The Few, the Proud, the Repugnant
High time to clean out the pigpens
By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2014 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
Be advised: the words that follow shall not be sweet. My heart is broken over what occurs in my city and country. I am troubled by the recent spate of deadly police violence in New York and elsewhere in the United States. I am white, and troubled by the ugly dimension of white racism in these crimes.
Many Americans deny white racism. See here, they say, we elected a black president—twice. And yet this is what occurs, again and again and again: white policemen gun down black men, women, and children—and get away with it in court.
A friend suggests I am naïve to “get all worked up” over evidence of yet more pigs in policemen’s clothes. My friend is correct: I naïvely driven to heartbreak. But my friend may not understand that heartbreak is something more than sadness and weeping, and that there is value to naïveté. Naïfs have a capacity for shock and righteous anger, and blind hope.
“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything,” wrote Malcolm X, the late human rights activist assassinated in 1965 here in New York. “They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” As Malcolm counsels, angry people give birth to change. At a minimum just now, it is high time for change in our police departments; it is time clean out the pigpens within—as a starting point in addressing a cultural sickness that holds us back as a people.
Meanwhile, there are laughing men in powerful positions who profit from sickness. They are few in number, they are proud of what they’ve brought us to, and they are repugnant. More about them later.
More than two hundred New Yorkers have been arrested thus far for taking their grievances to the streets in response to the latest whitewash, so to speak, of police crime. Last week—on the very day of funeral services in Cleveland, Ohio, for 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a black boy shot dead at point-blank range by a white cop—a New York jury of inquiry opted not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a 29-year-old white cop who strangled a black man to death.
On the afternoon of July 17, Officer Pantaleo and other prowling cops suspected one Eric Garner of a dastardly crime: peddling loose cigarettes on a street corner—“loosies” in the local parlance. A single loosie goes for the less-than-princely sum of $1.75 (€1.60). The late Mr. Garner was unarmed and non-belligerent. He was a 43-year-old father of six and a doting grandfather who suffered from diabetes, obesity, asthma, and heart disease—and being black.
Officer Pantaleo was part of a New York cop gang that confronted Mr. Garner in broad daylight on that hot summer’s day in Staten Island, whitest of the city’s five boroughs. Officer Pantaleo, a man of medium build, sneaked up behind the refrigerator-sized Mr. Garner and circled his forearms around the large black man’s neck to apply a windpipe-crushing chokehold—a technique banned by the New York Police Department in 1993. Down went Mr. Garner, after which Officer Pantaleo slammed the alleged cigarette vendor’s head against the pavement while his white comrades piled on the overwhelmed suspect, even as he called out—eleven times—“I can’t breathe!”
For more than seven minutes, the dangerous peddler of loosies lay deflated and dying on the pavement. Officer Pantaleo and company loitered nonchalantly, occasionally poking at the incipient corpse and barking at onlookers to move along. The cop gang was aided in nonchalance by another gang, this from the fire department’s Emergency Medical Services unit.
A civilian passerby armed with a smart-phone recorded what the police and E.M.S. gangs did, and failed to do. In a pair of videos, Officer Pantaleo—on plainclothes duty in khaki shorts, scruffy baseball cap, and a green sports jersey with the yellow number 99 emblazoned on his back—is seen loitering and attacking.
You may view the disturbing evidence here:
The videos were presented to the jury of inquiry, whose secret roster presumably viewed what everybody else in world has seen via YouTube. Nevertheless, the nameless jurors declined to indict Officer Pantaleo on any of several logical charges that would have led to trial. All other officers, as well as E.M.S. personnel engaged in gross negligence, were granted prosecutorial immunity in a swap for their testimony. One indictment was handed down, however: a minor weapons possession charge, now pending against a young Latino with a smart-phone.
For the record, the New York jury’s action of December 3 complemented that of a similarly convened inquiry out west in the state of Missouri. Exactly one week earlier, Missouri jurors freed a white cop from charges of homicide, touching off mass protests that continue all over the U.S., in tandem now with the Staten Island killing.
