The Folly of Donald Trump

In 1968, demagogue Dixiecrat George Wallace ran on a Presidential platform that was incredibly divisive, as it appealed to the racist attitudes of voters throughout the south. In those protests, he frequently encouraged violence at rallies towards all dissenters. George Wallace would lose the nomination badly. Four years later, an assassin’s bullet permanently robbed him of his legs, thus ending his ultimate political ambition.

Now, 48 years later, demagogue Republican Donald Trump runs on an equally divisive platform that appeals to a largely White working class demographic and their anger towards neoliberal economic policies as well as their hatred towards immigrants, Muslims, and others alike. He’s equated Mexicans to killers and rapists, proposed unconstitutional surveillance of American Muslims, and suggested barring all immigrants from the Middle East.

Trump’s rallies have not been any better, as they contained instances of violence towards dissenters, such as a vet assaulting a woman last week and a supporter sucker punching a man earlier this week. Trump himself both explicitly and implicitly encourages violence at his rallies, by promising to pay for the legal fees against “tomato throwers” and even saying how he would personally like to punch a protester in the face. The frenzy of his crowds is as if he were cutting a WWE-style promo against the villain(s) of his choosing. His impoliteness, his tirades against “politically correctness,” and his insistence on “Making America Great Again,” are hallmarks of his rallies.

Late last week, thousands of protesters gathered around St. Louis, Missouri and interrupted his speech, demonstrating on behalf of the man who was assaulted at the North Carolina rally. Hours later, another diverse coalition of millennials succeeded in shutting down Trump’s rally on the campus of the University of Illinois, Chicago. Scenes of violence entered the homes via millions of television sets with people screaming and throwing punches at each other. It harkens back to the Democratic Convention of ‘68 when the Chicago P.D. brutalized protesters. However, now various political commentators across the spectrum will debate on the significance of Chicago’s rally and what it means to Trump and the GOP.

For Trump and the GOP, the answer is rather simple: the chickens have come home to roost.

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Photo Credit: AP Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast

Just like Gov. Wallace in Detroit all those years ago, Trump’s divisive rhetoric, the very thing that has skyrocketed him as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, has postponed a platform for him to bloviate upon. After all, it would have been naive to expect Trump spew the double-edged sword of hateful rhetoric and neo-fascist policies without a backlash of sorts from the very people he’s targeted.donaldAs such, in a democratic society, where the 1st Amendment stands, it is inevitable and necessary for people to use whatever political power they have to confront people with power. The first amendment, as many pundits have correctly pointed to repeatedly last fall, does not and should not end on a college campus. St. Louis and Chicago were no different other than Trump’s ACME dynamite of rhetoric finally exploded right in his face as Generation Y finally fought back meaningfully.

It’s unknown exactly how last Friday’s events will hurt or help Trump. Given his substantial lead over Cruz and Rubio, he will likely remain the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. However, millions of Americans just witnessed two rallies devolve into chaos, thus further exposing Trump for what he truly is: divisive demagogic charlatan with an ego more inflated than either Trump Tower or the wall he proposes to build. This has not happened at any other nominee’s rallies on either side of the aisle. Because of the mostly millennial populace who protested at both rallies, last Friday could have very well cost Trump and the GOP the general election, if those same groups actually turn out to vote.

The GOP created this Frankenstein’s Monster with their vacuous levels of hyper-partisan politics under the Obama Administration. They scoffed at compromise at every turn, shut down the government in 2013, and frequently demonized marginalized communities (i.e., immigrants, poor people, people of color) as “takers,” especially during the 2012 election. Moreover, they failed to properly condemn Trump’s racist birther madness from several years prior, which only further fueled the flames of the Tea Party. Now, even as prominent Republicans condemn him (including the ones he supported in the past), Trump and his flock are threatening to burn the very establishment that birthed him.

Despite his insistence of being a “uniter” and his employment of empty populist rhetoric, Trump has proven yet again last week that he is indeed too polarizing to be an effective leader of a democracy. He has yet to issue any statements or speeches relaying the necessity for civility because so far he’s been anything but.

This is a man, and a party, without a plan or a course of action. He’s an emperor with no clothes and perhaps, no throne to sit upon.

 

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John Oliver Tackles Campaign Finance Reform With Practicality

If you looked at Last Week Tonight’s episode synopsis on Congressional Fundraising, you’d probably roll your eyes in anticipation of sheer boredom (I know I did). After all, Last Week Tonight’s coming off a brief hiatus, in which the prior episodes had John Oliver taking on Apple’s encryption and Donald Trump’s fatuous wall plan.

Chances are, you are a part of the 80% of Americans who have a low opinion on Congress.

As most of the vox populi is astutely aware, given the campaign finance reform movements, money makes elections. The more money in a candidate’s war chest, the better chance they have to win an election. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC to allow nigh-unlimited donations from nonprofit corporations, campaign fundraising has ballooned to the billions, much to the chagrin of both President Obama and the general public. As a result, the House and the Senate raised a combined $1.7 billion for the 2014 election, which will likely be eclipsed for this year’s election. While outspending an opponent doesn’t always guarantee victory (see also: Yankees and Dodgers), it doesn’t hurt to raise more coin for your coffers.

However, instead of examining the issue from the oft-used “special interests corrupt politics” narrative, Oliver looked at the stresses fundraising causes on politicians professional lives. As Notorious B.I.G. famously said, “mo money, mo problems,” and politicians are not exempt from this reality as it pertains to seeking donations.

