The Fate of America Depends on Ending Its Culture of Policing

Reform is insufficient. It’s time to democratize public safety.

Tim Wise · 8 min read

Police in Washington D.C. on June 2. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

IfAmerica is to live, policing as we know it must die. It is that simple. If we aspire for it to become a multicultural, multiracial, and pluralistic democracy, America simply cannot go on this way much longer. Too many bodies are buried in the soil, too much blood has been spilled, and too many families have been shattered.

Those bodies and lives and families have been sacrificed in the name of law and order. But when the law becomes lawless, there is no order, and so here we are. We are watching it all collapse in real time, in HD, on the nightly news, on Twitter, on TikTok, as police respond to nonviolent protest with brutality. They gleefully shoot rubber bullets at journalistsmace children, and shove the elderly, anyone who dares criticize them for murdering black folks.

The back of the national camel has met its last straw.

That things are breaking down is no surprise. It is only surprising it has taken this long. The United States was conceived from the contradictory impulses of liberty and slavery, freedom, and oppression. It was forged from the fires of a fundamental incongruity: On the one hand, the inalienable rights of man, and on the other, the alienable lives of those deemed lesser than human.

Beset by its split personality from the beginning, America has demonstrated the impracticality of trying to walk the thin line between tyranny and liberty, of seeking to have it both ways. This doesn’t work. Once you establish a country around the precept some are to be free and others not, that some are to be protected and others subordinated, neither time nor pretty words will undo what has been done.

Law enforcement has always been the root of the problem. It is the fulcrum of white supremacy and has been so from the beginning. Remember, the Constitution says it right there in Article IV, Section 2:

No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due…

Shorter version: If an enslaved person runs away to a free state and we catch them, their ass is going back.

And who, one wonders, would be given the task of “delivering up” said runaways? It would be, of course, the 18th century’s equivalent of cops, whether recognized as members of an official law enforcement body or simply white men deputized by dint of their skin to act as such. Slave patrols had been operating since long before the nation was founded. Indeed, many white men over a certain age were required to participate in them. In this way, not only was the oppression of black people baked into the nation from the start, so too was the collaboration of white people.

It was part of the recipe. It was the yeast without which the bread would not have risen. It was the roux around which all other ingredients would blend. And how does one undo the gumbo once it has been simmering for hundreds of years? Or more to the point, how does one unwind a culture of policing fostered over centuries?

Not with simpleminded reforms, and not with more training, that’s for sure. Training suggests law enforcement’s violence and misconduct result from some kind of failure in the system. But policing has been about violence from the beginning, at least so far as black folks have experienced it. It was never Officer Friendly who came to get your cat out of the tree or gave little Johnny a ride-around with the siren going just for fun.

Policing has been about violence from the beginning, at least so far as black folks have experienced it.

For black people, police served to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, and later, Jim Crow segregation. Sheriffs and their deputies would arrest black men, on suspicion of some fabricated wrongdoing, only to release them into the hands of a white mob that would hang them, burn them, and mutilate their bodies. Lynchings were a local spectacle and could only happen with the active collaboration of police.

How could training have made a difference? Perhaps we could sit down with the murderers and have a heartfelt discussion about their implicit bias? Please. And body cams? Those would merely have allowed us to witness the carnage in higher pixelation. Training assumes a system failure is the problem, but where is the failure?

When Jim Clark and his goons brutalized marchers on the bridge in Selma, they were doing their job, and that’s the problem. So too Bull Connor. These men weren’t failing under the terms set by the system under which they operated. Everything they did flowed from the system itself.

When cops enforced the war on drugs, they too were doing their job. It was not a system breakdown. It was the system operating as designed. Thinking that one can train one’s way out of oppression — when oppression is the point — makes no sense. It’s like standing at the end of a conveyor belt in a sausage factory waiting for it to give you chicken nuggets and becoming frustrated at its unwillingness to do so. It’s a sausage factory. Sausage is what it does. Expect sausage.

Ultimately we must envision a society without policing, at least in so far as we currently conceive of it. The purpose of such a body must be reconceptualized and rebuilt with the explicit participation of the communities it is meant to serve. Not just their participation — their control.

Police culture, as it exists, must be destroyed.

This means no more decommissioned tanks from the nation’s armed services, no more military hardware — which suggests to officers that when they go into a neighborhood, they are going to battle against a foreign enemy. No more camo. You don’t need desert camouflage in Ferguson or Baltimore or Minneapolis. There are no sand dunes with which you need to blend in. Police wear gear to feel like soldiers, and for no other reason. Enough.

The warrior mindset — which many departments openly encourage and even send officers to trainings to learn better — must be stamped out. So too must be the inward protectionism which encourages officers to place loyalty to the blue brotherhood (and sisterhood) above all else.

You’ll hear it often said by cops that “my number one job is to get home to my family each night.” No, it’s not. And any cop who thinks that’s their job should be fired on the spot. Their job is to protect and serve. It’s in the oath they took.

Ultimately we need a society built on the idea that communities are in the best position to protect themselves and to serve themselves, and that we — the collective — will provide them with the resources needed to do so. This means that rather than policing as we know it, we must move to conflict resolution models that are community-driven and bottom-up rather than top-down. Gang interrupters, drawn from the community, many of them formerly incarcerated, can prove far more effective at crime control than outsiders and enforcers, especially if we provide them with the resources we currently piss away on cops.

And I know, many will say that without aggressive policing, crime will spiral out of control. But it’s not true. Crime has fallen even in those cities that have moved away from broken windows enforcement and stop and frisk. It could fall even further were we to move to the next levels of de-escalation.

What is often missed is how criminal offense itself is a direct outgrowth not only of economic deprivation — which requires a much broader set of solutions — but also a sense of hopelessness and lack of control over one’s life. Lacking power, lacking perceived agency, folks will act out and hurt others.

De-policing cannot occur overnight, but we must begin the transition.

Some, feeling disrespected daily by the larger society, sadly, will manifest the same disrespect against others, including others in their own communities. But ask please, who taught them their lives and the lives of their neighbors didn’t matter? Where did they learn that lesson? Not on the corner. They learned it in our schools, our media, and from every instruction offered by our national history. Perhaps if we reconstituted the notion of public safety, beginning with the idea that the people themselves should have control, that sense of autonomy would translate into respect for self and others.

Such a sea change will take time. De-policing cannot occur overnight but we must begin the transition. So here’s an idea. It’s the kind of thing that activist groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and others have discussed for years, and it’s time we took it seriously.

