How Poor Young Black Men Run from the Police
Alice Goffman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (out this month on University of Chicago Press), has been getting far more attention than academic works usually get. The book is a result of her living in a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia she refers to as “6th Street” for years as an undergraduate and a grad student. (She changed the names of people and places in her book.) She eventually fell in with a group of young men who were almost constantly under the threat of being arrested and jailed, often for petty probation violations or unpaid court fees. She became a “fly on the wall” and took notes as her subjects (who were also her friends) attempted to make a living, support each other, and maintain relationships with their loved ones, all while attempting to evade the authorities. Goffman’s work shows how the threat of imprisonment hangs over the lives of so many in communities like 6th Street and warps families and friendships in the process. It’s an uncommonly close look at how lives are lived under police surveillance and should be read by anyone with an interest in poverty, policing, or mass incarceration. This excerpt is from the second chapter, which is titled “Techniques for Evading the Authorities.”
A young man concerned that the police will take him into custody comes to see danger and risk in the mundane doings of everyday life. To survive outside prison, he learns to hesitate when others walk casually forward, to see what others fail to notice, to fear what others trust or take for granted.
One of the first things that such a man develops is a heightened awareness of police officers—what they look like, how they move, where and when they are likely to appear. He learns the models of their undercover cars, the ways they hold their bodies and the cut of their hair, the timing and location of their typical routes. His awareness of the police never seems to leave him; he sees them sitting in plain clothes at the mall food court with their children; he spots them in his rearview mirror coming up behind him on the highway, from ten cars and three lanes away. Sometimes he finds that his body anticipates their arrival with sweat and a quickened heartbeat before his mind consciously registers any sign of their appearance.
When I first met Mike, I thought his awareness of the police was a special gift, unique to him. Then I realized Chuck also seemed to know when the police were coming. So did Alex. When they sensed the police were near, they did what other young men in the neighborhood did: they ran and hid.
Black Israelites Say Whites Are Possessed by the Devil
In case you missed it, neo-Nazis were supposed to take New York City, and much of America, by storm on March 15. It was all part of a scheme hatched on the white-supremacist chat rooms of Stormfront. They called for a national “white man’s March.” Unsurprisingly, the planned nationwide protest ended up being a complete dud. I know, because I spent the day scouring Manhattan looking for fascists.
They were no shows at Grand Army Plaza near Central Park, where they had planned to congregate. Nor were they on hand in Queens, where they had advertised a barbecue party that day in front of the outlet strip mall on Jamaica Avenue, which is heavily trafficked by African Americans and West Indians. The only other white person around on Jamaica Avenue that afternoon, besides myself, was a dude handing out yoga-studio flyers. Instead of hitting the streets, many of this country’s racist white folks rang in “white man’s March” by lazily posting photos of themselves holding white-pride banners on the internet.
But that’s not to say I didn’t find racists on March 15; they just weren’t white. In Queens, I came upon a group of about a dozen individuals lined up in a row, wearing purple robes with faux-gold edging in front of the Jamaica Center shopping complex.
If you live in a major American city, you may have encountered a variation of the scene I witnessed: men who look like they’ve wandered off the set of an all–African American production of Jesus Christ Superstar, soapboxing on the street corner to puzzled passersby. While the first rule of advertising is to keep it short, with these guys the message travels a long, windy route through the Book of Deuteronomy and other texts before arriving at the takeaway: Black people are the real Jews, and white people are possessed by Satan.
When I asked the strange group of men who was in charge, I was directed toward a robed gentleman who said, “People call us the Black Israelites. But that’s not right. We are the Israelites.”
Their garments read “Israelites United in Christ” in a font that looked as if it had been borrowed from a poster for Disney’s Aladdin. There on the street, one fellow read from a Bible, overseen keenly by a preacher who would interrupt him periodically and interpret the text. The gist of the message from what I could gather was, “Down with the white man’s science.”
Donald Sterling’s Been Banned for Life, but He’ll Be Dead Soon Anyway
The NBA finally applied sanctions to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling has been fined $2.5 million (the maximum he could be fined) and suspended for life for the racist rhetoric his former girlfriend recorded and released to TMZ as retribution for a lawsuit brought against her by Sterling.
The scandal, which has diverted attention away from one of the most exciting, competitive NBA Playoffs in modern history and potentially ruined the Clippers’ run at the Finals, might finally recede from the public consciousness now that Sterling has been punished. Of course, as long as he owns the team, there will still be the question of how long he’ll remain a part of the league and who will take over when he’s gone.
VICE: So, what do you think would happen if every immigrant currently in the UK upped and left tomorrow?
Tim Finch: Well, the country would fall apart, quite frankly. There has been quite high migration to the UK, particularly in recent years. So if we were to say all migrants were to leave Britain tomorrow and stop working, there’d be large gaps in the workforce, particularly in certain industries. At the moment, the UK economy needs migrant workers in all sorts of sectors, so for them to leave overnight would be frankly disastrous. It’s a hypothetical situation. Thank goodness it will never happen.
