It’s been an awful week for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The man who was elected in 2013 on a platform of cop bashing has faced the fury of the police and the public after the murder of two members of the force exposed the ugly face of the post-Ferguson/Eric Garner protests. Like most politicians backed into a corner, de Blasio has lashed out at the media while proving unable to either make peace with the cops or to control his leftist allies who continue to conduct anti-police demonstrations. But de Blasio is not completely without friends. He still has the New York Times, which weighed in today with an embarrassing piece of flummery intended to reassure New Yorkers that everything was OK because the mayor was “calm.” If that’s the best they can do, de Blasio may be in even more trouble than his critics thought.

The conceit of the piece is that de Blasio’s personal approach to the crisis that has threatened to tear the city apart while the rank and file of the NYPD are openly displaying their contempt and anger at the mayor is so deft that he is overcoming all obstacles. But even a casual reader can tell that the only people saying such things are close de Blasio allies whose comments are then slavishly taken down and published by the Times.

It is only in such an article at a time in which de Blasio has seemed to be out of control and losing his ability to influence events that you can read some of the following things about the mayor:

He has acted like himself: a confident but mercurial leader whose singular political style has not wavered.

Mr. de Blasio, a political professional who promised a warmer, friendlier City Hall, is approaching the fallout from the shooting deaths of two police officers with an operative’s touch, and a healthy dose of the personal.

Or this piece of flummery:

“His response is measured; it’s being respectful of everyone,” said Bertha Lewis, a longtime friend and adviser to the mayor, who, like another ally interviewed for this article, volunteered the phrase “pitch perfect” to describe his approach.

Ms. Lewis said the call to suspend protests and tough talk would give all sides a chance to calm down. “Making that middle-of-the-road statement is a good idea as mayor,” she said.

Are they kidding? On Planet New York Times, the spectacle of an ultra-liberal mayor lashing out at the mainstream press for merely reporting the anti-cop death threats chanted at demonstrations he supports may be “pitch perfect,” but in the rest of the galaxy, that’s the sort of thing that is generally considered tone deaf.

To be fair to the paper, part of de Blasio’s problem is conveyed in the article. It notes that while a more able leader would be spending this week reaching out to allies as well as foes in order to try to unify the city, de Blasio isn’t bothering with such conventional tactics:

And where other politicians are quick to line up allies to reinforce their message, Mr. de Blasio has been relatively insular. The mayor who recently boasted “I never need rescuing” has conferred only with a small group of close advisers since the shooting.

Mr. de Blasio has not spoken with Senator Charles E. Schumer or Representative Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, in whose district the shootings took place. Nor, apart from a brief exchange of texts, has he spoken with Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president.

Arrogance and insularity are not generally the sort of leadership traits that are associated with success. Even worse is the conviction that comes across from the mayor and his allies that the problem is merely a passing fancy that the public will soon forget about.

That’s the sort of foolish, self-deceiving optimism that failed leaders always latch onto while sinking into permanent dysfunction. To the contrary, as the first major crisis of his administration, this is the moment when the public’s impressions of his ability to lead inevitably become more a matter of evaluating performance than of promises or potential. And on that score, he is in big trouble. De Blasio didn’t create this mess by himself. President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and racial hucksters like Al Sharpton deserve a major share of the blame too for weaving the Ferguson and Garner cases into a false narrative about police violence and racism. But de Blasio, who won election by highlighting his criticisms of the successful efforts of the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations to lower crime, was already in a difficult relationship with the police when he joined in the gang tackle of law enforcement personnel after the Ferguson and the Garner cases. His unwillingness to back down and his instinct to attack those who point out what his allies are saying has exacerbated the situation. The notion, as the Times claims, that all this can “catalyze an ultimately productive conversation about race and the police” is sheer fantasy.

That’s especially true when Sharpton, whose close White House ties (as our Pete Wehner reminded us earlier today) make him a more influential national player than the mayor, chose to defy the mayor’s call for a temporary end to police protests. Put simply, a New York mayor who is simultaneously being brutally attacked by the head of the police union while being snubbed by the city’s leading African-American race baiter is a man marooned on an island and I don’t mean the island of Manhattan.

The Times can be an important ally for any New York mayor. But articles that attempt to put forward an image of the mayor as someone embodying “practiced calm” at such a moment is more likely to generate scorn rather than support. De Blasio may yet recover from this disaster but the insular, foolish man portrayed in this article needs more help than even his media cheering section can provide.

Read Less

After Cops Die, de Blasio Can’t Blame Media for False Racist Narrative

Backed into a corner by the backlash against those who have fed a campaign of hate against police after the murders of two cops over the weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio resorted to the last ditch of all failing politicians: blame the media. But like all such attempts, this one won’t divert public attention away from the hateful atmosphere toward police created by his statements as well as those of other politicians, media figures, and racial hucksters who turned the Ferguson, Missouri incident and the death of Eric Garner into an excuse for cop-bashing.

Read More

Backed into a corner by the backlash against those who have fed a campaign of hate against police after the murders of two cops over the weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio resorted to the last ditch of all failing politicians: blame the media. But like all such attempts, this one won’t divert public attention away from the hateful atmosphere toward police created by his statements as well as those of other politicians, media figures, and racial hucksters who turned the Ferguson, Missouri incident and the death of Eric Garner into an excuse for cop-bashing.

During a press conference with Police Commissioner William Bratton, de Blasio was asked by reporter Tony Aiello of CBS New York about the torrent of abuse directed at police by protesters at rallies he and other liberal politicians supported. His response was not only to minimize the problem but to blame journalists for highlighting the chants and threats aimed at cops. Here’s what the mayor said when asked about the hateful chants and whether he would be comfortable with members of his household—whom he had featured in comments highly critical of the police—using such language:

Of course not. We’ve talked about this so many times and I’m not going to talk about it again. And now the question now is, what are you guys going to do? What are you guys going to do? Are you going to keep dividing us? I am telling you over again again, that’s how you want to portray the world but we know a different reality. There are people who do that. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. They shouldn’t do that. It’s immoral, it’s wrong, it’s nasty, it’s negative. They should not do that but they, my friend, are not the majority. Stop portraying them as the majority.

It’s possible to argue that the people in the streets calling for the deaths of policemen are not the majority of those who have protested the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But for de Blasio to claim that it is the media who have divided Americans is worse than a joke. It’s a big lie intended to divert attention away from what the mayor, the president, the attorney general, and media figures like Al Sharpton who have been dividing us, have done.

Having spent the last four months doing their best to establish a narrative that seemed to claim that all white police personnel were a threat to the safety of African-Americans, these left-wingers are in no position to be complaining about divisive statements. Nor can they credibly gripe about taking incidents out of context and call for us to focus on the big picture of the protests they helped spark.

Though the mayor deserves credit for calling for an end to demonstrations in the wake of the anti-police violence, an honest assessment of his own role in fomenting resentment of New York’s Finest should take into account that he was elected to his office in no small measure because of his attacks on the cops. Since taking office he has clashed repeatedly with the police and then joined in the gang tackle on them after Ferguson and the Garner death.

