Words and Nothingness

Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP, target of a Shakespeare's quote "A fine volley of words, gentlemen, and quickly shot off."A fine volley of words, gentlemen, and quickly shot off.

Two Gentlemen from Verona

Some agree that it is possible to measure a character from his appearance (“… costly thy habit as thy purse can buy….” (1)), from his demeanor (“So may the outward shows be least themselves, the world is still deceived with ornament” (2)), and from what he says (does it convey substance or “charms ache with air and agony with words”? (3))

Appearance, demeanor and words peaked my curiosity, in the shape of Cornell Brooks, President of the NAACP (for our international readers NAACP = National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), interviewed by “Democracy Now”, a balanced and moderately progressive radio-TV station.

I will look at the interview, then I will report my discoveries about Mr. Brooks. For expediency, comments follow the text in italics.

Incidentally, the NAACP headquarters are in Baltimore, the scene of the current upheavals in the African-American community.

Starting with appearance, Cornell shows up in impeccable, custom tailored, color-coordinated attire. Which, considering the people he is responsible for advancing, living down the street from his office, equates to Mother Theresa driving a Rolls Royce through the slums of Calcutta. But let that go. He was asked why was Freddie Gray arrested.

CORNELL BROOKS: Well, that’s—that is an open and disturbing question. (Come on, man! The poor soul was killed and had his spine severed from his head in a police van, and you are still asking questions?)

It appears that Freddie Gray was like so many young people in our inner cities. That is to say, he was perhaps suspected of some underwhelmingly minor offense —at this point not yet determined—and he found himself subject to some kind of lethal force. So, this is a tragedy. (Triple discovery of warm water. He was young, he lived in the inner city, which is new-speak for ghetto, and he was killed.

Plus ask yourself, Cornell, how many of the people, in whose name and for whose supposed benefit you live a very prosperous life, would understand your ‘underwhelmingly’ unpompous platitude. Also ask yourself, Cornell, why did you use eleven words to say he was killed. Do you know some other kind of lethal force which is ‘unlethal’? You can use as many words as you like. But you should be reminded of the old lines (I assume you would say ‘multi-centennial’), “Words are like Leaves; and where they most abound, Much Fruit of Sense beneath is rarely found.” (4))

INTERVIEWER  Even the attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police said that he looked a police lieutenant in the eye, and then he ran. And he said running in a high-crime area is an arrestable offense.

CORNELL BROOKS: I’m not sure where in the penal code that’s an offense. (Good God, man, you are an attorney and are ‘not sure’ if running is an offense or isn’t?
Running in a high-crime area in which there is a high degree of distrust of the police is not an irrational response. (Grammarians call the figure of speech involved in the double negative (‘not irrational’) a “reticence.” It is a literary dandyism whose secondary purpose is to literarily protect the speaker’s ass by ‘suspended committance’. In the instance, Cornell did not say that, in today’s Baltimore climate, distrust of the police is bloody right (rational), he just said it was ‘not irrational.’
By the way, in his essay, “Politics and the English Language” Orwell calls for banning pretentiousness, including the use of “reticence.” As a cure against it, he suggests to memorize the following sentence, “A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.”)
And where the police department has a long and tragic legacy of troubled relations with the community, police brutality, running from the police, again, perhaps not the wisest thing to do, but not an irrational thing to do. (More warm water and double “reticence”, ‘not the wisest’ and ‘not irrational’).

INTERVIEWER. Cornell William Brooks, the most recent revelation now is that a private security camera discovered that the officers had made an undisclosed stop transporting him to the precinct, one, obviously, these officers are now definitely—no matter what happens, they will be off the force, because they didn’t report that stop. But, once again, security cameras have revealed information that official reports of police officials and cops did not present to the public.

CORNELL BROOKS: Yes. I mean, this is a part of what appears to be a pattern of incomplete disclosures or leaks or suggestions that are very troubling (troubling to whom, Cornell? To you? Your dog? Who else? Furthermore, Cornell, I assume that for you, what ‘is’ a bloody murder simply “appears a pattern of incomplete disclosures.” Would you go as far as saying of feces that “they appear a conglomerate of inchoate refuse that are very troubling to the nostrils”? What is there to be gained by not calling things with their right name? What are you trying to hide?)
The fact of the matter is, we have a community on edge, looking for answers (more warm water discovered). And the thing that is best done at this point is to have an investigation that is transparent, that is orderly, where we’re not—where information isn’t getting out that puts the community more on edge. (Wow! Here is genius at work. Perhaps, Cornell, you have forgotten that of ‘transparent’ and ‘orderly’ investigations, the people, whom you are responsible to advance, are filled and full to bursting.)

