Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sacrificing Black Lives for the American Lie

A memorial in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown was killed by the police in 2014.CreditCharlie Riedel/Associated Press
Why are police officers rarely charged for taking black lives, and when they are, why do juries rarely convict? 
Many Americans asked this question when a Minnesota jury decided that Philando Castile was responsible for his own death and that the officer who shot him, Jeronimo Yanez, did nothing wrong. Many Americans asked it again a few days later, when the police released the seemingly damning video from the dashboard camera of Officer Yanez’s patrol car.
We may never know why justice is still segregated from black death. Prosecutors, like juries, deliberate behind closed doors. But that has not stopped people trying to find answers. On one side, people say: America is racist, and jurors are like cops — they hate black people. On the other: The police account is indisputable. Black lives do not matter.
The deeper answer is that black death matters. It matters to the life of America, by which I mean the blood flow of ideas that give life to Americans’ perceptions of their nation.
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In these high-profile cases, it is not just police officers who are on trial. America is on trial. Either these deaths are justified, and therefore America is just, or these deaths are unjustified, and America is unjust.
Many Americans — possibly most — think the criminal justice system is fair. Nearly 63 million Americans elected a president who rejects the idea that there is a systemic war against black people and accepts the idea that there is a systemic war against cops. A survey by the Pew Research Center last year found that 50 percent of whites feel the races are treated equally by the police, compared with 16 percent of blacks. Even more whites feel the races are treated equally in the courts. The survey found that 38 percent of whites think their country has no more racial work to do.
These Americans refuse to see their country as a place where racist politicians and judges maintain laws that form a racist criminal justice system that produces and defends racist cops who disproportionately kill innocent black people. When they are told that black males aged 15 to 34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers last year, they assume something must be wrong with those young men, since discrimination is over. They cannot help blaming Mr. Castile, even though he calmly told the officer about his registered gun, even though he never pulled it out, even though he had been stopped by officers 49 times in 13 years.
“Post-racial” is a new term with an old pedigree. Ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal,” Americans have seen their nation as post-racial, as egalitarian.
As a result, Americans defended slavery by characterizing it as a necessary evil or a positive good. As Florida secessionists stated in their unpublished Declaration of Causes in 1861, Americans enslaved black people because “their natural tendency” was toward “idleness, vagrancy and crime.”
A century ago, Americans believed the “Negro problem” had been solved through the separate but equal wings of Jim Crow, so those who violated its laws deserved to be punished. “The greatest existing cause of lynching is the perpetration, especially by black men, of the hideous crime of rape,” President Theodore Roosevelt said in his Annual Message to Congress on Dec. 3, 1906.
Fifty years ago, some Americans blamed the “rioters” who rebelled and were killed by the police in nearly 130 cities for their own deaths.
And over the past few decades, prosecutors and juries ruled that the officers who killed Eleanor Bumpurs and Amadou Diallo and Rekia Boyd and Michael Brown and Eric Garner were innocent.
When black criminality ceased, black death would cease, President Roosevelt suggested. Black people were violent, not the slaveholder, not the lyncher, not the cop. Many Americans are still echoing that argument today.
This blaming of the black victim stands in the way of change that might prevent more victims of violent policing in the future. Could it be that some Americans would rather black people die than their perceptions of America? Is black death more palatable than accepting the racist reality of slaveholding America, of segregating America, of mass-incarcerating America? Is black death the cost of maintaining the myth of a just and meritorious America?
This is not just the America people perceive. This is the America people seem to love. And they are going to defend their beloved America against all those nasty charges of racism. People seem determined to exonerate the police officer because they are determined to exonerate America.
And in exonerating the police officer and America of racism, people end up exonerating themselves. Americans who deeply fear black bodies, who think their fears are sensible, can empathize when cops like Officer Yanez testify that they feared for their lives.
To diagnose police officers’ lethal fears as racist, juries and prosecutors would also have to diagnose their own fears of black bodies as racist. That is a tall task. It may even be easier to get a racist cop convicted of murdering a black person than it is to get a racist American to acknowledge his or her own racism. Racist Americans keep justice as far away from black death as possible to keep the racist label as far away from themselves as possible.
But this can change. Killing the post-racial myth and confessing racism is the first step toward antiracism. Police officers can recognize that label as the start of their better selves instead of the end of their careers. Americans can recognize that label as an opening to a just future.
Black people and the post-racial myth cannot both live in the United States of America.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Vote Delayed as Republicans Struggle to Marshal Support for Health Care Bill

Senator Susan Collins, center, said she would vote against the motion to begin debate scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday. CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Facing intransigent Republican opposition, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced on Tuesday that he will delay a vote on his legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, dealing President Trump an embarrassing setback on a key part of his agenda.
Republican leaders had hoped to take a page from the playbook used to get a bill over the line in the House, appeasing the most conservative members of their conference while pressuring moderates to fall in line with fewer concessions.
But as opposition mounted in both camps, even against a vote just to take up the bill, Mr. McConnell decided he would delay consideration until after the Senate’s weeklong July 4 recess.
“We will not be on the bill this week, but we will still be working to get at least 50 people in a comfortable place,” Mr. McConnell said.
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That delay does not guarantee the senators will come together. Opposition groups will mount pressure campaigns on lawmakers in their home states, and policy divisions are deep.
“It’s hard to see how tinkering is going to satisfy my personal concerns,” Ms. Collins told reporters.
Negotiations on Tuesday that leaders hoped would move senators toward yes only exposed the fissures in the Republican Party. Conservatives were demanding that states be allowed to waive the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on insurance companies charging sick people more for coverage and are asking for a more expansive waiver system for state regulators. They also wanted more money for tax-free health savings accounts to help people pay for private insurance.
Senators from states that expanded the Medicaid program — and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine — would not brook many of those changes, especially the measure to severely undermine protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. They wanted more money for mental health benefits for people addicted to opioids and money for states to cover people left behind by the rollback of the Medicaid program in both the House and Senate versions.
Three Republican senators — Ms. Collins, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — had announced they would vote against the motion to begin debate that had been scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday, joining Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who made the same pledge on Friday.

