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The All-Too-Wide World of Sports

As summer slowly fades into to autumn, baseball just as inevitably gives way to football, with dreams of a mid-winter night’s basketball game to follow, and then the eternal promise of baseball’s spring training and another turn of the sporting globe. Alas, these days none of it offers any respite from all that awful politics that keeps going on.
The upcoming Labor Day weekend has a full slate of college football games, including such season-making contests as the top-ranked University of Alabama’s “Crimson Tide” against Southern California’s unranked but perennially tough “Trojans,” and the University of Oklahoma’s third-ranked Sooners knocking heads with a dangerous and 15th-ranked University of Houston squad, but so far the big football story this season has been some second-string quarterback on some second-tier National Football League team refusing to stand for the national anthem. As we scan through the AM radio offerings during our daily chores he’s being talked about on both the sports talk and political talk stations, and all of the more respectable sports and political media have been equally attentive, so by now it’s unlikely that any American hasn’t yet heard of The San Francisco Forty-Niners’ Colin Kaepernick.
Although we no longer pay much attention to professional football we vaguely recalled the name from a Sports Illustrated cover a few years back, when he was reportedly tearing up the league about being touted as a star, but apparently he has since declined to second-string status on a team in a similar slide, and we can’t recall him being mentioned until the recent brouhaha. The biracial and multi-million-dollar-compensated Kaepernick says he won’t stand for the national anthem of a country that oppresses its black citizens by allowing police to indiscriminately execute them, even though he’s hard-pressed to show how that’s actually happening, and he’s also taken to wearing socks that depict police officers as pigs. So far as we can tell the general public’s reaction has been that our oppressive country does grant him the right to express such idiotic opinions, but that it will exercise the same right to say that he’s an overpaid idiot.
That’s how these politicized sports brouhahas always turn out, yet they keep occurring nonetheless. Sometimes they involve a homosexual athlete, or a transgendered one, or one with some similarly fashionable predilection, but usually it’s something to do with race, sometimes even with Asians, and of in the case of falsely-accused lacrosse teams there are also occasionally class issues. Unless it’s Tim Tebow being criticized for some on-field Christian gesture or a cable network’s commentator getting fired for politically incorrect “tweets” or a rare college basketball coach wondering why the hell the president is on the same network making his bracket predictions, it’s almost always someone taking some trendy stand that all the trendy pundits consider very brave, and which the general sporting public lustily boos.
We can’t see how it’s good for business, but the sports leagues and the networks that bring them to the general public seem to relish the same stupid controversies. The National Football League was once the last bastion of unabashed old-fashioned American machismo, and we well remember the days of The Dallas Cowboys’ when plaid-fedora-topped Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines and Roger “Captain America” Staubach was quarterbacking “America’s Team,” but these days the league has its players playing in pink shoes, and celebrating the drafting of an undersized but homosexual linebacker, and standing by an employee who sits through the national anthem because of unspecified murders by police, but prohibits the current sorry iteration of the Cowboys from wearing stickers on their helmets to honor the very specific policemen in their city who had been murdered in the line of duty. By late fall the National Basketball League will be back in the business of protesting North Carolina’s law against creepy men hanging out in women’s restrooms, and probably celebrating its latest diverse draftees, and otherwise taking brave stands on various trendy causes, and probably fining one of their up-from-the-streets employees who predictably “tweets” a dissenting opinion.
More careful observers of professional football than ourselves are speculating that Kaepernick’s bold stand for social justice is actually a cynically shrewd ploy to protect his sizable fortune, the theory being that he’s so expensive from the glory days when he signed his contract that the team can’t afford to risk a big injury payout if they send him in as a mere second stringer, so he’s giving himself a case that he was cut due to his bold stand for social justice. This seems plausible enough, although we don’t follow professional football closely to have any strongly held opinion, but such bottom-line calculations can’t plausibly explain why so much of the entire sports industry seems to have gone similarly crazy. Most paying sports fans want to watch good game far away from the annoying distractions of politics, preferably somewhere deep within the last bastions of old-fashioned American machismo, and we can’t see how it’s good business to offer them a bunch of wimpy anti-Americanism.
Already the networks that broadcast these company’s offerings are seeing declines in their fortunes, especially the for-pay Entertainment and Sports Network that has lately dominated sports but is now seeing its increasingly obsolete cable business model dissolve, and one wonders why they’re sticking with those trendy causes that the general sports public so lustily boos. Our best guess is that all of them, that tattooed Kaepernick fellow included, share the same longing that everyone who has prospered in entertainment and sports has to be taken seriously as intellectual types. The easiest way to do this is always to champion some trendy cause that all the trendy pundits are also championing, then take the lusty boos of the general public as proof that you were right all along, and most of your entertainment and sports celebrities are intellectually and temperamentally incapable of seeking out any other way than the easy one.
Which is not to say that these people of extravagant gifts of limited social utility shouldn’t be denied their rights of speech, or that they won’t occasionally have something of interest to say. One of the more memorable moments of the past Olympics was when a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserves with the less familiar name of Sam Kendricks stopped halfway in his run toward to individual glory in the  pole vaulting finals to stand at attention for a national anthem that was playing somewhere in the arena, looking around awkwardly for a flag to address, then picked up his pole and went on to win a gold medal. This strikes us as a more eloquent political statement than the likes of that Kaepernick fellow will ever make, albeit a much less lucrative one, and it  reminds us of the many other times when sports so well expressed the best of both masculinity and America. We recall some worthy sports protests against America’s imperfections, too, but that was back in a time when they were more easily explained and weren’t so trendy and required real courage.
There’s still plenty of baseball left, with The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals still holding out hope for play off slots, and down here in the heart of America the Wichita Wingnuts head into their final regular season home stand with a comfortable lead in the southern division of the Double-A American Association, with no race, class, or gender issues to speak of, and those OU Sooners look good enough to keep us distracted through college football and into the Wichita State University Wheatshockers start of  another promising basketball season, and though winter will no doubt come there will just as surely be another spring training. All that politics  stuff will inevitably intrude, but we’ll try to enjoy the games.

