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Archive for the ‘Civil Rights’ Category

Recently the library where I work finished installing new carpeting  as well as upgrading the building in other ways such as moving shelves around.  In that three month process we, myself and the other librarians, wound up moving the books numerous times; over here, over there, over here again, then over somewhere else.  In doing so I got to see in more detail how our books were organized.   And it got me thinking.

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Let me start those thoughts with what I encountered when moving the African American fiction.  While doing that move I came across a book that had not only the author but who it was edited by, which gave me pause.  I had never seen a book, a novel, which had an editor’s name attached to it also.  In looking at it I found that The Bondswoman’s Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates, is the first novel written by a black women slave.  It is the only novel by a fugitive slave woman.  And it was written sometime between 1853 and 1861.

My first thought was to ask why this was put in African American fiction.  I would think this would be something that people beyond just African Americans would enjoy.   While a novel and fiction, it was based closely upon events that the writer actually experienced as well as the experiences of other African American slaves.  Although very much a product of its times, it is fascinating reading, both intellectually and, more importantly, emotionally.

I am not going to review it here, other than to say that if you are interested in people, the effects of slavery on people, and the human condition, then this is a book you should read.  Just as the Diary of Anne Frank’s appeal goes far beyond Jews and being a Jew in Nazi Germany, so too does this book have a message beyond just being a black slave.

And that is why I wondered why it was buried under African American fiction, where its light could not shine for those who may need to read it the most.

Then I came across Toni Morrison.  The Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award winning writer. The Nobel Prize winner.  A writer who I greatly admire and whose works I have enjoyed.  Why is she in African American fiction and not among the broader category of novels?  As if what she wrote could only speak to African Americans and not to all of humanity.  As if writers have to be first and foremost categorized by the color of their skin rather than the quality and scope of their writings.  As if blacks and whites and Asians and Native Americans and Hispanics, as if people, do not have a shared core created by all of them being human.

Now, I know that there are reasons, and some good ones at that, for having a separate African American section.  But, I think those two books also show the limitations and problems that doing so creates.

There was one other categorical head scratcher for me that I think worth mentioning. That was when I found Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karina” when moving the Romance books.  I know that the plot contains some elements of romance, but come on… Anna Karina is considered to be one of the best novels ever written.  Would you classify Romeo and Juliet under Romance?

But, there it was, with a call number of ROM TOL on its spine.

My thoughts on this paralleled that of finding Morrison’s and Craft’s books in African American fiction, how limiting.  But in thinking about it I began to wonder.  Would more people be  willing to pick up and read Anna Karina in the category of Romance than they would if it were in the category of Classics?  Instead of limiting the potential readers of Anna Karina, could this categorization of it., instead, expand the number of readers?

If true, then Anna Karina being categorized as a romance would be a good thing in that it would expose this novel to more people.  With Toni Morrison and Craft though, the opposite is happening.  Not many people other than African Americans look at the African American section, limiting these books potential audience.

Which got me to wondering how best to balance these needs, categorizing works so that those who are interested in one area but not the others can still easily find works that interest them while, at the same time, providing those who are just looking without a fixed goal in mind, a chance to read something outside their norm.

The problem with the easy answer of not having categories is that categories are useful.  There is a reason they come about.  If I am in the mood for a Science Fiction book, I really do not want to spend time finding the science fiction novels amid all the mysteries, classics, African American novels,  mainstream novels, romance, westerns, and religious novels.

Besides, creating and dividing things, and people, into categories seems to be a basic human trait, one that is not going to be going away until humanity is gone too.

That being said, the real question then is not how to get rid of all categories, but rather how do we create and maintain categories?   How to do so with the recognition that, like life, there is considerable overlap from one category and another, that the same book can be categorized in many different ways, and that all categories share the trait of being novels.

For example, in the library, perhaps it would be better to have all novels grouped together, but have the call labels be color coded to designate African American, Romance, Classics, Science Fiction, Mysteries, etc.  Yes, people would browse looking for the color code of their interests, but in doing so they have a better chance of seeing something, seeing a novel or author, that they might not have ever noticed before.   Proximity creates opportunities for something new.

The downside of doing it this way though is that those who come in and want to read only mysteries are now going to have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries too, and in the process of using up precious time, you might not find that one mystery that would have made your year.  The upside is that they will have to go through and look at those books that are not mysteries, and so perhaps come across a treasure that they never would have encountered otherwise.

