Fear Produced Ferguson Disturbance

Police are allowed to use deadly force if they are ‘in fear for their lives.” I get that. It makes sense…

Except that when it comes to black people, it seems like police are always in fear for their lives.

Fear of black people is nothing new. Time magazine calls it “Negrophobia,” and defines it as “the unjustified fear of black people.” (http://time.com/3207307/negrophobia-michael-brown-eric-garner-and-americas-fear-of-black-people/) The article talks about phobias in general; they are “extreme aversions,” and they can cause impulsive, irrational, behavior. When I was a child, I had a phobia about bees; if I saw one, I ran. If one, God forbid, was in my car, I was prone to want to stop the car wherever it was and get out and run. My daughter has a phobia about spiders. If she even thinks she sees one, she will grab whatever is near to spray on it and will spray it until it drowns. She even bought a special vacuum cleaner which she kept near her, plugged in and ready to go, so that if she saw a spider, no matter how small, she could get her vacuum cleaner out and get rid of it.

It seems that many white people have…that kind of unnatural, unjustified fear of black people.  A friend of mine said he got onto an elevator which already had a passenger – a white woman. As soon as he got on, he said, he could see her tense up. He stayed on the other side of the elevator, so as to try to reduce her discomfort. When the elevator door opened, she darted out …only to run smack into another black man who was getting on. My friend said he thought she was going to faint. Negrophobia. We who are Negroes have seen it and felt it.

In the recent debacle in Ferguson, it felt like fear was running the agenda. Those police officers, wrapped, as they were in riot gear and equipped with military weapons, were afraid. All they saw was a sea of black faces, people whom they do not really regard as people, people whom they have not cared to try to get to know. They saw people who, they believe, are mere brutes, objects, not people, devoid of feeling, emotion and, frankly, human worth. What I saw was a group of frightened white people ready to kill “the enemy,” i.e., black people. It didn’t matter that most of them did not loot and were not armed. They were part of the “enemy camp,” to be feared as much as an Iraqi soldier might be feared in the war over there.

Brandon Hill, the author of the article in Time, wrote, “Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression.” Police, mostly white, have been given a steady dose of “black people are bad people,” as has been the general public. Many white people still, in the 21st century, have not met and do not know any black people. All they have is the myths, the sound bites and the media depiction of black people as animals, aberrant entities in this nation who, frankly, are bringing the country down. Bill O’Reilly said that the problems with black people come from “the culture.” He is, of course, inferring that black culture is deficient in and of itself, not allowing one iota for the impact of racism, poverty and general oppression on the lives of so many African-Americans. He obviously does not know the culture of this people which has sustained and strengthened them as they have fought racism in every aspect of their lives. He does not know, or care about, black fathers and mothers who work two and three jobs to sustain their families. He does not know about how central faith and God is to this people who have been discarded by the country they helped build. He does not know this culture which teaches a crazy lesson that people are to forgive their oppressors, because that is a central tenet of Christianity.

When my son was little, he was unbelievably cute, and people, white and black, would stop me and comment on the same. I found myself resenting the compliment coming from white people, though, because I knew that as he grew, he wouldn’t be so cute. He would be just another black man. He is now a strapping 6’4″ and has fallen into the category of those to be feared; as such, he is at risk of being approached by and harassed by a Negrophobe.

Fear caused the debacle in Ferguson, not the protesting people. A few bad apples looted, feeding into the “bad Negro” motif Americans have embraced, but the debacle was not caused by the looters. The debacle was caused by frightened white police officers with too much power and too many military-grade weapons. Had the officers treated the protestors like human beings, and not like “f***ing animals” the outcome, the response would have been different.

I know that because I know “the culture.”

If more white people knew the culture, they’d be able to replace the fear with respect …and that would create an entirely different vibe between whites and blacks.

I don’t think the fear will disappear any time soon, though. Negrophobia is an American malady which is probably here to stay…

A candid observation …

 

 

 

 

Police Trained to Shoot to Kill

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A friend of mine, who was a police officer for 30 years, weighed in on my despair of what is going on in Ferguson

“As soon as that officer got out of his car, he intended to shoot him (Brown),”  my friend said. “When you pull the trigger, you are intending to kill the target.”

As I agonized over the fact that Mike Brown had been killed, even I knew that police shoot to kill. Years ago, as I studied journalism and our class visited a police department, I asked the question of why police didn’t just shoot a person’s knees. That way, I said, the perpetrator could be stopped in his/her tracks, right?

No, the police officer who was teaching the class said. “We shoot to kill.”

My ex-cop friend affirmed that answer. “The bullets police use are designed to spread; they bounce around when they hit you. They mushroom so they can do more damage.” (I had remarked on how a bullet that entered Mike Brown in the forehead had gone in his eye, moved around, come out of that eye, gone back in that eye, and then exited near his collar-bone, according to the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/us/michael-brown-autopsy-shows-he-was-shot-at-least-6-times.html?_r=0)  “Police use those and think they’re being more humane. Military bullets go through one person into the person who’s behind the person initially shot. The idea is to stop the threat; you need something that is going to kill, not just wound a person. You are trained to kill. When you would someone, you’ve actually missed them.”

