Talking Back to Rudy Guiliani

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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69 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    As a white male, I can say that the ‘personal responsibility’ argument is a red herring. I have walked in the middle of the street. I have not always been courteous and deferential to authority figures. I’ve acted a fool in public in plain sight of police officers. You know what has never happened to me? I’ve never had a gun drawn on me. I’ve never been threatened with arrest. I’ve never had an officer put his hands on me. The worst I’ve gotten is something that made me think, “Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed today.”

    Would Michael Brown have been less likely to have been shot had he walked on the sidewalk? Probably.
    Would Eric Garnet have been less likely to have been choked had he not sold ‘looses’? Probably.

    But that is comparing an “acting right” black person with a “not acting right” black person. If an “acting right” black man is more likely to be shot or choked than an “acting right” white person, than we can’t just look at personal responsibility. And if an “acting right” black man is more likely to be shot or choked than a “not acting right” white person (which my anecdotal experience tells me is the case)… holy hell, then we can’t even begin to discuss personal responsibility.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

      Walking in the middle of the street is “Judge Legal” where I am. Pedestrians have the right of way, even if they aren’t in the crosswalk.

      The street nearly always gets shoveled, the sidewalk? not so much.Report

    • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

      I don’t agree that it is a red herring. I think that it is an argument that is often misapplied. Personal responsibility and social context do not have to be mutually exclusive.

      As individuals, we can complain all we want about the problems and the injustices of the larger society, but there just is not a whole lot that we can do, as individuals, to change anything. There is collective action, but that takes time. And in the mean, the only thing that an individual has real control over is their own behavior and their own choices; therefore, it makes sense to maximize the things that you can control.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to j r says:

        Quite frankly, I think this is a copout. I think that there is a whole lot we can do as reasonably intelligent individuals to change stuff. Most people just don’t bother.

        You see orphans stampeding their way to America’s shores. A smarter person sees a cheap labor pool for relatively easy work, and is willing to invest in their futures.

        There’s crops rotting in the fields right now, for lack of transportation to market. I don’t know that you could write a business plan to fix that, but… I could be wrong.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


        A fair point. I should have been clearer. Personal responsibility is an important concept. When it is applied unilaterally in these scenarios, I think it is a red herring.

        I think tone, context, and messenger matter. There is a difference between some pompous white guy who has never had to seriously consider personal responsibility saying, “Well, if black folks just acted right!” and a black person saying, “Listen, fair or not, right or not, here is what might happen when you — we! — act this way. So let’s do what we can.” Black mothers giving their sons “the talk” is way different than Rudy Guilianni pontificating on the matter.

        And at some point, when a subgroup of the population is uniquely and substantively burdened, we need to examine that. If white folks can drive 55 on a road that black folks dare not go 45 over, we’re looking at a freedom issue, an equality under the law issue. (I realize that is a rather crude and unrealistic example but I use it for illustrative purposes of how the burden of ‘personal responsibility’ can fall unequally and have very real effects.)Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        When it is applied unilaterally in these scenarios, I think it is a red herring.

        That I agree with one hundred percent.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    I see mothers dragging their children all the while yelling at them. Kids not using their inside voices. People interrupting each other.

    Good Lord, where do they think they are, New York?Report

    • Road Scholar in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Or any Wal-Mart anywhere.Report

    • j r in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      It is easy to make light of this, but this is a pretty big problem. And it goes beyond race. I don’t use the term “heartbreaking” often, but that’s the best way to describe how I feel when I see mothers yelling at their kids or disciplining their kids in a particular manner. It is especially heartbreaking when you compare it to the sort of agency and license to explore the world in a certain manner that middle and upper middle class parents often give their kids.

      I understand why it happens. There are a set of social norms and behaviors that are extremely helpful for surviving rough neighborhoods. The problem is that as soon as someone steps outside of those particular neighborhoods, those behaviors becomes a liability. This is a major hindrance to social mobility.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        I’ve long advocated encouraging risk taking and mistake making in my students. But a parent gave me pause. She was biracial, an educator herself, and the mother of biracial and Black (adopted) boys. She said (paraphrased): “I understand why you encourage risk taking. I get why it is important. But the fact is, A (her son) and D (another black boy in the class) need different limits. They need to know where the lines are. They don’t get to make mistakes like the others do. Encourage them to take risks with their learning and all that. But make sure they know where the lines are and how to respond to authority and what is expected of them.”

        I was floored. Gut check.