First, anyone looking to serve as an officer in a community of color — regardless of that aspiring officer’s race — should submit to a probationary period of, say, four months. During that time, they would be on the payroll, but they would not have powers of arrest. They would have no gun. Their job would be to get to know the communities and neighborhoods where they seek to serve — walking the blocks, talking to folks on their front porches, their stoops, in their barbershops, their cafés, their bodegas, their houses of worship. They would be talking, yes, but more crucially listening to the voices of those who live there. Finding out what they want and need from law enforcement. Assessing their hopes and fears.

After aspiring officers had gotten to know the people of the community — having met their families and shown them pictures of their own, and connected along the lines of a common humanity — the community would get to vote. The community would get to say yes or no to every aspirant. Having had the time to assess the humility, the character, and the commitment of each one who seeks to become a cop, the people would decide.

In all likelihood, those who weren’t cut out for this new and democratized culture wouldn’t make it four days, let alone four months. They wouldn’t even submit to the process in the first place. They would self-select out of policing as a career, at least in so far as they would be working in such communities. Good.

And those that stuck with it? Those who worked for months as community organizers, whose first job is always to listen? They would likely get the thumbs up. Either way, the control would be in the hands of the people.

This cannot be the endgame, of course. We need to rethink the entire concept of policing and move toward other forms of protecting public safety. But in the meantime, promoting self-determination would go a long way toward signaling that we were prepared to let the old ways die, to allow the scaffolding of police culture as we know it to crash and burn so that the nation doesn’t have to.

It would signal that we love the idea of America and still believe in it. Far more indeed than those who would defend the existing order.

4 thoughts on “The Fate of America Depends on Ending Its Culture of Policing

  • June 4, 2020 at 7:34 am
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    Think504.com compiles insightful and necessary information rooted in history. An absolute needed tool to navigate today’s challenges for safety, equality and justice. Smitty

    Reply
  • June 5, 2020 at 9:44 am
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    How does NOLA view “Due Process” for Kids and Others Madam Mayor?

    LBRC- To: Madam Mayor Cantrell, New Orleans, and Chief Shawn Ferguson et al, plus Law Enforcement and so- called “Peace Officers” Nationally- The Most “Abused” Constitutional Rights regarding “Negro Citizenship”, since the ratification of The 13th, are “The 5th and 14th Amendments! 

    Re: What constitutes Constitutional “Due Process”? 

    1. 1st and foremost- Due Process is a U.S. Constitutional “Right” and Mandate”! btw- As former Reserve and Military Law Enforcement, we have worked with others and attended lots of activities for so- called “Post Certified Peace Officers”! In our best Ebonics, “Most of ‘dees Peeps ain’t ‘gotta clue! Some are barely literate, notwithstanding the ability to comprehend “Fundamental” Constitutional concepts! And you wonder why Racist Patterns “Persist”, even after so- called “Re- training”?

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/due_process

    Amendment XIV- Section 1.

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws./end/ 

    2. At a minimum, “Due Process” means that a citizen who will be affected by a government decision must be given notice of what government plans to do and have a chance to comment on the action. Government takes many actions that may deprive people of life, “liberty” (Including Free Movement) , or property.

    3. Citizens “Paid” via taxes for the various roads, expressways, streets and salaries of those who intentionally or unintentionally violate their rights of ingress and egress! Yes, Public Safety requires examination, however- Let’s examine what happened regarding the “Chemical and/or Tear Gas incident several nights ago. 

    a. Children were among the “Petitioners aka Protestors” on and approaching the bridge!  What is so “Prudent” about Tear Gassing “Children” in 2020? Now say anachronism!!! In 1960, Bull Connor and other Southern Racist weren’t prudent either! In 202 Covid in on attack as well and flourishes with coughs induced by Gassing, especially kids and the  the elderly! We used to say- “If they did it to Christ, whatever, then they’ll do it to you”! Now we say- If Caucasian Racist leaders  and their ilk, did it to Dr. King, then their proxy Negro Willie Lynch Prison Industrial Complex Negroes will as well! Negro Children and The Elderly are still not exempt! Where was the Due Process for all those Kids? You didn’t see Them? The Most High did!!! 

    b. Protestors were already on the Bridge, and “Vehicle Traffic” had already been halted! (Disclaimer: “Citizen Protest and Democracy, as Rumsfeld, Bush Administration stated- “Is sometimes messy”, most Bobble Heads” nodded in agreement”! Those apart from all the “Bobble Heads” said ‘Nuttun or wrote no dissenting opinion as per our research, not even anecdotally! 

    c. Every action taken by government and its agents are funded by “Citizen Tax Dollars”! When Government errs via “Ignorance”, citizens pay and most egregious Madam Mayor and Chief- “Citizens paid for ‘Dat Tear Gas and The Time it took Chief et al, to Gas our Kids and The Elderly plus “Deny” others access to the Bridge, when hundreds of Petitioners with Children, were also De Facto Gassed and already “on the bridge”! 

    “Why didn’t you PROTECT them? Not all “Provoked” your so- called “Peace Officers”, who refused to turn a cheek like Dr. king did! 

    Orleans Parish has “More Wrongful Convictions than any city in the U.S.!!! Who trains your cops, and what has your (j)ustice system produced? Even the “Violent” deserve and are “Entitled” to “Due Process”! It begins on the streets!!! Neither you Madam Mayor or “Your” Chief has the authority to abridge it! Problematic is? The very reason you are in a 2020 Consent Decree, is you have established over decades, a “Culture” of “Non Compliance”! Non Compliance is “Law” via “Ignorance, Conformity and Submission” to the same!!! Solution: Read and if possible comprehend-  The 5th and 14th Amendments to The U.S. Constitution!!! 

    No Respect for Constitutional Rights, No Peace!!!

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  • June 7, 2020 at 9:27 am
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    btw…, Sent to The NOLA Mayor, Council and others et al…
    LBRC- Who should be held “Accountable” for Police Abuse in NOLA? ‘Simps will never get it and neither do most vote anyway!

    1. Children were “Gassed” on a bridge in NOLA. It’s not enough to say “Oops…, sorry”, because you do not comprehend the true role of “Peace Officers”! Police Aggression” against the whole (Including Children) of a Peaceful “Petition Mrch”, is not only counter- productive, but violates the rights of those “Petitioning Peacefully”!!!

