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Posts tagged Baltimore

Professional courtesy, part 2: thugs on patrol

Here’s what I said back in April about what professional courtesy means when it comes to law enforcers:

The term professional courtesy comes from the traditions of medicine: many doctors will not charge money when they treat another doctor’s immediate family. When doctors talk about professional courtesy they are talking about a very old system of mutual aid in which one doctor agrees to do a favor for another, at her own expense, for the sake of collegiality, out of concern for professional ethics (to offer doctors an alternative to having their own family as patients), and because she can count on getting similar services in return should she ever need them.

But when the Gangsters in Blue start talking about professional courtesy, they’re talking about something quite different: a favor done for a fellow gang member at no personal expense, with the bill sent to unwilling taxpayers who must pick up the tab for the roads and parking; and a favor done in order insulate the gangsters and their immediate family from any kind of ethical accountability to the unwilling victims that they sanctimoniously insist on serving and protecting. Professional courtesy in medicine means reciprocity in co-operative mutual aid in healing sick people; professional courtesy in government policing means reciprocity in a conspiracy to make sure that any cop can do just about anything she wants by way of free-riding, disruptive, dangerous or criminal treatment of innocent third parties, with complete impunity, and the rest of us will get the bill for it and a fuck you, civilian if we don’t like it.

It turns out that the Virginia State Patrol is stretched thin right now: money is tight because of the state’s economic and budgetary troubles, and — as a result — they’ve delayed a lot of new hiring and they’re having trouble getting up enough active cops for adding special agents to the Joint Terrorism Task forces, creating a Homeland Security Division and dedicating more troopers to investigate illegal firearms purchases at gun shows. (Well, good. Three cheers for the state’s budgetary troubles, if they make for a financial roadblock against ridiculous gun grabs and Stasi statism.) But now check out what the coppers at Officer.com have to say about the Virginia State Patrol in the comments:

Posted by JJS (09/24/08 – 10:41 AM)

VSP has a bad reputation for writing tickets to other officers.

How dare they? Cops deserve to be treated more considerately than everybody else when they are stopped by other cops.

Posted by People Are Sheep [sic!] in Maryland (09/24/08 – 11:19 AM)

VSP Anti-Courtesy

For years, I have heard rumors about VSP stopping and citing police officers both on and off duty. Whatever the circumstance, it is not in the professional interest (and sometimes legal interest) for ANY police officer/trooper to stop (or attempt to stop) any on duty marked police vehicle. In some states, it’s unlawful to do so … and in some states, an arrest warrant or state’s attorney consultation is required BEFORE a stop is made and charges are cited. Off duty officers/troopers should use common sense when driving. Period. On the same token, on duty officers/troopers should use common sense and professional courtesy when it appropriate. . . .

In nearly two decades as a police officer, I have stopped many, many off duty police officers for traffic violations. During those times, I have issued no tickets and made no arrests. There are alternatives to citing and arresting off duty cops: verbal warning, calling their supervisor or just assisting the officer reach their destination safely. All options are, of course, dependent upon the violation at hand.

Remember, we are all that we have out there on the street … each other. The legendary conversation between an overzealous on duty officer and the off duty officer during a traffic stop bears truth: After signing the ticket, the off duty officer says, Just remember, I could be your closest backup out here.

In other words, this sanctimonious server and protector has spent the past two decades completely abdicating his supposed professional responsibilities when they involved holding a fellow cop accountable for endangering the safety of the people he and they are supposedly hired to protect. Because he thinks it’s important never to forget that some day he may need his gang brothers to get his back.

Posted by Harry in District of Columbia (09/24/08 – 04:09 PM)

VSP Anti-Courtesy an understatement

I can in contact with a vehicle that struck a fix object at 21st and Washington Circle NW Washington, D.C. The vehicle was an unmarked VSP vehicle occuppied by 4 VSP officer. All of them had been drinking. knowing what there fate would be if I’d taken a report I had them make a call and two other off duty VSP officer responded to my location, sober, and I allow all to leave. I figured it was up to them to explain to there supervisor the damage to the unmarked cruiser. Now if they had struck another vehicle civilian driver or pedestrian there would have been a different outcome.

Shortly after that I was driving southbound on Rt.29 in Nelson County, VA at 0300hrs and was stopped by a VSP for doing 67 in a 55. I never identified myself as a police officer, probably because I had FOP licence plate, and he never inquiried, and wrote me a speeding ticket. He never spoke a word.

A month later I stoped a civilain vehicle driven by a off duty VSP trooper for a traffic violation, he immediately produced ID and I told him to that a nice day.

VSP is really short on professional courtesy.