        Separately, I will also say that catching a brief interaction between parent-and-child is generally inadequate to assess much of anything. If you caught me during particular moments out with O, you’d seriously question a number of things about me as a parent. This isn’t meant to undermine Dennis’s point, but rather to temper it a bit: Before we tsk tsk parents based on limited information, recognize we often have no idea how they ended up in that particular situation. This is not something I fully understood until I myself became a parent.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to j r says:

        quite frankly, i’ve been surprised at how much license a lot of lower class parents give their kids, at how much genuine communication parents do. (not to say that I haven’t heard “beat the kid” advice on the bus before).

        I think we can often mistake “parent is stressed out, and having a bad day” for “this is how they always act.” And, of course, it’s often easier for a lower-class parent to have a bad day, because of excessive stress.Report

  3. Road Scholar says:

    Let’s be honest here. The conservative “personal responsibility” argument is just the same-old “she deserved to get raped because of how she acted/what she wore/how much she drank/etc” line applied to a different group and crime.

    Rape is rape and murder by cop is murder by cop. Full stop.

    There’s the kind of person that sees this stuff happening and is horrified and then there’s the type that sees this stuff and, really… kinda likes it. This second kind of person is the one making those arguments.Report

    • Damon in reply to Road Scholar says:

      Err, no

      Personal responsibility, or lack thereof, of which I see and hear a lot about, from both black and white, is endemic. There’s even a catch phrase for it; “it just happened”. Full on BS. (We’ve covered this topic in speaking about sexual assault in a prior thread.) There’s a behavior among a lot of people to blame “the other” when bad things happen to them. It’s not their fault. They didn’t know. The “system” is keeping them down. Whatever. Most of the time the individual making these statements contributed in part, sometimes the major part, to the “bad” stuff that befell them.

      FYI: I am a person to who disdains almost all “public authority”, in part from my political orientation and the rest from my personality, and a big proponent of personal responsibility, so this attitude really grates on me. And the more and more society excuses a lack of personal responsibility, the more people will blame others for their travails, and the more our society will fall apart.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

        if you’re trying to suggest that Brown should have taken some personal responsibility for the cops conduct towards him, then I’m down with that. Of course, that leads to the fun place where you’re recommending he blackmail/bribe the local law enforcement to keep them off his back. (this is somewhat traditional in various parts of America, mind)Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Damon says:


        There is a wide gap between blackmail/bribe and just behaving yourself.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

        Clearly you aren’t familiar with police who live to harass someone — anyone, in order to show that they’re doing their job.
        /disclaimer: I have worked as a canvasser and been harassed by police.Report

  4. dhex says:

    giuliani is a dangerous drip. thankfully he was always too toxic for the national stage, even after 9/11.

    a politician so lacking in charisma and ability that he managed to expend all of the goodwill generated by being mayor of a city that suffered the largest terror attack in our nation’s history.Report

  5. zic says:

    It’s not that women yell at children, it’s that they yell at them in public. It’s not that young black men seek for ways to express civil disobedience in protest of how they’re treated, it’s that they do so in public. It’s not so much the reality of what happens in their lives that matters, but the appearance of reality. This is why, it seems to me, that there is so much racial injustice rooted deeply in our society. Appearances matter more than actual real lives.

    Listening would be good. But I would only expect the appearance of listening, no lashing to the mast needed when our ears are filled with beeswax.Report

  6. Chris says:

    Well said.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    you know who else wasn’t able to his kid to behave himself in public?


  8. morat20 says:

    The problem with ‘personal responsibility’ is it is also a very convenient excuse not to change the system in any way.

    If the current status quo benefits you, you (you as in ‘generic you’) are generally loathe to change it for obvious reasons. So tossing any flaws in the system off as problems not of the system, but of individuals, absolves you of the need to accept change.

    Change that might not result in you being as on top as before. So why risk it?Report

  9. TrexPushups says:

    I get really tired of hearing about “black on black crime” from people who want to derail conversations.

    I also feel even more depressed when the same person doesn’t realize he is highlighting yet another way we tolerate the failings of police when it comes to black lives.Report

  10. Tod Kelly says:

    I agree with the spirit of this post, Dennis, but have a quibble with that I think Giuliani specifically gets off too easy in it. Because I do not believe that Giuliani was speaking from the heart in late November, in the same way I don’t think he really didn’t understand why the Ferguson DA wouldn’t be indicting the prosecution’s witnesses.