The whole point of his critique was to create division and anger in which the police were not only the objects of angry protest but also blamed for perpetuating a Jim Crow-style racism of the past that died long before most of today’s policemen were born.

Even more to the point, the mayor’s complaints about taking things out of context could better be applied to his attempts, along with those of others on the left, to take two very different and unusual incidents with tragic outcomes and then weave them together into a narrative in which police were seen as racists bent on shooting and strangling innocent blacks.

Though the mayor may think anti-police threats are bad, by stoking those unreasonable fears with incendiary comments about teaching his son to fear the police, he bears a degree of responsibility for an atmosphere in which it seems possible to say just about anything about cops.

It’s true that some elements of the media do deserve blame. But it’s not those who rightly covered the “pigs in a blanket” and “dead cops” chants and brought them to public attention. Rather, it’s the racial hucksters who speak from their bully pulpits on MSNBC, CNN, and the broadcast networks who have incited hatred against the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect minority populations and neighborhoods as well as everyone else.

For decades, liberals have mocked conservatives who complain about media bias in favor of the left. So perhaps it’s understandable that de Blasio is angry with some in the press corps who think they shouldn’t be the bodyguards of the left. If de Blasio thinks he can get away with such a transparent ploy, he’s not quite as ready for prime time as he thinks. Those in law enforcement deserved de Blasio’s support when the mob was baying for the blood. Instead, de Blasio, Obama, and Holder were egging on the protesters. It’s too late for the mayor to evade responsibility for that failure by blaming those journalists who are doing their jobs.

Read Less

As Police Die, Racism Narrative Unravels

Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.

Read More

Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.

Conservatives know very well that attempts to politicize violence on the part of the mentally ill is deeply unfair. They know that liberal claims that either the Tea Party or conservatives such as Sarah Palin were somehow responsible for the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was sheer slander. If some angry supporters of the police now try to say Obama, Holder, or de Blasio approved or countenanced the actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, they are just as wrong. Obama, Holder, and de Blasio have all rightly condemned the murder of the two officers.

But once we acknowledge that, we cannot ignore the fact that the discussion about race and the police in this country has gotten out of control in recent months and that these same political leaders who should have been seeking to restrain the public from drawing extreme and general conclusions about two very extraordinary cases instead kept the pot boiling for political advantage.

Even worse than that, they have empowered and legitimized racial demagogues like Al Sharpton who have sought to profit from exploiting these tragedies to promote their own agendas. In turn, Sharpton and those like him who are given prominent air time on networks like MSNBC and CNN have encouraged protesters who have not only engaged in violence but often openly called for the killing of police, a stance that has been openly endorsed by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and other radicals.

The act of a single possibly mad gunman does not mean that Americans must never question the actions of police or ponder broader issues about race. It is misleading to claim that those who have raised such questions have given a green light to the murder of police officers. Yet those who have sought to take two very different and quite unusual incidents in Ferguson and New York and weave them into a neat narrative of racism and anti-black violence by police have done very much the same thing. The difference between the two is that the media spent much of the last four months seeking to establish that wrongheaded narrative as a fact while they will, quite rightly, give no credence or air time to those who will blame Obama for cop killers.

The narrative of incitement against the police in recent months was based on two misnomers.

One was the unquestioning acceptance of the narrative of police wrongdoing and racism in the killing of Brown and the far more questionable death of Garner by both the media and political leaders. This involved not only the willingness of both celebrities and lawmakers to treat myths, such as the claim that Brown had his hands up when he was shot, as fact. It also involved the casual acceptance of the charge of racism on the part of ordinary cops around the nation in the absence of any real proof as well as the shouting down of those like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who sought to defend the role of the police in defending the black community rather than attacking it.

Just as reprehensible was the willingness to ignore the calls for violence against the police on the part of so many of those who took to the streets about Ferguson and Garner. While stray comments on the part of a handful of Tea Partiers became the foundation for conventional-wisdom dismissal of their movement as racist or violent, the anti-police chants at mass demonstrations were largely ignored, rationalized, or excused. The same is true of comments like those of Farrakhan delivered in Baltimore where the killer of the two policemen lived.

But just as the murder of two cops doesn’t necessarily excuse the actions of the police in the Garner case, neither should we forget that all too many public figures have accepted with very little evidence the assumptions about racism and violence that have done so much to besmirch the reputation of the police. Rather than working to connect the dots between the comments of the president, the attorney general, and the mayor to a murder that none of them wished for, sensible observers should instead be unraveling the even shakier narrative these figures helped create about police misbehavior and racism.

The unraveling of the false narrative of incitement against the police should not give rise to another that is also mistaken. But what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and the assassination of two police officers should teach us that simplistic, easily manipulated narratives that serve the interests of a few race inciters and politicians don’t deserve any more respect than conspiracy theories coming from the other end of the political spectrum. If there is any reproach today that should be laid at the feet of Obama, Holder, and de Blasio, it is that by helping to foster one false set of assumptions, they have now left themselves vulnerable to questions about their own willingness to accept and exploit calumnies against the police and the justice system.

Read Less

The NEA’s Racial Profiling Curriculum

Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.

Read More

Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.

One should, however, resist that temptation. It turns out that, once again, the NEA and its fellow travelers are presenting a one-sided, propagandistic view of an exceptionally complicated issue that elicits strong, conflicting views among adults; that carries competing values and subtleties beyond the ken of most school kids; and that probably doesn’t belong in the K–12 curriculum at all.

My mind immediately rolled back almost three decades, to the days when the Cold War was very much with us, when nuclear weapons were a passionate concern, when unilateral disarmament was earnestly propounded by some mostly well-meaning but deeply misguided Americans—and when the NEA plunged into the fray with appalling curricular guidance for U.S. schools.

Here’s part of what the late Joseph Adelson and I wrote in COMMENTARY magazine in April 1985:

[T]he much-publicized contribution of the National Education Association (NEA), to give but one example, looks blandly past any differences between the superpowers. Its one-page “fact sheet” on the USSR simply summarizes population, land area, and military resources. The geopolitical situation of the Soviet Union is captured in an extraordinary sentence: “The Soviet Union is bordered by many countries, including some unfriendly countries and others that are part of the Warsaw Pact, which includes countries that are friendly to the Soviet Union.” The beleaguered Soviets are tacitly compared to the United States, which is bordered (we are told) only by “friendly countries.” The youngster is thus plainly led to conclude that the Russians have rather more reason to be fearful than the Americans and that the relationship between Washington and Ottawa is indistinguishable from the ties between Moscow and “friendly” Warsaw or Kabul.

As one might expect, the student is told nothing by the NEA “fact sheet” about the two political systems—nothing about the Gulag or the KGB, nothing about internal passports or the control of emigration, nothing about Poland or Afghanistan…. Although it is an axiom of today’s educational ethos that on any remotely controversial topic, such as deviant sexuality, schools are to maintain a pose of exquisite neutrality, these curricula openly encourage children to engage in political action. In one instance it is recommended that letters be sent to elected officials and local newspapers; in another, teachers are urged to influence parents “by sharing what we as teachers have discovered about peace and peacemaking.” A New York City unit concludes with an “action collage” of bumper stickers, antiwar headlines, “peace walks,” and disarmament rallies. Another recommends seven separate projects, one of which is to write to Congressmen about nuclear-power plants in the community.

