Tag Archives: my 2 cents

The Curious Case of Trigger-Happy Policing

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All of my life, I have been surrounded by law enforcement officers who have sacrificed their lives in the name of protecting their local communities and bettering said communities. My father was a police officer in the community that he was born and raised in for 23 years. I was always proud to see him in his crisp white Lieutenant’s uniform, and was proud to tell my friends about what my dad did for a living. As a kid, I was always taught that, without question, police officers and other enforcers of the law were my friends – they were here to protect and serve the people in their communities.

However, as I matured, the loyalty I felt toward police officers and being an African American often placed me in an odd position in certain discussions. Even knowing the brutal history – past and present – of brutality rendered mercilessly upon Blacks at the hands of police officers, I always gave them the benefit of the doubt because my dad was one. When some of my friends and acquaintances in college would express how much they disliked or distrusted the police, I never fully understood their seeming disdain for ALL people in black uniforms and in police cars. Until now…

Over the course of the last few years – this past week, particularly, I have begun to understand where that disdain comes from. Slowly, the scales started to fall from my naive little eyes as I read and watched reports on police brutality. From Sean Bell to Oscar Grant, I began to question what drove these officers – people who I thought had all the right intentions – to brutally murder young Black men.

On July 18th, I learned about a 19-year old Black man by the name of Kenneth Wade Harding, Jr. who attempted to flee a traffic inspection and was gunned down by the San Francisco police. All because he allegedly didn’t pay a $2 bus fare. What really grieved my heart was the video that someone captured of the ordeal.  To “subdue” this man, the police thought it necessary to shoot him in the back and watch him bleed to death before summoning medical attention. What I saw was disgusting, tragic even, and I was outraged. With guns still raised and angry, shouting crowds kept at bay, these San Francisco officers decided that it was best to watch this 19-year old man struggle for life right before their eyes while they did nothing to come to his aid. What’s worse were the news reports that followed. After the ordeal, the 19-year old man allegedly had a lengthy rap-sheet and had been identified as being a pimp who was a person of interest in Seattle regarding the murder of a teenaged girl – something which no doubt gave the news channels fuel for fodder and kept the attention off of the accountability of these San Francisco police officers. So, right before our very eyes, the story shifts from San Francisco police “subduing” and killing a 19-year old man over bus fare to a 19-year old pimp who allegedly (according some San Fran officers and a handful of unidentified witnesses – the credibility of these “witnesses” is up for debate) had a gun, brandished it toward the officers, and finally had to pay the piper. The thing is, the man was originally from Seattle, and I doubt that these officers knew of his rap sheet BEFORE they shot him. So, what does this young man’s past have to anything to do with how he was wrongly murdered?  And, just like that, the tide shifts. With a clever sleight of hand approach, the media turns a victim into a criminal.

Today, I learned about a 13-year old boy in Chicago who was 8 times fatally by the police for allegedly having a BB gun. Responding to a 911 call of shots being fired, the boy – who’s name is Jimmell Cannon – matched the description.  Now, if it is true, that this young boy did have a BB gun and did point it toward officers, and did not respond when they asked him to lower the weapon, did it really take 8 rounds of bullets to “subdue” this child? Some may say that in the dark of night, a BB gun could closely resemble a real gun. Still, I doubt that these officers felt that threatened to fire 8 rounds and riddle a child’s body with bullets. Sadly, like the above-mentioned case, this one is a matter of “he-said, she said” because family members insist that the boy had no weapon – not even a BB gun.

I could go on and on with the anecdotes. The theme remains the same. Police in some areas are using undue force and what Marvin Gaye referred to as “trigger-happy policin'” to “subdue” Black bodies. What’s disheartening is that it continues. Chicago, New York, Detroit, Oakland, San Francisco – it’s a sad reality that some will die, unjustly, by the hands of police. And, an overwhelming majority of those are Black men. While I don’t lay the blame completely at the foot of law enforcement for certain street behaviors and mentalities like the “Stop Snitchin'” campaign, I do believe that there is a very legitimate reason why some Black folk don’t particularly care for or trust the police. It’s almost becoming an inherent trait among us not to trust the men and women who are supposed to be protecting and serving us. But with not-so-routine traffic stops and unwarranted frisking, it’s clear why there’s fear.

I argue that there’s not enough personal investment in the neighborhoods and communities that these officers patrol on a daily basis. It’s easy to not think twice and empty a clip into people who you have no respect or regard for and then return to a relatively “safe” environment. It’s easy to have tunnel-vision when identifying the “bad” guys and the “scum of the earth” when you think the overwhelming majority of them are  people of color. It’s easy to be unresponsive to urgent calls for 911 in inner-city areas  when you think that those areas are destined to fail anyway.