To me, since we live in a world that offers only imperfect solutions to societal issues and problems, this trade off would be a good one.  We need to learn to re-categorize things in order to grow.  We need to also learn that there are few hard and fast categories.  Instead, categories, especially as they relate  to humans  are fluid and overlapping.

For fun, here are the links to two videos, video one and video two, that highlight the fluidity and overlapping nature of human categories.

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Finally, a short blog.  At least, shorter than the other two.

First and foremost:

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Next:

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Now, big broad dramatic actions, while nice, are not necessary and are not what is going to turn things around.  It will be the actions of millions of people working on mundane and often boring tasks that will turn things around.  It will be the actions of millions of people donating time and money to organizations that work to protect our rights, our economy, our schools, our environment, our nation that will turn things around.  It will be us, the majority, who will turn things around.

National groups are nice, but look local too.  The Republican conservatives who support Trump control too many states, and that needs to change.

Write letters to your local paper, to your elected representatives at all levels from city to state to national.  This means be aware of what is happening both nationally and locally.  Join in local organizations that are working to improve the environment, poverty, homelessness, civil rights, and all of those things that are most in danger now.   If you are up to it, get involved in local boards on different subjects and problems.  Volunteer to testify on issues that most concern you – locally in city councils to testifying before state committees.

 

For myself, I have never registered as a Democrat or Republican, preferring to be considered an Independent.  And early one there were Republicans who I could and did vote for.  However, those have vanished over the years as the Republican Party became more radically conservative and radically right religious.

So, for the first time in my life, I will become a registered Democrat and work with the local party here in Beaumont.  There are other things I will be doing, and there are a great many groups and organizations that you could become a part of.  Here is just a short and not even remotely exhaustive list of them linked to their websites, in no particular order.

 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Common Cause

National Center for Science Education

Texas Freedom Network –  for those living in Texas, this is a group I have worked with before and will become more active in now.

Planned Parenthood

Sierra Club

Friends of the Earth

National Organization for Women

League of Women Voters

American Civil Liberties Union

Southern Poverty Law Center

Center for Responsive Politics

Campaign Zero

Black Lives Matter

 

This is not a complete listing by far.  It barely scratches the surface in fact and doesn’t even cover all the areas of concern.  Look and find something that fits your interests and greatest concerns.

And, perhaps most important of all, remember we are all Americans.  We are all human.  Look at your neighbor, at your town, your city, your county, your parish, your state, and your country, and be aware of whatever threatens your neighbors well being whether it involves civil liberties and equal treatment under the law, the environment in which we all share, education or any of host of other areas that look like they may well be under attack during a Trump Presidency.

Because of this, of our shared humanity and identity as Americans, seriously consider even going beyond if things go badly.  If the Trump administration starts a registry for Muslims, register as Muslims.  If President Trump voids the Dream Act, write and call and protest – demonstrations and marches in solidarity with those who are most affected.  If you are white, go ahead and march in a Black Lives Matter protest.  If you are black, then demonstrate in support of that 18 year old American college student brought here from Mexico when she was 3 but being deported now, if you are an Atheist march with and in support of the American Muslims and the refugees.  Let your voice and presence be heard and seen in as many ways as possible.

Be aware and act.   And vote.  Vote in local elections.  In state elections.  And in National ones.  And, hopefully, we can blunt the damage that I fear is coming.  And in 2016 start to not only blunt but turn it around.

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I watched part of Trump’s speech on Thursday. Read about the parts I did not see, or saw some video clips. The thing that struck me most forcefully is the picture of America that he painted. Let’s call it Trump World to distinguish it from the real world.

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In Trump world crime is rampant in America and no one can walk the streets safely anymore.

In Trump World America is facing an imminent existential threat from ISIS and terrorism.

In Trump World America’s economy is collapsing and almost totally destroyed.

In Trump World America is despised and loathed not respected even by our allies.

In Trump World America is on its last legs and gasping out its last strangled gasp.

But, that is Trump World.  One that he created out of words; short words, dramatic words, emphatic words, words of lies, of falsehoods, twisted words depicting a twisted reality.  All spouted with vim and vigor and certainty. Words rooted loosely in some bits of reality, but made huge, made big, made worse, made lies.

