Manuel Terán and Tyre Nichols: What Should We Do When Cops Kill?; DeSantis' Week of Madness: He Wants to Kill for Votes (Really!), Destroy a College, and Release the COVID Kraken; and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Today there was only enough room to deal with two major issues: the police killings of two men that have caused anguished protests—and a series of Ron DeSantis decisions that need to cause anguished protest.
I tried to do a deep dive into the police shootings so I could do more than express anger and frustration. I wanted to look at the causes.
DeSantis is like a grenade thrown in the middle of American culture, shredding our beliefs and values, all for his personal ambition. Where Trump was a bumbling idiot, DeSantis charges forth with robotic disregard for the Constitution and human compassion. Every choice he makes reduces health, safety, and individual freedom. He is Voldemort with a fancy haircut.
I do have a funny video break and a lovely musical surprise at the end as a palate cleanser. Listen and let the music cleanse you.
Cops Killing POC: Welcome to Black History Month
Two men were recently killed by police: Manuel Esteban Paez Terán in Atlanta and Tyre Nichols in Memphis. Both made headlines that brought about outraged public protests, firings, murder charges, and the calling out of the National Guard.
These killings don’t celebrate the joys of Black History Month, but they certainly reflect the reality of Black history.
A little over a year ago, I wrote an essay/e-book for Amazon called Black Cop’s Kid, explaining what it was like growing up in New York City during the tumultuous fifties and sixties as the son of one of the relatively few Black cops on the NYPD. I was torn between supporting my dad’s law-and-order philosophy and my own growing commitment to the civil rights and anti-war protests. (Here’s an excerpt I posted on Substack in October of 2021.) That internal conflict has helped shape me throughout my life, making me examine both sides of cop-related issues before reaching an opinion.
It is with that same personal affection for, and political suspicion of, the police that I approach the two recent killings of People of Color by police. That is why this has been one of the most difficult articles for me to write. It’s not enough to mourn the tragic losses—over and over and over again. We need to address the causes.
5 Officers Charged With Murder in Memphis Police Killing (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: “‘This was wrong, this was criminal,’ said a state investigator. Five fired Memphis police officers have been charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man hospitalized after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop this month. The officers were fired last week and accused of using excessive force in an encounter that was captured on video, including police body cameras. The city’s police chief, Cerelyn Davis, described their actions as ‘a failing of basic humanity.’”
RELATED ARTICLES: “The Police Folklore That Helped Kill Tyre Nichols” (The New Yorker); “White Cop Who Wanted Colleagues to ‘Stomp’ Tyre Nichols Is Suspended” (The Daily Beast)
Georgia governor declares state of emergency, activates 1,000 National Guard troops amid Atlanta protests (CBS News)
SUMMARY: “Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Thursday and activated 1,000 National Guard troops in response to ongoing violent protests in downtown Atlanta following a shooting last week near a controversial future law enforcement training site in which a Georgia state trooper was wounded and a man was killed.
“The state of emergency is in effect until Feb. 9, according to the document, unless renewed by the governor.
“The Atlanta protests center around the building of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, nicknamed "Cop City." Protestors have been at the site for months, but on Jan. 18, a protestor identified as Manuel Esteban Paez Teran was shot and killed by law enforcement after authorities said he shot and wounded a Georgia state trooper during a planned multi-agency operation to remove protestors from the area. The trooper was hospitalized and survived.
RELATED ARTICLES: “Protesters question circumstances surrounding ‘Stop Cop City’ activist’s death” (PBS)
More Than Half of Police Killings Are Mislabeled, New Study Says (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: “Police killings in America have been undercounted by more than half over the past four decades, according to a new study that raises pointed questions about racial bias among medical examiners and highlights the lack of reliable national record keeping on what has become a major public health and civil rights issue.
“The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and published on Thursday in The Lancet, a major British medical journal, amounts to one of the most comprehensive looks at the scope of police violence in America, and the disproportionate impact on Black people.
“Researchers compared information from a federal database known as the National Vital Statistics System, which collects death certificates, with recent data from three organizations that track police killings through news reports and public records requests. When extrapolating and modeling that data back decades, they identified a startling discrepancy: About 55 percent of fatal encounters with the police between 1980 and 2018 were listed as another cause of death."