That was and is a troubling thought. By Sunday, August 17, crowds in Ferguson had been out on the streets for several days, hours each day, marching, praying, shouting for justice in the death of Mike Brown. There had been violence after sun fell; local police, in full riot gear, used tear gas and pointed assault weapons at the already-troubled members of the community. Instead of quelling the violence, the police action only caused more agitation.

I was disturbed at what I was seeing. There was more and more talk about the militarization of police forces in the United States. The author of a book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, said on a CNN interview: “Using tear gas is illegal.”

My head jerked; up to that point, I had been only half-listening to all the discussion about military weapons being used by the Ferguson Police Department; maybe I thought it was just hype, or maybe I was just weary of seeing people struggle against a system which had historically meant them no good…

But the statement about the tear gas got to me. I had seen the huge tank-looking trucks; I had seen police perched upon them; I had seen the smoke from the tear gas, and I had seen the police – lots of them – advancing toward the crowd with those guns drawn. It seemed like I was looking at a picture of a battle in Iran or Iraq or Gaza. But no, it was here, in the United States. I remembered seeing police with those guns cocked and ready to fire, moving menacingly toward the crowd; the image of the light coming from them had actually made me shake. (I am not sure if the light was a night-light or a laser which would allow a more accurate shooting). I heard people say how badly the tear gas burned their eyes, their throats. I heard people say that tear gas was dispersed in their back yards. The looters got gassed, but so did many innocent women and children. The thought had bothered me ..

So, when I heard author Radley Balko say that tear gas was illegal to use, my antennae went up. Why in the world are authorities letting police use tear gas if it’s illegal?

My cop friend tried to console me. “It’s the more humane of the gasses that are available,” he said. “In the military, there is a gas used that can cause a person to “crap their pants” immediately.”If you ban tear gas in riots, they could use another. There is sonic equipment available and it sends out sound waves that cause confusion and headaches. They use that over in Iraq.”

It was too much information, too much, too quickly, at a time when I was grappling with my outrage that such tactics had been used against the crowd. I had seen tear gas used plenty of times, going all the way back to the Detroit riots. I took its use for granted. But now I was hearing that it was illegal to use it in civil disturbances…and I was disturbed. My friend continued to talk.

“Having this stuff is one thing,” he said.  “Knowing when and when not to use it is another thing.”

My friend, on a roll educating me, said that the militarization had been going on since the 1960’s. “Right after the Civil Rights movement ” he said, “weapons and equipment used in the Vietnam War started coming into our country and given to police departments.” Back then, the police used heavy-handed violence on students, primarily white, protesting against that war. A politician at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 observed that America was becoming a “police state.”

Now, local police departments are being supplied military equipment by the Pentagon. These are weapons and equipment used in the Iraq War.

“Police,” he said, “are training for another terrorist attack. SWAT teams train for “urban warfare.” They are trained to ‘be’ or act like the military,” he said.

“Police departments don’t know what they’re doing,” said the ex-cop. “They get these weapons and get a six-hour training. They always over-react because they don’t now how to deal with people.”

On the unrest in Ferguson, my friend said, “This is what I call a “police riot.” Any time a situation is escalated by one side, that side is responsible. The people in Ferguson were agitated, and the police reacted by shooting rubber bullets, using tear gas. The police caused the escalation.”

“The weapons being used haven’t help because they shouldn’t have been used in the first place. They responded to the people’s unrest with military weapons. It should never have been done.”

He encouraged me to be realistic.  “All of this happened because of fear,” he said. “The way police operate now is based on fear of what has happened before. Police officers follow orders. They are a para-military organization. They follow orders and instructions. Who’s giving the orders? The chief. The elected officials. It all comes back to local politics.”

My friend paused, then added a sobering thought. “Fifty percent of the general population is mentally ill,” he said quietly. “I would bet that fifty percent of any police department is probably mentally ill, too.”

“The officer in the Ferguson case should go to prison…but my gut says he won’t. He would go to prison because under no circumstances should this shooting have happened this way. It shouldn’t have happened. I’ve seen it from the inside.”

Undoubtedly, another officer would disagree with my friend. Regardless of that , a couple of things really resonate: that the police shoot to kill …and that the police acted out of fear. That seemed clear to me; what I saw looked like an army confronting a mortal enemy, absolutely intending to kill them if it “became necessary” in their view.

The thing is, angry African-Americans are not an enemy. They are a people who have too often not experienced justice in the justice system, a people who have seen their children shot by police over and over, with little to none action taken against those officers. Too often, they have heard, the police were right, that the shooting was “justified.” Too often, as they have mourned the loss of their loved ones, they have also decried the lack of justice afforded them.