Congress-people spend more than a few hours a day over telephones and inside bars and restaurants trying to convince individual donors into giving thousands of dollars into their party’s establishment. In this respect, congress-people add the burden of being sales reps in addition to being federal legislators. This is especially true for members of the House, who serve on two-year terms that require them to fundraise before they even serve a full day in Congress. Oliver uses a hilarious analogy to demonstrate the absurdity of fundraising: it would be like if the New York Knicks pulled rookie Kristaps Porzingis from a basketball game to make telemarketing calls to season ticket holders. Given the Knicks already disastrous season, it probably wouldn’t make a difference either way.

Unfortunately, Oliver notes that there does not seem to be much progress in alleviating the tension between fundraising and legislation. Any bills supporting campaign finance reform, ranging from measures to prevent congress-people from personally having to beg donors to a public re-election funds that candidates can draw from, have been met with little bipartisan support. As such, this system is not likely to change anytime soon.

He ends the segment with an interview with NY Rep Steve Israel (D), whose hatred for fundraising is leading him to retire after this year. Peppering the conversation with veiled insults against the quality of Long Island wine (part of Israel’s district), John inquires about the congressman’s fundraising activities. Rep. Israel estimates that he done over 1600 fundraising events over a 16 year period, which both note is absurd although necessary given the demands of the system. They cap off the segment by drinking Long Island wine straight from the pouch.

After learning about the stresses of fundraising, who would blame Rep. Israel if he drank more of that during his tenure?

This Week John Oliver Talks $25 Billion Walls and Waffle Irons

Before Late Night Tonight goes on two-week hiatus, satirist John Oliver decided to take another shot at Donald Trump for his main segment. It was only three weeks ago when John Oliver campaigned to “Make Donald Drumpf Again.” This week however, he exposes the ludicrousness and infeasibility of Trump’s proposed wall at the US-Mexico border.

As I explained before, the demagogic Donald Trump uses the divisive rhetoric of xenophobia and racism, among other things, in order to appeal to conservative voters who are dissatisfied with the GOP establishment. As Oliver points out, one policy that draws from this madness is his desire to build a Berlin Wall-esque structure between the US-Mexican border. Trump’s wall has earned the condemnation from economists and human rights activists alike, who, respectively, find his wall policy to be either economically impractical and racially incendiary.

Oliver starts off his segment by exploring the feasibility of the wall, temporarily suspending any commentary on its xenophobic nature until the near-end of the segment. Pretty quickly, using a Washington Post report, debunks Trump’s suggested cost ($4-12 billion) for constructing the wall. The conservative estimate would amount to at least $25 billion, not including its maintenance thereafter. Even Trump’s suggestion of Mexico paying for the wall ultimately falls flat given the Mexican government’s resistance to the very idea. Hilariously, the show plays a clip of former Mexican President Vicente Fox saying, “I’m not going to pay for that fucking wall.”

Trump Wall GIF

And neither should any US citizen.

Furthermore, the wall would be ineffectual in actually keeping Mexican immigrants and drugs out, as there many different routes through, underneath, and around the border. As for the crime argument (i.e,. “rapists” and “drug dealers”), Oliver wisely points out, that immigrant communities have lower crime rates than native US citizens. As such, all Trump is doing is fearmongering ineffectual proposals that would only burden the taxpayers as well as continue to fuel irrational nativism.

Oliver, as well as others throughout this election, continue to expose Trump as a hot-aired candidate who lacks nuance in many of his proposals. While he appeals to the working class for his disdain of unfair free trade policies, his xenophobia is the most controversial aspect about him. As such, his wall is nothing more than another symbol (albeit an expensive one) to represent his bigotry towards Mexican immigrants. Equally disconcerting are the 70% of Republican voters who share his bigotry and actually support his ridiculous plan.

While Trump’s rhetoric in general only serves to continue to be a headache for the GOP establishment, prominent Republicans have been employing anti-immigrant rhetoric for decades. It is not as if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, ironically the sons of Cuban immigrants, are any more liberal in their positions towards undocumented immigrants. Trump is not an exception to the rule; rather, he is a product of years of xenophobic conservative orthodoxy. The only thing unorthodox is his willingness to be impolite about his views on immigrants.

Last Sunday’s episode should be a reminder of the usefulness of doing ample research for policy proposals. They can debunk pretty much any suggestion Trump has brought up so far during this election.

Oliver closes the segment on a funny note by proposing that the $25 billion taxed, which is roughly $77 per person, would be better served by purchasing a waffle iron for every civilian. Though it is absurd and unnecessary, Oliver asks the most important question of the night, “Let’s ask ourselves what kind of country do we want to wake up to? One that spends billions on an impossible, impractical symbol of fear, or one that smells like breakfast?”

I prefer the smell of breakfast, especially when there’s huevos rancheros.

John Oliver Speaks the Truth on the Apple Vs. FBI Encryption Issue

The main segment of this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight deals with a pressing issue in our time: encryption. John Oliver examined the case with the FBI pressuring Apple Inc. into decrypting deceased San Bernardino killer Syed Farook’s cell phone. Apple is refusing to back down from the government, citing fears that weakening their encryption will make their phones more vulnerable to hackers as well as mass surveillance. Given our dependency on digital technology, Oliver’s segment exposes some crucial details that present just how complex the issue of encryption really is.

Last Week Tonight balances two sides of the argument over encryption: the pro-security vs the pro-privacy. In this case, the United States government represents the pro-security side of the debate while Apple Inc. represents the pro-privacy position. Now, pundits by definition engage in the logical fallacy of appealing to the extremes of both sides with no regards to the moderates in the middle. As such, pro-Apple pundits believe that national security interests will create an Orwellian panopticon society. On the other hand, the pro-FBI commentators will characterize the other side as threatening the state of our security. Meanwhile, Americans find themselves mixed on the issue of surveillance vs security, with more citizens opposing collection of data.