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Trump World is not the America that I see. It is not the America that is see in the numbers, in the statistics, in my daily life, in reality.

Yes, we have problems. We always have. With countries as with life, there are always problems.  And yes, some of those problems are serious. That too is a constant with countries.  At no time in our history have we not been faced with problems. Serious and numerous problems.  Out time in that regard  is no different than other times.

The fact that there are serious problems facing our nation is nothing new.  Nor is it cause for despair and doom.  The problems we face today, while serous, are not even close to being the worst we have ever faced.

I think of the time I grew up in, the 60s and 70s. While today there are definite and serious issues with our justice system being able to dispense justice impartially and being blind to a person’s race, our racial problems when I was growing up were worse.  Much worse.  And what it took to correct many of those problems entailed more violence, more riots, more disruption even to the extent that the National Guard had to be called to escort children to schools just because they were black..

Compared to racial discord at that time, what we face today is civil. And, like it was then, this discord today is necessary. Yes, it is not comfortable and yes it is at times divisive.  And yes, there is violence when there shouldn’t be, and pain and suffering of victims and their families. But that is part of change. It was when I was growing up and it is now.

Yes, we have blacks being unjustly treated and killed too often. We have police being murdered on the streets. Yet, the number of police killed is down from past years. And although we desperately need to correct the unequal justice we still have, it is better than when I was growing up. And Black Lives Matter a far more peaceful group than many others that existed when I was growing up.

Further, there is more and more dialogue between groups that has resulted in change. Not enough yet, but still there.

And yet Trump would have you believe otherwise.

Our economy is among the strongest in the world. We have recovered from the great recession faster and better than most other nations. And our economy is growing. It is not growing for all, but it is for most. It is also not growing as fast as we would wish, but it is growing.

It is also changing, changes that are the result of our growing technology. And change is painful. But, we are not in danger of economic collapse. Indeed, the world thinks we are a rock of stability that they invest in during times of trouble by buying US bonds. Our currency is the bedrock currency of the world because of their regard for our economy.

Yes, our economy has problems. But we are nowhere near economic collapse as Trump would have you believe.

Crime, crime is not running rampant. Our crime is the lowest it has been since the 60s. There has been an uptick in some cities, but if you look at trends you see ups and downs due to a variety of reasons. The uptick in some cities is not enough to say crime is running rampant, or at least not to say it truthfully. Especially since even counting the uptick, we are still far below the levels of the 90s. As for crime, we have rarely been so safe. But not to hear Trump talk.

ISIS and terrorism. Yes, they are serious challenges. But they are nowhere near an existential threat to the US. ISIS is losing ground in the Middle East. The country they said they were going to create is being whittled away. Their idea of a  powerful global caliphate is being destroyed before it is even created. Which is why they are changing their nature to one like other terror groups. They are changing because we are winning there, so they have to change the battlefield.

But the nature of the threat here in the US has not been direct action from ISIS. Nor has it come from immigrants or refugees. Instead it is the lone wolf terrorist, someone who is acting on their own and who has become radicalized. In fact, most of the attacks both here in the US and in Europe are from citizens. Not outsiders, not immigrants, and not refugees, but citizens.

As for the US terrorist attacks, while horrific and we need to take what measures we can without losing who we are in doing so, they are small scaled, especially when you look at what happens in Turkey, Iraq, and other places.

Yes, terrorism and ISIS is a danger. But not one that is going to destroy us unless we let unreasoning fear guide our actions.

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In other words, America is actually in good shape. Not perfect. There are flaws and problems, some of them being severe. We have many challenges and problems that need to be worked on. And the working out of them is going to be accompanied by pain and sorrow, suffering and hurt. But also by joy as we do solve them and then move on to the next set of problems that our solutions will inevitably create.

I do not recognize the America Trump has created. I look at our past and see the present America in largely better shape than our past. I look at the world, and I see the US holding its own with any other country.

And as for respect, respect for the US is up and strong in most of the world.

When I was growing up we had riots and demonstrations and blood being shed over the war in Vietnam, over the accumulated weight of hundreds of years of racial injustice, over women finding their voice and their power.  Presidents fell.  And yet the United States continued on and did not collapse.