    I very much think, rather, that Giuliani was attempting to say things both incendiary and sensational to make the kind of noise he thought would get him put on TV, position himself to be a factor (even if not running) a year from now, and make a little scratch.Report

  11. Jim Heffman says:

    Boy, it sure is great being a white man. I can just mouth off to cops and punch them in the face all I want and not ever get in trouble over it. I can totally tell any kind of joke about anything at all, and nobody pushes back because we all agree that it was just a joke and shouldn’t offend anyone. I can donate to any political cause I like and there’ll be no consequences whatsoever.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Well, you can’t joke about Hemmingway. Not because people will get offended, just that you can’t write a joke to save your life.
      /gauntlet thrown.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      I’m wondering which of those offenses should carry the death penalty.Report

    • El Muneco in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Let’s see, in the news recently…
      A violent nihilist killed a cop, was on record with a ridiculously seditious manifesto, led entire units on a chase through the woods for weeks, and had a weapon in hand when finally cornered.
      A teenager with no criminal record might or might not have shoplifted, and might or might not have a confrontation with police but clearly had no weapon at the time of his final confrontation.
      One of them was apprehended “peacefully”.
      One of them was gunned down on the street and left to rot for hours.
      Any guesses on whether the fact that one of them was white and the other was black might have had a /tiny/ bit to do with how the two scenarios played out?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to El Muneco says:

        Jim’s just doing his best to bear the white man’s burden.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to El Muneco says:

        “Any guesses on whether the fact that one of them was white and the other was black might have had a /tiny/ bit to do with how the two scenarios played out?”

        Not even the cops who did the shooting are saying that it’s okay to shoot kids playing in the street.

        They *are* saying that maybe it’s a really bad idea to take the orange cap off your toy gun and then run around waving it near a school, or pointing it at armed cops, because the situations where cops got shot didn’t give them time to calmly assess the situation and start a careful dialogue with the apparently-armed person to understand whether they were actually carrying a weapon with intent to use it on them.Report

  12. This is one of those posts that deserves to be thought about and absorbed rather than immediately argued and debated. This is a beautiful post, Dennis.Report

  13. Shelley says:

    As rich separates from poor or even middle-class in this culture, people at the top can less and less imagine the life for people not at the top.Report

  14. James Hanley says:

    I think culture is culture, and too often we conflate it with morality.

    Talking loudly? Man, as a white guy raised in a quiet-talking house in a quiet-talking town, the volume at which some black women talk really grates on me. But that’s just their culture, not a moral failing. My wife’s family talks too loud for me, too, although not as loud, and I often feel like my wife is yelling when she thinks she’s at a conversational tone. My culture was talking quiet, others is talking loudly, it’s not a problem.

    (OK, it’s a problem if it keeps them from getting decent jobs because their interviewers are quiet talkers like me–then we get into the issues of adaptability vs. enforce cultural conformity, institutional racism, and so on. But being a loud talker is a terrible thing for an interviewer to evaluate you on.)

    Walking in the middle of the street? It happens daily on my street. It’s not just the black kids that live up the block, it’s the white kids who live up the block, too, and because my kids hang out with some of them, it’s sometimes my kids, too. It puzzles me, because in my hometown we never did that as kids, but it’s just culture. Hell, I might like it if more people did so, so that we had a pedestrian first culture instead of a car-first culture.

    Those things don’t bother me, and I don’t see that anyone should be focusing on them. I think the biggest cultural problem is lack of valuation of education, which I think stems from not really understanding what education’s about or what it can really do for a person. And that’s an inter-generational problem. Parents–black, white, brown, yellow, red, purple and orange–who have a college education are overwhelmingly likely to make sure their kids get an education. There are still barriers then, to be sure, but folks are much better placed to overcome them.Report

    • Jeff Lipton in reply to James Hanley says:

      re education:

      I have two grand-nieces — one is 6, the other 5. The 6-year-old comes from a middle-class family, has **always** been surrounded by books, has a mom who read / reads to her every night, and was THRILLED to get a gift of more books. The other comes from a lower-middle-class or lower-class (not poor, but only just), has a few books but not a lot, may get read to but I don’t think every night, and when I gave her dad a gift of more books, never even heard how she spent it.

      The 6-year-old gets toys from GoldieBlox and Mighty Girl. The 5-year-old gets “princess” toys.

      Which one has better prospects? 20 years from now, if they’re competing for the same job, which one is more likely to get it?

