As we slouch toward the end of 2021, and contemplate how the Democrats can yield control of Congress to the Republicans, even as every poll, even those by Fox, show huge majorities favoring the policy proposals of our Democratic President, a few recent news stories help us understand things that have changed in our society and things that have not.
The clearest lessons come out of the story of Michelle Odinet, the Louisiana judge who got suspended from her court assignment after video was leaked with her gleefully using the “N” word to describe an unarmed burglar her sons had apprehended. After she volunteered to take a leave of absence, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended her, citing her language which should never even flit through the mind of a judge, let alone be given giddy voice. It almost seems as if Southern society is growing more modern and responsible in its treatment of racists and in the media’s reporting on racism by court officials.
Until you hear the whole story.
As noted above, the burglar was unarmed. Police responding to a call investigated and were unable to find any gun. Given that this was in Louisiana, where police have long prided themselves on their extreme levels of corruption, reporting that they didn’t find even a “drop” gun may be a sign of real progress in building more professionalism into the police force - undoubtedly a good thing.
But neither the Louisiana Supreme Court, nor the “liberal media” covering the story paid much attention to why the police searched for a gun. Judge Michelle Odinet called the police to report the burglar. When she called the police, she reported that she was being burglarized by a black man armed with a gun. This was far worse than the average Karen calling the police on a man dog-walking-while-black, or a “gang” of blacks “committing arson” in a park barbecue pit.
This was a white woman telling police that she was under imminent threat by an armed Black assailant. This was a white government official telling police that she was under threat by an armed Black man, This was a white government official lying to the police to create a circumstance in which the police would feel justified in using overwhelming force, surging onto the scene with guns blazing, shooting first to protect the endangered white woman, and only later investigating the corpses.
For whatever reason, perhaps improved training and procedures, perhaps experience with this particular judge, the police response was restrained. The unarmed Black man was taken into custody, without being shot, and will live longer.
But which is worse, getting videotaped gleefully shouting the “N” word in a private home setting or making a false statement to the police, creating a situation in which an unarmed Black man could end up facing a barrage of heavily armed and motivated cops?
What is the more serious offense for a judge who sits in judgment over Black people every day, that she is a racist who uses the “N” word in her private life or that she feels comfortable lying to the police in ways that put Black lives at risk?
Can any Black person appearing before her in court ever again not worry about what she may be lying about during the proceedings, or that she might be aware of prosecutors lying and think that’s OK, if they are doing it to control people ‘needing’ to be controlled?
The Louisiana Supreme Court was apparently unconcerned about the judge lying to the police about a potential criminal defendant. Using racist language is not illegal. But lying to induce certain actions by police may very well be illegal. Such lying by a judge certainly risks violating the due process rights of the person lied about. Suspending Michelle Odinet over her racist language was certainly appropriate. But if it is true that she reported to the police that the burglar was armed, there should be no place for her on the bench. She should be stripped of her judgeship.
Michelle Odinet’s conduct as a judge is paradigmatically the sort of routine behavior that creates what people call systemic racism. This is what Critical Race Theory is about - privileged and officially-empowered people using their positions and power to perpetuate the racial stratifications we suffer as a society.
But CRT means more. The judge was way off base here. But the media let it slide. OOOH, she used a bad word. Let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on her “excuse” that she had been “sedated” at the time. But is sedated, or drunk, or coked up, an excuse for lying to the police and putting another person at grave risk of being shot to pieces? The “liberal media” is not asking that question. And neither is the “progressive” media. CRT also means looking at our own preconceptions and interests, and considering whether our focus on offensive language might distract us from less obvious, but more pernicious issues.
Another story from 2021 was the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Celebration is the correct verb - buy your Life Magazine special memorial publication, or your WW-II memorial souvenirs. Go to your favorite sushi restaurant for a dinner honoring your grandfather who enlisted right after the attack, killed hundreds of “krauts” and “nips” and came home to start a family.
Not mentioned in many Pearl Harbor stories is that while we celebrate the 80th anniversary of our plunge into WW-II, 1941 was the 80th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. That conflict, started by Southern states to protect their right to own humans as slaves, was followed in 1941 by an attack by a wannabe colonial power on the colony of another colonial power. Hawaii was not a state in 1941, its citizens were subjects of U.S. colonial rule. Essentially as citizens of Puerto Rico remain today, 80 years later.
To the extent that they had rights, those rights were constrained by the Plessy v. Ferguson restrictions on the 14th Amendment, and by the immigration laws, reflecting the Dred Scott case, that prevented Asians from owning property in the U.S.
There are historical facts, not broadly taught to today’s school children, that show some of the practical hypocrisies of U.S. policy about Pearl Harbor, WW-II and beyond. While we locked up West Coast Japanese Americans and confiscated their businesses and property, we didn’t do the same to the Japanese living on Hawaii. The U.S. War Dept.’s numerous facilities on the Hawaiian islands couldn’t function without their large Japanese workforce.
