TIME Race

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist; He’s a Businessman

Bruce Levenson
Dave Tulis—AP Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson

Sure, there are assumptions he makes that are cringeworthy—but the questions about how to attract more white fans were entirely reasonable.

Well, the pitchforks are already sharpened and the torches lit anyway, so rather than let them go to waste, why not drag another so-called racist before the court of public opinion and see how much ratings-grabbing, head-shaking and race-shaming we can squeeze out of it? After all, the media got so much gleeful, hand-wringing mileage out of Don Sterling and Michael Brown.

The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.

I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.

Courtesy of Iconomy, LLCFrom left: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dominique Wilkins

Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?

Back when the original Law & Order first launched, there was a cast shake-up that added more women, reportedly in an effort to attract more female viewers. MTV shows like Finding Carter and Teen Wolf can’t get through an emotional scene without a pop song coming in to sing to the viewer what they should be feeling, because that’s what their demographic wants. Car companies hire specialized advertising agencies to create ads to appeal specifically to women, blacks and Latinos. That’s business.

Sure, there are a few assumptions he makes that make me cringe a little. For example: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” On the other hand, I have no evidence that he’s wrong on either count. Even if he is, the question still needed to be raised, because racism is a realistic possibility as to why whites in Atlanta may not be coming.

To Levenson’s credit, in that same paragraph, he dismisses fans who complained about the arena’s site as code for racist fear that “there are too many blacks at the games.” He further decries the white perception that even though the percentage of blacks in attendance had lessened, they still feel it’s higher and therefore somehow threatening. His outrage seems authentic.

Businesspeople should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffes if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent. This is a business email that is pretty harmless in terms of insulting anyone — and pretty fascinating in terms of seeing how the business of running a team really works.

The thing that makes me mad is that Levenson was too quick to rend his clothing and shout mea culpa. In his apology, he wrote, “By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.” But that’s not the message in the email at all. If the seats had been filled, even if by all blacks, the email wouldn’t have been written. He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks; he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Basketball

Atlanta Hawks Owner Selling Team After Admitting Racist Email

Bruce Levenson
John Bazemore—AP Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson cheers from the stands in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in Atlanta, April 26, 2014.

Bruce Levenson admitted to sending a racist email about Hawks fans in 2012

Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said Sunday he will sell his shares of the team after admitting to sending racist emails in regard to the Hawks’ fan base.

In a statement released Sunday, Levenson said he voluntarily reported the 2012 email chain to the National Basketball Association in July because he believes the league should have a “zero tolerance for racism.” Though the NBA has not yet completed its independent review of the emails, Levenson said Sunday he will sell his controlling interest in the Hawks franchise.

“I’m truly embarrassed by my words in that e-mail, and I apologize to the members of the Hawks family and all of our fans,” Levenson said in a statement published in full on Basketball Insiders.

In the 2012 email, Levenson said he “trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans).”

“By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans,” Levenson said. “If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in his own statement Sunday that he commends Levenson for “putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first.”

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin will reportedly oversee team operations as the squad seeks a buyer. The Hawks owner’s response stands in stark contrast to the ugly removal of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell his team and banned from the NBA following the publication of phone recordings in which Sterling made racist comments.

TIME Race

Negrophobia: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and America’s Fear of Black People

Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014.
Lucas Jackson—Reuters Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014.

Phobias are extreme aversions embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. Some people are afraid of black people.

Phobias are lethal. This summer’s series of prominent killings of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown being the most covered, have forced me to come to terms with my own fear: I am an arachnophobe.

A few nights ago, I noticed a dark spot in my periphery. Suddenly it twitched. My stomach dropped. The dark spot was a five-inch spider, looking as if it had muscle and bone. There was no possible way I could sleep soundly until the behemoth was neutralized. I scrambled to find a shoe, then swung it with all my might. With a clap of thunder, the big dark enemy was no more; flattened to a wall stencil. Relief.

Phobias are extreme aversions. They are embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. For me, spiders trigger overreactions. For others, it can be people.

Black people.

Before there was Michael Brown, there was Eric Garner, a dark spot in the periphery of the NYPD—a trigger for their phobia. There was no possible way they could patrol confidently that day without assurance the behemoth was neutralized.

Garner’s 400-pound anatomy forms an object of American Negrophobia: the unjustified fear of black people. Studies show that Black people, particularly Black men, are the group most feared by White adults. Negrophobia fuels the triangular system of oppression that keeps people of color pinned into hapless ghettos between the pillars of militarized police, starved inner-city schools, and voracious prisons. And this summer there weren’t only Garner and Brown; there were John Crawford, and Ezell Ford, and many others who will not be eulogized in the media.

