Injustice, not Kaepernick, is the problem

— Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan stood before the media on Tuesday and explained what should be obvious to anyone in America.

“Protests are not a problem,” he said. “I grew up in the ’60s. It’s a very valid way for people to air their grievances and to express their First Amendment rights … I just hope and pray everyone keeps those protests peaceful.”

Angry residents in Charlotte didn’t get that memo. After yet another disputed police shooting, hundreds in that city took to the streets, injuring a dozen police officers and shutting down a major interstate.

Jordan was speaking in the aftermath of an unarmed black man being shot dead by police in Tulsa four days before the unrest in Charlotte, where police and the victim’s family dispute what happened and why.

In Tulsa, where Jordan released multiple videos of the fatal encounter, a black man was shown walking slowly, his hands held high, back to his SUV, which had apparently stalled in the middle of a road. Several officers followed, and soon after reaching his vehicle, Terence Crutcher was on the ground bleeding, with no immediate medical assistance.

Jordan declined to say why a man needing help with a stalled vehicle became a suspect. Why were police commands given to a motorist in need? No matter what turned a black man needing help into a “a bad dude,” as one of the officers described him, it’s difficult to claim he deserved to be executed on the side of the road.

Yet we know that’s precisely what many Americans will somehow claim. Some have already begun doing so.

That, more than any other reason, is why I’ve been quietly cheering on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Because as long as the public is more irate about a man deciding not to stand during the singing of the national anthem than men and women being unnecessarily killed by police, the more men and women will become hashtags. And the more hashtags, the more protests.

The man in Tulsa was trending on Twitter as #TerenceCrutcher even as much of the nation was fixated on the capture of a suspected terrorist who failed to cause panic among New Yorkers, who don’t scare easily. Eventually #TerenceCrutcher made way for #KeithLamontScott of Charlotte, each of whom followed the likes of #TamirRice and #SandraBland and #EricGarner and #WalterScott.

Kaepernick started sitting, then kneeling, during the national anthem at games because he grew tired of seeing so many humans become hashtags.

And for that peaceful protest, police officers from San Francisco to Miami have threatened to withhold some of the protection they’ve traditionally provided football players. Maybe that’s one reason the Fraternal Order of Police recently endorsed Donald Trump, despite his history of bigotry and birtherism. (Hillary Clinton’s persistent calls for policing reform, meanwhile, have been criticized by police unions.)

Meanwhile, a player who joined Kaepernick’s peaceful protest reportedly lost endorsements; a pastor at a high school game allegedly said anyone who didn’t stand during the anthem should be shot (although he has since said he was misquoted); and some school districts have announced plans to punish students.

Kaepernick has received death threats. He was also criticized for supposedly dishonoring the flag by the likes of popular former player Jerry Rice. Rice has since backtracked, saying he supports Kaepernick, but I don’t remember him expressing as much outrage about San Francisco police officers calling minorities “cockroaches” and “barbarians” and “a pack of wild animals on the loose.”

My love for the stars and stripes runs deep, in part because I’ve been living in a state that flew the star and bars for more than a half century. The American flag was never more beautiful than July 4, 2015, a few weeks after a Charleston church was shot up. The contrast between the two flags was never more stark.

That’s why I won’t take a backseat to anyone on love of this country — and that’s why I know I must support Kaepernick. Because his peaceful protest isn’t disrespecting the flag; it’s honoring it. What’s dishonoring it is the insistence that a peaceful protest to try to create a more just world is the problem. His act is fully in line with Martin Luther King Jr.’s actions, not in opposition to them, as some have argued.

What Kaepernick seems to understand is that major changes don’t happen without a major outcry from the public, and that can’t happen without a commitment to keeping injustice in the headlines, no matter how many people are made uncomfortable.

South Carolina didn’t take down its Confederate flag for more than 50 years, until public unrest made it untenable to keep it flying. And that was only after nine black people were massacred in a church. How many more have to be sacrificed on the side of the road — how many more human hashtags have to trend — before we get serious about revamping how we are policed?

Others around the country, frustrated with the issues Kaepernick has been highlighting, have been watching the overwrought response to his protest in horror. I don’t know if that’s the reason protesters in Charlotte decided to take to the streets. I get the feeling, though, that Charlotte residents would have liked it better if they had woken up this morning to images of hundreds of protesters humbly on their knees rather than hurling rocks and bottles and starting fires in their city.