Oliver does not get trapped between the absurd extremes, instead presenting the complexity of both sides of the encryption arguments. He brings up how the New York District Attorney’s office would benefit from a pro-FBI ruling since they could then hack into the 175 cellphones they seized. However, he also brings up the various other downloadable apps that can encrypt text communication even if Apple were to cave into the government’s demands. Understanding the prevalence of encryption almost makes the FBI’s case of hacking a single cellphone a moot point.

Yet, as Oliver brilliantly stated last night, FBI’s dispute with Apple is “madly dancing on the lip of the volcano.”

While Oliver is not suggesting to protect privacy at the expense of all security, he is cautious about the potential dangers of the government weakening encryption even for “benevolent” purposes. For example, as the segment’s faux Apple commercial portrayed, should the government weaken encryption for the sake of security, it would leave user’s bank account information, emails, and texts even more vulnerable to nefarious hackers. After all, one of Apple’s main concerns as a brand is the prominence of online criminal activity brought on by their technology. Apple barely stays ahead of criminal hackers and to compromise their own security systems only allows the hackers to gain an advantage. Creating an key (or, as in this case, writing a piece of code to disable the memory wipe iPhone function) for the government would only increase the risk of potential danger even if it manages to prevent one.

Last Week Tonight suggested that undemocratic governments such as China and Russia would also benefit from weakened Apple security. To further bolster his argument, Oliver could have included North Korea as another undemocratic country who would benefit from weakened encryption, given their actions in 2014. Instead of leaking emails between corporate executives, NK could steal bank information from private citizens. In addition, cyberterrorists, foreign and domestic, would actually gain an advantage even if a few of their comrades are caught. For John Oliver, the good of protecting many phones from potential danger outweighs whatever good would come about in cracking the phone of a dead shooter.

In many ways, last night’s segment is a thematic successor to an episode last season in which he interviewed Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who exposed the US government abusing their power by collecting the private information of citizens domestic and foreign alike. We will probably see the topic revisited in some form or fashion on the show given the cultural fascination and paranoia over the surveillance state.

In all likelihood, the case between Apple and the FBI will head to the Supreme Court, where the judges will be forced to rule on the controversial “Right to Privacy.” However the courts choose to rule, it will undoubtedly impact encryption laws that could either enhance our security at the expense of our privacy or maintain our current privacy laws. Given our current War on Terror, the rise of ISIS in the Levant, and the increasing advances in technology, this issue of right to privacy vs. national security is not likely to disappear anytime soon if ever.

Catch up on it here and check back next week for another recap.

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Will MMA Ever Eclipse Boxing?

Over seven years ago, as mixed martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was inching its way towards mainstream acceptability, commentator Joe Rogan and boxing promoter Lou DiBella were part of a recurring debate on ESPN concerning mixed martial arts and boxing. The question: is MMA better than and/or superseded the sport of boxing?

Of course, Rogan passionately defended his sport against DiBella, who dismissively characterized MMA as “human cockfighting.” Rogan also warned that boxing was a being “swallowed up,” whose potential was limited to only a few superstars at the time with no development of any future talent.

Lou DiBella was only one of dozens voices to denounce the UFC as being a “brutal” and “savage” sport with a limited shelf-life. In fact, ESPN commentators Mike Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, and Skip Bayless were some of UFC’s loudest critics. Only a decade earlier, Arizona Senator John McCain led a successful campaign to take professional mixed martial arts off of pay-per-view, until it could be regulated by the states. The numerous voices of discontent, in both political arenas and media coverage, set the prevailing narrative that cast mixed-martial arts and boxing into opposition with one another.

Years later, as 2016 gets underway, fans and commentators still believe that both combat sports are in conflict, vying for dominance over America’s top pugilist entertainment. The year 2015 saw both sports change for better and worse.

Boxing had its most lucrative prizefighter, Floyd Mayweather, retire undefeated at 49-0 (matching famed heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano’s record) in a rather uneventful match against Andre Berto. At the same time, his much-hyped “Better Late than Never” fight against Manny Pacquiao brought in over $410 million in revenue while also being the most purchased pay-per-view event of all time.

At the same time, many commentators still decry the institutional corruption in boxing (particularly in figures such as Bob Arum and Al Haymon) as well as weak undercards in main event fights. While 2015 did invite some promise in the return of Premier Boxing Champions on NBC, thus an opportunity to expose the public to budding potential superstars, the lawsuits by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum Golden Boy’s CEO Oscar De La Hoya set back the events. As such, the continual lack of network television exposure and ongoing allegations of corruption are definitely factors in America’s growing disinterest in the sport.

On the other hand, mixed martial arts has risen in popularity on network television and saw its PPV buys soar after dismal rates in 2014. Fox broadcasted numerous events that drew in respectable ratings (though still below primetime ratings of over sports) and last season of The Ultimate Fighter drew some of the biggest ratings in its 22-season history. Ronda Rousey solidified her stature within popular culture by savagely knocking out her opponents in record time, before her upset knockout by the hands of Holly Holm. Current Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor ascended on his own with his trash-talking WWE-like persona all while destroying fighters such as Chad Mendes in 2 rounds and then-Featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 13 seconds time. All the while, the nearly unstoppable Jon Jones, who started the year by defeating the current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, was suspended for most of 2015 after being charged with a hit-and-run accident. While this undoubtedly hurt the PPV buy-ins for UFC 197 (in which he was supposed to fight Anthony Johnson), the UFC still managed to do well last year in both PPV’s and primetime.