To sum up: nuclear curricula, presumably designed to ease a child’s anxiety, in fact introduce him to fears he has probably not entertained, and exacerbate any that he has. The child is provided with false or misleading political information which makes national policy seem capricious or malevolent or irrational. He is on the one hand taught the virtues of helplessness, on the other recruited to the propaganda purposes of the teacher.

In the years since, the NEA has developed curricular materials across an astonishing mishmash of topics, including just about every holiday and special-focus week or month that you never heard of. (Not only Black History Month, but also National Popcorn Month. Not just St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Earth Day, but also Groundhog Day and Brain Awareness Week.) Check out the website. Some of it’s worth having, and most of it’s harmless. But, as with the arms race of the 1980s, so with racial profiling: When they stray into hot-button adult controversies, let the user beware. And let those who worry about educators brainwashing their pupils beware, too.

How does today’s foray into racial profiling resemble the anti-nuclear curriculum of the 1980s? Consider, for example, this item, written by the Institute for Humane Education and excerpted from one of just three links supplied by the NEA to those who teach grades 3–5:

Human rights are inextricably connected to environmental and cultural issues. For example, the decline in potable water – due to causes such as intensive agricultural systems, pollution, corporate ownership of water rights, and global climate change – is an environmental, cultural, and a human rights issue. Rapid economic globalization – representing a cultural and political shift over the past half century – is resulting in increased slave and child labor. Some religions perpetuate human rights atrocities (e.g., female genital mutilation), making a cultural issue – religious freedom – a social justice issue as well.

Humans are oppressed by the same systems that exploit animals and the environment. Humane education gives us a lens to more clearly see the interconnectedness of these issues….

Balanced? Devoid of its own versions of “profiling”? Such issues arise every time schools are called upon to address a complicated contemporary issue that divides grownups and every time the materials offered to teachers are the work of single-cause organizations: When this topic reaches the fourth-grade classroom, are students going to get accurate, balanced information or the strong policy and political preferences of those who teach them (or who prepare materials that they foist upon teachers, the better to shape the minds of children in directions that the authors favor)?

How could there be any question of “balance,” you ask, when racial-profiling is the issue? Well, consider recent testimony by the Fraternal Order of Police noting that, in the Unabomber case, the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit deduced from available evidence that the likely suspect was a “white male” and observed, moreover, that “generally speaking, serial killers are much more likely to be white males than any other race or gender and investigations into serial killings generally begin with this presumption.”

Or see Heather Mac Donald’s revealing piece citing the Drug Enforcement Administration’s own data on which nationalities are most likely to engage in high-volume drug trafficking. Should police officers monitoring airfields and highways pretend they don’t know this?

Consider, too, not just the Byzantine complexity of the Justice Department’s new “guidance for federal law enforcement agencies,” but also the fact that those guarding U.S. borders against the entry of possible terrorists are specifically exempted from most of that guidance. Why? Because eight-year-olds from Iceland, elderly tourists from Ireland, and nuns from Brazil are extremely unlikely to be involved with terrorist plots against the United States, just as folks from other places and backgrounds are more likely to be so involved. It’s a mighty good thing for our safety that someone was able to persuade Messrs. Holder and Obama to allow for such exceptions. (My apologies to any surviving Byzantines for the impolitic profiling implicit in the first sentence of this paragraph.)

How many fifth graders are going to grasp all this? Why should they be expected to? But if you leave out the complexity, you end up with oversimplification, naiveté, and political correctness.

The other big question to be raised about the NEA’s latest dive into troubled waters: why this topic and not others? What (speaking of terrorists) about a “terrorism curriculum”? I can’t find one on the NEA website—though there’s plenty on “climate change.” What about an anti-Semitism curriculum? I can’t find that, either, though there’s plenty on immigration reform. Who makes these decisions, and based on what? How are teachers and schools supposed to sort through it?

And where does it end? How many contemporary issues of the sort that worry adults should be visited upon school children? At what ages and in which classes and instead of what? Because surely something must be omitted from the regular curriculum to make room for racial-profiling education, just as with lessons about the perils and risks of smoking, AIDS, obesity, drug abuse—and climate change and immigration reform, not to mention popcorn month. Do we skip phonics lessons? Two-digit multiplication? The Declaration of Independence? Isn’t it possible that a close reading of To Kill a Mockingbird might impart messages about racism, tolerance, kindness, and courage within a first-rate English language arts curriculum—instead of turning to one-sided didactic materials from single-issue organizations? Including, alas, America’s largest organization to whose members we entrust the education of our children and grandchildren.

Read Less

Presidential Legacies on Race Are Built on Laws, Not Speeches

The recent Bloomberg poll showing that a majority of Americans believe race relations have worsened on President Obama’s watch probably doesn’t have too much to do with Obama himself. No doubt he has contributed his fair share by running two presidential campaigns predicated on the belief that opposition to him was racist, and then writing off policy dissent as racist too. But the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island of the death of black men at the hands of police have resulted in national protests. The public may have been tuning Obama out lately, but they notice riots and traffic-stopping “die-ins,” as well as retaliatory race-based violence.

Read More

The recent Bloomberg poll showing that a majority of Americans believe race relations have worsened on President Obama’s watch probably doesn’t have too much to do with Obama himself. No doubt he has contributed his fair share by running two presidential campaigns predicated on the belief that opposition to him was racist, and then writing off policy dissent as racist too. But the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island of the death of black men at the hands of police have resulted in national protests. The public may have been tuning Obama out lately, but they notice riots and traffic-stopping “die-ins,” as well as retaliatory race-based violence.

Obama has fumbled on race relations in other ways, notably not reining in Eric Holder’s politicization of all things race and by making ill considered comments about cases on which he had very clearly not been fully briefed. And so it’s no surprise that Obama has pulled back recently, treating a sensitive issue with something closer to the careful deliberation it requires. African-American advocates and activists have responded by criticizing him for it, the New York Times reports:

As crowds of people staged “die-ins” across the country last week to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers, young African-American activists were in the Oval Office lodging grievances with President Obama.

He of all people — the first black president of the United States — was in a position to testify to the sense of injustice that African-Americans feel in dealing with the police every day, the activists told him. During the unrest that began with a teenager’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., they hoped for a strong response. Why was he holding back?

But the Times story gets at something of more practical interest to the president. After conveniently whitewashing the Obama administration’s poor record on race relations, the story explains that Obama’s inner circle has begun pressing Obama to, essentially, make this moment about himself and put the current conflicts to work in the service of his own legacy.

“White House advisers say addressing the nation’s racial conflicts is now an imperative for the president’s final years in office,” the Times reports, and then unsurprisingly follows that assertion with a quote from Valerie Jarrett. It’s entirely understandable for presidents to want to shape their legacies, especially on issues that have become inseparably entangled with their careers. Race, for Obama, is one such issue. It’s also an issue that casts a long shadow over American history, and thus anyone responsible for marked improvements regarding race relations is seen as making a special contribution to the character of American life.

