The Chauvin Decision

Written Prior To The Verdict.

To most of my white, Christian, middle-class or better friends:  I live in a world you cannot begin to understand.

To all my African American friends:  You are living in a world I can only begin to understand.

What is implicit bias?  For me, in my life, it has living in a world that a) assumes you are Christian and b) has little idea of what being Jewish means, for example:

  • Having to explain to my child’s teacher that the parent-teacher conference is scheduled for the first night of Rosh Hashana
    • Explaining to the school superintendent why putting the flyer for “Vacation Bible School” (from the evangelical congregation in town) in students’ take-home folder was not only inappropriate, but a violation of the separation between church and state
    • Continually and consistently asked if I am from New York
    • Being told that even though I was a nice guy, I was still going to Hell.
    • When telling someone that I am Jewish being asked what I do for Christmas.
    • In high school, as one of two Jewish students (the other my sister) continually being asked if we were “rich.”
    • Having a colleague declare that he would “Jew down” the contractor to get a better deal.
    • Being asked, by both a State Patrolman and by the desk clerk at a hotel, “what kind of name is that?” when giving them my last name.

And that is the short list.

That list is full of minor inconveniences and insults compared to what Black people, and particularly Black men must deal with.  Yeah, my Synagogue has armed security at services, but few Synagogues are bombed and burnt.  When I get pulled over by the cops, I expect to get a ticket.  But I expect a traffic ticket, not a toe tag.  Never have I had a gun pointed at me, except by the military police in Brazil during the dictatorship.  No one is publicly advocating measures to suppress my vote.  Nobody crosses the street to avoid walking past me.  I only get followed around in stores when the salespeople are bored and want to make a sale, not because I am picked out of the crowd as a shoplifter.  I have never been pulled over for driving while Jewish, or walking while Jewish, or being in a park while Jewish.  No one has ever said my taste in music or fashion was a little too “urban” (although I have heard a description of being a little too “eastern.”)  And, finally, there is no pattern of unarmed Jewish men being shot and killed by the police.  I know if I go to criminal or civil court (as opposed to traffic court) I will have a good lawyer and for the most part believe I will be considered innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around.

Every time there is a civil disturbance over some egregious violation of a random Black person’s rights that results in behaviors other than peaceful protest, we hear the same two things from white people.  First, “there is no excuse for the destruction of property” and second, “violence is not the solution.”

I am not going to condone either property destruction or violence.  But I can understand it.  You see, our society asks its Black members to stay within the system.  Use the courts for redress.  Use the political process.  Protest peacefully.  Work hard for advancement.  Work within the system to change it.  That is what we ask of our Black citizens.

What we provide our Black citizens, however, is vastly different.  What our society provides its Black members are a disproportionate share of judicial executions, a higher rate of incarceration for similar crimes, average salaries significantly below those of their white peers, a supposition of guilt rather than innocence, a systemic denial of the benefits, programs, and opportunities provided to whites by our government, systemically biased policing (think stop-and-frisk as just the opening salvo), and a history of underfunded Black education when compared to whites.

We have asked our Black citizens to play within our system but have given many of them no reason to believe in the system.  Thus, if Black people have no (or less) stake in the system and what is has not provided (which it has provided to white people) then why should we be surprised when Black rage at the unfairness presented to them results in the destruction of what is likely to be white property or violence against white people?

If I got angry when I saw the Confederate flag being waved in our Capitol – something that has never occurred before in our history as a nation – how do you think Black people reacted?  With outrage, I strongly suspect.

Every ask yourself why rental properties and rental cars receive some multiple of the abuse that private home and private cars receive?  Do you toss your cigarette butts on your floor?  Do you drop your garbage in your house?  No?  Then why do so many people toss their butts out of the car window along with their litter?  The sad but simple answer is that a whole lot of people treat stuff that is not their own a lot worse than they treat their own stuff.  If you have no stake in the thing, you treat it worse than you treat your own.

So, understand this.  People with little stake in the system are not likely to abide by the system’s code of conduct. Moreover, one is unlikely to take a lot of care for a system that continually screws you.

Make no mistake.  If Derek Chauvin walks, there is going to be trouble.  Property damage and human damage.  Almost certainly by an exceedingly small minority of those protesting.  Because rage at the unfair oppression and a lack of stake in “our” system dictates behavior that treats “our” property and lives the way in which the system has treated Black people’s lives. And that is with disregard.

Now do you understand?

Afterword

The first draft of this was written the day before the Chauvin verdict was announced.  I honestly thought the trial and the deliberations would take longer. 

Yesterday, as I began to issue this rant, a 16-year-old Black woman was shot 4 times and killed by a responding policeman in Columbus, Ohio.  I have watched the video of his body camera more than a few times and it is hard to know what exactly happened.  What I do know from the video is that a woman right in front of the police officer was pushed to the ground and kicked by a man.  That action was ignored, but two women beyond that to the right were fighting while up against the side of a car.  The policeman shot one of the women, who subsequently died.  According to reports (though I could not see this on the video), the woman who was shot had a knife. 

This is likely not to be a clear-cut case – there was a crowd of people and there is no way from the video to determine what transpired prior to the arrival of the police.  What I can ask is why non-lethal deterrence was not used.  The Columbus Police immediately released the body cam footage and referred the case to the Ohio Criminal Investigation Division.

While I am pleased with this specific result in the Chauvin case and am thankful and appreciative of the job that the vast majority of police and other public law enforcement members do for our communities and ourselves, it is imperative that we demand better selection, evaluation, and training processes for our patrol and beat cops. This latest incident in Columbus is just one of many that will occur in the future and many of those instances will not be as confused.  The gun must become the tool of last resort for our cops on the beat or patrol, not the first. Is that not the purpose of the Taser?  We need more Black cops and more multi-cultural and diversity training. We need to figure out ways to teach and then continue to reinforce actions that bring the problem of implicit bias into the forefront and help the police come to grips with the issue. 

A Black person in this country is 3 times more likely to be killed by the Police.  That is unacceptable.  It produces anger and rage and stress.  Anger and rage and stress produce bad outcomes for individuals and for our society at large as discussed above. If we are to believe that all people are created equal, we must demand that our Police treat all of us the same.  And that goes for the criminal justice system as well.

4 thoughts on “The Chauvin Decision

  1. Excellent set of comments. I agree that they are quite appropriate as is the afterward comments about the latest police killing in Columbus. How many is that this year? The gun absolutely must be used only as a last resort, not the first reaction.

  2. Wait, you’re Jewish? I thought maybe you just minored in Yiddish in college.

    Your argument regarding a stake in the system is factual and compelling but I’m afraid it’s wasted on the anti-BLM crowd. In my experience, “I’m not going to discuss systemic racism/police accountability/social justice/etc. until the violence stops” is just an excuse to delegitimize a cause one is too afraid of or embarrassed about to discuss. And of course, when confronted with a thoughtful, peaceful protest, it’s never the appropriate time/place (cf., Colin Kapernick and the NFL). The protestations about property destruction and violence accompanying protests are not rooted in sincere concern but rather are rhetorical fig leafs.

    The same delegitimizing tack is used with immigration – we can’t possibly discuss policy reform, humanitarian obligations or the societal hellscape that is Central America while people are breaking the law. Round and round we go …

    Kudos on an excellent exposition but very hard to engage minds that are defensively closed.

    1. Michael – I believe you have nailed this to a T. I have determined that trying to convince someone to change their mind on the topic of racism, or conspiracy theories, or immigration, et. al., is a fool’s errand. As my father used to say, its like trying to teach a pig to sing: It wastes an inordinate amount of your time, and it really pisses off the pig.

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