AS270: Rondale and Jabari, Part 2

We’ve got even more of the great discussion between Rondale and Jabari. This time we talk about, in addition to other things, racism as a term and how it is being defined. We also briefly discuss the Ellen Usain Bolt picture and whether or not the pushback was warranted or productive.

21 thoughts on “AS270: Rondale and Jabari, Part 2”

  1. I never hear a discussion about just how many people we should expect to be killed by cops in a country where guns outnumber people? There is so much violent crime in our country…is 1000 out of 324 million really that large a number?

    1. The Guardian has been tracking people killed by police in the US since 2015. I believe it’s based on limited data, but the site is pretty interesting to explore. There’s information about the incidents, which helps give context to the numbers.

      Speaking to the numbers though, I would ask whether you mean to imply that some number of fatal police shootings are inevitable, with a given population. Japan has a population of 127.3 million and they’ve virtually eliminated police-involved killings. Germany has a population of 80.7 million, and in 2010-2012, German police killed 15 people. Canada has a population of 35.2 million, and their police kill 25 people per year, on average. Iceland has a population of 323,764, and they’ve had one police involved killing in the past 71 years.

      1. Some Guy, yes, I’ve looked at the stats, and the large majority of those killed are armed men in the process of committing violent crimes. I don’t think those countries you mentioned have near the crime or gun problem we have in the US. Even if police were perfect, how many people should we expect to see killed by police under these circumstances?

        1. I guess we noticed different things on that site. Maybe we clicked different boxes, because I noticed a lot of people with mental illness whose families called 911 for help only to have police arrive and kill their loved one; I noticed people who were shot while evading arrest only later to be discovered as people with physical or mental disabilities who were not deliberately fleeing but were unable to comply quickly enough for officers not to shoot them; and I noticed people who were, as you say, armed at the time of their death, but as others have noted, questions remain as to whether those deaths were inevitable, or whether responding officers failed to use tools and techniques at their disposal to deescalate the situation.

          Two days ago a man was shot in his garage after reporting an attempted car-jacking. He was black and holding a gun, which he had grabbed to scare off the car-jacker, and which he was legally allowed to open carry in Indiana. Police arrived and opened fire, in their own words “It is unclear what, if anything, officers said to the man before they began shooting.”

          Also, even if “a large majority” of individuals killed by police were in the middle of committing violent crimes, the punishment for those crimes is not to be shot to death in the street without a trial. The punishment for not listening to a police officer is not to be shot to death in the street without a trial. The punishment for being an intimidating person is not to be shot to death in the street without a trial.

          I think you raise an interesting point though, about the inevitability of wrongful death as a result of any law enforcement system. There are many images of children on the Guardian’s site, one of whom I noticed was killed when an officer struck his family’s car because he was busy looking at his dashboard computer.

          The reason I included those other country’s statistics was to note, as you seem to agree, that without cultural context, the data does not tell us much about whether 1000 is a small number of deaths given our population.

          I’m not sure how to answer your question though, because if police were perfect, they wouldn’t have to kill anyone. I think we’re in agreement about perfection being an unrealistic standard. If you’re asking how many deaths should we expect if police officers acted competently and in accordance with standards for employing lethal force that limit its use to situations in which death is the only means by which to preserve the lives of others from a reasonable, immediate threat, then I would say fewer than we have now.

          1. I think that while it sounds reasonable to say “fewer than we have now,” and it very well may be, I don’t feel confident that we have a real sense of what would be a reasonable number, considering the circumstances. I don’t believe it’s reasonable to believe if we had a perfect police force that the number would be zero. I have to assume that at least some of those people killed by police were dangerous criminals who would have gone on to kill the police officer and/or innocent civilians if they weren’t stopped right then.

            I know I’m giving you the pro-cop argument, and I’m not trying to say I’ve made up my mind, or that I think there aren’t cops who abuse their power, but I also don’t think many people are thinking about this right, and it’s important to look at it from that point of view.