A Texas Highway Patrol enforcer defends the honor of his crew from the allegations of a Houston cop:

Posted by TXTroop in TEXAS (09/25/08 – 11:36 AM)


Let me first start off by saying that RICK G in Houston is an idiot. We DO NOT get uniformed officers out of their vehicles to stand on the side of the road. If this happens in Houston it is because Houston PD officers have a habit of holding their badges out the window when they are being stopped. Very UNPROFESSIONAL. As far as our stupid cowboy hats go, even the hood is affraid of the HATS. Now that the idiots comments have been addressed, if VA Troopers are writing other officers, on or off duty shame on them! The only reason any state has a shortage of Troops is PAY. Troopers all over the Nation are reveered as the best officers in their state, they should be paid as such. Sounds like VA needs to up their pay and implement the DONT PUT COPS ON PAPER – TICKETS OR WARNING plan!!!

TXCOP in the DFW area scratches their backs and expects them to scratch his:

Posted by TXCOP in DFW AREA, Texas (09/25/08 – 11:16 PM)

Wow sounds like Rick G. got really upset. Before I moved to Texas I was a LEO in Baltimore City, Md. The only contact I had with VSP was being stopped for speeding something like 80 in 60 or something its been a few years now. But the trooper (an older older officer) made me for a cop and after showing my ID he asked me to slow down and to cut him and his friends a break next time they visit the city for a Ravens or orioles game. Now on that same trip (enroute to visit family in Texas) I was stopped about 40 miles into Texas from arkansas on I 30 by a Texas State Trooper he pulled up next to me hit the alley light and motioned to me so of course I waved at him and continued driving after a minute he motioned again so i figured he wanted me stopped so I shook my head and slowed down he then proceeded to hit the red lights and stop me and the guy in front of me. So here I am the officer stopped between both of us he came to me first and I told him I’m a Leo and have a gun so that he would not be surprised. He asked me to stay with him while he finished the other stop and then he would let me be on my way. He wrote the other guy a citation came back wrote me a warning to get his stat and then I gave him a Uniform patch and was gone.

From a Virginia sheriff’s deputy:

Posted by VA Deputy (09/26/08 – 04:58 AM)

As for professional courtesey… I have worked for a PD and a S.O. and for all you out of town guys, not everyone in VA is into writing LEO’s… professional courtesey ia alive and well in the local jurisdictions… Too many people on the outside are trying to hang us on a daily basis for no reason, we shouldn’t be hanging ourselves. As long as you don’t come out of your vehicle swinging at me, you got a pass here… Stay Safe.

That’s As long as you don’t come out of your vehicle swinging at me and you wear the same gang colors I do, of course. Those passes are not for mere civilians.

I should say that when I refer to cops as a street gang or Gangsters in Blue or what have you, I’m not indulging in metaphor. I don’t mean that cops act kinda like gangsters (as if this were just a matter of personal vices or institutional failures); I mean that they are gangsters — that is the policing system operating successfully according to its normal function — that they are the organized hired muscle of the State, and that the outfit operates just like any other street gang in terms of their commitments, their attitudes, their practices, and their idea of professional ethics. And if you wonder why, it may help to ask yourself what kind of person, and what kind of outfit, you’d need to have for this kind of talk, and this notion of professional courtesy, to make any kind of sense.

ALLy ALLy oxen free….

Guess who wins a government award, from the Ministry of Cultural Exchange in this secessionist republic of one, for the most attractive ALL local outreach logo?

The answer is Shawn Wilbur, of the Northwest Alliance of the Libertarian Left, with his call for ALLiance in Occupied Cascadia:

Northwest Alliance of the Libertarian Left - Join!

Sure beats my photoshop defacements of tourist traps and paint company logos, anyway. Congrats, Shawn!

Alliance of the Libertarian Left Ad Hoc Global Organizing Committee

Now, then. Do you know any individualist anarchists, agorists, mutualists, left-Rothbardians or others on the libertarian left in or nearby any of the following metropolitan areas, who might be interested in getting involved, or getting more involved, in local activism and organizing? (If that description matches you yourself, that's good enough, too.)

If so, please drop me a line with their contact information. I have some requests from prospective local organizers who are looking for people to start locals for the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I would love to be able to put them in touch with anyone locally who might be interested.

On the subject of the Organizing Committee website, I’ve been getting some very good suggestions from other ALLies about materials to make available up there, and sketching out a few ideas of my own on paper. Most of these I hope to be adding over the next several days.

