Democracy did not die today

American democracy did not die today with the Senate’s shameful vote. For a democracy to die it must have first lived.

Democracy is nowhere to be found in the multi billion dollar purchase of an Imperial Presidency, or in a legislature of and for millionaires, or in an increasingly politicized judiciary with lifetime appointments. And, critically, there is also little democracy in the justice dispensed throughout the country’s courts. What happened in the Senate today is typical of the dual system of justice found in most American courtrooms. It was a tradition, not an aberration.

Slavery, genocide, and the subversion of democratic elections in other countries have been a steady feature of American “democracy.” Creating a society of equals with equal opportunity and equal representation has never been the object, as Jim Crow, voter suppression, mass-incarceration, censorship, and ever-new variations of McCarthyism attest. Denials of civil liberties and human rights to asylum seekers and immigrants, even after they reach our borders, are the result of growing nativism and xenophobia.

What we believe in is power, not justice. The pursuit of power, and the preservation of it at any cost, gave birth to a deformed — if not stillborn — democracy. Today we find these deformations most starkly in our judicial system, and there have been many examples in my own lifetime.

In 1955, Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, when he was lynched and his body discovered three days later in the Tallahatchie River. The identities of his killers and the ringleaders of his lynching were never in doubt. Roy Bryant and J.W. Millam were arrested. But an all-white jury found them not guilty.

In 1963 Medgar Evers was murdered in his driveway by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens Council in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1964 an all-white jury somehow could not reach a verdict. It took thirty years of fighting by Evers’ family, and finally his exhumation for additional evidence, to reopen the case against De La Beckwith.

In 1964 Ku Klux Klan “Kleagle” Edgar Ray Killen participated in the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. When Killen was finally arrested, an all-white jury refused to convict a “preacher.” Twenty years later Killen was again charged with murder, but a mostly-white jury again refused to hold him directly accountable for the murders, instead convicting him on lesser conspiracy charges.

The American military slaughtered up to two million Vietnamese and left behind birth defects from Agent Orange and bodies ripped apart by land mines long after the U.S. beat a hasty retreat from Saigon. But it was the My Lai massacre in 1968 that shamed an American justice system that failed to prosecute it and government officials who covered it up. Hundreds of civilians — the US said 347, the Vietnamese government counted 504 — were raped, bayoneted, and shot execution-style, including children, their bodies left in ditches. Only one platoon member was ever convicted. William Calley was sentenced to just three years of prison, but Richard Nixon commuted it to house arrest. Then the matter was quietly dropped. But impunity for war crimes goes back to the nation’s founding.

Tens of thousands of black people were lynched from Reconstruction through Jim Crow, and one would have thought this gruesome chapter of our history was over. But it doesn’t take much to revert to barbarism in this country. A case in point was the lynchings of African Americans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2019 The Nation and ProPublica reported on a significant number of unsolved homicides of black people in Algiers Point and elsewhere, and of the emergence of white supremacist militias that had organized the killings. After the articles were published, New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said he’d “look into” it.

Many Americans still remember the name Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who in 2012 was shot after punching George Zimmerman, a vigilante who had been harrassing and following him. Zimmerman’s lawyers planned to defend their client on the basis of so-called “stand your ground” laws and the case received national press. Alan Dershowitz — always found playing with matches at the scene of a fire — attacked Florida’s State Attorney Angela Corey for even daring to prosecute Zimmerman. In the end a Florida jury let Zimmerman walk.

In 2013, when rich white boy Ethan Couch crammed seven of his friends into his hot red pickup truck and totaled it killing four of them, Couch’s defense lawyer claimed he was a victim of “affluenza” — a word the lawyer invented to describe the coddled teen’s irresponsibility resulting from his family wealth. Even though Couch had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit and had killed four people, the defense strategy worked. Couch was released on probation — until he fled to Mexico with his mommy.

And who will forget former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who murdered Michael Brown in 2014 and was never prosecuted? This was a case that launched the Black Lives Matter movement — a fight against precisely the sort of impunity for police violence that kills hundreds, if not thousands, of people of color every year.

