Feb 02 2016

An Embarrassment of Riches

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

What happened last night in Iowa was interesting and historic. For the first time in history, a woman has won the Iowa Caucus.

That win is somewhat muted by the strong showing by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who some say could transform Democratic politics.

I think its a little early to call that, but it was a close contest.

One of the most interesting stories about this campaign is that a septuagenarian is igniting a base of young voters while Clinton, the front runner despite the close contest, is relying on more seasoned voters (I won’t say older because I’m becoming one of those ‘older’ voters).

And because these two groups are different in many ways, and have experienced the world differently, there’s friction. But this is as it always has, and always will be.

Establishment vs. Activist

For as long as I’ve been active in politics (either observing or working with groups) there have been two factions of the Democratic Party: “establishment class” and the “activist class” (you could say the same thing about the GOP, but I’m not talking about them).

The establishment class is made up of people who, quite honestly, look more like me today. They’re older. They’ve been involved longer, and they have scars to prove it. Some of those scars run deep. When you poke those scars, they hurt, and can cause some snippyness.

The activist class is usually younger. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and passion. They may be focused on a single issue, or they may be generalists, like I was. They’re looking for certainty in a world that rarely delivers. Threatening that certainty can cause a lot of that passion to take a dark turn.

While its not true in every case, in most cases, these two groups are either the past or the future of each other. The establishment class likely once had that youthful enthusiasm of the activist class. The activist class will eventually become the establishment…a group who will then be railed against as ‘uninspiring’ or ‘sell outs’ by their children and grandchildren.

They are, whether they like it or not, variants of each other, trapped in parallel universes, separated by time.

The Healthy Debate

Since 2008 I have advocated for robust primary challenges at all levels of government. I believe that in order for elected officials to prove their worth they must have a worthy opponent to question them. And then if the voters decide they are unworthy, the voters don’t have to make a Faustian bargain come November.

At the same time, I recognize that election contests of all kinds can be nasty. People have an emotional attachment to their preferred candidate, and that emotion can spill over into personal attacks against people who, in other circumstances, would be on their side.

I’ve engaged in those attacks before, in my younger life. And while there’s no question there is a value to drawing distinctions between candidates, making it personal isn’t a good thing. It isn’t healthy. Whoever wins the nomination will need all of us in November. And while I’m not calling on people to be ‘pragmatic’ now, I hope that cooler heads will prevail by then.

Politics is about engagement and relationships. Sides can flip on a dime. You will find that your enemy today may be your ally tomorrow. Its important not to damage that relationship so badly that you find yourself without that ally. Because I can tell you from first hand experience, its very cold once you’ve crossed the line.

Must there really be only one?

Must there really be only one?

Its also important to not use the opposition’s lines (i.e. GOP talking points) against your opponent. We’ll get enough of that after the nomination is done. If its Sanders, it will be that he’s a Socialist. If its Clinton, it will be one of 1000 red herrings or tin foil hat theories the GOP has cooked up since the 90’s.

Keep it about the issues. Respect opposing views the way you expect your views to be respected. This isn’t Highlander, the loser doesn’t have to die, or be mortally wounded.

Be Proud of What’s Happening Here

I was born 2 years before Nixon resigned. My formative years were spent in the Reagan era, filled with fears of Russian nuclear war, and a ton of economic policies that set up the gutting of the American middle class.

Now, nearly 36 years since Reagan’s 1980 victory, and the ugliness of the Southern Strategy that helped bring us to where we are today, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who spent many of those same years as First Lady of Arkansas, advocating for children and women, who were more often than not, the victims of those destructive policies…. policies that continue to this day. She bears the scars of that fight, way back when. That record is why older voters like her. They remember how she fought, and believe that she will fight that way again.

On the other side, we have a candidate in Bernie Sanders who wants to change the way things work. Sanders is not content to allow things to be the way we remember them always being. Sanders has been fighting too. He fought his way into office in Burlington, VT, and he’s been fighting ever since. Fighting that conventional wisdom. Fighting lowered expectations.

There are contrasts between the two. There’s no question about it. There are differences in policy, for certain. But both Hillary and Bernie have been fighting, in many ways, the same fight for nearly a half century.

That’s something supporters on both sides should recognize going forward.

