Racism and Violence in America

W.J. Astore

Violence is endemic in America.  So too is racism.  And they make for a combustible mix.

Recently, we’ve witnessed three incidents of black men either being killed or deeply discriminated against.  First there was Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man shot and killed while jogging in Georgia.  Then there was Christian Cooper, a black man birdwatching in Central Park who asked a woman to leash her dog in accordance with the law.  She called the police on him while lying that he was threatening her.  The third case saw a black man, George Floyd, being choked to death while on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck.  The police ignored his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.

And some people think the big problem in America is Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem so as to highlight violence against blacks:

cartoon

I have no magical pixie dust to solve racism and violence in America.  What we need to do, collectively, is take a long look in the mirror.  We need to recognize we all bleed red.  We’re all vulnerable.  We all share (or should share) a common humanity.  And then we need to act like it.

Most people want one thing: they want to be treated with respect.  With dignity.  As equals.  Let’s do that.

Of course, it doesn’t help that President Trump is a racist.  It doesn’t help that Joe Biden bragged about locking up “those people.”  The plain truth is that we need to be and do better than our leaders.  Because, far too often, those leaders are looking for ways to divide us as a way of exploiting us more easily and effectively.

We need to reach deep down and discover (or rediscover) our common humanity.  We need to fight together for what’s right and against what’s wrong.  And that means we must stand united against violence and racism in America.

65 thoughts on “Racism and Violence in America

  1. I too agree wholeheartedly. Especially to this part: “The plain truth is that we need to be and do better than our leaders. Because, far too often, those leaders are looking for ways to divide us as a way of exploiting us more easily and effectively.” (And it is a great ending paragraph also!)

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    1. Thank you. I was going to write a longer piece, recounting racist incidents I’ve witnessed, etc., but I decided to keep it simple. The fewer words the better. We know the problem. We just need to act to end it.

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  2. Which gives me a chance to reply…that every one of the links you provide in the article is spot on and straight to the point in each instance! (Or as my family keeps reminding me, please dad, grandpa, “Less is more, less is more, we get it…please!” Thank you.

    Where did the illustration come from? (Talk about short and to the point.)

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  3. It is shocking that killing of black men by cops who are supposed to protect them has continued without any accountability. I can not claim to know much but it is a legacy of Slavery and USA as a nation has not come to terms with it.
    Also, there is an element of “white privilege” which significant white population is not aware of or takes it for granted.
    This essay by Bryan Stevenson is a must read…..
    https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/07/13/presumption-of-guilt/
    AND this documentary should be required watching for every American….
    https://www.diversitytrainingfilms.com/films-2/films/

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  4. It is difficult for a mere citizen like myself to go thru statistics with a fine-tooth comb (assuming I could even access such statistics). Institutional racism is a very old, well-entrenched disease in this country. Cellphones that can record video, on the other hand, are relatively new. (I don’t remember all the details, but I imagine the Rodney King beating must have been captured by a camcorder.) So, are these instances of murderous police brutality on the rise, or are we just becoming more aware of them because of technology? No matter how we may slice and dice statistics, of course, these incidents are unacceptable. No less unacceptable is having a POTUS who publicly praises armed racist extremists. But I have had the distinct impression in recent years that police everywhere, from rural areas right into the heart of our great cities, have grown MORE aggressive toward civilians in general since the program–started on G.W. Bush’s watch and continued by Obama–of arming cops with military-grade weaponry was established. I still remember an incident from many months ago wherein a youngish white guy was confronted by cops in the corridor of a motel. The man was on hands and knees, so drunk he couldn’t stand up and likely couldn’t quickly and clearly comprehend the orders being barked at him. He was shot to death because the cops “thought he was reaching for a weapon.” As usual, the victim had no such thing on his person. We may laud the speedy firing of four cops in the latest Minneapolis incident, but that is far from enough. They need to be charged with various violations and tried. Gaining convictions in such cases is very, very difficult. And that, too, is a problem, America.

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    1. If only we could say it’s just a glitch, Mike, to be corrected through proper programming.

      It’s funny: people argue we need a human in the loop to prevent machines from enacting doomsday. But, compared to machines, the humans in the loop are often the most glitchy of all.

