Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Today, "Psychiatric Help 5¢" & Dr. Leibovich Is In

If St. Hofstadter lived today, he would probably amend one of his books — The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964) — to "The Lunatic Style..." In the year 2015, our national mentality has gone from paranoia to full-blooded howl-at-the-moon madness. Mark Liebovich offers a preliminary diagnosis of the Lunatic Style and ultimately concludes that it is all a matter of whose ox is being gored. If this is a (fair & balanced) virtual visit to Bedlam, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
Should We Fear The Political "Crazies"?
By Mark Leibovich

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

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The melee began, as they often do in politics, with simple umbrage. ‘‘This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me,’’ Senator John McCain told Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. He was referring to a massive rally that Donald Trump held a few days earlier in July to protest illegal immigration. McCain then followed with the kill shot. ‘‘What he did,’’ he said of Trump, ‘‘was he fired up the crazies.’’ In the annals of political deprecation, McCain’s charge of rallying the ‘‘crazies’’ was not terribly inspired. It was a far cry from, say, Teddy Roosevelt’s remark that William McKinley ‘‘has the backbone of a chocolate ├ęclair’’ or Winston Churchill’s description of Clement Attlee, the British prime minister, as ‘‘a sheep in sheep’s clothing.’’ This was not even a Top 5 effort by McCain, who will sometimes refer to reporters as ‘‘Trotskyites’’ (often with affection) and last year dismissed protesters who interrupted a Senate hearing as ‘‘lowlife scum’’ (without affection). McCain is not so much a put-down artist as he is gifted at caricaturing entire sectors and viewpoints by way of dismissing them — in this case the border hawks who turned out for Trump.

But let’s pause on ‘‘crazies.’’ The word goes to the crux of how divisions are playing out in this peculiar campaign cycle among Republicans and, to some degree, among Democrats too. It is a slur that invites philosophical questions: Exactly who is crazy and who is not in today’s political environment? Are ‘‘crazies’’ an ascendant class in opposition to the same-old political traditions and tropes: Clintons, Bushes and McCains? Can ‘‘crazies’’ be worn as a badge of honor?

Of course, McCain never intended ‘‘crazies’’ as a compliment. ‘‘We have a very extreme element within our Republican Party,’’ he said in the same New Yorker interview. To McCain, ‘‘extreme’’ equals ‘‘crazy.’’ Their position falls well beyond the American mainstream in addition to emanating from unhinged minds. The word was a variant of the more colorful ‘‘wacko birds’’ that McCain deployed in 2013 to describe the Republican senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul after they began a filibuster over the nomination of the incoming C.I.A. director, John Brennan. Taking vocal and often contrarian positions (or, if you prefer, grandstanding) can be a publicity magnet for any attention-hungry pol, no matter where he or she resides on the spectrum, political or otherwise. ‘‘It’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone,’’ McCain observed. This is true, although it’s also true of someone that tosses around quotable terms like ‘‘wacko birds.’’

In saner times — we had those once, I think — ‘‘crazies’’ could be more easily dismissed as irresponsible, sinister and maybe dangerous actors. The fringe elements have also been known variously as ‘‘hard-liners,’’ ‘‘wing nuts,’’ ‘‘wackadoodles,’’ ‘‘zealots,’’ ‘‘ideologues,’’ ‘‘die-hards,’’ ‘‘radicals’’ and ‘‘true believers.’’ ‘‘He is out there, out of the mainstream,’’ George Bush [the Elder] said of his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, during his 1988 presidential campaign. Along this line of rhetoric, deviating too far from the political middle can be likened to insanity.

There are many ways to cast an opponent as being mentally unwell (or as an ‘‘invalid,’’ as Ronald Reagan once called Dukakis). You could suggest a certain ‘‘crazy’’ is driven by narcissistic rage and a willingness to do harm to a person’s putative allies. When House Republicans were debating whether to let the government shut down in 2013 over their opposition to Obamacare, Representative Devin Nunes of California ridiculed more adamant elements of his caucus as ‘‘lemmings with suicide vests.’’ Nunes elaborated that ‘‘jumping to your death is not enough.’’ It’s not enough, either, to write off your opponents as suicidal. They don’t die, and they tend not to go away easily.

A common weapon for bludgeoning a ‘‘crazy’’ is to insinuate paranoia by consigning them to ‘‘the black-helicopter crowd.’’ The term implies a taste for conspiracy theories, especially those tied to powerful institutions (i.e., the U.S. government) against targeted civilians (i.e., them). The image of black helicopters gained currency among antigovernment and militia enthusiasts in the mid-1990s. The Republican congresswoman Helen Chenoweth said in 1995 that federal agents had been seen landing black helicopters in her rural Idaho district.

Black helicopters have become a proxy for dismissing as delusional anyone, usually on the right, who is hostile to any kind of government action. In 2013, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that a suggestion that guns need to be registered ‘‘raises all the black-helicopter-crowd notion that what this is all about is identifying who has a gun so that one day the government can get up and go to the house and arrest everyone who has a gun.’’ For good measure, Biden tacked on that ‘‘they’ll cite Nazi Germany and all that.’’ And all that.

Where to begin with the ‘‘all thats’’? My favorite corner of the black-helicopter universe is the so-called ‘‘tin-foil-hat crowd,’’ a term that plays on historical paranoia about electromagnetic radiation and the dubious belief that metal headwear might offer some protection. Sometimes, there is an occasion in American politics to use the phrase almost literally: In May, after the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee warned of ‘‘threats from an electromagnetic pulse from an exploded device that could fry the entire electrical grid and take the country back to the Stone Age,’’ you could hardly blame Salon for hailing him in a headline as ‘‘A President for the Tinfoil Hat Crowd.’’ (As a point of style, getting the term ‘‘crowd’’ into a put-down always lends an extra beat of dismissiveness.)

