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The Clock Didn't Start with the Riots

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The Atlantic

Editor's Note: On Thursday, April 30, Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke at Johns Hopkins University in his native city of Baltimore, at the inaugural Forum on Race in America. What follows is an edited transcript of his remarks.

About a year ago, I published “The Case for Reparations,” which I thought in many ways was incomplete. It was about housing and how wealth is built in this country and why certain people have wealth and certain other people do not have wealth, and the manifold implications of that, and the roots of that, through slavery, through Jim Crow, indeed through federal, state and local policy.

The buzzword in that piece was “plunder.” If you want to understand the relationship between African Americans and the country that they inhabit, you must understand that one of the central features of that relationship is plunder—the taking from black people in order to empower other people. Obviously, enslavement, which lasted in this country for 250 years—the period of enslavement in this country is much longer than the period of freedom for black people—is the ultimate plunder. It is nothing but plunder, it is a total of your body, of your family, of your labor, of your everything—of your very essence.

And that plunder enriched this country such that in 1860, at the time of Civil War, the enslaved black population in this country—one-third of which constituted the amount of people living in the South—was worth something on the order of $3 billion, more than all the combined capacity of the nation. All the assets, all the banks, all the railroads, all the nascent factories and businesses in this country put together, were worth less than enslaved black people in this country. So plunder is not incidental to who we are, plunder is not incidental to what America is.

When you think about the period of Jim Crow and the stripping of black people’s right to vote, this is not the mere stripping of some sort of civic ceremony. It’s the stripping of your ability to have any sort of say in how your tax dollars are used. It’s this constant stripping, this taking away of rights that allowed us to enter into a situation that I talk about in “The Case for Reparations,” where—within the 20th century—you have programs being passed by which white families can accumulate masses of wealth through housing. The main group of people who are cut out of that are black people.

That’s federal policy. It’s not just a matter of private evil individuals. We get this picture of these white racists walking around with horns, you know, who use the “n-word” all the time, and I guess look like Cliven Bundy. That’s what we’re looking for, for a bunch of Cliven Bundys. But Cliven Bundy has never really been the threat; it’s the policy that’s the threat. And many of those people, are people who look like you and me—or maybe not quite like me—but who are like me in terms of they’re human beings. They’re mothers and fathers—good people, nice to their neighbors, but these are people who are responsible for policies in our country that leave us where we are.

Now, the reason why I say that piece was incomplete was because there is a methodology, a tool that has been used to make sure that black people are available for plunder. And a major tool in making that process happen has been the criminal justice system. It’s very, very important to understand. I read the governor in the New York Times today and he was saying in the paper that—you know, because it’s going to be a big day tomorrow—he was saying “violence will not be tolerated.” And I thought about that as a young man who’s from West Baltimore and grew up in West Baltimore and I thought about how violence was tolerated for all of my life here in West Baltimore.

When I was going to school, I thought about every little article that I wore when I walked out the house. I thought about who I was walking with. I thought about how many of them there were. I thought about what neighborhoods they were from. I thought about which route I was going to take to school. Once I got to school I thought about what I was going to do during the lunch hour—was I actually going to have lunch or was I going to go sit in the library. When school was dismissed I thought about what time I was going to leave school. I thought about whether I should stay after-school for class, I thought about whether I should take the bus up to my grandmother’s house. I thought about which way I should go home if I was going to go home. Every one of those choices was about the avoidance of violence, about the protection of my body. And so I don’t want to come off as if I’m sympathizing or saying that it is necessarily okay, to inflict violence just out of anger, no matter how legitimate that anger is.

But I have a problem when you begin the clock with violence. Because the fact of the matter is that the lives of black people in this city, the lives of black people in this country have been violent for a long time. Violence is how enslavement actually happened. People will think of enslavement as like a summer camp, where you just have to work, where you just go and someone gives you food and lodging, but enslavement is violence, it is torture. Torture is how it was made possible. You can’t imagine enslavement without stripping away people’s kids and putting them up for sale. And the way you did that was, you threatened people with violence. Jim Crow was enforced through violence. That was the way things that got done. You didn’t politely ask somebody not to show up and vote. You stood in front of voting booths with guns, that’s what you did. And the state backed this, it was state-backed violence.

Violence is not even in our past.  Violence continues today. I was reading a stat that the neighborhood where the “riots” popped-off earlier this week is in fact the most incarcerated portion of the state of Maryland. And this not surprising. We live in a country where the incarceration rate is 750 per 100,000. Our nearest competitor is allegedly undemocratic Russia at 400 or 500 per 100,000. China has roughly a million more people than America; America incarcerates 800,000 more people than China. And as bad as that national incarceration rate is, the incarceration rate for black men is somewhere around 4,000 per 100,000. So if you think the incarceration rate for America is bad, for black America it’s somewhere where there is no real historical parallel.