No, they were not “the enemy.” The police, however, seemed not to know that …or to care.

A candid observation …

 

A White Progressive Blames the Victim

As a rule, I hate the word “victim.” If one claims oneself to be a victim, he or she will invariably act like one.

That being said, there are times when people ARE victims…and when they are, to be blamed for their state of being adds insult to injury.

Over the years we have seen women blamed for being raped. If they hadn’t worn certain clothing, hadn’t acted in a provocative way, some have said, they wouldn’t have been raped. The argument is as infuriating as it is insulting.

I thought about that when, as a I talked with a “progressive” white person who is understandably upset about the looting going on in Ferguson, Missouri, expressed his disgust that I was believing the accounts of what happened that day that were not so complimentary. After calling me an “anarchist,” he pooh-poohed my assertion that black people have been oppressed historically in this country. Not so, he said. “Everyone here is treated fairly.”

He outright said that the police officer is “innocent of any wrongdoing.” “The facts will support that,” he said. He despaired that I and so many others were so eager to believe the “Brown side” of the story …and said he was tired of black people complaining, that all black people wanted was special treatment.

I was angry, and then I was sad. If a white “progressive” feels that way, then there is less support for the human and civil rights of black people than I thought. Don’t get me wrong; I have never thought there was a whole lot of support for black people, but if a “progressive” who grew up in integrated neighborhoods (he said) and who has always believed in civil rights can say this, then the base of support for black people is thinner than I imagined.

There was not, in the words of my “progressive” white friend, a shred of compassion for what happened to Michael Brown. He was glad that the video tape of the strong arm robbery in which Brown was allegedly involved had been shown. “Brown was no angel,” my friend said emphatically. “He wasn’t just a good kid about to go to college.”

That may be true…he was no angel, but I daresay not many 18-year-old males are “angels.” And regardless of his “angel” status, there is something profoundly wrong with how he was gunned down by a police officer.

My friend didn’t seem to care that Brown, after being shot, lay on a hot street, bleeding and uncovered, for hours. It was as though this young boy was just “another one of them” who deserved what he got. “Wait until the facts come out,” he hissed.

What got me was not just that my friend was so vehement in his remarks; what got me is that he is not alone. The police officer who has yet to be charged with shooting Brown is on paid administrative leave, and he has a ton of online support, with people donating money, prayers and support.

My gut level feeling is that this man is going to get off.

It happens so much in our community.

So Brown, dead and now autopsied three times, is being blamed for being dead. Had he not “bum rushed” the officer, as a third-party has offered as “the official account” of what happened, he would not be dead. My “progressive” friend doesn’t doubt her account at all. Facts, she has the facts…

The officer (who I have not named on purpose because he represents, to me, “everycop” who has done this kind of thing and gotten away with it) will keep his job. The St. Louis District Attorney is working hard to get the case to the Grand Jury as soon as possible, where anything said will be kept secret. The Grand Jury will undoubtedly be all white, will lend a sympathetic ear. The word and account given by the police officer will be taken as fact.  It id doubtful that the Grand Jury, which will be heavily controlled by the prosecutor (as all grand juries are) will vote for charges to be brought against the officer but if he is, a subsequent trial will be nothing more than a formality.

If this is the way “progressives” think, then I can no longer take comfort in the fact that such a group of people exists, as I once did. This man sounded more like a hard-core right-wing American.

The thought was and is so disheartening that I wept. I hate the violence. I hate the looting …but I also hate the injustice that has been the trademark of the relationship between “the justice system” and black people for years. I hate it that the white police officer is being protected while the dead kid is being vilified and blamed…for his own death.

It is sad, and troubling, and disturbing.

Yet, it is the landscape on which we all stand. And it hurts.

A candid observation …

A Time to Stop Killing

Pardon me for saying this, but I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot and killed allegedly by police in Ferguson, Missouri Saturday evening, reached inside a police car and struggled with that officer for his gun.

Everybody knows you don’t do that; everybody, especially black men, know not to do that. Mothers have to give their black boys “the talk,” to teach them how to interact with police so they will survive. Black men (and women) will talk back to police officers, and ask, “What did I do?” but nobody is crazy enough to reach inside a police car (after pushing the officer back into his car)  and wrestle with that police officer for his gun…not unless that person wants to die.

We all have to wait for “the investigation” to yield the story of what happened, but pardon me again if I say up front I don’t trust in-house police investigations. So many times, even when the evidence has seemed overwhelming as to the wrongdoing of an officer, Internal Affairs has found that the police officer is not guilty of any malfeasance, that the shooting and killing of a suspect was “justifiable.”

Pardon me yet again if it seems like police officers are just getting away with murder. They are “the law.” They commit their crimes under the cover of law. Meanwhile, innocent people are being slaughtered.

Because I say “innocent” does not mean I think that police at times have viable reasons for stopping and arresting people, but when a person who is unarmed (as was Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and now, Mike Brown) and is shot down – being shot multiple times – that person is “innocent” of being a life-threatening threat to an arresting officer.