    2. Where’s the “Logic”- Meaning?

    a. Peace Officer work requires discretion! Discretion is highly dependent on and related to “Intellectual Synthesis”! Show us a “Poor Thinker” and we’ll show you poor processes  with a high “Correlation Coefficient” to “Poor Outcomes” aka like “Innocent Children” and other citizens,  being denied their “Due Process” and frankly “Humanity”! A 2020  Edmund Pettus Bridge action? Poor thinking plus Racism and complicity,  promotes poor and Tragic outcomes! Just like George Floyd! In NOLA, the Mayor and Chief of Police are Negro!!! How can this abuse be in 2020? 

    b. The truth? In 2020, reigning “Cultures” have more to do with the perpetuation of linear traditions, than they do with solid or “Moral”  linear reasoning, i.e., Pork might be high in unhealthy Fat, ‘Greezy, High in Sodium, plus Pigs are “Slop Eaters”- But it taste good, right? So what’s the issue about its relationship with “High Blood Pressure and Kidney issues, right? Your Tradition says, generations of my family ‘Luved- ‘dead-ed’ it, and so do I”! Though “you” might have “High Blood Pressure” and Kidney issues, so what, right? Deep 6 the Logic of Eating to live in 2020? So… 

    c. NOPD has developed a “Culture of Policing Negroes and others over decades void “Consequences” and in fact- “They and their Complicit Negroes have doubled down”!!! In majority Negro cities, Negroes have moved into ‘Massa’s house and all the Negroes in it are Neo House Negroes! Even while under a Consent Decree since its inception in NOLA, “How many NOPD officers have been indicted, including so- called brass? What does the “Data” and “Facts” say? Most if not all of their brass are remnants of “Pre Consent Decree” and “Remain”! What was the current Chief doing during “Katrina” and “Pre Consent Decree” (Complaining?)? Citizens on The CCC were being fired upon by Jefferson Parish Deputies and others? What about the Superdome Chamber of Horrors? What about when “Riley” went house to house “Confiscating” weapons from “Law Abiding Citizens”, used for their protection, notwithstanding The 2nd Amendment? ‘Oops…, says The NOLA Culture of Policing, right? Who was held “Accountable”? We  ‘askin…

    3. The Point of all? Ans. Accountability!!!

    a. The current NOPD Chief is a Mayoral appointee!!! This makes The Mayor accountable for actions “Sanctioned by and even defended by The Chief”!!! ‘Oops is no longer a viable justification for abuse aka “Gassing Kids/Others” and denying them “Due Process”! 

    b. Additionally- Here is a “Moral Hazard” as we see it. We call this, The Negro “Preacher Apostate Syndrome” aka “Never Removed not even for egregious Sin”, just like Judas 32 Pieces of Silver Politicians! Traditionally, The Negro Church has been seen as a Sanctuary from overt and covert “American Injustice”! Once upon a time, especially when Negroes had little to no resources, especially ‘Mulla (Most Still Don’t, except in their Castles they build in skies), Negro Preachers were hardly impeached for Immorality, Greed for Filthy Lucre, Corruption”! Enter the “Post” so- called Civil Rights Era! Now? Negro Preacher Apostates require Luxury Jets, Planes, Autos, Houses, Disposable Income, High Maintenance life styles for themselves and so- called Ladies and Mistress, yada…! Priest Apostates aren’t exempt either! “Children” for “Sex Toys”? Their temples are Bankrupt and in fact have filed for it! Not until “Truth” got exposed by others, are lay and Priest been made to “Account”! 

    c. More egregious, Negro Apostates have imbedded and aligned themselves with Politicians!

    d. The Negro Apostate Syndrome refuses to abide by what “Clear Scripture” says about “Who and What” makes an “Altar”Holy (What happened to pretenders who went behind The Holy Curtain anyway “Old School”?).  “Deep 6 Holy” aka- “We forgive our Apostates for Theft, Greed, False Claims about The Levites and Tithes, Worldly Ambition and yada…, and btw- Moses left The House of Pharaoh, their City Hall and once gone? He never “Sucked- up” to ‘Dat government to regain his once prestigious place in it! In 2020, not only do Negro Preacher Apostates vie to get in, but Filthy Lucre is ambition and “Haughty” Appearances is Priority!! 

    e.We’re still talking Accountability Madam Mayor! You are admonished again- “Gassing innocent Children is totally unacceptable! You nor Chief are commonly regarded as “Spiritual Leaders”, but? Oops doesn’t cut it in 2020!  

    f. Negro Preacher Apostates have no place near an Altar, let alone on it (Read Requirements in Scripture for The Office of Bishop)! The altar of Public Service is a “Public one” and Literacy counts! We vote and our ranks are growing! Remember when Polls predicted Desiree, the so- called  chosen “Creole” aka “Light Bright and Darn near White aka close, to win by a landslide? We rallied and made waste of ‘Dat old “Tradition” of “Racist Press” determining who’ll rule in a “Majority Negro City”! Unfortunately, a few  still got in! Didn’t get the memo? YOU WILL!!! Deep 6 all the speeches, ‘oops…, “Bobble Heading”, Grandstanding and “Articulated BS!!! 

    No Constitutional Rights or Due Process for Us and our Other Brothers and Sisters/Multi- Ethnic, marching alongside and with us, especially Children- No Peace!!! 

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The company has widespread race issues

by Jeff Thomas

Symbols are necessary but not enough.  Our country needs corporate America to fully participate in the movement transforming society. Unfortunately most corporations aren’t ready for the new normal. While many are busy cleaning up past mistakes, like Aunt Jemimah and Uncle Ben, others do not have any Black people in positions to lead and guide the companies. American businesses must work hard to hire the talent and allow those people to make real changes.

But companies can’t exploit the movement.

Some companies have a recent history of workplace toxicity for African Americans. Yet these companies are still pushing full steam ahead to make money.  Capitalists see dollars in all this new Black is good thing happening. And they are rolling out new products and programming.

Media giant was hostile to African Americans

A quick history check is in order.  iHeart Media recently launched the Black Information Network. They say the network of stations is dedicated to African American points of view. Yet there are nearly $200,000,000 in current claims, settled suits and judgements against the company. iHeart has claims for gender or racial discrimination, hostile work environment, intentional infliction of emotional harm, and breach of contract in nearly every market across the country. These payouts predate the company’s bankruptcy filing.

Far worse than even horrendous Aunt Jemima symbols, the company is now attempting to come back from bankruptcy on the backs of the very people whom they harmed.  Compare them to the works of Gayle Benson, who has paid hundreds of millions to African Americans.  The Pelicans have had African Americans in high profile top jobs – Swim Cash, Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry to name a few. Ms. Benson is better suited to rebrand her beer company than iHeart.

Famous Actor Speaks Up

WBOK 1230 am partner, Wendell Pierce, notes the actions of iHeart in his tweet, where he states, “IHeart Media is a company proven to discriminate against its Black employees as it lost lawsuits across the nation. And now attempting to profit from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we must be reminded of IHeart Media’s practices. This is a moment of national reckoning.  