“The findings reflect both the contentious role of medical examiners and coroners in obscuring the real extent of police violence, and the lack of centralized national data on an issue that has caused enormous upheaval. Private nonprofits and journalists have filled the gap by mining news reports and social media.”
“As fatal police shootings increase, more go unreported” (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “Even though federal records indicate that fatal shootings by police have been declining nationwide since 2015, The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database shows the opposite is true: Officers have shot and killed more people every year, reaching a record high in 2021 with 1,047 deaths. The FBI database contains only about one-third of the 7,000 fatal police shootings during this time — down from half when The Post first started tracking.
“Fatal shootings by officers in at least 2,250 police and sheriffs’ departments are missing from the past seven years of federal records, according to an analysis of the database maintained by The Post, which began tracking the killings in 2015. The excluded data has created a misleading government picture of police use of force, complicating efforts at accountability.
“The incomplete data also obscures a racial discrepancy among those killed by police that is larger than the federal data suggests. Black people are fatally shot by police far more often than is evident in the FBI data, The Post has found — at more than double the rate for White people.”
‘It never stops’: killings by US police reach record high in 2022 (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: US law enforcement killed at least 1,176 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record for police violence since 2013 when experts first started tracking the killings nationwide, a new data analysis reveals.
Police across the country killed an average of more than three people a day, or nearly 100 people every month last year according to Mapping Police Violence. The non-profit research group maintains a database of reported deaths at the hands of law enforcement, including people fatally shot, beaten, restrained and Tasered.
MY TAKE: New information is emerging daily about both killings, so I won’t go much into the details of each case. It’s enough to know that Nichols was unarmed and compliant and that Terán was one of the few Black or Brown people in the group when the police raided, but he ended up dead. The police reported that he was armed, but that is disputed by other witnesses.
I want to address the concept of cops killing people. No one disputes that sometimes lethal force is necessary. But there is an us-vs-them mentality in America—and therefore in many of its institutions (i.e. military, police, and judicial) that allows injustice to flourish. The demand for loyalty regardless of right and wrong, or even legal and illegal, causes us to hide our shameful acts behind the bluster of patriotism. “My country, right or wrong!” many conservatives proclaim without realizing (as one of our subscribers pointed out). The full quotation by Republican Sen. Carl Schurz is, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” That’s an important difference.
The articles above that investigate the national conspiracy to under-report or not report many cop-shootings, especially as related to Black victims, reveal the public’s own love-fear relationship with the police. White people support the police because they genuinely understand the risks cops take to defend the community. But they also hope that vocal support shields them from becoming a target of the police. Black people don’t often have the same option: studies confirm that they are a target of police no matter their age, education level, or income.
Still, five Black cops killing an unarmed Black man? In Black Cop’s Kid, I discuss the research that shows the pressures from both the public and from White cops that can make Black cops buy into the systemic racism within law enforcement. Black cops have to depend on other cops to have their backs in life-threatening situations, so it is in their best interest to fit in with the cops, whatever it takes. Black cops also face pressure from Blacks who resent them being used to over-police Black communities.
Rashad Shabazz, Associate Professor at the School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University, argues that “It’s hard to investigate the minds of the officers who beat Nichols so savagely and say for sure what motivated them. But there is ample research that suggests anti-Blackness is a factor in American policing. And Black officers, agents of an institutionally racist system, are affected by this. Anti-Blackness affects Black people, too. And this might explain why Black police officers exhibit more anti-Black bias than the Black population as a whole.”
Based on the articles above, two things are converging here: increased police violence (with decreased reporting) colliding with police culture that is ingrained with systemic racism. There isn’t much more we can do to train the public. Most Blacks know to fully co-operate and say nothing. But we can see that this is sometimes not enough to save their lives. So, the majority of our effort has to be put in hiring and training officers to overcome personal and professional biases and to behave in a way that reduces harm to the public.