So the Hawaiian Japanese were allowed to continue working, coming and going daily from military bases and related supply businesses, showing the world whether their loyalties lay with the democratic nation to which they had fled, or with the feudal society from which they fled. The needs of business trumped the PR needs to attack people of Japanese heritage. Perhaps if promoters of CRT were to articulate more clearly how often such business needs have disrupted “official” policies, their message might resonate with more listeners.
The Memorial structure finally erected over the sunken hulk of the USS Arizona, in Pearl Harbor was designed by architect Alfred Preis. Preis was born in Austria then fled to the U.S. in 1939 when the Nazis over ran Austria. Because of his Austrian ancestry, he was jailed as an enemy of the U.S. right after the Pearl Harbor attack. The facts of his history were as little relevant as those of the Japanese who moved to the West Coast to build lives freer than those they had lived in Japan.
Similar historical blindness leads most people to express outrage at Joe Manchin’s revelation of his treachery against the U.S. by using Republican Party talking points to justify last Sunday’s reveal that he was never going to support President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, no matter what changes were made. Progressives had long predicted this, but President Biden and other “mainstream” Democrats clung to the Pollyanna hope that Manchin was sincere in his vacuous promises of trying to reach some accommodation.
Using Republican Party falsehoods about budget gimmicks both allowed Manchin to string Democrats along for months, and also allowed false hopes to build, leading to greater feelings of betrayal when he finally spoke the truth, and also leading people to miss a larger point.
Joe Manchin’s vote against economic reforms consigns us to more Republican devastation. It is important to remember that the economy had started faltering before the 2019 arrival of the coronavirus. All the attention paid to the virus has allowed Republicans and corporatists to blame the virus for an economic crisis that had already begun under the Donald’s leadership.
The same distraction now helps Joe Manchin distract from a greater issue being pushed by his Republican Party - voter suppression. By stealing voting rights from non-whites the Republican Party is restructuring society to ensure corporate control and massive further shifts of wealth to the 0.01% and away from the rest of the people. And Joe Manchin is fully on board with that program.
As with his lies about trying to negotiate with President Biden on economic policies, Manchin has been lying about his desire to find common ground on efforts to protect non-white voting rights. As with the Build Back Better bill, Manchin’s comments have all been lies. The most honest campaign sign anyone could post in West Virginia for Joe Manchin would say, “I guarantee never to support a bill giving the vote back to Black people.”
This also is a truth that CRT predicts and explains. Lying to distract attention from policies, laws, sermons, and “local customs” is part of the system of maintaining distinctions between races, dissention between workers, economic control by dividing the least powerful against each other.
Jack Rasmus was correct when he said that Joe Manchin Pearl Harbor’d President Biden. But Pearl Harbor wasn’t an attack on FDR, but on the U.S. And Manchin’s sneak attacks on the Build Back Better bill and on voting rights are also not just against President Biden but against the U.S., the Civil Rights Movement and economic liberty for all those Americans who’s wages have been held flat for decades while prices and profits rose.
Three tough stories from 2021. But let’s close with a hopeful story, reminding us that the bad guys always lose in the end, and at least as important that individual people power can always make a difference. On January 6, armed insurrectionists attempted to violently overthrow the U.S. government by stopping the peaceful transfer of power that has, through good times and bad, marked our nation as so different from others. They acted with the active encouragement of the defeated wannabe ruler. And it looked like the chaos they caused would be their shield against identification and prosecution.
But now we are seeing the identification, prosecution and sentencing of these anti-American thugs. More remarkably, of the more than 700 identified so far, more than half have been identified by amateur forensic sleuths, using home computers and off-the-shelf software to comb through the evidence. They collaborate and share individual bits of information to assemble convincing identification and evidence packages that the FBI and federal prosecutors can use to bring successful prosecutions.
More than half. With more being identified every day. More than the FBI with its supercomputers and surveillance databases, but restrained by beaurocratic rules and procedures, has accomplished. Individual citizens, on their own and in small groups, revealing secrets the insurrectionists thought they had concealed. With America’s ban on gun ownership by felons, every convicted January 6th felon is one less gun nut on the street, permanently. Publicly committing a felony is like embracing gun control.
Then think further. People, acting on their own, peacefully, carefully investigating crimes. Once empowered and encouraged by the success of the January 6 criminal identification hunt, how long can it be before some of these sleuths turn their attention to corruption in their local governments, or tracking down the sources of pollution on their children’s school playgrounds, or the history of financial transactions that affect local political decisions?
The U.S. was started by rude farmers standing by the bridge that arched the flood and built by people who experimented with new concepts of freedom and governance. Their experiment has hit bumps on the road. The 1861 start of the Civil War was also the 80th anniversary of the siege of Yorktown, which in 1781, marked the end of fighting in the American Revolution. 80 years between the end of the fight for freedom and the start of the fight for slavery. Another 80 years until another fight to preserve freedom. And 80 years on we are struggling against another effort to end our freedoms.
Those who are identifying insurrectionists, and sorting out the tools to help fight against corporate oligarchic rule are experimenting with new concepts as our Founders did. Data not guns. If their efforts succeed and expand to help preserve our ongoing experiment in democracy, they will also find a place in history, as our Founding Fathers have.