Friday, July 08, 2016

Dallas Shootings: Don’t Mention the (Race) War!

For me the central tragedy of this week is not the massacre in Dallas, horrific as it is.

It is the video shot in Falcon Heights of the aftermath of the police shooting of Philandro Castile.

Absolutely wrenching to watch.  And it should be watched to the very end.  It is a heartrending depiction of a family destroyed and the survivors desperately trying to keep it together with courage and dignity…until they can’t. 

Micah Johnson, I expect, also watched it, and it may have contributed to his decision to shoot the police officers in Dallas.  He probably also watched the video of Alton Sterling getting shot while struggling with two police officers in Baton Rouge.  And a few other videos.

We can’t ask him because sending in a robot with some C4 strapped to it to kill Johnson was, in the judgment of the Dallas PD, preferable to waiting him out.  I have a feeling part of the cop omerta code involves extrajudicially executing, well, murdering cop killers like Christopher Dorner as an example/deterrent, but we’ll probably never get the final word on that, either.

On July 8, an African American man opened fire on passing cars on a highway in Tennessee, killing one and wounding three.  He was wounded, detained, and told officers “because he was troubled by incidents involving black people and law enforcement officers”.

Micah Johnson was less circumspect.  Before he died, according to Dallas PD, he told “negotiators”  he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers.

The New York Times started its story on Johnson with the misleading lede that “A military veteran who said his goal was to kill white police officers opened fire Thursday night in downtown Dallas…”

Pretty sloppy, Grey Lady.  And shunning an absolutely dynamite, click-generating lead.  Blacks hunting whites is hot.  A vet blowing his stack at the cops…not.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that the fix is in, and that the US government at the highest level is determined to use the tools at its disposal to keep a lid on this thing lest it escalate into a national nightmare of copycat and retaliatory killings.  I’m guessing it involves a crisis room (run by AG Loretta Lynch? Somebody higher up?), outreach to surrogates, media, and opinion leaders, with one message:

Ix-nay on the ace-ray ar-way 

“Play down the race war angle” for those of you not fluent in pig latin.

Or as Loretta Lynch put it, “Do not let this precipitate a new normal”.

I expect it includes “outreach” to Donald Trump himself, explaining his statement on the Dallas attack that was characterized as “un-Trump-like” in its dignified avoidance of race baiting and, indeed, included a sympathetic if name-free shout out to Castilo and Sterling.

I think a high level of image management is going on, starting with the inevitable characterization of Johnson as a “lone wolf” (Talking Points Memo does the pro bono work of walking back the initial multiple shooter reports here using the NYT story).

Mid-day July 8, VOA does not seem to have received the “lone wolf” memo, by the way.  Nor has Dallas PD.

Cornered by police after the ambush, a suspect -- believed to be Johnson -- told a negotiator he wanted "to kill white people, especially white (police) officers," and said he was acting alone and was unaffiliated with any groups, Brown said during a news conference Friday. …

Later in the day, Brown said the investigation, however, has "revealed to us this was a well planned, well thought out, evil tragedy by these suspects."

Note term “suspects” a.k.a. plural, which means that DPD probably regards Johnson’s statement that he acted alone as conspiratorial opsec.

But by the end of the day on July 8, the mayor of Dallas, got the memo, stating in a press conference—first reported by Buzzfeed!-- "We believe, given the facts we have today, that Mr Johnson, now deceased, was the lone shooter."


Then there’s the need to knock down the extremely unpalatable possibility that the attack could be characterized as terrorism, thereby tossing a nice grenade into race relations in the US. The "terrorism" framing is suitable for Muslims, apparently, but nobody wants to hang that tag on 13% of the US population.

The obfuscation was executed by the rather hasty pre-emptive announcement by the US government that there were no “terrorist links".

Well, the FBI definition of “terrorism” does not involve “links”.  It is defined entirely by actions and intent:

"Domestic terrorism" means activities with the following three characteristics:
  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
There is a determined effort to provide a pleasing narrative of a lone wolf outraged by cop violence and going berserk.

There is a distinct and understandable queasiness about exploring Johnson’s explicit black nationalist sympathies.  One of the few photographs of Johnson shows him clasping hands with Professor Griff, one of the members of Public Enemy (Professor Griff by the way, denied any and all relationships with Johnson on his twitter feed).  

In our clickbait driven journo world, one would think the magical intersection of celebrity, murder, and black nationalism would spark a feeding frenzy.  But the story played overseas, at the Daily Mail, first, and only got picked up in the US by the NY Daily News, which led w/ Griff’s repudiation.  In other words, crickets.  

Another issue is the right-wing talking point that public expressions of sympathy for black victims of police violence by President Obama and Hillary Clinton created a condoning and legitimizing environment for expressions of black rage against police officers that might go beyond swelling the crowd at a Black Lives Matter rally.  Awkward, but probably true.  Again, we’ll never know.  And the media is, I am pretty sure, disinclined to speculate.

So much to keep the lid on.  So much lid-on-keeping going on.  A story in itself.  In my opinion.

While AG Lynch steers the convo away from "angry black nationalist(s) exact(s) retribution" to the previous whites-only theme of "PTSD-crippled loner-vet's murderous dysfunction triggered by video nasties" (maybe that counts as racial progress!) I expect President Obama is prepping a speech on a teachable, hug it out moment for cops and blacks in Dallas next week.  Well, if that gives him enough political cover to hug Philandro Castile's family, it's good, I guess.

But I wonder if it'll have a significant impact on the current policing model, which is overwhelming pre-emptive and laser-focused on the confrontation and control , including incarceration when expedient, of young men, black and otherwise. 

