Commodore – A Novel

A novel portraying the extraordinary life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Does Being Afraid Of An Angry Black Man or Crazy Black Teenager Constitute Racism?

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I don’t know what to make of the current heated up denunciations of  racism in America.  I thought we were doing so well, then Ferguson, followed by Eric Garner’s death and all of a sudden white society has again been  on trial.  Is it deserved?   White people, like any other people are no angels.  Still I think the criticism of white people has gone way too far.

I am not happy I believe  that.  At best, defending white society right now is taken by others to be complacent. It hints at a certain insensitivity to black people’s hardships, and what else could that be but racism?  I must be harboring it or else  I would be as impassioned as the commentators on CBS news, NBC, ABC and  PBS, alarmed that racism has not been eradicated.

Yet, the facts about what happened in Ferguson have proven to be irrelevant to the plight of black people, truly a non event, in the great halls of black history.  Compared to the injustice of Selma, and  many other examples of white brutality  in the past, the story of what happened in Ferguson  is not an example of white cruelty towards black people    Officer Wilson was justifiably defending himself.

After hearing the results of the autopsy of Michael Brown,  it turns out that he was not attempting to give up when he was shot.  He was in a fury.  He had punched Officer Wilson in the face, and tried to wrestle  his gun away from him.  There were powder burns on his hands from when the gun went off as he tried to grab it in the policeman’s car.  The  bullet entry angles unequivocally  proved he did not have his hands up when he was shot.  Those who claimed he was surrendering were not credible witnesses.  Their stories were full of contradictions.   Brown was 280 lbs, and 6’5″ and he had decided that rather then run or hide from the officer, as his friend had done, he would  charge at the officer.  Many witnesses concurred about that. Here is a video of Michael Brown beating up an old black man. Here is a video of him stealing from a convenience store and bullying the clerk.  This happened shortly before Officer Wilson confronted him

Officer Wilson had never used his gun before.  If he didn’t use it, his children would have grown up without a father.  Scared for his life, he shot, and when that didn’t stop the charge he shot again and again.

The local grand jury spent an unusual amount of time studying the evidence.  Grand jury hearings are usually kept private.  Out of respect for the sensitivity of the situation, the evidence was made public.  All of it.  Didn’t matter.  The national  news,  implied that not only was the officer lying, the District Attorney was suspect.  After all, when the district attorney  was a boy of 12, his policeman father had been killed by a black man.  The whole proceeding was a farce, but then what can you expect in white America?

Obama sent his top  Justice Department people to check on the grand jury’s conclusions.  Their pathologist did his own autopsy,   They interviewed witnesses themselves, some of whom told them they were afraid of giving testimony that contradicted what was in the news.  When they went over the facts of the case, the Justice Department agreed that Officer Wilson’s account of his shooting of Michael Brown  was accurate.   Defending himself was completely justifiable.  The truth about what happened was clear.  But Holder’s Justice Department report worked a new angle.  The reason that the people of Ferguson would not accept the grand jury’s conclusions was that the Ferguson Police Department was so racist that people from Ferguson couldn’t be expected to accept the facts.  Even after two New York City policemen were executed by a man furious with what he had been told happened in Ferguson, Obama held back from cooling things down.  He was against shooting policemen he said and he was also against the rioting that followed the grand jury’s announcement of their findings. But this man, who considers himself to be the president of all the people, could not bring himself to proclaim Officer Wilson’s innocence.  The best he could do is this.   During a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College, a historically black school he said to the crowd:

“Officer Wilson, like anybody else who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process and reasonable-doubt standards…  And if there is uncertainty about what happened, then we can’t just charge him anyway because what happened was a tragedy.”

Not exactly Mr. President.  That is not nearly enough. Not even close.  As president of all the people, it is his duty to get at the heart of this story, to proclaim the innocence of the policeman. Especially  after  two policeman were killed in New York City, by a killer enraged by what he had been told happened in Ferguson.  We have a new Obama.  Apparently lately, as we can see with his recent reaction  to Israel, his long standing antipathies are  no longer easily quieted.  Apparently his anger about racism has  far more remaining venom  than we suspected.  I suppose that must mean that the degree of racism in the white community has gotten completely out of hand and he can no longer be silent.  Or have things become more comfortable so that he doesn’t have to try to be objective?