And my times were  far from the most challenging the US has ever faced.

I can only conclude that Donald Trump must believe that the United States has become a wimp if the challenges we face today are going to lead to its imminent collapse.  But then, I don’t really think Trump believes this.  He has created Trump World not because he believes it to be real but because he believes he can profit from it.

Trump’s America is not the one I see or live in. It is a fear plagued vision created by him in order to use fear and anger and hatred to win first the Republican nomination and now trying to win the Presidency. Trump World has very little contact with reality.

I wrote this first as a posting on my Facebook page, but decided to revise it for a blog.  The reason is that Trump World bothers me.  In fact, it frightens me. Actually, it is the fact that so many are starting to live in Trump world instead of the real one that frightens me.  The actions needed to solve the irreality of Trump World would only create a true existential crisis in the real one.

Let me just end this with the fervent hope that we will reject fear, reject anger, reject hatred and reject Trump’s vision of America for one of hope, respect, and reality.

 

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DISCLAIMER

Since I have in the past, and will probably again despite this statement, been accused of excusing the acts of individuals by looking at why they did what they did, let me state unequivocally, absolutely and sincerely that those who have recently shot and killed police in Dallas and in Baton Rouge are and should be held responsible for their own actions.  Had they survived their encounter I would have fully supported going after the maximum sentence possible short of the death penalty (which I oppose).   They deserve our utter condemnation for their brutal and inexcusable actions.

Sigh.  I am pretty sure this disclaimer won’t make a lick of difference, but there you go.

 

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There is a relationship between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the recent shootings on police officers.  However, it is not the nice and tidy narrative that many people, especially conservatives, believe.

It is not that there is no problem with racial inequality in either our legal system or in our law enforcement.

It is not that any racial unrest is being fomented by Black Lives Matter/ liberals/Obama/ Hillary or a host of other liberal rabble rousers.

It is not that this is something that can be solved solely by condemning these murderers and cracking down on law and order.

No, that is not the relationship.  Instead, the true picture is something more complex.

The first relationship lies in the fact that there really is a problem with our justice system and law enforcement system in regards to racial equality.   Instead of going into all the data and make this blog way too long, let me refer you to a recent and excellent blog by Libby Anne titled “The White Invisibility of Racism”.

Let me though show this video of two police officers serving an arrest warrant for a man named Michael.  The only problem is that the man they arrest is named Patrick.

Now, to be fair, the police say that this video has been deceptively edited.  They have released the full 30 minute video of this incident.  You can view them here.

A few take aways from this.

First, Patrick did identify himself as Patrick.

Next, although later in the video the officers say they asked for his ID three times, they never did.  They assumed that he was lying and acted on that assumption without asking for his ID.

Ask yourself, would this have been as likely to happen with a white person?   Statistics strongly say no.

The next take away is that they arrested him and took him in even though he was not the person they came to arrest.  Now, this man who had committed no crime, will now have to post bond.  Given that I doubt they have a lot of money, this plays into creating a hardship on them.  If it takes some time to arrange bond and get him out, he could miss work and wind up losing his job.  As I discuss later, this is a domino effect that plays out all too often in the black community.

Statistics show that if he had been white, this probably would not have happened, and if it did there would have been no arrest.

And now that I am thinking about it, there is another take away.  The fact that the police department thinks that there is something in the complete video that vindicates the actions of  these officers.  Since the differences occur after they did not ask for his ID, did not show him the warrant as he requested, and had tased him twice, I think the police are really reaching with that.

I also found the discussion at around the 28:28 mark, between one of the officers and another black man who was trying to explain how their approach instilled fear and helped give rise to some of the actions of Patrick, who was thinking about losing his job and such due to being arrested, informative.  Especially when the police officer says that if he had done nothing wrong he would have nothing to fear.

And this is the issue in a nutshell.  The officers are unaware of their own actions and how they are perceived by the black community.  They honestly thought they had asked for ID when they had not.  And they did not see themselves as being threatening to anyone who had done nothing wrong.  Yet do not see the irony of Patrick having done nothing wrong but being arrested anyway.  And they do not seriously consider the black man’s statement at all about blacks being afraid of police and instead blow it off.

