Hard Times, Then and Now

American cities from coast to coast have suffered rioting, vandalism, arson and violence in the aftermath of unarmed black man George Floyd’s death by the Minneapolis Police Department, but we’re happy to say that for now race relations remain mostly amicable here in Wichita.
There were a couple of peaceful and conspicuously multicultural protest marches in downtown over the weekend, which culminated with the mostly black protest marchers and the mostly white sitting police officers sitting within social distancing rules of each other at a local park and sharing some barbecue, but that’s about it. Even our most liberal and reflexively antipolice Facebook friends gave some of the credit to Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsey, who has made a very public and apparently sincere outreach to the city’s diverse communities since taking office and was one of the first big city police chiefs to publicly decry Floyd’s death and even call it a murder, and he also marched in those demonstrations wearing his uniform and a face mask. Although we’re not the name-dropping types we will admit we’ve had beers and swapped jokes with Ramsey, and he seemed an OK guy, and we also we think he’s done a good job of keeping the relative peace around here lately.
We also think it has something to do with the civic spirit and mostly good people of all colors and creeds and classes and the ever-expanding number of genders you’ll find here in Wichita. There’s the usual percentage of awful people you’ll find among all colors and creeds and classes and ever-expanding gender groups, too, but for the most part we open doors for one another and don’t insist on our place in line and sometimes chat in a friendly way while we wait. For now the folks ’round these parts seem to prefer that to rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, and we concur.
America writ large, alas, isn’t faring so well. All the coast-to-coast rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, which we’ll henceforth refer to as “civil unrest,” is said to be the worst since the annus horribilis of 1968, which we well remember because we turned a very impressionable 9-years-old that year. As best as our precocious yet eight-and-nine-year-old minds could comprehend, the “negroes” or “colored people” or whatever the polite adults were calling them were righteously indignant about slavery and segregation and police brutality and a host of other things, but that burning down their own neighborhoods seemed an unlikely way to rectify that. We also felt the anxiety of even the most polite adults among us that the “civil unrest” would reach their neighborhoods, and we carried that anxiety with us as went through most of the ’70s with six years of racially diverse and riot-prone and generally shabby junior high and high schools.
By the end of it, though, we’d survived the worst of all the awful people of all colors and creeds and classes and whatever genders existed at the time, and found that most people are OK, and that most of them seemed to think we were OK. We figured things had calmed down since 1968, when it was seemingly a choice between law and order and racial justice, and that America could amiably move forward, but lately our hopes have been dashed. The politics of the moment are even more convoluted than in 1968.
One things that different from 1968 is that these riots are remarkably more racially integrated, judging by all the video, and that kid leading the riot storming of the Cable News Network last week was clearly a white skateboard punk. Some black speculators have speculated that white nationalist provocateurs have fueled the riots to start a race war, and for now that’s as plausible a conspiracy theory as you’ll find on the internet. Even Trump is blaming the far-left but mostly-white “Antifa” movement for much of it, and has officially declared it a “terrorist organization,” which means he can legally spy on any American citizen who might have visited its website. “Antifa” isn’t really an organization of any kind, though, just a ridiculously disorganized group of like-minded dumbass white goys who want to punch anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, who will likely get their asses kicked..We also suspect that some opportunistic awful people of certain other colors are also taking advantage of the situation.
Back in ’68 Nixon became president on o promise of restoring law and order, despite former segregationist Alabama governor and independent candidate George Wallace’s promise to restore it even more brutally, and President Donald Trump seems intent on replicating that, but that was a long time ago. This time around, a platform of both law and order and racial justice seems attainable, and might be the winning argument. So far, at least, we’ve worked it out here in Wichita.