And yet, Obama’s advisors are going about this the wrong way. “Mr. Obama has stepped up some of his rhetoric,” the Times reports. For better or worse, however, rhetoric just won’t cut it. The improvement of race relations–specifically the cause of integration and anti-discrimination–in America has been done by laws, not speeches.

And in fact, those laws are often ahead of public opinion on the matter. The country wasn’t convinced to join hands and sing Kumbaya; instead, integration was accomplished by force of law.

A major change in the way race affected American life took place with the Second World War. William Lee Miller, in his joint biography of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, writes:

All-out war unsettles the society that fights it, and makes deep change possible. America’s “civil rights revolution,” although center stage from 1954 to 1965, did not begin with the great Court decision or the Montgomery bus boycott; its roots were in the war. The war changed blacks as well as whites and sharpened ideals. Black Americans sought war work and went north, or joined the army and were sent south. Northern African-Americans, who were drafted and sent to army camps in the South, were forced to the back of the bus, to the last seats in the theater, to the separated tables in the mess hall (southern African-Americans were, too, but the northerners were not accustomed to it). White Americans as well as black Americans were sent to England, to the Continent, to the Pacific. Civilians changed jobs and geography. Millions of blacks and whites moved to the North. Detroit exploded. There were “incidents,” protests, riots. Black activists, including A. Philip Randolph, threatened to march on Washington to protest discrimination, and as a result, Roosevelt signed the Fair Employment Act. The blatant racism of the enemy heightened awareness of national ideals; it also heightened frustration and moral outrage.

After the war, Truman pursued several avenues toward equality in a nation that could no longer ignore the issue. He established a committee on civil rights in 1946. It–and the report it produced–constituted a milestone of sorts, and Truman refused to squander the opportunity. Truman gave important speeches on the issue but only along with legislation he wanted passed. Congress blocked the legislation. So Truman took another route, issuing his executive order to desegregate the military.

Eisenhower, too, furthered the cause, and Congress would relent somewhat, passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Within a decade, under LBJ Congress would pass the far-reaching Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the rest is history. And that brings us to another reason Obama doesn’t have much of a legacy on racial healing: the major civil-rights acts have been law for decades; presidents now are tinkering at the margins.

That doesn’t mean those margins aren’t important. Sentencing reform, sensible changes in the war on drugs, and prison reform–Rick Perry’s Texas has been the model on this–can make a big difference. But there is no Truman-Ike-LBJ accomplishment on the horizon because race relations, equality under the law, and integration may not be perfect but they are far better than where they were. And the president certainly won’t change the world with a speech.

Read Less

The Case Against Ad Hominem Arguments

Mike Gallagher is a popular radio talk-show host. I’ve long had a cordial relationship with him, and I’ve appeared on his program many times. But Gallagher and I sometimes occupy very different rooms within the conservative mansion. He usually has me on when we disagree on something, and Thursday was no exception. He took issue with my piece on the killing of Eric Garner by Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Read More

Mike Gallagher is a popular radio talk-show host. I’ve long had a cordial relationship with him, and I’ve appeared on his program many times. But Gallagher and I sometimes occupy very different rooms within the conservative mansion. He usually has me on when we disagree on something, and Thursday was no exception. He took issue with my piece on the killing of Eric Garner by Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

One of the arguments Gallagher made is that the shooting of Michael Brown, who, the preponderance of evidence showed, assaulted and attacked Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, was very nearly the same as the Pantaleo-Garner incident. This strikes me as bizarre. As Andrew McCarthy, the outstanding former federal prosecutor, wrote, “there is a difference between resisting arrest by not cooperating, as Garner was doing in Staten Island, and resisting arrest by violent assaults and threats of harm, as Michael Brown did in Ferguson.”

But I want to focus on another exchange we had. In this instance, Gallagher accused me, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill O’Reilly of “throwing the other side [liberals] a bone.” We decided to “feign disappointment with the grand jury decision to just show that we’re just trying to spread around the love a little bit here.” There was “a little bit of a contrived reaction on this issue.”

My response was that this kind of ad hominem criticism doesn’t really advance serious public debate. And there’s no end to this. To illustrate the point, I told Gallagher it’s the same thing I (or anyone else, for that matter) could do with him: go on his show and accuse him of putting forward views he can’t possibly believe for ratings, in order to play to his right-wing audience. You can see how frivolous and adolescent this can get. To slightly amend the philosopher Sidney Hook, before impugning an opponent’s motives, answer his arguments. (To be fair, Gallagher did back away from his claims a bit in the show.)

But there’s a deeper point to be made here. The reason Gallagher made this accusation against Krauthammer, O’Reilly, and me is because he simply can’t comprehend why we would hold the views we do. Gallagher considers his views so self-evidently right, and ours so self-evidently wrong, that the only explanation he can think of to make sense of things is that our views are inauthentic and manufactured.

This puts the spotlight on a widespread malady we find in several disciplines, including theology, philosophy, and politics: (a) the belief that I possess the whole truth; and (b) the inability to even entertain the idea that those who hold views different than mine might have some validity. In this case, to believe that a New York cop might have used too much force against Eric Garner is completely irrational and illogical; no conservative could believe such a thing. Hence the charge that our views are contrived.

I’m not naive; I know a variety of motivations can drive people to say and do all sorts of things, and sometimes individuals need to be called out. But as a general matter we should attack people’s motivations only in cases where there’s a fair amount of evidence of bad faith. Too often these days this is done reflexively, as a substitute for serious arguments. It’s a manifestation of lazy thinking.

All of us who are in the commentary business believe our views are right and those who hold views different than ours are wrong. Certitude comes with the territory. But there is such a thing as gradations, of where we fall on the continuum; and it does seem to me we live in a time characterized by unusual dogmatism and absolutism. Too many of us haven’t learned what is certainly one of the hardest things in life to learn, which is a certain epistemological modesty, the awareness that my understanding of the world isn’t fully accurate and that other people see things through a different lens than we do. That may make them wrong; it doesn’t make them dishonest or dishonorable.

My guess is that Mike Gallagher got caught up in the moment, which we all do. But it is a cautionary tale, precisely because what happened is so common these days. We really are better off without it.

Read Less

American Mobacracy

“The future belongs to crowds,” wrote Don DeLillo in his 1991 novel Mao II. Boy, was he right. Today it’s protests in response to a baffling grand jury decision, but the phenomenon has been building for years. Tea Party rallies, the Rally for Sanity, Occupy Wall Street, minimum-wage protests, hoodie rallies, anti-Israel protests, climate rallies, Ferguson “die-ins,” World AIDS Day, World This Day, World That Day. The mass-grievance spectacle has come to saturate our culture and politics, and shape our national life.

Read More

“The future belongs to crowds,” wrote Don DeLillo in his 1991 novel Mao II. Boy, was he right. Today it’s protests in response to a baffling grand jury decision, but the phenomenon has been building for years. Tea Party rallies, the Rally for Sanity, Occupy Wall Street, minimum-wage protests, hoodie rallies, anti-Israel protests, climate rallies, Ferguson “die-ins,” World AIDS Day, World This Day, World That Day. The mass-grievance spectacle has come to saturate our culture and politics, and shape our national life.