Now, the oft-asked question remains: has mixed martial arts surpassed boxing as America’s favorite combat sport?

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 21: (R-L) Alexander 'The Mauler' Gustafsson punches Jon 'Bones' Jones in their UFC light heavyweight championship bout at the Air Canada Center on September 21, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jon Jones; Alexander Gustafsson HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 19: (R-L) Daniel Cormier punches Roy 'Big Country' Nelson in their UFC heavyweight bout at the Toyota Center on October 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas. Daniel Cormier won by split decision. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Figure 2: Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier for UFC Lightweight Title. Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The first answer to the question of pugilistic superiority is no;

MMA has not surpassed boxing in terms of popularity and PPV buys yet. With 1.6 million PPV buys, UFC 100 is the most purchased event in mixed martial arts history. That was almost 7 years ago and no event since has come close. On the other hand, boxing has had several matches with PPV buys far above 1.6 million. Even with all the charges of corruption and growing concerns with concussions, boxing has not lost a sizable chunk of subscribers. While it is important to note that UFC has more profitable PPV matches above 500,000 buys than boxing did in 2015, they also had plenty of busts within that same year that failed to reach 200,000 buys. So far, UFC’s biggest box office attractions are limited to three superstars: Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, and Jon Jones. On the other hand, boxing reestablish itself in primetime television on NBC for 2016, and market more American superstars in the heavyweight division, they would ensure a more profitable future than UFC.

For UFC and mixed martial arts to make its ascent to boxing during its heyday, it has to gain more talented and marketable superstars. Ronda Rousey became a social media legend with her ferocious knockouts, trash-talking, and beauty. She also had a role in Furious 7, which grossed over $1.5 billion. However, since mixed martial arts is still in its relative infancy, it does not possess the cache of history that boxing enjoys. Boxing still lives off the legacy of past greats such as Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson. These larger than life superstars were focal points of American popular culture much like athletes such as Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth were in their sports. In addition, the box office and critical acclaim of fictional boxing movies such as Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, and Creed only add to the sport’s elevation in American consciousness as these films grant the public even more icons. As great as MMA legends such as Chuck “the Iceman” Lidell and Anderson Silva were, they did not enjoy the same near-apotheosis that most athletes in other sports enjoy even during their heyday. Simply put, MMA has to get older.

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Figure 3: Ronda Rousey at Entourage Premiere. Cred Fox Sports. 

The second answer to the question of pugilist dominance is one that dismisses the question: it should not matter what sport is better.

One can enjoy boxing and mixed martial arts at the same time. While they do not need to be in eternal opposition, the way corporate America is set up is that they are competing for audiences. So far, boxing still has the edge, although millennials will determine the future of both sports probably sooner than later.

Any boxing fan across all ages should be worried about the seeming void of superstar talent that threatens the quality and marketability of the sport within 2016. The same can be said about mixed martial arts fans, despite some stellar performances last year. However, MMA is a growing sport still trying to establish its platform in pop culture whereas boxing is fighting the unknown.

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To Watch the Watchmen: An Understanding of Police Brutality

Quis custodiet ispos custodes?

“Who watches the watchmen?”1

Only a few weeks ago in the city of Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke was formally charged with the murder of 17 year old Laquan McDonald. Like Walter Scott’s murder by a cop earlier this year, Laquan’s murder was captured on camera, but sealed away from the public for a year. However, as a result of a lawsuit by independent journalist Brandon Smith against the city of Chicago, the public can witness Van Dyke firing sixteen bullets towards a fleeing teenager. As a result of the video’s release and public backlash against its year-long withholding, Chicago Police Department (CPD) superintendent Garry McCarthy resigned and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel issued an apology. Attorney General Loretta Lynch only recently announced an investigation into the CPD’s practices and procedures.

The national attention and scrutiny over police-involved killings have brought extra attention to Laquan McDonald’s murder. Only recently, officers “accidentally” killed 55 year old Bettie Jones and 19 year old Quitonio LeGrier during a domestic disturbance call. However, if any of these reports and commentary (academic research and personal anecdotes alike) reveal anything to the general audience, it is that police-killings and brutality against Black people is not a recent phenomena. As Atlantic journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates stated, “It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new.”

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Figure 1: Protestors demonstrating against McDonald’s murder. Cred Jet Magazine

The same can be said about the Chicago PD and many of its officers, whose brutal practices against Black citizens extend back decades. Whether it was Jon Burge’s torture of over 200 black men into false confessions, the other non-Burge torture of suspects at various “black-sites”, 2 or the allegations by black officers of police misconduct aided by a “code of silence”3  within the department, Loretta Lynch’s investigation will more than likely be a damning indictment against the CPD that will only spark more subsequent commentary and scrutiny. Some will probably be surprised by the extent (or even the existence) of racism and misconduct in the CPD. Others, particularly Black Americans, will not be shocked by the outcome.

Yet, in light of all the attention towards law enforcement’s violations, we must recognize this stark reality: police officers and their departments are not intrinsically benevolent.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 file photo, Daniel Holtzclaw, front, an Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually assaulting women he encountered while on patrol in neighborhoods near the state Capitol, is led into a courtroom for a hearing in Oklahoma City. Holtzclaw is one of number of law officers in the state that were accused of sexually assaulting women while on the job, one of the top stories in the state during 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Figure 2: Former OKC officer Daniel Holtzclaw found guilty of rape. Cred Huffpost

I find no use in overgeneralizations such as “police are racist pigs” or “jack-booted thugs,” although I certainly understand where these characterizations come from. I am also not questioning how many “good cops” there are to “bad cops” nor am I calling for a society without police. Instead, I am simply challenging the prevailing narrative that automatically associates the occupation of “cop” with “good.”