During this transformation, we must remain resolute. We cannot become modern day Aunt Jemima’s and Uncle Ben’s.  We must hold these companies accountable for their current and past actions.  Groups exploiting the times for their own benefit must be called out.  Especially if those companies have a proven history of hostility and workplace discrimination against African Americans, we must call them out.

Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D.

The secret to broadening your mindscape.

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

You have the ability to widen your perspective and amplify your happiness.Source: Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Suppose your boss walks by your desk. You hook eye contact with her, smile, and nod. She looks straight at you, but doesn’t acknowledge your presence. She might as well be staring at the wall. “Oh no,” you say to yourself. “I must be in hot water.” You shrink inside, ruminating over what you might have done to deserve this. Your heart races, and you feel shaky. It’s just a few days before your performance evaluation. Sleepless nights stalk you. You toss and turn as your mind spins with worry over job security. 

The day of your evaluation arrives. Your boss calls you into her office, and your stomach flip-flops. You tremble the way you did in sixth grade when you were summoned into the principal’s office. But, to your shock, she greets you with a smile and gives you a glowing performance evaluation. Not only are you not in hot water, she calls you a highly valued team member.

All that worry and rumination for nothing. Had you thought about it, you might have realized there are a number of benign reasons your boss didn’t acknowledge you when she walked by your desk. Perhaps she was distracted by her own worries, deep in thought over an upcoming meeting, or simply just didn’t see you. But your hard-wired mind-reading jumped into action, focused only on the disastrous possibilities. It blew your thoughts out of proportion, sending you into spirals of rumination. And you fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Think of all the other times you brooded for countless hours over one negative aspect of a situation when, in retrospect, there was nothing to worry about. Perhaps you even overlooked many positive elements. Your colleagues gave you rave reviews on your presentation, but you couldn’t get that one frowning face in the front row off your mind. The majority of your friends attended your dinner party, but that one no-show couple continued to flash in your brain like a neon Failure sign. And what about all those times you wigged out about an upcoming speech, convinced you would fall flat on your face when, in fact, not only did you not fail, you were a huge success—the exact opposite of what your narrow view (scientists call it the negativity bias) predicted.

Some neuroscientists suggest that ninety percent of our worries are false alarms that never manifest. Still, your survival brain is hardwired to prioritize and remember the negative experiences in an attempt to prevent life’s unexpected curve balls from ambushing you.

Keep a Wide-Angle Lens

A negative mindset constricts possibilities and keeps you self-centered. When your focus is narrow (like the zoom lens of a camera), you build up blind spots of negativity without realizing it. The key to widening your mental scope is to replace your “zoom lens” with a “wide-angle lens” and think about the big picture. Known as broaden-and-build, research by Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina shows that a enlarged perspective allows you to see more possibilities that your zoom lens clouds out and to have more positive emotions and gratitude for the many joys in life.article continues after advertisement

After a novice realtor friend of mine sold millions of dollars of commercial real estate in the first twelve months, her realty company named her salesperson of the year. But she told herself it was a fluke, that the next year would probably be a dud. I was floored. It’s amazing how we can unwittingly sabotage our happiness, simply by the perspectives we create–the brain’s tendency to predict negative outcomes despite positive circumstances. A narrow mindscape without big-picture proof doesn’t make it true. It simply makes us miserable.

If you’re like the average person, your survival brain overestimates threats of the unknown, forecasts a negative outcome, collects evidence to support it then waits for the ax to fall. My friend’s negative predictions discounted, minimized, and ignored the positive events that contradicted how she thought of herself. Despite everything coming up roses, she suffered the misery of her negativity bias—even though they never came true.

Jumping to conclusions without evidence gives a distorted view of your predicament, leaves little room for clarity, and leads to bad decision-making. You can save yourself a lot of unnecessary misery by questioning automatic thoughts and waiting to see if the hard evidence supports them.

Truth be told, most things you worry about never happen or at least not in the way you imagine. Sometimes you have to wait for an outcome to convince yourself of an exaggerated perspective. Other times you can get a reality check from friends or coworkers. But the best solution is to suspend narrow, negative conclusions until you have convincing evidence. Staying open to the future and broadening your perspective about how they might happen without trying to make them happen to suit you can alleviate stress and magnify your happiness. When you wait to connect the dots after, instead of before, the hard evidence is in, you’ll discover that your narrow lens is usually an unreliable source of information. Finding the hard evidence first before jumping to conclusions saves you a lot of self-loathing, unnecessary worry, relationship problems, and time.

Pulling Down Statues is Just Step One

By Jeff Thomas

Living now sure feels like history in the making.  COVID, video recordings of police violence, and people protesting in the streets across the world.  But while these changes feel monumental, they are really just the easy part of what needs to happen if real change is gonna come. Is real change even possible?

For example, NFL and NBA owner, Gayle Benson, is changing the name of her beer company. Across the country, statues that celebrated racists and their divisive ideology are being toppled either by government action or modern-day nooses.  Names are being removed from college campuses.  And companies are issuing ambitious statements about unity and support.  These are all necessary but only symbolic changes. These achievements could signal a radical transformation in race relations in America. But if a second more complicated and challenging shift is not immediately next, then historians could look back and see something else.

Will the protests in the streets bring about the elimination of systemic oppression of African Americans or instead be just a case study in how pandemics spread? Many African Americans largely see this as an opportunity for reckoning – a true chance at systemic change and boosting the quality of life for blacks in America.  

STEP ONE – SYMBOLS

Let’s break it down.  This is a really a two-step process. Step one is what we are witnessing. Changing the deep-rooted false beliefs of the American narrative of white superiority. You scoff and say, “this is the easy part?”  But removing symbols as an attempt to beat back the notion of white supremacy and black subservience forces everybody to think about the proper place for those monuments.

These statues were intentional and constant public reminders of a complete disrespect of African Americans then and now.  Statues and names matter. Really this is an essential educational thinking shift.  Take ‘em down baby!

And if we do not complete step one, then step two cannot happen now. Consider that the symbols are more about how we view African Americans. The narrative is more about black subservience. Removing these symbols elevates the public respect given to African Americans.

STEP TWO – FINANCIALLY STRONG BLACK FAMILIES

Step two is more complicated.  Create strong African American families. For centuries, business discrimination, government actions and old school nooses have been the norm.  A short list of long chronicled disparities includes income, health, housing, police interactions, etc etc.   These can never be fully addressed if we still adhere to the notion of black subservience.  Removing statues and criminalizing bad police are simple steps we must now take to ready us for step two.

Many have quantified the cost of slavery, Jim Crow, and modern discrimination. 

