Why racists target black churches

Sarah Kaplan and Justin Wm. Moyer write: Since at least 1822, when the first recorded burning of a black church occurred in South Carolina, church arson has been the default response of racists frustrated with progress — or even the faint specter of progress — on civil rights. More than even lynching, burning houses of worship remains a go-to weapon in hate groups’ arsenal. Torching churches such as Mount Zion persisted decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, 100 years after Booker T. Washington dined at the White House and 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

What’s the enduring appeal of this very specific act of terror for those who wish to express hate?

The reason black churches remain a target? Because they have always remained a symbol of hope in the darkness of American racism and a source of leadership, political and religious, in the African American community.

Though it may seem the black church has always been a part of American culture — as essential as the Fourth of July or “The Star-Spangled Banner” — it was not always so. When human beings were held in servitude and meetings among slaves were banned, founding a black church was considered an act of rebellion.

Case No. 1: The founding of the church that would became Emanuel AME, the church targeted allegedly by Dylann Roof last month.

“The formation of the African Church in Charleston was a rebellious act of revolutionary proportions,” historian Bernard Powers wrote in “Black Charlestonians: A Social History.” “… The city authorities recognized the full import of the initiatives taken by this group of slaves and free blacks and responded with harassment.”

Like many black churches, Charleston’s African Church saw a tragic end; it was razed by city authorities in the 1820s after a purported slave plot and was not reborn until Reconstruction. Though such churches remained a constant target, they persisted, weaving themselves not just into the fabric of African American culture but into the social fabric of the United States.

During the early years of the black church in the South, when most congregants were enslaved and the rest still subject to the restrictive racism that was then the law of the land, Christianity offered solace and inspiration to African American worshipers. In the introduction to the award-winning digital library collection “The Church in the Southern Black Community,” professor Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explained how black Americans converted to Methodist and Baptist traditions around the turn of the 19th century.

“Clergy within these denominations actively promoted the idea that all Christians were equal in the sight of God, a message that provided hope and sustenance to the slaves,” she wrote.

Among enslaved people, religious gatherings were called “hush harbors” — a phrase evoked by President Obama during his impassioned eulogy for the slain pastor of Emanuel AME last week. These secret meetings were the birthplace of African American spirituals, which always carried a double meaning of religious salvation and freedom from slavery, and of the inextricable link between black spirituality and black liberation. [Continue reading…]


White supremacists in the U.S. military

Matt Kennard writes: After the horrific massacre at Charleston’s historic black church, Americans are slowly realizing the threat posed by white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements. But few know that their presence has grown within one of the most powerful institutions in America: the US military.

According to the FBI, there are hundreds of white supremacists in the US army or in the veteran community. Some analysts even estimate the number is in the thousands. In America, 203 white supremacist “extremist cases” investigated by the Bureau from 2001 to 2008 involved veterans. The problem hasn’t gone away. Neo-Nazi veteran Wade Michael Page attacked six worshippers at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012.

I spent a number of years investigating how neo-Nazis and white supremacists had infiltrated the US military, with very little push back from the Pentagon, which was desperate to keep the supply of troops flowing for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of my research, I spoke to veterans who had become white supremacists before service and joined to gain access to weapons and training, as well as veterans who had been radicalized after returning from the war.

Charles Wilson, spokesman for the National Socialist Movement, one of the top neo-Nazi groups in America, was frank about his attempts to populate the US armed forces with extremists: “We do encourage [our members] to sign up for the military. We can use the training to secure the resistance to our government. Every one of them takes a pact of secrecy … Our military doesn’t agree with our political beliefs, they are not supposed to be in the military, but they’re there, in ever greater numbers.” He claimed to have 190 members serving. [Continue reading…]


The VA’s broken promise to thousands of vets intentionally exposed to mustard gas

NPR reports: In secret chemical weapons experiments conducted during World War II, the U.S. military exposed thousands of American troops to mustard gas.

When those experiments were formally declassified in the 1990s, the Department of Veterans Affairs made two promises: to locate about 4,000 men who were used in the most extreme tests, and to compensate those who had permanent injuries.
Charlie Cavell at his home in Virginia. He is one of 60,000 World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas as part of secret experiments by the U.S. military.