Despite all the television police procedurals Americans consume such as Law and Order: SVU, Quantico, and (ironically) Chicago PD, the cultural view of cops as fundamentally being vanguards of a decaying society against a rising criminal horde is a myopic one. Michelle Alexander writes of this hagiographic 4 viewpoint in her book The New Jim Crow:

These fictional dramas, like the evening news, tend to focus on individual stories of crime, victimization, and punishment, and the stories are typically told from the point of view of law enforcement. A charismatic police officer, investigator, or prosecutor struggles with his own demons while heroically trying to solve a horrible crime. He ultimately achieves a personal and moral victory by finding the bad guy and throwing him in jail. That is the made-for-TV version of the criminal justice system. It perpetuates the myth that the primary function of the system is to keep our streets safe and our homes secure by rooting out dangerous criminals and punishing them. These television shows, especially those that romanticize drug-law enforcement, are the modern-day equivalent of the old movies portraying happy slaves, the fictional gloss placed on a brutal system of racialized oppression and control. The New Jim Crow p. 59.

The fact is that police in real-life are not the noble (or even comic book level anti-heroic) servants of justice we see in fiction. Being a cop does not automatically entitle the label good anymore than being a soldier means one is a “hero” or a being a parishioner means being inherently “pious.” No one is good via their profession alone. Rather, what an individual does during their line of work and how institutions respond to injustice ultimately determines their moral standing; which is why Michelle Alexander, myself, and countless others detest such hagiographic portrayals of police, only because this viewpoint engages in a certain ahistoricism that ignores the centuries long police brutality against the Black community.

ct-rahm-emanuel-ethics-event-met-1219-20141218Figure 3: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel

Black Americans (as well as other people of color) have always felt the boot and baton of law enforcement going all the way back to slavery.5 While slavery and Jim Crow no longer exists and overt racist hostility is condemned, the attitudes that demonize black people (and a plethora of other) still exists. In addition to the Chicago PD’s violations I listed earlier, we can also look to how drug laws and mass incarceration disproportionately targets the black community, why police stop black civilians more so than white citizens, and the hundreds of millions of dollars of lawsuit money shelled out to black victims of police brutality. The reality is that the consistent over-policing of black communities, the stop and frisk laws that criminalize black and brown men, and the department’s seeming hostility towards change (supported by the blue wall of silence”6), have only aided in Black people’s current levels of distrust against law enforcement.

WARNING: Graphic Footage

4 LAPD officers beat Rodney King. 1991.

Because of the presence of racism in these institutions, citizens must face the stark reality that officers, like anyone else, are human and thus privy to the same biases and prejudices. Anyone can be a monster as easily as they can be an angel. It is why we see Daniel Holtzclaw, who was supposed to “protect and serve” use his badge to raped 13 black women on the job. It is why we see a few Kern County police officers sexually assaulting women while bribing and/or blackmailing them into staying silent. Their humanity and presence in society is also why they score similarly to civilians on Implicit Association Test, where subjects are more likely to shoot unarmed black men than armed white men. The only difference is, unlike the average racist civilian, racist police officers are empowered by the government, armed with unions, and protected by prosecution.

Because of their power, many civilians hesitate charging individual cops with brutality in fear of a legal backlash by their peers and department. For this same reason, even the so-called “good cops” rarely take sides or whistle-blow against their bad brethren because it violates the “the blue wall of silence.”

Which brings me back to my original question: “Who watches the watchmen?”

Plenty have argued for body cameras, although there have been plenty of instances where cops have been caught on film without any consequence.7 Others propose civilian oversight committees or special outside prosecutors to deal with violators. Plenty have also proposed ending the militarization of the police, which Amnesty International has charged as violating international norms.

Yet, police reform, given the power of its unions and the critical mass blindly supports law enforcement, does not seem to be likelihood in the near-future.

The answer to that question, no matter how it’s asked, is not readily available. But at the very least, particularly in the advent of the internet and social media, let us neither dismiss violations and shortcomings of police departments and their employees nor should we automatically assign a hagiography for every person with a badge. Otherwise, the Chicago PD as well as other departments wouldn’t be in the predicament of having to explain its history of violent behavior towards Black people over and over again.

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  1. I usually ask this question in its original Latin language every time the government or any authority commits some flagrant violation that goes unpunished. I’ve uttered this question over and over starting with the 2010 death of Oscar Grant at the hands of Johannes Mehserle to Laquan McDonald’s murder by the gun of Jason Van Dyke in 2014.

  2. As reported by the Guardian, Homan Square is one of the major locations where cops have allegedly tortured black men into false confessions.

  3. a condition in effect when a person opts to withhold what is believed to be vital or important information voluntarily or involuntarily.

  4. Hagiographic: adj. from noun “hagiography.” A biography of a saint or ecclesiastical leader. In a pejorative sense, a biography or viewpoint that is uncritical and over-embellishes its subject.

  5. Race, Racism and American Law by Derrick Bell.

  6. an unwritten ethic that exists among officers to not report any of their colleague’s violations. also known as “blue code” or blue shield.”

  7.  Eric Garner was choked to death on camera by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in August 2014. Despite the illegality of the chokehold in NYPD procedure, the Grand Jury refused to indict Pantaleo.