As we head into the New Hampshire primary, and the contests that follow, one candidate will likely pull ahead, and the other will likely fall behind. In the process, someone’s going to be disappointed.

I won’t try to divine which will be on which side of the wins/losses column, but I know this like I know my name is Steve Ross, whoever ends up with the nomination will need all of us to come together in late summer to lift them to victory in the fall. We will need the enthusiasm and passion of the ‘activists’ and the experience of the ‘establishment’.

No Democrat has ever won in my lifetime without both. I suspect this time will be no different.

So unless you want a President Trump, or Rubio, or God forbid, Cruz, I hope you’ll think about the larger picture before you get into a flame war with that Hillary supporter, or pooh-pooh that Sanders supporter. We need each other to keep from losing the little bit of ground we’ve been able to eke out this past 8 years.

Remember, we’re family. We have more in common than we have differences. We don’t have to be mean to draw distinctions, and drawing those distinctions isn’t mean. Its politics.

Jan 11 2016

Transparency at City Hall

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis
City of Memphis Flag via-wikicommons

City of Memphis Flag
via-wikicommons

We’re just 11 days into the new administration at City Hall, and expectations are high for Mayor Jim Strickland and his team.

Since his inauguration, Mayor Strickland has had his initial appointments approved, though not without some controversy from an appointees former employer.

In this world of 24-hour news cycles, and extreme “I want it now-ism”, people’s patience for things, especially when they may be constrained by the realities of life, or the speed of government, runs thin quickly. Establishing an early momentum is one way to buy some time, and show people that you’re off to the races.

With that in mind, there is something Mayor Strickland could do immediately, that wouldn’t have to cost much, but would go a long way to realizing an unrealized goal of the outgoing administration, and keep his administration one step ahead of the demands of the public, and the institutions that help inform the public…

A Noble but Unrealized Goal

Just 10 days into his first term, Mayor Wharton enacted an Executive Order making transparency in government a priority of his administration. The order itself, likely expired with the changing of the guard at city hall.

Many of the goals of that Order never came to fruition. Last year, Mayor Wharton tasked Mike Carpenter with analyzing the city’s open records processes. He submitted a report with recommendations to the Mayor. It is my hope that Mayor Strickland will find a way to enact these recommendations.

While there may be things that seem sexier, and more pressing, I believe setting in motion a plan to live up to these recommendations and maintaining that effort throughout the term will go a long way to dispelling some of the concerns and negative oft heard refrains about the City government.

But transparency isn’t a document dump. It has to have be more than just access. It has to have context. That context can lend credibility over time because you’ve not only provided the public with information, but what that information shows and why its important.

That context, to be effective, also has to be honest.

Don’t Play Games with Crime Numbers

Take Crime data. The Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission releases stats periodically about crime in our community. These stats are also sent to media and the public with an analysis or comparison of the same month over the past 5 years, and against their benchmark year, 2006. Almost always it finds that violent crime is down since 2006.

If that’s the case, then why doesn’t the public feel that crime is down?

Because the Crime Commission is using 2006, a high water mark for violent crime, as its benchmark it runs counter to people’s experience. Almost no one remembers what happened this month last year, much less 2006. People’s notions about crime are based in their cumulative memory, not some mythical ‘point in time’ memory.

So the claim that ‘crime is down over 2006’ may be true, but it is a deceptive claim to the public. I believe Mayor Wharton’s insistence in using this faulty measure over and over again hurt his credibility with voters…and that, along with a host of other unrealized goals, ultimately was his undoing.

But if you show the public something like this, you’re being more honest.

Data gathered via the FBI Uniform Crime Report

Showing information in this way, instead of just numbers, and following it with an acknowledgement that while property crime is down, violent crime hasn’t really changed much, you can shift the conversation to what the administration is doing about it. The public may not like what they see, but they’re getting an honest assessment of where we are when the Administration is getting started, and what they intend to do to reduce the crime rate.

People might want to know what kinds of violent crimes are most dominant in the City. From there you could show them this:

What this shows people is that its not murder or rape that’s driving the violent crime rate, its aggravated assault (which may include attempted murder). You could go still further and show that the vast majority of these violent crimes take place between people who know each other, which anyone who’s spent years reading police affidavits will tell you, is more often than not, the case.

