Tuesday, August 9, 2022

White Privilege? Well, Maybe...Yes!

No one wants to think their accomplishments in life are a result of unfair advantage.  We all worked hard to get where we are today.  But some of us had some lucky breaks not everyone gets.

I wrote before about our lovely Police Department in Glynn County, Georgia - the one that entraps closeted gay men and shakes them down for money.  The one that has former members who shot a jogger - for jogging - and then covered the whole thing up (They are all in jail now with life sentences, and the prosecuting attorney who declined to bring charges is up on charges and will lose her law license - there is some justice in the world).

There are some good cops in that Police Department, though.  They are overshadowed by the bad ones and as a result, many good cops leave once a department gets a bad reputation.  I'm not saying things are bad, only that the State passed a law allowing us to disband our county police if we choose to do so.  You don't do that over a disputed parking ticket - shit has gone down.

So I do not want to smear the whole department with the actions of a few (or many).  There are good cops out there.  Trust me.  We only hear about the bad ones or bad things that happen to good cops or cops doing tragically stupid things like shooting a motorist with what they thought was their taser, or more recently, shot a trainee officer with what they thought was an inert training gun.  In both of those cases, the officers (or contractor) were devastated by the mistake - they killed an innocent person.  But it illustrates why Police work is so hard.  At your slug job, no one dies if you make a mistake, unless you are a doctor perhaps, or a guy doing brake jobs.  Most of us don't have stressful jobs, so consider that before indicting the entire Police world.

But getting back to our story, I heard this from two Glynn County cops and I was kind of appalled by it.  They were recounting what they thought was a humorous story about a traffic stop.  One of the cops was following an older full-sized white Cadillac - you know, the old huge square ones - and saw two black guys inside.  "I could smell the marijuana smoke right in my patrol car!" he laughed.  So he ran the tags and they were expired.  So he does a Terry-type stop based on reasonable suspicion (expired tags).

Now this is the part I missed when I heard this story the first time.  I've been pulled over for expired tags before - expired license and expired insurance, too!  They were innocent mistakes, but since I was driving a late-model car and was white, all the Officer did was say, "Well, get that straightened out first thing in the morning!" and I was on my way.  This pretty much reflects my interactions with law enforcement for the most part - with two notable exceptions.  Most of the time it's have-a-nice-day and move on.  Even as a teenager, the local cops would often be lenient as they realized our parents were taxpayers.  Not so much for young black teens - they are always suspect of something.

Getting back to our story, the two young men in the car were brothers.  Both were married and had children and jobs and supported their families.  They also liked to smoke pot and that Sunday, the kids were with Grandma and their wives were at work, so they decided to hang out and get high.  Well, you know how that works if you ever saw a Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar movie. They got high, got the munchies and decided to drive into town and get a pizza.

Sadly, one of the two had a suspended driver's license and unfortunately he chose to drive.  So they got pulled over for the expired tag and when the officer asked for license and registration and ran the numbers, well, he nabbed the driver for driving on a suspended license.  He smelled pot in the car and saw a roach in the ashtray (he claims) and searched the car (consent really doesn't matter - if you don't consent, they just send for a "drug-sniffing dog" who "indicates" by scratching his balls, and they search the car).  They found a small quantity of marijuana and two 40-ounce beer bottles.

So they slap the cuffs on these two outlaws, who were driving in the right lane, doing the speed limit of 35 MPH and were not likely a threat to anyone.  If they had been white, they likely would not have even been pulled over. Yes, they made mistakes, but were they mistakes worthy of ruining their lives?

You see, they were jailed and could not afford to post bail, as the only asset they had was the car, which was towed to the impound lot and saddled with a $250 towing fee and a $100 a day storage fee.  In a few days, the fees tacked on to the car were far more than the families could afford and close to the book value of the car, despite it being in good shape.  Since they could not make bail, they were tossed in the County lockup for nearly 48 hours before they could be arraigned before a judge.

The bad news was, since they couldn't make bail, they were remanded to the custody of the County jail awaiting trial (and that's a long awaiting!).  Since they didn't report for work and news of their arrest was published in the local paper (which has a "humorous" Police Blotter column every week, describing the people arrested as "rapscallions" or other colorful names) they ended up losing their jobs.

Trial finally came and since they could not afford a lawyer, they got a court-appointed one, and in our County they are paid bubkis.  The lawyer suggested a plea deal - 10 months in County lockup (which is worse than the State Pen) in return for a guilty plea.  Since they had barely over an ounce of marijuana, they were facing 1-10 years for their "crime" - so they took the plea.  Being black in small-town small-minded Georgia, you learn early on not to challenge the system, lest they make an example of you.

