Friday, April 10, 2015

Bitter Ironies of American History, Vo. 1



     "What have you done?" God asks Cain, after he slays Abel. "The blood of your brother cries out to me from the ground."
     I don't quote the Bible much. But sometimes there isn't much else to say. You have to watch that video of a South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, gunning down a fleeing black man, Walter Scott. You may have already seen it. Once is plenty. But if you haven't, go online, endure it, not out of prurient interest, but as a kind of civic duty, because it starkly reveals the hinge that has been swinging America back and forth like a shutter in a storm since the moment the nation was created.
     Do I exaggerate? When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1787, there it is, Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3:

     Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
     The famous "three-fifths" compromise counted each black slave — not that our founders sullied our national charter by using a vile word like "slave" in the Constitution, as if that helped — as 3/5 of a person. The compromise was made because Southerners didn't want to join a union that might ban slavery, or tax their agricultural exports. Southern states were dubious about what this new House of Representatives might do, and wanted to wield the whip hand, of course. So no banning the import of slaves until 1808 — kick the issue down the road — and blacks, who didn't count as human beings on a practical level in Southern life anyway, and hardly counted in the North, suddenly acquired a 60 percent personhood for the purpose of giving white Southerners more power in Congress.
     This compromise allowed the nation to be born, but it led directly to the Civil War, 78 years later, a reminder that glossing over problems only tends to make them worse, a hard truth that applies to more than pension reform.
     What have we done? That Thursday was the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War is just one of those coincidences — you might consider them God's little jokes — reminding us that the problem we faced in 1787 and 1865 is still right here. Let's call it the "3/5 Problem."
     I went outside and stood by the river at the appointed time Thursday, hoping to hear the bells that were supposedly rung citywide to celebrate the anniversary of the Civil War's end, but heard nothing, which seemed apt. Celebration is premature, with the casualties still piling up.
     How can you shoot a man running away from you?
     I'll be generous and list three factors. First, there was apparently a brief chase of some sort, not on the video, so the officer was no doubt worked up — let's hope so, because the only thing worse than firing eight bullets at a fleeing man in anger is doing so coolly.
     Second, the cop had a gun on his hip, and we all know how helpful guns are when it comes to making a bad situation worse.
     And third, that old Three-Fifths Compromise in action. Maybe the cop would have shot a 50-year-old white guy just the same. Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he would never have even stopped a white man driving a Mercedes with a broken taillight last Saturday. Who can say?
     It's hard to view everyone you encounter as as a full person. It must be, because so many have such trouble doing it, from Cain on down to Michael Slager, the North Charleston cop. Minorities are seen as fractional people, as are women, gays, and on and on. Full personhood is granted so easily to ourselves and people like ourselves. But until we nudge the needle up to 1.0, full, 100 percent, for every single person, black or white, gay or straight, we're never going to escape this stuff. Never.

72 comments:

  1. Umm, Neil: That 3/5ths comprimise also meant that white, indentured servants were also counted as 3/5ths of a person.

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    1. Your point being? I have only 650 words in these things now. I can't follow every tangent of constitutional law.

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    2. No, you're wrong. Read the paragraph again. Indentured servants are counted as free person just like persons in Purgatory are destined for Heaven.

      John

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  2. See, I'm with this column and engrossed in it until the last paragraph's lumping discrimination against African-Americans with every other minority. Yes, in many ways it's the same, but in some ways it's different and I think that's a small but important part of the problem - both in police attitudes and in how we let the conditions that breed these incidents continue unaddressed. I can't tell you how many times I've discussed political issues involving African-Americans with fellow self-described "progressives" and at some point they will, in euphemistic language, make an argument David Duke would be comfortable with. I really don't mean to take away from the thrust of this piece - it's not complicated that cops shouldn't murder people. I just think there's a dynamic here that goes beyond the "meta" prejudice of "the other."

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  3. Excellent article, Mr. Steinberg. And indeed, the 3/5 was meant for slaves only, so that other first anon is wrong. We appeased the South too long back then even through Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850, etc. I taught that so many times- (of course the Constitution is better then the Articles of Confederation, if not perfect but I digress)

    It must be said that cops aren't always wrong , that they are often in danger as well or that some African-Americans shoot themselves in the foot. But the point is of course that it doesn't seem that cops or many southerners even today(see modern voting right challenges) see them as a values and full person.

