I. An Apology… Sort of
In light of my recent notoriety over my defense of my friend, Greg Glassman, I have received (mostly) supportive feedback, some mild disagreement, a correction, and several pieces of semi-literate, gibbering nonsense…Of course, it is to the semi-literate, gibbering nonsense to which I feel compelled to address myself.
I think we all should take issues of “systemic racism” more seriously. I’ve worked in the criminal justice system as a defense attorney for two decades; I couldn’t agree more. I’ve sat next to many young black men in court as their defense attorney – certainly a hundred times or more. On more than one occasion, I had the distinct sense that if my client were white in the exact same circumstances, we wouldn’t be in court at all. It’s a real issue that needs real solutions; not Twitter mobs screaming about CEOs of companies because they happen to be white and hurt your Twitter-feelings. (I know, I know, I’m being deliberately mean – and I shouldn’t – because Twitter-feelings aren’t like regular feelings… they’re… super-feelings. They matter, man.)
Now, I know, in the current culture – as a cis-hetero white male – I’m supposed to “check my privilege” and bow and scrape because of my whiteness. I’ve been reminded of this by a few commenters who lectured me from their pulpit on top of George Floyd’s corpse. That’s where they all seem to be standing now, yelling about how I – and Glassman – don’t understand… and George Floyd’s family… yada yada yada, George Floyd, systemic racism.
First, a partial defense. I spent 27 years in the Marine Corps and, at one point in my thirties, 15 out of 21 months in Afghanistan – doing the same thing everyone else there was doing: kicking over rocks looking for Bin Laden. Now, I do NOT want to lean on my disability… however, I believe I do have a serious case of YGTBFKM. YGTBFKM manifests itself in veterans (usually), and it almost always shows up in the immediate aftermath of deployments, especially long ones to war zones, in which one witnesses the full panoply of Man’s Savagery Against Fellow Man acted out with high explosives and high-velocity projectiles. Upon returning to civilization, a veteran may find him- or herself subjected to routine incidents in which instantly the words drop from their lips: “You’ve Got to be F—— Kidding Me!” Trivialities and even seemingly serious subjects lose all of their power, causing veterans to instantly speak the words: and now you know the origins of this terrible affliction and how it got its name. And if you think this isn’t serious, it is. I even have a medicinal marijuana card to treat it; that’s how you know it’s serious in these serious times. So, if I say or write something and it hurts someone’s Twitter-feelings… well, I don’t want to be a guy that leans on his disability, but… it’s probably not my fault.
If I seem cavalier about issues that are making people rend their garments – and torch bIack-owned small businesses in inner cities – I’m not. My very maculate origins were right in the middle of “the struggle” and I’ve personally lived the aftershocks of one of the most important civil rights decisions in Supreme Court history, Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
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My mother told my sister and I the story when we were young. When mom and dad were still together, dad even confirmed it to the finest details. There was mom, standing in the kitchen. It was hot, as only Eastern-Texas, about 100 miles from the Louisiana border can be in the late summer. I was due in a few months and my sister was two-and-a-half. The screen door allowed what little breeze there was to circulate the air in their tiny home in Henderson, Texas.
A neighbor came hurriedly to the door.
“Missuh Ronald? Miss Becky? You gotta come! Everyone’s going.”
What’s going on?
“The niggahs are marchin’ downtown. Come on!”
It was 1969 and the civil rights marches had come to Texas. My mother blanched, her eyes wide. She hated that word. She looked at my father, and the visitor, sensing some hesitation, misunderstood the look.
“What? You don’t got a gun? ‘Cuz we can get you one,” the neighbor offered helpfully.
“What? No! No. We’re all set,” my father replied quickly. “Thank you,” pointing to my mother’s distended stomach.
My mother stood there in shock, holding her swollen belly with me inside; she couldn’t believe it. My dad knew from my mother’s look that was the death-knell for making a life outside of the Air Force in the south. I imagine mom might well have had a bout of YGTBFKM, but the disease wouldn’t be widely known until much later.