If white racism is out of control I just don’t see it.   True I am white and couldn’t possibly understand what blacks have been through.  But still I don’t see intolerance towards black people growing.  I don’t understand why now, why black people are indignant all over again (although in truth, as opposed to what I see on TV I haven’t been particularly struck by the anger of black people I meet).  I am mostly struck by the media’s anger, their usual mob psychology reaction, their wailing over white people’s racism.  I am struck by  liberal politicians  delight, their willingness to grant pundit status to left wing white and black hot heads, stirring the craziness into a frenzy.

Not just the likes of Reverend Sharpton who was suddenly meeting with President Obama, but every politico spouting phony statistics about white policemen’s war against black men, every black mother frightened that their child might be the next unarmed black victim, The whole package of anger and fear, the claims of injustice are seen as having an understandable reaction.  For those enraged about Ferguson, it  doesn’t seem to matter  that Ferguson, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, remains  a symbol of white racism.  Perhaps it is not true in this case, but what about all the other killings of black people we are hearing about.  Ferguson is the tip of the iceberg critics tell us.  The main point is police everywhere in America are killing unarmed black teenagers.  They are harassing innocent law abiding young black men simply because they are black.  Speaking before he met with President Obama about Ferguson and the Garner incident, Mayor Deblasio of New York had this to say:

We’ve lost so many young men of color, young men who should still be alive and with us today, and its clawing at us—it’s clawing at people of all backgrounds. There’s a sense that there’s something wrong in this country that’s going unaddressed…The broader problems that would be discussed at the White House were due to “centuries of racism.”

To me it is astounding that despite what is known,  Ferguson  did not fade away as a hot item.  It is still mentioned in the media as a civil rights cause?  Never mind the media.  By now I would have thought that moderate black leaders would have stepped forward and tried to calm things down. Where is Oprah?  Where is Mayor Dinkins, and Governor Patterson of New York?  Why aren’t black moderates speaking out about Ferguson.  It’s the question Americans asked about Muslims after 9/11.  I assume moderates  fear being labeled as Uncle Toms, accused of denying just how bad racism is in America.  They would be denounced for having sold out.  They got theirs, so sure, what does it matter what the rest of their people have to go through . They’re as bad as the 1%.  Rich apologists that just don’t get it.  This kind of fear of taking on hot issues has become commonplace in America,  the direct result of  the frenzy, the mob psychology that the  media apparently likes to engender.

Certainly the relationship in our country between blacks and whites is not perfect, but I will dare to mutter a PC forbidden claim, the automatically dismissed claim of apologists.  Black people have come a long way,  far beyond anything I might have expected in the 60’s, when Martin Luther King had a dream.  So have white people in their attitudes.  Americans have elected a black president.  Oprah is one of our most respected public figures.  They have elected Deblasio mayor of New York.  His black wife was irrelevant to the voters. Or, it may have been a  plus with the voters.

The lack of racist  attitudes in white people  goes far beyond that.  Turn on the TV during the daytime.  Put on a few game shows or talk shows. Bob Barker is long gone.  Charming, cheerful, friendly, confident  black men and women are often the host or hostess of these confections.  And not because the networks are trying to do a good deed.  These hosts and hostesses are genuinely welcomed into the homes of Americans.  They wouldn’t be there if they couldn’t do the job.  They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t liked in TV land  And these are Americans’ casual acquaintances.   The signs of progress go way beyond simple acceptance.   Many of today’s heroes, many superstars, the stuff of legends, are amazingly often African American athletes and entertainers.  Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Will Smith, and before his current difficulties, Bill Cosby.  They are embraced.  Chris Rock fills up concert halls with biting jokes about whites that go to the gut.  He ain’t no goody-goody gooing up people’s feeling with platitudes.  He receives thunderous applause.  Who does not embrace Morgan Freeman, in what has become  one of our most beloved American movies, Shawshank Redemption? It is love we feel for him.  The same love Jimmy Stewart  gets around Christmas time for It’s a Wonderful Life  How can we be a racist society when there are so many examples of how we are not?

