Insufficient Evidence

There’s never enough evidence to convict a white man of a crime against a Negro.

— Aaron Henry, a black businessman
interviewed in the CBS News report “The Search in Mississippi” (1964)

We have caused a thorough search to be made by the most competent authority in Richmond; and while many indictments are found against black men for rape of white women, none exist, in the history of our jurisprudence, against white men for rape of black women. And this, not because there would have been any difficulty in making the indictment lie: but because, as the most experienced lawyers testify, the crime is unheard of on the part of white men amongst us.

— R. L. Dabny, A Defense of Virginia and the South (1867)

This week’s featured post is “Can We Share the World?

This week everybody was still talking about police killing black people

because it keeps happening with no one called to account. On the heels of the Michael Brown non-indictment, we have the Eric Garner non-indictment and the killings of Tamir Rice and Rumain Brisbon. Unlike the Brown killing, the choke-hold strangling of Garner and the roll-up-with-guns-blazing shooting of Rice were caught on video.

I’m reminded of the effect of television on the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties. The cops and white mobs in Mississippi and Alabama and Arkansas were just doing what they’d been doing for decades. But now the whole country watching from their living rooms. When you watch those video clips today, it’s clear the abusive whites didn’t understand what the TV cameras meant.

Now we’re in the era of ubiquitous video, and cops don’t seem to understand what that means either. You can look at any one case and imagine that there might be some mitigating explanation, some off-camera circumstances you can’t see. But the sheer number of these cases wears a person down. This isn’t just a Lemony-Snicket-style series of unfortunate events. Something is systemically wrong.


The grand jury in the Garner case hasn’t released voluminous records like the Ferguson grand jury did, but the same kind of rigged process I talked about last week seemed to be at work. Grand juries misfire when the prosecutor wants to defend the suspect rather than prosecute, as often happens when police are involved. The biggest flaw in the Garner grand jury process was that the prosecutor didn’t tell the jury about the lightest charge they could have brought: reckless endangerment. So when they gave Officer Pantaleo the benefit of the doubt on various forms of murder, their only remaining option was to let him walk.

President Obama has proposed putting body cameras on police, but clearly that’s only part of the solution. Unlike in Ferguson, we have video in this case, and the cop still doesn’t have to face a trial. In addition to cameras, we also need changes in process: an independent investigation and a special prosecutor when police are suspects. A recent Wisconsin law — passed after police killed the son of a white retired Air Force officer — is a step in the right direction.


Digby underlined a point that unites most of these cases: Police escalated the conflict when they didn’t have to. Michael Brown wasn’t going to flee to Costa Rica. Eric Garner was surrounded by six cops and not endangering any of them. There was no risk in giving Garner a few minutes to grasp that he was going to be arrested one way or the other.

Or check out this video of a traffic stop New Mexico, where luckily no one was killed. The driver obviously handles the situation badly, but at some point the police forget that they’re dealing with a woman and her kids, not Murder Incorporated. By the 12:30 mark the family has barricaded itself inside their van. Two back-up units arrive, guns drawn, and an officer bashes in a passenger window. The panicked Mom then starts driving away — the three police cars having neglected to block that possibility — and the police start shooting.

By contrast, in 2011 German police shot exactly 85 bullets in the line of duty. That’s all year, in the whole country. Seventy years ago, who could have imagined that someday we’d be envying Germany for its police?


Albert Burneko offers the interpretation that “The American Justice System is Not Broken“. Police are supposed to kill young black men from time to time, and they’re supposed to get away with it. That’s how the system functions, not how it malfunctions.


Wonkette wonders tongue-in-cheek why gun-rights advocates aren’t demanding justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford, both of whom were killed by police who mistook their toy guns for real ones. If merely appearing to carry a gun justifies your summary execution, doesn’t that invalidate our Second Amendment rights? If Randy Weaver and David Koresh can be martyrs for the cause, why not Rice and Crawford?