 

When watching this, ask yourself, what do you think would have happened if Patrick had been white?  Would the police have been less likely to do strong arm tactics?  When he said he was Patrick and not Michael would they have been more likely to ask for his ID?   While in some cases they may have acted the same.  In all too many though, they would not.  Being white makes a difference.

And what makes this so “invisible” as Ms. Anne puts it, is that these reactions are unconscious.  These officers did not say lets go harass a black man today.  Instead it is a matter of who they find more threatening.  More suspicious.  Who they find more resistant and how they feel they should deal with that resistance.

This is what causes a black person to be treated differently from a white person on average.

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The other point from Abby’s blog that I liked was that Black Lives Matter was sparked by more than just police shootings of unarmed blacks.  That is only the tip of the iceberg of a full weight of grievances and injustices.

I think about all of this when I hear white people claim that if black people would just comply with police they wouldn’t get in trouble. This isn’t just about black people killed by police. It’s also about all of the times black people are stopped and asked for their ID for no reason whatsoever, all of the times black people are treated by police as inherently criminal, all of the times when black individuals are given longer sentences than white individuals accused of the same crime. It’s about black parents having to give their sons “the talk” to ensure they won’t end up killed by police, and about a population that feels under siege every single day.

As she also states in her blogs, it is the constant being pulled over for no reason.  It is being used as a money stream for cities despite being usually the poorest community, as happened in Ferguson.  It is being followed in a store when whites are not.  It is the accumulation of thousands of grievances.

 

Or consider the case of Philando Castile, the black man who was shot and killed in St Paul Minnesota, who had been stopped by police at least 46 times (of which only six were items the police would notice from outside the car).   His life is a perfect example of how this system harms blacks in several regards – emotionally, always being suspected, being harassed, the one who gets caught and fined due to the color of your skin.  And then the financial impact, the always having to find money to pay fines, not being able to afford insurance because of this and then being fined again.  Losing your job due to lost time due to being in jail for not being able to pay your fine.

As in Ferguson, this was a money stream for the city based upon those who could least afford to pay.

From the NPR story on this, “The Driving Life and Death of Philando Castile”.

This week, the St. Anthony Police Department released statistics on its traffic stops. They show that officers issue citations at the same rate as neighboring suburbs, but police disproportionately arrest African-Americans.

About 7 percent of the residents in the area patrolled are African-American, but this year they make up about 47 percent of arrests. The data show that since 2011, African-Americans have been making up a larger percentage of arrests.

………..

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University and the author of Crook County, which documents the problems in the criminal justice system of Chicago, said Castile was the “classic case” of what criminologists have called “net widening,” or the move by local authorities to criminalize more and more aspects of regular life.

“It is in particular a way that people of color and the poor are victimized on a daily basis,” Gonzalez Van Cleve said.

Many times, both Gonzalez Van Cleve and Sandvick agree, the system leaves citizens with no good choices — having to pick, for instance, whether to pay a fine or pay for car insurance.

There are three things that make this very real problem so easy to ignore and pretend that it doesn’t exist for so many.

First, as I said, it is not an explicit sort of racism usually.  It is more in the unconscious ways risks and decisions are made.  Unconscious choices that wind up benefiting the white person but harming the black.

The second issue is that this shows up in statistics most clearly.  On a day by day basis some whites, some blacks, some Hispanics and so forth are stopped, arrested, and fined.  But, at the end of the day, the ones who are stopped most often, who are fined most often are the blacks.  And they know this.  Instead of being a statistic, for them it is a frustrating reality.

Finally, the third thing that makes this so easy to ignore is that police departments vary greatly across this country.  This is a widespread problem, but it is not universal to each and every police department.  So the fact that one does well with race relations makes a convenient excuse for many to ignore the many more who do not do well.

The good news is that this is starting the change.  More and more cities are learning and establishing polices and training to improve.  Dallas has done well with this, implementing many of the recommendations from President Obama’s commission on police.  They stressed taking the time to evaluate and de-escalate situations.  They provided training on implicit biases.  They worked to establish ties to the community.  And when shootings occur they are quick to get in touch with the community and are open and forthcoming on the whats, whos and what is happening now of a shooting investigation.  Because of this, they have not experienced the riots and violent protest other places, such as Ferguson, that were not doing this.  Dallas is far from perfect and  has more work to do, but they are going in the right direction.

