“The United States of America, of course, was founded with slavery at the core of its socioeconomic system. Conversation about slavery’s foundational role in the US has been reinvigorated by the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which, as J. Brian Charles wrote for Vox, “marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves to Virginia” by seeking “to reframe the country’s thinking about slavery and how intertwined the practice of slavery has been in shaping the nation.” (Trump’s “1776 Commission” is meant to allude to the 1619 Project, which Trump has railed against.)
Even after slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws made Black people second-class citizens in much of the country. Today, Black Americans have to deal with voter suppression efforts aimed at making it difficult to them to vote in areas where their votes threaten Republican control.
This legacy of racism has tangible consequences. Black Americans have lower life expectancies and make less than whites, even adjusted for education. (And adjusting for education is important, because in this area as well Blacks fare worse than whites.)
Black Americans are also far more likely, per capita, to be victims of police violence than White Americans. This disparity in particular became a major topic of public attention this summer as protests erupted following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and more recently the shooting of Jacob Blake.
But instead of even paying lip service to structural racism, Trump has consistently denied that such a thing exists. In a July interview with CBS, for instance, Trump responded to a straightforward question about why he thinks Black people continue to be killed by police by lashing out — at the questioner.
“And so are white people. So are white people,” Trump said. “What a terrible question to ask.””
“The Senate and Electoral College systematically underweight the votes of people of color — and the judiciary operates directly downstream of those biases. Washington, DC, home to the largest plurality of Black Americans in the country, is excluded entirely from federal representation. The filibuster has historically been used to block or delay anti-lynching laws and civil rights legislation”
“Since 2000, 40 percent of presidential elections have been won by the loser of the popular vote. A 2019 study found that Republicans should be expected to win 65 percent of presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote, and could potentially win while losing the popular vote by as much as 6 percentage points. And this November, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver calculates that Democratic nominee Joe Biden only has a 6 percent chance of winning the Electoral College if he wins the popular vote by 0 to 1 points, a 22 percent chance if he wins by 1 to 2 points, and less than a 50 percent chance if he wins by 2-3 points.”
“The Senate is even more extreme. In a 2019 Data for Progress analysis, Colin McAuliffe found that the Senate has a 3 percentage point tilt toward Republicans (double the 1.5 percent skew in the Electoral College). And that is probably an understatement — Silver recently calculated that the Senate is “effectively 6 to 7 percentage points redder than the country as a whole.” As my colleague Matt Yglesias points out, in 2014, Republican candidates won 52 percent of the popular Senate vote and gained nine Senate seats; in 2016, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote and gained only two seats; and in 2018, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote and lost two seats.
“Because the president appoints federal judges and the Senate confirms them, these biases are also reflected in the judiciary, where the Trump administration has already filled federal court benches with an unprecedented number of young, highly ideological conservative judges, including two Supreme Court justices.
It’s important to underscore the mechanism that generates and sustains this partisan bias: US political institutions systematically underweight the interests of nonwhite Americans.”
“Analyzing the results of the 2016 presidential election, statisticians Andrew Gelman and Pierre-Antoine Kremp found that “per voter, whites have 16 percent more power than blacks once the Electoral College is taken into consideration, 28 percent more power than Latinos, and 57 percent more power than those who fall into the other category.”
Behind the Senate’s partisan tilt is that it overrepresents people living in small states who tend to be whiter, on average, than people living in larger states. California, which has large Black and brown populations, and Wyoming, a predominantly white state, have equal representation in the Senate, despite the former having over 60 times more people than the latter.”
“this racial skew distorts policy preferences on issues ranging from gun control to the minimum wage to environmental policy. For instance, 48 percent of Americans believe controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting gun rights; however, when you weigh voter preferences as the Senate does — giving equal representation to each state — support for gun control drops a whopping 5 points, to 43 percent.
Why? Because the Senate overweights the preferences of white Americans, who tend to favor gun rights, and underweights the preferences of Black and brown Americans, who tend to favor gun control. By that same mechanism, McAuliffe finds that support for a $15 minimum wage also drops 5 points (from 58 to 53 percent), and a $100 billion yearly investment in green social housing drops 3 points (63 to 60 percent).”
