A Definition of Systemic Racism: Why Trump, Barr and Cotton Have No Clue

When white Republicans like President Trump, Attorney General William Barr or Senator Tom Cotton deny the existence of systemic racism in police departments, they have no idea what that term means. Racism can be broken down into three components:  1) conscious/explicit racists beliefs and actions, 2) unconscious/implicit racist beliefs and actions; and 3) systems of beliefs, rules, practices and structures, some of which may not be obviously recognized as racist. All are part of systemic racism, but it’s perhaps the third element that people are most ignorant about.

If you look at many existing dictionary definitions of racism, there’s an emphasis on individual and conscious acts of discrimination or prejudice or racial animus and hatred*. In 2020, most Americans, even many racist white Americans would NOT publicly acknowledge such views or acts; in other words, the dictionary definition doesn’t describe the way racism works in today’s society. Even when racist whites slip up and reveal their racism, they deny that’s what in their “hearts.”

There are indeed a myriad of ways whites deny the existence of racism: Some whites believe that racism can’t exist because even the racists don’t act in ways described by the dictionary definitions. Other whites believe racism doesn’t exist because they have not seen it, which is as valid as my saying I’ve never seen the Indian Ocean so it must not exist. Some say they haven’t heard complaints about racism from their one black friend or the black people they know; whites like this don’t realize that black people and other people of color know that to keep their jobs and/or avoid more stress in their lives, they often chose to remain silent about the racism they experience or the racism in the institution or business they’re a part of. In many instances, they calculate that saying something true about their racial experiences or systemic racism will not bring change, it will only bring approbation and punishment. Again, this silencing of black and brown people is systemic and is one of the tools through which the status quo of racial inequities protects itself.

And of course, many whites simply don’t want to see and so do not; they don’t know any black people, don’t want to know any black people, and don’t believe black people when black people point to racial injustices. Such white people are programmed by white supremacy not to believe the word of black and brown people unless validated by a white seal of approval. This is one reason why the presence of white protestors has the potential of changing white minds in ways black or brown voices alone did not. But though this is a positive, this mechanism of change relies on the belief and practice that white people are the arbiters of truth. Thus, black and brown people must come to whites as supplicants not just to the power of whites politically, economically, socially and culturally but as epistemological inferiors who can never be the ultimate arbiters and validators of the truth. This positioning is systemic and not individual; it is a basic foundation of white supremacy. So:

We know that there is conscious or explicit bias, like the old definition of racism. And there is a systemic practice in American society to minimize or ignore these instances of conscious explicit bias. Moreover, the effect of this conscious explicit bias is then multiplied by millions of instances–by the police, in the work force and business offices, in schools and classrooms, in every area of society. It’s not just a “few bad apples.” In surveys, one quarter of the whites say they would object to having a black family move next door or a black person marry into their family. This means there are sixty million whites who hold such beliefs. Sixty million represents a system, not just the few. For in order for sixty million whites to hold what are clearly racist beliefs and thus, act according to those beliefs, they must grow up in families and environments where they were educated in such beliefs; this education did not just occur because one racist uncle or parent taught them to believe this way. The educational system, the culture around them, the ways their world views are constructed, all enabled them to carry such beliefs into adulthood and continue to believe there is nothing wrong—or even racist—about such beliefs and the acts that stem from them. Moreover, these whites who express conscious explicit racial bias are tolerated by and go unchallenged by the whites around them, who may not agree with such beliefs, but are not troubled enough by them to challenge other white people. So much more than a quarter of the white population, enable—both literally and in the AA sense—the sixty million to continue in their racist beliefs and actions.

At the same time, the effect of millions and millions of instances of conscious and explicit bias—from so called microaggressions to more violent acts–must be seen as a system of oppression, which black people and other people of color must face the threat of every day. The vast majority of white people have no or little clue as to the amount and frequency with which blacks and other people of color encounter outright conscious racism in their day to day lives. And this is just the less existentially threatening aspects of conscious racism. For there’s also the constant threat of racist police and police harassment, profiling and brutality, and all of these unequal treatments are perpetuated not just by the “few bad apples” but all those “good” police who not only turn their eye to police brutality and murder, but actively work to protect the “few bad apples” both through the Blue Wall of Silence and through the demands of police unions which make sure even the most dangerous racist police officers are never fired. It’s a system, people.

Still, there is some recognition of the injustice in conscious bias as shown in the dictionary definition. And this is the racism you might find even some white conservatives critiquing.

But we also now know there can be unconscious or implicit bias: One can be unconscious and unaware of the prejudice programmed into your own mind–i.e., you can believe you are not racist, not want to be racist, and still act in ways that are racist or support the system of racism. In emergency rooms black patients receive less pain medication and wait longer for it than white patients with the same injuries and conditions. I don’t believe all or even a majority of medical practitioners want to practice racially biased medicine–but they still do. Some of the police who protect the “few bad apples” or ignore or coverup the egregious behavior of their fellow officers may not think of themselves as racists, but their actions protect racist behavior and help keep the “few bad apples” out on the streets; in this way, they are culpable for the behavior of racist police. But it’s not just the police. Studies have shown that teachers, both white and black, racially profile black children and other children of color and will spot and criticize behavior in black children that they do not notice or chastise with white children. Blacks and whites smoke marijuana at exactly the same rate, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for smoking marijuana—and of course are more likely to be convicted and have harsher sentences. Similarly, black kindergarteners are suspended at a rate of about four times that of white kindergarteners. In other words, the racial profiling of black children can begin as early as in kindergarten. Do I believe that many teachers who racially profile don’t believe they are racists and perhaps may even be horrified when they discover this is how they act towards their black students? Yes. But that doesn’t change the results of their discriminatory actions and the harm they do to black children,.

Here’s what unconscious or implicit bias reveals to us: Racism is so programmed into the ways white Americans think about and perceive black and brown Americans that these white Americans can’t see their own racist beliefs and actions, can’t see the ways they are part of the problem. Racism then is like a basic computer operating system in the minds of even liberal white Americans. It’s been shown that AI programs to help detect crime patterns are racist because how these systems are set up and the data put into them are already racially biased–which means there is bias in the humans who create these programs. So implicit unconscious bias is another aspect of systemic racism, and in certain ways, the damage this implicit unconscious bias does is as great as explicit conscious bias, since the former so often goes unrecognized and unnoticed.

But there is a third aspect to system racism. We now know that the vast racial disparities in American society did not appear overnight or because of a “few bad apples”–whether in police departments or in any other institution or area of society. These disparities are a result of a long established history of racism, and this history has created a vast system of beliefs, practices and structures which contribute to the creation of these racial disparities.

Conveniently, some of these beliefs and practices might superficially appear to be racially neutral, but were always intended to support the racial status quo of inequality. Examples of these are “qualified immunity” for police officers or Supreme Court opinions and practice arguing that to rule police actions as discriminatory or illegal, there must be a previous court precedent (i.e., we can only rule something is discriminatory if it’s been ruled so in the past–even though the past was supposedly more racist than the present).

Other examples of how systemic racism occurs–how our country’s history is portrayed in our culture and our education systems in ways that minimize or occlude the racial injustices of the past and in ways that neglect the positive contributions of black, brown and Native and indigenous peoples; the ways nationalism and white supremacy is confused with patriotism (my country, love it or leave vs. I love my country and want it to be better because I love it)—thus, enabling whites to label any protest or movement towards racial inequality, such as Colin Kapernik and other black NFL players kneeling at the national anthem, as unpatriotic. And indeed, for white nationalists the status quo of racial equality is just fine, is their definition of America, and any attempt to change that is a threat to them.

The ways we tell our past is who we are. For many conservative and even liberal whites, a basic belief is that slavery is long in the past and has no effect on today’s society, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary: One origin of American policing stems from slave patrols during slavery and almost immediately after slavery was supposedly abolished at the end of the Civil War, white Southerners quickly established the Black Codes, one of the many legal measures to recreate the white slave owner’s control over blacks under a different name—any black person who was not working at the immediate moment could be arrested for vagrancy or other charges, and not just by police but by any white person (thus the origins of present day Karens who will call the police on black people for barbecuing or for sleeping in a college dorm lounge or entering an Airbnb they have rented).