— Bud Norman

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Politics in a Murderous Age

One of the few positive developments in America over the past two decades had been a dramatic decline in murders and other crimes, but in the past year or so the trend has suddenly reversed. All the experts are debating the possible causes, and coming up with all sorts of politically expedient explanations, but our admittedly amateur analysis suggests it has something to do with all the anti-police activity that has been going on for the past year or so.
There’s still no unanimity of opinion about what was causing that long term decline, with some on the left crediting legalized abortion for reducing the number of unwanted children who would have grown up to be murderers and criminals and others citing the success of the long-ago ban on lead paint, and all the right-wing crazies insisting it was a result of all those tough-one-crime measures enacted about twenty years or so ago, so it’s no surprise that there is similar disagreement about the recent increase. The left is mostly blaming the widespread availability of guns, as usual, and the right-wing crazies are insisting that it’s a result of a recent retreat from the tough-on-crime measures, as usual, and as usual we’re inclined to the latter point of view.
That twenty year decline in the murder rate happened as gun ownership became more common, and state legislatures and federal courts mostly expanded the rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves with firearms, so it seems unlikely that the relatively small number of guns that have been added to the nation’s arsenal in the past year has brought the country to some sort of murderous tipping point. The past year or so has also brought riots, protests, hashtag campaigns, Department of Justice investigations into police practices, a “Black Lives Matter” protest movement that has cowed the Democratic Party’s presidential contenders, the usual number of lawsuits, a hit movie about a “gangsta rap” group whose biggest hit was “F**k Tha Police,” and the combined power of the entertainment and news media wringing their hands over the bloodthirsty racism of the nation’s law enforcement officers. At this point we can hardly blame any police officer for preferring to sit in his squad car on some anodyne street sipping coffee and eating doughnuts rather than risk the penalties that might result from actually enforcing the law, and our experience of human nature assures us there’s plenty of that going on lately, so it doesn’t seem at all coincidental that the murder rate started climbing right around the time all that nonsense started happening.
Our suspicion is further corroborated by the fact that the cities seeing the most alarming increases are the ones where the anti-police activity has been most intense. Milwaukee has experienced an alarming 75 percent increase in its murder rate since last year, and it coincides with the protests that followed a police shooting of black man in what was officially ruled a justifiable act of self-defense. The St. Louis area, which includes the riot-torn town of Ferguson, Missouri, whose police department is under federal investigation after yet another shooting of an unarmed black man that even the Department of Justice now admits was also a justifiable act of self-defense, has seen its murder rate rise by 60 percent. Baltimore, the scene of similar rioting after the death of yet another black man was killed during an encounter with the police, and which is also the target of a federal investigation, is third on the list of the most hard-hit with a 54 percent increase. Washington, D.C., where the Department of Justice is located, comes in fourth a 44 percent increase.
As even The New York Times gets around to admitting in the 38th paragraph of a generally good story about the murder boom, it’s mostly black lives that are being lost. The “Black Lives Matter” movement doesn’t seem to care, though, as it’s only concerned with those black lives lost during encounters with the police, no matter how justifiably the officers might have acted, and at the moment they seem to hold sway in one of the country’s two major political parties. Longshot candidate Martin O’Malley, who was inconveniently both the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland, has been forced to apologize for saying that “all lives matter,” surging candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has cowardly ceded his campaign platform to a trio of the movement’s bullies, and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is still described as a front-runner, is now criticizing the bigger police budgets and longer sentences and other measures that she and her then-president husband once championed. Meanwhile the Department of Justice continues its investigations, the Democratic president who runs it continues to enflame racial grievances against the police, while the mayor of New York City, which has seen a 9 percent increase in its homicide rate over last year, which was up from the year before, is a fierce critic of “stop-and-frisk” and other aggressive law enforcement methods as well as a darling of the party’s left, and no one in the party can be heard to defend law enforcement.
This might help the Republicans’ chances in the upcoming election, but perhaps not. The murder rate is mostly going up in places that are Democratic strongholds, and are likely to remain so no matter how apocalyptic their neighborhoods become, and we suspect that only we right-wing crazies are appalled enough by all these murders to consider doing all the things that used to be bringing the murder deliriously down. Eventually the public’s impatience with rampant murder in the streets will insist on all that old-fashioned tough on crime stance, and we’re sure the Clintons will be right back with the crowd, but it remains to be seen if that moment will arrive by Election Day.