    Mrs. A

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    1. (valued rather than values) correction

      Mrs.

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  4. I'd add that as tragic as pre-civil War history is, I'd argue an equal evil was the Compromise of 1877, where the Republicans of their era selling out the Reconstruction and returning African-Americans to quasi-slavery, as that was done with full awareness.

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  5. Agreed, Anon not anon. That was really the selling of souls, so to speak, when Reconstruction ended too early while undermining Tilden for Hayes. Funny how those so called dixie Democrats are really like the super right Republicans of today. The Republican party sounded better to many later day Southerners after democrat L.Johnson and his Civil Rights bill.

    Mrs. A.

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    1. An afterthought: I just read in the Sun-Times this morning, how the turnout of voters in Ferguson was very low. It looks like those who cried out after the Brown debacle did not seem to care enough to register or vote to get a better racial mix in the town leadership.

      It is a shame the former Civil Rights movement, seems to have been taken for granted by some.

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  6. A not a, agree with you that not all levels of discrimination are the same, I think the A-A community had it much worse.

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  7. By the way, Mrs. Teacher-save your lectures for the classroom.

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    1. It appears we have some low self -esteem bully types here. Perhaps, I'll keep my comment to emails, Mr. Steinberg, although I enjoy the group conversation.

      Mrs.

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    2. Why don't you save your pointless snark for whoever appreciates it and wants to hear it, which I'm guessing is absolutely nobody.

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  8. Thank You, Mr. or Ms. Scribe-at least there are some people with manners on here.

    Mrs. A.

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    1. You're quite welcome. Don't let Anonymous run you out of here. He's the Designated Jerk of this blog (they all have at least one).

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    2. Yes, Mrs. A., I'm pretty sure that most of the readers here would appreciate MORE educated, well-stated opinions among these comments, not less. Please don't shift your contributions to email. That particular anonymouse is vexing, though I'm not sure he or she is the only one here who mistakes erudition for elitism.

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    3. Thank You as well, Mr. or Ms. Jakash.

      Mrs.

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    4. Is that a Hungarian/ Magyar surname, Jakash, if I may inquire.

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    5. No, it's a made-up name for the purpose of commenting on blogs. : )

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  9. The New York Times has additional details along with both Officer Slager's dashcam, and Feidin Santana's cell phone video. In an attempt to humanize the inhuman, I'll note that is "What It's Like" by Everlast playing on the squad car's radio. If you watch Feidin's video carfully, after the shooting it appears as if Officer Slager walks back to the taser, picks it up and drops it next to Walter Scott's body.

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    1. I didn't know that about the last minute taser pickup, thanks Bernie.

      Lady

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  10. Several people have remarked on my including gays at the end. This isn't to suggest that the oppression faced by gay people was the same as slavery, rather that all oppression is based on minimizing the humanity of the oppressed. If I kill you because you have green eyes, this is a) bigotry and b) bad for you, but those two facts do not therefore imply c) that green eyed people face the same hard road black people do. Does that help?

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    1. Actually I don't see anyone remarking on you including gays specifically (I know my comment was distinguishing African-American history from everyone you mentioned). To answer the question here, I'd say it depends: if you're taking resources from African-Americans to give to the green eyed people, then the recognition of their different histories doesn't matter. For example, here's an interesting piece that says white women are the main benefactors of affirmative action. http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2009/08/who_wins_out_when_it_comes_to_affirmative_action.html The rub is that women *are* discriminated against in the workplace. But the *nation's* historic debt is to African-Americans (and Native Americans). I don't mean to make a false dichotomy here: nothing prevents us from calling for more enlightened, humanizing attitudes for everyone, I just think sometimes there's a risk of losing focus.

      Tangent - not making a direct analogy, but this reminds me of a fascinating bit of history involving the late Jewish Chicago writer Meyer Levin. He became obsessed with the effort to "de-Jew-di-ize" the Diary of Anne Frank and make it a more "universal" story. http://www.broadstreetreview.com/dance/meyer_levins_anne_frank_obsession

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    2. Mr. S, or if someone wants to kill anyone with green eyes, it could also be that they are a psychopath, more than a bigot.