Or Stanford swimmer Brock Allen Turner, who in 2015 was discovered by two graduate students in the process of raping a woman behind a fraternity house dumpster. Turner’s lawyer wrote that “he is fundamentally a good young man” and Turner’s father argued it was unfair that his rapist child should go to prison for “20 minutes of action.” The Golden Boy was given six months in jail by Judge Aaron Persky, the nearest thing to impunity justice could offer.

Or the City of Baltimore’s refusal to prosecute police officers for the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died an excruciating death in the back of a police van. Not even Obama’s Justice Department managed to find sufficient grounds to charge any of the officers with civil rights violations. A 2016 national study examining civil rights violations by 21,000 policemen found that only 3% were ever convicted of crimes against the public. Once again, impunity trumps justice.

In 2018 Georgia white supremacist William Christopher Gibbs showed up at an emergency room afraid he had exposed himself to ricin, and he and his car tested positive for the deadly agent. But prosecutors refused to charge Gibbs with domestic terrorism, citing “technical” reasons they couldn’t charge a white terrorist at a time it was so easy to charge Muslims. To this day, the U.S. government is largely unwilling to admit any danger to society of white supremacists.

Each year roughly one thousand people are shot by police, most of them people of color and a majority unarmed. But 98% of the officers involved are never charged with murder and police usually claim “reasonable” fear for their safety as a justification for killing an unarmed civilian. It is ironic, even if not believable, that a police officer can claim “I feared for my life” — and White America believes them — while any refugee seeking asylum saying “I feared for my life” is regarded as a liar.

When Brett Kavanaugh appeared before a Senate confirmation committee in 2018, witnesses cited his sexual predation as a teenager as the reason he was unfit for the Supreme Court. Yet the Senate — as it was when Anita Hill made similar charges against Clarence Thomas — was not disturbed by any of the allegations. Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times, “Boys will be Supreme Court Justices” and she was right. Rebecca Solnit wrote that the old white men of America simply don’t want to know, and she was also right.

It is said that Justice is blind. If so, it is willfully blind. But it is clear that American justice has its eyes open wide enough to recognize color. The entire legal system, from top to bottom, offers a parallel system of justice for the rich and powerful and their enforcers, the police and military. For everyone else, especially if you are a person of color, the United States is the world’s largest police state. So central is police control in our way of life, American foreign policy is often conflated with being the “world’s policeman.”

And in a system that offers punishment for most and impunity for some, even pardons must be misused in the most obscene fashion.

In 2019 Donald Trump pardoned SEAL commander “Eddie” Gallagher and promoted him even after a military court found him guilty and demoted him in rank. Members of Gallagher’s SEAL Team 7 claimed he had killed innocent civilians and murdered an unconscious prisoner, then posed for pictures with the corpse. One platoon member who testified said of Gallagher, “The guy is freaking evil.” According to testimony, when the SEALs captured an injured ISIS fighter Gallagher stabbed him repeatedly in the neck. Another platoon member turned off his helmet cam immediately before the fighter died. Besides Gallagher, Trump also pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted on federal civil rights charges, and Dinesh D’Souza who was convicted of federal campaign violations.

Americans like to say we are a “nation of laws” but what we have should rightly be called an oligarchy, a kleptocracy, or a kakistocracy in which the usual rules of law don’t apply to those with high-level connections. Whatever you call this system, just don’t call it a “democracy.”

The 2008 financial crisis was another example of the American justice system revealing itself as an agent of impunity for financial criminality. In 2014 — six years after the financial crash — ProPublica and the New York Times reported that the only Wall Street executive to ever be prosecuted as a result of the crisis was Kareem Serageldin. Meanwhile, in prisons all over the United States there are people still serving life sentences for marijuana possession. To add insult to injury, rather than hold Wall Street accountable for its own losses, a bipartisan group of rich and powerful men decided to make taxpayers cough up the almost 1.5 trillion dollars necessary to bail out Wall Street.

