From “race riots” to multiracial urban rebellions (pt. 1: LA 1992)

1992

In 1991–92, the beaten Black man was Rodney King and the perpetrators were Los Angeles Police Department officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano. The fires began across Los Angeles on the afternoon of their acquittal.

The morning after the LA riots began, a trusted friend at my high school asked if I “beat myself up last night.” (I’m biracial.) Because that was the paradigm for understanding a Black-led uprising in response to police brutality: a race riot. As in Tracy Chapman’s “Across the Lines” (1988):

Little black girl gets assaulted
Ain’t no reason why
Newspaper prints the story
And racist tempers fly
Next day it starts a riot
Knives and guns are drawn
Two black boys get killed
One white boy goes blind

Choose sides
Run for your life
Tonight the riots begin
On the back streets of America
They kill the dream of America

On the streets of South Central LA, but above all at one intersection, Florence and Normandie, the antagonism of the first day did run on race line and target white, Latino, and Asian civilians for violence and humiliation. The beating of Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was dragged from his trailer and beaten until his skull fractured, became the first national symbol of the riot, a chromatic negative of King’s beating made flesh. This brutal scenario had evolved out of a nearby confrontation with police earlier in the afternoon, but took on a momentum of its own.

In fact, “virtually all of the victims [at Florence and Normandie on that first day] were struggling Hispanic and Asian immigrants who spoke little or no English,” (per U.S. News) but the national narrative was set: “black rage, white fear,” as a New York Times headline would read on May 4, 1992. In any case, it was cast as a “race riot” — a term that can encompass and conceal many historical events under a single category: white massacres of post-Civil War freedmen communities (from Memphis 1866 to Tulsa 1921); genuine clashes of white and Black civilians aided by white-dominated police forces (Detroit 1943); and Black uprisings against police violence (notably the Long, Hot Summer of 1967). The framing of “race riot” conceals questions of power, authority, and domination within the guise of ethnic antagonism. The only question left in this frame in that posed by a distraught Rodney King: “Can we all get along?”

And yet, the six days of civil disorder in Los Angeles was many other things.

The anger and fearlessness and outrage were contagious and they spread widely. They targeted not just racial adversaries but first of all the police, and secondly an economic system that excluded many. On the same morning-after page of the New York Times that cast the riots as “racial disorder,” there was the account of a “rainbow of rage”:

“Yeah, it’s madness,” Mr. Ming said of the riots, touched off by the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers in the beating of a black motorist. “But it’s also understandable. And if the social conditions don’t change, it will happen again and again and not just in L.A.”

Like most people here, Mr. Ming condemned the violence and mourned the dead and the newly homeless. But he and a broad range of others, from solidly middle-class blacks like Al Myles to young Hispanic residents like James Garcia, also expressed ambivalence and guarded admiration for the rioters’ rage at “the system.”

The explosive violence here had been smoldering for 27 years, said scholars, ministers, advocates and residents of the city’s arson-scarred and riot-torn neighborhoods in more than two dozen interviews.

Many said the acquittal of the four police officers charged with using excessive force in the beating of the black motorist, Rodney G. King, was only a spark put to a tinderbox of anger constructed from years of deep poverty, governmental neglect, racism, charges of police abuse and high unemployment.

But unlike the Watts riot, which was largely within the predominantly black neighborhood, this week’s violence and arsons were spread out, and the rioters included black, Hispanic and white residents, displaying a growing sense of despair.

The riot was a rainbow of anger.

“The police treat us very bad, too,” said Mr. Garcia, a 17-year-old Hispanic high school student. “People want justice. They hit Rodney King; we hit them. It cost them money to do us wrong this time.”

Don Terry, “Decades of Rage Created Crucible of Violence,” New York Times, May 3, 1992.

Black poet and scholar June Jordan spoke to the emotional heart of the riot, its refusal to accept and serve a social order, praising the youth at its forefront for their refusal to comply.

