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All Lives Matter: Against Double Standards

On December 22nd my friend Victor Wallis published an Op-Ed piece in Open Media Boston, an online news service, I liked so much that I decided, with his permission, to republish it as a guest blog.

All Lives Matter: Against Double Standards
22 December 2014

by Victor Wallis

People speaking for the victims of police violence have unreservedly condemned the recent killing of the two New York City police officers.

People speaking for the police never condemned the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

A double standard is obviously at work here. Those who protest the actions of killer-cops get at best mixed reactions from public officials. By contrast, the police at all levels express automatic solidarity with one another, no questions asked.  They are upheld in this by the judicial system, which turns the usual indictment-process upside down when the defendants are police officers.

These institutional traits imply that violence exercised by the police is somehow more acceptable than violence directed against the police.

And now, as he comes under intense criticism from police organizations, New York Mayor De Blasio says that an attack on police officers is an attack on all citizens.
Why was it inconceivable for him to say something similar when Eric Garner was deliberately suffocated before all our eyes? or when the grand jury refused to indict officer Pantaleo?

Why should everyone be expected to identify more with fallen police officers than with their victims? This is where we confront the structural underpinnings of police violence.
Statements about the personal pain of survivors apply regardless of who is killed. Why should the suffering caused by racist cops be less universally felt than the suffering caused by a troubled individual who goes on a personal vendetta that ends up targeting random police officers?

The point is that all lives matter. The reason for the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is that this general principle is far from being universally honored. We know this because of the many expressions of support that were received by Darren Wilson after he killed Michael Brown.
When De Blasio says that we should call off protests in order to respect the slain police officers, we may well ask why public officials (at every level) did not call for a similar show of respect on the part of police toward those who marched in protest after cops killed defenseless black men.

Fortunately, many people are becoming aware of the grotesque power-imbalance reflected in these morally inconsistent responses. If the movement is to grow, however, we must build on this understanding.

Victor Wallis teaches at the Berklee College of Music and is the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy (http://sdonline.org), which in November 2014 published a special issue "The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US: Locking up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor," co-edited by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernández. Read More 
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Ferguson: A Long Time Coming

Last Saturday Elli and I marched with two close friends and 50,000 others in New York City to protest police killings of unarmed African-Americans. Elli pointed out that the crowd, predominantly people of color in their teens and twenties, carried her back to the civil rights marches of five decades ago.

The march also got me thinking about when I attended the founding conference of Critical Resistance, an organization formed in 1998 to fight mass incarceration. That year, our prison population had skyrocketed to 1.5 million, and a wildly disproportionate number of those incarcerated were people of color, eviscerating entire communities. At the time, I felt that by locking up that many people the forces of repression were unwittingly sowing the seeds of a mass response.

That response did not materialize immediately. Years passed, and the prison population grew; it now approaches 3 million. The “war on drugs” continued unabated, with a big assist from the draconian post 9/11 laws. In the last decade, police departments stepped up their “zero tolerance” policies in minority neighborhoods, “stop and frisk” harassment exploded in New York City, and the court system gutted the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. New disenfranchisement laws prevented those convicted from voting; Harper’s Index just estimated that 1 out of 8 black men in this country are ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. The police are increasingly militarized; SWAT teams armed with automatic weapons, dressed like Darth Vader’s soldiers and backed by armored vehicles, smash down doors. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, a growing number of new police recruits are veterans of those wars who treat the people they are supposed to protect as their enemy.

Last summer we all saw the images of the Ferguson police department’s excessive and brutal use of their weaponry and equipment against protesters. The Eric Garner video confirmed the views of millions of New Yorkers that when dealing with minorities the NYPD is a gang of armed thugs.

I’m surprised by two things about the wave of protests that have swept the nation in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The first is that they didn’t happen sooner. This explosion has been brewing for over twenty years. The second is the restraint exercised by the protesters. Listening to Eric Garner say “I can’t breathe” thirteen times and learning that Michael Brown was left lying in the street dead for over four hours is unspeakably infuriating. I can’t imagine what it must be like to grow up as a person of color under the constant threat of police mistreatment and have no outlet for the rage. That rage has finally found an organized outlet, and in the words of the Sam Cooke song:

“It's been a long, long time coming
but I know a change gonna come
Oh yes it will”

The massive resistance we’ve seen is just a first step. I eagerly await the next. Read More 
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Good News about Global Warming?

Until last week the consensus among climate scientists was that it takes about 30 years for the full climatic warming of carbon emissions to take effect. That meant that today we are only experiencing the total impact of carbon emissions generated before 1985 and additional warming will continue until 2044 no matter what we do. Turns out that the 30-year delay was based on scientists’ informed guesswork rather than quantitative studies.

