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Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

 

With so many political posts lately I had thought to make this one about religion.  After all, a blog titled Bad Atheist should be discussing religion every now and again.  However, instead, I wrote another political post.   Why?  Because, as the saying goes, shit happens.   And that shit is Trump.

This week Trump started confirming my worst fears about him.  While it is hard to pick and choose which of his executive actions was the worse, since he has provided us with a full, rich smorgasbord  of terrible decisions and actions to choose from, I am going to talk about his latest one.  The one where he stopped and banned all migrants and refugees from seven countries from entering the United States, even those who hold permanent resident status.   These countries were supposedly picked due to their failed nature, terrorist activity, and violence.

This sudden and drastic action reeks of so many things – fear, hatred, ignorance.   This action, and Trump’s and his supporters justification for it make it seem as if there is no vetting of these travelers, as if we just say “yep, come on in” without doing any sort of check.   Trump and crew seem to believe that we have avoided a terrorist attack from the citizens of these countries due solely to the grace of God.

The reality is that we do check them, each and every one.   Some more than others.  But none are given a free pass to just come and go without any scrutiny.  And you know what?  It seems to work.

Consider this fact – a true fact and not an alternate one that Trump and his followers are so fond of – none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by a citizen of these seven countries.  Not one.

Consider this fact too, none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by Syrian refugees.

Finally, consider this fact, and it is one that Trump’s defenders are making a big to do about; all of these seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as posing special risks for visa status.  In other words, the situation within those countries are dire and rife with terrorism and violence.

And yet, with just the procedures we have now, none of its citizens who have traveled here, go to school here, work here, and live here have committed any attacks against the hnan_and_lian_fadi_kassar_5758bdbd2e3fc99559b93f42d7bf4d69-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000United States here.    Despite being from high risk countries.

Seems like pretty good evidence that we are doing something right.  And that sudden, drastic measures such as those Trump engaged in, are not necessary or needed.  Examining those procedures and tweaking them, possibly so.  Full out stop – no.

An analogy from my own background might be useful here.  If I have a productive piece of equipment that, although not giving me zero defects, does do well and whose defects are well below our goals, I am not going to shut it down to examine it in order to find ways to improve it.  Instead I will let it run while I look at improvements, or even replacement.

Now, if the same machine were to malfunction and we had more defects than good product, or, even worse, someone were injured or killed, then yes, shut it down and fix it.

Our immigration system from these seven countries was working well, as evidenced by the fact that we had no terrorist attacks from anyone from these countries on our soil.  Agreed, some from those countries have engaged in terrorist acts in Europe, but Europe is not the United States and the dynamics and situations are different.  The situation in Europe is a cause to examine our system by using what is happening in Europe to see how it could be improved.  However, it is not cause to shut it all down to do so.  As I said, our immigration system for these seven countries so far has had zero defects.

Moving on, let me point out one other fact of interest.  Refugees are going to come from high risk countries with high levels of violence and terrorists.  If it were all nice and peaceful they would not have uprooted themselves from home and family and fled their country.  What this means it that in using the criteria of not allowing people in from high risk countries Trump effectively blocks entry to this country to those who need its safety the most.

So, what does this tell us about Trump and his administration?

That they are, tactfully speaking, not deep thinkers.   In fact, they are not thinkers at all – they do not analyze and try to understand the situation and system before making changes.  Instead, they are reactors.  They react and then try to justify, often with alternative facts and denial of actual facts.  Think of them as being the proverbial bull in a china shop, only with the ability to speak.

Next, they don’t care.  They do not care about the hardship that this imposes on people and families – on their livelihood, on their jobs, on their goals and plans.  They  don’t care that many of these people are in productive jobs in the United Sates and that their absence impacts American businesses. They don’t care that some of these people are engaging in important research that could have a potential impact on our medicines and healthcare.  They don’t care that their actions may even cost people their lives.  They don’t care.  They x_lon_syriaboy_170129-nbcnews-ux-1080-600reacted and damn , that felt good.  The rest – they don’t care.