Is there horror? Is there heat unbearable? And is there light where, otherwise, we could not see ourselves? Is there an unexpected, unpredictable colossal energy alive and burning, uncontrolled, throughout America?

Behold my heart of darkness as it quickens now with rage! Behold the hundred— no, a thousand—young black men whose names you never knew/whose neighborhoods you squeezed into a place of helpless desolation/whose music you despised/whose backwards baseball caps and baggy jeans you sneered at/ whose mothers you denied assistance/whose fathers you inducted into the Army or you broke to alleyways where, crumbling at the marrow of their spine, they aged in bitterness.

Behold them now: revengeful, furious, defiant, and, for hours on end, at least, apparently invincible: They just keep moving, and the fires burn. And white kids and Chicanos and Chicanas join them, yes! And Asian-American teenagers join them, yes! There they stand or run, beside and among these young black men who will not bow down. They will not say, “OK. I am nobody. I have nothing. And you hate me and that’s fine! Where should I sign, now, for service to my country? Show me how to worship at the shrine of law and order.”

And what was the crime of Rodney King? He was a young black man, not yet dead, and not yet ready, and not yet willing to die: He was black. He should have been dead. He should not have been born.

Or, as defense attorneys for the police explained, Rodney King kept getting up on “all fours.” He wouldn’t stay down. He kept raising up his head. He kept rising and rising. He would not lie down. He never assumed “a compliant mode.”

And now we have Los Angeles in flames. The mode is nowhere compliant. People of color run around, or walk, without fear. We’re off our knees. Heads up, fists in the air, and fire everywhere.

June Jordan, “In the Light of the Fire,” 1992.

In April and May 1992, these two realities overlapped in Los Angeles. Antagonism with the police was real and ten people were killed by law enforcement during those six days. Throughout the city, people engaged in what Martin Luther King had called “a kind of stormy carnival of free-merchandise distribution,” looting stores or setting them on fire. Despite the media’s characterization of the riots as Black-led, 51% of those arrested for rioting were Latinx, versus 36% African American. Yet, racial antagonisms took the forefront, notably between Blacks and the Korean American shopkeepers who were positioned and targeted as middlemen between them and the larger economic system. The killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper, and the latter’s November 1991 acquittal, sparked these tensions. Three quarters of the sixty deaths during the riots did not involve the police. In the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles, much of the property destruction was local, and one estimate found that “1,867 of 3,100 businesses destroyed or looted” were owned by Korean Americans.

The one thing that a “race riot” is not is an open invitation for rebellion, for co-participation across race lines. This framing, and on-the-street actions that define people as targets due to their race alone, limits the scope of an uprising, and (outside spaces where there is a single dominated racial group in the overwhelming majority) smothers any potential for collective change. I would argue that those with power, those who defend “the system” prefer that any rebellion against police authority take the form of a race riot. What they rightly fear most is a “rainbow riot,” a multiracial urban rebellion.

Yet that is the direction that collective outrage against police violence has been trending towards for a long time.

Why I’m endorsing Bernie Sanders

I wake up and we are in the opening act of a national public health crisis that could shutter every institution for weeks or months, that the global financial markets are tripping towards meltdown, and that a leading presidential candidate, Joe Biden thinks that he can bring us “back to normal” by appointing JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to run the treasury department. By nightfall, Biden vows to veto Medicare for All if an inspired Congress were to pass it and send it to his desk.

Our times are not normal. Our time, right now, is about rising to the scale of the problems we confront. Those problems were started by keeping things on the normal track and denying the urgency of crises: decades of blinders on climate change and rising inequality, a decade of Wall Street deregulation before the 2008 crash, tear gas and water cannons (instead of student debt relief and restructuring) to confront the challenge of Occupy, failing to achieve the moral and social transformations called for by #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.

For priceless weeks, the current government has worn blinders on the coronavirus, building on the quiet acceptance of an epidemic of drug overdose deaths fueled by opioid addiction. We live in society where massive death is a tragedy when it happens to the powerless and a crisis only when it happens to the powerful, but now confront a pathogen that hits both. On this last, we need a well-funded epidemic response effort last year, guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time today, and universal health care this month.