The police union in New York is now saying that they’re not sure Eric Garner was put into a choke-hold; some say he was not. The police commissioner, William Bratton, says it’s not “illegal” for a person to be put in a choke-hold. Already, the wheels of the internal “explanation” of what “really” happened are spinning.

And just last week, a 22-year-old man, John Crawford III, was shot dead at a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, as he held a toy gun. Police said they told him to drop it, and when didn’t, they opened fire. Police say the shooting was justified …

There are more of these stories, each one equally as disturbing.

The issue, I think, for police and for many people in society, is that they don’t see black people as humans, but, rather as “objects.” If a young black man is an “object,” wearing a hoodie or giving police back-talk, an officer feels no compunction in bringing him down.  Actually, he doesn’t have to have a hoodie on at all; he is in danger just by virtue of the color of his skin. Because of that, police officers feel like they are in the right when they shoot and kill After all, “objects” don’t have feelings; they are merely “things” which have no inherent value.

Attached to that issue is the fact that black people have been criminalized, dehumanized and demonized. That means that there is a readiness to believe that if a black person is in an encounter with police, and that black person ends up dead, that he (or she) brought it on him or herself.

One police officer, caught on CNN, said that the angry mob were “animals.” No, officer. They are people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Black people are really tired of members of their community being mowed down, disregarded and disrespected.

Mike Brown was shot, supposedly, 10 times. He had just graduated from high school; he was headed to college. No, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that he pushed a police officer and wrestled for his gun. I just cannot believe that. People know better than to do that; we in the black community know better than that more than anyone else.

A report done by the Malcolm X Grassroots movement said that one black person is killed by police every 36 hours. That was the figure when the report was done in 2012. Last week, the figure had dropped to one black person killed by police every 28 hours. I think that figure will change yet again.

At the end of the day, I say it again, black people count. We matter. We are worth being afforded human rights and dignity. And we are tired of being mowed down and those who mow us down walking away.

There’s something wrong with that picture.

A candid observation …

 

(To get stories and information on extrajudicial murders of black people, visit The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement at  http://mxgm.org/report-on-the-extrajudicial-killings-of-120-black-people/ and the SpiritHouse Project at  http://www.spirithouseproject.org/. To read about the Dayton man shot as he held a toy gun, go to http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/man-police-shot-in-walmart-killed-over-fake-gun-fa/ngw77/

 

 

In Gaza, Quest for Power Overrides Morality

When people are in positions of protected power, the result is unspeakable suffering on the part of others, with little accountability asked for.

It was Lord Acton who said, “”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/absolute-power-corrupts-absolutely.html.

Haven’t we all seen it? Law enforcement officers, in this country and in others, have shown the truth of Acton’s statement.  Too many police in our country are brutes; it seems that, for too many of them, the uniform, badge and gun gives them an inflated sense of themselves. Instead of being protectors, too many of them are predators, preying on the weak, the poor and the disadvantaged. The recent incident involving Eric Garner and New York police is, unfortunately, a prime example of power being used to abuse another human being.  Garner is just one of too many black people who have succumbed to brute power disguising itself as righteousness in the form of law enforcement. Blacks lynched in this country were often taken to their deaths by law enforcement officers who hid behind their badges and guns to do their dirty work.

Today I am wrestling with what is going on in Israel. I am more than disturbed; I am heartbroken that the Palestinian people are suffering at the hands of what Israel calls its soldiers: “the most moral army in the world.” http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.577295 I see no morality at all in what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinian people in their quest to wipe out Hamas.  I know the propaganda: that Hamas brings about the deaths of its own people by housing its weapons in heavily populated areas … but something about decimating women and children at will seems morally corrupt. No. It IS morally corrupt. Israel has a strong army, fueled and funded by the United States; the Palestinians, I read, have no army at all, but, rather, have a militia. The Israelis “warn” the Palestinians when they are going to fire upon them; but the Palestinians have nowhere to go! So, these innocent women and children …and Palestinian men who are NOT part of Hamas, are being gunned down like flies. I am appalled.

Absolute power. It’s absolute power in action. Israel has great power, buoyed by world-wide support. The Palestinian people have little to no such support. They are being forced from their homes, from their neighborhoods…

It feels too familiar. I am an African-American. I know oppression. I know what it is like to live in a country where absolute power has its way economically, politically and socially. It is a tribute to the strength and faith of black people in this land that we have not simple disappeared under the pressure. Theologian James Cone, author of many books but most recently penning The Cross and the Lynching Tree, said in reflections offered at the Proctor Institute of Child Advocacy sponsored by the the Children’s Defense Fund, that he didn’t know how black people have survived the oppression, the cruelty, the brutality, the bullying heaped upon them by white people historically. Power corrupts, clearly. White people in America have used the privilege of being white to trample upon people who built this country…and they have never had to answer for it.

