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Mugged by Reality

by Bill McGaughey

New Dignity Party aspires to create a new paradigm in race relations which would involve a more positive self-image for white people. The current perception is that whites are racists. They are overtly or covertly hostile to blacks and they are mean. They deliberately try to keep black people down. This is true of white people as a group. Their racism is said to be institutional and systematic, inherently and irredeemably true.

We reject that nonsense. No large group of people - more than 200 million white people in America and many more in Europe and other places - will be found to have the same attitude about race or any other subject. Furthermore, there is no sure way of knowing what anyone individually thinks other than oneself, let alone what a large group generally thinks. The culture of white racism is the product of self-pitying racial projection. It is essentially a culture of hate.

Yes, black people suffered under slavery. There were two paths forward. One was advocated by Booker T. Washington and enunciated in his book, “Up from Slavery”. The other was advocated by W.E.B. DuBois, who played a key role in the N.A.A.C.P. Washington’s path involved self-help and accommodation to the requirements of white society. DuBois’ path involved racial confrontation. DuBois graduated from Harvard. Washington headed the all-black Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Booker T. Washington laid the foundation for the black middle class; W.E.B. Du Bois, for a black proletariat or underclass looking to government to solve its problems. The U.S. cultural elite came to prefer the more militant Du Bois and despise Washington as a racial sell-out or “Uncle Tom”.

According to Wikipedia, DuBois’ negative perception of whites was formed when he worked as a waiter and dish washer in the summer of 1888 at a resort hotel on Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis: “The drinking, crude behavior, and sexual promiscuity of the rich white guests at the hotel left a lasting impression on the young Du Bois.” Regarding “drinking, crude behavior, and sexual promiscuity”, the same tendencies can be found today on a much larger scale among the black underclass in Minneapolis and other American cities. This tends to be excused as the behavior of persons trapped in poverty and despair; the frolicking rich have no such excuse. In reality, one sees what one wants to see.

New Dignity Party is challenging the hateful culture of W.E.B. DuBois. It is challenging a mythology that has captured and continues to influence the white cultural elite. We’ve had at least a half century of this racial ideology and race relations have scarcely improved. This is a theory that is challenged because it does not square with the facts. Facts cannot be challenged. When facts differ from theory, the scientific attitude is to change theory to conform to the set of observed facts.

I am titling this paper “Mugged by Reality” because, in some respects, the theoretical position of New Dignity Party, debunking Du Bois and his ideological followers, is at variance with certain experiences which seem to show that white people are, in fact, picking on blacks. Maybe white racism is alive, or maybe not - you be the judge.

What I can say with confidence is that, at least in three situations with which I am familiar, it was a black man who seems to me to have been wronged by government officials. Those officials, for the most part, were white. In fact, they all belonged to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party, co-founded in the 1940s by Hubert H. Humphrey, who gave important support to the Civil Rights movement.

The black men who may have been wronged are:

Al Flowers, a candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis in 2009. His home in south Minneapolis was condemned for “lack of water” by the Minneapolis inspections department on July 16, 2009, even though video evidence revealed that the water was still running in that house. The owner of the house was meanwhile hit with an $800 inspection fee for torn or missing screens. A day after the condemnation was lifted, law-enforcement officers raided Flowers’ home looking for his son who no longer lived there. Al Flowers is black. The top city official in Minneapolis is Mayor R.T. Rybak, a white man. Flowers had previously announced that he would run for Mayor against Rybak. He claims that the number of inspections increased after that announcement.

William Sanigular, former owner of a building at 2428 Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis which housed a neighborhood grocery store called “Uncle Bill’s Food Market”. Sanigular - “Uncle Bill”- was a black immigrant from Africa who came to America and worked at Cream-of-Wheat Company before opening his grocery store in 1987. He made the mistake of allowing a campaign sign to be posted in his store window for the opponent of Jackie Cherryhomes, a white woman who was the area’s representative on the Minneapolis City Council. Thereafter, she harassed Sanigular in various ways. Sanigular ran into financial difficulties and sold his grocery business. The Minneapolis Fire Department inspected the building, which Sanigular still owned, in the summer of 2006. He was required to make $25,000 worth of repairs and renovations before inspectors would sign off on the work. Six months later, after a shooting in the neighborhood that was unrelated to the grocery store, Mayor Rybak and a City Council member met with neighbors at a block club meeting and virtually instructed Fire Department inspectors to condemn Sanigular’s building. A placard of condemnation was posted on the building six days after the block-club meeting, on May 9, 2009. “Uncle Bill” Sanigular was financially ruined.