      This is the kind of “culture problem” that I see, and that this liberal thinks needs to be addressed.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Jeff Lipton says:

        Had a neighbor who used to give out books for halloween… all the kids, no matter the class, seemed thrilled to get them (even if it was just “I need one for a book report!”) — having a decent selection couldn’t have hurt. Kids love to get to choose things, just like adults.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jeff Lipton says:

        I dunno. Which one has the rich friends? Which one’s parents can get them into the right school — the one where grades are second to being a legacy brat?

        ‘Cause that one is the one I’d bet on.

        Wasn’t there an article about how certain ‘communications’ and ‘marketing’ degrees were absolutely useless — unless you happened to be upper-class, with lots of upper-class friends, in the upper-class sorority? And the degree that was useless in the hands of the child of a middle-class family was the ticket to six-figure salaries at the bottom end?Report

      • Matty in reply to Jeff Lipton says:

        @morat20 Who was it said “Doing the right course won’t make you a successful banker but it will get you in the club, the club will make you a successful banker”?Report

    • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

      Walking in the middle of the street is Judge Legal around here. (that is, the judges have a large body of case law that says “it’s the car’s fault if there’s a collision in the road”)Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to James Hanley says:

      As someone who believes jaywalking should be a capital offense, I’m the wrong one to give my opinion on “people” who walk in the middle of the street without a care in the world.

      The only reason I don’t run them down is that it would make my life much more complicated if I did.Report

  15. James Hanley says:

    I’ll add one other thing about culture. We always hear about “the talk” black parents give their kids. And then we hear that white parents give it to their kids, too. And it’s true that white parents do, but I’d wager there’s a very different tone, on average, between the black parent’s talk and the white parent’s talk. And rightly so, given the disparity in dangers when dealing with the police.

    But…in so many of the videos I’ve seen of police abusing black people, the victims–and they are victims, regardless of the point I’m making–don’t seem to have heard, or at least incorporated, “the talk.” And their responses aggravate the police. That, in my mind, does not in any way justify an abusive police response. But setting aside ought and justifications, we can look at is and expected response, and the police response to their actions can be predicted with appalling accuracy.

    But is that a black culture thing, as many white conservatives suggest? I think it’s a lower-class culture thing, because on the rare occasions I watch “Cops,” I see the same responses from lower-class whites. So I wonder if as many people get “the talk” as we would assume from all the talk about it. And I think a lot more people need to get the talk, and to incorporate it, because no matter how within your rights you are to argue with the police, you’re not going to win. It sucks, and it really sucks to stand there and be polite to a policeman who’s being a total asshole (as I know from personal experience), but you have to learn to pick your battles.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

      Betcha that 90% of these guys have had the talk. And that they follow it 90% of the time.

      But, ya know, I was listening to a bloke at my bus stop.
      He says, “I got stopped by police the other day…So I says to them, “why are you hassling me? I’m a senior citizen.” Silence from the police. “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?” ”

      Now, judging by the guy’s general appearance, this was just standard complaining, not done at a loud voice or nothing.

      But, when you have a bad day is exactly the time you need to be mindful of “the talk”Report

    • gingergene in reply to James Hanley says:

      Maybe they’ve had “the talk” and maybe they’ve walked it and maybe this is the millionth time they’ve been hassled by the cops and they just got tired.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to gingergene says:

        That is so very possible. We only see them in this one instance, and know nothing about their prior interactions with police. And then foolish people (i.e., me) extrapolate from that one interaction to all of that individual’s actions, despite that being a fallacy of composition.

        Thanks for the corrective @gingergene.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to gingergene says:

        @gingergene gets at something far larger, too: we often look at these situations as micro-incidents instead of culminating events. The cop may think, “Why is this guy freaking out?” He is failing to consider that this might be the umpteenth time the person has been stopped. We saw that in the Garner case. Garner had several interactions with the police (and perhaps properly so; he was breaking the law). But he could be heard saying, “I’m tired of you always messing with me.”

        It is understandable that people will react poorly when their very dignity is being called into question. And denial-of-dignity seems to be SOP for cops these days.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to gingergene says:

        Maybe the cop has had “the talk” about proportionate response and maybe he’s walked it and maybe this is the millionth time he’s had someone scream curses at him in response to a reasonable request and he just got tired.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to gingergene says:


        Does that work as an excuse in your job? It doesn’t in mine.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to gingergene says:


        When you’re given unique authorization to use force, you don’t get to be tired of people.Report

      • Jeff Lipton in reply to gingergene says:

        @ Jim Heffman

        Please tell me that was a joke.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to gingergene says:

        Hey, I’m not the one who brought up the idea that Being Tired Of Dealing With It is an excuse for not responding in a reasonable way.