It is what I am seeing, or feeling, as concerns what is going on in Gaza. The Israelis are pummeling the Palestinian people, and too many “leaders” are endorsing and supporting their actions. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself …but this way? Seriously? Is it a fact that the only way Israel can defend itself against Hamas is by killing innocent Palestinians?

I heard Henry Seigman, a Jewish writer and scholar in this country, say that the conflict could be eliminated if 1) there was the development of two states in Israel (which he thinks is now impossible) or 2) there was the development of one state… with Palestinians being given full rights and full citizenship (of which now they have neither.)  Seigman said that Prime Minister Netanyahu will never agree to one state because he doesn’t want Israel to be such that there are more Arabs than Jews.

So, what? The massacre of the Palestinians continues? When (or if) the tunnels are all destroyed, then what? What will the powerful do as relates to those who have been decimated, dehumanized, and demoralized?

In this country, at least black people had the black church in which and from which to draw strength. We didn’t return fire for fire; we used God as the ultimate weapon. We fought, but not with weapons, because we knew we would never win that way. We saw power; white supremacy was and is our Goliath, and we certainly used “stones of faith” to fling against our oppressors.

Hamas, however, isn’t interested in stones. It wants to fight “man to man,” “missile to missile,” although it seems fairly obvious that such strategy is only resulting in the deaths of more and more Palestinians. Hamas is fighting the way Israel wants them to fight…and in this fight, there is no God, not from either side.

One more thing: the United States, in its quest for retention of power and respect, has shown no morality at all in supplying weapons to Israel with which to carry out its mission. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and America is complicit in the journey.

Power corrupts. Lord Acton was correct. In Gaza, the quest for retention of power is on the fast track, and when the race is over, I shudder to think of what will be left of the indigenous people, the Palestinians.

A candid observation …

Stand Your Ground Only If You’re White?

So, Marissa Alexander still faces 60 years in prison for shooting a warning shot into the air to ward off her abusive husband.

Meanwhile, while she is awaiting a new trial, George Zimmerman is walking free. Alexander faces three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Prosecutor Angela Corey, who failed to gain convictions in the Zimmerman case and, for all intents and purposes, in the case of Jordan Davis, is going for blood.

Both Alexander and Zimmerman  “stood their ground.” Zimmerman is free. Alexander may wind up in prison for a long, long time.

Where is the justice? Put another way, “where is justice, period, for black, brown and poor people?”

The historical narrative for black people being incarcerated, or, even worse, just being denied justice, is sad. One in three black males, reports say, can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime. http://http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/04/racial-disparities-criminal-justice_n_4045144.html.

Black people are still objects, deserving of the bad things that come their way, seems to be the prevailing attitude. Marissa Alexander is not a frightened woman, a mother tired of being beaten by a crazed man. She is an object who shouldn’t have fired a gun. Prosecutor Corey doesn’t see her as a woman in distress, but, rather, an object which she can use to bolster her conviction record. Prosecutors are famous for going not for justice …but for convictions….because they are elected and need to be seen as “tough on crime.”

Their lack of willingness to seek justice for black, brown and poor people …and for women …is a crime in and of itself.

Hopefully, there will be a ground-swell of support for Marissa, although the justice system doesn’t often listen to or respect ground-swell when it comes to people accused of crimes. Nor does the justice system move quickly to admit mistakes it makes in order to free people who have been wrongly accused, convicted and incarcerated. People sit in prisons for years while the justice system lulls over new evidence that it very often disregards and deems insufficient.

Marissa Alexander’s attorneys sought to get her a new “stand your ground” hearing, based on revision of the controversial law which is used in at least 26 states. The judge ruled it didn’t prevail in her case. She, a black woman, who shot nobody, is facing up to 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the air to scare off her abusive husband. George Zimmerman, a white man (though some say he is not) is walking free, and Michael Dunn, who murdered Jordan Davis, would have been free had he not tried to kill three other black youths.

The man who shot Renisha McBride, Theodore Wafer, is on trial now. I am holding my breath, hoping to God he is convicted, but not all that optimistic about that hope becoming a reality.

It’s the dehumanization of black people, which began at the dawn of the creation of this country, which has aided prejudice, bigotry and been the basis and justification for the type of injustice black, brown and poor people have gotten in the courts.

Justice, it seems, is evasive if you don’t have the right skin color.

A candid observation …

 

 

Palestinians Deserve Help from the World

It was last week that my blood began to boil at what is going on in Gaza.

The news report said that Israelis had dropped leaflets into Gaza, warning them that they were going to attack and telling them that they should leave their homes.

Leave their homes? Where are they supposed to go?

I went to a place of recollection on how, in this country, minorities, most often blacks, have been displaced over the years because some project is going to be developed in their neighborhood. The message has been, “move.” The question has always been, “move to where?”