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If I told you that my mother’s mother (Gran) had 5 different kids from 4 different fathers, was married only once – and he wasn’t the father of any of her kids – that he was an alcoholic who my mother found dead in his bed when she was a teenager – that my mother and her sister had been orphaned for a short while as infants, then reunited with their mother, and then raised in the Hartford Projects until mom was 14 or 15…
…Well, if Gran were black, she’d be a horrible stereotype. But she’s not. Gran is nearly translucent white, as it turns out, and she left a nearly destroyed London, surviving Hitler’s V1s and V2s dropping on her home, for the relative safety of the United States. By comparison, then, the Hartford Projects probably weren’t all that bad.
I feel compelled to point this out – because it seems like a LOT of angry people on Twitter don’t know this but: there are white people living right next door to black people in the inner cities, in exactly same circumstances, with lots of similar problems, including with the police.
They called him “daddy” even though he wasn’t theirs. My mother, her two sisters, her brother… they all knew. He was fine sober – kind, even… until he started drinking. Most times, he would go out to drink at night. Sometimes, my mother told me, she would hear him crying in the kitchen, from the pain. She would sneak out and see him seated in a chair, holding his head from the pain. He would get drunk, find himself wandering the streets, and the cops would pick him up. Most times, they’d drop him off, but on some occasions, he’d get arrested and they’d give him a beating. Phone books against the side of his head and then a blackjack or a knight stick to the phone book. No marks, horrific headaches, massive head trauma. At least he died peacefully in his sleep, I suppose, the effects of the alcohol finally overcoming him. My mother found him dead in bed when she came to check on him one morning while Gran was at work.
When she left to marry my father and follow him into the Air Force in 1965, the last thing she ever thought was of raising her children in that place. She hadn’t seen southern segregation, and Jim Crow laws, however. During her pregnancy with me, the doctor’s office in the small town was required, by law, to have separate entrances for whites and blacks.
“It was the most ridiculous thing you ever saw,” my mom would tell us. “Just stupid.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Because it’s a tiny little office. We’re in rural Texas. There’s only one waiting area, so they had white tape, on the floor, forming a line down the middle of the office. The doctor obviously had to convert the office to allow blacks to come in the back door, and we – whites – came in the front… and then we’d sit right next to each other, poor whites and poor blacks with a tape line on the floor to keep us “separate but equal.” It was the most idiotic thing you’ve ever seen. White tape on the floor, sitting right next to each other. There was a black woman, due around the same time as me, and we’d see each other at our appointments. She had another one and I had your sister, and the kids would play together in the waiting area. Some people would stare – the hell am I gonna do? Ridiculous.”
Couple that the “niggahs are marching” incident and mom had seen enough of actual, honest-to-God, systemic racism. At a time when wives didn’t tell their husbands they were moving, my father didn’t even put up a fight. Back up north we would go, six months after I was born. I’ve never seen the town I was born in.
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Brown v. Board of Education
In 1977, the courts in the south, including Florida, were still trying to sort out how they were going to implement the Supreme Court’s order in Brown v. Board of Education, one of the landmark Supreme Court cases of the Civil Rights era, first announced in 1954 in a unanimous 9-0 opinion. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” declared the 14 page opinion, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, the Supremes didn’t provide any instructions on how exactly this massive restructuring of society was going to be undertaken. The Court’s second decision in Brown II, 349 U.S. 294 (1955), only ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” Not much help there either. A later decision no one has heard of ordered the foot-dragging southern states, and many northern ones, too, to make it happen – NOW. District court judges were put in charge of mandatory integration in childhood education across the United States.
In many places, like South Boston, Massachusetts, the media diligently covered the plight of black students being bussed into previously all-white schools and neighborhoods – and the riots that accompanied it.