            If we agree we need to have law enforcement to protect citizens from crime, and they are going to be trained to make split-second life or death decisions because we have so many gun-carrying citizens and lots of crime, I think you are 1) going to have a number of criminals who “deserve” to be killed because there was no other option to protect innocents, and 2) you’re going to have an innevitable number of people killed who should not have been, but the officer made a wrong decision that no amount of training would have prevented, and 3) you’re going to have fuck ups and bad cops who shouldn’t be cops who slip through the cracks for reasons of ineptitude in leadership, bureaucracy, lack of sufficient funding, politics and a number of other unstated reasons.

            While it’s reasonable to think addressing 3) would prevent unnecessary deaths, and it probably would, I wonder what that number really is, and just how much of a dent we can really make in it? It seems very likely to me that the much larger portion of the 1000+ people killed are likely to fall into the 1) and 2) categories, which will really only be diminished by lowering crime and gun violence.

          2. Many of the killings are from cops unnecessarily rushing in to situations where the cops, already on hair-trigger, then get scared and apply lethal force. This mostly happens to suspects of color, and the killing is deemed justified, but the unreasonableness of the killing is hardly ever mentioned. De-escalation needs to be a big focus in officer training. “Reasonable force” needs to be a term used. Not only “justified force”.

          3. This may very well be the case, and if so, training to de-escalate may help. There certainly seems to be some evidence to this effect, however, I hesitate to judge that this is a clear systemic issue based on a few youtube videos, newspaper columns and activist’s opinions. I know law enforcement experts have debated for years the specific rules of engagement, and while we as civilians may not necessarily agree with them, most of us have never had bullets whizzing over our heads either.

            That’s not to say they’re beyond criticism, but I see people on the internet comparing our police use of lethal force to other countries where almost nobody carries a gun and violent crime is much lower, complaining that cops shoot for center of mass instead of shooting at a leg, and all sorts of other arguments that make me believe they really haven’t taken the time to think through the issues very well, talked to a cop, considered all sides and just how messy things can get in the real world outside the textbooks and simulators.

    2. Not to put too fine a point on it, Greg, but… I bet the only reason why you are idly speculating if the current count of killings by police is Too High, Too Low, or Just Right! is because you probably don’t have to worry about it happening to you or someone you love. You probably don’t experience racist interactions with cops, and probably have not had to have “the talk” with your son. For you, cops are safe. Cops are predictable.
      You don’t seem to understand that, for people of color, interactions with cops are NOT predictable. And the cops demand obeisance from POC at a timescale that is humanly impossible, faster than mental processing, many times not giving any instruction whatever before shooting.

      Your blase “just wondering” … Hmmm, what’s the right number of cop killings? strikes me as willfully insensitive and ignorant of the evidence that has piled up everywhere. This sounds callous and cruel in your focus on statistical expectations vs addressing obvious systemic problems that create pain and injustice, grief and ruined lives.

      1. I understand this sentiment, Sezit, even if I can’t understand completely what sorts of stresses POC go through. I do believe that they are harrassed much more often by police, because almost every POC I know, both professionally and personally whom I’ve spoken with about this issue relates their experiences of getting profiled. Closest I’ve come to that treatment was a few years in college when I had long hair and smoked a lot of weed. Of course, they were probably right to profile me then, lol.

        I know it’s easy to assume I’m not empathetic, and I realize it sounds like a conservative. That sort of freaks me out whenever I agree with conservatives too much. But this is too serious an issue to get mired in identity politics. My worry is that due to the highly politicized nature of this issue, we’re not really thinking rationally about it. We’re not considering all sides of the picture, and so we may not be focusing on the right solutions.

        Again, I suspect the gun violence is the most important factor driving this problem. I think ending the drug war would save more lives than a trillion dollars in police training ever could. More restrictions on hand guns and better enforcement of existing gun laws could help as well. I think BLM calls for such solutions, and perhaps you do too, even if we don’t agree on how to best look at the stats.

  2. I posted something similar in response to the first half of this episode, but I was again surprised by how overtly Rondale conflates BLM protests with riots that have the potential to “destroy cities”. Moreover, I’d love to hear Rondale, or someone who shares his views about “waiting until the facts are in” to elaborate on when it would be acceptable to protest a police shooting. Even that phrasing might be too reductive (i.e., is BLM protesting shootings or the lack of judicial response to shootings?). How much information justifies a protest? Would it be acceptable to protest a court’s decision, or do we have to accept that George Zimmerman isn’t a racist, because he was not found to be guilty by a jury of his peers (one of whom said something along the lines of “I think they both made mistakes, and they can both walk away and think about what they’ve done”… not realizing that the victim in a murder trial generally doesn’t get to walk away and think about what they’ve done).