According to reports, the mortality rate of Palestinians is rising at a horribly rapid rate on a daily basis. Israel says the deaths are regrettable but that it is necessary because Hamas will not stop firing missiles into Israel…and that Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel further says that while Israel values human life, Hamas doesn’t, as evidenced by its non-regard for Palestinians. If they cared about their people, Israel says, they would stop firing missiles into Israel.

Both Palestinians and Jews say that Hamas is NOT good for Palestinian, but that being said, there is still no justification for this mass killing of innocent Palestinians.  A report issued by the United Nations in 2012 said that the population in Palestine is “increasingly desperate.” Housing is horrid; the unemployment rate is about 40 percent; that rate amongst young people rises to 60 percent; there is a rising suicide rate. The population is booming, but the infrastructure is crumbling …and though Israel is in control of much of what happens in Palestine, Israel reportedly offers little help. Israel stops most exports from Palestine to the Israel and the West Bank …and by extension, to the world, and Israel controls what can be imported.

From what is described, the people in Palestine live much like blacks in South Africa live, in shantytowns, with little regard for their lives or livelihood. As is the case with most cases of oppression, the Palestinians have been dehumanized by the Empire. When Secretary of State John Kerry said that what is going on in Gaza could turn Israel into an apartheid state,, he was quickly criticized and pulled back his comment …but it seems true. http://http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/27/exclusive-kerry-warns-israel-could-become-an-apartheid-state.html The only way an oppressor can carry out cruel, unfair and unjust policies is to see people not as people but as objects. Surely that is what seems to be the case in Gaza. http://http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Gaza-carnage–the-living-cartoon-of-the-war-in-the-30239275.html

If anyone dares say that what Israel is doing, he/she/it is labeled anti-Semitic. It’s the same old game oppressors have used for decades. Back in the Civil Rights struggle days, if a white person helped a black, spoke up and spoke out about racism and white supremacy, or challenged laws that were clearly unjust for black people, he or she was called a “nigger lover,” and was threatened by the Empire (white power structure) with being fired or worse. Empires are bullies by nature and rule by and with fear.

The world, it seems, has been afraid to speak up and out about what Israel is doing to innocent Palestinians. I daresay that few people know what is going on in Gaza, and what life is like for Palestinians. Nobody wants to be labeled anti-Semitic…and to speak up about what is going on is not anti-Semitic. That’s what we don’t understand. To speak up is NOT to speak against Jews but to speak up for justice for “the least of these.”

I am still stuck on the pictures of the Palestinian families leaving their homes…going to…where? I see, in my mind’s eye, people of New Orleans being forced out of their homes by Hurricane Katrina…going ..where?

What is equally as troubling about all of this is that we the public don’t really know what’s going on. News reporting is not objective, especially on controversial issues. The object of the Empire, whatever that Empire is (United States, Israel, Japan…) is to maintain power.  The media, unfortunately, too often seems to want to please the Empire and not report the truth. To do so means that journalists risk losing their jobs…and we all have to eat. It’s the same fear that runs rampant amongst the populace. Those in power will do whatever they need to do to maintain power. Truth, then, suffers. It is ignored and not reported, and “the least of these” suffer.

Racism and injustice don’t go away by ignoring them.  We have to face them…so we can fix them. Just as we need to face racism and white supremacy in America and what those issues are still doing to our country, we need to find out and face what is going on in Israel. Ella Baker, an icon in the Civil Rights movement, said it best: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

Clearly, there is no freedom or dignity for the Palestinian people, which means that we “who believe in freedom” need to speak up and out on their behalf. No oppressed group attains freedom without help from others. A friend of mine said that a person cannot call him or herself an advocate for justice and be concerned only for his or her own situation. Until all of us are free, none of us are free …

A candid observation …

Why Doesn’t Donald Trump Take Out Another Full Page Ad?

By now, the news of the $40 million settlement from the city of New York being given to the Central Park 5 is old news.  The five men, all black and Latino, who were teens at the time of the rape of the jogger,  were accused, convicted and thrown into prison despite their claims of innocence. They were completely exonerated after the real rapist confessed and his DNA was the only DNA found on the victim and are out of prison, but one can only wonder what their lives have been like since being released…and what their lives will be like as they move forward. Some will never accept the fact that these men were/are innocent,  in spite of the confession of the real rapist.

Which brings me to the issue I’ve been struggling with for a while. When the boys, who were accused of “wilding”  were arrested, the city of New York and indeed, the entire nation was outraged. That these black and Latino men would be so primitive, so savage, was insulting to the conscience of the nation, it seemed. Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in a New York newspaper and wondered out loud, in print, where the death penalty was.

