Another Night in Ferguson: Arrests, Pepper Spray and Gun Aimed Right to the Chest

Another Night in Ferguson: Arrests, Pepper Spray and Gun Aimed Right to the Chest

Although there was no tear gas deployed Tuesday night in Ferguson, tensions remained high as police advanced on protesters gathering near the local McDonalds. At least 47 people were arrested, mostly for failure to disperse; police also used pepper spray on a handful of protesters. Multiple journalists reported that police surrounded protesters that were gathering at McDonalds and started arrests after a water bottle was thrown.

Activist Rosa Clemente wrote a harrowing account of Tuesday night’s events on the streets of Ferguson as the police pointed guns and threatened to shoot her and a group of protesters after police attempted to disperse the crowd. Clemente’s group included Talib Kweli, Jessica Care Moore, Phil Agnew of the Dream Defenders, Malik Rhassan of Occupy My Hood, and more. The police surrounded the group with guns drawn, ordered everyone to lie down and told the group that if they “did no stop moving [they] would be shot,” Clemente writes. At one point, a young man in the group named Devin was having trouble breathing:

“The young brother lying on my feet as I was holding him was not able to control his breathing he said “I’m choking” the cop told him to stop or he would shoot him. I told him “try not to move, just lay still I got you.” The gun was at his chest. I looked at the cop and said “please, he is not doing anything. I tried to record but the cop had his finger on the trigger. I could feel Talib’s hand on my back and Jessica behind me. We laid there until one Black officer said “Let them go, we got who we wanted.” In all my life I have never been so terrified. The young brother Devin said thank you I think you saved my life.”

Clemente ended the account by adding, “this is a war zone, a military occupation and our children are the cannon fodder.”

Ferguson Matters for Non-Black Communities of Color, Too

Ferguson Matters for Non-Black Communities of Color, Too

Non-black people of color have a stake in Ferguson’s fight for justice for Michael Brown. So writes Deepa Iyer, an activist and writer who is on the board of directors of Race Forward, which publishes Colorlines.

Iyer writes at The Nation:

African-Americans are the primary targets of law enforcement profiling and violence, as the killings of Oscar GrantSean BellJonathan Ferrell and Eric Garner all attest. But during this past week, LatinoAsian-AmericanArab-American and Muslim organizations have all released statements of solidarity informed by similar experiences with discriminatory law enforcement practices, as well as an urgency to collectively identify and implement solutions.

In fact, Latinos and Asian- and Arab-Americans have a critical stake in reforming discriminatory police practices. While African-Americans in Ferguson must remain the primary voices and decision-makers calling for action to address the murder of Michael Brown, other communities of color can and must join Ferguson’s fight by linking the impact of racially motivated policing with the structural racial inequities that exacerbate it.

Latinos and immigrant communities are well acquainted with racial profiling vis-à-vis their experiences with immigration enforcement. Arab Americans and American Muslims are deeply familiar with what it’s like to be discriminated against and profiled under the pretext of national security, Iyer writes.

But amidst calls for multiracial coalition it can be tempting to equate these types of experiences. The fact remains that African Americans are uniquely and disproportionately impacted by police repression—which includes routine non-lethal harassment and over-policing that never grabs headlines. It’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. The call that communities of color ought to speak up because racial profiling and over-policing impacts them too, is true. But non-black people of color ought to be speaking up because Michael Brown’s killing and the police repression that came in its aftermath are a human travesty. 

When law enforcement trample on the rights of any group, we must all resist: the oppressive, militarized tactics on display in Ferguson have undermined people’s basic rights to peaceful assembly and movement,” Iyer writes.

Eric Holder’s Civil Rights Surge

Eric Holder's Civil Rights Surge

Attorney General Eric Holder strode into St. Louis County today with a much larger agenda than investigating Michael Brown’s killing. Whatever comes of his intervention into the case, Holder’s aggressive posture in Ferguson points to what many Washington observers understand to be his most deeply held goal at the Justice Department: rebuilding its beleaguered Civil Rights Division and restoring its pre-Bush relevance. Publicly, much of Holder’s tenure has instead been marked by his legal defense of the Obama administration’s national security policies. But as an unnamed Justice Department official told the Los Angeles Times today, “The attorney general has always been about race.”