And incarceration is, even in and of itself, a kind of euphemism, a very nice word, for what actually happens when they cart you off and take you to jail for long periods of time. Jails are violent. To survive, you use violence. To be incarcerated in this country is to be subjected to the possibility of sexual assault, is to be subjected to possibility of violence from fellow inmates, to be subjected to violence from guards. And the saddest part of this is that this mirrors the kind of violence that I saw in my neighborhood as a young man in West Baltimore.

There’s a phrase I’ve been thinking about a lot recently by the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn has this great, great quote that I think about all the time: He says in his book the The Gulag Archipelago,  “Wherever the law is, crime can be found.” And I love this quote, it’s a beautifully written sentence, because it hints at, though it does not say, the human agency in law and what we call people. And so, certain things are violence, and certain things are not. Certain things are the acts committed by thugs, and certain things are the acts committed by the law. And in terms of rendering black people illegitimate, in terms of putting black people in certain where things can be done to them, the vocabulary is very, very important—the law is very, very important—in terms of where we draw the line.

My words, particularly here at Johns Hopkins, and since I’m here at Johns Hopkins—and I’m not out in West Baltimore and I’m not on North Avenue and I’m not at Mondawmin Mall—my words for Johns Hopkins is that you are enrolled in this. You are part of this. You are a great institution here in this city. And I know that the president of Johns Hopkins didn’t ask for this. None of us individuals asked for this. Nobody asked to be part of it. But when you are an American, you’re born into this. And there are young black people who folks on TV are dismissing as thugs and all sorts of other words (I know the mayor apologized, I want to acknowledge that), but people who are being dismissed as thugs—these people live lives of incomprehensible violence.

And I know this! This is not theory here. I’m telling you about what my daily routine was, but I went to school with some kids who I can’t even imagine what the violence was like. It was just beyond anything. You know, I had a safe home, I had people who loved me and took care of me. I can’t imagine how crazy it actually can get.

So when we label these people those sorts of things, when we decide we’re going to pay attention to them when they pick up a rock, and we’re going to call them “violent” when they act out in anger, we’re making a statement. Again, being here in a seat of power, being here at Johns Hopkins—where I’m happy to be, thank you for hosting me—it’s a very influential institution! You’re a part of that! There are powerful people here sitting in the audience who can talk to folks and say, “Maybe we need to change our vocabulary a little bit.” What are we doing to actually mitigate the amount of violence that is in the daily lives of these young people. Let’s not begin the conversation with the “riot,” let’s back up a little bit. Let’s talk about the daily everyday violence that folks live under.

This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/ta-nehisi-coates-johns-hopkins-baltimore/391904/

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2 days ago
Literally a national treasure, this man.
Philadelphia, PA, USA

A real solution to the deprecated YouTube API

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YouTube, owned by Google, deprecated their v2 APIs on April 20th, 2015, which means that RSS news readers can no longer watch for new videos. What a bummer!

Except it’s not at all a big deal because here at NewsBlur we’re making sure that your videos keep coming in. Previously enterprising users setup hacks and workarounds for the API, which was a somewhat tedious solution as you had to update each feed and prone to breaking in the future.

But there’s good news today because NewsBlur now has a custom-built solution for YouTube videos. All of your existing YouTube RSS feeds are automatically ported over to the new YouTube video fetcher.

And that’s not all. The improved YouTube video fetcher now displays a big embedded video so you can watch the video right in NewsBlur.

To subscribe to new YouTube channels, just enter in the URL of the channel in the Add Site popover.

When Google takes away your tools, NewsBlur builds them better than before.

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3 days ago
Newsblur: The killer app for YouTube, apparently.
San Francisco, CA
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1 hour ago
1 day ago
...And this is why I'm subscribed since basically the beginning :D
Rodos, Greece
1 day ago
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3 days ago
Ya same here. Very cool
3 days ago
How cool! Thank you Samuel.
3 days ago
I don't even subscribe to YouTube videos in NewsBlur, but I'm going to now, just because Samuel's so awesome.
2 days ago
Ditto! I had no idea this was even a thing.. subscribing immediately!
2 days ago
I subscribe to several, and thought I'd have to delete them all. Now they're not only usable again, they're an improved experience. Down with Google, up with NewsBlur!
3 days ago
You win Newsblur
3 days ago
3 days ago
InoReader had it before. :p

No, seriously, one more reason to love NewsBlur. Good job!
3 days ago
"When Google takes away your tools, NewsBlur builds them better than before."