That the rape was troubling is understandable; that it was so brutal is disturbing…but what is troubling is that the nation is not as incensed at the wrong done to these young men as it was at the thought that they had raped that unfortunate woman.  The Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park 5,” showed a rape of a different sort: the rape of innocent young black and Latino men, forced into making confessions, and then being railroaded through a trial and thrown into prison with little effort to hear them, believe them…and look for the real rapist. (http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/)

Black, brown and poor people have been “raped” by the justice system in this nation since the beginning of our existence. In spite of touting the fact that the United States has the greatest justice system in the world, the fact is that when it has come to black, brown and poor people, justice has seldom worked. In the case of black people, the race card has been played as a matter of course. A black person accused of any crime has been presumed to be guilty even going into a trial; a black person accused of talking to, accosting or threatening a white woman has been decided to be guilty and the courts have refused to exonerate them even when it is clear white women have lied about their supposed experiences too many times.  In many cases, the justice system and white community have colluded and brought not justice, but horrific injustice to innocent black people. I just finished Fire in the Canebrake by Laura Wexler, the story of the “worst mass lynching” in the history of our nation. Four people, two black men and two black women, were lynched…and their families never got justice. In Gilbert King’s book, Devil in the Grove,  justice for four black men, falsely accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl, was elusive; they were all headed for the electric chair in spite of evidence that they had not raped the girl and in spite of heroic efforts of then-attorney Thurgood Marshall and his team to free them. The “justice system” was bound and determined that “outsiders,” in both these cases, would not bully them into doing things differently than they had always done. The “nigras” were deemed to be unworthy of justice, and so they got little.

I couldn’t help but think of those stories, and the story of what happened with Trayvon Martin and Kendrick Johnson and so many other young black people who have gotten in trouble with the law and are either still in prison for crimes they have not done or have been executed already. This nation has not owned up to its troubled record of dishing out injustice to black people, especially, but to brown and poor people as well.  Rather than admitting that America still has a problem seeing black people as human beings and not objects, America continues to insist that nothing is wrong. But something very definitely is.

If we go back to the Central Park 5, it would have been nice to see Donald Trump take out another full-page ad, this one apologizing for what he had pronounced when the boys were arrested and for proclaiming their guilt. Instead, he sought to justify his stance and said something to the effect that they were “not innocents.” He said that the settlement was a disgrace and that it was the “heist of the century.”  (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/central-park-dad-40m-settlement-article-1.1837710)

There was no grace from him, only his typical rich-boy white arrogance.

There are black, brown and poor families throughout this nation that are looking for, needing, justice and will never get it. The nation is not committed to giving justice to all people; prosecutors are, for the most part, more interested in obtaining victories than in obtaining justice.

America’s disease of white supremacy and its attendant racism is terminal. A nation cannot thrive if it ultimately denies justice so regularly and systemically to a group of people – people who, by the way, work for this nation, have helped defend this nation, and pay taxes in this nation.

What happens to a dream deferred, asked poet Langston Hughes?

Why does the caged bird sing, asked the late Maya Angelou?

And what happens if America continues to ignore those questions, and more?

A whole group of people is crying, but the nation seems not to care.

A candid observation …

Lynching as a Biblical Practice

Sometimes, things hit like a ton of bricks.

I have been reading about lynching in these United States. I just finished a magnificent book, Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King and am currently reading Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America by Laura Wexler. The fact that such brutal murders occurred, with the consent, basically, of the government, is at once troubling and insulting. The government which was created to protect the rights of the people turns out to have been disingenuous in its founding creeds; this government only wanted to protect the rights of some of the people, and in fact either contributed, turned a blind eye or both, to the plight of those who were not white, male landowners. In the case of lynching, those most affected by the crime and ignored by the government were black people.

By the way, the definition of lynching is: to  kill someone, especially by hanging, for an alleged offense with or without a legal trial.

Lynching was a form of domestic terrorism. After what can only be called “mock trials,”  black people were lynched and often left hanging for a while (if they were hung; not all lynching involves being hung) to let other people see what happened to those who “got out of their lanes,” so to speak. Black people were supposed to know their place and if they crossed a line – which was forever changing, it seems – they could get legally killed and those who killed them could and would walk free.

George Zimmerman walked free. Michael Dunn was not convicted of lynching Jordan Davis …

Well, imagine how it hit me when, as I am reading Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism I recognized what can only be said to be lynching. Crucifixion …was lynching. Jesus the Christ …was lynched. He was perhaps the most famous person ever lynched…and he was lynched by political and religious institutions which felt threatened by his presence and his work.

Lynching – modern-day or the lynching that took place in Jesus’ time – is a tool of control used by governments and organizations to maintain control. According to Allan Boesak and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, ancient lynching – which for purposes of this essay includes  crucifixion –  was used by the Roman Empire to “enforce and maintain domination of subject peoples. In the everyday working of an empire, the effort to maintain control was done by economic oppression, military might and ideological belief systems. DeYoung and Boesak say that “crucifixion was used to terrorize subject peoples; it was a “constant symbol of Roman rule, as thousands of Judeans were executed on crosses.” (loc. 275 of 3581, Kindle edition).

