July 23, 2014
7:27 pm
             
Black Voices Blog
If there was ever a contrast in the way two separate and seemingly removed from each other police abuse cases were handled, the New York Police Department and the California Highway Patrol cases fit the bill. First there's the CHP. On July 19, this writer received a detailed reply from the CHP's Chief Legal Counsel in direct response to my petition filed under the California Public Records Act for the release of information on the CHP officer that beat Marlene Pinnock on July 1 that was captured on video. The information requested included his identity, and information on any prior complaints or allegations of misconduct against the officer. The CHP said no. Its rationale was that "the disclosure will endanger the witness or other person involved in the investigation." Since we know who the victim is, namely Pinnock, the presumption is the "other person" is the officer who beat her.

In the New York City Police abuse case the abuse was the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island two weeks after the Pinnock beating. In sharp contrast to the CHP, the NYPD quickly identified the officer, Daniel Pantaleo. It did not require the filing of a petition for the department to disclose.

It's crucial to know exactly who the officer or officers involved in misconduct cases against civilians are for many reasons. They are sworn public employees. This means their salaries are paid by the civilians and taxpayers. They work for a department whose prime job is to engage, interact with, to serve and protect the public. They take an oath to that effect. The shielding of a public official or employee from the very public their sole mission is to serve, makes a mockery of the loud and long pledge from public officials to transparency and accountability in their actions. But most importantly, public disclosure gives the public a clearer window into whether there has been a history, or pattern and practice of prior complaints of misconduct, lawsuits, their duty performance, and general work history.

This is not simply public voyeurism. In the case of Pantaleo, the disclosure quickly turned up information that he had been sued twice by blacks for alleged harassment, abuse, and unlawful arrest. This is not smoking gun proof that Pantaleo had a malicious intent or racial animus in the choking of Garner. But it certainly does send up thick smoke signals that there is a possible racial fire in the actions of Pantaleo. This is the history of prior conduct and charges by a public employee that a public agency, any public agency, seemingly would want to disclose if for no other reason than it makes credible its loud protests that it has nothing to hide or cover-up when one of their employees is plopped on the hot seat for alleged misconduct.

This certainly should have been but so far is not the case with the CHP in its refusal to release the identity and information on the officer that beat Pinnock. This refusal flies hard in the face of a California Supreme Court near unanimous ruling in May that police department must disclose the names of officers involved in officer related shootings. The majority justices were firm and clear in stating that releasing names of these officers is a check to hold police departments accountable and trumps general safety concerns. What this meant was that police departments routinely balk at disclosure of any information about officers involved in alleged misconduct because of a supposed physical threat and danger to their lives.

There has not been one documented case in any of the many cases where police departments have identified these officers where an officer has been harmed or assailed. The court recognized that this was just a convenient dodge departments that don't disclose (a number do) officer identities use to duck accountability. The CHP for its part says it has documented physical threats to the officer. Yet there is no way to know just what those threats were and how great the real threat. The public then without disclosure is forced to rely on the agency's word.

The CHP and other police departments that refuse to disclose the name and track record of the officers that commit abuses without providing clear and present evidence of the danger to them does a colossal disservice not just to the public but also to the departments themselves. It erodes their credibility, opens them wide to the charge of cover-up, and makes them even more susceptible to massive judgments and settlements. The near textbook proof of that is the very case that the California Supreme Court ruled on in the officer disclosure case. The Long Beach Police Department argued against disclosure on the grounds that it would jeopardize the safety of two officers involved in shootings. It meant little. The city had to pay out a gargantuan $6.5 million to the family of the shooting victim. This was only one of many costly settlements that ultimately taxpayers were on the hook for.

The NYPD officials acted squarely in the public interest when they released the name of the officer involved in the death of Garner. It took a big step toward fulfilling its public mandate of transparency and accountability. So far, the CHP hasn't taken that step.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson
Questlove says black people have to come to terms with the changing game of hip-hop, and that includes Iggy Azalea.

In an interview with Time published Wednesday, The Roots drummer and general arbiter of hip-hop, discussed the art of cover songs, VH1's new show "SoundClash" (of which he is executive producer), and the controversy over white female rapper Iggy Azalea's reign in hip-hop world.

Speaking to the news outlet on whether he is pro-Iggy or anti-Iggy, Questlove said:
You know, we as black people have to come to grips that hip-hop is a contagious culture. If you love something, you gotta set it free. I will say that “Fancy,” above any song that I’ve ever heard or dealt with, is a game-changer in that fact that we’re truly going to have to come to grips with the fact that hip-hop has spread its wings.

[...]

I’m not going to lie to you, I’m torn between the opinions on the Internet, but I’mma let Iggy be Iggy. It’s not even politically correct dribble. The song is effective. I’m in the middle of the approximation of the enunciation, I’ll say. Part of me hopes she grows out of that and says it with her regular dialect — I think that would be cooler. But, yeah, “Fancy” is the song of the summer.


Azalea has been the subject of much debate for her highly criticized "appropriation of blackness" and controversial comments about race.

In a piece for Salon, Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University, explained that her particular issue with Azalea is the artist's lack of cultural awareness.

"I resent Iggy Azalea for her co-optation and appropriation of sonic Southern Blackness, particularly the sonic Blackness of Southern Black women," she wrote in a piece published July 15. "Everytime she raps the line 'tell me how you luv dat,' in her song 'Fancy,' I want to scream 'I don’t love dat!' I hate it. The line is offensive because this Australian born-and-raised white girl almost convincingly mimics the sonic register of a downhome Atlanta girl [all sic]," she wrote.
WASHINGTON -- A congressional hearing to examine the legacy of President Barack Obama's 2010 Wall Street reform law quickly devolved into a partisan mess Wednesday, with Republicans demanding more loans to low-income minority borrowers, decrying mergers of small banks and pitying the regulatory burden of a community banker who's exempt from the new law's key mortgage rules.