But the word is usually far more metaphorical and can be applied to each side. After a debate in 2012, liberal bloggers were accusing Mitt Romney of gaining an unfair advantage over Barack Obama by sneaking a cheat sheet onto his lectern. Romney supporters accused the other side of planting the story, and the Obama campaign wanted no part of this conspiracy. ‘‘We’ve never casted our lot with the tinfoil-hat crowd,’’ Ben Labolt, a spokesman for Obama, said.

Each party has always had passionate elements whom its leaders and candidates have decried as loony tunes. But as times change, so do notions of mainstream and loony tunes. Establishment candidates can wind up absorbing people into their coalitions that they might privately consider to be ‘‘crazies’’ or adapting their views to suit their campaigns. Hillary Rodham Clinton has run a far more liberal campaign to this point than she did in 2008, in part to tap into (or placate) an energized progressive base that helped sink her candidacy seven years ago. Could an actual socialist, Bernie Sanders, be a threat to her? How crazy would that be?

You could argue that these are crazy times and there are thus worse things to be called than a ‘‘crazy.’’ The affiliation suggests an admirable passion and less risk-aversion, a willingness to disrupt. In fact, many of the same Republicans that make up McCain’s ‘‘very extreme element’’ were part of the same movement — known as the Tea Party — that helped the G.O.P. win a congressional majority in 2010. They also might throw a primary scare into McCain when he seeks re-election in Arizona next year.

Trump is embracing it all. There is a thrilling quality to watching him. We tune in for the same reasons that pro-wrestling fans always watched Piper’s Pit. What will happen today? What will Rowdy Roddy say next? Crazy can make great box office. And as Trump is proving, there are clear benefits to being aligned with the crazies, especially in a Republican field so crowded that it can be difficult to get separation.

While party leaders have criticized Trump for his ‘‘tone,’’ he flouts this very criticism as emblematic of a political status quo. Not only is he correct about that, it’s arguable that the political status quo is itself a big bag of calcified crazy. The same ‘‘tone’’ — cautious and hyperdeferential — has dominated politics for a long time and yet our politics haven’t improved. Politicians are so fond of invoking that clich├ęd definition of insanity that has been variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain: ‘‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’’ And yet those same politicians keep coming back year after year, repeating the same old talking points and following the same unspoken rules.

Lindsey Graham recently referred to Trump as a ‘‘wrecking ball,’’ a term he borrowed, if not from Miley Cyrus, then from his friend McCain, who once derided John Kerry with the same metaphor in criticizing Kerry’s diplomatic forays as secretary of state. McCain was once viewed as a kind of wrecking ball, too, back in 2000, when he first ran for president and was driving his party establishment nuts. He nearly knocked off the overwhelming front-runner, George W. Bush. He spearheaded a bill, McCain-Feingold, in 2002, that overhauled the nation’s campaign-finance system (at least until the Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to that). His tone was blunt, he appeared to be making it up as he went along and he took contrarian positions. He was derided as dangerous and disruptive, even crazy, though he preferred a different term: ‘‘maverick.’’ Ω

[Mark Leibovich is the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, based in Washington, DC. He also writes the Times magazine's "Your Fellow Americans" column about politics, media, and public life. Liebovich has written three books: The New Imperialists (2002), This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America's Gilded Capital (2013), and Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion (2014). Ne received a BA (English) from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company

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Monday, July 27, 2015

This Just In: That's Not Hair On The Trumpster's Head... It's An Alien Parasite!!!

Tom Tomorrow's favorite Mad Scientist, Dr. Wilbur von Philbert, reveals the truth about the most incredible hairdo in the world: The Trumpster's head covering isn't hair. It's an alien parasite that is the source of all of the insane statements and proclamations. The way to muzzle The Trumpster: a depilated head. (Unfortunately, holes were left in Thr Trumpster's skull after the removal of alien tendrils from his brain.) Of course, the knuckle-dragging supporters of The Trumpster are completely confused by the new, rational version of The Trumpster. If this is is a (fair & balanced) explanation of irrational speech and behavior, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Obligatory Donald Trump Cartoon
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2015 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mea Culpa, In Provectus

At first, this blogger allowed Gonzo Matt's misspelling of the arresting officer's surname in the Rolling Stone article about the Sandra Bland incident to color his curatorial judgment However, Gonzo Matt should not receive the sole brickbat from this blogger, the editorial/proofreading folks at Rolling Stone deserve bickbats, too. Kudos to Gonzo Matt for showing us the underbelly of white police interaction with black "law-breakers." It amounts to lynching,whether in Ferguson, MO or Baltimore, MD or Waller County, TX. White police have exchanged the lynch-rope for service pistols, "rough rides" in police vehicles, or threats of tasers. So, in Waller County, they've invented something new: malignant neglect of jailed "suspect" and death by plastic trashbag in a jail cell. If this is a (fair & balanced) revelation of an unintended use for a Glad® Drawstring Trash Bag, so be it.

[x RS]
Sandra Bland Was Murdered
By Matt Taibbi

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So news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have "full faith" that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was "no evidence of a struggle" on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.

In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina [sic, Encinia], the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state's "courtesy policy." The state said there was "no evidence" yet of criminal behavior on Encina's [sic] part.

So barring something unexpected, we know now how this is going to play out in the media.

Many news outlets are going to engage in an indirect version of the usual blame-the-victim game by emphasizing the autopsy finding of suicide, questioning Bland's mental health history, and by highlighting the reports of marijuana found in her system.

Beyond that, we can expect a slew of chin-scratching "legal analyses" concluding that while there may have been some minor impropriety on officer Encina's [sic] part, the law governing police-motorist encounters is too "complicated" to make this anything more than a tragic accident.

Media scandals are like criminal trials. They're about assigning blame. Because Bland may have technically taken her own life, the blame is now mostly going to fall on a woman with a history of depression and drugs, instead of on a criminal justice system that morally, if not legally, surely murdered Sandra Bland.

