Laws protect Kenosha police, not Jacob Blake.

In Minneapolis after George Floyd’s murder by police, I saw Lt. Bob Kroll on TV, red-faced and yelling at the cameras. He was identified on screen as the head of the city’s police union, with 800 members, and he announced that his union would fight to get the four accused police officers’ jobs back (before they had all been indicted).

“Bellicose” was a word describing him in the next day’s news report I read. Bellicose means to demonstrate aggression and a willingness to fight. I didn’t think that was the most appropriate attitude for a profession that says its most important job is “to protect and serve” the public. For me, his red-faced anger is a potent image of systemic racism.

Under Wisconsin law, the Kenosha police seem to have more legal protections to avoid penalties for their misconduct than a Black citizen like Jacob Blake has to avoid harm by police use of excessive force. This disparity in legal protections is another demonstration of systemic racism.

What Wisconsin laws protect the police from the consequences of misconduct?

  • Chapter 164: Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights
  • Police Union contracts with municipalities.
  • Act 10.
  • Local Police & Fire Commissions.
  • Suspension with pay.
  • Record of an officer’s past misconduct often hidden.

Chapter 164: Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights

In 1979, Wisconsin was one of 16 states adopting this “bill or rights” to state statutes, after it was first adopted in Maryland in 1974. Eleven other states are considering adopting it, and other states have written its provisions into contracts with police unions.

What does the Officers’ Bill of Rights do?

Expands the due process protections available to police officers (and fire department employees) in any city, village, town, or county. A police officer accused of misconduct:

  • Must be told the nature of an investigation before any interrogation;
  • May have legal representative at all times;
  • Only evidence obtained in interrogation may be used in disciplinary proceedings;
  • No collective bargaining agreement can abridge these rights.

Wisconsin’s law omits some of the more restrictive provisions other states have adopted, like permitting a week or more delay between an incident and an officer’s interrogation.

What is the result of these protections?

They can delay, diminish, or end investigations and/or prosecutions for any officer’s misconduct while on duty. These levels of due process protections are not available to regular and unarmed Black citizens when they encounter armed police over minor or imagined crimes.

Police unions negotiate contracts with municipalities,

These negotiated contracts often have terms that specifically protect union police officers from discipline for misconduct, an important benefit to members in addition to pay and health benefits.

What impact can police unions have on investigations of a police officer’s misconduct?

Before the Kenosha Police Department have issued any detailed or coherent information about Jacob Blake’s shooting, the Kenosha Professional Police Union gave to the press its own statement of the events of the crime, seemingly exonerating the officers involved.

Act 10

After a partisan fight to repair a $3.6 billion state budget deficit, Act 10 became law, limiting collective bargaining rights for many public employees for anything but wages, and restricts most unions from collecting dues.

How does Act 10 impact police unions?

Firefighters and police are exempt from these limitations, which preserves the right of police unions to the leverage of collective bargaining, securing contracts that can shield their members from misconduct charges or penalties.

Local Police & Fire Commissions

Every city, town, village and county in Wisconsin has a Police & Fire Commission, appointed by the mayor or top elected official. These Commissions have final authority on all matters of hiring, firing, and disciplinary action for a police department.

What impact do these Commissions have on police discipline?

Police and Fire Commissions have the final say on all disciplinary actions for misconduct, as well as hiring/firing personnel. They are not elected, and do not have to answer to public input or appeals. They generally do not rule against police officers accused of excessive force or other misconduct.

Suspension with pay.

During an investigation, police accused of misconduct are most often suspended or given administrative duty with pay, until the often lengthy investigation process is completed.

What is the impact of administrative duty with pay?

All other police officers witness a lengthy discipline process without immediate professional or financial penalties for misconduct.

Record of an officer’s past misconduct often concealed.

Many union contracts restrict public access to an officer’s misconduct or record of community complaints or disciplinary actions. Police departments may not verify an applicant’s disciplinary history before hiring.

What is the impact of concealing past misconduct?

