Black Stars in a White Galaxy: Philly Starbucks

Starbucks Arrest
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson


A Philadelphia Starbucks became a flashpoint for white racial hostility last month when two black men were arrested for allegedly trespassing. The men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, real estate investors in their 20s, were waiting for a business associate when a Starbucks manager called local police and accused them of trespassing. The manager’s complaint hinged on the fact that the men were occupying the space without purchasing one of the various sugar-laden drinks on offer. Video footage shows the men being arrested without incident as white patrons—including their associate, look on and protest that the men are innocent.

After being held for several hours the men were released without charge and received a personal apology from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. The viral video of their arrest sparked protests at the location and panic at Starbucks HQ. In a shallow PR move, the coffee chain has announced plans to shutter roughly 8 thousand stores on May 29thto provide “Unconscious Bias training” to employees.

Philadelphia is roughly 43% black. However, Rittenhouse Square, the tony neighborhood where the incident occurred is blindingly white. It’s safe to assume that such a level of segregation serves as a velvet socioeconomic rope. Gently buffering those that don’t qualify for the leisure class. These white Philadelphians are free to move about their community without often experiencing the abrupt atmospheric shift wrought by the presence of a black body. What Starbucks, and thousands of untold encounters illustrate is that when we step into a space, we are not anonymous citizens. We are a curiosity, an energy, a dread.

I can almost imagine the increased heart rate and sharpened vision of the white manager as her mind raced through the reasons, all of them criminal, to explain why two young black men would deign to take Starbucks up on its offer to be neutral third-place. The comfort and relative safety of bland anonymity is rarely afforded black Americans. Our existence must be immediately justified in order to preempt the white fear that can quite literally lead to our deaths. One of the most insidious effects of white supremacy is the feeling that we must continuously carry a compelling affirmation of our humanity like a yellowed business card in our back pocket—worn from use. Our humanity and right to simply exist in this world is not a foregone conclusion. Black lives are always up for debate, and control, and oftentimes extermination.

Exactly 2 minutes after Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson dared to take up space in a Philly Starbucks, the police were on the scene to arrest them, remove them, and return the shop to a scene of upper class, placid repose.

2 Minutes

Such an insignificant amount of time. Yet that was all it took for a racist’s hysteria to force a collision between two innocent black men and the criminal justice system.

A common thread of black life is being the target of harassment and violence at the hands of sociopathic officers dispatched by white people donning the carcinogenic mask of concerned citizens. Local police function as an extension of white supremacist domination. Officers are summoned to attenuate the fear of unbound black bodies in public spaces. The most mundane tableaus of daily life are contorted into scenes of chaos and violence when white Americans are free to make unilateral, wholly arbitrary decisions about what constitutes criminal behavior. That level of control over a stranger’s life must be intoxicating.


So it was that a petty, bigoted Starbucks manager called in the cavalry to erase the stain of black energy from her climate controlled petty kingdom.



The Alt-Right Starter Pack


Photo/Los Angeles Times


The racist, white nationalist alt-right fringe movement has been thrust into the spotlight in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s inflammatory campaign and tainted win. A loose umbrella term that captures 4Chan trolls, academics, militia-types, neo-Nazis, and just general racists, alt-right was definitely the buzz term of the 2016 election. In an effort to understand the movement, I’ve been doing some preliminary research and have compiled an introductory list of fundamental alt-right reads.


  1. Party Like it’s 1933-The Washington Post

“For us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again!” he shouted. “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

  1. Meet The White Nationalist Trying to Ride The Trump Train to Lasting Power-Mother Jones Magazine

 Spencer believes that Hispanics and African Americans have lower average IQs than whites and are more genetically predisposed to commit crimes, ideas that are not accepted by the vast majority of scientists.

  1. An Alt-Right Makeover Shrouds The Swastikas-The New York Times

“The political establishment has made an entire generation of young white men and women into fascists, and that’s a beautiful thing!”

