On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed person of color, was killed by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he was handcuffed.
This was an extremely disturbing story—so disturbing that I am choosing not to show yet again to people the image of this officer kneeling on Floyd. It was yet another example of police using excessive force on an unarmed person of color.
And yet, at times over the past week, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the killing of Floyd. After all, I am white, I am conscious that I have a lot of privilege that comes with being white, and the last thing I want to do is drown out the voices of people of color advocating for justice. But then, I found that I did feel compelled to say some things, so here you go…
Growing up in New York City with all the friends of color my brother and I had, it was clear that there was a major disparity between the way the two of us were policed and the way our friends of color were policed. The two of us never got stopped, searched, or frisked by the police, but our friends of color frequently experienced that—so frequently that people would call it “walking while brown.” The stories of frequent stops from our friends also matched statistics for stop-and-frisk in New York City—blacks and Hispanics at one point made up only half of the population, but 85% of the stops. I can go on and on with the statistics and the stories related to stop-and-frisk, but to read more, I encourage you to read my blog post about the institutional racism in the way I was policed. So when people suggest that racism does not exist with policing, I have personal experiences that show otherwise. Racism exists in policing.
What I didn’t do as much in that post on institutional racism and policing was show how said racism goes well beyond stop-and-frisk; after all, I was focused on my own experiences of privilege in that post. So, while an entire book could probably be written on racial disparities in the way people are policed (or are generally handled in the criminal justice system), here are some lowlights:
Blacks are 3.64 times as likely to get arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though usage rates are comparable. In some cases, those rates have become worse, even with the current push towards legalization in some parts of the country.
Staying on the topic of drugs, even though usage of illegal drugs is comparable between blacks and whites, blacks are five times as likely as whites to go to prison for illegal drug possession.
On average, police seem to require less suspicion of black and Hispanic drivers before they are pulled over than white drivers. This statistic is particularly relevant to the current discourse on policing and people of color, as a few years ago a traffic stop of Philando Castile, a person of color, led to his being killed by a police officer.
Innocent blacks are about seven times more likely to be convicted for a murder they didn’t commit than whites.
Unarmed blacks are about 3.49 times as likely to get shot by the police as unarmed whites.
“How does this all relate to the killing of George Floyd?” you may ask. Floyd’s killing shows that the police murder of Mr. Floyd does not exist in a bubble. Far from it. To the contrary, this killing is a microcosm of a larger problem: there are vast racial disparities in the way people are policed in the United States of America.
I actually had a different post in mind for this week, but given the situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19), I decided to make a quick change in plans. Given the wide range of both unjust and just reactions I’ve seen to the coronavirus, I thought I would make a list of things (with explanations) on how not to respond, and how to respond, to this.
Do not respond with anti-Chinese sentiments.
Anti-Chinese sentiments include a refusal to buy Chinese food from your local Chinese restaurant and getting angry at anyone who is or looks Chinese, simply because this strain of coronavirus was first discovered in China. Just because it first originated there does not mean that we should treat people of Chinese descent as any less than anyone else.
Do listen to medical health experts in your area.
Listen to guidance from people in your city’s and/or state’s Health Department. Those who are actually working on this virus on a day-to-day basis are the ones who will likely have wise advice on how best to proceed. So, listen to them…please.
Do not automatically get angry if you see someone who sneezes or coughs when they are out in public.
The other day, someone absolutely freaked out at me when I sneezed once…once! However, we must realize that there are many reasons for someone to sneeze or cough that do not necessarily involve corthe coronavirus. It could be a cold, it could be allergies, or it could be that someone randomly has the urge to sneeze…all of us have the urge to sneeze once in a while, even if we are perfectly healthy!
But, if at all possible, please do stay home if you feel sick.
Thanks to the lack of sick leave that some people have (a subject I wrote about at length in last week’s blog post), it is not possible for some people to stay home. However, for those who do have sick leave available to them, use it when you feel sick. By staying home when you’re sick, you’re doing a favor to yourself and to others.
Do wash your hands frequently.
People should use discretion, but should also remember to wash their hands with regularity and thoroughly. You want to do all you can to kill the bad germs you may end up coming into contact with.
Do find things to occupy your time, if other things that used to occupy your time (work, school, sports) are getting canceled.
Don’t just sit around. Give your friend a phone call or a video call. Pick up a book. Sing songs, play an instrument, or listen to a CD. Watch a DVD or a favorite show or movie on a service like Hulu or on-demand cable. Pick up a new hobby. Work on a garden. Write something. Do some painting. We need to look out not just for our physical health, but our mental health too, and these are all things that will help us look out for our own and each other’s mental health.
The situation with the coronavirus is a very hectic and fluid situation. However, I hope that these tips I offered are a good place for all of us to start in order to take care of our own and others’ physical and mental health. I am also open to hearing other tips in the comments section below!
