Current Events: Ferguson

Being a minority — being a black person in the US, specifically — is a traumatizing experience. I know that doesn’t make sense to a lot of people who may read this. It might sound melodramatic. It’s hard to explain. There are layers to it. It comes with a psychological weight. Like, there’s stronger gravitational pull and higher atmospheric pressure for you.

Let me come back to that.

WE HEAR YOU. WE LOVE YOU.

Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray released a statement last night calling for peaceful protests. This:

My message to young people in Seattle tonight, in particular to African American young people, while we do not have the answers, we in this city are listening to you. We in this city hear you. We in this city love you.

I’m searching my memory banks and I’ve never heard a public official say to young black people that we care about you and we love you. You matter.

When is the last time disenfranchised youth were treated with respect and appreciation? When’s the last time someone looked them in the eye and said, “You have potential. Let’s find your gifts, your talents, and what you can do with them.”

When’s the last time they made a mistake or a bad decision and got the benefit of the doubt? “You know you messed up, right. You’re smarter than that. People make mistakes. There are consequences, but you can learn from mistakes and be a better person.”

When is the last time a young black man died and got a long form, glowing write-up in the news, detailing his hopes, dreams, personality quirks, and traits. Reading the article kind of made you feel like something was lost. Where you connected with his humanity. I guess “Fruitvale Station” did that.

This isn’t really appropriate but I’m going to leave it here anyway, courtesy of The Onion.

Tips for Being an Unarmed Black Teen

THE VOICE OF THE UNHEARD

I was going to post MLK, Jr.’s words on Facebook but someone beat me to it. Here you go.

Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view.

I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?

It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

There’s a difference between peaceful protests and riots. Rioting and looting don’t accomplish anything constructive. Except… that’s often the only time the national media pays attention. If it bleeds it leads, right. Violence against property trumps passionate, dedicated protests and civil disobedience.

I mean, if you’re going to be outraged about something, being outraged about unarmed people being shot dead by law enforcement is a worthy cause. That should infuriate everyone. Everyone. Police policy was/is/is becoming more about a paramilitary sweep and clean operation more than community policing.

I do not condone rioting or violence against random properties and businesses and certainly not against other people. But damn. There’s far less outcry when riots occur for other reasons (I totally stole these from someone’s FB posts):

IMG_2740 IMG_2741 IMG_2742 IMG_2743 IMG_2744

A twelve year old with an Airsoft pistol — a realistic pellet gun — was shot dead on Sunday. A thirteen year old with an Airsoft rifle was shot dead in Northern California a few months ago. A twenty-something man was shot dead in a Walmart while on the phone and holding an Airsoft rifle. His next to last words were, “It’s not real.”

A troubled, agitated white man with a real semi-automatic assault rifle standing at an intersection pointing it at people was not shot dead. He was talked down over the course of a few hours.

Now, these were in different jurisdictions around the country so it’s not a scientific comparison of equivalent situations, but when patterns emerge you have to take them at face value.

When it gets colder here every year around the same time for a few months and it gets warmer in the Southern hemisphere every year around the exact same time for the same few months, you start to think that maybe there’s some kind of system in place where these two things are interrelated.

Here’s a good article.

How Often are Unarmed Black Men Shot Down By Police?

COPS AND BANKERS

Both too big to jail.

I’m not anti-cop. I have relatives and friends who are in law enforcement. I’m not one to bash all police — no “pigs” or FTP here — but the system is flawed and often corrupt. You can not give people authority without accountability and expect justice. Police officers aren’t automatically heroes (or racist super villains) the same way that young black men aren’t automatically thugs who deserve to die because we’re afraid of them (or model citizens).

You can not police a community if your officers are not a part of that community. Otherwise, all you have is the occupation of a territory. You can not protect and serve people that you don’t know and can’t relate to and don’t care about.

It’s no surprise that Officer Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted. Cops rarely are in these situations. It doesn’t matter if you have eyewitnesses or even video. Cops are given a phenomenal amount of latitude. Too much latitude. What would be involuntary manslaughter for you and me is justifiable for a police officer.

 A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Or a tale of two countries.

First, I’d like to say that I don’t think I’m individually and intentionally oppressed or discriminated against. Not these days, anyway. There was a time for sure.

I’ve written about my experiences here, specifically in the “The Wall” section.

You can’t live that (even though it was relatively tame in comparison to my parents, grandparents, etc.) without … without having your fight or flight instincts on full alert all the time. Then you, hopefully with the help of loved ones, have to wage a battle in your own mind and soul to fight off the viral infection of constant attacks on your sense of value and self-worth. Some people don’t make it without being scarred and even twisted.

I’m not into conspiracy theories. I’m not about “the white man” this and “the black man” that, but If you ever wonder why a lot of black people are so angry and hung up on race (I’ll let the pun stand), that kind of thing is why. Except that a lot of people had it much worse. Being a black person in America means that you exist in a state of emotional, psychological, and too often physical abuse. Everyone deals with stuff regardless (and sometimes because of) race, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability — bullying, harassment, abuse, violation, neglect, loss — but some groups have a base layer of the psychological weight of having to prove themselves 24/7 in one way or another.

