Thursday, July 25th, 2013...9:13 am

Racial inequity even got Newt Gingrich stirred up

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Some folks say I have mellowed with age. If that means I tend to wade through all the smoke to find the source of the fire, then they are right.
By that definition, Newt Gingrich seems to have mellowed as well, particularly when he doesn’t have to pander to a political base to win a seat in government.
Tuesday evening on CNN I heard words come out of Gingrich’s mouth that startled me. And evidently I was not alone in my surprise.
A panel on AC 360’s “Race and Justice in America” town hall meeting was discussing the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin. Mark Garagos, former attorney for Michael Jackson, said racial inequities are prevalent in our judicial system.
“It starts not when you get to court, it starts when you get arrested,” Garagos said. “Where are, who are the people who are being profiled by police? Who are the people being pulled over by police? Race infects everything in the criminal justice system.”
That wasn’t news. Black people have always known that. And those white people who bother to look closer at the evidence know it, too.
Then, host Anderson Cooper called on Gingrich, who wasn’t sitting with the panel on stage but appeared on camera. “Do you believe, Speaker Gingrich, that what Mark Geragos is saying is true, that race infects everything in the criminal justice system?” Cooper asked.
What happened next not only shocked me, but also the audience in the studio and Cooper himself.
“I think race has an enormous impact on decision after decision,” Gingrich said, with nary a gun pointed at his head. “I think you almost have to be blind to America to not realize that we still have very, very deep elements that go all the way back to slavery and segregation and then go all the way back to fundamental differences in neighborhoods and in cultures.”
Cooper’s face never cracked. My jaw, on the other hand, had dropped to my chest.
“And I think it would be very healthy for the country and for the Congress to re-evaluate both the criminal justice part up through the court,” Gingrich said, “but also to re-evaluate the whole way we’ve dealt with prison and the way in which we have basically created graduate schools for criminality, and locking people up in ways that are increasing their inability to function in society.”
Cooper, try as he might, couldn’t hold back.
“I think a lot of people are, like, wow, who are you?” Cooper said to Gingrich. The audience applauded.
I’d like to know who he is, too.
Isn’t this the same Gingrich who, while vying for the Republican presidential nomination last year, suggested poor inner-city kids serve as school janitors to build their work ethic?
Isn’t he the same man who told black people we should demand a paycheck instead of food stamps from President Barack Obama, making it appear that most of us receive that government assistance? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, however, blacks represent about 28 percent of the households that receive food stamps, while 59 percent are white.
Who, indeed, is he? And when did he mellow?
Gingrich went on to say something has to be done about the sharp rise in gang membership, as well, up some 40 percent since 2009. Gang members in Chicago outnumber police officers 10 to 1, he said. We as a country have to address that as well.
But wait, there’s more.
One panelist had complained that stand-your-ground laws had, in a sense, taken “our humanity away, our civility away.”
Gingrich agreed. “I think the word civility is a great word,” he said. “And it was really important to bring into this conversation. How do we restore civility at every level, from schools to malls to walking late at night, to seeing each other as genuine neighbors?”
He wasn’t talking about the Zimmerman and Martin case. He was talking about lessening the chances of there being another Zimmerman and Martin. Gingrich was saying we all need to find a way to get along.
It took my breath away.
If someone as conservative as Gingrich can recognize this country still has a lot of work to do to mend our broken race relations, then I’m not understanding why we are moving so slowly to make the repairs.
I would have expected those words from Sen. John McCain who recently gained a black daughter-in-law, and who refused to use tired old racist tactics against Obama during his fight for the presidency.
And those words would be reasonable flowing from the tongue of Speaker of the House John Boehner who recently gained a black son-in-law. Dinner table conversations have been known to change minds.
Both men now have a vested interest in changing the racial climate of not only the criminal justice system, but also how ordinary citizens who carry guns perceive black people, especially black youth, who are not criminals.
But Gingrich? Who knew?
“I do think this is a profound moment,” Gingrich concluded on the show. “Whether we can grow it into one that brings us together, or it just becomes another excuse to yell at each other, I don’t think we know yet.”
I chastised Gingrich for his inane comments about poor black people, so I’ve got to give him kudos for these reasoned thoughts.
Who knows? Maybe both of us are mellowing.



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