Last week a friend sent me a piece by Andy Borowitz from the New Yorker — “El Chapo outraged that his trial included witnesses.” It seemed funny at the time. Or would have been if it hadn’t so painfully highlighted the impunity granted to a traitorous criminal by the United States Senate.

So let us not weep. Democracy did not die today. You cannot mourn what never lived.

The Radical King

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, and I followed columnist Esther Cepeda in reading King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But I’ve also been reading Cornel West’s “The Radical King,” which reprints many of Martin Luther King’s more “radical” essays and sermons. King’s analysis of America’s original sin is undeniable, but his views on power and nonviolence are difficult to wrap one’s head around, at least for a non-believer like me. I am grateful for Cornel West — who among other things is a Baptist minister — for assembling an anthology that provides a religious window into King’s radical politics. Or maybe visa versa.

West sees no contradiction between the man most know as the Nonviolent King and the one he calls the Radical King. King’s nonviolence, for all the nods to Ghandi and other religious traditions, was rooted in his Christianity and specifically in the Black Church. There were also connections to the Jewish prophetic tradition — in which prophets rage against the evils of kings and tyrants. This may be one reason for King’s friendship with Abraham Joshua Heschel.

King’s most famous speech was part of a 1963 march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and when he was killed King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. King told his staff in 1966, “There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” King traveled across the country with his Poor People’s Campaign, a campaign that Rev. William Barber today is trying to revive. And though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, four years later King still found himself fighting for civil and economic rights when he was assassinated in 1968.

The America of 1968 was the America of Always — not only on the verge of imploding from racial injustice but also from economic injustices and wars of choice that kill black, brown and poor white men and bankrupt America financially and morally. At quite a cost to his own political capital, and even putting himself at odds with other black leaders, King spoke out against American militarism and materialism.

King was regarded as the “most dangerous man in America” by J. Edgar Hoover, who also tried to brand King as a Soviet asset — not because he was a nonviolent advocate of racial equality (which was most certainly true), but because he represented a challenge to economic and political exploitation.

We are all familiar with the “long arc” optimism of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but no one ever got to hear the more pessimistic sermon King had planned to deliver the Sunday after he was murdered, “Why America May Go To Hell.”

Before his death the Radical King had grown disillusioned with white liberals whose solidarity never matches our rhetoric, and he witnessed a repudiation of nonviolence among many of his supporters. In one essay King discusses Stokely Carmichael’s rejection of both white allies and nonviolence. With increased physical repression, members of Carmichael’s SNCC, CORE, and Deacons for Defense were all beginning to question the limits of nonviolent strategy. In the excerpt West chose on “Black Power” from 1967, King never repudiates nonviolence but clearly understands and even appreciates the reasons Black Power advocates gave for their willingness to use force if necessary:

“Black Power advocates contend that the Negro must develop his own sense of strength. No longer are ‘fear, awe, and obedience’ to rule. This accounts for, though it does not justify, some Black Power advocates who encourage contempt and even civil disobedience as alternatives to the old patterns of slavery. Black Power assumes that Negroes will be slaves unless there is a new power to counter the force of the men who are still determined to be masters rather than brothers.”

By coincidence, my book group’s selection this month was Colson Whitehead’s “Nickel Boys,” set in Tallahassee, Florida in 1962. The very first page begins with Elwood Curtis’s thoughts on a ten cent record of Martin Luther King’s speeches. King’s speeches served other purposes than a moral call to action. For kids like Elwood, King’s words were educational and also an affirmation of black pride:

“In the third cut on side A, Dr. King spoke of how his daughter longed to visit the amusement park on Stewart Avenue in Atlanta. […] Dr. King had to tell her in his low, sad rumble about the segregation system that kept colored boys and girls on the other side of the fence. Explain the misguided thinking of some whites — not all whites, but enough whites — that gave it force and meaning. He counseled his daughter to resist the lure of hatred and bitterness and assured her that ‘Even though you can’t go to Fun Town, I want you to know that you are as good as anybody who goes into Fun Town.’ That was Elwood — as good as anyone.”