In step two, what must happen is that current black families must be made whole.  Elimination of symbols does nothing to help America grow and evolve.  Taking down statues does not stop police violence upon black men across the country.  Removing the names of devout racists from college campuses does nothing to help African Americans earn degrees from those institutions.  Renaming hospital wings does not mean doctors will stop seeing African Americans as highly pain tolerant.

Instead, institutions, businesses, government, and people must be redesigned to uplift the African American community.

Using the Gayle Benson example, step one – rename the beer. Step two – hire and empower an African American VP whose sole job is to make sure 35% of all beer business is done with African American businesses in New Orleans.  

Told you step two is more complicated.  But it can not happen without step one.  America is growing before our eyes.  Only we can shape, guide and manage that growth.

By Jeff Thomas

A Simple Guide to the Next Steps in the Movement

2020 is a year of disruption.  Covid19 and public protests have transfixed and transformed the country.  COVID continues to kill or sicken people in shocking numbers across the country.  So much for that hot weather theory, as numbers continue to climb daily across the country. But the 2020 movement needs some structure.

And despite the dangers of close gatherings, people have jammed the streets of cities nationwide to protest police brutality.  We all witnessed the merciless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  Horrified citizens realized the pervasiveness and savagery of police interactions with black men.  Athletes, celebrities and everyday citizens marched daily and continue to march weeks later. 

MARCHING FATIGUE

But unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960’s there is neither a galvanizing leader nor a clearly defined ask.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to meet directly with the President and layout the demands of African Americans.  The resulting Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in American life. People will soon tire.  Marching in a pandemic will become more risky. 

But clearly 60 years later we need an update to the Civil Rights Act.  There were a number of improvements in American life for African Americans.  But there was a resulting white backlash that has in some cases exacerbated the problems.

In the new 2020 reboot, we all need to learn from this experience.  Some of the new updates should include:

By C.C. Campbell-Rock

Two weeks ago, LeBron James stepped up to launch the biggest civil rights campaign launched by athletes since Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 to protest police brutality. James’ campaign, More Than A Vote, is designed to fight the insidious voter suppression that has been going on since the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were instituted to give African-Americans the right to vote.

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James told the NYT on June 11, when announcing the campaign. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”

The campaign is right on time. The debacle in Kentucky, where this week 600,000 predominately black voters were packed into one polling site and Wisconsin and Georgia elections, where voters waited for hours to vote, is proof positive that Republicans, led by Donald Trump, are pulling in-your-face voter suppression tactics to get him and themselves reelected.

In Louisiana, African-American voters have to know that the state has built-in voter suppression tricks. For example, there are three elections coming up.

A cursory look at the Secretary of State’s website sends a viewer all over the site to gather information on the first two elections which have been postponed and reset. Early voting, unlike election day voting has different hours than Election Day voting, and if you are registering to vote for the first time, you must register 30 days in advance before the election you want to vote in. That means, if you haven’t registered by now, you won’t be voting in the July 11 Presidential and Municipal Primaries.

Also, even though the state put an emergency absentee ballot in place for those who have the coronavirus or has been exposed, you have to file an application to get an absentee ballot. And although your application is due in three to four days before the election, there is nothing on the website that indicates how much time the state has to send you the absentee ballot. Technically, you can file an application but not receive a ballot in time to have your vote counted.

In Louisiana, the Presidential Preference Primary and Municipal Primary and State Representative, 54th Representative District Special Election are set for July 11, 2020; the Municipal General Election is set for August 15, 2020, and the Presidential Election is set for November 3, 2020. July 11, 2020

Early voting for the Saturday, July 11, election takes place from June 20, 2020 – July 3, 2020 (excluding Sunday, June 21, 2020 and Sunday, June 28, 2020) 8:30 am-6:00 pm, and early voting for the Saturday, August 15, 2020 election will be held July 25, 2020 – August 8, 2020 (excluding Sunday, July 26, 2020 and Sunday, August 2, 2020), 8:30 am-6:00 pm. https://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Vote/VoteEarly

On the days of the Elections, polling sites will be opened from 7:00 am – 8 pm.

In Orleans Parish, the presidential candidates, and candidates for the Democratic Parish Executive Committees (DPEC); the Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC), and the Republican Parish Executive Committee (RPEC), and Judge, 1st City Court, Section B. races are on the July 11 ballot.

Candidates for President, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, Criminal, Constable, Associate Justice, Louisiana Supreme Court, District 7, Juvenile, Traffic, Municipal, Civil District Court and  Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, Public Service Commission, and Orleans Parish School Board are on the November 3, ballot. The Open General and Congressional Election is December 5.

All elections are important but the President, U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and the District Attorney can directly impact our lives. U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy and Representatives Steve Scalise and Cedric Richmond’s seats are on the ballot.

The District Attorney’s office can help reform Louisiana’s disgraceful criminal justice system. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country, and Louisiana has the second-highest number of prisoners in America.

Voters must choose an Associate Justice for the Louisiana Supreme Court-District 7. Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson, the first African-American and first African-American woman to hold the highest position on court, who represents District 7, is retiring in December 2020.

Of equal importance, voters should check the to see if their polling place has been moved. In 2018, the State of Louisiana eliminated 100 polling sites.

In Orleans Parish, the following polling sites have been moved: Mater Dolorosa Church Basement Ward 17 Pct. 2-7, Woldenberg Village Ward 15, Pct.14G, Nazareth Inn Ward 09 Pct. 44A, Guste High Rise, Ward 02, Pct.04. Voters who voted at those polling places are supposed to be notified about the new polling places.

Do you know if you’re still on the voting rolls? Check the Inactive Voters List, to see if you’ve been purged from the rolls. https://www.sos.la.gov/ElectionsAndVoting/Pages/InactiveVoters.

Voting is a sacred right; for which many African-Americans died. Given the political climate facing African-Americans today, if they want to see justice served, the path is this: 1. Make demands 2. Vote for the candidate that has an agenda that includes your demands and vote out those who don’t  3. Hold all elected officials accountable.


Vinita Mehta Ph.D., Ed.M.

Recent research sheds light on what racial justice activists are up against.

THE BASICS

America’s social justice movement for racial equality appears to be full steam ahead. However, being a changemaker is not for the faint of heart— and activist burnout can undercut a movement.

What causes activist burnout, and how can it be avoided? This question was the focus of a recent paper by Paul Gorski of George Mason University. He began by recruiting participants who met three criteria: (1) racial justice activism was the focus of their work; (2) they conducted their activism in the United States; and (3) they had experienced activist burnout.

Gorski then conducted semi-structured interviews in which participants were asked about their activism. He also explored their symptoms of and recovery from burnout. His analysis yielded four causes of burnout:

1. Emotional-dispositional causes. Participants grappled with feeling profound personal responsibility for eradicating racism, a deep relationship to racial justice, and isolation. One participant, Alejandro (Latino man, forties) said his burnout was due to “human isolation, having to be the one naming things … carrying a lot of everybody’s stuff.”