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  11. Personally, I'm not wild about the fact that everybody, everywhere is carrying a camera -- such that, if I fall down the steps coming off the El, I'm likely to end up in a video on some "wackos on the CTA" blog... But one has to marvel at the implications of these videos of police misbehavior being made available of late. Nothing like actual video evidence to aptly demonstrate that much of the frustration and fury experienced by many African-Americans with regard to their interactions with the police has a very sound basis. The previous he said / he said model of courtroom fact-finding (in cases where the victim survived, that is) in police misconduct cases didn't seem to be very effective. Who knows how many cases like this have been falsely reported by those involved?

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    1. Exactly. I'm sure the S.C. cop would have gotten away with it if he hadn't been recorded.

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    2. J, I know some blacks have being treated unfairly-but don't you think that sometimes they are out of line with the police officers too? Are you making excuses or enabling? Maybe some super libs aren't happy until the cop is dead himself. Then where are the riots? and where's Jesse then?

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    3. Yes, some people are out of line in dealing with police officers. They could be white, Asian or Eskimo, too. I certainly don't discount the dangers that officers are sometimes subjected to, either. However, the sentence for running from a cop after being stopped for a broken taillight is not the death penalty, and nothing I've seen indicates that the officer in South Carolina was in any danger of ending up dead himself. One can easily be disturbed by this case and the number of folks being shot by police in this country, in general, without being a "super-lib" who hates cops.

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  12. A not A, I'm not sure what you're getting at with the comment that women get most benefits from Affirmative Action. I don't think all reports support that. Of course the AFr.AMer. lady might get a double bonus but look at all they had to put up with over time.

    As to the SC cop fiasco, now that is a truly racist cop, more so then the one who was in danger himself in Ferguson, in my humble opin.

    Lady Anon

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    1. J, that's a good one about AnonyMOUSE and an apt description.

      I'm wondering if maybe it's a matter of someone's spring break lasting too long.

      Lady

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    2. Lady A,

      Oh, I don't know if I necessarily believe that particular article myself, but I do think that affirmative action in general is something that started out with the intent of being a program to help narrow the economic gap for African-Americans that is, at least in part, the legacy of slavery/Jim Crow. Chicago's minority set-aside program has benefited Asians. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-07-07/news/8502130672_1_asian-american-minorities-last-year-minority-firm I'm not slamming the program or programs that help minorities in general or women, just that I think a focus has been lost over time.

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    3. Set aside programs should only be for economically disadvantaged people, not those in specific racial or ethnic categories.
      There are many multi-millionaire black, hispanic & asian individuals that are ripping off the public treasury by using these programs.

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  13. Here is a dangerous guy: Repub. Cotton , who some claim has taken donations from armsmakers, thinks we should go to war in Iran and it will be done in a few days.

    http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/04/09/cotton-war-iran/

    thoughts anyone?

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    1. oh, get lost Lady Jane

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    3. if he treats well known women like that in public, what he may do in private is a scary thought

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  14. Daley was no prize but not as bad-perhaps the Mayor belongs to a certain sect of his religion that doesn't respect women as much, but I could be wrong on all points, just guessing...

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    1. Rahm is prob a man of principal deep down. He just needs anger management counseling. He can afford to get some and should have done so.

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  15. A reminder folks: lets not slander people, particularly anonymous, speculative slander directed at the mayor's personal life. That strikes me as a bridge too far. Hence the removal above.

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  16. You should remove 12:33 and 1:05 as well then.

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  17. Neil, maybe you should instruct people how to put their names on the comments. I know it took me several weeks before I stumbled onto the procedure. With so many respondents named Anonymous, it's confusing as to who's saying what and why. And if more commenters were named, we could discount the comments coming from the intentionally anonymous. John (which is almost like signing "anonymous" for those in my generation)

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  18. Yes, I would be interested in how to do that. If I don't use googleacct, word press, typepad or any of that, all one can do is put anony. and then sign the bottom at best.

    Lady

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  19. Choose the Name/URL option from the drop-down menu below the comment box, then just put in whatever name you like. It's not necessary to have a URL.

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  20. FYI, and I believe that this may be appreciated by a wide swath of commenters -- anonymous, or not... The CAPTCHA that I just had to type in to prove I wasn't a robot was "phart". That is all.

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  21. I could turn the settings up so only "Registered users" or those with Google accounts could comment. I haven't done that because I don't really care what people call themselves, only that they aren't so abrasive that they degrade the blog. My thinking was to be as freewheeling as possible. But if keeping track of commentators is a value among the die-hards, I can certainly do that. Thoughts?