As I announced last Monday, I will be doing a couple of posts on what it was like to have current presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as mayor (and particularly justice-related topics from his time as mayor). This is the first of two such posts, as honestly, I have too much material to fit into one post.
This first post will focus on his treatment of other people while he was mayor, particularly his treatment of people of color, Muslims, women, and the poor. Buckle up, because this is going to be rough…
While he has apologized repeatedly for the existence of stop-and-frisk under his police force while he was mayor, I think it’s difficult to talk about his time as mayor without talking about that practice. The practice, which allowed police to stop someone temporarily to search, question, and detain someone, disproportionately targeted people of color. Consider the fact that, in the 2010 United States Census, African Americans made up under 23 percent of the total New York City population but consistently accounted for over half of stops. My family’s experiences match up with these statistics—while my brother, and I, and our white friends, never got stopped-and-frisked, my younger brother heard horror stories of friends of color in middle school (kids who were 11 or 12 years old) getting stopped-and-frisked by the New York Police Department, even though they (like nearly 90% of those stopped at that time) were doing nothing wrong! Mayor Bloomberg may’ve apologized for the practice, but the apology does not undo the damage done to my brother’s friends who were stopped, among many others. The apology does not take away the fact that his police force basically treated black and brown kids like accused criminals.
Nor does the apology undo other racist practices under the Bloomberg administration. It does not undo the fact that Bloomberg’s education policies deepened segregation in New York City schools—something he has not apologized for to my knowledge. He also has not apologized for the fact that his Department of Education created policies that denied educational opportunities to people who were thought to be black, including my brother! He has not apologized for the disinvestment in public housing in New York City—relevant because the population of public housing in New York is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. And he has not apologized for saying that the end of redlining, “a practice used by banks to discriminate against minority borrowers,” led to the 2008 economic crisis.
People of color weren’t the only people the Bloomberg administration discriminated against. He had and still seems to have an Islamophobic streak, for Bloomberg’s New York Police Department also had extreme levels of surveillance of Muslims. When he repeatedly says that his one regret is stop-and-frisk, it also means that he does not regret the discrimination of Muslims through this surveillance. That’s very telling.
For those of my readers interested in women’s issues and women’s rights, Bloomberg repeatedly struggled with sexism while he was mayor. Here’s an excerpt from an article at The Atlantic, a lot of which includes remarks he made while he was mayor:
There’s more: Bloomberg reportedly saying to a journalist and the journalist’s friend, as he gazed at a woman at a holiday party, “Look at the ass on her.” (He denied having made that comment.) Bloomberg, according to a top aide, seeing attractive women and reflexively remarking, “Nice tits.” Bloomberg, mocking Christine Quinn, the then-speaker of New York’s City Council, for going too long between hair colorings. (“The couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored,” Quinn once said, “he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray.’”) Bloomberg mocking Quinn again, she said, for failing to wear heels at public events. (“I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again.’”)
The same article I just cited also went into the culture of sexism at his company, and it is no secret that Bloomberg faces numerous allegations of fostering a hostile work environment for women at his company (something Senator Elizabeth Warren exposed in the recent debate). While my piece focuses on what it was like to have him as mayor, I don’t want people to forget about the workplace hostility against many women at Bloomberg, the company.
As for the poor, Mayor Bloomberg advocated for policies that hurt the poor. He argued for a tax on sugary soft drinks, which would have disproportionately affected the poor. He defended the proposed tax, even though he acknowledged that the tax would disproportionately hurt the poor! That, along with a lack of investment in public housing (which I previously mentioned) and the increasing unaffordability of the city while he was mayor, show that he was not a friend of the poor.
There is probably even more that I’m missing here, but you probably get the point by now: unless you are white, somewhat wealthy, male, and not Muslim, Mayor Bloomberg was not an advocate for you.
And yet, I have even more injustices to say about Bloomberg as mayor even beyond his treatment of others. To be continued…
From a young age, I was taught that as long as I didn’t look for trouble, I wouldn’t get in trouble with the police.
Thankfully, for me, that has been the case. I’ve never looked to cause any trouble, even with something relatively harmless like marijuana, and I haven’t gotten into trouble.
But because of institutional racism, which I defined in my introductory post in the institutional racism series as “racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions,” the story is often different for those who don’t look Caucasian.
For example, some of my brother’s elementary school friends who were people of color got into troubling situations with the police, even though they weren’t looking to cause trouble (yes, you read that correctly: elementary school). For example, these friends were often searched thoroughly by police under a practice in New York known as “stop-and-frisk,” even though there was zero evidence of their carrying weapons. On the other hand, you never heard similar tales from my brother’s and my white friends or from my Caucasian family. It was therefore no coincidence that the bias against people of color in stop-and-frisk was so severe that some people called it “walking while brown.”