“This is the status quo that Just Democracy’s coalition members aim to change — and they have a few proposals to do so.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with murder in the shooting deaths of two people during the violent protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had a run-in with the police earlier in the night — an extremely friendly one.
In footage from about 15 minutes before the shootings pieced together by the New York Times’s Visual Investigations team, you can see Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police vehicle and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s associates, members of an armed militia. “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” the officer says before driving off.
The young-looking Rittenhouse is under the legal age for firearm ownership and was carrying an assault rifle, which appears to be a misdemeanor under Wisconsin law. Instead of stopping him and asking for proof of age, the police give him water and an attaboy. And when he tried to surrender after the shootings, the police went right by him, even as bystanders were telling them that Rittenhouse had shot people.”
“police killings are not the whole story. The protests, and all the policy recommendations that have come with them, are pushing back against other systemic problems too.
Some of those injustices are specific and quantifiable: shootings, unfair traffic stops, arbitrary arrests. Others are vague but no less concerning: feeling you have no recourse for complaints about police, the calculus that can go into the decision to call 911, the sense that an investigation into a reported crime won’t be prioritized, the nervousness and fear that must be tamped down as one works to stay calm and keep an officer calm — all while wondering if you are living your final moments.
Not all of these problems can be measured. The number of police killings per year is a statistic that can be tabulated and broken down into easily digested parts: killings per region, per department, per time of day, per ethnicity. But how police make people feel is not quite as easily captured in data. There are ways to try — surveys asking whether officers make one tense or whether one trusts law enforcement — but such questions offer limited insight into what is causing those results or what effect they have.
Meanwhile, the issues behind the answers to those surveys do have a clear effect: They leave many black Americans frustrated with and fearful of police.”
“During a national crisis, so many people feel moved to give, and that’s great. But it’s best if we don’t all heap money on the same charity. After a certain point, a nonprofit runs out of “room for more funding,” meaning it has enough money to fund all of the work it’s good at doing, so more donations may not be used effectively.”
“It’s also worthwhile to think hard about which causes are being neglected. If bail funds suddenly become hot, do more research into adjacent or underlying issues. Donating to a group that advocates for ending the cash bail system altogether (as MFF does) might actually become a more appealing option. That’s a broader, more systemic change than bailing out a few dozen protesters right now, but it may well do more good in the long term.”
“MFF plans to apply this long-game thinking to its work going forward. It’ll use its $30 million to push for systemic change, including abolishing money bail and overhauling immigration detention. That was always its mission, stated on its website for all to see. The complaint among some donors that this mission isn’t what they signed up for highlights, more than anything, the importance of doing due diligence before donating and adopting a rigorous approach to giving.”
“In a 2017 analysis of data from 20 states, researchers at Stanford University found that “white drivers are searched in 2.0% of stops, compared to 3.5% of stops for black motorists and 3.8% for Hispanic motorists.” After the researchers controlled for stop location, date and time, and driver age and gender, they calculated that “black and Hispanic drivers have approximately twice the odds of being searched relative to white drivers.” They were also twice as likely to be arrested. The study found that “black and Hispanic drivers are searched on the basis of less evidence than white drivers, suggestive of bias in search decisions.”
After surveying drivers in the Kansas City area in 2003 and 2004, Charles Epp and two other researchers at the University of Kansas classified police encounters based on the legal justification (or lack thereof) and the amount of discretion involved. They found that black drivers were no more likely than white drivers to report clear-cut “traffic safety stops” (e.g., for running a red light or stop sign, driving at night with headlights off, or exceeding the speed limit by seven or more miles an hour) but were nearly three times as likely to report seemingly pretextual “investigatory stops” (e.g., for an unilluminated license plate, driving too slowly, or no reason mentioned by the officer).