In Ferguson, he steps into a treacherous political landscape. St. Louis County prosecutors began presenting evidence to a grand jury this morning, a process that County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said will take until “the middle of October.” McCulloch is a Republican who’s held the office for 23 years, and his history with grand juries is checkered. In 2001, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation caught him lying about damning testimony submitted to a grand jury in another fatal police shooting. McCulloch’s history, and his overall political posture as a bullish supporter of cops, have prompted calls for his removal from the case. That was a legal impossibility until Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, which among other things gives him the power to remove McCoulloch. But the two politicians have been open enemies for far too long for Nixon to move so decisively—particularly given Nixon’s calculations as a moderate Democrat in a conservative state who is none-too-subtly positioning himself for a vice presidential nod in 2016. All of which is to say, there’s not a lot of hope for a clean, clear criminal case against Darren Wilson, at least without something forcing McCulloch to stand down on his own. 

But even with a more fair-minded prosecutor, the deck is consistently stacked in favor of law enforcement when police violence goes on trial. Julianne Hing reported on this hard reality for Colorlines as she covered the trial of Oakland transit cop Johannes Mehserle and the post-Katrina violence in New Orleans. A criminal case is just really tough to make. Here’s how Julianne explained it:

The challenge is that the legal bar for convicting cops of murder or wrongdoing is higher than for civilians. Cops have the benefit of qualified immunity, which allows them not to be held individually responsible for their actions, as long as they can establish that another competent and informed officer would have acted similarly. That’s a problem, for sure, if police brutality and racialized attacks are symptoms of a systemic disease.

So it will be extraordinary in the history of our legal system if Wilson is convicted of murdering Michael Brown. That’s something close observers know, and it’s surely one reason why the Justice Department is already in Ferguson looking for a civil rights case. Typically, that sort of inquiry would come only after a local, criminal case concludes; Holder has sped up the timeline. That’s significant: It means that as the local case takes its predictably disappointing course, particularly if led by McCulloch, everyone will also be able to see a federal inquiry in progress. That may turn out to be more symbolic than anything, but symbolism matters, too.

Holder reportedly saw the national import of Brown’s killing right away and began rallying his staff within hours. That’s not surprising, since he’s opened at least 20 previous civil rights investigations into police misconduct, according to the New York Times. Throughout President Obama’s time in office, Holder’s been a gadfly prodding racial justice onto the agenda of a reluctant White House. He has been most visibly aggressive fighting voting rights challenges, reaching down into local politics with spirited legal actions during each election cycle. But he’s also pushed the administration’s political boundaries on sentencing reform and, importantly, on a simple willingness to name publicly the beast of racism.

Lurking behind all of this is the larger mission that Holder set for himself in 2009. The Bush era was not kind to the Justice Department’s civil rights work. The Civil Rights Division was a focal point for the Bush administration’s most far right members. They transformed it from a watchdog of local wrongdoing into a place to exert political leverage over state attorney generals and begin gaming local level voting processes. Over half of the staff quit or got reassigned when Bush came into office. Up until 2006, the only voting rights inquiry they’d opened was to investigate black politicians in a small Mississippi town, charging that they’d denied the rights of white voters. The sort of openly racist emails that became the hallmark of the tea party right were back then already circulating freely among the federal leadership tasked with protecting the nation’s civil rights. Holder’s confirmation hearings were dominated by discussion of this perversity and of the disaster Bush’s people had made of the department’s civil rights work—and he vowed to fix it. 

So Holder’s actions in Michael Brown’s killing thus far suggest he’s identified Ferguson as a place to show off a newly restored Civil Rights Division. He’s dispatched 40 FBI agents, conducted an independent autopsy and sent in the division’s “most experienced prosecutors,” he wrote in a op-ed in today’s Post-Dispatch. “The full resources of the Department of Justice have been committed to the investigation into Michael Brown’s death,” he declared. The civil rights sheriff, he seemed to be declaring, is back in town.

Jose Antonio Vargas Leads ‘1 of 11 Million’ Campaign for Deportation Relief

Jose Antonio Vargas Leads '1 of 11 Million' Campaign for Deportation Relief

The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant activist is on to his next campaign. Today, Jose Antonio Vargas and 10 other undocumented immigrants called on the Obama administration to make sure the president’s expected executive order on immigration includes expanded protection from deportation for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. The campaign was pushed out in conjunction with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and first reported by the New York Times.

In language comparing immigrants of today to the “pilgrims” of yore who colonized the United States, the campaign calls on President Obama, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “stop deportations and grant administrative relief to individuals, such as ourselves, who have strong ties to these United States, which we call our home.”

