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Wed Jul 17, 2019, 08:10 PM

The Rules Still Favor the Racists

Systemic racism is typically a silent villain. We see it working its way through the brains of children affected by lead poisoning in underserved communities, or limiting their potentials with terrible educations in lousy schools. Redlining and wealth disparities rarely make a sound. But this nation certainly was built upon a creaky foundation of bigotry and discrimination. And occasionally, it squeaks loudly enough enough for us to hear it.

In New York City on Tuesday morning, that racism was loud and clear when the judge’s gavel closed the court proceedings on the Eric Garner case, after Attorney General William Barr overruled his own Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to decline all charges against NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner in 2014. The official line is that prosecutors in New York’s DOJ division worried about proving intent, as if it would have been difficult to make a case that a man who continues applying an illegal chokehold to an unarmed man repeatedly pleading “I can’t breathe” is a mountain they just couldn’t climb. In that case, there are two instances of systemic racism at work: an Attorney General allied with a politically conservative president who games that system to let another cop off for killing a black man, and the rule written into our laws that gives him the excuse, saying the killing had to be intentional for the punishment to be prosecutable.

Another written rule, much less consequential, attracted much more attention later that day in Washington because the people involved are more famous and more white, and the racism being discussed was spoken and therefore, seemingly more urgent for Americans to address.

One after the other, House Democrats paraded to the microphone to decry President Trump’s tweets on Sunday directed at four unnamed House members — though it was easy to discern that he was aiming at Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, all women and none of them white. Had Trump actually used the words “go back to Africa,” it wouldn’t have been that much more racist. But yet the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was briefly prohibited from speaking at all on the House floor for calling the tweets what they were.

Pelosi, who rushed to defend the four targeted Congresswomen despite their recent quarrels, said on the House floor that “these comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting, and those comments are racist.” She added that “Every member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us to condemn the president’s racist tweets.” Soon thereafter, Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, a Republican who had obviously read his playbook, invoked a rarely used procedure to have her remarks stricken from the House record. I didn’t witness it, but as a football fan, I shivered when I saw the hour’s delay likened to the most nightmarish NFL official’s replay deliberation one can imagine. Ultimately, her words were determined to be out of order, but a vote to remove her words from the record failed.



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