Category Archives: National Politics

Racial Authoritarianism

New Orleans      Rochester, New York is an interesting place in its own right.  The heart of downtown is a semi-wasteland, but along the edges there are bike and running trails along the canals.  The Kodak building is a monument to what was, just as the statue of Fredrick Douglass is one that still is.  The lake effect snow comes in hard.  There are heated tunnels between buildings at Rochester Institute of Technology, where our son graduated in Criminal Justice.  The resignation and retirement of the police chief, the deputy chief, a commander and several others, coupled with the suspension of seven officers in the killing of Daniel Prude should give them some extra time to take some of the same courses at RIT, maybe emphasizing the “justice” part of the phrase.  They claim there was no coverup, but everyone can tell there was also no justice.

Sadly, it won’t be a simple fix that some adult education can solve, because the problem goes much deeper.  John Hopkins Professor Vesla Weaver and Yale Professor Gwen Prowse coined a powerful phrase for the problem in the current issue of Science by terming this experiential reality “racial authoritarianism.”  The concept immediately hits you like a brick to the head.  We all hang on to the belief that we live in a threatened political regime cloaked in the ideology of democracy with practices that so often contradict that mythology from voter suppression to White House rants.  Still, we think of preparing to vote this November as doing our part to prevent a drift towards authoritarianism and still point to leaders in other countries like Russia, Turkey, and Hungary as best examples, rather than stepping back and viewing our own country more clearly.

The professors turn all of those notions upside down by pointing out that the practices of authoritarianism are deeply entrenched and have been for years, but racialized in a way that dominant groups still find possible to ignore.  As they write, “One segment of the population effectively lives under a different set of rules, and, as a result, experiences differential power and citizenship.”  They argue persuasively that this authoritarianism is hiding in plain sight.  Examination of national institutions frequently covers up this reality by not focusing on life at the local levels in our highly decentralized governmental practice and experience.  The police, as we see too frequently, are the local enforcers of this authoritarianism.  Citing an extensive narrative database, the professors are clear that “US residents have a sophisticated understanding of the actual operation of democracy and are witnesses to its relationship with authoritarian practices.”

The heart of their brief in Science is to advocate for a more robust theory of political life in the United States than the way existing theory has “segregated” the experience of Black, brown, and other minorities. Scholars have been clear about the way it worked in the South, but have pretended that the systemic impacts diminished after the 1960s and were not structural but regional.  The professors argue that scholarly work in Latin America has been more clear-eyed in looking at the detritus of military-rule, than stepping back and looking at home.

Perhaps now that they have named the problem, their colleagues will pay attention and heed their call.  More critically for the rest of us outside the academy, their terminology has powerfully described the reality of life for so many in our country living and suffering under authoritarianism now, that it is more than a call for better study of our democracy.  It is an indictment of our democracy and a demand for more action.


Navigating the Eviction Relief Labyrinth

Pearl River     All of the headlines read that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had directed no evictions for the rest of the year.  Before we do the happy dance, it’s best to read the fine print, because there is a lot of it.  For those force fed the biblical traditions in their youth, you might remember, and for others welcome to the story, how difficult it is for a rich man to get to heaven, another story in that tradition.  Reportedly, it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle.  That’s a mental picture not soon forgotten!  Remember that as you read the details on not being evicted, because you may come to believe it might have been easier to crawl through the eye of a needle as well.

Income at first glance seems not to be the issue.  Couples can make less than $200,000 and individual’s less than $100,000 in something called “expected income.”  If you’re waiting at the dock for your ship to come in, make sure the load is less than these figures.  If you received a stimulus check with a letter from President Trump earlier in the year, you should qualify on this score automatically.

Initially, I read that you had to have lost income because of Covid-19.  It seems that if you can establish “substantial” decrease in household income or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical bills, defined as over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you’re good to go on this count.

Here’s a kicker though.  The CDC order is not a rent relief, amnesty, or a moratorium.  It claims to be eviction relief, which is a big difference.  You have to be making your best effort to pay your rent in a timely fashion with partial payments as near the full bill as your fixed expenses will allow.  I can already hear the office phones ringing off the hook in a couple of weeks when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment and didn’t understand they needed to treat the landlord like a layaway and put something down every month and on the due date.

That’s not all of course.  Even if you hit the marks so far, you also have to prove that you would be homeless, forced into a spot even more expensive and past your budget, or squeezed into an overcrowded situation where Covid-19 might be your roommate.

Make it through all that and maybe you might be in the clear, but your landlord can be the devil in these details, given how subjective many of them are, and toss you out, claiming you aren’t qualified.  At that point, heaven was a dream, and you are now in housing hell.

The CDC suggests you write a declaration of sorts, kind of a self-certification so you will be ready for war.  Advice in the Times suggests you get ready for housing court or find a lawyer.  We must be talking about some high-end evictions in some fine cities, because most of this advice won’t make it for the vast majority of tenants being pushed towards the street.

Oh, and just to be crystal clear, come January 2021, if you managed to make it with your landlord through this year, you will still owe all the rent that you didn’t pay, maybe with interest and penalties.

The landlord who violates the CDC order, technically, could be subject to up to $100,000 in fines and one year in jail or both, and that’s if no one dies from the virus in which case the fine could be $250,000.  I’d have to see that to actually believe it.

Might be easier to watch that camel try to crawl through the eye of a needle.  Good luck!