I’m going to bring forward some statistics that are rarely mentioned in the discussion of white racism.  Americans have been willing to spend 22 trillion dollars since Lyndon Johnson’s  war on poverty began.  That is not a small sum when we consider how aware we are of the collapsing infra structure around us. We don’t have the money to fix it.  Yet we still elect congressman who place help to the poor as a higher priority than new bridges and highways.  Moreover, a good proportion of the families of individuals taxed by the government to help the poor are like me.  True, as a New Yorker I tend to only know Jews and other ethnics.  But our grandparents came to America long after slavery was abolished.   They cannot be held responsible for what went on in America before they came.  Let us also not forget, a fact left out of the BLM narrative, close to 300,000 Union soldiers lost their lives in the Civil War, fought over the issue of slavery. Yet so morally repugnant was American slavery, so great did blacks suffer at the hands of white masters, so horrendous was the misdeeds of Southerners in the century following the Civil War, and so poor have so many black people remained, that even though historically Northeners  are not responsible for the terrible abuse of black people, we feel, and  apparently most Americans feel, that special treatment, huge programs costing  huge sums of money  is owed to black people.  It is the least we can do.

True, the money spent on the poor has not only helped black people.  Forty eight percent of the poor are white.   And much of the money has gone into the pockets of  government bureaucrats, many of them white. But I would argue that a significant portion of the  population believed, and still believes, that the government was and  is spending  most of that  money trying to help black people. There is a reason for this belief.

Our vastly ambitious poverty programs only began to capture enormous sums of money in the context of the civil rights struggle.  In many people’s minds, correctly or not, they are one and the same thing .  My point is not to quibble over the numbers.  It is simply the point that accusing  Americans of  being racist, and still being racists,  after their (for most part good hearted) efforts to empathize with, and help black people, does not qualify as a fair assessment of white people’s behavior.  Indeed, no other group in our history has received so much public help.  There were no affirmative action programs for uneducated Jews and Italians and Irish, coming over on the boats.  They, and their children, were expected to make it on their own, come what may.   Kikes and the Wops and  Miks were kept out of country clubs, out of Wall Street, out of executive positions in large corporations.  Their numbers were kept low at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton.  Even at Columbia in the middle of New York City, Lionel Trilling was the first tenured Jewish professor in the English Department.  It wasn’t until  the 1940’s that this acceptance was shown to a Jew.  Although he did not, as rumored, change his name, he, like most intellectuals of the time, did not betray his Bronx accent.  And this from a man who was obsessed with authenticity.   The times demanded a certain persona.

Black people have every reason to remember and hate the persecution they have suffered.   Discrimination against meritorious individuals can never be justified.  But given the mistreatment of ethnics, there was never a program to have  Jewish contractors, or Italian contractors shown preference by government programs trying to equal things out.  They  were never beneficiaries of large government programs attempting to eradicate their misfortune.  Nothing compares to what was done, and is still being done to help black people.  Perhaps it is too much to hope for a giant thank you, but at least a modicum of recognition would help the cause of better understanding, rather than incessant accusations that we live in a racist society.

We should not underestimate the effectiveness of our poverty programs. According to the2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy

  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, at the beginning of the War on Poverty, only about 12 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Nearly three-quarters have a car or truck; 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.[9]
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and a quarter have two or more.
  • Half have a personal computer; one in seven has two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • Forty-three percent have Internet access.
  • Forty percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • A quarter have a digital video recorder system such as a TIVO.
  • Ninety-two percent of poor households have a microwave

It is not just gadgets and toys that the poor are managing to obtain for themselves.  When it comes to necessities America’s poor are well served.  Despite impressions to the contrary, most of the poor do not experience undernutrition, hunger, or food shortages. Information on these topics is collected by the household food security survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA survey shows that in 2009:

  • Ninety-six percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food.
  • Some 83 percent of poor families reported that they had enough food to eat.
  • Some 82 percent of poor adults reported that they were never hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money to buy food.
  • As a group, America’s poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and in most cases is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels.
  • Most poor children today are, in fact, supernourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.[

True enough, the average white person can’t figure out where  all the money is going that they pay  in their taxes.   The left shouts  that it is the Pentagon eating up the money, but adjusted for inflation, spending on the war on poverty  (which does not include Social Security or Medicare) is three times the cost of all U.S. military wars since the American Revolution.