They were not only crucified but according to Biblical scholar Richard Horsley: “Many of the victims were never buried  but simply left on the crosses as carrion for wild beasts and beasts of prey. As with other forms of terrorism, crucifixions were displayed in prominent places for their ‘demonstration effect’ on the rest of the population…Seeing their relatives, friends and other fellow villagers suffering such agonizing death would presumably intimidate the surviving populace into acquiescence in the re-established Roman imperial order.” (loc. 288 of 3581, Kindle edition)

Jesus was not part of the “in crowd.” In fact, he was raised by a single mother. He was a Jew, and he, as a Jew, was treated much like blacks and browns are treated in the United States, and if what I have read is true, how Palestinians are treated in Israel. Colonized people back then were treated as second-class citizens, as, clearly, blacks have been treated in the United States. Jesus had no intrinsic value to the Empire; he, as a colonized Jew had no standing, but his message was threatening to the Roman power base, as threatening as it was to the religious power base. Thus, church and state banded together and crucified him. Lynched him. And they all got away with it.

As I am reading the accounts of lynching in our American history, I am seeing the same tendency to use these legal murders as a “warning” to black people (and anyone who would help them) to stay in line. Often, lynched bodies would be left hanging as people came by and cut off appendages and genitals, and the bones of lynched people would line the banks of rivers where their bodies had lain after being murdered – to leave a message to anyone in the vicinity.  In Fire in a Canebrake, the author describes the lynching of four black people in an attack which was fully sanctioned by the local government. They were killed at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Georgia, and one of the four people killed had stabbed a white man. He lived, but to stab a white man was an attack against the white supremacist system. The stabber had to be taught a lesson; the people with him happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and had to be sacrificed as well. The state participated in and often initiated lynching; the church often ignored and supported lynching. As in Jesus’ time, church and state united for the common goal: to protect the empire.

What is painfully clear is that the lynching model was described and carried out in the Bible – hence, my calling lynching a Biblical practice. While I have not heard anyone say that, the parallels are clear. I don’t guess anyone would dare say out loud that Jesus was lynched, or dare justify lynching because it was done in the Bible, but I would bet someone HAS said it.

Jesus, our beloved savior, was a colonized Jew, raised by a single mother, was a convicted felon who was arrested on trumped up charges and was sentenced to death via crucifixion. He was lynched.

Oh, my goodness.

That IS a candid observation…

 

 

 

Maya, Vincent …Gone too Soon

Sometimes, when someone dies, you want to wake them up.

I have felt that when loved ones have died, or when certain public figures have passed on.

I felt it this week with the death of Maya Angelou and last week when I learned Vincent Harding had died.

Wake up, please?

I met Maya Angelou years ago, when I was in college. She had come to Occidental College for some special event, (I don’t remember which) and I sat, spellbound. I think it was her voice; it reminded me of what brown velvet looks like, or like molasses being spread over a piece of bread. The words she had written were powerful, true enough, but it was her voice that caught me. After the event, I talked with her and showed her some of my poetry. I remember she told me, “My dear child, you are a writer …and you must always  write. Every day…you must write…”

Her spirit was cemented in mine from that moment on,

Her life story, her poetry fascinated me, but her spirit captivated me.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt,

But still, like dust, I’ll rise …

She had risen, surely. I carried that poem in my heart, as sure as I carried the spirit of my own mother in my heart.

And so when she died, something jostled loose within me…and I wanted to ask her, whisper to her, “Wake up. Please, wake up!”

Vincent Harding I only met recently. I had read only one of his books, There is a River, and had only recently learned that he had written Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous sermon, “A Time to Break Silence.” He wrote that most piercing observation in that speech: “There is a time when to be silent is betrayal…”  What struck me upon meeting Vincent was his gentleness. He had a quiet voice; it didn’t remind me one bit of velvet or molasses, but his spirit was palpably gentle. He said that he had been loved into living; his spirit supported that claim.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast…it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs….

I want to ask him, politely, to please wake up. People were not ready for him or Maya  to leave, not yet.

These two veteran Civil Rights icons have contributed breath to the lives of so many people. They lived through some of the ugliest episodes of racial cruelty this country has ever experienced, and came through it not only standing, but helping others to get through it and understand it by the words they wrote. They believed in the “beloved community” and worked to spread that good news. As Ruby Sales said, who knew Harding intimately and whom he called “daughter,” Harding and those who worked in the movement brought down an entire (racist system) without ever having fired a single weapon.

They did it with love and with their faithfulness to the gift they both had, that of writing.

It is sad that, now, two of our Civil Rights heroes have “gone home to be with the Lord.” It seems like we who are alive need to talk to those who are yet alive, cherish them, tell their stories, give them homage for what they did for all of us. It seems like we need to at least gather the children, and get those who faced dogs and fire hoses …to come talk…to the children…and tell them the stories before they, too, lay down to rest, their voices never to be heard again.

Do you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops

Weakened by my soulful cries?

You may shoot me with your words

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Maya, Vincent …may you please wake up?

You left us far too soon…

A candid observation …

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