But when you hate a man for peacefully protesting, what options do you leave for others wanting to end injustice, too?

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

A black voter on Trump: What we have to lose

— Donald Trump is making his pitch to African-American voters in these terms: “What the hell do you have to lose?”

Here’s my answer.

Rand Paul, who has spent years unflinchingly detailing the racial disparities found throughout the criminal justice system, how they’ve helped weaken the black family and why reform is urgent, could credibly make the case to people of color that Donald Trump has pretended to try to make this past week.

So could John Kasich, the governor of Ohio who bucked his party to embrace the Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, which, a New York Times analysis found, has been most beneficial to people of color, immigrants and the poor.

Marco Rubio could stand on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton and speak eloquently about the need to not overlook those on the margins, because he did so even during the heat of the 2016 Republican primary process. And he could show off the scars he received from a heated political battle over immigration reform (though he later repudiated his own bill).

How different would this race be if Hillary Clinton faced a Kasich-Rubio ticket instead of Trump-Pence?

Even Chris Christie showed he could connect to black voters when he embraced President Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and breezed to re-election as governor in New Jersey with a not insignificant percentage of the black vote.

The Republican Party is not void of other leaders who could credibly speak to the average voter of color — Colin Powell, Mark Sanford, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez; George W. Bush garnered 40% of the Hispanic vote — it’s just that conservative voters chose the party’s least credible candidate just four short years after rightly diagnosing its disconnect with voters of color.

Trump’s ascension to the Republican presidential nomination disheartened people of color as much as it made white supremacists and white nationalists giddy. That should sadden us because there are millions of voters of color waiting to be courted seriously by the GOP.

Many voters of color are as socially conservative as white Republicans. They also share an over-riding belief in the power of entrepreneurship. They are frustrated by the state of public schools and would embrace school choice programs that are well designed and take into account the fate of students who would be left behind in the public system. Those groups are among the most religious in the nation while the GOP has long claimed faith as one of its pillars.

The ground has been fertile for quite some time for the Republican Party to break through with voters of color. I know — because I’ve voted for Republicans, up and down the ticket. But the elevation of Trump has all but guaranteed I won’t be voting for the party again any time soon.

The GOP had a choice during the Obama era. It could truly become the big-tent party. Or it could double down on its worst instincts. It chose the latter. The party began enacting voter ID laws that rolled back early voting options that people of color were most likely to use and made it harder to register new voters. It adopted the ugly “illegals” term to demean fellow human beings.

It excused racists within the party or pretended they didn’t exist, disrespected the nation’s first black president in multiple ways — and then topped it off by making the country’s most prominent birther their standard bearer. The party seems incapable of treating people of color with a basic level of respect and decency, let alone adjusting policies to make room for such voters.

That’s why we know Trump isn’t trying to reach black voters any more than bombastic right wing talk show hosts are trying to attract more minority listeners by talking about race. He’s using a caricature of minority life to further endear himself to white conservative voters who want an excuse to vote for him despite his documented bigotry.

Minority voters are neither naïve nor unaware. They have been disappointed in some of Obama’s policies, such as the President’s yearslong attempt to provide political cover for moderate congressmen on immigration reform by ramping up immigration enforcement and putting more security personnel on our Southern border than ever. The fact that approach didn’t work became clear when the GOP-led House refused to even debate a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.

And while black voters can point to many successes of the past eight years — black unemployment cut by more than half since it peaked in 2011; the domestic auto industry was saved; manufacturing has stabilized; black teen pregnancy and abortion rates have continued to decline; crime has remained low; the uninsured rate is at its lowest level ever; the federal government is moving away from private prisons; the poor won’t be stuck in jail if they can’t afford bail; tens of thousands of nonviolent prisoners have been released or are now eligible for parole — they know better than anyone that more progress is needed.

But they also know that many of those problems are decades old and rooted in systems the Democratic Party has been fighting to change while the GOP has instead claimed black problems are all or mostly rooted in moral failing and a lack of personal responsibility.

It is true that people of color are open to the GOP. But none of that matters because the party chose Trump and his bigotry to lead them deeper into the 21st century. No amount of political pivoting can obscure that fact.

Editor’s note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

The Ben Carson I knew is gone

I’m not angry about Dr. Ben Carson’s latest comments about President Barack Obama for one reason only; they’ve instead pushed me into a state of mourning as I watch the continued diminishment of a man who had long been a living, breathing icon of Black History Month all by himself.

