Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Can This Course Help Explain Why Police Killings of Black Men Keep Happening?

As the course was getting started, two more police killings sparked national attention and protest.  On September 16, Terence Crutcher was killed after his car broke down outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The officer responsible, Betty Shelby, has been charged with first degree manslaughter. Four days later, Keith Scott was killed in Charlotte, NC, as he got out of his SUV in an apartment parking lot (a mourner is pictured at left).  As of today, no one has been charged.

Scott's wife released a harrowing video she made as the incident occurred.  After coming under quite a bit of pressure, the Charlotte police department released some of their video footage.  Today, the London Daily Mail tabloid ran a story claiming that Scott was a gun-carrying former convict whose wife had filed a temporary restraining order against him last year.  And so it goes.  Terence Crutcher was clearly unarmed, and Keith Scott appears to be unarmed, at least to me, though the video released so far has not settled the issue.  The New York Times ran a piece collecting some of the videos of the shootings that have put the issue of police killings on the national agenda.  Rakeyia Scott's video is like the one made by Philandro Castile's girlfriend outside St. Paul, Minnesota last July as he lay dying.

The "causes of noir" that I mentioned on Thursday refer to historical, cultural and social factors that create conditions in which actions like the killing of black males becomes more rather than less likely.  While discussion of individual cases often focuses on direct causality (whodunit and why), the course analyzes indirect causality as well.  This is when background or contextual forces shape events, often invisibly and beneath the surface.  We'll see whether by mid-way through the course we can shed light on the indirect causes of the killings that are increasingly being called an "American epidemic."

Crash Procedure English 193 Fall 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016

More on the Criminalization of Drug Use

Decriminalization of all drug use (our solution to Noir Cause 3) makes even more sense when we understand the politicial goals behind the strategic criminalization in the 1970s.  Richard Nixon's (r) domestic policy advisor, John Erlichmann (l) laid it out in a 1994 interview to Legalize it All author Dan Baum:
“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Tale of Two Shootings: In the Hospital, In the Park

We've discussed how Easy Rawlins, Black Betty, and much of their Los Angeles came to California as part of the 2nd Great Migration. (That's one of Jacob Lawrence's series The Great Migration, one of the high points of 20th century American art.)  This past Sunday's New York Times had a piece by the journalist and historian Isabel Wilkerson that compares the end of two Great Migration stories--the killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 when his family sent him back to the South for a summer vacation, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamar Rice in 2014 in a Cleveland park across the street from his home.
Another reason the article is interesting is its narrative structure: it's a good example of non-fiction writing that uses characters to tell a story with a large historical arc, in under 1800 words (or about two blog posts).  Take a look at the skillful way the two family stories are told.   Another major issue gets us to the second story:  
As in the majority of the 21st-century cases of police shootings in the North, no one was prosecuted in the death of Tamir Rice. Late last December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him. Decades ago, in the Jim Crow South, Emmett Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury, but at least they had gone to trial.
The Times also ran a major investigative story about why a Black college student in Houston sought help for a manic episode that was producing delusions and wound up with a bullet in his chest--administered in his hospital room.  He survived, and the story was produced in tandem with an episode of This American Life, "My Damn Mind," in which the victim, Alan Pean, tells much of the story himself.  Both are really good, and ponder issues we've raised about the underlying cultural forces that shape Black freedom and justice (and their absence) in the U.S., fifty years after the formal end of Jim Crow.