Friday, December 7, 2012

Dean Lemann, Texas Monthly and the Whitening of American Journalism (Part 1)


            Access remains the single most important ingredient of good journalism, whether you have the interview or the documents or someone on the inside who’s talking or leaking email. Recently an understanding of science or an ability with numbers, especially statistics—or knowledge of computers—has become a close second to live sources for getting the story. But what if you have both? What if you have access and the numbers to go along with the words?
            What if you’ve talked to the decision makers and to the grunts because you got an interview with the bigwigs and you were a grunt yourself at the enterprise in question—and you learned how to crunch numbers in graduate school—and what if the story is about journalism itself, about a fat glossy magazine that’s familiar to readers and about which there have been questions, doubts, for years? What if the questions are reflective of the doubts about all American journalism and perhaps American society as well?
            What if the publication is a magazine like Texas Monthly that pretty much owns its market and whose staff has been wondering if it’s more honored than read, while people on the outside have been wondering, well, if the magazine isn't just a little racist and whether it deserves to be read at all? What if a couple of years ago an obscure want-to-be academic wasn’t necessarily wondering about the big big picture, only the little big picture, “explor[ing] the means by which Texas Monthly magazine constructs a Texas identity,” working on her dissertation, trying to get it done, but in the course of her research she answered some pretty deep questions about American journalism and its failings that people were mostly afraid to ask and shouldn’t have been but for which the answers really are pretty scary? The short answer—the scariest of all—is that Texas Monthly which will celebrate its fortieth anniversary in a few months is as bad as it looks, the journalistic equivalent of a 1950s Southern country club in which stories, ads and the staff itself are whites-only.
            Susan Sivek, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, reviewed almost twenty years of issue content and concluded, not surprisingly, that despite claims of editors (Sivek actually interned at the Monthly and returned to conduct interviews for her dissertation) that more minority content was a priority but must be achieved carefully—to quote then-editor Evan Smith, changing to a more diverse, minority-friendly publication would be like suddenly swinging the steering wheel of a school bus, his analogy not hers, or mine, an incredibly risky proposition, Mr. Smith called it—Texas Monthly’s editors and owners actually have the market they want. “Its staff argues that they are attempting to diversify the magazine’s content so that their audience may be informed about the variety of people and issues in the state. The results of this study’s content analysis do not support that statement, demonstrating instead a strong focus especially on white people in the magazine’s content and advertising, and somewhat stereotypical tendencies in the magazine’s coverage of non-white individuals.” That’s a direct enough hypothesis to test, right? Pretend you're in grad school. Flip through the magazine and there’s certainly a prima facie case to be made that the premise, the theory, is correct. Let’s look at the numbers Ms. Sivek compiled that led to her unhappy conclusion:
            From 1990 to 2007, the period of her inquiry, the depiction of whites on the magazine’s covers actually went down from almost 80% to 67% after Texas Monthly’s acquisition by Emmis Communications in 1998. That number is misleading, however, as Ms. Sivek noted.
            At the same time the depiction of non-whites also went down, from 11% to 7%, a proportionately much larger fall. The slack was taken up by a jump in covers that did not show people at all—longhorns for example, or scenic drives or yet another picture of the Alamo—but when people were on the cover, guess what race they were? Apparently, according to Sivek’s research, it’s also easy to guess their gender. During the time span in question, when human beings were featured, women dropped from a 30% cover rate to 20.5%. In other words in a state that has been moving for years to majority-minority status, with blacks, Hispanics and other non-whites supplanting Caucasians—until today when seven out of ten births in the state are actually minority—and presumably half are female—Texas Monthly has remained the undisputed realm of white men.
            The period of this segregated content and graphics, the era that was studied, with bad demographics that continue today, coincided mostly with the leadership of Evan Smith who became editor-in-chief in 2000 and president of Texas Monthly Inc. as well, shortly thereafter. While Ms. Sivek’s content analysis notes that during Smith’s tenure (he was forced out in 2009 amid bad financial data since, holding all the strings of power, there was no one else to take the fall; Smith became editor of startup Texas Tribune) the number of entertainment covers dropped and political stories rose. Much of that change can be attributed to Smith’s view of politics-as-entertainment or as sport. Sivek’s analysis found, indeed, that news-oriented covers fell by almost one-third during the Smith years. There’s actually blame enough to go around—both for Evan Smith and for his predecessor as editor, Gregory Curtis. During the 18 years studied, spanning a good part of both men’s tenures, Hispanics were featured in only 1.8% of covers; blacks in 3.6%. Whites were featured on average 70% of the time, and Asians never. Blacks were most often shown as entertainment figures or athletes, if the portrayal was positive. Latinos got the “mariachi treatment,” usually on inside pages. Most worrisome of all is that minorities were featured as criminals 30 percent more often than whites when minorities were covered at all. Whites appeared as artists or writers twice as often as blacks and Hispanics. Women were almost never presented in positions of power, according to Ms. Sivek’s study. It’s hard to imagine that any publication could continue to put up numbers like these in the modern era. It takes hard work—that appears certain. Texas Monthly has always had a dedicated staff on both the business and editorial sides.
            The most powerful statistic about the magazine—and how out of touch the American media have become—is one that can also be crunched from numbers at the New Yorker, the Times (New York or L.A.), NPR or most any other American journalistic heavyweight—or school of journalism in the U.S. It is one that Ms. Sivek’s research did not capture. 
            In fact, there’s an acronym you should know, not a number, which must be kept in mind as you read about the big hole in American journalism and how one man, a Texas Monthly alumnus, helped dig it: NNNA.
            More about that later.



            From its inception in 1973 Texas Monthly has been all about an epic kind of narrative that’s intended to communicate the grandeur of the state—and like all good storytelling, doing so without troublesome details.
            The Texas myth—that’s what it’s been dubbed in the magazine’s pages—is the Anglos-only version of how the Lone Star State came to be. It’s an editorial mantra in Austin that the Texas myth, although just that, a myth—not true by any conceivable standard of equity or fact-finding—is nonetheless acceptable at a journalistic purpose because there’s something “special” about Texas that means the truth doesn’t apply and facts can be made up, or ignored. One of the more impressive stories of the state and best documented is arguably the founding of Texas Monthly itself—and only here, of all the stories of this great state, can it be proven that there really were no niggers or Mexicans present because that’s been the magazine’s editorial policy from early in its existence. Just not from the start. Not from the start.
            At the beginning, lo those forty years ago when a business grad from Dallas named Mike Levy had an idea, and borrowed the money to make it real, the story of the magazine itself has had the ring of history. Somehow, although the Monthly would be headquartered in capital city Austin, Mike Levy started his quest in Houston where he connected with one or more of the three men who would provide the founding editorial direction sought: Bill Broyles, now a screenwriter who was then working as a flak at the Houston school district; Paul Burka, a young lawyer who was serving as an aide to a state senator; and Gregory Curtis who, well, it’s not clear what Curtis had been doing up until that point, but he was a writer. In fact all three men were writers, all Rice University graduates who had done work for the college newspaper, the Thresher. Curtis and Broyles were roommates at Rice. As it was explained to me more than three decades ago—just think of me as this narrative’s ingénue, a sensitive journalistic soul recording the ambitions of the important white men around me—at the Thresher, Broyles was the serious one, writing who knows what deep shit one would have written at an American college newspaper in the 1960s, while Curtis was the artist, the poet, and Burka was the sports editor working in a field where he learned how to judge a winner from a loser and later carried that insight to politics. This version of The Beginning would be offered to me a few years after the magazine’s birth by one of the three men himself but because it didn’t seem important at the time, nothing more than late-night gossip in an editorial office that then employed me, there may be an error here, some shading of the facts that’s not totally accurate. For that an apology at the start. But, basically, it’s correct—that's the backstory of the magazine’s founding. After Rice, the three friends/acquaintances went their separate ways: Burka to law school, Curtis to San Francisco (to write poetry, or to edit comic books, depending on who’s talking) and, the most important voyage of all, indisputable and completely verifiable by none other than the United States Department of Defense, Bill Broyles went to the then-Republic of South Vietnam, an all-expenses paid trip sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps. Broyles’ stint in Vietnam is the keystone of the story of Texas Monthly's founding (and, according to my belief at least, helps illustrate what’s wrong with American journalism today.) 
            This may sound condescending but it’s okay coming from me, an African-American: the Bill Broyles who founded the magazine had a feel for minorities. He wasn’t afraid of us and he wasn’t uncomfortable around us, at least not in the way many of the editors and writers at Texas Monthly seemed and seem to be. Through the years, having met plenty of white people especially in journalism who have not been comfortable with non-whites or who find black people’s breath too warm or our touch too hot it’s an important point for me to make. The United States military, after all, has been one of the great agents of desegregation in American society. There are no racists in a foxhole or very few who survive and despite the depredations that the U.S. military has done to foes and allies alike, something good has come out of American bellicosity in the latter half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. People like William D. Broyles Jr. have been shaped. My theory is that Broyles either had his butt saved by a nigger, off in a rice paddy somewhere—or was pulled out of one of Charlie’s tunnels by a chulo or that just living day after day in a rifle company where there were probably more minorities than whites—literally eating and sleeping with blacks and Latinos and Asians—harassed by gunfire, trying to make sure the B-52s didn’t drop a load on his ass by accident—made Broyles the man he was. After that Austin was no sweat. After that, running a magazine was no strain. Broyles had personal courage—which is probably what took him to Vietnam in the first place. Paul Burka, who has served through the decades as Texas Monthly’s political editor, the only one of the original three still riding the same horse today, has said that time abroad—Broyles’ military service—was held over everyone else at the magazine by the then editor-in-chief. It made Bill Broyles first among equals even if his title did not. Maybe that’s true and, well, maybe it should have been. Broyles was not afraid of life or life’s circumstances. He had proven that by embracing service while others were trying to escape it which doesn’t mean that the cause was honorable in Southeast Asia, only that some of the people were. That's how America became desegregated—by people with courage—people who were not afraid to do something, to buck or even to embrace a system, and it’s my view that had Broyles stayed at the magazine those statistics Ms. Sivek collected decades later would have been far different from what they are today.
            Texas Monthly was a huge success, one of the first in what would be a wave of city and regional magazines. Broyles was becoming a big deal in journalism—and like most important people he didn’t open his own mail. He had somebody to do that for him. The only African-American at the Monthly at the time was a woman named Gwen Craddick who was Broyles’ administrative assistant. Gwen actually opened my letter and put it under her boss’s nose. My exact pitch eludes me now, years later—me having just completed twenty-three painful months at the Austin daily and at the moment covering night cops for the soon-to-be-defunct Houston Post, an existence as close to hell as you can imagine and still be writing for a living—well, Bill rescued me. He called me to Austin for an interview. 
            Broyles and Gregory Curtis saw me a few days later and gave me the job—not at slave wages either but $16,000 a year which was a lot of money at that time. The interview was pretty much pro forma. They didn’t ask any real questions, Broyles just wanted to get a look at me, you could tell. Even before the interview the decision had almost certainly already been made but Broyles was no fool and he wanted to see what he would be getting for his money. The point here is not the money even though it was nice but that the critical action was not mine, nor Bill Broyles’ either. Certainly my letter was necessary as was his offer of employment—but without Gwen Craddick nothing would have come of it. So, today when the New York Times or National Public Radio or the New Yorker leadership talks about diversity in journalism, you can be pretty sure it’s just that, talk, because those editors, whether it’s Jill Abramson at the Times or David Remnick at the New Yorker or NPR’s Gary Knell—as managers—each knows this truth: that unless you hire minorities you will never hire minorities. Unless we, blacks and Hispanics and Asians are in the newsroom we’ll never be in the newsroom. It’s kind of like sex—despite the high-minded rhetoric, despite the beautiful words—at some point you just have to start fucking. And they don’t—hire black people, that is—which is where this is going, yes. The rhetoric is grand. But the practice is something else.
            And these managers will apologize, certainly. They will explain. They will talk about how difficult it is to find “qualified minorities.” They may use the word “meritocracy” to explain how journalists are hired at their particular publication or news network. In an era today in which there are actually fewer minorities in print journalism than there were when Bill Broyles opened my letter, somebody is equivocating. Someone is lying. Hiring means . . . hiring. It’s not a tautology either, it’s a fact that Bill Broyles understood instinctively almost four decades ago. You will never hire blacks, Latinos or Asians unless you hire blacks, Latinos and Asians and when you don’t, in this multi-cultural society, it’s discrimination.
            It’s called seg-re-ga-tion
            It’s called maintaining a segregated work environment. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.