More misconduct. In 2014 White police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice for brandishing a toy gun. The Cleveland police department did not release surveillance video until 4 days after the shooting, and took 7 months to complete its investigation. Several months later a grand jury found that Loehmann had acted appropriately. In 2017, Loehmann was fired, not for the killing but for omitting from his original job application that he had been previously fired from another police department in a Cleveland suburb for being emotionally unstable and unfit for duty. No one at the Cleveland department had verified his past experience before he was hired.

To be continued….

What police reforms would actually work to improve police accountability, lessen use of excessive force, and build a positive involvement with communities?

Black Suffragists & the 19th Amendment

The 50-year history of the women’s suffrage movement, leading to passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920, was written by the white women who led the effort. Marginalized by segregation, Black women suffragists created their own, parallel efforts to gain the vote for Black as well as White women. The women’s clubs and organizations they formed, often affiliated with churches, gave many Black women the leadership experience unavailable to them in any other context. On the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment, we can honor the Black women suffragists whose names and work we are learning more about.

Maria W. Stewart

MARIA W. STEWART was free-born in Connecticut. She was a journalist who contributed to the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. In the 1830’s, she was the first Black woman to make a public lecture to a mixed-race audience on the subject of women’s rights, demanding equal rights for Black women. Four of her public speeches have been preserved. She died 40 years before the 19th Amendment became law.

“Ain’t I a woman?” – Sojourner Truth

SOJOURNER TRUTH is the name Isabella Baumfree gave herself because she felt called to preach the truth, about abolition and women’s rights. She was born a slave in New York, escaping with her daughter and later recovering her son. In 1851 she gave a memorable extemporaneous speech on women’s right to the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. In 1872, she tried to vote for Ulysses S. Grant for President, but was turned away. The 19th Amendment became law 37 years after her passing.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS HARPER was a free-born Black woman in Baltimore. As a young woman, she became active in the Unitarian church. At age 20, she was one of the first Black women poets published in the US. Her work was published in anti-slavery journals, and she toured as lecturer on women’s suffrage and equal rights for Blacks. In 1858, she refused to give up her seat in a segregated trolley car in Philadelphia. In 1866, she gave a speech at the National Woman Rights Convention to support equal rights for all, including Black women. In 1894, with Mary Church Terrell, she helped found the National Association of Colored Women. She died 9 years before passage of the 19th Amendment.

IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862. Emancipated after the Civil War, she worked as a teacher to support her family, then turned to investigative journalism. When she wrote about lynching in Tennessee, her press was burned and she moved to Chicago. An activist for women’s suffrage, she confronted white women in the suffrage movement for ignoring lynching. During her life she was one of the best known Black women in America. She lived to see passage of the 19th Amendment, and to vote. In 2020 she received a Pulitzer Prize special citation for her investigative reporting.

Fannie Barrier Williams

FANNIE BARRIER WILLIAMS, a Black woman raised in New York, became a life-long activist after moving to Missouri to teach in a Black school and experiencing the cruelties of racism for the first time. When she married in Chicago, she and her husband joined the Unitarian Church. As a member of the Illinois Women’s Alliance, she lectured on the need for women, especially Black women, to have the vote. She was the only Black American invited to eulogize Susan B. Anthony, and was one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909. She lived to see the approval of the 19th Amendment, and vote for the next 24 years.

Mary Church Terrell

MARY CHURCH TERRELL was the daughter of former slaves, who graduated from Oberlin College. In 1896 she founded the National Association of Colored Women and was its president for 5 years. She believed that suffrage was essential to elevate the status of Black women. A founder of the NAACP, she lived to see passage of the 19th Amendment, and the victory of Brown v. Board of Education.

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

JOSEPHINE ST. PIERRE RUFFIN was a suffragist and civil rights leader, who published “Woman’s Era,” the first national newspaper published by and for Black women, calling on them to demand increased rights for their race. In 1869, she helped form the American Woman Suffrage Association, and later was a charter member of the NAACP. She lived to see passage of the 19th Amendment.

Mary B. Talbert

MARY B. TALBERT was the only Black woman in her graduating class at Oberlin College in 1866, and become one of the most prominent Black women of her time. She was an orator and reformer, anti-lynching, anti-racism, and supporting women’s suffrage. She reminded White feminists of their obligations to less privileged women of color. Through her leadership, she helped develop Back female organizations of clubs that empowered Black women leaders. She lived to see the 19th Amendment become law.

