Blow and Collins

Mr. Blow, in “Black Men, Violence and ‘Fierce Urgency’,” says yes, personal choice plays a role, but people make choices within an environmental context — which is affected by state and federal policy.  In “The Donald Trump New Normal” Ms. Collins considers that maybe there will be a reality TV contest to pick a running mate.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Birmingham, Alabama:

On a picture-perfect Wednesday morning, mayors, city leaders and advocates huddled in unremarkable hotel conference rooms in here, to discuss something disturbing and seemingly intractable: violence among — and the violent deaths of — young black boys and men.

It was the third annual convening of Cities United, the group President Obama praised in the 2014 announcement of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative as “a bipartisan group of mayors” who have made improving the lives and outcomes of young black men a “priority in communities across the country.”

And they continue to do so, this year meeting under the mantra “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” a phrase made famous decades ago by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And yet the ferocity and urgency for this cause among the broader public and the news media remain elusive.

In the wake of the incredible level of attention garnered last year by citizens who were rightly outraged by state violence — often at the hands of law enforcement, directed disproportionately at black citizens — the issue of community violence receded.

When it did surface, it was often used as a cudgel against activists like those supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

The message was invariably some version of: If black lives really mattered, activists would focus on black-on-black violence instead.

The implication being that there is something pathologically broken about blackness that makes black people prone to self-destruction, and that attention to anything else is a minor diversion from a larger truth.

But in fact, this argument is the diversion.

Both state violence and community violence are problems, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One exacerbating factor of community violence is the present and historical factors that helped form the communities and created the conditions for violence.

It is not hard to explain, as many have, how every level of government, and by extension society itself, used every possible lever of power for centuries to create the conditions in black communities that now make fertile ground for violence.

This is not to say that personal choice plays no role, but rather that human beings make choices within an environmental context, which at its base level is affected by state and federal policy.

Our society treated black bodies as disposable, if not bound for eradication. Generations of educational, employment, housing, lending and criminal justice policies form the substrata roots of this problem, and they are deeper and more complex than the visible weed of community violence that is so tall and tangled.

Even urban infrastructure like highways were used as a tool to distance and destroy black neighborhoods, as Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explained in March at the Center for American Progress. As Foxx put it, “The growing gaps between the wealthy, the poor and the middle class have been exacerbated by our transportation system,” and “Attitudes about race and the poor have been embedded in our infrastructure for far too long.”

The roads to America’s prosperity either plowed through black and poor communities or were literally designed to pass them by.

It is easy to argue that these policies took centuries to carve their scars and will likely take a long time to heal (that is, once the country truly decides to begin that healing, instead of plunging the shiv deeper into the wound).

But that is the long view. What do we do now, in the short term, about the disproportionate number of black lives caught in a vortex of violence? What do we do in the meantime? In the space between where we are and where we must arrive, how do we stop filling the cemeteries with the bodies of ever more young black men?

At the Cities United meeting, I discussed this dilemma with Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, a city recently caught up in a storm of protests over the shooting death of Jamar Clark, a young black man, by police officers who were not charged in his killing.

That case drew national attention. What drew less attention are numbers supplied to me by a senior policy aide in Mayor Hodges’s office: a 78 percent rise so far this year in gunshot wound victims, with a 153 percent rise in the Fourth Precinct alone, the precinct in which Jamar was killed.

Mayor Hodges talked passionately about addressing “universal issues” and treating violence as a “public health issue.” She advocated dealing with “upstream issues” like stable housing and trauma. But the more she spoke, the more I was reminded of the enormity of the problem we as a society have created and continue to face.

Our policies, disinvestment and avoidance have created a sort of perpetual motion machine in which violence has become increasingly difficult to stanch.

That dilemma encapsulates both the fierce urgency of now and the plodding monotony of it.

Maybe the only way to think about this is bifurcated: on the one hand, in small, doable first steps; and on the other, in grand philosophical truths. As Mayor William Bell of Birmingham stressed to me, we have to talk across differences — ideological and generational — to find the center of our collective moral authority. From that point progress, and the path to it, becomes clearer.