For that, we need a commitment from everyone with the power to effect these changes. We’ve already heard this call in 2021, when the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, passed the then-Democratic controlled House without a single Republican vote. It then lost in the Senate. Now there are calls to revive the bill, though little hope is given since it’s a Republican-controlled House. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has already thrown in the towel: “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw…” Jordan, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told NBC’s Meet the Press. He continued, “…So I don’t know that any law, any training, any reform is going to change.” (“Jim Jordan says he’s uncertain reform can stop ‘evil’ seen in Tyre Nichols video”, The Hill) The question is: Why not try?
Why do Republicans think you can’t change people’s behavior? That seems to go against everything they’ve been legislating recently, from anti-LGBTQ+ to anti-education to anti-women’s rights. Each piece of legislation is designed to change people’s behavior, so we act according to their moral ideals. But when it comes to police, it’s hands off and a big “Nothing we can do.”
As with the epidemic of mass shootings, there is no quick fix. The Memphis PD acted quickly and decisively in firing and charging the officers. Georgia has acted with less transparency. The two victims are both just as dead. Republicans want to block federal remedies and reforms because the victims are Black, and that’s not their base. They get no additional votes by doing the right thing, so why bother?
It’s up to everyone else to demand the reform we need as quickly as we can so we can prevent more deaths of unarmed Black people who, as Tyre Nichols told the cops, are “just trying to go home.”
RELATED ARTICLES: “Chances of a deal on police reform quickly dim” (The Washington Post)
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Kareem’s Video Break
This is how I felt as a young basketball player.
Politics: This Week in DeSantis Madness
DeSantis Kills for Votes: People, Education, Free Press
Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis continues his scorched-earth march to the White House by hitting every trigger issue that the hounds of far-right conservatism chase like a gravy-soaked rabbit. It brings him headlines and followers. And he does it all by spending Florida’s money instead of his own campaign money. He’s like a guy charging the limit on a dozen credit cards who then disappears one night leaving his family to pay the bill. His campaign motto ought to be: “So long, suckers!”
DeSantis Wants to Do Away With Key Death Penalty Rule (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for an end to the requirement that juries must reach a unanimous vote to apply the death penalty. Speaking to the Florida Sheriff’s Association on Monday, the Republican presidential hopeful instead advocated for allowing juries to administer capital punishment by ‘supermajority.’ ‘Maybe eight of 12 have to agree or something,’ DeSantis said. ‘But we can’t be in a situation where one person can just derail this.’ His call for supermajorities came as he reportedly discussed his disappointment that the Parkland school shooter was given life in prison instead of the death penalty last October. DeSantis bemoaned a single juror’s ‘idiosyncratic’ view of the trial in stopping the killer from being executed, though in actuality three of the 12 jurors voted against the death penalty.”
MY TAKE: I continue to understand why DeSantis hates education so much—because he doesn’t understand simple logic—or even facts. And he doesn’t think voters do either. Let’s start with his lie that a single juror blocked the death penalty when it was three. One is more dramatic. Second, he thinks eight jurors is a “supermajority.” Seven jurors would be a majority, but one more is a “supermajority”? Does he understand the meaning of “super”? If he was really worried that one juror can halt the execution, he would have defined supermajority as eleven.
The pros and cons of the death penalty takes more space than I have here, but I can summarize why it’s a bad idea: 1. It doesn’t deter. 2. It costs more than Life in Prison Without Possibility of Parole. 3. Innocent people have been executed. All of this is verifiable with very little research. Yes, there are people who do such heinous crimes that I would not miss them if they ceased to exist. I have experienced violent death in my own life. But I’m also aware that the engine that drives the death penalty is a very flawed judicial system. Reason concludes that Life in Prison Without Possibility of Parole protects innocent people better than the death penalty and is significantly cheaper.
DeSantis wants to make it easier to execute people. It shouldn’t be easier. But he’s willing to risk innocent lives and spend Florida’s tax dollars if it will get him a few more uninformed votes. Ironically, he’s just stealing a page out of Trump’s book (“Trump’s Killing Spree: The Inside Story of His Race to Execute Every Prisoner He Could,” Rolling Stone). They really are the same, except that DeSantis is more efficient in his evil.
