How, in fact, do we get to ‘justice for all?’

Benje Williams writes of an experience being stopped by a police officer white supremacist gangster while riding his bicycle in Auburn, California, a medium-sized town in the Sierra Nevada foothills along Interstate 80. When I say there’s a lot going on here, and that it’s not just about race, I really do mean there’s a lot going on here. First, let’s get the point on which the white supremacist gangster happens to be right out of the way. Williams had run a stop sign on a deserted road:

“Do you know motorists hate people like you, riding around like you’re in the goddamn Tour de France?” I squint into the setting sun, arms by my side, sweat cooling under my winter cap. I think about my dad, one of Auburn’s first Black orthopedics. About Ahmaud Arbery, killed while exercising on a street in Georgia not unlike this one, by three men perhaps not unlike this man. I think this officer must hate his life and would ruin mine if I give him the chance.[1]

Bicyclists do absolutely generally enjoy a privilege of running stop signs, riding on the wrong side of the street, and doing whatever the fuck they damn well please. Along with that, however, is a one-size-fits-all approach to road design that fails to properly allow for bicyclists, but merely expects usually slower bicyclists to share the same limited lane space with usually faster motorists.[2] There’s also a one-size-fits-all approach to the traffic law. Williams defends running the stop sign:

I want to say I didn’t stop because there was full visibility and not a single car in sight; that I’ve been riding this flat road since fifth grade and it’s the quietest neighborhood in Auburn, even after they erected the Placer County Justice Center we’re standing under; that maybe I’d forgotten, for an hour-long ride, that in eyes like his, I’m just a Black kid on a bicycle.[3]

There are not, by the way, a whole lot of flat roads in Auburn.

On the one hand, that white supremacist gangster was there, so maybe there actually was a car there, even if Williams didn’t see it. On the other, it really is harder for bicyclists to stop. It requires physical exertion, somewhat beyond pushing down on the gas pedal, to get going again. And bicyclists do have a markedly better view of the road around them. And bicyclists aren’t enclosed in an environment that insulates them from the sounds around them. So the law that requires everyone to stop for a stop sign does impose a higher cost on bicyclists that isn’t fully justified.

My own feeling is that bicyclists should obey the rules of the road just like everyone else. First, safety when driving depends heavily on all users of the road behaving predictably. This “maybe I’ll follow the law and maybe I won’t” thing isn’t predictable. Second, it appears unfair when bicyclists aren’t required to follow the same rules. Third, I have seen reckless bicyclists, just as surely as I have seen reckless drivers.

Williams, however, clearly sees it differently. He sees a white supremacist gangster being a white supremacist gangster, harassing him because he is Black,[4] which, it is pretty fucking clear, is an entirely reasonable interpretation.[5] Williams does not acknowledge that that white supremacist gangster has a job to do, which includes stopping traffic violators. Williams barely acknowledges that that white supremacist gangster let him off with a mere warning:

“Do you want a $300 ticket?” he finally asks. “Do you?”

“No sir.”

“Then follow the damn law.”[6]

This, by the way, is pretty much the same treatment I received at the hands of a Dormont white supremacist gangster who stopped me shortly after my arrival in Pittsburgh, driving around his town while looking for a place to live with a still fully packed Toyota Camry Hybrid, still bearing California license plates. I had blown a “No Turn On Red” sign just around the corner from the Dormont police station; such signs are ubiquitous around here, but being from California, I wasn’t used to them. This white supremacist gangster just yelled at me, demanding I tell him what I was doing—I had just driven by my grandparents’ old house—admonishing me to “obey the law.”

I’m an old white guy. Williams identifies as a “Black kid.”[7] That encounter didn’t carry nearly the fear and risk for me that Williams’ encounter carried for him.

At the same time, it’s problematic to say that that white supremacist gangster shouldn’t do his job just because Williams is a “Black kid.” Pittsburgh has attempted to address this by limiting minor traffic stops. The difference is that Pittsburgh passed an ordinance that, in theory, applies equally to whites and Blacks in the hope of alleviating systemic discrimination.[8] Because of the wide intersection of race and class in Pittsburgh, it will disproportionately benefit Black people, but this is simply to partially ameliorate a profoundly racist and classist system of criminal injustice.[9] What Williams is asking for, however, is just to be let go with no encounter whatsoever, simply because he is Black and the white supremacist gangster is white.

There are two problems here: One, quite obviously, is that white supremacist gangsters are empowered by the state to harass, injure, arrest, and kill whomever they choose, and they exercise their discretion disproportionately against people are of color. It is difficult to take seriously any proposition that they do so without malice, let alone impartially, particularly when they so often and so prominently appear to side with, identify as, and behave like other white supremacists, particularly when they so vehemently refuse any accountability whatsoever for their conduct, and particularly when it so often very much appears that they are in fact expected by the authorities who empower them to behave in just this manner.[10] Yet there is this white devotion, which I see all too often around Pittsburgh, even among my neighbors with their “thin blue line” flags, to white supremacist gangsters that is all too apparent, that insists on seeing white supremacist gangsters as heroes, that too often refuses to contemplate that any white supremacist gangster anywhere ever does anything wrong.