Of course, the local media almost never reports on this. Why is that? Because news organizations don’t have the resources they once did, from bodies in the newsroom, to people who know how to read more than the most basic top-line stats. Further, it was hard to come up with the numbers because there’s never been a clearinghouse for information presented in this way. But if the information is there, the media will report it. And that, over time, can change the perception of crime in Memphis from a series of random acts, to the thing that actually drives more violent crime…bad relationships (be they romantic, friendships, or acquaintances).

You could show all kinds of things…. Data that goes well beyond the reporting requirements of the FBI. And all of that data could be used to serve as a benchmark to reduce various kinds of crime.

And you could do that with any number of issues, from tax/fine/fee collections, to 911 and 311 response/resolution times.

But the key is, you’re being honest, and you’re being transparent at the same time…two things that the city has lacked going way further back than the previous administration.

Measuring Progress

From October 2012 to September of 2015 I worked for a local media outlet (it doesn’t matter which one). Whenever the Mayor or a Division director was questioned about something, magical numbers would fly around. I’m not saying they weren’t right, I’m saying that because there was nothing to measure them against, they were meaningless, and in some cases, unbelievable. Both those things led to credibility issues, and if a reporter thinks an Administration doesn’t have credibility, that’s going to come out, in some way, in the report.

By taking the information the City generates, and making it accessible, measurable, and meaningful you can maintain credibility even in the face of failure, and acknowledge the challenge of tackling difficult things. You’ll also always know where you stand in meeting your goal.

I’m not saying Mayor Wharton’s administration didn’t do this. I’m saying that because it wasn’t easily accessible, everything looked like a campaign event, which damaged credibility. Those campaign style events weren’t followed up with enough of what looked like real action, which also made the ‘results’ unbelievable. It turned into a constant cascade of he says, she says in the media…and the media always wins those battles.

Conclusion

Just after the election, the City launched MEMFacts. Its an information site that is more pretty than it is substantive. But its a start.

The truth of the matter is, most regular folks will never look at a site like this. But for those who do, ensuring that there is real information available for them, and the media, that spells out for the public why the information is important (which MEMFacts does on the areas it covers) is crucial for getting the story out there in a way that is meaningful for the public.

Understand, this can’t be an extension of the ‘perpetual campaign’ world we now live in. It has to be unbiased, and the warts have to be acknowledged when they appear. But I believe that people’s perceptions about Memphis will change if the City changes the way it makes information available to the public, and uses that information, good or bad, to give people the kind of long-term look that is critical to providing real context…and real value.

Jan 10 2016

Changing of the Guard

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Policy

MPD Director Toney Armstrong

MPD Director Toney Armstrong

The Commercial Appeal reports that half of the members of MPD’s administrative staff have left, or will be leaving soon.

This follows the recently announced departure of Police Director Toney Armstrong.

While there’s no question the loss of so many seasoned officers who made their way up through the ranks will be a huge loss to the Department, it also gives newly inaugurated Mayor, Jim Strickland, an opportunity to remake the department to better serve the community.

To Protect and Serve

The Department faces many challenges in the coming years, including a crime rate that is higher than national averages for urban areas, continuing problems with public opinion, and an overall decline in the number of officers.

The department also suffers from internal problems that have been long ignored regarding policing strategies, something that was a major campaign issue in the fall, operating procedures that have serious flaws, and conduct issues that, while not untypical for a major metropolitan department, must be pursued in a more open and honest way.

It is my belief that these challenges are unlikely to be adequately addressed by an insider. The CA article cites concerns about losing institutional memory. While no one wants to have to relearn some of the more painful lessons of the past, there’s also no reason to believe that those lessons can’t be maintained with some of the leadership that remains assisting new leadership from outside.

Remaking the Department

One of the flaws that was exposed in the investigation into the officer involved shooting death of Darrius Stewart is the lack of consistent policy positions for officers in what would often be standard situations. These rules are written vaguely to give officers the latitude to make judgement calls. Unfortunately, that latitude can also be used to treat different people in similar situations very differently…which ultimately undermines the relationship between law enforcement and populations that have been wrongly targeted due to circumstances that may be beyond their control (race, the condition of their vehicle/residence, and the area in which they live).

