The man who was beaten by #SanBernadino deputies is white. Now what?

francis-pusokFrancis Pusok was badly beaten by a group of San Bernadino Sheriff’s deputies, as seen in a video that has, by now, been widely circulated. What many readers and viewers may not realize is that Pusok is white.

Many recent cases of whites being handled in this fashion, or worse, have been people with a mental disorder or a disability.  The most notable case that readily comes to mind is that of Kelly Thomas 2011 killing in Fullerton, California. Francis Pusok’s case is the first time we see footage of the beating by police of a non-mentally ill white.

As I’ve often written in my commentary, when we discriminate against one group, eventually, that discrimination bleeds through to everyone else. That is what now seems to be happening in America.

Pusok stole a horse. He was caught and beaten. Robert Redus was stopped by a campus cop. He wasn’t the nice drunk type. He was shot to death. Michael Brown stole a box of cheap cigars and was stopped and killed on the street by Darren Wilson. Dave Zirin of The Nation magazine reports on Thabo Sefolosha, of the Atlanta Hawks, whose leg was broken by the NYPDJustus Howell was shot in the back by an Illinois cop as he was running away. He is alleged to have purchased an illegal weapon and fired it before the pursuit in which he was killed. Walter Scott was stopped over a broken tail light and whatever made him flee his vehicle, he had his back turned to the officer who shot him. These are just a few of the cases this month of April 2015. There were 115 in March and more in the months before.

Police killings have been escalating and the African American community has had to bear the brunt of this escalation of brutality.  A Pro Publica report entitled: “Deadly Force In Black and White ,”  makes the following finding:

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.


Who Gets Killed?

The finding that young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police is drawn from reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.

(Jonathan Stray/ProPublica)

The black boys killed can be disturbingly young. There were 41 teens 14 years or younger reported killed by police from 1980 to 2012 ii. 27 of them were black iii; 8 were white iv; 4 were Hispanic v and 1 was Asian vi.

That’s not to say officers weren’t killing white people. Indeed, some 44 percent of all those killed by police across the 33 years were white.

White or black, though, those slain by police tended to be roughly the same age. The average age of blacks killed by police was 30. The average age of whites was 35.

Who is killing all those black men and boys?

Mostly white officers. But in hundreds of instances, black officers, too. Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.

The report was posted on ProPublica’s Facebook wall with the following statement:

“Why didn’t we include Hispanics in our “Deadly Force” investigation? Great question from a reader this week. Here’s the answer from reporter Ryan Gabrielson:
“[We did look] at Hispanics, but when running a risk ratio you can only compare two populations. The data on Hispanics is very noisy, and that group is often documented only as ‘white.’ So they’re undercounted.””

While the vast majority of brutality cases are perpetrated against African Americans, we are now beginning to see cases of whites being brutalized and killed. I recently blogged about Robert Redus in Texas. He was a white honor student at the local university. His crime? Being insolent and drunk. I also reblogged the  KilledByPolice page for March 2015 here. As you can see, there are several Caucasians among those killed last month, and at a rate that is consistent with the ProPublica investigation quoted above, with the caveats listed.

So, while it is heartening to see San Bernadino’s sheriff being so proactive, so quickly, it is hard refrain from cynicism and wonder whether the swift response would have been the same for a Black man. This is how bad things are. What’s more, Pusok’s attorney has been calling this case “worse than Rodney King.” I find this kind of comparison jarring. Whereas Pusok’s beating was uncalled for and brutal to the extreme, it wasn’t racially-motivated as King’s was. There should be no comparison, nor any need for it. Brutality by anyone, for any reason, is condemnable all on its own. There is no need for comparisons. There is no need for heightened compassion for one over another. There is no need to elevate or diminish. Another aspect of this case is whether or not it will be a catalyst for whites to get more involved in decrying and working to end police beatings and killings.

An op-ed piece in Gawker has garnered quite a bit of attention. In “White America’s Silence on Police Brutality Is Consent,” Donovan X. Ramsey proposes that white silence on police killings and brutality go hand in hand with white’s admiration of police over clergy.  While I fully get Ramsey’s drift, I must point out that given all of the priest abuse cases most people hear about, and the scant coverage of brutality in local media, it is no wonder they feel safer around police.  Mr. Ramsey also writes:

“Sixty percent of white Americans surveyed by ABC News in December said that the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Garner in New York City were isolated incidents.”

One needs to further contextualize the finding above. The mainstream media, especially local news, have been greatly remiss in their coverage of police killings around the country over the past six years. While some cases have filtered up the chain and across the country, it is a fact the vast majority have not. If whites knew that 40% of all brutality cases are perpetrated against whites, would it have changed respondents’ answers to NORC questions about the propriety of police hitting people, or the ABC poll quoted in Ramsey’s opinion piece? It certainly didn’t in the case of Kelly Thomas, who was white and mentally-ill. Still, public awareness of the frequency of brutality and who it is against, must be accounted for in any discussion of the public’s view on its prevalence. The press and entertainment industry’s depictions of Blacks and Latinos further deepens existing bias. Charles Blow explains this in a September 2014 op-ed, “Crime, Bias and Statistics.”

““White Americans who associate crime with blacks and Latinos are more likely to support punitive policies — including capital punishment and mandatory minimum sentencing — than whites with weaker racial associations of crime.”