‘Hostile takeover’: the tiny Florida university targeted by Ron DeSantis (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “New College of Florida started making history from the day it opened its doors to its first incoming class of 101 undergraduate students in 1964. It was the first institution of higher education in Florida – which was once part of the slave-owning Confederacy – to pioneer an open admissions policy committing the school not to discriminate based on “race, creed, national origin, or cultural status”.
“The founding principles of the college emphasized freedom of inquiry and the eminent historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee was lured out of retirement to join the fledgling institution’s charter faculty. New College – which became a public institution when it joined Florida’s state university system in 1975 – soon established itself as one of America’s premier liberal arts schools.
“…DeSantis’s office issued a statement on the first Friday of the new year announcing six gubernatorial appointments to New College’s 13-member board of trustees, and some of the names stunned students and faculty members alike.
“They included Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who has spearheaded the ongoing attack on the supposed teaching of critical race theory in primary and secondary schools; Matthew Spalding, a professor and dean at a private, conservative Christian school in Michigan called Hillsdale College that was often touted by the late Rush Limbaugh on his popular radio talk show as the kind of university his listeners should send their teenagers to; and Charles Kesler, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in southern California and editor of the conservative publication the Claremont Review of Books.
“…Rufo, a senior fellow at a conservative thinktank called the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, all but declared war on New College in a barrage of tweets and press interviews in the initial days of 2023. In an interview with a New York Times columnist, the 38-year-old alumnus of Georgetown University set out his goals and those of his fellow DeSantis-appointed trustees in unequivocal language: ‘We want to provide an alternative for conservative families in the state of Florida to say there is a public university that reflects your values.’”
MY TAKE: You may find it hard to care about a small college in Florida, but what we are witnessing is part of a much bigger and more insidious campaign to change education from a lively exchange of ideas to dogmatic preaching. Need more convincing?
The Herald Tribune’s recent article (“New College board member floats leadership shakeup, 'terminating' all employee contracts”) details DeSantis appointee Eddie Spier’s ideas about firing the faculty, the college president, and instituting new rules that are so far from education as to verge on Trump teaching a class on political and business ethics. Spier, a COVID conspiracist and climate denier, plans to make some motions at the board meeting, including “a proposal to identify ‘wokeness’ as a ‘set of beliefs’ akin to religion. He then wants to identify aspects of wokeness that are ‘shared values’ worth preserving, that are ‘dogmatic’ and should be excluded from curriculum and that are ‘pledges of fealty’ that should be actively fought against.” This is circular logic, which someone at the college could teach him before they’re fired.
Speir also wants to remove USA Today and its affiliates from the list of approved media outlets until he receives an apology from the Herald-Tribune, owned by same the company that owns USA Today, because of comments made by Herald-Tribune readers. He wants those comments removed.
So, he wants to censure the newspaper while censoring readers from disagreeing with him. That’s not how freedom of the press works. DeSantis strikes again, but this time he’s striking down a renowned college to make Florida dumber.
Florida doctors worried DeSantis gives ‘fringe’ dermatologist a platform (Politico)
SUMMARY: “In 2021, Jon Ward wanted Florida’s largest medical association to take a stance against the Covid-19 vaccine.
The move by the Panama City dermatologist, also a well-known conservative activist, sent many members of the 25,000-person Florida Medical Association reeling, with one doctor likening it to a comedian telling an off-color joke. Instead, the members did the opposite of what he asked and crafted a resolution that was pro-vaccine.
“…Now Ward is creating fresh controversy in the state’s medical community after appearing alongside Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis at several events, where Ward rejected Covid-19 vaccines and most pandemic-era mitigation efforts.
“Ward’s views are aligned with DeSantis’ on Covid. The Florida governor has built a national reputation by rejecting Covid-19 mandates such as masking students and vaccinating children. DeSantis’ surgeon general, Joe Ladapo, has also come under fire from the medical community for questioning vaccine safety and warning men against taking the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
“DeSantis is using his opposition to Covid-19 restrictions and advocacy of medical ‘free speech’ as a central pillar of his messaging strategy, and the issue is likely to play into a possible 2024 presidential run. The Republican has turned to Ward on several occasions as a validator of his positions.”