But the VA didn’t uphold those promises, an NPR investigation has found.

NPR interviewed more than 40 living test subjects and family members, and they describe an unending cycle of appeals and denials as they struggled to get government benefits for mustard gas exposure. Some gave up out of frustration.

In more than 20 years, the VA attempted to reach just 610 of the men, with a single letter sent in the mail. Brad Flohr, a VA senior adviser for benefits, says the agency couldn’t find the rest, because military records of the experiments were incomplete.

“There was no identifying information,” he says. “No Social Security numbers, no addresses, no … way of identifying them. Although, we tried.”

Yet in just two months, an NPR research librarian located more than 1,200 of them, using the VA’s own list of test subjects and public records. [Continue reading…]


Before Charleston’s church shooting, a long history of attacks

Douglas R. Egerton writes: In 1868, three men assassinated the Rev. Benjamin Randolph in broad daylight as he was boarding a train in Abbeville County, South Carolina. Randolph, a black man, had recently won a seat in the State Senate and was then campaigning for the Republican slate. Having served as an Army chaplain with the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops, Randolph asked the Freedmen’s Bureau to send him “where he can be most useful to his race.” He settled in South Carolina in time to take part in the 1865 rededication of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. It was that church’s long history of spiritual autonomy and political activism that caught the attention of the white vigilantes who gunned him down and rode away. Randolph’s fate was repeated yesterday with the murder of nine people, including the pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who, like Randolph, also served as a state senator.

Reports of yesterday’s tragedy have invariably noted that an earlier incarnation of the Emanuel Church was home to Denmark Vesey, a lay minister who was one of the church’s founders, but the connections between Vesey, the congregation’s long history of activism and the events of June 17 run far deeper than that.

South Carolina was unique in early America for its black majority. No other Southern colony or state had a white minority until 1855, when Mississippi also earned that particular status. In 1822, Charleston housed 24,780 people, only 10,653 of whom were white. Free people of color were a tiny percentage, at 623, and most of them were the mixed-race offspring of white fathers and black mothers. One of the few free blacks in the city was a former slave turned carpenter, Denmark Vesey.

Vesey’s early life was so unusual that if it were the plot of a novel or film, most would regard the saga as an absurd fiction. (The fact that his story has not attracted modern filmmakers is in itself curious, and perhaps a commentary on Hollywood’s disinclination to wrestle seriously with the American past.) Born around 1767 on what was then the Danish island of St. Thomas, he was purchased in 1781 by Capt. Joseph Vesey, who shipped slaves around the Caribbean. Vesey briefly kept the child as a cabin boy, but upon reaching the French sugar colony of St. Domingue — modern Haiti — he sold the child, whom he had rechristened Telemaque, to French planters. Even by the standards of slave societies, St. Domingue was hell on earth. Telemaque pretended to have epileptic fits, rendering him unfit for the fields. When the captain returned with another cargo of humans, he had to take the child back, at which time the fits stopped. Captain Vesey, who settled in Charleston after the British evacuation in 1783, kept Telemaque — whose name had evolved into Denmark — as a domestic servant and assistant.

Denmark’s life took yet another turn in the fall of 1799, when he won $1,500 in the city lottery. The captain might simply have confiscated the earnings of his human property, but instead he agreed to sell Denmark his freedom for $600. The bargain was completed on New Year’s Eve, and Denmark Vesey woke up in the new century as a free man. But his wife, and therefore his two sons, Robert and Sandy, remained enslaved by a man named James Evans. At length, with his wife in bondage, Vesey married another woman, named Susan, and Vesey was able to buy her freedom. Their children grew up free in their rented house on Bull Street.

A practicing Presbyterian, Vesey was outraged by the pro-slavery brand of Christianity preached from the city’s pulpits. White ministers were advised to lecture their black congregants on “their duties and obligations” and avoid troublesome stories, like the exodus out of Egypt, or Christ’s sermons on human brotherhood. When 4,376 black Methodists quit their white-controlled church in protest over the elders’ decision to construct a hearse house — a garage — over a black cemetery, Vesey was an early convert. As a carpenter, he may even have assisted in constructing the first Emanuel Church, which stood not far from the present building.