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  5. Great piece, and encouraging comments. “Another bad day in paradise!”

    Racist Murder is not just conjured up out of nowhere! So what is Racism? OK, its a set of ideas we use to identify the nature of the external world. Concepts evolved to maintain a functioning society (which suits the purpose of those who control thought). To properly solve this problem, we must carefully examine it, – how such concepts came to be, etc. In a phrase, learn of their authentic historical development.

    Global society in the Neoliberal period exists as a transnational class society. The ruling elite has been reduced to a tiny class of super-capital owners, while the formerly comfortably-off “middle” classes have largely been reduced to penury – or more properly, have been driven down into the ranks of the proletariat, or working class with nothing to sell but the power of their labour capacity. But it wasn’t always like this.

    Roman emperors employed Bread And Circuses to maintain their hegemony, that and the concept of Divide And Conquer! Their’s was a society structured around slavery. A Slave Society, in which the slave class did the manual labour. This ultimately proved untenable – and as it collapsed into dysfunction, out of its belly was born Fuedalism – a new stage in the socio-political development of the Human Species.

    But certain reactionary old features remained. The new ordinary Serf class retained many of the old legal attributes of the ancient slave class. The Villein class, however, anticipated some of the potential equality that would be necessary in the next phase of development. The ruling elite now saw itself as royal nobility which came to consider itself divinely ordained. (A very convenient concept until king Charles went a bit overboard!)

    In slave societies wealth is expressed through the “ownership” of people. In Feudal societies, by the “ownership” of land. In both cases, the “wealth” or value quality created by those who work – and is quantitatively seized by the ruling elite is the productive output of Slave or Serf etc. The legal basis on which this robbery occurs involves establishment of a “state” which rules over society to keep the slaves and serfs in their proper place – that is, down!

    400 years ago, Oliver Cromwell established the first new capitalist state formalising another phase in human social development. In Capitalism, wealth is expressed in ownership of money – the concrete expression of the abstracted surplus value produced by a worker employed by an owner of capital. But again, certain features of the older social forms endured.

    The capitalist states (and then Superstate) on the continent we call North America sequestered the surplus value produced by Serfs (share-croppers), Villeins (small farmers), and Proletarian Dreamers (employed workers) – as human history was accumulating a new and more complex social form. As its functional realisation expressed itself, this unseen and thus apparently abstract entity we call “value” developed its own contradictory forms – including money as a circulation means and as a finance capital hoard.

    But when things develop a form, that form must live and assume its own mode of historical development – which, like all else, exists in a process of change which partially includes its previous content in old and new forms. It is the growing inability of finance capital as a “Form” of wealth storage and as a mode of re-investment of REAL value (surplus value) which now marks the end game for capitalism.

    So Trump et al divides to conquer. But not even he can rule a critically thinking educated mind by means of ignorance, brutality, and stupidity. That was Hitler’s folly, and look at what his experiment in atrocity achieved. The 1929 Crash (failure of the capitalist mode) which helped him to power has now returned as a slow slide from 2006/8. It becomes an avalanche fueled by poverty and now, racist stupidity. But it can be understood – and effectively defeated with a new and deeper grasp of its contradictions.

    Most Mainstream (and Neo-Keyensian) Economists fail to distinguish these contradictions, i.e. between value and use-value, just as they confuse the contradiction between circulation money and capital money. If they took one week off to scientifically read Capital Volume One, they might reduce, or even cure their their congenital squint.

    Racism is one of the essential conceptual expressions of American Capitalism, just as it was for British and European capitalist Imperialists in their time. That is why its leading pragmatic advocate is the leader of the dominant establishment elite. To challenge this, we must challenge the whole rotten system and ideology which supports it.

    Slavery is an integral if obsolete part of the whole package of Neoliberal Capitalist socio-economic functioning. If we are to eliminate slavery we must therefore eliminate the societal form of which it is an essential part. What we replace it with will be a real democracy. That requires a genuine democratic revolution.