This Time in Baltimore

Monday’s baseball contest between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles was postponed due to rioting, a rare occurrence in the history of the national pastime but what you might expect in post-racial America.
After more than seven years of hope and change the riots all follow a drearily familiar pattern. A young black man dies as a result of an encounter with the police, a mob gathers to demand its version of justice before any facts are known, people who should know better egg them on, and and it all ends badly for the poor black people who are left behind in the rubble. Only the location and details of the death seem to change. This time around it’s in Baltimore, where the rioting has spread right up against the fancy new Camden Yards ballpark, and the young black man died as a result of a spinal while in police custody, but none of that seems to matter.
The latest round of rioting started last summer in the previously unknown St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., where the tale of a gentle black youth kneeling with his hands up pleading “don’t shoot” turned out to be a clear-cut case of an officer defending himself against a potentially deadly assault by a criminal but caused weeks of arson and mayhem, then moved to New York, where the death of a man non-violently resisting arrest for the very petty crime of selling single untaxed cigarettes as the result of a headlock and a pile of policeman was less clear-cut and resulted in the assassination of two police officers. There was next a shooting of a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, that was filmed by one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras and seems to warrant a murder charge against a police officer, but charges were quickly filed in that case and the victim’s family noisily insisted that all rabble-rousers leave their alone, and little trouble has resulted. There are legitimate questions to be asked about the death in Baltimore, but once again the people inclined to arson and looting and violent assaults on people who had nothing to with any of it and just to want to watch a ballgame won’t await the answers.
The apologists for such behavior will explain that the rioters don’t trust the legal system to provide justice, and are therefore somehow justified in their destruction of the property and violent assaults on the bodies of people who had nothing to do with the alleged crime, even if their notions of justice don’t jibe with the facts as they will eventually be proved, but times have changed since those same justifications for charred black neighborhoods were trotted out by the Kerner Commission back in ’60s. Baltimore’s mostly black police force reports to a black police chief who reports to a black mayor, who in turn is held accountable in regularly scheduled elections by a mostly black population, and should that fail there’s always recourse to a federal Justice Department run by a black Attorney General who reports to a black President of the United States, who now apparently believes he is unaccountable to anyone. While the riots held a ballpark full of fans captive over the weekend the president was about 40 miles of interstate away regaling the White House Correspondents Dinner audience with a comedy routine about his attitude toward governance rhymes with “bucket,” and using some Comedy Central comic as an “anger translator” to convey his righteously black indignation with his critics, and all that apologia about the inherently racist nature of America seemed wildly out of date.
Even if you believe that Republicans and other sorts of nefarious white people still run the country along traditionally racist lines, they have clearly had little influence on Baltimore over the past many decades. Baltimore is a Democrat city in a Democrat state, just 40 miles of interstate away from the Democratic White House, and if the Democrats’ divide-and-conquer strategy of electoral politics didn’t cause the riots in Baltimore there’s no denying that it didn’t prevent them.