But for me, in this moment, it’s important to first find a way of accepting that we can both protest state violence and detest community violence — and not let either discussion deprive the other of oxygen.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

This morning we woke up in a nation where Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. No “Game of Thrones” analogies. This is the real thing.

“We’re going to start winning again and we’re going to win bigly, believe me,” he said on primary night. It had been quite a day. His chief opponent held a press conference to announce that Trump was an “utterly amoral” narcissist and friend to rapists who was “proud of being a serial philanderer.” Armed with that information, Indiana voters raced off to the polls and awarded Donald a huge win.

In his victory speech, Trump spoke in the much-promised “presidential” style, and the big news is that when Donald Trump is being presidential he is incredibly boring. Also pretty incoherent:

“We have great relationships with many foreign countries, but they have to respect us and they have to understand where we’re coming from. And you know it is a two-way street. And the two-way street means that we’re going down one side and they’re coming up the other.”


“Now, we can keep things going and we’re going to keep things going very nicely. But we owe, soon, $21 trillion. … And we’re just not in the position that we were in 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago, when a lot of these things took place and began taking place.”

His family assumed the same vacant-eyed aspect we’ve seen so many times when Chris Christie is in the background. This is not going to work over the long run. Trump can’t deal with an unresponsive audience. His entire platform is constructed around big applause lines. Last year when he announced his candidacy, the crowd roared when he brought up Mexican rapists. If they’d gone crazy when he mentioned leaf removal, his campaign would have been all about mulching.

Meanwhile, the Republican Trump challengers packed up and went home. Farewell, John Kasich — things could have been worse. You could have been Ted Cruz, who began his week by failing to respond when Carly Fiorina fell off the stage. Who concluded his bowing-out speech by bopping his wife on the nose.

In between, he learned that Trump was connecting his father with John Kennedy’s assassination. Now, Rafael Cruz is a really terrible person, who claims gay marriage is a socialist conspiracy and suggested Barack Obama be sent “back to Kenya.” But there is nothing tying him to Lee Harvey Oswald except a picture run in The National Enquirer. It showed Oswald handing out pro-Castro literature in the company of several other unidentified people, one of whom looked a little like the elder Cruz. Except there was no evidence the two men knew each other, were ever in the same place at the same time, or … well, you know. National Enquirer.

“That was reported, and nobody talks about it,” Trump said indignantly.

People, this is the point at which I’m supposed to make you feel better by pointing to all the terrible presidential campaigns of the past. I could remind you that the first Republican presidential candidate, John Charles Frémont, was accused of being a cannibal. Or that poor Grover Cleveland was tortured by newspaper stories claiming he was “a boon companion to Buffalo harlots, a drunken, fighting, roistering roué.”

We have had a lot of crazy, scandalous charges in presidential races, some from sources even more unreliable than The National Enquirer. But not by the candidates themselves. You didn’t have James Buchanan strutting around the podium saying, “Oh yeah, I know Frémont. Tasty Bits John, we call him.” Or James Blaine taunting: “Ho, ho, ho, it’s Grover the Rover. “

Trump has a lot to do before the convention in July. He has to put the finishing touches on his financial plan — it currently includes big tax cuts, hiking military spending and paying off the national debt in eight years. Which would leave us with a budget of pretty much zero for everything else. No need to fight about shutting down the government! The government would vanish on its own.

Plus, there’s the veep selection. “I think that, you know, a lot of people are talking about certain names, and certainly those are the names that we’re thinking of,” said Trump. As only he can. Once you eliminate all the people who have already announced they’d rather be kidnapped by manatees, there’s a pretty short list. Maybe Chris Christie? Never in modern America have we had a presidential ticket composed entirely of guys who specialize in insulting people and yelling at the top of their lungs.

Maybe Ted Cruz? Personally I would really enjoy having a vice-presidential candidate who is on the record as calling the head of the ticket a “pathological liar.” And he does need cheering up.



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