The obvious implication, the dots whose connection Wonkette leaves to the reader, is that the gun-rights movement is for white people. When have you ever heard the NRA respond to a public tragedy by suggesting that black people arm themselves? I mean, wouldn’t Trayvon still be alive if he’d been packing heat?

Maybe, though, there’s another explanation: Gun-rights people could just be applying the color-blind constitutional doctrine of originalism. When the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, who could have imagined that someday blacks would be citizens and seek to defend themselves with guns? Only through the liberal notion of an evolving Constitution does the black-people-with-guns conundrum arise at all.


While I was researching that point about coverage of the Civil Rights movement, I ran across “The Search in Mississippi” — an hour-long CBS News Special Report hosted by Walter Cronkite and aired on June 25, 1964 about the then-current Mississippi Burning case and Freedom Summer movement. It’s even more fascinating than the movies and documentaries that have been made since.

and jobs

The November jobs report came out, and it was the best one we’ve seen in a long time, fueling hope that the steady-but-uninspiring recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 might finally be picking up steam. It was hardly a Happy-Days-Are-Here-Again report, but it pointed in that direction.

A jobs report is a mass of numbers justified by a lot of statistic wizardry, so it’s always open to interpretation. (If you need to put a downward spin on it, CNBC has one for you. Almost everybody else was more upbeat.) But basically you look for four things:

  • total number of jobs. In November, that number went up by 321,000, the most in a month since January, 2012. A rule of thumb is that 100K new jobs per month just keeps pace with the increase in population. Beyond that, you’re starting to make some headway in employing the unemployed. This number bounces around a lot from month to month, so you want to look at the longer-term trend. USA Today comments on the chart below: “Labor market gains have been consistently strong this year despite a mixed economy, averaging almost 241,000 additional jobs a month, up from 194,000 in 2013. Employers have added at least 200,000 jobs for 10 straight months, the best stretch since the mid-1990s.”
  • unemployment rate. This held steady at 5.8%, a number well below the 10% we saw in 2009 or 7% early last year, but not nearly as good as the 3% at the end of the Clinton administration. At first glance, this lack of improvement contradicts what I just said about employing the unemployed, but one of the first things an improving job market does is inspire discouraged workers to start looking for work again. The official unemployment rate is always well below the number of workers who wish they had jobs; the “extra” 221K jobs took up some of that slack.
  • hours worked. Up slightly, from an average of 34.5 per week per worker to 34.6. Employers don’t like to hire and fire, so when business is bad they’ll cut back hours before they start letting workers go. On the upside, they’ll work their current staff harder before they start hiring new people. So an increase in hours worked is a good sign in two ways: Directly, it puts more money in workers’ pockets. Indirectly, it points to more hiring in the future.
  • wages. Up slightly, from an average of $24.57 per hour to $24.66. Employers don’t raise wages out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it because finding new workers or hanging on to the ones they have is becoming a problem. So an increase in the average wage isn’t just good in itself, it’s a good sign for the job market.

None of those individual numbers really knock your socks off. But we’ve gotten used to ambiguous job reports, where the four big indicators point in different directions, suggesting that whichever one impressed you was just a statistical blip that will even out next month. Not so this month.

and Hillary

I was traveling this week, and as I sat by the gate in airports, I kept hearing CNN speculate about when Hillary Clinton would announce her candidacy. Now that the midterm elections are over, the pundits figure, what’s the hold up?

The logic here is really simple, even if it doesn’t make for exciting TV discussions: The shorter the campaign, the better for Hillary. Why would she want to get the campaign started if nobody is out there campaigning against her?

Think about it: If we all woke up tomorrow morning to discover that there was a national Democratic presidential primary happening, Hillary would win easily, because at the moment nobody else has the name recognition or the organized support to challenge her. Even if it turned out that most Democrats didn’t want her to be the candidate, she’d get maybe 40% and there’d be a bunch of 5% and 10% people. Elizabeth Warren might get 20-25%, but nobody’s sure she even wants the job.