Rules that detail when passengers involved in traffic stops are to be compelled to identify themselves need to be put in writing to ensure people’s privacy rights are respected, and that officers don’t accidentally create a situation where an arrest is thrown out due to mishandling the situation.

In addition, clear rules about when to call for backup need to be in place. If an officer has reasonable suspicion that there is additional illegal activity going on, calling for backup is appropriate because it both protects the officer and the other people involved by having another set of eyes on the scene.

Finally, additional rules about when force, either restraining force or deadly force, is to be used need to be implemented more fully. Is an unarmed suspect running from a crime scene a ‘deadly threat’? That standard should be in line with a 1985 US Supreme Court ruling which involved the Memphis Police Department.

The case, which happened in 1974, involved a MPD officer shooting and killing a man suspected of stealing a purse then fleeing. An officer on the scene shot the man in the head, killing him.

In the decision, the Supreme Court held that an officer could not use deadly force unless it was:

necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

This is already the law of the land. Ensuring the Department is protecting itself, and its officers against unreasonable uses of deadly force is just as important as working as hard as possible to ensure the safety of the officers and the public.

Putting those things in writing to aid officers in their decision making on the scene would go a long way to avoiding issues that lead to the shooting death of Darrius Stewart.

An Active Partner

In addition to these changes, the new police administration should actively engage the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) on any new policy adopted, and treat their relationship as a partnership to both inform the public of new policy, and provide oversight to the department when policy violations are reported.

Since long before the Darrius Stewart case, relations between law enforcement and some populations has been strained due to real and/or perceived wrongs committed by officers. Letting officers know that actions in violation of policy will be not only taken seriously, but that another set of eyes are watching, will help solidify these changes, and can lead to a net positive in the public’s view of police.

The end result here is not to tie the hands of officers, but to ensure consistency across the board, inoculating the officers and the department from lawsuits claiming unfair treatment.

Building Relationships

One of the challenges that police in Memphis face is little direct contact with the populations they’re serving, unless on a call. That means officers only see the people they’re serving when they’re at their worst, or in a bad situation, which negatively impacts their outlook on the community, and leads to more alienation.

Instituting a more traditional Community Policing Program would help both of those problems, and most likely lead to a real decrease in crime.

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

While walking patrols may not be feasible all the time in a place like Memphis, which has low population density, putting more of a focus on officers developing relationships with people in the community to create a more cooperative spirit between law enforcement and the public will minimize the alienation that is common in traditional patrols. It also builds relationships between the public and police that are durable, even when things go wrong (like a questionable police shooting).

Personal relationships go a long way to building stronger communities. Memphis not only has an interest in building those relationships to heal the fractures between the public and law enforcement, but to also use that ‘boots on the ground’ intelligence to identify other societal ills that may be occurring in communities (domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, unfit housing, wage theft, and other problems people who feel forgotten may not report because they don’t believe anything will be done about it).

This kind of partnership strengthens communities, and can help lift up people suffering from these kinds of problems that often go unseen until they spill over into the streets, or result in a 911 call.

As those problems get resolved, it also increases the efficiency of the citizenry (as they are now, assuming all goes right, in a better situation) which can lead to secondary gains for the community like greater economic independence and community renewal.

All of these things are important for a city like Memphis that has a high rate of working poor.

Conclusion

While the loss of decades of institutional memory may seem like a severe problem for the city…problems are really just opportunities ripe for the taking.

Positive changes are unlikely to come from within. Institutions have their own inertia and generally follow Newtonian Laws of Motion, meaning, they will most certainly maintain their current velocity and direction unless acted upon by an external force, and then, they’ll still resist the push to change.

The opportunity for Memphis and law enforcement in the City, is to identify the right kind of ‘external force’ that will move the department in the right direction, and make Memphis not only safer for its citizens, but also one that places a high degree of value in a cooperative relationship between the police and the citizenry.

Dec 19 2015

Breach and Overreach

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

Clinton and Sanders at the 1st Democratic debate

Clinton and Sanders at the 1st Democratic debate

Finally some drama in the race for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination!

Thursday night it was revealed that the Bernie Sanders campaign viewed and possibly downloaded proprietary information from the Clinton campaign for about 40 minutes.

