It is the most excruciating, painful 20 or so minutes of video that I've ever watched in my life. I'm talking about the first part of the encounter in Waller County, Texas, between 28-year-old Sandra Bland and the Texas state trooper who pulled her over, Brian Encinia. There is a tension in their exchange that even a master Hollywood director, a Scorcese or a Hitchcock, would not be able to evoke -- because the viewer knows the all-too-real ending, that a promising young woman would end up dead in a jail cell three days later.
And so every escalation -- when Bland insists, in often crude language, that she can't be compelled to put our her cigarette or exit her vehicle, when the trooper shockingly pulls out his Taser and exclaims, "I will light you up!", and when first Bland and then a bystander are told they can't exercise their constitutional right to film the encounter ("I need you to leave!) -- carries the sharp, jabbing sting of mortality.
And the film of what happened on a hot afternoon in Waller County in July 10 will also, most certainly, serve as a Rorschach test for a nation that can be so divided not just on matters of race but what constitutes civil authority that I guarantee no two citizens who take the time to watch the incident -- 49 minutes in all -- will see the same thing.
Here's some news to chew on while you stay indoors to avoid that July blast furnace known as the Eastern Seaboard: The world is getting colder! Well. OK, that's just something that I saw during my brief, daily perusal of the Drudge Report, which has long excelled at spotlighting the best climate change research that ExxonMobil's money can buy. Back in the reality-based world, Planet Earth keeps setting new records for average temperature, month after month.
Then yesterday came this warning, which was bannered across the top of the New York Times in "MEN WALK ON MOON"-sized type:
In what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.
The Donald is surging! Well, he was...anyway. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released late this afternoon showed the race-baiting POW insulter (or is the POW-insulting race baiter?) at the Herman Cain Memorial High Water Mark of his campaign, with 24 percent ,and a clear lead over the other 37 15 candidates. So what's the bad news for the short-fingered vulgarian? The Post says that Trump's support dropped sharply on the final day of polling -- after he suggested that Sen. John McCain was a loser for getting captured by the North Vietnamese.
What worries me is this: The other Republican who's on the rise, now in second and likely to gain at Trump's expense, is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Earlier this year, I noted that Walker's rabid anti-unionism would likely play well with GOP primary voters, and I wondered if he was "the most dangerous man in America." What I didn't realize was the extent to which Walker is something of a....what's the politically correct word for "dullard"?
He is in his early 20s -- a young male, perhaps done with his education and suddenly adrift in a vast atomized society. There is trouble at home -- divorce, fighting. There is trouble adjusting to adulthood...too much drinking or drugs, a lost job, failure in academia, maybe jilted by a girlfriend. Perhaps there is medication for depression or other psychological problems. Increasingly isolated. he's drawn toward to a screen -- sometimes to violent video games, but more often to extreme ideology or crackpot theories of the universe out there on the Internet. With no prior criminal record, it's not a problem to exercise his 2nd Amendment rights and amass a small arsenal of weapons and ammunition, at Wal-Mart or his friendly neighborhood gun shop.
He is America's worst nightmare -- Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old who cut himself off from the world and ranted about "selfish" women on the Internet before gunning down kindergartners and 1st graders at a Connecticut elementary school, or Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old dropout who alternated between taking drugs and playing video games before finding neo-Confederate hate speech on the Web and killing nine black churchgoers last month, or Jared Lee Loughner, a then-22-year-old kicked out of school and drawn to conspiracy theories before killing six people in the 2011 assassination attempt on then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He is James Holmes...or Seung-Hui Cho...or Robert Hawkins.
On Thursday, he was Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the 24-year-old man outside of Chattanooga, Tenn., from a troubled home, with a recent DUI arrest, a Muslim of Jordanian descent described by a friend "as Americanized as anyone else" -- before he went on grim killing spree at two nearby military sites that claimed the lives of 5 u.S. servicemen.
It's time, y'all. It's time...This thing that I'm holding in my hand -- this telephone, this camera, it is quite powerful. Social media is powerful. We could do something with this. If we want a change, we can really, truly make it happen. You know, we can sit here and talk about we need the next so-and-so and this-and-that...no you don't. No you don't. Start in your own home. Start with you.
-- Sandra Bland.
You probably heard that President Obama went to visit a federal prison in Oklahoma today. Indeed, it was the first time in American history that a sitting president has done anything like that. In the seventh year of an eight-year presidency, Obama is suddenly talking the talk and even taking the first baby steps toward walking the walk on tackling America's massive, and massively immoral, criminal justice Goliath. It's a good thing, tempered by the powerful aroma of what-took-you-so-long. America currently has more folks behind bars than the 35 biggest European countries combined. You'd think the White House might have noticed when we equaled, I don't know...19? Or maybe 27?
And even as we recognize that police officers do one of the toughest, bravest jobs around -- and as we do everything in our power to keep those police officers safe on the job -- I’ve talked about this -- we have to restore trust between our police and some of the communities where they serve. And a good place to start is making sure communities around the country adopt the recommendations from the task force I set up -- that included law enforcement, but also included young people from New York and from Ferguson, and they were able to arrive at a consensus around things like better training, better data collection -- to make sure that policing is more effective and more accountable, but is also more unbiased.
It's hard to hold police accountable when the public -- whom they work for -- doesn't know what they've been up to. For months, at great expense, lawyers for the California town of Gardena have fought to keep videos of the police-involved killing of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino in June 2013 from citizens and the media. But yesterday those videos were released and they show that Zeferino had his hands up most of the time...but was shot and killed, apparently, for fidgeting. He was unarmed and had committed no crime.
I'm not sure if Obama will ever earn his premature Nobel -- blame drones -- but thanks to this Iran deal he's closer than he's ever been:
As described by Mr. Obama and other officials, the deal seems sound and clearly in the interest of the United States, the other nations that drafted it and the state of Israel. In return for a phased lifting of international economic sanctions, Iran will reduce by 98 percent its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can be processed further into bomb-grade fuel, and reduce the number of operating centrifuges used to enrich that fuel by two-thirds, to 5,060. These limits mean that if Iran ever decides to violate the agreement and make a dash for a nuclear bomb, it will take a year to produce the weapons-grade fuel needed for a single bomb, compared with a couple of months now.
Many of the various restrictions in the agreement will be in force for 10 to 25 years. Some, notably Iran’s agreement to constant and technologically advanced monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, will last indefinitely, as will its commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to never produce a nuclear weapon. Inspectors will have access to suspicious sites “where necessary, when necessary,” President Obama said, and if Iran cheats, that will be detected early enough to respond, including by quickly reimposing sanctions or taking military action.
With the NAACP in town, this seemed like the perfect time to take a deep dive into a story that first broke during the spring -- the case of Philadelphia's "missing" 36,000 young black men. "Missing" is in quotes since we know where they are, for the most part -- in Pennsylvania's ever-growing gulag of prisons, or dead before their time. So what's the deal?
But experts say any conversations about race relations in America in 2015 and beyond won't get far without coming to terms with a type of diaspora that is peculiar to the nation's inner cities - a cycle of poverty, violence and drugs that has acted like a neutron bomb to eliminate young men in their late teens, 20s and 30s.
James Peterson, director of Africana studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh Unversity, said mass incarceration policies are the crux of the problem - thanks to the "war on drugs" and what he calls "certain myths that were propagated in the 1970s and '80s about black male criminality."