A Million Straws: Activism on College Campuses

Why did the one straw break the camel’s back / here’s the secret / there’s a million underneath it.”– Yasiin Bey (Mos Def); “Mathematics.”

I remember during my first year at Occidental College when a professor and mentor of mine, Kenjus Watson, lead a weekend workshop on racism. One of the students, an older white male, acknowledged his unwillingness in not wanting to talk about racism in fear of “creating tension” between him and peers of color (Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, etc.,). Then, one of my good friends (and a current organizer) Ben responded, “The tension was already there, whether you want to say something or not.”

That statement has stuck with me since that year because of its profound truth. Racism is neither a ghost of another time nor a demon that causes chaos at the mere utterance of its name. Instead, White supremacy is a man-made machine whose political manifestation leeches from the life force of all communities, especially those of color. Ignoring the dangers of race-based oppression does a disservice to everyone, as it allows for real-life structural and interpersonal violence to continue against communities of color.

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Figure 1: CODE activists demonstrating November 2013 outside Lower Herrick. Source: Oxy.edu

A lot has been said and written about the recent wave of activism on the campuses of the University of Missouri (Mizzou), Yale, Berkeley, and a plethora of others the past week. The topics of these conversations range from structural racism at Predominantly White Institutions to first amendment rights and “political correctness.” These conversations reminded me of the time I spent as a student activist at Occidental College, simply because our stories are eerily (and not coincidently) similar.

Just as it is the duties of intellectuals to understand the realities of racism, it is equally the obligation of activists to combat its pernicious effects. As an activist, and one of several student co-founders of the Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (C.O.D.E), I understood that we needed to challenge the administration into investing in a multicultural campus. Despite what some critics suggest, we also understood that there wasn’t any “safe space” on campus, which is precisely why we organized in the first place.

At the time, there were very little parameters that would ensure a safe and equitable space for all students on Oxy’s campus. There are fewer undergrads of color than in the years past. These same students (particularly Black and Brown undergrads) reported harassment and profiling by some Campus Safety officers. The multicultural hall slowly eroded into one that cared almost nothing about diversity as the semesters passed. Cultural clubs such as the Black Student Alliance (BSA), La Raza, and Asian Pacific Americans for Liberation (APAL) were not getting the institutional support that other non-cultural clubs seemed to enjoy financially. Many faculty of color, who were already severely underrepresented on campus, were stuck in adjunct positions and let go if they challenged administration. Finally, there was no office of diversity (which is common at many liberal arts colleges) to ensure that there were adequate structures to address all the ills listed above.

As my friend said all those years ago, the tension had been brewing. The straws and their immense weight were crushing the camel’s back.

12238171_526608534162829_4919814473629485335_oFigure 2: Students demonstrating on Yale’s campus. Philipp Arndt Photography

CODE challenged administration for much of my senior year into making sure our demands were met. We received a lot of backlash from both administration and the student body who decried us as “oversensitive,” “PC,” and “agitators.” Occidental was already dealing with the protests and national media coverage of on-campus sexual assault. As such, a great deal of administrators and the students already had assumptions about us and were unwilling to listen to what we had to say, which in turn created more frustration that lead to more dramatic action. Sometimes, it is not enough to be “polite” to those who are unwilling to listen and lie to you about the struggles you endure. At times, one has to speak truths to power and implement “impolite” action strategies at the expense of other’s comfort.

I learned the hard way just how mind numbingly slow and torturous the process of positive change often is. There were times that I would sit across from people (students, faculty, and administration alike) who actively denied the existence of my experiences, labeled me as “oversensitive,” and slurred me as an “affirmative action student” or a “reverse racist.” I witnessed my institution let professors of color go (like Xuan Santos [whom I mention in my speech]) who criticized the college for its failure to properly address racism; this only infuriated me further, as I felt my right to speak out was less protected than I previously imagined. The last thing I ever felt was “coddled.”

At many points, I felt like screaming towards and physically shaking my opponents until they could fully understand the magnitude of my frustrations. However, it felt as if I was talking to an empty void. My patience waned with administration’s unwillingness to truly listen to our concerns. All the while, my fury grew as I heard younger students of color feel neglected by their professors, invalidated with racial slurs, and feel lonelier at Oxy. At various moments, I felt as if the very struggle for a multicultural campus was utterly meaningless as nothing would change no matter what I said or did.

Judging by what we are seeing with Black student activist groups such as Concerned Student 1950 on Mizzou as well as a plethora of other students (including my alma mater just recently) protesting their administration, their struggles are not that different from our own.

j6v2M1_oMJ9PmCKPS2t7Y-fAK4HD10sJEm2GZKTbbSYty6v10WlLJzXArX6QIrbg08HppQ=w1235-h489Figure 3: Student protestors w/ President Veitch at Occidental College November 12th. Cred: César Martínez

Like groups that exist outside the academy such Black Lives Matter, the Dream Defenders, and the Fight For 15 laborers, student activists across the country are channeling their frustration with their school’s administration by utilizing their 1st Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. These students are tired of hate speech on campus, having their culture and skin color mocked in the form of costume, and monuments that honor Confederates and their ideological godfathers. Moreover, Black students are tired of receiving death threats for expressing their viewpoints.