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In fact, before the tragic shootings in Dallas that took the lives of five police officers, many of the Black Lives Movement and the police were taking pictures together and talking.

And this is the first relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and police.  It was the inequalities in our system, most especially in our justice and law enforcement ones, that created the need for Black Lives Matter.  The very public shootings of unarmed blacks by police was the spark but the tender had been accumulating and building for decades and longer.

Black Lives Matter is needed to keep this issue front and center because so many deny implicit racism’s very existence.  Without their pressure this is a problem, an injustice, that would be remedied only with an explosion of even worse violence.  And only after more black lives have been harmed.

 

 

As for the other relationship between the Black Lives Matter and police, it inflames emotions.  This is unavoidable.  The emotions are there and for better or worse, Black Lives Matter helps provide a focus for those emotions.

For the majority this will have the result of driving them to make speeches, vote, support candidates, push for laws and policies, etc.  But, at times, for some, the rhetoric becomes too heated and slides over the line.  And then for even fewer, but too many nonetheless, it slides over to taking lethal action against those seen as oppressors.

In other words, the Black Lives Matter movement provides a focus for anger and frustration.  For most, that is good in that it calls them to take action to change things.  For a few others, it instead leads to action of another type, lethal and murderous.

Despite this, Black Lives Matter is necessary.  Just as police are despite the issues mentioned.

I do know that if we ignore its message, do not deal with the problems that created this movement, the problems will only get worse.  Today there are serious issues in regards to racial inequality, but in the 50s and 60s there were even more serious and resulted in more violence than we are experiencing today.  If we want to avoid that then we need to have politicians, law enforcement, black leaders, Black Lives Matter leaders meeting to discuss their differences and issues, and finding common ground upon which to work.  President Obama facilitated just such a meeting after the Dallas shootings.  A meeting that most say was productive and worthwhile, but whose true worth can only be determined by follow up meetings and actions.

Some of the needed actions to my mind are:

  • First and foremost, acknowledge that there are real issues with racial bias in our law enforcement system.
  • Work together with law enforcement and others to find ways to improve. There has been some good movement here and there in this regards.   But so far it is in a minority of police organizations and needs to become the majority.  For something about what Black Lives Matters is promoting in regards to change, click on this link to a good piece from Atlantic Magazine about it.  Or this piece from the Black Lives Matter site.
  • Watch the language carefully to avoid unnecessarily inflaming passions too far. And continue to condemn the actions of those who murder police, or advocate doing so.

Let me briefly mention one common argument that is used to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement.  Black on black violence, that if you are so concerned about blacks deal with the bigger issue of black on black violence.

This is something I addressed in my blog “On the Irritating Wrongness of the Black on Black Violence Counter-argument“.  Instead of rehashing all of this again, I have provided a handy little link to that blog.  Let me though just summarize the problems with this argument.

  • It assumes that you cannot be working on both at the same time.
  • It assumes that both issues are the same. They are not.  Black on black violence is indeed terrible.  But, they are not the police, not the people who are supposed to unbiasedly enforce the law equally and to provide protection for the citizens.  The former is a terrible crime.  The latter harms our societal structure.
  • Related to the above, it assumes that you cannot be outraged over unjustified killings of blacks, about the racial bias targeting blacks unless you get black on black violence down. It further assumes that there is no link between the two – poverty, lack of education, etc.
  • It assumes that no one is working on reducing black on black violence. In fact, there is much being done to decrease black on black violence, much of it successful.  This includes, by the way, sit ins and demonstrations in many different cities.  Just because they are not getting as much news coverage nationally does not mean they are not happening.
  • It assumes that there has been no improvement in regards to black on black violence. The reality is that there has been improvement.  However, in the last 20 years there has been a decrease in black on black violence.  The victimization rate has fallen from 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to roughly 20 homicides in 2008.  And the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 per 100,000 offenders in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008.

All of these are dealt with in more detail and with supporting links in my blog about this.  However, there is one other problem with this attempt to use black on black violence to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement.

No one denies that black on black violence exists.  No one denies that black on black violence is a real problem.  However, too many people do deny that implicit racism and institutional racism are affecting our legal system.  Too many people deny that this is a real problem.  Too many people would rather remain ignorant and let the pressure of continued injustice build.