Even the most well-intentioned people sometimes have difficulty avoiding discourses that reinforce problematic notions of Black physicality. A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a mentor of mine, a Stanford administrator. This individual told a story of a visit to a penitentiary where there was a stellar performance of Shakespeare’s Othello by a cast of inmates. My mentor’s description of the lead, a brawny African-American male convict, will always fascinate me. In this person’s words, the thespian was a “large, beautiful, intimidating Black man.”

This stream of modifiers—large, beautiful, and intimidating—is normally reserved for majestic, predatory beasts like tigers, bears, or dragons. It describes something both appealing and appalling, but not typically a human. You can see classic buck and brute tropes echoed in various corners of modern popular culture. These types of perceptions of historically marginalized groups can, in the wrong circumstances, foment phobias—and dangerous overreactions.

But misperception is nothing new. The bestial depiction, and treatment, of Black people follows a linear history from the times of pickaninny children to the current United States president.

I hate to think this is what the police see when they approach any unarmed Black person—a predator that has escaped captivity and must be tranquilized before he or she wreaks havoc. And yet. An officer quelling Ferguson protests can be heard screaming on live television, “Bring it, all you f****** animals!” to the predominantly Black demonstrators.

Back to the spider once more: my perception of the fear and the ability of that spider to actually produce the threat I have mentally assigned it were completely disproportionate. It was just me spooking myself into fury. Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression. We as Americans must learn to see each other properly and not through the lens of phobia.

This is a plea to those officers who are unflinching in the gravest of dangers, whose courage is forged in the crucible of our nation’s worst emergencies, yet who lose all composure when facing the grimace of a Black man. The concept of diversity, like Eric Garner, is large, beautiful, and sometimes intimidating. America will only be America once we learn how to fully appreciate it, not fear it. One day, I hope, we won’t see our fellow humans as dark spots.

Brandon Hill is a junior at Stanford University, studying political science and African & African American Studies. Raised in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he has interned for the White House and UNICEF.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 29

1. We must confront the vast gulf between white and black America if we want to secure racial justice after Ferguson.

By the Editors of the Nation

2. As ISIS recruits more western acolytes, it’s clear military might alone can’t defeat it. We must overcome radical Islam on the battleground of ideas.

By Maajid Nawaz in the Catholic Herald

3. Kids spend hours playing the game Minecraft. Now they can learn to code while doing it.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. One powerful way to raise the quality of America’s workforce: Make community colleges free.

By the Editors of Scientific American

5. Restrictions on where sex offenders can live after prison is pure politics. They do nothing to prevent future offenses.

By Jesse Singal in New York Magazine’s Science of Us

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Television

Infamous Ex-Pitcher John Rocker to Star in Newest Season of Survivor

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves
Kevin Liles — Getty Images Former Braves player John Rocker participates in a pre-game ceremony honoring many Braves alumni at Turner Field on August 8, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Series kicks off on Sept. 24

The newest season of Survivor will feature none other than former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker, according to CBS Sports.

The retired pitcher, who played portions of six seasons in the MLB, will compete in Survivor: San Juan del Sur — Blood vs. Water, which will debut on Sept. 24, CBS says.

Rocker is notoriously remembered for the bigoted comments he made about New Yorkers during a widely publicized interview in Sports Illustrated in 1999.

“I was raised in a professional baseball clubhouse and still carry a lot of that idiocy with me,” said Rocker in a trailer released by CBS.

The former reliever will appear on the show alongside his girlfriend Julie McGee.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 19

1. To understand the conflict in Ferguson, we must acknowledge and overcome structural racism.

By Karen J. Aroesty in the St. Louis Dispatch

2. As we leave Afghanistan, we owe justice and transparency to civilians caught in the crossfire of our occupation.

By Christopher Rogers in Al-Jazeera America

3. The wisdom of crowds: The CIA is learning a lot by aggregating the guesswork of ordinary Americans.

By Alix Spiegel at National Public Radio

4. In the age of MOOCs, remote labs are making a comeback and giving STEM students affordable new ways to do research.

By Steve Zurier in EdTech

5. Delaying child bearing and getting a high school diploma could drastically alter the future for today’s teen moms.

By Emily Cuddy and Richard V. Reeves at the Brookings Institution

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME

The Difference Between ALS and Ferguson Is That One Ill Can Be Cured

Tampa Bay Rays' David DeJesus gets a bucket of ice dumped on his head from video coordinator Chris Fernandez as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge before a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Aug. 17, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Chris O'Meara—AP Tampa Bay Rays' David DeJesus gets a bucket of ice dumped on his head from video coordinator Chris Fernandez as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge before a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Aug. 17, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The road that led America to Michael Brown's killing could be fixed--if only we acknowledged its miserable logic

