Monday, January 18, 2016

The Importance Of The Day

It would be easy to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today.

It would be easy to tie his actions and words to actions and words today.

It would be easy to say what he would and would not have approved of.

That's really not what today should be about.

What this holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, should be about is what we are going to do to make America a better nation.

There is no standard here. This is no living up to a legacy. There is no anointing a cause. There are the actions and words of a man who fought to bring a measure of equality and dignity to others of his race by challenging the system of privilege and prejudice that even The Civil War could not erase. His words, if they can be considered to have effect, are not things to be etched on glass or stone; they are missives to be taken into the heart and mind, to push the body forward to action when it sees injustice.

It would be easy to debate what the man would think of what we see today, but we cannot know. The assassin who struck him down deprived us of that opinion. To infer from what we know, is to claim a knowledge of the inner workings of the mind that is impossible to countenance. He has left us and his thoughts are free to fall where they may.

It isn't important to attempt to wind Dr. King around the events of today, only to see his influence in allowing them to happen. If "Black Lives Matter" has risen from the pain and suffering that was the death of Trayvon Martin and so many others like him, it is more important that that movement find its own voice and fly by its own power than be yoked to Dr. King. The man laid down the path, much as Jesus did, and asked us to walk it with him and to keep walking it after he was gone. That is what the day is about.

Demonstrate. Help. Donate. Read. Pray. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Lift up the downtrodden. Demand justice. Lift your voice. Stand up. Do whatever you can, but do it. Honor Dr. King, not by reliving his life, but by living it in your own way.

He was the way. He was the light. Take up the lamp. Walk the path. He will walk with you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Two Seconds

In two seconds, a photon of light travels over 372,000 miles.

In two seconds, a heart at its resting rate will have beat 2-3 times.

In two seconds, the worlds fastest computer performs 67,720 trillion calculations.

In two seconds, an innocent Black boy died.




His name was Tamir Rice. He was all of twelve-years-old. He lived in Cleveland and was out playing in a park with his sister and friends on a cool November day in 2014, carrying around a fake pistol, in the way most kids do. Or did.

Growing up, I can remember boys playing "War" or "Cops and Robbers" or "Cowboys and Indians" - back before we knew better - running around yards, and parks, and neighborhoods, brandishing toy pistols or rifles, or even long tree branches, playing with reckless abandon.

Tamir was no doubt doing something similar. He was young, he was having fun... and then he was dead.

Someone called 9-1-1. They reported someone running around with a gun. They made offhand remarks that it might be a fake gun. That it might be a kid. So weak were these remarks, the police dispatcher saw no need to mention them in the radio call to officers.

What happened next is on video for all the world to see. You can look it up yourself, measure the time from the moment police arrived at the park to the time of Tamir's death.

Two seconds.




Many things happen quickly in the span of two seconds, if you're a ray of light, or a computer, or even a heart. What shouldn't happen in the span of two seconds is the death of an innocent child at the hands of a person sworn to protect him and all the all other citizens of Cleveland. Two seconds is not enough time to size up a situation. Two seconds is not enough time to make the crucial decision about what action to take. Two seconds is not enough time to prepare for what may come.

It is enough time to kill an innocent boy if you have it in your mind to do it.

The officer rolled up on the scene, threw open his door, and fired, all in a span of two seconds. No thought, no analysis, no attempt to warn the subject of his machinations to drop the weapon. Car, door, shots, death.

The only way it took so little time for these actions to be accomplished was if there had been forethought about them. The officer took the report of a person possibly brandishing a weapon - from which no shots had been fired - and used that as the fuel to play "hero" in his head. He would stop this shooter before anyone could be harmed. He would save lives.

Instead, he took one.

Thoughtlessly.

Callously.

Cruelly.

Tamir's sister was there. Distraught over his death, the police manhandled her rather than trying to identify why she was distressed. They did not perform even rudimentary first aid on Tamir. If there had been a chance to save him, they did not take it. There he lay, and died.

And now, as if the insult and injury of the senseless murder of a child was not enough, the officers involved will face no charges. Not even for their reckless behavior or failure to render aid. No charges. Because a system, built of interlocking parts that cover each others' backs, will not condemn its own. The police, the District Attorneys, the Judges, they are woven together into a system that grants White people absolution for their crimes and anyone else "justice" in the form of a callous disregard for their life.

