Saturday, August 16, 2014

Joe Walsh Is Wrong

So I’m sitting on a lawn chair at the gym, with time to spare before my son’s basketball game is set to start, and my phone starts vibrating furiously. I look at it, and it tells me that there are a bunch of tweets. I look at Twitter, and see that Governor Nixon has declared a curfew in Ferguson, Missouri. Among the responses to his tweet is a sarcastic riposte from somebody named Joe Walsh. Looking at his avatar, I can see that in his dark suit and tie—with a business haircut—he isn’t Joe Walsh, the guitarist from The Eagles. ************************************************************** Well, whoever he is, I think his response is dumb, and probably racist. In effect, what he’s really saying is this: "There should be no curfew in Ferguson. Just let the Negroes carry on their self-destruction.” Not knowing—or caring—who Joe Walsh is, I tweeted back to him that his tweet was oversimplified, unsophisticated, and rude. He, in turn, responded that it is no oversimplification when people are rioting and looting. For a precise record of the conversation, go to my Twitter page. So, why is Joe Walsh wrong? The answer to that is long and complicated; something that right-wingers don’t want to deal with. They like to reduce the big questions of life to slogans and aphorisms. ************************************************************** 1. Ferguson, Missouri is a town with a large African American population, and one of the questions that aren’t getting covered enough is what the percentage of white vs. minority police officers is there. In and of itself, this is a valid line of enquiry, but there is a deeper problem here that goes hand-in-hand with race: social class. It looks like Ferguson has a large number of lower-class black people. So, if you practice due diligence by going to primary sources of information like the US Census Bureau, you’ll find a town where African Americans get arrested more often than white residents—by a largely white police department (the number I have heard is 3 black cops out of 53 in the department. If somebody could confirm or refute this, I’d appreciate it). A good starting point is the article at ************************************************************** 2. There is no getting around the fact that the Ferguson Police Department—if you’ll pardon the expression—shot itself in the foot with its heavy-handed, militaristic response. This is a growing problem in general in the U.S. (see: I work with special police units on a regular basis, but in their case the distribution of used military hardware & equipment makes perfect sense. That said, the same isn't true on a mass scale e.g. in the case of street cops ), but it was perfectly the wrong way to deal with the situation in Ferguson. I live in L.A., and I don’t know where Joe Walsh lives, but neither one of us knows the whole story of what happened this week, when Michael Brown was shot. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. Even if it does turn out in the end that Michael Brown carried out a “strong arm robbery” (a tricky phrase that many will willingly misinterpret as armed robbery. It isn’t. Strong arm robbery means you pushed or grabbed somebody, then stole their stuff), enough black people in the U.S. have had their face rearranged by white cops, or had cops lie under oath, that there is a generalized mistrust of the white political power establishment. Collectively, African Americans have had such a bad experience with the police, that they automatically disbelieve anything the police say—even when it’s true. ************************************************************** 3. A nice counter-argument to this would be to say something along the lines of, “Well, maybe if black people didn’t steal, sell drugs, etc.” The problem with that argument is that blacks get disproportionately arrested, tried, and jailed in this country—not because they have a higher tendency towards criminality, but because they have a higher tendency towards not being able to afford a competent lawyer. ************************************************************** 4. Yes, but why are all these black people burning and looting; and destroying their own neighborhood? That gets a two-part answer. First, this is a straw-man argument that assumes that the same people who are protesting about the Michael Brown case are the same ones gifting themselves a brand new color TV from the display window of a neighborhood store. Second, the person asking this question sets up the straw man argument that rational people don’t vandalize and loot. This assumes that the rioters are rational actors. By definition, they are not. The source of the irrationality of choices made by rioters and looters stems from decades of poverty, lack of jobs, lack of job opportunities, and a perceived sense of a bleak future. If you have a bunch of people in second-rate schools, they don’t have good jobs, or a decent neighborhood, and they don’t trust the police and/or city hall, then don’t expect them to act rationally. Traumatized people do not act rationally. I have a friend who was sexually molested when he was a kid. For a guy with a science degree, he makes all kinds of irrational decisions. With my science degree in hand, I find myself looking at him, and scratching my head. It took me 10 years to understand that his experience of the world is so different from mine, that I cannot hold him to my standards. ************************************************************** 5. There is a widespread—yet unspoken belief among the Joe Walshes of the world that if only black people would pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they could catch up with the rest of us. This type of thinking ignores 500 years of history—from the moment that Europeans starting shipping slaves here in chains from Africa, whipping and raping them, and breaking up their families.