The African Church, as black Charlestonians called it, promptly attracted the animosity of the authorities. As a lay minister, Vesey, in his off hours, taught congregants to read and write — a violation of the state’s ban on black literacy. State and city ordinances allowed for blacks to worship only in daylight hours and only with a majority of white congregants. City authorities raided the church in 1818, arresting and whipping 140 “free Negroes and Slaves,” one of them presumably Vesey. In 1819 they again shuttered the church, and in 1820 the City Council warned the Rev. Morris Brown not to allow his church to become “a school for slaves.”

Had the city not declared war on Emanuel, Vesey might not have participated in the plot that got him killed in 1822. Enslaved Carolinians were never content with their lot, of course, but every slave in the state knew the odds of a successful rebellion. To protect the region’s white minority, the city militia was ever active, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun always stood ready to ship soldiers to his native state. But the assaults on the church, which the Old Testament taught was a capital offense, reminded blacks that authorities would never allow them even the smallest spiritual freedom.

President Jean-Pierre Boyer of Haiti had recently placed advertisements in American newspapers, urging free blacks to bring their tools and skills and start life anew in his black republic. So, meeting in Vesey’s Bull Street home and within the walls of the Emanuel, Vesey and his lieutenants called for domestic slaves to kill their masters in their beds and fight their way to the docks, where they would seize ships and sail south. Originally, the plan was set for July 14, 1822 — Bastille Day — but the plot began to unravel, and Vesey moved the plans forward to the night of June 16. The uprising would begin when the city’s churches tolled midnight, meaning that the actual black exodus out of Charleston would take place on June 17. Either the shooter in Charleston yesterday knew the importance of this date, or the selection of June 17 was a ghastly coincidence. [Continue reading…]


The link between police tactics and economic conditions cannot be ignored

Keith Ellison writes: A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks and Native Americans in Minneapolis are nine times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than whites. The study was released two weeks after 10-year-old Taye Montegomery was pepper sprayed while peacefully protesting against police brutality in Minneapolis. “At least I got maced and not shot,” Taye said.

Taye’s not being overly dramatic: young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than young white men in US.

The fatal encounter between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri didn’t take place in a vacuum. Freddie Gray wasn’t the first black man thrown in the back of a van in Sandtown. Eric Garner wasn’t selling loosie cigarettes for fun. Harsh police tactics in black communities and a history of high rates of unemployment and poverty go hand in hand. [Continue reading…]


It’s dismally apparent that some black lives matter more than others

Emma Dabiri writes: Following the killings of unarmed men and boys such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Walter Scott, the United States is entering what’s being called a new civil rights movement, with activists ensuring that the world now knows about the ongoing onslaught against black life.

Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter have been huge in their reach, spreading far beyond the US and capturing the imaginations of people of all colours and nationalities. In November, as many as 5,000 protesters marched in London to condemn the grand jury decision not to prosecute the police officer who shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Patrisse Cullors, one of the creators of #BlackLivesMatters, said: “We are in a historical moment where we can make great shifts inside and outside US borders to ensure that #BlackLivesMatter around the world.”

But do all black lives really matter? In contrast to the thousands who protested at the US embassy in London, far fewer organised for the 900 Africans who drowned in the Mediterranean last month. So where are the protests to demand that European governments deal with this situation in a humane way? [Continue reading…]


Israeli scheme to ban Palestinians from buses tantamount to apartheid

The Guardian reports: Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has cancelled a pilot scheme banning Palestinian workers from Israeli buses in the occupied territories – denounced as tantamount to apartheid – only hours after it was announced.

The plan had been approved by Netanyahu’s defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, but was cancelled amid fierce criticism from Israeli opposition figures, human rights groups and a former minister in Netanyahu’s own party, who said it was a “stain on the face Israel” that would damage its international image.

The move had been enthusiastically welcomed by settler groups and pro-settlement MPs who had long been lobbying for the ban.

The three month pilot scheme – which had been due to come into force on Wednesday – would have imposed strict new controls on thousands of Palestinians with permits to work in Israel, insisting they travel home through certain designated checkpoints and banning them from using Israeli run buses in the occupied West Bank.