A White man shoots up a movie theater, or a Planned Parenthood clinic, or a Black Baptist church, and they walk away, weapons surrendered, shackled, off to meet a justice system that is more than willing to play host to the idea they simply "weren't in their right mind." That same system takes a Black boy with a toy gun, a grown man with an unpurchased rifle in a store, a man trying to bring peace to his neighborhood, a woman pulled over for not signaling, and condemns them to quick or slow death, but death all the same.

If Black people are angry, if they are upset, if they rage at the system, it is because they are allowed. They watch daily as their kind are subject to the depredations of "justice," which so often result in the death of innocents and a lack of contrition by, or accountability for, those who dole out senseless death.

There is no reforming this system. It is diseased, so shot through with privilege and hypocrisy as to be worthless to any but the richest, Whitest citizens. It is a system built on the backs of slaves, powered by tax money of the poor and middle class, and twisted by those with power and wealth to suit their ends. It is filled with people who crave power, who see victory in court as a check-mark in the "win" column, and a handful of believers in true justice overwhelmed by a caseload they cannot keep up with, leading them to short-change defendants by encouraging them to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, in the name of expediency.

When a system exists that allows the murder of a twelve-year-old boy in a park by law enforcement to go unchallenged, it is time for that system to be torn down.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Simply Murder

By now, you know here name: Sandra Bland.

You know what happened to her: pulled over by a police officer, he proceeded to abuse his authority, and she wound up in jail.

Then she "hung herself."

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As we reel off the litany of Black people who have lost their lives unfairly and unjustly - Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and on and on - we should, to use Eric Garner's words, find it difficult to breathe. The constant stream of dead Black bodies being heaped at our feet cannot help but tighten the chest of any decent person. In most, if not all, cases these people were no threat to anyone, not armed, not doing anything that could be construed at the moment of their death as a threat to anyone. Some were murdered in the street, some shot in the back, some killed in their own homes, some in their cars, some running, some standing, some looking for help... and they are ALL DEAD.

DEAD. Killed in the main by law enforcement, with the occasional support of "law-abiding" citizens and racist malcontents, they have been set down in the ground and there have been outcries and protests and meetings and speeches and calls for justice...

...and still they die.

Every day.

Every day, we are greeted with the latest addition to the butcher's bill. Even since Sandra Bland's horrific arrest and subsequent death, there have been more. It is a ceaseless parade of Black people being cut down for no reason, no purpose, no need. These people are just trying to live their lives and being deprived of those lives by a callous, cruel, heartless system of endemic racism that they cannot fight. Punches are thrown, jabs are taken, blows are struck, but at the end of the day, Whiteness is still the law of the land and Blackness is marked for death.

America may remove the chains, it may fight a war, it may pass laws, but all that does nothing to stem the infernal spread of toxic bigotry that envelopes and swallows Black life at a breakneck pace. Black people, ancestors dragged from their African homes to provide free labor, continue to suffer the depredations of taskmasters who have never known the feel of the lash in their hand. Whiteness is a disease, a despicable malady, that creeps into the souls of many who suffer from it but do not realize they are infected. They see the creeping, inexorable snuffing out of Black life as something that they are not party to, for not once in generations did they or their family own slaves, as if that were the only yardstick by which to measure such galling hatred.

We, the White people, are beneficiaries of a system that was built by the sweat, toil, and blood of Black slaves to provide White people comfort, strength, and power. Whatever strides have been made, whatever battles fought, whatever ink dried, that system lives and we benefit from it still. It is not torn down, rings and all, but stands in silent reproach of those who seek to surmount it, to collapse it, to bring White masters down to the level of everyone else, to take their rightful place in American life as free and equal citizens. No sound is made as its tentacles creep out from hidden dens to strangle and snuff out Black hope. Even a Black President cannot beat it down from the seat at the heart of that power.