            The single most important editor at Texas Monthly during my short tenure, then and for years thereafter—and even now as an influence in journalism—was not Broyles, Burka or Greg Curtis. It was Nick Lemann.
            The name Nicholas Lemann will be familiar to you if you follow the American media as an institution. Lemann is soon-to-be former dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia who, for the last ten years or so, as eminence grise and heavy thinker—staff writer at the New Yorker and head of the Pulitzer and National Magazine Awards committees—has been first among equals in journalism, the go-to guy on etiquette, ethics and practice. At the time, at TM, back in Austin, Lemann became by default the go-to guy in the editorial department of the magazine as well.
            We arrived at the same time, more or less, me and Nick, or Lemann came a little afterwards if my memory is correct—one day he was just there and his title was executive editor which got my attention. Texas Monthly was enjoying great success but was about to enter a tumultuous time with the purchase of New West magazine in California. Bill Broyles who was always a restless soul would soon be spending more time in L.A. than in Austin: transforming New West into California magazine and attempting, ultimately unsuccessfully, to create the West Coast version of Texas Monthly. Lemann filled a deep management hole. He had been at the magazine a year or two earlier as a writer and whatever quarrel anyone may have with his decision-making—there was and is good reason to object to Lemann’s “insiderism,” his reliance on cronyism as a management tool—or his vision of American journalism which despite noble rhetoric has been white—his writing was excellent. He was a reporter at the Post before his first go-round at the Monthly and he was, simply, very good: if you don’t mind a journalist whose management practices do not fly anywhere near as high as his prose or if you don’t mind someone who not only doesn’t walk the walk but whose actions are in pretty much direct conflict with his or her words. That was Nick in a nutshell.
            There were two overriding rules at Texas Monthly at the time, and one would affect Lemann’s future while the other would affect, however improbably, the magazine’s relationship with the minority community of the state. Would, in fact, make it worse, if that were possible. Both were rules about race—although only one explicitly mentioned ethnicity. Both have since been rescinded due to new management, new owners and new realities but it’s hard to discuss the present Texas Monthly without mentioning the old TM and those two “regulations,” such as they were.
            The first was to limit stories about Austin. Unlike the cosmopolitan, quiche-eating, artsy metropolis we now know, Austin at the time was just another leftward-leaning college town/state capitol. Everyone compared Austin to Madison, Wisconsin except our River City is a good deal warmer. Although the Texas capital has outgrown its Midwest twin the roots of the cities were the same, Austin was sleepy and in some sense an alternative dimension, unreal or untroubled by the rough realities of the Lone Star State. On a municipal level, Friday at 5 p.m. downtown became deserted and stayed that way until Monday morning at eight. There were only big two banks, a couple of bakeries, which was important to me, and Bubba and Billy Bob were frequent visitors to the central city because they were living, with their hunting dogs—chopping cedar trees to make a living—in a trailer just outside town. The fear in the editorial department was that because the magazine was headquartered in the capital city that the tendency would always be to run more Austin stories than could be justified by the city’s size or advertising importance, even when the Legislature was in town. In recent years Austin has become the real center of Texas, in many respects, the capital city in fact as well as in name—chi chi and incredibly affluent, an influence in the state and nation, where VIPs work and make their homes—mentioned in the same breath with San Francisco and Boston, both high tech and high brow. Wasn’t that way then. A few decades ago Austin was a small town known only for the state capitol and a state university and as home to Willie Nelson.
             The second rule at the Monthly was also unwritten but was still official and laid down by the publisher, Mike Levy (who together with Broyles owned the magazine): No Jew would get the top editor’s spot.
            The logic of this “rule,” as it was explained to me at the time by Lemann himself—who was not in agreement, to say the least, Nick being a white Southerner, yes, but from an affluent New Orleans Jewish family—was that because the publisher was a Jew and there were so few Jews in Texas, having the editor from the same “tribe,” so to speak, was potentially unrepresentative and would be problematic for editing and story choice. Might eventually, God forbid, turn off advertisers. In defense of Levy it’s important to note that the kind of stories the magazine featured (the King Ranch, for example, the Alamo redux, or the ten best chilis—basically the same kind of thing running now in TM’s pages, in the umpteenth iteration) were not the sort of writing or reading you would normally associate with my Jewish brethern. Lemann was not happy about the decision, he made that clear. Because Nick was there—he didn’t tell me this, but it was obvious in the context and at the time—to supplant Greg Curtis in the top spot as Bill Broyles’ visits to Austin became fewer and fewer, as time passed, with Broyles’ eventual selection—as California failed—to be editor of Newsweek. As Broyles’ absence became a reality Lemann not Curtis became the power behind the throne. He just didn’t get the title. Mike Levy was adamant. This doesn’t mean that management’s decisions were passed to me in a memo but it was a small staff though and you heard things just being there—even if my official tenure at the magazine had actually ended by the time some of this ethnically-suggestive intelligence reached my ears.
            Nick, as a person? 
            He was cool enough, kind of a bespectacled Jewish intellectual, old school, unlike the more muscular version you see today. Very very smart and like many intellectuals he was largely unschooled on or by the outside world—his knowledge base was what he had read and in Nick's case that was a lot. He seemed to be fascinated and repelled by niggers at the same time. He must have seen us in New Orleans and D.C. but it's not clear how close he got, you had the sense that if you asked him about his exposure to black people up until that point he would have talked about his maid back home or his “black friend” at Harvard. (A little self-disclosure: my older brother actually knew Nick at Harvard, they worked on the Crimson together, but my brother followed in a long family tradition by flunking out; he had applied to Harvard just when the Ivy League began to open its doors to blacks, which made Nick and my big bro contemporaries but not friends by any means.) Unlike Broyles, Lemann had apparently never much dealt with ordinary people on an equal footing. When we hooked up at the Monthly even though there was no more than a year or two difference in our ages he saw me—this is just a guess—as a supplicant for his patronage, a potential member of his in-house team (Nick was planning, it seemed, a palace coup, to take over the editorship by taking over the editorial staff, forcing Levy’s hand, which was cool with me personally, not having any management ambitions myself and not really giving a shit, personally, who had the big office—as long as whoever it was hired blacks and Mexicans. A simple decision set, that’s my pleasure, the joy of being a one-issue guy.) Nick’s editorial office marching order, as it turned out, became untenable for a black person of my age and upbringing: this was the pre-Obama era, it must be noted, me part of the last generation of American blacks to have known segregated schooling, for example, or to have known the lash, so to speak. While Nick may have seen writing and editing jobs as a patronage, to me it was all about equity and reality, especially in a state with as large a minority population as Texas. While Nick’s views apparently haven’t changed neither have mine. For me it was and is all about equity which is a way, isn't it, of saying it's all about reality? My view of him—you’re reading that, aren’t you? But, again in a few words he was another white Southerner who thought he knew more about black people than he did. He certainly wasn't the first and won't be the last. That’s cool. Some people just like to read. My grandfather, who was the son of slaves from a small town between Austin and Houston used to say, "Reading can be a way of doing nothing," and by extension, so can writing, right? Just because you write about black people doesn't mean anything, necessarily, does it? Behavior speaks louder than bibliography, it seems to me and Grandfather would have agreed. 
            Still, to draw a distinction, you could compare the Nick of the time to another Monthly staffer of that same period, Lawrence Wright, who like Lemann is now a much-feted journalist at the New Yorker. Although Larry was a white Southerner too, from Dallas or New Orleans, can't remember which, or having gone to school there, in N.O., at Tulane maybe, can't recall, Larry Wright was much more in the Broyles mode—and for the same reason. After college, Wright had gone abroad, to Cairo, for a couple of years, before beginning his journalism career seriously. Whatever the reason Wright was more relaxed around different kinds of people and had the sense to realize something that Lemann did not—that minorities may have similar aspirations to whites but not necessarily the same interests: that in journalism we weren’t just bacteria under the microscope lens, that we have our own agendas and our own stories to assign and to tell. As smart as he is Nick never seemed to understand any of that, never made any of those connections. To him "the story" was inextricably linked to who got to write it and that was decided by patronage. These errors are ones you see at Texas Monthly even today: the belief that blacks and Hispanics are simply white people with darker skin and quainter customs who can be explained to the readers by white writers. A big mistake, what can you say? It's thirty or forty years late for me to raise the issue formally, which for writers means in print, but better late than never, if that's okay? What exactly Nick did not understand at the time—the equality part or the different part—is unclear. 
            Nick was always the brightest guy in the room, you could say that certainly, especially at the monthly editorial meeting and to his credit he managed to use his intellect without being overbearing. He had a great sense of humor and a fundamentally ironic view of life that a lot of Jews seem to have going on, with the concomitant understanding that, whether life is fundamentally sad or not—a zero-sum game or a deadly roll of the dice—there are still opportunities to take advantage of, deals to be made especially with gentiles and, in my case, the occasional Negro. If this were a Hollywood screenplay or a New York Times bestseller Nick would have ended up finding his “inner humanity”—finding his inner Blood, his nascent Negro—marrying a black chick or taking a bullet for a brother. Dream on. This was modern American high-power journalism and there wasn’t much sentiment or emotion involved, at least not that you could see. That’s cool, after all—that’s my view too, now, a few decades late. Like gangsters say right before they cap somebody, “this is business,” nothing more. There’s the journalism that is produced, and the production of journalism itself—the inner workings of the publication or news channel, which can be as fucked up as any bad news story itself. Both require a dispassionate eye that Nick had even then but comes to some of the rest of us later in life. This is business. It’s nothing personal. 
            Nick Lemann as an editor? 
           Also very good if you're not considering the moral grounding of the journalism produced, if you don't consider his part in running a publication that has chosen to airbrush out more than half the population. Nick taught me a trick or two, some of what not to do—actually only one thing that was useful in a really positive way but was in fact, very very useful. He was the first editor to ask me what my theory was before telling me to sit down to write a story. That may sound dumb. This may sound amateurish but no one had ever asked me before. Coming from the mid-market newspaper world, well, we didn’t deal so much in theories at the Austin American-Statesman, the copy was more fact-driven, you usually forgot the story the day after publication. If you asked me now what’s the difference between daily journalism and magazine work my answer would be—this may seem obvious to those better-educated and better-trained, those Columbia graduates Nick has been producing—but you don’t look for patterns so much at newspapers, you look for "stories," hopefully scoops, while at magazines you develop a theory and then go look for facts to support it. Neither approach leads to a particularly accurate representation of the world—eventually we'll all just be crunching data and won't have to think at all—but those were the only choices back then. So, theory-formation became my new mantra. That’s what Nick taught me to do. Form a theory. Unfortunately one of the first theories developed in my growing journalism consciousness was that Texas Monthly's new leadership—that is to say Nick Lemann and Gregory Curtis—had very little use for black people or Mexicans in or out of the editorial offices. In fact it seemed to me—this was my theory—that at about that very time the airbrushing of blacks and Hispanics from the magazine's pages ceased to be a matter of convenience and became policy.
            This is history we're talking about, you should be reminded, like Hillary’s book we were living history as pretentious as that may sound. Texas is a southern state and Austin is a southern city—how southern is sometimes forgotten, Martin Luther King and Brother Malcolm were not long dead, at least not as long dead as they are now, and there were still a lot of un-reformed un-Reconstructed white people walking the streets of the capital city and in public office in the Lone Star Statepeople who make Tea Party members of today look like Commies by comparison. The Texas Rangers were still breaking Latino heads in the Rio Grande Valley and the ominous saying about minorities arrested by the Houston Police Department was that you might beat the rap in court, sure, but you might not survive the ride to the station, as my grandchildren would have heard by nowif the Lord had blessed me with children"It was harder to be a nigger back then." Pre-Osama, in the era before Al Qaeda, a Negro with a weapon or, worse, an idea, was the biggest threat to the white race. Somebody even made a joke about it at one of the Monthly's editorial meetings: "What are the three things a native Texan fears most?" This is absolutely true—and moderately funny. The answer: "A Mexican with a knife, a black man with a gun, and a Yankee with a U-Haul." Before the laughing stopped, someone corrected him: It's actually, we were told, a Mexican with a chainsaw who is most feared. Anyway, in the decades since, the magazine's view of blacks and Hispanics hasn't changed much—a "native Texan" at Texas Monthly has always been defined as a white Texan—but the view of Yankees has softened.
            On the up side, at the time, Barbara Jordan of Houston, the first African-American woman to serve in Congress from a southern state had just left office after a career, like Obama’s, in which she had done just about everything right. Broyles did a cover story on her, the only black woman to be so featured at the magazine until Beyoncé. But as in most history, outcomes were determined largely by personalities and the key personality of the era at the Monthly was Nick Lemann. He was smarter and more able than anyone else in the room wherever that room happened to be. What can you say, you have to give a motherfucker his due. But intellect and "knowledge" are not necessarily the same thing, are they? Another one of the theories that Nick taught me to form: intellectuals go through phases just as teenagers do—in fact there are probably quite a few similarities between intellectuals and kids—not the least of which is what neuroscientists call plasticity, the ability to change one’s views or mindset. At the time Nick was going through his neoliberal phase and it was not always a salubrious turn of events for those around him. 
            Political fashion like literary theories has mostly escaped me, thank God, my canvas is smaller, but from what people told me at the time neoliberals were new and improved—more realistic, more hardcore than traditional liberals, less “wet,” as the British might say, but somehow magically stopping short of conservatism. Neoliberals were better endowed with a sense of “realpolitik,” as Kissinger or Bismarck might have called it. Whatever. You didn’t have to be able to define the words, neoliberal or realpolitik, but you did need to watch your ass. Because Nick’s worldview was surprisingly influential: People in the editorial department began talking about who was “on the tit,” for example, and who wasn’t. Let’s consider this particular issue for a moment, the tit, as it related to Texas Monthly and minorities in journalism.
            Talking about “the tit” didn’t have much currency with me at the time because it didn’t have much relevance for most black people. Nick had gone to a private day school and Harvard where he had apparently seen people waste their trust funds or embarrass their birthrights—but, suffice it to say, for most minorities “the tit” is a source of nourishment that helps one grow in addition to having a certain erotic appeal and so being "on the tit" was not a bad thing and, for us, lacked the negative connotation it had for Nick and his neoliberal followers. Whites, it seemed to me, were more concerned by "the tit" because they were more accustomed to titty being used for non-nutritive purposes. See the difference? My own goal, for example, for a good part of my life now has actually been to get on the tit, the bigger and more milk-filled the better, a juicy nipple just for me. So, at the time my only way of judging Nick’s theory was how it related to the one overriding issue that interested me, integrating the magazine. It was there, regarding hiring, in the context of "the tit," that neo-liberalism and hypocrisy became synonymous for me.




