Barr’s Army: The Slender Legal Reed for Overtaking American Cities

Wall of Moms, Portland. Photo credit: Reuters/Caitlin Ochs

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other elected officials in Oregon have been telling Washington in no uncertain terms: “Take your troops out of Portland.”

Wheeler has referred to the unidentified federal individuals dressed in camouflage and driving unmarked vans as President Trump’s “personal army.” You’ve no doubt heard that there have already been casualties in this foray.

But it would be more appropriate to call them “Barr’s army.” Our quite-recent history includes Attorney General Barr’s giving the orders for the attack on nonviolent protesters outside of the White House to facilitate Trump’s photo op holding a Bible.

That episode, which generated anger and ridicule for the President, led General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to apologize and say he should not have been there.

Using federal forces against an unwilling state or municipality has apparently been a work-in-progress for Barr for decades, according to an article in, an organization based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security,  New York University School of Law.

The article is titled “Portland’s Pretext: Barr’s Long History Manipulating Law to Put Federal Forces on US Streets.” (all emphases mine)

Since the President has already announced his plans to have counterparts to the forces now in Portland readied for “deployment” wherever and wherever the Attorney General and or the President chooses—specifically, Chicago, New York, and any other city run by Democrats that they deem “out of control,” it seems useful to look closely at Barr’s well-formed plan.

It can be traced back to the Virgin Islands, where there were civil disturbances following a large hurricane (Hugo) in 1989. Barr was then an assistant attorney general, leading the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

According to the authors of the justsecurity piece, in a 2001 interview Barr “boasted that during this time he found a way to deploy federal forces based on a legal justification that appears to now being played out in Portland:

“Barr: We started quickly looking at the legal books. What authority do we have to go in there and start enforcing the law in St. Croix? We looked at some statutes, and we finally decided that without Presidential authority we could send down law enforcement people to defend the federal function.

“That is, we said, ‘People are interfering with the operation of our courts’ and so on. I said, ‘We can send people down to defend the federal function, keep our courts open, and if they see any crime being committed in front of them, then, as law enforcement officers, they can make the arrest.’ Our object was just to get federal law enforcement down there and play it by ear. Technically, we couldn’t send them down to—

“Question: Did you consider interference with the mail as a basis?

“Barr: Yes, we had a whole list of things like that, interference with the mail, interference with the courts. But basically we were claiming that there was breakdown, civil unrest that was interfering with the federal function. We found these old cases that said the federal government could go in there. This was without declaring martial law.”

So he claimed they used the purported—and false—need to defend the federal function of the courts to put down the looting and unrest in the Virgin Islands.

“Barr bragged in his 2001 interview that he had found a way to get the federal forces ‘down there and then play it by ear’ without having to declare martial law.”

The authors note that he said in the same interview that he could, similarly, deploy military forces abroad—without Congressional approval—by, in the authors’ words, “changing the facts on the ground.”

The implications of that view are rather harrowing, don’t you think?

But it gets worse.

In fact, as the authors describe in a subsequent article, Barr’s use of the Virgin Islands situation was based on historical revisionism: in 1989, the governor of the Virgin Islands had requested military help—entirely the opposite of the Portland situation.

That episode and California governor Pete Wilson’s request for federal assistance to control the rioting following the beating of Rodney King in 1992 are the only recent instances when the Insurrection Act was invoked—and both times were at the request of the governors involved.

And, the authors note, “the only modern precedents in which governors’ consent were overridden was under a section of the Insurrection Act purposefully established to implement the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee to equal protection.”  [Used during the Reconstruction and Civil Rights eras.]

So Barr’s slender legal reed—based on a false revision of the historical record—snaps in two. You can understand that invoking the Insurrection Act would not be deemed a wise political move so close to the election. Better to weasel around it.

In the Portland mess, the President signed an executive order that directed federal agencies to send personnel to protect monuments, statues, and federal property.

The Department of Homeland Security,  now headed by an Acting Security, a former lobbyist with no relevant credentials,  then formed “rapid deployment teams” that consist of officers from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to support the Federal Protective Service, which is responsible for protecting public property.

Portland state and local officials, the US attorney, and the ACLU are filing lawsuits, and other mayors, such as Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, have said they will fight these unwanted incursions with whatever means they have.

But Washington also claims that the Homeland Security Act of 2002 permits the Department’s Acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, to deputize others to help the Federal Protective Service.