And that is why Black Lives Matter matters.

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Today in Dallas, as I write these words, at least five law enforcement officers are dead and another six are wounded.  They were targeted and murdered by what, as of this writing, appear to be black men.

This occurred at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter march protesting the needless deaths of Anton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul Minnesota. Two black men killed by white police officers, both seemingly victims of racial bias, whether open or unconscious.

This juxtaposition of Black Lives and of Blue Lives seems to me representative of the action  – reaction cycle that we see over and over again.

The Action

A police officer kills an unarmed or restrained black person.   An act that occurs more often to blacks than to whites.  This, along with the racial inequalities in our justice system overall, our economic inequalities, and our educational inequalities combine to justly anger the black community who then take action.  The vast majority of those actions are peaceful – demonstrations, petitions, speeches and letters, getting out the vote, and creating organizations to keep this issue before the public eye and create the needed pressure for actions to be taken to change the system.

A few individuals though take it further.  In Dallas, they killed law enforcement officers.

Let me be clear here.  This racial inequality and bias embedded in our law enforcement and legal system does not excuse their behavior.  These men are murderers and should be caught and held fully responsible for their actions.

This bias and inequality doesn’t even fully explain their actions since the vast majority of those protesting who have suffered the same bias and prejudice do not kill, do not loot, do not destroy.  But this inequality is still one of the root causes of their actions and must be addressed if we are ever to free ourselves of such crimes.

Reaction

The bias and bigotry that sits unnoticed in too many people’s minds becomes confirmed and strengthened.  Blacks are violent.  Instead of seeing the person, they see a skin color and fear and distrust it. Blacks are violent.

People walk with wary eye upon seeing blacks.  People cross the street to avoid the threat.  Police see a threat based solely on the color of a person’s skin and so react in lethal ways when lethality is not called for.  Jurors at the trial see the black skin and agree that the officer was justified in his fear.

Less lethally but more common, police go hard line when hard line is not called for, they stop persons when such stops are not called for, they follow persons when following is not called for.

A black person is unfairly treated and the resentment, the anger, the frustration grows. And with this, the cycle completes and continues.

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I opened this piece by mentioning the peaceful protest by demonstrators in Dallas.  What I would like to mention as a possibility of hope is that these protests were so peaceful that the police were posing with the protestors for pictures.   To me, these photos provide hope that we can together work out these problems, these grave problems, to create a better society.

We have come a long way since the days of the Civil Rights marches and the Civil Rights Acts they inspired.  Progress has been made.  But the easy progress is over.  Now comes the more difficult work of ridding our law enforcement and justice system, our economic and educational system, our society of the biases and prejudices that are hidden, that are unconscious.  So hidden that too many deny they even exist.

But hidden or denied, they exist and have real effects.  Effects that result in the tragedies of Anton Sterling and his family and friends, of Philando Castile and his family and friends, and of all those officers killed on the streets tonight whose names I would list if they had been released now and their families and friends.

While many things need to change to break this cycle of pain and suffering, of injustice and death, admitting the existence of these biases and then working together to rid our society of them is one of the more important and basic of those needed changes.  Without seeing the log in our own eyes justice and peace can never be fully attained.

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I see that abortion is in the news again. Of course, abortion never really seems to be out of the news lately. And that is especially true during this political year when bombast, broken facts, and heated rhetoric foul the air more than usual. This time the news involves a piece of Florida legislation. Or, more accurately, a piece of proposed legislation that would ban all abortions, making them a first degree felony.

It has only been passed out of one committee and into another so far. And, from what I have read, is unlikely to survive the legal birthing process needed for a proposal to become law.   More political fluff to satisfy the anti-choice crowd. What I find of interest though is part of this proposed legislation’s wording, words that seem to be in line with what many of the more radical anti-choice crowd are now pushing.

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Leaving aside the problematical solely religious justification for this law, I wonder if those who promote such ideas have really thought through the implications of what they are proposing. A few years ago I did a satirical piece related to the problems involved in this concept of a fertilized egg being a human life fully equal in rights to those already born. I thought I would now revisit this issue in a more Socratic way, by posing a series of questions.

To start with, let’s explicitly state what is being claimed. Those promoting this law and other similar ones are stating that a fetus from its conception is fully a person and has rights equal to those who have already been born. That an egg, once fertilized by a sperm, automatically becomes legally a person with all the rights attendant upon that designation.