Nannie Helen Burroughs

NANNIE HELEN BURROUGHS was a Black educator and orator, who called for Black women and White women to work together for the right to vote. When she was turned down for a public teaching job in Washington, D.C. because of her dark skin, she opened her own trade school for Black women. Her Trades Hall is now a National Historical Landmark. When asked “What can a Black woman do with the vote?” Burroughs answered, “What can she do without it?” Burroughs lived to see the 19th Amendment become law, and hopefully was able to vote in Washington, D.C. for the next 41 years.

Trayford Pellerin, 31

Shot and killed on Aug. 21, 2020 in Lafayette, Louisiana

From national and Lafayette news today: On Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, an 8pm disturbance call about a Black man with a knife in the parking lot of a Circle K gas station drew Lafayette police to the location. When they attempted to arrest him, Trayford Pellerin, the man holding the knife, walked away from them. They attempted to Tase him, without effect. As Pellerin continued walking, knife still in hand, six police followed him on foot for about a half-mile to a Shell Station, with their guns drawn. As he approached the gas station, surrounded by the six officers, Pellerin was fired on 10, possibly 11, times. He was pronounced dead that night at the hospital.

The shooting was recorded on a cell phone by bystander Rickasha Montgom, who posted it online. This is the third shooting by Lafayette police in the past 5 weeks. All of the officers involved in the shooting of Trayford Pellerin are on administrative duty with pay. The Louisiana State Police are investigating, at the request of the Lafayette Police Department.

On Saturday, protesters gathered at the site to demand justice for Pellerin’s murder by police. When the marchers moved into the street, Lafayette police broke up the protest with smoke grenades. At least 2 were arrested.

Vaccine for Racism: Compassion

Sen. Kamala Harris, accepting the Democratic VP nomination on Aug. 19, 2020

During her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, Kamala Harris made the memorable statement that, “There’s no vaccine for racism.”

She’s right, of course, there is no single or simple way to end irrational racial hatred.

BUT a newborn doesn’t start life hating anyone, and in fact thrives with love and attention. In order to feel hate, we have to learn it. We have to be taught, either directly or by observation of how others behave, that racial enmity and prejudice are “normal.”

BUT we all have the capacity to unlearn old messages, and re-learn better ones. Every strategy for learning more tolerant ways to see the world — every antidote to hatred — is grounded in compassion, when we realize that another is hurt or harmed, and we take action to help lessen their hurt or suffering.

We are more likely to turn to our own compassionate natures if we:

  • understand that the trouble that invokes compassion is serious;
  • realize that a sufferer’s troubles are not self-inflicted;
  • and when we can picture themselves with the same problems.

These are the conditions and insights that help turn another person from a target of hate to a human being deserving of our compassion.

Healing with compassion. The organization Life After Hate was founded by Christian Picciolini, who broke away from the white supremacy movement and now works to help others do the same. “Empathy and compassion are the only things I’ve ever seen truly break the cycle of hate. It’s also what saved my life.” Picciolini’s 2018 3-part series BREAKING HATE is on YouTube.

We have other necessary ingredients to create racism vaccine built on compassion:

Protest that’s peaceful. A large majority of the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality have been peaceful–until the police responded with violence. In at least two places, police officers have been arrested for using excessive violence against protesters who remained peaceful. We have the models of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis to guide us to make peaceful good trouble.

Making community bigger. I’ve appreciated opportunities to meet more people of different skin colors and lived experiences through organizations that are purposefully fighting racism and offering education and conversation. One is Bridge the Divide, another is the YWCA Milwaukee Conversations on Racism series. There are lots of opportunities, podcasts, gatherings with masks/distancing too. Sometimes I’ve been uncomfortable (“Am I saying the right thing the right way?”) but I’ve always been welcomed to conversations. I don’t have to befriend every Black person in Milwaukee (!) to be working toward racial justice — I just do my best to listen and appreciate the folks I do have the chance to meet.