Second, however, Williams’ account betrays an unrepentant refusal to consider that he did in fact do something wrong and an insistence on viewing his encounter with the white supremacist gangster largely through the lens of race.

“The criminal system doesn’t just go after criminals, it makes and defines criminals,” said Alexandra Natapoff, author and law professor at UC Irvine. Low-level misdemeanors like loitering, jaywalking, spitting and littering “aren’t about whether anybody did anything wrong or bad or harmful,” Natapoff said, but about enabling authorities to “sweep people of color into the criminal system.”[11]

Williams, by the way, is no mere “Black kid.” He has “a Berkeley bachelor’s degree, a Stanford MBA, the forest and education nonprofits [he] co-founded, people who love [him], hopes . . . for the future.” He was empowered to have his account of this incident published in the Sacramento Bee,[12] something that would likely be far more difficult for other Black people or any poor people to accomplish. He in fact betrays class privilege that he felt the white supremacist gangster unjustly refused to recognize.

He does acknowledge, but only in passing, that white supremacist gangsters are a problem not just for people of color:

This is what the system does. It treats good citizens like villains until they become villains. In the process, everyone loses. Not just people of color, but teachers commuting home, families driving to dinner, school buses dropping kids off. Everyone becomes less safe. Everyone loses a good citizen.[13]

But having done so, he so quickly returns to racist aggrievement that it is clear he merely uses these concocted examples to excuse his focus on racism.

It’s all to easy to understand this. I spend my days driving for Uber, witnessing that wide intersection of race and class on a nearly continuous basis. I have seen a local white supremacist gangster allow his dog to bark completely out of control at a Black man walking across a parking lot.[14] I have seen the Confederate flags, the gun nuttery, the banners that so often honor white male veterans and so rarely honor people of color.[15] I am convinced that Black people in Pittsburgh must function in a condition of suspension of disbelief, acting as though they will be treated fairly, when they know they will not.

But I am also seeing far too much of a reduction of all contact between white people and Black people to racism, of a reduction of all social injustice to racism, of a refusal to acknowledge that injustice takes any other form besides racism, and of a denial that racism can exist independently of power relations, thus presuming that only white people can be racist.

I cannot and would not ask anyone who is the victim of any form of social injustice not to be furious. But when Black people focus solely on racism against Black people as if it was the only form of injustice that needs to be dealt with, what they seem to be seeking is for Black people to displace white people from their role as oppressors and to take this role on for themselves. It is a mistake that any member of any subaltern group can make and I have seen many in such groups make it. Williams is just one example.

The really hard part is getting to where we are dealing with all forms of social injustice simultaneously, so we are establishing a truly just system for everyone. I already knew that white supremacist gangsters are not a part of that solution. I am disappointed to see that Williams won’t be either.