Such newly minted, untrained agents of the law can be armed, make warrantless arrests, and conduct investigations “on and off the property in question,” notes The New York Times.

Garrett Graff, a historian who’s been studying the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told the Times:

“An interpretation of that authority so broadly seems to undermine all the other careful checks and balances on DHS’s power because the officers’ power is effectively limitless and all encompassing.”

And does that give you chills?

We talk a lot about this administration’s breaking norms. Here’s another. Prior DHS officials, the Times reports, said the agency would “normally only dispatch agents to assist with local incidents if the state or municipal governments asked for help and deputized that responsibility.

“In Portland, local leaders have done the opposite.”

What happens now? As is often the case with the Trump administration’s moves—usually with Barr at the helm—the damage proceeds while the parties wrangle in court. Meanwhile, this lawless President, tanking in the polls, bored and helpless to seek remedies for the pandemic that is destroying lives, livelihoods, and our economy—is playing his “Law and Order” card to the hilt.

Show enough graffiti on government buildings, he seems to think, and people will be so disgusted or frightened that they’ll forget the enormous threats they’re facing every day due to his ineptitude. Sure, that should get the suburban women into the President’s camp.

Or will it? What about the Wall of Moms in Portland (pictured above) who are bravely covering their faces with shields and their heads with helmets and placing themselves, arms locked together, between the peaceful protesters and the armed federal officers?

Yes, there will be more violence; all the local and state officials are in agreement that things were de-escalating until these deputized makers of mayhem arrived on the scene.

Watch the video of a former Navy officer, his shirt emblazoned with the word “Navy,” mistakenly thinking he could engage them in conversation to find out what their goals were. They beat him and sprayed him and broke his arm.

But isn’t that the goal? Get people so angry that they begin to side with the disrupters? The crowds have grown substantially since this federal “action” began.

I have written before about Attorney General Barr and the damage he’s wrought. In the past, I’ve used rhyme and hyphenated his name, my little tricks to myself to cut him down to size.

But this time the horror defies rhyme. He can bend the law any way he chooses. He has unleashed fascistic forces onto American streets. I no longer think that word is excessive.

It is time to impeach, disbar, or otherwise end his reign of continual harm to our nation—employing his despicable misuse of the law for nefarious ends that move us further and further away from our democratic ideals.


Continue reading “Barr’s Army: The Slender Legal Reed for Overtaking American Cities”

In the Presence of John Lewis…

President Obama presents Congressman John Lewis with Presidential Medal of Freedom. Image

Last night, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, one of my personal heroes, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.

It was four years ago that I attended a political rally in a church in a neighboring community. Congressman Lewis had come to town to try to help a younger candidate win a seat to join him in the House of Representatives.

The church was packed with a heartwarmingly diverse crowd: all variations on the color spectrum, differing faiths or no faith, young and old, men and women.

I was thrilled to be so close to Lewis. Ever since seeing the video of the brutal beating he’d received on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which left him with a fractured skull but a resilient spirit, he’s been my ideal of the finest and bravest of Americans. He adhered to his belief and practice of nonviolence throughout his lifetime. 

That beating by state troopers in riot gear became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The images of the attacks led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law shortly thereafter. 

Lewis’s long and storied history as a leader in the civil rights movement began with lunch counter sit-ins that ultimately succeeded in desegregating public facilities in Nashville. That was the beginning. But the first time he was arrested, his family was ashamed, as they’d taught him “don’t get into trouble.”

However, once he’d met with Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, he knew what he had to do. He had to “get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” He paid a high personal price for that trouble, but his impact was huge.

It wasn’t just his bravery. It was his humility and generosity of spirit. To some, his willingness to forgive was unfathomable. 

Writes Michael Fletcher in The Undefeated:

“My apprehension was rooted in the mistaken notion that Lewis was not angry enough. Why did he not demand revenge for the unspeakable racism he fearlessly confronted? How could he accept an apology from former Alabama governor George Wallace, a longtime segregationist who ordered the infamous Bloody Sunday attack on the bridge? Or forgive the pathological Bull Connor, the former public safety commissioner in Birmingham, Alabama? 

“Why would he forge a relationship with former Klansman Elwin Wilson, who was part of a mob that in 1961 beat down Lewis and other Freedom Riders outside the whites-only waiting room at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, bus station?

“But over the years my ambivalence melted into reverence as I came to better appreciate the power of Lewis’ grace. It armed him with undeniable moral authority that allowed him to change minds, and hearts. His willingness to forgive, along with his bravery and contempt for injustice were among the sturdiest pillars of his greatness.