But be clear, we have a series of unanswered questions. For example, you know, how does a person—how does a suspect be put in a van without a seat belt, who is 25 years old, leaves the van with—seemingly, with his spinal cord severed (“seems madam?” – nay it is, I know not seems”(5)), and where you have a second person in the van who, contrary to earlier reports, according to his statements, he only heard some bumping in the van? He did not draw any conclusions as to what the injuries were, as was seemed to be suggested only days ago. And so, the point being is, the pattern here is very disturbing. (Cornell, your discovery about the ‘pattern that is disturbing’ makes the rest of us feel better already).

You know, I’ve served as a government lawyer, a civil rights lawyer, a civil prosecutor. What you want to do in an investigation is stick to the facts. You want to stick to the facts. You want to do your job and make sure that people have confidence in the integrity of the process. (Oh sublimity of insight).

This process thus far has not inspired confidence (Cornell, overlooking another partial “reticence”, the process is well beyond ‘not inspiring confidence’. It stinks.)

And we are at a moment where credibility (including yours, may we say), legitimacy is critically important, because be clear, troops on the street can secure peace for a moment, but to secure peace ultimately, what we need is justice. And one of the best means of achieving justice is an investigation that is managed in a professional way. (Justice through ‘professional’ investigation… you are surpassing even yourself, Cornell. Note what the people in Ferguson and New York feel about “achieving justice through investigation.” And read what people told Jessie Jackson when he started shouting “No justice no peace” in his bullhorn. (link http://yourdailyshakespeare.com/literature-life-baltimore-riots/equalities#more-6786 )

NOTE. Now the interviewers point out to the testimony by another arrested person. Then they ask Cornell, What is the NAACP calling for right now? Are you calling for arrests? Are you calling for firings in the police department in Baltimore?

CORNELL BROOKS: Well, the first thing we’re calling for is for the Maryland state prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, to conduct a thorough, complete, comprehensive investigation and to conduct this investigation relying on the resources of her office. (Cornell, people in the affected area would probably suggest a very impolite location where to stuff your ‘thorough, complete and comprehensive investigations.’)

So, we have to focus on the first things first. We certainly look forward to the Justice Department completing the investigation, a broader investigation, that is an investigation called for by the mayor. We believe that that is critically important. (It’s almost a case for saying, “With friends like these (at the NAACP), who needs enemies?”)

We also are calling upon the city to focus on fundamental reform that really should have begun well before this case. I mean, let’s be clear: This tragedy did not begin with Freddie Gray. We have a tradition of rough riding, this practice of suspects being transported in vehicles in ways that subject them to injuries without police officers necessarily laying a hand on them. This is certainly something that the community is apprehensive about, fearful about. We have a history of lawsuits against the police department in Baltimore. The point being here is there are a number of challenges to this police department that existed before Freddie Gray. So the point being here is, while we’re awaiting this investigation and the outcome of it, and encouraging people to wait patiently, while protesting vigorously, we also have to push for systemic reform. (Perhaps Cornell forgets that the NAACP was established in 1909, but it was the rioting in the ‘60s, the dogs let loose on people on live TV – and the anti-Vietnam war riots – that led to some “systemic” reforms.” As for ‘protesting vigorously’ it means nothing, just like 99% of the words he said so far.)

We cannot wait for the outcome of one investigation to turn around the department, even as we’re seeking justice for this family and the community. So the NAACP is pushing for systemic reform—body cameras; civilian review boards; the modification, or, I should say, the amendment, if you will, of a bill of rights for law enforcement officers, which allows them too little responsibility. (Cornell, you are surpassing yourself. Bill of rights? It is there already. Some law enforcement officers (fortunately few), can essentially do what they want, as recent video-recordings have shown.)

And—and, to be clear, the NAACP, with our Baltimore chapter, has opened a satellite office in the community of Sandtown-Winchester. Why? Because we are inviting people in to file complaints, to tell us anything that they may be aware of relating to police misconduct. (Interesting, at the end of this analysis, I will list costs of the offices, NAACP objectives, funding and income distribution thereof)

The point being is to have boots on the ground, engage with the community, make sure that we’re bringing witnesses forward, which was the same strategy that we used in Ferguson. (Bad choice of words, Cornell. “Boots on the ground” is what the administration puts in other countries to kill those it doesn’t like. While those who resist become ‘insurgents’, or ‘terrorists’. As for strategy, if we were to judge from the subsequent police killings, ‘the strategy that we used in Ferguson’ was eminently useless.)