            Nick’s two favorite words at the time were “merit,” which he used as both a noun and a verb and “meritocracy,” used only as a noun, but said with great respect, almost religious fervor as when he solemnly informed me one day, “Texas Monthly is a meritocracy” and that blacks and Hispanics—although at that time already approaching majority status in the state—but almost completely unrepresented in the magazine’s pages or on staff—would be appointed writers and editors when we “merit[ed]” those positions. The thing is, in the more than three decades since Lemann uttered those fateful words no black writer has yet been employed at the magazine, and despite dozens and dozens of hirings in the editorial department there has only been one other black employee. That’s what Ms. Sivek missed in her otherwise exceptional work. The only Hispanic editorial staff (two Latinas) have both been recent additions, as well. So, the meritocracy is obviously now, in light of historical developments, not the correct analogy for the magazine’s hiring practices. And that was apparent at least to me even then. It wasn’t about merit, it was about something else entirely. Cronyism? Race? That was my suspicion. Still is.           
            The first three hires at Texas Monthly after Nick’s ascension were indeed names that would become well-known in modern American journalism: Peter Applebome, Joe Nocera and Dominique Browning. Applebome arrived, like me, from daily Texas journalism and was hired as a writer, as was the then mostly-inexperienced Nocera; while Dominique Browning was an editor. Except for Applebome, none had any ties to or knowledge of Texas. All three were originally from the East Coast: New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut respectively. Browning—who had been an associate editor at Esquire—was the only one with really impressive magazine experience. She was the only genuinely “qualified” applicant from a technical standpoint but she knew little about Texas and, to her credit, seemed horrified the more she learned. More similar hires followed and like the first three they all had something in common: Each was white, usually Jewish, and tied to Nick Lemann and the East Coast journalism establishment. Browning was Nick’s girlfriend, soon to be his wife, which in no way means she was unqualified but her employment began what became the standard operating procedure at the magazine: the importation of East or West Coast Caucasians, people who knew nothing about the state and who had varying levels of skills but were somehow still preferable to hiring blacks or Hispanics, with varying skill levels, who actually knew Texas or who knew the varying communities of interest in the state—a black from New York, for example, if you really have to hire someone from New York—who might be able to get a feel for the big African-American community in Houston, or a Hispanic from California who spoje Spanish and could write about the Rio Grande Valley. These minority journalists were not hired, were not considered, because they did not fit the chosen mold or the favored theory. Browning, Applebome and Nocera fit Nick’s ideal of the meritocracy at work. Nocera especially was a kindred political spirit for Nick: another employee told me of hearing Nocera and Nick having a serious discussion, at the time, of whether Nick should sign the "Neoliberal Manifesto." Apparently they were serious. Certainly these journalists, Dominique and Joe and Peter, like Nick himself proved competent. But to believe that they alone were fit for their positions is to believe that non-whites could not have done the same job, which is not true unless you believe race is a determinant of competence. There is no alternative theory. Or at least that’s my theory. 
            Nocera, now a New York Times columnist, has said in interviews that he learned reporting at the Monthly which means that he didn’t know the ropes when he got there which means he profited by being given an opportunity to work there by his friend, Nick. But somehow, under Lemann and succeeding editors, blacks and Hispanics have not been given that same opportunity. Because “the meritocracy,” as Nick defined it, has never applied to us. Not to be radical or anything but it could be a Hispanic—a Latina, for example—sitting in Nocera’s office right now at the Times and doing just as good a job as Joe, had she gotten a chance in Austin, or for that matter sitting in Jill Abramson’s chair in the editor’s office. But that’s not how things shake out with a meritocracy. As the system works now—in this "meritocracy" whites still get all the jobs, just as was the case under Jim Crow, but now there is a firm theoretical foundation for why you don't hire the Negro. And that is, frankly, Nick’s legacy in Texas and in the nation. The meritocracy. Nick believed in one-color-fits-all coverage and that color is white. Just earlier this year for example Texas Monthly’s leadership, while admitting that there have been some holes in their coverage, yes, related to the state's minority community, yes, said that the present lack of diversity on staff was due to hiring constraints attributable to the poor economy. Informed by email recently that this posting was being written, Nick asked, still with that old sense of humor—we haven’t seen or talked to each other in 30 years, he wouldn’t remember, but the last time was like 1982 or ’83, my God, it was in Houston, we had an early dinner and it only sticks in my mind because Nick picked up the check, which was very gracious of him—he asked me in the email if we should talk, you know, by phone, “or are you just giving me my day in court?”
            Which is funny. Like, what he was really asking—my translation—was that nothing he said would really make any difference? My response to him was, yeah, consider it your day in court. But looking at it now, just thinking about it over the last couple of days, it’s not even that, is it? It’s more like he was right. It’s more like, up against the wall motherfucker. 
            Because the day in court, we can skip that. No trial is necessary. We can skip the defense entirely. Like, what more is there left to say? Everything was said three decades ago and it didn’t make any difference then either. No one was going to tell Nick Lemann or Mike Levy or Gregory Curtis who they had to hire. Levy in particular made his refusal to integrate sound like a state's rights issue, Gov. Wallace standing in the schoolroom door, no one was going to tell a Texas business owner who he had to employ. In the succeeding years Texas Monthly has received several National Magazine Award nominations and prizes while practicing Jim Crow in print and the “meritocracy” is still hiring white people in this end of the magazine world, at the Times (New York and L.A.), the New Yorker and even at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. The issue of diversity has been completely under the radar for ten years, Nick’s tenure in the top job, longer when you consider his time in Texas. In fact there’s a pretty good argument to be made that “the meritocracy” has become a codeword for hiring whites in journalism. In his exit interviews in the dean's office at Columbia, Nick has proclaimed rather self-contentedly that American journalism is doing quite well. Depends on where you sit, my brother. The meritocracy, it's such bullshit—perpetrated by bright people who think everyone else is dumb. Nick has been cool with that.
           The "meritocracy," yeah, cream rises, where have we heard that before? He copyrighted the phrase, you could say. At Columbia he's been all about the new media and new technologies. The best spin you can put on it, the most diplomatic explanation, is that diversity is not one of the issues the Dean has seen fit to push.
           “NNNA,” in case you’re curious, stands for “no niggers need apply,” an acronym used by people of color regarding our chances for employment or housing rental. Apparently it applies in the newsroom as well.           
           More on that later.