2. Backlash causes. Backlash involved putting one’s employment or body in harm’s way. Activists felt that they couldn’t talk about their activism at work, or they would be professionally and/or economically vulnerable. Participants also reported being physically vulnerable, citing “threats” and “warnings” to abandon their activism. Kevin (African-American and Native-American, thirties) explained: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re unarmed with your hands up. It doesn’t matter if your back’s turned. It doesn’t matter if you just plain didn’t hear somebody. It’s their policy to execute you. So there is always that pressure … At this next rally, at this next protest, is someone going to kill you?”

3. Structural causes. This factor refers to the Sisyphean challenge of creating change in the face of unyielding white supremacy. In addition, and apart from their activism, participants’ everyday experiences of racism contributed to their burnout. In particular, the pervasive denial of racism was particularly exhausting. Consider the experience of Andrew (African-American, forties): “Those are … the areas that … provide the most fatigue. Having these conversations [about Black Lives Matter] over and over again where you’re justifying your perspective, and the knee-jerk resistance.”

4. In-movement causes. All participants said that their burnout had to do with how activists treat each other. Activists found infighting and “ego clashes” within activist communities exhausting. They expected to find like-minded people, but found that competition often overrode cooperation. Consider the perspective of Deborah (African American), who felt undermined by white activists who refused to accept direction from activists of color. She remarked, “Clearly there’s tons of freaking white people who don’t get it.”

Activist burnout can dampen — and even extinguish — movements. But it has less of an opportunity to do so when we know what the risk factors are. And while self-care is a helpful antidote to burnout, Gorski highlights research that urges a shift from self-care to community care. That is, instead of individuals attending to their own needs outside of their activism, a collective approach would respond to the activist community’s needs at large. Thus, burnout wouldn’t be an individual plight, but an issue dealt with collectively. This shift in culture, the thinking goes, would help ensure that a movement has both the strength and longevity to achieve change.

From the Louisiana Weekly

Dr. Norman C. Francis lived here. Confederate President Jefferson Davis merely died here.

In the discussion to rename the picturesque, bicycle-pathed parkway stretching from Bayou St. John to Washington Avenue, that distinction alone should be enough to decide a street’s name.

Yet, the termed “lived” hardly grants enough credit to Dr. Norman C. Francis. Over his 50-year presidency, he breathed new life to the college founded by St. Katharine Drexel, transforming Xavier University into one of the most renowned centers for biomedical and pharmaceutical education in the nation. More importantly, Dr. Francis brought alive her dream to create a Center of African-American Catholic Higher Education venerated throughout the world.

No medieval cathedral builder could have constructed an altar more worthy for a saint. Should we not honor that architect on the very avenue that runs alongside the collegiate halls he inaugurated?

Most notably, while Xavier University statuesquely stands in the shadow of the Parkway, Jefferson Davis no longer sits upon his pedestal. He neither looks out from his monument on the neutral ground, nor holds much affection in the city of his demise. It’s easy to remember that Jefferson Davis Parkway received that moniker neither in the two years that New Orleans was bound to the Confederacy, nor in the months after the former secessionist president’s death amidst a visit to a home on First Street in the Garden District.

Jeff Davis Statue Removed

The Jefferson Davis statue (and the parkway named in its honor) were created years after his passing as monuments to segregation. Neither the granite edifice nor pathways around had the principal purpose of honoring the man. Newspaper accounts at the time record how they were literally pounded into the ground as “eternal” symbols of white supremacy. The “Whites Only” dedication of the statue and street on February 22, 1911 stands as testament to the real political purpose behind their construction. Hardly surprising then that the New Orleans City Council decided to vote 6-0 to remove Jefferson Davis’ name from the street signs last Thursday.

“Norman Francis” will take his place on the Parkway – a tribute to a man who truly “lived” the mission of uniting and uplifting the people of New Orleans. Not enough newsprint on this page exists to chronicle the number of civic organizations he led or the unpaid public work that the university president undertook to bring all ethnicities of this city together. In contrast, both in life and death, Jefferson Davis ripped our country and our races apart.

This article originally published in the June 22, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

It’s Time to Unmask and Address America’s Racial Inequities

A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL

Racism in America is institutional. The nation’s legal, business, civic and social constructs and the policies, practices, programs that give them teeth were designed to disenfranchise, marginalize, and undermine Black Americans and other communities of color. 

The world’s latest crisis, COVID-19, has laid bare just how deep these disparities are and the ways they impact our communities. African Americans across the nation are overrepresented in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. They are hit harder by the economic impact of the pandemic as well.

Here in Louisiana, where Black folk are roughly 33 percent of the population, they are about 60 percent of the COVID-19 related deaths. 

We already knew that when White America catches a cold, we get the pneumonia. Now we know that when the rest of America battles COVID-19, we battle COVID-19 . . . on steroids—with the disease hitting and hurting us much harder.

We’re not sure how many times this needs to be repeated for it to resonate and propel action. But we are tired of talking about it. We want solutions. Here at The New Orleans Tribune, we are always looking for the silver lining. And in the case of COVID-19’s disastrous impact, the silver lining is the lesson that can be learned from the manner in which inequity has shown itself amid this pandemic and how those lessons can be used to reshape the institutions, policies and practices that shape our lives.

To that end, there are three key areas that we say government and business interests along with healthcare systems must give immediate attention and action. This is not an exhaustive list of inequities as there are many others, but these are a start—three of the most pressing issues that require critical attention:

Address healthcare disparities that result in negative outcomes for Black Americans 

Address economic disparities, wage disparities, living wages, and sick leave

Strengthen small and Black-owned businesses, by providing targeted assistance, contract opportunities and capacity building programs

Healthcare Disparities 

As the Centers for Disease Control notes in a report on COVID-19 and race, “The conditions in which people live, learn, work, and play contribute to their health. These conditions, over time, lead to different levels of health risks, needs, and outcomes among some people in certain racial and ethnic minority groups.”

In response to COVID-19, The CDC offers guidance on addressing healthcare disparities that impact outcomes for minority communities. That guidance must become a mandate and it ought to apply generally, not just to COVID-19 response, we say.

Healthcare systems and healthcare providers must implement protocols and quality improvement initiatives, especially in facilities that serve large minority populations, that identify and address the implicit biases that hinder patient-provider interactions and communication. 

