NWA + Black Lives Matter Postscript

by Joshua B. Hoe  Two developments happened since I wrote my two pieces on Straight Outta’ Compton…

  1. Hillary meets Black Lives Matter

To review, NWA started this thread by putting out a movie...One of the themes that made them so important was police violence in the inner cities...This got me to Black Lives Matter...and now that gets us to Hillary Clinton (who just met with Black Lives Matter last week).

I want to be with Hillary here...I really do...Basically, what she did was go all ‘policy wonk’ on them and suggest that “while their critique was good, she was uncertain about what their PLAN was (my debate peeps will appreciate this).

My first take is that she was being pretty condescending...Kind of like she was trying to educate them about the wily ways of politics. I also think, it was pretty clear that she sees them as precocious kids who just need someone like a former Sec. of State to smartin’ them up....(my impression of HC “Once you have been around as long as I have, and have seem movements come and go, you will understand that the point is really to make policy proposals yungins”)

Could Hillary Have Figured Out Black Lives Matter’s Political Agenda?

My second take, and I suspect that this is the truer one, is that she has no fucking idea what they are really about. Hell, I am not entirely sure that I entirely get it myself (they certainly do not consult me lol), but, I am not the one agreeing to meet with them.

I think I can guess pretty well what they were after (and she could have guessed):

  • Some kind of very specific police reform that makes black neighborhoods feel protected instead of as if their residents are constantly under suspicion or in constant risk of experiencing ‘death by police’
  • Maybe an official government statement that reaffirms the value of Black Lives or at least recognition from Democratic candidates that they believe that Black Lives should be protected by the Government
  • Real, not the usual, sentencing and prison reform. At the very least, some confirmation that Hillary will push to get rid of mandatory minimums for drug offenses.
  • Meaningful educational reforms operating on a model that isn’t primarily concerned with punishing teachers for poor performance etc. Where parents in all US neighborhoods at least can see a world in which equal access to education is possible

I mean, I suspect they have a larger agenda (support for entrepreneurship in the inner cities maybe?)….But, I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out what they are looking for.

You Want a Plan, I’ll Give You A Plan

As for the police reform piece (that started this three part series)..and in the spirit of Sec. Clinton ask for policy proposals...

If I were suggesting police reforms I would emphasize these ideas:

  • The creation of independent prosecutors for all police abuse or deadly force cases - prosecutors who are entirely independent (not prosecutors who are simply from another jurisdiction - those would still be entirely in bed with the police and police unions). I would suggest an independent ombuds in every state.
  • Reform of all statutes that allow cases to be resolved only by the “reasonable person” standard. In most states, all an officer has to do is prove that they reasonably believed that they were in danger at the time they used deadly force to go free. This very low bar makes it virtually impossible to ever prosecute a police officer for the use of deadly force (you should check out that link, it is a great article).
  • The insistence on police review boards not only including civilians, but also including a makeup of review board members that reflect the diversity of the served communities. In other words, local people of color should be included on review boards
  • Probably a decent idea to get rid of broken-windows style policing and replace it with community style policing.
  • I guess body cameras are fine, although I doubt they will fix the problems..I sincerely doubt they will be the panacea that most commentators seem to think that they will be

I would also create some better mechanism for the police to be able to air grievances and to get relief for PTSD and stress.

Many officers have faced life altering and terrible situations that can color (pun intended) how they approach policing in the future. The quality of the support services should be world class (and taxpayers should pay for them).

I would make sure police are paid, paid decently, and that they have good health care.

Oh, and I would legalize drugs...I don’t do drugs (I will willingly submit to  voluntary testing anytime)...I think the drug war is responsible for 95% of all violence and virtually all of the resentment in the inner cities of this country. Anyone who has read my book knows that I don’t believe punishment solves addiction….Most always it makes the excesses of addiction worse.

Hillary, Come On, Seriously?

Anyway, back to Hillary...

The idea that the problem with Black Lives Matter is a political agenda that is lacking seems a bit crass on Hillary’s part.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that America has spent the last four decades trying to take a tax holiday on the backs of the poor and underserved.