This happened due to a mistake in an update pushed by DNC data vendor NGP Van.

Sanders’ access to the web-based software was suspended for a day, until he sued in Federal court and the DNC finally relented.

There’s been a lot of hoopla about this, some of it real, some manufactured, but there are really just a couple of critical points that are brought us to where we are today. So, in an effort to focus on what’s real and what’s conjecture, here’s the list.

NGP dropped the ball

NGP, the vendor the DNC uses to manage and support its voter list admitted to pushing a flawed software update. That update allowed campaigns to access each others data. While the issue was dealt with fairly quickly, but for the flawed update, the Sanders campaign never would have been able to access the data, and none of this would have even been a possibility.

I’m not sure about the details of the contract between the DNC and NGP, but if I had a vendor make such a critical error, I would definitely have some words for them. I would also be reviewing the contract to find out what kind of recourse is available, if any, and most likely write recourse into any subsequent contract with the company.

In our data driven world, the security of proprietary data is paramount. NGP is tasked with maintaining that security and should have to suffer consequences when they fail at their own hand.

Breach vs Access

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The media, as well as the DNC, has characterized this as a ‘breach’ of data. I think that overstates what actually happened.

Sanders’ campaign was able to access Clinton’s data housed on NGP servers.

Breach, meaning ‘a hole or opening in something (such as a wall) made by breaking through it’ gives the impression that the Sanders camp hacked into something or intentionally set out to gain access in a fraudulent manner.

While they should not have accessed the data, that they had access doesn’t constitute a ‘data breach’ on their part, akin to a hack or some other mischievous activity.

Having access is a breach of contract on the part of the vendor. A campaign accessing unauthorized data is a breach of contract, on the part of the Sanders campaign. But the use of the word ‘breach’ as in a ‘hack’ is either intentionally misleading or just plain ignorant and lazy, depending on how tightly you’re wearing your tin foil hat.

Breach is certainly a more damning word than access and download, which, to my understanding of the situation, is what actually happened.

The Clinton campaign’s contention that the data was ‘stolen’ is just using the situation to a political advantage…which is unfortunate, but pretty par for the course.

Unethical Behavior

Sanders’ former data director, Josh Uretsky acted unethically when he directed four people in the campaign to access Clinton’s data.

Uretsky has been subsequently fired by the Sanders camp, and rightfully so.

Uretsky previously stated they looked at the Clinton data to ‘prove to the DNC that their data had been breached’.

But this isn’t the way to handle a problem. Rather than rooting around in Clinton’s data, Uretsky could have simply called NGP or the DNC or both, to report the issue and issued a halt on data work until the issue was resolved.

Had Uretsky acted in this way, he would have kept the Sanders campaign safe from the 24 hour bar that kept them from their voter file.

Buggy but powerful

I’ve been a VAN user off and on since 2008. In fact, the VAN is the tool Dr. Joe Weinberg and I used to identify the over 3000 voters who got incorrect ballots in the 2012 Shelby County primary election.

I can tell you that over the years I’ve been able to see other campaign’s data profiles from time to time, though I never intentionally accessed it nor attempted to.

In one instance I found that after logging in and running some searches, the results of which were inconsistent with the kind of search I was trying to perform, I discovered that I was in someone else’s profile. I’m not sure how it happened, but I quickly logged out and then back in, checked to make sure I was correctly in my profile, and went about my business. While I know my way around, I would never intentionally access someone else’s stuff, if for no other reason than fear of accidentally breaking something.

This highlights both the power and the potential pitfalls of such a massive integrated system. This instance may have an element of intention, in that the data director instructed people to use their unauthorized access, but people need to understand that access to other people’s data is not as uncommon as NGP would like you to believe.

Crime and Punishment

I believe a 24 hour hold on the Sanders campaign’s access to the VAN is an appropriate response to the use of unauthorized access that the campaign admits happened.

However, there are some problems with the DNC response:

First, the DNC really let NGP off the hook with their response. There has been no public rebuke of NGP for their failure to adequately secure data, mistake or not. In the high stakes world of the national nominating process, NGP’s failure to ensure the safety of client data should be a huge concern for all involved. That the DNC basically gave NGP a pass is troubling.