Backing up: It's been interesting following conservative news outlets after the Bland case. They've been conspicuously quiet this week, holstering the usual gloating backlash of the "He'd be alive today, if he'd just obeyed the law" variety.

After the Garner, Brown and Freddie Gray cases, of course, law-and-order commentators flocked to the blogosphere to explain the secret to preventing police brutality.

It was simple, they explained. There's no police corruption problem. The real issue is that there are too many people who don't know how to behave during a car stop. Don't want to get murdered by police? Be polite!

A writer named John Hawkins took on the subject for TownHall.com in a piece last year carrying the not at all joking headline "How to not get shot by police." After revealing that his only real experience in this area involved speeding tickets, Hawkins lectured readers that "the first key to not getting shot" is to not think of the police as a threat:

"They're really not going to randomly beat you, arrest you or shoot you for no reason whatsoever. It's like a bee. Don't start swatting at it and chances are, it's not going to sting you.

"In fact, when a cop pulls you over, you should have your license and registration ready, you put your hands on the steering wheel so he can see them when he arrives, and you say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir.'"

It's hard to wrap one's head around the absurdity of someone like Hawkins imagining to himself that black America has not already tried using the word "sir" as a strategy to avoid beatings and killings. But over and over again, we heard stuff like this from the Fox/Real Clear crowd, which as time passed flailed around with increasing desperation in search of a non-racial explanation for all of these violent episodes.

After Eric Garner was killed, for instance, a New York Post columnist named Bob McManus argued that we should only blame — the word "only" was actually used — the "man who tragically decided to resist." Michigan's even dumber Ann Coulter wannabe, Debbie Schlussel, countered that Garner would still be alive if his parents had raised him better, and if he wasn't a "morbidly obese asthmatic."

After Ferguson, it was the same thing. Editorials insisted that the solution to the brutality problem lay in "less criminality within the black community." The officer who shot Michael Brown, Darren Wilson — the same guy who called Brown a "demon" — insisted that Brown would still be alive "if he'd just followed orders."

But nobody yet has dared to say Sandra Bland would still be alive today, if only she'd used her blinker. That's a bridge too far even for TownHall.com types.

Suddenly even hardcore law-and-order enthusiasts are realizing the criminal code is so broad and littered with so many tiny technical prohibitions that a determined enough police officer can stop and/or arrest pretty much anybody at any time.

Bland was on her way to a new job at Prairie A&M university when she was pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes, something roughly 100 percent of American drivers do on a regular basis. Irritated at being stopped, she was curt with Encina when he wrote her up. He didn't like her attitude and decided to flex his muscles a little, asking her to put out her cigarette.

She balked, and that's when things went sideways. Encina [sic] demanded that she get out of the car, reached for his Taser, said, "I'll light you up," and eventually threw her in jail.

Many editorialists following this narrative case suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how much mischief can arise from the fact that a person may be arrested at any time for "failing to obey a lawful order," which in the heat of the moment can mean just about anything.

But this same kind of logic has underpinned modern community policing in big cities all over America for decades now. Under Broken Windows and other "zero tolerance"-type enforcement strategies, police move into (typically nonwhite) neighborhoods in big numbers, tell people to move off corners, and then circle back and arrest them for "loitering" or "failing to obey a lawful order" if they don't.

Some cities have tried to put a fig leaf of legal justification on such practices by creating "drug-free" or "anti-loitering" zones, which give police automatic justification for arrest even if a person is guilty of nothing more than standing on the street. Failing to produce ID – even in the halls of your own building, in some cases – or being seen in or around a "known drug location" can similarly be grounds for search or detention.

A related phenomenon is the policy governing "consent searches." Police stop people on the highways, in airports, on buses, really anywhere at all, and ask for their consent to search their property or their persons. Sometimes they do the asking with a drug-sniffing dog standing beside them.

Studies have consistently shown that black and Hispanic people are pulled over at a far higher rate than white people, usually more than double, even though white people are statistically more likely to have illegal drugs on them.

Add to this the whole galaxy of stop-and-frisk type behaviors, also known as "Terry stops," in which any police officer with an "articulable suspicion" that a crime of violence might be committed can pat down and question any person.

The end of New York's infamous program notwithstanding, there are millions of such stops every year. In Chicago, for instance, recent data showed a rate of about a million stops per year, with roughly 72 percent involving black people — and this in a city that's only 32 percent black.

You add all this up, and we're talking about millions upon millions of stops, searches and misdemeanor arrests and summonses that clearly target black people at a far higher rate than the rest of the population.

And if you're continually handcuffing people, sitting on them, putting knees in their backs and dragging them to jail in cases when you could have just handed over a summons, a certain percentage of these encounters are going to end in fights, struggles, medical accidents and other disasters. Like the Bland case.

We'd call it murder if a kidnapping victim died of fright during the job. Of course it's not legally the same thing, but a woman dying of depression during an illegal detention should be the same kind of crime. It's especially true given our long and sordid history of overpolicing misdemeanors.

In The New Jim Crow (2010), Michelle Alexander described how white America re-seized control after slavery by instituting a series of repressive "vagrancy laws," under which nonwhite Americans could be arrested for such absurdities as "mischief" and "insulting gestures."

In an eerie precursor to the modern loitering laws, many states even had stringent rules against "idleness." There were even states where any black male over 18 could be thrown in jail for not carrying around written proof that he had a job.

What exactly is the difference between being arrested for "idleness" and being arrested for "loitering in a designated drug-free zone"? What's the difference between an arrest for "mischief" and an arrest for "disorderly conduct" or "refusing to obey a lawful order"? If it's anything more than a semantic distinction, it's not much more of one.

Law-and-order types like to lecture black America about how it can avoid getting killed by "respecting authority" and treating arresting cops like dangerous dogs or bees.