“Wilson apologized to Lewis years after his crimes and sought to atone for them. Lewis accepted his apology, went on television with the former Klansman and even hosted him at his congressional office. After Wilson died in 2013, Lewis reflected kindly on his example.

‘Elwin Wilson shows us that people can change,’ Lewis said. ‘And when they put down the mechanisms of division and separation to pick up the tools of reconciliation, they can help build a greater sense of community in our society, even between the most unlikely people.”

Lewis had received similar vindication when he’d returned to Selma on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 1998, as he had every year. Selma’s mayor, Joseph T. Smitherman, who had been mayor when the attack occurred in 1965, gave Lewis a key to the city. 

Said Smitherman:

“Back then, I called him an outside rabble-rouser. Today I call him one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met.”

In his years in Congress, Lewis became known as the “conscience of the Congress.” He worked to create what Dr Martin Luther King had called “a beloved community”—a world free of racism, poverty, and war. He was identified with healthcare reform, justice, voting rights, immigration, and gun control.  

Another indelible image I have of him followed the mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida night club in 2016. To protest Congressional inaction after yet another gun massacre, he led a sit-in among Democratic members of Congress on the floor of the House of Representatives.

When we eventually do get the sensible gun legislation that the majority of Americans want, I hope it will bear his name. And I’m fairly sure that the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma will soon be renamed in his honor.

Lewis was gratified by the global demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd in May. He viewed the diverse actions against systemic racism as “a continuation of his life’s work,” reported The New York Times (which is the source of several items in this post).

He told an interviewer from CBS This Morning that:

“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets—to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble.’ This feels and looks so different. It is so much more massive and all inclusive. There will be no turning back.”

In President Obama’s remarks on Lewis’s death, he wrote that when they’d last spoken after the demonstrations,

“I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books. 

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

In the church where I heard him speak four years ago, Lewis described his early life as the son of sharecroppers. He told us he’d gotten his start preaching to the chickens outside his modest home. He minced no words in describing the horrors he’d been subjected to as a young peaceful demonstrator. He made us smile, he made us laugh, he made us weep, and he inspired us. And his magic helped his candidate, who won in a largely Republican district.

I had brought with me a copy of March, the autobiographical graphic novel trilogy about the Civil Rights movement that he had written for young people with Andrew Aydin, which was illustrated by Nate Powell. I had bought it for my grandson and was hoping I could get Lewis to autograph it. I came close.

As he made his way out the side door, mobbed by well-wishers, I was one person away from shaking his hand and handing him the book. And then he was gone. 

Here is a video of John Lewis receiving The National Book Award for March–one of several awards it garnered.


Note: A documentary, “John Lewis; Good Trouble,” has just been released. 

Continue reading “In the Presence of John Lewis…”

The Supreme Court Rulings Against The President: “Judicial Malpractice”?

The US Supreme Court, image courtesy of

I was one of many Americans who breathed a huge sigh of relief on Thursday when the Supreme Court emphatically said, in two 7-2 decisions, that the President of the United States is not above the law.

The small-minded part of me found it particularly delicious that President Trump’s two appointees—Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh—voted with Chief Justice Roberts and the liberal minority in both instances.

After all, Trump had referred to his appointees as “his” justices; how dare they cross him like that! Justices who uphold settled law going back 250 years—it’s all a plot against him!

There’s a strong likelihood that we, the public, won’t get the information that the New York prosecutor and Congress have been seeking, which includes Trump’s tax returns, before the elections. But it’s still possible.

Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown and former Acting US Solicitor General, has said it’s conceivable that Cyrus Vance Jr, the District Attorney of New York County, can move quickly enough to bring the case to a conclusion earlier than November. That would be wonderful.

But amid all the plaudits to the Court for showing that our system of checks and balances really works, and our democracy is secured, I was struck by the forceful clarity of an opposing view expressed by a lawyer friend in his private newsletter. (Emphases mine throughout.)

He called the very fact that the Supreme Court had accepted the cases at all “judicial malpractice.”

Here’s what he wrote:

“With glacial majesty, the Supreme Court issued two opinions on Thursday that broadly reaffirmed the fundamental tenets of separation of powers—tenets that were so obvious that any 6th-grade student of civics could have recited them by heart.

