This week’s Extra! Extra! takes us back to the state where George Floyd died to check on the progress towards justice. We take a look at some of the implausible stories concocted by the same people who ask us to believe them when their body cams mysteriously fall off. We look about what’s happening — or what’s not happening, as the case maybe — on addressing corruption, police brutality and immigration. And, of course, because the threat of Covid still looms large, a look at how the virus continues to impact our lives.
But, first, a note/reminder: Extra! Extra! is a column devoted to sharing and trying to make sense of the news every week but, in this moment especially, we know that talking just isn’t enough. Rise Up Get Down: A Benefit for Queer Futures is a great opportunity to support the women, trans and/or non-binary people whose action drives our headlines. If you register now, you’ll be treated to comedy sets from El Sanchez and Jes Tom, a reading by Junauda Petras-Nasah and a performance from Be Steadwell!, all while supporting the work of Women for Political Change in Minneapolis. We can’t think of a better way to close Pride Month. See you there!
The Room Where It Happened
Himani: These first two articles demonstrate, very strongly, how entrenched racism is in law enforcement as a whole. That a correctional superintendent didn’t think twice about segregating his staff is galling. Did he think the officers would mistreat Chauvin? Did he think that Chauvin needed to be specially protected in some way? No matter how you look at it, it’s disgusting. And over in the PD, the fact that the head of the police union seems utterly incapable of admitting that what happened to George Floyd was rooted in systemic racism is deeply troubling. As Minneapolis council member Steve Fletcher put it: “What I heard was someone who couldn’t say that what happened to George Floyd was bad, he said what happened to George Floyd looked bad. If we can’t even start from that place, we really don’t have a set of common values to work with.”
But perhaps what really stood out to me was the very end of the second article which makes a passing reference to an uptick in shootings in Minneapolis and the notion that defunding the police will make that situation worse. Immediately I recalled a series on the reduction in gun violence in Oakland, CA run by The Guardian last year. In a nutshell: gun violence has gone down drastically and consistently in a region that has historically had high rates of gun violence because of — you guessed it — investment in community programs. This notion that law enforcement and the criminal justice system in its current incarnation will protect communities is and has always has been patently false. In fact, while crime and gun violence as a whole went down in Oakland, police brutality didn’t.
Which brings us to the third article. All of us who are not Black must reckon with how to, in practical terms, live without calling the police. And while that commitment cannot wait, it is problematic – to say the least – that community investment isn’t happening. At the most basic level, housing needs to be a guaranteed, basic human right, with no contingencies on “staying sober” or whatever else. That has been proven to work, again and again.
Rachel: I can’t echo enough everything Himani said — I’ve been fascinated by that NYT article about the Powderhorn Park Sanctuary, especially as someone based in Minneapolis. This piece is, I think, a pretty good sketch of the recent historical context of what Powderhorn Is like, as well as the inherent tensions around the sanctuary. I didn’t see totally made clear in here that many of the people now settling in Powderhorn were displaced from the previous sanctuary at the Sheraton hotel, where they were evicted by the property owner who wanted to develop the building – so these are people who have been multiplely displaced: from an original housing situation and then again by a property owner who valued the possibility of future profit over their stability.
One thing I find myself thinking a lot reading that article is Angela Davis’ edict that “prisons don’t disappear social problems, they disappear human beings.” The reason it needs to be stated at all, of course, is that for white residents of areas like Powderhorn, police & prisons do disappear social problems from their personal lives — realities like addiction or housing crises can remain abstract, because police can forcibly relocate them out of sight, regardless of the cost to the actual people experiencing those things. What white Powderhorn residents are now experiencing is how much more difficult it is when you can’t wave a wand and pretend those things go away! They have the option to give up on this newer, harder way of relating to community, as their neighbors feel they might; they could also take on the understanding that if they can’t disappear these social problems, they have a vested interest in addressing them at the root, because what’s harming their neighbor necessarily also impacts them, and grow from a mindset of tolerance to one of active solidarity. We can hope!
Who You Gonna Believe: the Cops or Your Lyin’ Eyes?