But while playing things cool might prevent killings in some instances, it won't stop police from stopping people without reason, putting their hands on suspects or jailing people like Bland for infractions that at most would earn a white guy in a suit a desk ticket. That's not just happening in a few well-publicized cases a year, but routinely, in hundreds of thousands or even millions of incidents we never hear of.

That's why the issue isn't how Sandra Bland died, but why she was stopped and detained in the first place. It's profiling, sure, but it's even worse than that. It's a systematic campaign to harass people, using misdemeanors and violations as battering ram — a campaign that's been going on forever, and against which there's little defense. When the law can be stretched to mean almost anything, obeying it is no magic bullet. Ω

[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Most recently, he has written The Divide (2014). Taibbi received a BA (journalism) from Bard College.]

Copyright © 2015 Rolling Stone

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Roll Over, Ralph Ellison — Meet An Actual "Invisible Man" (Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck)

Ah, Justin Gifford's odyssey in the marginal world of African American literature evoked momories in this blogger. Incredibly, Gifford discovered a best-selling author who was invisible, except for a tantalizing nickname: "Iceberg Slim." Now the backstory is revealed. If this is (fair & balanced) literary detective work, so be it.

[x Cronk Review]
The Ex-Pimp Who Remade Black Culture
By Justin Gifford

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My search for the story of Robert (Iceberg Slim) Beck — the pimp turned African-American writer of bestselling paperbacks — began long before I knew his name. I grew up in a white working-class area of Seattle back in the days before Microsoft and Starbucks changed everything. My father was an exterminator. Starting at the age of 5, I went with him to the job. We’d squeeze in crawl spaces to annihilate colonies of carpenter ants and replace dry-rotted beams. My dad was also a Vietnam vet, and he suffered from severe PTSD. The smell of the rich, moist dirt under the houses often gave him flashbacks. He threw hammers, broke lights. He screamed into the darkness he himself had made. After work on those days, I went out on long, solitary runs, listening to N.W.A. and Nirvana until the batteries of my Walkman gave out. Grunge and gangsta rap provided the soundtrack for survival during my teenage years. The music’s lyricism and rage helped me handle my violent and traumatic world.

It would be decades before I realized Iceberg Slim had been speaking to me the whole time through that music. Although transmitted on a lower frequency, his distinctive voice runs through American culture, if you just know how to listen.

Born in Chicago as Robert Lee Moppins Jr. (he changed the name several times as he gained criminal notoriety, and adopted "Beck" when he left the pimp life) to young newlyweds from Tennessee at the end of World War I, Beck died in a Los Angeles hospital on the second day of the Rodney King riots. At the time of his death in 1992, his books had sold six million copies, making him one of America’s bestselling black authors.

His autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life, first published in 1967, is one of the most controversial pieces of American literature, a gritty, mostly true account of Beck’s childhood, criminal life, and incarceration. Pimp evokes a vivid picture of black America’s urban underworld from the Great Depression to the turbulent 1960s. Although it thematically resembles Malcolm X’s autobiography or Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, it is a book unlike the others. Outlining the unwritten codes and customs of pimping in the 20th century, it is composed in black street slang so deep that there is a glossary in the back to translate words like "mudkicker" (prostitute), "crumb crusher" (baby), and "Hog" (Cadillac).

Published with a third-tier press, Pimp received no reviews or publicity. Not to be found in mainstream bookstores, it was sold in liquor stores, barbershops, and at newsstands. Over the years, it became the cornerstone of an underground renaissance of black arts and literature, including blaxploitation film, black comedy, hip-hop music — a foundation of contemporary black popular culture.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of black authors have written their own stories of criminal life following Iceberg Slim’s lead, thereby creating the popular genre of street literature. Dave Chappelle and Katt Williams both cite Beck as a key influence on their comedy, while Chris Rock hands out copies of Pimp at the wrap of every movie. The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, and Snoop Dogg have all credited Beck with influencing their music, while gangsta rap pioneers Ice-T and Ice Cube crafted their monikers and personas after him. Understanding Beck’s literature adds to our knowledge of contemporary black culture; it is the ghost in the machine.

In college, I began studying literature and developed an adventurous obsession with books. One summer, I hitchhiked from Seattle to Lowell, MA., to visit Jack Kerouac’s grave. I slept illegally in a tent in Harvard Yard to lay my head where W.E.B. Du Bois had once walked to class. I even tried to swim across Thoreau’s Walden Pond one cool August evening and almost drowned. After graduation, I entered a master’s program in the humanities at the University of Chicago. It was here, on Beck’s old stomping grounds of the South Side, that I finally heard his name.

I lived in an old hotel on 61st and Drexel, just two blocks from where he had pimped 40 years earlier. Back in those days — the era of Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and the Chicago Black Renaissance — Beck had been a neighborhood legend. He had hung out at the famous Palm Tavern on 47th Street and had associated with some of the most notorious black gangsters in the city, including the infamous Albert "Baby" Bell and the Jones Brothers, reputedly the richest black men in the world. Beck bragged that during those years, he had controlled at least five working girls at a time, purchased a new Cadillac every year, and snorted a steady supply of cocaine.

My life in Chicago was divided between two separate worlds. In the mornings, I took courses from such towering intellectuals as Homi Bhabha and Toni Morrison. In the afternoons, I worked for the Chicago Public Schools/University of Chicago Internet Project — a nonprofit venture designed to put computers into underprivileged schools. Every day, I rode my bike to schools all over the South Side. One afternoon a student in the computer lab asked me what I studied at the university. I told him proudly — and a bit arrogantly — that I read the classics of African-American literature: Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison. He produced a dog-eared copy of Pimp.

The gold cover had "Pimp" emblazoned in purple letters across the front and a hand-drawn silhouette of a man’s hardened face underneath. The opening lines read: "Dawn was breaking as the big Hog scooted through the streets. My five whores were chattering like drunk magpies. I smelled the stink that only a street whore has after a long, busy night." Pimp reminded me of a Harlequin-style romance novel or an old pulp magazine. I had no idea that it had been repressed by academics and other purveyors of "good taste" and "literary merit."