Jermaine Stansberry, a black man in his 20s who was arrested and prosecuted for the murder of a University of Minnesota football player, Brandon Hall, in September 2002. He was prosecuted although the Minneapolis police never interviewed him. DNA analysis of residue on the murder weapon ruled out Stansberry but did not exclude one of his companions, Raymond Hardimon, also a black man, who was apprehended by police while trying to flee the scene. The murder weapon was found on the pavement of a parking lot next to the van in which Hardimon was seated. (A police report states that the gun was “recovered from Hardimon’s possession”.) Stansberry was apprehended by police at least fifty feet away down the street. Nevertheless, the Hennepin County Attorney prosecuted Stansberry rather than Hardimon on the basis of a single witness who said she had seen Stansberry engage in a “throwing motion”, presumably delivering the gun to a spot next to Hardimon’s van. The witness later told friends that she had lied about this after being pressured by police. I made numerous attempts to interest the Star Tribune newspaper in a story but was unsuccessful.

These are brief descriptions of what seem to me to represent injustices directed against black men by government officials in Minnesota. For those interested in more complete information about each situation, click on the following links:

Al Flowers

Uncle Bill Sanigular

Jermaine Stansberry

The question is whether these three situations are examples of white racism. All the victims were black men. The perpetrators were as follows:

Al Flowers’ inspections harassment: The Minneapolis mayor, R. T. Rybak, is a white man, as is Harry Reimer, the city’s director of inspections. However, a black member of the Minneapolis city council, Don Samuels, who has feuded with Flowers, chairs the city’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee. If an elected official “directed” city inspectors to punish Flowers, I would not rule out Samuels’ involvement. In the black community, Samuels, a Jamaican black, has a reputation of being hostile to poor black people in his ward and especially to black militants such as Al Flowers.

Uncle Bill Sanigular: The former City Council member, Jackie Cherryhomes, president of the Council, is a white woman. Clearly she has harassed Sanigular. Since she is married to a black man (Clayton Tyler), she can plausibly argue that she is not “racist”. The elected officials who attended the block club meeting and directed Fire Department inspectors to condemn Sanigular’s property were Don Samuels, a black man, and Mayor R.T. Rybak, a white man. (Cherryhomes, no longer on the city council, also attended this meeting.) The Fire Department officials who carried out the condemnation were all white men.

Jermaine Stansberry: The police officers who handled this murder investigation were white men so far as I can tell. The Hennepin County Attorney, Amy Klobuchar, who is currently a U.S. Senator, was a white woman. The prosecutor, Tom Streitz, was a white man. On the other hand, because Jermaine Stansberry and Raymond Hardimon were both black men, one can argue that the decision to prosecute Stansberry, who appears to be innocent of this murder, rather than Hardimon was not racially motivated. Did race play a part, however, in public indifference as to whether or not the right man was convicted?

What were the possible injustices illustrated by these three situation?

In Flowers’ case, the Minneapolis inspections department showed unusual aggressiveness and malice in inspecting the house where Flowers lived in south Minneapolis and in inflicting excessive penalties - an $800 fine for torn or missing screens on windows - on the owner of this property and in condemning a house on false pretenses - saying that the house lacked water when it did not. Regarding the latter situation, the director of Inspections later said that inspectors thought the house lacked water but were mistaken because of a possibly “malfunctioning stop-cock valve”. (Can one believe this explanation?) Another issue is whether Minneapolis elected officials directed city inspectors to act in an unusually aggressive manner against Flowers and his landlord and, if so, whether it was because Flowers was running for mayor or was an outspoken critic of city officials.

In Sanigular’s case, City Council member Cherryhomes had a motive to dislike him when he supported an opponent for city council. She took excessive and punitive action against Sanigular in requiring him to pick up trash over a four-block area and in blocking his bid to put a delicatessen in the store to make it more profitable. Worse yet, Council member Don Samuels’ false claims that the store was attracting 1,400 police calls preceded a Fire Department inspection of Sanigular’s building that cost him $25,000 in repairs and put Sanigular in a precarious financial situation. Property in the area became more valuable when the University of Minnesota announced that it would build a major research facility there. Jackie Cherryhomes was alleged to own the building next door to Sanigular’s property. The decision to re-inspect Sanigular’s building six months after the same department had approved his work was clearly unusual. So was the block club meeting on May 3, 2007, in response to a shooting in the neighborhood, where discussion turned to what steps might be taken against Sanigular’s property even though there was no evidence linking that property to the shooting. City officials, Rybak and Samuels, improperly directed the city’s Fire Department inspectors to condemn Sanigular’s building because of alleged crime problems even though city inspectors are supported to make decisions on the basis of a building’s physical condition, free of political interference. Finally, Uncle Bill’s Food Market was accused of being a magnet for criminals even though an article in City Pages, dated July 4, 2007, stated that “the city was unable to gather sufficient evidence of wrongdoing (to warrant court action) , despite stationing an undercover investigator at the store for 45 days.”

