Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The Death of Trayvon Martin Has Unleashed a Wave of Demagoguery That Must Be Answered
The death of Trayvon Martin is, of course, a devastating event for his family. That a 17-year-old boy returning from a visit to a nearby store for a snack should have his life taken is difficult to understand and accept. On many levels, the incident was, as President Obama has said, "tragic."
Still, this event has provoked demagoguery that ignores the complex facts of the case itself and has provided an opportunity for provocateurs to proclaim that race relations in America are similar to those of the segregated Old South, as if the notable progress we have made in recent years had never happened. Consider some of the things we have heard.
Jesse Jackson referred to the trial as "Old South Justice." NAACP President Benjamin Jealous declared: "This will confirm for many that the only problem with the New South is it occupies the same time and space as the Old South." He invoked the memory of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was killed in 1955 after supposedly whistling at a white woman "and whose murderers were acquitted." An article in The Washington Post drew parallels between this case and that of Emmett Till as well as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and the 1933 case of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men accused of raping two white girls.
"Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem," the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnick, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, told a congregation once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Sanford, Florida, the Rev. Valerie J. Houston drew shouts of support and outrage at Allen Chapel A.M.E. as she denounced
. . . the racism and the injustice that pollute the air in America. Lord, I thank you for sending Trayvon to reveal the injustice, God, that lives in Sanford.
One of those organizing demonstrations against the verdict and promoting the idea that our society is little better than it was in the years of segregation is the Rev. Al Sharpton, always ready to pour fuel on a fire, and now provided by MSNBC with a nationwide pulpit. How many today remember Sharpton's history of stirring racial strife? In 1987, he created a media frenzy in the case of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager who claimed she was raped by a group of white police officers. A grand jury found Brawley had lied about the event in Wappingers Falls, New York and the case was dropped. The event which Sharpton used to indict our society for widespread racism never happened.
In 1991, Sharpton exacerbated tensions between blacks and Orthodox Jews in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. A three-day riot, fueled by Sharpton's inflammatory statements, erupted when a Guyanese boy died after being struck by a car driven by a Jewish man. At the boy's funeral, Sharpton complained about "diamond cutters" in the neighborhood in what a Brandeis University historian described as the most anti-Semitic incident in U.S. history. Two men died and three were critically injured before order was restored. Clearly, Al Sharpton does not come to a discussion of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case with clean hands.
Few of those urging demonstrations against the alleged "racism" in the jury verdict finding Mr. Zimmerman not guilty have spent very much time examining the law and the trial itself.
Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, claimed that he shot Mr. Martin only after the teenager knocked him to the ground, punched him, straddled him and slammed his head into concrete. The murder charge required a showing that Zimmerman was full of "ill will, hatred, spite, or evil intent" when he shot Mr. Martin. But prosecutors had little evidence to back up that claim, according to most legal experts. They could point only to Zimmerman's words during his call to the police dispatcher the night he spotted Martin walking in the rain with his sweatshirt's hood up and grew suspicious. Zimmerman appeared calm during the call and did not describe Martin's race until he was asked.
Lawyers point to what they said were errors by the prosecution. The testimony of Officer Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department's chief investigator on the case, for example, told the jury he believed Zimmerman's account was truthful. Dr. Shiping Bao, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Martin, came across, legal experts report, befuddled, shuffling through his notes because he could remember very little. "It was horrific," said Richard Sharpstein, a prominent Miami criminal defense lawyer. "It was a deadly blow to this case because the case depended on forensic evidence to contradict or disprove George Zimmerman's story."
The performance was the opposite of that by Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist, who took the stand for the defense. Dr. Di Maio said the evidence and injuries to George Zimmerman were consistent with the defense's account, that Trayvon Martin was leaning over the defendant when he was shot. The evidence of Zimmerman's injuries may have helped his case, but it was not legally necessary. He needed to show only that he feared great bodily harm or death when he pulled out his gun, which he was carrying legally. "Classic self-defense," said his attorney.
It is quite different to have sympathy for the Martin family, to regret the incident or to be critical of Florida's laws about concealed weapons, or its "Stand Your Ground" law, that never entered the legal proceeding - than to argue that the law was not properly applied in this case. The prosecution failed to prove Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, hence, the non-guilty verdict.
Many black commentators regret that Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ben Jealous, and others have made this case about race. Columnist Armstrong Williams declares that:
. . . the Zimmerman case was not about race. Mr. Zimmerman is Hispanic, normally one of the protected minorities in America. In order to make the story about race, The New York Times and some other media outlets, called him a "white Hispanic" (his father is white and his mother of Peruvian heritage). When was the last time anybody in America heard a Hispanic called a "white Hispanic?" Calling Mr. Zimmerman a "white Hispanic" is like calling Adam Clayton Powell or Barack Obama a "white black." But the media needed to create hysterics and so injected race into the equation to make it more salable to the American people as a political circus. After all, who cares about two white men or two black men in a fight that results in death?
