Guest Op-Ed: US Senate Candidate Pam Keith, On the Legacy of Perceived Menace


 By Pam Keith

On April 19th Freddie Gray, a 25-year old Black man in Baltimore Maryland, died from an injury he suffered while in police custody that severed 80% of his spinal chord.  We have no idea what happened to cause the injury, but common sense tells us that such injuries do not occur by themselves.  In the legal profession, we call it “res ipsa loquitur,” or “the thing speaks for itself.”  Freddie’s death was inherently suspicious and in all likelihood the result of reckless behavior.  But the real problem is that it was not an isolated incident.  It came on the heels of several other incidents in which unarmed Black men died at the hands of police.


In Baltimore, as in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown lost his life, the community vented its rage.  While random violence is never a productive or intelligent response to pain, frustration, anger and disappointment, it is nevertheless a predictable one.  This is particularly so when such emotions are elevated by crowd dynamics.  Crowds riot when football teams lose.  It should be no surprise that communities riot when they feel enraged by the actions of the government that is tasked with keeping order and protecting them.  If order is what the government wants, then those who feel abused will serve up disorder and chaos.  It doesn’t need to be a rational response, and it certainly isn’t when the damage is done to the property of the innocent.  But it is a predictable response from those who let loose their pent-up anger and rage.


The question is “why is this all happening?”  From one point of view, the young men who have recently died are at least partly to blame because they were not sufficiently deferential to police authority.  To some, these men were likely up to no good, and thus suffered the perhaps tragic consequences of their own choices.  That point of view, however, is based on a combination of two deeply held beliefs: (a) that police are entitled to absolute deference, and (b) that Black (and brown) men are particularly menacing.


Most Americans believe that police are entitled to respect and deference.  But there is quite a difference of opinion as to how that deference must be manifest.  Is talking back to an officer unlawful?  What about calling a police officer names?  What about refusing to follow instructions?  At what point does a refusal to cooperate — or to cooperate fast enough — rise to the level of actually endangering a police officer?  The answer to that question seems to reside exclusively in the subjective point of view of the officer in question.  And that is where the issue of perceived menace comes in.   An officer is going to respond differently to an angry petite Asian woman than to an angry large Black man.  And while we know, theoretically, that both citizens should be treated equally, we also know that they likely won’t be.


The perception that Black (and brown) men are especially menacing has been nursed for generations and finds its roots in slavery.  Slave owners were ever fearful and vigilant of rebellion and leery of the physical strength of the slaves they owned, which is why they went to extremes to cow their slaves, and most particularly their male slaves.  That fear of Black men continued to be perpetuated throughout the legacy of Jim Crow and segregation and simmers still in our society.   Our criminal justice system remains permeated with prejudice toward minority offenders, resulting in much higher conviction and incarceration rates and longer sentences.


Regrettably, our young Black men, particularly in urban and blighted communities, have cemented the perception of menace through years of violence perpetrated on each other and on the innocent in their communities.  Our young Black men are taught to be tough and to talk tough and they wear that toughness often in an open and conspicuous way.  It should surprise no one that those who police our Black urban communities spend an inordinate amount of time with young Black men.  Nor should we be surprised that such officers might develop biases and prejudices toward Black men.  If 80% of the people a police department arrests are Black men, it should be no shock that the officers in that department would view 80% of young Black men as suspicious: That doesn’t make the officers evil, it makes them human.


But the people of this country demand and deserve better than policing by reaction and subconscious (or conscious) prejudice.  Especially when such biases are leading to the kind of inexcusable actions that take life.   Young Black men should not be paying for disobedience with their lives when no one else in society is.  Disobedience should not be a capital offense and police are not imbued with the power to act as judge, jury and executioner.  We need reasoned de-escalation of conflict, not escalation or over reaction.


We, therefore, must also have a deep and meaningful discussion about policing techniques.   We need to dig into what police officers are taught with respect to the use of lethal force.  We need to recognize that all humans are prone to biases and prejudices and develop CONSTANT AND CONTINUOUS training to mitigate and reduce the role that such biases play in every-day policing.  And we need to embrace the idea of body cameras for police officers, to protect them, the citizenry and most importantly, the fragile trust between the two.