INTERVIEWER I’d like to ask you, in terms of those proposals for systemic change, how has the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, handled the situation, and what is her attitude toward some of these proposals for systemic reform of yours? Because there’s been substantial criticism of the way that she has handled this crisis.

CORNELL BROOKS: Well, the NAACP, we stand behind policies that make a difference in terms of civil rights for communities. (This is of great comfort, especially to the dead).

And here are the facts. The mayor called for the Department of Justice to intervene, to look at her police department proactively, affirmatively. (‘proactively’ and ‘affirmatively’ are meaningless verbal fluff).

That’s a good thing. That’s a commendable thing. And it is the kind of mayoral leadership that can really bring about systemic, fundamental reform. The mayor, prior to Freddie Gray, I might note, prior to his tragic death, called for changes in the law with respect to the rights of police officers, in a very reasonable way. She did that prior to Freddie Gray’s death. So the point being here is, the mayor, when it’s come to these issues, has been affirmative. So, while she may be subject to criticism, the facts are the facts with respect to systemic reform. (The genius of discovering that the facts are the facts is beyond description)

The NAACP stands with anyone, whether it be the mayor, the attorney general, the governor, who is committed to bringing about the kind of reform that could bring to an end this long, sad tradition of police brutality. …. It is possible to both decrease crime, increase community trust, and practice community policing in ways that protect the community and leave police officers safer. It has been done. It can be done. It certainly should be done in Baltimore. And I believe this mayor (another Black Anglo-Saxon), based upon what she’s done, the facts thus far, is committed to that. (I invite the readers to stand up and cheer.)

INTERVIEWER. The Washington Post is reporting that 15 Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea. A baby born in the largely African-American neighborhood of Seton [Hill] is expected to live only ’til 65. That’s 14 years below the U.S. average and lower than 229 countries. Meanwhile, in nearby Roland Park, a largely white neighborhood, babies can expect to live to 84. That’s 20 years older, well above the U.S. average of 79. Eight of the neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than Syria. Can you, as we wrap up, talk about this and what we can expect now, with the report a day—they are emphasizing, the police, saying a day in early to the state’s attorney—what you expect the timeline to be?

CORNELL BROOKS: Sure. (I skip Cornell’s reference to singer Billy Holiday being born in the same dilapidated neighborhood etc. as I couldn’t understand what he meant in relation to the issue).

…. So the point being here is, we have a community that is profoundly underresourced, (new-speak and fluff for ‘poor’) so it is not surprising that the residents, the citizenry, have shorter life expectancies. (Cornell, your abundance of unsurprise is profoundly heartwarming).

But here’s the main point. The main point is, this need not be. If we have communities in Baltimore where people live to be 80, and we have communities where people live a great fraction of that, we can bring about a fundamental change—and that is the profoundly American thing to do—with investments, with boots on the ground, with smart policies, policies that have worked in other cities and that can work in Baltimore, if we collaborate, if we work together, if we’re serious about bringing about fundamental reform. It has been done, and it can yet be done in that community and in that city. (Reader, stand up and cheer, ‘affirmatively’ and ‘proactively’).

End of interview. Now to some background information on the gentleman in question.

Cornell’s most recent job (prior to the top position at the NAACP) was as president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a Newark-based organization founded in 1999 by the Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein Foundation. According to its website, the institute seeks to expand economic opportunity for people of color and low-income residents; promotes holding local, state and regional government accountable for fulfilling the needs of urban residents and protects the civil rights of the disadvantaged. Said Cornell Brooks, “When you look at the arc of my career, it has not been singular or linear in focus, but really touched on many of the challenges facing the country – whether it be in business, the criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system, the housing market – so I think I bring a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplined, multi-faceted focus on work. That does not make me unique, but perhaps distinctive.”

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice had a total of 19 staff members and a budget of $2.08 million. Its primary income was equally divided between government grants and investments.

According to the IRS forms, it had a loss of $421,939 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2012. Even though it was losing money, Brooks collected base compensation of $227,526, plus $10,437 in retirement and deferred compensation and $3,137 in nontaxable benefits for a total of $241,100, according to the filing.