The timing of the scheme’s launch – during visits by world football head Sepp Blatter and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini – had seemed bizarre. Blatter is seeking to defuse moves to have a vote on Israel’s suspension from Fifa for alleged discrimination against Palestinians. [Continue reading…]


Mass incarceration: The silence of the judges

Jed S. Rakoff writes: For too long, too many judges have been too quiet about an evil of which we are a part: the mass incarceration of people in the United States today. It is time that more of us spoke out.

The basic facts are not in dispute. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in US jails and prisons, a 500 percent increase over the past forty years. Although the United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The per capita incarceration rate in the US is about one and a half times that of second-place Rwanda and third-place Russia, and more than six times the rate of neighboring Canada. Another 4.75 million Americans are subject to the state supervision imposed by probation or parole.

Most of the increase in imprisonment has been for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. And even though crime rates in the United States have declined consistently for twenty-four years, the number of incarcerated persons has continued to rise over most of that period, both because more people are being sent to prison for offenses that once were punished with other measures and because the sentences are longer. For example, even though the number of violent crimes has steadily decreased over the past two decades, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has steadily increased, so that one in nine persons in prison is now serving a life sentence.

And whom are we locking up? Mostly young men of color. Over 840,000, or nearly 40 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are African-American males. Put another way, about one in nine African-American males between the ages of twenty and thirty-four is now in prison, and if current rates hold, one third of all black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes. Approximately 440,000, or 20 percent, of the 2.2 million US prisoners are Hispanic males. [Continue reading…]


Black lives matter: Premature deaths skew U.S. election results

New Scientist reports: Dead men cast no votes. A new study has found that the premature death of millions of black voters in the US has affected the outcome of several elections.

“We are talking here about deeply entrenched biases and prejudices in the operation of the economic, political and socio-cultural system which place blacks at a severe and systematic disadvantage,” says Chik Collins of the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley, UK. “It is a very well-founded challenge to the claims of America to be a ‘decent’ – let alone a ‘democratic’ – society.”

This week saw protests in Baltimore and across the US touched off by the death of Freddie Gray, an African American man who died of a spinal cord injury sustained in police custody. His death has now been ruled a homicide and six police officers involved will face criminal charges.

Overall, in the US, the mortality rate for blacks, across age and gender, is almost 18 per cent higher than the rate for whites. [Continue reading…]


How Western media would cover Baltimore if it happened elsewhere

Karen Attiah writes: If what is happening in Baltimore happened in a foreign country, here is how Western media would cover it:

International leaders expressed concern over the rising tide of racism and state violence in America, especially concerning the treatment of ethnic minorities in the country and the corruption in state security forces around the country when handling cases of police brutality. The latest crisis is taking place in Baltimore, Maryland, a once-bustling city on the country’s Eastern Seaboard, where an unarmed man named Freddie Gray died from a severed spine while in police custody.

Black Americans, a minority ethnic group, are killed by state security forces at a rate higher than the white majority population. Young, black American males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white American males.

The United Kingdom expressed concern over the troubling turn of events in America in the last several months. The country’s foreign ministry released a statement: “We call on the American regime to rein in the state security agents who have been brutalizing members of America’s ethnic minority groups. The equal application of the rule of law, as well as the respect for human rights of all citizens, black or white, is essential for a healthy democracy.” Britain has always maintained a keen interest in America, a former colony. [Continue reading…]


Risking death in the Mediterranean: the least bad option for so many migrants

Patrick Kingsley reports: Sobbing and shaking, Mohamed Abdallah tries to explain why he still wants to risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea in an inflatable boat. He sits in a migrant detention centre in Zawya, Libya, surrounded by hundreds of fellow asylum seekers who nearly died this week at sea.

They survived only after being intercepted, detained and brought back to shore by Libyan coastguards, ending a week in which they went round in circles, starving and utterly lost. But despite their horror stories, Abdallah, 21, says the journey that his fellow inmates barely withstood – and that killed more than 450 others this week – is his only option.

“I cannot go back to my country,” says Abdallah, who is from Darfur, in Sudan. He left for what is now South Sudan in 2006, after he says his village was destroyed in the Darfur war, his father died, and his sisters raped. But in South Sudan, another war later broke out. So he made his way through the Sahara, a journey that he says killed his brother and cousin, to Libya. And there last year, he was witness to his third civil war in a decade – a war that still drags on, its frontline just a few miles from the camp at Zawya.