Second, the Sanders campaign did the right thing in firing the manager who ordered the unauthorized searches. But instead of the DNC acknowledging this correct response, they have used this to impugn the Sanders campaign in total. That’s just not fair. I don’t know when the dude got fired. I don’t know all the folks involved. But I do know that getting rid of someone who acts unethically is the correct response.

Finally, one has to wonder why this issue was brought into the public in the first place as well as who brought it out and for what purpose. This is an important question because no one, except for the Clinton campaign, looks good in this situation. Which has led some to opine that the DNC itself leaked the story. I won’t get into all of the details, but in another time, this never would have made it to the media, it would have been dealt with quietly and with the firing of people (which happened by the way). Why and for what purpose it became a national story is suspect.

Everybody Looks Dumb

I don’t think this materially changes the likely result of the Democratic primary contest. Not having access for one day doesn’t permanently cripple the Sanders campaign. But everybody looks dumb in this situation, and that could have a lasting effect on people’s willingness to come together after the nominee is decided…which is likely just three months away.

NGP and the DNC look dumb for making a federal case out of something that could have been dealt with in house. The DNC’s ham handed response is both unfortunate and self-defeating. People feel passionate about their candidates, and in the wake of the DNC’s actions, some people may feel that the DNC isn’t behaving as an unbiased arbiter of the nominating process. That’s not going to be good for the convention, and could lead to problems in November.

The Sanders campaign looks dumb, though not for their immediate response to the problem. They did the right thing in firing Uretsky, but their subsequent response overstates the harm to the campaign, and understates the unethical behavior committed that led to the hold on their account.

The Clinton campaign looks a little dumb for further escalating the situation by saying the data was ‘stolen’. Statements like that make it appear that the data is now gone. It isn’t, and there’s no evidence at this point that the Sanders campaign used the results of any data accessed for nefarious purposes. On the other hand I’m glad the Clinton campaign called for a speedy resolution of Sanders’ access. Surely they realize it doesn’t make them look good for people to feel like they’re piling on the little guy.

Finally, I hope this won’t be turned into a debate topic tonight. We don’t need the precious few debates that are scheduled this season to devolve into the kinds of shit shows that have been the hallmark of the GOP debates. Let’s stick to the top-line issues, not the inside baseball.

The American public, as a general statement, doesn’t give a damn about this, and they shouldn’t. Hopefully, the candidates will agree to stick to the issues that really matter. A discussion of this doesn’t help create jobs or opportunity, or highlight anyone’s vision for the future of our country. Honestly, all it does is sew division in our ranks, which is exactly what we don’t need going forward.

Dec 12 2015

The Ugliness of White Privilege

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, Racism

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m probably the wrong person to be writing about this.

I’m a white guy, raised in a middle class household, with two educated parents. All of my aunts and uncles went to college paid for by my grandfather. I am the definition of white privilege.

I grew up not having to deal with the injustice my African-American friends and neighbors had to deal with.

I readily acknowledge that I have no idea what its like to be a black person in America.

What I do know is that for all the things we have going for us as Americans, some of us don’t have the benefit of the same experience that I do as a white man.

So when I see things like what follows below, it makes my blood boil. And it makes me feel like I have to say something. Because even though I know there’s no way I can possibly understand what its like to be black in America, I know this kind of ignorance is wrong.

I won’t stand by and let other people say stuff like this without saying something.

So, here it is.

Wrong on so many levels

Wrong on so many levels

An Ugly Theme

I’m not going to say that Ms. Draper, who owns several businesses, including a well known catering operation in the Mid-South is a racist. I don’t know her. I’m not a Facebook friend of hers.

But what I do know is this statement, and countless others like it that appear on social media and in traditional media are woefully misinformed, and come from a place of blind privilege that casts empathy and understanding by the wayside for simple ‘one size fits all’ solutions that simply don’t exist.

The statement uses this privilege as a wedge to say that if someone else isn’t experiencing the world the same way the statement maker experiences it, its because of something they did (or didn’t do) instead of acknowledging the possibility that there might be a systematic problem in the world that leads to differences in life experience and opportunity.