— Bud Norman

Policing the Police

The rioting has ended in Baltimore, with the mobs apparently placated by the indictments of six police officers involved in the recent death of a suspect or simply worn out and stocked up on looted supplies, but the city’s violent problems continue. With the cops in retreat the crooks have been on such on rampage that Baltimore has suffered 38 murders this month, the latest victims being a 31-year-old woman and her seven-month-old child, and although it won’t likely receive the same attention as the riots it should be considered in the nation’s ongoing debate about policing in minority neighborhoods.
Thirty-eight murders in one mere month is a lot for even such a populous city as Baltimore, and there’s no arguing that it’s a mere coincidence the spree has taken place after those six officers were indicted, the entire force was subjected to a Department of Justice investigation, and public scrutiny was focused on the city’s law enforcement. There are doubtlessly bad police officers in Baltimore, and those six indicted officers might yet be proved among them, but given the recent events it is also to be expected that even the good ones are reluctant to risk the sort of policing that once kept the local crime to more reasonable levels. Arrests are down in the city, what policing still occurs is done despite threatening groups of onlookers, and the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police freely admits to feeling “under siege” and that “criminals are taking advantage of the situation since the unrest,” and that officers “are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty.”
The problem isn’t limited to Baltimore, though, because the same animus toward to police is common throughout the country. New York City elected a mayor who ran on a promise to end that city’s “stop-and-frisk” procedures and other aggressive law enforcement techniques, and he’s gained a national following despite the city’s 45 percent increase in murder since his election. There’s even talk of making him the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, and current frontrunner Hillary Clinton is already attempting to stave off the challenge by calling for an end to the “era of mass incarceration” and the other tough-on-crime policies that her husband and former President Bill Clinton once championed. With the highly-publicized deaths of black suspects in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, New York City, and Charleston, South Carolina grabbing most of the headlines, and the added murders in places such as Baltimore and New York City getting less attention, and the Department of Justice seeming more concerned with the former rather than the latter, the soft-one-crime approach suddenly seems ascendant.
By the time the next presidential election rolls around, however, we expect the proverbial pendulum might swing in the other direction. That tough-on-crime stance the Democratic front-runner’s husband was once compelled to champion during the crime wave of the ’90s resulted in a 20-year decline in the nation’s crime rate, to the point that the voters in jurisdictions such as New York City and Baltimore forgot how very dangerous the nation’s big cities once were, which is why the press is now more concerned with the inevitable and sometimes entirely fictitious (as in the case of Ferguson) misdeeds by the police, but a steady stream of dead mothers and their seven-year-old children will serve as a reminder of why we started locking up prisoners and throwing away the key and the indulging the sort of aggressive policing that transformed New York City from a cinematic post-apocalyptic wasteland into a vacation destination with one of the world’s lowest big-city crime rates. Baltimore’s consistently more progressive civic government never did achieve that level of tranquility, but we can hope that 38 murder victims, including a 7-year-old and his mother, will offer a persuasive perspective even to that town.
The rest of the country should take note, as well. The bad police should face the consequences for their misdeeds, but that must be achieved without making the good ones afraid to do their very important jobs. Any presidential candidate who takes a similar stand should have an advantage over those who are more concerned with the rights of criminals to commit crime without fear of the legal consequences.