  1. What The Founders *Really* Thought About Race-Radix Journal

Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery outside the South, but was not an abolitionist. He made war on the Confederacy only to preserve the Union, and would have accepted Southern slavery in perpetuity if that would have kept the South from seceding, as he stated explicitly.

  1. An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right –Breitbart

The amount of column inches generated by the alt-right is a testament to their cultural punch. But so far, no one has really been able to explain the movement’s appeal and reach without desperate caveats and virtue-signaling to readers.


Speaking “Alt-Right”: Terms used in the movement


  • Red Pill: General term concerning the dissemination of “truth” about the crisis of white masculinity and dominance in American life. Essentially, women, minorities, and Jews are targeted as attempting to weaken or subvert the natural dominance of white men in America. Getting “red pilled” means to be exposed to this theory.


  • Lugenpresse: German for “lying press”. A Nazi-era throwback term for the mainstream media. Now used by extreme right groups in both Europe and America.


  • PePe the Frog: Bizarre internet meme of an anthropomorphic frog often seen in alt-right forums and Twitter accounts. Now considered a hate-symbol by the Anti-Defamation League


  • Ethno-State: Future vision held by many white nationalists of a country totally dominated by whites, and void of racial minorities and other ethnic groups.


  • Fashy: Short for fascist. Refers to a haircut worn originally by the Hitler Youth, and more recently appropriated by alt-right figureheads such as Richard Spencer.


  • Cuck: Short for “cuckservative”, a pejorative used to describe conservatives who are not sufficiently committed to alt-right views.



Dying of Thirst in Flint: On the State-Sponsored Poisoning of an American Community

Jake May/ The Flint Journal


Fecal chloroform, rust, sediment, and lead flowed from thousands of taps for months before local government issued a boil order. Patients complained of rashes and hair loss. Children with signs of lead poisoning crowded clinics while Legionnaire’s disease reared its ugly head. Dramatic reports of water with a funny smell, a sick yellow hue, and a foul taste hummed in the background of this dying industrial city. Physicians such as Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha sounded the alarm about lead poisoning ruining the potential of Flint’s children, while the Snyder administration studiously denied the grim reality on the ground. While this disaster unfolded, Flint’s residents, largely poor and black, languished under the supervision of a parade of emergency managers solely focused on the bottom line. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right. $5 million was the price to revoke that right in Flint, Michigan.

Flint is a city choking on the decay of post-globalization capital flight. The closure of several GM plants in the 1980s devastated the “Vehicle City”. The resultant disappearance of stable, middle-class manufacturing jobs precipitated a cycle of population flight and deindustrialization that continues to haunt the area today. With a population nearly 60% African-American, and a 42% poverty rate, the city was ripe for governmental schemes aimed at stripping away basic services in order to keep a fingernail’s hold on solvency. Enter the era of emergency management.

The saga of Flint’s water crisis is rooted in the destruction of local democracy in favor of an anti-democratic, top-down approach in which citizens aren’t afforded the right to influence public policy. In 2012, the Michigan state legislature passed Public Act 436, a law designed to rescue financially distressed municipalities from themselves. What the law achieved in fact was the creation of the legal and political space for an unelected official, referred to as an emergency manager, to dictate public policy with zero democratic accountability. The language of PA 436 is quite explicit in neutering the power of local elected officials. Section 141.1549 reads:

Following appointment of an emergency manager and during the pendency of receivership, the governing body and the chief administrative officer of the local government shall not exercise any of the powers of those offices except as may be specifically authorized in writing by the emergency manager…

This passage effectively smothered the democratic institutions of Michigan’s most troubled cities by disenfranchising their most vulnerable population, poor blacks. The denizens of Flint, Detroit, and several other poor municipalities with majority-minority demographics have shouldered the devastating effects of this state-sponsored dislocation from democracy.

