“Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer” looks at police racial profiling

Walking While Black: L. O. V. E. Is the Answer”, (2017) directed by A. J. Ali, is a documentary film intended to increase public awareness of racial profiling, especially by police. As the title suggests, many people of color have been harassed merely when walking alone as well as when driving.  The film name is based on the community organization Walking While Black, Facebook page.

The film does show footage of a number of major police incidents. It skips Ferguson, but does spend a lot of space on Baltimore Sandtown in 2015. It does cover the “police ambush” in downtown Dallas in July 2016.  It also covers Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida.

Much of the 93-minute film consists of speaking clips by community leaders and police, with relatively little direct interviewing. There is a great deal of emphasis on community solidarity, volunteering, and personal involvement, and mentoring.

A couple of other major cases get explored toward the end.  In Benton Harbor MI, a black man Jameel McGee was arrested by a white cop on a phony drug charge. He spent four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  But eventually the police officer Andrew Collins was caught and spent 18 months in jail himself.  McGee forgave him and they became friends.

Then in Garden City GA  white police officer Tim McMillan found a terrified black driver when he stopped him while texting, story.

In a number of cases, police officers accused of misconduct were “of color” (incl. Latino) themselves.

The film right now is viewable for $9.99 credit or Paypal on their site, but not on Amazon or Netflix.  This is rather unusual, but maybe an interesting idea for self-distribution.

Name:  “Walking While Black: L. O. V. E. Is the Answer
Director, writer:  A. J. Ali
Released:  2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Vimeo rented $9.99 from their site
Length:  93
Rating:  NA
Companies:  totally independent, community group
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)

Peter Temin’s “The Vanishing Middle Class”: heavy emphasis on political engineering by race

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy”, by MIT Economics professor Peter Temin, is another recent controversial tome on inequality. But unlike “Dream Hoarders” (July 7), this book talks about inequality in terms of collective political forces involving class, money, and especially race, with little direct attention to how individuals should be expected to behave, which was the point of my own “DADT III” book in 2014.

The parts of the book (from the TOC) give a sense of its message:  (I) is “An American Dual Economy”; (ii) “Politics in a Dual Economy”; (III) “Government in a Dual Economy”; (IV) “Comparisons and Conclusions”.   The book is relatively brief; the core parts comprise 160 pages, along with 17 pages of roman-number introduction. (By the way, I think that introductions should always be numbered in the main sequence of the book and show in the page count.)

Temin starts out by showing how capitalism alone tends to generate self-reinforcing inequality.  He calls the upper crust of society the “FTE Sector” (finance, technology and electronics).  Low-wage people doing manual labor or service jobs (or selling on commissions, for example) tend to aspire to enter the FTE but face serious self-perpetuating barriers.  Richer people can save money and owe less, can give their own children more advantages, and are more likely to have kids with “better” genes (the inconvenient truth of “A Troublesome Inheritance”, June 24, going back to ideas like those of Charles Murray), as well (particularly) of more access to “social capital” – informal interdependence with extended family and friends (the “Lotsa Helping Hands” idea in churches).  The economic system has burdened low-income people with student debt (especially with the rise of for-profit universities), upsidedown housing (the 2008 subprime crisis) and medical bills (even with Obamacare – and the GOP is partly right about this in my estimation).  You need to be able to save money to get any traction and move up.  I’ve worked as a debt collector before.  I’ve heard plenty of stories of how this works.

Temin then moves into race – and I’ll add here that in his conclusions he calls for a “Second Reconstruction”.  I wondered if he has sat through “Gone with the Wind”.  He connects race and the history of slavery (versus other, white immigration from Europe) and later segregation to the evolution of American democracy, an unprecedented political innovation at the time of the American Revolution. He traces particularly efforts to suppress blacks from voting (as with the 1964 murders in Mississippi) but he might have paid more attention to recent gerrymandering.  He also discusses incarceration and “war on drugs” policies as racially motivated, as well as attempts to privatize schools and lack of sufficient attention to urban infrastructure (he mentions the politics of constructing a third tunnel under the Hudson to New York, as well as Washington DC’s problems with Metro, leading to reduced hours and the Safe Track surges.  He does talk about the inability of school systems to properly pay teachers, But he could talk about the challenge for teachers from more privileged backgrounds to communicate with students in disadvantaged homes – something I encountered big time as a substitute teacher in the mid 2000’s.  On race and police, he mentions Ferguson (Michael Brown – see “Whose Streets”, May 8) and Florida (Trayvon Martin) without objective attention to the deeper facts behind these particular cases.   In the government area, he makes an interesting comparison of democracy, autocracy, and oligarchy (and rails against the Koch empire, which libertarians usually like; he regards Dallas as a cultural sub-capital for US business). He goes links personal debt to national debt and gets into a discussion about Social Security, denying that it is an earned annuity and implying it could be taken way from rich retired people who are otherwise coasting in neutral, like in the next debt ceiling crisis (which will happen Sept. 29, 2017).  He does present social insurance as needing government and federal oversight, and seems to think that sometimes lenders need to be ready for debt forgiveness (after a discussion of bankruptcy).