Raising the stakes for this bizarre battle was the testimony of former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the only Democratic witness called for the hearing. Frank pounced after current panel Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and other Republicans decried the decline in loan availability for low-income and minority borrowers.

"I was very struck by the frankly schizophrenic approach that the majority seems to be making on subprime loans -- loans to poor people," Frank said. "There's a criticism that under the bill, fewer loans are being made to low-income people -- yeah! That was part of what I thought everybody wanted to do. I thought there was a consensus that too many loans were being made to those people."

Hensarling was particularly vocal about the Dodd-Frank law's effect on minority borrowers, claiming a Federal Reserve study shows that "about one-third of blacks and Hispanics would not be able to obtain a mortgage," based on the rule's requirement that monthly borrower debts not exceed 43 percent of monthly income.

That's true, according to the Fed's 2010 data. It's also generally considered bad personal finance to have that much of your income tied up with debt payments.

But the broader problem is that minority families generally have lower incomes than white families, thanks to widespread institutional racism. Median African-American household income was $33,762 in 2012, compared with median white household income of $55,565.

And issuing expensive loans to families with low income can have terrible results. The proliferation of subprime mortgages during the George W. Bush presidency did disproportionately target people of color. It also hurt them, as many who qualified for better terms were steered into garbage loans with high interest rates. Since most subprime loans were for refinancings, the boom ultimately caused a net loss of homeownership, as many sustainable home financing arrangements were converted to foreclosures.

Dodd-Frank tried to remedy that situation with new consumer protection rules requiring banks to verify a borrower's ability to repay a loan before extending it. At Wednesday's hearing, much of the GOP criticism focused on false allegations about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Qualified Mortgage regulation, or QM.

"You don't protect consumers by taking away or limiting products, like the CFPB does through the Qualified Mortgage rule," Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) said.

The QM rule doesn't ban anything. It's a basic test of whether a loan is designed to line a lender's pockets by ripping off a borrower. And it gives banks special perks for meeting the CFPB's high-quality loan standards, protecting them from predatory lending lawsuits. In practice, that means limiting the amount lenders charge in points and fees to 3 percent of the loan value, banning balloon loans with a big lump sum due at the end of the mortgage, and ensuring that a borrower's monthly debt payments don't exceed 43 percent of monthly income.

But Duffy and Hensarling got some backup from the testimony of Dale Wilson, the CEO of First State Bank of San Diego in Duvall County, Texas.

"As a result of the QM rules, our bank no longer makes mortgage loans, as the costs and the risks are just too high," Wilson said. He said banks found to have flubbed income calculations could be forced to repay fees and lose the right to foreclose.

Consumer advocates may wonder why a lender that screwed up basic elements of a loan should be allowed to foreclose. But there's a deeper problem with Wilson's claims. His bank can take advantage of the QM perks even if his loans don't meet the criteria. First State Bank of San Diego may have exited the mortgage business, but the CFPB didn't make it.

That's because the QM rule grants a free pass to banks with less than $2 billion in assets in "rural or underserved" areas. Duvall County is classified as a rural or underserved area, and Wilson's bank has just $80 million in assets, according to his testimony.

Wilson's testimony, however, offered Republicans several opportunities to express concern about the recent uptick in small bank mergers. While the GOP offered few critiques of capitalist business combinations in the years leading up to the financial crisis, it has recently become popular for Republicans to claim Dodd-Frank's regulatory burden is forcing small firms to merge with larger institutions. Hensarling and Reps. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-Mo.) all raised the prospect that regulatory strangulation is forcing mergers.

That may be so in some cases, but there's no evidence of a small bank holocaust. In fact, the pace of small bank takeovers has slowed since Dodd-Frank, according to data from SNL Financial.

bank mergers

In the Bush years leading up to the 2008 crash, acquisitions of banks with $10 billion in assets or less (a common community bank threshold) averaged 255 a year, with a peak of 287 in 2006, and a low of 206 in 2002, according to SNL Financial. In the three full years since Dodd-Frank passed in the summer of 2010, there have been an average of 193 small-bank mergers, with a high of 225 in 2013 and a low of 140 in 2011.

Republicans made the bulk of the outlandish comments at the hearing, but Frank got into hot water for repeatedly claiming that Dodd-Frank had outlawed bailouts of big banks. What he said was technically true -- the law explicitly bars the government from saving a big bank in crisis, and requires its shareholders to be wiped out in what Frank joked were "death panels."

But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) argued that the legislative language on too-big-to-fail was a meaningless formality.

"We're told that the current law prohibits using taxpayer money to bail them out," Sherman said. "Well, I was here in 2008. The law prohibited using taxpayer money to bail them out. We passed a law to bail them out."

Sherman argued that banks saw what happened in 2008 and will expect the same treatment in the next crisis. He then blasted Hensarling for not allowing the committee to vote on his bill to break up the big banks..

But most of the hearing was an ideological wrestling match over whether regulation could ever possibly be useful, peppered with partisan jabs.

"There's maybe a push on the other side of the aisle here that there's no need for a Congress, that we simply have an all-powerful executive," Duffy said at one point.

"I gotta be honest, I'm getting tired of the regular hearings that we have simply stating political points over and over," Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) said. "Barney, did you miss us?"

"No," Frank replied.
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