For whites to deny the existence of racism in the present, it is necessary for them to deny or occlude or minimize racism in the past and how that past affects the present: In Minneapolis, where I live and where George Floyd was murdered, white home ownership is three times that of blacks, and this discrepancy has a great deal to do with the wealth gap between whites and blacks in this city. Though this discrepancy exists in the present, its existence stems as much or more from the past than the present; the discrepancy is a result of redlining and the past practice past of denying blacks the right to own homes and in particular own homes in white neighborhoods– denying potential black owners loans that whites making the same amount of money were able to obtain; charging black home owners higher interest rates; denying blacks ownership of their homes until they paid in full their loan (in contrast to whites who owned their home immediately after the loan went through); denying black G.I.s the same loans that white G.I.’s received under the G.I. bill after World War II, etc. And then of course, there’s the overall way blacks were discriminated against in education and the job market, so that they went to and still go to schools which were and are underfunded compared to white schools and were denied jobs they were qualified to do and promotions they were qualified for; black unemployment has always been higher and often twice as high as white unemployment; this is in part a result of how the government spent money disproportionally on its white citizens in comparison to blacks and enacted programs which discriminated against or excluded blacks; it’s also a result of how, in the past, it was difficult for blacks to prove racial discrimination in the workplace or ever bring it up (it’s still that way). Most whites of today are better off economically than blacks not just because of their individual efforts, but because their white parents, grandparents and great-grandparents benefited from a system of racial discrimination and handed the economic benefits of that past on to whites in the present.

On a larger and more general level, there’s the systemic negative portrayals, stereotypes and beliefs about black and brown people that permeate American culture: Even most white people understand that these negatives images and portraits exist. In his program to reduce the racial achievement gap, the Innocent Classroom, the novelist/educator Alexs Pate asks teachers to list how America portrays black and brown children, and the teachers always come up with a list of forty to fifty negative adjectives and nouns (dropouts, thugs, stupid, ugly, destined for jail, welfare, unwed mothers, absent fathers, violent, angry, sassy, illegal, terrorist, criminal, gangbangers, disinterested in school, lazy, etc.). If you know this list, Pate tells the teachers, the children know this list–and indeed, one fifth grade teacher at a nearly all black school asked his class to make such a list and it was almost an exact duplicate of the list the teachers came up with. These negative stereotypes are not just an instance of a few bad apples, but instead work as cultural programming or propaganda which creates and instills the negative psychic messages that create both conscious and unconscious bias in white people, including the police—i.e., those biases don’t happen by chance; they reflect and are woven within the American portrait of black and brown people.

What’s more children of color grow up burdened by these stereotypes; some children of color try as best they can to ignore them and some even succeed to some extent if their parents make monumental efforts to make sure the children don’t imbibe and believe them. But many black and brown children grow up not just under the shadow of these stereotypes and the white people who view them and act toward them as if the stereotypes are true; no, the children of color themselves begin to feel as if the stereotypes might be true, as if the stereotypes are their only destiny (if you’re a ten year old black boy and you enter a Target and are followed and you have never stolen anything in your life, what message are you receiving?). Certainly in the eyes of society, black children are never allowed to grow up feeling a sense of innocence in the ways white children do, not when almost every black parent must have The Talk about what will happen when the child encounters the police and what the child should try to do so they aren’t killed.  Just as importantly, educators like Pate have shown that this stereotype threat has harmful negative effects on academic achievement and the children’s sense of optimism for their future.

Then of course, in light of recent events, there’s all the structures which prevent police accountability–the legal practice of qualified immunity; the power of police unions to ensure that even those police who receive numerous complaints and whose actions can result in million dollar suits, still remain on the police force; weak or no civilian control; privacy rules hiding complaints concerning officers from the public; no residency requirements; the immense size of police budgets (as opposed to economic or social programs to help disadvantaged communities—i.e., the choice to lock up poor people of color rather than help them improve their lives and livelihoods); incentives for ticketing and minor violation arrests, which have little to do with public safety and more to with racial profiling, financial incentives for city governments, and the prison industrial complex; programs such as “The Bulletproof Warrior” which was taken by the officer who killed Philando Castile and which trains police to view their relationship to citizens as like that of an army occupying a hostile territory; programs like this emphasize police security and safety as always overruling a consideration of citizen security and safety (i.e., you patrol Minneapolis the way the US Army patrolled the streets of Fallujah; your duties are toward your fellow officers and not to your fellow citizens since you’re not supposed to look at them as fellow citizens).

It staggers belief to assert that the vast racial disparities in the justice system and American society are a result of a few racists, a few “bad apples.” And indeed, this belief is just another apparatus designed to defend the racial status quo; i.e., it is a tool to defend racism, not just an outgrowth of it.

Rather than citing a few bad apples, we must acknowledge that a vast and complex system supports and enables centuries old racial inequities.

And so in this moment in our history, there is a difference: Many younger Americans, both white and of color, have started to be educated in a more complex and systemic definition of racism; thus, they realize that wholesale and far reaching changes are needed if we are actually going to dismantle this system. This effort also involves attacking the obfuscations and intellectually trickery designed to hide the complex ways racism works in this country.

* Two weeks after the murder of George Floyd and nationwide protests, Merriam Webster revised it “racism” entry and expanded it to include systemic racism. A 22 year-old African American, Kennedy Mitchum, wrote the company asking them to change their definition, saying “Racism is not only prejudice against a certain race due to the color of a person’s skin, as it states in your dictionary. It is both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color.” We are in a time of transition from the old definition, which means many Americans still don’t understand what systemic racism is.

Drew Brees & NFL Players Kneeling

New Orleans Saint quarterback has issued an apology for his criticism of Colin Kapernick or other NFL players who would kneel at the national anthem in protest. Brees’ apology came after listening to his black teammates tell him how wrong-headed, tone deaf, unempathetic, inaccurate and ignorant his remarks were.

In criticizing black players kneeling at the anthem, Brees cited the patriotism of his grandfathers who fought in WWII. He did not make any mention of the blacks who also fought while suffering from the brutality of Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery and returned to discrimination and racial hatred and did not receive the GI benefits that Brees’ white grandfathers received. One can reasonably argue that those black soldiers as well as the Native American soldiers showed far more patriotism than white soldiers (my Japanese American uncles fought in WWII while they and their families were imprisoned in concentration camps).

Brees’ apology maintains that even if his remarks were wrong, he has always been an ally. But he never addresses the fact that Kapernick and others said their kneeling was not about disrespecting the flag or the armed forces. Instead, Brees insisted the black players should be ruled by his white interpretation of what they were doing, his white criteria for what is proper protest. He doesn’t see that this is a crucial aspect of white supremacy: Only white people get to decide what is the truth, only white people get to decide what is patriotism, only white people get to decide if black protest is proper or improper, is legitimate or illegitimate.

Black people have been voicing complaints about police brutality for more than a century and a half but white people never believed them. As so many have said, the main difference now is that we have video proof of that brutality, but everyone knows absent that visual proof the vast majority of white people did not and would not believe the word of black people.

And yet, on any racial issue in American history, black people have been on the side of righteousness, justice and history, and always at first, the majority of white people have opposed them, have been morally wrong, unjust and on the wrong side of history. Why is it, in the present, white people have never said: “Well, we got it wrong every time in our history while black people have been right. Maybe we should now listen to you and follow your lead, because history has always been on your side.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be a time when this will happen, when white people will not only listen to black people but follow their lead. Our country’s future depends upon that.

Bob Kroll, President of the Minneapolis Police Union & The Will of the People

For those of you who want a picture of what the Minneapolis Police Department is like, there is no more telling figure than the head of the Minneapolis police union, Bob Kroll.

In 2007, Kroll was cited in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Minneapolis police department by five black officers, including the current police chief Medaria Arradondo.