  1. [1]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Road rage,” Not Housebroken, December 20, 2017,
  3. [3]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  4. [4]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Stephen Zappala’s resignation would be nowhere near enough,” Not Housebroken, January 4, 2022,
  6. [6]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  7. [7]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Will Pittsburgh deprive its white supremacist gangs of one tool for harassing the poor, especially of color?” Not Housebroken, December 29, 2022,; Julia Felton, “Proposal to stop Pittsburgh police from making minor traffic stops moves forward,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 16, 2021,; Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh council to vote on whether police can make minor traffic stops,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 20, 2021,; Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh bans traffic stops for minor violations,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 28, 2021,; Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh activists, officials hope legislation will end ‘systemic racism’ in traffic stops,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 16, 2022,
  9. [9]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon, 2004)
  10. [10]Tim Arango and Giulia Heyward, “Despite Uproar Over Floyd’s Death, the Number of Fatal Encounters With Police Hasn’t Changed,” New York Times, December 24, 2021,; John Archibald, “Brookside police patrolled social media, threatening town’s critics,”, January 27, 2022,; Associated Press, “Officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck arrested on murder charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2020,; Devlin Barrett, “FBI faces skepticism over its efforts against domestic terrorism,” Washington Post, August 5, 2019,; Mark Berman et al., “Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people,” Washington Post, June 8, 2020,; British Broadcasting Corporation, “Charlottesville: One killed in violence over US far-right rally,” August 13, 2017,; Mike Carter, “Kent badly underestimated outrage over assistant police chief’s Nazi insignia, mayor says,” Seattle Times, January 10, 2022,; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Blue Lives Matter,” Atlantic, December 22, 2014,; Jelani Cobb, “Donald Trump’s Idea of Selective Citizenship,” New Yorker, July 29, 2019,; Tim Craig, “Proud Boys and Black Lives Matter activists clashed in a Florida suburb. Only one side was charged,” Washington Post, February 2, 2021,; Jason Dearen, “White supremacist prison guards work with impunity in Fla.,” Associated Press, November 19, 2021,; Jason Dearen, “He attended cross burnings, wore a wire, risked his life to expose who was in KKK,” Times of Israel, December 23, 2021,; Democracy Now! “Report Documents 32,542 Police Killings in U.S. Since 2000 with Vast Undercount of People of Color,” June 1, 2021,; Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh Police officers disciplined in death of Jim Rogers; report says his calls for medical help were ignored,” Pittsburgh City Paper, December 21, 2021,; Ryan Devereaux, “The Thin Blue Line Between Violent, Pro-Trump Militias and Police,” Intercept, August 28, 2020,; James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020,; Rick Earle and Amy Hudak, “Pittsburgh’s mayor wants police policy review after man dies following incident with taser,” WPXI, October 22, 2021,; Julia Felton and Paula Reed Ward, “Family of man who died after being tased by Pittsburgh police calls for charges against officers,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 17, 2021,; Dana Forsythe, “Punisher creator Gerry Conway: Cops using the skull logo are like people using the Confederate flag,” SyFy Wire, January 8, 2019, copy in possession of author; Megan Guza, Paula Reed Ward, and Julia Felton, “Officials: 5 Pittsburgh police officers terminated after months-long investigation into death of Jim Rogers,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 23, 2022,; Jeet Heer, “How Not to Mourn George Floyd,” The Time of Monsters, April 21, 2021,; Arelis R. Hernández and Cleve R. Wootson, Jr., “Black Americans are buoyed by Chauvin conviction, but they worry it will blunt pace of reform,” Washington Post, April 20, 2021,; Ryan Houston, “Churches send letter to AG Shapiro asking for investigation into man’s death in Bloomfield incident,” WPXI, January 13, 2022,; Kellie Carter Jackson, “The Double Standard of the American Riot,” Atlantic, June 1, 2020,; Jason Johnson, “I’m not happy. I’m not relieved. The verdict is a cultural make-up call. This ruling means it takes a Black man being murdered on TV in front of millions, a years worth of protest and a phalanx of white cops saying ‘this is wrong’ for a black person to get a scintilla of justice,” Twitter, April 20, 2021,; Amina Khan, “Police officers treat Black and white men differently. You can hear it in their tone of voice,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2021,; Kimberly Kindy, Mark Berman, and Kim Bellware, “After Capitol riot, police chiefs work to root out officers with ties to extremist groups,” Washington Post, January 24, 2021,; Kimberly Kindy and Kimbriell Kelly, “Thousands dead, few prosecuted,” Washington Post, April 11, 2015,; Maggie Koerth, “The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration,” FiveThirtyEight, January 7, 2021,; Rory Laverty, Mark Berman, and Tim Elfrink, “Police chiefs are cracking down on misconduct — including brutality and overt racism — and losing their own jobs, too,” Washington Post, June 25, 2020,; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021,; Trymaine Lee, “Eyewitness to Michael Brown shooting recounts his friend’s death,” MSNBC, August 12, 2014,; Carol D. Leonnig, Kimberly Kindy, and Joel Achenbach, “Darren Wilson’s first job was on a troubled police force disbanded by authorities,” Washington Post, August 23, 2014,; Christy E. Lopez, “Beware the extremist, dangerous and unconstitutional ‘constitutional sheriffs,’” Washington Post, December 17, 2021,; German Lopez, “Cleveland police shooting of Tamir Rice: city to pay $6 million after 12-year-old’s death,” Vox, April 25, 2016,; German Lopez, “East Pittsburgh police officer charged for shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose,” Vox, June 