MY TAKE: Ward has admitted he is not an expert on public health nor does he have any training in pandemic response. Nor is he a medical specialist in any of the health areas affected by COVID. He’s a dermatologist who has been elevated to an official voice of the Florida government simply by appearing with DeSantis. This is a safe time for DeSantis to be selling his swill because COVID cases are significantly down. Unvaccinated people can wander freely and feel justified because they aren’t sick. But that short-sightedness is how we lost over a million people during the pandemic. Ward will be convincing to those with vaccine hesitancy and when the next surge comes, some of those who listened to him will get sick and some will die. By then, DeSantis hopes to be out of Florida, so it’s the next person’s problem.
UPDATE: “Democratic Govs. Newsom, Pritzker push back against DeSantis after Florida blocks AP African American studies course” (NBC News)
Last week, I wrote about DeSantis blocking the teaching of an Advanced Placement course in African American studies. Since then, there has been a lot of backlash against such a blatantly racist move, including from California Governor Gavin Newsom and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats. Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump announced that three Florida high school students will challenge the policy in court.
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union, tweeted: “When we censor classes and whitewash lesson plans, we harm our students and do them a deep disservice. I support the educators at Florida's state capitol today to demand complete and honest education for all Florida students.” The president of the American Federation of Teachers also publicly condemned DeSantis’ policy.
RELATED ARTICLES: “Critics say Florida aims to rewrite history by rejecting African American studies” (NPR)
Music: When Art Is a Mirror
Janis Ian: Society’s Biographer Reveals Our Deepest Truths
When she was just fourteen, Janis Ian wrote “Society’s Child,” a song about an interracial teen romance and the backlash it provoked among the couple’s family and friends. This was in 1965, when such songs were highly controversial. Ian received numerous death threats and radio stations banned the song. One station in Atlanta that did play it was burned down. Despite that, the song reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Watch her sing the song on The Smothers Brothers show here. In 2001, "Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame because of its importance to music history.
I chose “At Seventeen,” for which she won a Grammy, because it is one of the most honest and moving songs about coming-of-age ever written. It is Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye of music. Please listen to the whole song because it is a joy to hear the poetry of her insights. (Here are the lyrics. ) The words ring just as true today as they did 48 years ago. FYI: Ian performed this song as the musical guest on the first episode of Saturday Night Live.
DeSantis may want to do away with non-unanimous convictions, but in 2020 the Supreme Court held in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous convictions violate the Sixth Amendment. At the time of the ruling, only Louisiana and Oregon allowed convictions based where one or more jurors voted to acquit.
I may be missing something, but it seems that Ramos makes it very clear that if DeSantis were able to get the law passed, it would never take effect. This is in line with some of his other stunts, like showy arrests for "voter fraud" that will almost certainly never result in a conviction because the voters lacked the requisite intent.
As hard as it may be to believe, non-unanimous convictions are relics of Jim Crow. (Okay, it's all too easy to believe.) They made it easier to send Blacks to prison where they could be leased out to former slaveholders and others needing free, technically non-enslaved, labor. Not that it was hard to get all-white juries (thanks again, Jim Crow) to convict Blacks, but apparently you can't be too careful.
If non-unanimous juries are a non-starter, why is DeSantis talking about them? I guess if we gave him a huge benefit of the doubt, we could say that he just doesn't know better. In other words, he's stupid. The less charitable explanation, and the one that most likely fits, is that he thinks that racist vice-signaling will help get him the racist vote he needs to beat Trump for the nomination. And also because he just enjoys being cruel.
Thank you Kareem for another well thought out breakdown. I would only like to point out that DeSantis knows how to count and is an extremely shrewed and dishonest human being. He knows that by trying to remove the one person who will oppose a verdict on ethical/religious/moral ground he is making the death penalty another culture war to be won by his constituency. Many people will rise and agree that one against eleven to block something is not 'democratic'. I actually think he couldn't care less about the person living or dying but he knows how to get the votes...