In between demonstrations mob-rule holds firm by other means. Foremost online. The armchair lynch mobs of social media drive news cycles and end careers. A vigorous digital witch-hunt can wreck a life. In China, online vigilantism by an otherwise enfeebled citizenry goes by the term “human-flesh searches.” We’re not they’re yet, but we’re close.

Television too is coming under the sway of mobacracy. During the first round of Ferguson protests, news reporters joined the ranks of the enraged so they too could rail against police. On hipper talk shows, the political applause line has replaced the joke as the fundamental unit of communication. The new definition of comedian is a demagogue who gets a pass on vulgarity and inaccuracy. His goal is no longer to leave them in stitches; it’s to affirm the pooled self-righteousness of the audience with a zinger aimed at a common enemy. The Daily Show, Real Time, Last Week Tonight—it’s the news with cheering.

Why is this happening? It’s not because worsening conditions are driving people to justified rage. Life in today’s lowest American income bracket is no picnic, but all relevant data show it’s a material paradise compared to the poverty of less turbulent eras. Prejudice exists, naturally, but on a dramatically smaller scale than at any point in our history. And (if we must), global temperatures, as even NASA now acknowledges, haven’t changed significantly for 15 years.

Perhaps, then, the righteous mob satisfies a new non-material crisis in American life—namely, the need for meaning and connection. People are now less likely to affiliate with larger entities and institutions that once gave their lives shape and value: family, community, church, nation. Sharp declines in religious belief, marriage, and childbearing are stripping us of enduring notions of virtue and purpose and we’re striving to replace them.

Some quick facts: According to Pew, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has doubled since 1990 alone. Another Pew poll tells us: “After decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high.” In 1960, only 9 percent of Americans over 25 hadn’t ever married. In 2012, the number was 20 percent. And in 2013, a federal government study concluded that the U.S. birthrate had fallen to a record low of 1.86 births per woman.

Here are the questions we face as a result: For whom or what do we sacrifice? What constitutes community? And how, ultimately, do we find transcendence? The old institutions furnished answers. We sacrificed for faith and family because that’s what our shared values dictated. Out of those shared values we found community. And through connections to God and each other, we transcended ourselves.

The galvanized mob picks up the slack both for lost meaning and lost human contact. Activism was once reserved for a small segment of the mostly young and self-righteous. Today, it’s just another dimension of cosmopolitan life. You subscribe to a cause—be it anti-fracking or organic food—and stick with it. As it occupies the space of religion, you tend to preach your cause hypocritically. But your cause asks so little of you (perhaps to post a meme on your Facebook profile), that you’re not really invested. It doesn’t ultimately satisfy the need for transcendence because you sacrificed so little.

The weak in conviction seek strength in numbers. They connect online and meet up to block a bridge or lie down in a train station. As community, this ultimately fails too. Participants don’t share values; they share a need for values. When it comes down to it, they’re no more sincere about one cause than they are about another.

Without strength (which comes from sacrifice), without ideas (which come from engaging tradition, not running from it), all that’s left is emotion. So emotion becomes the content of our politics. The irony of the recent anti-police outrage is that it’s arisen from a culture of constant policing: the identity police, the Islamophobia police, the language police, the food police, the bully police, the trigger-warning squads—they’re all out to catch and punish offenders. No grand jury convened.

These mob events look like action, but they ensure stasis. Nothing fruitful comes from channeling religious and family needs into politics. It’s worth recalling that the Russian word Bolshevik literally meant one of the majority.

Read Less

The Cost of a False Narrative of Oppression

At a different moment in time, the decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to an indict a white police officer for using a choke hold on Eric Garner, an African-American who later died after being taken into custody, would not be much more than a local news item in New York. But coming as it did on the heels of the much-publicized decision of another grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri not to indict another white cop in the shooting death of another black man, teenager Michael Brown, the Staten Island deliberations were immediately dragooned into service by mainstream media talking heads, African-American leaders, and President Obama to reinforce a narrative of oppression of blacks by white police.

Read More

At a different moment in time, the decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to an indict a white police officer for using a choke hold on Eric Garner, an African-American who later died after being taken into custody, would not be much more than a local news item in New York. But coming as it did on the heels of the much-publicized decision of another grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri not to indict another white cop in the shooting death of another black man, teenager Michael Brown, the Staten Island deliberations were immediately dragooned into service by mainstream media talking heads, African-American leaders, and President Obama to reinforce a narrative of oppression of blacks by white police.

Though each of these two decisions appear to stand on their own as being reasonable interpretations of the law, together they appear to justify the upsurge in demonstrations around the country protesting police behavior and asserting that blacks are being systematically victimized. But whatever one may think of these rulings or of the police, those who are hyping this story need not only to think carefully whether the story they are telling is true but also whether the net effects of their campaign against the police will hurt minorities far more than it help them.

The facts in the Staten Island case seem to be as straightforward as the Ferguson, Missouri incident were muddled. The confrontation was caught on a video taken by a cell phone and showed that a chokehold was employed. The New York City Police Department has banned chokeholds for use but they are not illegal. The grand jury clearly believed that the tragic result was not the result of a crime but observers may well wonder about the use of excessive force or why an unarmed man resisting arrest for a petty crime wound up dying in this manner.

But no more than in the Ferguson incident, the facts in that case are not really the point of the protests, the president’s statement, or what is being said about the case on the cable news networks. As awful as each of these stories may be, the willingness of the media to seize on every instance in which a white police officer kills a black civilian in order to make a point about race says more about the need of the left to fuel fears about racism for political advantage than a true flaw in the justice system or American society.

The point is one can question the wisdom of the Staten Island grand jury’s decision, just as one can dispute the result of the inquiry into the death of Michael Brown. But even if you think excessive force was used in each incident, taken in total or individually, the argument for a trend of oppression of white on black violence is lacking. Though no one can or should deny America’s history of racism, those who confuse isolated incidents with the systematic violence of Jim Crow are doing minorities and the police a grave disservice.

More to the point, the willingness of the mainstream media to jump on this false narrative has not only wrongly undermined faith in the justice system and justified violent protests; it also makes it harder for police to do their jobs protecting minorities badly in need of protection. Just as bad is the willingness of President Obama to use what is left of his badly damaged credibility to continue to stoke the fires of distrust. Having coming into office with a unique opportunity to heal America’s racial strife, he has instead become a creature of the same race hucksters like Al Sharpton that seek to further divide the nation.

Irrespective of the merits of the case, those trumpeting the Staten Island case as proof that the system is biased against blacks are merely feeding fear, not dispelling racism. To the extent that the mainstream media seeks to assert that both the police and the justice system are guilty until proven innocent, they, too, are undermining the rule of law. While we hope that calm will prevail in the aftermath of this incident, Ferguson provides an excellent example of what happens when media talkers and feckless politicians speak with impunity and ordinary citizens pay the price for their wild accusations.