They must work with communities and healthcare professional organizations to reduce cultural barriers to care. They must connect patients with community resources that can help older adults and people with underlying conditions adhere to care plans, such as assistance getting extra supplies and medications they need and reminders for them to take their medicines. Poor Americans should not have to choose between this month’s allocation of some needed medicine and this month’s food bill or electric bill. More importantly, the healthcare system is obligated to promote a trusting relationship by encouraging patients to call and ask questions and by teaching healthcare providers to listen to their patients’ concerns, to understand them and to address them professionally and compassionately.

Access to healthcare must be also increased. Cost cannot be a barrier. According to the CDC, compared to Whites, Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured, and African Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured.  In all age groups, Blacks were more likely than Whites to report not being able to see a doctor in the past year because of cost. Universal healthcare must be a top priority as the 2020 presidential election nears.

Moreover, the nation’s education system from pre-K to college, in conjunction with the entire healthcare system must do more to address the lack of Black doctors. Today, only four percent of the nation’s practicing physicians are African-American. Barriers such as the cost of medical school must be mitigated. And improving educational opportunities at both secondary education and in all institutions of higher learning to prepare African American students for success in medical school must be accomplished. That means that K-12 schools which serve the nation’s most disenfranchised communities must get more support and more resources. According to one study, only 57 percent of Black students have access to the full range of math and science courses necessary for college readiness, compared to 81 percent of Asian American students and 71 percent of white students. 

Additionally, HBCUs must also be strengthened and supported because while they make up only three percent of the country’s colleges and universities, they enroll 10 percent of all African American students and produce almost 20 percent of all African American graduates, according to the United Negro College Fund. These institutions have been and still are major players in the success of Black college students in America. The resources they receive must reflect their importance to our communities.  

Addressing Economic Inequity 

While essential workers are being lauded for their dedication amid the pandemic, their pay rarely reflects their true value to society. In additions to medical workers, grocery store workers, delivery drivers, fast food and other restaurant employees have remained on the frontlines.

Economic and wage inequity did not begin with COVID-19. The numbers are staggering and longstanding. For example, African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as Whites. In 2017 the Black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, but it is still roughly twice the White unemployment rate. In 2016, the median African American family had only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median White family ($17,409 versus $171,000). 

And the racial wealth gap is only fueled by wage inequity, with the biggest pay gap existing for Black women, who account for 30 percent of all female-headed families in the U.S. They have a median income of $18,244 annually, while families headed by white males (no wife present) have a median income of $39,240. And the data indicates that education is no cure-all when it comes to addressing wage gaps. Among full-time, year-round workers, Black women with bachelors’ degrees make only $1,545 more per year than white males who have only completed high school. 

In other words, this issue is systemic, but the answer is simple. Across industries and job classifications, all American workers regardless of race and gender must be paid equitably—the same money for the same job without exception.  

COVID-19 has exacerbated already inequitable wage conditions. Nearly a quarter of employed Hispanic and Black or African American workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to 16 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Hispanic workers account for 17 percent of total employment but constitute 53 percent of agricultural workers; African Americans make up 12 percent of all employed workers, but account for 30 percent of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.

All American workers need a paid sick leave. The CDC notes that workers without paid sick leave might be more likely to continue to work even when they are sick for any reason, increasing the chances that they can be exposed to or expose others to COVID-19 or the next pandemic disease. 

As businesses struggle, much is also being made of the soaring unemployment numbers. In the best of circumstance, Black America is disparately impacted by unemployment. 

But a new twist to the unemployment issue has emerged because of COVID. There is now concern that businesses may struggle to rehire workers as they reopen because they just will not be able to compete with the enhanced unemployment benefits, bolstered by the $600 per week pandemic unemployment compensation. Businesses lament that they just will not be able to compete with the current unemployment benefits. And state and federal governments have threatened that if businesses report that an employee refuses to return to work, those benefits will be discontinued.

To that we say that leaders should worry far less about whether employees will return to work while enhanced benefits are being paid and concentrate on why some Americans may be faring better on unemployment.

In Louisiana, the full unemployment compensation is $247 a week. Without the $600 weekly boost, that is less than $1000 a month. No one can support a family, pay rent, utilities, buy groceries or meet other financial obligations with $988 a month. It’s nearly impossible to do so with even double that amount. Yet many hard working, low-wage earning families across our city, state and nation are expected to do that every day of the year. Note to Congress, if folk cannot survive off $1000 a month during a pandemic, then what makes you think they can survive off meager wages any other time. 

Too many Americans were not earning the money they needed to support themselves and their families before the crisis. In short, the time for a boost to the federal minimum wage and the need to implement a living wage for all Americans is long overdue.

Strengthening Black Businesses 

According to a report from the McKinsey Institute that was released in April, Black-owned businesses are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Some 40 percent of revenues from Black-owned businesses are in the top five most vulnerable sectors, including retail, leisure, and hospitality. Compared to other businesses nationwide, just 25 percent of revenues are affected, the report says.

To know that many small, Black-owned businesses have been shut out of the PPP program because they don’t have “relationships” with banks is disturbing. Such a scenario should have never been allowed to happen. Too much discretion was left in the hands of banks and bankers, when the program should have specifically targeted the businesses that were most in need of assistance. Since the initial round of PPP was released, a second round has been made available. And while funding targeted to these institutions have increased in the second round of PPP loan, they still pale in comparison to the total PPP dollars loaned to businesses across the country. 

By mid-May, more than 5500 financial institutions have made nearly 4.4 million loans for a total of more than $512 billion in PPP loans, with the average loan size of $166,604. But when the data for Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions are examined, the inequity is evident. CDFIs and MDSs exist to economically empower America’s underserved and distressed communities—ostensibly the very communities hardest hit by COVID-19. Yet, as of mid-May barely 400 CDFIs and MDIs have dispersed 173,627 PPP loans for a total of about $15.5 billion. In other words, CDFIs and MDIs are only 7.2 percent of institutions making PPP loans. The $15.5 billion in PPP loans represents only three percent of all loans made

 Our leaders are elected to protect us, work for us, fight for us. Moreover, financial institutions must do more to encourage and build these relationships now and in ongoing efforts if they will use them as a requirement to disburse federal dollars meant to shore of these businesses. Without that effort, small Black-owned businesses will never be able to compete with multi-billion dollar corporations and other big businesses.

As New York-based journalist J. Cunningham noted in a recent column, Black business are concerned that they will be decimated without targeted assistance.

“They need grants and loans on a hyper-local level that will help Black business owners with their immediate bills and keep them from having to furlough, fire, or cut the pay of employees.

They also need access to local, state and federal government contracts – and specifically, a “master contract” where the government awards money to a nonprofit, community-based partner, and that entity, in turn, identifies Black businesses to fulfill the contract, according to a white paper from the Black Business Empowerment Committee, a group of business owners, houses of worship and community groups committed to growing and sustaining Black-owned businesses.

