On November 8, 2016, when our already divided country ‘decided’ (via an electoral college determined outcome) to elect Mr. Donald Trump Jr., many of us were absolutely crushed. Crushed by a deeper fear, anger and a loss of hopethan, perhaps, we had ever felt before in our lives.
Some of my friends told me they silently cried that night;they had no words, no palpable anger, just mind-numbing shock, tears streaming down their quiet faces. Not me – I screamed, I ranted at the television, and I drank as muchwine as I could in an attempt to drown out my panic and disgust. But it just didn’t work. I felt like a live wire, like I was plugged into a wall outlet – shaken to the core with seething rage and nothing could calm me down. I haven’t felt so disturbed since the morning of 9/11.
What would this new president together with far right Republicans owning the House and the Senate now mean for our fragile society? How emboldened would these white racists, bigots, xenophobes and misogynists truly becomenow that this man gave their hateful voices validation?
I was living in Orlando, Florida when the Trayvon Martin case broke in 2012. Orlando is about 20 minutes from Sanford, where Trayvon lived. As we all know now, this is when the Black Lives Matter(http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/) movement was born. I was horrified when I learned that George Zimmerman would not be indicted. And each and every time that I’ve heard ‘no indictment’ since then - for police officers who have murdered a human being - over and over and over again -my heart breaks more each time. I experience a rage I can’t express, a sadness that’s hard to define and a sense of helplessness that’s similar to how I felt this past November the 8th. And I’m tired of it.
They say people only care about something when it happens to them. That may be true for many but that is not the case for me. I have not been a victim of police brutality. I do not have a loved one who was murdered by a cop. But I can feel the feelings of others. I not only see their pain, I can feel it inside my own heart and bones, too. And after Trayvon Martin’s murder, I began to wonder what could I do to make any kind of difference with this incomprehensible injustice I was witnessing day after day? Living in Florida, I was surrounded by indifferent people, right wing conservative voters, and, truth be told, lots of ignorant people with no clue about anything outside their little white, supposedly religious bubble. I was frustrated. I felt alone. So I left. I moved to Northern California to surround myself with people who thought as I did, who cared as I did.
But even now, I’m not sure what I can do except WRITE about it, TALK about it, and not give up on my voice and my passion. I wanted to connect more deeply with the people who are impacted by these injustices and ask them how I can help.
I was too young to remember the civil rights movement. And I was too insulated to actually see or experience racial issues in this country with my own eyes because I grew up in a small, nearly 100% white town in New Hampshire during the early 1980s. My school had only 3 black students in it, two of who had been adopted by white families. I saw no racial inequality because I was removed from it and so were all of my friends. I didn’t live in a divided city where different races lived apart. One of those students, Jim, was one of my best friends. He was half black and, to me, no more different than any of the fewredheaded kids at school, for example. A little different, but not really.
Now I know how lucky I had it, or, more accurately, how naïve I had it. I thought we could all love each other. Why couldn’t we? And then I got my first dose of racism at my first year of college in Boston. My roommate was a pretty black girl from New Haven, CT who had a tough ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude but I was excited to make a new friend. She plastered posters of Malcolm X all over our dorm room before I got there and dominated the wall space, which I thought was sort of aggressive. But I didn’t argue about it. I tried to befriend her – and almost succeeded – but her anger was too deep and my naiveté, equally so.
She had her reasons for hating white people, I am sure of that. But I had never been on the receiving end of hate for the color of my skin so I didn’t know how to respond or how to feel. She was so pissed off at me all the time, no matter what I did, to no avail. Ultimately, she lashed out at a large group of us one night, called us all ‘white bitches’ and told us how awful we were. Apparently, she had issues with several other girls, too. She was then relocated to another dorm. At the end of the semester, I ran into her at a coffee shop. She was dressed beautifully and looked confident and happy. I smiled at her, hoping for neutrality at best. But her face softened and she apologized to me. She said she’d learned a lot and that being at college had really opened her eyes in a good way. We hugged. I don’t know what happened to her after that or what exactly she learned but I knew that this was really big for her and for me. It was scary and strange and awful to be hated for being something I had no control over being. And now I know that’s how many black people live their lives every day. I would never be the same after that.
As Obama said in his farewell speech the other night as to the future of this country: ‘If democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I learned a long time ago how long and pervasive this problem of racial injustice was, is, and has always been, in this country. People still hate ‘the other.’ They hate peoplewho look different, they hate a religion that isn’t theirs, they hate a foreign face, and they can’t tolerate a languagethey don’t speak. They hate it and they fear it. The immediacy of social media has brought this hatred to ever increasing light, which makes it undeniable. And yet, incredibly, denial still exists.
There are too many instances to name right here but we all can readily recall just last month, when a lone juror refused to convict Officer Slager for his blatant and publicized execution of Walter Scott. To deny what we all witnessed with our own eyes an event that was filmed by a bystander - and could be replayed, paused, augmented on screen and watched repeatedly - is to be a liar. That juror is a liar. A bold-faced, racist liar. There is no denying that. That should have been an open and shut case of outright murder. But, once again, infuriatingly, it is not. How can we let this continue? How can this continue to happen when video proves the truth? Racism is alive and well. Authoritarianism is alive and well. And, most disturbingly, the two are inextricably bound together.
The fear of ‘the other’ is firmly rooted in many Americans minds. They voted for Trump because he vowed to ‘build a great big wall’ to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out or, even worse, to return them to their country of origin; he vowed to round up Muslims and vet them for their religious beliefs. This is reminiscent of Germany in the early ‘30s, eerily reminding us that it can – and it is – happening here.