During investigatory stops, Epp and his colleagues reported, black drivers were five times as likely as white drivers to be searched. They were also more likely to be handcuffed and threatened with arrest, and more likely to describe the officer’s demeanor as rude, hostile, or insulting. Blacks perceived investigatory stops as less legitimate than traffic safety stops, while whites made no such distinction. The more stops black drivers had experienced, the less they trusted the police, an effect that was not apparent among white drivers.”
“No matter how you look at it, the American criminal justice system is riddled with biases. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko cataloged, we know that black people are nearly twice as likely to be pulled over and more likely to be searched once they’re stopped even though they’re less likely to have contraband; and that unarmed black people are more than three times as likely to be shot by police as unarmed whites.”
“Let’s think about the Floyd case. Before we get to the killing, let’s think about the arrest. The store owner called the police and said that someone had tried to pass a fake $20 bill. The police respond, and what they do is virtually impossible to imagine happening to a white person. What they do is to approach Mr. Floyd’s car like he’s a violent thug. They order Mr. Floyd and the passengers to exit the car. One officer has his hand on his gun. They put Mr. Floyd in handcuffs. When he falls to the ground, they leave him on the ground in handcuffs, and then, as the whole world knows, they hold him down by his back and knee and legs for 10 minutes until he dies. I just can’t imagine that happening to a white person over a $20 bill.”
“Part of the evidence that the system was designed this way, and one of the reasons it recurs over and over again, is because a lot of the conduct that people of color complain about is totally legal. So I don’t think the case against the officers in the Floyd case is a slam-dunk by any means. The defense will be that their use of force was reasonable. And they have a case to make. They don’t have a great case, given that Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, but what they will say is that he was resisting arrest and they used reasonable force to subdue him. And obviously there comes a point where the reasonableness of that force is extinguished by the fact that his body is lying limp and motionless on the ground. But up until then, I think they have an argument that what they were doing was legal.
Outside of that case, in theory, the power that police have is unreal. I have a police officer buddy who comes and visits my criminal law class, and to demonstrate how much power he has, he invites my students to go on a ride-along in his car, to see what it’s like to patrol the streets of DC. He plays a game with them called Pick That Car. He tells the student, “Pick any car that you want, and I’ll stop it.” So the student will say, “How about that white Camry over there.”
He’s a good cop. He waits until he has a legal reason. But he says that he could follow any car, and after five minutes or three blocks, the driver will commit some traffic infraction, and then under the law he has the power to stop the car, to order the driver and the passengers to get out of the car. If he has reasonable suspicion that they might be armed or dangerous, he could touch their bodies, he can frisk them, he can ask to search their car. And it’s totally legal. That’s an example of the extraordinary power that police have.”
“A hundred years from now, when people want to know what it was like to be alive in 2020, the Ferguson report is one of the things they’ll look at. It’s this amazing synthesis of data and stories. The data includes the fact that every single time the police used a dog in Ferguson, they used it against a black person.”
“So there’s one story in there in which a woman calls the police because her boyfriend’s beating her up. By the time the police get there, he’s gone. The police look around the apartment and they say, “Does he live here?” And she says, “Yes, he does.” The police say, “You’re under arrest for occupancy permit violation, because his name isn’t on the lease.” When that happened to another woman in Ferguson, she said she would never call the police again, she didn’t care if she was being killed. Again, this is how the police do black people and brown people. They don’t treat white people like this, certainly not as systematically as they do black and brown people.”
“I think a lot of people go into the work because they really want to help communities, and they really want to make a difference, and this belief is based on my experience as a prosecutor working with police officers of all backgrounds and of all races. So I don’t think that police officers are especially racist. But I do think we give them tools and authority in a context that leads them to deploy it unjustly against people of color.”
“black women across the country are 320 percent more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. In Buncombe County, where Asheville is located, black babies were nearly four times as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. These woeful statistics cut across economic and educational lines, as pregnant black women with a college degree die at five times the rate of their white counterparts. Experts say the causes are complex and bound up with the stress of living in a society that discriminates against people of color—from a lack of diversity in the medical profession to implicit bias in the way providers treat patients. In 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said maternal health disparities “ cannot be reversed without addressing racial bias,” adding that “structural and institutional racism contribute to and exacerbate these biases.””