Read Less

In Defense of Cops

Via Mediaite, this morning MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough criticized five members of the St. Louis Rams and several Democratic members of Congress for their “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gestures.

Read More

Via Mediaite, this morning MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough criticized five members of the St. Louis Rams and several Democratic members of Congress for their “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gestures.

“The St. Louis Rams think it’s cool for them to suggest that St. Louis cops shoot young black men who had their hands up in the air, when we know that that was a lie?” Scarborough asked:

It’s a lie! And what was that gesture on Capitol Hill? More people like going, ‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s the truth or not, I’m going to suggest that cops shoot people with their hands up in the air.’ What is wrong with this country? What is wrong with these people? What’s wrong with these elected officials? They know it’s a lie! They know the cops didn’t shoot him with his hands in the air! They know it’s a lie and they are doing this on the Capitol floor? Unbelievable.

Three points on this. First, Mr. Scarborough deserves credit for speaking out in a way that is wholly at odds with the storyline being presented by his network, to the point that he even criticized MSNBC directly yesterday, when he also addressed the Ferguson shooting and its aftermath. He’s showing admirable independence of judgment.

Second, Scarborough homes in on the key issue: The statements of solidarity with Michael Brown are based on events that didn’t happen. What we see is a narrative being offered that is clearly at odds with what actually occurred. It’s clear from the forensic and credible eyewitness accounts that Officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Mr. Brown and that race didn’t play a factor in the shooting. No matter. People on the left want us to travel with them through the looking glass, to a world turned sideways. Some of us are declining to do so.

Third, the liberal context for this “discussion” and “dialogue” on race is that the criminal justice system is endemically racist and one of the great, urgent problems facing black Americans is white cops gunning them down in cold blood. That, too, is a fiction.

It is quite an odd thing when a police officer acts in a perfectly defensible way, to the point that a grand jury refuses to indict him based on the available evidence, and that this incident triggers an intense national debate in which the assumption is that the blame–either in Ferguson specifically or in America more generally–rests with the cops.

I dissent.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t police officers who are racists and doing bad things; but there are racists in every profession. And here’s what needs to be said but is hardly ever said: Cops are not only by and large impressive and admirable people who do very difficult jobs with skill and professionalism; they are among the best friends that communities, most especially inner city communities, have. That’s what former NBA great Charles Barkley was getting at in this interview.

I’m not unsympathetic to the challenges facing those who are black in America; I wrote about it recently. What bothers me in the discussion surrounding the events in Ferguson is that (a) many people are simply and willfully divorcing themselves from facts and reality, twisting events to make a political point; and (b) cops–including Darren Wilson but also virtually every cop on the beat–are being unfairly tarnished in the process. Somehow it’s their reputations that are being undone. That’s wrong, and someone should say it’s wrong.

Thankfully Joe Scarborough and Charles Barkley did.

Read Less

Obama’s Ferguson Dog and Pony Show

As protests against the decision of a grand jury not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with the murder of Michael Brown continue, the White House is scrambling to catch up with President Obama’s liberal base. With the political left out in the streets and screaming murder on the cable networks, the president felt the need to play catchup today on Ferguson and to speak as if a difficult legal case can be used to justify politicized charges claiming that America’s police are out of control and targeting black youth with impunity. His response, a White House meeting and a raft of meaningless though potentially expensive proposals, may be enough to help him win today’s news cycle. But let no one, least of all the president’s media cheering section, pretend that what we are hearing today is anything more than an illustration of a basic political precept: it’s better to pretend to do something about a marginal problem than to tell those protesting that it is their skewed perceptions that are wrong.

Read More

As protests against the decision of a grand jury not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with the murder of Michael Brown continue, the White House is scrambling to catch up with President Obama’s liberal base. With the political left out in the streets and screaming murder on the cable networks, the president felt the need to play catchup today on Ferguson and to speak as if a difficult legal case can be used to justify politicized charges claiming that America’s police are out of control and targeting black youth with impunity. His response, a White House meeting and a raft of meaningless though potentially expensive proposals, may be enough to help him win today’s news cycle. But let no one, least of all the president’s media cheering section, pretend that what we are hearing today is anything more than an illustration of a basic political precept: it’s better to pretend to do something about a marginal problem than to tell those protesting that it is their skewed perceptions that are wrong.

As I wrote earlier today, after spending so much of the last six years crying wolf about racism and seeking to stoke fears rather than to heal, the president is in no position to reclaim the high ground on the issue that he occupied when he was elected by deliberately eschewing appeals to partisanship and race. Nor does it speak well for the president that he felt the need to, in essence, backtrack from the sagacious stand he took last week when the grand jury in St. Louis County decided no crime had been committed when Wilson shot Brown. Having told Americans to respect a judicial process and to refrain from riots and violence to vent their disappointment in the result of the proceeding, today he reverted to playing the race card, albeit in more measured terms than his fans on the left.

It is true that many African-Americans don’t trust the police and that racism isn’t dead. But by accepting the premise of the Ferguson rioters that somehow the lack of an indictment is proof that the system isn’t working, Obama wasn’t advancing the cause of healing. Even more to the point, by focusing all of his attention on alleged police misbehavior, the president was ignoring the fact that what African-Americans trapped in poor neighborhoods need most is more policing, not less.

As for the president’s suggestions, they speak volumes about how insubstantial the White House’s approach has become. The president said he would seek to impose more restrictions on the transfer of military-style equipment—like the ones deployed in Ferguson when the trouble began this summer—as well as spending money on body cameras for police, presumably to ensure that those wearing the devices would be caught red-handed if they mistreated civilians.

Let’s specify that there is a reasonable discussion that can be heard about the utility of such equipment in most local police problems. There are also arguments to be made in favor of applying the same sort of technology that has brought cameras to many police cars to the bodies of officers. Police may benefit as much from the scrutiny as they will be hurt by it.

But let’s not pretend that this is about better policing or bridging the racial divide. The president could cite no studies pointing to the need for any of his measures nor could he argue credibly that a White House photo op was anything but what he denied it to be: a dog and pony show intended only to demonstrate a faux interest in an issue that would soon be forgotten as soon as the media and left-wing demonstrators move on from Ferguson to whatever the next media feeding frenzy turns out to be.

Nor should we be impressed by the noises about a possible presidential visit to Ferguson or any other measure intended to make it seem as if Obama is doing something about the issue.

The problem here is not just that Obama punted on his chance to be a genuine racial healer years ago as he egged on his supporters to brand his critics as racists rather than just Americans who disagreed with his policies. It’s that by putting forward a faux program intended to make it look as if he is doing something, he has again made the problem worse rather than better.

It is no small irony that the administration run by the first African-American president and staffed by the first African-American attorney general has done so much to stoke racial disharmony and to empower race baiters like Obama ally Al Sharpton. By validating those who are determined to perpetuate the myth that the Ferguson incident was about a vicious white cop who killed an innocent black kid with his hands up—a proposition that the evidence presented to the grand jury appears to debunk—the president has ensured that his time in office will continue to witness a further deterioration of relations between blacks and whites.