No matter the circumstances, the actual events, of Sandra Bland's death, we mark it murder, wicked and foul. She was Black, she was strong, she knew her rights, and it did her no good, for the White power would not recognize her simple humanity or rights. Automatically, without thought, she was reduced in the eyes of a law enforcement officer who saw her challenges as weapons as potent as knives and guns. He stepped out of the guise of peace keeper and into the well-worn suit of slave master, and proceeded to attack her as if she were no more than an animal.

Our nation may well burn, consumed in a fire set by our recalcitrant need to maintain a death grip on a past that has no purpose or place in the 21st Century. If we suffer such self-immolation, it will be well-deserved, for allowing ignorance and bigotry to flourish in a time of knowledge is a crime that only a society may be asked to pay for in its own blood. We may weep at the destruction, but as the flames lick us, we should remember well that our hands could have put out the fire, if only we had reached down to our Black brethren and brought them up to their rightful place as equals. There is yet time, but Sandra Bland is the first wisp of smoke, a signal of the fire that waits to rage among us.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

President Lincoln Was Wrong

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Abraham Lincoln uttered those words at the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois on June 16, 1858. He was accepting the nomination of his party to run for the Senate. It was a radical speech for its time and perhaps led to Lincoln eventually becoming President. Based on Biblical scripture, it was a simple enough idea: dividing the nation over the idea of slavery would destroy both halves. Union, above all else, was paramount.

157 years later and as I read the speech, then look at the horrible deed done by the 21-year-old Charleston Terrorist, I must point out to Mr. Lincoln that, while a fine speech, it was wrong.

While true, that breaking apart the structure of a house causes damage, the damage can be repaired, if attention is put to the details. A home, otherwise wrecked, can be rebuilt stronger and sturdier for having been heinously damaged or even rent asunder. However, it does no good to reconnect a divided structure, where part of said structure festers with rot and decay.

THAT, is the Union we live in now. A "united" nation stitched together by iron and blood one hundred fifty years ago, that is still shot through with the fetid stink of racism and the rotting timbers of "heritage." The forcible re-connection of the Union seemed a good idea at the time, but recent events lead me to believe that reuniting a home so pervasively rotten simply allowed that disease to spread too far.

It was not enough to so vanquish the Confederacy as to make them feel the pain of their stubborn pride rattling deep in their bones. Crushing armies and torching cities could only leave physical scars that would be easily wiped away; those same crushed armies and burnt cities, would leave deep, resonant scars that simply mingled with that wounded pride, to make a people even more resistant to change. There would be no beating down the South. Absorbed back into the Union, the former Confederate States would not so quietly resume their status as Americans.

The Civil War may have reassembled the map of a nation and its political structure, but could not easily erase centuries of racism. Southerners were not predisposed to believe that Blacks were anything other than property, wrested from them by a pitiless, self-indulgent North. They might no longer have them as slaves, but Southerners would not automatically elevate Blacks to the level of persons. They would make their displeasure felt via the Klu Klux Klan, poll taxes, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the destruction of Black churches. No loss of a war would tarnish the South to a degree that they would simply drop the matter.

So it goes.

In this day, we still live in a nation divided along lines thought erased those one hundred fifty years ago. The South is still a seething cauldron of hate, a spirit broken but unbowed by a "war of Northern Aggression" it still sees as a fundamental violation of the rights of States. No amount of progress in our world has tapped out the rich vein racism in the core of the former Confederacy. That vein continues to be mined, its products disseminated among the impressionable minds that know only poverty and blame their lot, not on a lack of industriousness or investment, but on Blacks - and other minorities - who seem to be "taking" all that is supposed to be theirs. The same self-indulgent ignorance is repeated as law in households far and wide, sowing the seeds of racism in a new generation.

Invariably, this leads to events like the Charleston Terrorist Shooting, where a young White man, inculcated in the ways and means of hate, takes it upon himself to single-handedly launch a new war, hoping to eliminate the Black race and magically restore the honor of the beatified Confederacy. He walks into a storied Black church, observes the love and tolerance shown there, and still allows the darkness of his soul to envelop the lives of nine innocent people.