The main one that is now available, more or less live, is a feature to provide contact pages specific to each location where the Organizing Committee has gotten inquiries (click through on the links to each city above — for example, Baltimore — to see what it looks like). The main point is to have a landing-pad for each place we get an inquiry from, and to give prospective ALLies more information about how many people are interested in getting organized. Right now, this consists of a landing page, a map with one or more pins representing inquiring ALLies, and a quick count of the number who have inquired. My hope is to make this somewhat more sophisticated over time (right now, it’s mainly just some pretty wrapper over an e-mail form; I hope to add some features to find, e.g., how many people are interested in a particular state, possibly some sort of public Wall feature, etc.). But this will do for a start.

What I’d like to work on for the next few days is adding advice on getting started, on organizing, on ideas for activism, and so on. I’ll be incorporating some of the suggestions I’ve gotten already, and I’d like to put together some pages specifically on:

  1. A step-by-step guide to starting a new ALL local (along the lines of guides like Seven Steps To Starting A Food Not Bombs Group);

  2. Some advice focusing on organizing locals on college campuses, in particular;

  3. A sampler platter of actions and projects that existing ALLs have worked on, with an eye to giving people ideas for what they can do to kick off their ALL local, and what they might do as they get themselves established.

Which leads me to ask you all, gentle readers:

  1. If you have any suggestions, either for particular ideas or pieces of advice to add, or for focused sections that you think would be particularly useful, let me know. Let’s discuss in comments. And…

  2. If you were to pick out a sampler of four or five actions or projects that your own ALL local has worked on, or that some ALLies you know about have worked on, which you would like to add as suggestions for ALL organizers trying to make plans for a new ALL local, what would you pick? Let’s discuss in comments.


See also:

No, seriously, I could swear the water in this pot is getting a little hotter… (#5)

… But it must just be the summer heat, right?

In Maryland, a state police Red Squad spent a year and change infiltrating anti-death penalty and anti-war groups, and put the names of nonviolent activists onto terrorist and drug-trafficking watch lists:

The ACLU released 43 pages of [Maryland] state police summaries and computer logs Thursday – some with agents’ names and paragraphs blacked out — that it obtained from the state attorney general’s office through a lawsuit based on Maryland’s Public Information Act.

The files depict a pattern of spying and surveillance over a 14-month period in 2005 and 2006. During that time, agents infiltrated the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a peace group; the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty; and the Committee to Save Vernon Evans, a death row inmate.

Police entered the names of activists in a law enforcement database of people suspected of being terrorists or drug traffickers, the documents show. Police officials said they did not infringe on the protesters’ freedom; the ACLU said that nothing in the documents indicated criminal activity or intent.

Many of the spies’ reports seem innocuous. In one, an agent who attended a gathering of the Evans group noted that activists discussed the stance that a candidate for Baltimore County state’s attorney might take on the death penalty.

Yesterday, [former Maryland Governor Bob] Ehrlich said on WJZ-TV that he was sympathetic to the principle that police should not spy on groups when there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

But he added, We pay state police to make decisions, and obviously they bring discretion with them to their jobs every day, so their job on a daily basis obviously is to weigh the relative value of intelligence they’ve received and to make decisions accordingly.

— Jonathan Bor and Gus G. Sentementes, Baltimore Sun (2008-07-19): State police spying decried

For example, one of the decisions that cops accordingly make is to harass, assault, restrain, and imprison innocent people who try to photograph them and document how the cops are treating the people they interact with. (Apparently this intelligence thing isn’t a two-way street.) They are, of course, happy to invent completely fictional crimes based on nonexistent laws in order to do so. Thus, in Johnson County, Tennessee:

Nearly everyone carries a cell phone and it's hard to find one without that camera feature. It's convenient when you want to take that impromptu photo, but a Tri-Cities area man ended up behind bars after snapping a shot of a Johnson County sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop.

The cell phone photographer says the arrest was intimidation, but the deputy says he feared for his life.

… A Johnson County sheriff's deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.

He says you took a picture of me. It's illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer, said Conover.

… The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times.

He said if you don't give it to me, you're going to jail, said Conover.

Under the advice of the Johnson County attorney, the sheriff would not comment and the arresting deputy said he didn't want to incriminate himself by talking to us.

— Darius Radzius, WJHL (2008-07-11): Man Arrested For Unlawful Photography

Carlos Miller elaborates on the same case:

Gangsters in Blue Ben May and Starling McCloud

Update: I talked to Scott Conover Wednesday morning and he said they delayed his court appearance to Sept. 3rd, which sounds familiar because they kept doing the same thing in my case. (I was arrested last year for photographing cops against their wishes). In my case, I took it as a sign that they were hoping the delay would cause the media interest to die down.

After arresting Scott Conover for unlawful photography in Mountain City, Tennessee last June, Johnson County Sheriff's Deputy Starling McCloud threatened to arrest Conover's 12-year-old daughter with the same charge after she snapped two photos of her father getting handcuffed.