In the face of lawsuits and heated criticism of PA 436, officials in Lansing called into question local representatives’ capacity to negotiate the terrain of their most pressing public policy challenges. In an almost dismissive defense of local concern, Terry Stanton, of the Michigan Department of the Treasury, was quoted, “making difficult political decisions can be very trying for local officials.” Stanton’s response betrays a noxiously paternalistic view of local elected officials. Wrestling with tough political decisions is  the mandate for city representatives. Should the aftermath of their decisions prove unproductive, residents can petition the institution, hold a referendum, or simply vote officials out of office. Unfortunately, by focusing on the deficiencies of local governing bodies, Lansing failed to take advantage of the opportunity to attack the structural issues that hinder Michigan’s progress.

In 2013, Snyder-appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz, in cooperation with the Flint city council, backed a vote to sever ties with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department as a cost-cutting measure. It was decided that the Flint River—a notorious dumping ground—would hydrate city residents until the completion of the Karegnondi water pipeline in 2016. Kurtz’s successor, Darnell Earley, rebuffed offers to extend Flint’s contract with DWSD, instead preferring to collaborate with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to obtain the permits needed to switch the city’s water supply to the local river. April 25th, 2014 marked the beginning of Flint’s dance with environmental racism.

Nearly two years later, the national media has turned their spotlight on Flint. Although local media such as the Detroit Free Press and Michigan Radio reported on the crisis from the outset, national outlets focused their human rights reportage on Syria and the various refugee crises gripping Europe. The pace of national coverage of the poisoning of Flint has moved from a localized trickle to a flood of bleeding-heart outrage on the editorial pages of the big players. The unfolding scandal is a study in how the paucity of political influence opens the door to stunningly racist public policy. The majority-black demographics of Flint (and other black cities in Michigan under emergency management) are an inescapable fact that must remain in the forefront of any serious analysis of this tragedy. It’s incredibly difficult to insist that the white residents of say, Grand Blanc, would be stonewalled in the face of pointed questions about local water quality.

After months of what the Flint Water Advisory Task Force characterized as state agencies’ “…aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts [to expose lead contamination] and the individuals involved,” Governor Snyder finally requested a federal declaration of emergency last month. President Obama quickly signed the declaration, which will free up $5 million in federal aid for the next 3 months. In a bid to influence the optics, Snyder also activated the Michigan National Guard to distribute bottled water and filters to desperate residents. He gave a speech apologizing to Flint residents, and then released 274 pages of emails related to the disaster. Snyder’s emails provide a window into the state’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the Flint River is toxic. In fact, concerned residents and groups were accused of using reports of lead poisoning as a “political football”. One email from a local pastor even warned of the potential for civil unrest.

Governor Snyder has released an estimate of $60 million to replace all of the lead piping in Flint. If the project is fully funded, total replacement would take at least 15 years. The logistics and financing of such a massive undertaking have yet to be ironed out. As of today, Flint has to get by with bold declarations of support that are paper thin. The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform has heard testimony from Flint officials and one resident on the disaster in their city. Governor Rick Snyder and Darnell Earley were notably absent from the hearing. Snyder was not invited to attend, and disgraced former emergency manager Earley defied a congressional subpoena.

There was the trademark outrage from ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Md.), who quoted song lyrics and implored the witnesses to reflect on the devastating impact on Flint’s children. Meanwhile, partisan fissures emerged over two issues—first, House Republicans did not invite Snyder to testify at the hearing (nor did he volunteer to show), and second, Senate Democrats blocked an energy bill because it doesn’t earmark funds for disaster relief in Flint.


Courtesy of

Although Flint switched back to the Detroit water system in October, the decaying infrastructure of rusted out piping continues to present a health hazard. Lead continues to leach into the water from local pipes. Recent testing by researchers with Virginia Tech found lead levels that meet the threshold for hazardous waste. In another blow to relief efforts, the EPA has notified the city that the consumer-grade Brita and Pur water filters being distributed are not up to the task of blunting the flow of lead that in some areas exceeds 150 parts per billion. Thus, residents will need to continue to rely on bottled water for cooking and bathing. Because Flint is a food desert, residents are particularly dependent on sustained governmental action to provide clean water. They can’t simply roll into the nearest Wal-Mart to stock up on water. There are quite literally, no other options.