Zero Sum Thinking

So true

So true

Zero sum thinking is the idea that if one person gets something, you lose something. Like the world is a see-saw, or a limited number of jelly beans.

While this kind of thinking isn’t confined to white people (there are plenty of folks regardless of race who feel that someone getting a promotion, for example, means their opportunities are now limited and have, by extension, lost something) it is exactly the kind of thinking that undergirds privilege.

One of the common complaints, and the response to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is the conservative cry that ‘All Lives Matter’.

By saying ‘Black Lives Matter’, people aren’t saying they matter more than some other group. They’re expressing the reality that Black people have, by and large, been treated as more disposable than people of other races. They are, in effect saying ‘Black Lives Matter too’.

The phrase is designed to get people to recognize that of the 921 people killed by police so far this year in America, 237 of them have been black. 25.7% of all people killed by police have been black. African-Americans make up just 13.2% of the total population. So black people have been killed by police at a rate of nearly 200% as compared to other races.

Hispanics, by contrast, stand at 16.8% of all police killings, which is just under their total population.

‘Black Lives Matter’ is a phrase that seeks to point out this disparity.

Responding to ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter’ ignores the reality of what black people are experiencing in their daily lives.

The truth is, black people experience all kinds of racism all the time. One recent example is that of a Massachusetts college professor who was racially profiled and told his story. That’s just one example of thousands that happen daily.

As Americans, we have to make a conscious decision to be honest with ourselves. We have to acknowledge that some people have more opportunity than others, and that this is antithetical to the notions of equality that we’ve, by and large, blinded ourselves with. We don’t live in a society of equality. But we can work toward equality by using our empathy and understanding to identify with those who have been left behind, and then join with them to demand fairness. That also means not calling people protesting injustice ‘animals’.

Acknowledging injustice is not taking anything away from anyone. That’s adding to the quality of all our lives.

The In-Justice System

Another mis-statement is the idea that we’re a nation of laws and those laws are applied equally.

Racial profiling is a thing…even though lots of folks like to pretend it isn’t.

At my previous job, one of my co-workers was stopped on his way to work every night for weeks even though he wasn’t speeding or breaking any traffic laws.

He wasn’t given a ticket. He wasn’t given a reason. He was being stopped because he was a black man driving a ‘too nice’ car at 3:30am on his way to a 4am shift.

That’s the reality we live in. He was stopped by police officers, black and white, because he was black man out in the early morning hours of a weeknight and because of this, he must be up to no good.

I was never stopped once in the three years I worked there, even though I had the same hours, and regularly broke traffic laws in the sight of police. Some people might say I was lucky or he is unlucky. I don’t believe that. This is the definition of systemic racism…

Its easy to assume that, because a car is stopped, or a police officer is talking to someone, that they’ve done something wrong. We do this all the time. The media reinforces it continuously. But in doing this, we also ignore that not just in Memphis, but in America, black people are targeted based on their race. It is the nature of stop and frisk policing techniques and many others.

So while it may be true to say ‘we are a nation of laws, and a legal system’, it is also true to say those laws, and that legal system is in no way applied equally.

Failing to acknowledge this is willful ignorance.

Back to the point

Having said all this, let’s get back to Ms. Draper’s statement.

I think we all know Ms. Draper isn’t alone in her sentiment. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands of people here in the Mid-South that feel the same way she does. They just didn’t say it in a public forum.

Over the past several months I’ve encountered people who feel this same way. What I’ve found is that arguing with them goes nowhere. Even trying to have a polite conversation about it usually devolves into these old tired tropes that are demonstrably untrue, but despite showing how untrue they are, the individuals still cling to them like a security blanket.

So maybe I don’t know how to present this in a way that’s constructive. Maybe nothing I could say would get them to release that security blanket of misinformation.

But I would hope that someone out there would reach out to Ms. Draper, from a place of friendship, and let her know how hurtful her words are and how misinformed she is.

I know that without some kind of dialogue from someone she knows and trusts, there’s no chance she’ll ever see the error in her thinking. And while some people might look at this as a form of public shaming, I think its important to take people’s word for it when they reveal themselves to us.

I hope Ms. Draper, and other folks who hold this same belief system will take this opportunity to learn and grow. Because that’s how we get to the kind of world she thinks we have right now.