As it turns out, she is a better photographer than her father because she actually managed to photograph the camera shy deputy.

… It won't be the first time [Scott Conover has] faced off against the Johnson County Sheriff's Office in court.

A couple of years ago, we had problems with the sheriff, so we sued them and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, he said.

But the problems started even before that, after he witnessed deputies beating a man in front of the restaurant/bar he owns.

They beat the shit out of him, he said. The guy's lawyer came back and took witness statements. When the statements made it back to the sheriff's department, they came by and asked me why I was getting involved.

Not long after that, deputies started staking out his business, Jammers Rocking Road House, which he said is modeled after the Tiki Bar in Key Largo.

They were wolf-packing my customers, he said. They would lie and wait for them to leave and then pull them over to see if they had been drinking.

Conover struck back by suing them.

… On the night of his arrest, Conover and his family had left the Last Chance Saloon after picking up the nightly earnings and were on their way back to Jammers. His wife was sitting in the passenger's seat. His son and daughter were in the back seat.

Up ahead were a group of customers who had just left the bar. A Johnson County Sheriff's deputy, who was parked along side of the road, pulled over the car with the customers.

The lady who was driving doesn't drink, he said. Her husband, who does drink, was sitting in the passenger's seat.

Conover pulled up to the scene and stopped his Hummer in front of the traffic stop. He asked his son for his IPhone, then rolled the window down and said:

Hey fellas, I'm just getting your picture.

Then he snapped the photo. Deputy McCloud — who has been on the force only 18 months — told him that photographing him was illegal.

I asked, what planet are you from?, Conover said.

McCloud started threatening to arrest him if he did not delete the photo, which as it turned out, did not even capture the deputy.

Conover's wife even asked her husband to just hand the deputy the IPhone, but he refused. The deputy kept threatening him with arrest if he didn't delete the photo.

The deputy then ordered Conover out of his car.

I threw the phone back to my daughter and told her to keep taking photos.

By then, two Mountain City police officers had pulled up to the scene, including Kenneth Lane and Ben May, who is in the dark uniform in the above photos. McCloud placed two sets of handcuffs on Conover, who is six-feet tall and weighs 270 pounds, and apparently looked as if he could break out of a single pair of handcuffs.

Conover's daughter snapped two photos before McCloud threatened her with arrest.

He started trying to get in my Hummer and get to the back seat where my kids were. I told him, You better not go back there or else we're going to have some real problems, he said.

McCloud decided against arresting the daughter.

At the jail, Conover asked McCloud if had ever heard of the First Amendment.

He then turned to me and said, I’m charging you with disorderly conduct.

Thirty minutes later, after McCloud had left the jail — and had time to think of what other charges he could come up with — he called the jailer and added another charge against Conover; pointing a laser at an officer.

— Carlos Miller, Photography is Not a Crime (2008-08-05): Deputy threatened to arrest 12-year-old daughter for unlawful photography

Meanwhile, in Ohio, posturing macho paramilitary cops gunned down an unarmed woman holding nothing other than her baby boy. They fired high-powered rifles, blindly into a room they couldn’t see, because they saw a shadow on the wall during their cock-swinging commando SWAT raid. Please remember that cops are hired and trained to keep you and me safe, so obviously no matter how many unarmed women these heavily armed, trained professionals mow down in a wild attempt to save their own skins, the warrior mindset means never having to say you’re sorry.

A Lima, Ohio jury has acquitted police officer Joseph Chavalia of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 26-year-old Tarika Wilson. Chavalia shot and killed Wilson and wounded her infant son during a drug raid last January. Wilson was unarmed.

During the raid, one of Chavalia’s fellow officers shot and killed the two dogs owned by Wilson’s boyfriend and the target of the raid, Anthony Terry. Chavalia testified that he mistook his fellow officer’s shots at the dogs for hostile gunfire coming from the bedroom where Wilson was standing with her child. Chavalia then fired blindly into the bedroom.

The jury concluded that Chavalia reasonably feared for his life when he heard the gunshots. I guess they were then willing to overlook Chavalia’s mistaking an unarmed woman holding a baby for an armed drug dealer, and the fact that he fired blindly into a room without first identifying what he was shooting at. It’s too bad that that same sort of deference isn’t given to the people on the receiving end of these raids when they too understandably confuse the police officers who wake them from sleep and invade their homes for criminal intruders.

— Radley Balko, Hit and Run (2008-08-05): Lima, Ohio SWAT Officer Acquitted in the Killing of Tarika Wilson

Over in Chicago, the arbitrary governor over the state of Illinois has declared that what Chicago needs is yet another elite tactical team to patrol inner city neighborhoods, complete with state troopers and military helicopters.