More broadly, we need a 2020 campaign that is as visionary and hopeful as Obama in 2008, but more committed to fundamental change in the aftermath. Bernie Sanders, working with grassroots movements, is building that campaign.

In my estimation, what is most interesting about the Bernie Sanders campaign is the attempt to build lasting ties with external movements as well as mechanisms to activate supporters to organize one another. Long-time community and labor organizers I know have been impressed by his willingness to show up for their issues and walk their picket lines. Sanders proposed in launching his 2020 campaign that “the essence of my politics … is that we need an ongoing grassroots movement of millions of people to pressure Congress, to pressure the corporate establishment. so that we can bring about the changes that this country desperately needs. So that’s why I have said that I will not only be commander-in-chief, I’m going to be organizer-in-chief.” Like changes in other arenas, this mass activation will require a change in culture, and the Sanders campaign has projected some of its image-making efforts towards spreading the very concept of solidarity, and pushing Sanders himself to the side in favor of a ”Not Me. Us.” vision of movement-driven campaigning.

Winning transformative change will require continued grassroots pressure, but the 2020 election provides an invaluable opportunity to choose who is on the other side of the table. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have shown they would be adversaries or obstacles to change in that role. Now is the time to stand with Bernie Sanders to make the work of changing our society that much easier.

A word to Warren supporters

Elizabeth Warren’s run for the presidency did so much to concretize progressive left policy and also to draw a lot of great movement-generated ideas into the space of the election. She was an invaluable symbol of women stepping up to the challenges leadership and a reminder of the barriers women face when daring to lead.

Especially, professional women who deeply identified with Warren’s trajectory as someone who had to project ultracompetence and endure personal sexism just to get the job. I see you. And I know something of how that feels in your professional life.

I won’t ask you to not emotionally project your experiences into political candidates. I know from experience that despite my many political differences from and skepticism of Obama, I took his 2008 run personally in the end.

I believe it’s basically a random fact of history (not to mention James Comey’s bad judgement) that a biracial Black man became president but a woman has not, but I also know that one’s identity being a treated as an electoral liability sucks.

Warren’s prolific plan production was part of a mutually beneficial period of campaigning that strengthened both Warren and Sanders’ platforms. Her wealth tax proposal raises the bar for what is possible and what could be funded. Sanders had to rush to craft his own detailed plans for things that were platform points in 2016. Running in a shared lane forced both to runner faster and further. And by not being alone they broadened the sense of what was possible. If you like Warren’s plans, go read Bernie’s platform.

Today the best chance for a progressive agenda in 2021 is Sanders in the White House and Warren leading the Senate. If Warren’s case that she could be a great author of legislation and builder of coalitions is true, then wonderful. We will need that to implement any of these visions. (Just as we would need a Senator Sanders actively working with a President Warren had she made it to the White House.)

In terms of American lives that could be saved by policy changes, the difference between Sanders or Warren and Biden is significantly greater than between Biden and Trump. So I look forward to working together. Now more than ever.

Collective Endorsements Worth Reading

100+ Black Writers and Scholars Endorse Bernie Sanders: “Bernie Sanders, the politics he advocates, the consistent track record he demonstrates, and the powerful policy changes he has outlined, if elected, would make the most far-reaching and positive impact on the lives and condition of Black people, and all people in the United States.”

Rising for a Global Feminist Future with the Movement to Elect Bernie Sanders: “All of our lives we have been creating movements and art organized around the critical basic human dignity of all people. We support the movement to elect Senator Sanders because engaging electoral politics is a part of the larger strategic democratic movement for solidarity and a feminist future to take hold. We believe an end to patriarchy demands an end to class and racial oppression.