The longer everybody waits to start the campaign, the closer we get to that surprise-election scenario, and the better for Hillary. In general, if you’re the front-runner, only bad things can happen during a campaign: You can screw up, or somebody else can catch fire. Why would you stretch that process out and run a longer gauntlet than you absolutely had to?

So if another Democrat starts actively campaigning against her, Hillary will announce a week or two later. Or if Republican candidates make her the focus of their rhetoric and start driving up her negatives, she may need to get out there to make her own headlines. (On the other hand, if Republicans are out-doing each other in competing for the right-wing-crazy vote, why take the spotlight off them?) Otherwise, she’d be smart to wait until late summer, then do a coronation tour of the early primary states just to show she’s not taking them for granted.


OTOH, I was talking to my favorite 20-something, who verified what Bonnie Kristian was saying in The Week: Young voters are not excited about a 90s-re-run Clinton presidency. Imagining a 1992-ish Clinton/Bush match-up, Kristian says: “If the kids don’t want broccoli, show ’em how good it looks compared to Brussels sprouts.”

No, I don’t think Clinton would lose the youth vote to Bush or Cruz or Paul — MF20S would vote for her — but turn-out might be a problem.

and religious freedom

The next time you hear someone claim that Christians are persecuted because a baker has to sell a wedding cake to two men, give them some perspective on what oppression really looks like and who the oppressors are. Here’s Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona:

Turn to Leviticus 20:13, because I actually discovered the cure for AIDS: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” And that, my friend, is the cure for AIDS. It was right there in the Bible all along — and they’re out spending billions of dollars in research and testing. It’s curable — right there. Because if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.

As far as I know, no gay-rights activists are demanding that Christian fundamentalists be put to death. And no, refusing to let Christians carry out Leviticus 20:13 is not a violation of their religious freedom.

With that in mind, though, I read the text of the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently passed by the Michigan House and on its way to the Senate. The purpose of the act is “to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.” It defines an “exercise of religion” as “an act or refusal to act, that is substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.”

So refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is an “expression of religion” rather than an indulgence of bigotry with Biblical cover. But so is stoning gays (or loose women; see Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Fortunately, the law still allows government to restrict such acts if it can prove it has a “compelling interest”. We can only hope judges will decide the Michigan government has a compelling interest in keeping gays and loose women alive.


BTW, some Sunday Pastor Anderson might have his flock turn to David’s lament after the death of Jonathan, in II Samuel 1:26:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

If we’re going to read the Bible literally, let’s read it literally. The whole thing.


Atheists also face non-imaginary religious discrimination. An article in yesterday’s NYT discusses the effort to get bans on atheists holding office out of state constitutions. Those provisions have been unenforceable since a 1961 Supreme Court decision, but Todd Stiefel of Openly Secular comments:

If it was on the books that Jews couldn’t hold public office, or that African-Americans or women couldn’t vote, that would be a no-brainer. You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed. Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed. So why are we different?


And Muslims face real religious freedom issues: The Kennesaw, Georgia city council refused a Muslim congregation’s request to rent worship space in a strip mall, breaking precedents established for Christian groups. An anti-Muslim protester said: “To me [the mosque] is a threat to my freedom, my liberties, and everything I own.”

and you also might be interested in …

It’s time for that annual assault on my self-image as a cultured, well-read person: The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014. I’ve read exactly one of the novels (The Magician’s Land) and about a quarter of one of the non-fiction books (The Invisible Bridge). A somewhat less intimidating list is “The 10 Best Books of 2014“, of which I have read none.


Chris Rock has a movie coming out, so he’s been doing interviews, notably in Rolling Stone and with Frank Rich at Vulture. Here’s the money quote from the Rich interview:

When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. … If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t.

The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

It’s been a heavy week, so let’s close with something cute

like a toddler in a snow suit discovering ice.

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