Everyone knows we have made the inner cities bear the brunt of the costs of all of our anger and rage (as well as to cover up widespread responsibility for drug use in this country). The inner city has been a convenient scapegoat and a place for white america to point and show how tough we are on crime. Inner cities have also been defunded for decades and have education systems that have been left to basically rot. Just stop it, we all know what the problems and the policy agenda should be.

A Quick Detour Into What Causes Police Use of Deadly Force

BTW: Police use of deadly force probably has the following triggers (and more?):

  1. Legitimate responders to situational violence - We probably all have different ideas of when the use of deadly force is appropriate. However, we all probably do understand that the majority of police shootings probably come from trying to prevent crimes, protect citizens, or protect police officers from violence. Please pay attention, I am serious, the vast majority of police shootings are probably based in the legitimate use of force. This clearly does not excuse the many instances when the use of force is not legitimate.
  1. PTSD Sufferers - I suspect many officers who have been in bad shooting situations are changed forever, I suspect many of them likely have overreacted or underreacted in later confrontations. Police have to face life and death situations all the time and are often faced with impossible choices. The results can affect the police involved for the rest of their lives.
  1. The Red Badge of Courage - Okay, remember Saving Private Ryan? The translator character (Uppum) is faced with being killed violently and turns coward...then later faces a similar situation and turns hero. I think most people have no idea how they will react until they are under fire, and the results can be good, bad, or really bad. I imagine for some officers, the first reaction is bad. For many, the first reaction is good. And for a small number, it is really bad.
  1. The Notorious Frat Hazers - Some people get into police work for the wrong reasons. Like frat guys who like hazing just a little too much...these officers are probably well known even within the bonds of the police fraternity (If you watch the Wire, Herc and Walker kind of fit in this category).
  1. Actual racist cops - These obviously do exist, and some might have been created by PTSD...But, they do actually exist….and they also are probably well known within the bonds of the police fraternity (Wire fans will remember Colicchio as one of these kind of cops).

Bad uses of force have many causes (not just racism) and reform needs to address all of these.

And Now, Crazy People are Killing Police Officers (AWFUL)

And obviously, the meaningful discussion of reform  will all now be complicated by vigilantism (maybe the wrong term...unjust and insane retaliation?) against police...which is a terrible because these reforms and the ones the Black Lives Matter movement are pushing for have needed to happen for decades.

It is also terrible for the police, both because vigilantism/unjust retaliation will almost always happen against police who had nothing to do with racist violence (and would be wrong even if it didn’t)...and because reform would be good for the police and for the neighborhoods that they patrol. It is also sad for the same reason the unjust killing of anyone is sad...black or white...police or civilian...rich or poor.

At the core of who we ought to be is caring about the life of every single person we share the planet with. If they have problems, we should get them help. But, no matter who they are, they should not be gunned down in the streets indiscriminately. Violence is not the right response.

In case people are still confused, Black Lives Matter is a political response to the lack of basic consideration given to black citizens relative to other (white) citizens across this country...Black Lives Matter is spoken outloud because speaking it gives LIE to the idea that All LIVES MATTER NOW...People supporting Black Lives Matter are not saying all lives do not matter...they only want to matter the same amount.

So, I am saying this, explicitly stating that I do not, in any way, intend to say it in a way that suggests that Black Lives are equally valued in our society...or as a comparison with the Black experience in America.

But, police lives matter as well. They have much better legal protections, no doubt, but that does not mean they should be randomly and indiscriminately gunned down in the streets or at gas stations.  Indiscriminate violence is not the right response, civil disobedience, non-violent protest, legal reforms (including changing how politics works), bearing witness with cell phones and cameras, refusing to let the protests end...That is the way to respond.

"Black Lives Matter" Is Not Responsible for Crazy People Killing Police Officers

Unfortunately, Black Lives Matter will be blamed for the vigilante backlash by the police unions, Fox News, and conservatives (when they obviously had nothing to do with these acts even metaphorically)...It will become yet another political football launched by race-baiters like Donald Trump (with a sly wink) to keep the pockets of angry white people enraged countrywide.