The Missouri slaying also took place in broad daylight on a hot summer’s day. Officer Darren Wilson of the St. Louis working-class suburb of Ferguson blasted six shots, two of them fatal, at a black teenager suspected of shoplifting a packet of inexpensive cigars. Following a chesty argument with now ex-Officer Wilson, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot while fleeing, according to several eyewitnesses interviewed by local media. His bullet-riddled body lay in the street, in the August heat, more than four hours. The white cops of Ferguson—of the fifty-five-man department in a majority black city, three officers are African American—barked at onlookers to stay back, members of the Brown family included. Nobody seemed to have a smart-phone.
On the day after the New York absolution of Officer Pantaleo and friends, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder flew from Washington to Ohio. In Cleveland, he presented the damning findings of a federal investigation into the racism and brutality rampant in that city’s police department. Revealed was a capital-P pigpen.
Mr. Holder’s investigation was spurred by an incident in March of last year, in which a black couple—Malissa Williams, 30, and Timothy Russell, 43—was killed in a hail of one hundred and thirty-seven bullets fired at close range through the windshield of their once-speeding automobile. After a miles-long chase, frenzied cops in an armada of sixty-two squad cars forced the frightened pair to stop in a school parking lot, whereupon they jumped up and down on the fleeing vehicle and commenced firing. Two black people were dead in short order. The white gunmen saw no need of writing a speeding ticket.
Police violence festers within the larger cancer of white racism—an historical curse on America begun by southern plantation masters in the seventeenth century who built immense fortunes thanks to the wage-free labors of kidnapped Africans. Following a spectacularly bloody civil war, fought from 1861 to 1865, captive bondage ended. But one hundred and thirty-three years passed before a U.S. president saw fit to apologize for the profitable institution of slavery. (In 1998, President Bill Clinton was roundly criticized for that apology. The late and unlamented Robert Novak, an acidic journalist of crypto-fascist tendency, called Mr. Clinton’s action “ridiculous.”)
Among white of power and comfort, there is a denial of racism that is bred in the bone. Denials ring touchingly hollow. For instance, the ever popular I-don’t care-if-someone-is-black-green-striped-or-polka-dot. Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times essayist, addressed the complex and contradictory nature of white racism in the contexts of economics, sociology, and law for the November 30 edition of his paper:
My sense is that part of the problem is well-meaning Americans who disapprove of racism, yet inadvertently help perpetuate it. We aren’t racists, yet we buttress a system that acts in racist ways. It’s “racism without racists,” in the words of Eduardo Bonillo-Silva, a Duke University sociologist. …Americans may protest that our racial problems are not like South Africa’s. No, but the United States incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did. In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.
While wealth inequality adversely affects all Americans who dwell outside the precincts of power, the black-white odds of being at the business end of a policeman’s gun is an underappreciated ratio. According to estimates from the F.B.I.’s department of Uniform Crime Reports—estimates acknowledged to have erred on the low side—blacks are twenty-one times more likely to fall from police bullets than whites. Bottom line: Michael Brown, Malissa Williams, and Timothy Russell had good reason to run from white cops; Eric Garner and Tamir Rice might have done the same, not that it would have necessarily saved their hides.
Existential fear leads to panicked flight when a street cop’s opening gambit runs to “Show me your hands, asshole.” White people tend to grasp the reality of this only when distinguished black men such as Attorney General Holder, President Obama, U.S. Senator Corey Booker, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams explain it to them. All these men have known police intimidation; in Mr. Adams’ case, brutality as well.
A retired New York City police officer and former state legislator, Mr. Adams, 54, wrote of himself at age 15—a black boy taken by cops to a pigpen, due to one of the damn-fool thing boys are apt to do. His account appeared in the Times edition of December 5:
I can recall it as if it as if it were yesterday: looking into the toilet bowl and seeing blood instead of urine. …I was arrested on a criminal trespass charge after unlawfully entering and remaining in the home of an acquaintance. Officers took me to the 103rd Precinct [and] brought me into a room in the basement. They kicked me in the groin repeatedly. Out of every part of my body, that’s what they targeted. …For seven days after that, I stared into the toilet bowl in my house at the blood…I kept telling myself that if it didn’t clear up by the next day, I would share this shame and embarrassment with my mother, although I could never bring myself to start that conversation. When clear urine returned, I thought I was leaving that moment behind me. I never told anyone this, not even my mother, until I was an adult. …I didn’t want any more children to go through what I endured, so I sought to make change from the inside by joining the police department.
