Who Won the Democratic Debate?: raceAhead

August 1, 2019, 8:14 PM UTC

There were still no black, brown, Latina, Asian, Desi, Indigenous, Arabic, or AAPI women, etc., moderating at last night’s CNN Democratic debate, but you knew that going in. 

There were plenty of explosive moments as the heavy favorites, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, sparred against each other, while drawing fire from next-tier candidates.

The media is saturated with hot takes—the New York Times published a handy score sheet from diverse political commentators here, The Guardian did the same here, and The Root had a terrific live blog going.

Here’s my hot take: The winners were the family and friends of Eric Garner.

The moderators were forced to briefly halt the debate as shouts of “Fire Pantaleo!” came from the audience. The shouts were directed at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, then a second round inexplicably interrupted New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker as he delivered his opening statement.  

And with that, Eric Garner joined the debate.

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo is the man, moderator Jake Tapper was forced to explain, who used a prohibited chokehold to murder the unarmed Garner for barely participating in the informal economy. 

“I can’t breathe,” he gasped, eleven times.

The shouts came from protestors sitting in the audience; organizer and entrepreneur Tamika Mallory, who was among them, tweeted why they shouted, and what happened next:

“This is a thread about what occurred at the Democratic Debate when @KirstenJohnFoy@Mysonne@angelopinto720@lsarsour and I made the decision to stand up for Eric Garner and the sanctity of Black life. #DemDebates,” she began.

“We could not sit silent while @NYCMayor Bill DeBlasio misrepresented his positions on Stop and Frisk and continues to employ the police officers who killed #EricGarner, in particular Daniel Pantaleo.”

Cue the first shout. 

The group had agreed to silently watch the rest of debate when they were later approached by a police officer and threatened with arrest if they didn’t leave. So, they shouted their way out of the venue and put Eric Garner’s name back into the mouths of the candidates.

Julián Castro, a former housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, said, “[t]hat police officer [Pantaleo] should be off the street.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York agreed: “He should be fired. He should be fired now.” 

And when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked why Pantaleo was still on the force, the New York City mayor said he knew the Garner family would get justice, perhaps in the next 30 days. “For the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department, which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution,” de Blasio said.

It also briefly opened up a necessary conversation about the federal role in policing. Said de Blasio to Biden, “Mr. Vice President, tell us, what did you do to try and spur on the Justice Department to act on the Garner case?”

The case against Pantaleo has been fraught from the beginning. 

A grand jury declined to file charges against him back in 2014, but two weeks ago, the Department of Justice announced it would not be filing federal charges against him, just skirting a statute of limitations deadline. 

Now, the New York Police Department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has begun disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo, who is facing a departmental trial, and possible dismissal. 

The wait has been frustrating for supporters. “The man who choked [Eric Garner] to death in front of the whole world, has been allowed to continue to enrich himself in the City of New York by remaining on the police force,” said Rev. Kirsten John Foy in a Detroit Free Press video interview after he was ejected from the event. 

Perhaps a long overdue reckoning may be at hand. Perhaps seizing on a shouted protest to confront a rival during a political debate should be looked at as a cynical maneuver. 

Or maybe police reform should have been a topic for discussion all along.

Several candidates have records that need further explanation, and it’s a topic of vital interest to many voters. And yet, with the exception of the occasional sharp elbow, there’s been little discussion of it so far in this campaign.

In any event, it was a validating moment for Garner’s supporters. And at least a black woman got to ask a damn question.

On Point

Why is there so little political science research on race, sexuality, and gender? The American Political Science Review (APSR) is one of the country’s top political science research journals, and yet has been shamefully lax in covering issues of gender, sexuality, and race. (One analysis found only 2% of articles addressed gender, and 4% mentioned ethnicity or race in the years spanning 2000 to 2015.) Representation among published researchers is similarly dismal. So that’s why the news that the journal’s entire 2020 editorial team is a diverse group of women is so important. “I would say the fact that we’re all women, the fact that we’re diverse in terms of our race, ethnicity, sexuality, it sends a really strong signal that ASPR is going to be receptive to diverse research and authors,” says Clarissa Rile Hayward, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Quartz

New Trump proposal will undermine the Fair Housing Act The proposed rule, a copy of which was obtained by NPR, will make it harder to bring lawsuits alleging housing discrimination, by eliminating a legal standard called “disparate impact.” It allows plaintiffs to make a case based on the impacts of discriminatory business practices, rather than proving that individuals were specifically racist. "It's important because it allows us to really get at discrimination that's not intentional," says Nikitra Bailey, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending. Without it, she says, large numbers of people who have been harmed by discriminatory practices won’t get a legal remedy. NPR