“All across this country and globe, women and children have been working toward a shift in collective consciousness. A feminist future requires political change by men, women, and gender non-binary people not just in the structures and laws but in our collective values and behaviors. It requires an end to violence against women, girls, and all femme people. A feminist future demands the spirit of cooperation. We are inspired and motivated by the grassroots movements brewing across the globe and here in the United States of America for decency, dignity, and respect. We amplify poor, unemployed, and working people behind this political moment aching with passion and anxiety toward the uncertainty of tomorrow. We must strategically rally and rise together.”

Boots Riley, Why I am voting for Bernie Sanders: “People are looking for ways to exact power over their own lives. More and more they are realising that in order to do that we need a mass, militant, radical labour movement that can collectively withhold labour as a tool — not only for higher wages and benefits — but as a tool for larger social justice issues as well

“In order to get some of the reforms that Bernie Sanders’ campaign platform calls for — Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free university and trade school tuition, building 10 million more homes in an effort to address homelessness — it’s going to take movement tactics.

“We are going to have to have strategic, targeted and general strikes to force the hand of the folks who have some of these politicians in their pockets.”

And fellow anthropologists please consider signing this one…

Anthropologists for Bernie Sanders: “As anthropologists committed to a more equitable, sustainable, and just world, we write to express our support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the 2020 Democratic nomination. While we believe true social transformation happens primarily through the pressure of social movements, our research also teaches us the importance of leadership that will heed the call of grassroots demands for economic and social justice. We urge people to support Bernie Sanders’ candidacy now, and work to ensure he will be our next president.

“Our discipline exposes us to multiple and varied ways of organizing society, the economy, and social relations. We know from our field experience that no form of inequality or injustice is inevitable, natural, or permanent. Human beings create and re-create their social realities by acting collectively.”

CBP suspends “zero tolerance,” Sessions defends it, Military builds prisons for families

In the wake of Donal Trump’s executive order (text) that promised to replace family separation with joint detention of undocumented migrant families, the US government’s actions have been fractured. Over two thousand children remain separated from their parents. As I noted on the day it was issued, the Executive Order codifies the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all arriving adults as criminals for crossing the border.

However, unexpectedly, Customs and Border Protection (part of the Department of Homeland Security) has retreated from zero tolerance and stopped prosecuting arriving families through criminal courts, for now. CBP’s new approach was announced informally on June 21 and formally on June 25. In both announcements, the agency said its reasons are logistical, though the mass public pressure and media embarrassment associated with separating families are obvious major factors. CBP’s head reaffirmed yesterday that he would like to imprison families if he only had the room:

Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said his agency and the Justice Department should agree on a policy “where adults who bring their kids across the border — who violate our laws and risk their lives at the border — can be prosecuted without an extended separation from their children.”

Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not have enough detention space for the surge of families crossing the border, many families will be quickly released, with a promise to return for a court hearing. Mr. McAleenan said that the agency would continue to refer single adults for prosecution for illegally crossing the border, and that border agents would also separate children from adults if the child is in danger or if the adult has a criminal record.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims that the Department of Justice is holding fast to its zero-tolerance policy, under which it instructed prosecutors on April 6, 2018 (memo|2017 memo authorizing aggressive prosecution), to prosecute all adults referred to them for the crime of unlawful entry. Dogged by protests in Reno, Nevada, Sessions insisted that

The president has made this clear. We are going to continue to prosecute those adults who enter here illegally. We are going to do everything in our power, however, to avoid separating families. All federal agencies are working hard to accomplish this goal.

Squaring this circle requires more jails for families. On Monday, June 25, Defense Secretary Mattis announced that Fort Bliss (near El Paso, Texas) and Goodfellow Air Force Base have been selected as the first detention facilities on military bases.

Migrant families who were taken into custody will be housed at Fort Bliss, an Army base outside El Paso, according to Bowman. Unaccompanied migrant children will be housed at Goodfellow Air Force Base, near San Angelo in central Texas.

As the Department of Defense constructs family detention facilities, they will be solving CBP’s “logistical problem.” Accepting the agencies at their word, we should expect families housed at Fort Bliss to be put through zero-tolerance prosecutions.