Calling violence in Chicago out of control, Gov. Blagojevich on Wednesday offered to lend state troopers and National Guard helicopters to the city to augment the Chicago Police.

The governor is considering forming an elite tactical team to help the Chicago Police fight gang problems, a source said, adding that the unit could later be sent across the state to deal with gang problems at any city’s request.

— Chicago Sun-Times (2008-07-17): Gov. says Chicago out of control

Meanwhile, the Fighting Uruk-Hai of Arizona proposes that we ought to combat inner city crime using the strategic hamlet surge tactics that have made for such a brilliant success in the occupation of Iraq.

We might look at what Rudy Giuliani did in New York City, when he became mayor of that city. … And some of those tactics, very frankly — you mention the war in Iraq — are like that we use in the military. You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control. And you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement, etc, etc.

Do you feel safer now?

(Stories via Darian Worden (2008-07-18): Martial Law 2008, Manuel Lora @ LewRockwell.com Blog (2008-08-02): The Fascist McCain On Solving Neighborhood Crimes, Ali @ ThinkProgress (2008-08-01): McCain suggests military-style invasion modeled on the surge to control inner city crime, etc.)

See also:

Cops are here to protect you.

Cops are here to protect you by looking in on an upset young man who locked himself in a room with a small kitchen knife, then drilling a hole in the wall and spraying pepper spray to force him out from the room when he wouldn’t come out voluntarily, then shooting him to death when the pepper spraying forced him out of the room, because he brought out the small kitchen knife that he had taken in with him.

All for his own good, of course. It became necessary to destroy Scott Rockwell in order to save him.

Cops are here to protect you by using handcuffing and arrest to put an end any argument. Even if you’re a firefighter who’s busy trying to rescue an auto accident victim.

Cops are here to protect you by dumping you out of your wheelchair onto the jailhouse floor, and breaking two of your ribs. Just to make sure you weren’t lying, when you told them you can’t stand up because you’re paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Cops are here to protect you using pain compliance, for example hitting you with 50,000-volt electric shocks at least three different times to make you do what they tell you to do, even when you pose no threat of violence to anyone, when you already have your hands cuffed behind your back, and when you are already surrounded or even pinned down to the ground by three armed professionals.

Cops are here to protect you by pinning a 13 year old boy to the ground and choking him for the crime of skateboarding. Then grabbing a teenaged girl in a chokehold for trying to walk away from the scene. Then wrestling down another teenaged boy who tried to protect her from getting manhandled. Then arresting the lot of them on the grounds that failing to immediately obey a cop’s arbitrary orders is a violation of city ordinances against disorderly conduct.

Cops are here to protect you by threatening a 14 year old boy with juvi for backtalk, threatening to smack your mouth for attitude, wrestling him to the ground to steal his skateboards, screaming in the boy’s face for being addressed as dude, and then turning around to threaten another teenager who happens to be filming their professional conduct.

Cops are here to protect you by trashing your college art project and threatening to beat the hell out of you for using public space in ways that confuse and enrage them.

Please note that if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, the people around us would more or less universally conclude that we’re belligerent and dangerous lunatics. In fact, if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, and it was caught on camera, we would soon be in jail for on a charge of assault and battery. When someone with a badge and a gun acts like this, and it’s caught on camera, with a very few exceptions, the worst that ever happens is that they might get fired. The most common response from the powers that be is either to do nothing at all, or else to give the pig a paid vacation and a verbal reprimand. Meanwhile, state legislators propose laws to withhold records of the abuse as classified information for reasons of state security. Fellow cops and freelance sado-fascist blowhards can all be counted on to make up any excuse at all, even in defiance of the clear evidence of their senses, in order to get the pig off the hook, no matter how obviously out-of-control the cop may be and no matter how obviously harmless or helpless his victim.

The mainstream newsmedia writes stories with clauses like this:

The skateboarders, who were violating a city ordinance, are claiming police brutality and some say the pictures back up their claim.

The video shows a 13-year-old being held to the ground by his throat. It also shows a girl being held in what appears to be a chokehold.

— KTHV Little Rock: Video Brings Controversy To Police Department

Other cops say things like this:

Hot Springs Police Department spokesman McCrary Means says, If a subject becomes confrontational, the officer has a right to defend himself. There are certain steps: first of all a verbal command. Like I said, if that subject becomes combative, that officer needs to do all he can do to get that subject under control.

— KTHV Little Rock: Video Brings Controversy To Police Department

Please note that Hot Springs Police Department spokesman McCrary Means believes that police officers have a right to grab you and beat the hell out of you in order to defend themselves against a verbal confrontation.