In Stansberry’s case, the county attorney’s office clearly prosecuted the wrong man for murdering Brandon Hall. It made an incorrect decision within days of Stansberry’s and Hardimon’s arrest. In repeating a witness’s false claim to have seen Stansberry engage in a “throwing motion” at least five times to the jury, prosecutor Streitz deliberately misled the jury - there is no way he could have believed this himself if he was familiar with the facts of the case. The Minneapolis police may also have done wrong in refusing to interview Stansberry - he initially refused to talk but later sent messages asking to be interviewed - possibly because they had unsuccessfully attempted to arrest and prosecute Stansberry for other alleged crimes. Stansberry had been or was a gang member and a drug dealer. He had also brought a “police brutality” lawsuit against one of the officers. The fact that the Star Tribune refused to run a story about Stansberry’s dubious conviction despite being given much evidence to the contrary on several different occasions may, perhaps, reflect the fact that the Hennepin County Attorney, Amy Klobuchar, was the daughter of a long-time columnist for this newspaper, Jim Klobuchar, and she was then preparing to run for the U.S. Senate largely on the basis of being a tough prosecutor of criminals in Minneapolis. I claim that public prosecutors do have a duty to prosecute the right person, regardless of race or personal background. It is not proper to convict one gangbanger for the crimes of another even though the two individuals may look alike. Stansberry is looking at 30 years for a crime which he most likely did not commit.

These are the facts as I know them. Each reader must decide for himself or herself whether these three situations represent “racist” treatment, given the racial identities of the persons involved and the fact that an injustice may have been committed. Given my dislike of “racist” accusations being frequently and loosely made, my own conclusion would be that, until the perpetrator of the injustice confesses to racial motivation, we will not know for sure that “racism” inspired his or her action. We will have only suspicions based on our own perceptions of the individuals involved and the facts that we have.

I feel that the public discussion of race is based on one set of lies and the discussion of situations such as the ones described above is based on another. I try to challenge the lies in both spheres but find few persons willing to go against the orthodoxy. The public, especially in Minnesota, seems to have a huge capacity for swallowing lies that government officials and the media propagate. I do not know for sure that they are lies because I do not have first-hand knowledge of the facts but do have suspicions.

In particular:

I do not believe that the Minneapolis inspections department decided to step up enforcement against Al Flower’s home after he announced for mayor out of simple concern that the building might be unsafe or might threaten public health. I do not believe mechanical failure led to the building condemnation. I do not believe the director of inspection’s statement that his department will not allow itself to be influenced by elected officials. But, again, I do not know.

I do not believe that Uncle Bill Sanigular’s building was a magnet for criminals if the undercover agent stationed there for 45 days could not find evidence of wrongdoing. (I myself saw no unusual activity when I visited the store.) I do not believe that Sanigular’s building had “sagging floor joists” when the Fire Department inspectors did not detect such a condition during their inspection six months earlier. I believe Fire Department officials were lying about many or most matters in this case and were heavily influenced by elected officials. But, again, I do not know.

I do not believe that Jermaine Stansberry murdered Brandon Hall but that the evidence instead points to Raymond Hardimon. I do not believe that the Minneapolis police made a complete and honest investigation of this murder. I do not believe that the Hennepin County Attorney and her staff of prosecutors believed they were prosecuting the right person. They may have been doing a favor to police who wanted to put Stansberry away. But, again, I do not know.

The police, inspectors, and public prosecutors have broad discretion to carry out their official functions as they see fit. Unless contradicted by information given in the media, the public tends to believe what these officials say. That’s what makes racism (if it exists) so insidious. We are all familiar with the stereotype of the small-town white southern sheriff in the 1950s who arrested or harassed black people or denied them their rights using one bureaucratic trick after another. We are not so familiar with the apparently similar behavior of well-regarded and articulate elected officials in a state such as Minnesota that is known for advancing the Civil Rights agenda.

