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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 12/2/19

The New "Black Codes"

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"Try to imagine a world where there isn't a vast unspoken consensus that black men are inherently scary, and most of these police assaults would play in the media like spontaneous attacks of madness," Taibbi writes. "Instead, they're sold as battle scenes from an occupation story, where a quick trigger finger while patrolling the planet of a violent alien race is easy to understand."

Success in policing is not measured by combating or investigating crime but in generating arrests and handing out summonses, turning the work of police departments into what Taibbi calls an "industrial production scheme." At the same time, there is an imperative to suppress as many reports of felonies as possible to produce favorable crime statistics. This creates a situation where, as Taibbi notes, police are "discouraged from reporting real crime in the community, which [has] the effect of letting people know that police weren't interested in committing resources to their actual needs."

Police are empowered to stop anyone for a long list of reasons, including "inappropriate attire" and "suspicious bulge." This provides legal cover for the random stops and searches carried out by police, especially against boys and men of color. Garner was harassed in this way throughout much of his life.

"Garner was harmless, but he was also a massive, conspicuous, slovenly dressed black man standing on a city block during work hours," Taibbi writes. "People like him would become the focus of a law enforcement revolution that by the late 2000s had become intellectual chic across America with a powerfully evocative name: Broken Windows."

At its core, the broken-windows policy -- the idea that arrests for minor violations prevent major violations -- was warped by what Taibbi calls a "chilling syllogistic construct: New Yorkers who are afraid of crime are already victims. Many New Yorkers are scared of black people. Therefore, being black is a crime."

It is under this construct, as Taibbi writes, that "90 to 95 percent of all people imprisoned for drug offenses in New York in the nineties were black and Hispanic, despite studies showing that 72 percent of all illegal drug users in the city were white."

The random stopping and searching of poor people of color became known as stop and frisk, a bulwark of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York. The city government argued that it was not engaging in racial profiling. It stopped poor black and brown people, it said, because they were statistically more likely to be criminals. In 2011 and 2012, Taibbi writes, "blacks and Hispanics represented 87 percent of all the people stopped. The city of New York justified these stops by stating that 'approximately 83 percent of all known crime suspects and approximately 90 percent of all violent crime suspects were Black and Hispanic.' "

It is a startling admission by the city, but one that explains the war on the poor. There was, Taibbi writes, "a single, blanket justification that covered 'reasonable suspicion' for at least 80 percent of those searches: they were black or Hispanic residents of high-crime neighborhoods."

The police targeting of black people is part of a long continuum in American history. It has its origins in the post-Civil War era's Black Codes, which prohibited blacks from owning weapons, restricted their property rights, forbade them to assemble in groups and imposed severe penalties on them for minor or meaningless crimes. "No matter what the time period, police from the Civil War through the later Jim Crow period always had a series of highly flexible laws ready if they felt the need to arrest any black person uncooperative enough not to have committed an actual crime," Taibbi writes.

Ghettos and crime-ridden neighborhoods, our "racial archipelagos," he writes, were "artificially created by a series of criminal real estate scams." Real estate companies in the 1960s used scare campaigns to drive out white residents. They brought in "a new set of homeowners, often minorities, and often with bad credit and shaky job profiles. They bribed officials in the FHA to approve mortgages for anyone and everyone. Appraisals would be inflated. Loans would be approved for repairs, but repairs would never be done."

"The typical target homeowner in the con was a black family moving to New York to escape racism in the South. The family would be shown a house in a place like East New York that in reality was only worth about $15,000. But the appraisal would be faked and a loan would be approved for $17,000.

"The family would move in and instantly find themselves in a house worth $2,000 less than its purchase price, and maybe with faulty toilets, lighting, heat, and (ironically) broken windows besides. Meanwhile, the government-backed loan created by a lender like Eastern Service by then had been sold off to some sucker on the secondary market: a savings bank, a pension fund, or perhaps to Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage corporation.

"Before long, the family would default and be foreclosed upon. Investors would swoop in and buy the property at a distressed price one more time. Next, the one-family home would be converted into a three- or four-family rental property, which would of course quickly fall into even greater disrepair.

"This process created ghettos almost instantly. Racial blockbusting is how East New York went from 90 percent white in 1960 to 80 percent black and Hispanic in 1966."

Once poor people of color were quarantined in these ghettos it was almost impossible for them to get out.

Aggressive policing is the bulwark of a segregated America. The police patrol the borders between our urban wastelands and affluent white neighborhoods. This policing, Taibbi writes, "maintains the illusion of integration by allowing police officers to take the fall for policies driven by white taxpayers on the other side of the blue wall."

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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