Elwood is well-read, naive, and a bit of a geek. And when his bicycle chain snaps, Elwood ends up being arrested along with the driver of the stolen Plymouth he has hitched a ride with. Elwood’s grandmother Harriet, a great believer in doing things by the book, respectably, hires a white lawyer who then absconds with the $200 intended to defend Elwood. Elwood ends up in Nickel Academy, a segregated prison camp for boys, where many go missing without explanation.

Whitehead’s book deals with the boys’ attitudes toward resistance and compliance, particularly in a prison setting long after Jim Crow should have disappeared. A boy appropriately named Turner “with an eerie sense of self” who knows that only he is ultimately responsible for his own safety is the foil for the tragically well-behaved and trusting Elwood.

In one passage which seems to illustrate the divide between Black Power and King’s nonviolent approach, Elwood is still trying to make sense of Dr. King’s agape (pure love):

“He called upon his Negro audience to cultivate that pure love for their oppressors, that it might carry them to the other side of the struggle. Elwood tried to get his head around it, now that it was no longer the abstraction floating in his head last spring. It was real now:

Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win our freedom.

The capacity to suffer. Elwood — all the Nickel boys — existed in the capacity. Breathed in it, ate in it, dreamed in it. That was their lives now. Otherwise they would have perished. The beatings, the rapes, the unrelenting winnowing of themselves. They endured. But to love those who would have destroyed them? To make that leap? We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.

Elwood shook his head. What a thing to ask. What an impossible thing.

Indeed. What an impossible thing.

As he stated somewhat prophetically in his last speech, King had been to the mountain top. And King had seen the Big Picture if not been given sacred insight. King’s early sermons were well-crafted moral calls to action, Christian in style and language, but frequently referenced other religious traditions. King was often ecumenical and always accessible. For example, in 1956 King delivered a sermon to 12,000 people at an Episcopal cathedral in New York City on the second anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. His talk was about evil. King’s sermon contained the seeds of the same argument that so perplexed our young Elwood:

“Let us remember that as we struggle against Egypt, we must have love, compassion and understanding goodwill for those against whom we struggle, helping them to realize that as we seek to defeat the evils of Egypt we are not seeking to defeat them but to help them, as well as ourselves.”

Some will find King’s argument for nonviolence unconvincing (and I am one). There are both political and religious reasons for this. I can well imagine Abraham Joshua Heschel arguing with King about pikuach nefesh — the Jewish obligation to save human life. Some admire radical King’s love for the oppressed — except for perhaps 60% of the American white population. Some admire the prophetic King for speaking truth to power, while others are surprised at his growing understanding of (and even sympathy for) those advocating change “by any means necessary” (King had approached Malcolm X in 1966 about working together on a UN resolution).

Though King believed in ecumenism and frequently linked arms with men of different faiths, West cautions us to always remember that King’s

“radical love flows from an imitation of Christ, a response to an invitation of self-surrender in order to emerge fully equipped to fight for justice in a cold and cruel world of domination and exploitation. The scandal of the Cross is precisely the unstoppable and unsuffocatable love that keeps moving in a blood-soaked history, even in our catastrophic times. There is no radical King without his commitment to radical love.”

Though it has become expected that pundits and even some white supremacists will quote King and visit the various memorials that commemorate his life and words, King was a complicated man. Despite his rejection of violence, King’s speeches empowered at least one generation of young black men and women like Elwood. King’s anthologized words cannot be reduced to easily-digestible snacks, even for those who admire him. Cornel West’s collection shows us, in King’s own words, some of that complexity and contradiction.

Martin Luther King’s ideas continue to challenge Americans to examine the roots of our national sin, to consider with clear eyes a strategy that may have failed King himself, and to look for new solutions to heal this blighted nation.

That is, if America doesn’t go to Hell first.

Racist, front to back

Whenever I encounter a story about police abuse it almost always involves white cops and black or brown citizens. If not the police, it’s courts, prisons, or immigration authorities. You don’t have to be particularly perceptive to recognize the dominant factor in all these stories; you just need a long memory and a filing system. Racism permeates every aspect of American life — especially the criminal justice system and, most especially, the police.