Friday, October 12, 2012

How Shaka Sankofa Passed His Time Before Meeting the Extraction Team


            The first urge when reading an execution log is to believe the prisoner's actions in the last hours of life were a reflection of guilt or innocence. Those last hours when someone knows he or she is going to die—and not of old age or an incurable illness, but after too much pentobarbital administered by the State of Texas—has a reality all its own and nothing to do with what came before.            
            Second you must forgive the guards who may be challenged by the English language but are there, basically, not to observe but to watch, something entirely different. They are there not to describe behavior but to avoid it, to make sure the condemned doesn’t “act out” or “go off on staff” or try to commit suicide. Finally don’t always believe that use of brand name products connotes product endorsement.
            If an inmate was eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup a few hours before execution that doesn't necessarily mean Reese’s is the bomb, so good that every condemned man or woman would choose it over M&Ms or Snickers for a last taste of sugar. It just means that’s what was available in the commissary. As with everything else in an information-glutted society we’re now getting more details on state-sponsored death and unlike drone strikes or assassinations the release is completely authorized. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice revised its Death Row procedures this summer and the Texas Attorney General ruled the document is public record. That's important because as always the state prison system headquartered in Huntsville remains the go-to institution on all issues execution-related. After the recent update there’s a new warning to guards that “Staff must not accept a stay of execution from the offender’s attorney.” Well, yeah. That makes sense.
            Any keep-on-person medication must now be turned over and administered by medical staff, to avoid the obvious. A few years ago a condemned Texas inmate managed to swallow a potentially-lethal dose of medication and was rushed to intensive care, nursed back to health—and then whacked. There’s much much more and it’s now yours to read thanks to Attorney General Greg Abbott. “The Mountain View Unit Warden shall," for example, "ensure that a female offender brings personal hygiene and gender-specific items to the Huntsville Unit," containing the holding cells and execution chamber, "as appropriate.” That also makes sense in a way. The offender—inmates in Texas are universally called “offenders,” as opposed to “prisoners,” which might have an unwanted political connotation—fills out a religious orientation statement, decides whether his or her body will be donated, writes out a list of last visitors, and a record of his or her past commissary purchases is provided to staff, reason unknown, although presumably in order to assure last minute availability for purchase. “On the morning of the day of execution prior to final visitation, all of the offender’s personal property shall be packed and inventoried.” The inmate does that his or herself. This step is often missed in movies that imitate the final days of the condemned.
             These written execution summaries recently released by the state also detail the prisoner’s last hours, it’s actually something the condemned spend a lot of precious time on, sorting and re-sorting limited belongings and deciding who gets what when the present owner is gone. The same decision must be made about the inmate’s prison trust fund, basically his or her spending money, usually provided by family: it’s unclear if those who are about to die can bequeath to others who will die later. What's most “interesting” to us on the outside, however, is the beginning of the “Execution Summary Log,” seven days out, with observations and notes on the prisoner’s behavior, first every 30 minutes and, as the needle gets closer, every fifteen. Reading how inmates in question spend their last hours you get an idea of the sense of unease as if no one knows how to use remaining minutes—so they try to do everything, or nothing at all. Shooting hoops in the exercise yard. . . listening to Metallica . . . eating Reese's . . . that’s how Cameron Todd Willingham passed the hours, among other activities, back in ‘04. Most everyone devoted time to rearranging worldly goods. There was a lot of writing but less reading that you would expect: No mention of the Bible for example. A good analogy about time-use might actually be financial, it’s like having a lot of bills coming due at the same time and very little money and not knowing exactly where to spend it, because there’s not enough to go around. So you waste it instead. 
            The four inmates whose execution logs have been released include three men and one woman. Two Caucasians and two blacks. Two who were put to death more than a decade ago after a thumb-down by then-Governor Bush, and two by incumbent Rick Perry. One admitted her crime, one was widely believed to have been guilty and relied unsuccessfully on other means to escape death, and two were very probably innocent. The four: Karla Faye Tucker, executed in 1998 for her part in a gruesome murder she admitted helping commit; Shaka Sankofa, aka Gary Graham, done in 2000 for a robbery-homicide in a Houston parking lot which he may not have done; Cameron Willingham, who has become the poster boy for anti-death penalty activists, executed for an arson that killed his three daughters, following an investigation and trial that are now discredited; and Marvin Wilson, "lethally-injected" in August 2012 for the murder of a police informant, a crime he did not convincingly deny, basing his appeal instead on a low IQ. Although Texas prisoners are specifically exempted from the state’s stringent open records laws Attorney General Abbott has recently ruled the execution logs can be released. Like his predecessors Abbott seems to have been moved by the state’s strong adherence, surprisingly, to transparency, one of the few issues that both parties in Austin seem to agree on. So, too, there is the need to satisfy the public’s fascination about executions—and then there’s the Lone Star State, period. To many Texans there are only two kinds of people, good ‘uns and bad ‘uns and the bad ‘uns who kill get the needle. The Texas public wants a couple of pounds of flesh, wants to see payback, so politically release of these logs was a good decision, eventually leading perhaps to the hoped-for televised spectacle that polls have shown the public really desires. Either that or gladiator games.
            While praising General Abbott, however, we should note that the value of these logs, which could be a rich resource for research and investigation of both man and the state’s baser instincts, was already diminished the moment Abbott made his decision. The inmates whose last hours have already been chronicled by the state were presumably unaware that their final movements would be made public. In the future—once the grapevine gets active, and the condemned know that their final days will be publicized—that knowledge will doubtless influence how they spend their last moments.
             Like final statements and final meal requests, future logs may be tainted by self-awareness, by playing to the “audience,” which is us.
     