Scenarios like these and others cause me to question the motives of these officers when they sign up for the academy. Furthermore, it causes me to question exactly what is being taught in these said academies. I think that this long disturbing national trend reveals a lack of awareness and understanding about those that are constantly considered the “other.” The solution to such a complex problem requires a complex approach. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but one of those approaches, I argue, would be to incorporate multi-cultural and diversity training into those police academies that don’t already have such a component. Whether we like it or not, our stereotypes, personal experiences, and perceptions can taint the way we look at things. Police officers can’t afford to let the various lenses they look through paint the entire picture for them. To continue to do so will result in more distrust and more disdain from the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.

Another solution would be to have these officers held accountable for their actions. Whether it’s by the communities, fellow officers, district attorneys, judges, the media, or all of them…it needs to happen. And, we can’t automatically take these officers’ word for what may have happened during questionable situations, just because they have a badge and are license to carry a firearm. Too often, it’s the officer’s word against the victim’s, and too often the officers go unquestioned. The point is, we are all humans, capable of mistakes and missteps. Not holding officers accountable sends a message to everyone that the justice system really ain’t just.

“You Ain’t Cute…”: The [Attempted] Annihilation of the Black Woman’s Self Esteem

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...contrary to what some may think.

I just had to do it. I had to share my 2 cents on the ridiculousness that is Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s recent piece of hotmessness “scholarship” that appeared on Psychology Today‘s website, titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”

I thought this was a cruel joke. A hoax. But, tragically, it wasn’t. Psychology Today really did have the unmitigated gall to post this very “unscientific” article on its website on Sunday. Then, all at once, they yanked it. Still, cached versions of it have been making their way around the Internets all week. Is this 2011 or 1811?

First, Redskins lineman Albert Haynesworth declared that he didn’t even like Black women in an effort to deny charges of sexual assault [that’s a whole other post] , and now we Black women are considered “far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women” according to this dude Dr. Kanazawa. Awesome.

Actually, my problem is not so much with Dr. Kanazawa. After all, this is the same guy that made a living off of publishing some other questionable eugenics scholarship promoting racial stereotypes. I mean, how can you take someone seriously who claims that Asians are biologically smarter and that people of African ancestry are intellectually inferior? C’mon son. So let’s ignore his shenanigans for a sec.

My problem is with Psychology Today. Now, I understand that the purpose of publishing scholarship (or an abbreviated form of it) is to get us to a higher understanding of ourselves and our overall environment. Some scholarship has even shaken up some realities and made people upset (Exhibit A: the earth being round instead of flat). Yet, just because it upsets people doesn’t make such discoveries less true. But Dr. Kanazawa’s conclusion about Black women is an entirely different matter. I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure that the study lacks internal/external/construct validity of any kind. I mean, how can  the word “objective” and the concept of attractiveness even be in the same sentence? Essentially, the author of this study fails to outline his methods in a way that scientists are supposed to. I mean, who were the respondents? How many respondents were there? How was attractiveness operationalized?  More importantly, though, how is Dr. Kanazawa defining “Black”? It’s a feat in itself that he fails to even address. Black women come in all hues, shapes and sizes. Essentially, the study has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. Still, Psychology Today decided that it was okay to publish such sub-par scholarship. It makes me question the credibility of the magazine and those making these decisions.

As a friend so eloquently pointed out to me, the larger issue is the social consequences that could result from articles like these. In a world where 8 year olds are being taught to hate their bodies and get botox injections [I wish I could make this up], where it’s still necessary to have “Black” issues of Vogue magazine, it seems to me providing a forum for Dr. Kanazawa’s conclusion creates a harsh environment for young girls and even grown women, especially Black women in this case. It’s just not a good look for fragile or even not-so-fragile self esteems. I mean, how can you scientifically assess attractiveness, anyway? Is that not one of the most subjective concepts ever? Beyond that, Psychology Today’s choice to publish this article signals to me that the Eurocentric view of beauty and attractiveness is what should be praised, while anything else is inferior or “ugly.” I suppose the editor-in-chief ignores the fact that women who lack melanin frequent tanning beds, spend hundreds of dollars on botox injections for their lips, and get implants for their hind parts to become more “attractive” and to obtain more aesthetically pleasing features that many Black women and other women of color tend to have naturally. But, I digress.

Call me crazy, but between Steve Harvey’s books schooling Black women about how to act like women, but think like men to trap, hog-tie, and hoodwink  find, keep, and understand a man; the marriage and mating “crisis” among Black women being publicized and even broadcast on news outlets with reckless abandon; and this article, it seems like there’s a calculated attempt in 2009-2011 to discursively annihilate our self-esteem. I mean, if you’re uglier than your non-Black peers and are ignorant of the ways to maintain relationships and/or marriages with the unavailable and/or un-marriageable pool of Black men that you may desire, what hope is there?!