So, two families are torn apart. Two working fathers who paid taxes and supported their kids, now unemployed and unemployable due to an arrest and conviction record - which will show up on any background check for a job, an apartment, for anything.  The family car was impounded and eventually sold for storage fees.  Maybe it wasn't much of a car to you and me, but it was presentable and reliable and paid-for.  Now they have no car at all.  And we have no real bus service in Brunswick.

Worse yet, these two brothers, when they are in jail, will have to learn to survive, mostly by joining a gang.  You hope to stay out of trouble and do your time, but some folks make it their job to try to thwart that, by making you a discipline problem or fingering you for a crime inside.  The brothers learn more about the criminal world in jail, and once they are out, they are disillusioned about society, the Police, and the world in general.  Why bother playing by the rules when the game is stacked against you?

Now, as a white guy, if that were me in the same situation, it is unlikely I would even be pulled over, or if I was, probably given a warning or a ticket.  No handcuffs, no jail, no tow truck.  But even if the officer went that route and hauled me off to jail, I likely would be released quickly, likely on my own recognizance.  I could make bail if I had to, and pay off the towing fee.  These are annoying costs to me, but hardly staggering.  I could write a check for them, or at worst, put it on a credit card.

Then I would hire a good lawyer, who would talk to the District Attorney (who first came to work for him when they graduated from law school) and likely it would never go to trial.  I would be fined and sentenced to "community service" would would not likely entail picking up trash on I-95, but instead I would be giving a speech to the ladies' garden club on rich people's island.  Chicken salad - yum!

So yea, there is white privilege.

In my own life, I have been the recipient of some advantages that came because of my race and status. I recounted before how I was able to get a mortgage to purchase my office building after a phone call with the president of the bank, and I even had the balls to tell him what interest the loan would be at (and he agreed - to a 0.5% rate cut!).  I bought the building for about half the asking price as well.  I wonder whether a black attorney with the same financial credentials would have scored the same deal.

Like anything else, you can't directly "prove" you got an advantage or blacks were screwed, one way or another.  Statistics show, of course, that blacks get longer sentences for the same crimes that white people commit.  So there's that.  But is that racial or economic or are the two intertwined?  White people, statistically are wealthier than blacks, and thus can afford expensive attorneys, and also afford to contribute to the re-election campaign of the Judge (act shocked!).  The system is less inclined to challenge wealth and power - there is push-back.  You ticket a poor person for a trivial matter, they have to pay the fine or end up having thousands of dollars tacked-on. You ticket a rich person, they just pay the fine or have their attorney argue the case down to a lesser offense. I did this myself when I was younger, until I went to the well too many times.  There is a limit, even for white privilege.

I noted before how as a teenager, I hung out with kids who did stupid things like vandalizing. They rarely got into real trouble, as their parents were solidly suburban white people.  When caught, in most instances, they were taken home to their parents and "given a good talking-to!"  I am not sure the same would be true for a kid from the ghetto, caught throwing rocks at streetlights.  I'm guessing he would be arrested.  And an arrest record makes it harder to get a job down the road, which is why white parents plead with judges (and hire lawyers, etc.) to make it all go away via "youthful offender status" and have their record wiped away at age 18.  White Privilege.

So yea, it does exist, and yea, it sucks to think that we view our lives as personal accomplishments that are based solely on our hard work and ingenuity.  While without that hard work and ingenuity, our life accomplishments wouldn't happen - that does not mean they were the only reason for our success.  We have head starts in some areas of life, others have handicaps.  It isn't a fair system and never was and never will be - entirely.

Where the whole "White Privilege" thing sticks in peoples' craw is the perception that in order to eliminate "white privilege" we have to take away advantages given to whites instead of merely leveling the playing field more.  And this perception is true for both liberals and conservatives.  Liberals (some anyway - the wacky variety) think that whites need to "check" their privilege - and shut up and stop talking and give up advantages they had, in order to not only level the playing field but tilt it in the other direction to "make up" for past discrimination.

With 70% of the population being white, good luck with that.

Besides, it's just wrong.  We don't have to take away from one group to help another group that was disadvantaged.  We just need to try to apply those advantages to the disadvantaged groups.  Yes, a tall order, I know, as much of this is subtle and under-the-radar, and the folks involved don't even realize they are doing it.  The cop pulling over the white couple with four kids in a minivan doesn't realize he is already predisposed to issue a warning.  These people look like his family and surely Dad was distracted by the antsy kids which is why he was doing 10 over the limit.   Actually, if you think about it, that would be the perfect disguise for a cocaine "mule" running up I-95 from Miami to New York.  No one would suspect a thing!

Yup. White Privilege.