There are many reasons why. Pimp is the centerpiece of a literary movement that is geographically and culturally separate from the academic landscape. While colleges like the University of Chicago are often bordered by ghetto neighborhoods, they rarely have any meaningful exchange with the other communities. Further, although Beck’s works are firmly anti-pimping, their harsh representations of women are out of step with the feminist politics of contemporary black writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Not least, Pimp’s graphic descriptions of sex and violence, its poor editing, and lurid packaging suggest that it is trashy, disposable literature — not worthy of serious study.

When I first came across the book, I handed it back to my student, vaguely aware that I was missing something important. Five years went by before I rediscovered Beck’s writing.

As a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Virginia, I came to New York City in 2003 to track down out-of-print copies of old detective novels by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Chester Himes for my dissertation. While walking down 125th Street in Harlem, I stumbled across a book table out in front of the Apollo Theater. It was piled high with paperbacks that had garish, blaxploitation-style covers and exaggerated drawings of pimps, gangsters, and prostitutes. I was fascinated by titles like Whoreson, Black Gangster, Trick Baby, The Jones Men, Ghetto Sketches, and The Scene. I had also never heard of any of their writers: Donald Goines, Nathan Heard, Vern E. Smith, Clarence Cooper Jr., and Odie Hawkins. There, among the other paperbacks, was Pimp.

Over the next few years, I spent all my spare time and money tracking down rare and out-of-print copies of Beck’s novels, as well as books by other black writers in the same genre. In 10 years, I collected nearly 1,000 books and magazines. In the process, I put together the story of how Beck and dozens of other ex-cons, pimps, and drug dealers teamed up with some shifty white Hollywood publishers to create a whole genre of popular black literature during the 1960s and 1970s.

Following the Watts riots of 1965, Ralph Weinstock and Bentley Morriss, at Holloway House Publishing Company, got an idea to publish cheap paperbacks for the growing market of urban African-Americans. "We didn’t do it to emancipate a community," Morriss once told me. "We did it because we felt it was economically viable." Holloway House combed the Watts Writers Workshop, a group that supported local black writing and theater from 1965 to 1973, and put out ads in the black newspaper The Sentinel. After the fledgling company sold a million copies of Pimp in the first few years, it switched from selling Hollywood biographies and sexploitation romps to becoming the self-proclaimed "World’s Largest Publisher of Black Experience Paperback Books."

Holloway House went on to publish more than 400 books in the "black experience" genre. In Joe Nazel’s Iceman series, a Harlem pimp moves to the Nevada desert to create a black-owned Las Vegas and fight crime with his stable of kung-fu trained prostitutes. In Kent Smith’s speculative thriller, Future X, black freedom fighters send a man back into the past from the year 2073 to save Malcolm X from assassination. And in Goines’s Kenyatta quartet, underground revolutionaries murder white racist cops and upper-echelon drug suppliers in the hopes of cleaning up ghettos across the country.

Although running the gamut from the realistic to the fantastical, the Holloway House books gave popular expression to black working-class voices not yet represented in literature. Reflecting their authors’ populist literary politics, they were intentionally written for audiences with an eighth-grade education, and they dealt directly with the pressing issues — white racism, police brutality, incarceration, poverty — that have plagued black urban communities for the past century.

Black street fiction was a significant influence on the blaxploitation urban films that exploded on the American scene in 1971 with Melvin Van Peebles’s "Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song." It grossed $10 million, making it the most profitable independent film to that point, and spawned dozens of imitators, including "Shaft", "Slaughter," and "Cleopatra Jones." Beck’s second book, Trick Baby (1967, 1997, 2006), was made into another lucrative blaxploitation film in 1972. His literary influence can be felt in movies like "Super Fly" and "The Mack," as Hollywood screenwriters often shamelessly stole his characters, plots, and street lingo.

But while blaxploitation film was at the center of controversy for perpetuating stereotypes of African-Americans as criminals, street literature was too far underground to attract the attention of the NAACP or religious organizations. It never crossed over into the mainstream. Without reviews or access to conventional distribution channels, the black street fiction that was inspired by Beck gained a quiet, but loyal following of prisoners, military personnel, street hustlers, artists, and everyday African-Americans.

It was partly because this literature was off the beaten path that Holloway House was able to get away with the ruthless exploitation of its authors. Before she passed away in 2013, Wanda Coleman, known as the "Los Angeles poet laureate," who had once been a Holloway House editor, detailed the working conditions at the company, including the owners’ racist disregard for their black authors. It paid its novelists paltry sums of money (sometimes as little as $750 per book), seized creative control from black editors who were deemed "too political," and encouraged writers to steal material from hustlers and criminals on the street, she told me.

When Goines — Holloway House’s bestselling author after Beck — was found murdered in 1974, Coleman concluded that such practices had helped get him killed. Goines hid his identity behind the pseudonym Al Clark. "Whoever killed him took pictures of him holding his novel and they sent them to Bentley," Coleman said. "These people were letting Holloway House know that they were not stupid, and furthermore, they could read through the text to see the writer beneath it. I had warned Morriss and Weinstock that what they were doing was dangerous."

Beck’s own journey from pimp to writer at Holloway House was one that reflected the limited opportunities for black men during Jim Crow. Although a promising student as a child with a particular talent for spelling, by his early teens Beck had become "street poisoned," as he called it. He ran the streets of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville and was arrested half a dozen times for a variety of offenses like larceny and immoral conduct. He attended Booker T. Washington’s venerable Tuskegee Institute around the same time Ralph Ellison did, though Beck was expelled for bootlegging liquor.