    America is now synonimous with Trump and the GOP-fakeDemocratic reaction. But even across the Atlantic, here, we know there is another America which values human civility. Our question now, and ever since I walked in Dublin against the Viet Nan plunder, is: when will decent intelligent America stand up against the murderous reaction and robbery of their elite? We await your reply.

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    1. Good question. The system is so deeply compromised, so corrupted by money and special interests, that a new revolution may be required — or, at very least, a thorough reformation.

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      1. Interesting coincidence: NY Times has an author Q&A with Jules Feiffer (surely compiled well before the Minneapolis event of this week). “Q.: Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about? A.: It’s been written about by Ta-Nehisi Coates and others, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more studies on HOW RACISM HAS PROMOTED WHITE NATIONALISM INTO THE AMERICAN DREAM.” [my emphasis added via upper case, since I’m unable to use boldface on this website–GL]

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    2. I have said all along that Trump’s road to the Oval Office was paved precisely with RACISM (which is pretty well inextricably tied up with xenophobia). He could not have succeeded in his quest without a ready-made audience for the hate he spewed in rally after rally. That is the fundamental underlying problem. Mrs. Clinton’s one razor-sharp observation–that there is a “basket of deplorables” in this country that laps up this poison–she immediately apologized for! I guess that makes Truth the “third rail” of politics here. With Trump and his ilk working tirelessly to fan the flames of hate, pardon me for not being able to muster a lot of optimism about our future. The fact that this unquestionably worst POTUS in history simply can’t be removed from office because his party has the majority in the Senate and the Supreme Court is dominated by rightwing ideologues is the final proof, for me, that this System is totally broken, an utter failure for the great majority of its citizens. And that majority includes those so blinded by the racism inherited from their forbears that they vote against their own economic interests. Again and again and again.

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    1. This tells us something about Minneapolis PD, and I’m sure is reflective of most others: the cop who put his weight on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes reportedly had received EIGHTEEN prior complaints from citizens about his conduct on the job. And yet, there he was, still on the job. That department needs a good housecleaning, from top to bottom. Fire the Chief of Police for starters.

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  6. Racism and white “privilege,” (in quotes because skin colour isn’t a privilege, it’s an immutable physical trait), I get it, but I think the bigger problem is the total lack of accountability when it comes to policing in the U.S. Trust is a one-way street in America when it comes to law enforcement, with the public overwhelmingly supporting the notion that the police are good, and then they respond with complete shock when one of these badge-wearing sociopaths does something that’s obviously illegal and gets away with it. The police don’t even seem to want to hold their own to account, having this thin blue line pseudo-bushido brotherhood bullshit mentality that leads them to harass internal affairs officers and flout any effort to reform their organisation. This is one of the many instances in which Russia does it better, because the Russian public knows better than to trust the police (why do you think dashboard cameras are so popular there?), and the police don’t even trust each other. A system of mutual distrust is far better than a system in which the sheep trust the wolves, but not the other way round.

    Oh, for the record, I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never even gotten a traffic citation. I have, however, seen how cops behave when off duty, and I’m not impressed. Model citizens, my arse!

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    1. I am not sure you read the whole article.
      African American CNN reporter was arrested while reporting ( caught live by CNN ) in spite of his asking the cops repeatedly where he could move. His colleague was told, he could remain in that area.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/iainmartin/2020/05/29/cnn-reporter-omar-jimenez-arrested-on-camera-at-minneapolis–protests/

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    2. As a person born and raised in USA, and considered “Caucasian”–I am a mongrel, blended from various European ancestral strains, as are most “white” people in this country, and I rather like this fact!–I can assure you, Kaja, that White Privilege is a very real phenomenon. No need for quotation marks. This does not guarantee protection from cops abusing their life-and-death power over us, as I posted about the killing of the young drunk in a motel corridor, but the statistics tell us that there is no such crime as “driving while white”!

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      1. “White privilege” is an inaccurate description of the phenomenon, which is why I don’t like it. A privilege is something that is earned, and can be taken away. Can we drop the newspeak term and just call what’s going on plain old racism?

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          1. I don’t care. It’s unnecessarily long, misleading, and I refuse to use it. Look, the subject of my comment was the problem of police culture, which is a good bit more pertinent than my choice of verbiage, so why are you two focusing on it?