I’m not sure if there are more issues of police brutality or less than there were last year or in the 1950s and 60s – other than the resources I consult that list names, facts and incidences where the FBI has failed to do so (this also shocked me greatly – there has been no official record-keeping of these cases by the FBI? How can that be? Are we that incompetent? Well, it can be and that is another level of horror that is, at least, finally being addressed). The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database)began to finally document these cases in 2014 and Deray McKesson started a website called Campaign Zero (http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision), too.
But denial keeps happening.
This past week when I saw that Republican Duncan Hunter had taken it upon himself to remove a painting in the Capitol in DC depicting a scene of police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri following the Michael Brown case (yet another ‘no indictment’ for officer Wilson) with officers shown as toothy boars, I felt another pang of rage. How DARE you Mr. Duncan, I thought. Who do you think you are to take down an award-winning piece of art because it offends your authoritarian sensibilities? The right to free speech in the form of art is a protected right. And how dare you DENY that this happened and is still happening.
Right wing ignorant people piped up all week on various media threads saying absurd things like:
‘If you can’t wave the Confederate flag from a government building, why can you hang this race-baiting painting?’
And other authoritarian thoughts, such as:
‘Instead of mourning the two LEOs who lost their lives in Orlando yesterday, these DemoCRAPS care more about their cop-hating painting.’
There is no such thing as a ‘blue life.’ (Unless you’re a Smurf).
The asinine assertion that ‘blue lives matter’ in the face of the call to justice movement ‘black lives matter’ is outrageous. To be a ‘blue life’ is to choose a profession in which one wears a blue uniform they can take off at the end of a work shift. There is no such thing as a ‘blue life.’ A black life, however, is a real and true thing: it is a skin color that one can never take off; it is the very identity that one lives in every single day of their lives.
Blue lives are not blue human beings; but black lives are, in fact, black human beings. The difference here is so obviousand absurd, yet so many either refuse to see it or just don’t get it. How they cannot understand the difference between a uniform one puts on and a person’s very skin is beyond me.
The losing side that represents the flag from the civil war is not a piece of ‘art.’ It is not. The high school artist’s painting about a social problem is, indeed, art. But thesetwo things are not related and they are not connected. The Confederate flag is not a piece of art illustrating or calling to attention hot button social issues; the Confederate flag is just that: a flag. The painting Duncan arrogantly removed is art; art is an expression of humanity and creativity, a flag, most certainly, is not that.
As I went about the rest of my week, suddenly my phone beeped with news: Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for his calculated and cold blooded murder of nine innocent black lives in June, 2015 in a Charleston NC church.
Not peace, per se. But some tiny bit of justice, for once, at least.
Just today, the Department of Justice delivered an in-depth report http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-police-department-of-justice-report-20170113-htmlstory.html that rippedthe Chicago PD apart for excessive force.
Here is just a snippet from the scathing 164-page document:
The Justice Department investigation found that CPD officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force that is unreasonable, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This pattern or practice includes:
• Shooting at fleeing suspects who presented no immediate threat;
• Shooting at vehicles without justification;
• Using less-lethal force, including tasers, against people who pose no threat;
• Using force to retaliate against and punish individuals;
• Using excessive force against juveniles;
In addition, the following practices contribute to the pattern or practice of excessive force:
• Failing to effectively de-escalate situations or to use crisis intervention techniques to
reduce the need for force;
• Employing tactics that unnecessarily endanger officers and result in avoidable shootings
and other uses of force; and
• Failing to accurately document and meaningfully review officers’ use of force.
With regard to accountability, the investigation found:
• The city fails to investigate the majority of cases it is required to investigate by law.
• When it does investigate, the questioning of officers is aimed at eliciting information
favorable to the officer, and investigators do not confront officers with inconsistent
• The city does not take sufficient steps to secure accurate and complete witness
statements, including by preventing officers from concealing misconduct.
• Discipline is haphazard, unpredictable and does not deter misconduct.
The Justice Department identified a number of other systemic deficiencies, including:
• Inadequate training and supervision;
• Insufficient support for officer wellness and safety;
• Data collection systems that impede transparency;
• A promotions system seen as political and unfair by officers; and
• Failure to adequately address racially discriminatory conduct by officers—which in some respects is caused by deficiencies in CPD’s systems of training, supervision and
accountability—and the corrosive effect on police legitimacy of excessive force, which
falls most heavily on Chicago’s communities of color.
While this report is nothing short of alarming and horrible, it is hardly surprising to those of us who are aware of these problems. We already KNOW this. What concerns us moreis what will it take to CHANGE it? And how is this change possible given the new administration we’re about to live under?
What will these next four years look like when all during the last eight years we’ve had the benefit of a thoughtful, intelligent and articulate black president? He couldn’t seem to change the way things are either. How many times did we hear ‘no indictment’ before and after his presidency? Was there any difference? How many black people were murdered at the hands of police during the past 8 years? And how many more might be brutalized or killed by police with Trump at the helm? He’s the ‘law and order’ candidate and we all know what that truly means: it means more murder with impunity.
At least we are counting these acts of brutality and murder now. The numbers don’t lie. The more people that see these numbers, the less they can deny what is really happening in this country. What needs to happen is that more people SEE these numbers and not just understand what the Black Lives Matter movement is about but also. And protest. And care. And not give up or become complacent.
How different might it be with Trump in office, an ill-equipped egomaniac with no legitimate experience for such a huge job as president of the supposedly ‘free’ world? What can we do, collectively, to stop the hatred he’s tapped into from spreading like the plague?
We have to fight it even harder.
I suppose a timely, more thoughtful answer is one that is, again, Barack Obama’s words: “hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can.”
The fight must be fought harder than ever. We can’t afford to succumb to the hate. Hope must prevail. So let’s make a plan.
I’ll be marching in Washington DC on January 21st. I look forward to connecting with more and more people who won’t tolerate the hate and will fight against it, whatever it takes. Together, we must.