Governor Snyder needs to resign effective immediately. The Michigan State Legislature should immediately repeal that odious law, PA 436. Finally, Senate Republicans should open the purse and fund extended disaster relief for Flint. Anything less is yet another tragedy.


Reading is Fundamental: Vol 2

BLM Girlsjpg
Photo/Laura Ming Wong

The New Yorker visits the murderer Darren Wilson in a piece succinctly named: The Cop. Fine work, whether or not you agree with the writer’s conclusions and inferences.

The tension between white libs and the supporters of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been evident almost since the sheet was laid over Mike Brown. Imani Gandy looks to history and finds some parallels in her excellent article, MLK and the White Progressive.

On a related note, the NY Times continues to make pains to demonstrate how “down” they are with a video of some prominent activists of Black Twitter.

Have you seen the Charleston Syllabus?! Amazing. Love the notion of crowdsourced knowledge in the digital age.

Nipsey Hussle is a mysoginistic piece of shit. Read about his hateful, anti-black women comments here. This fiasco is exactly why I identify as a black feminist, and not simply a feminist.

I finally picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates new work, Between The World and Me. I’ve read a few reviews that took issue with his portrayal of women. Which, I think is healthy. We should always challenge our public intellectuals to face their own bias.

Also, there’s this:

ISIS and the Theology of Rape by the New York Times. Made me absolutely sick. Religion, violence, and sex combine into a hellish vortex. Sexual slavery. Prayer and ablutions between rape sessions. Horrifying.

Finally, Big Brother just sold you a new iPhone 6. The New York Times published a disturbing  investigative piece on AT&T’s collaboration with the NSA. At what price, safety? It’s a question we need to relentlessly confront.

Follow me on twitter! @thepolicyfade

Black Lives Matter//Turning Their Backs 2.0

Stephen Lam/Reuters
Stephen Lam/Reuters

Policing in black America has historically been fraught with racial tensions that often catalyze sudden convulsions of violence and backlash. History has demonstrated that police are not trained to integrate themselves into the fabric of the poor communities they serve. Instead, the daily grind of black and white cruisers coasting down the block often evokes feelings of anxiety and suspicion. The fact that you can, and very likely will be, randomly accosted by a patrolman for darkly nebulous reasons sets the stage for a potentially explosive encounter. A foundation of trust, respect, and mutual understanding between communities of color and the police doesn’t exist.

The roots of black Americans’ relationship with state-sponsored sources of law enforcement have been poisoned since the birth of our nation.   During the Jim Crow era, vigilante justice, public lynchings, and other forms of brutality committed against blacks were often conducted with the participation or tacit approval of local police departments. The most base of alleged transgressions, such as attempting to shop at a market owned by whites, were met with spectacular displays of ritualistic punishment. Decades on, the motto of Service and Protection is a commitment that becomes cancerous when applied to the cracked sidewalks of working-class neighborhoods. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown, and to a large extent, Trayvon Martin (his killer, George Zimmerman, was a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman), are all tragic symbols of hyper-aggressive and largely unaccountable police departments. These most recent murders at the hands of cops have sparked organized, mostly nonviolent protest movements throughout the country.

The Dehumanization of Black Youth and the Denial of Black Childhood

The testimony of officer Darren Wilson during the grand jury proceedings in Ferguson provide a very compelling snapshot of his denial and cartoonish distortion of Michael Brown’s common humanity. In his testimony, Wilson evoked the caricature of a massive black man of superhuman strength and aggressiveness. The officer described Brown as a demonic machine sprinting through a hail of ineffective bullets. Furthermore, transcripts of Wilson’s testimony reveal that he “felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan”. It’s important to understand that Wilson and Brown were almost equally yoked. Officer Wilson stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at around 210 pounds. Similarly, Brown was 6’5 and 290 pounds. That’s hardly a David and Goliath matchup.

