Friday, May 08, 2015

When racial harassment is just everyday life

A few months ago I complained that Radley Balko's book on U.S. police militarization and the drug war had a gaping hole in its center: it did not set these evils in the context of our historic structural racism.

That's not where Balko stands today. In fact he devoted a long recent Washington Post column to correcting the omission. After a lot of words responding to a couple of rightwing hack columnists and Hillary Clinton, he tells the story of Antonio Morgan. Morgan's life is a testimony to the accuracy of the Justice Department report on how Ferguson (and other small St. Louis suburbs) have turned their police departments into extortion rackets preying on their Black citizens. Balko puts a face on what for most of us might be an abstraction. The dreadlocked Morgan has been arrested some 20 times, mostly on traffic nuisance tickets, many of those after racial profiling stops. Twice he's been collared for more significant charges, both times the outcome of hostile interactions with police officers who felt empowered to tell him his business.

Morgan is no one’s definition of a “thug.” He’s a guy who breaks his back to keep up the business that supports his family, despite obstacles that, frankly, most white business owners don’t have to endure. For all he’s been through, he is remarkably composed. He deals with the daily harassment in a remarkably manner-of-fact way. He takes photos of his business and the cars outside it. He records all of his phone conversations and most in-person conversations he has with public officials. He has a laptop filled with nothing but photos, documents, and recordings should he ever need them as evidence. Engaging in such defensive preparations on a daily basis would drive a lot of people insane — or perhaps be an indication that they’re already there. He does it because he has to. As he put it, “You have to struggle just to catch up.”

... Antonio Morgan’s business is located in the town of Pine Lawn. It’s one of the most egregious offenders in the county. But Pine Lawn is 96 percent black. Most of its city officials are and have been black. In fact, Anthony Gray, the attorney for Michael Brown’s family, is the town’s former police chief and current prosecutor.

But Antonio Morgan is still a victim of racism. The reason black people in St. Louis County are unfairly and disproportionately targeted by police for minor offenses is due to the very structure of the county’s political and court system. ...

Do read it all.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

At least he has the means to fight back. But why should he have to fight in the first place?

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