Kroll appeared at a Trump rally last fall at the Target Center in Minneapolis, and thanked President Trump for ending President Barrack Obama’s “oppression of police” and for freeing cops to “put the handcuffs on criminals instead of us.”

In a letter to Minneapolis police officers this week, Kroll told his fellow officers that they were being made “scapegoats” for the violence in the city, and he accused Mayor Jacob Frey, Gov. Tim Walz and other leaders for refusing “to acknowledge the work of the MPD” and saying they “continually shift blame to it….It is despicable behavior. How our command staff can tolerate it and live with themselves I do not know.”

Former police chief and a frequent critic of Kroll, Janee Harteau, responded by calling for him to reside from his post. “A disgrace to the badge! This is the battle that myself and others have been fighting against. Bob Kroll turn in your badge!”

In Minneapolis, 63% of the population is white, but though only 18.6% of the population is black, blacks make up 63% of those shot and killed by police here between 2000 and 2018. The New York Times has reported that the Minneapolis police used force seven times more against black citizens than white citizens.

Only 8% of the Minneapolis police force live in Minneapolis.

Politically, Minneapolis is a Democratic political stronghold. My area is the neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered and where the demonstrations at the third precinct occurred. We have consecutively elected two black Muslim Americans to the House of Representatives, current attorney general Keith Ellison, who will now oversee the Floyd case, and current representative Ilhan Omar. Both are Democrats.

What is clear to so many is that the current systems and even well-intentioned mayors and police chiefs have failed to change the culture of the police department. Kroll is whom the Minneapolis police department have chosen to be their representative. If the city itself were to vote on the head of the police union, there is no way Kroll would be chosen.

Why is it that we have a police department whose racial profiling and abuses are well documented, who do not live in our city or our neighborhoods, and whose political and racial views are so at odds with the populace here? And how do we change this, if our votes for mayor and the city council have not?

This is why people are marching in Minneapolis. We are protesting, yes, the tragic and senseless murder of George Floyd, but we are protesting a history of a police department which has abused its citizenry and is not at all representative of the voters in this city.

On Trump’s Muslim Registry & The Internment Camps: A Japanese American Perspective

Recently, one of Trump’s supporters cited the internment of Japanese Americans as setting a precedent for a Muslim registry. Of course we cannot let this happen; of course we must protect our Muslim, Arab and Indian American brothers and sisters. We must make sure that what happened to my parents and grandparents and the Japanese American community never happens again.

But what does a proposed Muslim registry say about our country? What does it say about our supposed belief in liberty and the Constitution? And what does it say about the internment camps themselves? Trump himself has refused to condemn the internment camps saying, “I would have had to be there at the time to give a proper answer.”

This past week, on the website Counter Current News, Jeremiah Jones put up photos taken by Dorothea Lange which recorded the “evacuation” and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in 1942. Though Lange was opposed to the internment, she took the commission because she felt “a true record of the evacuation would be valuable in the future.” After reviewing her photographs, military commanders seized them for the entire war, writing “Impounded” across some of the prints. They remained mostly unseen until 2006.

That the military censored Lange’s photos is not surprising. They record the quiet dignity with which Japanese Americans like my parents and Japanese immigrants like my grandparents withstood the internment orders–the violation of their civil liberties; their forced abandonment of their properties and businesses; being rounded up and sent to assembly centers, many of which were horse stables; and then being imprisoned behind barbed wire and rifle towers in desolate areas of the American west and south. Two thirds of those imprisoned were American citizens like my parents; half, like my parents, were under 18.

But the government did not merely censor photographs about the internment. In the early 1980’s, lawyer and professor Peter Irons was researching the internment cases that went to the Supreme Court. Irons uncovered evidence that Solicitor General Charles Fahy who argued Korematsu case, had suppressed FBI and military reports, reports which determined Japanese-American citizens posed no security risks. The documents proved that the military had lied to the Supreme Court; the government had knowingly used these lies to construct false arguments. This evidence led to the overturning of the Korematsu case, as US District Judge Marilyn Patel pronounced, “I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed or color…If anyone should do the pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people.”

Thus, the FBI lied during World War II when it claimed, “It is said, and no doubt with considerable truth, that every Japanese in the United States who can read and write is a member of the Japanese intelligence system.” To anyone truly familiar with the Japanese American community at the time, such a statement would have been ludicrous. Certainly it reflects nothing of how members of my own family felt about America, much less the Japanese Americans who joined the 442nd, the most decorated regiment in all of Europe during the war.

When I was a child, my parents, like many Nisei, never talked to me about their imprisonment; I think they, like many Nisei, felt a deep sense of shame concerning what happened to them. When I finally learned of the internment camps in my late teens, I thought of them as a singular event that happened long ago. Then redress came and President Ronald Reagan apologized to the Japanese American community and said the real reason for the camps was not military necessity but “racism, wartime hysteria, and a failure of leadership.” I thought, Okay, we’ve recognized that wrong, it’s not going to happen again.

A couple weeks ago I saw “Hold These Truths,” a one person show about Gordon Hirabayashi, one of the four Japanese Americans to take the case of the internment camps to the Supreme Court. Nothing in the play mentioned anything contemporary, no words about Muslims or immigrants, much less Trump, but the play was now allegorical: It spoke beyond the Japanese American experience to the fears of Muslim, Arab and Indian Americans now feel; it spoke to the hate and suspicion that is now being directed towards them–as it was to my parents and their parents and other Japanese Americans.

Confronted with the election of Donald Trump and Trump’s own refusal to disavow the internment camps, I’m forced to this conclusion: The internment camps were not just a one time event, but symptomatic and revealing of what America still is. And when Trump’s minions mention the internment camps as precedence for a Muslim registry, they’re telling us what they mean in saying Make America Great Again. Somewhere in their conscious or unconscious, they believe this is an essential part of that greatness: We used to have the power to do this to people of color and other disenfranchised and we want that power again. We used to lie with impunity about people of color and the disenfranchised. We should be able to do that again.

Given the history of my family and my community, I reject this definition of America, knowing that it may very well be with us for a long time to come.

I start with this declaration: If they are going to take one of us, they must take us all. Put my name down too. I am a Muslim. I am a Japanese American. Never again.

* “Trump Support Cites Japanese Internment as ‘Precedent for Muslim Registry”–Huffington Post: “We’ve done it based on race, we’ve done it based on religion, we’ve done it based on region,” Higbie said. “We’ve done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with Japanese.”


Note: No Japanese American was ever convicted of espionage.  Two thirds of those interned were Japanese Americans–US citizens.  Half were children (including my parents). All 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were interned.  Though Trump has also referred to the treatment of Germans and Italians during World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans was clearly racially based.  For example, in the US at the time, there were more than 1.2 million people who had been born in German, 5 million who had two native-German parents, and 6 million with one native-German parent.  The US detained 11,000 ethnic Germans, almost all German nationals (.0009).


November 9, 2016

Like so many of my friends and colleagues, I am profoundly saddened and dismayed by the results of the Presidential election. My heart and love goes out to all of you. I have been buoyed by friends and loved ones who have asserted that they or their parents have gone through times of greater trials, especially those who experienced segregation and the Jim Crow South and the other forms of racism so prevalent in the pre-Civil Rights era. I do not feel articulate today or able to think clearly or cogently. So I offer up a quotation from Jeff Chang’s Who We Be: The Colorization of America, his book about cultural changes in post-Civil Rights America:

“Here is where artists and those who work and play in the culture enter. They help people to see what cannot yet be seen, hear the unheard, tell the untold. They make change feel not just possible, but inevitable. Every moment of major social change requires a collective leap of imagination. Change presents itself not only in spontaneous and organized expressions of unrest and risk, but in explosions of mass creativity.

“So those interested in transforming society might assert: cultural change always precedes political change. Put another way, political change is the last manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.”

This election demonstrates that a majority of whites desperately want to continue within a country where the assertion of white dominance and supremacy remains the norm. It demonstrates we have so far to go in terms of fighting sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and religious bigotry. Chang wrote Who We Be in the time of Obama’s presidency, and so, on November 9, 2016, his prophecy remains that–a prophecy.