When he returned to Milwaukee in 1936, he began pimping at the age of 18. It was a dubious career that he would pursue for the next 25 years. For his many crimes — including a botched jewelry heist, pandering, and armed robbery, Beck was incarcerated five times. His psychiatric records from places like the Wisconsin State Prison reveal that penitentiaries were just as racist as other institutions during the period: "His personality makeup is typically negroid, he is irresponsible, superficial, flighty, to a degree rather silly, and despite his intelligence poorly receptive of the necessity for conformity with normal social standard," Beck’s doctor wrote in his Mental Examination.

That "normal social standard" was often equivalent to a white social standard. Beck turned to fellow hustlers while behind bars to refine his understanding of pimping and, imprisoned for years at a time, read voraciously to improve his facility with his game — Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde, and George du Maurier were among his favorites. Beck had a photographic memory, and he would eventually draw upon his vast knowledge of literature and pimping to create his autobiography and novels.

In 1947 he was incarcerated at the Chicago House of Correction, a notoriously filthy prison that was famous for working prisoners to death in its labor camp. Fresh from a recent bit at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Beck couldn’t handle the conditions and made a daring escape by climbing over the 20-foot wall one night. He would remain a fugitive for the next 14 years, until he was recaptured by the police. Over the course of those 14 years, Beck pimped his way across America, practicing his trade in Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit, and Los Angeles. He met his first common-law wife, Mattie "No Thumbs Helen" Maupins, a pickpocket and prostitute who possibly got her nickname for nearly severing a man’s thumb in a knife fight, and together they traveled across the Midwest trimming marks and suckers. Mattie was eventually incarcerated for murder, and Beck continued his pimping career until he was arrested in 1961 for his prison escape. He served 10 months in solitary confinement, and after nearly going mad in his 7-by-3-foot cell, decided to quit the pimp game forever. He moved to Los Angeles in 1962 to be with his ailing mother, and it was there he began his new career as an author.

I came into a wealth of materials — FBI records, police files, rare interviews, book contracts — when I formed a friendship with Ice-T’s longtime manager, Jorge Hinojosa, who had collected a mountain of research for his 2012 documentary "Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp." It was through Jorge that I learned Beck had collaborated with his second common-law wife, Betty — a white woman from Texas — in the publication of his books. During the height of his fame, he wrote out his novels longhand, and then he and Betty performed the dialogue for their young children as a form of domestic theater.

The person who gave me the most help in delving into a biography of Beck was his widow, Diane Millman Beck. They married in 1982, a few years after Beck’s relationship with Betty ended. Struggling with diabetes and other health issues, he mostly stayed secluded in his tiny studio apartment on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. He was working on two final books that he never published, Night Train to Sugar Hill and Shetani’s Sister.

Mike Tyson visited Beck often during those final years. Despite Tyson’s public image as a thug, he was an avid reader, and he loved Pimp. During his celebrity as heavyweight champion, he used to go to Beck for advice on money, women, and literature. Beck provided Tyson with the father figure he had never had, and in return, got the satisfaction of mentoring one of the most famous and feared black men in the world. After his divorce from Robin Givens and his highly publicized rape trial, Tyson admitted in his own autobiography that he regretted not having listened to Beck more. "I wish I would have met him before I married Robin. He would have set my ass straight," Tyson wrote.

When I met Diane Beck in 2004, it was under the strangest of circumstances. She had put all of her husband’s pimp suits, silk shirts, and snakeskin shoes up for auction on eBay to raise money for charity. I had been searching for rare books on the auction site when I came across the clothes and bought every velour suit and pair of alligator loafers I could afford; afterward, I contacted Diane and she graciously agreed to see me. She told me how she used to drive Beck around the city to greet his adoring fans in his 1948 Lincoln Continental, the last relic of his days as a successful author. She discussed in depth his enduring love of the Black Panthers: When Los Angeles was lit on fire during the 1992 riots, he believed he was witnessing the beginnings of the black revolution. And she recounted his final brave moments, when he refused to let the doctors cut off a leg that had gone gangrenous.

I have gone to visit Diane nearly every summer since that first meeting. Each trip, she has grown more generous, giving me photos, legal papers, Beck’s unpublished writings, and rare artifacts. She has told some stories so personal about him that she has sworn me to secrecy.

On my last trip, Diane gave me the greatest gift: a copy of Beck’s final unpublished manuscript, Shetani’s Sister (2015). Completed in 1983, the book had been sitting in a drawer for more than 30 years. Beck had buried it there rather than let his unscrupulous publishers at Holloway House get it. Part pimp autobiography and part hard-boiled detective novel, it represents his final attempt both to cross into the mainstream book market and to dismantle the glorious pimp image he had been criticizing in all of his works by showing how that lifestyle led to drug addiction, prison, and death.

This is a world as dark and lyrical as any Beck had ever created, a "sidewalk parade" where "half naked hookers, square pushovers, and sissies clogged the streets and bars. Sex, crime, booze, and dope ruled the treacherous night. The melded odors of bargain colognes and steamy armpits rode the sweltering air like a sour aphrodisiac for gawking male bangers." Chapter by chapter, the book alternates between the perspective of the pimp and that of the detective who is trying to catch him, until their outlooks collide in spectacular and violent ways at the end of the novel. Shetani’s Sister is in many ways Beck’s most mature work of fiction, anticipating the television series "The Wire" and other postmodern detective stories that feature multiple points of view. Now it is being published by a trade press, the first time a new Beck book has been made available in 17 years.

Beck told the history of 20th-century America from the dark margins of society. The story of our prison system, illegal sex trades, and mean streets is not a pretty one, but he made it unforgettable. His books inspired the creation of a shadow canon that is indispensable to any conversation about African-American literature, contemporary popular culture, and especially the messy relationships among race, class, and gender politics. His headstone in Los Angeles reads: "Iceberg Slim — Truth, still shining down." Ω

[Justin Gifford is an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada at Reno. His most recent book is Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim (2015). Gifford received a BA (English) from the University of Washington, an MA (English) from the University of Chicago, and a PhD (English) from the University of Virginia.]