        Or maybe you’re telling me that we have to just understand that black people are different from white people and we can’t expect them to react to things the same way white people do? I’m not sure that’s an argument you really want to make either.Report

      • LWA in reply to gingergene says:

        No, we’re saying that the police are held to a different standard than civilians…because they have guns and badges.

        In general, people who hold power are expected to behave differently than those who don’t.
        That’s why we’re willing to give them power.Report

    • One of the things that my husband and I have had to take very seriously, with renewed attention these past few weeks, is that the “talk” we’ll have to give our child whose race is the same as ours is very different than the one we’ll need to have with those who aren’t.

      It is a responsibility I hope we live up to well.Report

  16. Jeff Lipton says:

    Interesting post. I’ve lived in Minneapolis off and on for several years. It’s one of my favorite cities, but way too cold for me to think of living there (I’m a SoCal guy!). Is N Minneapolis over the 35W bridge?

    I seem to recall that portions of Hennepin Ave (around 40th St) were pretty grody.

    [[In light of the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been some talk about behavior. Why did Michael Brown walk in the middle of the street? Why did he sass back at Darren Wilson? Why did Eric Garner get so upset? Why could he listen to the cops?]]

    Garner didn’t get upset until he was attacked. There’s a video of him talking to officials (not uniformed cops, but with “DD” on their uniform. They’re standing a few feet away and he’s explaining what’s going on (I can’t hear clearly but I believe he said that he was trying to stop a fight.) It’s the uniforms who show up a few minutes later who bring him down and choke him.

    Also, he doesn’t have any cigarettes on him when the “DD”s are talking to him. Sounds like that may be a trumped-up charge.

    [[I’m not suggesting that conservatives give up their concerns over culture and behavior. I tend to think liberals have done this for the last 50 years; spending money to focus on economics , but not touching culture and behavior. I don’t think it has uplifted the black community anymore than conservative scolds.]]

    Someone’s culture shouldn’t get them killed by the cops. Unless someone’s behavior is threatening, it shouldn’t get them killed by the cops. The analogy to rape is right on. Yes, there are things blacks can do to **reduce** their chances of getting shot (having a white friend prime among them), but the ultimate responsibility lies with the cop, not the victim. Liberals don’t talk about culture because we respect other cultures. We don’t talk about behavior because that’s not a black / white or even a class thing. The same behavior that is acceptable for one person is not for another. (For example, IOKIYAR)

    Economics will uplift someone much more than scolding culture and behavior.

    [[We are not all Al Sharptons.]]

    As Jon Stewart said, “Is this the only black man conservatives know?” Throwing Al Sharpton into the conversation is a non-starter. It would be as if liberals brought Limbaugh or Beck into the general conversation — it’s more noise than signal.Report

  17. LWA says:

    I actually can get with the argument of personal responsibility. If we accept the idea of moral norms and codes to which we all but comply, then yes, we can and should expect that people accept responsibility for the consequences of breaking them.

    Which is an incredibly bland statement, almost useless as an argument. Who could falsify that, or take issue with its premise? (“no, everyone should do anything they want, anytime, anywhere!”)

    Which means that whenever it is raised as an argument, it has the appearance of being selectively enforced.

    Why don’t we apply “personal responsibility” to the cops? We seem to accept that whatever events transpire, whatever reaction they choose to take to the citizen, the cop has is a passive actor without agency or choices.Report

  18. Brandon Berg says:

    Dennis: What are your personal experiences with racism like, if you don’t mind my asking? I’m skeptical of people with an obvious left-wing agenda and chips on their shoulders, who have both an incentive to exaggerate things and a tendency to act in ways that tend to attract hostility, but I’d give more weight to the experience of someone like you.Report

    • switters in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Brandon – is this a serious question? Sounds an awful lot like something Joseph Heller would write.

      “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.”Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      See Dennis, you’re one of the good ones, not uppity like those other Negro’s who obviously lie and distort what they go through dally because of their political leanings.Report

  19. Notme says:


    I see quite a few words but not anything that amounts to a rebuttal of Rudy’s main point, that the cops are in certain neighborhoods bc that is where the crime is. Shouldn’t the cops be where the crime is?Report