“There is a war in my country, there’s no security, no equality, no freedom,” Abdallah says. “But if I stay here, it’s just like my country. There is no security, there is violence. When you work, they take your money.”

He worked in a soap shop, and saved up to pay local smugglers for the boat to Europe. But just as he hoped to complete the payment, he was robbed, and then arrested. The recounting of his ordeal brings out first the tears, and then a conclusion: “I need to go to Europe.” [Continue reading…]


Europe’s war on migrants — while we argue, thousands perish in the Mediterranean

By Heaven Crawley, Coventry University

The latest refugee deaths in the Mediterranean – 700 people drowned when the overcrowded fishing vessel in which they were travelling from North Africa capsized of the coast of Libya follows a similar tragedy last week in which 400 people perished.

In October 2013, more than 360 people – mostly from Eritrea – lost their lives when their boat caught fire and sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. In September 2014 more than 500 migrants were deliberately killed at sea. The attack allegedly occurred after the migrants refused to board a smaller boat in the open water and the traffickers reportedly laughed as they drowned, hacking at the hands of those who tried to cling to the wreckage. Witnesses report that as many as 100 children were on board.

In the absence of official records, or bodies to count, it’s hard to say exactly how many people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report in late September 2014 putting the number at 3,072, accounting for 75% of worldwide migrant deaths. But with so many lost at sea or along the way, the real figure could be far higher.

[Read more…]


The Civil War’s dirty secret: It was always about slavery

Christopher Dickey writes: Seven score and ten years ago, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, and the great American Civil War ended, or so we’ve read in high school textbooks and on Wikipedia.

The chivalrous Lee, in countless hues of grey on his white horse, and the magnanimous Grant in muddy boots were icons that the reunited-by-force United States needed desperately a century and a half ago, and that we’ve cherished ever since.

But the war did not really end at Appomattox, just as it did not really begin four years before when South Carolina militias opened fire on the tiny Union garrison in the massive, unfinished fort called Sumter that dominated Charleston Harbor.

And if we want to stop and think today about what that war was about — what made it happen — then cannons, shot and shells, minié balls, muskets and swords do not, in the end, tell us very much. Brave men were called on to fight for their homes and their ideals, or because they didn’t have better sense, and, as in every war, they kept on fighting for their brothers in arms.

In the South, the spirit of camaraderie and defiance ran so hot and so deep that for generations afterwards, and to this day in some corners of the air-conditioned Sunbelt that was once the Confederacy, people will tell you about “The Lost Cause.”

But, let’s be clear. The cause of the South was not the cause of chivalry, nor was it about the revolutionary ideals of the Boston Tea Party, as many claimed at the time. “The tea has been thrown overboard; the revolution of 1860 has been initiated,” declared Charleston’s Robert Barnwell Rhett as the Carolinians prepared to secede from the Union and precipitate the war.

Rhett was one of the coterie of radicals in the South who came to be known as “fire-eaters,” and their cause was not the cause of freedom that the founding fathers fought for in the American Revolution. Their cause was slavery: holding slaves, working slaves, buying and selling slaves — black chattel considered less than human beings by custom, by the courts, and even by the Constitution, whose authors never mentioned slavery but weasel-worded it into the founding document of the Union. [Continue reading…]


White guilt won’t fix America’s race problem. Only justice and equality will

Gary Younge writes: On 26 November 2007 Brandon Moore, an unarmed 16-year-old, was shot in the back while running away from a security guard in Detroit. The guard made it look like sport. “[He] put one arm on top of the other arm and started aiming at us,” Brandon’s brother John Henry, who was with him at the time, told me.

“Brandon wasn’t involved in anything. He was the last one to take off running, I guess.” The shooter was an off-duty policeman with a history of brutality. Sacked from the force after he was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident while drunk-driving, he was reinstated a few years later on appeal. He went on to shoot dead an armed man in a neighbourhood dispute, and shot and injured his wife in a domestic fracas.
Walter Scott shooting: police dashcam video shows him running from car
Read more

The story got a paragraph in Detroit’s two daily newspapers. Neither even bothered to print Brandon Moore’s name. The policeman was reassigned to a traffic unit until he was cleared by an “invesigation”.

