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The Makings For The Next Tamir Rice Shooting

One of my G+ peeps turned me on to a situation in Cleveland that really should be a national story, but isn’t so I’m writing about it. Please share this, since it needs to go viral. We need to stop something very bad from happening in Cleveland. More specifically, Cleveland PD. I know what you’re thinking, "It’s too late, very bad things have already happened with Cleveland PD since they’re under federal investigation for excessive force, and one of their officers murdered Tamir Rice". You would be correct, but more bad things may be happening.

I’m going to briefly recap the situation in Cleveland, since I want this piece to be relatively short and quickly readable. We all know about the Tamir Rice shooting by now, and have probably seen the video (it’s on youtube). And some of you are familiar with the history of the officer who murdered Tamir. If you’re not, let me give you the highlights. Officer Timothy Loehmann joined Cleveland PD in March of this year. This was a year and a half after he was forced to resign from the Independence Police Department, who found him unfit to serve as a police officer on their force. Here’s a copy of the memo that the deputy chief of the department sent to HR (that’s important but I’ll get to it later). In that memo, the deputy chief described Loehmann as follows, "dangerous loss of composure during live range training" and an "inability to manage personal stress." And he made the following recommendation, "I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies".

Loehmann subsequently resigned. When he applied to work for Cleveland PD, they were aware of his previous employment with Independence. Loehmann’s background check went like this;

Interviewer: Hey Loehmann, are there any disciplinary actions or incidents that we should be know about before hiring you?

Loehmann: Nope

Interviewer: Alrighty then!

To be fair, they did also call HR at independence. That HR person’s comments were (according to Cleveland PD) limited to letting them know that he resigned due to personal reasons. The whole truth of the situation is that he submitted his resignation for "personal reasons" after he was told that a disciplinary process of separation had begun. Whether that last piece of information was included in his personnel record or not is up for debate.

And this brings us to today. 133 police cadets will be graduating, and becoming full fledged members of Cleveland PD tomorrow. Among them is this guy:



His name is Brandon Smith. If you live in Cleveland, you need to burn this picture into your mind. Why? Cause little Brandon here isn’t new to law enforcement. He served on the East Cleveland police force for a few months in 2012, until he resigned right before he was about to be fired. Fired? Yeah, fired because he and his partner shot 10 – 11 bullets into the car of a woman who was fleeing from the cops. She was pulled over for running a red light. They thought, that instead of putting her license plate out there in the "be on the lookout" list, or following her until she ran out of steam, they would fire copious amounts of bullets into her car. Here’s just one news story on the incident at the time it happened. Why do I share that link? 

Two reasons:

  • Google is awesome, especially if you’re an HR person like I am
  • The article says that Smith was fired.

This is important because if I can find a story that says he was fired, the HR department for Cleveland PD can find it too. What Cleveland PD is claiming isn’t clear to me. I keep finding the same article on several local news sites that all contain exactly the same text (isn’t McJournalism grand?): 

"Cleveland City Hall points out Smith was never hit with criminal charges for it. Cleveland’s Department of Public Safety had been under the impression Smith was fully cleared. However, the East Cleveland mayor has told us he let Smith resign instead of getting fired."

WTF is going on in this clown car of a city government? Here’s one thing we do know Cleveland PD became aware of; Smith lied on his application when he failed to disclose a lawsuit against him. A lawsuit over the same shooting incident. They knew about the incident if they found out about the lawsuit. They didn’t even take any disciplinary action against him, never mind explore the incident in greater detail.

The problem here is not a lack of communication. It’s a lack of honest communication. Everybody seems to be bending over backwards not to sully these brutish cops’ employment records so they let them resign rather than firing them, or they leave out details of the resignation. No, I’m sorry but criminals don’t get to erase their records even after they’ve been held accountable for their actions by serving their time. Why do cops get to enjoy a lovely (and lethal for their communities) combination of not ever being held accountable, and not ever suffering a single repercussion of their actions?

