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Abdul-Jabbar writes: "Another day, another black man violently assaulted by five rogue police officers for the ever-increasing crime of BWB (breathing while black)."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: Getty Images)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: Getty Images)

Sterling Brown and the Tasing of the Black American Dream

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Guardian UK

26 May 18

Milwaukee police didn’t just assault a basketball player, they damaged the hopes young people of color have of a better life

nother day, another black man violently assaulted by five rogue police officers for the ever-increasing crime of BWB (breathing while black). This time it was NBA player Sterling Brown. In January, the Bucks rookie was confronted by Milwaukee police at Walgreens for a parking infraction, which resulted in a compliant Brown being wrestled to the ground, handcuffed, tased, arrested – and given a parking ticket. The recently released police body-cam footage was called “disturbing” by Milwaukee’s mayor. Particularly in a city that Bucks president Peter Feigin once called “the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life”. The officers involved have since been disciplined. Now what? Bygones?

It’s hardly news that people of color are continually harassed, but what’s been making the news lately is the frequency with which upwardly mobile, middle-class people of color are being targeted. From the two black men waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks, to a black Yale graduate student napping in her dorm’s common room, to three black women facing down seven cop cars and a helicopter as they checked out out of an Airbnb house they were renting, the victims’ faces on the news are not just the hoodied street thugs that white America expects and can then dismiss. And, while we can be thankful that none of them were killed, there is an overlooked long-lasting collateral damage to the black community’s faith in the promise of the American dream and the sinister effect on their children that is much worse than that single assault.

The American dream pledges that every person in America, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or economic background, will have an equal opportunity to achieve success. There may be obstacles, but they won’t be deliberately aimed at anyone based on the circumstances of birth or belief. That ideal is America’s moral core as well as its most famous public relations branding abroad: a better life awaits all. People in this country – whether natural born or immigrants – work hard to achieve that dream, for themselves and for their families. Once you’re successful, the expectation is financial security, a certain respect, and an elevated degree of personal safety. And that’s exactly what you get – if you’re white. But if you’re a person of color, your skin color is still seen by some as a gang color, the shade a reflection of the darkness in your soul.

Sterling Brown is a professional basketball player with the NBA. Only 1.2% of college players make it that far. He’s an American dream success story, having overcome great odds through hard work, sacrifice, and discipline. He’s a role model for other black kids, not just those who want to be a professional athlete, but those who see that hard work can be rewarded. Yet, there is plenty of evidence that the American dream is blocked by a velvet rope wrapped in razor wire. A study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and the US Census Bureau concluded that even when black boys and white boys grow up in the same neighborhoods, the blacks earn less as adults than whites, even though there is no difference in cognitive abilities. Another study cites the high extent of anxiety, depression, stress, thoughts of suicide, diabetes, and hair loss among black college students competing at predominantly white schools where they feel the burden of not only personal success, but racial success. This phenomenon is referred to as “John Henryism”, after the legendary slave-turned-railroad worker who literally worked himself to death to prove his worth.

Clearly, this is not just a Milwaukee issue. During my six years in Milwaukee playing for the Bucks, I experienced only support from the fans and the team. Except for a minor incident in which a white grocer refused to sell me a bottle of local beer I was buying for a friend, I enjoyed my time as a Milwaukeean. The Brown arrest is only a single thread in a larger tapestry that is spread across America. The Milwaukee police who confronted Sterling Brown weren’t just assaulting the man, they were damaging the dreams of young people of color who imagine a more accepting world on the other side of the finish line. But the loneliness of these long-distance runners just got lonelier, harder and a little more hopeless. your social media marketing partner


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+40 # janie1893 2018-05-26 13:54
Kareem--thanks for another thought-provoki ng piece of journalism.Your subject matter may be unpleasant in the extreme, but you writing is lovely and a pleasure to the reading eye.
I would dance with you anytime!
+11 # ddd-rrr 2018-05-26 16:15
"YES!", to your comments -- and, so would I (although I am not a woman...8^).
+8 # AldoJay69 2018-05-26 15:10
I've been told I can't know what it's like to be a black man in America, and I know it's true!
But maybe the reverse is true, too.
I watched that video and, from personal experience, I fully recognized the cop behavior. And therein lies a mistake you make.
More than race, this instance is about cops who routinely bait people to provoke an excuse for force. Cops strut, cops believe they are in charge of everyone, without regard for race, gender, religion, or any descriptor. They believe they ARE the law. I've been there numerous times and my tactic is to JUST SHUT UP! You have the right to remain silent, USE IT! It frustrates the shit out of them.
I've never been arrested.
+14 # LionMousePudding 2018-05-26 19:57
You just proved the opposite of what you started out with. Yes, YOU can succeed in not getting arrested by "frustrating the hell out of" cops by staying silent. Believe me, a Black person does not want to "frustrate the hell out of" any cop. They very sadly have to shuffle and yes massa to keep from getting killed. A Black man valuing his life wants to make cops happy with him so they don't kill him. And so you see him obeying and not fighting back.