I no longer even know how to process what Carson has become. Should I celebrate his accomplishments? Or despair over his patented, painful ignorance?

It was bad enough that he suggested to Politico’s Glenn Thrush on Saturday that Obama isn’t authentically black — a trope I thought we left in 2008 — because Obama’s upbringing didn’t resemble Carson’s. It’s worse that he also absolved Donald Trump of his naked bigotry.

“I have not witnessed anything that would make me say that about him,” Carson responded when Thrush asked if Trump was racist.

Carson talked about not being very observant of such things. Such things as Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Trump’s talk of Mexican rapists, Trump’s history of inflaming racial tensions in the “Central Park” jogger case even after the five young black men who had been falsely convicted were found innocent — implying that you find racism only where you expect it, as though the recipient is the cause of discrimination.

Carson wasn’t observant enough to know about the Department of Justice’s case against Trump in the 1970s for allegedly using a racial code to keep black renters out of his properties: Staff members were told to mark their applications with a “C” for colored.

Carson wasn’t observant enough to catch a recent article in The Guardian detailing Trump’s history, including this tidbit:

“In February 2000, when Trump was again flirting with a run for the White House, he took out anonymous ads in local upstate New York newspapers, in an effort to shut down a rival casino backed by a group of Native Americans. Beneath a picture of needles and drug paraphernalia, the ad stated: “Are these the new neighbors we want?” It added: “The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented.”

The man who could only muster up an “it’s not the tone that I would use” while discussing Trump is the man who compared the signature domestic achievement of the nation’s first black president, the Affordable Care Act, to chattel slavery.

On Saturday, he also told Thrush this:

“I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when [Obama] was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up. … Many of his formative years were spent in Indonesia. So, for him to, you know, claim that, you know, he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

And this:

“They assume because you’re black, you have to think a certain way,” he said. “And if you don’t think that way, you’re ‘Uncle Tom,’ you’re worthy of every horrible epithet they can come up with; whereas, if I weren’t black, then I would just be a Republican.”

Carson has perfected the racial two-step, in one breath bemoaning that some people question the motives of black conservatives and in the next revoking Obama’s black American card. It is the clearest sign yet that he knows how to capitalize on victimhood in ways those he excoriates never could.

It hurts because just about a month ago, I got a glimpse of the person I had long believed to be the real Ben Carson, the “Gifted Hands,” pre-political version, at a Martin Luther King Day prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where top presidential candidates routinely make appearances to pay respects to King more than overtly scrounge for votes.

Carson was relaxed and funny, inspiring.

A young black man “has no reason to believe his ancestors weren’t involved in the development of this country,” he told the mixed-race crowd, while listing off a who’s who among black American historical figures, such as Andrew Beard, Lewis Latimer, Daniel Hale Williams and Charles Drew. “Walk down the street, and for any nationality, you can point out tremendous contributions that were made. That’s one of the amazing things about this country in which we live. Our diversity is not a problem; it is a strength. And we have to stop allowing ourselves to be divided.”

Because of his exploits in pediatric neurosurgery, he could have included his name in that list and no one would have batted an eye. Instead, he talked more about how his mother instilled a love of education in her children and about a scholarship program that has helped thousands of young people than about himself.

Ever since that day, I have been longing for the moment he’d become that man again. But no longer. That dream is dead. The chances seem better that he’ll be hosting a show on the Fox News Channel than reclaiming what was an unblemished place among black American icons.

“The purveyors of division have come in and they have wreaked havoc on our society,” Carson told that Myrtle Beach crowd.

No one held up a mirror as he spoke those words. Had they, maybe Carson would have been observant enough to notice his own reflection.

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Twitter: @ijbailey The views expressed are his own.

Will Trump ad fool black voters?

— Jamiel Shaw, Sr. is supporting Donald Trump for president.

He isn’t among the legions of white supremacists and white nationalists frantically praying for a Trump presidency, though. Shaw is a black man from Los Angeles grieving over the 2008 murder of his son, 17-year-old Jamiel “Jas” Shaw, Jr. An undocumented immigrant gang member, Pedro Espinoza, killed him after mistakenly believing he was in a rival gang because of the color of his backpack. Espinoza was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012.