And freelance police-enabling blowhards write in with letters like this:

In regard to the YouTube video in which the Baltimore police officer seems to go overboard in his actions regarding a teenage skateboarder, I’d point out that teenage boys typically resent authority, often continue to do the wrong thing even after repeated instructions to stop and are, in general, a minor menace to society until they grow out of their teenage years.

When they’re doing something wrong, you can ask them to stop over and over again, and they’ll often simply ignore you until you get loud or otherwise assert your authority.

As the uncle of two teenage boys, I have no doubt that the officer reacted in a normal manner and that he should not be subject to disciplinary action.

Jerry Fletcher


When YouTube recently showed a video of a teenage skateboarder being manhandled by a Baltimore police officer, public reaction was swift and severe.

Mayor Sheila Dixon called him a bad apple and the officer was immediately suspended.

I find this rush to judgment without a complete investigation disturbing, especially as the alleged victim had little more than his feelings hurt.

Police officers put their lives on the line every day, and the lack of public support for these men and women, especially from the mayor’s office, is an embarrassment.

Might it be possible that these kids were just punks harassing a veteran officer? And if these upstanding skater dudes were so in the right, why didn’t they file a complaint against the officer?

Let’s hear the whole story before destroying the career of a dedicated public servant.

E. Mitchell Arion

If E. Mitchell Arion hasn’t watched the video that he speaks so confidently about, then why keep talking about it when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about? If, on the other hand, he has actually watched the video, he must believe that this hollering uniformed thug is in fact a dedicated public servant whose precious career needs to be handled with kid gloves, even though he watched Officer Salvatore Rivieri going up to one of the people he is supposedly serving, screaming in his face, ordering him around, insulting him, telling him to shut up, threatening him, grabbing him, wrestling him down, shoving him back down to the ground, robbing him of his private property, lecturing him, and getting up in his face about the proper titles to use when the kid addresses his putative servant.

It takes an awfully special kind of dedicated servant to treat you like that.

(Hat tips to Lew, Balko, Anthony Gregory #1, Anthony Gregory #2, Bill Anderson, Anthony Gregory #3, Anthony Gregory #4.)

Further reading:

Over My Shoulder #40: bell hooks on plantation patriarchy, black feminism, and black men’s relationship to masculinity. From We Real Cool.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the first chapter of bell hooks’s We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.

When we read annals of history, the autobiographical writings of free and enslaved black men, it is revealed that initially black males did not see themselves as sharing the same standpoint as white men about the nature of masculinity. Transplanted African men, even those coming from communities where sex roles shaped the division of labor, where the status of men was different and most times higher than that of women, had to be taught to equate their higher status as men with the right to dominate women, they had to be taught patriarchal masculinity. They had to be taught that it was acceptable to use violence to establish patriarchal power. The gender politics of slavery and white-supremacist domination of free black men was the school where black men from different African tribes, with different languages and value systems, learned in the new world, patriarchal masculinity.

Writing about the evolution of black male involvement in patriarchal masculinity in the essay Reconstructing Black Masculinity I write:

Although the gendered politics of slavery denied black men the freedom to act as men within the definition set by white norms, this notion of manhood did become a standard used to measure black male progress. The narratives of Henry Box Brown, Josiah Henson, Frederick Douglass, and a host of other black men reveal that they saw freedom as that change in status that would enable them to fulfill the role of chivalric benevolent patriarch. Free, they would be men able to provide for and take care of their families. Describing how he wept as he watched a white slave overseer beat his mother, William Wells Brown lamented, Experience has taught me that nothing can be more heart-rending than for one to see a dear and beloved mother or sister tortured, and to hear their cries and not be able to render them assistance. But such is the position which the American slave occupies. Frederick Douglass did not feel his manhood affirmed by intellectual progress. It was affirmed when he fought man to man with the slave overseer. This struggle was a turning point in Douglass’s life: It rekindled in my breast the smoldering embers of liberty. It brought up my Baltimore dreams and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before–I was a mannow. The image of black masculinity that emerges from slave narratives is one of hardworking men who longed to assume full patriarchal responsibility for families and kin.

This testimony shows that enslaved black males were socialized by white folks to believe that they should endeavor to become patriarchs by seeking to attain the freedom to provide and protect for black women, to be benevolent patriarchs. Benevolent patriarchs exercise their power without using force. And it was this notion of patriarchy that educated black men coming from slavery into freedom sought to mimic. However, a large majority of black men took as their standard the dominator model set by white masters. When slavery ended these black men often used violence to dominate black women, which was a repetition of the strategies of control white slavemasters used. Some newly freed back men would take their wives to the barn to beat them as the white owner had done. Clearly, by the time slavery ended patriarchal masculinity had become an accepted ideal for most black men, an ideal that would be reinforced by twentieth-century norms.