Contrary to what many pundits are saying, the activists are neither irrational angry anarchists nor are they being manipulated by “white liberal hipsters.” To propagate either is to continue the ugly traditions of making fallacious claims that Martin Luther King Jr. as an outside agitator who hates white people, that Black Lives Matter is a racist terrorist group, and that anyone who fights against white supremacy are somehow “reverse-racist.” Moreover, these tensions did not emerge from some abyss of “coddled millennial oversensitivity.” Rather, the conflicts over racism have been brewing since the integration of these institutions, finally bubbling to the surface as a result of social media and renewed mainstream media interest.

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Insignia for Oxy United for Black Liberation

Activism, regardless when and where it’s situated, is necessary to keep people in positions of power accountable to all citizens within a democracy. The process is often messy and mistakes will be made on the activists’ part, thus inviting both fair and unfair criticism. There will be conflict regarding strategy and ideology that might estrange others from participating. Hell, there might even be groupthink and contradictions within logic that will have to be addressed within these same groups. They will stumble at times and outright fail in certain aspects of organizing.

Yet, I will recall what Professor Watson, my old mentor, always told me whenever I was unsure of how to challenge an injustice: “when in doubt, do.” This quote reminds me that missteps are okay because activism is never perfect. Like any other activity or profession, it requires tremendous evolution and growth on the part of the organizers if they are to achieve their goals.

While the process of achieving social justice in our precious academic institutions is often unpleasant, the benefits of attaining it are invaluable to all students. Campus police should not harass black and brown students, Jewish students should not be subjected to swastikas, and faculty should be more diverse to include a greater range of perspectives in scholarship. I would have enjoyed my own collegiate experience if I did not have to endure racial hostility and the campus’s seeming unwillingness to engage in action around racism. Although I doubt that spaces will be 100% “safe” from bigotry and intolerance, the idea of a campus where people of color can thrive or fail just as easily as their white counterparts is worth the struggle.12239695_1063780706989157_859325562666252010_n

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Until Next Time, Grantland

I remember waking up earlier this year on the morning of May 8th and immediately checking my twitter (yeah, us Millennials do that a lot). I saw that Bill Simmons was trending and I already figured out what had happened: ESPN and Bill Simmons had finally parted ways. Given the tumultuousness of Bill’s tenure during the last couple of years with the company (including notable feuds with First Take and Roger Goodell), I knew that their split was both imminent and inevitable.

I also knew then that once ESPN cut Simmons, it would only be a matter of time before long-form sports and pop culture blog Grantland, a site he created in 2011, would meet a similar fate. Despite ESPN President John Skipper’s assurance that the company would remain “fully committed to Grantland” post-Simmons, reports of the site’s low web traffic, writers leaving for other publications, and the companywide cost cutting meant that their death was on the horizon.

Sports media, like most corporations, is all about making absurd profits. It’s the reason why ESPN, FOX, TNT, CBS and NBC pay billions of dollars to the NFL, MLB, and NBA to broadcast their games. An apt comparison can be made to cinema. A movie can be critically lauded and granted various awards, but if it isn’t a blockbuster or making any real profit, the studios will consider that film a failure. As James Andrew Miller wrote, Grantland was not making enough money (only generating $6 million a year), thus setting the clock to its inevitable demise.

As the months passed, Grantland continued to operate under interim editor-in-chief Chris Connelly as it churned out content. This was until a few weeks ago when the Grantland YouTube channel took down most of its videos and the once fluid well of columns and podcasts dried up faster than the State of California. Jalen and Jacoby’s popular “Pop the Trunk” podcast was moved away from the Grantland banner and towards ESPN radio.

Finally, on October 30th, ESPN indefinitely suspended the site’s publication, drilling the final nail in the coffin of a brief, but rich, 4-year lifespan. As Richard Deitsch wrote for Sports Illustrated, it was a sad day for all sports fans.

Like many others, readers and writers alike, I too was saddened to see ESPN kill Grantland. The site’s amalgamation of sports and pop culture in the style of longform writing was Bill Simmons’ vision. Love him or hate him, Bill Simmons, formerly the blogger known as the Boston Sports Guy and creator of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, found a niche that worked: pop culture and sports can easily be worked together; compared through parallels that made context and magnitude translatable. One could write about the NBA playoffs one column and then talk about Game of Thrones in the other. One could even make reference to Game of Thrones in an NBA playoff game. Under Simmons, the skies were the limit on what writers could talk about and how they talked about it.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 14: ESPN TV Personality Bill Simmons Coach of the West Team reacts to a play during the Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at Sprint Arena during the 2014 NBA All-Star Jam Session at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on February 14, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Grantland was unique and highly influential to my own style of blog and column writing. Reading articles from esteemed writers such as Wesley Morris, Andy Greenwald, and Rembert Browne taught me that longform (pieces over 1000 words) could be just as engaging as standard articles fewer than 800 words in length. Zach Lowe could explain the game of basketball almost better than any other writer aside from a coach or a player. I still take pleasure in reading “Oral History: Malice at the Palace,” a longform account written brilliantly by Jonathan Abrams that details the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004.

Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose always had excellent chemistry on the BS Report podcast (which was never the case among the rotating cast of NBA Countdown). Grantland could provide its audience with witty humorous columns, articles concerning serious subject matter, and movie and TV reviews all under the managerial genius of Bill Simmons.

This is not to say that Bill’s passion project was perfect, they could not generate enough web traffic to justify its operating costs, they aired their podcasts and television shows (ex., Grantland Basketball Hour) on inconsistent times, and it had its fair share of controversy. In addition, I always felt as if some Grantland writers would focus too much on reacting to other pundits as opposed to just writing their own work and letting the research speak for itself. Nevertheless, Grantland was easily my favorite aspect about ESPN aside from watching the actual games. I can’t imagine an intellectual sports-fan who preferred regular ESPN to Grantland. Teading/listening to certain personalities who bloviate about tired talking points and propagate opinions discredited by research gets old when its airing on repeat, even if you change the anchor reciting the talking points.