Vargas, Erika Aldape, Maria Guadalupe Arreola—the mother of the prominent immigrant rights activist Erika Andiola, Felipe de Jesus Diosdado, Maria del Rosario Duarte Villanueva, Michaela Graham, Noemi Romero, Eduardo Samaniego, Yestel Velasquez, Aly Wane and Jong Min You all filed applications for deferred action today. 

“For us, it’s really important to ask the question of how inclusive is the Obama administration’s relief going to be?” Vargas told The Huffington Post. “Who is going to get left out, and why?”

The group of 11 participants are meant to symbolically represent the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Among those included are Noemi Romero, who was charged with identity theft, which is a felony in her state of Arizona where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has used the law to harshly prosecute undocumented immigrants. A felony conviction disqualifies Romero from eligibility for Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, said NILC attorney Kamal Essaheb. “It’s unfair that people who are targeted have to be further penalized by not being able to take part in administrative relief,” Essaheb said. “Just because someone has a conviction shouldn’t automatically exclude them. We hope [Obama’s executive order] is something that’s truly inclusive.”

For more about the campaign, visit Define American.

This post has been updated since publication.

A German War Correspondent’s Harrowing Take on Ferguson

A German War Correspondent's Harrowing Take on Ferguson

Foreign media outlets have been dispatching war correspondents to Ferguson to bring stories back to their readers and viewers. Several have been arrested, including two correspondents from Germany’s Die Welt. Ansgar Graw and Frank Hermann say they were held for three hours, during which time they denied water and the ability to make a phone call. 

In an English language version of Graw’s account, originally published in German, he explains how Ferguson compares to other war zones he’s worked in:

“This was a very new experience. I’ve been in several conflict zones: I was in the civil war regions in Georgia, the Gaza strip, illegally visited the Kaliningrad region when travel to the Soviet Union was still strictly prohibited for westerners, I’ve been in Iraq, Vietnam and in China, I’ve met Cuba dissidents. But to be arrested and yelled at and be rudely treated by police? For that I had to travel to Ferguson and St. Louis in the United States of America.”

Graw also explains that he asked the arresting officer for his name. “My name is Donald Duck,” the officer responded. 

Cornel West Calls Out Obama’s Hypocrisy on Ferguson

Cornel West Calls Out Obama's Hypocrisy on Ferguson

BBC Newsnight spoke with Cornel West about the protests in Ferguson demanding justice for Michael Brown, where he said the American justice system fails young black people and criticized Obama’s response to the unrest:

“Think about the hypocrisy here. Just recently the President just said ‘oh we tortured some folks’ but they were real patriots, but they were dealing with anguish and therefore, we let them free. But here, we got young people upset. Why? Because they rightly see a murder taking place. But he’s got to be the man of law and order. It’s not law and order when it comes to torture. Just like it’s not law and order when it comes to Israelis committing war crimes in Gaza but he’s law and order now when it comes to poor black people. You say, will wait a minute. The hypocrisy is overwhelming there. Spare me.” 

West also suggested that black communities need local, grassroots movements and not black leaders focused on “market branding … photo opportunities.”

Missouri Politician: Justice is an ‘Anglo American Tradition’

Missouri Politician: Justice is an 'Anglo American Tradition'

In an interview with MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder was responding to a question from Farrow about whether race is playing a role in Ferguson. Kinder acknowledged that it is—but added additional comments:

“We do not do justice in America in the streets, though. We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition. They’re designed to protect the rights and liberties of everyone involved. That includes the Brown family, for justice for them and for the community. It also includes the officer who has not yet been charged.”

The thing is, people taking to the streets is so fundamental to the United States’s sense of justice that it’s protected by the First Amendment. And Kinder’s comments about justice being an Anglo-American tradition probably couldn’t come at a worse time—and indicate yet another Missouri politician who’s out of touch.

But let’s not forget that Kinder, who’s a Republican, got a lot of pushback for denouncing a racist rodeo act featuring a clown wearing an Obama mask:

IS Beheads Journalist, Snapchat News Servie and Liberia Seals Entire Shanty Town

IS Beheads Journalist, Snapchat News Servie and Liberia Seals Entire Shanty Town

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning: 

  • Chile’s La Silla observatory reveals an image of two incredibly gorgeous star formations. 
TAGS: Morning Rush

LAPD Holds Back Shooting Victim Ezell Ford’s Autopsy

LAPD Holds Back Shooting Victim Ezell Ford's Autopsy

The Los Angeles Police Department has employed an “investigative hold” to postpone the release of Ezell Ford’s autopsy. Ford was a 25-year-old African-American man who was shot and killed by police in South Central Los Angeles just days after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. 