For those of us who are artists and for those of us who are committed to justice, we must continue to see what others refuse to see, speak the unheard, tell the untold, we must continue to imagine a world of love, equity, justice, and truth, to imagine ways we can move beyond and above this disastrous moment in American history. Keep speaking out, keep creating your art, keep gathering and strengthening our ties. We have work to do.

Racial Blindness & The Killing of Philando Castile


On the evening of July 6, St. Anthony policeman Geromino Yanez spotted a car on Larpenteur Road in Falcon Heights, a small suburb of 5,300 at the southwest border of St. Paul which was part of the jurisdiction of the St. Anthony police. Officer Yanez had been aware that two black males with dreadlocks had robbed a nearby convenience store three days before.

Yanez radioed a nearby squad. “The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery. The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just because of the wide-set nose. I couldn’t get a good look at the passenger.” He told the squad he was going to stop the car and check the ID’s of its occupants.

What happened next is disputed. The accounts of officer Yanez and Diamond Reynolds, one of the occupants of the car, clearly differ.

What is certain is what resulted: Yanez fired five shots at the boyfriend of Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile, who was sitting in the front seat. Castile later died from the wounds after being taken to a nearby medical facility.

Yanez’s attorney Thomas Kelly maintains that “This is a tragic incident brought about by the officer having to react to the actions taken by Mr. Castile…This had nothing to do with race. This had everything to do with the presence of a gun…and the display of a gun.” Kelly said that Yanez, who had been put on administrative leave, is a “sensitive man” and had been distressed by what had happened and is “deeply saddened” for Castile’s family.

According to Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, “The gun never came out, it could never be a threat. He didn’t ask about it, he didn’t know it was on his person,” Reynolds said in an exclusive interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “He came to the car, he said it was a traffic stop for a taillight. He asked for license and registration. That was it, that was all. The officer never mentioned anything other than a taillight, and we later discovered there was no broken taillight.”

Reynolds says Castile had not touched his gun, but was reaching for his ID as Yanez had instructed when Yanez opened fire.

After Yanez shot Castille, Reynolds started recording from her phone: “I knew they wouldn’t see me as being the person telling the truth,” she told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “I knew by recording, I would be able to have my side brought to the table.”

On the video Reynolds states in a remarkably calm voice, “Stay with me. We got pulled over for a busted tail light in the back and he’s covered….they killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket and he let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm.”

While Reynolds records her testimony, Yanez can be heard yelling/frantically shouting, “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hand out…”

“You told him to get his I.D., sir, his driver’s license,” Reynolds responds, again with a calm that seems remarkable in the circumstances.

Reynolds is told to get out of the car and is handcuffed. After she says, “I can’t believe they just did this!” there’s a voice saying, “It’s okay, I’m here with you.”

The voice is Reynolds’ four year old daughter, Dae’Anna. Dae’Anna was sitting in the back seat when officer Yanez opened fire and shot Philando Castile five times in the front seat of the car.


From these facts and statements, we can assume that officer Yanez approached the car he’d stopped with trepidation. He had surmised that the car’s occupants could be the two black males with dread locks, one with a wide nose, who had robbed a nearby convenience store. The two black males could be armed, as they were in the robbery.

What are we to make of Yanez’s agitated emotional state after the shooting? What are we to make of the fact that Reynolds appears to be calm and far more emotionally restrained than Yanez—this despite the fact that her boyfriend Philando is bleeding to death in the seat next to her?

In that moment where the video starts, officer Yanez knows his life and his career will forever be changed. After the shooting, his body is still coursing with adrenalin. He is safe physically, but he does not appear to feel safe.

Diamond Reynolds has just witnessed her boyfriend being shot. She worries he might be dying, and her worries prove correct. She is recording the rest of the encounter in order help validate the testimony she knows she will eventually give about the event. She knows she is in the presence of an officer who has just shot someone whom she believes was not a threat to the officer and did not reach for his gun. She can surmise that her being without a gun will not necessarily make her safe, especially in the presence of this officer who is clearly still quite agitated.

She also knows her four year old daughter is in the back seat. That her daughter’s life and her own life depend upon her doing what the officer instructs. She knows that the officer will most likely be upset that she is recording from her phone. Perhaps she also believes that the phone recording might prevent the officer from shooting her. It is a calculated risk she is taking. She knows that if she reacts too emotionally she might upset the officer. She knows also that the validity of her testimony depends in part on her ability to remain calm and in control.

She also knows that staying calm and in control will make her daughter more safe.


What we are faced with here is two different interpretations of the same reality. Two different epistemologies.

But even in this brief exchange it seems clear: Diamond Reynolds understands how officer Yanez is thinking. She is still aware officer Yanez could turn and shoot her if she does something which causes him to further fear for his safety. She knows she must remain calm.

Yanez is clearly not thinking about what Diamond Reynolds is thinking or feeling. His mind is focused on the shooting. On his justification for the shooting. He is not thinking about how Diamond Reynolds is perceiving this event, nor how her four year old daughter is perceiving the event. Nor does he seem to be thinking, I need to do what I can to save the life of this man I have just shot. Nor does he appear to be thinking, Who is this man I have just shot?

Yanez entered the encounter picturing the possibility of confronting two male robbery suspects. But the car obviously did not contain two males. It contained a male, a female, and a four year old girl.

Questions arise: At what point did Yanez realize that the occupants in the car were not the robbery suspects? Was it before or after the shooting that he realized there was a woman and not a man in the front seat beside Philando Castile? At what point did Yanez see the four year old girl in the back seat? Even after the shooting it is not clear that Yanez realizes there is a four year old girl in the back seat. That he actually sees her.

But then we may also question: Did officer Yanez actually see Philando Castille?

To answer this question, we must understand that the verb “see” here has two quite different meanings in this tragic encounter.


Even if the occupant of the car had been one of the robbery suspects, that does not mean that officer Yanez would have been justified in shooting him.

But Philando Castile was not a robber of convenience stores.

Under the headline “He Knew the Kids and They Loved Him”: Minn. Shooting Victim was Adored School Cafeteria Manager,” here is what how the Washington Post article described him:

“Before he was fatally shot Wednesday by a police officer in Minnesota, before his name became a hashtag, Philando Castile was known as a warm and gentle presence at J.J. Hill Montesori Magnet School, where he managed the cafeteria. He was there when children streamed into school for breakfast in the morning, playing music and bantering. He was there when they returned for lunch: Laughing with kids, urging them to eat more vegetables, helping keep order in his easy going way….’We’re just devastated,’ said Anna Garnaas, who teachers first-, second- and third-graders at the school, located in St. Paul, Minn. ‘He just loved the kids, and he always made sure that they had what they needed. He knew their names, he knew what they liked, he knew who had allergies. And they loved him….[A parent of a student] said that one of her children has a sensory processing disorder that makes it hard for him to make eye contact and show affections. But with Castile? Her child would fist-bump him, she said, and hug his legs. Her son felt safe with Castile, she said.”

Another mother of a student called him “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks.”

But over the last fourteen years or so, this “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks” had been pulled over and stopped by the police 52 times. He’d been given citations for speeding, driving without a muffler, not wearing a seatbelt. He accrued $6,588 in fines and fees. Half of his 86 violations were dismissed by the court.

Most blacks and people of color would argue that Castile’s record shows clear evidence that he had been a victim of racial profiling. Many blacks believe that what happened to Castile could just as easily have happened to them.

Many whites believe the police do not act with any racial bias. Or that if there is bias on police forces, that bias stems from only a few “bad cops.”

But even these whites cannot dispute this: Philando Castile was not the robbery suspect that officer Yanez suspected him to be.


Psychological studies have shown that racial bias can be expressed in two ways. One way is conscious or explicit bias. The other is unconscious or implicit bias. Until recently, discussions on racism have focused on explicit bias.

In “Faces of Black Children as Young as Five Evoke Negative Biases” on the Association for Psychological Science web page, the article reports on research published in Psychological Science:

Previous research has shown that people are quicker at categorizing threatening stimuli after seeing Black faces than after seeing White faces, which can result in the misidentification of harmless objects as weapons. Todd and colleagues wanted to find out whether the negative implicit associations often observed in relation to Black men would also extend to Black children.

