Kudos to WCCO’s Williams and Strib’s C.J. for thoughtful coverage on the separate reality of black lives

John Williams
WCCO
John Williams

To give credit where credit is due in a moment where presidential candidates, prominent national political figures and local authorities are, shall we say “struggling” with tone and content appropriate for a(nother) period of intense racial conflict, let me commend one local commercial radio show and a gossip columnist for doing the right thing.

First, WCCO­-AM’s John Williams, (3­-7 p.m. weekdays) for Monday afternoon’s conversation with callers over Philando Castile’s startling record of traffic violations, or at the very least, traffic stops. You’ve seen the numbers. Castile was stopped 52 times over 14 years and cited for 86 violations, for which he paid $6,588 in fines. Those numbers are just this side of mind­boggling to white motorists, few of whom need more than one hand to count the times they’ve been pulled over in 14 years, and even less the times they’ve been stopped for not having their seat belt fastened or a “broken tail light.”

So Williams, sounding as gob­smacked as most of us are at the numbers on Castile’s record, opened his phone and text lines for calls. As on the internet, talk-radio callers can be anything they want to be, but the first, Juanita, described herself as a defense attorney working in downtown Minneapolis. She said she made the run from home in Roseville to downtown for six months with expired tabs (cops love expired tabs) and was never pulled over, much less cited and fined.

Next came Marie, who urged Williams to check some national data base, the summary of which, she said, showed that blacks are “more likely to speed and not wear seat belts.” That at least was her “understanding.”

So OK, vox populi isn’t necessarily a font of reliable, foot­noted information. But the point is that Williams both initiated a conversation over the extremely high likelihood of racial profiling in Castile’s driving record and didn’t try to hide his amazement at this or what it says about white privilege, in the reverse angle of the conversation.

I wish I could say I heard Williams’ show live. But I didn’t. I was tipped to it by a friend I met for happy hour who was listening on his way over, and dialed up the podcast when I got home. The pity is that when I do catch Williams, or Chad Hartman (12-­3 p.m.) the content is generally good — sensible, civil, well-­informed. But then, usually as the conversation is building, ‘CCO’s hosts disappear into long black holes of commercial breaks. Hit button. Return to mix CD.

I can’t tell you how often I get into a conversation about local radio and someone, invariably over 45, asks about venerable old ‘CCO, and immediately tells me something to the effect, “I’d listen more but, good lord, the commercials!”

Point being: CBS Radio, which owns WCCO and requires the kind of revenue you only get by selling virtually every second of their hosts’ time slots, is a millstone around the neck of anyone like Williams trying to play a constructive role in a moment that needs the voices of popular commercial media — as well as the wonks of daily print and public radio — to be talking about and shaping conversations around flagrant, culture­-roiling injustice.

But that’s the commercial radio game, and WCCO’s in particular. All that said, good on Williams for going there and getting what he could out of it before having to tell his callers, “I’m out of time” and cutting to an on air­-promo pitch for My Pillow.

Next, and more surprising, Tuesday’s column of Strib gossip writer Cheryl “C.J.” Johnson. Since I have little to no interest in celebrity sightings and hijinks, whether they be local TV anchors or visiting reality TV “stars,” Johnson’s column is not a regular read, for me. But the subject of Tuesday’s column — a letter a little black kid with three smaller autistic brothers wrote and wanted to deliver to the governor — caught my wife’s attention because the child’s mother is a woman I used to work with.

Sheletta Brundidge and I briefly did a radio show together (where to my eternal disgrace I conversed publicly and openly about celebrity sightings and hijinks). A brash and very funny gal, that Sheletta. And media savvy.

Andrew, Sheletta’s oldest, is a bright 9-year-old, so he may very well have written, all by himself, the letter to Gov. Mark Dayton that Johnson ran in her column:

“I think there should be a law saying that officers must have a true and good reason to shoot someone. Plus, they must look at the required license. I myself on behalf of black people everywhere don’t think it’s right. … I have three siblings with autism. One of them can’t talk. I will not let him die because of that. I hope you can make a difference. Sincerely, Andrew Brundidge.”

Whether Mom played copy desk with little Andrew’s letter doesn’t matter. The larger point here is that Johnson devoted her entire column to offering a valuable insight those of us suffering from white privilege rarely get.

Cheryl “C.J.” Johnson
Star Tribune
Cheryl “C.J.” Johnson

Says Sheletta in the column, “We have taught [Andrew] since he was 3 years old that police are there to do a job and you are to respect them and do what they ask him to do — even if you did not do anything wrong. If they say you did something, you follow their instructions. He is a young black boy in the United States of America and he must operate by a different set of rules. It’s sad but it’s true.

“We have seen that play out over and over again and so we have drilled that into his head since he was 3 years old: Do what they tell you to do. … You don’t EVER talk back to police. You don’t EVER plead your case. That’s what your parents are for …. We will plead your case.”

Adding, “Andrew has asthma. He keeps that inhaler on him at all times. … When he was coming out of Wal­Mart he was holding his jacket pocket so his inhaler wouldn’t fall out and when I looked back and saw him I grabbed him … . ‘Son, if you hold your pocket they are going to think you stole something. Don’t hold your pocket. Keep your hands down by your side when you’re in a store.’ ”

There have been plenty of serious conversations about race and the separate realities of whites and minorities, especially blacks in 21st-century America over the past week. But we live in a culture where a very large percentage of the news­-consuming population does not turn to the most sober and empirical sources of information in such times. Lament it if you will, but pop news is a large portion of their diet.