Thanks for considering US the customers and not random ad-buying robots.
Louisville, KY
3 days ago
Now that's how you solve all the things.
3 days ago
That's awesome.
3 days ago
Sydney, Australia

Cops: We Need Rights More Than You, Citizen

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It's untrue that cops scorn constitutional rights. It's unfair to say that they oppose fair procedures designed to promote truth. It's inaccurate to say they oppose measures designed to protect suspects from coercion.

They understand and believe in all of those things.

For them.

Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, wrote a revealing column in the New York Times today. He extolled the virtues of due process:

The right to due process, enshrined in our Constitution, is one of the cornerstones of our republic. The existence of this right – that everyone is presumed innocent and that everyone is entitled to a fair hearing – is woven tightly into American society. Why should this not be true for police?

Well, it is true for police. Practically speaking police are far more likely to receive methodical deliberation and the benefit of the doubt than the rest of us.

But when Canterbury says "due process," he means a little something extra for cops. They need it, you see:

This higher standard and increased visibility renders police vulnerable to unfounded scrutiny.

So. What kind of due process do cops want? They want bills of rights. Cops like Canterbury attempt to portray these as simply giving cops the same rights enjoyed by civilians:

Maryland was one of the first states to enact a “bill of rights” for its police, and other states followed. In other jurisdictions, those protections are a result of collective bargaining and embedded in negotiated contracts.

These laws and contracts do not protect the jobs of “bad cops” or officers unfit for duty. Nor do they afford police any greater rights than those possessed by other citizens; they simply reaffirm the existence of those rights in the unique context of the law enforcement community.

That's simply not true, unless Canterbury is using "the unique context of the law enforcement community" to mean "for people whose rights we actually respect and care about."

Let's take a look at Maryland's Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights that Canterbury mentions, and contrast the rights and procedures cops demand for themselves versus their habits in dealing with us.

Basis for starting an investigation.

Cops routinely start investigations based on hearsay tips from informants. Cops even take action based on wholly anonymous and uncorroborated informants. But when it comes to themselves, cops demand a sworn statement from a witness with direct knowledge:

(1) A complaint against a law enforcement officer that alleges brutality in the execution of the law enforcement officer's duties may not be investigated unless the complaint is sworn to, before an official authorized to administer oaths, by:

(i) the aggrieved individual;

(ii) a member of the aggrieved individual's immediate family;

(iii) an individual with firsthand knowledge obtained because the individual was present at and observed the alleged incident; or

(iv) the parent or guardian of the minor child, if the alleged incident involves a minor child.

Timeliness of investigation.

Cops start investigations whenever they want. But when it comes to them, they demand promptness:

(2) Unless a complaint is filed within 90 days after the alleged brutality, an investigation that may lead to disciplinary action under this subtitle for brutality may not be initiated and an action may not be taken.

Interrogation techniques

Many cops are experts at interrogation — the art of getting people to say things that, had they any common sense, they would not say. Cops want people to speak without a lawyer, speak against their best interest, speak based on a mistaken understanding of the situation, speak based on deceptive tactics.

They don't want any of that for themselves, though.

For instance, cops routinely lie about the scope of their investigation. But for them:

(2) Before an interrogation, the law enforcement officer under investigation shall be informed in writing of the nature of the investigation.

Cops routinely seek to interview subjects at times and places that will unsettle them and increase the chance of getting ill-considered statements. But for them:

(f) Time of interrogation.- Unless the seriousness of the investigation is of a degree that an immediate interrogation is required, the interrogation shall be conducted at a reasonable hour, preferably when the law enforcement officer is on duty.

(g) Place of interrogation.-

(1) The interrogation shall take place:

(i) at the office of the command of the investigating officer or at the office of the local precinct or police unit in which the incident allegedly occurred, as designated by the investigating officer; or

(ii) at another reasonable and appropriate place.

Cops love to play good cop/bad cop and use other multiple-interrogator tactics. But for themselves:

(h) Conduct of interrogation.-

(1) All questions directed to the law enforcement officer under interrogation shall be asked by and through one interrogating officer during any one session of interrogation consistent with paragraph (2) of this subsection.

Cops routinely prolong interrogations to wear down suspects. They also routinely threaten dire consequences if the suspect doesn't "cooperate." But for cops:

(2) Each session of interrogation shall:

(i) be for a reasonable period; and

(ii) allow for personal necessities and rest periods as reasonably necessary.

(i) Threat of transfer, dismissal, or disciplinary action prohibited.- The law enforcement officer under interrogation may not be threatened with transfer, dismissal, or disciplinary action.