These stories seemed to fit with the actual statistics on stop-and-frisk. For example, a May 2012 New York Times article cited by Forbes said that “85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population.” With a statistic like this, there is validity to the claim that someone is stopped for “walking while brown.”
Readers might be looking at these statistics and thinking, “Fine…you have stories and statistics, but where does the institutional racism come in?” To find the answer, it’s important to look at how stop-and-frisk was justified—it was justified by saying that people who are deemed a threat need to be stopped. Hence, by using stop-and-frisk disproportionately on people of color, an institution (the police) was sending the racist message that a disproportionate number of people of color were a threat.
In contrast, similar stories are never heard of from light-skinned people like me. You see a white person sleeping in the common room at college? The thought is that, “Oh…the person has studied a ton. No big deal.” You see two white people at a Starbucks waiting to meet with someone? You don’t think anything of it, probably. But people of color doing these things are viewed as a threat by many people, law enforcement or not.
As I said in the beginning of this piece, I was taught from a young age that I would not get into trouble if I didn’t seek trouble. As it turns out, though, I might not have gotten into trouble even if I had sought some trouble.
At the same time, I recognize that it is a different story for friends of mine who are people of color. It is a different story because of the startling disparities between the way whites are policed and the way people of color are policed. Indeed, institutional racism exists in the way that I, and others, are policed.
Update as of November 24, 2019: While this series on institutional racism ended long ago, the issues I addressed in this post have become relevant again due to the renewed scrutiny on Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy while he was Mayor of New York City. In case you were wondering, the stories and statistics I have of stop-and-frisk in this post are from Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in New York. The current scrutiny over this tactic exists because he declared his candidacy for President of the United States today, just one week after he apologized for his use of the tactic while he was mayor.
I am hoping that this post serves as a reminder that, regardless of his apology and regardless of whether you believe in his apology, the institutional racism that led to Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk is still relevant.
As for readers who didn’t expect a post from me until after Thanksgiving, sorry about that. I figured that this post is too relevant not to re-publish right now.
United States Women’s Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe has
become the most recognizable figure of that team, not just because of her play,
but because of her outspokenness on issues ranging from race to LGBTQ+ rights.
She was also the most controversial figure, because she knelt when the American
national anthem was played before games.
But one side of her that some people may not know is that
she has a brother—a brother she loves dearly, but a brother who has been on the
wrong side of the law numerous times, who has spent time in prison, and who
became a white supremacist for part of his time in prison.
But here’s the thing—Megan Rapinoe’s brother, Brian, is far
from a microcosm. He’s far from a microcosm because white supremacy has become
increasingly widespread in prisons.
The Anti-Defamation League, back in 2016, observed the
spread of and increase in white supremacy in our prison system, to the point
that at least 35 states had at least one white supremacy prison gang at the
time. These supremacy gangs have perpetrated violence; most notably, the Aryan
Brotherhood of Texas, which is one of the most prominent prison gangs in the
United States, was responsible for 33 murders in Texas between 2000 and 2015.
And the violence is not isolated to Texas, either—Aryan Brotherhood prison gang
people were also responsible for directing killings and drug smuggling from
prisons in California.
And yet, in spite of all the white supremacy in the American
prison system, this is an issue that doesn’t seem to get that much attention.
There are some racial justice and criminal justice organizations attuned to the
realities of white supremacy in American prisons, such as the Anti-Defamation
League and the Vera Institute of Justice, but it’s an issue that I’ve never
heard come up in mainstream dialogues about criminal justice reform.
But that should change. And here is why this issue needs
more attention from all of us:
is a criminal justice reform issue, because if we want prisons to be a place
for people to reform, we should not have prisons full of white supremacy groups
that ruin lives instead of restoring them.
is a public safety issue, for white supremacist actions in prisons kill people.
is a national security issue, because violent white supremacists are terrorists,
is an issue of use of taxpayer money, because having prisons that perpetrates
white supremacy (whether it be intentional or unintentional) is a dreadful use
of taxpayer money.
is a racial justice issue, for white supremacy is antithetical to racial
But how do we get this change, from a prison system where
white supremacy is allowed to thrive to a system which doesn’t allow for this? I
think that it needs to start with getting more knowledge about white supremacy
in prisons. For most readers of this piece, getting more knowledge means
knowing that white supremacy in prisons exists in the first place. For local
and state governments, getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons
means: a) figuring out what a prison gang is in the first place
and then b) figuring out the nature of what white supremacy prison gangs are
like (and how much white supremacy in prisons is gang-related or not). For the
Anti-Defamation League and similar organizations devoted to religions, ethnic,
racial, and/or social justice issues, getting more knowledge about white supremacy
in prisons just means continuing their work and hopefully learning more.
As much as I have a desire to end pieces on this blog with big solutions to big problems, I can’t really do that here. Before talking about solutions, governments in particular really need to gain a better understanding of this problem than what they currently seem to have.