So it was no surprise last week, when Scott Hovsepian of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MassCOP) blasted Elizabeth Warren for referring to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri as a “murder.” With black men having a one in a thousand chance of being fatally shot by police in their lifetime — two times the rate for whites — there is really no other word that suits this extreme indifference to life but murder. We are in fact so indifferent to these killings that police shootings aren’t even tracked by a government agency.

Delicate ears may prefer the phrases “wrongful death” or “unauthorized use of force.” But who are we kidding? Even when the evidence is crystal-clear that a police shooting was completely unnecessary and violated any number of departmental policies or protocols, officials will rarely admit to a mistake and instead trot out a legal doctrine known as Qualified Immunity which effectively gives policemen a license to kill — even when they have previously exhibited bad judgment, have psychological problems or a history of violence toward the non-white public. Even when the officer lies. Even when there is a video.

Hovsepian’s angry letter to Warren went out on August 10th:

“I want to make this as clear as possible and every member of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police wants you to understand; your labeling of law enforcement as racist and violent is unacceptable and dangerous. Maybe I didn’t deliver the message strong enough the last time we spoke. YOUR POLITICAL PANDERING FOR PRESIDENTIAL VOTES IS GETTING POLICE OFFICERS AND CITIZENS HURT AND KILLED. […] Your inflammatory rhetoric results in the erosion of relationships that members of law enforcement have developed within our communities. […] Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. at 396-97 (1989), provides in part: The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene…”

Unacceptable and dangerous. For a moment, a reader might be excused for thinking Hovsepian meant the national epidemic of police officers slaughtering black men, two thirds of them unarmed. Hovsepian mentions Qualified Immunity as a police officer’s shield from charges of murder in the second degree — “acts that demonstrate extreme indifference to human life.” But it’s not police killings that we ought to be worried about, says Hovsepian — no, it’s public criticism of the police that is killing officers. Or so he says.

A year ago at Dillard University, Hovsepian took issue with Warren’s characterization of the entire U.S. criminal justice system. Warren said that “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: it’s racist… I mean front to back.” Hovsepian labelled Warren’s characterization “cancerous rhetoric” and again charged that criticism of police was lethal: “Your statements put each and every one of us in danger. Your statement dehumanizes every officer who puts on a uniform…”

Playing the part of the wronged and “dehumanized” party may be nothing but a rhetorical ploy, but it is precisely the same argument as Tucker Carlson’s claim that White Supremacy is a hoax because white people are the real victims of the American legacy of slavery.

Last week the Washington Post reported that, “among men of all races, ages 25 to 29, police killings are the sixth-leading cause of death, according to a study led by Frank Edwards of Rutgers University.” In 2018 police killed 1,164 people. The number of black people killed by police (215) exceeded all police officers who died in the line of duty (148), servicemen killed in action (2) and Americans killed by Islamic terrorists (0) combined. There were only 23 days in 2018 when police did not kill someone. Thirteen of the 100 largest police departments accounted for a large percentage of police murders that year. 99% of all police killings never resulted in officers being convicted of any charges. In 2018 Americans were ten times more likely to die from being shot by a cop than in a mass shooting.

So, if anyone has a legitimate and “reasonable fear,” it is civilians fearing police violence. Americans are also increasingly afraid of militarized policing that is morphing into something very like occupation. Following the protests of Michael Brown’s murder, police turned Ferguson’s Canfield Drive into Fallujah.

While no doubt there are many good police officers and police departments, from the 30,000 foot view Warren is absolutely right. The names of black victims of police abuse, from Rodney King to Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, and Michael Brown, just keep being recorded. We know what skin colors predominate among America’s 2.5 million incarcerated people. The legacy of slavery is apparent to anyone who has studied criminal justice issues or simply reads the newspaper. The Central Park Five, whose story was recently portrayed in Netflix’s “When They See Us,” embody everything that is wrong with America’s racist criminal justice system — police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct and overreach, brutal prisons — even an ad from a future president that read like a call to lynch five young men of color.