In the previous fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2011, the institute had a loss of $1,039,154. Despite the million-dollar loss, Brooks’ salary was listed $221,203, plus $23,885 in benefits and deferred compensation and $2,400 in other allowances for a total of $247,488. In addition, four other staffers – his senior counsel, chief operating officer, chief of staff/CFO and director of development – each earned more than $100,000.

The NAACP contracted the search firm “The Hollins Group” to find the new president (Cornell Brooks). One of the main responsibilities in the president’s job description is, “Work closely with the Chairman and the Board and be responsible for developing the organization’s U.S. private sector fundraising plan and growing its annual income and membership by 20%. This also will include expanding both staff and operations with an emphasis on building a larger base of private sector support and establishing an endowment.”

The reader can draw his own conclusions. According to published data, in 2011 the salary of the NAACP president was 295,207 $ plus various other perks. Let’s not mince words. The disenfranchised, discriminated, unemployed and helpless minorities are the actual reason for maintaining the lifestyle of characters like Cornell Brooks, with their fluffy words and fancy suits. They are close to an insult to the very people they are supposed to serve. Hence the reaction as detailed in the link http://yourdailyshakespeare.com/literature-life-baltimore-riots/equalities#more-6786

And, when the same people burst out in anger and violence, they are called ‘thugs’ in a chorus of disapproval, which includes the Black Anglo-Saxon elite, of whose temper Cornell Brooks is both example and epitome.

With no concession to violence, we cannot hide the ethical, political and intellectual littleness of a portion of the community, that hides the rot under the rug, but rises up discovering itself virtuous on the emerging and condemnation of any street violence.

Power laughs at parades and unilaterally democratic events, but is afraid of those who dare break the taboo and the code of the established order. Not because power is intimidated by a few hooded shop-window breakers or burners of cars, rather because they represent an affront to the polished and lacquered world, whose roots even the most unfortunate and the most exploited now dare not criticize. They are the crack in the glass, a bad example – but for reasons entirely opposite to those that elicit the condemnation of the violence acts.

For in violence, power recognizes itself and its own nature.

1 Hamlet
2 Merchant of Venice
3 Much Ado About Nothing
4 Alexander Pope, “Essay on Criticism”
5 Hamlet

In the play. In the mansion of her father the Duke of Milan, Silvia comments on words and exchanges between Valentine and Thurio.

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  • solerso

    What is a “black Anglo Saxon” ? The Anglo-Saxon’s went extinct a thousand years ago, for all practical purposes. They were subsumed in Britain, the only place it could ever be said they existed, by an “Anglo-Norman” people. But all of this was long before the modern era. Britain had stopped being an Anglo Saxon or Anglo Norman people long before America was colonized by Europeans. And many European peoples and their cultures long ago replaced “the English” in America, (who were always more Scottish there anyway). Massive waves of Irish, Scottish, German, Italian, Russian, Polish and Scandinavian, immigrations occurred from the mid 19th to the mid 20th centuries. And of course, as you point out, millions of Africans were brought to America against their will. Millions more have followed since by choice. Millions of Hispanics from Mexico and central America (Mezo-Iberians) have since arrived. Millions of Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, and North African Arabs have come….To call this culture “Anglo Saxon” is , if you’ll pardon me, a mistake brought on by a general ignorance of the American people and the history of the America’s, and its age of colonialism . The attempt to explain a thing as “Anglo-Saxon” seems to be the recent ( and ill conceived) habit of the commentators of the blogs of Eastern European nationalists, who define everything through nationalism, because that’s how they are accustomed to seeing the world. . . Cornel Brooks is not properly, socially, categorized by his “Anglo-Saxon-ess” (or entirely by his “blackness”) but by his socio economic status – his membership in that part of the American bourgeois, categorized as the black bourgeois .He speaks for that layer of the black bourgeois who are the in – power in cities like Baltimore and Detroit and who are wholly integrated in the democratic party apparatus.

    • voltaire1964

      Solerso,
      you are of course correct. The label (i.e. “black anglo-saxon”) is
      the title of a book, written by an African-American who points out the paradox
      of the so-called minority black bourgeoisie, who was enabled to become one
      thanks to those who died for civil rights. Labels are deceiving. Class-struggle
      in reverse is the issue. And the subject of this article is the quintessential
      example of those who live in luxury thanks to the presence of the underclass
      whose conditions they are appointed to improve. They are useless and actually
      detrimental to the cause they claim to advance.

      • solerso

        Thanks for that. I have not read the book. Maybe in my overstated way I’m complaining about the tendency, even now ( even among the more literate than me),to ascribe social problems to ethnicity (nationalism).