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          2. Kaja–Dude, you don’t wanna use the phrase “white privilege”? Fine, that’s your right (was tempted to type “privilege”!). That doesn’t cause the problem to vanish. This is a society-wide phenomenon, not restricted to police activity in the least. And “police culture”–pretty much an oxymoron–is certainly an issue. The Blue Wall of Silence/Solidarity, where African-American cops back up their white racist colleagues almost without exception, poses a real threat to all civilians.

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        1. You know, I too am very concerned that words not have their meanings distorted/corrupted. However, a privilege is NOT always something that must be earned. In the case under discussion, it really does come with the color of one’s skin. Just one aspect of USA’s inherent problem of racism. If you were a “trust fund baby,” you’d be born with a ton of privileges. Would those have been “earned”??

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          1. While I have seen the phrase “wealth privilege,” I think it could be more accurately be written as “class benefits.” You already know that American society has well-defined classes, and those at the top get away with things that us little people wouldn’t. The law is like a spiderweb; the flies get caught, the hornets fly straight through. Furthermore, keep in mind that a privilege can be taken away. Well, when was the last time that a billionaire lost everything and had to live out the rest of his life as a pleb? “Socialism for the rich, dog-eat-dog capitalism for the rest of us,” as Bill Astore always says. Now, when it comes to the subject of race, I think a lot of the problems could be eliminated if people stopped reflexively framing events that involve white perpetrators and black victims as racially motivated. While a lot of them are, and the current one probably is, it’s not the default, and to assume that it always is doesn’t solve the problem. Nobody wants a race war (I hope). Fortunately, I’m happy to report that all officers involved in the George Floyd case have been fired, and at least one them has been brought up on charges (of what, I don’t know). Maybe there’s some justice after all, but I won’t hold my breath.

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  7. It’s after midnight in Ireland, I’m sitting here watching U.S. tv and seeing what looks like the beginnings of a revolution unfolding in city after city across your continent.

    I sit down quietly for my nightcap, turn on the news – and witness a popular uprising begin. An emerging rejection of an entrenched and vicious elite and their armed thugs who have despoiled society and seem to regard ordinary decent people with contempt.

    When Hitler’s SS started to beat up and murder citizens, socialists, minorities and Jewish people, a cowed generation of German people averted their eyes. The conservative Right fell into line behind inhuman fascism and millions of human beings died across the world.

    When the racist law enforcement (Capitalist State Armed Bodies Of Men) now do this in 2021 in USRA (The United States of Racist America), it seems that a new young multi-coloured generation of Americans are made of braver stuff. Of more moral stuff. I feel so proud of them.

    The brute in the white house has opened Pandora’s Box. Now there’s a chance that the corruption my generation failed to eradicate and remove will no longer be allowed to prevail by these wonderful young people.

    Do not underestimate the cleansing power of truth grasped – no matter how long it took for eyes to open. A few hours ago, I said “I await your reply” just above. My word! It has come so quickly! Change is under way. 2020 vision has become widespread.
    I like this 2020 vision. WELL DONE AMERICA!

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    1. In recent years, I’d say starting with the police killing of Mike Brown in Missouri, numbers of youngish white folks have indeed joined Black Lives Matter type demonstrations. This certainly is encouraging, but it’s a far cry from overturning the moribund, corrupt Establishment in USA. The struggle for social justice is neverending.

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  8. I accept your point, Greglaxer, a very far cry – in one way. But in my view, there’s also another side to it – in fact many other sides. This time it seems to me to have a new sort of content. AI see all these events as part of an historically connected process, each part of which is modifying and conditioning each other part as they move forward into an unknown – but knowable – future.

    Last night as I observed live coverage and reportage for almost an hour I noticed a new sense of purpose from the people demonstrating (one could read it in their faces, body language, and behaviour) – and a somewhat confused recalculation (almost a capitulation) on the part of the usually thuggish uniformed ranks.