On race, I think Temin does not pay enough heed to the fact that economic and social problems of Trump’s rural base (white non-college-educated) are really similar to those of inner city blacks;  opioid has a similar dynamic as crack cocaine, and low-wage and resentment of elitism is pretty much the same.  Furthermore there are plenty of blacks in rural Trump country with the same problems as inner-city blacks and rural whites,

Temin refers to philosopher John Rawls and the 1971 opus “A Theory of Justice”, with his theory of distributive justice.  But it seems to me that such a tome would drill down to a discussion of the moral obligations of every person who finds the self in a more privileged system than others.  It goes beyond the idea of “giving back” or “paying it forward” to the idea of accepting personal interdependence with people in other social classes – a kind of resilience necessary to deal with common external threats (like what we have now).  Unearned wealth, if not widely used, can eventually lead to ugly ends, including shame and expropriation.  Coercion and revolutions do happen.  This is even a little more than my old 2004 essay “Pay your bills, pay your dues”.

Author: Peter Temin
Title, Subtitle: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy” The book cover hides the word “Middle” in black and that fooled me!
publication date 2017
ISBN 9780262036160
Publication: 2017, MIT Press, 234 pages with appendix and index, 4 parts, 14 chapters + Introduction
Link: official

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at 2:30 PM)

“Detroit”: We almost lost it once, and then did lose it

Kathryn Bigelow can be counted on for intensity, and her new dramatic reconstruction of the “Detroit” Rebellion (screenwritten by Marl Boal) and the Algiers Motel murders by police is definitely “in your face” but in the end morbidly fascinating.

I remember that period in my life. July 1967, I had one more semester at KU to get my M.A., before getting drafted and doing Basic at Fort Jackson in the early part of 1968. Once in the Army, I found that many NCO;s and drill sergeants were African American, and one of the squad leaders was an African American pre-med student who was good at absolutely everything. (I would take the physical draft physical in August 1967 in Richmond.)

I last visited the city in August 2012, visited the downtown and one of the gay bars, but noticed the vacant spaces. Anthony Bourdain did a “Parts Unknown” episode in this new Rome, and asked, “what the hell happened here?”

The new film starts out with some Civil Rights history in animation. Detroit, it says, was the most deliberately segregated of all the cities. A couple years before there had been an incident at a nuclear power plant in Michigan that led rags to say “We almost lost Detroit”.

Will Pouter is chilling as the Nazi-like Krauss, all the more chilling with his baby face. He shoots a fleeing looter in the back, and told he will be prosecuted but stays on the force. He “manages” the entire interrogation sequence, the middle section of the movie itself lasting more than an hour, at the motel, started apparently by a toy gun which the cops thought was real.

There follows some courtroom drama, and the scene about how one of the victims of the interrogation becomes a gospel singer.

The film shows the Detroit police as the most bigoted (“Negroes”), alongside Michigan State Police, National Guard, and even the regular Army. During the Vietnam era draft, people would find slots to join the Guard, and escape Vietnam, for this.  The obvious message is that BLM has a long “past is prologue”.

I can recall that in the spring of 1968, after the King assassination, when I was in Tent City or Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, we were on “red alert” after King was assassinated, to make a show of force in downtown Columbia or maybe Orangeburg. It didn’t come off.

This film could be compared to Wexler’s “Medium Cool” (1969, Paramount), about the 1968 Chicago riots, which actually came out with an X rating at first.

Name:  Detroit
Director, writer:  Kathryn Bigelow
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/8/6, small audience
Length:  143
Rating: R
Companies:  Annapurna, (Sony Pictures Classics, MGM)
Link:  official

(Picture: My visit in August 2012. They keep downtown in decent order.)