Over the last week and a half, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the Ferguson, Missouri protests have spread over social media almost simultaneously, yet entirely discretely: twinned channels of wildfire blazing through quadrants of your attention that barely touch. The Ice Bucket videos took off around July 29; Michael Brown was shot on August 9.

The ALS challenge seeks to raise awareness and money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, a death sentence for the approximately 30,000 Americans who are at any given time afflicted. News of the Ferguson protests spreads in the interest of highlighting the brutal, unjust degree to which the state may still protect a white man who kills an unarmed black man.

In both instances, social media serves as an essential channel. It is the way we talk to each other now.

This is purely anecdotal, but try it on for size: the ALS challenge is almost entirely confined to Facebook, the Ferguson protests to Twitter. Furthermore, there appears to be an extraordinarily small overlap in terms of people who are seriously interested in both.

I don’t believe in zero-sum games and I don’t write this to imply that neurodegenerative disease and human rights abuse have been put in direct conflict. Rather, I’m fascinated with what appears to be the opposite. The contemporaneity of these waves in social communication have revealed these ills — as well as the advocates for their solutions — to not just be non-conflicting but also emblematic of two separate paths of identifying and addressing unfairness, two roads that are inherently miles and miles apart.

Ferguson, unlike the Ice Bucket Challenge, is an opt-in situation, and the demographic division between those who have chosen to get involved in one or the other cause is startling. Tibetan monks on the one hand, Mark Zuckerberg on the other; Amnesty International in Missouri, the Kennedys in Hyannis Port. Maybe for your own social networks the divide is starkly blue and red; it is, very much, for me.

The world is flooded with injustice in two rough forms: random and systematic. The less privileged experience both kinds as a matter of breathing, but the privileged experience mostly one.

Conversely, those who have experienced significant structural gaps in their advantage understand that our country reserves its right to deliver justice. Michael Brown was shot six times from a distance, once through the top of his skull; by any accident of birth and looks and circumstance, he could have been me or you.

There is a Mary Oliver poem called “The Summer Day”: I don’t know exactly what a prayer is/ I do know how to pay attention.

Ice Bucket videos have raised more than $13 million for the ALS Association in just the last month. The presuppositions behind this good work are clear and palatable and apolitical: here is an ill that comes at random; here are 30,000 people suffering who didn’t do anything wrong; here is a death that could be prevented; here is my face and my dollar trying earnestly to help.

No matter the cause or the victim, it seems an excellent use of social media to draw people’s attention to the bone-grinding hideousness of having someone’s life taken away right in front of you, and there being nothing you can do to stop it except to show people, over and over — this happens, this keeps happening, let’s make it stop.

And yet the capricious visitation of deadly disease exists side by side with an entire American history of killing black people and stealing from them and getting away with it — a terror that, unlike disease, is miserably logical in terms of its victims and could be fixed by a path that is right in front of us: having people in power, from patrol cop to supervisor to governor to president, advocate for systematic justice or racial reparation or even honest admission of the homegrown genocide we’ve been stuck with for centuries.

For both social media movements, sharing implies responsibility. We are complicit, by our inaction, in the lack of a working cure. But the tacit acknowledgment that there is blame to be shared and apportioned in Ferguson cuts much deeper and stops right at a telling, crucial boundary. We can’t call our friends to action on a target that remains simultaneously the plainest and most disputed evil in America, a target that many people refuse to believe exists. We’re not tagging three friends in each picture we see of a black woman whose “looter” friends broke into McDonalds to pour milk on her tear-gassed face. We’re not indicting our aunts and nephews and forcing them to acknowledge the millions of lives lost to racist policing.

It would be gauche to “challenge” our friends to deal with police-sanctioned murder, particularly when so many of our “friends” may believe what many cops have believed before us: that black bodies insinuate a crime.

And all of this makes sense. There are different devils behind these two ways a man can die in America. ALS is the devil that leaves us blameless, and Ferguson is the devil that is us, the one we dance with every day. In both cases we bow down and get shot in the skull regardless, but one road to deliverance has been open for 150 years.