NPR reported last week that “[f]or the first time” a study by two scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science “evaluated how long it takes to feel the maximum warming effect caused by a single carbon emission.” The study indicated that it only takes 10, not 30 years.

In other words, based on this study we’ve already felt the impact of carbon emitted before 2005, and what we’ve spewed since only locks us into further changes through 2024. While the scientists caution that once the increase occurs temperatures will remain high for decades, it means whenever we cut emissions it will stop further warming more quickly.

This appears to be good news because the old understanding gave rise to inaction among many who take climate change seriously. Some despaired because if it is going to take years for our movement to get strong enough to force emission cuts, and we already will be locked into 30 more years of warming at that point, it will be too late to save us from civilization-ending catastrophes or even worse.

Several authors have tried to counter such defeatism by citing historical precedents for making basic changes quickly. The civil rights movement and the recent push to legalize gay marriage are the examples given most often. These are very significant and rapid social movements, but unlike cutting carbon emissions, they are not fundamentally economic. Ending legally sanctioned slavery was a major international economic change, but it took almost 100 years to accomplish, from the beginning of the 19th century in England, to the 1880’s in Brazil. Some authors have cited the rapid economic shifts of the New Deal to demonstrate that, at least in this country, we can change our economy fast.

But all these movements were reactions to existing conditions. Any delay between our change and response was based on human resistance, not natural systems that were beyond our control. Thus, the 30-year delay appeared to be a scientific certainly that rendered our current challenge historically unprecedented. A significantly diminished time lag appears more manageable.

The brief NPR story provides insufficient information for me to assess how much hope this should give us. Further studies may tweak the 10-year figure up or down. But these findings do remind me that while climate science knowledge has grown, it is still evolving. We need to stay on top of research in this area and disseminate the best current information without treating it as dogma. We also need to be prepared for the climate change deniers who will point to such changes as proof that the scientists don’t know what they are talking about.

Most importantly, we should also take heart that there is scientific evidence that even if we can’t force needed change before the impact of global warming gets worse, any victories we win will cut off further warming three times more rapidly than we previously thought.  Read More 
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Who Cares Why the Democrats Lost

I subscribe to several progressive list-serves, so recently I have received many blogs about why the Democratic Party did so poorly in the last election. The most frequently expressed position is that the party lost contact with its roots. It ran away from populist issues like raising the minimum wage, real immigration and health care reform, and instead, promoted a “Republican light” agenda. Multiple authors urge Democrats to reverse this trend in order to recapture their mojo.

While that analysis is accurate as far as it goes, it misses the basic problem: the leadership of the Democratic Party is, like that of the Republic Party, owned by the corporate elite, the military industrial complex, and Wall Street. The 1%, if you will. In old-fashioned language, both parties function as creatures of the ruling class. They may disagree about how to manage our world-spanning empire, but both support it.

One party may wish to browbeat Iran at the negotiating table, while the other would consider attacking it militarily, but neither would dispute our right to intervene anywhere to protect our “national interests.” One may vote to extend unemployment insurance, but both will choose Wall street over Main Street every time. One might try to make capitalism it a bit greener, while the other might argue there are no environmental problems, but neither will support carbon emission cuts if they undermine the current order.

The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats reminds me of my college student days at the University of Michigan. When I transferred there as a junior in 1967, Harlan Hatcher was the University President. As an old-school authoritarian, Hatcher would immediately call the cops and support their violent attacks on peaceful student protesters. These heavy-handed tactics inflamed the student body and led to bigger demonstrations. The Board of Trustees replaced him with Robbin Fleming. He was a “liberal” negotiator, who for a time kept the lid on with sweet talk and cosmetic accommodations. But when the shit hit the fan in the spring of 1970, Fleming called in the National Guard.

Like Hatcher and Fleming, the Republicans and Democrats have different styles, but they both serve the established order. The Republicans may represent the old boy network and xenophobic white racism, while the Democrats are willing to let properly trained and vetted women and minorities enter the ranks of the rulers, but that is the extent of their differences.

The Democratic Party will cater to its “populist roots” (did it really ever have any?) only when it is necessary to prevent capitalism’s total meltdown. While what’s left of its populist wing elects a few good people, their influence is marginal. So I don’t care why the Democrats lost because I believe that even if they won they wouldn’t tackle the problems that must be solved in order to save the vast majority of plants and animals, including people, from extinction.

I doubt many of my readers have much more faith in the Democrats than I do, but some may still resist voting for a green alternative because they don’t wish to cast a purely symbolic vote. I agree that rather than getting mired in futile electoral politics, we should concentrate instead on grassroots organizing or work to build more viable third parties. However, I find it disturbing that progressive people would, in essence, argue that they won’t vote for what they want until a lot of other people do. That doesn’t sound progressive and feels too much like acceptance of the unacceptable status quo.  Read More 
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