Schools at all levels are a focus for how to teach accurate history of BIPOC in America, history that’s missing in textbooks written by white historians, about the doings of white people. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) is one of the sponsors of The 1619 Act to fund and expand access to extensive resources about African-American history. The push to improve curriculum is coming from parents and students too, speaking truth to educators and school boards.

Every religious faith puts compassion at the heart and core of its values and teachings. Compassion is the foundation of morality in every society. Reaching people through their religious beliefs is one way to start conversations about working for racial justice as a moral act. Why aren’t more religious communities at the forefront in the fight for racial justice?

“Live in peace with everyone.” Hebrews 12:14. “Cultivate kindness.” Proverbs 3:3. “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.” Bible, Mark 12:31.

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Rabbi Hillel the Elder

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

We feel better when we act compassionately. Neurobiology is proving it. In a variety of studies, including using MRI’s to track brain activity, scientists find that doing something helpful for other people activates the same areas of the brain responsible for our making social attachments and bonding with other people. Our brains are hard-wired to find pleasure in making social bonds and connections with other people.

We must also pass laws that make illegal any action based on hate and racial bias. Since some people may never be swayed to a compassionate view of people different from themselves, we must codify compassion into the laws of the land, for the sake of the dignity and respect for all.

“…the way it should be.”

34 stars, 1863

“You want the country to be the way it should be,” a woman named Lou Riggen wrote to my great-grandfather Ed Lybarger when he was a 22-year-old lieutenant in the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, US Army. “I want the country to be the way it was,” Miss Riggen concluded.

In the reading I’ve done about Civil War opinions and politics in order to better understand my great-grandfather’s letters, Miss Riggen’s statements were social code in an era when few people were explicit about anything. What Miss Riggen meant was that my great-grandfather was willing to fight a war to save the Union and end slavery in every state. Miss Riggen meant that she didn’t think it was worth fighting a war over slavery, just let the slave states continue on with their way of life, and let life go on as it had in the North before the war.

50 stars, 2020

I agree with the sentiments of my great-grandfather Ed in the 1860’s.

In the 2020’s, I want to live in a country the way it should be, where:

  • Every person is treated equally and with respect.
  • It’s easy for every citizen to vote, without restriction or suppression.
  • Every voting district is drawn ethically and equitably.
  • Maybe the US has 3 or 4 political parties, giving us a fuller discussion of social solutions.
  • Actions caused by hate are as illegal as we can make them.
  • Policemen live in the communities they serve, and are accountable to those communities when they fail to protect and serve, by use of excessive force.
  • Workers’ unions are supported as much as police unions are.
  • We welcome immigrants, as our immigrant forebears were welcomed to this country, not turned away.
  • We make meaningful reparations to the indigenous Americans whose land and way of life our forebears lied and stole to acquire.
  • Our children carry on less of our racial bias, and their children carry on even less racial bias, and etc.

It’s difficult for me to understand that anyone could purposefully choose not to “hold these truths to be self-evident.”

In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, Ed Lybarger and Lou Riggen (a wartime penpal) arranged to meet for the first time. But their letters ceased, and they never met as far as I know. Ed returned to Millwood, Ohio and married his hometown sweetheart Sophronia Adams, the love of his life. She wanted the country to be the way it should be, too.

I’m grateful to have an ancestor who fought on the right & winning side of the Civil War. He enlisted with his friends at the start of the war in order to preserve the Union and not let George Washington down. I’m grateful that when the fight came down to ending slavery before the South could be defeated and the Union preserved–he stayed in the fight until the Union won and slaves were free men and women. And I’m grateful that he came home alive.

Julian Lewis, 60

Died on Aug. 7, 2020 in Sylvania, Georgia

Julian Lewis, a Black man, was driving on Stoney Pond Road to get his wife Betty a grape soda. When he was pursued by Georgia State Patrol Trooper Jacob Thompson, who is white, for a burned-out taillight, Lewis did not stop. Thompson pursued him, using his patrol car to force Lewis’s car into a ditch. As Trooper Thompson got out of his car, he drew his gun. Claiming to be in fear for his life that Lewis would drive into him, the trooper fired, killing Lewis with one bullet to the head. The next day, Trooper Thompson was fired. On Aug. 14, he was charged by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations with felony murder and aggravated assault.