Still, to which challenge did President Obama respond more quickly? The sickness in Ferguson is curable, will last.

Jia Tolentino is a former editor of the Hairpin whose work has also appeared in The New York Times.

TIME

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

A demonstrator puts his hands in the air amid protests in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014
Barrett Emke for TIME A demonstrator puts his hands in the air amid protests in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it's about class warfare and how America's poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?

The answer can be found in May of 1970.

You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.

On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.

There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.

And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

VOTE: Should the Ferguson Protestors Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?

VOTE: Should the Ferguson protestors be TIME’s Person of the Year?

How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.

Worse, certain politicians and entrepreneurs conspire to keep the poor just as they are. On his HBO comedic news show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver ran an expose of the payday loan business and those who so callously exploit the desperation of the poor. How does an industry that extorts up to 1,900 percent interest on loans get away with it? In Texas, State Rep. Gary Elkins blocked a regulatory bill, despite the fact that he owns a chain of payday loan stores. And the politician who kept badgering Elkins about his conflict of interest, Rep. Vicki Truitt, became a lobbyist for ACE Cash Express just 17 days after leaving office. In essence, Oliver showed how the poor are lured into such a loan, only to be unable to pay it back and having to secure yet another loan. The cycle shall be unbroken.

Dystopian books and movies like Snowpiercer, The Giver, Divergent, Hunger Games, and Elysium have been the rage for the past few years. Not just because they express teen frustration at authority figures. That would explain some of the popularity among younger audiences, but not among twentysomethings and even older adults. The real reason we flock to see Donald Sutherland’s porcelain portrayal in Hunger Games of a cold, ruthless president of the U.S. dedicated to preserving the rich while grinding his heel into the necks of the poor is that it rings true in a society in which the One Percent gets richer while our middle class is collapsing.

That’s not hyperbole; statistics prove this to be true. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

Rather than uniting to face the real foe—do-nothing politicians, legislators, and others in power—we fall into the trap of turning against each other, expending our energy battling our allies instead of our enemies. This isn’t just inclusive of race and political parties, it’s also about gender. In her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny suggests that the decreased career opportunities for young men in society makes them feel less valuable to females; as a result they deflect their rage from those who caused the problem to those who also suffer the consequences: females.

Yes, I’m aware that it is unfair to paint the wealthiest with such broad strokes. There are a number of super-rich people who are also super-supportive of their community. Humbled by their own success, they reach out to help others. But that’s not the case with the multitude of millionaires and billionaires who lobby to reduce Food Stamps, give no relief to the burden of student debt on our young, and kill extensions of unemployment benefits.

With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

I hope John Steinbeck is proven right when he wrote in Grapes of Wrath, “Repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed.” But I’m more inclined to echo Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” written the year after the Kent State/Jackson State shootings:

Inflation no chance

To increase finance

Bills pile up sky high

Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Read next: Ferguson: In Defense of Rioting

TIME politics

Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police

Police Shooting Missouri
Jeff Roberson—AP Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014.

Anyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention, Sen. Rand Paul writes for TIME, amid violence in Ferguson, Mo. over the police shooting death of Michael Brown

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

Glenn Reynolds, in Popular Mechanics, recognized the increasing militarization of the police five years ago. In 2009 he wrote:

Soldiers and police are supposed to be different. … Police look inward. They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force.

It’s the difference between Audie Murphy and Andy Griffith. But nowadays, police are looking, and acting, more like soldiers than cops, with bad consequences. And those who suffer the consequences are usually innocent civilians.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Most police officers are good cops and good people. It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”

Bernick continued, “federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”

Bernick noted the cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve, “today, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, has a .50 caliber gun mounted on an armored vehicle. The Pentagon gives away millions of pieces of military equipment to police departments across the country—tanks included.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.

Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.

Let us continue to pray for Michael Brown’s family, the people of Ferguson, police, and citizens alike.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

TIME Ole Miss

Dear Ole Miss: Minorities Are Done Being Haunted by Confederate Ghosts

Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.
Rolls Press—Getty Images Students protest the enrollment of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi's first black student. September, 1962.

Clinging to nostalgia will only hold back everyone at our university

It was my second semester of Ancient Greek class at the University of Mississippi when I finally raised my hand and asked.

“The statue on the Circle, of the Confederate soldier,” I began earnestly — I was still excited about learning new things — “has a Greek inscription on the side. Could you translate it for us?”