The researchers presented 64 White college students with two images that flashed on a monitor in quick succession. The students saw the first image — a photograph of a child’s face – which they were told to ignore because it purportedly just signaled that the second image was about to appear. When the second image popped up, participants were supposed to indicate whether it showed a gun or a toy, such as a rattle. The photographs of children’s faces included six images of Black five-year-old boys and six images of White five-year-old boys.

The data revealed that the student participants tended to be quicker at categorizing guns after seeing a Black child’s face than after seeing a White child’s face. Participants also mistakenly categorized toys as weapons more often after seeing images of Black boys than after seeing images of White boys.

The problem with implicit bias is that, by definition, the person is unaware that he or she holds such a bias. This bias acts beyond the person’s conscious control. It is conditioned or created by the ways our society depicts whites as different from blacks,. This difference can show up anywhere—in books, in news, in films or television, in education, in social media, in everyday conversations, etc. Just as importantly, because this bias is unconscious in many whites, it is difficult to prove to them that such a bias exists inside them—unless they themselves have taken a test for implicit bias or have come upon the psychological research on implicit bias.

Blacks and other people of color have little trouble believing that implicit or unconscious bias exists. We are aware when white people treat us or other people of color differently than fellow whites even if the white people who do this are unaware they are doing so. There’s a correlative to this in the old black saying, “I don’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”

Most blacks and people of color believe racial bias in policing stems from an explicit bias which is far greater in police forces than is acknowledged and from an implicit bias which many police and whites do not even recognize or know about.

In other words, blacks believe many police do not see blacks as they actually are, but instead see blacks through a number of racial biases or filters.   Thus, the conscious or unconscious belief that black people are more dangerous and more prone to criminal acts becomes a self-fulfilling lens.* Any number of statistics demonstrate this. For instance, whites and blacks smoke marijuana at exactly the same rate, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Blacks are more likely than whites to be stopped for minor traffic violations.* Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow contains many more statistics like this.

But the evidence of such statistics or the psychological studies on implicit bias have done little to change the behavior or training of police in our country. Though there is some willingness these days to try to address these inequities, clearly most of the speakers at the recent Republican convention did not believe there is any bias at all in the actions of police. In their view, the police must be supported at all times; the actions of officer Yanez must be justified a priori—that is, assumed to be legal and devoid of any racial bias.


Assuming police unions would allow this—and that’s a big assumption—what if police officers could be tested for implicit bias? As has been shown by psychological studies, it’s not just whites who possess a racial bias towards blacks. A significant portion of people of color and even of blacks also possess such a bias. Clearly, such a bias keeps the police for accurately seeing the people they are dealing with. One would think that quality policing depends upon an accurate assessment of reality.

Of course, we know that police actions are not judged solely by this criteria. Political and citizen pressure, police unions, various interested parties, are more concerned with the safety of whites or more well to do citizens than they are about the rights of black citizens, particular economically disenfranchised black citizens.

But let us suppose hypothetically that there is value in a racially unbiased police force and that, in order to do this, we must take measures to rid the police force of explicit and implicit biases. We already have some measures of rooting out the most egregious or obvious examples of explicit bias. But we also know that in general, at least until the recent rise of Trump, most Americans know they should not express explicit racial bias in public. The police are no different. So there are police who hold explicit bias against blacks, but they keep such bias confined to private conversations, and they rely on the blue code of silence to protect them. Thus, the only way to find such people is with a test for implicit bias, because such tests bypass conscious concealing of bias.

Obviously, then a problem arises. It is almost certain that a significant portion of the police force exhibits evidence of implicit racial bias. How significant we do not know, since the police have never been tested for this.*

But even if they are tested, what do we do then? How do we root out implicit bias? As Destiny Peery, Assistant Professsor of Law and Pyschology, at Northwestern University writes in The Huffington Post:

Many researchers who study implicit bias for a living, including the creators of the primary implicit bias measure, the Implicit Association Test (IAT), caution against seeing implicit bias as the newest one-size-fits-all approach to solving issues of bias and diversity. These researchers argue that implicit bias is helpful to the extent that it adds to our toolkit for understanding how bias operates, but research has not progressed to the point of suggesting concrete, long-term ways to eradicate these biases. In other words, we must remember that implicit bias training is not able to de-bias participants, no matter how well-meaning they are. After decades of research, we still don’t really know how to get rid of these biases, especially biases like implicit racial and gender biases, given that they, and the stereotypes that maintain them, are so pervasive.

While not much is known about how to de-bias people, a lot more is known about how to protect against bias. Here awareness matters, so teaching people about implicit bias can help, but what matters more is creating policies and procedures where decision-makers can check their biases and insulate against them. The National Center for State Courts gets it right, publishing a report on strategies to reduce the influence of implicit bias that focuses on inoculating against bias rather than de-biasing. Their strategies focus on changing policies and procedures in courtrooms that create conditions where bias is less likely to have an influence or can be stopped more easily.

In other words, police can be tested for implicit bias and training to combat implicit bias could be instituted, but such measures will not solve the problem of implicit bias. Implicit bias is rooted too deep in our culture. This bias stems from and is created by the society around us, its beliefs and practices, the ways it depicts whites and blacks and other people of color. It is difficult for police training to dismantle their implicit bias if, the minute they step outside the door of the training sessions, they are bombarded with messages confirming their implicit bias.

Moreover, the cultures of most police departments would not be open to such training. Thus, while we should continue to try different ways to combat implicit racial bias on the part of police, we should also take measures to mitigate the effects of that bias. This means we need to focus not just on the individual police officer and his or her racial attitudes and beliefs, but on the entire practice of policing in this country.

One example of this shift in police policy is Campaign Zero’s 10 point platform on police reform. These ten points include:

  1. End broken windows policing: This would include decriminalizing activities that do not threaten public safety, such as loitering, marijuana possession, jaywalking, etc, and ending profiling and “stop and frisk” policies.*
  2. Community oversight.
  3. Limit use of force: e.g., “Deadly force should only be authorized after all other possible means have been exhausted.”
  4. Independently investigate and prosecute: The prosecution of police should not be directed by offices that work directly with the police.
  5. Community representation.
  6. Body cams/Film the police.
  7. Training: Both to combat implicit racial bias and to teach techniques in crisis intervention, conflict resolution and de-escalation, etc.*
  8. End for-profit policing: In Ferguson, the police department budget depended upon the income from traffic citations and other minor offenses.
  9. Demilitarization: Jeronimo Yanez took a militarized seminar titled “The Bulletproof Warrior” which “urged the lawn enforcement officers…to make the decision to shoot if they ever feel their lives are threatened.”
  10. Fair police union contracts: “Remove barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight. Keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public.”

It is clearly time for a call for national police reform. Whether that call will be heeded is not clear.


Still, in my mind, rather than focusing on police reform, I keep going back to Philando Castile. How conservative websites trumpet headlines about him like this: “Confirmed-Philando Castile was an Armed Roberry Suspect—False Media Narrative Now Driving Cop Killings”.*   To such conservatives, the fact that Philando Castile did not rob the convenience store is a “moot point.” So, presumably, is the fact that he was a beloved cafeteria manager at the J.J. Hill School. To such conservatives, he was a “robbery suspect” with dread locks and not “Mr. Rogers with dread locks.”

What’s important to note here is this: In the conservative narrative, there is no room for Philando Castile to be considered “innocent.” The fact that Officer Yanez suspected Castile of being a robbery suspect is sufficient and renders all other considerations “moot.”