You see, in the minds of men raised in a culture that builds its understanding of black people through hyperbolic myths and assumption, seeing a teenage black male as an outsized, savage, wrestler-like figure is quite common. The tragic case of Tamir Rice is another striking example of the denial of black childhood. The officers who encountered Rice in that snow-dusted Cleveland park aged him up nearly a decade. Initial police reports described him as a man of 20 years old. Rice was 12 at the time officers gunned him down.  Photos and video of the child clearly show an undeniably young boy.

Tamir was in a public space playing around with a toy gun—the ultimate symbol of American masculinity, strength, and swagger. (see Richard Slotkin’s work on this topic, or if reading is too much, just cue up any Clint Eastwood film). Yet, when a young black boy dares to participate in this hugely celebrated aspect of American culture, it becomes an imminent threat to local safety. (For the record, I’m not in anyway way endorsing the celebration of American gun culture. I’m simply using this example to demonstrate the differing cultural standards for white youth and youth of color.)

From these two instances alone, it becomes clear that youthful insouciance is a privilege reserved for those of the dominant class. Our culture has rejected an age of innocence for black American youth. Resultantly, black children are ineluctably tasked with carrying the colossal burden of adult responsibility years before they are psychologically and socially equipped to navigate those waters. These denials of black childhood, combined with the toxic assumption of hyper-aggressive masculinity, are the driving factors behind deadly police encounters.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The Role of Public Spectacle. Then and Now.

The element of public spectacle is oftentimes present when dealing with the murder of black citizens at the hands of police. Cellphone video and digital camera footage have usurped the role of lusty, voyeuristic crowds of onlookers erstwhile clustered around macabre outdoor theaters showcasing the latest “strange fruit”. The deft utilization of community-based oversight of police activity has allowed a global audience to observe beat cops’ callous disregard for the dignity of black bodies.

In the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, his body lay exposed to the elements on the filthy street for over four hours, all without the benefit or respect of a basic white shroud to protect his young corpse from baking in the Missouri sun. Photos from the scene show Mr. Brown splayed across the asphalt, face down in morbid repose, while officers and detectives calmly mill about. In Staten Island, Eric Garner was brutally choked to death while a concerned bystander recorded the assault and his haunting cries of “I can’t breathe”. A second video shows the arrival of emergency responders who make a seemingly calculated decision to withhold lifesaving measures from Mr. Garner. CPR and oxygen never entered into the equation. Instead, officers stare at Garner’s lifeless body and repeatedly check his pockets.

Another video has emerged of 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was killed by police officers in a public park. The footage, recorded by surveillance cameras across from the park, show Tamir’s 14 year-old sister frantically rushing to his aid after he was shot. The video shows an officer tackling the little girl to the ground, and eventually marching her to the back of the police car as her brother lay ten feet away bleeding to death. Rather than acknowledging the sister’s grief and confusion, the officers chose to prematurely criminalize her behavior by handcuffing her and refusing to allay her concerns. It’s incredibly sad to imagine the psychological trauma of being unable to protect your sibling and unceremoniously witnessing the blunt end of his short life. It’s almost certain that the Cleveland officers instilled a seed of mistrust and fear in the Rice family that will have ripple effects for generations.  

In 2012, Trayvon Martin’s body laid soaking in the damp grass as a mild Florida rain dampened the hoodie that would go on to become a lightning rod for urban stereotypes. Again, no attempts were made to protect his young body from the unforgiving elements. In each of these instances, the sequence of events demonstrates the officers’ shameful lack of empathy for the victims. The electric atmosphere captured on film often melts into a state of calm detachment from the tragedy that occurred moments earlier.

It’s hard to overstate the value of real-time video/photographic documentation. When events are in dispute (which they almost always are), the objectivity of a zoom lens can obviate heavy reliance on the shaky recollections of a eyewitness. Community oversight of police tactics has helped catalyze the current political movement to eradicate the violent basis of cops’ relationship with poor, black communities. This democratization of investigation, analysis, and observance of public servants is a necessary check on the excesses of law enforcement. Capturing photographs and footage of police encounters also reshapes the often-emotional debates about race, social justice, and policing.