This association of crime with blacks has been noted by others. Lisa Bloom, in her book “Suspicion Nation,” points out: “While whites can and do commit a great deal of minor and major crimes, the race as a whole is never tainted by those acts. But when blacks violate the law, all members of the race are considered suspect.”

She further says: “The standard assumption that criminals are black and blacks are criminals is so prevalent that in one study, 60 percent of viewers who viewed a crime story with no picture of the perpetrator falsely recalled seeing one, and of those, 70 percent believed he was African-American. When we think about crime, we ‘see black,’ even when it’s not present at all.””

While there is absolutely no doubt that America’s problem with racial bias is real and widespread, it isn’t one that can be judged or explained quite as neatly as Ramsey does in his piece. Not all of the polls and studies look at the subject with the same levels of depth and reliability. Better targeted and more deeply-researched data published by organizations such as Pew Research and NORC point to problems not only with the groups usually associated with racism, older whites, but also with millennials. I find that millennials’ attitudes toward race is directly affected by the decline in our education systems and the non-existent to basic provision of gender and race studies as a part of curriculum across the nation’s schools. As many research studies have proven, I also find, from personal observation, that once that education is provided, the bias is noticeably alleviated. That said, one should not dismiss the white faces we’ve consistently been seeing at Black Lives Matter protests in New York City and Ferguson itself.  We must also not forget, whites turned out in droves to protest Trayvon Martin’s murder. They did it because they’d heard about it and they were heartbroken. While it may turn out that non-racist whites are not a majority of the population, they still comprise a large segment of it – one that, if harnessed, could help turn a corner in race relations.


“How many more must die, how close together, and under what circumstances before the most empowered Americans feel compelled to advance, legislate and execute police reform?”

There are at tens of millions of whites around the country who are not racist and who probably would take active part in sustained civil rights actions, were there some way for them to be organized as a group. Who is there to marshal these people and direct them toward coordinated activism? There isn’t, at this time, an organization or umbrella group of organizations dedicated to protesting police brutality or any number of social issues that affect Blacks and whites alike. The decline of unions can be blamed for some of the inaction. I am unsure what to pin the NAACP’s lack of initiative in ensuring its North Carolina chapter’s Moral Monday movement turns into a nationwide one. Since its inception, it has consistently garnered support from unions in neighboring and far away states, churches and, in general, cross-racial support. The movement has grown south as far down as Georgia and, in the north, into New York, As positive as that is, it hardly suffices.

Whether the public is more or less aligned with Ramsey’s presentation of the state of racism in America, I completely agree with his assertion that white silence means consent. I do so because, on the most practical of levels, lack of action permits the continuation of brutality. I don’t, however, ascribe the consent to a willing interest in continuing what we can now call Jim Crow 2.0.

Profound change, in relation to LGBT rights, came thanks to long-term, multi-pronged and sustained approaches. As hard as it has been to change people’s minds to the point where that change translates into actual legislation, it has not brought about all of the change that will be needed, nor has it mostly reduced the amount of bias towards LGBT. That change could not have come about without the active participation and support of the public or its enlistment to support LGBT causes, alongside a very aggressive and sustained effort in courts around the country.

Once most people are aware of all of the information I’ve covered so far, the really difficult discussion, how to go from here, begins. I won’t pretend, for even a moment, that I have the answer to how to immediately stop brutality. I have several suggestions for the mid-to long term. I only have one suggestion for the immediate and it is a difficult one to bring up: who should take the lead in corralling those James Baldwin called “the relatively conscious whites” of this country?  I submit that it is the place of Black organizations, with the NAACP leading the charge. I fully understand any resentment felt by Blacks everywhere at having to do this but, to be blunt, without relatively conscious whites alongside all of America’s Blacks, the task of ending our collective racial nightmare cannot begin.  This isn’t a matter of begging whites for help. This isn’t a matter of giving whites more “love,” as rapper, Common, was proposing. This is about using Blacks’ existing and vast grassroots network for one of the original purposes it was founded for. Isn’t ending racial bias in America one way to advance the cause of Black Americans?

I feel as powerless and frightened as any of my Black brothers and sisters as I watch the daily horrors unfolding before our eyes. How many more need to die before we finally say “no more,” together?

We can do this! We can grow a national movement. Moral Monday, in my opinion, provides the perfect template for a movement that crosses race, class and creed and could be a force to reckon, not only with respect to ending brutality and institutional racism, but also, finally, making Dr. Martin Luther King’s initiative on poverty a reality.


FBI probing videotaped beating by San Bernardino deputies – LA Times
Anne Clemenson holds a photo of her son, Francis Pusok, who was beaten by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies following a pursuit. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Ten San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were placed on paid administrative leave Friday after TV news video showed them beating and kicking a suspect.

 Sheriff John McMahon announced the move to place the deputies — including a sergeant and a detective — on leave during a news conference Friday afternoon. He said some of the actions on the tape appeared “excessive.”

“I am disturbed and troubled by what see,” he said. “It does not appear to be in line with our policies and procedures.”

During the news conference, McMahon asked the public to have patience as the use-of-force case is being investigated. Since the video was released, the sheriff’s department has received numerous threatening phone calls, emails and posts on social media, he said

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