We need to have a real talk about race — and the police

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

It was a quiet night in Chester County, last night. Thankfully.

But all around America, angry protests — and yes looting, burning and violence — broke out for another night over the police killing of George Floyd, captured on video that literally made it around the world. One of the officers involved was ultimately arrested and charged with third degree murder, but other officers involved or who stood by watching for six minutes have not been charged.

People of color are angry. Whether it was a black jogger, Ahrmaud Arbery, murdered — again on video — in Georgia or the paramedic, Breonna Taylor, murdered in her bed during a police raid on the wrong home, it is hard to blame them.

When people like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid attempted to peacefully protest a previous wave of wrongful killings of POC by police — such as Eric Garner — they were vilified, and in Kaepernick’s case, it cost him his career.

When peaceful protest is cut off — and anger is sparked by a racist President and his White Nationalist supporters — it is inevitable that protest becomes less than peaceful. It is in the DNA of the United States — the Boston Tea Party was not a quaint tea party, but the culmination of a series of violent protests and threats against the British authorities by angry colonists feeling oppressed.

I don’t condone violence, the burning of businesses and the looting by opportunists — watching the white faces opportunistically looting on Market Street in Philly last night disgusted me.

But I understand the anger.

Aside from being in the middle of a pandemic and a wrecked economy with a grossly incompetent federal government, we have two serious problems: race and a minority of police officers that are out of control. And yes, these tensions are being aggravated on social media and elsewhere by foreign powers — Russia to be specific, according to US Intelligence estimates — but the tensions are real.

When it comes to race, I could write dozens of books on the subject and not scratch the surface. We are still, in the whole, a racist nation — and people of color do not have the same lives and liberty that we, the white privileged class, enjoy. It may hurt your feelings — but it is the truth and until we all admit it, we’re not going to fix it.

Now, as for the police, that, too is a complicated issue, with causes from race, an over-militarization of police, poor training and management, and justifiable fear.

You may not want to acknowledge it, but some — a small minority — white police officers are racist, consciously or unconsciously. They are much more likely to look hard at a POC than a white person. My own, completely unscientific sense is that there appears to be a much higher percentage of local arrests of POC than the population would seem to merit, from seeing the police blotter reports. Maybe — and I hope so — I’m wrong about this, but others have made the same suggestion.

Like it or not, we’ve overly militarized our police, which sets up the kind of gung-ho madness we saw Friday and Saturday night, when a CNN news crew was arrested in Minneapolis, a local news crew had an officer fire pepper spray rounds at them for literally no reason, other journalists were arrested or shot at with rubber bullets, including an MSNBC anchor — elsewhere journalists were tear gassed and harassed.

This was in Philadelphia, last night:


We in the media need to reevaluate our relationship with the police.

For too long, too many outlets have been little more than stenographers for police — telling one side of the story, blindly trusting the reports. That trust has been broken and we must treat all information from police with a skeptical eye — in other words, we have to be less lazy, less willing to run for clickbait. Prosecutors and police love to see arrests reported in the media as proof of how valuable their work is — and I’m not suggesting otherwise — but it is high time we in the press stop taking them at face value. There are always two sides of the story and we’ve been reporting just one for too long.

We need to be prepared to hold police accountable when they break the rules — too often we look the other way as media members. We cannot any longer.

Which brings us to the militarization of police. In too many cities, last night, we didn’t see police — we saw black-clad combat troops, in some cases, spoiling for a fight.

The reason we ended up with an arms race with police are the number of insane, military weapons on the streets. Police get geared up because they literally don’t know what they’re going to face on a traffic stop — while we remember the officer-involved deaths, we often forget how many officers we lose in the line of duty every year. Too many.

It’s hard to blame police for being afraid that they might not make it home after their shifts — and that fear drives some of the aggressive overreaction in some situations.

Unless we can get some of these crazy weapons off the streets — and keep guns out of the hands of criminals through enhanced background checks — this is going to continue to be an issue.

We need to have frank, honest conversations about race and how we police. Until that happens, this cycle will continue, with more ruined lives, more anger and destruction.


Until things got out of hands this week, I had planned to write asking how Republicans let their party get hijacked not just by immoral, unprincipled people, but frankly, stupid people.

It was not always so, of course — the GOP could always depend on evil genius’ from Roger Ailes to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove. You could — and should — question their ethics, but man, they saw the political chessboard like grand masters and knew exactly the right moves and which fictions to spin.

For a generation, Democrats often spun their wheels with having facts on their side — seemly unable to cope with a fictitious narrative (like say, Supply Side Economics) because they figured the truth would win the day. It didn’t. It still doesn’t, sadly.

I guess, though, what we’re seeing is what happens when liars start to believe their lies.

Let’s start with Donald Trump’s attempted assault on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Let me be up front: I actually support withdrawing it, which would require an act of Congress.

Why? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like would have to moderate all posts and be responsible for the content on their pages (which would vastly change the media landscape in favor of traditional publishers). I am willing to add that responsibility for my sites — we’ve always moderated comments, although with no Section 230, there are a lot of comments, mostly from right-wing kooks that would just be deleted.

Before you scream “First Amendment!” let me remind you: you have no First Amendment rights on this site, Twitter or Facebook. None. In the case of The Times, what appears here is solely my call, period. I own this site — if you want to express your opinion, go start your own site, that’s the extent of your First Amendment rights.

Rest assured, I’m going to be a lot less lenient from here on out when it comes to idiot right-wing comments spouting fictional arguments.

So, why is Trump’s take stupid? Well, without Section 230 protection, Trump would basically have to be banned from social media — he has libeled multiple individuals, advocated for violence and ignored the Terms of Service for each publisher. The same holds true for a lot of trolls, left and right.

I’m fine with it, but it would deprive Trump of oxygen, which is, well, pretty stupid from his standpoint.

Let’s move on to the subject of mail in voting. While the Pennsylvania GOP has been promoting the use of mail in absentee ballots, Trump has been blasting it, falsely claiming widespread corruption with mail in ballots (ironically, most of the documented abuse with mail in ballots was done by Republicans, such as the recent case in North Carolina).

The fallout? According to numbers I saw Friday, Democrats have sent in about 1.3 million ballots by mail for the primary election. Republicans have sent in a little more than 500,000. Yes, some of the difference is a number of contested races on the Democratic side — but not all.

With no-excuse mail in ballots good to go for the November election, it looks like the crusade against them will cost the GOP crucial votes here this fall — and without winning Pennsylvania, Trump probably can’t win reelection.

Once again, stupidity.

Lastly, the entire story with State Rep. Andrew Lewis testing positive and House Republicans not bothering to tell their Democratic colleagues is both mendacious and stupid.

It’s bad enough these idiots — a majority of House Republicans — are running around, refusing to wear masks, calling, essentially for armed insurrection against Gov. Tom Wolf over the shutdown. But lacking the basic humanity to share the fact that Democratic lawmakers might have been exposed to COVID-19 shows something beyond stupidity. It reveals a deep and abiding lack of any moral core, any acknowledgement of the humanity of the Democratic members.

Fortunately, for Pennsylvania, the people of Pennsylvania aren’t as heartless — or stupid — as many of these GOP elected officials. They see what is happening and will be voting in November.

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