The answer came the next time class met. It was an elegiac couplet by the Greek poet Simonides, engraved first on a monument to the Spartan dead of the Battle of Thermopylae, presented to us by The Histories of Herodotus. My professor had taken the time to copy the inscription on individual slips of paper for all of us to keep, then read it aloud, the Greek consonants somersaulting over his lips, before he offered us one of its numerous English translations.

“‘Foreigner, go tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their commands,’” he said. “Quite a sentiment to put on a Confederate statue.”

It took half an hour of research that night for me to realize how much of an understatement that was. The voice of the poor dead Spartans begs you to return to their loved ones the news that they didn’t tap out for nothing. That they died defending Sparta, Spartan ideals, and Spartan soil from foreign invasion — their glory in defeat is forever memorialized with that epitaph. The Spartans were heroes. According to the statue that thrusts its imposing figure over the Circle, the Confederate dead of Oxford and the Ole Miss campus, are, too.

Unfortunately, Ole Miss can’t seem to make up its mind about who its heroes are, or, at least, how much to value them. The statue of the Confederate soldier stands within a section of campus designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark due to the riots that accompanied the enrollment of James Meredith, the university’s first black student, 52 years ago next month. Just a few hundred feet away stands a statue of Mr. Meredith. It is made of bronze, and, for now, it is free of nooses and Georgia flags.

It is not for me to decide whether or not Confederate soldiers deserve glory, but I do know that it is not the responsibility of an educational institution and its students to maintain the last bastion of the Confederacy, or to stand as a symbol of the “Old South,” a period of assumed refinement and class that would maybe seem more romantic if it hadn’t all been built on the backs of slaves. Ole Miss has spent too long marinating in such an idyll, willfully and disappointingly ignorant of the antebellum period and its shame, and claiming that those who are not blind on purpose are traitors whose criticism should not be heard; but, as another professor of mine claims, nostalgia is about forgetting, not remembering. Selective memory and a painful lack of racial consciousness, however, are for the enjoyment of the privileged only. Minority students have no opportunity to forget, and it is irresponsible to tell them they have no voice to criticize aspects of a place that cheerfully romanticizes a society that would have enslaved them. As it stands, white privilege is a horrible litmus test for the acidity of racism. White students must no longer talk only to other white people about racism, or accept the myth that racism does not exist and that talking about racism is somehow worse than racism itself.

I teared up when I read the letter from Chancellor Dan Jones that detailed his action plan for the continued diversification of the university, which includes creation of a vice chancellor position for diversity and inclusion, the establishment of a Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, and the cultivation of a National Pan-Hellenic Council garden to give Black Greek Letter Organizations a permanent physical fixture on campus. Chancellor Jones also calls for not using the school’s nickname within an academic context; though referring to the university as “Ole Miss” is unlikely to change soon (I continue to use it when I’m not speaking about academics, simply because it’s much shorter), the nickname has paternalistic origins.

His leadership reflects the acknowledgement of the university’s — whatever you choose to call it — much- and long-needed diversity measures. The action plan inconveniences literally no one, but has received criticism from people who feel as if a tradition is being snatched away from them—people who view their own contrarian rather than constructive opinions above the offense they undeniably incur. One Ole Miss student (who is not from Mississippi) who objected to these changes wrote in an open letter to Chancellor Jones that she felt that “one of easiest forms of diversity a campus can attain is by attracting students from other states.” Out-of-state-ism is real, y’all.

Luckily, out-of-state tuition is not a recognized form of discrimination. Neither is it a “problem” unique to the university the way that romanticizing racist traditions is. The fact of the matter is that this plan of action is not an indictment of students for choosing to attend Ole Miss, ­for joining Greek organizations, or for being white; rather, it is a call for awareness of the discriminatory climate of campus. Reactionary students who will never be subject to racial slurs when they’re walking on campus in broad daylight, who were never afraid that their skin color would subject them to violence in a place where they’re supposed to be protected, who didn’t experience terror the night a noose appeared around the Meredith statue, shout their perceived victimhood so loudly that those whose lives would benefit most from the action plan cannot be heard.

Those who truly love Ole Miss push forward for necessary change, leadership, and inclusiveness for all who wish to be educated here; it is laughable to act as if impeding progress is somehow healthy for the university’s continued success. For Ole Miss to grow and rightfully be the flagship university for the state of Mississippi, its students must not only support this plan of action, but also allow those whose experiences are germane to the issues to lead the conversation.

 

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.

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