    As for Thomas, while I enjoyed these episodes, I think it’s powerfully naive to think that white people would be more amenable to discussing the ways racism disenfranchises people of color if only they were allowed to call black people racist. While it may clear up some casual miscommunication, isn’t it more likely that adopting an official, less nuanced definition of racism will lead to increased false-equivocation?

    “Sure, I’m not getting pulled over 52 times despite having never been charged with a single traffic offense, but I’m also a victim of racism, because one time a black person made me feel intimidated.”

    White people already think it’s racist that they can’t call black people racist, and that’s fucking stupid. Today on CNN, a white spokesperson for Trump condescendingly explained what the word bigot means to a black panel-member, because she had to justify some asinine thing Trump said about it being bigoted to call him a racist. This is the country that invented the War on Christmas, but somehow validating conservative feelings of victimhood is going to prime the pump for meaningful social change?

    In a lot of ways, I agree that it’s a semantics issue, but so is the argument that Black Lives Matter should change their name to Black Lives Matter Too, or Black Lives Also Matter. BLM doesn’t imply that only black lives matter, so technically this wouldn’t be a meaningful change to their platform, but in so far as it’s asking black people to make a concession that makes white people more comfortable by requesting they explicitly acknowledging the importance of white people while naming their movement about how their lives are important, it has a sort of significance.

    Essentially, if people allow the distinction between racism and structural racism to derail their engagement in addressing racial inequality, then they are not interested in addressing racial inequality.

    1. I think you’re largely right, but I don’t think it’s just conservatives who are confused by the way activists use words like racism, bigot, rape, etc. I think that activists, whether on purpose or unconsciously, often conflate the meanings themselves, and it confuses their own thought processes.

      How else can you explain the huge overreactions you see to Ellen’s photo? It seems like everyone can agree she didn’t mean to mock slaves, and that if it is to be defined as racist, it certainly isn’t anything like the hateful “traditionally defined” racism, yet the amount of hate given in response to it would make you think she called Usain a dirty n—–.

      Same goes for just about any conversation on sexism, rape culture, whatever, it seems there is new definition given that includes much less harmful behavior, but the hate and shaming in response is the same as for the old definition.

      1. I certainly don’t think activists are deliberately conflating the meanings of words.

        For instance, you mentioned “rape” as an example. I’ve seen criticism of activists who define rape as sexual contact that occurs without consent, whereas those making the criticism tend to assert their own “acceptable” definitions (e.g., sexual contact that occurs in defiance of expressed nonconsent, sexual contact that occurs with additional physical violence, nonconsentual sexual contact by a stranger). I don’t think activists intend to broaden the scope of what the word rape means in an effort to confound people or inflate statistics, but rather I believe they’ve identified a working definition that allows them to focus on the issue of rape without having to constantly justify their advocacy for victims who don’t fit conventional/culturally accepted/counterproductive assumptions (e.g., men, people raped by their spouse, people who were not threatened with additional physical violence, etc.).

        I guess the question I’m wondering about is whether it’s more likely that the activists are confused about definitions or that they’re working with the definitions that allow them to engage, and that not being involved in their advocacy work, or the specific targets of their message, we’re more likely to incorrectly assume they are confused.

        I can’t speak to the outrage and “hate” Ellen has received in response to the photo. I’ve seen people call the photo “racist garbage,” accuse Ellen of having “privilege,” and express disappointment in her. I won’t say that there hasn’t been hateful rhetoric or overblown responses, but I haven’t seen any.

        I’m definitely opposed to hate-speech and shaming, but I have to push back against the assumption that people are being unfairly called out and criticized despite being “only a little bit rapey” or contributing to the disenfranchisement of a particular group in a nonviolent way. Saying “I didn’t mean to be racist” does not undo or cancel out the racist implications of the racist shit you said/did.