And THAT is why you can't imagine how it feels to be Black. Because you still can't see your own privilege.
0 # OrlandoDFree 2018-05-27 21:57
I have often respectfully talked back to cops, and I've never been arrested. But I'm as white as they come. I wouldn't advise people of color to do the same. We will live up to our national promise of equality the day an African American can do the same without getting arrested. Yes we are free to remain silent. We're also supposed to be free to speak. To talk back. Don't blame people of color for exercising their constitutional rights.
0 # AldoJay69 2018-05-29 09:16
I agree with you 100%. Things are broken. Cops are broken. You say, "We're also supposed to be free to speak," and you're right. But, until we fix bully-cops and then, racist cops, it might be smart to remain silent, avoid being slammed to the ground and avoid being shot because a punk with a badge wants to get his 'roid rage on.
+25 # economagic 2018-05-26 16:03
Aside from his spot-on analyses of the ongoing tyranny, I continue to find the eloquence and polish of Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's writing exceptional, not because he is black but because he is an extraordinarily skilled and persuasive writer.

"Yet, there is plenty of evidence that the American dream is blocked by a velvet rope wrapped in razor wire."

How many other writers, on RSN or anywhere in "The Media" today, can turn a metaphor like that?
+3 # boredlion 2018-05-26 19:17
UCLA, my friend. I was a student there when he was there. It was not a bad school. Just a bad time in our history.
+19 # BetaTheta 2018-05-26 17:16
Unfortunately, for every instance we hear of harassment of black celebrities or middle-class African-America ns, there are a hundred cases we never hear of. If you are poor and unjustly targeted, mayors and police chiefs are not going to apologize, unless perhaps if you wind up dead.
+7 # barbell1941 2018-05-26 19:36
Until standards for police officers and their pay is raised to the point where racists pricks that seem to dominate most police forces are excluded from consideration for hiring, this problem is not going away. With a reasonable compensation level that will attract decent applicants, the racist, gun nut morons will be working in ditch digging or shit shoveling jobs. When the applicant’s primary interest in the job is getting to carry a gun and push people around, he is disqualified.
+2 # elkingo 2018-05-26 23:02
You tell 'em Kareem, fucking white pig-cops. I doubt RSN will print this, but it seems to me milder statements, esp. by the media is enablement. O yeah, I'm white.
0 # ThorunnPS 2018-05-28 10:13
You were wrong, weren't you?
+4 # elkingo 2018-05-26 23:08
But also, the "finish line" - the success fetish, is a creature of capitalism. We should reward accomplishment, not "competitive success" - and we need SOCIALISM to do it. Think about it Kareem.
-14 # Cowboy 45 2018-05-27 06:03
Black people can continue to play the victim card, or they can finally start taking responsibility for their actions. The first mistake Mr. Brown made was bringing attention to himself by parking across 2 handicap spots at 2:00 am at the walgreens. To a cop this means who ever parked that car was looking for a quick getaway, and could possibly be robbing the store. So now the cops guard is up and he needs to be thinking about the worst case scenario, there might be an armed robber returning to that car. If he had just parked like a normal person, the incident would have never happened. 2nd mistake Brown makes is to escalate the situation by not complying with the cops orders, and not cooperating with the officer trying to identify him. 3rd mistake he makes is putting his hands in his pockets and refusing to remove them when ordered by the cop to do so, putting the cops safety in jeopardy, which leads to him being taken down. Once on the ground, the video doesn't show what happened, but it can be assumed that his continued resistance led to being tasered. Sterling Brown was 100% responsible for turning a parking ticket into an arrest. Kareem goes on with the tired blacks are victims of a corrupt society and police force narrative. In the City of Milwaukee the population is about 40% black, 37% white. Violent crime in Milwaukee on a yearly basis is committed by blacks about 80 some percent of the time and by whites 4-5% of the time, so who is responsible for the perception.
0 # economagic 2018-05-30 15:07
It appears that you are either saying that Black people are NOT victims and have not been since they were first brought to America in chains, or that you are blaming them for having been oppressed as a group for close to five centuries. It also appears that you are saying that USian society and policing are NOT corrupt. That is an elitist view, typical of the hard right wing due either to malice or to ignorance.
-12 # Cowboy 45 2018-05-27 06:35
If young black men don't want to be perceived as criminals, then maybe they should stop acting like criminals. There is an absolute epidemic of car theft in Milwaukee, they steal cars like Brown's and the perpetrators of the crimes look like Sterling Brown. Are the cops not supposed to rely on their experiences to do their jobs? How would you propose the cops handle someone who is non compliant and elusive? What would you do if that person who is being non compliant and elusive put his hands in his jacket and refused orders to remove them? Black people are the victims of a bad reputation, however they are the ones who have earned that reputation and will continue to be victims of their own behavior until that changes.
0 # mebemo 2018-05-27 19:15
Quoting Cowboy 45:
I Black people are the victims of a bad reputation, however they are the ones who have earned that reputation and will continue to be victims of their own behavior until that changes.