No, this needs to stop. Most police departments make if very difficult for someone to access the personnel records of their officers. And if those personnel records are legally mandated to be public, they will bury personnel issues within the individual incident reports so that they’re not easily locatable. We need transparency here because it’s clear that everyone or anyone associated with a police department has far too many ways to cover for a bad cop.

This has to stop.

But right now, our immediate concern is in making sure that little Brandon Smith doesn’t hit the streets of Cleveland tomorrow, after his graduation ceremony.


Here’s a link to the petition urging Cleveland PD to fire Smith. Please share!



Privilege, Part II

I unpacked just some of the institutional racism black people face in the US. Trust me when I tell you that I barely scratched the surface, but I hope that I presented enough to paint at least a partial picture of how the deck is systemically stacked against black people in America and therefore offers white (or whitish) people privilege. White people have the privilege of having access to better education, opportunities for career advancement, fair (in the context of the scummy banks we all have to deal with) bank loan opportunities, and a multitude of other things that you literally don’t know you have because you can’t know that other people don’t have what you have, unless you listen and trust what is being told to you.

Some (okay, a lot) of people take personal offense to the notion of white privilege. Some people actually become angry at the mention of white privilege. Those people are usually the dumb racists. Why do I say dumb racists? Because studies show that racism is tied to low IQ. It’s not just one study, there are several out there. Sorry, I got off track with the dumb racists and whatnot. My point is that having white privilege isn’t your fault, and therefore shouldn’t be a source of shame or anger. Telling you that you have white privilege isn’t an accusation. It’s simply a statement of fact. I have white privilege. I never asked for white privilege, I’m not even white and yet, I am the proud owner of white privilege. Okay, maybe not proud but also not ashamed. I’m simply aware that I have it.

In this post, I want to get into the ways that racism is practiced by we, the American people. Not the institutional kind, but the kind that happens on the street, in stores and shopping malls and restaurants.

I’m going to start where I’ve spend much of the past three months; with cops. Cops are racist. Lots of cops are racist. Black, Latino, and white cops can all be racist. A really interesting study was published in the American Psychological Association earlier this year that looked at how young black men are perceived by cops (to be clear, I will be using "cops" as opposed to "policemen" based on nothing other than the number of characters I need to type, not disrespectfully). In this study, researchers tested 176 cops to look for 2 types of bias, "prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes". I’m actually not going to get into that second one because I’m just dubious of that characterization. So they took 176 mostly white cops from large urban areas and asked a series of questions. From the study;

"To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody."

One of the really interesting things that emerged is something that definitely requires further study. From the article;

“We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force”.

Fortunately, they did that research. This study took 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities and asked them to rate the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25 years old. They judged all of the pictures of kids up to 9 years old, regardless of race, equally innocent. In other words, it didn’t matter the race of the child, they were all seen with roughly the same amount of innocence. And then something interesting happened. Starting at age 10, they saw far less innocence in the black kids. From the article;

"The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated blacks with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent."

So 10 year old black children were seen as nearly 15 year olds. Back to the article;

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

So when Timothy Loehmann opened fire on Tamir Rice without saying a word to him, and then claimed he thought Tamir was 20 years old, he was probably telling the truth (but just about that one thing). These studies suggest that he thought Tamir was 20 years old because Loehmann is a racist fuckwit with a really, really low IQ. In fact, his father’s statement on the shooting tells me he comes from a long line of racist fuckwits with low IQs.

More from the article (to address the racist part);

"In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor."

In our society, black people no longer appear to be innocent children by the age of 12 or 13. They start appearing less innocent to us by the time they’re 10. Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine being seen as and reacted to as an adult at the age of 13? And it’s not just cops, it’s all of us. So when you’re 13 and people treat you like you’re 13 and want to protect you, that would be referred to as privilege.

Here’s an interesting little graph The Washington Post published that shows how much crime white people attribute to black people, versus how much crime is actually committed by black people.


Do you understand that this means that we see black people not only as being less innocent, but also as being more guilty? So when a car is broken into in your neighborhood, who do you think the cops are going to look for first? And in a situation that is unfolding quickly, who are the cops most likely to shoot if they have to make a split second decision? No need to guess, I have some numbers (of course I do!)