According to the LAPD, investigative holds are a common move to prevent tampering with the testimony of witnesses, who may be swayed by the information they read, KPCC reported.

But members of Ford’s Los Angeles community have interpreted the hold as a move by the LAPD to “cover their tracks,” Jubilee Shine told KPCC. Ford was unarmed, lying on the ground and complying with police commands when he was shot in the back, says Ford’s mother Tritobia Ford, KTLA reported. A witness has said that she saw Ford handcuffed, lying on his stomach on the ground, and shot dead, NPR reported. LAPD maintains that Ford was pulled aside for an “investigative stop” when he went for an officer’s gun when he was shot.

Over the weekend, hundreds gathered in Los Angeles to protest Ford’s killing and demand justice for him. The protests, however, have been markedly different. For one, police officers have held off on a heavily militarized response to protesters, unlike in Ferguson.

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger had his own theory, though. “The difference between this instance and what we see back East I think has to do with the confidence that the public has in the police department to conduct an immediate, a thorough, a thoughtful investigation,” Paysinger told NPR this weekend.

[VIDEO] Following Ferguson: Tuesday Round-Up

[VIDEO] Following Ferguson: Tuesday Round-Up

“The people here saw a man’s body lying in the street for four hours,” one Ferguson community worker tells NPR’s Gene Demby. “I don’t care who you are,” the volunteer continues, “that does something to you.” The temperature that Saturday afternoon was around 80 degrees. In the week and a half since police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, Ferguson seems to have re-set St. Louis. That’s according to a Post-Dispatch editorial, part of today’s roundup of provocative commentary during a slower news day. Let’s go:

A new documentary out this summer (trailer above) is now having a hard time finding a St. Louis theater willing to show it. Here’s why: “Spanish Lake,” the name of the film and a suburb eight miles northeast of Ferguson, looks at how it changed from predominantly white to black residents. First-time filmmaker Phillip Andrew Morton, a River Front Times reviewer says, “has a way of getting other white people to dish.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates in a teeth-grinder titled, Reparations for Ferguson, explains that, “Black people are not above calling the police—but often we do so fully understanding that we are introducing an element that is unaccountable to us. We introduce the police into our communities, the way you might introduce a predator into the food chain.” 

In the Washington Post, LAPD officer Sunil Dutta gives one cop’s perspective on what to do when stopped: “Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.”

I’m late to “Jeopardy” champ Arthur Chu’s essay, an immediate reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal that he saved for public release in anticipation of a similar incident occurring. It’s called, Men Without A Country: Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, My Father and Me.

And finally, a reminder from St. Louis bookstore Left Bank Books that “compassion is the radicalism of our time.” Demby’s dispatch highlights Ferguson daytime volunteers patching up the night’s destruction, and Left Bank’s doing its small part, too, by curating must-reads for St. Louisans seeking to understand and rebuild better. 

As usual, feel free to add your own worthwhile links. Tomorrow my reporting partner Julianne Hing will take over. If you’ve been reading since last week, thanks for sticking around. Be sure to stop by tomorrow.

Police Shoot and Kill Another Black Man Near Ferguson

Police Shoot and Kill Another Black Man Near Ferguson

Details are still emerging, but a 23-year-old black man has been shot and killed just a few miles away from Ferguson, Missouri—home to 10 days of protests demanding justice for Michael Brown.

At a press conference this afternoon, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson says the man was wielding a knife and essentially begged for police to shot and kill him. It’s unclear how many officers shot and killed the person in question; no names have been released, either.

Keep in mind that authorities in Ferguson have not exactly been forthcoming with information—and have straight out lied, in some cases, since Michael Brown’s killing. That alone will likely cast doubt on what Chief Dotson is now saying about the latest shooting. 

Pew Survey Explores Racial Attitudes Toward Ferguson Crisis*

Pew Survey Explores Racial Attitudes Toward Ferguson Crisis*

The results of a small** survey from the Pew Research Center illustrate a sharp divide between black and white respondents when it comes to what’s happening in Ferguson. If you pay attention to racial dynamics, some of the results aren’t too surprising:

Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.

But that’s not all. Pew also spoke with Latino respondents. Interviewers from Princeton Data Source asked:

“Did you follow the police shooting of an African American teen and protests in Ferguson, Missouri very closely, fairly closely, not too closely or not at all closely?”