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    1. Freewheeling is good. I like to find quotes I've entered, over the years, in my "mish-mash book" -- because they are funny, wise or particularly well put -- and cite them when they pertain to something Neil has written. I enjoy sharing them, but one of the "Anonymous" folk seems to find the practice objectionable. But that's his problem, and I suppose it doesn't hurt me to know there are people like him. I can only pity one who shuns an opportunity to revel in what John Aubrey, the author of "Brief Lives," called "the sweetness of learning," even if it comes from centuries past. It is, I think, what most of us read Neil's column for.

      Tom Evans

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    2. Yeah, Neil, but many of the die-hards are anonymous, too, we just have pen-names that we use consistently. I'd certainly like it better if people would at least pick some kind of alias, such as Anon-not-Anon and Lady Anonymous have done, and enter it when they comment, as Mrs. A has just learned to. But I certainly don't care enough to warrant any kind of registration, and I don't have or want a google account, myself. For whatever that's worth. It's your blog and you'll do what you want, of course, but I also think your original choice to go the freewheeling route was correct. After all, you draw a pretty iconoclastic crowd, from what we see here in the comments.

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    3. That's my inclination, since I value lots of comments, and don't beat myself up too much trying to distinguish between who is writing what.

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  22. I've encountered one very frustrating problem with Google. All too often, after carefully crafting ... no, after throwing a bunch of thoughts together and editing out most of the idiocy, I press "publish," and Google demands my password, after which my comment has disappeared. I either retype it, think of something completely different to squawk about, or give up, the last more often than not.
    John

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    1. You might want to compose them in Word, then paste them. That would avoid the problem, though adding an extra step.

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    2. Before you post, highlight and copy your comment under the Edit feature, That way if what you post disappears, you can repost by pasting.

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    3. good one but Tate might need some tips on how to cut and paste

      I say checking isp's is the way to go

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  23. Back to the post, there is one thing that stands out for me. After every attempt by lawmakers and the courts to level the playing field for minorities, women and gays, there are immediate and continued attempts to undermine the rights gained. The attempts to walk back freedoms earned by women, the equality given to African Americans, the new rights gained by gays, and the continued suppression of Hispanic immigrants to achieve recognition of their rights. We still see attempts to enforce Jim Crow type laws, voter suppression, restrictions on women's choice and the ability to control medical protections of those choices. We're not just trying to recognize universal equality; we're constantly fighting efforts to reverse gains made the past 150 years.

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    1. That's an excellent, though disheartening, point, Wendy.

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    2. What does the C stand for Wendy?

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    3. J, I think you have a comma splice between disheartening and point.

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    4. I'd never heard of a comma splice, but upon further review, I'd say that that's not an example of one. It IS an awkward sentence with a lot of commas, I'll grant you that! But, hey, I thought you didn't like folks playing "English Prof". ; )

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  24. While I'm not against pro choice for women in the first 3 months of pregnancy, I don't believe in it later when the baby is closer to full term. Unless, the ladies life is in danger, it's a matter of she and the man should have been more responsible about birth control to begin with. And the poor can get some of that free at local clinics. It befuddles me as to why those on welfare, whether white, hisp. or afr. amer, continue to make babies especially when the dad won't help out (or dads). I don't want my taxes going for that.

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  25. Italian-American/wopApril 10, 2015 at 7:13 PM

    Oh, like this then?

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    1. I thought this blog was more just for the guys?

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    2. Well, you posted a name, at any rate. Whatever floats your gondola, I suppose. ; )

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  26. Dred Scott was a great Supreme Court decision too.
    So were poll taxes.

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  27. Or the grandfather clause in voting.

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  28. plessy vs. ferguson

    another mess

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  29. NS, Would you kindly remove the handle of the poster that calls themselves wop? I find that offensive.

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    1. I would if he (or she) were directing it at others, but as he (or she) seems to be assigning it to himself (or herself) I think I'll let it be. I sometimes refer to myself as "a Pollack" and I wouldn't give much credence to Poles who complained. It's a fairly well established ritual of ethnicity that you get to denigrate your own people to your heart's content. Remember, this is "Every goddamn day," and a certain level of offense is to be expected.

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  30. Potter Palmer's original mansion?

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    1. oops, location on wrong thread

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  31. I see the man in the picture with his ad vest, probably selling SunTimes subscriptions. It fits the general theme.

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