Monday, March 18, 2013
No outrage, no justice as New York cops massively violate the Constitution. Do we have to simply get used to it?
by Larry Geller
This is my pessimism rant. Even an optimist has to indulge sometimes. Following the police shooting in New York of Kimani Gray, a 16-year-old black kid, just a couple of blocks from where I used to live (and play in the streets), my optimism quota has been badly drained. So be warned.
The headlines note a milestone of five million racially-motivated civil rights violations so far, and counting—where? The Deep South? Mississippi? Georgia? No, they took place in New York City.
Yesterday marked the New York Police Department’s five millionth stop-and-frisk, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a grim announcement. The policing tactic has been widely criticized as unconstitutional harassment of youths of color, and anger over its misuse culminated in three days of protest against the NYPD’s shooting and killing of 16-year-old Kimani Gray. In demonstrations this week, residents of heavily policed East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where Gray was shot, said police relations have so deteriorated in the community that some youths wonder who might be next.
At last, a little outrage. What took so long? And how long will it last?
The police harassment is unconstitutional as can be, yet even the mighty ACLU has not (yet) been able to stop New York’s Finest from behaving at their shameful worst. The cops clock between 1,500 to 1,800 illegal stop-and-frisks per day, depending on who is estimating. Between 80 and 90 percent of the stops are of brown or black people and are carried out entirely without cause. If the object of the stop protests, suddenly a little bag of weed is discovered in his pocket.
Next week, however, may mark the beginning of justice for New York’s stop-and-frisk victims. Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Vince Warren, who is suing the NYPD over stop-and-frisk, has called it “ the trial of the century." If presiding judge Shira Schiendlin’s past remarks are any indication of what the outcome may be, the NYPD, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly may be found guilty of 4th and 14th Amendment violations.
Bloomberg is not quaking in his shoes, though. The police are still at it, though some reports indicate a slight tapering off due to the lawsuit. Few police in NYC or elsewhere are ever made to pay for their crimes, so Commissioner Kelly can’t be too scared either.
Racism is not new to the NYPD. In their earliest days they were engaged in capturing and returning runaway slaves. The money centers of the North (Philadelphia, New York) were dependent for their profit on the cheap products of the slave-owning South, and later, as servitude replaced slavery, basically the North maintained its racist hypocrisy.
I find it distressing that New Yorkers have tolerated this daily violation of civil liberties. Certainly, the responsibility rests most directly with Mayor Bloomberg and his Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, but where was the outrage that could have thwarted them?
Let’s not misunderstand New Yorkers. Or any Americans. We could equally say that the carnage in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan could have been stopped if Americans had marched more on Washington. But they didn’t.
So while I’m distressed, I have to accept that outrage is not widely distributed in the population.
At best, it seems to be confined to sports bars where TVs blare Fox News. Even the Tea Party was a creature of Fox. But Fox’s outrage is directed at “liberals” and is unlikely to migrate to civil rights issues.
Nor is scholarship widely distributed, though it is needed in order to sustain a really solid outrage. We were not taught a history in our youth that would support justifiable anger—and the coming generations will be more in the dark than we were, thanks to No Child Left Behind.
Incidentally, Bloomberg is closing hundreds of NYC schools and replacing them with corporate-run charters, a great gift to the testing and charter industry. When NYC high school graduates enter college, fully 80% if them are incapable of college-level work and need remedial services. The charters do no better than public schools but they have sucked money and energy out of NYC’s public education system. So much for better scholarship in the future.
There are petitions to sign and donations can be made to help the New York Civil Liberties Union fight the good fight. I long for the day when Bloomberg is frog-marched into jail, but realistically, that isn’t going to happen. Our democracy (with a very small ‘d’) seems to apply the rule of law only to the 99%, and Bloomberg is at the tippy-top of that privileged 1% who routinely escape accountability.
Still, we need to see a win in New York City. If civil liberties can’t emerge triumphant, what kind of a country do we have left?
Prof. Johan Galtung argues that the US empire is near its end. I haven’t agreed because I think this country is getting better at militaristic adventures externally (overseas). We’ve even done away with the problem of losing every war since Vietnam by declaring a never-ending war on terrorism. Yup, we can’t lose this one because it need never be over. But internally, the President tramples on the Constitution with impunity and denies that justice exists at all by looking only “forward” and not looking “back.”
Can we continue without jobs that pay a living wage and with government suppressing the vote, taxing the poor, starving elders and shooting black kids? Yes. That’s why I think the American Empire isn’t over. True, we might not like how it feels inside the new Empire, but nothing seems to be blocking its advances. All that war combined with growing industrial and intellectual capacity overseas means internal needs can be safely neglected. Our corporations can make money by participating in the external economy and let the county’s innards simply rot away. How’s that for pessimism?
Starve granny? Shoot more kids in the neighborhood where I grew up? This is the future, get angry or get used to it.