            Reading the entries written by the guards watching Shaka Sankofa, he seems exactly like a caged tiger, as trite as that may sound. This isn’t soul on ice, it’s fire instead: sleeping fitfully, pacing back and forth across his cell like the captured great cat he was there was no rest, no coming to terms with his fate. It was Sankofa’s seventh trip to the Death House and he seemed to know it would be his last.
            Shaka Sankofa had previously been granted a stay by Governor Richards but suddenly, as a black Muslim convicted of killing a white man, with a bloody-minded born-again Christian governor in office—by then Bush was running for president on a law-and-order platform and would eventually okay the executions of 153 out of 154 condemned inmates on his watch—this was a death foretold. The scenes in the cell make for a pretty impressive one-man show worthy of Denzel but starring Shaka instead. There’s not much dialogue—“pacing in cell” and “laying in bed awake” seem to be the most common notations by guards. This was like the death of the born-again Christian Karla Faye Tucker a celebrity execution. Sankofa was visited by Bianca Jagger and Reverend Al Sharpton and both the Klan and the Panthers demonstrated outside the prison with Rangers present in case things got out of hand. Before being strapped down on the gurney, according to the log, Sankofa even took a goodbye call from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston. Sankofa went into a long rap as his final statement, still claiming innocence, rather eloquently one must say, and putting his “murder” in revolutionary perspective. Long before her death, Karla Faye was visited in her cell by Governor Bush’s general counsel and future US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, apparently carrying the news that she would die. Among the last visitors who stood outside her holding cell and talked to her, per the guards, was the head of the Texas prison system, a Republican lawyer and criminal justice fixer from San Antonio named Allan Polunsky. In both cases, what was discussed is known only by the lawyers, who aren’t talking.
            While Sankofa’s death was very public, attended by much media—family and friends of both the condemned and victim—like the others who were put to death his time in the cell was not public until now and arguably more poignant for that fact. He paced, as has been noted. He went through his things. He read the newspaper, apparently following his own case in the media. He did what we all do, multi-tasking because he was pressed for time. “Offender sitting on toilet, also brushing his teeth.” Didn’t get much rest even when he could close his eyes: “Offender was waken from sleep by Officer Duff for count purposes.” He talked to himself and to the inmate in the cell beside his. He made his bed (everybody makes his or her bed, perhaps with the hope he or she will return to it) and got a clean jumpsuit. The pre-execution routine is relentless. Those early morning prisoner counts even in the final hours, are they really necessary? Sankofa refused a physical. And then came the explosion. Filmgoers are used to the long walk with clergy and warden, a la The Green Mile, or something with Jimmy Cagney, made popular through the years. Sankofa hadn’t seen the movie. He fought instead. That’s when the “Extraction Team” appeared, a group of well-padded guards, described by those who know as kind of looking like RoboCops, used to take dissenting inmates to their deaths. One of the last notations in the long log has Sankofa sitting of the floor of the van on the way to the execution chamber after he lost the fight with the E Team. A USA Today reporter who witnessed the execution said later that Sankofa was fighting again as he was strapped down to start the IV.
            While the attorney general has released these logs, as valuable as they are, the state has been more hesitant about film. Video of at least part of Sankofa’s encounter with the Extraction Team was taken but General Abbott’s predecessor as attorney general, incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn denied all requests for its release years ago. Tucker also made a video sent to Governor Bush apparently pleading for mercy, which the State of Texas has also consistently refused to make public. Still, we do see something of the condemned here if only through words, a few sentences here and there written by people who were interested in security not history or sociology.
            Karla Faye Tucker the day before her death: “Sitting on bunk talking to officers about her busy day and how worried she was due to the amount of stress her being at the unit has put on the staff.” “Stated she was writing an outline for Chairman Polunsky on inmate rehabilitation to submit to the Board for future reference.” “Lying on bunk looking at wall.” Like withholding the videos, there does seem to be an effort by the guards to put final moments in their best light, to skew the image of the people we as a society have decided to separate from, to make it look like they were more accepting of fate than perhaps they were. Again in the case of Tucker, the last entry on her last day reads: “Standing at cell door with a smile on her face talking with Warden Dessie Cherry.” That was shortly before the end. It’s probably safe to say she expressed other emotions as well, which weren’t noted. That same emphasis on the positive is apparent in the notations on Marvin Wilson, a much more recent execution. “Talking with grand kids with a smile on his face.” Several notations mention him smiling in his last hours. Okay, he may have been a cheerful guy. But maybe he had other feelings as well? Like: “This is bullshit?” Or, “This is fucked up?” 
             Wilson seemed to spend a lot of time with his earphones on, you know, tuning out. We’re not told if it was opera or funk. The blues? He seemed to be pretty chill, frankly, waiting for his final appointment. Back in the day, like twenty years ago, down in Beaumont he's supposed to have capped a brother who ratted him out in a drug deal. So far so good. Then he told someone about it, which is a recurring theme on Death Row, bragging about the act after the fact. A potentially fatal mistake, in this state. Fast forward. In contrast to Shaka Sankofa who took photos with his family (what's that caption in the family album?) Marvin Wilson combed his hair before his last family visit, got an insulin injection and was for a while on his final day playing chess in his cell, which might belie his argument that his intellect was too low to understand the charges against him. Tucker wore, the guards noted, “prison whites, personal shoes” in the Death House. What does one wear to one’s own execution? Sensible shoes sounds sensible. Karla Faye refused meal trays (“Sitting on bunk writing. Stated she [is] fasting and was at peace”), refused a shower, and “declined to watch television when asked if she wanted to watch the news.” The only news she cared about she'd already heard.
         Guards noted Willingham chatting with a neighboring inmate, Bobby Ray Hopkins, a former bull rider and drug dealer who was condemned to die for knifing two women. But nothing about what they said to each other. We’re not asking here for Socratic meditations, the meaning of good and evil or even last guesses about the meaning of life. But a few words about the last roundup might be enlightening. Hopkins was apparently reticent generally. On the gurney, before the poison started to flow, he told the warden that he had no statement, “at this time.” The most pitiful of the four seems to be Willingham, in the good sense of the word “pity.” Although not mentioned in his execution log the rumor is that as he was strapped to the gurney Willingham used his free hand and last minutes of life to try to give his ex-wife—who campaigned for his death—the finger. Was this the ultimate example of spousal revenge?
            Ultimately it’s still Shaka Sankofa who most attracts our attention, both in the cell and outside. Even liberals in Texas argued that the then-Gary Graham’s history of bad-acting on the streets of Houston had been so extensive that the death penalty was not acceptable but still understandable. If that was true he was being executed, in Texas terms, as a bad ‘un despite limited and contradictory evidence of the crime in question. (The people of Houston stopped short a few years later of going multi-generational: declining to sentence Sankofa’s son, also convicted of capital murder, to death.) Sankofa was very persuasive and very well-spoken, a better advocate for himself than, apparently, were his attorneys. Richard Watkins, a former warden who now serves as president of the NAACP in Huntsville, home of the prison system, says that many people, himself included, who came into contact with Sankofa believed in his innocence. And as a black Muslim, Sankofa also raised an important and growing issue, Islam in U.S. prisons, especially in Texas. One of the largest groups of Muslims in America now resides in prison, seven percent of the Texas inmate population according to the state, in a particularly untouchy-feely society like Texas the question is now how to tend to the spiritual needs of these worshippers. Former warden Watkins says that until recently Islam was considered a “gang” in the Texas prison system and not worthy of official respect. One condemned man who was housed near Sankofa, a Hispanic from Ft. Worth who followed Shaka to the gurney took time in his final statement to praise Allah. Sankofa was an earlier wave of this same polemic. 
            Missing in the recent death penalty debate—you may have noticed—is Barack Obama. Not surprisingly for a president who doesn’t court controversy no federal prisoner has been scheduled for execution so far during his term in office. There are 58 men and women on the federal government’s death row, 35 of them minorities, the highest number from—you guessed it—Texas, according to a reliable death penalty website. Presumably the issue will come up eventually. It’s a good bet that Obama, like Bill Clinton, will come down on selective use of the needle in those cases where the public is most demanding and the facts are clearest. As he is not opposed to all wars, only dumb wars, one supposes he is only opposed to dumb executions. His work limiting use of the death penalty in Illinois while serving in the state Senate is not much to go by, the issue is different for a president who must enforce the law than for a senator who only has to write it. Still, we owe Attorney General Abbott a debt of gratitude for taking away some of the mystery of the condemned's last hours.

           
            

Thursday, October 4, 2012

L'Enfant Plaza (2005)


  
            The first car that passed me that morning was an unmarked Ford, searchlight on the driver’s side, a beefy-looking white guy at the wheel. Later in the day there were flak jackets and automatic weapons on the Metro. Down the way from my hotel was this market, a convenience store really, bigger, with a good fruit section. The hotel served plastic pastry for breakfast so my idea was to pick up some bananas for the second morning in town.
            To reach the market you had to cross a busy intersection and then the neighborhood got low-rent really quick: some working-class Latinos and blacks hanging out on apartment doorsteps, everybody looking a little hungry, spiritually, not biologically, like the American Dream hadn’t quite arrived despite the close proximity to Capitol Hill.
            A brother in a wheelchair was entering the store at the same time as me that evening. It was hard for the dude in the chair to push his wheels and hold the door open simultaneously—and he thanked me for my help. Five minutes later we met again at the door, leaving.
            On the sidewalk he pointed at my Low Tops and mentioned, by way of casual conversation, that he bought the same shoe in 1964 for $8.
            Ain’t that a bitch?
           We agreed that eight dollars doesn’t buy a whole lot of shoe these days.
           We were just making conversation, passing the time, unhurried, unscheduled, the way only people of color can be in the middle of rush hour in the white man's world. You couldn’t help but notice that this nigger had a great deal of decorative silver in his mouth. To describe him, he was a little older than me, his legs didn’t look spindly like he had never walked but more like he had been able to walk at one time and got shot or was in an accident or met with some kind of Act of God, maybe he was a veteran but he didn’t have that proud sacrificial air that vets can get, no see-what-I-gave-up-for-you-motherfucker, he was just a brother on the streets of D.C. who couldn’t walk under his own power.
            Being in a wheelchair he probably hadn’t come far, this was his neighborhood, he might, it seemed to me, be able to point me in the right direction to hook a brother up. Pussy—weed—a weapon—is it's always best to buy local.
            In order to do that you have to talk to the locals and not just ask directions.
            We were still in front of the store. A blue-and-white police car passed by, white officer at the wheel, didn’t even look in our direction. Good thing about Osama he was keeping The Man busy.
            The day was cool but pretty, it still felt good to be outside.
            “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
            “Sure.”
            “Is this the kind of neighborhood where I could find something to smoke?”
            He looked around at traffic, both cars and on foot, people talking on the sidewalk or just coming home from work, none of them looking exactly poor but definitely lesser means, yeah, black or brown, what you expect? Then—out of nowhere—a couple of dressed-for-success white people, briefcases and brisk walks like they were headed to testify before Congress.
            Looking at the white couple this guy in the chair confirmed my guess. “It’s that kind of neighborhood,” he said.
            He said that down the block, around the corner, there were young dudes with various pharmaceuticals for sale. But it would be difficult to make a buy he explained, “Because they don’t know you.”
            Could he introduce me? Could he speak for my character and for my need?
            No he could not, he said. He had seen people get jammed up doing that. He mentioned he had a friend also in a wheelchair who facilitated a transaction involving a little “medicinal herb”—for what aches you—and got busted for it.
            There were some starts and stops in the conversation after that. The dude in the chair was offended by an offer of money if he would help me score. His head turned to the side as he listened politely to my denials of being employed officially or on a contract basis by the District of Columbia Police Department. We parted ways but he called me right back. A little airlock plastic baggie was now cupped in his hand. It must have come from under his coat. A change had transformed him and he smiled all silver again.
            “I copped the dime for you.” 
            He was the neighborhood connection and somehow we just hooked up.
            Life can be good that way sometimes. You get just what you’re looking for, when you need it.
            At the right price.
            The brother parked his wheelchair to give me time to run back into the store and get change. Korean dude behind the counter wouldn’t break a fifty without a purchase, so in exchange for the herb the brother in the WC got my sincere thanks, $10 and an Eskimo pie.
            First rule of any drug transaction is check out the goods ASAP.
            If you been burned before you don’t wanna get burned again and it’s not like you can complain to the Department of Consumer Affairs. Pulling apart the ziplock of the little baggie was enough. Out came the smell of mountains, Michoacan or Guerrero, Sinaloa or Nayarit, southern Colombia—sierra somewhere—Sr. Valdez tending his plants in the cool lush air, a DEA plane lost in the clouds somewhere overhead.
            My nostrils widened. There was just a hint of paraquat for authenticity and enough in the bag for two maybe three good-sized joints.
            A nigger’s freedom, it seems to me, is what he makes of it. Mine hasn’t been limited by this administration, not even in a pretty tight radius of George W. Bush's White House.
  