— Bud Norman

The First Lady’s Regrets

Times are tough all over and we don’t want to hear your gripes, especially if you’re the First Lady of the United States of America. Still, Michelle Obama took the occasion of Tuskegee University’s commencement ceremony to lament that nobody knows the troubles she’s seen.
The more polite pressmen over at The Hill described the speech as “Michelle Obama speaks of emotional toll of being first black first lady,” without the usual respectful capitalization in the headline, which is no doubt some sort of racist slight, and The New York Daily News went with an even more anodyne “Michelle Obama delivers Tuskegee University commencement address,” which could easily be understood as censorship of the truth she was she speaking to power or some such racist explanation, but we’ll go right ahead and call it the whining of a spoiled brat. To say that Obama lives like a queen is a gross overstatement, given the wide disparity between what America’s ostensible republic spends on her and what any official monarchy spends on its queen, and how Obama has more ostentatiously flaunted her privilege than any uneasy head that wears a crown would ever dare, and how relatively obliging the media coverage is, so her ordeal as First Lady hardly inspires our pity.
She recalled that when her husband was winning election as President of the United States someone described their celebratory fist-pump as a “terrorist fist-jab,” that someone else accused her of “uppity-ism,” and that yet another person somewhere or another referred to her as “Obama’s baby mama,” and we don’t doubt a word of it, this being a populous country full of 320 million people who say all sorts of nasty things about one another. It seems a rather small inconvenience compared to the compensations of being First Lady, though, at least from our perspective as regular American schmucks who routinely endure worse insults despite our straight white Christian male privilege, and often from the First Lady’s husband’s administration. She generously concedes that other potential presidential wives were subjected to questions about what kind of First Lady she might be and what causes she might champion, but said that “as potentially the first African-American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?” All we can remember of the ’08 press was coverage of her muscled arms and middle-class upbringing and a few snide conservative press pieces about her resentful and poorly-written thesis at Princeton and her well-paid gig as a “diversity officer” at a hospital receiving even greater amounts of money from a state where her husband was a prominent Senator, but we can see how that questions about too loud and too angry were worth asking, and at this point we’re keen to know just how emasculating is enough.
The First Lady of the United States went on to empathize with her fellow African-Americans who have felt “invisible” for the past many decades, as if she hasn’t been all too visible, and shared her fears of those pesky traffic stops by police officers, as if she knows what it’s like to be even a white male driving a red convertible without a safety belt, one of those pointless violations that her party adamantly supports even though it increases the chances of a a newsworthy encounter between the police and an unarmed black male. Just like her party has supported policies that have kept black unemployment high and black household income down and effective law enforcement in black neighborhoods subdued. Obama also told her audience not to become cynical, to continue supporting the same Democratic candidates that have prevailed over the past decades in Baltimore and the rest of those of oppressed portions of America, but we hope that the graduate of such an august institution of higher learning as Tuskegee University will have some questions.