Let me give my own explanation of what might be happening. Democratic politicians such as Klobuchar and Rybak must pay lip service to the ideology of the Civil Rights movement: that white people or white society continue to be plagued by racism, that blacks are selectively victimized, and government must make every effort to enforce equal rights. If a Democrat instead said, “I don’t believe any of this”, he or she would immediately lose 90% of the black vote as well as much of the vote of white suburban “soccer moms” who have an idealized view of race relations.

At the same time, the Democratic candidate, to be elected, must be concerned about the much larger white vote. White voters don’t like hard-core accusations of racism. They don’t like high crime rates in the city or the so-called “ghetto” behavior of black youth. They are grateful to elected officials who deal effectively with those problems.

The solution is to continue to express the ideology of white racism though in a mild form. If you propose to increase the percentage of blacks on the police force, say such things as: “I want to make the police force “better represent the community” or “look more like the community” (in north Minneapolis) rather than “I want to hire black instead of white officers”. You generally avoid the subject of race except when speaking before predominantly black audiences. You hire a fair number of blacks for your staff, which will give the impression that you care about black people. Make sure that you’re seen in public with them. This signals that you are not a racist even if you’re white.

With respect to bad behavior by urban blacks, there are three types of solution:

First, use secretive bureaucratic maneuvers to deal with problems instead of tackling the problems head on. If there is a police problem, focus on “problem problems”. Use inspections to attack the building where suspected criminals live or where they hang out instead of ordering the police to crack down on individual criminals. The inspections department gives inspectors broad discretion to find code violations in a building and inflict punishment. Selectively use those vague powers to best advantage. You may intend to harass black criminals but your politically directed inspectors can always find something to justify taking away their home. When a “problem property” is torn down, you can claim to have done something about the crime problem. The "neighborhood" will applaud.

Second, make sure that negative attention is given the property owner or manager rather than the individual associated with his property who is engaged in criminal activity. It’s OK to call him a “slumlord”, “absentee landlord”, or some other such demeaning term. (Congressman Keith Ellison tried to pin that label on me in our candidate debate at KSTP-TV last year. I didn’t mind; it's engrained in our political culture.) A political advantage is that the property owner is apt to be white. (That was not the case, of course, with Uncle Bill’s Food Market.) You can put a white face on the problem of black crime and acquire an instant defense against being accused of racism.

Another advantage is that, in passing certain ordinances, you can force the property owner to undertake certain actions which would could be interpreted as “racist” if city government undertook them. Minneapolis has an ordinance that allows it to take away a property owner’s rental license if there is a single instance of drug dealing, prostitution, or gun possession is linked to a rental property. To make sure such activities don’t happen again, the property owner has to submit a “management plan” to city officials. In practice, there is government pressure on landlords to invade their tenants’ privacy, impose merciless tenant-screening standards (for instance, never accept someone with a criminal record as a tenant), aggressively police the hallways and entrances to buildings, or otherwise live up to the stereotype of uncaring white landlords who are hostile to blacks. City officials can pretend to be above the fray, forcing property owners to do their dirty work. The burden of providing police services is shifted from the city to the property owner as is the burden of legal exposure.

Third, white liberal politicians have found it useful to have black politicians willing to do the “heavy lifting” on racial matters. Former Minneapolis mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, who was the city’s first black (and female) mayor, did some people a favor in supporting neighborhood schools instead of schools seeking racial balance through busing. At the present time, the black heavy lifter is 5th ward Council member, Don Samuels, who has spoken out strongly on the need for responsible personal behavior in the black community. I’m for that but against Samuels’ policy of blaming neighborhood convenience stores for crime and having inspections close them down. Samuels even suggested that North High School, with a largely black student population, might usefully be burned to the ground. He has also taken on Al Flowers and other black militants who pursue a more conventional package of black issues.

The result of all this is that politicians today (especially liberals) lie in insinuating that white people are generally guilty of racism and they also lie about actions which they initiate to deal with bad behavior within the black community. These politicians want to be seen both as compassionate and effective in meeting their public-safety responsibilities. And, of course, if someone’s property is taken away, it represents an opportunity for someone else (often a city-favored developer) to profit.

New Dignity Party proposes to start telling the truth both with respect to the general problem of racism and in the particular activities undertaken by government that are racially charged. We expect to be attacked by the interested parties and ignored by the press. But, hey - No pain, no gain. If you’re going to lose the election anyhow, you might as well fight for a good cause.