Why Trump’s Executive Order doesn’t solve the family separation crisis

Yesterday afternoon, June 20, President Trump publicly retreated from the family separation policy (Wikipedia article) that has torn at least 2,342 children from their families. A close reading of the Executive Order he signed, however, reveals that instead of retreating, Trump codified Jeff Sessions’ zero-tolerance policy and proposed an expanding system of indefinite family detention. Further reporting revealed that the Administration is not yet prepared to re-unite divide families. Practical and legal constraints may render the promises of the Executive Order worthless, or (and this is the only speculative part of this post) prompt renewed family separations within days or weeks.

A close read of the Executive Order

This is a slightly amplified version of a post that went viral on Facebook yesterday. While I am not an immigration lawyer, I am a trained policy analyst (M.P.P., University of Chicago, 1998) familiar with Executive Orders and recent immigration policy. My read here is a direct analysis of what the White House proposed, rather than an assessment of what it can legally or practically implement.

I’ve just read the Trump Executive Order. It’s not a solution, and it makes some things worse.

Here’s what the Executive Order actually does (numbered by section) …

1. Codifies Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” directive until new immigration legislation is passed. Prior to the Trump/Sessions crackdown, the US government only criminally prosecuted about 21% of unlawful entrants, concentrating on return offenders and smugglers and exempting families with children. “This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce this and other criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise.”

2. Limits the definition of family to parent-child pairs. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. are excluded. “Alien family” means…

3a. Puts families under Homeland Security custody during criminal, immigration cases. Previously, children and detained families had to be held in facilities contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services. [Correction 6/27: Detained families are held by DHS in three facilities: the privately operated Karnes County Residential Center and South Texas Family Residential Center in Texas, and the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. These facilities must be state-licensed as child-care facilities under rulings pursuant to the Reno v. Flores litigation.] The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary), shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families 

3b.Authorizes immigration authorities to separate parents from children if joint detention “would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.” This phrase seems intended to separate abusers from their kids, but no procedure is elaborated.

3c. Authorizes the military to build new prisons for migrant families. The wording actually gives the Homeland Security Secretary, currently Kirstjen Nielsen, to choose any military facility she wishes.  The Secretary of Defense shall take all legally available measures to provide to the Secretary [of Homeland Security], upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law. 

3d. Allows all Federal departments to offer their buildings as prisons. Heads of executive departments and agencies shall, to the extent consistent with law, make available to the Secretary, for the housing and care of alien families pending court proceedings for improper entry, any facilities that are appropriate for such purposes. 

3e. Authorizes the DOJ to try to wriggle out of the Flores Agreement. This phrasing is the most foreboding since it would seek legal authorization for DHS (not Health and Human Services) to detain families throughout their often-lengthy criminal, deportation, and asylum proceedings. The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions… to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.

4. Orders parents to be prosecuted first in immigration courts, presumably to deport them fastest. This phrase, intended to expedite prosecution and removal, puts families to the head of a line that also includes people being deported for dangerous criminal offenses, the exact opposite of the policy pursued by the Obama administration.

Early signs the crisis isn’t over

  • Wednesday afternoon, Kenneth Wolfe, a spokeman for  the Administration for Children and Families told the press, “There will not be a grandfathering of existing cases.” And also “For the minors currently in the unaccompanied alien children program, the sponsorship process will proceed as usual.”
  • Seemingly embarrassed by these admissions, the Department of Health and Human Services walked them back later on Wednesday, saying instead: “It is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter. … Reunification is always the ultimate goal of those entrusted with the care of UACs, and the administration is working towards that for those UACs currently in HHS custody.”
  • Once guidance comes, there is the problem of a system not built to keep families connected at all. Politico reports that “The biggest problem, as far as I can tell, is where the kids’ records don’t have information on the parents,” said one Homeland Security Department official. “I don’t know how they’re going to go about fixing that.”
  • Should families be reunited, they might not have a place to go. The Executive Order instructs the Department of Homeland Security (ICE and CBP) to incarcerate families together. At the moment, ICE has very limited detention space for families. As the Washington Post reports, “ICE operates two large family detention centers in Texas and a smaller facility in Pennsylvania, with a combined capacity for about 3,000 beds. As of June 9, the three facilities had nearly 2,600 of those beds occupied.” Reuniting families immediately would require some five thousand separated family members into 400 beds.