And here is the disconnect, people will blame Black Lives Matter for fomenting the kind of anger that results in revenge killings. That is pretty obviously bullshit (but you will hear it anyway). Ferguson happened BEFORE there was a Black Lives movement...The reason some people join Black Lives, some protest in the streets, and some lash-out is that they do not feel:

  1. Protected in their own neighborhoods - they feel like suspects at all times not citizens
  2. That the Police care about them or their neighborhoods
  3. That Police abuses are met with justice

It would be insane to assume that anger in inner city neighborhoods is somehow “run” by Black Lives Matter, or that the Black Lives Movement is the voice of the people lashing-out. Stop settling for easy but inaccurate narratives that meet your political agenda (Fox et al).

To make this about Black Lives Matter...Yes, even when you show videos of a few outliers saying terrible things about police, misses the point...Black Lives Matter came from out of real anger in inner city communities of color...Black Lives Matter is both a safety valve and a mechanism for authentic political protest...The alternative to Black Lives Matter is anger without outlet.

The people walking down the street wishing violence on police are either people who are very irresponsible or people whose anger has been building towards the police for a very long time. For the people who are just playing protester and having fun breaking taboos...Stop it….But to blame the larger movement for these outliers is just another example of cherry picking from the bottom of the barrel to discredit a movement.

This does not in any way excuse the people doing these awful things….awful.

The whole thing also smacks of the classic creation of a convenient scapegoat - for decades police violence, the drug war, and the economic isolation in the inner city caused anger which finally boiled over into violence (but the vast majority still stay non-violent)…..OR…..Black Lives Matter started saying things about police violence and therefore, police started getting targeted.

Hmmmmmmm...which makes more sense?

That said, there should be NO celebration of any of this...on either side of the blue line. I am NOT saying anything about these killings is good...I am clearly saying it should end. But the scapegoating should also end.

Anyway, Hillary Clinton asked for a plan...I gave her a plan…I could say much more but probably enough for now.

  1. Dre Apologizes

I hate to admit this, but I had no idea of Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women.

Yes, I have been to prison...Yes, my crime would be categorized in a similar way...But, to be totally transparent, my crime did not involve physical contact. The last time I physically touched anyone in a violent manner was defending myself on the playground in early elementary school. So, to me, it was surprising to find this out.

I Digress (As Usual)

<A few people might comment...yes, I was involved in a shouting match in a basketball game after someone landed on my neck...But, not violence actually took place...Yes, I was involved in a standoff at a club once..but no violence actually took place>.

<also, I am not taking a position on what actual violence means or how it can occur...I am talking only about physically committing violence on another person face-to-face...I am aware violence can occur through words etc.>

<yes, I have occasionally made myself look tougher than I am...by far...I have lived in the inner city, I have been in a million dangerous places, I never got in fights...who knows why>

<No, I have no idea how I survived prison without physical violence...I seriously don’t (but I am thankful every day). In fairness, I did get my ass absolutely kicked every day on the basketball court (the stories about prison basketball are true)>.

The Apology

I guess I was glad that Dr. Dre apologized...But, I kind of wish he had done it before the movie was released (and yes, I have engaged in the amends process myself).

I understand that for many people in this country, an apology is never enough. And, in all honesty, the actions that accompany apologies are almost always more important than the apologies themselves. I certainly do not agree, for obvious reasons, with anyone who thinks people should be written off after they make mistakes...But, we all have amends to make...not just apologies.

I am not saying or suggesting that Dre’s apology was insincere at all, I do think it, however, LOOKS less sincere when you only publish it when your movie is getting backlash for mostly erasing the violent incidents from the movie entirely.

Can You Go Back Again?

I certainly know from experience, that once you commit certain acts, you never entirely go back. I also know these experiences can fundamentally change people (not all people change, but many do).

One thing I have learned is that no matter what my core ethics were, no matter what my life work and experience said, in particular moments I was basically capable of anything. Maybe, Dr. Dre learned this lesson too?

Kind of like I said above, when people are tested, sometimes they fail….Often, in those failures, we learn a great deal about ourselves apply lessons and figure out how to align our behaviors and our ethics...Sadly, sometimes people are incapable of such reforms.

But, for those that do reform, the things you did never go away...You can be a great person, but, you will factually always be a great person who did a terrible thing. You can change, but history is history. I try to focus most of my energy on the being a better person part of the equation myself.

And, in a larger sense, it is pretty important to readmit reformed people of all stripes to the community of personhood. I do not say this purely from self interest.

