December 19, 2014

HOW FAR WE HAVE NOT COME

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 15th FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, DEC. 12, 2014
HOW FAR WE HAVE NOT COME
BY BOB FRANKEN
---
It’s foolish to argue with President Barack Obama’s observation, made during his BET interview about police mistreatment of minorities, that “It’s important to recognize that as painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what is happening now to what happened 50 years ago.”
“If you talk to your parents, your grandparents,” he continued, “they’ll tell you things are better. Not good, in some cases, but better. The reason it’s important to understand that progress has been made is that it then gives us hope we can make even more progress.”
But all you have to do is read the ugly social-media comments to see that hope tarnished a lot. While his election and re-election show that we’ve made significant improvement in race relations, the openly bigoted vitriol that has defined too much of the reaction to his every move and certainly the substantial imbalance in the authorities’ treatment of whites and people of color show how terribly far we have to go.
It is true that our laws prohibit some of the worst Jim Crow discrimination, but even now, many conservatives have no compunction about trying to turn back the clock -- attacking voting rights, for instance.
But setting that aside, study after study confirms that cops treat people of color differently than they do whites. An analysis by the Center for Constitutional Rights submitted during the lawsuit against New York City’s noxious stop-and-frisk policy determined that between 2005 and 2008, 80 percent of the stops involved blacks and Latinos, who total 53 percent of Gotham’s population. Ten percent involved whites, who total 44 percent of the residents.
In Ferguson, Missouri, while blacks made up less than two-thirds of licensed drivers, they amounted to 86 percent of those who were pulled over for traffic violations. Then they were twice as likely to be searched and arrested than whites were.
Obviously, I’ve cited these particular statistics because New York City and Ferguson are the two most infamous recent cases of the killing of unarmed blacks by white officers who were then not indicted. But this is not just about those two injustices. The profiling, with its deadly consequences, is a national problem.


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December 17, 2014

TAP DANCING ON MSNBC

I'll be doing my usual Thursday crack-of-dawn thing on MSNBC at 5:15 in Washington, as well as Havana, which is suddenly much closer to the US.

December 15, 2014

NO STATE OF THE UNION

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 15th FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, DEC. 9, 2014
NO STATE OF THE UNION
BY BOB FRANKEN
---
There have been so many times when we’ve been looking at issues in the wrong way. This is one of them. When Republican representatives, led by Paul Broun (Never-Heard-of-Him from Georgia), demanded that President Barack Obama be denied an invitation to make a State of the Union address next month, it was viewed by many as a petulant reaction to the president’s sweeping immigration executive order. That’s probably because it was.
Broun also was derided as just another conservative who simply can’t get it into his head that Mr. Obama legitimately holds the office, never mind the fact that he’s twice been elected. Again, there’s a lot to be said for that criticism. The whole birther stupidity is just more evidence that for whatever reason (well, we know one of the reasons ... racism), those on the far right refuse to believe that this guy is somehow the nation’s leader. Some of his fellow hard-liners also are suggesting that funds be cut off for Air Force One, because to them, he obviously doesn’t deserve the trappings of the office.
That’s how most of us have framed this latest flare-up, but maybe there’s a better way to look at it. Perhaps Congressman What’s-His-Name is doing us all, and that would certainly include the chief executive, a favor.
I mean, how totally awkward it is when POTUS schleps to Capitol Hill and stands in front of a bunch of raucous national leaders who noisily pretend they’re the slightest bit interested in the merits of what’s in the address. The only thing less sincere is the commentary from the various reporters covering the event as we pretend that it means anything whatsoever, which it rarely does. Believe me, after years of doing my breathless live shots before and after, I know about hyping State of the Union as the biggest thing since sliced bread; it’s not. The president knows it, the dignitaries in the audience know it (is “dignitary” the right word, since it suggests dignity?), and obviously the American people know it. What other explanation could there be for so many gravitating to one of the networks showing something else, like an infomercial for blenders or the latest action-packed documentary chronicling paint drying or grass growing. Anything but watching an hour in prime time of that circus in Washington.


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December 11, 2014

BODY CAMERAS FOR ALL


CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, DEC. 5, 2014
BODY CAMERAS FOR ALL
BY BOB FRANKEN
---
We may as well go all the way. I’ll let you ponder that double-entendre for just a moment before explaining that this is about body cameras, not whatever it was you were thinking about. Specifically, I’m referring to the one really big idea that came out of that White House meeting over widespread routine law-enforcement mistreatment of minorities in this country and, in a larger sense, about frequent police excess in general, where cops operate as if their authority overrides our basic rights.
President Barack Obama wants to ratchet up their accountability and document any bullying conduct by financing the purchase of a body cam for each and every officer of the law. Obviously the intention is a good one, but there are some reservations. Largely they center around civil liberties and concerns about further invasions of privacy and misuse of the video record.
Let's face it, that battle is over. We are pretty much always under surveillance. Besides, the hard-charging cop is probably going to turn off the camera when he or she doesn’t want to be taped in much the same way some police officers will cover up their badges and ID bars. So here’s a better idea:
Let’s make body cameras available for all of us -- perhaps make them mandatory, at least when we leave the house. Yes, it will mean that our entire lives can be monitored, but they already are. So why not have our own individual video record of our interactions with the world?
That way, in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown’s death could have been recorded, meaning we wouldn’t have to take Officer Darren Wilson’s word for how the tragedy occurred, even if he wasn’t doing all that he could to document his behavior. We already know that he wasn’t carrying his Taser, which might have been an alternative but nonlethal way to protect himself, because he said it was just too gosh darned uncomfortable to schlep around.

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