When it came to non-Latino respondents, 54 percent of blacks said they followed the story closely; 25 percent of whites answered that they did as well. But here’s what might surprise you: only 18 percent of Latinos said they closely followed what’s happening in Ferguson. That’s less than one in five. 

Organizations like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which is largely made up of Latinos, has expressed solidarity with the people in Ferguson seeking justice for Michael Brown—but Pew’s numbers suggest that***, overall, white people are more likely than Latinos are to closely follow the developments in Ferguson.

As I’ve written previously, non-black Latinos have a long way to go in confronting our anti-black biases. Paying attention to what’s happening Ferguson would be a good start.

*Original headline, “Do Latinos Care About Ferguson,” has been replaced with “Pew Survey Explores Racial Attitudes Toward Ferguson Crisis” for clarity. Original subhead has also been replaced. 

**Size of survey added for context.

***Phrase “tells us” has been replaced with “suggest that” to  correlate with small sample size.

The Case for Body-Mounted Cameras on Cops

The Case for Body-Mounted Cameras on Cops

Hawthorne, California, mayor Chris Brown responded to Michael Brown’s death and its aftermath by looking inward at the police officers in his own city—and proposing that they be required to wear video cameras. 

“I am simply not willing to gamble with a single life, or the wrongful accusation of upstanding officers,” Brown wrote in a letter last Friday, Time reported.

The Hawthorne mayor is hardly the only person considering the merits of body-mounted cameras for police officers. Michael Brown’s death has brought conversations about video checks on police to the fore. 

In 2013, a researcher who undertook the first experimental evaluation of body-mounted cameras in Rialto, California, found a 50 percent reduction in the use of force incidents with police, and a dramatic 88 percent drop in the number of civilian complaints against police officers. Body-mounted cameras and dash cameras are billed as an accountability and protection mechanism for both police and civilians. 

But cameras have not been universally embraced. Police unions have spoken out against requirements to expand the usage of body cameras, calling them an “encumbrance,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Read the report on Rialto, California, police officer’s test run with body cameras at The Police Foundation.

What The World Sees In Ferguson; U.N. Secretary General Urges Restraint

What The World Sees In Ferguson; U.N. Secretary General Urges Restraint

As Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has already noted, “the world is watching.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday urged law enforcement officials in Ferguson to abide by “U.S. and international standards in dealing with demonstrations” and called for restraint among protesters and police officers. But last week, the Ferguson protests and heavy police force also coincided with an international review in Geneva, Switzerland, of U.S. progress on implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) treaty.

Trayvon Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, originally from East St. Louis, were present. Their son’s name as well as Jordan Davis’ are mentioned in the committee’s post-report synopsis. In addition to Stand Your Ground laws, the full list of concerns raised by international observers make it worth the read.

See too, the Washington Post’s recent rundown of how the rest of the world sees Ferguson.

The U.S. ratified CERD in 1994.


No, CNN, Ferguson Doesn’t Need Water Cannons

No, CNN, Ferguson Doesn't Need Water Cannons

In a late-night newscast Monday, CNN’s Rosemary Church asked whether it wouldn’t somehow be better to use water cannons instead tear gas and stun grenades. No, Ms. Church—given the history of water canons used against black people 50 years ago—the suggestion is insulting. 

NFL Players Show Support for Michael Brown and Ferguson During Pre-season Game

NFL Players Show Support for Michael Brown and Ferguson During Pre-season Game

The Washington, D.C., NFL team is wrapping up its preseason, but not before two players showed support for Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson. Several players, including safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, entered the game with their hands up, the signature gesture of protests taking place in the St. Louis suburb:

Compton School Police to Soon Be Armed With AR-15s

Compton School Police to Soon Be Armed With AR-15s

Students in Compton Unified School District returned for their first day of classes on Monday to school police who will soon be armed with a new weapon—AR-15 assault rifles. 

The school board in South Central Los Angeles’ Compton passed a policy in July allowing school police to carry the rifles in the trunks of their cars while on duty for use in the event of a school shooting. Increasingly, Compton schools police argued, school shooters are wearing body armor, and the guns school police already carry are insufficient for penetrating that kind of protection, KPCC reported. 

Compton, a historically black city, is still majority people-of-color, but is in fact these days predominantly Latino. One in three Compton residents is black, while 65 percent of the city is Latino, according to the 2010 Census.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about AR-15s in schools. Community members have raised alarm about the change. Latino families filed a lawsuit against Compton school police in 2013 alleging that they discriminated against Latino families.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, Colorlines went to South Los Angeles to ask school kids their opinion about the calls for increased militarization of their schools. While young people were concerned about police officers receiving extra weaponry, students were also concerned about the basic presence of police in schools.