So again I come to the same question, why now is there  incessant talk about American racism?  I really don’t  know. I have a wild theory that the complaints are a sign of how far Blacks have come.  I say this  because  Jews, intimidated  by non Jews, only began to speak loudly  about anti-semitism in the 60’s ( even about the holocaust) when they were, at last,  being accepted into society as a whole.  They were too frightened before that.  Other speculations:  Has the bad economy, in the last few years, hit black people so much worse than whites? Maybe.  I  am still bewildered that  whites in this country  so easily agree with the charges.  Or don’t dare disagree. It is completely against the evidence to  glibly assert that the average American is a racist.    There are   problems between black and whites that can be understood as manifestations of white prejudice.   The average American is not color blind.  He may have one or two friendships with black people, but he may not.  And he may choose to live in neighborhoods where he doesn’t need to worry about low class blacks’ criminal activity.  He may have liberal attitudes about black’s civil rights, but if he lives in Manhattan, he most likely considers it a necessity for his children to be educated in a predominantly white private school.  It is fair enough to say that such people probably would prefer that their kids have exposure to black classmates, preferably middle class black children, but even poor black children are acceptable if the numbers are kept to a reasonable proportion.

It is also fair to say that most white people are afraid of lower class black crime and violence.  And I will push this beyond what white people are allowed to say.  Black crime and violence are the biggest problem for  them.  It is even more of a problem for honest hard working black people .  They  too dream of getting out of their lousy neighborhoods so they won’t have to worry that their kids will get shot on the way to school.  If they are ambitious, they want their children  to be exposed to  children who are striving to get a decent education, without being considered a nerd by the ruffians in their classroom.  That presumably was the point of busing, giving poor black kids a chance to be exposed to white kids’ behavior and  values.  I mentioned black entertainers and athletes as heroes for white people,  Do white people also have an ambivalent admiration for  poor black culture, for gangsta rap and clothing styles.  They do.  There is something exciting, something liberating about people who don’t live according to the rules.  This didn’t begin with black hoods.  Edward G. Robinson, James Garfield, Italian gangsters in Mafia movies similarly  captured the public imagination, just as a century before, Europeans were thrilled by American Indians, noble savages who defied civilization’s constraints.  We all have a part of ourselves that hates having to behave, that would like to go wild as hippies once did, singing and dancing and having sex where and when we choose.

But it also frightens us.  Again, when our minds wrap around the subject we  don’t want to be exposed to the violence of lower class black culture.  The numbers are shocking.  While so much has been made of police “racism” particularly after Ferguson and the Trevon Martin case,  nationwide  123 black people were killed by the police in 2009 and that includes many violent criminals.  Since Trevon Martin’s death, 11,000 black men were killed by other black men.  There is reason for white people and black people to be frightened by this violence.  And this is since the homicide rate has drastically decreased in recent years. There is reason for anyone to not want to live anywhere near it.

Is this “racism?” The term  obscures more than it clarifies.  The problems between blacks and whites are too important to be swept up in categories used   by the mind numbing language  of media hysteria.

If we are going to look at things like they are, we can’t have a discussion about racism without including the effect that black crime and violence has had, not only on black communities ( where the consequences are far worse) but the fear it creates in white communities. The 1988 presidential campaign where Willie Horton became a symbol of  black crime had a powerful political influence that is still behind many white programs   Out of respect for black people, white politicians no longer go there.  But the   criminality and violence of lower class blacks  cannot be dismissed as something that racist America has invented. It is real and has consequences.

Where I am going  to say next is on the taboo list of subjects writers and polite people are not supposed to bring up.  But here it is,  the dirty little secret known by every one but no longer brought up  lest they be considered racist.