27, 2018,; German Lopez, “Police officers are prosecuted for murder in less than 2 percent of fatal shootings,” Vox, April 2, 2021,; Wesley Lowery, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no,” Washington Post, July 11, 2016,; David Masciotra, “The Punisher skull: Unofficial logo of the white American death cult,” Salon, April 28, 2019,; Stephen Maturen, “Wisconsin calls out National Guard after unrest over police shooting of Black man,” Reuters, August 24, 2020,; Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Video: Dallas police open fire on schizophrenic man with screwdriver,” CNN, March 19, 2015,; Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Woman streams aftermath of fatal officer-involved shooting,” CNN, July 8, 2016,; Brentin Mock, “What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings,” CityLab, August 6, 2019,; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020,; Toluse Olorunnipa, “As nation convulses with fiery protests, leaders struggle to address deep racial despair,” Washington Post, June 2, 2020,; Evan Osnos, “‘An Abuse of Sacred Symbols’: Trump, a Bible, and a Sanctuary,” New Yorker, June 2, 2020,; Alex Pareene, “The Police Are Pretty Sure They’re Going to Get Away With It,” New Republic, August 28, 2020,; Will Pavia, “Atlanta police stage sick leave protest over murder charge,” Times, June 19, 2020,; Kyle Paoletta, “Listen up, police officers: Real life isn’t like ‘Breaking Bad,’” Salon, April 13, 2014,; Maritza Perez, “The Congressional Police Reform Bill Fails to Meet the Moment,” Common Dreams, June 12, 2020,; Rich Phillips, “Florida deputies shoot man they mistook for car thief in his own driveway,” CNN, August 1, 2013,; Emma Pierson et al., “A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States,” Nature Human Behavior 4 (2020): 736–745,; Jon Queally, “Cornel West Says ‘Neo-Fascist Gangster’ Trump and Neoliberal Democrats Expose America as ‘Failed Social Experiment,’” Common Dreams, May 30, 2020,; Alanna Durkin Richer and Lindsay Whitehurst, “1 verdict, then 6 police killings across America in 24 hours,” Associated Press, April 24, 2021,; Philip Rucker, “As cities burned, Trump stayed silent — other than tweeting fuel on the fire,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020,–other-than-tweeting-fuel-on-the-fire/2020/05/31/4fc8761a-a354-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html; Jon Schuppe, “Police across U.S. respond to Derek Chauvin trial: ‘Our American way of policing is on trial,’” NBC News, April 15, 2021,; Sandhya Somashekhar et al., “Black and Unarmed,” Washington Post,; Felicia Sonmez et al., “Killing of black man in Atlanta puts spotlight anew on police, as prosecutors contemplate charges against officer,” Washington Post, June 15, 2020,; Jeremy Stahl, “Kenosha Police Chief Blames Protesters for Their Own Deaths, Defends Vigilante Groups,” Slate, August 26, 2020,; Sam Stanton, “Sacramento police officer charged with filing false reports fighting her firing in court,” Sacramento Bee, March 9, 2022,; Mark Joseph Stern, “The Police Lie. All the Time. Can Anything Stop Them?” Slate, August 4, 2020,; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?” New Yorker, June 8, 2020,; Tampa Bay Times, “Informer, not neighbor complaints, led up to fatal Tampa pot raid,” July 15, 2014,; Alene Tchekmedyian, “Sheriff Villanueva demands L.A. County leaders stop using term ‘deputy gangs,’” Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2022,; Alene Tchekmedyian, “Inspector general identifies 41 sheriff’s deputies who allegedly belong to gang-like groups,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2022,; Alene Tchekmedyian, “L.A. County panel launches investigation into Sheriff’s Department ‘deputy gangs,’” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2022,; A. C. Thompson, “Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes,” ProPublica, July 1, 2019,; Patrick Varine, “Protesters block Grant Street, demand prosecution in Jim Rogers’ death,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 12, 2021,; Theresa Waldrop et al., “Autopsy report says Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back, lists manner of death as homicide,” CNN, June 14, 2020,; Paula Reed Ward, “Man who died after being tased by Pittsburgh police pleaded for medical help but got none, report says,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 21, 2021,; Paula Reed Ward, “Experts say more must be done by Pittsburgh in response to Jim Rogers’ death,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 22, 2021,; Paula Reed Ward, “Disciplinary action initiated against 9 Pittsburgh police officers in tasing, death of man in Bloomfield,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 28, 2021,; Paula Reed Ward, “Allegheny County Medical Examiner rules Jim Rogers’ death was accidental,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 3, 2022,; Paula Reed Ward, “Allegheny County grand jury to investigate death of man tased by Pittsburgh police,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 11, 2022,; Raphael Warnock, “Today’s verdict affirming Derek Chauvin’s responsibility for killing George Floyd is the right outcome in this trial, but it is not justice. . . .” Twitter, April 20, 2021,; Kevin Williams, Tim Craig, and Marisa Iati, “Kentucky grand jury declines to file homicide charges in death of Breonna Taylor,” Washington Post, September 24, 2020,; Robin Wright, “To the World, We’re Now America the Racist and Pitiful,” New Yorker, July 3, 2020,; Odette Yousef et al., “Active-duty police in major U.S. cities appear on purported Oath Keepers rosters,” National Public Radio, November 5, 2021,; Matt Zapotosky, “Trump threatens military action to quell protests, and the law would let him do it,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020,
  11. [11]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  12. [12]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  13. [13]Benje Williams, “‘Follow the damn law.’ A Black cyclist’s scary encounter with a white Placer County cop,” Sacramento Bee, March 27, 2022,
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019,
  15. [15]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, April 6, 2021,

One thought on “How, in fact, do we get to ‘justice for all?’

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.