Simply put, constantly hearing about Tim Tebow got really f****** annoying. But instead of solely bemoaning all that I loathed about ESPN (and trust me, there’s plenty), I consistently supported and praised both writers and pundits who did excellent reporting and commentary. I supported Grantland immensely.

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Overtime, ESPN has created personality-brand projects similar to Grantland such as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight and (formerly) Jason Whitlock’s The Undefeated (known informally as “Black Grantland”). Unfortunately, FiveThirtyEight, which examines sports, economics, and politics through statistical analysis, might be next to be cut from ESPN given its low web traffic. In addition, The Undefeated, which is supposed to examine sports as it intersects with African-American culture and race, has yet to be launched after 18 months of incompetent leadership from its former former Editor-in-Chief. Yet, President Skipper still insists that ESPN is fully committed to these projects.

When have we heard that one before?

I remember when my editor Jake Kahane approached me to write for The Daily Twenties just as the site was getting ready to launch. During our conversation, we both discussed our mutual fondness of Grantland and lamented that Bill left. Yet, I also told him about how Grantland inspired me to write about multiple subject matters that many people consider unrelated. In my case, I was (and still am) inspired to write about the intersections between politics, sports, and/or pop culture. I can say that my very first article on Roman Reigns and race was in part inspired by some of the content I read at Grantland.

Thankfully, ESPN has archived the many wonderful works the site has produced during its tenure. I would encourage everyone to look back at the archives and read some of the most brilliant sports and culture writing from the last five years. If there’s some form of everlasting life for the site, it’s in the crypts of ESPN.com, the type of storytelling embodied by ESPN’s 30-for-30 franchise, and in the minds of those who read it and were better, more interesting people for it.

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Racial Identity in Corporate Entertainment

Roman Reigns is one of the most popular (and most controversial) wrestlers working for the WWE today. Roman Reigns – whose real name is Leati Joseph “Joe” Anoa’i – has enjoyed much success in the WWE, first with the tag team/stable “The Shield” (with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose) to headlining a wildly successful Wrestlemania 31 main event match earlier this year. 

Reigns, also half-Italian via his mother, hails from the Samoan Anoa’i family, a multigenerational professional wrestling dynasty whose most famous member is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The WWE develops storylines around the familial relationships with all of these wrestlers. Currently, the company acknowledges Roman Reigns and the Usos as real-life cousins.

However, former WWE writer Kevin Eck recently posted on his blog that the company, allegedly, ordered the writers and broadcasters not to acknowledge Reigns’ relation to the Anoa’i family on the grounds that it would associate him with Samoan identity.

Yet, CEO Vince McMahon and COO Paul Levesque (better known as Triple H) vetoed the idea on the grounds that they could not acknowledge Roman Reigns as Samoan. As Eck said:

“[McMahon and Levesque’s] belief was that it would pigeonhole [Reigns] and damage his mystique. The inference was that the audience had a preconceived notion of what a Samoan wrestler is. You know, a guy in a grass skirt who wears a puka shell necklace.”

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This statement is somewhat alarming because it reveals the ongoing struggles non-white performers face with race even to this day. While the WWE has yet to comment on these allegations, it is no secret that the WWE has a sordid history with race and racism.

Should we ignore one’s racial and ethnic identity to prevent stereotypes? What are the implications in ignoring these identities?

To answer the first question, not acknowledging one’s racial identity, or “colorblindness,” is not a viable option in preventing racism. Colorblindness does not prevent both interpersonal and structural realities of racism against people of color, which include stereotypes as well as disproportionate rates of unemployment, incarceration, and wealth disparities.

One cannot “unsee” race/ethnicity (as both skin color and culture) anymore than they can unsee other visible characteristics such as gender/sex and size. Rather, how people choose to act upon each other’s race is what defines interracial contact.

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As such, ignoring Reigns identity would not have disassociated whatever the audience’s preconceived notions would have been at the time.

More insidiously, by erasing a person of color’s cultural identity, one is essentially problematizing their existence by not being white. “Whiteness” is summarized by Audrey Thompson who says:

“Whiteness-privileging mechanisms work in several, sometimes paradoxical ways. For example, on the one hand, whiteness is normalized; it is taken for granted and therefore invisible. On the other hand, it is treated as preferable.”

Some scholars tend to understand post-racialism or colorblindness as a pattern of which to establish a “default.” As such, any racial/ethnic identity that is not white is immediately “othered.” Sometimes, this othering can manifest in exoticizing identities (such as Asians, Latinos, mixed races, etc.) or criminalizing them altogether (Blacks, Latinos, etc.).

Whatever way the othering presents itself, the result is ultimately the same: the person’s identity is as too distracting to the norm. The “other” is not allowed to function as individual similar to those who inhabit the norm; rather that person must act as a representative, if not the very essence of their identity as preconceived by the audience.

Can people’s racial and/or ethnic identities be acknowledged in public without being attached to stereotypes? The answer is yes. As such, corporations, artists, and audiences alike must share the burden in imagining all groups of people of color as being a diverse range of personalities and appearances.

The Usos perform the traditional Samoan Siva Tau dance before matches while their cousin Roman Reigns remains a stoic powerhouse dressed in military garb. Their current success in presenting different versions of Polynesian men is indicative of how ignoring someone’s cultural identity is nothing more than lazy uninspired thinking