Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

Should Black Voters Accept White Politicians’ Apologies?

OPINION — Of course, Michael Bloomberg went there — there being a black church to ask for forgiveness. As he tentatively dips his toe and his billions into the Democratic presidential race, joining a scrum that expands even as it shrinks, Bloomberg, perhaps realizing that the path to the presidency must include the enthusiastic support of black and brown voters, has rethought his enthusiastic support of “stop and frisk.”

“I got something important really wrong,” he told the congregation at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn on Sunday. “I didn’t understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities.”

As New York City mayor, Bloomberg insisted that in order to fight crime, police must have the power to stop anyone judged a potential lawbreaker, which translated to ritualizing a practice that humiliated hundreds of thousands of black and brown New Yorkers who were detained, questioned and patted down because of “furtive movements” or some other vague justification. The number of stops rose to more than 685,000 in 2011, with no citations made or charges brought nearly 90 percent of the time.

The law-and-order president of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, issued an I-told-you-so statement after Bloomberg’s about-face: “We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities.”

After community members and civil liberties activists howled and sued, and a judge deemed stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, and after crime continued to drop when the practice ceased and police had to solve crimes by doing actual police work, Bloomberg continued to defend it, as recently as this year.

Not a coincidence

While I won’t be the one to question the sincerity of Bloomberg’s Saul on the road to Damascus conversion, the timing is suspicious.

If Bloomberg’s apology seems familiar, it’s because he’s not the only Democratic candidate with regrets. Others are using the same playbook as they recognize the party’s loyal base. (Remember, Mitt Romneywon about 59 percent of the white vote in 2012, but it was Barack Obama who reupped as president.)

While former Vice President Joe Biden has defended what he has characterized as some good outcomes of a 1994 crime bill that he helped shape, he has also accepted responsibility for his role in legislation that toughened sentencing and helped lead to a mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately affected African Americans and Hispanics.

When questioned about her criminal justice record as former California attorney general, Sen. Kamala Harris said: “Was I able to get enough done? Absolutely not.” But she has said that her proposed policy to reform the criminal justice system has been hailed by activists as a “bold and comprehensive plan.”

Yes, plans, what all the candidates are offering now, including South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg, topping polls in Iowa and New Hampshire but well aware that his presidential hopes could tumble when primaries and caucuses move to more diverse states. His Douglass plan, “a comprehensive investment in Black America,” offers reform in education, health care and, yes, criminal justice. But he, too, has racked up a few apologies, including for a statement listing the names of supporters of the plan, mistakenly presented, some on the list feel, as an endorsement of the candidate himself. It followed him owning his part in a sometimes rocky relationship between a less than diverse police department and South Bend citizens during his time as mayor.

It’s not that criminal justice and policing are the only issues of importance to African American voters, who are not monolithic and are still weighing their electoral options. But disparate treatment from surveillance, arrest and punishment traumatizes the lives of people of color in ways that many white Americans will seldom experience.

Unequal system

America’s history in building inequity into its criminal justice system becomes clear to anyone who has read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, or heard its author, Michelle Alexander, as I did this week in her Charlotte, North Carolina, speech, sponsored by the Learning Society of Queens University of Charlotte. That this unequal system continued to expand while the country was awash in post-Obama post-racialism illustrates the contradiction between what the country is and what it imagines itself to be, she said.

A drug war focused almost entirely on black and brown citizens, she said, rounded up young people through stop-and-frisk, “swept into prisons and jails for the exact same crimes going unpunished on the other side of town.” After imprisonment, they were released into second-class citizenship, Alexander said, where their records often prevented them from getting jobs, voting or being eligible for public housing or benefits. When the opioid crisis hit, she pointed out, affecting more diverse communities, it was deemed a “public health crisis,” not an occasion for a war.

Alexander posed a question, asking if the country is “willing to challenge the soft bigotry that’s silent and unspoken, that allows us to care more for our kids than ‘them?’”

Whether for the country’s sake or to bolster their own chances for election — am I being too cynical? — candidates are examining their own records and making promises. Expect a plan from Bloomberg soon.