“Whose Streets” presents the Ferguson, MO protests from the view of the people

A month after the death of Michael Brown when shot by Darren Wilson in Ferguson MO around noon on  Saturday, August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO,  filmmaker Sabaah Folayan left her medical studies in New York to work with the people and document their unrest, along with Damon Davis and photography director Lucas Alvarado-Farrar.  The result is the docudrama “Whose Streets?”  In fact, Farrar hosted the QA at a showing at the Maryland Film Festival today in Baltimore, which is ironic given Baltimore’s own police-related unrest in April 2015.

The film focuses particularly on seven individuals: Brittany Ferrell, a nurse; David Whitt, who recruits for Cop Watch, Tory Russell, founded of Hands Up United, which would synch with the founding of Black Lives Matter (which had actually started with the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida).

The film, using a lot of raw cell phone video in early sections and later more professionally shot, chronicles the unrest for the rest of the year, giving the spectator-viewer a front row seat to the anger. “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”

Indeed, this is a film about activism, and it does not go out of its way to analyze the fact pattern.  One police officer is quoted as saying that Wilson stopped Brown just because he was walking in the center of the street.  That contradicts accounts as below which maintain Wilson had been radioed about theft at a convenience store.  The film shows a little of the interview of Wilson by George Stephanopoulos, a part that would sound prejudicial.  The film shows the prosecutor’s reporting that the grand jury did not return an indictment against Wilson, who would wind up living in hiding against vigilantism, according to many reports.

There is also some investigation as to whether Brown had been doing barter in the convenience store, not covered in the film. This refers to Jason Pollock, whose film “Stranger Fruit” I have not seen yet (CNN).

The audience, during the QA,seemed quite tuned in to the activism, with one woman questioning whether the government would treat Black Lives Matters the way it had the Black Panthers.  The audience liked the presentation of the children, including one child who makes an activist statement at the end.

The film also shows the blockage of I-70 near St. Louis by protestors, and the arrest of a woman for trying to run over some.   The film also maintains that police in the St. Louis area use police profiling as an excuse to collect fines to enrich themselves.  Activists note that the tear gas or riot gas (which I got to know in Army Basic with the gas chamber in 1968 at Fort Jackson) causes skin burning after the fact, even when water is poured on it.

The world of activism tends to move toward resistance, coercion, and sometimes combativeness, insisting that others who are privileged by the system, even if they didn’t directly cause oppression, are going to have their lives knocked to make things right – call it expropriation.  This is not about questioning every little fact to rationalize someone’s actions.  Call it revolution if you will.  The extra intrusions made by the special demands of “Black Lives Matter”  (relative to “all lives matter”) are supposed to make you uncomfortable.

Journalists seemed welcome to make this film, but sometimes journalists are resented as “spectators” without their own skin in the game, above demonstrating and carrying pickets like “the people”.  But then try combat journalism.

In the fall of 2014, actor-musician Reid Ewing (“Modern Family” and numerous films), going to college in Salt Lake City, wrote some tweets about police treatment of Darrien Hunt (story).

Wikipedia fact page for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

Picture: Mine, Washington DC demonstrations, Nov. 2014.

Full George Stephanopoulos interview with Darren Wilson

QA 1

QA 2 – answer to my question about fact finding

QA 3 – comment that police control where media can film

Extra photo from Baltimore (Trey Yingst, 2015).

On Sunday, May 7 W. Kamau Bell covered Chicago’s segregation, police bias, gang violence, and “reparations”, and “Black Lives Matter” on an episode of “United Shades of America: We (are all) The People” on CNN. They talked about “cyberbanging” and Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” (2015).

He also aired a basic episode about immigration in the second hour.

PBS Independent Lens has aired “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” (abdridged) by Brett Story on 2017/5/8; one of the landscapes is St. Louis County, surrounding Ferguson. The film covered the “garbage jail” problem where low-income residents are ticketed by small police departments and then threatened.  The film also covered a judge’s wall against the media.  See index for location on my legacy blogs.

Name: “Whose Streets?”
Director, writer:  Sabaah Foyolan, Damon Davis
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Baltimore Film Festival, MICA Brown auditorium, full, 2017/5/7
Length:  104
Rating:  NA
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Chicken and Egg  (Theatrical release in 2017/8)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, May 7, 2017, 11 PM EDT)