AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt Protesters hold a sign during a rally to take down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina. W hen the Republican National Committee chose Tampa as the site for the party’s 2012 national convention, it seemed quite fitting—Florida being a red state and all, and one in which evangelical fervor mixed freely with the brand of Tea Party vindictiveness epitomized by Governor Rick Scott. As I traveled to the city limits, destined for a motel reserved for any C-list, left-wing journalists covering the confab, the taxi I occupied exited the highway on a ramp dominated by perhaps the largest thing of its kind I had ever seen. Hoisted on a 139-foot pole, this Confederate battle flag measures 30 feet high and 60 feet long. That’s a lot of cloth, and the day I viewed it, it whipped violently against the winds stirred up by Hurricane Isaac, who mercifully defied predictions by remaining offshore. I nearly...
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster Adam Gabbatt of The Guardian holds images of Republican candidates as he interviews Howard "Cowboy" Woodward during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 26, 2015. T here’s a battle brewing in the Republican Party, one that could be acted out in a most unseemly way in the nomination contest for the GOP standard-bearer. The wrangling between the Republican establishment and the Koch wing of the party promises some great entertainment for liberals who follow the presidential primaries; unfortunately, it also promises to be bad for our democracy. At this early stage in the presidential campaign, Scott Walker, the Koch-made Wisconsin governor , leads the pack in Iowa, polling at 18 percent, according to a June survey by Morning Consult . The likely establishment choice, a candidate formerly known as Jeb Bush (now just “ Jeb! ”), is tied for second with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul, the...
AP Photo/Morry Gash, File Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker giving a thumbs up as he speaks at his campaign party, in West Allis, near Milwaukee, on November 4, 2014. I f the Koch brothers have their way, the next president will be a guy they all but created—and one whose propensity for alliances and questionable deals with robber barons and at least one dirty political player mark a quality only an oligarch could love. When Walker, after winning Wisconsin’s 2010 gubernatorial election, burst on the national scene in 2011 with his jihad against the state’s public-sector unions, he seemed to come out of nowhere. But he had been groomed for years by powerful anti-labor forces, rising from the state assembly under the tutelage of Michael Grebe, president of the Bradley Foundation, a major backer of right-wing, anti-labor politicians and policies. Grebe also served as Walker’s campaign chairman. In Sunday’s New York Times , reporters Patrick Healy and Monica Davey detail the role of the...
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik Republican presidential candidate, Republican Senator Rand Paul pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, to call for the 28 classified pages of the 9-11 report to be declassified. I n the political world, legislative hijinks, oratorical grandstanding, and intramural savagery are nothing new. But when U.S. Senator Rand Paul, the Republican presidential candidate, scuttled the passage of a bill that would have renewed the USA PATRIOT Act on May 31, he brought those three methods together in the service of an electoral campaign the polls give him long odds of winning, and in a way that aimed fusillades of personal ambition even closer to the heart of American democracy than is customary—especially for a first-termer. As long as C-SPAN has existed, denizens of the U.S. Capitol have recognized the value of staging floor speeches designed for capture by the television cameras. But Paul upped the ante in 2013 with his 13-...
An unarmed man shot in the back. An innocent man released after serving 30 years on death row. The centennial of Billie Holiday’s birth. These are the stories that emanated from my radio yesterday, and all bear a common thread: the devaluing of black life.
The biggest news, of course, came from North Charleston, South Carolina, where Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back by a white police officer after fleeing on foot from the scene of a “routine traffic stop”—also known in some parts as “driving while black.” One difference this time: The cop was charged with murder after a damning cell-phone video, shot by a bystander, was provided to state authorities, and then posted on the website of the Charleston Post and Courier.
Scott was shot eight times. The video shows the officer, Michael T. Slager, dropping an object, which appears to be his Taser stun-gun, next to Scott’s body. Slager told his bosses that Scott had grabbed the Taser from him. In truth, it seems that what Scott was killed for was not any threat he posed to the officer's life, but rather to ego of a white cop who couldn't bear to have his authority defied by a black man. Think about Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Isn't that ultimately why they died?
It may seem that police killings of black people—and general harassment of African Americans by law enforcement—are on the rise, but chances are that they are not. Chances are better than good that this is the way it’s always been. It’s just that citizens are now able to shoot videos with their phones, and to take to social media to howl about injustice the moment it occurs.
Take the case of Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, just released from Alabama’s death row after spending half his life there for two 1985 murders he didn’t commit. His conviction was based on police assertions that the bullets found at the scene of the crime matched a gun found in his mother’s house. But, when both were tested decades later, they didn’t. Here’s how Hinton explained his predicament to the BBC:
He said he was told by police the crime would be "put on him" and there were five things that would convict him.
"The police said: 'First of all you're black, second of all you've been in prison before, third, you're going to have a white judge, fourth, you're more than likely to have a white jury, and fifth, when the prosecution get to putting this case together you know what that spells? Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction.' He was [right] and that's what happened."
He said: "I think if I'd have been white they would have tested the gun and said it don't match and I would have been released, but when you're poor and black in America you stand a higher chance of going to prison for something you didn't do."
Yesterday also brought human-interest stories marking 100 years since the birth of the great jazz innovator, Billie Holiday—meaning that, if, like me, you listen to the kind of radio that celebrates America’s classical music (because that’s what jazz is), you may have caught the iconic strains of Holiday’s brutally graphic tour de force lament of lynching, the centuries-old practice of white mobs hunting down a black person, torturing and mutilating that person, and then usually hanging the body from a tree. For those unfamiliar, here are the opening lines (lyric by Abel Meeropol):
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root
Black body swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
But you should really listen to the whole thing. Every American should. In fact, it should be part of the Common Core curriculum. Because until we understand this legacy—our national legacy—it’s hard to see how things will ever truly change, except, perhaps, by matter of degree.