Taking Our Breath Away
Hello friends: If you notice a change, its because I’ve switched my newsletter provider to Substack. Different look. Same me. Also, this is a longer newsletter than normal because I felt it was important to share given the times.
"Riots are the language of the unheard" -- MLK
People are protesting a system - merciless, incalculably large and oppressively persistent. One that has overwhelmingly targeted the black community in this country.
In fact, many are doing more than protesting. They are risking their lives. For basic dignity. Why is it so hard to give it to them? And how do we create a just and fair society to ensure this misery does not persist?
Like a broken record, I’ve been trying to solve and answer this question for the last twenty years and figure it’s probably better to hear from other more interesting and amazing people on my new podcast: UnfairNation.
Here are a few guests from the last month:
Former police officer Tom Nolan's interview is particularly relevant now. Please listen and let me know what you think. What do you like? What can I improve?
Diving (a little) deeper
The lifetime risk of death from police violence for Black Americans is higher than any other group, even controlling for a multitude of factors.
Black men and boys face the highest risk of being killed by police–at a rate of 96 out of 100,000 deaths. By comparison, white men and boys face a lower rate of 39 per 100,000 deaths, despite being a bigger portion of the U.S. population. Overall, men faced a rate of 52 per 100,000 deaths.
These stats account for similarity in crime and control for geography, income level and a number of other factors.
More troubling is how many unarmed black men lose their lives to law enforcement.
It doesn’t help that black men are often perceived of as being armed and dangerous, despite the fact that gun ownership and use is higher in other groups - the media consistently report on the “unarmed black man” because journalists “believe people will not be sympathetic to a black man, unless they stipulate that he didn’t have a gun.” Side note: Now that you’ve read this, it is unlikely you’ll ever stop hearing “unarmed black man” whenever you listen to the news. It’s a thing. I can’t remember the last time I heard an Asian suspect being referred to as an “unarmed asian man.”
More importantly, the broader bias that black men are always armed is shattered by the numbers. Police training often authorizes the use of deadly force only when a suspect is considered armed and dangerous. Yet, not only do black men die more often in officer-involved shootings, those who die are almost twice as likely to be unarmed.
Finally, the officers who end up killing suspects are experienced veterans.
A significant chunk of those officers involved in shootings have a decade or more of experience. Many of the rest have at least five years of on the job experience. This makes sense as there is considerable research to indicate that over time negative fraternal socialization, peer pressure, exposure to violence, depression, fatigue, mental illness and PTSD all play a role in moving individuals towards the improper use of force. Beyond the tendency to use violence, cognitively impaired individuals are far more likely to act on biases, indulge in racist beliefs and further solidify xenophobic tendencies.
Just look at what’s happened in the last 72 hours.
“US cities face toll of violent protests,” says a headline at the top of Fox News. “Fury in the streets as protests spread across the US,” says The New York Times. “Fire and fury spread across the US,” says The Washington Post. “Wave of rage and anguish sweeps dozens of US cities,” says CNN. But whose rage? Whose fury? Whose violence? Here’s another: ABC local news in Utah runs a graphic saying “violent protests in Salt Lake City.” In the background of the video, police knock an elderly man with a cane to the ground. He was simply standing near a bus stop.
I used to think the answer to these problems was in the implicit bias, use of force, and civil rights training I’ve given to LAPD, NYPD and other law enforcement organizations.
But these three trends and what’s happening in the country today make it difficult for me to believe that trainings are a way out of this problem. Beyond the killings, the thousands of weekly complaints that go nowhere are a further indication that institutional mechanisms of police reform are insufficient.
Twenty years of working on these issues and I’m at a loss to be honest. I don’t really know what a long term solution looks like, but I do know it must be one that:
Fundamentally revolutionizes American law enforcement, particularly in how they treat black Americans.
Must be about the heart, not just the mind.
Will require a shift in how cops see themselves: as protectors, not just peacekeepers. As shelter from unjust laws, not just enforcers of it.
🎧 Next on UnfairNation
Jaime Harrison - candidate for U.S. Senate in South Carolina.
Merith Basey of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines.
Neighborhood Health is doing amazing work for low-income patients in Northern Virginia (with some of the highest COVID rates in the country). Support their work.
Sania Khan of the Muslim Bar Association of New York (MUBANY) is seeking opportunities to partner with folks re: the protests happening across the country. More here.
My friends at Team Rubicon have adapted to serve those affected by this new disaster by providing food aid. Learn more to help out.
Watching: Space Force (basically The Office in space, amirite)
Speaking: “No Turning Back” - USC Bedrosian BookClub Podcast
On Friday morning, as dawn broke through the smoke hanging over Minneapolis, the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant was severely damaged by fire. Hafsa Islam, whose father owns the Bangladeshi-Indian restaurant with members of his family, woke at 6 a.m. to hear the news.
“At first, I was angry,” said Ms. Islam, 18. “This is my family’s main source of income.”
But then she overheard her father, Ruhel Islam, speaking to a friend on the phone. “Let my building burn,” he said. “Justice needs to be served. We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human.”