Baltimore burned because a small group of people let loose their rage over the callous disregard shown to Freddy Gray (and many others).   I have no doubt that the good citizens of Baltimore will heal from this pain and come together to move forward.  The question is “can we all come together to bridge the chasm between law enforcement and the community?”  The fact that we are finally having this national conversation is a first and necessary step in the right direction.


Note: TFS Editor-in-Chief Kartik Krishnaiyer has been advising the Pam Keith Campaign. 


  1. Fla Dem · · Reply

    This women has no business running and needs to get out of the race. We are unified as a party behind Patrick Murphy and those including you helping this women are actually working for the republicans.

    Patrick Murphy is our candidate. A dream candidate. He WILL beat Rubio or whomever the GOP fields unless this women screws it up.

    A vote for Keith is a vote for Rubio.


  2. Thoughtful and impressive.

    Murphy could never pen something so logical.

    He’s a milk toast mushy moderate scared to step out or offend.


    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      Making a lot of assumptions here.


  3. Patrick Murphy a dream candidate? Not in my opinion. This race is like handicapping the Kentucky Derby or the NFL Draft. You do your homework, look at all the qualifications and try and make the most informative decision. By the way, US Representative Murphy was a past R. In my opinion he is an elitist, attending private preppy schools, inheriting a great deal of wealth in the form of stocks(according to a political website) and has nothing in common with the regular, hardworking person. These are just my opinions and personally I would like to see more qualified candidates in the race, like Grayson. Before you vote do some research. And no, I don’t think Winston was the best pick in the draft. I don’t want to judge anyone, but I believe character counts in sports, politics and life in general. May the most qualified,trustworthy candidate win.


    1. Democratic Operative · · Reply

      When was he an R? He ran as a Democrat in 2012 and 2014!

      Don’t selectively make things up because you don’t like him.

      So he inherited money? Is it a crime? Poor people cannot fund campaigns you know.

      I love how progressives make being rich a crime yet everything they promote is funded by RICH people!


      1. He was a registered Republican until 2011, when he switched parties just weeks before becoming a candidate for Congress:


    2. naoya6161 · · Reply

      elaine1016, you do realize that you’re contradicting yourself right now? Even though you’re saying that we should do more research into the candidates, here you are making blatant assumptions about Patrick Murphy. If you really insist on us taking you seriously, you can’t conveniently ignore facts like Republicans do.


  4. Democratic Operative · · Reply

    Pam Keith needs to run for something like State House or County Commission before running for US Senate. How do we even know she is a real Democrat, not a Republican plant? Patrick Murphy is a true blue Democrat who has fought hard for our party and fought to defend our environment and our President. Since the Republicans “deep bench” which Kartik keeps touting is actually empty, the GOP has planted a candidate in our primary to try and knock off our dream candidate. The Sunshine State News, a GOP funded and run website that this blog has previously exposed has been the great proponent of Pam Keith as they were Nan Rich. What does that tell you?

    I would urge all real Democrats to reject this women and not pay her any attention. She is obviously a plant meant to damage Murphy before the General just like they did to Crist with the Nan Rich candidacy.


  5. According to he was an R, read the entire biography. Nothing like research


    1. naoya6161 · · Reply

      In the past, yes. But it’s also true that he left the party and ran as a Democrat in 2012 and 2014, and will do so in 2016.


  6. Pam Keith is the only liberal running.

    I hope Grayson makes a run but if not she’s got my support.


  7. Thank you, Pam Keith, for sorting this out and making the wise statement that NO YOUNG BLACK MAN Should lose his life for disobedience, when nobody else in society does. Police officers are not gods who are owed deference–they are blue collar employees of a municipality just like every other city worker, county worker or state worker. And they should NEVER posess the power to make a life and death decision regarding a citizen they have detained for some petty offense just because they don’t like that citizen’s demeanor towards them! When these officers DO commit a crime of violence in the line of duty, they must be promptly suspended, investigated and then charged by the District Attorney, without delay! This culture of violence and often, corruption in concealing those crimes, which pervades our entire country–MUST STOP. It is fomenting social unrest, as it should, and demands to be addressed by our elected officials!