“I remember riding the buses to protect the kids going up to South Boston High School,” Jean McGuire, who was a bus safety monitor, recalled recently. “And the bricks through the window. Signs hanging out those buildings, ‘Nigger Go Home.’ Pictures of monkeys. The words. The spit. People just felt it was all right to attack children.”
One of those children was Regina Williams.
“I had no idea what to expect [with] this busing thing,” Williams said. “I didn’t know anything about South Boston. I didn’t know anything about, you know, they didn’t like us. I didn’t know anything that was in store for us. But when we got there, it was like a war zone.
“I came back and I told my mom, and I’ll never forget, I said, ‘Ma, I am not going back to that school unless I have a gun.’ At 14 years old. I am not going back to that school.”
In Orlando, Florida, it played out the same way – except they sent roughly 20 white kids who lived right on the Winter Park-Orlando line to a previously all-black school, Hungerford Elementary. My sister and I were part of that tranche of kids who would be the leading edge of desegregation efforts. Like Regina Williams, I was completely unprepared for the visceral nature of the hate; I was 7 and my sister was 10. One of the boys who was my sister’s age wound up leaving school in an ambulance. They chased me every day on the playground. Sometimes they caught me and gave me a beating. Fortunately, at that age, it wasn’t too bad. So, yes, I am intimately aware of what it is like to be hated simply for the color of your skin, for nothing you have done, but simply for your existence.
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III. Truly Systemic Racism
Brown was an absolutely correct decision, but it’s important to remember that it was only undoing a previously terrible decision from the same institution – the Supreme Court – with its own prior, abysmal Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1894, which gave legal sanction and protection to “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks and whites in America. This, of course, came on the heels of the Court’s even worse (hard as that is to believe) decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). The Court found Congress’ Missouri Comprise of 1856 unconstitutional, an attempted legislative workout on the issue of slavery in the U.S.; the decision all but started the Civil War. If the highest Court in the land wouldn’t strike down slavery, indeed, would find Congressional legislation to limit the expansion of slavery an unconstitutional deprivation of a slaveowner’s “property” – i.e. Dred Scott himself – the only recourse was war.
If you’re looking for places to find systemic racism that needs fixing, the Supreme Court might be pretty good place to start. Which is, in part, why I completely disregard the feelings of the people screaming for Greg Glassman’s head – and telling me about all the things I don’t, and can’t, understand – because they’re laughably unserious about these issues. And it looks like either useful idiots or intentional misdirection, but neither matters to me.
Ten cases are currently before the Supreme Court on qualified immunity, the judicial doctrine that insulates police officers from liability for their actions while in uniform. Qualified immunity is at the heart of George Floyd’s death and Derrick Chauvin’s actions, in the inability of bystanders to take action to help. It is the legal shield that immunizes law enforcement from ever being question or held to account for their actions. Anyone who claims to be serious about police accountability knows about QI. Anyone who claims to be serious about helping the plight of inner city black communities should be protesting in front of the Supreme Court to have their voices heard on QI.
Clarence Thomas, the (wrong kind of) black Supreme Court justice, also a notoriously tight-lipped jurist, has said that he doubts the Constitutional validity of asset forfeiture. Asset forfeiture is – yet again – a horrible, court-created doctrine that allows the police to seize property, including cars, SUVs, cash, and even homes, without ever obtaining a conviction. It’s all part of the War on Drugs and the “tough on crime” bills, like the one that Joe Biden sponsored in 1994, the one that had disproportionate sentences for powder and crack cocaine, the one that the Congressional Black Caucus advocated for, the one that Bill Clinton (Dem), signed into law. Asset forfeiture falls disproportionately on minorities – and it incentivizes the police to steal from the people they police for their budgets.
Which leads us to a really uncomfortable place… where systemic racism lives.
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IV. Systemic Racism in Policing – It isn’t an accident!
Leadership culture is something that’s also been much in the news in light of the events with Greg and some of his Affiliates and, as a Marine Officer of twenty-seven years of service, both active and reserve, combat arms and support, overseas and at home, I have some thoughts on that subject, too, specifically as it relates to Greg’s Tweet that broke hearts and minds everywhere.