Every black person  had to suffer in silence through many years of white mistreatment, so it is understandable that now, as their condition has improved   they are speaking so loudly whenever there is an example of their mistreatment by white society.  And well they should.  The quicker you jump on examples of mistreatment the better off you will be.  It will cut it off before it has a chance to spread. One would think that the same goes in the other direction, whenever black people mistreat white people

“An analysis of ‘single offender victimization figures’ from the FBI for 2007 found blacks committed 433,934 crimes against whites, eight times the 55,685 whites committed against blacks.

Though blacks are outnumbered 5-to-1 in the population by whites, they commit eight times as many crimes against whites as the reverse. By those 2007 numbers, a black male was 40 times as likely to assault a white person as the reverse.

How much of that crime is motivated by racism, by black hatred of whites?   Probably, not most of it.  A lot of crime is simply going where the money is, knowing who is easiest to hit.  It has nothing to do with anger at whites.  Given their relative affluence we would expect whites to be the target.

My black doorman in Park Slope thought the media coverage following Ferguson, emphasizing the danger that policemen represent to black teenagers  was ridiculous.  When he gets off from work at 2AM and has to return to his neighborhood, he is thrilled to spot a policeman, black or white patrolling the streets.  He used to be nervous when he saw a bunch of teenagers with their sweatpants hung low showing their crack.   That has let up, since most of them are now in jail, an improvement in the community that he credits the police for.  He understands that many completely innocent black teenagers have been hassled by the police as never before, stopped and searched, and still worse. But he doesn’t see that as a manifestation of racism.  He sees it as an unfortunate consequence of a police crackdown that has resulted in a dramatic decrease in homicides and crime. Finally the streets of his neighborhood are no longer owned by drug dealers with  fancy cars.  Gangs are a horrible problem, but crime is way way down.  Indeed it is so far down, that generation Xers feel completely safe in Harlem, Crown Heights, even Bed Sty.  The decrease in crime has led to a new problem, gentrification.  Segregation is breaking down, which he likes.  He enjoys his increasing comfort with white people.  He and I have become sort of buddies, talking politics and the like.  I brought him latkes on Chanukah, and birthday cake from my wife’s birthday party.  I’ve learned a lot and so has he.

Growing up in the 50’s I had little contact with black people, but when  I thought of them it was with uniformly positive feelings, mainly the result of my Jewish upbringing.  The Jews knew what it was to be hated, to be an underdog.  So that was extended to black people automatically.  In junior high school there were few black students, but invariably one of them was elected president of the class, by their Jewish classmates.  In college the few black students on campus were members of Jewish fraternities .

Coming from that kind of background, in my leftist days I was Bronx chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights.  I did tutoring.  Began a lead poisoning project.  I started a health careers program,  which mentored   280 kids  from the slums with 70 counselors, medical students, social workers, inhalation therapist  even some of the professors at Einstein.  The kids were let into the operating room while surgery was being performed.  They spent an afternoon with X ray technicians.  Etc.  It was a spectacularly successful program run on a budget of 0.  Later it was funded by the Macy foundation, but I founded it with no grants, no help, just good intentions.

But I must also report that my idealism was soon greatly tempered by reality. In 1967  I had a surgery rotation at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx.  That same year the 41st precinct in the South Bronx had been named Fort Apache, a name that lasted until 1975 when the area was essentially burned down.  I was astounded by what I was seeing in the emergency room,  the number of patients being brought in with gunshot wounds, stabbings, women and children, old people and young men, their faces smashed in by heavy blunt instruments, or repeated punches to their  face.  Everywhere was rage and  hatred.

I had never witnessed anything like it.  It was impossible to maintain my sentimental liberalism about black people after that.  I had read about all of this and knew it existed, but until then it was never real.  I could easily dismiss it as a consequence of the way black people had been treated.  This was a time when firemen answering a call in the Bronx often had rocks thrown at them.  On the streets cars were double and triple parked, many of them abandoned, windows broken, stripped of their wheels and any other hardware that could be sold or destroyed.  Graffiti was the least of the problems there.  Garbage was everywhere.  On the few occasions when white people drove through these areas, their car  doors were always locked.  And indeed the doors of neighborhoods throughout the city had double and triple locks and iron bars on the windows.