In Williams's view:
A young man was killed by another young man under circumstances where there is so much racial static in the background that it's difficult for many to be remotely objective. . . . Compare the reaction of the O.J. Simpson verdict by many American blacks to the reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal. In both cases the prosecution did not make its case beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. Yet blacks generally cheered the result in the Simpson case, while viewing the Zimmerman verdict as a travesty of justice. In our court system of trial by jury, you can't have it both ways. There cannot be a different standard for a white man killing a black man than for a black man killing a white man and a white woman.
Liberal columnist Richard Cohen writes that:
I don't like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize. I don't know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I'm tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the U.S. I am a racist.
Cohen argues that:
What Zimmerman did was wrong. It was not, by a verdict of his peers, a crime. Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem, and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of individual stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population yet they represent 78 percent of the shooting suspects - almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.
Those statistics represent the justification for New York's controversial stop-and-frisk program, which amounts to a kind of racial profiling. "After all," writes Cohen:
. . . if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk. Still, common sense and common decency, not to mention the law, insist on other variables, such as suspicious behavior. Even still, race is a factor without a doubt. It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.
Last year, the New York City Police Department recorded 419 homicides, nearly a 20 percent decrease from the year before and the lowest rate per 100,000 residents since the department began keeping statistics. If New York had the same homicide rate as Washington, D.C., it would be investigating 800 more murder cases for the year. If it had Detroit's statistics, nearly 4,000 more New Yorkers would be murdered every year.
Editorially, The Washington Post states that, "Without question, the Big Apple is doing something right." Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Chief Raymond Kelley say the stop-and-frisk policy has saved 5,000 lives in the past ten years. "New York has never been safer in its modern era," the mayor says.
The policy, of course, is controversial and is the subject of a federal action lawsuit because the vast majority of those stopped are young men of color. Mayor Bloomberg responds:
They keep saying, "Oh, it's a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group." That may be, but it's not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murders. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.
Expressing the anguish of many who hate all forms of racism, but are not prepared to turn a blind eye to the reality of urban crime, Richard Cohen concludes:
I wish I had a solution to this problem. If I were a young black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated. If the police are abusing their authority and using race as the only reason, that has got to stop. But if they ignore race, then they are fools and ought to go into another line of work.
Another liberal commentator, columnist Ruth Marcus, was particularly critical of those who compared Trayvon Martin with Emmett Till:
The comparison is unfair. No doubt race played a part in Martin's death. . . . But there is no evidence that race played a role in Zimmerman's acquittal. If anything, the racial undertones worked against Zimmerman, increasing public pressure on prosecutors to bring the most serious - and, in hindsight the most difficult to support - charges against him. Contrast the Zimmerman trial with that of Till's murderers. The courtroom was segregated. No hotel would rent rooms to black observers. The local sheriff welcomed black spectators to the courtroom with what was described as a cheerful use of the vilest racial epithets. The New South is not perfect, but it is not the Old.
What is rarely noted is the fact that the vast majority of the victims of young black men who kill are other young black men and women. Those engaged in calling for marches and vigils to express outrage over the verdict in the Zimmerman case say hardly a word about the black-on-black crime which plagues the nation's inner cities. In an interview with black journalist Juan Williams, comedian Bill Cosby noted that the NAACP's headquarters is in Baltimore, a city with one of the highest murder rates in the nation. "I've never once heard the NAACP say, "Let's do something about this," said Cosby, "They never marched or organized or even criticized the criminals."
The over-heated declarations that our current society is similar to that in which Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 - or in which the Scottsboro Boys were convicted in 1933 - turns reality on its head. Al Sharpton doesn't really believe it. Jesse Jackson knows it's untrue. Ben Jealous is unwilling to give up the public spotlight he receives by portraying such a false picture.
Those of us old enough to have lived through the years of segregation remember an era of segregated schools, segregated bus and train stations, "white" and "black" restrooms (visit the Pentagon and see the proliferation of rest rooms which were constructed in the years when it was illegal in Virginia for men and women of different races to use the same facilities), water fountains reserved for "whites" and "colored." In many parts of the country blacks could not vote or sit on juries. Black travelers never knew when they would be able to stop for a meal. There was no pretense that racial equality of any kind existed.
Today, we live in an imperfect society, but one in which all citizens, regardless of race, have equal rights. It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of race. Men and women can go as far as their individual abilities can take them. Black Americans hold every conceivable position in our society - from CEO of major corporations, to chief of police in major cities, to university president, to governor - to President of the United States.
None of this would be true if ours were indeed a "racist" society. This is not to say that in a society of more than 300 million people, examples of racism cannot sometimes be found. Using the trial of George Zimmerman to say that it is still 1933 or 1955, as some are now doing, is to paint a picture of contemporary society that cannot be recognized. When it comes to the status of race relations in America today, who are we going to believe, shrill voices such as Al Sharpton's, or our own eyes? The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case has brought out the worst in some. The rest of us must move resolutely forward, continuing on the path of creating a genuinely color-blind society, which has long been the goal of men and women of good will of all races.
Freedom, Security, and Outsourcing Intelligence: Confronting Many Unanswered Questions
The revelation that the U.S. Government is openly operating a massive surveillance program - with less oversight than previously thought - raises many questions. U.S. officials say that the program, known as Prism, which was revealed in the leaks by Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, was legal and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This gives the National Security Agency (NSA) the power to obtain e-mails and phone records relating to non-U.S. nationals, but details about the individuals targeted under the act remain secret.