This pervasive, systemic racism, this dark stain on the American nation is no longer allowable. It is no longer tolerable. It can no longer be allowed to lie furtively, striking at Black Americans with a singular will. Bigotry can no longer be coddled. We have left it to sink into the foundation of our once divided house, and now the whole house threatens to crumble. A house divided against itself cannot stand, but a house left un-maintained will as surely and as easily fall. We have let the maintenance go a hundred and fifty years and can no longer sit idly by and watch it crumble. It is time to pry up and cut away the rot.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Unbearable Blackness

There is a suffocating wind choking us almost daily now. It whistles through poor neighborhoods and posh suburbs and city streets and country lanes, a thick, odious sirocco filled with malevolence and meanness that scours away the facade of America as world builder and paragon of democracy. It leaves a deformity behind in our society that is ignored by many and suffered by too many more.

It is the unbearable blackness.

Unbearable, in that several hundred years of sable servitude's savagery was not erased by a continent-shaking war, nor all the legislation committed to reams of paper since. Not even as august a thing as a Constitution could hydraulically fracture out the deep wells of misbegotten bigotry buried so far down in the foundation of a nation. A few hundred, a few thousand years of gauging others by their tongues, their beliefs, and their skin, that pressure could not be released by so many pinpricks of the rough hide of a foreign-born nation.

Our European ancestors, wherever they went, saw the natives as "savages," because they were unaware of or unwilling to hear the words The Bible and absorb the sacrosanct belief that White Anglo-Saxon Protestants had been commanded by a swarthy prophet of the desert kingdom of the Israelites to go out and conquer the world that was rightfully theirs. New Testament churches driven by Old Testament zeal led to the corruption and conscription and dissolution of societies that had existed before Jesus set one foot upon the ground. They took the Savior's name, cloaked it in the God of Abraham's wrath and wrought conversion upon the "unenlightened."

That lust for the conversion of everything into a Christian kingdom overspread the Earth. Fed into its maw were tribes and villages and cities and creeds, to be converted into missions and cathedrals and gold and piety. And where the natives would not be pacified, they would be harnessed, and if that were too hard, exterminated. Commanded to "be fruitful and multiply," these European invaders took that as a tacit command to take what was needed to create God's kingdom there upon the ground and woe to those who stood before his host! If a Black body could be bent to serve the Lord, upright or upon their knees, so be it.

That has been the groundwork, that has been the fire, that has been the catalyst, that consumed all before it, left lands far and wide, barren and sere, removed of their joyous multitudes, now yoked to the plow of progress. With a the human landscape burnt and blasted, the winds could sweep up into a maelstrom, to plunge down upon the scattered children and suffer them further indignities.

Now we see it every day, almost. Darker skin thought cancerous, drawing the evil naturally down upon itself. Lady Macbeth wailed against a spot; now our brothers and sisters wail over the darkness of their skin, that attracts the fingers of death. The whitest among us act as if nothing is wrong, that they brought the stain upon themselves somehow, that their skin was always meant to be beneath the notice of Men. So many voices raised in Christian song on Sunday, spit epithets on Monday at the outrage of thousands of their Black countrymen beweeping the deaths of their brothers and sisters at the hands of White taskmasters thinly cloaked as purveyors of Law & Justice.

Even in our highest halls, those sent to govern instead throw fits when it appears a Black man is more competent, forthright, and knowledgeable than they. They curse The People for their progressiveness and seek to wound them at every turn, casting the orphan out on the street, failing to fill the bellies of hungry, denying the destitute refuge, even shunning those who fought so they might have the freedom to be petulant and peevish. They stammer and stamp their feet as the man duly elected to lead the nation succeeds despite their every impediment and roadblock and remains adored by a nation that not so long ago was on the brink of destruction.

This blackness is unbearable. That it suffocates the living with fear and hatred, that it pervades the souls of so many who claim to be the best of God's flock, that it is draped upon the bodies of too many who are gunned down in the street and left to die... it is a weight that cannot be withstood for much longer. The darkness of skin should not be the arbiter of human value. "All Men are created equal" it says & if we are to interpret that in the spirit it was meant, then no thing, no belief, no skin color, no sexual orientation, no language, no nationality should bar the individual from the Rights that are so inalienably theirs. No Black person should walk down the street with the thought in their mind that there is a target on their back and it is only a matter of time before the hunters come. It is wrong. It is unjust. It is un-American. And it is unbearable.