Thursday, February 19, 2009

The New York Post and Racist Terror in Houston

by Norman Markowitz

Thanks to our blog, I just joined the protest against the New York Post's sociopathic cartoon connecting the recent tragedy of shot by the police after attacking its owner with cops riddling with bullets a chimp made to represent President Obama as they say,"They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus package."

Just good clean KKK, neo Nazi fun? In my response I said that I thought immediately of Julius Streicher, the "editor" of the Nazis anti-Semitic tabloid, Der Sturmer, which specialized in portraying Jews as both lecherous beasts and degraded, dehumanized creatures. Racist portrayals of African Americans as either comical or violent animals, who could be beaten and killed for the pleasure of superior whites was long a staple of newspaper and later animated cartoons in U.S. popular culture(see the late Marlon Riggs great documentary Ethnic Notions, to get a clearer and fuller understanding of this) The message, whether it was from Klansmen here or Nazis there or the "mainstream" publications which helped to legitimize their hatred was simple--Blacks, Jews, or you select a target, forfeit the right to be considered human if they don't keep their place, and we can turn on them, even a President of the United States, when he dares come forward with an economic rescue plan that New York Post owner Rupert Murdoch doesn't like, can be portrayed as chimp shot to pieces by cops, as a warning to any African-American, in this case even President Barack Obama, that he can be killed with impunity if he doesn't do what is expected of him by the likes of Rupert Murdoch.

I came across this atrocity in print after listening to an account of a related atrocity in real life that happened last New Years eve in , Bellaire an affluent suburb of Houston, Texas. I heard about the atrocity on New York Sports Radio while listening to sports analyst Mike Francesa, whose analysis of games, teams, and individuals respect. On New Years Eve, Robbie Tolan, the son of former National League baseball player Bobby Tolan, and his cousin were stopped by police as they drove into Bobby Tolan's home.

The police did not identify themselves and began to arrest the two, forcing them down. While Bobby Tolan and his wife, in pajamas, walked out and Bobby Tolan tried to tell the police officer that the two were his son and nephew and that the car was his, he was pushed against a door and his wife thrown against a garage door. When his son, lying on the ground, turned around and cursed the policeman for pushing his mother against the garage, the police officer shot him in the chest.

And the horror continued as Bobby Tolan, his wife, and his nephew were held in police cars. It seems that the police had run the license plate of the car incorrectly and concluded that it was a stolen car. But they did not follow even elemental police procedure. Although Tolan has
lived in the area and it is heavily patrolled by police, this didn't matter. Although Tolan could here on the police radio that the cops on the seen were being told that the car was not stolen, he was kept in the car as a cordon of police gathered around trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, he, his wife, and nephew were released and were able to get to the hospital to see his son, whose life was literally at stake. With the help of a supportive hospital staff, they kept the police away from his son, who survived but has a bullet in his liver. Tolan discussed all of this in an interview on Mike Francesa's radio program today. What he and his family has asked for is an apology from the local government and the police and so far they have received nothing, except statements of support from some officials for the policeman who shot his some and comments from the mayor that the incident is under investigation.

These two events are not really disconnected, since the values in the New York Post cartoon was in effect acted out by the police, if Tolan's account is accurate(and from what I can garner from press reports of the event, it is). If a president can be so portrayed, why not the son of a distinguished major league baseball player, himself a would-be major leaguer with no criminal record of any kind. Francesa asked Tolan if he thought it would have helped if he had told the police about his baseball background. Tolan said he wouldn't do that but in a community where African Americans constitute 1 percent of the population and (according to the program) 44 percent of police stops, the racial profiling that the local police are denying seems to be a way of life.

This is not just about one Rupert Murdoch tabloid that the hip of New York usually laugh at although for those like myself who are old enough to remember when the Post was New York's only consistent liberal-labor newspaper, there is always more sadness than laughter. This isn't just about one more rich white Southern suburb whose police look for Blacks the soldiers look for potential invaders across a militarized border. It is about the forces who were decisively defeated in the last election, those who sold racism along with other prejudices and sheer ignorance for so long and now become more rabid than ever before.

The petition I signed calls for an apology by the New York Post and the firing of the Editor who passed on the cartoon. Why not a boycott of local New York advertisers whose ads appear in the Post. After all, cartoons like that tell us that the Post's target market is made of KKK and neo Nazi types, who aren't known to have that much disposable income in New York City.

As for the atrocity in Texas, a federal investigation might be called for, since the Civil Rights laws were passed to stop among other things both citizens and police from engaging in acts like this and getting away with it through power structure cover ups.

Racism in all of its forms, ideological, institutional, is still on the playing field, feeding off inequality, offering scapegoats as a substitute for policies to face the present economic crisis. It must be literally knocked down with reasoned condemnation and firm action every time it raises its head.