Copyright © 2015 The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Today's Daily Double Features Two Different Forms Of Virtual Knifeplay

Today, you have a choice: Eags goes after The Trumpster & Dumbos with a snark-sabre and The Deadline Poet prefers to insert his virtual shiv between the virtual Dumbo ribs. Either way, you get a virtual walkway covered in guts. If this is a (fair & balanced) Dumbo disembowelment, so be it.

P.S. Helpful hint from ye olde blogger: click on the bracketed numbers below to hop from one item to another; click on "Back To Directory" to return to the starting point. Thanks be to Vannevar Bush for giving us the idea of hypertext.

[Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed NumbersDirectory]

[1] Eags Eviscerates The Trumpster (Timothy Egan)
[2] The Deadline Poet Pulls A Quicker Shiv On Dumbo Immigration "Policy" (Calvin Trillin)

[1]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
Trump Is The Poison His Party Concocted
By Timothy Egan

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The adults patrolling the playpen of Republican politics are appalled that we’ve become a society where it’s O.K. to make fun of veterans, to call anyone who isn’t rich a loser, to cast an entire group of newly arrived strivers as rapists and shiftless criminals.

Somewhere, we crossed a line — from our mothers’ modesty to strutting braggadocio, from dutiful decorum to smashing all the china in the room, from respecting a base set of facts to a trumpeting of willful ignorance.

Yes, how did we get to a point where up to one-fourth of the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan now aligns itself with Donald Trump? Those same political marshals would have us believe he’s a “demagogue,” a “jackass,” a “cancer.”

They say he’s trashing the Republic brand. They say he’s “stirring up the crazies,” in the words of Senator John McCain. But Trump is the brand, to a sizable degree. And the crazies have long flourished in the Republican media wing, where any amount of gaseous buffoonery goes unchallenged.

And now that the party can’t control him, Trump threatens to destroy its chances if he doesn’t get his way, running as an independent with unlimited wealth — a political suicide bomb.

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief.

It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Consider Trump’s swipe against McCain’s military service, and by extension all veterans who have been involved in the fog of combat. Republicans were apoplectic at Trump’s claim that McCain was no war hero.

“All of our veterans, particularly P.O.W.s, deserve our respect and admiration,” said Jeb Bush. The Republican National Committee was quick to lay down a similar principle, saying, “There is no place in our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”

No place except a presidential campaign, that being the 2004 attempt to destroy the honorable Vietnam service of candidate John Kerry. Where was Bush’s “respect and admiration” when his brother was benefiting from a multimillion-dollar smear of a Navy veteran with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart?

The wise men predicted Trump’s demise after he demeaned a former prisoner of war. But polls posted late this week showed Trump still in the lead. How can he get away with bashing combat veterans? Simple: The party he now wants to represent wrote the playbook on it.

The racism toward Mexicans that Trump has stirred up has been swooshing around the basement of the Republican Party for some time. Representative Steve King of Iowa did Trump one better in 2013 when he said undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Did this make King a pariah? Not judging by the number of presidential candidates who showed up at his Iowa Freedom Summit in January, there to curry his favor. Among them was Rick Perry, the former Texas governor. This week Perry called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demagogy, meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if followed.”

Using the X-ray vision of his new glasses, Perry has correctly diagnosed the problem, and forecast the outcome. But that toxic mix has been just the tonic for his party for years, including Perry’s suggestion that Texas might have to secede. President Obama was barely into his first months in office when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie!” at him in a joint session of Congress. For hurling that insult, Wilson was widely praised in conservative media circles.

Trump also stoked the humiliating lie about President Obama’s citizenship. He began that crusade, he claimed, because so many Republicans still believe it, and have encouraged him to keep it alive.

Now, the only way to trump Trump is to act like a fool in public. So Senator Rand Paul, formerly seen raising good questions about national issues, fired up a chain saw and took it to the tax code a few days ago — a pathetic stunt. And there was Senator Lindsey Graham, flummoxed by Trump’s exposing him as sycophant to a plutocrat, destroying his cellphone in a blender. It only made us long for the real thing: Dan Aykroyd’s Bass-O-Matic.

All of this overshadowed the entry into the race of Governor John Kasich of Ohio, a sensible conservative who could beat Hillary Clinton. But he won’t get any traction until Republicans destroy Donald Trump and the vulgar, nativist element in their party that they nurtured — until it became a monster. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company

[2]Back To Directory
[x The Nation]
Republican Contenders And Immigration
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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They talked about immigrants sort of in code
That signaled the nativist crowd.
The code is now broken with Trump on the scene.
A loudmouth will say things out loud. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2015 The Nation

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Something Smells Very Rotten In Waller County, TX

Today, we have a Blow-By-Blow dissection of the Sandra Bland arrest and incarceration in the Waller County (TX) jail. In the face of the following questions about the affair (in italics for emphasis), the folks with the Department of Public Safety (the Texas state police) and the Waller County Jail have some serious 'splainin' to do. The ulitmate lesson of Watergate applies to this mess in Waller County: the coverup is as bad (or worse) than the crime itself. Best case is that the Waller County Jail is run by replicas of Barney Fife. Worst case is that they are trying to coverup a lynching. In the end, though, Sandra Bland is dead in tragic circumstances and she deserves justice. If this is a (fair * balanced) demand for justice in Waller County, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Questions About The Sandra Bland Case
By Charles M. Blow

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I have so many questions about the case in which Sandra Bland was arrested in a small Texas town and died in police custody. These are questions that ought to be easy to answer, questions that I suspect many others may share. Here are just some of my areas of inquiry.

1. On the video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety of Bland’s traffic stop, the arresting officer, Brian Encinia, tells her that the reason for her stop is that she “failed to signal a lane change.” The officer returns to his car, then approaches Bland’s vehicle a second time. He remarks to Bland, “You seem very irritated.” Bland responds, “I am. I really am.” She continues, “I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over, and you stop me. So, yeah, I am a little bit irritated.”