Despite the overwhelming support of patriarchal masculinity by black men, there was even in slavery those rare black males who repudiated the norms set by white oppressors. Individual black male renegades who either escaped from slavery or chose to change their circumstance once they were freed, often found refuge among Native Americans, thus moving into tribal cultures where patriarchal masculinity with its insistence on violence and subjugation of women and children was not the norm. Marriages between Native women and African-American men during reconstruction also created a context for different ways of being and living that were counter to the example of white Christian family life. In southern states enclaves of African folk who had escaped slavery or joined with renegade maroons once slavery ended kept alive African cultural retentions that also offered a subculture distinct from the culture imposed by whiteness.

With keen critical insight Rudolph Byrd, co-editor of the anthology Traps: African American men on Gender and Sexuality, offers in his groundbreaking essay The Tradition of John the mythopoetic folk hero John as a figure of alternative masculinity. Byrd explains:

Committed to the overthrow of slavery and the ideology of white supremacy, John is the supreme antagonist of Old Massa and the various hegemonic structures he and his descendants have created and, most disheartening, many of them predictably still cherish. In John’s various acts of resistance are reflected his most exemplary values and attributes: motherwit, the power of laughter and song, self-assertion, self-examination, self-knowledge, a belief that life is process grounded in the fertile field of improvisation, hope, and most importantly, love. And his aspirations? Nothing less than the full and complete emancipation of Black people from every species of slavery. These are the constitutive elements and aspiration that together comprise the tradition of John. In these days of so many hours, it is a mode of black masculinity grounded in enduring principles that possess … a broad and vital instrumentality.

Clearly, the individual black males who strategized resistance to slavery, plotted paths to freedom, and who invented new lives for themselves and their people were working against the white-supremacist patriarchal norm. They were the men who set the stage for the black male abolitionists who supported more freedom for women. Alexander Crummell in his address before the Freedman’s Aid Society in 1883 spoke directly to a program for racial uplift that would focus on black women, particularly on education. He announced in his address that: The lot of the black man on the plantation has been sad and desolate enough; but the fate of the black woman has been awful! Her entire existence from the day she first landed, a naked victim of the slave-trade, has been degradation in its extremest forms.

Frederick Douglass spoke regularly on behalf of gender equality. In his 1888 talk I Am a Radical Woman Suffrage Man he made his position clear:

The fundamental proposition of the woman suffrage movement is scarcely less simple than that of the anti-slavery movement. It assumes that woman is herself. That she belongs to herself, just as fully as man belongs to himself–that she is a person and has all the attributes of personality that can be claimed by man, and that her rights of person are equal in all respects to those of man. She has the same number of senses that distinguish man, and is like man a subject of human government, capable of understanding, obeying, and being affected by law. That she is capable of forming an intelligent judgment as to the character of public men and public measures, and she may exercise her right of choice in respect both to the law and the lawmakers… nothing could be more simple or more reasonable.

Nineteenth-century black leaders were concerned about gender roles and exceptional black men supported gender equality. Martin Delaney stressed that both genders needed to work equally for racial uplift.

Like Frederick Douglass, Delaney felt that gender equality would strengthen the race, not that it would make black females independent and autonomous. As co-editors of the North Star, Douglass and Delaney had a masthead in 1847 which read right is of no sex–truth is of no color. At the 1848 meeting of the National Negro Convention Delaney presented a proposal that began: Whereas e fully believe in the equality of the sexes, therefore…. Without a doubt black males have a historical legacy of pro-women’s liberation to draw upon. Even so there were black male leaders who opposd Douglass’s support of rights for women. In the essay Reconstructing Black Masculinity I state that most black men recognized the powerful and necessary role black women had played as freedom fighters in the effort to abolish slavery, yet they still wanted black women to be subordinated. Explaining further:

They wanted black women to conform to the gender norms set by white society. They wanted to be recognized as men, as patriarchs, by other men, including white men. Yet they could not assume this position if black women were not willing to conform to prevailing sexist gender norms. Many black women who had endured white-supremacist patriarchal domination during slavery did not want to be dominated by black men after manumission. Like black men, they had contradictory positions on gender. On one hand they did not want to be dominated, but on the other hand they wanted black men to be protectors and providers. After slavery ended, enormous tension and conflict emerged between black women and men as folks struggled to be self-determining. As they worked to create standards for community and family life, gender roles continued to be problematic.

These contradictions became the norm in black life.