Yet, all of the above are just mere attempts. We know what we’re working with. My self-esteem hasn’t gone down any from these attempts, and  the beautiful, educated, married, and successful Black women I know don’t seem to be affected in the least bit by them, either.

But, as I stated on my Facebook page, defamation like this must end. I’m tired of the myths, foolishness, and unfounded conclusions about and portrayals of Black women that clog up our precious media space. I called attention to this article not to give a racist dimwit “scholar” more shine, but to ignite some action among those of us who are fed up. On Monday, I e-mailed the editor in chief (click here for the contact info) of Psychology Today to express my disapproval and disappointment in the content they chose to post. Though the content has since been removed, the fact that it was even seen on the website is problematic enough for me. [If you care to read the article, here is a cached version]. So, I urge you, men and women alike, who feel the same way to express your opinions as well. Let’s show Psychology Today that we won’t tolerate these types of things to be spread all willy-nilly.

“‘De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin’ fuh it tuh be different wid you. Lawd, Lawd, Lawd’” -Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Can the President Ever Be American Enough?

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An actual billboard...This conspiracy even has its own Wikipedia page

I just had to take a break from planning the trajectory of my post-graduate life to write about this issue that has everyone abuzz: the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s United States citizenship. Here’s my little 2 cents on the matter:

For nearly 3 years now, there have been many conspiracy theories about whether the President is actually an American citizen. If you recall, the controversy was first started around the time of the 2008 campaign, and some even called into question Republican candidate John McCain’s own citizenship since he was technically born in the Panama Canal Zone, but since it was occupied by the U.S and since he was a white man and a veteran Congress quelled the argument and deemed him elegible to run for President. Many scholars and experts had to really examine the wording of the Constitution, and realized that in McCain’s case, the issue of being “natural born” turned out to have many shades of gray.

In June of 2008, Obama released his certificate of live birth in Hawaii (which became a state in 1959, therefore undoubtedly American territory), complete with verified signatures, a raised seal, support from both Republican and Democratic leaders, and legitimization from the Hawaii Department of Health. But alas, that wasn’t enough for those who really believed that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya and/or the certificate was forged.

So once again, the “Birthers,” as they have been referred to colloquially, have caused quite a stir as the campaign for 2012 begins. Perhaps their most notable spokesperson is businessman and Celebrity Apprentice star Donald Trump who is keeping America on-edge about whether he is going to be running as a Republican candidate for the 2012 Presidential election and who is best known for bad hair and numerous bankruptcies. He has basically been on the press circuit asking what the big deal is all about and why can’t the President just show us his “real” freedom papers?

Today, the President held a brief press conference about this issue and released the long-form of his birth certificate, which was verified – again. In the press conference he stated:

“I have watched with amusement and have been puzzled at how things kept on going…we’ve got enormous challenges … we are not going to be able to get things done if we’re distracted by side shows and carnival barkers.”

First of all,  let’s just call a spade a spade. I think that this whole “Birther” scandal is just another codeword for race/racism. Despite what some say, just because our President is Black does not mean we are in post-racial America. Bottom line, I don’t believe that the President should have had to do this. I know that he’s trying to make nice despite what his detractors and doubters say, but do you honestly think they would have let the first Black President even have a shot at candidacy before double and triple checking his citizenship? I’m inclined to believe not. With all of the controversy surrounding this man’s place of birth, I can’t help but think about the immigration issues that are going on down in Arizona. I’m hard pressed to believe that we are not the 1800s. Should everyone that’s black or brown carry around proof of their citizenship or their freedom papers?

Secondly, there’s a larger, more disturbing issue going on here. I believe that this idea of the “Birther” movement implies that no matter what he does, President Barack Obama will never be able to prove that he’s American enough for some. From the man’s place of birth to questions surrounding his religious beliefs to referring to as Michelle his “baby mama” and deriding his children for their hair styles and clothing choices, the President is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Although this is a free country, you wouldn’t know it from the way we treat some of our citizens. From the time Barack Obama stepped onto the scene as a viable contender until now, I believe that our President has been treated like some sort of second-class, pseudo-citizen. It’s disrespectful. And, there’s no way in the world someone else of a lighter hue would have had to jump through all of these hoops to prove himself.

Finally, the fact that this is even getting picked up and egged on by major news networks is telling of what we as Americans prioritize as “newsworthy.” This whole “bread and games” form of distraction is keeping us from tackling more important and dire issues like: the abysmal state of the economy and the 2 (or 3 – if you count Libya) wars we’re involved in. We have bigger fish to fry as a country than figuring out if our President is American enough for the doubters. He’s got the job already, so the “Birthers” lost from the outset.

Let me know what you think:  should the President have released the long form birth certificate at all? Should he have done it sooner?