The cold-blooded killing of Walter Scott, who was shot eight times in the back as he ran away from a policeman in North Charleston, South Carolina, is not news in the conventional sense. Such shootings are neither rare nor, to those who have been paying attention, suprising. Sadly, they are all too common. It is news because, thanks to the video footage, we have incontrovertible evidence at a moment when public consciousness has been heightened and focused on this very issue. While in this case the policeman involved has been fired and charged, such a degree of proof is no guarantee of justice. There was video evidence of police choking Eric Garner to death in Staten Island while he protested “I can’t breathe”, and his killers were acquitted; there was video of evidence of Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles, and his assailants walked free. But in an era of 24-hour news and social media, video guarantees attention.

Black people have been dying for this kind of attention for years.

Michael Brown died for it; Kajieme Powell died for it; Tamir Rice died for it; Justus Howell died for it. The roll call could go on – and until something fundamental changes, not just with American policing but in the American psyche, it will get longer. [Continue reading…]


Self-segregation by affluent whites in contemporary America

The Atlantic reports: Last summer, the Michigan town of Grosse Pointe Park erected a farmer’s market in the middle of one of the few remaining streets that allowed cars to pass between the tony suburb and the urban Detroit neighborhoods at its border. It was the latest of many attempts by Grosse Pointe Park residents to close off roads and block traffic between what has become a predominantly white, affluent suburb, and its poorer, urban neighbor.

There were protests about the border, and Grosse Pointe Park later said it would tear down the farmer’s market and re-open the road, but the incident speaks volumes to the segregation that exists in Detroit, and the tensions that can grow as a result.

The fact that these two areas are so close is unique — the border between Grosse Pointe Park and the city of Detroit is the only place in any of America’s biggest cities where a very wealthy, predominantly-white area abuts a very poor, black one, according to research from a new working paper from the University of Minnesota. But the existence of self-segregated wealthy white areas close by low-income minority ones isn’t unique, according to the Minnesota researchers. They have sorted census tracts in 15 of America’s 20 biggest cities into “racially concentrated areas of affluence” and “racially concentrated areas of poverty,” and find that many cities have more areas of segregated affluence than they do poverty.

Racially concentrated areas of affluence, by the researchers’ definition, are census tracts where 90 percent or more of the population is white and the median income is at least four times the federal poverty level, adjusted for the cost of living in each city. Racially concentrated areas of poverty, by contrast, are census tracts where more than 50 percent of the population is non-white, and more than 40 percent live in poverty.

Detroit has 55 racially concentrated areas of affluence and 147 racially concentrated areas of poverty, according to the research, done by Ed Goetz, Tony Damiano, and Jason Hicks. Detroit’s racially concentrated areas of affluence are just 1.1 percent black. It’s racially concentrated areas of poverty, by contrast, are 76 percent black. [Continue reading…]


Ferguson and the criminalization of American life

David Graeber writes: The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department’s institutional racism, while shocking, isn’t the report’s most striking revelation.

More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city’s population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson’s citizens had outstanding warrants.

Many will try to write off this pattern of economic exploitation as some kind of strange anomaly. In fact, it’s anything but. What the racism of Ferguson’s criminal justice system produced is simply a nightmarish caricature of something that is beginning to happen on every level of American life; something which is beginning to transform our most basic sense of who we are, and how we — or most of us, anyway — relate to the central institutions of our society, in ways that are genuinely disastrous.

The DOJ’s report has made us all familiar with the details: the constant pressure on police to issue as many citations as possible for minor infractions (such as parking or seat-belt violations) and the equal pressure on the courts to make the fines as high as possible; the arcane court rules apparently designed to be almost impossible to follow (the court’s own web page contained incorrect information); the way citizens who had never been found guilty — indeed, never even been accused — of an actual crime were rounded up, jailed, threatened with “indefinite” incarceration in fetid cells, risking disease and serious injury, until their destitute families could assemble hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines, fees, and penalties to pay their jailers.