President Obama isn’t solely responsible for this. But he could have used his bully pulpit to steer the national conversation in a more rational manner in ways that might have helped more than it hurt. White House dog and pony shows have their uses at times, but today’s version was evidence of how they can also do far more harm than good.

Read Less

Ferguson and How Obama Failed on Race

One of the most remarkable aspects of the reaction to the Ferguson, Missouri controversy is the manner in which President Obama has become a marginal figure in the discussion about race in America. To say this is not to discount the fact that the president’s various statements on the case—including his entirely appropriate response to the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown and his condemnations of the violent riots that ensued—have been given wide notice. But one of the most significant elements of this debate is the one that few are discussing: how is it that the man who was elected president in no small measure to heal the country’s historic racial divide has not only failed to advance that cause but has found himself sidelined by race baiters. As with so much else that has happened in this failed presidency, Obama’s inability to act decisively or courageously caused him to miss opportunities to help a nation that looked to him for leadership.

Read More

One of the most remarkable aspects of the reaction to the Ferguson, Missouri controversy is the manner in which President Obama has become a marginal figure in the discussion about race in America. To say this is not to discount the fact that the president’s various statements on the case—including his entirely appropriate response to the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown and his condemnations of the violent riots that ensued—have been given wide notice. But one of the most significant elements of this debate is the one that few are discussing: how is it that the man who was elected president in no small measure to heal the country’s historic racial divide has not only failed to advance that cause but has found himself sidelined by race baiters. As with so much else that has happened in this failed presidency, Obama’s inability to act decisively or courageously caused him to miss opportunities to help a nation that looked to him for leadership.

To recall Barack Obama’s rise to prominence and then to the presidency is to think of a figure who attempted to both embody the progress the country had made in resolving its historic racial issues and to rise above the issue. Both his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech and his 2008 Philadelphia speech about race were, despite the anodyne nature of their texts, considered watershed events because of the president’s ability to articulate the nation’s aspirations for both post-partisan and post-racial healing.

But once in the presidency, Obama not only embarked on a rabidly ideological agenda that further divided an already polarized country but also used his bully pulpit to sermonize on race in ways that only made things worse. His dubious extra-legal intervention in the controversy over Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates showed how unsure his instincts were on the one topic that most Americans would have looked to him for guidance. Instead of challenging both blacks and whites to acknowledge past problems while moving forward in productive ways, his periodic return to the issue has made him more the kibitzer-in-chief on race rather than a healer. Though his Ferguson comments this year have shown him to be chastened by both the Gates fiasco and his similarly maladroit intervention in the Trayvon Martin killing, the man with the magic rhetorical touch has found himself curiously unable to summon his voice in a manner that would bring the country together rather than merely playing to his party’s base.

Far worse than that, the Obama White House and the Democratic Party spent most of the last six years becoming heavily invested in the proposition that all opposition to the president and his agenda was primarily rooted in race. That this was preposterous was always clear. As Bill and Hillary Clinton could have told him, attempting to impose government control on a sixth of the American economy was bound to inspire spirited opposition, but the Obama crowd and their media cheerleaders weren’t content with merely answering his critics. They had to demonize them all as racists turning every discussion of ObamaCare into a proxy for a race battle that should have been treated as definitively over once the country elected an African-American president.

Indeed, the notion that criticism of Obama was thinly veiled racism became a staple of American politics in the last few years. Though it was transparently disingenuous, it was nevertheless effective, both in terms of the effort to marginalize conservative opposition to Obama’s big-government agenda as well as in reminding Americans that they needed to support the president in order to maintain their standing as decent, non-racist citizens.

That may have helped reelect the president but I think liberals and Democrats who have either employed this despicable talking point or tolerated it as a necessary evil in order to hold onto the White House have underestimated how much this effort has helped poison the well of American society.

Instead of being the man who would, as he promised, lead us into a new chapter of history in which race would not be used as an excuse to further divide the country, Obama actually became the vehicle for a meme that allowed the left to use it as an all-purpose political weapon regardless of the cost to national harmony.

Thus, it is little surprise that not only has the president made no impact on issues where blacks and whites view the same events differently, he now finds himself caught between an electorate that is rightly skeptical of anything he and his supporters say on race and race hucksters who are unsatisfied with his attempt to chart a middle course. Michael Eric Dyson wrote yesterday in the New York Times that Obama is a guilty of a “treacherous” balancing act for not seeking to lead Americans to the barricades on behalf of the dubious notion that white America is to blame for the death of Michael Brown rather than his own misbehavior. This is ironic, but entirely predictable since the president’s characteristic indecision has gotten him into trouble here as in every other problem he has faced.

By spending so much of his presidency posing as a victim, Obama helped create a reality in which most blacks believe the country is less free of bias than it was when he was elected. Instead of a healer, Obama has become a passenger in a bus driven by men like Dyson or White House friend Al Sharpton. That is a shame for a presidency that began with such promise. But it is an even bigger tragedy for a country that could well have used Obama’s leadership on race but instead received cynical exploitations of the issue that have made it harder than ever to bring Americans together on race.

Read Less

The Grand Jury System Is Broken

The announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case could hardly have been worse handled. The prosecutor waited until well after nightfall to make the announcement and the governor, having mobilized the national guard to protect persons and property, kept them in their barracks while the rioters ran wild.

Read More

The announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case could hardly have been worse handled. The prosecutor waited until well after nightfall to make the announcement and the governor, having mobilized the national guard to protect persons and property, kept them in their barracks while the rioters ran wild.

But many on the left are blaming the way the prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch, presented the case to the grand jury. Dana Milbank in the Washington Post wrote that

What causes the outrage, and the despair, is the joke of a grand-jury proceeding run under the auspices of McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor. In September, I wrote that it appeared he wasn’t even trying to get an indictment; he had a long record of protecting police in such cases, and his decision not to recommend a specific charge to the grand jury essentially guaranteed there would be no indictment.

A New York Times editorial argued that

Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler of New York once famously said that a district attorney could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich” if that’s what he wanted. Milbank and the Times are essentially arguing that McCulloch should have done exactly that: abuse the grand jury system in order to get an indictment that most people who have looked at the massive amount of evidence he released say would not have resulted in a conviction.

But if grand juries almost always do what the district attorney wants, why do we need grand juries at all? Well, one answer to that question is the 5th Amendment to the Constitution which says that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, …” And as Andrew McCarthy notes in National Review Online the Founding Fathers regarded the grand jury as a core protection:

It stands as the buffer between the government prosecutor and the citizen-suspect; it safeguards Americans, who are presumed innocent, from being subjected to the anxiety, infamy and expense of a trial unless there is probable cause to believe they have committed a serious offense.

But as Judge Wachtler implied, it no longer serves that function and has become deeply and institutionally corrupt. It has become a means for prosecuting attorneys to further their political ambitions. They are almost always elected officials in this country and many successful politicians have begun their careers that way. Thomas E. Dewey and Rudi Giuliani are two examples of politicians who used their position as prosecuting attorneys to quite deliberately generate publicity for themselves and move on to higher office. It was Dewey who invented the “perp walk” with reporters invited to be in attendance when a person was arrested.