           
           
           

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gonorrhea on my Mind



My first morning on the coast a pretty young woman introduced herself in the hotel lobby. She reached out to shake my hand and looked me in the eye. My last night at the hotel we met again on the stairs to the second floor. Her room was next to mine. We started to talk, on my balcony, and one thing led to another. My first hint that something was different about this girl was when she got up from the bed after a quick fuck.
“May I get dressed now?”
She spoke as if she was a asking if it was a good time to take away the dishes.
She had a shower, came back and sat down on the second bed in the room. So it hadn’t been my charm, good looks or savoir-faire. She was a pro. Not that there’s anything wrong with professionals, it’s just that business wasn’t on my mind that evening.
We hadn’t used a condom, poor judgment under the best of circumstances and particularly unfortunate now. It was my last few hours on the coast, a bus headed into the mountains at midnight and instead of packing and looking forward to the trip—breathing the clear Andean air—we were sitting across from each other in a hotel room, me and a sex worker, a discussion looming about healthcare and wages. It might just as well have been a business negotiation.
It was a business negotiation.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m protected.”
She described her contraceptive measures in detail. “I foam down there,” were her exact words. 
My pants were on the bed. The only money in my pocket was fifty soles set aside for expenses crossing the border. With a little encouragement the lady got up, curled her fingers around the cash and moved, after a firm but gentle push, out the door.
“The next time you have to say something.”
“I usually charge a hundred!” she responded.
She bent over to pull on her sandals and after another gentle push she stumbled outside and down to her room. Later, waiting for the bus, nervous and depressed my mood couldn’t get any worse as a sense of gloom began to settle on my soul.
If she had any sexually-transmitted diseases—gonorrhea was on my mind—the symptoms would make themselves known, right? Like being in an automobile accident or an airplane crash—some kind of natural disaster or freaking epidemic—even if you don’t get infectedpaying for sex leaves an anxious feeling, a kind of unease not just if you forget to use a rubber.


  A breeze came up and my mood on the beach that night changed again. It reached the other extreme.
               My chest swelled and lungs filled with air. Began to feel pretty good, actually.
 Waiting for the bus, sitting on the curb of Mancora’s main drag as cool air washed in from the sea a different feeling came over me, a kind of glow, a gentle buzz like taking a shot of whisky when it’s really cold outside.
 Especially if it’s been a while since the last time.
 This had been that kind of “zipless” uncomplicated sex that men are supposed to like. It certainly started feel good to me. No need for a telephone call the next day, or dinner, no movie either before or after the main event, no flowers to send—the emotional commitment was satisfyingly low. The only issue was price.
            The Peruvian girl had just made even a few hours on the hunt in a bar back home seem schoolboyish by comparison. That must be why paying for sex is so attractive to guys. Not because it’s degrading to women, as feminists argue.
Because it’s so liberating to men.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

They Shoot Niggers, Don't They?


            Austin is a great town: an oasis in the Texas desert, cool, well-educated, hip and pretty. Got greenbelts and oak trees, Governor’s Mansion and State Capitol. A river runs through it. The major state university. Movie studios. It's the world capital of live music full of artsy Democrats and techy liberals who serve as the loyal opposition to the Republicans and rednecks who run the rest of the state. Bubba is only allowed into town on the weekend, what's not to like? There’s only one drawback, and only then if you’re a member of a minority group, specifically, Negroes—but also, the occasional Hispanic. The cops in River City like to cap a brother now and again. There. It’s said. Can we talk?
            Nothing overboard happens here, nothing over the top, nothing to cause too much attention or Justice Department condemnation or get the FBI involved. This is Austin, after all, liberal mecca, we don’t tolerate racism here. But every so often—usually about once a year—bam, the police pop a brother in the chest. Before Glocks got popular they used the old reliable .38. Been doing it for years. Developed into kind of a ritual, don't you know? Afterwards Negroes demonstrate in the streets. There’s always a grand jury investigation. (There’s one going on now.) In recent years the city has been paying out money to the brother’s family without admitting fault, culpability or liability. Eventually you get the mandatory debate before the city council, actually more like a discussion, some handwringing by liberals—tears are shed although not by members of the city council, then everybody forgets until the next year when another cop blows another brother’s shit away and the ritual is renewed.
            It’s an Austin tradition.
            So, we’re in the beginning of the cycle now. A brother named Ahmede Jabbar Bradley got popped a few months ago by a cop named Eric Copeland. Officer Copeland pulled Mr. Bradley over—either because Copeland smelled weed or because the brother was playing his music too loud or both—depends on what story the police are telling and which cop is telling it. A minor infraction, the chief said. That much is on the record. The interaction between the two men started “friendly,” according to the police chief, which can be considered the official account of events no matter how unlikely, for whatever reason Mr. Bradley drove away, then took off running. Copeland followed. There was a struggle. Bam. Or actually bam bam bam, Ahmede Bradley got holed three times, of which apparently at least one was in the chest, details are sketchy. Officer Copeland is on paid administrative leave, not talking, or at least not talking publicly. An ounce of coke and $1700 was later found, per PD. The district attorney is "investigating." Stop me if you’ve heard this before. God knows it’s not new.
            It’s the same old shit which means the same old outcome, the cop will return to duty, maybe the city will pay out a few bucks while the mayor and the police union bitch about the right of an officer to defend himself as if the pigs are the aggrieved party. The NAACP will claim profiling, that white cops go after black people in the capital city.
            SOS.
            Except this time there’s considerable evidence that is exactly what they do. The police we’re talking about—they profile. They go after brothers. And Spanish. But maybe this time they got caught in the act.
            Literally red-handed.
            Red as in blood.