Cops routinely avoid recording interrogation sessions. This allows them to claim that the suspect confessed without contradiction and conceal their interrogation techniques. But for themselves:

(k) Record of interrogation.-

(1) A complete record shall be kept of the entire interrogation, including all recess periods, of the law enforcement officer.

(2) The record may be written, taped, or transcribed.

(3) On completion of the investigation, and on request of the law enforcement officer under investigation or the law enforcement officer's counsel or representative, a copy of the record of the interrogation shall be made available at least 10 days before a hearing.

Right to review evidence.

Since this Maryland law was passed, cops have been demanding more protection during any investigation.

When cops interrogate you, they don't hand you all their evidence and ask you questions once you've had time to review it. They don't want you to know what they know. They're happy if you lie in a way they can easily disprove. That will help them prove guilt. So they'll pull the story out of you, a bit at a time, and show you pieces of evidence after you've committed to parts of the story, hoping to shake you.

But for themselves, cops want the right to review evidence, especially in an age of omnipresent video cameras. In Los Angeles, cops are demanding the right to view videos of incidents before giving statements about them:

The proposed policy would also allow officers to have a union representative with them when they review the video – and they can exclude the LAPD investigator looking into their actions during that process.

Similarly, in Dallas, the police chief announced a new rule requiring officers to wait 72 hours before giving statements about use of force incidents so that they can review any videos or witness statements. That change just happened to follow an incident in which a video of a police officer shooting an unarmed man turned out to contradict the officer's immediate statement about the shooting.

"Cooling off" periods.

If you're in a fight, or a crash, or some sort of upsetting incident, cops don't wait for you to cool down and collect yourself. They want your statement now. They want you to be unbalanced, emotional, vulnerable. But for cops, it's a different story. In Dallas, for instance:

Alexis Artwohl, a nationally known behavior consultant for law enforcement agencies, said studies show officers need rest before they can accurately recount traumatic events.

“They are not passive observers watching something from an easy chair,” she said. “They are at the scene where life-and-death decisions are being made, and they’re an integral part of it. So of course they are going to be impacted.”

Brown said in his email that the science was “fairly conclusive.” He also said at an October news conference that he experienced memory problems when he was shot at once.

“It wasn’t until two or three days later to where I remembered it accurately,” he said.

The Search for the Truth

Cops like Canterbury aren't just saying that cops need special administrative rights because of the unique circumstances of being a government employee being investigated. Instead, cops relentlessly portray these rights as promoting truth and accuracy in investigation. Canterbury says:

These requirements help to protect the officer as a public employee but also ensure the integrity of the investigative process.

In Los Angeles, the Chief echoes him:

In the past, Beck has said it's valuable to have an officer review video because it improves the accuracy of their account. The proposed policy reflects that view.

“The accuracy of police reports, officer statements, and other official documentation is essential,” the policy states.

Perhaps that's true. If so, what does that say about cops' typical tactics?

Cynics might say that these policies simply empower police officers to lie effectively — to use time, information, and deliberation to frame a story consistent will all of the available evidence. But maybe that's not right. Maybe the police are genuinely worried about the truth and believe that these techniques: delay, non-coercive circumstances, opportunity to review evidence — promotes the search for the truth and the accurate recollection of facts.

So why don't they extend those same practices when they interview suspects? Why aren't they as concerned about accurate statements from us?

To me, when the police demand these special procedures, it necessarily means one of two things. Either they (1) want to protect their ability to lie, or (2) don't give a shit about whether their regular interrogation tactics used on us are fair or reliable.

Or maybe a little of both.

Cops: We Need Rights More Than You, Citizen © 2007-2014 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

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1 day ago
New York, NY
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - A Group Project

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Hovertext: Luckily, the class wasn't Pass-Fail.

New comic!
Today's News:
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3 public comments
3 days ago
This explains a lot.
4 days ago
"We're a class project"
4 days ago

Typical Morning Routine

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Hang on, I've heard this problem. We need to pour water into the duct until the phone floats up and ... wait, phones sink in water. Mercury. We need a vat of mercury to pour down the vent. That will definitely make this situation better and not worse.
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4 days ago
Ah, vents in the floor. Always a great idea.
4 days ago
Thankfully this would never happen to me. All I have to do is unplug the charger and let the juice go away. 5 minutes is not a long time.
4 days ago
Heureusement, xkcd est là pour me changer les idées...
4 days ago
Well, at least he's awake now.

ohmygil: shintenbunshin: literally nothing can ever top...

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literally nothing can ever top this

this is on a whole other level

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5 days ago
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5 days ago
Brooklyn, New York
6 days ago
Just for Ameel
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