Joy Reid’s Smile

Joy Reid and her new MSNBC nightly show The ReidOut.

The ReidOut is Black journalist Joy Reid’s new primetime weeknight program on MSNBC. Since Biden announced his VP pick of Kamala Harris, Joy Reid hasn’t stopped smiling. Just hours after the announcement, Reid interviewed a panel of three prominent Black women: a Congresswoman, a national activist, a mayor. Their faces were in separate boxes across the screen and none of them could stop grinning. In answer to Reid’s questions about the significance of Kamala Harris being on the Democratic ticket, they used words like excited, validated, relieved, it’s about time, we’ve got her back. We.

Over the past 4 years, I’d watched Joy Reid on her Saturday morning show AM Joy, and wished it was on at a better hour. Then I watched as she more and more often filled in for other MSNBC hosts. Then one day her hair was short and natural, not its usual, smooth texture. A few days later, her hair was in long braids wound around her head. A few days after that, she had another natural hairstyle. I’m learning that “Afro-centric hairstyles” is an inclusive term for all the variations of textured hair: braids, dreadlocks, afros, etc.

My first reaction was Wow, that must take a lot of work and time. My next reaction was that her on-air presence seemed bigger, more natural and authentic too. Since July 20, 2020, she hosts her own show The ReidOut, a Black woman with an increasingly strong national voice and on-air presence. It turns out that my impression of this transformation is exactly what she intended. She traveled to South Africa in 2018, and wore braids during her trip. Returning on-air, she defied the years of having her hair straightened at the TV studio and kept her hair in braids in front of the camera.

White culture, you may have noticed, has strong explicit and implicit bias against Afro-centric hairstyles. A 2016 study actually found that white women have the strongest bias against textured hair of Black women. There are recent, awful examples of this white prejudice giving a young Black wrestler the option of cutting his dreadlocks or not getting to compete with the team in a championship match, a young Black girl told she couldn’t participate in graduation with her natural braids, etc. There’s a national movement now for every state to approve the CROWN Act — Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair — and make it illegal to discriminate against hairstyles.

Discrimination because of your hair has to be one of the blatant examples of white supremacy in our culture. Can you imagine a blonde woman being discriminated against for her naturally straight long blonde hair, and sent home from work until she styled her hair with dreadlocks?

Joy Reid is the Brooklyn-born daughter of immigrants from Guyana and the Democratic Republic of Congo who wears her textured hair in Afro-centric styles on national TV as part of her own empowerment, and to help empower other Black women. And she intends to use her MSNBC program to find “all of the smartest and most diverse voices in this country…and amplify them and make sure that they do have a place in primetime,” she told reporter Selena Hill for blackenterprise.com in July.

I’m looking forward to how Joy Reid, the 1st generation daughter of immigrants and first Black woman primetime TV news host, helping us all navigate the impact of Kamala Harris being the first Black woman nominated for Vice-president of a national party, herself the 1st generation Oakland, California-born daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India.

Wow.

Today’s Microaggressions

A few days ago I posted about Microaggressions, because I want to learn how to recognize them. Today, the whole country got a nasty example, twice.

Example 1 – After Joe Biden announced that Sen. Kamala Harris was his pick for vice president, the current president called her “nasty” and “disrespectful.” Have you noticed that he tends to accuse his opponents for what are his own worst qualities? And dismiss women? Just saying.

Example 2 – Then on Fox TV, soon after Biden announced his pick, Tucker Carlson mispronounced her name. A white male panelist interrupted to explain that Kamala was pronounced like punctuation, COMMA. Accent on the first syllable: COM-ma-la.

Carlson shrugged off the correction with the comment that it didn’t really matter. He let his disrespect stand against a Democratic woman of color who will be a formidable opponent to the white male incumbent he champions, Mike Pence. “Or whatever,” Carlson said before he changed the subject. I saw this as a clip on another cable news program, not because I watch Carlson or Fox.

I’m looking forward to the Oct. 7 vice-presidential debate, when we’ll all get to see the bi-racial former prosecutor, attorney general, and current US Senator Kamala Harris demolish the white guy.