Pro Publica took a close look (read the whole article because there’s a lot there that I’m not going to go into) at federally collected data on police shootings. If you follow my Facebook or G+ pages, you know that this data is seriously incomplete (by design), but it’s all we have to work with. They looked at 1,217 fatal police shootings from 2010 – 2012. They found that that blacks, from the age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, compared to whites who were killed at a rate of 1.47 (same age range). If you’re not awesome at math, this means that black teenagers are twenty-one times more likely to be shot by a cop than white teenagers are. If that number isn’t shocking enough for you, they were kind enough to put this into perspective;

"One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week."

How do imagine white people would react to 185 more of their kids being killed by cop? Don’t. Don’t imagine what you would do. You have no fucking idea what you do because you haven’t experienced all of the layers upon layers of disadvantages that have been foisted on black people in this country from almost the moment they’re born. Just don’t do it. This is not your lane, and it’s best to stay in your own lane. When the looting and rioting broke out in Ferguson, I had no judgment to make on the matter because I understood that I couldn’t possibly understand. And even though I think I understand the situation intellectually by way of examining the data, I know that I don’t understand it emotionally. I have no idea what the appropriate level of rage is in this situation. I’m actually someone who feels perfectly comfortable not having an opinion about things. I don’t feel compelled to chime in on every topic, just because. And when I choose to have no opinion, that’s not an opinion. Not judging the rioters in Ferguson wasn’t a tacit approval of what they were doing. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to understand that not having an opinion is okay, and many felt the need to judge my lack of opinion.

I have another interesting study that I couldn’t smoothly work into this piece, so I’m going to share it now in order to lighten the mood from riots. Well, lighten as much as one can lighten the injustice of prejudice. I went over how being black costs you more money in the form of job opportunities, salary, financial opportunities, etc. Being black also means that you can’t sell your stuff without paying a let’s just call it "black tax". There was an interesting paper that examines racism on eBay. Yeah, I said racism on eBay. They specifically looked at items where the picture of the item included a hand. Presumably the hand of the seller. Since eBay is fairly anonymous and you can’t tell who you’re buying from, what their history is, and even if they’re male or female, the color of the hand might be the most you know about who you’re buying from. Wanna know what happened to the purchase price in auctions where there was a black hand in the picture of the item? I’m pretty sure you can guess where this is going. On average, those items sold for 20% less than comparable items held by white hands.

Be honest, did that ever occur to you? In all of your thoughts on racism in America, did it ever occur to you that eBay is racist too? It didn’t occur to me, which is why I can’t judge events like Ferguson. My point in writing these two posts is to show you that, if you’re not black, you can’t possibly understand the scope and the depth of the privilege you have. We never notice when we get more than the person next to us, but we always notice when we get less. And that’s why black people see the privilege you have, even if you don’t.

So what do you do about it? Pay closer attention. Don’t dismiss president Obama when he says he was followed around in stores as a young man, or Bill de Blasio when he says that he had to have "the talk" with his son. Listen. Be more aware. Learn what "the talk" is. You can’t take away your own privilege, but maybe you can help to give it to those who have never had it by virtue of noticing when it isn’t offered to them.                    


Privilege, part 1

I know that white privilege is a difficult thing to wrap one’s mind around. It’s something that you never asked for and don’t realize you have unless you make a concerted effort to look at how things are for people who don’t have it. I did. I tried very hard to learn what privilege means, and the degree to which it exists. I’m still not sure I have it all figured out.