Grand juries no longer exist in any other common law country. In England and Wales they were abandoned more than eighty years ago. Nor are there political district attorneys. Instead police take the evidence of a crime to the Crown Prosecution Service, staffed by bureaucrats not politicians, and the CPS decides if there is strong enough evidence and that justice would be served by holding a trial before a petit jury.

The grand jury system is broken and it either needs to be thoroughly reformed in order to provide the needed protection from an overreaching prosecuting attorney or the 5th Amendment needs to be itself amended.

Read Less

The Media’s Irresponsible Ferguson Coverage

There are many things that can be said about the decision by the grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and the response to it, including John’s forceful and eloquent post. I would only add that much of the press coverage last night, and throughout this entire episode, was very discouraging.

Read More

There are many things that can be said about the decision by the grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and the response to it, including John’s forceful and eloquent post. I would only add that much of the press coverage last night, and throughout this entire episode, was very discouraging.

This is one of those stories in which the liberal bias of supposedly “objective” reporters comes gushing out. This was particularly true of CNN. It was painful to watch reporters, with child-like melodrama, pretend they were part of a great civil-rights story. But 2014 isn’t 1965, and Ferguson, Missouri isn’t the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Reporters and commentators tried so hard to turn this story into something it never was: a racially-driven shooting of an innocent black teen by a white police officer.

The evidence presented to the grand jury was voluminous and comprehensive, and the jury concluded Officer Wilson should not be tried. But the left, including much of the media, was determined to superimpose a racial narrative on this story. The facts of the case were not only secondary; they were irrelevant. Liberals had a tale to tell, a stern moral sermon to deliver. What we saw–not among everyone to be sure, but among too many–was post-modern journalism on display. All that matters are the “narrative identities” we create for ourselves. We can all create our own reality. Truth needs to be shaped and re-shaped in order to fit a storyline. So a shooting that was never about race suddenly became a story focused almost solely on race. Think of Anderson Cooper as Jacques Derrida.

It’s of course the case that our experiences shape how we perceive reality. We all interpret events in a somewhat different way and none of us perceives truth perfectly. But that is a world apart from a license to interpret events in a way that’s false.

The effort by the left broadly, and journalists more specifically, to turn the events in Ferguson into a morality play was a shame; and in the end, it probably helped fuel the violence we saw. (“A riot is the language of the unheard,” tweeted MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.) That violence won’t directly hurt you and it won’t directly hurt me. But it has hurt the residents of Ferguson. And rather than help race relations in America, it will set them back.

What we got last night from the grand jury was justice. What we didn’t get was peace.

Read Less

Ham Sandwich Indictments and the Riot

The nation is still reeling this morning from last night’s televised riot in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the decision of a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the death of black teenager Michael Brown. Without offering any opinion either criticizing the grand jury’s decision or supporting it, I do however wonder about one particular trope that was often heard last night on CNN and MSNBC. Namely, that the prosecutor that had presented the evidence on the case had erred by not doing so in a manner that would have dictated an indictment. The consensus on those networks of their panels of “legal experts” was that it was the duty of the prosecutor to play out the “ham sandwich” paradigm of grand jury panels. My question today is to ask why anyone would think such behavior would be a good thing under any circumstance.

Read More

The nation is still reeling this morning from last night’s televised riot in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the decision of a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the death of black teenager Michael Brown. Without offering any opinion either criticizing the grand jury’s decision or supporting it, I do however wonder about one particular trope that was often heard last night on CNN and MSNBC. Namely, that the prosecutor that had presented the evidence on the case had erred by not doing so in a manner that would have dictated an indictment. The consensus on those networks of their panels of “legal experts” was that it was the duty of the prosecutor to play out the “ham sandwich” paradigm of grand jury panels. My question today is to ask why anyone would think such behavior would be a good thing under any circumstance.

It was clear from the start that any vote other than one for a murder indictment would be treated as an act of racist indifference that many African-Americans would never accept. The tragedy that has unfolded in Ferguson is one to which there are no easy answers. Clearly, African Americans approach the issue of police shootings of young black males from the perspective that such incidents are the product of racism and it would be insensitive as well as pointless to claim that they are wrong to see it from this point of view even if the facts of this particular case clearly led the grand jury to treat the shooting as something that did not warrant a murder trial.

Yet I am intrigued by the attacks on St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch for his decision not to attempt to manipulate the grand jury in the style that is usual for district attorneys and which goes under the rubric of “ham sandwich” indictments. It is a cliché, but nonetheless true, that any good district attorney can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. The reason for this is that they control the evidence presented to the grand jury and the witnesses and potential defendants have no say in the forum as to what is heard other than their own testimony.

The presumption of McCulloch’s critics is that by choosing not to focus the grand jury only on those witnesses and evidence that would have inclined them to indict and instead showing them everything he had, including exculpatory material that led them to think Officer Wilson’s behavior did not amount to a crime, he had “failed.” In essence these legal talking heads accused him of tanking the case by “confusing” the grand jury with two sides of the argument rather than just guiding them toward an indictment.

To be fair, those who spoke of McCulloch’s behavior as being unusual are not entirely wrong. Prosecutors on every level of our judicial system generally behave in this manner. Those in the cross-hairs of district attorneys may eventually have their day in court when their case comes to trial, when their evidence is presented and which includes the obligation of juries to not convict anyone if reasonable doubt can be found about their guilt. But grand juries are not places where justice of that sort is always done. Ham sandwich indictments happen every day, and it can be argued that procuring one in this case would have spared Ferguson a riot from angry, violent people who wanted Wilson punished whether or not he is actually guilty of crime.

McCulloch may have acted in this manner because he is, as his local critics claim, predisposed to believe the police rather than the African-American community. Even if that is unfair it seems clear that he doubted that Wilson should be charged or at least felt, probably rightly, that there was little chance of gaining a conviction.

But whatever we may think of McCulloch or the specifics of this case, there is something wrong with a mindset that believes that a prosecutor isn’t doing his job if he is playing fair.

There is an old expression in sports that says, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” That presupposes a belief that the job of all competitors is to seek every possible advantage, legal or not. And it is one that most district attorneys general take as seriously as any athlete who thinks winning at all costs is the only way to go.

Yet instead of doubling down on this assumption, perhaps it might not be a bad thing if more prosecutors acted as McCulloch did and presented all of the facts to grand juries rather than only those that will get them a desired indictment. Perhaps we might have a more fair system that all citizens—including minorities that have historic grievances and concerns about getting short shrift from the system that can’t be ignored—might benefit from if there were fewer instead of more ham sandwich indictments. Surely our legal system is troubled more by out-of-control prosecutors who run roughshod over the rights of the accused — and sometimes use ham sandwich indictments to blackmail defendants who might not be able to afford trial costs to accept a plea bargain —than by those who are scrupulous about not tipping the scales of justice.

If the worst thing we can say about the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office is that they behaved in the latter fashion, then maybe McCulloch is not quite the villain he had been made out to be. Moreover, those who, whether intentionally or not, egged on the rioters by claiming that McCulloch had performed an act of professional malfeasance should think seriously about the implications of such an unreasonable position.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.