MassCOP’s Scott Hovsepian has it completely backwards when he charges that criticism of police racism puts officers at risk and undermines their work. It is racist cops who undermine community confidence in police departments and contribute to a community’s fear of helping police reduce crime. No matter how many public relations campaigns, youth programs, listening sessions, or ride-alongs police departments use to blunt community criticism, nothing compensates for all the damage that racist officers inflict.

Take the case of 20 year Muskegon, Michigan police officer Charles Anderson. Anderson put his house on the market and apparently didn’t think to put his KKK application or his Confederate flags away. A black couple touring the home realized the officer was a racist and dug into Anderson’s history, discovering he had been cleared in the fatal shooting of a black man in 2009. It wasn’t a surprise — the killing or the exoneration.

Or a story from August 6th describing Galveston, Texas cops leading a black man, slave-style, between the mounted officers’ horses. Police chief Vernon Hale weakly explained, “Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance.” Poor judgment neither investigated nor punished.

Sergeant Heather Taylor, a member of the St. Louis Metro police department, was interviewed recently by CBS News as part of its series on racial bias in American police departments. “Do you think that there are white supremacists on the police force?” CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues asked. “Yes” Taylor replied. “You didn’t even pause,” Pegues said. “Have you seen some of the Facebook posts of some of our suspended officers right now?” Taylor responded. “Yes.”

Taylor could have been referring to Facebook posts collected by the Plain View Project, which to date has permanently recorded over 5,000 racist posts — that’s from only eight cities. The Project’s homepage says that “our concern is not whether these posts and comments are protected by the First Amendment. Rather, we believe that because fairness, equal treatment, and integrity are essential to the legitimacy of policing, these posts and comments should be part of a national dialogue about police” — a dialog shut down by police officials who claim that such a discussions put their lives at risk.

Blue Lives matter to police officers, but the same concern doesn’t aways extend to civilians — especially the black lives. In 2016 an Oregon police officer posted an image of a Black Lives Matter protest with a comment, “When encountering such mobs remember, there are 3 pedals on your floor. Push the right one all the way down.”

The Facebook page of Santa Fe, New Mexico Sergeant Troy Baker, also the police union president and a police cadet instructor, was a veritable cesspool of racist and homophobic rants, violent threats, and Confederate flags. Baker survived an internal investigation when no violation of department policy was determined, and he was allowed to retire early, remaining on the city payroll for eight months to obtain his pension.

Springfield, Massachusetts cop Conrad Lariviere thought white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. running down Heather Heyer in Charlotteville was pretty funny. “Hahahaha love this, maybe people shouldn’t block roads,” Lariviere wrote on Facebook. When confronted with the post, Lariviere told MassLive.com, “I am not a racist and don’t believe in what any of those protesters are doing, I’m a good man who made a stupid comment and would just like to be left alone.”

Lariviere was eventually fired but the damage was already done. “It will take us months, if not years, to earn back the level of public trust we once had,” Police Commissioner John Barbieri said. “It’s never easy to terminate a fellow officer, and I take no comfort in doing so.” But Lariviere’s union, Local 364 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, issued a statement saying it was —

“extremely disappointed in the decision of Commissioner Barbieri to terminate the employment of Officer Conrad Lariviere. Officer Lariviere’s comments on Facebook were made in his capacity as a private citizen […] While some may find Off. Lariviere’s comments to have been insensitive, we do not believe that they rise to the level of misconduct, and certainly do not warrant termination, even if there was a clear policy involved […] We also believe that the subject of the Facebook posting was a matter of public concern, and protected speech. We believe that the termination is based on political considerations, not a fair, impartial assessment of the evidence…”

Racist conduct and exercising poor judgement are, for many police associations, insignificant matters for officers charged with serving the public fairly.