American democracy is in an oxymoronic state. Consider the coöperative relationship between the rich (and their vassals) and the working stiffs of municipal police departments and legislative bodies. Men like Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson are paid reasonable wages for their time and trouble; city and state politicians, a bit more. Reasonably paid public servants are useful to the ruling class. Wrong cops and venal politicians have the special talents needed to keep the corporatist machine that owns the government running smoothly. And they are handy at manipulating the tools of the powerful—Fear, Control, and Disenfranchisement of The Other. Why share with The Other?
Whether killer cop or political stooge or a member of the power élite, all possess the cunning heart of a cheap thug; all contribute to The Curse that corrodes the nation.
Controlled chaos, a round of police violence now and again, and societal division built around policies that promote racial resentment: such is the formula for right-wing governance in service to that one percent of Americans who own more wealth than we peasants of the ninety percent. (That 1:90 measurement was published in 2012 white paper released by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.)
Ensuring right-wing victory at the polls is vital to the well-being of the few, the proud, and the repugnant. Hence the conspiracy of Republican Tea Party state lawmakers. Over the past two years, thereabouts, these political operatives for the ruling class enacted voting laws designed to suppress turnout in November’s state and federal elections—in particular, among those who tend to vote for candidates of the opposing Democratic Party. Which means people with complexions like those of the late Mr. Brown, Ms. Williams, Mr. Russell, Mr. Rice, and Mr. Garner—and the black family in Washington now residing in an elegant white house on Pennsylvania Avenue, a tenancy that has incited a racist tizzy unseen since bigots felt comfortable saying “nigger” in the halls of Congress.
In New York, the nexus of racist New York cops and Republican Tea Party office-seekers was established by the 1993 mayoral candidacy of Rudy Giuliani, a one-time federal prosecutor. During a disgraceful campaign rally in the park adjacent to City Hall, a flood of white cops faking illness that day (and swilling canned beer) flooded the grounds in support of their man Giuliani. The cops pointed toward City Hall and began a chant meant to rattle the incumbent mayor inside, David Dinkins, who is black.
“Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger!” the cops chanted. Mr. Giuliani could not help but hearing. Yet grinned his creepy grin, and offered no objection to racist ardor.
In Washington, the nexus of white racism and national politics was established on a January night in 2009 in a private dining nook in the Caucus Room steakhouse restaurant. That evening, Mr. Obama was celebrating at inaugural balls around the city. At the Caucus Room, former Congressman Newton LeRoy Gingrich—who prefers to be known as Newt, as in the amphibian newt—hosted a secret gathering of Republican Tea Party leaders who vowed to thwart the new president at every turn, for no apparent reason other than his black skin.
This conspiracy gave rise to a psychopathology we now know as O.D.S. (Obama Derangement Syndrome), and resulted in what one journalist calls “legislative constipation” in Congress. It was and is purposeful constipation, in accordance with Caucus Room vows adopted by the Republican Tea Party rank and file. Instead of attending to laws and policies required for ordinary government operations, we have nonstop partisan sniping, reductionist political rhetoric, and the rise of Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh as chief propagandists for what should rightly be called the Repugnant Party.
Consider the laughing Repugnants:
- Mr. Ailes, president of Fox Television News, has grown wealthy from broadcasting ignorance, disinformation, and racism. He employs fronts for most of this, though he occasionally dives into the right-wing mosh pit. Making use of a venerable racist dog whistle, Mr. Ailes complains that the president is “lazy.”
- Mr. Limbaugh is a millionaire many times over due to the racist appeal of his daily radio show. He often plays a tune of his composition, “Barack the Magic Negro,” as what he believes to be witty musical accompaniment to his broadcasts.
- Mr. Gingrich, on his way to becoming a billionaire huckster of political geegaws, has replaced “nigger” with a euphemism he believes to be a jocular coinage: “Kenyan anti-colonialist.”