Taking the Issue of Violence Seriously

If you just take the issue of violence against women, Criminal Justice and Public Health studies come up with vastly different results but the number of rapes in the United States is anywhere between 1.9 million per year to 350,000 rapes per year (either number is horrific). Domestic violence statistics suggest that one out of every three woman is at least slapped by a partner while one in four are seriously hurt by a partner. I am not even looking into other forms of sexual or physical violence against women (trust me, this is the tip of the iceberg)

The problem is that the way we deal with this problem (generally) is to take a sensationalistic case involving a charismatic or celebrity abuser or victim, socially banish the perpetrator, and then pretend that the job is done. If the stats are correct, 10’s of millions of women are affected annually. And 10’s of millions of men, most who will never face any kind of court, are abusing women annually.

This is an epidemic...and as an epidemic, it cannot be dealt with as if it is a localized problem caused by “those - nose in air - people over there” - The enemy is us...as in men...almost all men. If you feel that is not you, it may still be you...seriously.

This is not a problem that a discussion between the talking heads...a new set of laws...or one sensationalistic banishment can remotely solve (Comedian Louie CK has a whole bit about how it is absolutely astounding that any woman goes on dates because the biggest health risk to every woman...and he is right...is a man, not cancer, not ebola, not ISIS...men).

In this environment, where violence against women is very close to the norm (and hardly exceptional) we have to reconsider our entire approach towards education, sex education, socialization...everything. Unfortunately, our general response when facing a crisis is to either to pretend the problem doesn’t exist or pass legislation that seems TOUGH but is poorly considered and extremely unlikely to make any lasting difference.

Punishment is certainly deserved, but the problem isn’t how to remove a few bad apples, the problem is a society that trains people to see women as both people and as objects. They are always both “beautiful” and “thoughtful.” Almost always, men see attractiveness as the more important of the two (watch the 11 Angry Men episode of this year’s “Inside Amy Schumer” show for a better idea of what I am talking about - genius)

It seems to me that there are two major problems that we have to address:

  1. Women are always judged against their attractiveness and their capabilities
  2. Men are raised with a set of values and expectations vis a vis women that socialize them in bad ways. And men, grow up feeling a great deal of shame and confusion about sex and sexuality that they feel they can never discuss (because they are supposed to be strong).

Amy Schumer Take a Bow

I just mentioned the 11 Angry Men episode of Amy Schumer’s (mostly) amazing show.

Schumer’s comedy mostly lives in the question - What would men do if they got everything that they want from women?

The comic Schumer character is the woman who is almost gleefully down for anything...sports, beer, even taboo sex...she wants to please...and what does she get in return for being the dream woman?

She is either told that she is not attractive enough for whatever she is trying to accomplish or she is punished for enjoying whatever she is gleefully embracing at the behest of men.

Probably the most disappointing thing about Trainwreck (her successful movie this summer) was that she finally ended up with the guy...as if the point of all of the travails her character has faced was a traditional happy ending with a nice guy.

Charlie Brown never kicks the football...It is always pulled away right before he gets to kick it.

The whole potency of her comic character is that men fundamentally don’t, at their core, love women...That the goalposts will always move...That the problem is with men….That women should not spend their whole lives doing everything and anything to please men because men will never be pleased….That even “nice” men are kind of assholes.

I do not think she created  the character as part of a narrative where the character lives happily ever after...I think the character is a cautionary tale telling women to live their own fucking lives and stop trying to please men...she is, I think, saying that pleasing men a hollow exercise where men will always move the goalposts.

Again, it is a societal problem...and her character exposes that….there is something rotten in Denmark...And the answer to that problem isn’t to try to cover up the smell with the usual Fabreze of “Love Conquers All”

In other words, her character should remain a valuable irritant.

The real truth of Trainwreck, if it had been true to the rest of her comedy, is that Women...no matter how they appear...are not the Trainwreck at all. Men’s habitual and constant judgement and evaluation of women is.

Until we men except that women do not exist to please or meet our aesthetic or moral standards or sexual desires...Until we accept that they exist to BE THEMSELVES...And that we men should accept and love THEM for THEM the problems will not end.

Schumer is trying (and I hope succeeding at some level)...but, mostly people just talk about the wacky situational comedy she engages in….so sad.