In Phoenix, Arizona, 75 cops were caught on Facebook bashing Muslims, African-Americans, gays, and feminists. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, Phoenix officer Joshua Ankert wrote, “CONGRATULATIONS GEORGE ZIMMERMAN!!! Thank you for cleaning up our community one thug at a time.” Officer Dave Swick posted a roadside sign that said, “Ferguson protestors ahead, speed up, aim well.” Police dispatcher Christina Begay shared a picture of two cops laughing with the caption: “They said, ‘F—k the police,’ so I said ‘F—k your 911 call, I’ll get to your dying home boy when I finish my coffee.” Officer David Pallas posted a meme showing the Quran, with a caption that read: “HOW ABOUT BANNING THIS. IT OFFENDS ME!!” The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association defended the posts. “People — including cops — say things they regret.”

Add to a climate of hate the many unfortunate interactions between police officers and young people. Stop and Frisk — violations of the Fourth Amendment — go by many names: “community engagement,” “meet and greet,” “youth liaison.” But they only add to the fear, distrust and hatred many people have of police officers. In New Bedford a young man, Malcolm Gracia, is dead because police officers decided to aggressively “engage” a group of young men at Temple Landing after seeing what they thought was a “gang handshake.”

After allegedly stabbing an officer, Gracia was shot three times in the back and once in the side of the head. But the entire interaction should never have happened. “Even on the [police] version of the facts, the stop would be unlawful,” Judge Thomas F. McGuire Jr. wrote in a memorandum on a civil lawsuit filed by the victim’s sister. The City of New Bedford for many years claimed that the incident had occurred because of insufficient policies on “engagement” with youth. After the ACLU filed several FOIA requests, the city’s argument collapsed. Police should have simply followed the law.

But it’s not just a few bad apples or the frequently-cited lack of clear policies. As we saw in the case of Santa Fe, New Mexico, departmental racism often reflects, and is even encouraged by, the leadership of police unions and associations who represent tens of thousands of officers.

Consider Hovsepian’s Brother in Blue, Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, New York City’s second largest police union. Only last week Mullins shared a video made by white supremacist Colin Flaherty (author of “Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry”) that calls black people “welfare queens,” “scam artists” and “monsters.” The film uses Trump-styled language:

“When a suspect chooses to flee from police, it is never for anything good,” the narrator says. “When a suspect flees a car at night in the projects, it can only be for something incredibly bad. One of the most astonishing aspects of police work in an urban environment, is the fact that almost literally no one has a job. The section 8 scam artists and welfare queens have mastered the art of gaming the taxpayer. Bounce from baby mama to baby mama, impregnate as many women as possible. She gets the welfare benefits, and you get the flop house benefits. Symbiotic.”

Mullins, nose freshly rubbed in his own white supremacy, uttered “I have black friends, white friends, Asian friends. I wouldn’t want to insult anyone. I don’t think one incident defines who I am.”

Or consider the nation’s largest group of sheriffs, the National Sheriff’s Association, which once sponsored its own crowdfunded border wall donation site but has now outsourced it to the American Border Foundation (ABF), an organization managed by white supremacists and supported by armed militias. (After months, ABF has raised only $222K of its $450 million goal).

According to Political Research Associates, a group that tracks nationalist currents in the U.S., sheriff departments throughout the country are riddled with members of the Patriot movement, Constitutional Sheriffs, militia members, Christian Identitarians, and white supremacists. Right here at home, Bristol County Massachusetts sheriff Tom Hodgson sits on the board of a group the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group — FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, established by white supremacist John Tanton.

But combine police racism with hyper-patriotism, militarism and PTSD, and you’ve got a big problem.

Since 9-11 more than 2 million Americans have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Justice runs a program called COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) which provides grants to communities to turn “vets to cops.” In 2016 the DOJ handed out $119 million to help communities pay for approximately 900 policemen. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has created a recruitment guide for veterans, and veterans can use their GI Bill benefits while attending police academy. America increasingly says “thank you for your service” to its warriors by re-deploying them domestically.

But programs like these, and hiring practices that favor ex-military, have a serious downside. By prioritizing military experience over diversity, police departments put communities at risk. For example, the San Jose Police Department, a force with serious racism problems, sees veterans as naturals for the police “because we have a paramilitary structure, [and] military veterans often times can easily integrate.” What ever happened to community policing?