— Bud Norman

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

Incitement to a Shooting

A suspect has been arrested for the shootings of two police officers during a protest last week in Ferguson, Missouri, and he does not appear to be a white supremacist. There was never any reason to believe that a white supremacist would go to a protest against against a police force accused of unjustifiably shooting an unarmed black teenager in order  to shoot two white officers, but a Democratic Missouri state Senator raised that unlikely possibility rather than admit that the shooting more likely had something to do with the anti-police fervor that he and others have whipped up since a white police officer shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson last summer.
According to press reports, the suspect has confessed to the shootings but insists he was aiming at some rival criminal rather than police. The suspect’s lengthy records of run-ins with the law suggests he just might be stupid enough to attempt a murder of a rival criminal in the middle of a protest rally and wind up striking two of the many law enforcement officers present instead, but the county attorney says that “We’re not sure we buy that part of it,” and it also strikes us as unlikely. Far more likely is the obvious conclusion that the shooter was motivated by an animus toward the police, and that he took the protesters’ chants for the murder of police to heart. Similar chants during the protests in New York City that followed another black man’s death at the hands of police there were answered with the murders of two officers, and those who have been encouraging the protests are understandably concerned that an outbreak of shootings against law enforcements will not win public support, which explains why some of the agitators are reaching for such far-fetched explanations as white supremacists trying to start a race war.
The protests against the police have already taken a public relations hit from the inconvenient facts of the case that started it all. A grand jury and the rest of the American public learned of physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that clearly proved the shooting of the black teenager in Ferguson was in self-defense, to the point that even Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department was forced to concede it could not bring federal charges the officer and had to settle for making a federal case out of the town’s traffic enforcement policies, and the broader claim of an ongoing war by the nation’s police against young black men has proved equally unfounded. Lacking any logic or facts, or even any sympathetic victims whose bloody shirts can be waved, the protesters have resorted to the sort of demonization that can only embolden people who already harbor a murderous rage against the police.
Which is not to allege any blame against the vast majority or the protesters, or anyone who has peaceably argued that reforms are needed to improve the policing of minority neighborhoods in America. Those responsible protesters have hurt their cause by linking it to what turned out to be a justifiable shooting of a rather unsavory young bully who was attempting to kill a policeman, and by their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the high levels of minority criminality that must be addressed by any solution, but they don’t bear any responsibility for the shootings of the police officers. Every protest movement is entitled to even strident free speech, and all attract a few crazies, and it is not conducive to free speech to blame the protest for the acts of an individual.
The anti-police protests, though, have too frequently indulged in rhetoric that seems calculated to provoke the movement’s most violent elements. Not just the recent chants about dead cops and the rap music that has been calling for the murder of police officers for years, but in its embrace of lies about a particular cop in Ferguson gunning down a “gentle giant” who was kneeling with his hands up. This lie was advanced at the highest levels of the federal government, with the White House sending emissaries to the funeral and the Justice Department helping to organize the protesters even as it launched an investigation in the Ferguson police department, as well as prominent print and electronic news organizations. It was a lie calculated to inflame the passions of neighborhoods already rife with violence and criminality, and those who told it share in the responsibility for two more brave police officers being shot.

— Bud Norman

Another Grand Jury, Another Controversy

Yet another grand jury has declined to indict a white a police officer involved in the death of a black man, this time in the Staten Island borough of New York City, and the latest round of racial tensions seems likely to continue for a while.
The death of an unarmed black teenager by the gun of a white police in Ferguson, Missouri, brought devastating rioting and looting and arson to that unfortunate town, and then another round of the same after a grand jury heard testimony and evidence that clearly indicated the officer was acting in self-defense. Reaction to the grand jury decision in New York City has thus far been less destructive, despite the efforts of a mob to disrupt the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, but it will suffice to keep the controversy about policing in black neighborhoods in the news for weeks to come. The latest case might yet prove even more volatile than the Ferguson incident, as the facts are less clear-cut.
The incident in New York City was caught on videotape, and what it reveals is at best ambiguous. Several policemen approach an extremely obese man, reportedly because he had been selling single cigarettes to passersby without paying the city’s notoriously high taxes on the product, and he is argumentative but not physically aggressive. When the officers attempt to handcuff the man he resists, but not in a way that can be construed as life-threatening given the lack of a weapon and the number of policemen involved. Several officers then bring the man down to the ground, one of them employing what the New York press has routinely called a “choke-hold” but might better be described as a “headlock,” and the officers pile on to handcuff the man as he is heard shouting that he cannot breath. As the tape ends, the officers are still piled on, the man’s head is still wrapped in a policeman’s arm, and the shouts by the man that he cannot breath continue.
The videotape leaves no doubt the decedent would still be alive had he acted more sensibly, but one can reasonably wonder if he might also have survived different procedures that could still have resulted in an arrest. There’s obviously more to the story than than what is seen on the videotape, and we assume the grand jury heard the rest of it, but there’s enough there to exacerbate the resentments of those who presume that police routinely act with disregard for the lives of black suspects. It’s at least a more compelling example for that view than what happened in Ferguson, where several black eyewitness corroborated ample physical evidence that the officer’s life was in danger and deadly force was warranted in response, but the initial reports in that case suggested a case of cold-blooded murder and weren’t effectively rebutted until the aftermath of the grand jury’s verdict.
The politicians and activists who prosper from racial strife will likely switch their attention to the New York story now that Ferguson’s rage has diminished in the cold weather and the even colder facts of that case, but they’ll have to settle for a story that is at best ambiguous. The videotape makes it harder to claim that putting cameras on America’s police will prevent such situations, but there’s still a case to be made that it could have prevented the premature judgment rendered against the Ferguson officer. What happened in New York might lead to better policies regarding arrests, but it should also continue to serve as a warning to those who would resist arrest in even the most ineffectual ways. It will also continue to distract attention from inordinate amount of criminality in black America, which kills far more black Americans than even the most reckless police departments, and we can only hope that the current controversies will soon fade enough for the country to consider that sad fact.

