One day after praising Preet Bharara for tackling political corruption and not putting up with the Trump administration’s BS when it comes to firing U.S. Attorneys, I deeply regret writing that post without doing a full examination of Bharara’s record and must pause today to both apologize and self-examine.
I am a white male living in America. This comes with a certain set of privileges that allow me, though I try my hardest to avoid this line of thought, to avoid seeing the plight that systemic racism has inflicted upon America’s minority communities. Stories don’t get told or ignored in favor of an easier narrative that doesn’t assign responsibility for change.
Such a trap was one I fell into yesterday when I wrote about Preet Bharara without taking the time to properly research Preet Bharara. Because Preet Bharara, as ethically inclined as he is toward political ethics commissions, is decidedly less so when it comes to 80’s style gang witch hunts in the Bronx.
In 2016, Preet Bharara brought a RICO case against 120 people in the Bronx. The individuals were all rounded up in one day, some on the criteria of clothing choice and their place of residency. During the arrest, one man was killed when he was chased off of a roof by the NYPD.
As aggressive as this raid was, Bharara was far less aggressive when it came to the big banks that played a major role in the 2008 economic crash. Instead of targeting the banks for their systemic abuse of the middle-class and poor, Bharara chose to obsessively focus on insider trading prosecutions for hedge funds, missing an opportunity to take on a broader case for the American public.
This is the story of America in many ways. A white, male dominated media will sell a story in a certain way, while ignoring the impact that the individual or institution might have on minorities and working class people of all races and religions, in this case (like countless times before) the justice system. I bought it this particular time and I was wrong for pushing a typical “company line” (Editor’s Note: I don’t work for anyone, I write this blog because I love writing about politics).
This story also ignores the systemic factors that might have motivated individuals (not that this is reflective of all members of the Bronx 120) to join a gang in the first place. It should be a tragedy and a front-page story that anybody has to be raised and live in conditions were they feel that turning to violence is their only option.
I think self-reflection is extremely important if we are to truly move forward as a country. I’m married to a black woman and I’m very grateful that she’s been able to share some of her experiences with me. I know I cannot rest on my knowledge about the diversity of lives and experiences of people of color in America. There is always something more to learn. As white people, I’ve learned that we will frequently have blind spots and it’s important for my own learning process to note that I am not an exception and that knowledge is a lifelong quest. Admitting you were wrong and growing from it is an important part of that journey.
I’ll end by sharing what I’ve learned from this moment (and others, I will not even try to pretend that this is the only time this has happened) with my fellow white people, especially liberals: if you say something insensitive, don’t be sensitive about it. Apologize for the content of your words or actions, not “how they were perceived” or “how you feel about them.” Don’t hedge responsibility when you’re wrong, (“seems like we’ve both got a lot of learning to do”) accept it and move forward. How? Open yourself up to learning about the context of your action (why that certain thing you did or said wasn’t good). Don’t dismiss the feelings of others. If someone is pissed off at you for a while, they have a right to feel how they feel. Share your experiences, don’t be ashamed of a time when you were wrong.
These bumps in the road can help us gain wisdom. Looking back on my life, I’m very thankful for the times I was wrong, they’ve been invaluable teaching tools.