I’m going to try and present a number of seemingly unrelated data points to try and paint a picture of what privilege is and how it works. I’m going to start with income and wealth inequality. Pew recently published a paper on income inequality and how it’s been growing among racial groups since the end of the great recession. We know that the inequality gap is growing wildly between the top 1% and everybody else, but minorities are getting fewer of the crumbs left over than white people are. The wealth gap between whites has widened to a 13x multiplier. So the median worth of a white family in the US is thirteen times that of the medial wealth of a black family. In 2010, that gap between blacks and whites was 10x. The gap between whites and Hispanics smaller, but it’s still a shocking ten times multiplier up from 9x in 2010. The interesting part is that the typical (not median) worth for whites remained virtually unchanged in 2013 from the 2010 number of $82,300 (adjusted). Meanwhile, the median wealth of black households fell 33.7%, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013. Among Hispanics, median wealth went down by 14.3%, from $16,000 to $13,700. Every race took a hit because of the recession so median net worth is down across the board. Pew speculates on some of the factors that may have contributed to the growing gap. Blacks and hispanics may have had to dip into more of their savings during the recession, or weren’t able to replenish their savings as much when it ended. Also, financial assets like stocks recovered more robustly than did the housing market, and since white people own more stocks (directly or through pensions or 401ks) they would have recovered more quickly.

This disparity in wealth exists in every conceivable way you look at the data. Pew looked at all blacks and did a median wealth comparison to all whites. Here’s a graph that DEMOS put together, comparing blacks, Hispanics, and whites by income level.


This doesn’t really paint much rosier a picture, does it? For the bigots who don’t know they’re bigots, and are in fact positive they’re not bigots, but are totally bigots, let me answer your point for you. No, it’s not their fault for not picking  themselves up by the bootstraps and getting themselves an education. Wanna know how you can tell? That median income for the top 10% of earners is just under 500k. Are you telling me that those people didn’t beat your ass over the head with their bootstraps by making over 3x your median income? And still, with all that bootstrapping, they can’t manage to earn more than 1/3 of their white counterparts? They’re clearly educated. So what happened? That’s easy: that top 10% of whites inherited their bootstraps and they were sewn together for them using gold thread. Remember, 3 generations ago, black people had virtually no access to higher education. From the DEMOS article;

"Why is this the case? There are many factors, but one in particular looms large. It turns out that three centuries of enslavement followed by another bonus century of explicit racial apartheid was hell on black wealth accumulation. Wealth accumulation opportunities haven’t exactly been evenly distributed in the last half century either. Because wealth is the sort of thing you transmit across generations and down family lines (e.g. through inheritance, gifts, and so on), racial wealth disparities remain quite massive."

I cannot believe this needs to be explained to some, but it does.

I found a really interesting study done by the Institute On Assets and Social Policy, who really took a close look into why the disparity among blacks and whites exists. From the study;   

"Our analysis found little evidence to support common perceptions about what underlies the ability to build wealth, including the notion that personal attributes and behavioral choices are key pieces of the equation. Instead, the evidence points to policy and the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools, and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life."

They’re talking about the institutional racism that privilege is part of. They found an increase of $152,000 in the disparity of median worth between 1984 and 2009. Here’s an excerpt from the study, explaining their approach to getting to the bottom of the widening wealth gap; 

"We started our analysis with an overriding question: Why has economic inequality become so entrenched in our post-Civil Rights era of supposed legal equality? The first step was to identify the critical aspects of contemporary society that are driving this inequality Next, we sought to determine whether equal accomplishments are producing equal wealth gains for whites and African-Americans This approach allows for an evidence based examination of whether the growing racial wealth gap is primarily the result of individual choices and cultural characteristics or policies and institutional practices that create different opportunities for increasing wealth in white and black families."

They looked at the households whose wealth increased over that 25 year period and found that years of home ownership accounts for 27% of that disparity. The second largest factor is family income. More education = more income, but it = 5% more income for whites than it does for blacks. Inheritance accounts for 5% of the gap. The amount of wealth that a family started with at the beginning of that 25 year period determined how much wealth they would have by the end. Unemployment was the only significant factor that depleted wealth. That accounts for 9% of the gap. From the study; 

"In addition to continuing discrimination, labor market instability affects African-Americans more negatively than whites."

