Mike Kueber's Blog

March 2, 2011

Sunday book review #17 – 12 Angry Men by twelve angry men

Racial profiling has been a hot-button issue this past year because of the law in Arizona dealing with illegal immigration.  But African-Americans have been subjected to racial profiling forever, and it remains a major problem.  The objective of the book 12 Angry Men is to remind readers that, notwithstanding Obama’s so-called post-racial presidency, African-Americans remain subject to pervasive profiling.

The title of the book is taken from the famous movie of the same name.  In the movie, the twelve men are on a jury, and they become angry when their deliberations expose their prejudices against a young defendant from a slum that afflict their individual decision-making.  In the book, there are twelve stories by twelve angry individuals – in their own words – describing how they were subjected to prejudicial decision-making by law-enforcement personnel.   

Lani Guinier, a civil-rights activist, wrote the Introduction to 12 Angry Men.  She had 15 minutes of fame in 1993 when Bill Clinton nominated her to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of Civil Rights and then he withdrew the nomination after it was determined that Gunier was a proponent of racial quotas.

In the Introduction, Guinier claims that the twelve voices in 12 Angry Men “are the actual voices of African American men across a spectrum of society.”  Their background is as follows: 

  1. Harvard Law grad and college professor
  2. New York Times reporter
  3. Baseball Hall-of-Famer
  4. High school graduate
  5. Congressman
  6. Event marketer
  7. Professor at UCLA Law
  8. Job developer for non-profits
  9. Professor at George Washington Law
  10. College student
  11. Author, filmmaker, and professor
  12. Attorney for ACLU

I’m not sure what kind of “spectrum of society” Gunier is referring to, but I suggest that the twelve authors have more in common than their color – i.e., they are generally more educated than the law-enforcement personnel, some even on the subject of what is and isn’t allowed under American search & seizure laws.  In many of the stories, the men/authors went out of their way to challenge the police officers by refusing to provide any information more than legally required.  In fact, their stories often reminded me of the famous incident in July 2009 involving Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley. 

Guinier accepts the ACLU’s technical definition of racial profiling – the use of race by law enforcement in any fashion and to any degree when making decisions about who to stop, interrogate, search, or arrest – except where there is a specific description that includes the suspect’s race – but she is just as concerned with stereotyping in other contexts, such as hiring.

In the course of reading 12 Angry Men, I learned that police may stop and frisk a person based on a reasonable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to engage in criminal activity.  Reasonable suspicion means more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch; it must be based on specific and articulable facts, taken together with rational inferences from those facts.  This is called a Terry stop because it was approved under a 1968 Supreme Court decision styled Terry v. Ohio.  A few years after Terry, an 8th Circuit decision styled U.S. v. Weaver held that race, when coupled with other factors, is a lawful factor in the decision to approach and ultimately detain a suspect. 

One of the strongest arguments that Guinier makes concerns the Implicit Association Test (IAT), in which individuals reveal implicit bias by the way they quickly respond to certain words or images.  Those tests show that most individuals associate good/friendly words with random white faces and bad words with random black faces.

Guinier’s recommended solution is for America to move from racial profiling to racial literacy, not post-racially blind.  She describes racial literacy in a fancy way that I don’t understand – “the capacity to ‘read’ race, conjugate its grammar and interpret its meaning in different contexts and circumstances” – but I think she is saying that we need to be aware of and sensitive to stereotyping. 

That makes sense because I think it is unrealistic to expect racial stereotyping (or any other type of stereotyping) to suddenly go away.  In fact, social psychologists see stereotyping as necessary and unavoidable.  As Guinier noted in her Introduction, President Obama has described how his loving grandmother made him cringe sometimes with her stereotyping of blacks.  Several of the racial-profiling policemen in the twelve vignettes were African-Americans.  By being aware of and sensitive to racial stereotypes, we can move in the right direction.

July 23, 2010

Julian Castro and San Antonio’s Not Ready for Primetime Players

On June 24, the San Antonio City Council met to consider Mayor Julian Castro’s resolution declaring the city’s opposition to Arizona’s new law against illegal immigration.  The four-hour discussion, primarily 3-minute speeches from about 50 local activists or politicians, can be viewed at the following website –

http://sanantonio.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=8.  Although the citizen input was remarkably banal and predictable, Mayor Castro and his merry henchmen, Chief McManus and City Attorney Michael Bernard, managed to stake out a position that is indefensible for the pre-eminent leaders of one of America’s so-called great cities.

Mayor Castro wandered into his indefensible position while attempting to assure the pro-Arizona people that he was no scofflaw.  He asserted that everyone agreed about enforcing America’s immigration law, but the question was the manner of enforcing it.  To help explain this concept, he provided two analogies:

  1. Red-light cameras.  San Antonio could put a camera at every intersection and routinely issue citations to every motorist who violated the light.
  2. 2 a.m. bar closings.  San Antonio could post a policeman near bars at 2 a.m. and then check the drivers’ blood-alcohol content because there would be a “reasonable suspicion” that they were drunk.

Although these measures would enable San Antonio to nab additional violators, Mayor Castro asserted that San Antonians didn’t want such heavy-handed enforcement.

Both analogies surprised me.  Regarding the red-light problem, I thought the city was declining to use the cameras because of their cost-effectiveness, not because they would be too effective.  I don’t know why the city wouldn’t want to cite every identified red-light violator. 

The bar-closing analogy is even harder to understand.  I have always assumed the city does everything possible to keep drunks off the road, but apparently it doesn’t.  Furthermore, I am shocked the mayor thinks that leaving a bar at 2 a.m. gives the police reasonable suspicion to stop a driver based on intoxication.  Does he think that everyone goes to a bar to get drunk?  Although Mayor Castro went to Harvard Law School, perhaps he learned his definition of “reasonable suspicion” from his city attorney, Michael Bernard.

Earlier in the meeting, Bernard was asked by Councilperson Clamp to describe “reasonable suspicion.”  Bernard said that there was a continuum between a hunch and a certainty and that reasonable suspicion was a little more than a hunch.  I suggest that simplistic description does a disservice to a significant legal concept.  The U.S. Supreme Court, which developed the concept, described it as “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”  Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).  And I submit that leaving a bar at 2 a.m. does not, by itself, create reasonable suspicion of intoxication that would justify stopping a driver. 

Perhaps Chief McManus could have explained that practical application to Attorney Bernard and Attorney Castro, but the Chief was pre-occupied with trying to explain to Councilperson Clamp why San Antonio police enforced some federal laws (bank robberies and large drug violations), but not others.  According to McManus, the San Antonio police has a policy of never inquiring about immigration status and therefore would never have occasion to turn over an illegal immigrant to federal authorities.  This willful failure to enforce federal laws bothered Councilperson Clamp.  He declared that their oath of office required them to enforce federal laws.  According to the Texas Constitution, the oath taken by city officials must include the following:

  • I, xxxxxx, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of xxxxxx of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.

Does it sound like San Antonio is, to the best of its ability, preserving, protecting, and defending the laws of the United States?  More troubling, does it sound like San Antonio has the sort of seasoned experience and good judgment that it needs in the key positions of Mayor, City Attorney, and Chief of Police?  Sounds to me like these guys are not ready for primetime.