Let me respond by asking those who support these personhood amendments and laws some questions.

Do you intend then to appoint the fetus with legal counsel to represent its right to life in those cases where continuing its life would put the life of the mother in jeopardy?

  • For example, do you mean to make a pregnant woman with an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg is implanted someplace other than the uterus, wait for that life-saving abortion until the court obtains legal counsel for the fetus and a trial is scheduled and the rites of justice gone through? By the time that is done the mother will likely be dead.
  • Would you support a court ruling in favor of saving the life of the fetus even though it would cause the death of the mother? Even if doing so would be against the expressed and fervent wishes of the woman? If not, then what is your justification since, according to you, legally the two have the same exact rights?
  • What do you think the reaction will be by the vast majority of Americans if a court should ever rule in favor of saving the life over that of the woman, even when the woman does not wish that?
  • A follow on question if you doubt a court would ever rule this way, why not? Do you think that this says something then about the relationship between the rights of the woman and that of the fetus?

Since you are believe that a fetus has the same right to life as an already born human, then what is your proposal for saving all of those persons who die between six to 12 days after being conceived. About 40% to 65% of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterine lining and instead die (usually before a woman even knows she is pregnant). Given the truly heroic measures we take to save people, what is your proposal to save all of these persons who are dying in their thousands?

Given that you believe that a fetus is a person with the full set of rights as an already born person, how to you propose to ensure that pregnant women do nothing to jeopardize the health of that person? I have already seen court cases against women who miscarry, but that number is actually rather small compared to the number of women who could be tried for manslaughter in cases of miscarriage.

  • Are you now going to do a legal investigation into every miscarriage and prosecute every woman who does not follow each and every rule or good practice?
  • What would be your ruling in the case of a pregnant woman who is in a car accident that is her fault that kills the fetus? Would that be considered involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide? And if so, should she be prosecuted to the full extent of the law in that case?  If you believe she should not be, then why not?
  • Are you now going to require that pregnant women be hospitalized the moment she knows she is pregnant so that the health and life of the fetus is not endangered in any way?

These are just a few of the questions that come to my mind when these proposals for making a fetus a person entitled to the same rights as the woman and in equal measure are proposed. There are many more, but I think these should give those of a thoughtful nature cause for caution in making the fetus a separate and equal person to that of the pregnant woman. Such an action flies in the face of reality, and laws based on flaunted reality are not merely bad laws, they are disastrous laws.

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Recently we had a confederate flag flap when our annual stock show parade banned the battle flag of the Confederacy (but still allowed the original national Confederate flag).

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Around the same time a letter was printed in the Fort Worth Star Telegram from a Ms. Barbara Kirkland strongly defending the flying of the Confederate flag. Part of that letter helped bring further into focus the reasons why I do not defend this flag nor its flying by any government agency.

In her letter she states that her ancestors “fought for the Confederacy” and “I’m proud that when the call came to stand and defend the South they heeded the call”.

Their “call” was to defend a rebellion against their own country – the United States of America. Now, rebellion is, at times, justified if the cause is good and just. But, in this case the cause was the exact opposite of good and just. Many issues were involved in causing the Southern States to try to dissolve the union, but the chief and foremost of them was the issue of slavery. The treatment of other people as nothing more than property, with no more rights than a cow or horse. This was the root cause of why the Southern states rebelled and tried to break up the union.

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Yes, most confederate soldiers did not own slaves. Yet they supported the government who broke away from the union that protected their “right” to own a person if they wished or were economically able.

Just like we don’t honor the Nazi heritage of Germany just because most Germans were not Nazi’s and not involved in killing the Jews, so too should we not be honoring this part of Southern heritage by flying any confederate flag. It is a part of our heritage that should be condemned.

This letter writer, and those who think like her, have the right to fly that flag if they so wish. However, no government entity whatsoever, at any level, whether city, county, state or national, should be flying any version of the Confederate flag. And I will protest any that do.

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Despite what they may believe, the heritage they are “celebrating” and the cause for which this flag stood for were traitorous and, worse, condoned barbarous actions against the dignity and worth of humanity. This flag is worth honoring just as much as the Nazi flag – not at all.

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