Growing up, before the violence got out of hand,  my mother actually had a  black friend, a woman at work, Viola, (coincidentally she was Rap Brown’s aunt)  She liked Viola because they had a lot in common, but that was it. That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t, like other Jews (actually everyone but the Italians, who guarded their streets as if defending their country)  flee to a safer neighborhood when black people began to move in to the neighborhood.  We have  cities everywhere where downtowns were deserted by whites out of fear that black people were moving in.  And  it wasn’t, as is often said,  property values.  For the most part,  the abandoned neighborhoods, for  example  the Grand Concourse in the Bronx consisted of renters rather than owners of property.  I know these people and I don’t remember any snobbishness about black people, any derogatory remarks.  I remember fear.  Was this flight from black people  racism?    Or common sense.   Not just white people but black people wanted out of their poverty stricken neighborhoods if they could afford to pull it off and found a receptive place to move to.

Since so much has been made of the police picking on and killing black people I think any discussion of their behavior  has to include the part played by black crime and violence.  To begin with, it is unfair to take policemen’s treatment of black people as a reflection of a more general white racism.   Their interaction with black people in crime infested neighborhoods is  a unique situation   It should be   separated  as an entirely independent issue.  Unlike other members of society who can avoid black crime and violence, they can not run in the opposite direction.  They have to directly confront disorder, drunk and angry individuals, bring them under control.   We can avoid them.

I am no fan of policemen.  Michael Brown was walking in the middle of the street with his stolen cigars, which is what attracted the attention of the Officer Wilson in the first place. All hell broke loose, when  Officer Wilson ordered him on to the sidewalk.

Obviously this young man was looking for trouble. Videos of him in the convenience store where he openly stole cigars show him forcefully shoving a clerk who tried to stop him. (see above)  He made no effort to sneak out with his stolen goods.  Is it possible there was a certain degree of racism in the voice of the policeman, that as some claimed, he told him to “fucking” get on the sidewalk?   Had the man been white and drunk, walking in the middle of the street,  would the officer have spoken more understandingly? I think it is entirely possible, but I have seen a white boy speak disrespectfully to an officer in Forest Hills Queens 30 years ago. I watched as the policeman went crazy, jumping on top of the white boy, hitting him over the head again and again with his nightstick with every bit of hatred the policeman had in his arms.

I have had run ins with the police myself, over nonsense. Afterwards, I played the scene in my head. How dare he speak to me like that. I am a physician, an upstanding member of the community. I was standing on my front lawn.  Didn’t he know who he was speaking to? The creep wasn’t going to back down.  He became angry when I tried to reason with him. He threatened to arrest me if I didn’t shut up and he would have.  Without going into the details I was in the right, but that is irrelevant.  In that kind of situation with the police, the only option is to obey.  It is obey or else.  Most people  may not like it, but they know how they are expected to act.  The policeman is  in charge.

There is no question that some police are bull headed and bullies.  They have the power and they are all too ready to use it. However, I have no doubt whatsoever that if I punched the policeman on my lawn in the face, tried to grab his gun, and I was twice as big as him, and I just might be out of my mind with fury, I’d have been a dead white man.  I’d be one of the statistics for white men killed by the police. According to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the span of more than a decade, (1999-2011) 2,151 whites died by being shot by police compared to 1,130 blacks.

Policemen have dangerous jobs.  They face the worst elements of our society again and again and again. Possibly, Officer Wilson,  if he kept his cool,  could have shot Brown in the legs.  Policemen who lose their cool  should be assigned desk duty. The same applies to soldiers who, during a war situation go ape and start shooting wildly, possibly killing innocents. Such people  might be fine men  in ordinary circumstances but if they can’t keep their cool should they have a gun? My Uncle Lester ordinarily a sweet man,  never left England during World War II.   While on guard duty there he kept discharging his machine gun every time he heard a suspicious sound. (More recently, a white Australian woman, who had called the police, was killed when she approached the police car after he had heard a frightening noise.) Terrified people don’t think things over. They react from their gut. That doesn’t make them criminals. Certainly Officer Wilson  didn’t start out his evening thinking; “ I think I’m going to go out and kill me an unarmed black teenager.”  To reiterate, this was the first time he ever used his gun.