“But in taking its sweet time to affirm the obvious—that the president is not above the law—the Supreme Court failed the American people miserably. By moving with glacial speed, the Court granted Trump what he wanted most: avoiding accountability.”

After all, he noted, Trump and Attorney General Barr were declaring that the president had absolute immunity from subpoenas issued by both Congress and the District Attorney.

Therefore, my friend wrote:

“That risible assertion deserved a one-sentence summary disposition that said, ‘Review denied, produce your tax returns.’”

And if the Court had for its own reasons felt the need to restate settled precedent, he stressed that it could have expedited its review.

“To Court defenders who say that we must not rush justice, I say that I agree with you—except when the nation is in a moment of crisis. And we are.

“Trump is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment that sent Michael Cohen to prison. That case implicates the integrity of the 2016 election. Cohen testified before Congress that Trump used tax fraud as the business strategy for the Trump Organization. The New York Times published an article that detailed a decades-long tax conspiracy by the Trump Organization.

“In short, there is ample evidence that our president has violated the civil and criminal laws of the United States. The proof is in his tax returns. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court, we will see those returns five years hence, when they will not help America determine whether its president is, in fact, a felon who has cheated the country he seeks to lead for another four years.”

My friend observed that the Court that moved so deliberately had previously granted 17 emergency stays that benefited Trump.

“Having shaken their listlessness on 17 occasions to protect Trump, the conservative majority is unwilling to rouse itself on this single occasion to protect the American people.”

He also terms Congress “the loser,” and takes Roberts to task for discussing an “interbranch conflict.” He doesn’t buy that argument at all:

“Oh, please! Trump is accused of committing tax fraud before he was elected to the presidency. His pre-presidential conduct does not implicate an ‘interbranch’ conflict. That theory is an artifice invented by Justice Roberts…”

Roberts’ opinion stated that:
“There is not always a clear line between the president’s personal and official affairs.”

But, said my friend,

“There is a clear line in this case between Trump’s personal and official affairs. Whether the real estate mogul Donald Trump committed bank fraud years before he was elected as president does not implicate his ‘official affairs’—and John Roberts cannot credibly contend otherwise.”

Still, my friend’s message isn’t without hope.

“To those who share my outrage that Trump has again seemed to evade justice, we should take a modicum of solace from these opinions. The State of New York will continue to investigate Trump and his family for tax fraud. Trump ultimately will be held to account. He cannot be pardoned for violations of state law.”

And though what follows wasn’t the conclusion to his newsletter, it seems an appropriate conclusion to this post:

“The Supreme Court is broken, and we must fix it by fortifying the Court with a new majority of jurists who do not see their job as protecting the president of the party that appointed them. It cannot happen soon enough. We must flip the Senate if we want to rehabilitate the Court. Tell your friends.”

What do you think? Are you pleased/relieved/disappointed/angered by the Court’s rulings? If so, why? And what do you think of my friend’s suggestion that we must “rehabilitate” the Court? Others have made that case, including Pete Buttigieg. I am open to discussion but unsure at this point.

If you’d like to subscribe to my friend’s free newsletter, go to


Continue reading “The Supreme Court Rulings Against The President: “Judicial Malpractice”?”

The Attorney General for the Person of the US Receives Scrutiny

The Attorney General for the People Person of the US Receives Scrutiny

Bill Barr Image courtesy of

Once again I must turn to Bill-Barr
To examine behavior bizarre;
This is not the first time
That things seem to skirt crime
And his antics sink less than subpar.

Barr’s descent has made some feel quite sad
For the straight-shooter rep that he’d had;
But the gloss is long gone
And the battles he’s won
Have been awfully, terribly bad.

You recall when the Mueller Report
Raised questions of quite grave import?
Barr’s goal was persuasion
Of exoneration;
No Russians? Of course nyet, he’d retort.

He’s the President’s guy, that’s quite clear
In every last case that we hear;
According to his lights,
The Executive’s rights
Are absolute (I quiver in fear!).

He’s helped various convicted men
Such as Roger Stone and Mike Flynn
Although Flynn confessed twice,
His lies didn’t suffice–
Barr found “hinky stuff” made the case thin.

It was Bill-Barr who served as the source
Of that outside White House show of force–
When those marching in peace
Were peppered by police
While generals in haste reversed course.

And then came a Friday night surprise:
The US attorney’s job demise;
Though Barr said Berman quit,
Berman had none of it–
So was pushed out the door by sunrise.