And again, these solutions must extend beyond COVID-19. It must become standard policy of government agencies and financial institutions to ensure that Black owned businesses receive targeted attention in programs designed to aid, low-interest loans, and contract opportunities. Government must be committed to administering programs that focus on helping Black-owned business build capacity and competing on a leveled playing field.

by Iskra Fileva Ph.D.

Some supremacists believe they deserve credit for others’ accomplishments.

Marek Peters/Wikimedia Commons
Neo-nazi skinhead with a patch in German that reads “Skinheads – White and proud”Source: Marek Peters/Wikimedia Commons

White supremacists like to say that most of the achievements of Western Civilization were achievements of white men. It is common to respond to such claims by drawing attention to the contributions of non-white, non-male people, or to the cultural conditions (for instance, lack of access to educational opportunities) which, through most of history, made it extremely difficult for non-white, non-male persons to make a significant cultural contribution.

These are important points, but there is something else that is generally missed: When white supremacists make claims of the sort under discussion, they appear to be suggesting that they somehow get to claim credit for the achievements of some great person with whom they share a superficial characteristic such as skin color. Otherwise, why draw attention to that characteristic at all? What difference does it make? That is not the reason the person deserves praise and recognition. 

The problem here is that we simply don’t get to claim credit for the accomplishments of other people unless, perhaps, they are our children or trainees (and even there, we must be careful). If you didn’t do any of the work, you don’t get any of the rewards either. 

The temptation to attempt to proceed on a different assumption is understandable. Actual achievement is hard. It requires years of work, focus, and dedication. It is so much easier to take a shortcut to a flattering self-image, bathing in the reflected glory of others. Unfortunately for those tempted, it simply doesn’t matter what group characteristic you share or don’t share with Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Beethoven. If you want to be like them, you must make significant contributions to science or art. Attending supremacist rallies won’t make anyone else’s successes  rub off on you. To suppose otherwise is simply magical thinking. 

There may, of course, be cases in which we are responsible for what a collective agent whose member we are does or doesn’t do, as when a person from country A goes along with country A’s invasion of another country. But the question of collective responsibility is a separate one. It involves actions that can be attributed, intelligibly, to groups of people. That cannot be done with the achievements of Newton or Leonardo, which is why no one is in fact suggesting that theirs are collective achievements in the relevant sense.   

One can argue also that society as a whole contributes to great accomplishments indirectly, by creating the right social conditions for talented people to realize their talents. There are three things to note here: First, society does not always create favorable conditions, actually. For instance, Giordano Bruno – mathematician, poet, and philosopher, and one of the finest minds of his era – was burned at the stake for heresy. Galileo was ordered by the Inquisition (whose members were white men, incidentally, though white supremacists conveniently focus on people like Galileo rather than on the inquisitors) to abstain from teaching and defending his doctrine; namely, that the Earth is not the center of the universe. Some people succeed despite social conditions, not thanks to them.article continues after advertisement

Second, to the extent that society does create favorable conditions, it is not only people of a particular group who deserve credit. Society, after all, has a wide mix of people.

Finally, note that most of the successes of Western civilization are due to people now long dead. Barring the possibility of a time machine, none of us – regardless of race, gender, or any other characteristic one cares to name – could have possibly contributed, however indirectly, to the discovery of the laws of motion, the painting of Mona Lisa, or the composing of Beethoven’s 5th.

By Kenneth Cooper

I had a dream I punched turbine 4 in the face. It was a wonderful moment. Light rain was falling. People were kayaking up Carrollton as I waded through the 3 feet of water that had already accumulated in the streets. I approached the S&WB plant on Claiborne, snorkeled pass the main gate, tiptoed by a sleeping pump operator, and before I knew it, there it was in front of me, the infamous turbine, the recent source of the city’s drainage problems.

I walked up to it, and without hesitation, wham, clocked it right in the face. Alarms instantly went off. Lights began to flicker. There was smoke. There was steam, a clear sign the turbine had fallen off-line, again. Just as it was about to explode, I woke up. Well actually, I was awakened by a neighbor, ringing my doorbell, a river of water gushing in the street behind her. “You might want to move your car,” she said. It was Wednesday, June 10th. People were stranded in their homes because parts of the city were flooding — you know, just another rainy day in New Orleans.

It’s always something, some excuse for the flooding — the new normal, global warming, a pump operator falling asleep, a pump not doing its job, the unpredicted intensity of a storm. Lately though, it’s been mostly turbine 4’s fault.

In December, turbine 4’s compressor failed. And when it did, operators tried to switch to turbine 5. Apparently, turbine 5 didn’t like being awakened at such an hour, (it was 2:30pm) because it promptly blew up, like not figuratively, but literally blew up. The blast radius permeated Hollygrove, shattering nerves, windows, and confidence. Two people were brought to the hospital as a result. Citizens were advised to stay away. Inspectors arrived. Turbine 5 was pronounced dead at the scene, no resuscitation, just a $20 million price tag to pay for its burial and replacement. The S&WB’s response of course was “We can’t afford that.”

On June 10th, turbine 4 was at it again. This time its governor failed and caused the safety system to trip. According to the S&WB’s After-Action Report, this happened because the temperature of the water used to cool the turbine was too high. In other words, it over-heated and fell off-line due to over-exertion, even though the turbine was running under max capacity. Of course, parts of the city flooded. The S&WB denies that losing turbine 4 caused the flooding but admitted that if it hadn’t failed the water could’ve been pumped out sooner.

Since then, turbine 4 has been downgraded. No longer the young, vibrant, energy supplier it once was, its output capacity has been downgraded from 18 megawatts to 17. That’s a loss of 1 million watts of power, and who knows how many hundreds of gallons of pumped water. Also due to its failure, turbine 4’s governor has basically been put on probation, to be monitored under the watchful eye of a non-sleeping operator.

Why does this keep happening? Questions abound. But there’s one simple answer. The system is old, old enough to where the S&WB can be considered a manager of antiques and rare artifacts. The drainage pipes, most of them at least, date back to the early 1900s.

Think about that. People who went through slavery were still alive back then. The car hadn’t fully replaced the horse and buggy. Yet, a city that was destroyed by flooding from Katrina 15 years ago is still relying on outdated turbines and pumps to push water through old, inefficient pipes. If something doesn’t change, one estimate has the city dealing with $8 billion worth of damage due to flooding over the next 50 years.

So, what do you say, anybody want to join me in my next dream? We can jump a turbine, bum-rush a pump, maybe tunnel underground and put our foot up a few pipes. Suggestions are encouraged. Who knows, they might even be taken up at the next City Council meeting.