(BTW, have you noticed that when Amy is interviewed, they always talk about how brilliant her show is but never ever talk about the point of view or delve into the sexual politics of it...and it is a very political show….hmmmm)

Punishment is Only Part of an Answer

To reiterate, I do think people who commit violent acts should be punished. But, here is the problem, in virtually all cases, those punished people will come back to society….We, as a society, are responsible for reintegration not just punishment if we want to change sexual violence statistics in any real way. Being tough will not change the fact that a great deal of violence is the result of shame….Piling shame on people who are triggered by shame is about as stupid as stupid can be.

I get that so few men get prosecuted for violence against women (considering the scope of the problem) that talking about post-punishment seems premature. But, millions are prosecuted, and they will return. And, since most people will not likely be punished...A larger discussion has to start.

And, more importantly, if you put every single male who has ever been abusive to a woman in prison today, it would not solve the problem. The problem is cultural, it is not bad apples. If it were not societal, it would not be so widespread. There have to be real social changes in the ways that we approach this question and a cognitive retraining in men. Just bandying slogans like “it is never right to hit a woman” will not get the job done (the sentiment is correct but the results prove it is not enough).

In talking with other people who have had problems with these issues (yes, this is anecdotal) a huge difference can be made simply by changing the way you think situationally. In situations where my immediate reaction is to see nothing but attractiveness (when I see a woman) it was very helpful to create the mental discipline to immediately question those thoughts...To immediately start asking mental questions about the person I was seeing that made them a subject not just an object.

To do this, I had to be invested in being a better person and in caring about becoming a better person...That also did not happen because of shame.

Over time, even engaging in such cognitive reprocessing can make a massive difference (I have seen it in my life and in the lives of others). I am sure not saying that this is enough, but, I am saying it is a start. I think if parents had more conversations  with male kids about not just the act of sex, but the nature of consent and the personhood and subjectivity of potential partners a great deal of progress could be made.

Most violence starts from a very small thinking error...the moment we start to be able to stop seeing people as “subjects” (as like us) and start seeing them as “things we can use” (objects) for our own ends. Any education that helps people (especially when people are growing up) cut through the confusion and shame and keep at the center the idea that people are always subjects could make a world of difference.

But I am also saying that punishment should never be the end of the discussion.

Problems are never solved by punishing people. People deserve punishment, but punishment is rarely corrective.

Even people who get life in prison or the death penalty still have the potential to hurt people. If you like it or not, after punishment most everyone who gets punished is returning to neighborhoods across this country….For some reason, we have decided that isolating and heaping shame on returning prisoners is a solution...From my experience, and I am experienced, shame is the trigger.

To return to the specific example, it might make everyone temporarily feel better to shun Dr. Dre. His apology might be BS...I don’t know the man. But, shunning him or shaming him will not protect the next woman from the next man who is angry...and it might not stop him from hitting someone again (he says he has reformed and I certainly hope that he has).

I think a better approach would be to ask Dr. Dre (now that he has said he cares about reforming...and in the nature of accepting his apology) what he is doing to better understand the problems he was having and what he will be doing, given his massive cultural influence, to help other men confront the same problems?

Use Your “Massive” Platform Dre

I certainly hope that now that his cat is out of his bag, given the massive size of his podium...he doesn’t just apologize and move on. He could really use this opportunity to learn and grow and make a difference in the understanding, prevention, and treatment of violence against women.

I mean this is Dr. Dre, maybe the Michael Jordan of hip-hop….He has huge influence on the rap world, on the biggest company around (Apple), and on music. This is one of the few people on the face of planet earth who can stop the traffic.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if he saw this as an opportunity to reflect on how he was able to change the world around the subject of race in America...On how, despite his many great qualities and his massive success, he was still capable of making serious mistakes in his own life. How, knowing all of this, he could marshal his forces to really talk to men in America from the perspective of someone who has made mistakes too.

I mean when the NFL decided to get serious about violence against women you saw some PSA’s and a press conference where they hired some women who were experts on the subject...But, since then, have you gotten any feeling that the NFL gives two damns about the issue (outside of immediately firing anyone who is arrested with domestic violence charges)?  

I hope Dr. Dre’s apology is the start of something more...but, I suspect it will be just another Roger Goodell presser...That would be a real shame.

What do you think about the Dre Apology or Hilary’s meeting with Black Lives Matter? We/I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.