Charles Barkley: The Voice of Reason?

by Jim Longworth

Last week, comedian Chris Rock reminded us that it’s mainly white people who believe race relations in America are much improved. Looking back over the past two years, I’m afraid he’s right. Tea Party politicians have been vowing to “take back our country” (translation: get rid of the black President), Republican controlled state legislatures have passed laws intended to discourage minority voting, and racial profiling appears to be on the rise, so much so that being stopped for DWB (“Driving While Black”) and WWB (“Walking While Black”) have resulted in a number of tragic events.

First there was nutty George Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch volunteer who murdered an unarmed Tra yvon Martin for eating Skittles and wearing a hoodie. Then there was 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann because the boy was carrying a BB gun. Then came 18-yearold Michael Brown who was killed by a hail of bullets from Ferguson, Missouri cop Darren Wilson after the teenager hurled obscenities and two punches at Wilson. And there was 43-year-old Eric Garner who was choked to death by New York City patrolman Daniel Pantaleo because Garner refused handcuffs when being arrested for allegedly selling black market cigarettes. All four victims were African American, all four were unarmed, and, to date, the White men who killed them have gone unpunished.

Late last month, a Ferguson grand jury found that Wilson acted properly, and last week, a New York City grand jury refused to indict Pantaleo. Protestors rioted in Ferguson upon learning that Wilson would not be charged with murder. The town was set ablaze and property was damaged. Since then, raised arms (the act of surrender which some say Mr. Brown did just before being shot) have become the symbol of police brutality, and demonstrated by a number of high profile individuals, including a United States Congressman, and four members of the St. Louis Rams football team. Collaterally, the phrases “Don’t shoot, officer”, “Don’t choke me, officer”, and, “I can’t breathe” have become rallying cries from those who seek reform of what they perceive to be a racist law enforcement system, and a not so blind justice system.

In one of my earlier columns I called for all police departments to hire officers in direct proportion to the racial composition of their locality. Ferguson, for example, was a disaster waiting to happen. The town is over 60 percent black, but the police force is over 90 percent white. In this country we have the right to trial by a jury of our peers, so why is it that we don’t have the right to be policed by our peers? One wonders what would have happened to Tamir, Michael, and Eric had the cops who confronted them been African American. Possibly the conflicts would have been resolved without incident, but if not, then protestors couldn’t have accused black officers of being racists.

Meanwhile, some localities are considering outfitting every policeman with a body camera, which, they assume, would cut down on excessive use of force. Of course, the video from those body cams could prove to be a double edged sword for “victims” of police brutality, because displaying arrest footage in court or on social media could violate the defendant’s right to privacy, and possibly present a tainted impression to a jury.

And, just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines for reducing incidents of racial profiling. But it was just another hollow gesture by the Obama administration because the new guidelines don’t apply to local police.

Nevertheless, reforms such as more diverse police forces, restrictions on some racial profiling, and the use of high tech body cams, are at least a step in the right direction.

But while reforms are necessary, we must not assume that every white cop in this country is a violent, mentally disturbed racist. That assumption would constitute a sort of racial profiling in reverse, and would do an injustice to the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day. It’s no wonder, then, that the St. Louis police association was offended by the Rams’ display.

After all, the predominantly black NFL relies heavily on white cops to protect players and fans, week in and week out. And speaking of cutting off your nose to spite your face, I offer for your consideration, the puny brained idiots who set fire to Ferguson. Their actions did nothing but exacerbate race relations, and force a lot of decent cops to use extraordinary measures in order to keep the peace.

Last week, amidst all the tweets and blogs from celebrities who are angry about the injustice in Ferguson, former NBA-superstar-turned-TNT-analyst Charles Barkley made news by putting a controversial spin on the volatile situation. “Those aren’t black people,” said Sir Charles. “They’re scumbags. There’s no excuse for people to be out there burning down people’s businesses.”

Barkley makes a good point. According to, most of the businesses that were damaged or destroyed by African American rioters were owned by African Americans. Barkley also implied that the Ferguson rioters were ill informed. “The true story came out from the grand jury testimony. Three of the four witnesses who were Black said exactly what the cop said.” (note: according to CNN’s Jason Johnson, sixteen witnesses actually contradicted Wilson’s testimony) Barkley made those and other critical remarks during an interview with a Philadelphia radio station. He also used that forum to defend police in general.

“If it weren’t for the cops, we’d be living in the wild, wild west in our neighborhoods. Do you know how bad some of these neighborhoods would be if it wasn’t for the cops?” A few days later, Barkley expanded on his earlier remarks, telling CNN it is “ridiculous” to think that white cops are out to shoot black people. “You judge everybody on their own individual merit. I don’t care what any jackass has to say, you don’t put everybody together.”

Critics of Barkley say he’s just courting the law and order vote in preparation for a possible run at political office, but if that’s the case, so be it. We need more elected officials who speak candidly about race, and who don’t feel they have to be politically correct. After all, out of honesty can come true reform, and Charles Barkley may just be the kind of individual we need in Washington to help us make realistic progress in the area of race relations. Of course, this is also the same man who once said, “I don’t hate anyone, at least not for more than 48 minutes, barring overtime.” Finally, a politician who makes sense. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).