Terry H. Schwadron
June 12, 2020
Atty. Gen. William P. Barr does not believe racism is a systemic problem in policing, though he does acknowledge that “we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist.”
Neither does Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who argues that systemic racism is not an issue for law enforcement, nor National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien. Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany says Donald Trump definitely believes there are instances of racism, but he believes our law enforcement are the best in the world.”
Ben Carson of Housing and Urban Development, who is African American, and tapped by the White House to look into policing, pushes away the question, saying he grew up in a time when there was “real systemic racism.”
Trump, who has said there may be a few bad apples out there, simply repeats that he is “your Law & Order president.” Yesterday, Trump doubled down with law enforcement figures in Dallas, insisting that while there are isolated police incidents, there is no wider problem even in law enforcement, never mind the wide society.
It is as if Trump and his administration live in another country than the rest of us.
Outside the rarified bubble of the White House, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson is drawing attention for arguing that the nationwide protests over racism and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd “is definitely not about black lives” and warns openly of spreading mob rule.
And new polling since the protests shows undeniable support overall for the idea that police forces have not done enough to ensure that blacks are treated equally to whites.
It has emerged as an important part of the Trump administration’s defensive positions over the protests that racism simply doesn’t exist. It’s part of his political campaign, and Republicans who don’t push away ought to be worried about reelection.
Obviously, if you can’t agree on the nature of the problem, you never will be able to agree on any kind of solution.
Inside the Bubble
Each day now, we see release of yet another videotape of a white cop assaulting or killing blacks arrested during routine stops in cities across the nation. Now that the stopper is out of the bottle, some of these videos go back years.
For that matter, we also are getting a river of images showing police being overly aggressive with protesters who are pointing the finger at police behavior altogether — as well as silly denials from Trump that the incidents we all see actually occurred.
And yet, each instance adds to a fire that spreads well beyond police behavior into the way we educate, loan money, provide housing, admit college applicants — a full range of discriminatory behaviors against black, brown and other minorities in American for which there is no system redress.
Barr, who these days provides the only intelligible rationale for Trump thinking, explained this week that many African-Americans lack confidence in the American criminal justice system” and that “nothing less is acceptable” than equal protection under the law. But he said that work done since the 1960s to reform racist institutions more broadly “is working and progress has been made.” In his view, he said, police brutality against black people was the work of a few rogue individuals.
Therefore, Barr said, he opposes reducing any immunity officers have when someone dies in their custody. Such a change, he said, would “result certainly in police pulling back.” Earlier in the Trump years, Justice dropped any enforcement of judicial consent decrees against police departments with brutality complaints, and moved the attention of civil rights division personnel elsewhere.
The Supreme Court has turned its back on the spirit of the now-defunct Voting Rights Act, insisting that states had moved beyond the need of such legislation, and has pushed back hard at affirmative action remedies of earlier decades meant to address aspects of a systemic view of racism.
And yet. The coronavirus pandemic clearly is striking black and brown communities the hardest, for a host of reasons including overrepresentation in low-income jobs that required going to work as the virus was building, environmental concerns in urban settings and lack of sufficient health and lack of health care.
All those have been targets under this same Trump administration.
Trump bleats that he alone has improved black and Latino job rates — a claim shot to hell now in high unemployment for all — but never owns the full range of other policies and actions that make “living while black” dangerous in this country. The calls from “inner Karens” to police about the black girl selling lemonade without a license or to arrest a black birdwatcher in Central Park are not part of rogue behavior — they reflect the actual, day-to-day behavior of Americans for whom fear or hate over difference is a matter of course.
For years, it has been clear that virtually any public event we witness, from court rulings and criminal justice to the effects of climate and earthquakes, reflects our views on race. Who is constantly at the sharp end of these “race-neutral” institutional decisions? It is always a racial minority that takes the biggest burden, from food security to health to education to mental illness to income equality.
It makes no sense for this White House or state house or city hall to insist that there is no systemic racism in law enforcement or in our institutions.
More, it is an insult to our intelligence as a nation.
Rather, we should own our societal biases and discuss what to do about eliminating them.