Berman said that ongoing cases
Will move along on the same basis;
That appears an alert
He was nearing pay dirt,
Leading to some powerful places.

Expect Barr to go on the offense
With “findings” purportedly immense
The purpose: to confuse
It will all be a ruse
And may well be at Biden’s expense.

So what should happen now to Bill-Barr,
Who’s done damage that’s been wide and far?
Will the Dems try impeach
For his gross overreach?
Or at least, let us hope he’s disbarred!

Image courtesy of

Note: It is unclear at this point whether Barr will appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which he has agreed to do on July 28, to explain his sudden firing of Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his handling of other cases.

Two existing Department of Justice employees appeared before the Committee this week to express their dismay at the politicization of the department under Barr, including pressure to get a lighter sentence for the President’s convicted friend Roger Stone and interference in antitrust decisions based on his personal preferences–not the legalities.

But the most damning comment came from Donald B. Ayer, deputy attorney general under President George Bush, seen here on video explaining why Barr’s actions are setting the US “on the way to something far worse than Watergate.”

Previously, in an article in The Atlantic,  Ayer had gone into considerable and specific detail about the damage that Barr is doing to our Justice Department and the rule of law.

His conclusion:

“Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached.”


Continue reading “The Attorney General for the Person of the US Receives Scrutiny”

Lesson From the Woke Dentist–and Questions From Other Stories We Need to Keep Reconsidering…

Image courtesy of

A friend (white) who likes and respects his dentist (also white) questioned the dentist about his reactions to our nation’s turmoil in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by the police.

The dentist responded:

“I finally get it. My son’s been working on me for a while, but now it’s really clear.”

But, my friend persisted, since the media coverage has largely lost its intensity, is he still as focused on the issue?

“Yes,” said the dentist.

And he provided what my friend and I agreed was an apt description of racist thinking, even in well-meaning white folks like us.

“It’s like grinding your teeth. I’ll ask a patient if he grinds his teeth, and he’ll say ‘no.’ He’s sure he doesn’t grind his teeth. But I look at his molars, and it’s obvious he’s been grinding them.”

The impact of that perpetual grinding—arising from insults/actions large and small, many possibly unintended—erodes self-respect and dampens the life experiences of even the strongest individuals.

And it’s clear that it’s deeply embedded not just in us as individuals, but in all our nation’s institutions.

As my friend reminded me, enough grinding can actually kill the tooth. That’s why tens of thousands of diverse Americans have finally taken to the streets.

I’m aware of the growing body of what I believe are also well-meaning white people who think “woke” or identity politics are destroying this country.

They long for the Kumbaya of us all embracing in color-blind fashion, and/or they think that we should be talking about class and not about race.

But like my friend’s dentist, many Americans have finally awakened, and are saying that—among other things—we need to define the meaning of police work and the role of police officers in a democracy.

I, too, long for a nation/world in which Martin Luther King’s words are the reality: we’re all judged “not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.” And I wish we could resolve our problems by economic means alone.

Economics is, of course, a vital part of the equation, but it doesn’t per se erase the inequities that have arisen from our brutal history toward people of color—from before the first Thanksgiving to the current day.

It doesn’t touch the sense of vulnerability and fear of life-threatening acts arising from adversarial encounters with many white people, particularly those with authority.

So I think it’s naive and destructive to pretend that we can approach the ideal without making a deliberate attempt to root out every single vestige of race-based inequities in our institutions—and that we white people must keep educating ourselves so that we become aware of when we’re grinding—and that we cut it out.

As the brilliant author Ta-Nehisi Coates has said: “racism is the father of race.”

We may never reach the point where we don’t “see” color, but we have to keep striving to remove all the negative baggage that we attach to it.

At this time, people of color, especially black people, know they can’t escape it—no matter how accomplished they are and how exemplary their lives.

Consider Christian Cooper, bird-watching in Central Park, who had the temerity to ask a white woman to obey park rules and leash her dog, only to have her say, “I’m calling the police to tell them an African American man is threatening me.”

We know the consequences could have been more dire than they were, but what impact did the confrontation have on a quiet man simply bird-watching?

And what about James Juanillo, chalking “Black Lives Matter” on his own property in San Francisco, who was approached by a white couple insisting he didn’t belong there, who told him he had to stop and filed a police report against him for vandalism?

Then there’s Steve Locke, whose story I recently learned, though the episode took place in 2015. I think it is most instructive to anyone who’s not black and can’t possibly understand the ramifications of a black man’s being subject to police scrutiny.

Locke is an artist and art professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design who posted his soul-sapping encounter on his blog.

He titled it “I fit the description.”

On his way to buy a burrito before teaching his 1:30 class one day, he found himself surrounded by police cars. “We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s home,” he was told. The description: “Black male, knit cap, puffy coat.”

“You fit the description.”

Locke describes how carefully he reached for his ID as instructed, first requesting permission to put his hand into his pocket.

Imagine feeling you have to ask permission to reach into your pocket! This humiliation is such a well-established survival mechanism that it’s become a part of black comedians’ repertoires.

In 1974, according to The New York Times, the late great Richard Pryor (whom I’ve quoted before in this blog) enunciated it as follows:

“I. Am Reaching. Into. My Pocket. For. My License.”

And just recently, Michael Che adapted it for his routine:

“My brother is a cop. I only see him on Thanksgiving, and even then, I’m like: I’m. Reaching. For. The. Potatoes.”

Obviously, this was no laughing matter for Locke. His hands were shaking. He told the police he was a college professor, pointing to his faculty photo ID that hung around his neck in full sight.

His knitted cap, he wrote later, multi-colored and handmade for him, was unlike any other. It couldn’t have fit the description, but that fact didn’t matter.

The police said they would take him to be identified by the woman who’d reported the crime.

And here’s where I found the account of this art professor on his way to buy a burrito so revelatory.

“It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die. I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car…

“I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially. I knew this in my heart.

“I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal. This meant that I was going to resist arrest. This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.

If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.”

Eventually, they let him go. He described the impact of this episode as he left to teach his class.

“I forgot the lesson I had planned. I forgot the schedule. I couldn’t think about how to do my job. I thought about the fact my word counted for nothing, they didn’t believe that I wasn’t a criminal. They had to find out.

“My word was not enough for them. My ID was not enough for them. My handmade one-of-a-kind knit hat was an object of suspicion. My Ralph Lauren quilted blazer was only a ‘puffy coat.’ 

“… The cops were probably deeply satisfied with how they handled the interaction, how they didn’t escalate the situation, how they were respectful and polite.

I imagined sitting in the back of a police car while a white woman decides if I am a criminal or not. If I looked guilty being detained by the cops, imagine how vile I become sitting in a cruiser? I knew I could not let that happen to me. I knew if that were to happen, I would be dead.

“Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description.”

I am thinking of Rayshard Brooks, the black man in Atlanta who fell asleep in a Wendy’s drive-thru and was subsequently shot in the back running away from the police.

In the lengthy first part of the video, he is shown politely conversing and cooperating with one of the police officers who was ultimately arrested for his murder.

It appears from the video that it was not until the second police officer handcuffed him that he tried to get away. Why the dramatic change in his behavior?

Image courtesy of

We’ll never know.

We do know about the fight-or-flight-or-freeze instinct—our brain’s primitive survival mechanism that makes us react when we feel endangered. It’s so strong when we’re anxious that it affords little opportunity for rational thinking.

Among all the talk about better police training, I hope there’s emphasis on ensuring that the police understand this very basic reaction—and how it operates in both themselves and the people they encounter. We know from the experiences of so many black people that being approached by the police makes them feel they’re in danger.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but with all the talk about the need for better police training, in part because police believe themselves to be warriors who are always endangered, is there some emphasis on basic neuroscience? If not, maybe adding it could lead to life-saving insights.

Running away from the police should not be automatically viewed as evidence of guilt. It shouldn’t take much metaphorical teeth grinding to make us realize that—and to demand policies aligned accordingly.

Let’s consider a scenario in which it’s clear the police must detain a suspect. Let’s assume the police officers are well-meaning.

Is there any way these police can assure the potential detainee at the outset that he won’t be harmed or misjudged? Might community policing, in which the officers are required to live where they work, be a good possibility here?

If the suspect knows the police officers and has seen them in everyday circumstances—even being helpful to members of the community—perhaps he would be less likely to assume they are out to get him. And as importantly, they may know him.

Or have we passed the point where any black man can have confidence that the police will treat him fairly?

May this be the hopeful time in which greater clarity becomes possible, leading to meaningful reforms.

What do you think? Do you have ideas to suggest?


Note: Steve Locke does very compelling work on racial themes. You can view them at

Continue reading “Lesson From the Woke Dentist–and Questions From Other Stories We Need to Keep Reconsidering…”