    It seemed to me to express an emerging change of consciousness – a new form hinting at a deeper new content. Embryonic OK, but in the process of a new formation (or development). Where it might lead in the short term, who can say.
    Where it will lead in the longer term is governed by the laws of motion of human social cognitive development. But it is there!
    Sure it may fizzle out – but maybe this time it might not.

    This potential for change was also present in all the previous instances of racist class warfare by the ruling elite and their foot-soldiers, but all these instances build up to a crescendo over time. The accumulative accretions of awareness eventually open mind and eye.

    I remember Paris 1968, and how a movement spread across Europe (then apparently comprised of separate capitalist states infatuated with nationalist consciousness). By midsummer it had come to the quite green fields where I lived. And their were queues of large expensive French cars building up at the border crossings to Switzerland. Howstupid the bourgeois thinkers were – and they remain so with their blinkered worldviews.

    I can recognise the same generational irritation with the foolish complacency of an older cohort now. But my father, who took part in the Irish Revolution of 1919 (its been largely written out of history by official historiography – or rewritten with its dialectical heart plucked out) always used to remind me – “never forget that America began in a revolutionary upsurge – and one day it will re-ignite to complete its task”.

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    1. The Covid-19 pandemic is something of an Earth-shaking event, and it, along with the devastation of the Global Climate Catastrophe (my preferred terminology), IS underscoring class differences. [NY Times recently carried an article about upper-middle-class Americans using their forced “time at home” to install new in-ground swimming pools. And of course “the 1%” is scarcely impacted at all by this outbreak of illness.] But there’s something you need to understand about US society, my Irish friend: very few workers think of themselves as “working class.” In one of the most stunning achievements of marketing/brainwashing ever, they’ve been persuaded that if they bust their butts enuf (all the overtime hours they can get, etc.) and achieve X amount in annual income, they magically become “middle class.” They confuse income level with class status. I feel it is up to us, the ancient (real!) Socialists, to keep alive the idea that society does NOT have to stay this messed-up forever. There ARE better ways to live.

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  9. Thanks for all the interesting and civil discussion. I incline toward wealth privilege, which is captured in this article by David Sirota: https://sirota.substack.com/p/looting

    It’s the wealthy and powerful who are truly doing the looting — they buy Congress and then they have Congress pass laws to make their looting legal. Here’s another example, also by David Sirota, of what these corporate/rich elites are up to: https://sirota.substack.com/p/exclusive-states-are-copying-and

    The problem with “white privilege,” as I see it, is the term suggests all whites share the same privileges, even though the term is meant to suggest whites are privileged because they are white, simple as that. Many whites, I think, have a visceral reaction to the term because they sure as hell don’t feel privileged (I’m thinking here of poorer whites, out of work or making low wages, etc.).

    So, I have mixed feelings. In a racist society, being white does convey a certain “privilege,” e.g. you’re unlikely to be stopped for “driving while white,” and police violence against whites is lower, but it’s also a term that tends to divide us further, or perhaps distract us from the real enemy: those who have bought our republic and who are using it to enrich themselves on a massive scale, while we have semantic debates.

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    1. An addendum: My wife reminded me this AM that “white privilege” is not necessarily the same for white women versus white men. Often, gender discrimination/abuse trumps race and other distinctions in our society.

      But if we start modifying “white privilege” to say “white male privilege” or “cis white male privilege” (because we know LGBTQ people face discrimination), the impreciseness of the term becomes clear.

      So, I’m a cis white male from a Catholic background. Does it grant me advantages in our society? It sure does. Put differently, I have faced far less discrimination in my life than the typical person of color, or LGBTQ person, or women of any race, and so on. And I recognize this. Does this make me “woke”? Of course not — “woke” trivializes the whole issue of discrimination, I think.

      So, I’d say we really need to focus on rejecting racism and discrimination; or, in the words of Christ, love your neighbor as yourself. Extend the same “privileges” to them. Imagine if we all did that?

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      1. Unfortunately, HATE cannot be legislated out of existence. Some of the biggest haters in our society today cloak themselves under cover of Jesus’s robe! The conduct–and potency of weaponry, for crying out loud!–of police departments needs to be controlled by “civilian” authority. Crimes motivated by hate need to be vigorously prosecuted. Sure, determining motivation can be tricky–though in a case like Dylan Rooff it’s blatantly obvious–and “conservatives” will scream “This is ‘political correctness’ run amok!” (but they already argue it’s running amok!), but damn it to hell, SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE!!!