        Moreover, I think it’s tremendously important that we not conflate being called out, criticized, or even just referenced in someone else’s expression of frustration and pain with being attacked. Being called a racist is far less dehumanizing than being denied equality and respect on account of your race.

        1. Can you explain how Ellen dehumanized or denied equality or respect to anyone on account of their race? She was called racist and, moreover, plenty of people who defended her, who couldn’t fathom how her photo should be considered racist, were also called racists, berated, and shamed for being so bold as to…disagree. Twitter went wild, people were “unfriended,” and we had another all too typical rage storm over something so innocent it leaves most of us shaking our heads in dismay.

          1. Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize people had been unfriended. (Do I need to specify that this was sarcasm?)

            I think this is a great example of the conflation we were discussing earlier. In a comment on a previous episode (in which the Ellen controversy was first raised), I wrote that the issue is not whether this photo proves Ellen is a racist, but whether the image itself contains/references racially problematic themes. It does. Among other themes, the image contains the exploitation of a black body by a white person, which references racist themes of black people as beasts of burden and the superiority of white people.

            Based on your question, I think I need to go further and say I don’t think this image is “a racist,” in that I don’t think it’s an actor that has participated in the disenfranchisement of black people.

            Further still, I don’t think that the image has caused any significant increase in racism, it hasn’t added new racism to the world, and it hasn’t, as far as I know, shocked anyone out of blissful complacency. That said, I can’t speak for the people who were offended, so I won’t say this this image definitely hasn’t caused harm.

            I would argue that there’s something disrespectful about ignoring the legacy of slavery while making a joke about how someone is fast enough that you’d like to ride them instead of walking to the store. There’s obviously something dehumanizing about using a person as a means of conveyance while running your errands, and if you’ll allow me to argue that displaying an image of a dehumanizing thing, without challenging it, can communicate that theme to a viewer, the image in question can be said to have conveyed a message about a black body being less than human, or at the very least, less than a white body. I recognize that there are also potential interpretations about the black body being more capable than the white body (which is itself an issue a la “black athletes as fine natural specimens”), but it’s again important to note the exploitation of that labor by the crafty white person. It’s fine if you can’t see those themes, but to say the image can’t be racist because it hasn’t met your standards of causing harm is a conflation of terms.

            Also, I don’t know that I accept your assertion that those who were called bigots on twitter did nothing more than “disagree.” There’s an enormous difference between saying “I don’t see how this is racist” and “you’re wrong, this isn’t racist.” Responding to a statement expressing disappointment about the racist themes in the image with dismissive assertions that the speaker doesn’t understand racism, is being too sensitive, has no right to criticize Ellen, or any number of problematic statements communicates not only that you disagree, but that you do not value the experience and insight of someone more directly affected by racial inequality.

            If someone says “hey, let’s talk about whether this is racist” and you say “it’s not,” they might be in the wrong to unfriend you. If someone says “this made me sad because it’s racist” and you say “you have no right to be sad because I don’t think it’s racist,” unfriending you seems pretty reasonable.

            Again, I don’t think Ellen deserves to lose her show or be paraded through the streets with a sign around her neck that says “I am a bad person,” but to the best of my knowledge, neither of these things have happened.

          2. So let me tell you that I believe it is absolutely ridiculous to call that photo racist. I am a big proponent of not making those racists right who claim that “everything today is racist.” Calling that photo racist simply proves their point, and it makes it that much tougher to convince anyone to listen to you in the future. Nobody in their right mind thought that Ellen was harkening back to slavery, pretending to ride Usain Bolt against his will. Usain certainly didn’t when he retweeted it.

            I think it’s important to call out racism, and I also think it’s important to be able to discuss why people shouldn’t look for silly reasons to be offended. That’s exactly what people are doing when they find every reason to call just about anything they can possibly link to racism by some thread racist. It makes the entire cause of antiracism look ridiculous and it is very counterproductive. Please stop.

          3. “I am a big proponent of not making those racists right who claim that “everything today is racist.” Calling that photo racist simply proves their point, and it makes it that much tougher to convince anyone to listen to you in the future.”