White Americans are now exposed to the harsh reality of the police brutality that is numbingly routine in minority communities. Deploying citizen media to document these encounters strongly mitigates the biases and distortions found in the anecdotal data put forth by victims, pundits, and police organizations. Cameras don’t have a political agenda to protect. Nor are they interested in perpetuating the status quo. Therefore, the proliferation of their use can only force a skeptical public to reevaluate their unconscious processes for justifying and hastily accepting the disproportionate use of deadly force against African-Americans. Unlike the grim days of public executions in the Jim Crow south, today’s use of spectacle is perhaps the smartest weapon in a sustained campaign against the state-sponsored violence rained down upon the bodies of black Americans.

On the media front, the coverage of the assassination of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu stands in stark contrast to the relatively muted reportage surrounding the murders of multiple unarmed black men last year. Hero Cop Dies is always the tagline when an officer is killed on the job. Bold headlines eulogizing the life and good works of the slain officers ran in most major newspapers. The tone of the coverage was evocative of a national tragedy. Unfortunately, outside of the protestors and the black community at large, that same empathy for the tragically short lives of the victims of police brutality has been largely absent.  It seems that our hearts stop when an officer is killed. But the murders of scores of citizens a year at the hands of police is taken in stride. That collective tendency to lionize police officers is dangerous because it insulates them from accountability. Cops are not heroes. They are merely men, subject to the same errors in judgment and moral complexities as every other human.

Race, Policing, and Justice

Most Americans are steeped in a culture that is loath to critically assess the daily actions of police officers. The experiences of whites with policing are often radically different from African-Americans of all socioeconomic strata. A history of state-sanctioned violence and terror on behalf of law enforcement organizations doesn’t exist for the majority population. In fact, the most recent killings of young black men has only seemed to inspire a feeling amongst whites that race relations were being totally overblown. Indeed, fully half of white respondents to a Pew study conducted after the onset of riots in Ferguson felt that the racial elements of the case were receiving too much attention. It becomes easy to understand then, (although not in any way accept), white Americans’ deep reluctance to examine the racial dimensions of such incidents. Most of us are trained to hold subconscious biases that lend tropes of criminal behavior and general impudence to blacks. Thus, most Americans’ aversion to even suggesting that just once, the cop made a bad call.

Whites are incredibly likely to implicitly trust the judgment of the patrolmen, prosecutors, and grand juries that consistently fail to unpack, and objectively examine the violent actions of police against people of color. This disconnect is demonstrated on a larger scale when officer-involved shootings rarely lead to the conviction or even indictment of officers. The underlying assumption of many grand jurors regarding police brutality is that the officer was under imminent threat, thus deeming his actions legitimate. The nature of the evidence pertaining to his actions is largely beside the point. We like to give a wide berth for police organizations to put forth their version of events, and allow them to investigate problems in-house. Resultantly, a culture of recklessness and impunity rules, because those that would objectively analyze the culture and practices of various police departments are shouted down as anti-police.

This resistance to change has been thrust out into the open in the wake of the nationwide anti- police brutality protests. Officers in New York have been turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio in a coordinated effort to show their opposition to a leader that many in the force believe chose the protestors over them. The fact that de Blasio dared to legitimize the grievances of the protestors, and even went so far as to advise his son on how to interact with police, was a bridge too far for the men and women of the NYPD. Service and protection should be extended to all citizens, whether or not they buy wholesale into the myth of the hero cop. The fact that these officers have turned their backs on the people of New York is disgusting. Freedom of assembly doesn’t stop at the precinct’s door. The notion that Mayor de Blasio contributed to anti-police sentiment by protecting the protestors’ right to take to the streets strongly suggests that the NYPD expects blind and unflagging support.