Was Bland simply trying to move out of the way of a police vehicle?

The video shows the officer’s car accelerating behind Bland’s and passing a sign indicating a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. How fast was the officer closing the distance on Bland before she changed lanes? Was it completely reasonable for her to attempt to move out of his way?

2. The officer, while standing at the closed driver’s side door, asks Bland to extinguish her cigarette. As soon as she refuses, he demands that she exit the vehicle. Was the demand to exit because of the refusal? If so, what statute in Texas — or anywhere in America! — stipulates that a citizen can’t smoke during a traffic stop?

3. According to Encinia’s signed affidavit, Bland was “removed from the car” and “placed in handcuffs for officer safety.” The reason for the arrest is unclear to me. At one point, Encinia says, “You were getting a warning until now you’re going to jail.” So, what was the arrest for at that point? Failure to comply? Later in the video, Encinia says, “You’re going to jail for resisting arrest.” If that was the reason, why wasn’t Bland charged with resisting arrest? The affidavit reads, “Bland was placed under arrest for Assault on Public Servant.”

Encinia’s instructions to Bland are a jumble of confusion. After she is handcuffed, he points for her to “come read” the “warning” ticket, then immediately pulls back on her arm, preventing her from moving in the direction that he pointed, now demanding that she “stay right here.” He then commands Bland to “stop moving,” although, as she points out, “You keep moving me!” What was she supposed to do?

4. According to Encinia’s affidavit, at some point after being handcuffed, “Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin.” On the dashcam video, a commotion happens out of view of the camera, with Bland complaining that she is being hurt — “You’re about to break my wrist!” and “You knocked my head in the ground; I got epilepsy!” Encinia and another officer insist that Bland stop moving. Encinia can be heard to say, “You are yanking around! When you pull away from me, you are resisting arrest!” (Neither the dashcam video nor a video taken by a bystander shows a discernible kick.)

When Encinia re-enters the frame of the dashcam, he explains to a female officer: “She started yanking away, then kicked me, so I took her straight to the ground.” The female officer points to Encinia’s leg as she says: “Yeah, and there you got it right there.”

Encinia says, “One thing for sure, it’s on video.” Only, it isn’t. Why exactly was Bland walked out of the frame of view of the dashcam for the arrest procedure?

5. The initial video posted by Texas authorities also has a number of visual glitches — vanishing cars, looping sequences — but no apparent audio glitches.

The director of “Selma,” Ava DuVernay, tweeted: “I edit footage for a living. But anyone can see that this official video has been cut. Read/watch. Why?” She included a link to a post pointing out the discrepancies in the video.

According to NBC News:

“Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, blamed a ‘technical issue during posting.’ He said that the department was working to correct the video.”

What kinds of “technical difficulties” were these? Why wouldn’t the audio also have glitches? (Authorities have now released a new, slightly shorter video.)

6. Texas authorities say that, while in the Waller County jail cell, Bland used a trash bag from a trash can in the cell to hang herself. Is it standard procedure to have trash cans with trash bags in jail cells? Is the can secured to the floor? If not, couldn’t it be used by an inmate to hurt herself, or other inmates or jail staff?

According to a report on Wednesday by The Houston Chronicle:

“Bland disclosed on a form at the jail that she previously had attempted suicide over that past year, although she also indicated she was not feeling suicidal at the time of her arrest, according to officials who attended the Tuesday meeting with local and state leaders investigating the case.” Shouldn’t they have known it was a suicide risk?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics points out [PDF] that suicide is the No. 1 cause of non-illness-related deaths in local jails (although blacks are least likely to commit those suicides), and between 2000 and 2011 about half of those suicides “occurred within the first week of admission.”

Why weren’t more precautions taken, like, oh, I don’t know, removing any suicide risks from the cell?

7. Houston’s Channel 2 aired “exclusive video from inside the Waller County jail cell where Sandra Bland was found dead.” In the video, a trash can — a very large one — is clearly visible. But, strangely, it appears to have a trash bag in it. If Bland used the trash bag to hang herself, where did the one in the can come from? Did they replace it? Why would the jail staff do that?

8. NBC News’ John Yang also toured the cell, and in his video he says that “things are really the same as it was that morning” when officers found Bland’s body, including food (“Dinner Untouched” was the language used in title of the video on NBCNews.com) and a Bible on the bed opened to Psalms. (That Bible appears to be closed in the Channel 2 video. Who opened it between the two videos?).

And what page is the Bible opened to in the NBC video? It is open to Psalm 119 and at the top of the page are verses 109-110: “Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts.” Eerie. Or, convenient.

Also in the Channel 2 video, there are orange shoes on the floor by the bed. In the NBC video, they are gone. Who moved them? Why? Where are they?

Yang says of the trash bag in the can: “Around her neck, they say, was a trash bag, an extra trash bag from this receptacle.” So what gives here? “Extra trash bag”? Was there more than one trash bag in the cell or had that one been replaced?

(It is also worth noting that the video shows what appears to be a rope holding a shower curtain.)

Isn’t this an active investigation? Shouldn’t that cell be treated like a crime scene? Why are reporters allowed to wander through it? Who all has been in it?

Maybe there are innocent and convincing answers to all these questions, and others. I hope so. People need things to make sense. When there are lapses in logic in what people think would be reasonable explanations, suspicion spreads. Ω

[Charles M. Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper's graphics director, a position he held for nine years. In that role, he led The Times to a best of show award from the Society of News Design for the Times's information graphics coverage of 9/11, the first time the award had been given for graphics coverage. He also led the paper to its first two best in show awards from the Malofiej International Infographics Summit for work that included coverage of the Iraq war. Charles Blow went on to become the paper's Design Director for News before leaving in 2006 to become the Art Director of National Geographic Magazine. Before coming to The Times, Blow had been a graphic artist at The Detroit News. Blow graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received a BA.(mass communication).]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company

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