            If you believe the reason moderates and conservatives reject the idea that racism is still a relevant aspect of our culture, even when they can watch video of police shooting unarmed black people (in the back, while lying down with their hands up, while complying with orders to produce ID, etc.), shooting a twelve year-old black boy in a public park within two seconds of stepping out of their car without saying a word, and systematically defending overtly racist policies, like stop and frisk; when Leslie Jones is driven off twitter only to then have her website hacked with personal information, proudly racist images, and nude photos stolen from her computer for the obscene offense of being a black woman on television; when the average wealth of black people is essentially half the wealth of white people in 2016; when Donald god damn Trump can run for office on a platform of scapegoating anyone who seems too foreign (I could go on…); if you think the reason moderates and conservatives can’t bring themselves to recognize the validity of any of those examples (on which I assume we agree there are racial components) simply because activists sometimes highlight issues of racism you don’t accept as valid, then I don’t know what to tell you.

            As an aside, did you happen to listen to episode in which Thomas hosted a discussion between Eli Bosnick and James Lindsay? There’s a part where James argues that the infamously racist crows in Dumbo weren’t racist because some black people were involved in their creation. It’s great that Usain Bolt, a successful athlete with a net worth of 60 million dollars wasn’t offended by some free publicity, but that doesn’t mean people who were bothered by the image were wrong to express that.

            I respect your point that advocates might undermine their own efforts by identifying too many issues that won’t be accepted as valid by those in positions to make change. If you happen to know which issues will sway the stony hearts of conservatives and inspire the comfortable moderates alluded to in this episode, by all means, let us know. Maybe you can also let us know just how raped a person has to be before they’re entitled to some measure of respect from police officers investigating the case. Or maybe you could work back from the other direction and let us know which jokes about the physically and intellectually disabled we must compulsively find amusing, lest we undermine the struggle for human beings to be treated with respect.

  3. “I’ve looked at statistics, therefore racism schmacism. Pull yourself up by your damned bootstraps ya lazy ass.”

    1. I was thinking that too. There’s no structural racism… until you point it out and then, I’ll say, “well, maybe a little.” -Rondale

      1. When the richest black celebrities and the US Attorney General get stopped for “driving while black” (or jogging) and need to give their sons “the talk”, the problem is not opportunity. It is racism.

  4. With regard to the “definition” of racism, I agree with Jabari in general. Both on how I prefer racism to be defined, but that as long as both parties understand what is being communicated, that’s what is important. Words don’t have inherent meanings, they are just labels on ideas, and the ideas that are important. I wrote a blog post about this issue, with a couple of paragraphs specifically on the term “racism”. Basically, if people insist on using ONLY their terms, all they’re doing is talking past each other.

  5. I’m not from the States (the Netherlands), so this might be an oversimplification. I think that many of the issues stem from the gun-ownership issue. Many (if not most) incidents start with a cop (consciously or unconsciously) seeing a certain situation as life threatening. It might even be that cops see themselves threatened easier with a black person. And I do agree that something has to be done about this and call out racism whenever it occurs (agree with most of the interventions from Project X).

    But what makes a situation so threatening that a cop shoots someone? It’s guns. The fact that many (black and white) people are carrying guns, makes cops itchy. They are more likely to assess the situation as dangerous. And maybe with black people even more so (again: which is not a good thing). And once someone is shot, the discussion can no longer be done in a normal manner. As said in the podcast, the trenches are already dug.

    In the Netherlands it’s very, very difficult to obtain a gun. So a cop would in general not think of the situation as endangering his/her life. The few times we had an incident, the cop was most often in his/her right. And yes, in the past we did also have (unfortunately) situations where the victim was (with hindsight) not reaching for a gun. But the term racism was not used in these instances.

    This doesn’t mean that there is no racism within the police force. Cops do tend to examine colored people more frequently. We have to fight any racism or biases with all means possible. But the racism does not lead to killings, which makes the public debate less heated.

    So I think that Gun-control (or even banning guns) is a huge part of the solution. This might be a oversimplification and maybe me not being from the States disqualifies me from commenting here.

    I did listen to the earlier episode about gun-control and that is very weird to listen to from a European perspective. All the statistics point in the direction that things got out of hand in the US and still people defend gun ownership. I know it is very difficult to ban all guns, but that shouldn’t be a reason to ignore this option as being the best solution.

    Greetz from the Netherlands

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