“The Fab Five”: The Missing Media Conversation

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The University of Michigan's "Fab Five": King, Howard, Webber, Rose, & Jackson (from l to r)

Spoiler Alert: I include some details in this post about the Fab Five documentary, so sorry if I include some spoilers (I had to in order to prove my points).

I’m not one to usually tune into anything on ESPN, but after hearing all the media hoopla surrounding Jalen Rose’s “Uncle Tom” comments about Grant Hill and other Black ball players at Duke in the Fab Five documentary, I had to see it. But, what I got out of it was something different than all the sound bytes suggested I would. I’m not #TeamHill or #TeamRose by any means, because I understand where both men stand. I understand why Rose felt as he did as an 18 year old. I also understand why such comments would compel Grant Hill to write an op-ed response in The New York Times, too. Basically, I believe that this conversation all boils down to an identity crisis in the Black community, particularly among Black males, about who or what is truly Black – a conversation that needs to be had.

Since I’ve read so many interesting takes on this particular matter, I don’t want to contribute to the clutter. Instead, I would like to see the conversation in the media shift to a topic I think is as equally important to identity that this documentary does a great job of covering provocatively: economic disempowerment and exploitation by the NCAA. I think this, among other things in the documentary, is getting overlooked because of sensationalistic sound bytes.

I’m baffled that we’re not talking about this because it needs to be discussed. The Fab Five  brought more than just “swag”  and “style” to the NCAA basketball court. The 5 five starting freshmen also brought millions of dollars into the University of Michigan because of that very “swag,” popularity and pure talent. But while the dollars were flowing to the University, the Fab Five saw none of that (I mean if you want to argue that Chris Webber did, I digress. He did eventually, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that he saw substantial amounts from U of M himself. It’s my understanding that a booster fronted him the cash he is sanctioned from – not the University). Everything from $75 jerseys, baggy shorts, and trading cards to custom sneakers, t-shirts, hats, black socks, and everything else under the sun were sold because of the Fab Five. In fact, according to documentary, Michigan made $10.5 million from merchandise royalties (up from $1.6 million after the team’s 1989 NCAA championship win) without having won NCAA championships during the Fab Five’s reign. All the while, though, Fab Five members, like Webber and Rose, had to scrape to get by by borrowing a “coupla dollas” here and there from friends to even buy pizza or to put gas in their beat up hoopties cars (like Jalen Rose’s old Dodge Shadow).

Sure, these were college basketball players that agreed to abide by the NCAA rules before they signed up to play for U of M. Sure, they received tuition remission from the university in exchange for playing on Michigan’s basketball team. And sure, I’m convinced that these players received some perks in the U of M community (like more tacos, according to Jimmy King) because of their popularity. But all of that doesn’t explain away the bottom-line: that these players and many other players before and after them were and are still being exploited economically by the NCAA.

What I was impressed by in this documentary was the Fab Five’s eventual awareness of their exploitation. Freshman year was all fun, games, and hard work on the court to prove that they could and should be the starting line-up for the U of M team. However, by their sophomore year and after an eye-opening trip to Europe, these young men became more mindful of who was getting paid (legally) for all their hard work – and it wasn’t them. In fact, Rose remembers feeling “like a professional athlete that wasn’t getting paid.” So, in protest, they wore plain blue warm up shirts without the Nike icon and without the University of Michigan icon. The Fab Five realized they were simply “cogs in a wheel” of economic oppression, and I can’t help but to agree. In fact, I will go so far to say that the Fab Five’s popularity was the catalyst for such blatant exploitation by the NCAA that still goes on today.

So, I would like to see the media’s conversation shift to this idea of economic exploitation in the NCAA and whether or not NCAA players should receive some type of compensation in addition to tuition remission for making these universities millions. I think that the attention to the Fab Five documentary provides us with a good opportunity to raise these issues again, because it’s only getting worse. Some may argue that the Fab Five all went on to make the big bucks in the NBA eventually, but what about those players who don’t get a chance to go on to showcase their talents professionally? Sure, they may have a college degree (if they’re lucky enough to graduate and if the university supports them academically as much as they do athletically during their time in college) to fall back on, but how is it fair that these coaches and other people get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, and these players can’t see a red cent?

I think it’s funny that these athletes have to abide by the strict rules of the NCAA forbidding them to take money of any kind from anyone associated with the NCAA – including borrowing money to buy a bite to eat or get a winter coat – while the NCAA and the universities that attach themselves to these same star athletes are making out like fat rats and raking in millions of dollars. I think that – not some kids playing ball for a college education taking money here and there to survive because they’re not getting fairly compensated – is what’s most morally reprehensible…

What do you think? Do you believe NCAA division I players should get paid in some way for playing? Why or why not?