“Trump is the only one saying, ‘You gonna be dealt with; we gonna enforce that.’ … That’s a beautiful thing,” Shaw says in a 30-second political ad in which he is seen standing next to Trump during a large rally. “I believe Donald Trump wants to make us great again. And he loves America.”

Political analysts are comparing it to the now-infamous Willie Horton ad, which strongly tied race and crime together without explicitly saying so. I say it is the perfect illustration of why bad policy that ends up ruining the lives of countless vulnerable Americans garners widespread support.

Fear, anger and grief often blind good people to the potential for unintended consequences of harmful laws. These may not show up for years, or even decades. It happened for mass incarceration. Trump is hoping it will happen again with illegal immigration.

Contrary to the claims made by supporters of Bernie Sanders and opponents of Hillary Clinton, the tough-on-crime laws of the Clinton era were neither unique nor the primary domain of the Clintons or white, racist legislators simply finding a new way to re-enslave black men — even though race has played a significant role in the transformation of the criminal justice system throughout our history, with black people coming out on the wrong end of decades-deep disparities every time.

But those laws were generations in the making — and had support then from prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, black journalists and poets, as well as activists and everyday black residents in black neighborhoods.

While they were primarily concerned with rising crime rates and finding ways to tamp down violence in their communities, they joined with others who seemingly harbored more nefarious goals — to push tough-on-crime laws that led to harsher penalties for crack cocaine than the powdered version.

They supported the “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy. They may have wanted more mental health access and other options, but they were also in favor of longer prison sentences for violent crime — which is a bigger driver of mass incarceration than just about anything else.

A lot of people like to pretend that the new focus on a more humane treatment of drug addicts is solely because the heroin crisis of today affects mostly white families. The truth is that when black people went through a similar crisis in the 1980s and ’90s with crack cocaine, we listened to those, like a Princeton researcher, who told us that there would be a rapid rise of supposed “super predators,” juveniles (read black) essentially void of souls who would become a menace to society in ways we had never seen before. In fact, we flocked to see young black men depicted in just those ways in movies like “Menace to Society” and “Boys ‘N The Hood.”

The truth is, we played a significant role in mass incarceration because we were scared, we were angry, we were grieving the loss of young men and women taken during drug related incidents — drivebys, shootings, and gang wars — that frightened us just as much as it did white people. It does us no good to lay all or most of the blame at the feet of the Clintons or white conservatives and politicians who apparently found it easy to drum up votes by vowing to lock up mostly black and brown young men and throw away the key.

Maybe others played on our fears — but we helped. We must admit that “The New Jim Crow” was a result of a bipartisan, biracial collaboration.

Maybe the majority of white people have been shown in tests by researchers to harbor ill, if subconscious, feelings about black people — but those same tests show that at least half of black people harbor those same, ugly stereotypes of black people, and probably of “illegal” immigrants as well.

Heck, even today you can walk into various black churches and neighborhoods and hear people wanting more young black males, and increasingly black females, jailed or imprisoned for committing acts that might be wrong, annoying or even dangerous, but shouldn’t be criminal.

When a young black girl was thrown across a classroom by a muscle-bound resource officer in an incident at a South Carolina high school last year, there was outrage at the officer’s actions — but there was also an undercurrent of opinion that the young girl had brought it upon herself because she dared not comply with every demand of her teacher, as though she’s the first teenager in history to have made that kind of decision.

Remember, it is black people who’ve pushed the notion that if we are just a little more perfect during traffic stops that will lessen the chances that we’d become victims to police brutality — even though it is the cop, not the motorist, who determines such things.

Fortunately, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is trying to correct for those past mistakes and is demanding that a person’s full humanity be taken into account in every situation, no matter how imperfect they might be.

It’s important to acknowledge the role minorities played in the out-of-control prison industrial complex if we are to avoid a repeat of those mistakes. While it has become fashionable for politicians on both sides of the aisle to talk up criminal justice reform, the phony “war on cops,” the suspect “Ferguson effect” and the rise of Trump shows just how fragile that movement is.

Trump is playing to those same fears; only this time, he’s using the heartbreaking story of black voters like Shaw to do to others what was done to black people.

I suspect he’s counting on us not recognizing the parallels, making it easier for him to claim that he’s talking about Mexican rapists and murderers only with the aim of making “this country great again,” not to target yet another vulnerable group, turn them into America’s latest scapegoats and ride their backs all the way to the White House.

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Twitter: @ijbailey The views expressed are his own.