In the early part of the twentieth century black male thinkers and leaders were, like their white male counterparts, debating the question of gender equality. Intellectual and activist W.E.B. DuBois writing on behalf of black women’s rights in 1920 declared: We cannot abolish the new economic freedom of women. We cannot imprison women again in a home or require them all on pain of death to be nurses and housekeepers. … The uplift of women is, next to the problem of color and the peace movement, our greatest modern cause. Influenced by the work of black woman anti-sexist activist Anna Julia Cooper, DuBois never wavered in this belief that black women should be seen as co-equal with black men. Despite the stellar example of W.E.B. DuBois, who continually supported the rights of women overall, black males seemed to see the necessity of black females participating as co-equals in the struggle for racial uplift with the implicit understanding that once freedom was achieved black females would take their rightful place subordinate to the superior will of men. In keeping with sexist norms, sexist black folks believed that slavery and racism sought the emasculation of Afro-American men and that the responsibility of black folks to counter this, that black women were to encourage and support the manhood of our men.

As editor of the Women’s Page of the newspaper the Negro World, Amy Jacque Garvey, wife of the radical thinker Marcus Garvey, declared: We are tired of hearing Negro men say, There is a better day coming while they do nothing to usher in that day. We are becoming so impatient that we are getting in the front ranks and serve notice that we brush aside the halting, cowardly Negro leaders…. Mr. Black Man watch your step! … Strengthen your shaking knees and move forward, or we will displace you and lead on to victory and glory. This passage gives a good indication of the fact that educated black women struggled to repress their power to stand behind their men even as they were continually questioning this positionality. Outspoken women’s rights advocates in the latter part of the nineteenth century, like Anna Julia Cooper, were more militant about the need for black women to have equal access to education and forms of power, especially economic power.

Throughout the 1900s black men and women debated the issues of gender equality. White-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s refusal to allow black males full access to employment while offering black females a place in the service economy created a context where black males and females could not conform to standard sexist roles in regard to work even if they wanted to. It was the participation of black women in the workforce that led to the notion that black women were matriarchal leaders in the home. In actuality, black female workers often handed their paychecks over to the males who occupied the patriarchal space of leadership in the home. Simply working did not mean black women were free. The gender roles that black folks formed in the twenties, thirties, and forties were complex. It was not a simple world of black women working and therefore exercising power in the home. Many contemporary black folks forget that in the world of the eraly twentieth century black people were far more likely to live with extended kin. A black woman who worked as a maid, a housekeeper, a laundress, etc., was far more likely to give her money toward the collective good and not for her own use or power.

While social critics looking at black life have continually emphasized the notion that black men were symbolically castrated because black women were often the primary breadwinners, they have called attention to the reality of the working black woman giving away her earnings. Not all black families cared about black women earning more as long as black males controlled their earnings. And now that a vast majority of white women in this nation work and many of them earn more than their white male spouses, the evidence is there to confirm that men are less concerned about who earns more and more concerned about who controls the money. If the man controls the money, even if his wife is wealthy, the evidence suggests that he will not feel emasculated. Black men and women have always had a diversity of gender roles, some black men wanting to be patriarchs and others turning away from the role. Long before contemporary feminist theory talked about the value of male participation in parenting, the idea that men could stay home and raise children while women worked had already been proven in black life.

Black women and men have never been praised for having created a diversity of gender roles. In the first essay I wrote about black masculinity more than ten years ago the lengthy arguments I made are worth quoting again here:

Without implying that black women and men lived in gender utopia, I am suggesting that black sex roles, and particularly the role of men, have been more complex and problematized in black life than is believed. This was especially the case when all black people lived in segregated neighborhoods. Racial integration has had a profound impact on black gender roles. It has helped to promote a climate wherein most black women and men accept sexist notions of gender roles. Unfortunately, many changes have occurred in the way black people think about gender, yet the shift from one standpoint to another has not been fully documented. For example: To what extent did the civil rights movement, with its definition of freedom as having equal opportunity with whites, sanctioned looking at white gender roles as a norm black people should imitate? Why has there been so little positive interest shown in the alternative lifestyles of black men? In every segregated black community in the United States there are adult black men married, unmarried, gay, straight, living in households where they do not assert patriarchal domination and yet live fulfilled lives, where they are not sitting around worried about castration. Again it must be emphasized that the black men who are most worried about castration and emasculation are those who have completely absorbed white-supremacist patriarchal definitions of masculinity.

Black people begin to support patriarchy more as more civil rights were gained and the contributions black women made to the struggle for black liberation were no longer seen as essential and necessary contributions.

–bell hooks (2004), We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, pp. 2–12.

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