But when people in the pop end of the media spectrum step up and perform a bona fide public service they deserve praise.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 07/13/2016 - 11:40 am.

    Might be a bit of a jump on the racial profling issue

    I was a prosecutor for 18 years in Saint Paul. I routinely had suspects that had a driving record that matched Mr. Castillos. These people would have 5 to 10 more cases pending when I was dealing with them. They would have hundreds if not thousands of dollars of unpaid fines and their driver’s license would have been suspended for years and they would be ineligible to get it back for a long time due to the prior convictions.
    Invariably these men would be driving a car that was 10+ years old and registered to someone else. The suspects would have paid cash for the car and not changed the title. Sometimes the car had expired plates, sometimes there was something like a broken light, sometimes it was a minor traffic violation, sometimes the car was stopped because the officer recognized the person and knew their license was suspended. If the suspect had 5 or more cases pending you would see that there would be at least a couple different cars involved. The person would drive the car until it was towed by the police and then buy another cheap car.
    So race doesn’t have to be ‘the reason’ why the car was stopped. Maybe it is because the car is old, has something wrong with it, or the person is just a bad driver.
    Driving after suspension represented 17% of the cases prosecuted by my office years ago. Believe me, not all the suspects were black.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/13/2016 - 01:21 pm.

      Maybe…

      it’s not JUST a black thing. It might be a poor thing, with a black bonus. Sounds like the system is designed to kick people when they’re down from your description, Mr. Weyandt. And probably even worse.

      What blows my mind is that there are lots of people driving questionable cars, and so few of them actually get pulled over even if they’re clearly unsafe. I have a video of a vehicle that was so badly twisted it looked like it was perpetually turning. The driver should have been pulled over and the vehicle towed as it canted down 35W at close to 70 mph. But it wasn’t. Driver was white and had a volunteer firefighter license plate. I can almost guarantee you that that car will kill someone before it’s pulled over given the driver/license plate.

      Another thing that blows my mind is that Philando clearly had LOTS of tickets. And paid them (over 6 THOUSAND dollars–enough to buy a reasonably priced car). And had a driver’s license that I’m not aware anyone has deemed to have been suspended. He had a taillight out and was pulled over. I see taillights out ALL THE TIME. I see headlights out ALL THE TIME. I see BOTH headlights out (or off) ALL THE TIME. I have never seen any of them pulled over. Ever. Yet, there is no link between a broken taillight and any other crime (than poverty or simply lack of awareness), but there IS a good chance that someone who is running without headlights is drunk. Why do I never see people pulled over for running without headlights, even though I’ve seen such a violation right in front of a patrol car??? Shouldn’t a traffic violation linked to drunken driving take priority? I see people speed, run red lights (a LOT), roll through stop signs, fail to signal, and drive like general a-holes, and they get away with it all the time. The odds, it would seem, of actually being pulled over for ANY moving violation are slim to none, let alone 52 times in 14 years.

      What else blows my mind is the secondary reason for pulling Philando over. See, he apparently “resembled” a robbery suspect. Based on a wide set nose. And it wasn’t particularly wide–definitely didn’t define his features overall. I can guarantee you that I will never be pulled over for having a small nose and no other characteristic. But I’m a white female. To top it all off, why would anyone expect to see a robbery suspect 2 miles away from the site and FOUR DAYS later? Just driving along. In a car that doesn’t seem to be linked with the robbery? Seems unlikely to say the least.

      Perhaps there are people who do need to be pulled over 52 times in 14 years. But it borders on harassment for most people. Scratch that. IS harassment for most people, probably including Philando.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/13/2016 - 01:32 pm.

        Note

        I should note that I was not recording video while driving. I was a passenger, which is more than I can say for lots of people I see driving while texting (or other things). That are not pulled over.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/14/2016 - 10:03 am.

        Very Fair Points You Make

        We also live in a cyber cycle where speculation quickly becomes assumed fact, due to a legal process that simply rations facts for various reasons, some positive and others unwarranted. We all seem to demand immediate reinforcement of whatever our dispositions might be. We have all become far too impatient with respect to far too many issues of current living. Social pressures simply no longer allow many people to wait for resolution. I have no good answers for you, Rachel. Wish I did.

  2. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 07/13/2016 - 06:35 pm.

    shades of Ferguson

    Wasn’t this findings of the justice department about the court system in Ferguson? That minorities were pulled over more, fined more, jailed more because they couldn’t pay the fines? All in the name of funding the local government?

    My children, both young and white, have been pulled over multiple times by suburban police: she for burned-out headlights on her Volvo; he pulled over and breathalyzed just because but not ticketed; he ticketed because the windows in the car his grandparents had given him were tinted too dark. Yet there is a car that drives through my neighborhood regularly with windows tinted black. Maybe the cops know who that car belongs to and so don’t bother him/her but my son was young, a new driver, and so. . .

    So, is it inconsistent targeting of some drivers or is it bad luck? Is it a mismatch between the police’ need to ‘do something’ and the public’s desire to be trusted and left alone about the small stuff? Is it the police’ perception that these traffic stops are necessary to protect public safety, or overzealousness–the idea that if they’re not stopping somebody, they’re not doing their job, not being proactive enough?

    It’s a discussion about expectations of both police and community that is long overdue.

  3. Submitted by Carrie Preston on 07/14/2016 - 01:45 pm.

    Williams

    John Williams has a particular talent that not a lot of broadcasters do. He dares to have a constructive, thought-provoking, out- in -the- open conversation with listeners. Something that most hosts on that station are not able to do.It’s too bad most of these conversations are pressed for time and sandwiched between traffic reports and commercials.

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