Those factors that I just went through explain 66% of the wealth gap. So they dove deeper into those factors to study how these effects differed by race. I’m going to lift paragraphs directly from the article because I can’t improve upon the explanation;

"The number of years families owned their homes was the largest predictor of the gap in wealth growth by race. Residential segregation by government design has a long legacy in this country and underpins many of the challenges African-American families face in buying homes and increasing equity. There are several reasons why home equity rises so much more for whites than African-Americans:

  • Because residential segregation artificially lowers demand, placing a forced ceiling on home equity for African-Americans who own homes in non-white neighborhoods

  • Because whites are far more able to give inheritances or family assistance for down payments due to historical wealth accumulation, white families buy homes and start acquiring equity an average eight years earlier than black families

  • Because whites are far more able to give family financial assistance, larger up-front payments by white homeowners lower interest rates and lending costs; and

  • Due to historic differences in access to credit, typically lower incomes, and factors such as residential segregation, the home ownership rate for white families is 28.4 percent higher than the home ownership rate for black families

Homes are the largest investment that most American families make and by far the biggest item in their wealth portfolio. Home ownership is an even greater part of wealth composition for black families, amounting to 53 percent of wealth for blacks and 39 percent for whites. Yet, for many years, redlining, discriminatory mortgage-lending practices, lack of access to credit, and lower incomes have blocked the homeownership path for African-Americans while creating and reinforcing communities segregated by race. African-Americans, therefore, are more recent homeowners and more likely to have high-risk mortgages, hence they are more vulnerable to foreclosure and volatile housing prices."

As an aside, I want to tell you something that my landlord told me. My landlords are a black couple who bought a brownstone in Harlem in 2003 (I moved in in 2004). Since about 2002, Harlem has been in revitalization mode. The beautiful brownstones up here were decrepit and literally unsellable from the mid 80s until about 2001 or 2002. They weren’t worth the property tax payments. But in the early 2000s investors started coming in to renovate the brownstones and set them up as rental properties. But it wasn’t all investors. Some of the buyers were middle class black people who had saved enough money to buy one of these brownstones, which were worth very little at the time. My landlord told me that when he would walk across 125th street from about 2004 – 2008, people were standing out in front of every bank, trying to get people to refinance their homes. He said that he would walk by an bank and be asked, "hey, do you own your home?" He would respond in the affirmative, and then got a pitch for what sounded to him like a pretty shady refinance pitch. It turns out that they were pitching subprime refinancing. These scumbag bankers were preying on people in poor neighborhoods who were less likely to be able to spot a shady deal than someone whose parents owned a home.

I digress. Back to the study. There is a lot of interesting information in this paper, and I encourage you to click on the link that I provided to read the whole thing (it’s only 8 pages long) since I’m not going to go through all of it. I want to share another graph from the study that is really shocking;

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.34.00 AM

Wow. Now let me show you why this is because I know what the racist nonracists are thinking. From the study;

"The dramatic difference in wealth accumulation from similar income gains has its roots in long-standing patterns of discrimination in hiring, training, promoting, and access to benefits that have made it much harder for African-Americans to save and build assets. Due to discriminatory factors, black workers predominate in fields that are least likely to have employer-based retirement plans and other benefits, such as administration and support and food services. As a result, wealth in black families tends to be close to what is needed to cover emergency savings while wealth in white families is well beyond the emergency threshold and can be saved or invested more readily."

So no, they’re not spending it as soon as it comes in. That’s not what’s happening here. Every piece of institutional racism cascades out into every aspect of one’s life. A friend of mine who worked in the admissions department at a big state school in California once told me something interesting. A kid graduating from Compton High with a 4.5 GPA is weighed against a kid graduating from Beverly Hills High with a 3.7 GPA. Why? Because the quality of the education is better at Beverly Hills High. And if you live in Compton, you can’t attend Beverly Hills High. The game is rigged from the very beginning.

Here’s another interesting part of the study. If a black family and a white family start off on an equal playing field with the same wealth, that $1 in income increase equals $4.03 in wealth accumulation for the black family. In other words, there’s no cascade from prior institutional racism. There is only present institutional racism that will cascade in the future.

So that was my breakdown of institutional racism and therefore institutional privilege. Part 2 of this post, which will be published tomorrow goes into societal racism, as opposed to institutional racism. And yes, I’m going to go into the cop situation because too many people seem to think that cops treat everyone equally.