A year since Ferguson: What’s changed? (Updated)

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Too damn little, that’s for sure.

As the Washington Post reported this weekend, unarmed black men are seven times more likely to die by police gunfire than are any other group. As the Post shows, the statistics are damning:

So far this year, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police – one every nine days, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. During a single two-week period in April, three unarmed black men were shot and killed. All three shootings were either captured on video or, in one case, broadcast live on local TV.

Those 24 cases constitute a surprisingly small fraction of the 585 people shot and killed by police through Friday evening, according to The Post database. Most of those killed were white or Hispanic, and the vast majority of victims of all races were armed.

However, black men accounted for 40 percent of the 60 unarmed deaths, even though they make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population. The Post’s analysis shows that black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed.

Even if Michael Brown’s death “ushered in the greatest national reckoning on racism since the beating of Rodney King,” it’s easy to conclude that despite the hashtags, breast beating, and protest movements, black lives don’t really matter.

The criminal justice system, at every phase, seems systematically stacked against African Americans.

The Republicans jockeying to be their party’s nominees for president couldn’t be bothered to talk about race  in their first debate. The Democrats are little better.

The Post’s report is long, detailed, and depressing. It is well worth your time.

**Update**

The last two nights in Ferguson have been tense. On Sunday night protesters clashed repeatedly with police. Bottles and rocks were thrown and shots were fired. An 18-year-old St. Louis man was in critical condition in the hospital after being shot by police who charge he had first fired on them.

Monday night a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson, and scores of police flooded the area where a year ago Michael Brown was killed. Although there was minor violence, the disturbances did not escalate, and by early this morning the situation was described as generally peaceful.

There is real question as to whether the calm will last. Adding to the concern and uncertainty is the presence of a so-called citizen militia called the Oath Keepers who have arrived on the scene openly carrying rifles on the streets. Police are wary, as are protesters. As one told the New York Times:

We don’t trust them … We don’t trust the white people with assault rifles. They didn’t bring one black person with them, and they walked up on us like they’re asserting their white privilege.

The New York Times story this morning fills in more details.

Peace process? What peace process?

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The war you’ve already forgotten about, the one in eastern Ukraine pitting the government in Kiev against separatist Russian proxies, looks poised to enter a renewed period of fighting.  This despite a shaky ceasefire and the occasional talks between Ukrainian negotiators and the Moscow-backed rebels that have been dragging on since February.

The Atlantic updates us on the current state of affairs with an article today headlined “Is this the end of Ukraine’s Peace Process?

The answer is yes, and it’s pretty easy to understand why. Any peace process rooted in an effort to achieve some kind of negotiated settlement can only work when all sides realize they can no longer achieve their goals by any other means. If any thinks it stands a better chance of getting what it wants by returning to the battlefield than staying at the negotiating table, then the process will fail.

The logic of this was spelled out more than 30 years ago in the work of Johns Hopkins political scientist I. William Zartman who has argued that peace initiatives will only bear fruit when a conflict has reached the “ripe moment,” a concept which centers on the parties’ perception of a mutually hurting stalemate. Zartman explains the concept this way:

[Mutually Hurting Stalemate] is based on the notion that when parties find themselves locked in a conflict from which they cannot escalate to victory and this deadlock is painful to both of them (although not necessarily in equal degree or for the same reasons), they seek an alternative policy or Way Out.

As The Atlantic piece compellingly argues, that is definitely not where any of the parties in the Ukrainian conflict are at present. In fact, the current stalemate is of the most benefit to Kiev, which retains legal authority over the separatist-held Donbas region but doesn’t have to shoulder responsibility for governing, financing, or rebuilding the devastated region.  The price that it is demanding to reintegrate the region is disarming of rebels, the removal of Russian troops and weapons, full control over the international border between Russia and Ukraine,  an internationally supervised regional elections.

Moscow wants the region reincorporated into Ukraine too, but with the rebel leaders legitimized as its rulers, separatist fighters fully armed and turned into its police force, and with so much autonomy so as to be a Russian protectorate in all but name. This would give Moscow a perpetual ability to undermine and destabilize Kiev at will, preventing the Ukrainian government from moving fully into the embrace of the West.

Given these conflicting goals, there is no compromise position that can satisfy both Kiev and Moscow.  And as long as the existing stalemate favors Kiev, Moscow understands that its only viable move is to break the deadlock. Exactly how that will play out remains to be seen. But you can bet it won’t be pretty.

And no one will mistake it for a peace process.

Nine reasons, but the first is all you need

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In an essay at The Atlantic this afternoon, Graham Allison, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, one of the grand old men of American political science with long experience of thinking and writing about arms control, lays out a list of nine reasons to support the deal with Iran to curtail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

He could have quit after the first one:

1) No one has identified a better feasible alternative.

That really ought to be the end of the discussion. As I tell my students when I teach international negotiation, the only way to evaluate an agreement is to stack it up against the alternatives to a settlement, not against the wish-list of things you wanted at the outset.

So while the rest of Allison’s analysis is worth reading (and it’s a nice, short, accessible read) you really could stop right there. But if you are so inclined, by all means read the whole thing. And there here are a couple of additional recommendations.

Friends of mine, like Steve Saideman and Bill Ayres have already written some smart analysis on the Iran deal and the tribal gut reactions that are passing for debate on the issue.  Check out their stuff.

And David Lake, another prominent voice from my field, has looked at the agreement negotiated with Iran and come to conclusions that Allison’s piece today echoed. Given the alternatives, this is about as good as it gets.

I don’t have a lot to add to the conversation. Instead, let me urge you to follow the links and read the smart commentary listed above.