Moving down the list of things we learned from Trump and his administration.  They don’t like to communicate. Nor do they like to coordinate.  A small group wrote this up without input from anyone.  The normal vetting of this executive order to ensure it does not violate laws and the Constitution, that it does what they want it to without unwanted complications and consequences, was not done.  But of course, Trump knows it all anyway and so doesn’t need to worry about that.  Which, come to think of it, is why he so often seems to live in a fantasy world.

This last trait, not vetting it (and isn’t that rather ironic), along with not communicating it in advance and planning on how to best implement it with those who are charged with actually implementing it contributed greatly to the chaos and uncertainty that followed.  That with, of course, the fact that this was a bad, very bad, hugely and bigly bad executive order.

A bad executive order done badly .    Trump and friends managed to get nothing right about this.

All for what?  National security?  To make out country safer?

This does not do that.  Not even a little bit.  In fact, it does the opposite.  It provides evidence for the radicals claim that the US is waging war on Islam and Muslims.  That our words about freedom of religion are nothing more than hollow hypocrisy.  Trump and company’s actions have the potential to increase the effectiveness of the terrorist’s recruitments efforts.

I know, I know.  Many of those supporters of Trump would pooh pooh my claims that Trump’s actions here actually help the terrorists and radicals rather than hurt them.  This despite the fact that the reasoning is sound and is supported by actual events.

There are currently several  Jihadist groups who are hailing Trump’s piece of ant-terrorist action.  One even said that Trump was “the best caller to Islam”. Why?  Because it shows that what the terrorists and radicals have been saying about the United States, that it is at war with Islam and has no true freedom of religion, are true.  It turns what had been their lies into truth.

Or consider the citizens in Iraq.  We, the United States, are working with them to defeat ISIS.  But we won’t let them in?  What message does that send – hello, we think you make fine cannon fodder but don’t really want to have anything else to do with you. Other than help you become good cannon fodder.

Even worse, the message this executive order sends to the American Muslim community is that the United States does not care about the ideals of religious freedom.  That Muslims are second class at best.  Especially when they consider that now Christians will get preferential treatment over all other refugees.

Which brings us to another question being asked – is this a ban on Muslims?  Trump did call for such a ban during his campaign.  Add to that former New York City mayor Giuliani stating during a Fox interview on Saturday that Trump had tasked him with finding some legal way to make a ban on Muslims happen.  Then add to the pot Trump’s order giving Christians priority.

While this is not conclusive, there is enough here to cause extremely justified suspicion that it is indeed a ban based on religious belief.  A ban on Muslims disguised… rather like how laws to discourage black voting back in the good old days were disguised as literacy tests.  And if somehow it is not, then it gives every appearance of being such with all the accompanying issues and problems that such a ban would create.  Including providing aid and comfort to the terrorists.

Not good

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Moving to another one of the interesting questions being asked – why these seven countries?  Yes, President Obama had them on a list.  But, it was not for the sort of actions Trump is engaging in.   Since Trump is busily doing everything he can to undo what President Obama has done, then why not add countries who have actually had some of their citizens attack us on our own soil?   Why not add Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the list?  Or Turkey?

Hmmm, let’s see.  Trump has significant business interests in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.  He has none in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

While not conclusive, it is suspicious.  Add to that the fact that he continues to refuse to release his tax returns and divest himself of his business holdings, or even put them in a blind trust, and I think we have a grand cause to investigate.  Is Trump trying to benefit, or at the very least, trying to protect, his business interests through the office of the Presidency without consideration on whether that is good for the United States or not.

Finally, despite all of this, the facts and the reasons, the protests and the pain it is causing to good people, I see many of his supporters still trying to justify this order and support these actions.  In reading some of the articles and in my discussions with them, some do it out of hatred of Muslims and Islam.  To those people I can only say go to hell cause we are not going to let you create one here in the United States.

Others though are doing so out of fear and ignorance.  To them I say, heal yourselves.  While your intentions may be good, ignorance and fear turn even the best of intentions into terrible actions.  They are the bricks used to line that road to hell.

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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 had an interesting and enlightening conversation the other day with an older black woman.  I found it so because of the light it shines into one reason why so many blacks distrust the police and our justice system.