            Just after the Civil War a Union Army officer newly arrived in East Texas toured the state prison and was surprised to find it full of brothers. He ventured the guess that prisons were being used in Texas as a tool to control the black population.
            Well, yeah. You could say that.
            Every once in a while minorities in the state catch a break, someone realizes what’s going on with law enforcement here—police and prisons—like the Union Army officer realized and it always comes as a surprise, at least to white folk. Sometimes it’s less of a break, not just a lucky happenstance like a roll of dice but more the result of playing the game until you learn how to win which is where minorities are now, creeping up on a win or at least getting a better idea of the odds. We took our fates in our hands you could say: Not relying on the goodwill of white people which—less even than the betting tables in Las Vegas—historically has been a low-percentage game to play. Waiting for the caucasian race to “do the right thing” can get old, too. So, in 2001, and again in 2009, we only started winning because we started writing the rules ourselves.
            A decade ago a coalition of concerned parties—the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and NAACP, led by State Senator Royce West of Dallas—a brother—passed an anti-profiling statute that required police departments across the state to track, by race, who they are stopping on the street. Of course the law had no teeth, no sanctions, and the Criminal Justice Coalition which does good work soon found that many police departments simply were not obeying. “There was a problem statewide about compliance in reporting,” says Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. Bledsoe credits what happened next with the doggedness of Ana Yañez-Correa, head of the CJC, and the diplomatic skills of Senator West—who managed to get police officers to sit down at a table and talk about what they could live with to fix the law. Well, in short, it’s a mofo—the first, best and still-developing tool to identify police who stop Negroes and kill them. You can go to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement website and on the left side under “Racial Profiling Reporting” you press a button, there’s a map of Texas, you find your region of the state and, bingo, you can see who the pigs are stopping and, theoretically, popping. It’s self-reporting, which means there may be some slips—intentional and otherwise—but in the case of the liberal mecca Austin, Texas—live music capital of the world—the claims that the police don’t have an agenda don’t hold water. The numbers are stark and ugly. In fact, just about everything being reported points to a big policing problem in River City, which no one wants to admit to but there it is. Let’s take a look.
            So—in the case of Austin PD—skip what seems to be a large number of reported stops of Middle Easterners because it’s hard to believe the Middle Eastern population isn’t being targeted in Austin or anywhere else in the Great Satan, a “driving while Muslim” experience. Let’s skip Asians too for the moment not because Asians don’t experience prejudice but because they are not traditional victims of discrimination in this state. Instead let’s look at the quintessential victim of profiling by police, black people, brothers, Negroes-at-large on the streets of America, Austin’s black population has actually fallen through the years as the town has gotten trendier and more expensive—and whiter—with the black percentage going from 14% in the 1970s to about 8% now. The police profiling report for last year shows that the drivers stopped by police were African-Americans about 13% of the time. That’s a rate about 60% higher than our percentage in the local population. Commonly it’s the traditional communitywide non-scientific definition of the offense known as DWB, “driving while black.” It’s also probably not the key to where the local pigs are breaking the law. According to experts on police profiling the issue isn’t so much who the police stop—although, yes, that is important. The bigger issue is who they’re searching and, specifically, who the police are searching without consent, that's without a warrant. That’s where the Austin police excel—despite the contentions of Mayor Leffingwell et al that everything is cool. Clearly, everything is not cool. Unless you’re white.
            Most of the major police forces in the state (Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, for example) like Austin, are searching about 4 to 8 percent of cars stopped according to their profiling reports, which are also just a click away. In some cases the officer asks if he or she can search the vehicle/occupants or reports he or she asked. But some searches are made without consent. Those “non-consensual” searches are the most revealing. The police always say there was probable cause. We have only their word to go on. And there is good cause to believe they’re lying. At least in River City.
            In Houston and San Antonio for example non-consensual searches are about 34-38% of all searches conducted. Let’s say one-third for simplicity. That means that SAPD and HPD most often ask if they can look in the backseat or in the glove compartment and in about a third of cases when they ask for permission and are told no, they search anyway. In Dallas which has a long history of heavy-handed policing the figure is 60%. That means in the majority of searches in the Big D, basically, the police have asked for permission, been told no, said to the driver fuck you, whether you like or not we’re looking under the seat, in the glove compartment, maybe you get a pat-down too. Austin police actually use even a heavier hand. In 2011—among Austin police stops that led to searches—only 5% were consensual. Yes, five percent. 95% were not consented to. That is ninety-five percent of the time a search was conducted it was done without the driver’s permission which is a full 60% higher than in Houston and 30% higher than in Dallas where the cops are mean motherfuckers to begin with. Of 11,025 non-consent searches in 2011, APD reports that in 229 contraband was “in plain sight,” in 6775 the officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion and in 4021 the search was secondary to an arrest that was already going to happen anyway or a warrant already in hand. Houston, the biggest police force in the state, patrolling the biggest metropolitan area, had twice as many automobile stops, fewer searches and half the number of probable cause searches that Austin police reported. Those numbers bear repeating: Houston has a population and police force roughly three times larger than Austin's yet last year Austin police performed twice the number of non-consensual, "probable-cause" searches as the number Houston PD reported. To get a higher rate than APD—you have to reach out to the Israeli border police, or the KGB. 
            And it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who the local police are pushing the envelope with: it’s not the white soccer mom with two kids in the car who may or may not like nose candy, mom and the kids too, it’s the brother with dreds who, yeah, likes to smoke a little weed. Not the white businessman in a suit and tie, driving a BMW on his way to a power lunch, it’s the Hispanic working stiff in a pickup on his way home from a job. Thirty years ago an Austin police chief by the name of Jim Everett, when questioned about another white officer’s shooting of a black suspect, said that black people are searched more and shot more often by police because we, black people, are involved in more crime and although Austin officials are too PC to say something similar today that kind of thinking continues to be common at the pig pen. But suppose it’s wrong. Suppose it's the exact opposite. Suppose more blacks get stopped (and in the case of Mr. Bradley killed) because white officers look for crime more among black people than among their own race. Is that a revolutionary thought? APD is two-thirds white after all. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Maybe the FBI does need to come in—like that Union Army officer at the end of the Civil War—and offer a new perspective. Because the numbers in APD’s 2011 profiling report are actually worse than they appear.
            Richard Watkins is a former prison warden who now serves as president of the Huntsville NAACP in deep East Texas. He has been fighting profiling among local police forces in the pineywoods of the state for some time now and he notes two particular problems both of which also apply in Austin. First is police often turn off their car cameras when stopping minority suspects. Cameras in police cars are a major issue because state law permits any police force that has all its cruisers equipped with cameras to escape the profile reporting requirements on the TCOLE website. In other words if the force is completely equipped with cameras, no statistics must be reported on who is being stopped. Most police departments are, therefore, trying to equip cars with cameras, but Watkins notes that cameras in police cars don’t help when the officer turns it off or points it away from the action—something he says is common in his neck of the woods—and as, by the way, happened in 2010 during a stop in East Austin when an officer turned off his camera and then proceeded to shoot two young men, both black, one fatally, in a confrontation that, as usual, did not lead to charges but did cost the city a $750,000 settlement. (The mayor voted against the payout. He was of the opinion the brothers, one of whom was asleep when shot, being shot literally woke him up, were to blame.)
            There are even better reasons to compare Austin to small-town Texas.
            Because the other problem, per Mr. Watkins of the NAACP, is that an interstate passes through Huntsville. He estimates that in many of the cases of minorities who are illegally pulled over he never hears about the stop because the drivers keep going and do not complain. That may well be borne out by study. “The only hard and fast rule—don’t look at census data as a denominator. The people who drive in an area,” says Professor Geoffrey Alpert, who studies police profiling at the University of South Carolina’s Department of Criminology, “are not the ones who live there, except in small towns.” Indeed, in Austin, in the narrative explanation given to the mayor and city council regarding APD’s questionable 2011 profiling stats, obtained by open records request, the police report that they are stopping fewer people in general than before but more of them on the interstate and major highways not on city streets. How do you spot suspicious behavior going 60 miles per hour? So the opportunities to break the law and avoid the consequences are actually improving for APD. You stop a brother on I-35, conduct an illegal search, and he’s gone soon after because he can’t/won’t rent a hotel to speak to Internal Affairs in the morning.
            The most damaging admission to the pig pen's contention of a lack of bias in stops is that—in the explanation to the city council regarding the 2011 profiling report—police supervisors admit that in one-quarter of all searches last year, despite department rules, officers failed to document whether the warrantless search they conducted was consensual or not. However you do the math that’s a big number—25%—almost certainly “statistically significant,” meaning it’s not a fluke. What the department wants the public to believe is that one quarter of the time searches were made in 2011, officers didn’t notice or forgot to write down if consent was given which is the law enforcement equivalent of a guy not remembering if a woman said yes before sex. If he reports he “doesn’t remember”—guess what the answer probably is. The police department has promised to audit compliance this year. 
            “The rate of missing or unreadable data that results in the consent status being ‘unknown’ increased in 2011,” according to APD’s explanation submitted to the city council. “APD will conduct an internal audit in 2012 to determine the cause of the missing information on reports. Whatever changes are implemented, whether it is more training and/or a restructuring of the electronic reporting forms, will be monitored to ensure they are having an impact. Moreover, policy is presently being developed requiring quarterly audits of reporting documentation by field commands.”
            Ron Weitzer, an expert on profiling at George Washington University suggests after glancing at APD’s figures, “In the [APD] stats, there are about ten times more probable cause/reasonable suspicion-based searches than consent searches.” (Actually it’s closer to 20-to-1.) He questions whether Austin officers in some way have to justify the probable cause/reasonable suspicion (does loud music count?) and he adds that some studies have shown the “hit rate,” that is contraband found during these searches, is actually lower among black suspects than whites. APD disagrees. In consent searches in 2011 there was a 22% hit rate for white drivers and 25% for blacks, according to the department, a 3% difference. For all searches—consented and non-consensual—in 2011 there was a 20% hit rate for whites and 22% for blacks. It’s totally unclear if those small differences are statistically significant but APD believes it's enough to clear Austin officers of any accusation of bias: “The higher hit rate for minority drivers compared to White drivers in 2011 suggests that profiling is not occurring.” In fact—a statistician would say a 2% difference probably doesn’t suggest shit, it’s within the margin of error, but the department needs cover. Badly. Because City Hall knows that figures like these show something is wrong in River City. 
            So, suppose we look at a different measure—which also comes from APD’s narrative explanation of its 2011 profiling data. We also have to break the “rule” about not using census data suggested by Professor Alpert, the South Carolina criminologist, for the simple reason that there's no other data to go on about who is driving on Austin roads.
            In 2011, APD reported 179,882 stops and 11,719 searches. 694 of the searches were consensual—the driver said yes or is reported to have said yes when the officer asked permission to take a look or do a pat-down or whatever—and 11,025 were non-consensual either explicitly or because in some cases the police were going to make an arrest anyway. That's what the pigs are saying. Looking at Austin’s census data, to determine a rough percentage of population for the races, and doing the numbers on who is getting searched, we have the following:
            Caucasians are approximately 48% of the population in Austin, 55% of the traffic stops but only 30% of non-consensual searches. Remember, the cops are stopping someone and in general have no information to go on about who to search except a look at the person behind the wheel.
            Hispanics are 35% of the local population, 29% of traffic stops and 43% of non-consensual searches.
            Blacks are 8% of the population, 13% of traffic stops, and 26% of non-consensual searches. That means there are about one-sixth as many black people in Austin as whites, but last year almost as many black drivers were searched without consent as whites, in other words, traditional minorities represent 43% of the city population, more or less, but are 69% of forced, warrantless searches by police. Caucasians are almost half of the local population and less than one-third of forced searches. The numbers and methodology are not exact. Probably a statistician would call this approach amateurish. But the thing about math, about stats? It doesn't matter who's holding the pencil. You know? Anyone would call these numbers highly suggestive of profiling. Nor should you make the mistake of thinking that whites had fewer non-consensual searches because they consented to a police pat-down more often than blacks or Hispanics. Apparently whites consented to searches less frequently than did blacks and yet whites were still searched non-consensually less frequently than blacks or Hispanics. 
            Austin has an unofficial stop-and frisk policy just like New York City’s except here it's on the road not the sidewalk and in New York the mayor and the police commissioner admit the policy exists while the Austin mayor and city council lie to the public. In both cities declining crime rates have been achieved at the expense of minorities’ civil rights and the argument will be made that it’s an effective choice but the fact is that if you violate any part of the population’s civil rights, black or white, Jews or Mexicans, the result will probably be lower crime. The city has simply picked blacks and Hispanics to bear the brunt of tougher policing. If police began targeting white people—crime would also drop.
            The only good news about these figures is the gutsy performance of Hispanic motorists who refused searches at a higher rate than blacks or whites. There’s a theory circulating in sociology that Hispanics are becoming more radicalized, not less, about their rights in society. These figures may speak to that view. Following Officer Copeland into that grand jury room should be the police chief, mayor, city attorney and city manager. They have some explaining to do.
           