Where Senators Stand on the Health Care Bill

A real-time count of every senator’s position.
A bevy of other senators from both flanks of the party seemed headed in the same direction if they did not see changes made to the Senate health care bill, leaving the measure in deep peril, since Republicans can only lose two votes from their own party.
The release of a Congressional Budget Office evaluation on Monday did little to help leaders roll up votes from either side of the fence. The budget office said the Senate bill would leave 22 million more uninsured after 10 years, while sending out-of-pocket medical expenses skyrocketing for the working poor and those nearing retirement.
The budget office did not provide conservatives with support for their demands either. The state waivers already in the Senate bill “would probably cause market instability in some areas” and “would have little effect on the number of people insured” by 2026, the analysis concluded. Adding still more waivers, including one that could allow insurers to price the sick out of the health care market, could deprive even more people of health care.
Even before Mr. McConnell’s decision, White House officials had braced for the likelihood that the procedural vote would fail and that they would have to revisit the measure after the Fourth of July recess — when they hoped to be able to woo Mr. Johnson, who has been a surprisingly fierce critic of the bill from the right. The senator has repeatedly warned that this week is too soon to vote on the health care measure, as Republican senate leaders have insisted they need to do.
Vice President Mike Pence, attended the Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday and then broke off for private meetings with Mr. Heller, a seemingly firm “no” and the first moderate Republican to break with Mr. McConnell over the bill, and Rob Portman of Ohio, who is feeling pressure from his state’s governor, John R. Kasich, to oppose the bill and defend Ohio’s Medicaid expansion.
Mr. Portman was the subject of a spirited evaluation of his open criticism of the bill by Mr. McConnell, who was frustrated with the expansion-state senators who showed their hand early to other wavering colleagues, dooming the bill for now. Mr. McConnell was unhappy that Mr. Portman seemed to be abandoning his previous stance on fiscal rectitude by opposing Medicaid cuts in the bill.
But the Ohio senator was getting it from both sides. Mr. Kasich appeared in Washington on Tuesday to sharply criticize the Senate bill. The governor said he was deeply concerned about millions of people losing coverage under the bill.
“Who would lose this coverage?” Mr. Kasich said. “The mentally ill, the drug addicted, the chronically ill. I believe these are people that need to have coverage.”
At the same news conference, Colorado’s Democratic governor, John W. Hickenlooper, said his state’s Republican senator, Cory Gardner, “understands the hardships and the difficulties in rural life.”
“This bill would punish people in rural Colorado,” Mr. Hickenlooper said, raising the pressure.
Doctors, hospitals and other health care provider groups came out strongly against the Senate bill, as did patient advocacy groups like the American Heart Association. But business groups were ramping up their support. In a letter on Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Senate bill and urged senators to vote for it.
The Senate bill “will repeal the most egregious taxes and mandates” of the Affordable Care Act, allowing employers to create more jobs, said Jack Howard, a senior vice president of the group. The bill, he noted, would repeal a tax on medical devices and eliminate penalties on large employers that do not offer coverage to employees.
A separate letter expressing general support for the Senate’s efforts was sent by a coalition of 28 business and employer groups including the National Association of Home Builders, the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation.
But Senate conservatives found themselves squeezed between business sentiment and their conservative base. Club for Growth, an ardently conservative political action committee, came out strongly against the Senate measure on Tuesday.
“The Club for Growth and the American people took Republicans in Congress at their word when they promised to repeal every word – ‘root and branch’ – of Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered approach to health care,” the group’s president, David McIntosh, said in a statement. “Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore. Because that’s exactly what the Senate GOP healthcare bill does: it restores Obamacare.”
Even the Trump administration is divided over what comes next, especially on the payment of subsidies to health insurance companies to compensate for reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people.
Mr. Trump has threatened to withhold the monthly payments as a way to induce Democrats to bargain with him over the future of the Affordable Care Act. Administration officials said Mr. Trump did not want to make the payments if the Senate did not pass a health care bill this week. But they said Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, had urged the White House not to cut off the payments abruptly.
A federal judge has ruled that the payments are illegal because Congress never appropriated money for them, but that ruling is being appealed. Any interruption of the payments could have a dire destabilizing effect on markets, insurers say. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina recently blamed the Trump administration’s mixed signals on the subsidy for most of its proposed 23 percent spike in premiums next year.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, defended the administration’s position at his briefing on Friday.
“If the president were to hypothetically say that he’s going to make the payments in perpetuity or for a year, I think that continues to prop up a failed system,” Mr. Spicer said. “It continues to do wrong by the American taxpayer. And it also doesn’t lend itself to the expediency that I think we want to — help get a new health care system in place.”

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