—We Asked an Expert What Would Happen if Every Immigrant Left the UK
The FBI Is Trying to Recruit Muslims As Snitches by Putting Them on No-Fly Lists
Dr Rahinah Ibrahim is not a national security threat.
The federal government even said so.
It took a lawsuit that has stretched for eight years for the feds to yield that admission. It is one answer in a case that opened up many more questions: How did an innocent Malaysian architectural scholar remain on a terrorism no fly-list—effectively branded a terrorist—for years after a FBI paperwork screw up put her there? The answer to that question, to paraphrase a particularly hawkish former Secretary of Defense, may be unknowable.
Last week, there was a depressing development in the case. A judge’s decision was made public and it revealed that the White House has created at least one “secret exception” to the legal standard that federal authorities use to place people on such lists. This should trouble anyone who cares about niggling things like legal due process or the US Constitution. No one is clear what the exception is, because it’s secret—duh—meaning government is basically placing people on terror watchlists that can ruin their lives without explaining why or how they landed on those lists in the first place.
This flies in the face of what the government has told Congress and the American public. Previously, federal officials said that in order to land on one of these terror watchlists, someone has to meet a “reasonable suspicion standard.” That means there have to be clear facts supporting the government’s assertion that the individual in question is, you know, doing some terrorist shit. Which seems like a good idea.
But not any more, apparently.
The fact that Sharpton dealt in the underworld 30 years ago isn’t really news. The value of the Smoking Gun report is mainly historic—it offers a glimpse into Sharpton’s past life, before Obama and MSNBC, Upper West Side apartments, and private cigar clubs. It takes us back to a time when Al Sharpton wore tracksuits, weighed 300 pounds, and incited riots. Which gets at the real question: Why are we still talking about Al Sharpton?
The Many Mysteries of Al Sharpton
It’s Wednesday morning, the first day of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention, and D’Juan Collins is telling me how the state took his son and won’t give him back. A slight man in a linen button-down and a Bluetooth earpiece, Collins is passing out flyers with a baby photo of his son Isaiah and a plug for his site, www.SaveIsaiah.com. Isaiah, now seven, was put into foster care in 2007, when Collins was sent to prison. When I ask what he was sent in for, he demurs. The conviction was overturned last year, he says, but Brooklyn Family Court and the foster care agency have declined to return custody of his son.
He has come here, to Sharpton’s annual civil rights confab, to get help. “I’m all about networking,” Collins explains, “because I can’t do this alone.”
If the Reverend Al Sharpton has a nexus of power, it is here, in the sweaty third-floor ballroom of the Sheraton Times Square, where more than 6,000 activists have assembled to talk shop at panels with titles like “American Holsters: How the Gun Won,” “The Role of Media in Crafting the Social Narrative,” and “Truth to Power Revival.” Outwardly, the annual civil rights hoedown is an essentially political event, a display of the influence Sharpton has aggressively cultivated over three decades in the national spotlight. But the convention is also a yearly pilgrimage for people, like Collins, who have been beaten by the system, screwed by insidious and structural racism that has stacked the deck against them. Because Al Sharpton, in addition to being a syndicated radio host, prime-time MSNBC talking head, and personal friend of the president, is still the guy you call when your kid gets shot.
Everyone I meet on Wednesday has a story. One woman at the conference tells me she’s here for the first time this year because her nephew was killed in Harlem last week, and she wants to “talk to the reverend about gun control.” Another spends the morning passing out yard signs that read: “My Civil Rights Were Violated.”
In some circles, Sharpton is considered ridiculous—a 90s race-riot relic turned smug cable-news hack. It’s easy to forget that he is probably the most powerful civil rights leader in the country, and a political kingmaker whose influence is evidenced by the parade of liberal pols who drop by his conference every year to pay their respects. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand Wednesday, as was Attorney General Eric Holder and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. President Obama is headlining Friday.
This Week in Racism: The #CancelColbert Debate Is the Funniest Thing to Ever Happen
-If there’s one thing I believe the human race can totally agree on, it’s that comedy only gets better the more you dissect it. For instance, the classic joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side,” surprises the recipient of the joke with its literal, non-punchline. It’s a pure form of anti-comedy, the “Nick Cannon in whiteface" of one-liners. Isn’t that joke so much funnier now that I’ve explained it? I thought so.
Last week was a real golden age of comedy, thanks in no small part to the#CancelColbert controversy. Like with all the best art (textbooks, CliffsNotes, the Transformers movie series), the meaning needs to be super clear, or it’s not good. That’s not a suggestion. That’s, like, a rule.