Listen to the KPCC report for more. 

More Chaos in Ferguson, Gaza Ceasefire Extension and Ivory Demand Threatens Elephants

More Chaos in Ferguson, Gaza Ceasefire Extension and Ivory Demand Threatens Elephants

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning: 

TAGS: Morning Rush

The Obama Speech You Actually Want to Hear

The Obama Speech You Actually Want to Hear

President Obama disappointed people again with his remarks on Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri—two places where troops have now been deployed. Nine days into the Ferguson crisis let’s remember that Obama the candidate approached race head-on in 2008, inspiring voters who would make history voting him into office: 

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787. 

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations. 

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution — a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time. 

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part — through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time. 

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign — to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together — unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction — towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren. 

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story. 

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. 

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one. 

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans. 

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well. 

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn. 

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike. 

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely — just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. 

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. 

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems — two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way 

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth — by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS. 

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity: 

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note — hope! — I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories — of survival, and freedom, and hope — became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish — and with which we could start to rebuild.” 

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety — the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America. 

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions — the good and the bad — of the community that he has served diligently for so many years. 

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. 

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love. 

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias. 

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America — to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality. 

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through — a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American. 

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. 

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. 

Legalized discrimination — where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments — meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities. 

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families — a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods — parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement — all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us. 

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late ’50s and early ’60s, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them. 

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it — those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations — those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. 

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism. 

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze — a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns — this too widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding. 

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. 

But I have asserted a firm conviction — a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union. 

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances — for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny. 

Ironically, this quintessentially American — and yes, conservative — notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change. 

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope — the audacity to hope — for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. 

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination — and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past — are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds — by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. 

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle — as we did in the O.J. trial — or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina, or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. 

We can do that. 

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. 

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st-century economy. Not this time. 

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together. 

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit. 

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned. 

I would not be running for president if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation — the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election. 

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today — a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta. 

There is a young, 23-year-old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there. 

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom. 

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat. 

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too. 

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice. 

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.” 

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children. 

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the 221 years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Following the Facts About Ferguson: Monday Round-Up

Following the Facts About Ferguson: Monday Round-Up

At least six bullets from officer Darren Wilson’s gun hit 18-year-old Michael Brown, according to preliminary results released today from a private autopsy ordered by Brown’s family. This would be the second autopsy performed on Brown’s body with a third by federal authorities expected in the next couple of days. There’s no statement yet on how many bullets were fired. Below, a round-up of great reporting and fact-based commentary to help you sift through the swirl of opinion surrounding the Brown shooting. Let’s go:

No surprise here. A new national poll shows “stark racial divisions in reactions to Ferguson police shooting.” But the Pew survey also found that among whites, 37 percent said the Michael Brown shooting “raises important issues about race.” That’s up from 28 percent responding to the same question last July around the time of George Zimmerman’s trial and acquittal.

In St. Louis, zip codes trump genetic codes. That’s according to a timely new study of regional disparities out this June, comparing the health and wellbeing of residents of largely African-American zip codes with those in predominantly white and wealthier areas. Speaking to NPR, lead author and Wash-U professor Jason Purnell says: “The thing that troubles me is that so many children are growing up without opportunities [and] resources….I really want to change the paradigm in this region from viewing children in disinvested under-resourced areas as problems to viewing them as resources to be invested in.”

In two pieces published a day apart, The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb sees evidence of organizing in Ferguson while The New York Times’ Julie Bosman finds a lack of leadership and clergy complaints about an inability to control protesters.

It’s the boring things that count. Military gear gets headlines because of the optics but out-of-sight paper trails of criminal debt are no less important. St. Louis County’s 90 municipalities rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines. Those policies, former Missouri state senator Jeff Wilson says, increase pressure on cops to make more stops*. The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman drives the point home: “The crisis of criminal-justice debt is just one of the many tributaries feeding the river of deep rage in Ferguson”—and it’s a national phenomenon.

Finally, Ferguson’s majority white city council makes it an outlier among cities with an African-American majority or plurality, according to Pacific Standard. Writer Seth Masket says there are national problems at play, “but even given that, Ferguson’s illnesses appear to be unusually acute.”

As always, feel free to add your own links. See you back here tomorrow.

*Post has been updated.

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