As a result of such practices, over three quarters of the population had warrants out for the arrest at any given time. The entire population was criminalized. [Continue reading…]


Enraged by Netanyahu’s rhetoric, White House officials believe Israeli-U.S. relations fundamentally changed

Peter Beinart writes: On Wednesday, I asked a senior Obama administration official whether there was anything Benjamin Netanyahu could do to repair the damage done by his comments late in his reelection campaign. The official’s answer: “You can’t unring the bell.” Other officials, off the record, put it far, far more harshly than that.

Top Obama officials loathed Netanyahu already. But three of his campaign comments drove them to new levels of fury.

The first was Netanyahu’s comment about “Arab voters coming out in droves,” which some in the administration view as racist. There is little President Obama considers more loathsome, administration officials note, than stoking racism to win votes. “Given our own history we have a unique perspective on the idea that minorities’ voting is not something to be condemned or feared,” said one administration official. The analogy is significant because the civil rights movement is Obama’s moral compass. For an administration official to compare Netanyahu to George Wallace or Bull Connor, even obliquely, says a lot about which side of history they believe he’s on.

The second comment that enraged Team Obama was Netanyahu’s boast that he built the settlement of Har Homa as “a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.” Bibi, said a senior administration official, was “confirming that settlement policy has been a means of undermining a Palestinian state.” Which is to say: Netanyahu was confirming that by continuing settlement expansion, he had knowingly sabotaged John Kerry’s peace negotiations. White House officials believed that already. But they didn’t expect Bibi to publicly rub it in their face.

Thirdly, of course, Bibi said he would not allow a Palestinian state. Administration officials expect their Israeli counterparts to parse Bibi’s words in an attempt to downplay their importance. In private conversations, top AIPAC officials have already tried. But people inside the administration find that effort laughable, in part because they never thought Bibi wanted a Palestinian state even when he was on record as supporting one.

It is the Palestinian state comments, in particular, that are leading the Obama administration to, in one official’s words, “reassess our options.” The administration’s basic problem is this: For years, America has fought Palestinian efforts at the UN by insisting that bilateral negotiations offered the only path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Administration officials stress the extraordinary, exhausting, diplomatically costly lengths to which they went to stymie various Palestinian UN moves. Obama and Kerry lobbied world leaders personally. Now, they argue, Netanyahu has destroyed their argument. How can they tell other countries that negotiations offer the best path to a Palestinian state when the leader of Israel has said he will not allow a Palestinian state? “It’s the prime minister taking this position,” says a senior administration official, “that forces this reassessment.” [Continue reading…]

Haaretz adds: U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday evening spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and protested remarks made by the latter during his election campaign against the establishment of a Palestinian state and Israel’s Arab citizens.

Obama did not accept the explanations Netanyahu provided during an interview with NBC, in which he backtracked on some of the statements he has made.

According to a senior White House official, Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. will need to reassess its options regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in light of the prime minister’s new position rejecting Palestinian statehood.


Spitting in the face of Israel’s Arab citizens

Haggai Matar and Yael Marom write: Nearly one quarter of Israeli voters cast their ballots for a prime minister whose central message to the public on election day was that Arab citizens of Israel are the enemy.

An almost equal number of people cast their votes for: the guy who joined him in delivering that message, the head of the most right-wing party in the Knesset (Naftali Bennett); the guy who based his entire campaign on incitement against Arabs (Avigdor Liberman); the guy who said he would not sit in a government that relies on the votes of Arabs (Moshe Kahlon); and, the guy who rejected an outstretched hand from the Arab parties offering to form an alliance of the oppressed (Arye Deri). Their levels of support are even higher if you look only at the Jewish voting public.

Meet the 34th government of Israel, ladies and gentlemen.

Do not discount the message delivered at the ballot box on Tuesday, especially considering the massive victory of the Joint List, the third-largest party in the next Knesset. With 14 seats representing over 400,000 voters, and with above-average voter participation, the success of the Joint List is the Palestinian public in Israel’s message to its Jewish compatriots, which was the antithesis of the message it got in return.

For weeks, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh has been all over Israeli television, radio, newspapers and every type of online media. He broadcast a message of openness, of partnership, of striving for equality, of democracy, of a struggle for social justice — for all Israelis. He spoke of reconciliation and of turning a new leaf. [Continue reading…]