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    2. Prof Astore, I agree with you however there is a difference.
      Rich or middle class or poor white parents do not have to teach their children how to behave/respond when stopped by a police officer without a reason ( which happens rarely ). They never have to worry about their child coming home alive in that situation. On the other hand, rich, middle class or poor black parents have to teach their children how to respond when stopped by a police officer ( even without a cause which happens too often ), never argue or question, arms raised, not resisting arrest etc or one can be killed. One may not agree with how I perceive things but that is a special advantage of being white. An African American MD was handcuffed right in front of his house who was trying to help homeless people. That would not have happened to a white person.

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      1. I used to show a clip (from the show “20/20,” I think) to my students of a white guy shopping versus a black guy shopping. Both dressed the same, if I recall. The black guy was treated far differently. He was followed, or ignored (couldn’t get service), whereas the white guy was trusted and waited upon. And so on. Of course, this is nothing like being choked to death, but these differences based on race are real and they rankle.

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      2. I have not read Ta-Nehisi Coates, but I understand he wrote about “the talk” black parents need to have with their young male (especially) progeny in hopes of keeping them alive. Unfortunately, NOT resisting “peace” officers is no guarantee whatsoever of their survival. (Thus the chant of protesters: “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”) Yes, that’s how bad it is in our society. And with today’s aggressive, chips on their shoulders, armed to the teeth cops, even white skin does not guarantee surviving an encounter with cops. Many years ago, when I was doing radio from the main campus of the University of Connecticut, I needed to ask directions to a certain facility on the campus. I saw that a campus cop had a vehicle pulled over for whatever reason, and I approached this cop to ask directions. The way he barked at me was alarming, the message in essence “Can’t you see I’m occupied? Get the hell away from me!” You know, “Courtesy. Professionalism…” and whatever’s the third quality NYC cops boast of on their squad cars. Yeesh!

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    3. In my opinion, the proper phrase is “white SKIN privilege.” And I’m afraid, Bill A., that you miss the whole point of “Black Lives Matter”: this is a matter of LIFE AND DEATH for “people of color.” No matter how low your rung on the economic ladder, if you’re white you’re encouraged to consider yourself “superior” to black folks. This is like the ABCs of American society, man!

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      1. Greg: I really am aware that this is a matter of life and death for blacks. That’s how I led my article — with the murders of two blacks.

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    1. After my recent comment, the NYPD slogan emblazoned on their vehicles came back to me whole. It’s “Courtesy. Professionalism. RESPECT.” (my emphasis on latter) Uh-huh, you bet.

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  10. Interesting that your blog is the first one I’ve come to in several that offers a start at a solution which is the responsibility of every American to meet the challenge — not just whites, just blacks, or others. Everyone has had a hand in the problem which is escalated by media bias, fake news, social media, businesses, Hollywood, educators, sheeple, politicians, the Thought Police and on and on. What no one seems to understand is that the more force is used — either way — the more dissent, anger, prejudice and hatred will be created. Violence — whether police brutality or burning buildings, does absolutely nothing to heal this country. I come from an era where common decency abounded through manners, kindness and respect. Unfortunately, that, with common sense has been eliminated which is spiraling America into the hellhole we’re witnessing now. Still, I’m not giving up. I have faith that truth will prevail and leaders with effective solutions will emerge. These are people like Bob Woodson and Shelby Steele. All Americans could do well to sit up and pay attention.

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    1. The incumbent POTUS thinks he has hitched his wagon to a new, winning strategy: Try to paint the freshly invigorated anti-racist/anti-police-brutality movement as the new Public Enemy #1. He’ll probably declare it’s being controlled by Beijing! Were he a Democrat, he’d blame the Russkies! Notice how ‘Mr. Establishment’ Biden is walking on eggshells on this movement. “You won’t get Medicare for All on my watch, nor defunding of the police” is what he’s telegraphing.

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