— Bud Norman

Sympathy and Riots

Six years into the promised post-racial era of American history, we spent much of Monday anxiously awaiting the official start of the latest race riot. An announcement of a grand jury decision in Missouri that was widely expected to unleash mayhem on the tiny St. Louis suburb of Ferguson was scheduled in the late afternoon, then postponed until the early evening, but didn’t arrive until 8:15 or so here on the prairie. In the meantime there was news that the Secretary of Defense had resigned after an unusually short tenure and under suspicious circumstances, that the deadline for a grand bargain with the mad mullahs of Iran had passed with their nuclear weapons program still progressing, and that a couple of the stock markets had reached record levels, but it was all filler until the long awaited and utterly unsurprising news that no charges would be brought by the grand jury against a white police officer who had fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.
That thumbnail description of a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager sounds pretty darned damning and is accurate in a certain strict sense, at least enough to fuel a media frenzy as well as a more visceral frenzy on the streets of Ferguson for several weeks following the incident, but a more complicated and mitigating version of the story that had gradually seeped into the news made Monday’s announcement expected. Leaks from the grand jury indicated that eyewitnesses and physical evidence corroborated the tale told by the officer’s friends that the unarmed black teenager had attacked him and was struggling for the officer’s gun during the fatal encounter, and the counter-narrative that the cop had gun downed a kneeling teenager in front of multiple eyewitnesses for no reason other than the normal racial animus of America’s law enforcement always seemed less likely to pass the more dispassionate sort of scrutiny that would presumably be brought to bear during a legal proceeding. Dispassionate scrutiny of such facts is not a virtue of lynch mobs, however, so it was also widely expected that those who favored the gunned-down-on-the-street version of events would respond with what the more polite media call “unrest.”
As we write this the Drudge Report is already linking to stories of rioting and looting and arson and gunshots being fired. The story about the white officer gunning down the innocent black teenager on the streets for racist kicks is apparently still widely believed in many neighborhoods of Ferguson, much of the media have done little to dissuade them them of this assumption, numerous groups hoping to channel the local resentments in service of their various left-wing causes have been organizing in the city, and the Justice Department has launched an investigation of the Ferguson police and the White House has sent emissaries to the funeral of a man who might have attempted to kill one of its officers, so it was inevitable that at least a few troublemakers would seize the opportunity for the expression of long accumulated racial resentments and the acquisition of some free stuff. What the rioters and looters and arsonists and gun shooters hope to accomplish is unclear, as their victims are businesses and individuals that have nothing whatsoever to do with the shooting in question, and their crimes are unlikely to refute whatever racist attitudes might have been involved, but from what we saw on the cable news coverage that was playing at a local watering hole during a break in our writing they seemed to be having a grand old time.
The President of the United States went on television to urge peace and calm, an obligatory pre-riot oration that stretches back at least to the days of Lyndon Johnson, but even The First Black President had no more success in the effort than any of his predecessors. This time around the speech told the rioters that their anger was “an understandable reaction” given that they claim to believe “the law is being applied in a discriminatory fashion,” and the president explained to all those weren’t rioting that “We need to understand them,” and such sympathetic rhetoric followed the sending of those emissaries to the funeral of man who had tried to kill a cop and his Attorney General’s admonition to the surviving officers not to react too harshly to any rioting and looting and arson and gunfire that might follow a grand jury decision that was not to the mob’s liking, but it seems not to have soothed any of the savage breasts in Ferguson.
Perhaps a more forceful address emphasizing the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that corroborated the officer’s account and the always far-fetched nature of that story about a cop gunning down an innocent teenager in the street would have been more effective, especially coming from The First Black President who had promised a gullible electorate that he had overcome his racial animosities and would teach the rest of the country to do the same, but by now no one expected that. The president’s party tried to use the Ferguson tragedy to energize black voters in southern states where the Senate and House races were thought to be close, warning black voters that a Republican victory would mean more innocent black teenagers being gunned down for no reason other than racial animus by white cops, and it continues to see political opportunity in the racial anger that is so starkly on display in Ferguson. The left also has an emotional investment in that story about white cops gunning down black teenagers, too, and eyewitness testimony and physical evidence cannot shake not its faith in its moral superiors over such brutes.
One can only hope that Ferguson recovers from its riots more successfully than did Newark or Camden, New Jersey, or Detroit or the Watts area of Los Angeles or any of the other localities that were afflicted by the similar unrest back when Johnson was delivering the presidential scoldings, but we are not optimistic. Even then the broader society tried to be understanding, with the Kerner Commission providing the official rationalizations for rioting and looting and arson and gunfire, but the areas burned to the ground by the very irrational hatreds of the mobs have still not regained the vibrancy and livability they once offered in supposedly less enlightened times, and even the generations of the Democratic governance that has been brought to bear on Ferguson doesn’t seem to offer much help. Perhaps a sterner response wouldn’t do any better, but sympathy for the rioters and looters and arsonists and gun shooters clearly does little to help their innocent victims.

— Bud Norman

Two Towns, Two Police Shootings

Our favorite news-and-talk radio station informed us of another fatal police shooting Tuesday afternoon. Not the one in St. Louis that you’ve probably heard about, which happened just a few miles from the one in Ferguson that even the head-chopping terrorists in Iraq have heard about, but the one that happened just south of Wichita in the small town of Haysville. If you live outside the limited broadcast range of Wichita’s radio and television stations or the shrinking circulation zone of the Wichita Eagle, it has almost certainly escaped your attention.
Even if you are within shouting distance of the Wichita media the facts of the matter are frustratingly few. Authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex during mid-morning, a man is dead and a woman injured, and official investigations are underway. That’s about all we can glean from the local coverage, and we’re regarding even that scant information with the requisite skepticism. The more enterprising local reporters will probably harass the incident’s neighbors into making off-the-record speculations of dubious value to fill air time and news hole in the next few days, and there will be another spate of stories when those official investigations are concluded, but if you’re somewhere out in the ethernet beyond the south-central Kansas media don’t expect to hear about any of that.
No matter what facts might emerge in the Haysville shooting it almost certainly won’t pique any national interest, except perhaps a passing mention in some trend piece about police brutality at one of the more fashionable and thorough publications. None of the local news coverage makes any mention of the decedent’s race, from which we can reasonably infer that he was white, and without a racial angle police shootings lose much of their press appeal. The undisputed fact that the shooting happened in Haysville also suggests a very high probability that the decedent was white, and ensures that there won’t be any of the rioting or looting or other expressions of supposedly righteous anger that so enthrall the national media.
Our only previous mention of Haysville in this space was about the town’s public indignation at being made the butt of all of the hick town jokes we tell at our annual Gridiron Show, but we can testify that it’s not a bad place. We pass through occasionally on our way to the Fabulous Tahitian Room near Peck,  which has recently re-opened under the new management of a dear old friend of ours, and we’ve always found the town quite pleasantly bland, and not at all a place where we were in fear of our lives. There’s still a bit of the old hick Kansas town charm we so affectionately satirize, but it’s now surrounded by a few miles of nice but cliched split-levels and a few cookie-cutter apartment complexes that rub right up against the vast Wichita sprawl, and it’s still just rural enough to lure the urban-weary workers in the nearby aircraft factories. It’s the kind of town that might well harbor some hostile male who would threaten the police while brutalizing a woman, or could screw up and hire some trigger-happy cop who overreacted to a lovers’ spat, or could provide for some fatal combination of the two, but in any case it’s not at all the kind of town that will respond to any of these possibilities by burning down the local convenience stores. Instead we expect the Haysvillians to await the results of those official investigations, accept their conclusions in the absence of any overwhelming contradictory evidence, and to get work on time.
In such an imperfect world where police occasionally fatally shoot citizens this is about the best outcome one can hope for. Apologists for the rioters and looters and convenience store arsonists in Ferguson will attribute Haysville’s more restrained response to white privilege and all the rest of that academic nonsense, but they’ve never passed through the town and heard its hard-luck stories or sat in a relatively big city show where Haysville was the butt of hick small town jokes. If Hasyville is a bastion of white privilege, the concept is utterly meaningless. The shooting in Haysville warrants the same intense scrutiny aa the ones in St. Louis and Ferguson and all the other more racially-charged towns, and its citizens deserve the same guarantees against abuses of police power, and it speaks well of the town that it won’t get any attention.