— 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

Race and the Mid-Term Races

The neighborhood is littered with yard signs, the mailbox is stuffed with fliers, the phone is constantly ringing with robo-calls, and there’s no escaping the negative advertisements on the radio and television airwaves. There’s no surer sign that election season is in full swing, though, than the biennial recurrence of racial controversies.
Even the most polite political observers no longer bother to deny that the Democratic party’s electoral fortunes rest largely on turning out large numbers of black voters, and that it routinely stokes racial resentments in order to do so. In the upcoming mid-term elections that task is more difficult than usual, without any black candidates at the top of ballot and the average black voter faring poorly under the current Democratic administration, so this year the party’s efforts have been unusually brazen. The tactics might succeed in dragging a few more black voters to the polls, but we expect they also run a risk of alienating the rest of the electorate.
Nothing seems to motivate black voters more than the idea that Republicans don’t want them to, and once again that reliable trope is being trotted out. This year’s variation on the theme is that photo identification requirements and other common sense rules limiting voting to eligible citizens are just the updated version of poll taxes and literary tests, and while the Democrats are waiting for the courts to rule in favor of massive voting fraud the Democrats are proudly touting their brave defense of the franchise of blacks and deceased Americans of all races. The stance is less likely to appeal to the vast majority of Americans who support such measures, however, and the Democrats’ arguments might prove offensive to those blacks who bother to listen. The Department of Justice introduced an “expert witness” to a North Carolina court considering that state’s voter identification law who calmly explained that the requirement in inordinately onerous to black citizens because they tend to be “less sophisticated,” “less educated,” and “less attuned to public affairs” than other Americans. This has been the apparent logic of the Democrats’ arguments all along, and such patronizing condescension seems to inform almost every Demcoratic position on matters of race, but hearing it so explicitly stated under oath isn’t likely to do much for the get-out-the-vote effort with anyone sufficiently sophisticated and educated and attuned to public affairs to have heard about it.
The Democrats also had great hopes for exploiting the past summer’s hooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which led to weeks of protests and riots and looting and media frenzy. In Georgia, where the Democrats are hotly contesting a Senate race, black communities have been inundated with advertisements warning that a Republican victory would lead to countless more cases of trigger-happy racist cops gunning down innocent youths as they kneel in the streets with their hands up. Aside from the pertinent facts that the shooting occurred in a Democrat-controlled city and state, and no Republican we’re aware of is running on a platform of gunning down innocent black teenagers, the ploy has also been weakened by recent revelations in such not-all-right-wing publications as The New York Times and The Washington Post that all the forensic evidence and at least seven black eyewitnesses have corroborated the officer’s story of self-defense. None of this is likely to satisfy the lynch mob that has gathered around the country, but the vast majority of Americans who are uncomfortable with lynch mobs will not be impressed to see the Democratic handing out the pitchforks and torches.
Another race card being played is black America’s predictable loyalty to the first black president, complete with claims that a Senate controlled by Republicans would quickly oust him from office. Only the least sophisticated and uneducated voters who are not attuned to public affairs don’t realize that the Republicans have no chance of gaining the 60 seats needed to convict in an impeachment trial, and that the timid Republican leadership in the House of Representatives would never bring the charges without that magic number, so of course the Democrats consider this a winning argument. The president has also made the argument that although he’s not on the ballot his policies are, a line that almost every Democratic candidate and even the press and the president’s past advisors have regretted. By now the president is far more popular than his policies among blacks, and the rest of the country doesn’t seem to like either the man or his plans. Here in Kansas, where the black vote is rarely decisive, almost all of the Republicans have been endlessly re-running the president’s remarks to bolster their non-block turnout.
In states where the black vote is more numerically significant the Democrats’ strategy will probably provide some help, and elsewhere it’s not likely to them do much harm, but it’s hard to see how it’s going to improve the nation’s race relations. Facilitating voter fraud, fomenting lynch mobs, and supporting failed policies as a matter of racial solidarity will not win black Americans greater respect, and it won’t solve any of the daunting problems that disproportionately affect their community. The Democrats clearly believe that black voters aren’t educated or sophisticated or attuned enough to public to see through their cynical ploys, and will now even express this opinion under oath, but real progress will be measured how far this fails.

— 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