Such a mindset, unfortunately, is part of America’s legacy. Historically, this nation has had a difficult time seeing black people—seeing them as human beings, as free people, as citizens, as something other than a long list of negative stereotypes, chief among them blacks as inherently criminal. As Khalil Gibran Muhammad demonstrates in The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, after the emancipation of blacks, a whole body of racial science arose which purported to prove that black criminals were not simply individuals but proof of the criminality of the entire black race. In contrast, white criminals were seen as individuals rather than as indicative of any racial characteristics for whites. Muhammad writes: “The idea of black criminality was crucial to the making of modern urban America. In nearly every sphere of life it impacted how people defined fundamental differences between native whites, immigrants, and blacks….Moreover, the various ways in which writers and reformers imagined black people as inferior to and fundamentally different from native whites and immigrants in the early twentieth centuries had a direct impact on allocation of social resources for preventing crime in all communities….Thoughtful, well funded crime prevention and politically accountable crime fighting secured immigrants’ whiteness, in contrast to the experiences of blacks, who were often brutalized or left unprotected and were repeatedly told to conquer their own crime before others would help them.” In many ways, the stereotypes and ideology of this nineteenth century racial science are still present today.

Explicit or implicit bias both produce blindness and blinders, false filters and lenses, not clear or true sight. Every adult black person in America knows that this blindness can come into play any time they encounter a police officer. Every black adult knows that in that encounter, their life may be held in the balance by someone who does not see that black person, who, because of our history and the presence of that history in the present, might see that black person not just as guilty or a criminal, but as a threat to that officer’s very existence. And no matter how they behave, that black person has no control ultimately over how that police officer views that black person. It is a terrifying situation to find oneself caught up in. And it occurs daily in America.

Or in the life of this one 32 year old black man, it had occurred some 52 times. The 53nd time proved fatal. It was as if the odds had caught up with Philando Castile.

And yet, despite being the victim of racial profiling by the police, Castile had greeted the white children and white parents of J.J. Hill with a smile, with the natural warmth of his personality. He tried to see each of the students as individuals, remembered who had allergies, and who were the parents of the kids who had allergies.

According to Rebecca Penfold Murray, a parent of two five year old children at the J.J. Hill school, Castile appeared to know every student’s name: “When you see 400 kids a day and you can remember those details about them, I think that you really care about how those kids are doing. It’s preposterous for anyone to die violently, but I am still unable to wrap my head around the fact that his happened to a person like him.” Hill parent Angie Checco de Souza reports that her six year old said, “’Mom, can you tell the police that they were wrong. This is our guy, who served us lunch at J.J. Hill Montessori School.”

Think of how Castile woke up each day and greeted those kids. Think about how he woke up each day and got into his car to go to work knowing he might be stopped by the police for any number of reasons, some perhaps legitimate, but others dismissed by the courts, who would not be inclined to necessarily take his word against the police who stopped him. But he was not bitter about this. Though his mother states that she thinks he was constantly stopped for “driving while black,” he did not take up her advice to make an official complaint about such bias. Partly she believes this is because he drove for several years without a valid license. But she also says it wasn’t his nature to complain. “He didn’t quite look at it as being profiled,” she says.

Personally, I don’t quite understand how Castile coped with this contradiction. He seems to be one of those people who tried to make the best of things, to treat others with respect and care, with openness and warmth, even if the world around him did not always treat him in the same way. This is not, I would argue, the picture the general public would have if they were simply given the information that this black man had been stopped 52 times by the police in fourteen years.


Whatever the courts decide, I believe officer Yanez did not see Philando Castile as he actually was or even entertain that Castile might be such a person.   And this failure of imagination, this failure to entertain an alternative picture of who a black man with dreadlocks in a car might actually be, is related to this: Yanez did not see soon enough that Castile was not accompanied by another male, but by a woman and a four year old child. It also appears that Yanez did not possess the instinct in his brain to reassess the situation; he did not possess the impulse to wait a moment longer, just to test the accuracy of his assumptions and the ways those assumptions colored his sight.

Yes, every day police put their lives at risk to enforce the law, to protect citizens. But Philando Castile was also a citizen, whose life needed protecting. Yes, I as a civilian cannot know what it is like to live with the fear that police experience. But I can imagine a police officer who would not have acted as officer Yanez.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Yanez had been trained to be such an officer. He wasn’t trained to recognize or combat any racial bias he might have had, and certainly not any implicit or unconscious bias. Instead, Yanez had gone through a course, “The Bulletproof Warrior,” which instructed him to shoot whenever he felt his life was threatened, and thus, he learned not to question whether his feelings might be inaccurate, might be conditioned by explicit or implicit racial bias.

With such training, the possibility of seeing the J.J. Hill Phil, “our Phil,” was ruled out before Yanez ever encountered Philando Castile. In this way, Yanez’s actions and his mindset reflect not just on him personally, but on the culture around him—both the greater culture and the police culture; his actions stem from the training he received and our collective failure to root out racial biases from our society.

I don’t believe Yanez consciously wanted to kill Philando Castile. But that Yanez did so was not an accident. It was pre-ordained by our America’s failure to deal with its racial problems. It was pre-ordained by the blindness that resided in Yanez, perhaps in his unconscious rather than his conscious mind, but still, just as problematic and fatal for Philando Castile.

Our laws may say “innocent until proven guilty,” but in practice, what occurs for blacks and other people of color is more often “guilty until proven innocent.” Despite our Constitution and its rights, our laws are applied by fallible human beings, by human beings conditioned by a racist society and culture which has failed throughout its history to see blacks and other people of color as innocent.

Philando Castile was innocent. Tragically, the society around him is still guilty of not seeing that fact.


*   Star Tribune: “It appears at first glance that St. Anthony police are targeting black people for arrest.

Data released by the Minneapolis suburb last week show that 41 percent of the people whom St. Anthony police arrested last year were black — nearly seven times what one might expect, given that they make up about 6 percent of residents in the department’s patrol area.

Yet nearly every Twin Cities metro-area police department exhibits a racial disparity in its arrest rates, according to a Star Tribune analysis of recently released FBI Uniform Crime Reports data for serious crimes. Minneapolis, St. Paul and inner-ring suburbs had the highest disparities, which diminished in exurban areas….

“There are not studies out there today that readily document overt racial bias,” Frase said at a June 7 seminar at the U on racial disparities in law enforcement. “But there is study after study after study out there demonstrating implicit racial bias when it comes to decisionmaking” at every stage of Minnesota’s criminal justice system, he said.

Implicit bias occurs when police target high-crime areas, Frase said in an interview. Those are largely poor areas in the Twin Cities, which have higher minority populations. When police find guns or drugs, it ratifies their judgment, leaving them with a predisposition to stop similar people in those areas.”


* New York Times, Olevia Boykin, Christopher Desir and Jed Rubenfeldjan: “In the seven states that collect the most comprehensive data on traffic stops, analysts have found often-striking disparities in how African-American drivers are treated. In two of the states, Connecticut and Rhode Island, changes in traffic enforcement followed.

There has been no such change in Minnesota. A state-commissioned study in 2003 found that minority drivers were more likely than white drivers to be both stopped and searched, even though officers found contraband more often when searching white drivers.

Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota professor who was a co-author of the study, said that the findings strongly suggested widespread racial and ethnic bias in traffic enforcement.

More recently, a study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African-Americans and Native Americans in Minneapolis were eight times more likely than whites to be charged with a low-level infraction, such as trespassing or loitering.”

* New York Times: Olevia Boykin, Crhistopher Desire, Jed Rubenfeld report “…racial bias can affect what seems reasonable. Individuals of all races in America perceive black people as more aggressive and dangerous than white people. Studies show that black people are seen as being physically stronger and less prone to feeling pain than people of other races, and black children are often perceived to be older than they are. When faced with an armed black target, shooters are both more likely to shoot and quicker to shoot than they are when faced with an armed white target.

These biases can affect the way we think, judge and act. As a result, force that may seem unreasonable if used against a white person may seem perfectly “reasonable” when used against a black person.

One critical and common-sense change would be to adopt a necessity rule. The difference is simple but crucial. Even when the police have a reasonable belief that a person is dangerous, the necessity standard does not permit deadly force if non-deadly or less deadly alternatives are available and adequate to meet the threat.”