Looming obstacles mean family separation will likely resume, and soon

Again, this is the only speculative part of this post.

  • Reports indicate that ICE has been separating 65 children per day. As noted above, ICE family detention capacity is low (perhaps as few as 400 empty beds), even if already separated families remain separate. Incarcerating families will require putting around 130 people into these facilities every day, or rapidly building more. Either the government will rapidly stop detaining families together, or they will start putting them into makeshift facilities recently built for immigrant children, like the tent camp in Tornillo.
  • Legal constraints, primarily the Flores Settlement, limit DHS custody of children to 72 hours and HHS custody to 20 days. If enforced, these would require either separating or releasing families at the end of these windows.
  • There will be lawsuits over the new family detention policy, and some of it seems manifestly against existing law or legal orders. Politico reports: “The president doesn’t get any brownie points for moving from a policy of locking up families and kids separately to locking them up together,” said Karen Tumlin of the National Immigrant Law Center. “I will not hesitate to use every legal tool available to challenge these policies in court….May a thousand litigation flowers bloom.”

On the other hand…

We did get some genuinely good news today (Thursday) with this announcement from Customs and Border Patrol, reported by the Washington Post:

The U.S. Border Patrol will no longer refer migrant parents who cross into the United States illegally with children to federal courthouses to face criminal charges, a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told The Washington Post on Thursday.

A Justice Department spokesperson denied changes to the zero tolerance policy and said prosecutions would continue.

Because ICE lacks the detention capacity to increase the number of families it holds in detention, the official acknowledged that many migrant parents and children will likely be released from custody while they await court hearings.

Top CBP officials did not know what the executive order would ask them to do until its release Wednesday, the official said. The decision to cease prosecutions of parents with children was made by the Department of Homeland Security for logistical purposes because the official said it would not be “feasible” to bring children to federal courtrooms while their parents go before a judge.

This is a logistical decision; there really is nowhere to put families with children. So, it may be reversed. But it is the first sign that CBP might not implement the mass detention of families, for now.

Mass prosecutions of adults without children continue. So the zero tolerance policy has not be reversed.

Further reading

I’m not just a voice in the wilderness saying these things. You can read reporting and commentary here…

Making immigration illegal has always been a racist move

From the beginning, US immigration law has been about race.

The 1790 Naturalization Act offered US citizenship only to “free white persons.”

The Chinese were nearly all banned by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which also made those Chinese already here ineligible for naturalization.

The 1917 Immigration Act created the Asiatic Barred Zone, added a vast zone of East, Southeast, and South Asians and the Persian and Arab world to the exclusions.

Until 1921, all white immigrants to the United States were legal immigrants, although a variety of entry criteria were made to exclude the poorest, radicals, homosexuals, and the disabled.

Then, explicitly racist people passed two immigration acts (in 1921 and 1924) designed to rebalance immigration away from Southern and Eastern Europe. They created the concept of illegal immigrants, and quotas. They  You can read President Calvin Coolidge’s intentions here:

"We might avoid this danger were we insistent that the immigrant, before he leaves foreign soil, is temperamentally keyed for our national background.  There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons.  Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend.  The Nordics propagate themselves successfully.  With our races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides.  Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.  We must remember that we have not only the present but the future to safeguard; our obligations extend even to generations yet unborn.  The unassimilated alien child menaces our children, as the alien industrial worker, who has destruction rather than production in mind, menaces our industry.  It is only when the alien adds vigor to our stock that he is wanted.  The dead weight of alien accretion stifles national progress.  But we have a hope that cannot be crushed; we have a background that we will not allow to be obliterated.  The only acceptable immigrant is the one who can justify our faith in man by a constant revelation of the divine purpose of the Creator.  President Calvin Coolidge, “Whose Country is This?” Good Housekeeping, volume 72 number 2 February 1921, pages 13-14, 109"

Criminalizing  immigration has always been a racist move. And illegal alien has always been a legal gloss on racially undesirable immigrant.