Natalie: Both of these stories just strain credulity and yet, the Shake Shack story was everywhere and hit the franchise with another round of bad publicity — after taking and returning $10M intended for small businesses — that it really didn’t need. The news swallowed the NYPD’s story about how they’d been “intentionally poisoned” and were “under attack” without even considering how preposterous the notion was. And then, when the truth came out: when the lie was exposed for the lie that it is, there were no apologies, no retractions, neither Shake Shack nor the accused employee filed a defamation lawsuit…we just accepted it and moved on.
And then there’s this Starbucks story in LA which is so obviously false, it hardly seems worth repeating…but a FOX reporter does, the union chimes in and an investigation starts…and then the story just disappears. No one asks why an officer lied (or why he’s a grown-ass man who doesn’t know what a tampon looks like) or why the union stood behind a story that was so obviously a lie or why a local reporter is carrying water for the police…nope, the story just quietly disappears and we’re supposed to pretend like that never happened.
But, for me, this begs two questions: 1. how is it possible that these are the people we pay to solve crimes? and 2. why on earth should I believe a single word a cop utters about what happened to Elijah McClain or Breonna Taylor or Carlos Ingram Lopez, when they can’t even be honest about a fuckin’ trip to the Steak Shake?
Natalie: I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what it is but there’s one tidbit in this story that genuinely surprised me…in hindsight, it’s unsurprising, perhaps — the love of institutions of white supremacy are often conditional — but it still was unprepared for the revelation.
Natalie: I’ve been following this story out of Pittsburgh mostly because we’re seeing some version of this story play out in cities across the country, including in my home state of North Carolina. We’ve seen police accuse protesters of aggression, pen them in and then pelt them with tear gas and rubber bullets in cities across the country. In rare instances, we get investigations (like in Charlotte) that both seem like a step towards accountability and a step away from transparency. But even rarer than that are moments like this one where a commissioner and mayor are willing to admit their missteps and apologize for having believed the officers that work for them.
It’s a far cry from the optimal response — restitution to those protesters for the harm caused and firing for every officer that participated in the atrocity and/or subsequently lied about what happened — but I guess we’ve got to start somewhere.
The View From Washington, DC
Natalie: Along with US Soccer’s recent decision to rescind their policy which called on players wearing the crest to stand during the national anthem, federation president Cindy Parlow Cone apologized for the policy being instituted in the first place.
“In 2017, when we passed the policy, the board’s discussion centered around the national anthem and the perceived disrespect for the flag, and we missed the point completely,” Parlow Cone admitted. “It wasn’t ever about the flag. It was and is about fighting police brutality and the racial injustices in our society. And it’s about seeing and believing and standing with our black and minority communities that fight injustices.”
US Soccer, of course, wasn’t alone with conflating Colin Kaepernick’s protests (subsequently taken up by Megan Rapinoe) with disrespect for the flag. Despite Kaepernick’s willingness to explain the meaning behind his protests and his willingness to adjust his form of protest, at the urging of a military veteran, that notion persisted. It took until the death of George Floyd for some quarters to understand what Kaepernick had been saying all along. Imagine how much grief could’ve been averted if we just believed and listened to black people.
I mention all that because it seems like history’s repeating itself. People using their discomfort with the “defund the police” wording — including a frustrating number of Democrats — to excuse inaction on the issue of police brutality. Once again, instead of just believing and listening to the activists who have been explaining what “defund the police” actually means, they dismiss the whole movement or suggest, as Majority Whip Jim Clyburn did recently, that folks that advocate for defunding are “hijacking the movement.” Time will show us who the real hijackers are…I’m just heartbroken thinking about the lives we’ll lose at the hands of police before that happens.
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 20, 2020
Himani: How many times has this happened now? Too many fucking times. And every time it leaves me speechless. This is the American democracy that all other democracies are supposed to bow down to in awe? It’s in the name of this democracy that millions of people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia – I’m sure this list is much longer. I can’t even.