Writer/activist/excellent comedian Suey Park and TV personality/white person Stephen Colbert both learned this powerful lesson through the course of last week’s controversy over Colbert’s joke about the Washington Redskins’ Native American outreach foundation. The Twitter account for The Colbert Report tweeted an out-of-context quote on the subject that contained a racial slur against Asians. That caused Park to create the #CancelColbert hashtag and blow up the internet for a few days. Conservative pundits, often the ones getting accused of racism, jumped at the chance to give their hybrid-driving competition a taste of their own medicine. You go, Michelle Malkin! You’ve really earned it.
Eventually, Colbert went on his show and explained that what everyone was upset about was a joke, specifically a satirical dig at Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s insistence on his football team having a racially insensitive nickname. At that point, the joke took off, growing from a mildly amusing larva of social commentary into a full-blown comedy butterfly. And yet… something was missing. What if there was yet another layer of sarcasm at play here? What if… Suey Park was just kidding the whole time too?
Shit’s about to get real.
In an interview with popular comedy blog Salon.com, Suey Park explained—in agonizingly funny detail—how she’s actually a fan of Colbert and that she was merely trying to point out how white people are allowed the benefit of context, but minorities don’t receive the same privilege. Allow Ms. Park to explain further:
"A lot of white America and so-called liberal people of color, along with conservatives, ask, “Do I understand context?” And that’s part of wanting to completely humanize the oppressor. To see the white man as always reasonable, always pure, always deliberate, always complex and always innocent. And to see the woman of color as literal. Both my intent behind the hashtag and in my [unintelligible] distance, is always about forcing an apology on me for not understanding their context when, in reality, they misunderstood us when they made us a punch line again. So it’s always this logic of how can we understand whiteness better, and that’s never been my politics. I’ve always been about occupying the margins and strengthening the margins and what that means is that, for a long time, whiteness has also occupied the margins. Like, people of color get in circles with no white people in the room and we see that whiteness still operates. So I think it’s kind of a shock for America that whiteness has dominant society already, it also seeps into the margins. What happens the one time when the margins seep into the whiteness and we encroach on their space? It’s like the sky is falling."
I’m not sure who’s being misunderstood, who’s lacking context, or what “margins seep into the whiteness” means (maybe a Sarah McLachlan lyric?) What I do know is that the above block of text is very, very funny. I encourage comedians everywhere to explain themselves more. Based on the media’s fixation with this story, it seems like a sure way to up your Klout score. HILARIOUS
Continue reading this week in racism
Can MDMA Make You Racist?
You don’t have a lot of time for rational thought after dropping a pill. Three Mitsis in and you’re almost entirely preoccupied with finding out what people’s scarves feel like, or trying to focus on literally anything through your rapidly flickering eyes. So you’d have thought that amid all the euphoria and heart palpitations there surely wouldn’t be space to get hung up on the ethnicity of the people around you.
It turns out, however, that the brain’s biochemistry during a blissed-out club night may not be too dissimilar from its status at a KKK rally. This is thanks to a hormone called oxytocin, which has been described by many as "the love hormone" or the "cuddle drug." The hormone has been linked to developing trust between mother and child during breast feeding, and between partners after intercourse. Its release is also triggered by MDMA, and that loved-up feeling you get after swallowing a pill has been attributed to the effects the hormone has on the brain.
However, research by professor Carsten de Dreu at the University of Amsterdam showed in 2011 that oxytocin had a slightly more sinister side. His experiments revealed that what many thought of as the “moral molecule” actually contributed to what scientists euphemistically refer to as “ethnocentrism,” or what the layman would call racism.
Participants in de Dreu’s study were presented with a dilemma in which they had to deny one person access to a lifeboat in order to save five others. In the double-blind experiment, Dutch men were given either oxytocin via a nasal spray or a placebo. The results showed that those taking oxytocin were more likely to spare men with Dutch names while sacrificing those with Muslim- or German-sounding names. For those who were given the placebo, however, the name of the potential victim didn’t matter.
Inside the Kafkaesque World of the US’s ‘Little Guantanamos’
We sat together on her couch, her small, eight-year-old hands clutching a photo of her father, Yassin Aref. “My daddy only held me twice before I was five,” Dilnia told me. For the first five years of her life, she only knew him as the man on the other side of a plexiglass window in a communication management unit in an Indiana federal penitentiary.
Prisoners describe the communication management units, or CMUs, as “Little Guantánamos.” In 2006, the Bureau of Prisons created two of these units to isolate and segregate specific prisoners, the majority of them convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The bureau secretly opened these units without informing the public and without allowing anyone an opportunity to comment on their creation, as required by law. By September 2009, about 70 percent of the CMU prisoners were Muslim, more than 1,000 to 1,200 percent more than the federal prison average of Muslim inmates.
In the CMUs, prisoners are subject to much stricter rules than in general population. They are limited to two 15-minute telephone calls per week, both scheduled and monitored. Visits are rarely permitted, and when family members are allowed to visit, they are banned from physical contact, limited to phone conversations between a plexiglass window. This differs from the general population, where prisoners can spend time with their visitors in the same room. To further the isolation, some of the CMU prisoners are held in solitary confinement, with only one hour out of their cells each day.