* Star Tribune: “Just 7 percent of residents are black in St. Anthony and neighboring Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, according to census data. The St. Anthony police data shows that nearly half of all arrests made by St. Anthony officers were of African-Americans in 2016. And despite a small increase in the area’s African-American population since 2010, the percentage of the department’s black arrestees has increased steadily since 2011, when a third of the people it arrested were black.” http://www.startribune.com/apnewsbreak-half-of-arrestees-where-castile-died-are-black/386667881/

* Star Tribune: “About three years ago when Joe Olson blew through a stoplight in Lauderdale, he expected what would be a routine traffic stop when he got pulled over by a St. Anthony police officer. He put his hands on the wheel, then prepared to turn his head to the left and smile.

Instead, the stop was so troubling that he later went to the then-St. Anthony police chief to tell him he may have a serious problem with how the department conducts traffic stops. But the chief, Olson said, dismissed his concern.

“I told him that if you don’t fix this, you’re going to have an even bigger problem,” Olson said. “And that’s apparently what happened.”

Olson, whose story was first reported by the Washington, D.C.-based blog ThinkProgress, is no stranger to law enforcement or firearms. A retired Hamline law professor, he’s also a gun rights lobbyist who helped write Minnesota’s permit-to-carry law. He also regularly taught classes on firearms safety that included instructions on what to do when someone carrying with a permit is pulled over.

Olson said on that day three years ago, he expected the St. Anthony officer to stand just behind the driver’s side door at the traffic stop, which is generally standard practice. Instead, the officer stood about 3 feet behind his SUV and conducted the interview through Olson’s driver’s-side mirror.

“His voice had the tremor of fear,” Olson said. “He couldn’t see my hands. He couldn’t see if anyone was in the car. I thought: This is dangerous for both of us.”” http://www.startribune.com/professor-st-anthony-police-chief-dismissed-plea-to-improve-traffic-stop-training/386079641/

* Star Tribune: “The seminar was called “The Bulletproof Warrior,” and the instructors urged the law enforcement officers in the hotel conference room to make the decision to shoot if they ever feel their lives are threatened.

Videos of bloody shootouts between police and civilians emphasized a key point: Hesitation can kill you.

In the audience at the May 2014 seminar was a young St. Anthony police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, city records show. He’s now known around the world as the officer who killed Philando Castile minutes after making a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last week.

Amid intensifying demands for changes in police training in the wake of the shooting deaths of Castile and others, such “survival” courses for officers are flourishing nationally. But some in law enforcement are distancing themselves from the approach.

The Houston Police Department, for example, won’t pay for its officers to attend the Bulletproof Warrior seminar, which is put on by an Illinois for-profit company called Calibre Press.

And the leader of an international police training association said he thinks some seminars like those offered by Calibre and other firms foster a sense of paranoia among officers.

“Police training became very militaristic and it caused a lot of the problems that are going on in the nation,” said Michael Becar, executive director of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, with offices in Idaho and Washington, D.C.”


*   The Conservative Treehouse: “In addition, Mr. Castile also matched the physical description of the suspect as given by eye witnesses:

[…]  The other suspect was described as a black man with shoulder-length dreadlocks, who wore tan pants, tan shoes with white soles, a green jacket, a green baseball cap and glasses, the release says. He also had some of his hair pulled into a bun through the strap on the back of his hat and had a small mustache and facial hair on his chin. (link)

Similar clothes as noted on the robbery suspect are also noted in the Facebook images of Mr. Castile.  However, whether Mr. Castile is actually the person who committed the armed robbery is -again- essentially a moot point…. It is with that “armed robbery suspect perspective” the approach toward the vehicle was made by officers Yanez and Kauser.

Mr. Castile, fitting the physical description, being in the same geography, generally matching the BOLO CCTV image, and then having a handgun on his thigh only made the suspicions gain exponential weight.

Any behaviors or sudden movements by Mr. Castile would only increase the anxiety and increase the officer’s perception of Castile as a threat.” This sight contents that a dark line on Castile’s lap, barely visible in the Diamond Reynolds video, is “the same type of hand gun used in the Convienced Store Armed robbery four days earlier” (in which video the gun of the robbery suspect is clearly visible).”


* Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (272-73).

“White Delusion” & Racial Debates

In his New York Times article* today, Nicholas Kristof examines the ways whites constantly underestimate the prevelance of racial bias in our society.  Kristof labels this “white delusion.” In other words, white attitudes on race in America constantly deny a vast array of facts and statistics. Here is an excerpt from Kristof’s piece:

“In 1962, 85 percent of white Americans told Gallup that black children had as good a chance as white kids of getting a good education. The next year, in another Gallup survey, almost half of whites said that blacks had just as good a chance as whites of getting a job.”

“In retrospect, we can see that these white beliefs were delusional, and in other survey questions whites blithely acknowledged racist attitudes. In 1963, 45 percent said that they would object if a family member invited a black person home to dinner….”

“Half of white Americans today say that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks. Really? That contradicts overwhelming research showing that blacks are more likely to be suspended from preschool, to be prosecuted for drug use, to receive longer sentences, to be discriminated against in housing, to be denied job interviews, to be rejected by doctors’ offices, to suffer bias in almost every measurable sector of daily life.”

In certain cases, this “white delusion” results from an ignorance of the facts and statistics. But even when presented with facts and statistics which contradict their stated beliefs, many whites continue to believe either that racism is relatively over or less prevalant than POC maintain or that whites are now the ones discriminated against. This delusion is built into the ways white identity is constructed, and the rules of that identity concerning the nature of knowledge. Some of the rules of white identity are: Ignore our racial history and assume that there is no connection between the past and the present (if the white person cannot see the connection); assume that blacks and people of color are not credible witnesses to their own existence and lives; assume that only the white perspective and epistemology matters and gets to determine what is objective and what is the nature of reality.

Thus, “white delusion” not only denies facts and statistics. It also assumes white superiority in perceiving the nature of reality; it denies that people of color may possess knowledge, experience, and an epistemology that exists outside of or beyond white understanding. Most people of color can adequately describe how whites perceive the world and constitute their identity. Whites cannot do the same for people of color. On the one hand, this is just an example of DuBois’s double consciousness. But because POC see through “white delusion” we actually see and know a reality whites do not see and are in denial of. And yet, when we describe that reality to whites, whites automatically dismiss our description as delusional, reverse racism, race baiting, playing the race card, etc.

This echoes Baldwin’s assertion that the anger of whites over race is intrinsically different from that of blacks and other POC. Whites are angry because their delusions are being threatened, because they want to keep their denial of reality; more importantly, that denial rests upon the assumption that they alone get to arbitrate what knowledge is legitimate and what knowledge is not. Thus, their denial rests upon an assumption of their supremacy–not just that they have superior knowledge but that they are the ultimate arbiters of what is legitimate and what is illegitimate knowledge. In contrast, POC are angry because a racist system denies them equal opportunity, equal power and equal rights. POC are angry because they dealing with people who refuse to see the reality they have created and which POC suffer under. POC are angry because what they see and experience every day in their lives is being denied by white definitions of reality and because whites possess the power to over and over deny the reality of POC. Unlike whites, POC understand not only that the white perception of reality exists –we could not survive in this society without knowing that–but also why it exists and the history which created that perception of reality (which goes all the way back to slavery for blacks).

Ultimately, whites are angry because the power and privileges they receive from a racially biased system are being challenged; those powers and privileges include the power to deny even the existence of a separate knowledge which blacks and other POC possess and whites do not.

“White delusion” has constantly been maintained this week in public conversations where white anger and black anger are posited as equally justified or the same. This is simply not true. Not only are the realities whites experience vastly different from that experienced by blacks and other POC, but the ways we construct our identities and process our knowledge of the world is also vastly different. In this way, as much as I admire Obama, he’s wrong: We are not closer than we think; we are farther apart than most whites and, as Obama demonstrates, some POC understand.*

* http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/14/opinion/a-history-of-white-delusion.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0

* Caveat: I suspect that much of what Obama says in public about race is an example of signifying–speaking to whites in a way that will convey one message, while hiding or signifying another message for blacks who will read his message differently than whites (c.f., Keye & Peele’s Luther, Obama’s anger translator; or Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism)


On the Killing of Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

In the past few days, two black men were killed by the police, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN. I live in Minneapolis, just a couple miles from where Castile was killed, and one of my friends is friends with him. According to Castile’s girlfriend who was in the car with her daughter, Philando Castile was stopped by a Falcon Heights policeman for a busted tail light (which his girlfriend said was not busted). The officer told him to produce his driver’s license. Castile informed the policeman that he had a gun and a permit to carry a gun. He then told the policeman he was reaching for his wallet and the policeman shot him several times. The shots killed Castile.