— Bud Norman

Campaigning Up a Storm

In the immediate aftermath of the Islamist attacks on America’s embassies throughout the Middle East, which resulted in the death of an ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, a determinedly Democratic friend of ours expressed confidence that the events would prove a benefit to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Various media were in high dudgeon about Mitt Romney criticizing a cable from the embassy in Egypt that seemed to sympathize with their attackers, and our friend anticipated that the inevitable rally-round-the-president reaction to a national security crisis would carry Obama to victory.
It remains to be seen how the election will turn out, but it is not too soon to conclude that our friend was wrong. Despite the best efforts of many of the national media to emphasize Romney’s supposed gaffe and ignore the series of deadly mistakes made by the Obama administration, polls suggest that a majority of Americans now disapprove of the president’s actions in the matter.
Although it will have to happen much more quickly, the Hurricane Sandy issue seems likely to follow a similar trajectory.
Many of Obama’s cheerleaders in the media saw the devastating storm as a an opportunity for him to appear “presidential,” a lucky break given that four years of being president have apparently afforded so few such opportunities, and their resulting coverage made the most of it. The post-storm news cycle has been filled with images of a solemn-looking Obama waxing concerned, signing important pieces of paper, and walking purposefully along the devastated shores of New Jersey with that beleaguered state’s portly governor. Democratic pundits seem particularly pleased to constantly re-run the effusive praise of Republican and erstwhile Romney supporter Gov. Chris Christie, whose comments have probably served him well in his 2013 re-election race in deeply Democratic New Jersey but utterly destroyed any hopes he might had for winning a Republican nomination outside his state.
There’s been the expected condemnation of Romney, too, and even ridicule of his request that supporters donate money or any needed supplies to the storm victims. The criticism has been that Romney callously failed to visit the storm-damaged areas, but if he had the criticism would have been for interfering with the rescue efforts for a cheap photo-op, and the jibes about his well-intentioned fund-raising effort suggest he wasn’t going to escape ridicule in any case.
The problem with the strategy is that the last weekend of the election is almost certain to be filled with stories of looting, dumpster-diving, power outages, gas shortages, transportation failures, and all of the other unpleasantness that invariably follows a natural disaster in a densely populated area. New outlets will be forced to run these stories even as they offer up more assurances about the excellent job that the government is doing, and the discrepancy will be stark.
Expect the Romney campaign to wisely refrain from any criticism of the recovery effort, which would only provoke a charge of politicizing a tragedy from a media that has spent the past days eagerly politicizing the tragedy, but the failure of the administration to live up to its implied promises will go without saying. This is not to say that any government can prevent the vicissitudes of nature, but that is what the press and the Democratic party have maintained during every Republican administration, and it is only fair that they be held to the same standard now.
The footage of Obama and Christie walking along the shore was touching, even reminiscent of Rick Blaine and Capt. Louis Renault walking into the “Casablanca” night and proclaiming the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but images of the post-photo-op mayhem should be fresher on Tuesday.

— Bud Norman