Saturday, June 6, 2020

Redefining Terms

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey gave an impassioned speech about racism on the Senate floor this week.

During one part of the speech, he spoke about violence and the “cycle of violence” and went on to describe an expanded definition of violence.
There is violence in our Nation seen and our environment, that we still are a Nation where a person's race is the single biggest factor of whether they live near a toxic site or not. Ask the mother of a child who drank lead water for months and months and has had their brain permanently damaged if that was not violence.

It is violence to not have access to quality care. Ask the woman who has lost her child because of lack of prenatal care. Ask the Black woman in America, who today is four times more likely to die, herself, in childbirth if this isn't a violence in our society that needs condemnation.

It is violence we see from our healthcare system, to our criminal justice system, to environmental injustice, to the denial, as one author says, of the savage inequalities within our education systems.
We do not bring clarity to the issues in this country by confusing the term violence with differences in how people use commercial services in this country. Using an affordable commercial service is not violence. Destroying that commercial service in a riot is.

A similar moment occurred two days later during a debate about anti-lynching legislation.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky raised concerns that the bill in question “would expand the meaning of ‘lynching’ to include any bodily injury, including a cut, an abrasion, or a bruise, physical pain, illness, or any other injury to the body, no matter how temporary.”

Sen. Kamala Harris of California responded, and her statements included: “it should not require a maiming or torture in order for us to recognize a lynching when we see it and recognize it by Federal law and call it what it is” such as “if someone places a noose over someone else's neck.”

She then went on to say, “We cannot pretend that lynchings are a thing of the past. Ahmaud Arbery was a victim of a modern-day lynching. He was murdered on February 23, 2020, 3 months ago. Today, we learned that one of the men who killed Mr. Arbery used a racial slur after shooting him. He should be alive today, and his killers should be brought to justice. No longer should the crime of lynching go unpunished. No longer should victims and their families go without justice.”

We already have laws against murder.

We've already made hate an offense aggravating such a crime.

In some ways, Sen. Harris may have inadvertently made Sen. Paul's point about the lack of clarity in the proposed anti-lynching statute.

Sen. Paul responded:
A Black woman in New Jersey assaulted three Jewish women and slapped them. It was terrible. She uttered racial epithets about these Jewish women. She was charged with third-degree misdemeanor assault with up to 1 year in prison, which to me sounds pretty significant for slapping, but she was then charged with a hate crime in addition to that, which was 4 years in addition.

If slapping someone and hurling racial epithets gets you 10 years in prison, this is exactly what we have been fighting about in criminal justice reform. We set up a system and didn't pay attention to the penalties, and all of a sudden things we didn't intend happened. So we have to be smart about this. ...

What I am trying to do is to make sure we don't get unintended consequences. We fought the battle against mandatory minimums for a decade now because we tie up people in sentencing that makes no sense.

Ten years for slapping someone would be an abomination, and it could happen to anyone. Do we want a Black woman who slapped three Jewish women in New Jersey to get 10 years in prison? If there is a group of them, it is now a conspiracy to lynch.

We have to use some common sense here. We should not have a 10-year prison sentence for anything less than, at the very least, an attempt to do bodily harm.

The statute lists what bodily harm is, but it could still be an attempt. It doesn't mean you actually have to have it, but what it would preclude is when somebody shoves somebody in a bar and they fall down and have an abrasion and they say: “He did it because of a racial animus toward me,” and then you have a 10-year penalty.

That is not right.
As Sen. Paul said in his remarks opening the discussion,
Words have meaning. It would be a disgrace for the Congress of the United States to declare that a bruise is lynching, that an abrasion is lynching, that any injury to the body, no matter how temporary, is on par with the atrocities done to people like Emmett Till, Raymond Gunn, and Sam Hose, who were killed for no reason but because they were Black.

This week the media told the American people that the President used tear gas on peaceful people so that he could walk across the street for a photo-op with a Bible in front of a church without permission. The Federalist was one of the few outlets to question the veracity of this account from the echo chamber.

They found, “If any of that were true, it might mark the first time in history that cops without gas masks launched tear gas in an area that the president of the United States easily walked through minutes later.”

Tear gas effects are not instantaneous. For accounts of tear gas in substantial use over the last year, look at how liberally it's been used by the Hong Kong police. What happened near the White House this week was not that. President's don't voluntarily walk through clouds of smoke that hang in the air making them choke if they're not wearing a gas mask.

The media is not backing down. Now as a matter of fact-checking, the AP is claiming, “Trump denies tear gas use despite evidence.” In righteous indignation they declare, “Law enforcement officials shy away from describing crowd-dispersing chemical tools as tear gas; it evokes police gassing citizens or the horrors of war. But giving those tools a more antiseptic name does not change the reality on the ground.”

Notice, they're already undermining the meaning of the term tear gas. It's not a specific thing anymore, it's now a broad term for “describing crowd-dispersing chemical tools.” Then they throw a couple credentials behind that claim: “Federal institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense have listed tear gas as the common term for riot-control agents. Whether the common or formal term is used, the effects on people are the same.”

Justifying their misrepresentation of what happened by redefining the terms they used to describe it does not change the reality on the ground.

Whatever methods used to mislead, the pattern of misrepresentation and obfuscation from the media is becoming more pervasive. After calling out the tear gas issue, the next day The Federalist took on the larger issue:

The Media Are Lying To You About Everything, Including The Riots
It seems no great event or upheaval in our national life can pass now without the media lying to our faces about it.

They lied about the Trump campaign colluding with Russia in 2016.

They lied about the Mueller probe and Brett Kavanaugh and former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

They lied about Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president and the impeachment farce that ensued.

They lied about the coronavirus and the lockdowns and the White House response.

And now they’re lying about the riots.

In recent days we’ve heard a steady drumbeat of lies, distortions, and disingenuousness from the mainstream media about almost every aspect of the unrest now gripping American cities.

Things do not need to be this way. We can pray that truth will prevail and that important terms would retain their meaning.

“the king shall rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him shall glory; But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped” (Psalm 63:11).

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