Natalie: I don’t have much to say on this, except to this: this story broke last Friday night. Last night, an additional story broke about how Bill Barr used the Attorney General’s office to act at the president’s personal attorney and fixer, a la Roy Cohn. This is egregious and, in a circumstance where we had a government, dedicated to upholding the rule of law, Bill Barr would be immediately removed from office. Instead, though, this story is just another in a long line of gross abuses of power by this administration…so frequent that they barely capture our attention anymore.
Himani: This has been an incredibly turbulent couple of weeks when it comes to immigration. As we covered last week, the Supreme Court upheld DACA (while leaving the door open to future challenges to the protection). And then this week the court turned right around and, essentially, upheld the administration’s gutting of asylum. And somewhere, in the middle of all that, Trump suspended Green Cards and most work visas for the rest of the year.
All of this has unfolded on the heels of a renewed interest among non-Black Americans in truly confronting the police brutality that has ravaged Black communities for centuries. Of course, anti-Black violence and racism is an issue that I care about deeply. But being faced with both sets of news in a relatively short time frame has put into relief for me the reality that sympathy truly can only take you so far. To have lived an experience and to have known and felt it viscerally can never compare to all the reading and all the watching of documentaries and listening to other people’s stories. That doesn’t mean that one can’t or shouldn’t care about issues that don’t affect them personally – I absolutely don’t mean that. But there is something to be said for the fact that it truly just does feel different when it’s personal.
So what can I say about this news? Selfishly, I can only think of my friends who just skated by and got their Green Cards a few weeks ago after a decade and a half of uncertainty. I think about the people I’ve met over the course of my adulthood who are relying on visas and only wonder what’s going to happen to them. I think about the various LGBTQ+ South Asians I’ve met over the last couple of years describing the impossibility of living openly in their immigrant communities in America, with the unstated understanding that being in America is itself what makes life possible in the first place. I think about the man I saw get deported when I volunteered as part of an immigration accompaniment and know that all of this has already been happening, will continue to happen. I think, always, about my friend who carefully sends me a copy of her naturalization papers and her plans whenever she’s driving across red states like Pennsylvania or traveling overseas alone, who taught me how to use ICE’s detainee locator, just in case.
And somewhere deep inside me, in a place I try not to look at too hard but always simmers just below the surface of my conscience, I think about the fact that even US citizens have gotten rounded up in deportations, have been denaturalized, have had fewer and fewer means to represent themselves, and what the hell does that even mean for me?
Often, very often, I find myself thinking about a distant relative A., now a US citizen, who came to this country through one of these visa programs herself and voted proudly for Trump in 2016. Who is virulently anti-Black racist and Islamophobic and regularly bribes cops to leave her alone when she hosts loud, house parties. Who said, more or less explicitly, that he wouldn’t go after us because we’re not those immigrants. And then I think about Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani who were killed barely a month after Trump was inaugurated. Immigration activists have been saying this for years – in the eyes of a MAGA-hat wearing make-America-white-again adherents, there is no such thing as a “good” immigrant. Does A. understand that yet?
The truth is that racism is a spectrum that ties all of our destinies together. The idea that staying on the right side of white supremacy was a zero-sum game where upper-caste, Hindu, educated, wealthy Indians and similarly educated and wealthy Chinese immigrants could win if they just screwed over all the Latinx and African and Caribbean and Southeast Asian and low income immigrants and asylum-seekers and subscribed to anti-Blackness – well, that lie has just been laid bare.
It feels so trite to say, but truly this is all I have at this moment: We are none of us free until all of us are free.
Natalie: I can’t add much to what Himani’s said here but I will acknowledge that a few weeks ago, in this very space, I talked about how Republicans have, traditionally, been fervent in their support of the H1B. I wondered, “if [Republicans will] let go of yet another of their convictions to give the president red meat for his bigoted base ahead of the 2020 elections.”
Well, wonder no more: the silence from Republicans on this issue this week was deafening.
Natalie: It’s a running joke in my family that if ever things get really bad here, we could just decide to move back to Germany — where half of my family is from — and now the administration’s gone and ruined our escape plan.
Natalie: This and the brief the administration submitted to the Supreme Court last night to end Obamacare and its protections are jarring reminders of this administration’s unending capacity for cruelty.
Natalie: The grifter-in-chief has inspired so many people.