Why are podcasts so white? It’s a question that Phoebe Wang asked aloud while winning a new artist award at a prominent audio festival last year. To address the issue, she joined forces with four colleagues, Adizah Eghan, Zakiya Gibbons, Aliya Pabani, and Afi Yellow-Duke, to create the POC in Audio directory, which now includes over 500 engineers, editors, hosts, producers, and content strategists of color. Best of all, the directory requires that people who source from the list promise to pay the talent an equitable wage and provide an inclusive working environment. "Putting that in very clear terms… Really thinking as broadly as possible about what it means to have an inclusive industry," Yellow-Duke told WNYC's cultural critic Rebecca Carroll. Click through for a great audio interview with some powerful women of color. WNYC

Elon Musk helped throw an exhibition dedicated to Afrofuturism and didn’t invite any black artists lol The Künstlerhaus Bethanien’s Space is the Place exhibition and film festival opened in Berlin last night. It was supposed to be a tribute to Afrofuturism, a creative movement described by Afrofuturist author Ytasha Womack as "the intersection between black culture, technology, liberation and the imagination, with some mysticism thrown in.” Of the 22 artists invited, 18 were white men, three were white women, and one was the Singaporean artist Song-Ming Ang. Now, the Musk-endorsed event is under fire for relying on “old curatorial habits” that center on white points of view. A blistering open letter from curators and museum professionals even called them out for—wait for it—promoting “white muskulinity.” But they didn’t stop there. Blessed are the curators, for they will drag you into next week. The Guardian

On Background

Michael Sheen is about to become your favorite actor The award-winning actor just gave “everything I have,” to help fund the 17th Homeless World Cup, now underway in Cardiff, Wales. The event features teams of players from 51 countries, all who are currently homeless. The actor stepped in with his checkbook when a cash shortfall threatened to halt this year’s convening. It was worth the financial stretch, he says. “I saw the event itself can be transformative for the people who take part in it,” he said, citing the myriad ways people become homeless around the world, including coming out of caste systems, imprisonment, or dealing with unmedicated illnesses.  Sometimes, the “sense of pride that comes with representing your country and not being judged for your circumstances,” can be enough to help someone connect with vital services. A short video shows the power of the event, and yes, bring tissues. Wales Online

Even the dogs are segregated Though U.S. cities are getting less segregated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people of different races are actually socializing. Sarah Mayorga-Gallo is a qualitative sociologist and author who studies race, inequality, and Latinx migration. In this article, she shares the results of an 18-month study of Creekridge Park, a diverse and mixed-income area of Durham, N.C. Most reported that friendships only developed between neighbors of the same race, and one black resident found that people weren’t particularly friendly at all. While the most natural friendships formed between dog-walking neighbors, “More often, I found, dogs reinforced boundaries,” Mayorga-Gallo says. She shares the story of a 60-year-old black homeowner being asked to leave after stopping to chat with white dog-owners sitting outside a bakery. The man was deeply wounded by the incident. “In fact, the dogs presented an avenue to connect black and white neighbors,” she says. “But they gave bakery staff a reason to intervene, to maintain interracial boundaries." The Conversation

Everyone’s favorite historian gives a lesson on Ronald Reagan’s attitudes on race With the recent release of a 1971 audio file in which Governor Ronald Reagan referred to leaders of African states as “monkeys,” debating the Gipper’s level of racism has become all the rage. Princeton Professor Kevin Kruse, who became Twitter-famous for debunking claims made by author Dinesh D’Souza, has put together a handy thread with lots of good references. Here he shares a profile of the then-gubernatorial candidate in a 1966 issue of Look magazine. “The piece is fairly standard stuff, but the photos are... interesting.” And below he shares detailed analysis (with references) on Reagan, campaign guru Lee Atwater, and the true (and racist) roots of the political playbook that was known as the “Southern strategy.” @Kevin Kruse

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead.


“That June, [Strom] Thurmond publicly professed his support for [Richard] Nixon, and he whipped up delegate votes on his behalf at the Republican National Convention in Miami when a late campaign by Ronald Reagan left Nixon’s fate hanging in the balance. Thurmond gathered these early white southern Democrats-turned-Republicans and pleaded, ‘I know you want to vote for Reagan, the true conservative, but if Nixon becomes president, he has promised that he won’t enforce either the Civil Rights or Voting Rights Acts. Stick with him.’ They stuck, giving Nixon the nomination with a first-ballot majority.”

—Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields in The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics.


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