Read YouTube comments. Go on Twitter. Take a look at what your kids are saying when they think they’re in their element. Read the comments to any news articles even remotely concerning race. Read international news about any country that doesn’t have a booming economy and also has black immigrants.

Imagine you’re a black kid, a teenager, and you go on Twitter to see what’s up with your favorite singer/dancer and boom. Right there, someone’s calling him/her and you, by extension, an ugly monkey. The tweet has a lot of likes and retweets.

You check out what people are saying about your favorite prime time show and people are ranting about how awful and unnatural interracial relationships are and that your people are so unattractive. They could never go out with someone who dated a black person. Some of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen, because they’re black by some definition, called all kinds of horrible, racist, and sexist names.

Say you’re still kind of stoked that there’s a black POTUS. Wow. We’ve come a long way. You check out tweets and people are calling accomplished, professional black men, including the most powerful man on the planet, nigger. And making threats saying that he should be lynched or shot.

Your favorite YA novel is going to be a movie but — oh — they replaced the people of color with very white people for some reason.

A black, unarmed teenager is shot to death but people are saying he was a thug and deserved to die because he had weed residue in his backpack, while white ganjapreneurs ™ are becoming millionaires in Colorado selling pot.

Your cousin just served a prison sentence for possession of marijuana and is having a hellish time trying to find work. Hard to find a place to live, too, being an ex-con (aka returning citizen). But there’s a Nightline piece about a middle aged white woman/soccer mom with a marijuana startup and her company is sponsoring the Denver Symphony Orchestra??

A teenage boy tunes into his favorite international soccer team and suddenly sees fans throwing bananas on the field and making monkey noises when the black soccer player takes the field. (Sorry you had to see that, nephew.)

That’s every day. Every day we are one mouse click away from the message that we are s—. This message, these daily hateful words, may come from a stereotypical racist, proud redneck type, but more often they come from middle class white kids and professionals who have no problems flaunting a sense of superiority and untouchable privilege. On the other hand, those who would never consciously think of minorities that way but don’t have the context, awareness or empathy may say or think, “Not everything is about race. You’re being oversensitive.”

Then there are the more dramatic encounters and incidents, especially if you’re in a lower economic class. Stopped and frisked. Jump-out police tactics in DC.

HUMAN FLAWS

The thing is, I don’t think that most people are racist. We’re mentally segregated and stick to our own so we don’t get each other. Ignorant more than racist.  I think that most of you (let’s pretend for a moment that I actually have readers) just don’t care. I think the title of this blog post alone will cause people to skip it and just assume that the author is going to vent about black this and cops that and blah blah blah. I guess that’s accurate. Fair enough.

I think that it’s easier to care about dogs and animals being mistreated than it is to care about unarmed black men and boys being shot down by law enforcement by way of needless escalation, misunderstandings, and misreadings. The same day that Eric Garner was choked to death in public on video by an officer in broad daylight — paramedics not even attempting to assist or revive him — I saw FB posts about a dog that had been mistreated and read the harsh comments for anyone who could possibly treat another living being that way.

It’s easier to have compassion for a young white man who slaughters movie-goers or a classroom full of elementary school children (he had mental problems, he was on medication, his parents failed him, society failed him, if only he could have gotten the help that he needed — all valid concerns but not equally applied) than it is to have compassion for a young black man who is shot dead for no good reason as if this were the movie “Crash”.

To be fair, it’s definitely easier to not discuss it on social media, which will quickly turn your news feed into a toxic stress ball of reactionary ignorance. I usually don’t these days.

I live in Fairfax/Oakton. There are neighborhoods that I won’t walk through or ride my bike through, especially at night. I don’t take shortcuts across someone’s property — like back there off of the Difficult Run Trail, for example — and I would not walk up to or knock on someone’s door if I need help. A slight misunderstanding too easily can turn into a “justifiable” but tragic accident and statistic. You never know who has that Nugent siege mentality.

HOPEFUL

All of that above is one aspect. For some people it’s contained. It’s there but well managed and put into perspective and kept in check. For other people it’s an open, sore wound that overshadows their lives. Regardless, everyone goes about the business of living their lives. Until the next metaphorical or physical trigger is pulled.

I am hopeful. Body cameras aren’t the solution — technology will help — but people are honestly trying to figure out ways to enforce accountability. It’s clear that something is wrong. Is it training? Is it community engagement? Is it the demographics of police forces vs. the communities they serve? Is it people not knowing their rights? Is it a complete lack of conflict resolution skills among law enforcement and the people?

People are talking. People are thinking. People are acting.

Change is always messy. Maybe this mess is evidence of change. Let young people, especially African American young black people, and any disenfranchised, struggling young people, know that they matter. They have value. They have potential. They are loved.

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