By Charles Pierce
This may not be a reign of terror, but it damn sure is a reign of unaccountable authoritarian power
Dear Ferguson — While clearing out his office, Attorney General Eric Holder found something that belongs to you. If you don’t mind, he’d like to hand you your ass.
Among the findings, reviewed by CNN: from 2012 to 2014, 85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American; 90% of those who received citations were black; and 93% of people arrested were black. This while 67% of the Ferguson population is black. In 88% of the cases in which the Ferguson police reported using force, it was against African-Americans. During the period 2012-2014 black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, but 26% less likely to be found in possession of contraband. Blacks were disproportionately more likely to be cited for minor infractions: 95% of tickets for “manner of walking in roadway,” essentially jaywalking, were against African-Americans. Also, 94% of all “failure to comply” charges were filed against black people.
The investigators found evidence of racist jokes being sent around by Ferguson police and court officials. One November 2008 email read in part that President Barack Obama wouldn’t likely be President for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Another joke that made the rounds on Ferguson government email in May 2011 said: “An African American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $3,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said: ‘Crimestoppers.'”
(Before we go on, we should note that this humorous anecdote has a proud history in the polite precincts of the conservative intelligentsia. Here, for example, we see it in the comedy stylings of Bill “Sportin’ Life” Bennett.)
Let’s leave aside for a moment the obvious racial profiling inherent in these findings, the statistics on traffic-stop searches, for example. Imagine, for a moment, your daily life. Do you jaywalk? Do you walk in the street? Ever? Imagine that, two or three times a week, an armed police officer decides to involve himself in your life just because you jaywalk, or because you’re walking in the street. Imagine this happening, over and over again, for a decade. Or two. Or five. Imagine that the simple act of asking, “What’s the problem, officer?” is 94 percent more likely to wind up with you in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car. Imagine that the simple act of then asking, “Can you tell me what the problem is, officer?” is 88 percent more likely to get your head cracked, or worse? Imagine this happening in front of your kids, three or four times. Imagine this happening in front of your mother, your preacher, your girlfriend, your wife. Is this a life? Are you free? This may not be a reign of terror, but it damn sure is a reign of unaccountable authoritarian power.
Of course, there are the voices explaining that the facts in the Justice Department’s report are not About Race, because it’s never About Race.
“This is not the full report, and we need to be careful not to rush to judgment as we saw
in August,” said Jeff Roorda, a former Missouri state representative and a spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. “We owe it, not just to law enforcement, but to Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner to figure out what’s really going on here so it can be addressed,” he said, referring to others killed by police officers in Cleveland and New York. “Reaching conclusions from statistics about traffic stops I don’t think draws the whole picture.”
Yeah, that’s the same Roorda who became famous as Darren Wilson’s most conspicuous knight errant after Wilson shot Michael Brown to death last summer. He’s a real sweetheart. And he has his own problems right now. But he’s not alone. Over at Breitbart’s Mausoleum For Sad Unemployables, they got a quote off Fox News out of extremely credible Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Eric Holder is using traffic stops, Megyn, simply because he can exploit that data. That’s the first thing that race hustlers jump to, is looking at traffic stops to make some sort of determination that some sort of racial impropriety’s going on here. If you’re a cop and you’re working in an area that is predominantly black, most of your field interview stops, most of your police contacts, your calls for service, and most of your traffic stops are going to involve black individuals. Officers don’t target, they don’t racially profile, they criminally profile.”
And the Wall Street Journal‘s Jason Riley stops by to explain that Holder wants to hamstring honest cops who are just trying to do the right thing, and maybe make Al Sharpton some money, and to placate the angry black people of the NAACP who can’t understand that black people who encounter Ferguson’s men in blue are 88 percent more likely to deserve to be roughed up. He calls on an expert on how things are never About Race for some learned counsel.
“This is about expanding federal power in the police departments,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney, in an interview. “The lawyers at Justice believe they are the ones who should be promulgating national standards of how cops should behave. And police departments are so afraid of bad publicity that they agree to settle the case with all kinds of rules that Justice wants to impose.”
Mr. von Spakovsky’s usual field of expertise in how things are never About Race concerns his expertise in developing voter-suppression techniques to suit the new Jim Crow in conjunction with John Roberts’ declaration of the Day Of Jubilee. Maybe Hans is branching out into criminal justice. In any case, “former Justice Department attorney” hardly suffices as a description of his career in the burgeoning field of how things are never About Race.
And, inevitably, there is the longtime white-supremacist journal, National Review, the pioneer in explaining how things are never About Race, not even racism.
The New York Times also notes that black drivers in Ferguson were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband. Again, such a statistic is meaningless unless one knows the underlying rate at which black and white drivers had outstanding warrants – which will trigger a search – and what their behavior was upon being stopped.
Black people are basically de facto criminals, and the police are simply doing the best they can. And, dammit, that joke about abortions being Crimestoppers is funny, amirite?
There is a growing industry in explaining to America how nothing ever is About Race. People get wealthy doing it. People get famous doing it. There are entire news channels and publications dedicating a great deal of time and effort in proving the case that it’s never About Race. And, somewhere in the country, someone is crossing against the light, and the odds that this person will wind up dead on the street are not anywhere near equal. If that’s not About Race, then it’s about an ungovernable country.