Then there are the after-effects of war. With an increasing percentage of veterans becoming police officers thanks to programs like COPS, many officers seem to think they are still fighting the Taliban or Iraqi insurgents. Ellen Kirshman, a psychologist who works with police officers, says that between 19% and 34% of all officers show some sign of PTSD: “This is pretty alarming. An officer with PTSD cannot think clearly, is probably hyper vigilant, has a short fuse, may not be sleeping well because of nightmares, might be policing in a reckless manner…” And this is precisely what one frequently sees in videos of police encounters with black men. Legislation has been signed into law to help officers with PTSD, but what about the public? Aren’t there cops who are simply too traumatized to serve the public? Even when they are identified, it’s difficult to remove them from the force.

When Elizabeth Warren spoke about the criminal justice system, she was talking about much more than policing. Yet police unions have become powerful lobbies and relentless opponents of criminal justice and prison reform. Natasha Lennard reports in the Intercept on the savage negative campaign the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) waged against Governor Mario Cuomo’s criminal justice reforms. Likewise, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent over $10 million lobbying for the Three Strikes law, mandatory life sentences, and prison expansions. In Illinois, police unions waged a campaign to stop the closure of the brutal Tamms Supermax prison. And we have fifty states just like this.

But nothing shows how racist the criminal justice system is as clearly as the history of opposition to reforming it.

In 1991 Rep. William Edwards introduced H.R.2972, the Police Accountability Act of 1991. The bill made it “unlawful for any governmental authority to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives persons of their constitutional or statutory rights, privileges, or immunities.” The bill had only 10 co-sponsors and never made it out of committee.

In 2000 John Conyers Jr. sponsored H.R. 3927, the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2000, which sought to impose national standards on law enforcement as we currently do in education. It had only thirteen Democratic co-sponsors and never made it to a vote. In 2015 Conyers again filed H.R.2875, this time with 48 co-sponsors. But again it died.

In 2015 Rep. Henry Johnson Jr. sponsored H.R.1102, the Police Accountability Act of 2015, which had 15 co-sponsors and died. The bill amended “title 18, United States Code, to provide a penalty for assault or homicide committed by certain State or local law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.” Again in 2017 Johnson filed H.R.4331, with 8 lonely co-sponsors. Again, it died.

In 2017 Rep. Gwen Moore sponsored H.R. 3060, Preventing Tragedies between Police and Communities Act of 2017, which required that police departments receiving federal funding train officers in de-escalation techniques. The bill had only 24 co-sponsors and died in committee — having also failed in 2016.

In 2017 Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee sponsored H.R.47: Kalief’s Law, which sought to amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide for the humane treatment of youths in police custody. The bill had only one co-sponsor and there was never a roll call vote.

Whether a majority or minority in Congress, police accountability has never been a priority for Democrats or Republicans. E. Tammy Kim, in an excellent piece in the Nation (“What to Do About the Police”), writes that, “as it stands, the three branches of government are unwilling to regulate the police. Mayors and governors defer to police chiefs and union presidents; judges make cheesecloth of the Fourth and 14th Amendments; and legislators vote again and again to increase law-enforcement budgets.”

In a 2015 ruling the Supreme Court gave police broad latitude to shoot at citizens recklessly and with impunity, when it rejected a suit against a Texas police officer who fired into a car with a high power rifle from an overpass, paralyzing a driver. The officer joked: “How’s that for proactive?”

In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Kisela v. Hughes that police officers can not be sued for arbitrary and unnecessary shootings — effectively granting law enforcement a deluxe edition of Constitutional rights. In dissenting, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the ruling another sign of “unflinching willingness” to protect rogue cops and wrote that the decision “transforms the doctrine [of qualified immunity] into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.” Cops in America today truly have a license to kill.

With one exception, every piece of reform legislation mentioned above was sponsored by an African-American. And that ought to tell you something — white people are just not stepping up in sufficent numbers to fix injustices involving police, the courts, prisons, parole and probation systems, or to provide adequate rehabilitation and treatment of those ensnared in the “system.”

To quote Warren’s again, “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: it’s racist… I mean front to back.”