Another troubling aspect of police culture is the unwillingness to be called to account for misguided tactics, such as stop-and-frisk, that are fueled by an irrational fear of black citizens. These policies easily lend themselves to stereotyping, and adrenaline-soaked, half-baked judgment calls. It’s a solution in search of a problem. Naturally, petty crimes such as jaywalking or selling loose cigarettes become serious criminal offenses. When suspects rightly question their harassment by beat cops, the situation often veers out of control. What often begins as a relatively mild encounter quickly escalates to the use of deadly force. The shooting and killing of unarmed men, or in the case of Eric Garner, the brutal choking death, is indicative of a cadre of ginned-up, aggressive officers that are socially primed to dehumanize their black counterparts.   Naturally, the argument will be made that these officers have to make split-second decisions with a number of unknown factors. However, if you compare the number of deadly encounters of black citizens and whites with police, the raw numbers tell an entirely different story.

According to an analysis by ProPublica, Young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by a cop than young white men. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the use of deadly force often remain murky, with many police organizations reporting the cause of these violent incidents as “undetermined”. 77% of the victims of these shadowy encounters are black.   Any organization that is sworn to protect and serve should be open to the disinfecting nature of sunlight. To operate in the dark, resistant to constructive criticism and change, investigating itself, and to be cozy with prosecutors and various politicos in local and state leadership, creates the environment we have today. Who are the cops accountable to? No one.

Prosecutors are also complicit in the unchecked trend of police brutality against unarmed black men. Oftentimes, decisions on whether or not to indict the officers involved in these murders are only brought after weeks of public pressure. Even then, prosecutors seem to deliberately fail to make a vigorous case to the grand jury. For example, Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor in the Ferguson case, repeatedly emphasized his cozy relationship with the police department, and his admiration of police. During a highly unorthodox late night presentation of the grand jury findings, McCulloch essentially condemned the actions of Michael Brown, and mounted a public defense of the teen’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson.   Several months later, in recounting an egregious demonstration of unethical conduct, prosecutor McCulloch casually revealed that he presented witness testimony to the grand jury that he knew to be false. Under these circumstances the probability of the late Michael Brown ever being granted justice is almost laughable.

Justice would be similarly denied to Eric Garner. In Staten Island, over 70 percent of the majority-white population believe the NYPD does a solid job. Additionally, 60 percent of Staten Islanders believe the police provide equitable treatment to both whites and blacks. That broad-based perception of the “firm, yet fair” cop went a long way in precluding the possibility of criminal charges against an officer that has an established history of using unethical tactics. Unsurprisingly, the grand jury declined to file criminal charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Democratizing the Debate Through Social Media

Enter Black Lives Matter. The fact that this even has to be said is a tragedy. African-Americans have to constantly remind the nation that we are here, and our lives matter too. The marches, “die-ins”, Twitter campaigns, and general civil unrest are essential to keeping this issue from going quietly into the night. The disgust and outrage at police actions are entirely legitimate, and the tactics used to draw attention to the injustice are also legitimate.

The artful use of social media to draw attention to issues that otherwise wouldn’t get much traction in the mainstream press is crucial in the struggle. Because a cost-barrier doesn’t exist for most social media sites, individuals are empowered to gather in the virtual public square and initiate dialogue and debate that often transform into action in the streets. Furthermore, the use of Twitter allows serious people to offer legitimate counterpoints and perceptions that often differ from the organizational agenda of large outfits such as the NYTimes or CNN.

Considering the sad lack of diversity in many newsrooms, these voices from the outside are indispensable to cultivating a holistic understanding of current events. Some of the most groundbreaking insights and coverage of Ferguson, for example, came from Twitter users that are members of that community, and were available to live-tweet many incidents as they happened. That perspective is crucial for filling out the hollow core of news reporting. Social media humanizes what can sometimes be viewed as bland, detached, and uncritical reporting.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Thus far, the police have shown zero willingness to address these issues and institute the structural changes needed to fundamentally revamp the relationship between  people of color and the officers sworn to serve them. Instead of turning their backs, they should open their minds. (ETA: On Feb. 12th, FBI Director James B. Comey gave a widely touted speech regarding the nature of racism and policing).