Documents leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers claimed the government had direct access to the servers of major technology firms such as Apple and Google. According to Snowden, individual operatives had the power to tap into anyone's e-mails at any time.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the 29-year-old Snowden of "an act of treason." House Speaker John Boehner labeled Snowden a "traitor." He said: "The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it's a giant violation of the law."
Others - on both the right and left - have hailed Snowden as an idealistic "whistleblower." This is the position taken by, among others, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). The conservative Washington Times, expressing sympathy for Snowden, declared:
In a democracy, matters of widespread public interest are meant to be discussed and decided on by our elected representatives, and done in the open. . . . The latest revelations will have no pernicious effect because our enemies assume Uncle Sam has been listening. Al Qaeda operatives use codes, dead drops, and encryption to carry out attacks, such as the Boston bombings, under the nose of the mass surveillance. That's what spies and terrorists do. Google, Facebook, and the other companies play along, denying that the government is directly tapping into their servers. . . . Such extreme secrecy isn't about making sure that China or the Taliban never learn about U.S. surveillance capabilities, but about keeping ordinary Americans in the dark. . . . The Founding Fathers never would have entrusted power over such information to a handful of men. Neither should we.
Placing the merits of the government surveillance program aside, Snowden himself is hardly a hero. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret NSA documents, Snowden violated his explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed oaths he had voluntarily entered into. As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out:
He betrayed the Constitution. The Founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden unilaterally short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.
Beyond this, the question arises of why, in the span of three years, leakers at the lowest levels of the nation's intelligence ranks, gained access to large caches of classified material. The similarities between Snowden and Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army private on trial for sending hundreds of thousands of secret files to the WikiLeaks website, are clear.
In the case of Snowden, the fact that he was not a U.S. Government employee, but was an employee of a private company, focuses national attention on whether or not a company such as Booz Allen Hamilton should have access to the nation's top secret information. Is not the gathering and handling of intelligence an inherently governmental function?
Booz Allen Hamilton, which hired Snowden, a high school dropout, to work at the NSA, is a leader among more than 1,900 private firms that have supplied tens of thousands of intelligence analysts in recent years. According to The Washington Post:
. . . in the rush to fill jobs, the government has relied on faulty procedures to vet intelligence workers. . . . Intelligence officials, government auditors, and contracting specialists have warned for years that the vulnerability to spies and breaches was rising, along with contracting fraud and abyss.
When you increase the volume of contractors exponentially but you don't invest in the personnel necessary to manage and oversee that workforce, your exposure increases, said Steven Schooner, co-director of the government procurement law program at George Washington University. This is what happens when you have staggering numbers of people with access to this kind of information.
The reliance on contractors reflects a major shift toward outsourcing intelligence in the past 15 years. . . . Private contractors for the CIA recruited spies, protected CIA directors, helped snatch suspected extremists off the streets of Italy and interrogated suspected terrorists in secret prisons abroad.
Booz Allen Hamilton had $5.8 billion in revenue last year. Almost all of its work was for the government, nearly a quarter of that was for intelligence agencies.
By 2011, more than 4.2 million government and contract workers had security clearances and more than a third of them had top-secret access. A review by the Government Accountability Office found that of 3,500 security clearance reviews, almost 9 in 10 lacked documentation. Of those, nearly a quarter were still approved.
Glenn Voelz, an Army Intelligence officer previously assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, warned in 2009 "the rapid and largely unplanned integration of many non-governmental employees into the workforce presents new liabilities that have been largely ignored to this point."
Some say that outsourcing intelligence to private companies saves the government money. But Edward Snowdon, despite not having a college degree, made $200,000 a year. Booz Allen Hamilton Chairman Ralph W. Shrader was paid $1.2 million in base salary and a total of $3.1 million in fiscal 2012. Four named executive presidents had total pay packages in the range of $2 million to $3 million. Already, many are speaking of an "Intelligence Industrial Complex," echoing President Eisenhower's warning about the "Military Industrial Complex."
The revelations about the government surveillance programs present us with the opportunity for a free and open debate about how much secrecy is healthy in a democratic society - as well as whether the "inherently governmental" intelligence function should be performed by for-profit private companies, whose incentive structure is quite different from that of the CIA or the NSA.
Those of us concerned about the growth of government power - and the right to privacy - have every reason to be concerned. Those who seek to expand power and diminish freedom always have a variety of good reasons to set forth for their purposes. In the case of Olmstead vs. United States (1927), Justice Louis Brandeis warned that:
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment of men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.
Limiting our freedom in the interest of "national security" may at times be necessary. But doing so - in secrecy - and using private, profit-making companies to implement such a program seems inconsistent with our larger values. And, in theory, we are at peace. Congress has not declared war. Recently, a top Pentagon official said that the evolving war against al Qaeda was likely to continue "at least 10 to 20 years." Can our free society be on a war footing for decades, increasing government power to pursue it, without eroding our freedom? Before the recent leaks of classified material, few were asking such questions. Hopefully, a much needed national debate will now begin. *