Even President Donald Trump is appearing at historically black colleges and universities to tout his support of last year’s criminal justice reform bill, though one wonders if that’s less an appeal to black voters than a sign to white suburbanites to forgive and forget his many racist statements about crime, immigrants and minorities.

Minority voters have settled on imperfect candidates because they’ve often had little choice. This election season, if polls are to be believed, many are undecided, asking questions, studying policy and being utterly strategic about who will win and who might deliver on the promise of justice. This is a year when black citizens, minding their own business in their own homes, have been killed by police officers sworn to protect and serve. So to that traditional pragmatism, add a little anger into the mix for 2020.

When candidates such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and others challenge the front-runners on their criminal justice records, voters with clout are listening. So pundits would do well not to use low poll numbers to count them or any hopeful out just yet.

While testimony in a church might wash away past sins, will it convince a voter to cast a ballot?

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

‘They’ Are Americans. Period.

More than a decade ago, when I was a reporter at The Plain Dealer, management invited a number of us in the newsroom to a special training session on how to report about race. I don’t remember the exact year we did this — it was long before I left the paper in 2011 — but I will never forget my most uncomfortable moment.

The moderator for the discussion was Keith Woods, who at the time was dean of faculty for The Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is now vice president of newsroom training and diversity at NPR.

Woods is that rare leader who can be fierce and kind at the same time, which made it easy for us to invest in the mission of his work without feeling like idiots for not seeing the need before he showed up. We were a room full of journalists with uninformed good intentions.

At one point, Woods talked about the importance of mentioning a source’s race only when it is relevant. I could feel the heat climbing up my neck and setting my cheeks on fire. I regularly identified expert sources as black or Latino.

Woods nodded as soon as I mentioned it. He was already familiar with that particular habit of mine, and asked why I so regularly did that. I explained that I was trying to inform our mostly white readers that people of color are smart, too.

With Woods’ guidance, offered through a series of questions, it didn’t take long for me to see how I was doing it wrong. I was so eager to include minority voices in all kinds of stories, but identifying them as such wrongly suggested that what was most noteworthy about them was their race, rather than their expertise. They are experts, period.

That session with Woods was a turning point for me as a journalist, and later as a columnist. I’ve been thinking about it this week after the Associated Press announced changes in its style manual, which is the language bible for most newsrooms in the country.

As Merrill Perlman explained in Columbia Journalism Review:

“Writing about race and ethnicity always requires care, and the stylebook has consolidated many of its entries under a new section, ‘race-related coverage.’

Among its revised advice is to avoid accusatory expressions like ‘racially charged,’ ‘racially motivated,’ and ‘racially tinged’: or ‘similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable.'”

That definition, she adds, “is often open to interpretation.” Still, this is good news. We lose readers’ trust when we pretend not to see what is unfolding before their eyes.

The new AP Style cautions against “using racist or any other label as a noun for a person; it’s far harder to match the complexity of a person to a definition or label than it is a statement or action.”

This sounds too much like those editors who insist we can’t call someone a racist — or a liar — because we can’t know what a person is thinking. By this logic, we could never call Ku Klux Klan members racists because, in their minds, they may just be demonstrating a preference for white sheets.

Again, we must avoid pretending we can’t see what’s unfolding right in front of us.

Donald Trump is dumping again on Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and remains in dire need of help that has never come. “I’ve taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever,” Trump said last week. “They’ve got to spend the money wisely. They don’t know how to spend the money.”

They.

A reminder for the president of the United States: Puerto Ricans are fellow Americans.

Trump tweeted this week that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in federal aid, and misused all of it. As multiple news organizations have reported, this is a lie. Not all of them are calling it a lie, because we can’t know if maybe Trump just can’t add and subtract, I guess. Just as we can’t know for sure that Trump’s repeated false attacks on an entire island of minorities has anything do with his racism.

So far, Puerto Rico has received only $11.2 billion of the $41 billion allocated. That hasn’t stopped Trump from, in that same tweet, denouncing Puerto Rico’s public officials as “grossly incompetent, and who “only take from the USA….”

From the USA.

We know why he is denying this without the slightest glimpse into his mind.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.