Heroes

Among the immigrants on the white side of my family: a German fleeing conscription and the Franco-Prussian War, and Polish Jews in an era of pogroms. Draft dodgers and war refugees. They got here before 1921, so they didn’t break the law to enter. Instead, fear of people like them inspire those racist laws.

It’s easy to see now how the Chinese who overstayed their bonded labor status and gave birth to citizen children were heroes. Likewise the Chinese who became “paper sons” to bring their families and countrymen in. And so we’re the Italians and Slavs and Jews who defied the 1924 law (many of whose relatives, like mine, would not make it through World War II and the Holocaust). People who come here so their kids can have a better life, racist laws be damned, were heroes then and are heroes now.

Image at top: Racial types and criminality infographic by anthropologist and eugenicist Earnest Hooton, an advocate of immigration controls.

How Johnson, white Americans ignored the commission that investigated the riotous summer of 1967

Michigan (Public) Radio, currently remembering the Detroit riots of 1967 (Wikipedia), has produced a dramatic and fascinating account of the Kerner Commission’s findings on the causes and possible solutions to the summer of racial unrest in 1967, which came to be known as the Long, Hot Summer. And why and how they have been ignored for forty-nine years.

When the Kerner Commission spoke, proclaiming the United States was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white –  separate and unequal,” a fearful Democratic Party shut its ears:

“The report put the responsibility for all of this stuff on white society and white institutions. That, I think, was a surprise to some white Americans and I think that was part of the reason he [President Lyndon Johnson] was very careful not to upset the large segment of white society. That was why I think it happened like that.” — Professor Joe T. Darden, Michigan State University

President Lyndon Johnson’s response was more personal. He was hurt that his Great Society programs weren’t praised by the Commission and had made the Vietnam War, not the so-called War on Poverty his budget priority.

“And Bobby [Kennedy] just gave me hell today for not carrying out the Kerner Commission study. Well, I didn’t realize when I appointed Kerner that this son-of-a-bitch from New York, [Mayor John] Lindsey, would take charge. He did take charge and he recommended I hire two-and-a-half million people on federal payroll. And I just, I’ve not wanted to reflect on Kerner and criticize the Commission. At the same time, I couldn’t embrace it because I’ve got a budget,” Johnson said in a secretly recorded phone conversation.

Yesterday’s radio report is also remarkable for its frank admission that economic inequality among races in the United States may be getting worse, not better. Have a listen.

Previous coverage on this blog of the Kerner Commission’s investigation of who rioters were, and what tactics they chose, is here: Kerner Commission report on 1967 riots seems eerily familiar.

Numerous detentions go beyond letter of Muslim Travel Ban Executive Order

We’re seeing a lot of legally ungrounded detentions and expulsions of international travelers in and around Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13769 imposing a travel ban on residents of seven Muslim countries. Here’s a brief list:

  • Prior to the January 27 Executive Order, multiple valid visas were abruptly canceled by the Department of Homeland Security, The Intercept reports: “Valid visa holders were suddenly being prevented from re-entering the country after taking trips abroad … The impacted individuals whose files the official reviewed included a young mother of a U.S. citizen child and students at some of the nation’s top universities who had been publicly recognized for their outstanding achievement. These students had already undergone rigorous U.S. government vetting before being admitted to the country, and had only traveled abroad briefly over their winter break.”
    These cancellations were imposed suddenly and the surprised visa holders were punished, the official is quoted as saying, “More disturbing, in some cases the individuals were allowed to board flights for the United States not knowing their visas had been terminated. They were only informed when they attempted to use their visas to seek admission and were denied. Even though they were ignorant of the termination, they were still charged with violating U.S. immigration law and given a five-year ban to future admission.”
  • The pattern of border officials threatening visa holders with punishment for violating immigration law continued on Saturday, January 28, as the Order began to be implemented upon people who had begun their journeys before it even existed. Cleveland Clinic medical intern Suha Abushamma, an MD from Sudan, was told she faced deportation and five-year ban from the United States unless she signed a document relinquishing her H-1B visa, according multiple press reports. UAE national and doctor Amer Al Homssi likewise had his visa cancelled upon arrival to O’Hare; the United Arab Emirates is not on the travel ban list. Al Homssi’s exclusion was reversed on February 1 as his lawyers appeared in court to press his case. Coerced departures were common at JFK as of Sunday, according to Becca Heller of the International Refugee Assistance Project, “Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes. A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.”
  • Court orders enjoining enforcement of the travel ban have been ignored by the government.
    • Abushamma’s removal came after Judge Ann Donnelly’s stay and the judge’s insistence that “nobody is to be removed in this class [i.e., those covered by the class action suit], okay?”
    • Four Democratic members of Congress were unable to compel authorities at Dulles Airport to comply with the court order on January 28.
  • Extended questioning of arrivals continued on Monday, January 30 at O’Hare airport despite court orders, with the Chicago Tribune reporting that 40 to 50 people were detained for hours.
  • Mohammad Abu Khadra, a sixteen-year-old Jordanian visa holder who sometimes lives with his family in Katy, Texas, has been detained since his January 28 arrival at Houston Intercontinental airport. (Jordan isn’t on the travel ban list.) On January 30, he was transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility in Chicago. He was first able to speak with his lawyers on February 1, and they now expect him to be detained for up to a month. He “is allowed to talk to his family twice a week for 10 minutes on the phone now that he’s been processed” according to his immigration attorney. There have been intimations in the press that he may be detained now because of a mismatch between his tourist visa and his taking English classes at a Texas high school. Khadra was released to his family on Febuary 13; his future visa status is unresolved. Representative Shirley Jackson Lee held a press conference advocating him upon his release. [Updated February 13]

In short, the Department of Homeland Security is coloring outside of the lines of the Executive Order, in the direction of a general process of arbitrary detention of foreign Muslims. Unfortunately, I fear I may be updating this list for some time to come.

Narrow Road to Prosecuting Police for Killings; A Wall Blocks Murder Convictions

With the November 16 indictment of Jeronimo Yanez for the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Height, Minnesota, there have now been twelve police officers criminally charged for shooting civilians on duty in 2016. Eighteen more were charged in 2015, reports Jennifer Bjorhus in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her reporting draws on the media monitoring and data collection of Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. Stinson has been chronicling this data since 2005, using systematic Google News searches, one part of a wide-ranging inquiry into police misconduct that can be seen in his many publications. (A 538 interview describes his work.) The thirty indictments in the last 23 months have come at a much faster pace than the 48 indictments Stinson has counted in the previous ten years, 2005-14.

Data sources: Prior to the emergence of Black Lives Matter, there was little appetite in the news media or government agencies for this kind of data, but news organizations have stepped in to the vacuum: The Guardian produces “The Counted,” a tabulation of all police killings and the Washington Post maintains “Fatal Force” chronicling deadly police shootings. Shamed by the lack of official data, the US Department of Justice announced plans to begin keeping a database of deaths in police custody and deadly police violent force in 2016, although it would rely on voluntary self-reporting for the latter. It is unclear if a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department would continue this initiative.

Murder convictions remain elusive: The 78 indictments since 2005 have yielded 27 convictions. However, just one of those produced a murder conviction: Police officer James Ashby was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting Jack Jacquez in the back in 2014; the victim was unarmed and had fled into his mother’s house. As explained in the video below, the Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor (1989) provides any cop who believed there was a threat to himself or others with a defense against prosecution.

As previously noted on this blog, in 1969 the magazine Ramparts offered a challenge to secure a murder conviction of a cop killing a Black man. The Guardian has tabulated over 500 black deaths in just the past 23 months. According to Stinson’s data, no convictions matching that description have been made in over 12 years.