Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Since my last two posts have been Powerless and Treeless, I figured I'd continue the "less" theme based on last night -- restless.

We watched the news last night to hear the grand jury's finding in Ferguson, and we both woke up around 1:00 and decided to turn on the news just for a minute (which I don't think we've EVER done in the middle of the night) to see what was going on.  General concerns about mass chaos I guess, though neither of us really thought that was likely. 

I can't say I disagree with the grand jury's finding.  Of course they are in the best position decide having heard all the evidence, rather than reports of it, which is all I've heard.  For me, hearing about the blood evidence inside the car was most convincing -- that to me meant that Brown was in a position to threaten the officer and not shot from a distance when arguably less lethal tactics should have been considered first.  Of course it's tragic, and it should not have happened, and there are so many better ways it all could have unfolded, but it's very hard to judge the split-second decisions of people in distress.  And now the stories about crime, protest, looting, and fires seem to take away from what I feel like is the real point, which to me is racial inequality in the criminal justice system in this country.  In many ways I understand why this is such a tipping point, it's a big problem and obviously a segment of the population feels victimized. 

Setting aside the actual events in Ferguson, the fact is that the US prison population has a very different racial composition from the country as a whole.  And there's no particular moment or opportunity when people are motivated to really think about that, discuss it, or protest it.  So this grand jury finding seems to be as good an excuse as any to demonstrate that feeling of victimization. 

The incarcerated population is so different from the actual population, and I have to ask...

Why?  What makes the racial composition so different?  Is it actual differing levels of criminal activity (and if so, why?), or is it differing levels of enforcement and then processing through the criminal justice system that creates the disparity (and if so, what part of that system?)?  Pre-police contact or post-police contact that creates this racial discrepancy among the incarcerated? 

Is it the police and enforcement?  Targeting areas where minorities live in higher proportion?  Subjecting minorities to higher scrutiny in a true race-blind encounter (responding to a call, or a motor vehicle accident, or whatever)? 

Courts?  Mandatory minimums or federal sentencing guidelines?

DAs charging differently or allowing pleas? 


Or is it more on the pre-police end?


Discrimination in employment opportunities?

Something else?

It's not something I've ever really looked into (pretty much all my "free" research time is spent on WWII), but is there good data about whether it's as much a class/economic disparity as it is a racial disparity in prison?  I know there's tons of overlap of course, but do non-minority poorer people have the same issues, or is it really race at the core? 

As to education, I think (my opinion only) that is equally awful without regard to race -- it's more the economics of the area, district, school, etc.  And I think there is a higher police presence in any economically disadvantaged neighborhood -- regardless of the racial composition of that neighborhood.  Higher police presence yields more police contacts, more arrests, more people with criminal histories, etc. 

I don't think there's any real belief that our society is actually color-blind.  I've never had a non-traffic encounter with the police other than calling for assistance (always promptly dispatched, though when you call 911 in Dallas (which I've done numerous times, largely to report accidents I've witnessed, you frequently have to hold before getting an operator)) or making reports as a crime victim (in Italy for a "legit" crime, and here in Dallas a couple times for property crimes (being in a hit and run, someone breaking into my car (though, the top was down at the time, so less breaking, more entering)).  In all my police encounters (I don't count airport checkpoint screenings as a police encounter), I've never had to step out of the vehicle or been searched. 

Is that partially related to my sex as a woman?  My age (though I had more tickets and traffic stops in my teens and 20s than in my 30s)?  Where I drive (I'm generally within a 5 mile radius of our house)?  My perceived socio-economic class?  The fact that I drive a fairly nice car -- even though it's older now?  Interestingly enough, I was stopped in Dallas more in 1 year in my old crappy car than in about 4 years in my beemer when it was new and I definitely drove it more quickly than my Olds, but that could be a factor of where I was driving, or whatever.  Or is it because of my race? 

Thoughts or any of it? 


  1. It is really tough ... because I don't feel like I want to defend Michael Brown as a person, because I have no idea about any of it. But I have basic thoughts:
    - If he were white, we wouldn't be talking about it - because there is a nearly 100% chance he would still be alive, and probably back at school.
    - The old saying "a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich" comes to mind - If the prosecutor wanted theindictment, it would have happened.
    - Sadly I think there *IS* a chunk of people who like to think (whether or not they really believe) that there is no racism. They like to spill their swill all over Facebook. Ugh.

    I am white, male, and fairly affluent and live in one of the two best neighborhoods/developments in the Corning region. As a result, I don't get cat-called, don't get harassed, have police/sherriff/state troopers all wave when they pass me running, people on teh street say hi and ask for directions, accept my help if they are struggling to reach/carry something ... and on and on.

    I have NO idea what it is like for someone in those situations.

    But I DO know that their situation is VERY different than mine.

    1. I think I'm less convinced than you are that if he had been white, he'd still be alive, but I do think we wouldn't be talking about it either way.
      I love the ham sandwich line -- and I agree, it sounded like he (or his associates) got the outcome he wanted.
      I wonder if we'll ever see a world where the situations aren't so different just because of race. Maybe? Or no chance?

  2. I haven't been following the case closely so don't know all the details. But I did watch the findings and one thing that stuck with me was that the guy (prosecutor?) said the grand jury has been the only people to examine every piece of evidence. I do wonder if I had all the details they had access to, what finding would I come to? It seems that the news media disagrees with the verdict. Maybe they know more about the details than I do? Or is it just, as you say, now being as good a time as any to speak out about the larger racial issue?