- John Boehner, who is briskly paid to run the House of Representatives, opts to do nothing by way of disciplining the most virulent racists in his chamber—among them Congressman Steve King of Iowa, who wants to crack down on brown-skinned immigrants from the “violent civilizations” of Latin America.
- Mitch McConnell, husband of a multi-millionaire Repugnant Party activist, becomes majority leader of the U.S. Senate next month when the new Repugnant-dominated Congress is seated. Shortly after the Caucus Room cabal met, Mr. McConnell announced the party line. “Our top priority,” he proclaimed, “is to make Barack Obama a one-term president.”
Along with ex-Mayor Giuliani, now making millions for flogging shoddy security merchandise via TV advertisements touting fear, these men have succeeded in making a huge slice of this country comfortable with white racism. Racism is not peculiar to my country, of course, but America is peculiarly brash. We sell ourselves as citizens of the noblest and godliest nation the world has ever known, thereby inviting the global spotlight that falls so harshly upon us at this moment.
Not since the days of lynching uppity blacks the Deep South, gala public spectacles that occasioned family picnics beneath the boughs of hanging trees, has homicidal racism been so conspicuous. Nor have apologists for homicidal racism been so plentiful.
As president of New York’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the aptly named Patrick Lynch is a stout defender of the working stiffs who belong to his union. Accordingly, he praises the less-than-benevolent Daniel Pantaleo.
The bristly-haired Mr. Lynch held a press conference on December 4 to thank the jurors responsible for absolving Officer Pantaleo, and to disrespect Mr. Garner, who “made a choice that day to resist arrest.” Mr. Lynch added, “If you can speak, you can breathe.”
Following this rancid sauce, Mr. Lynch served up sympathy for poor Officer Pantaleo. While Mr. Garner’s death was a “tragedy” for his family, said Mr. Lynch, “It’s also a tragedy for a police officer who has to live with that death. …[Officer Pantaleo] is literally—literally an eagle scout, and I think that story isn’t being told.”
Thus far in the story of an eagle scout’s short police career, Officer Pantaleo has cost the city $30,000 (€24,000) to settle a lawsuit in 2012 for the improper strip search of two black “suspects,” carried out in full view of passersby. Two other lawsuits alleging “humiliating” misconduct in 2013, likewise filed by black plaintiffs, are pending against the eagle scout. And this week, attorneys for the Garner family announced their intention to lodge a wrongful death claim against Officer Pantaleo and the City of New York. They seek compensatory and punitive damages totaling $75 million (€60 million).
The Sergeants Benevolent Association is another of New York’s police unions. Its president, Ed Mullins, has called Mayor Bill de Blasio “moronic” for comments regarding the safety of young black men when confronted by white cops. Mayor de Blasio is white. His son Dante is black. As a father, Mr. de Blasio has counseled Dante in the way that male black youths across the country are appropriately counseled by caring parents.
“The statements that [the mayor] has made about being fearful of his son dealing with the police is (sic) really hypocritical and moronic,” said Mr. Mullins in a radio interview. “He [de Blasio] may want to think about moving out of New York…He just doesn’t belong here.”
Anger, as Malcolm X suggested, has a societal value as important as naïveté. Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, is an angry woman. Her response to Daniel Pantaleo’s apology for the fatal strangulation of her husband was as eloquent as it was defiant. On the other hand, the apology of an eagle scout was pathetic.
“I became a police officer to help people,” Officer Pantaleo said in a statement written for him by someone from his union’s public relations department. “It is never my intention to harm anyone, and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers, and I hope they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
Esaw Garner’s reaction should inspire hope and change. There is energy in her words, and a cleansing light in the prism of her widow tears.
“No, I don’t accept [Officer Pantaleo’s] apology,“ said Ms. Garner during an appearance at the National Action Network, a civil rights organization in Harlem. “I could care less about his condolences. He’s still working. He’s still getting a paycheck. He’s still feeding his kids…[M]y husband is six feet under, and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now. The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling to breathe,”
She added, “I’m going to keep on fighting for justice, for what’s right. I’m going to keep fighting until I die. I don’t accept that apology. Hell no!”
Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag