Broken Record

In an interview published today in Jacobin, David Harvey, a theorist of neoliberalism and one of my favorite vulgar Marxists, asks a controversial question:

“Here’s a proposition to think over. What if every dominant mode of production, with its particular political configuration, creates a mode of opposition as a mirror image to itself?

During the era of Fordist organization of the production process, the mirror image was a large centralized trade union movement and democratically centralist political parties.

The reorganization of the production process and turn to flexible accumulation during neoliberal times has produced a Left that is also, in many ways, its mirror: networking, decentralized, non-hierarchical.”

Harvey poses this as a provocation, one based on his analysis of the neoliberal organization of production but not explored at length in the interview. But what would such an exploration look like?

Rather than critique the horizontalist mode of organizing Harvey’s referring to, I think there’s another, related, sense in which the substance of politics on the broadly defined Left today mirrors neoliberalism. While Harvey’s focus is on the material organization of the political project of neoliberalism, the ideological current that follows from the organization of what Harvey calls the “new capitalist class” – the tech capitalists of Silicon Valley – also shapes this “mirror image.” After all, if the ruling ideas of every age are those of the ruling class, we should expect these ideas to influence the Left in a powerful way.

Driven by a decentralized entrepreneurialism that fetishizes the individual and the bootstrapping do-it-yourselfism of lean-in feminism, these ideas emphasize an assumed chain of individuals, identity, and language, with the latter two elements part of the self-expressive empowerment so central to project-based start-up culture.

How does this trickle-down to progressive politics? While some call the political current that constitutes the mirror image of these ideas “identity politics,” I prefer Carl Beijer’s phrase “liberal identitarianism.” A clunky mouthful to be sure, “liberal identitarianism” is helpful in its ability to differentiate this current from a left identitarianism.

As Beijer distinguishes the two, left identitarians have  “maintained their commitment understanding power and oppression thoroughly by including class identity in their analysis, as all of the great identitarian scholars have always done – whereas liberals, by definition, neglect it.” In other words, while liberal identitarians may acknowledge class in the sense of individual wealth, they refuse the left analysis of oppressions as present to reinforce class exploitation. By taking class as one static element among many axes of oppression, rather than a relational process reinforced and perpetuated by oppression, liberal identitarians come to a fundamentally different definition of liberation. For liberal identitarians, gaining equal representation and voice within a class society is the – often unspoken – goal.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this in theory: it does make for a less hostile environment for oppressed groups, offering breathing room at the symbolic level of society. While it’s true that these aims can’t achieve liberation as understood by the Left – the end of oppression and with it, exploitation – and instead, fit snugly into neoliberal ideologies of self-expression, that’s no reason for us to pay more than passing attention to these politics. But what follows from these ideas is a focus on who you are and what you say rather than what you do combined with a claiming of the mantle of progressivism, and this is where the problem lies for Left critics.

By placing language and identity as primary determinants of political standing, liberal identitarians open the door to cynical cooptation of our movements by elites. If identity and language are the central markers of one’s legitimacy, rather than organizational ties or policy positions, a person with the ‘right’ identity – say, a person of color and/or woman – can learn the magic words needed to gain entrance into the charmed circle of progressive politics and use her elevated position to further oppression.

And that’s exactly what we see. It’s why the RNC featured black men leading the crowd in “all lives matter” chants, emphasizing their Blackness throughout their speeches despite supporting policies that further the oppression of their fellow African-Americans. Their identities serve as a shield, enabling them to go further in their racism than their white counterparts.

It’s why Donald Trump, in his acceptance speech as the Republican Presidential nominee, claimed he’d look out for “the people of Ferguson,” even if his policy positions assure the opposite. As Beijer points out, Trump added a “Q” to his invocation of the LGBTQ community, one that wasn’t even in the draft remarks, going a step further than even Clinton in his incorporation of progressive political terminology to support reactionary policy, as in this case, where he insisted his Islamophobic policies are enacted “to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful ideology.”

If language is a key element of political practice, Trump at the moment of his enunciation of that “LGBTQ” is good. Which is patently absurd – one only needs to read the rest of the sentence to see this terminology is being mobilized to legitimize Islamophobia.

This is the basis of the left critique of a liberal identitarianism that implicitly imbues a homogeneity to identity groups. It’s a criticism of the “shut up and listen” approach to multi-racial or all-gender organizing. Left unspecified in this approach is which oppressed leadership ‘allies’ are to listen to, as the internal class division within oppressed groups is ignored in favor of a liberal essentialism that assumes everyone of X identity shares political views. In the case of black leadership in the anti-police brutality movement, should white people listen to David Clarke, the black sheriff who insists that the movement is “the enemy?” Or in my city, to the black clergy who organize pro-police rallies? If not, on what basis can we deny their standing?

The obvious answer is that what Clarke does – and what these clergy are doing – furthers the oppression of working class black people, whether or not they themselves happen to be black. This is the basis for rejecting their political legitimacy. Truthfully, only the most hardcore liberal identitarians would disagree with this, but it requires breaking with the logic of their analysis to condemn Clarke or these clergy. Similarly, a concern with what she does is our basis for rejecting Hillary Clinton as a feminist: she may be a woman, but what she does is oppress other, poorer, women, both at home and abroad. We can only reject Clarke, the clergy, or Clinton’s right to speak as members of the oppressed if we admit a primacy to what they do, not who they are or what they say.

We live in a world where, as R.L. Stephens puts it in a recent essay, “a Latino and an Asian-American crafted the Bush torture memos, which were then carried forward by the nation’s first Black president.” Diversity at the top doesn’t mean progress for us at the bottom – far from it. Trump mentioning Ferguson doesn’t make him any less of a white supremacist. Clinton claiming the mantle of feminism doesn’t make it true. When anyone claims political legitimacy, we should always respond with the question Stephens raises in his essay: What exactly is it that you do?

The Abortion Debate

“Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ “

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina stated on national television during the most recent GOP debate that the above scene was from the controversial (and highly edited) videos of Planned Parenthood offices filmed by the conservative Center for Medical Progress.

The scene Fiorina described never appears in the videos.

But as anyone who watched Fiorina deliver this lie during the debate might have noticed, the description of the scene and the assertion of facts work on two different registers. By vividly describing a gruesome scene, Fiorina kept our focus on the morality of abortion. While leading feminist organizations put the bulk of their efforts into building the Democratic Party instead of a movement, the Christian right has spent decades building a veritable ecology of movement actors. This is why the right now controls the terms of debate, posing the question of abortion as one of morality and thereby allowing anti-choice activists to present themselves as morally-enlightened even as they stalk, threaten, harass, and assault abortion providers and the women seeking their services. These leaders claim to be ‘defenders of (fetal) life’ while endangering real women’s lives with anti-choice restrictions, of which there were 205 from 2011-2013, more than in the entire decade prior.

The greatest evidence of the right’s dominance over the abortion debate comes from Planned Parenthood’s Democratic Party defenders. While Hillary Clinton continues to position herself as a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, her description of abortion as a “sad, often tragic choice” cedes ground to the anti-choice frame, qualifying women’s demands for equality with a moralizing that can only strengthen the right. Meanwhile, Martin O’Malley minimized Planned Parenthood’s role as an abortion provider, emphasizing that 97% of its services have nothing to do with abortion. Even Bernie Sanders minced words, rightly stating that federal funds don’t go toward abortions but failing to defend abortion as such from conservatives’ ruthless attacks. By hedging their defenses of Planned Parenthood, Democrats have accepted the right’s terms of debate. In doing so, Democrats are gambling that anti-choice forces support women’s access to less controversial reproductive health services. In this, they are mistaken.

That the funds currently being held hostage as a mark of allegiance to anti-choice fervor by conservatives have nothing to do with abortion is unfortunate proof of the wrongheadedness of Democrats’ wager. These are Title X funds, which go toward family planning centers, many of which are administered by Planned Parenthood. The federal funds, as Sanders noted, cannot go toward abortions. To tie them up in political posturing is to knowingly deny poor and working class women the right to basic health services, including cancer screenings, STD tests, and annual check ups.

The numbers on what happens when poor women lack access to health services are definitive. According to the Guttmacher Institute, without family planning services, poor women have higher rates of unintended pregnancy, which in 2008, occurred at five times the rate as among higher-income women.* What follows from here is predictable: higher rates of abortion and higher rates of unplanned birth, with poor women enduring the latter at six times the rate of higher-income women.

These numbers suggest that if abortion was actually what conservative leaders opposed, they would increase funding for reproductive health services and family planning. Add to this that 48% of women who underwent late-term abortions explained the delay as stemming from difficulty in making travel, work, and childcare arrangements for the time spent traveling to a provider, and it’s clear that the continued rollback of providers and flood of state mandated waiting periods for women seeking abortions guarantees that more women will get late-term abortions in the future.

Anti-choice activists and their leaders in Congress aren’t stupid: they have think tanks and journalists crunching these numbers. They know these laws will result in more abortions. We cannot simply ‘speak truth to power,’ repeat this data, and expect people like Fiorina to change their minds. We similarly cannot wait on Democrats to admit that in 2015, Roe v. Wade is almost non-existent for working-class, rural, and disportionately black and brown women across this country.

For those of us who would take up the unapologetic call for ‘free abortion on demand,’ we must refuse the right’s framing. We should instead argue for the right to abortion as central to the broader fight for women’s equality, which cannot be achieved without control over our reproductive choices, but also without free child care, a living wage, and paid maternity leave. The demand for control over our bodies was a cornerstone in the broader feminist struggle for full equality. To deny women this right is to attempt to reverse the gains won by feminists and call for a return to conditions of even greater inequality.

It’s important to note that when we argue for free abortion, this is based on a recognition of the race and class determinants behind a woman’s ability to choose. In 1970, before abortion was legalized in New York, over three-quarters of the women who died from illegal abortions were black and Puerto Rican. Today, poverty continues to be the most common reason women cite for getting abortion. And with women on average paying nearly $500 out-of-pocket for abortions, along with forfeiting hundreds of dollars in wages thanks to the obscene distance they must travel to access an abortion provider, we must emphasize the ways anti-choice restrictions disproportionately impact working class women of color, and strategize accordingly.

When the anti-choice movement’s actions ensure higher rates of abortion, we cannot respond effectively if we take them at their word that what they oppose is abortion, not the threat of women’s equality that comes with bodily autonomy. Instead, we should recognize their embrace of women’s oppression in every cynical invocation of ‘family values,’ an ideology where women are never queer, never trans, never lesbian, and always in the home. We should hear it when they condemn single mothers for using government assistance to raise their children while simultaneously criticizing working mothers for neglecting their kids. We should hear it in their continued denials that rape is ‘real’ rape if the woman was friends with, dating, or married to the man who raped her.

For the anti-choice movement, women, and women’s bodies, belong to men, and are of value to the extent that we perform the unpaid domestic labor this economy relies upon. Free abortion on demand is a threat to that control, providing a route for women to make their own choices in the meaningful sense of the word.

This is why we must recast the fight for abortion access as a fight for women’s full equality. If those morally opposed to abortion want to reduce its frequency, they should join the fight for a living wage, free child care, and paid maternity leave. The majority of Americans continue to support the legality of abortions, but with Democrats and Republicans eroding the conditions necessary for women to access this right, we cannot look to these political leaders for help. We must instead build a movement that shifts the terms of debate to focus on women’s right to reproductive justice, unapologetically affirming women’s right to choose to have or not have children, to give birth unshackled, to access good schools and livable housing, along with securing access to reproductive health services, including, yes, abortion.

*Higher-income was defined in the data as women making 200% the federal poverty rate

The Black Lives Matter Movement and The Boston Olympics

With the nation bursting at the seams against the scourge that is police violence against the Black community, Boston residents have been vocal in pushing for greater community control of the police, as well as the host of socioeconomic changes that could lead to the abolition of policing entirely. If we want to continue making progress towards these ends, we must issue an absolute refusal to host the 2024 Olympics. Failure to defeat the 2024 bid will mean relinquishing the little control we have over local police forces while simultaneously allowing these forces greater access to weaponry and surveillance mechanisms. The result of such a defeat won’t surprise many: our city will see an uptick in state harassment and violence against Boston’s PoC, poor, and LGBTQ communities that constitute the vast majority of this city’s residents.

This line of argumentation was powerfully delivered at a June 2nd forum on the negative consequences mega sporting events have on the cities that host them. Organized by No Boston 2024, one of the two Olympics opposition groups (though a leading member of the other opposition group attended), the event featured Kade Crockford, Director of the Technology for Liberty Project at the ACLU of Massachusetts, alongside Dave Zirin, the powerhouse sports editor at The Nation, who claimed to have reported on (critically, of course) every Olympics since 9/11.

While I could write a book on what Zirin said, it was Crockford’s presentation of the linkage between the Black Lives Matter movement and a 2024 Olympics that stood out to me as someone aware of the immense flurry of anti-police brutality organizing happening in this city. While I had intuited the link that leads from a Boston Olympics to greater policing and surveillance, I hadn’t understood the extent to which this link will become a border widening the already huge gap in living conditions for Boston’s (disproportionately white) rich and Boston’s (disproportionately PoC) poor.

To make this connection stick, Crockford began by discussing the legacy of the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC), which was held in Boston. Reminding the audience of how many surveillance cameras monitor our city’s public spaces, Crockford explained that their origins stem from the DNC. While justified to the public at the time as necessary tools for the uniquely high-risk Convention, these cameras remain today. As Crockford rightly emphasized, rarely do security forces willingly relinquish policing and surveillance gadgetry once they have their hands on them. Although such surveillance technology has long existed, political norms in liberal Boston prevented its widespread deployment until a National Special Security Event, or NSSE, came to town. NSSE, as explained by Crockford, is a designation created by Bill Clinton, who came up with the category to signal a ‘high-security’ (read: high surveillance and policing) event. Upon receiving this designation, responsibility for  ‘security’ shifts from local police forces, as broken and lethal as they may be in their own right, to the Secret Service. Crockford laughed while explaining this, reminding the audience of this agency’s total incompetence.

Once policing power transfers to the Secret Service, Boston residents will no longer have claim to any transparency or accountability from these forces. While I agree with writers who have called for the abolition of all police, the Secret Service doesn’t even have to pretend to listen to our complaints or concerns. Giving it jurisdiction over our city will be a step backward in our struggle. An opaque centralized operation, federal security forces act in anonymity, fully separate from the communities they terrorize. During an NSSE, the DNC being one such example, our attention is directed by media and politicians alike to the purported action, be it Olympic gymnastics or the political carnival that is the DNC, and when our view is fixed on that spectacle, security forces move toward greater coordination between agencies, rolling out controversial technologies and weapons in the process.

In 2004, these changes left our city a legacy of video cameras, to which the FBI retains access, as well as a nasty taste in our mouths that came from the “festering boil” that was the ‘Free Speech Zone’ for the Convention’s protestors, a wire cage under a highway, to which all residents and visitors critical of the Democrats (recall, this was immediately after the Iraq War, a disaster supported by Democrat and Republicans alike) were directed. Further, the normalization of ‘random’ bag checks at Boston area train stations began with the DNC. Today, these checks remain, no longer purportedly serving as preventative counter-terrorism measures, but rather, as a source of surveillance for Boston’s large immigrant community, with the predominately latino/a community of East Boston one such neighborhood regularly subject to the whim of these unwarranted searches.

The BPD won’t have ultimate authority on ‘security’ strategies, and can be guaranteed to use their subordination to claim innocence as complaints against police harassment multiply in the lead up to the 2024 Games. However, they will retain the toys brought to them from federal agencies. As Zirin mentioned at the forum, international arms dealers live for these mega events, and there’s no chance that the BPD will miss out on a chance to imitate their big brothers, the NYPD, and stock up on any goodies they can get their hands on.

It is important to think about this future in connection to the murder of Usaama Rahim on the morning of June 1st by FBI and BPD agents, under the guise of a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and alongside the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative. Boston is one of a handful of cities host to a pilot CVE program, and as many of the city’s Muslim residents can attest, CVE has provided one more excuse for blanket state surveillance of Muslim communities. Rahim was under 24 hour surveillance when he was approached by the multi-agency police team, despite not having been charged with a crime, and as a Black Muslim, Rahim was also a target for BPD’s racial profiling. While we continue waiting for authorities to release the tape of Rahim’s murder, it’s clear that the introduction of JTTF, CVE, and FBI decreases the transparency of policing and surveillance in our cities, allowing a dead man to be labelled a terrorist simply due to the presence of this federal alphabet soup at his murder scene.

As for the 2024 Boston Olympics, it will surely be designated an NSSE. Boston’s poor and PoC residents will be surveilled and harassed with greater frequency and intensity than they are currently (which in today’s United States, is saying a lot). Meanwhile Mayor Walsh’s controversial anti-sex trafficking initiative will likely kick into high gear, creating a terror amongst the city’s sex workers and LGBTQ population alike, the latter being regularly targeted by policing under the guise of anti-prostitution laws, with the trans population, and particularly trans-WoC, disproportionately subject to such arrests. Whether the people of Boston will benefit from any of the purported improvements that come from hosting a mega-event is unknown (though I suggest readers pick up Zirin’s recent book for a contemporary account that might answer that question), what we do know is that the majority of Bostonians will become targets in their own neighborhoods, trespassers in their own public spaces.

Just a few blocks from my Roxbury home, there are basketball courts. When the weather’s nice enough, as it is today, dozens of youth from my neighborhood gather to play pickup games. And no matter how few or many people are at the courts, there’s always at least one BPD vehicle idling nearby, the officers looking on as Roxbury’s youth play ball. No matter how many times Boston 2024 Committee member and Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish talks about the “transformative power of sport” during one of Boston 2024’s sham community meetings, I know that he isn’t referring to my neighbors’ sports. If he were, he’d know that come the Olympics, there’ll be no time or space left for basketball, with police forces lining up to stop-and-frisk this city’s athletes while blocking off our public spaces to better ensure NSSE ‘security.’

The path our city will head down if we host the Olympics is one of cascading negative effects for all but the wealthiest residents. We’ve already begun down that path, as anyone looking at rent prices knows, and it’s already unacceptable. By mobilizing now, we can reverse this dynamic: rather than being pushed out ourselves, we can show the IOC just how inhospitable Boston is for them and the security circus that surrounds them. This city’s people have enough battles to fight as it is, and there’s no way we’re going to take on even greater obstacles just so Fish and his international counterparts can enjoy a party nine years from now.

Baltimore and Urban Rebellions

Images via @byDVNLLN
Images via @byDVNLLN

Video of cops throwing bricks thrown by protesters back at them, launching tear gas at high school students, beating photographers, and shooting bystanders with rubber bullets: all this is going on in Baltimore right now in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s murder by the Baltimore Police Department.

All this makes today a day to bear in mind that it was inner-city rebellions (rebellions, not riots) in the 1960s that gave much of the world a view into the unbearable conditions in which the black population in this country exists. The result was incomplete and partial progress, but progress that would not have happened had it not been for communities acting back against their oppression. By refusing to acknowledge the authority of the state as embodied in its coercive forces, and making themselves ungovernable, these communities unmasked the reality that it is the people, not those in power, who decide when political change will happen.

At times this must take the form of an absolute break with previous reality, even if this means violence. As anti-colonial theorist Frantz Fanon once wrote, “from birth it is clear to [the oppressed] that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence.” He goes on to specify that rather than initiated by the oppressed, violence is a learned practice, etched deep into oppressed psyches by their experience of the violence of white supremacy. As Fanon writes, white supremacy “is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.” While we who participate in extra-institutional  or street politics can criticize violence as strategic error, and I don’t think we can rely on violence to defeat what amounts to nearly infinite instruments of violence held by the US state (and in truth, no one I know in these movements is naive enough to believe we can win by violence alone), condemnations of political violence as immoral can only be directed at the violence of the state if we want our critiques are to maintain logical consistency. And yes, the targeting of police, corporate chains, and payday loan stores is by all means a political choice.

Dilapidated housing, bad schools, police brutality, and a lack of jobs for urban communities went from the periphery to the center of US political priorities in the wake of the 1960s rebellions. The US government poured billions more dollars into housing in an attempt to regain its footing over the cities. A pillar of their multi-pronged strategy, it was the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program that so threatened the state that the government institutionalized the idea, severing any mention of where the program came from but revealing the tenuousness of state legitimacy against the Panthers in the process. In Watts, even a former CIA director, John McCone, in his state-funded McCone Commission, found the cause of that city’s 1965 rebellion to be ” high unemployment, poor schools, and other inferior living conditions for African Americans in Watts.” Similar reports with similar findings were filed for many other U.S. cities.

Freddie Gray, and hundreds of black men, women, and LGBTQ individuals die senseless deaths in this country each year at the hands of the police. Being black in the United States is a game of Russian roulette with the forces that occupy black communities (not to mention the Zimmermanite vigilantes who emulate them). Black youth are forced to be conscious of their mortality in a way I, as a white kid, never was. It is in this context that youth in Baltimore are fighting for their freedom and humanity. It’s important to support them in that – be it through sending bail money or amplifying their voices – and to turn your eyes to your city at the end of the day. While you might have to squint real hard to find them, as no one with power voluntarily acknowledges their existence, there are youth in your own backyard trying to achieve freedom too, and now’s the time to offer your support to them in whatever way you can. Not rhetorically, I mean, take on some of the risk which is currently overwhelmingly hanging over the black population every day. If they win, we all win, as the only people who benefit from the perpetuation of a white supremacist capitalist system are those at the very top. The police are one key instrument in the reproduction of that system, birthed into existence as slave catchers and forces for disciplining the poor, so to diminish their power – or disband them entirely- is to make progress. Do you have cash? Graphic design skills? A car? A law degree? A public platform? All that, that’s what you offer up. And if you read this far, I know at the least you’ve got free time to offer.

Angelo West and Why All Black Lives Matter

A recent piece by Boston Globe Columnist Kevin Cullen, titled “Three Strikes and He Was Out On Streets Again,” is horrifyingly misguided, but if you can stomach it, it’s worth reading in order to think through the political understandings underlying the argument.

The author writes of the man killed by police two days ago in Roxbury, MA that “guys like Angelo West don’t get out of prison…and take apartments in the Seaport, [a wealthy area of rapid development in Boston]…they come back to neighborhoods like Roxbury” and that residents should direct their anger at “a criminal justice system that allows people like Angelo West…to flit in and out of jail like some kind of way station, a minor inconvenience.”

This, when the premise of Cullen’s piece is that West was so determined not to return to jail that he was willing to give up his life to avoid that fate. Now, there’s no evidence of this assertion, unless you believe Cullen has access to a murdered man’s final thoughts, but this contradictory argument comes from the fact that the author cannot bring himself to acknowledge West’s humanity. However, the truth is that West was just as human as the author and acted with the same considerations Cullen, you, or me, use to make decisions. To believe otherwise is to embrace the hold racist imagery has over you. It’s to imagine a black man is not human, but animal, with mental processes that function fundamentally differently than the rest of humanity.

As to the former quote, with Cullen decrying (guys, he’s on your side!) West’s return to Roxbury, Cullen elides the critique implicit in his statement. First, it’s important to break down just what Cullen means by “guys like Angelo West.” While the author would likely be the first to assert that his phrase means “criminals” or “monsters,” and not “poor black men,” this claim fails any test of logic. Wealthy white criminals often return to their life of wealth and independence immediately upon release from prison, that is, if they’re even forced to serve time in the first place (spoiler alert: they almost never are) .

“Sure,” one can imagine Cullen saying, conceding the point, decades-long crime reporter that he is, “but I meant monsters, the real dangers to society.” To this I’d point him no further abroad than the case of our hometown boy, Mark Wahlberg. At 15, Wahlberg attacked black school children, throwing rocks at them while shouting racial slurs, and at 16, he blinded a Vietnamese man, and once apprehended by police, shouted racial slurs at the man in their presence. Wahlberg is now famously seeking a pardon from the state for his crimes, and most interesting for the purposes of this piece, is his citing the problems his criminal record is causing for his business ventures. If even a white celebrity feels the heat of discrimination that comes with a record, we can only imagine what this means for those without household names.

So, here we have a clear cut case of a heartless monster, yelling racial epithets as his victim bled on the ground, and yet, I doubt Cullen supports re-incarcerating Wahlberg, just in case he returns to his old ways.

Similarly, Cullen wrote a cringe-inducing puff piece for the Boston Globe on New York Police Commissioner William Bratton in the wake of the killing of two NYPD officers. In this article, we see Bratton getting a shoe shine in Manhattan and having inebriated men “broomed” by a few cops because of their “obnoxious behavior,” all without having to get out of his chair.

“Classic Bratton,” Cullen writes. Know what else is classic Bratton? Overseeing a police department that drives motorcycles through a law-abiding crowd, injuring dozens in the process. Yet, from my investigation into Cullen’s bylines, he’s never written of the necessity of reforming the criminal justice system to ensure Police Commissioners like Bratton serve jail time for such massacres. This is unsurprising for most of us, however, because when we read “guys like Angelo West,” we know that Cullen actually means poor black men, which ultimately amounts to black people, when you realize that one in three black men are in the criminal justice system at any given moment. While black women aren’t jailed at the same rate as black men, they are incarcerated at three times the rate of white women, and within a patriarchal society that continues to view women as mere appendages of men, they are often penalized for any romantic, familial, or even accidental association with black men labelled criminal, suffering incarceration, surveillance, or theft of their property by the state, a process known as asset-forfeiture.

Now that we’ve disambiguated “guys like Angelo West” to mean “poor black men,”  Cullen’s statement translates to “poor black men don’t get out of prison and…take apartments in the Seaport,” and it becomes a truism, a descriptive statement of the structural conditions of our society rather than any commentary on West’s proclivities and choices. “Neighborhoods like Roxbury” are the necessary obverse to the image Boston’s elites sell the world. A racialized and concentrated space of poverty, “neighborhoods like Roxbury” are the only place most poor black individuals with criminal records can move. Banking, mortgage, and insurance companies ensure this in a discriminatory process called ‘redlining’ which continues to this day. Contextualize his mythical “guys like West” in a structurally racist and geographically segregated city like Boston and Cullen’s statement turns into an admission of these societally-sanctioned constraints. Add in well-documented employer discrimination against black job applicants, and applicants with criminal records, which shows that white men with criminal records are more likely to be hired than black men without records, and you have a system pushing the black population into impossible circumstances.

West was free to choose how to respond to these conditions and on Friday it seems he chose to shoot an officer, but we can acknowledge this while discussing how his choices were shaped by this reality. The reason he was tailed and stopped by police, while I, a white person who lives less than a mile from where he was killed, have never been similarly stopped, is because of the BPD’s racially discriminatory practices. In telling Roxbury residents to focus on criminal justice reform, Kevin Cullen reveals his complete lack of information about these residents. Many of them already focus on criminal justice reform. Their goals range from reform to prison abolition, which many see as the only way to shake off the occupying force that patrols their neighborhoods. To Cullen, and readers who still find his narrative compelling, I recommend you read the links in this article before dismissing those who argue that Angelo West’s murder does, in fact, have everything to do with black lives mattering.

Pittsburgh: Worst City in the US for African-Americans?

A new report backs up an earlier study that showed Pittsburgh has a higher rate of black poverty than any other major US city. This previous study was conducted in 1990, and we now know that nothing has changed, despite the city’s much lauded “revival,” which has seen an influx of tech and medical companies make Pittsburgh their home.

The new report shows that “violent crime arrests for African-American juveniles in Pittsburgh are twice the rate for black juveniles nationally, and murders and manslaughter arrests for black adults in the city are nearly 30 times that of whites.”

And, in case you’ve been living in a bubble, arrest rates for African-American juveniles nationally are unbelievably high, which makes Pittsburgh’s rates nearly impossible to comprehend.

For a visceral peek into what black poverty in Pittsburgh looks like, I recommend watching this video by Pittsburgh hip-hop artist and indefatigable activist Jasiri X. It’s title, “Most Livable City,” is a reference to Pittsburgh winning that award from national magazines multiple years in a row.