You could say the same of humanity in general, and it won't change until we learn to practice the principle of loving one another. Unconditionally .
+4 # starhelix 2018-05-28 09:26
Mr. Jabbar and I are about the same age. We grew up playing basketball at rival schools. However, the climate in America, at that time, allowed for upward mobility for just about everyone. After World War 2, America commanded half of the goods and services produced in the world. So, Kareem's parents and mine got the chance to send their children to the best schools based on our scholastic abilities first, just like any other children. In Donald Trump's America, the rich are allowed to get richer while those in need are discarded as so much human waste. Trump signaled his perspective on America's near-term prospects after taking that escalator with Melania. He promptly started calling Mexicans rapists while celebrating immigrants from Norway. His cruel and racist words encouraged division and discontent. He's produced policy which is designed to set the world on fire. When Trump took that infamous escalator ride, few folks noticed it was going down, not up. As a nation, we're simply going in the wrong direction. Donald J. Trump is driving America onto the ash heap of history.
-3 # Cowboy 45 2018-05-28 17:39
It is like you people live in an alternate universe. Trump is a huge advocate for school vouchers that would give families who live in neighborhoods with failing schools the same opportunity you had to go to better schools. The democrats are the ones fighting school choice which would provide the very upward mobility you speak of and help minorities in bad neighborhoods to change their lives.
0 # economagic 2018-05-29 21:14
I believe it is you who live in an alternative universe, in which you see all and know all, including knowledge of what people have written without even having read it.

Starhelix is saying almost exactly what you are saying, in particular the s/he is aware of being a member of a privileged elite, as is Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, as am I and a high school friend with whom I have recently reconnected, in that we had a good basic education in the public schools of a half-century ago, equal to all but the very best today.

Call it Grace or call it good luck: We didn't ask for it and we earned it only to the extent that when it was placed in front of us we responded, having had the foresight to be born to families that would nurture us in an era when the despots had decided for the moment that they needed our help to consolidate their power after the Thirty Years' War.

It is largely by the efforts of a significant portion of our generation, based on what we had learned, that significant opposition to the plans of the would-be tyrants have any opposition at all. What is your beef with those who acknowledge their good fortune and live their lives in attempts to become worthy of it?
-2 # Cowboy 45 2018-05-30 08:22
If you want to acknowledge your privilege, that is fine. My point is the lefties are the ones who are keeping those born into less privileged circumstances the chance to get the same education they took advantage of.
+1 # CEB 2018-05-30 02:31
Are you kidding? Vouchers are the means to allow the alt right to deny funding for quality public school education while at the same time touting vouchers as a means to compete in the private school market, when the actual value of the vouchers does not approximate the price of a private school education and does not provide a place for every qualified child to be enrolled, much less any child who wants to attend. The voucher system has done nothing but continue to undermine the opportunities for quality public school education which used to be every child’s right. Vouchers are the ultimate shell game especially for lower income students and their families.

As for neighborhoods with failing schools , the answer to that would be funding schools through an equitable funding method rather than the present system of funding schools through local property taxes which means schools in low income neighborhoods, with reduced tax ratables suffer from grossly inadequate funding while the wealthier school districts can afford much more enhanced education programs, So the answer is not to bleed dry the public education system but to enhance it through more equitable funding strategies that give schools the opportunity to offer education opportunities to all children regardless of where they live and their income strata.
-2 # Cowboy 45 2018-05-30 08:30
There is no correlation between the amount of money spent on education and the educational product. Inner city schools are not under performing because of a lack of funding, it is the learning environment, and the culture of the families sending their kids there. If you have good kids who want to learn they should have the opportunity to go to another school.
0 # economagic 2018-05-30 14:58
OK, got it. This is the same old pseudo-conserva tive cant we've been getting from the hard right for 4-5 decades now--or perhaps the "genuinely disfranchised right," people who have been screwed even worse than most by "the system" and have adopted "conservative" ideas as an explanation, as opposed to fat cats and other elites (including some academics) who claim falsely to be disfranchised.

Most of it is simply nonsense, with your first sentence a prime example. If there were NO correlation between money spent on education and educational outcomes (education is not a "product," an intentional category error promoted by the capitalist right wing), a community that spent nothing on education would have the same outcomes as a community with similar demographics that spent a million dollars per student, which we know is not the case.

More basically, "educational outcomes" result not from any single cause but from many causes simultaneously, influencing each other as well as the students and teachers in real time. We now understand that multiple causation is involved with almost everything this side of planetary motions and billiard balls (Newton's mechanics, 350 years old).

A radical idea: Shouldn't all schools be as good as they can be, a key aspect of which would be to provide every child with educational opportunity tailored to her/his needs and (to some extent) interests? It is not the left that opposes such policies, and the Democratic Party is not "left."

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