After the Justice Department indicted Ferguson, they were asked by the police chief of Philadelphia to take a look at his department.  In Philadelphia there are six times the number of shootings by the police as in NYC.   The Justice Department studied  the pattern of OIS (officer involved shootings) when the suspect turned out to be unarmed (a great many of those shot were suspected of having arms).  Sure enough 80% of those shot owing to  “a misinterpreted threat perception” were black and their average age was 20. However the threat perception failure rate for white policemen was 6.8% with black suspects.  For black policemen it was  11.4% and for hispanic policemen it was 16.8%.  So apparently fear of the black suspects and acting on that fear was least among white policemen.  One other statistic is worth noting.  In keeping with the belief that having to patrol  dangerous places is the main factor behind  OIS, a map of Philadelphia was made which clearly shows that OIS, by far, most commonly occurred where there is the highest amount of crime and homicides, particularly districts 22 and 25.

So what does this mean?  Obviously, white policemen should have maximum exposure to black members of the community in situations where there isn’t a confrontation going on.  They have to put a human face on the individuals they are asked to control.  They have to learn disciplined responses to disorderly situations. Training, training, training. But, in the real world, a lot depends on the individual  experiences the policemen might have had.  A few of the policemen may have begun their job with a prejudice against blacks that carried through whatever their experiences.  But I have to assume that even if a policeman began with a very sweet attitude towards blacks and the rest of the human race, seeing the worst behavior of human beings day in and day out, is going to toughen them up, and greatly decrease their ability to empathize  with the plight of black ruffians.  Old black people, children, abused women, sure compassion is easy to be elicited  by them. This is the reason they are there, to help the victimized. But clearly the statistics I cited above show that faced with situations where suspects are out of control, the issue is not racism.  Given their willingness to try to bring violent and chaotic situations under control it is unfair to treat them without regard for where they are coming from.

One other point.  The news is full of videos depicting policemen losing their temper and punching suspects while they are already subdued.  This shouldn’t occur.  Everyone was furious at the choke hold put on Eric Garner.  He should have never died.  It is truly a tragedy for his family.  But does anyone seriously think the policemen were choking him when he kept saying I can’t breathe?  He had asthma.  The officers arresting him could have been more verbal in giving him directions about what they expected, but what I saw on the video was an awkward situation where a 300 lb man fell to the ground taking everyone with him.  I can’t believe the hatred implicit in the belief that the police intentionally were choking him to death.   I have seen a  video on CBS News of a black honor student with a bloodied forehead.  He was apparently drunk and arrested.   Scott Pelfrey of the CBS  showed the bloodied forehead and immediately went to Ferguson and the Selma march (the anniversary of which black people were commemorating at the time).  Quite a dramatic story.   Let me explicitly take my position.  I wish police arrests were always smooth and considerate.  I wish if physical force is necessary, the police would have exquisite control of their arms and legs and bodies, and be able to  to subdue an uncooperative suspect with laser like accuracy with not a mark on them.  I wish their hands would never form a fist, and they  would never lose their temper  and take out their frustrations  on the person they are trying to arrest.  I don’t doubt if, on that particular day, they had some very nice interactions with suspects, they might be more gentle on the next person.  But if the last time, they got punched hard or had an elbow in the eye, it is very possible that they will take it out during the next arrest.  Should they try to be rational and calm at all times?  Should they receive training to do so?  Should we never give up on trying to improve things?  Of course  But fair is fair.  The media has no right to stir up the hatred they seem to love  to engender.  It doesn’t solve the problem.  If I were a policeman right now I would have long ago quit.  But then I am a sensitive type and policemen can’t afford to be sensitive.  They’d land up dead.