As so many, I am sick of police killing black men when they are unarmed or being stopped for a minor violation or for no reason at all. There needs to be a complete overhaul of how police are selected, trained and sent out into the field. At the least police should be screened not just for explicit bias–after all, any candidate would know he or she should not express out loud any racial bias. Instead police should be screened for implicit or unconscious bias–there are tests for this. Unfortunately this will make it much harder to find qualified police since most whites and a significant portion of blacks and POC (the policeman in the Caste killing was reportedly Asian Am) possess implicit or unconscious racial bias towards blacks. This problem isn’t just because there are police who are explicitly or consciously racist. This problem exists because, throughout our society and justice system, racial bias is deeply embedded in the actions, thoughts, beliefs, policies, laws and practices of both individuals and systems.  Just read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow; it’s all there.  Blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for this.  A black man is twenty-two times more likely to be killed by police than a white man.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

As for the Castile killing, I know this stretch of road where he was stopped.  That spot is a notorious ticket trap. It’s not a high crime area, it’s not a densely populated area, it’s not a busy traffic area.  It runs next to the U of M golf course and along fields where the U of M agricultural dept. does studies. It’s a sparsely populated road, and there’s no reason why it should be so heavily patrolled. Falcon Heights has a population of 5,500 people. The reason police patrol this road is for them to write tickets and collect revenue–just as in Ferguson. There’s a place where the speed limit changes from 40 to 25 and the road feels more like a county highway where the speed would be 55. It’s an ideal place if you want to catch people speeding. I’ve seen more cars pulled over within that half mile stretch than anywhere in the Twin Cities, and this for a town of 5,500 people.  The police are there to write tickets and collect revenue–to my mind, a form of highway robbery. That Castile was pulled over for a busted taillight is so stereotypical–a black man stopped for a busted taillight. To me, this incident calls for a whole reevaluation of the Falcon Heights police force and not just this one policeman.

I will end with something I’ve written before, prompted by the death of Freddy Gray in Baltimore. Here we are mourning the preventable police killings of two more black men, and the words I wrote before are still applicable:

At what point does the social contract end? If violence can be wreaked upon you without cause? If your life can be taken from you while you are unarmed and your murderer goes unpunished? If your rights as a citizen have been taken away simply because you were walking on the street? If the skin on your body becomes the marker for your criminality and you become a source of profit for those who run the prisons? Isn’t this the definition of a slave? You are not a citizen, violence can be done to you without need of justification or provocation, you are deemed to be property, you are not regarded as a human. If the society you live in has failed to recognize and protect your humanity, what is your obligation to that society?

Further Thoughts On the Rise of Trump

As I’ve written before, the shifting demographics of America will create a white backlash because of white fears of what will happen when whites are no longer the racial majority. More liberal whites now realize that the era of the “post-racial” was not inaugurated by the election of Obama, but with Trump, there are clear indications that racial tensions can worsen rather than steadily improve (contradicting the myth of the post-Civil Rights era that race relations will steadily get better).

Activists involved in the struggles for racial equity believe that clear, direct statements concerning systemic racism and racial bias are what’s needed. One cannot solve a problem without accurately describing it. Yet, at the same time, how are we to address rising white fears and resentment? What is the most effective language and approach to addressing the problems of racial equity and winning the support of whites? Or should that be a question we should be asking?

A white writer friend of mine recently wrote me that she’s stopped using the term “white privilege,” not because she doesn’t think there is such a thing but because every time she used it, the white person she was talking to or writing to immediately shuts down. Now it says something about the entrenchment of “white privilege” that any mention of it can cause a white person to stop all dialogue. But will the ceasing of dialogue help us create greater recognition of the racial inequities that plague our society?

One of Baldwin’s gifts was his ability to examine the psyche of both black and white America, to articulate both how blacks thought about and approached the issues of race and how whites thought and approached the same issues. That’s one of the reasons why his work is so valuable today.

In the recent HBO film “All the Way” about the struggles to pass the Civil Rights bills of the early sixties, we see LBJ trying to win over  those in Congress who were resisting the passage of these bills. Johnson was a genius at this work, and he of course relied on his position as a white Southern politician. Johnson could talk to these white men–for they were all white men–in ways they would never have allowed Martin Luther King to talk to them. Both LBJ and King were instrumental to the passage of these bills. Part of King’s genius was his ability to keep various black leaders and factions working together–until that coalition fell apart. King obviously sacrificed more, including his life, but both men had an ability to persuade those who disagreed with them and we surely need such people now.  But what language and what strategies do we in the present need to use to be able to do this?

Clearly I don’t have answers here to any of these questions. But I do think they are questions we should be asking.


Here’s a summary of a psychological study on white reaction to our shifting demographics by Northwestern University psychologists: “Recent Census Bureau projections indicate that racial/ethnic minorities will comprise over 50% of the U.S. population by 2042, effectively creating a so-called “majority–minority” nation. Across four experiments, we explore how presenting information about these changing racial demographics influences White Americans’ racial attitudes. Results reveal that exposure to the changing demographics evokes the expression of greater explicit and implicit racial bias. Specifically, Whites exposed to the racial demographic shift information preferred interactions/settings with their own ethnic group over minority ethnic groups; expressed more negative attitudes toward Latinos, Blacks, and Asian Americans; and expressed more automatic pro-White/anti-minority bias. Perceived threat to Whites’ societal status mediated the effects of the racial shift information on explicit racial attitudes. These results suggest that rather than ushering in a more tolerant future, the increasing diversity of the nation may instead yield intergroup hostility. Implications for intergroup relations and media framing of the racial shift are discussed.”   http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/spcl/documents/Craig%20&%20Richeson%202014%20PS.pdf

The Darker Key to Trump’s Success

To those of us who are surprised by the rise of Trump: Yes, people are afraid of terrorism and understandably so, but Trump’s series of racist remarks point to another less understandable key to his success. In 2012, an article on an AP poll stated: “The election of Barack Obama failed to usher in a post-racial US, with a new poll showing that 51 percent of Americans hold explicitly anti-black views.” This figure is higher than other surveys I’ve seen which indicate that roughly 20 to 25% of whites hold explicitly anti-black and racist views. But even that percentage of white Americans is no small number–more than sixty million people.

Many white liberals aren’t aware of these statistics, but Trump’s surge to the head of the Republican presidential campaign is exposing the reality that there are tens of millions of white Americans who are explicitly racist. While Republican party leaders have been aware that a large portion of their base is racist, Trump has tapped into that racist base and shown that it is far larger than the party leaders were aware of or wanted to admit. By his leading in the polls and constantly being in the news, he’s given this racist base more and more permission to come out of the closet (witness the white supremacists saying Trump has been a boon for them): “Oh, he’s said all Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists. That’s what I’ve felt all along.” “Trump said the majority of murders of white people are committed by blacks [sic—a bogus statistic]. I always knew the blacks were out to get us.” “Trump wants to ban all Muslims. Great, it’s okay for me to say now I hate Muslims.” Now Trump will say he doesn’t hate Mexicans or “the blacks” or Muslims, but he will never criticize those in his base who do, and that gives them more and more room to hate.

It used to be that the racism the Republican party handed out was done covertly, on the sly, like a backroom take out order so no one would supposedly notice (the so-called dog whistle politics telling them their order was ready). Trump has moved the dish of racism to the head of the main room menu, and now the Republican party leadership and the rest us see how much of their party eagerly wants to gobble up that dish.

Link to article on the AP poll:  https://www.rt.com/usa/majority-americans-racist-poll-378/