Changing that requires something of a revolution in how we prioritize positive outcomes both for young men and their communities.   Since the neo-liberal movement currently ascendant in American government is averse to pinkish policies that look beyond market forces, coddling of capital, and exaltation of individualism, let alone revolution, I expect changes to policing to be largely cosmetic.

Maybe there's some public/private partnership gold to be spun out of this situation!

Incremental improvements are better than nothing, but I see current social policies as (positive term) neglecting the health of communities and (negative) doing little to stem the continued erosion of the state monopoly of violence.  

In my opinion, America is not "torn apart" by violence.  It's held together by violence, in a complicated and extremely fraught way.  The state lost its monopoly on violence virtually at its inception and managing the impact of non-state violent actors has been a full-time job for the last 240 years.  Sometimes it gets very, very hard--remember the Civil War?--and I don't think it's a walk in the park today.

Today, thanks to the proliferation of guns and cell phones, and the rising narratives of white nationalism and black empowerment, and the liberal mantra that the best way to resolve social tensions is through economic growth and opportunity (while cops slice and dice the malcontents), job's especially tough.

Plenty of tinder, plenty of matches.  Plenty of suffering and frustration that the US government is trying to manage when they can't be ignored.  And for me, concern that the government focuses on managing the symptoms--and the optics-- because it is losing a struggle to address the underlying causes.


Hayjay said...

Excellent essay
Takes us back to us
Indict and impeach - potus to officers

John Cunningham said...

was the taillight really out? he died for it :o(

John Cunningham said...

There needs to be change in America's Judicial system...

Not all, but some police have murder down to a science. Kill someone, go on a 2 month paid vacation, ( administrative leave ) get a slap on the back by your buddies, get an award, get a new gun with a notch on the handle, and go back out, and kill again because that is what they are being trained to do with their militarized weaponry, and their militarized attitude that it's them, against us. The American people are their only enemy. So we are the them.

We in America live in the largest militarized police state in the world; We in America are 4% of the worlds population,( 320 million out of 7.5 billion people worldwide ) but we have 50% of the worlds prisoners if you count probation, and parole. We also have 50% of the worlds military (by money spent) that we use to intimidate the rest of the world with, and we have a much larger militarized local police force then our military, and the militarized police force only have to intimidate us…

Something has to change; there are too many wars on the American people by our governments with no reporting in our media to the American people so we can make changes in the voting booths to make our land a better place to live for everyone

We need a fairness doctrine, for fair and balanced reporting on our media, instead of the propaganda born out of bigotry fed to America on a daily basis that is dividing, and destroying the values of this country. it couldn't be any clearer.

There are way to many distortions in our society to be able to pursue our declaration of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

the deaths by cop isn't even reported to the government, you can find anything at except the number of Americans killed by cop. the only totals I could find is a guy who added up all the newspaper reports for 2012, his total was 1,300 nationwide deaths by cop. ( 1,300 X 15 = 19,500 killed by cop in 15 years, 6,000 Americans killed in all wars in the last 15 years including 9/11 )

Using the number 6,000 (killed in all wars) / 19,500 (killed by police) so you are 3.25 times more likely to die by cop in the united states in the last 15 years then all Americans killed in all the wars America has been in for the last 15 years....

before you put a thumbs down, add it up yourself and tell me I’m wrong, and at least tell me why the thumbs down? I don’t think the math is hard.

We have populations of color who rightfully, and statistically feel like pray in their own homes.

we all have to find empathy in the knowledge that we are all 99.99% the same with the same wants, hopes, and dreams.

we just need to calm it all down, and our bigoted, militarized police need retraining that it's all of us together, not them, and us...

please look my numbers up yourself at, they are as close as I could find them.

Look at the numbers given out by the Department of Justice a few months ago at ( )

1) black, and white do the same amount of drugs ( fact ), but blacks are arrested ten times more then whites, and blacks are only 13% of the population... that's a rate of somewhere like 90 blacks to 1 one white if they were 50% of the population.

2) black, and whites are confronted by police about the same amount of times, ( fact ) but blacks are killed by the police twenty eight times as much, and they are only 13% of the population... that is a rate of something like 300 blacks to 1 white if they were 50% of the population.

( those numbers are just insane to think that is a fair treatment of the American population )

Now think about the ratio above of the 300 blacks to 1 white killed by our police, if it was happening in any other country in the world we would be screaming " GENOCIDE " and putting a stop to it now...

John C.

Patrick Tang-Jun Benesh-Liu said...

This is an astute assessment, Peter. I'm saddened, but most of all frustrated by what's going on. However, I've noticed that most of the media coverage, and the pushback, has turned into either pro- or anti-Black Lives Matter and pro- or anti-police. This framing simply accelerates the conflict, and no one is focusing on what the solutions might be, or at the very least, those who are have been pushed to the fringes of the conversation.

Maybe you should take a look at Campaign Zero. As far as I can tell, it's run by an extended seed group of activists who rose out of the Ferguson protests, and who, although the actual line-up differs by one or two people, run a branch network of activism on the issues of inequal treatment of African-Americans either via institutional racism or societal racism. Several of the same people who run Campaign Zero also run what seems to be the parent group,

What makes Campaign Zero different from Black Lives Matter is that they carefully lay out, item by item, policy changes that could make a huge difference over time in how the police are trained, the rights of citizens, what things are criminalized or decriminalized, and oversight of police departments. Black Lives Matter is basically an emotional protest that is pushing for justice by having the police officers who murdered African-Americans brought to trial and imprisoned, but they have no coherent suggestions, from what I can see, on their website on what should be done after that.

I think Campaign Zero gets no real media recognition because it doesn't have sound bites, it is reasoned and logical, and it doesn't have a big emotional pushback which makes for exciting Us vs Them news coverage. I think they really should be getting more play, as they are suggesting real steps towards solving, or at least reducing the severity of, police violence in America.

The website is