The Philadelphia statistics  throw the ball back to black  communities.  These situations between the police and black young men and teenagers are going to keep happening until black violence subsides.  There is hope.  I remember when I was young, when us Jews in junior high did not fear black people.  We feared Italians.  They picked on us.  They were in gangs.  I remember the Corona Dukes.  There was lot of violence coming from them.  They were the tough guys, the boxers and mobsters.  And I remember the police picking on them.  That is all over now.  I assume the same thing will eventually happen with black people.

As I started this essay, I noted that I am very impressed by how far we have come.  Rocks are no longer thrown at firemen.  Neighborhoods are no longer being burnt down (except in Ferguson where 9 stores were set ablaze after the grand jury decision).

It goes much further than that.  The last 25 years has seen an enormous improvement for a sizable number of black people.  Members of my children’s generation have had, and still have good black friends.  There is intermarriage.  They have marched into black neighborhoods, perhaps hoping for gentrification, (as an investment) but have had very little fear.  (My son lived in Bed Sty.)  They wouldn’t walk the streets at 3 AM, but otherwise they feel reasonably safe with black neighbors all around.  There are reasons for that.  Crime rates have dropped enormously.  Most of the punks in the bad neighborhoods are no longer strutting about, spreading fear everywhere, including causing black people to be afraid.  The really bad dudes are in jail.   The local drug dealer is no longer sporting his fine wheels  on the street corner.   He is in jail.  Tough guys have had to join gangs for protection.

I’ll know things have improved even more if I were to see non gay black men in Prospect Park walking  Laboradoodles instead  of  pit  bulls or Rottwillers.  Or if there are no longer reports of black athletes  having to carry guns at nightspots.  Obviously fear motivates the dog walkers in Prospect Park with gangster dogs or macho or some other persona, but in my admittedly infrequent contacts in the park with black dudes, I am usually not  frightened in the slightest.  The culture of the before 9 AM off the leash dog walkers of Prospect Park is extremely peaceful  and harmonious.  For that matter so is the subway from Park Slope to Manhattan.  White people are outnumbered 10:1, but  I haven’t once felt fear in the subway in the last 10 years.  No need to look at the floor.  Most black people are friendly.  I imagine because the bad ones are in jail, but still there is real black-white community on the 2 and 3 train and the Q.  The black teen agers are either on their way to work (or a party), or trying to earn a few bucks by doing acrobatics on the poles or overhangs.    They are not looking to scare anyone and they are not scared of the white faces they meet.  I think they are the greatest.

Even though what Republicans have to say more often appeals to me than what Democrats vote for, I voted for Obama not because I agreed with his policies, but because I thought his election would do a lot for the self esteem of black people, particularly young people.   I am still rooting for them, for their nightmare to be over, for them to feel they can fight their way out of the hopelessness surrounding them.  I am not unusual in having those sentiments. Like many Americans I teared up at Obama’s inauguration.  I was proud of America, optimistic about our future.  I don’t expect kudos for my generous hopes for black people.  I’m sure there are elements of prejudice hiding beneath the surface of my self scrutiny, like there undoubtedly are among most white people.  And black people in their attitudes about white people  But I will defend myself and white society when our good intentions are dismissed as bullshit

When my father was very sick, my elderly mother told me she grew to love Nan, this black woman who helped care for him.  She was moved by this woman’s  love for my  father and her desire to help my mother.  She felt genuine grief at Nan’s funeral. You don’t meet that many people who you love.  That wasn’t my mother being sentimental because Nan was black.  Nor was it an attempt to strengthen her liberal credentials.  My mother couldn’t care less about political nonsense.  She just loved Nan.

That is the only way.  One on one.  I am not asking my liberal Manhattan friends to take their kids out of private schools and stop bullshitting about their liberalism.  One relationship at a time.  That’s how the real thing happens, when it becomes silly to categorize feelings as racist or not racist.  People are just people.  Do I wish I had known more black people over the years?  I suppose, but I also wish I knew more Italians and Japanese, and more Goyim. My wife and I recently had genetic testing of our history.  Both of us were 98.7% Ashkenazi Jews. Those hundred of years of our background has been more than corrected by our millennial children.  Three out of four have married non Jews, which is okay by me.

 

 

 

 

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