I had a CO who once told me that “every unit takes on the personality of its CO, to a greater or lesser degree.” And I’ve seen it many, many times, in different units, different specialities, across branches of service, and yes, at companies and divisions of companies: organizations tend to take on the personalities, or at least some of the tendencies, of their leaders. It is as true of CrossFit under Glassman as it is of Apple under Steve Jobs.
Given this, I would assert that police, being paramilitary organizations, have that tendency to an even greater degree than companies. Culture isn’t “magic dirt.” Culture is transmitted by human beings to other human beings and culture, generally speaking, tends to follow lines of authority. In the military, we do things the Commanding Officer likes to do… and the rest of us learn to enjoy those things. The military has its own legal system, as well, and those systems – their “personality” – tends to flow from the Commander. A new head judge will like courts conducted in a certain fashion, too. This cultural transmission is everywhere in our daily lives, in all of its institutions.
Therefore, if we’re going to seriously look for solutions to “systemic racism,” it seems to me a fair place would be at the people in charge where these terrible events keep occurring. Let’s just let it sit for the moment and then think about where it might lead us. If we assume that “systemic racism” is some form of cultural transmission within police departments than we should at least try to look for activities or affiliations that are reflective of these ideas. Given the earlier discussion about the close ties between unit culture and leadership, it seems logical to begin a search there.
Now, if I were an enterprising young Twitterer, and not just a slave of the mob, I would start by looking at who was up the Chain of Command from Derrick Chauvin, for example. He had multiple reports of using violence against citizens and continually found his way back to work, no problem. Who were the people above him, going all the way to the top of the state’s law enforcement chain of command? If one were so inclined, and given the hyper-focus on race, one might also make note of the following items for the people responsible for the culture in the police department: race, sex, and political affiliation, or any other factor that might point to clues for the origins of this systemic racism – of which Greg Glassman, I, and everyone else who is melanin challenged, are now being told we are responsible.
Of course, everyone already knows without looking what that’s going to look like. Statisticians will be shocked to find a statistically significant proportion of people with this (BL) after their name in the Chain of Command. There will be an almost 100% presence of people with (DEM) after their name. And almost everyone will also be a member of (PU) – the police union. It is to be noted that (PU) also gives a ton of money to people in political power who then agree to lavish pensions, to push qualified immunity and other “police bills of rights,” to use asset forfeiture, and otherwise return the favored endorsement and support by the local union. In most major cities in America, this all has been run by this team – (DEM) – for decades.
Someone should take the cities with the five highest numbers (raw numbers) of shootings or the cities with the highest rates of shootings of Black Americans by police officers for 2015, or 2016, or any year, or ten years, and then track those shootings to the police precincts where they are reported. Then look at the leadership chain of command up through the highest law enforcement officer in the state, to include the State’s Attorney General, if applicable, and search for patterns or suggestive statistical anomalies. Tell me what shows up most frequently and then we can discuss what should be done about systemic racism in America.
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The Media mob has been doing its schtick of intentional stupidity, of wanton blindness to the actual causes of systemic racism for quite some time now – my whole life, in fact. Getting it completely wrong every. single. time. So, you’ll forgive me if I’m not quite as moved by the tears of the people screaming racism at the top of their lungs: I’ve seen this movie already; and I know how it ends. I’ll paint a picture for you: Al Sharpton and/or other “leaders” – and a battery of race-hustling politicians – will all stand solemnly beside another black man’s casket, wailing and gnashing their teeth, and start blaming white people. If you were an alien from another planet watching this, you’d have to conclude they were trying to start a race war.
Anyone who claims to care about issues underlying systemic racism – seriously – and thinks they’ve done anything to address them by getting Greg Glassman to resign as CEO of a CrossFit…?
See? It can strike at any time. So, please forgive me. I don’t know what I’ll do if someone’s Twitter-feelings are hurt.