            With this background in mind let’s look back at Officer Copeland vs. Ahmede Bradley and suggest a worst-case scenario. It’s not hard to do.
            We’re on the eastside, the traditional minority neighborhood, niggers is thinning out but they's still a bunch of us.
             Let’s say that Officer Copeland stops Ahmede Bradley because Bradley is playing loud music, or not using his turn signals or he looks like a thug—or whatever Officer Copeland believes a thug looks like. Or suppose Bradley looks like a thug and Officer Copeland uses loud music as a pretext for a traffic stop which is an equally possible scenario. Either possibility is pretty realistic.
            Suppose as well that Officer Cropland decides to search even though he doesn’t have probable cause—something there’s actually good reason to believe is what happened. (We’ll get to that later.) At that point Copeland has decided to take the next step, a search, and Ahmede Bradley refuses. At that point Mr. Bradley also decides his presence is no longer necessary at the scene and he drives away. Eventually he stops the car and takes off running, we're not exactly clear on that yet, nothing is clear until Copeland begins running after him, which is documented, Officer Copeland pursues on foot. Who's in the wrong? Ahmede Bradley obviously. Common sense tells you it’s not a good idea to run from a cop, even one who may have just issued an illegal order. But also—the documentation suggests—Officer Copeland was wrong. Big time. Foot chases, like car chases, are now deemed to be dangerous by their very nature and much discouraged—at least in theory, by local police. On page 94 of the police manual which Officer Copeland had presumably read before Mr. Bradley started sprinting the policy is remarkably clear: “Foot pursuits are inherently dangerous and require common sense, sound tactics and heightened officer safety awareness. . . It is the policy of this department when deciding to continue or initiate a foot pursuit that officers must continuously balance the objective of apprehending the subject with the risk and potential for injury to department personnel, the public, or the subject.” The very first and presumably easiest to remember of 14 different considerations the officer has to take into account according to the APD manual—on deciding to pursue a suspect on foot—is whether the officer is alone which Officer Copeland was. According to APD policy the prudent pig stops there. Protocol demands it. Even without considering whether the stop itself was legal or the decision to search was the result of bias—profiling—this officer was in violation. 
            Presumably the cocaine had not yet been found—the Chief said the interaction was over a minor matter—if cocaine was found at all.
            At that moment all Mr. Bradley faced was a loud music charge or a traffic violation.
            Or weed which in the live music capital of the world is not unheard of. But even if Mr. Bradley did not start running until the coke was found—if it was found—what’s the big deal? It’s not the only ounce of la blanca or la verde circulating in our lovely Texas capital city. Copeland had Bradley’s ID and his car. It was almost sunset and Officer Copeland didn’t have backup and the manual was telling him that a chase is not a good idea. Why not let the brother go? Pick him up another day. The best thing you can say about Officer Copeland's judgment that evening is it was bad. Was it criminal is the question? In fact—surprise—bad judgment in searches had already been documented by the officer's superiors.
            When the shooting occurred Eric Copeland, aged 32, had been a police officer for almost two years. He had gone through one complete evaluation by his sergeant, for 2010-2011. That APD evaluation has 16 performance measures, rated 1 to 10 with 5-6 being satisfactory and 7 to 8 being “highly effective,” and anything lower or higher being exceptionally bad or exceptionally good as the case may be.
            On four measures (initiative, responsibility/timeliness, dress and fitness) Copeland scored 7 out of 10. He was “highly effective.” On twelve measures (including time management . . . awareness . . . communication . . . analysis . . . judgment . . . goal setting . . . planning . . coordination . . . use of force . . . report writing/overall investigation . . . professionalism . . . and driving) practically the whole being-a-cop thing he scored a 6 out of 10 for a total of 100/160 points or 62.5% which made him “satisfactory” for the department but would be failing in any other line of work. The key part of the evaluation came in his sergeant’s narrative of Copeland’s first-year overall performance as an Austin police officer written a few months before the Bradley shooting included below in its entirety:
            “This is PO Copeland’s first annual evaluation. PO Copeland is a new officer, both to the department and to the profession. He has a very good work ethic and proactively seeks activity within his assigned district. He volunteers to take calls that are waiting in the queue, and clears report writing calls to assist other officers when a back-up is needed. Being a newer officer he was at first a little hesitant to ask questions of myself and the corporal. He has adjusted well and now keeps us informed of situations and notifies us as needed. He gets along well with his peers. His level of activity and experience is on a par with his contemporaries. In the coming year I want him to focus on completing all affidavits using careful thought to include all the necessary elements for successful prosecution. To date he has had five probable cause affidavits either deemed insufficient or returned for correction.” Eric Copeland may not have understood required documentation which appears to be an issue with the department overall—those 25% of searches that were consensual or not, we’ll never know—but also may not understand probable cause, or chose not to understand probable cause, for example whether a black man, maybe wearing a doo-rag and listening to loud music, having made what even the police chief describes as a minor violation, should be chased and shot dead—something that certainly would not happen to, let’s say, a white woman chaperoning her kids, who may also have an ounce of la blanca under the seat and some in her nose, behind the wheel of her Land Rover, which is just as likely in this town because, yes, white people also use drugs. It’s called a double standard.
            “As this is an ongoing investigation I cannot speak about the case,” Senior Police Officer Copeland recently wrote in an email. He noted that his promotion to “Senior” a few weeks after he shot Ahmede Bradley was automatic after two years on the force. Other than that he has nothing to say for the moment. In the absence of better information, the best way to know what Eric Copeland was thinking when he decided to search Ahmede Bradley is not for the grand jurors to ask him questions, which they presumably have done or are about to do, but to look back through his arrests, his prior stops and searches, and to see if he has an unwarranted interest in minority drivers like a lot of the rest of APD appears to have. Officer Copeland was sued in federal court on a civil rights charge the month before Ahmede Bradley was killed, after arriving on the scene with another white officer, Copeland pulled a gun on a Hispanic driver who happened to be the guy who actually called the police. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
            


            What we’re seeing in stop and search decisions is a double standard—one for whites and one for minorities—which is exactly what profiling is all about.
            Who’s to blame?
            First, the people of Austin. You get the government you want not the one you need.
            The city is not quite as liberal as the public believes itself to be. The police don’t get called on their behavior because the black population is in decline—and among whites there's the continuing view that the number of live music venues correlates with good government. A question: What is the fundamental difference between a public bus system in which black people have to give up their seats to whites—which Rosa Parks, bless her unbending soul, refused to do—and a criminal justice system in which blacks and Hispanics experience police searches at two or three times the rate as whites in order to keep the crime rate low?
           Not much. It’s still the Old South. It’s still Jim Crow. We're still niggers in the original not hip-hop meaning of the word. That's life in Austin for blacks and to some degree Hispanics today.
           Unless, apparently, they are in positions of power. The city manager and city attorney are both black as is the deputy city manager supervising public safety, while the chief of police is Hispanic and the D.A. is lesbian and allegedly liberal. They are all graduates of the Condoleezza Rice School of Public Service where the first lesson taught is that the police can kill any nigger on the street as long as high-ranking people of color keep their jobs and prestige. Minority officials like these are there to give cover to men like Mayor Leffingwell and when called upon go down—on power.
            Also to blame is the press.
            When it was recently suggested to Jake Silverstein editor of Texas Monthly that police profiling in Austin be examined as the sort of story the Monthly needed to run, he declined, citing an insufficient freelance budget—although he did find money in the present issue for a piece on rock painting and another story on yet another Houston millionaire on trial for celebrity manslaughter. Dave Mann of the Texas Observer offered no response at all—but did manage to run a piece in the Observer’s present issue on the resurrection of the television show Dallas. Priorities, priorities—the important pieces are still being written obviously. These “journalists,” these ladies of the press, Señoritas Silverstein y Mann, chicas periodistas, much prefer to do investigations in Small Town, Texas, shitholes like Jasper, or Bumfuck, East Texas, where editors don’t have to face questions about the communities in which they themselves live. (Jasper which is supposed to be ground zero for racial intolerance in Texas actually has a better record than Austin: the town is about evenly divided between blacks and whites, whites were 62% of traffic stops last year; 60% of searches were non-consensual, compared to APD's 90+. These are the kind of search stats that black people can support.) Austin’s “coolness” sells ads and God forbid that anyone interfere with that, preserving the city’s reputation for correctness are these media bitches, excuse me, these Hos of the Fourth Estate who are worse than the Chamber of Commerce. 
            Bradley was charged in 1990 with aggravated kidnapping and rape, but both charges were dismissed. Indeed Ahmede Bradley got around, he was a well-travelled Negro, with a rich personal history of small-time crime in succeeding years, mostly drugs, and with the exception of an unspecified charge involving his family apparently all were non-violent offenses. All Officer Copeland knew was that Ahmede Bradley was a black man who liked to play his music loud. Allegedly. In the world capital of live music. And he liked to smoke weed. Let he who has never taken a toke fire the first shot. And he liked to avoid contact with the police, shit, that describes like ninety-nine percent of the public on any given day and at any time. How many whites does that also describe in this city? One big difference is the white guys are still above ground.
            There’s a particularly obvious double standard at work here. The police said they would release the radio and video of the Bradley stop but so far the only release has been the 911 calls as the people on the street or passersby saw Officer Copeland struggling with Mr. Bradley. The department has couched the question of what happened on April 5th in terms of Copeland’s right to defend himself in the struggle but that’s a straw-man argument—disinformation, kind of like Iraqi weapons of mass destruction—as Mayor Leffingwell tries to avoid repercussions of the latest killing by police. No one is questioning Officer Copeland’s right to defend himself in a struggle. The point is—it was a fight that Copeland started. Bradley wanted out and the police manual said, like Moses to pharoah, let-the-brother-go. The operative question here is how did it reach the point of a struggle for a gun?
            Why did Officer Copeland stop Ahmede Bradley and how did a loud music complaint or weed or whatever minor issue led to the stop—if there was an issue—lead to a foot chase under unfavorable conditions which policy doesn't allow? Was Copeland forcing a search as part of APD’s policy for dealing with black people? Do the cops force searches on white people who're playing loud music in their cars? In West Austin? Bitch, please. Look at the damn stats.
            Better yet—let’s get the Justice Department back in town to run the numbers. Maybe while they’re here they can have a chat with Officer Copeland about probable cause.
            One hint, Officer Copeland:
            It's got nothing to do with skin color.