  8. With all due respect to anonymous, I have been a registered Democrat since I was 18. I have voted for every Democratic Presidential candidate since then. And if anyone knows that to be true it is Patrick a Murphy, inasmuch as I housed one of his staffers, donated to his campaign, hosted a fundraiser for him , and even cooked for his staffers who were working up the street from my house. I helped Patrick get elected because he was the best choice in that race. I am the best choice in this one. There is no rule that says one must run for lower office first. That path works from some, but not all. Serving in local office has merit in and of itself, and should not be merely a stepping stone to higher office. My skill is in legislation, not administration. I feel no desire to hold any office just to check the box. Our democracy is based on the freedom of all of us to participate in the process and put our ideas to the people for consideration. That is what I am doing. No one should be offended by that. Anonymous, you GROSSLY overstate the unity behind Patrick Murphy. A DSCC endorsement does not actually supplant a primary. Florida Democrats will decide our candidate in due course, and God willing, they will make an informed choice after all candidates are given the chance to make their case. Those who would subvert this process are neither true Democrats nor true patriots.


  9. Alan Grayson YOU have until NOON on June 1, 2015 to announce you are running for U.S. Senate in 2016 or get the hell out of the way so another democrat can show Patrick Murphy he is not the candidate for Real Florida Democrats

    386 788 3885

    386 314 3646

    Pam Keith Please stay in the Race somehow we can stop Patrick Murphy.


  10. Having read ALL the comments, it seems someone must have forgotten the reason Democrats have a primary. The best democrat typically wins, but now with the stacked deck of the Democratic Party we will do whatever necessary to stop the hand picking of the “leaders” it will back fire if Patrick Murphy should not be challenged by Alan Grayson or others. I will work to defeat Patrick Murphy in the Primary or in the General Election. NO way will Patrick Murphy be the next U.S. Senator from Florida.

    Patrick Murphy call me so I can tell YOU why. 386 788 3885.

    It is important that YOU invite other democrats to challenge YOU.

    The fee of $10,600 is a way to keep the democratic primary closed.

    I will be an independent candidate $7600 but should Alan Grayson get out of the way I am praying that someone will challenge and defeat Patrick Murphy.

    Since 2000 the existence of Florida Democrats working to win elections has been missing; conclusion is that Alan Grayson has the ability to get the grassroots support.

    Anyone that donated to Mitt Romney is a problem for any REAL democrat.

    Join the Fight to Stop Patrick Murphy


  11. Great News for Pam Keith, L.A. Jones, Alan Grayson’s money bag will be tied up for the next few months, so maybe LA. Jones (the longshot candidate can win the race between Pam Keith and herself) For personal reasons I had to give up running. Now if Alan Grayson would quickly decide to stay out or jump in the race we could see Patrick Murphy defeated.

    I will NOT vote for Patrick Murphy, I better plan on voting for Pam Keith if she apologizes for giving money to Patrick Murphy.

    At this point while I find L.A. Jones a very long shot she has a mission I cannot believe will win but she is going for it. I hope she has the $10,700 to be on the democratic ballot; as for NPA Colbert well, he has a mission of a higher order.

    I believe Age is starting to be more a factor in the various races including Hillary (born on the same day as me); I cannot vote for Presidential Bernie but not happy yet with Hillary.

    Seems while I hate Donald Trump maybe he could spend some of his money to help the economy by Running a fight.

    Maybe too many women will be on the ballot this time and that could force old guys like me to just not vote because we are old and confused by the new ways of running.

    Finally Pam Keith has the strangest website I have ever seen.

    This middle of the road for a democrat is NOT good.

    She should finally decide to run as Liberal against conservative Patrick Murphy, then maybe she would get closer.

    Alan Grayson YOU caused this problem.


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