This woman is, as I said an older black woman.  She has grandchildren, one of whom is 27.  She was married to a man in the Air Force and did quite a bit a traveling until he died unexpectedly in the 90s.  She has a degree in Social Service and Political Science.

During the course of our conversation she related this story about her father.  Or more accurately, her father’s murder.  It happened when she was 13.  And it happened here in Texas.   And it happened in a sundown city.

For those too young or who may have never come across this adjective before, a sundown city was a city or town that had posted a sign stating some version of the following:

“Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In [Insert name of city here]”.

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There were over 10,000 of these cities across the US up until the late 60s.  The city where I currently reside was one such, and, at least until the late 90s, was still a prime area for the KKK.  Today I still see a large number of confederate flags around.  These cities though were not limited to the south but extended to Glendale, California and up to Levittown, NY.  Indeed, most of the towns in Illinois were Sundown cities.

In fact, there were so many of these cities, and so many areas where the Jim Crow laws were strongly enforced, and so many areas where police were more threat than protection for blacks, so many areas where blacks just disappeared, that a book called the “Negro Motorist Green Book” was published annually from 1936 through 1966 by a New York travel agent named Victor H. Green.

This handy book was for blacks traveling in the United States.   This book warned the black traveler of the worse areas (at least the known ones) and about the specific dangers of that area.  It also provided the names of hotels and restaurants that would not serve blacks, and of car repair shops that would not fix their vehicles.

Just stop for a moment and try to imagine this; the country into which you were born, the country of which you are a citizen, the country in which you live and work and raise a family, this country that is supposedly yours too being so dangerous for you that you need a guidebook to help navigate its perils in as much safety as possible.  A guide for traveling in a dangerous country.  One not needed for its white citizens.

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And all of this going on until the mid 1960s.

Just stop and think of that too.  The mid 1960s is not ancient history.  It is not something from our founding.  It is recent history, a history of which millions of Americans (including myself) have personal memory of.

As does this black woman I met.

Which now brings us to what happened to her father in the not so distant past, a past that is recent in fact, recent in both years and memory.  What happened to her father when she was 13?

Or to ask another way, what happened to blacks who were caught in those sundown towns after dark?  If they were lucky they were picked up and arrested by the police, then either escorted out or jailed, and possibly roughed up.  If they were unlucky, then much worse happened; as happened to this woman’s father.

He was found the next morning strung up by his ankles from a tree.  He had been gutted and his intestines soaked the ground under him.  But that was not all.

His penis and testicles had been cut off.  But that was not all.

His penis and testicles were not near him as his intestines were.  They were missing entirely.  The sheriff told this woman’s mother that they were probably fed to the pigs.

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This happened within living memory.

Yes, we have changed laws and processes to reduce and de-institutionalize these more overt forms of racism and bias.  But, do those who would deny that racism plays any significant role today in hiring, in education, in justice, in law enforcement, in society; do those who would argue that there is no real racism in our institutions other than what is being played up and stoked up by trouble makers and liberals out to make political hay; do those people really believe that such deeply embedded institutions, deeply held beliefs, deeply held hatreds, do they really believe that these can be changed as quickly and as easily as a law?

Really?

Laws change more easily and more quickly than attitudes.  Laws change more easily than institutions.

The 1960s were the start of significant and needed changes in regards to race in our country.  But a start is not the finish.  To pretend that it is, to deny this basic fact is then to work to undo that start and push us back to that a different version of that recent past.

The vast majority of blacks realize that the changes needed to enact true and equal justice for all regardless of color is still only in its beginnings.  They have the stories of their still living mothers and fathers, the stories of their still living grandmothers and grandfathers, the stories of their still living uncles and aunts and cousins to tell them so. Stories of loss, of denial, of pain and suffering, of injustice backed by government and institutions, stories of death.

Stories that are reinforced and proven true in their daily lives today.  And by the fact that

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so many whites deny them the lessons of both their personal history and their own current experiences.

They have good reason to be distrustful of police, of the justice system, and of our government overall.   It has been changed, but not totally reformed.  And they remember.  As should we all.

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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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Sometimes some points can best be made with stories. They can provide both some distance while also providing an emotional connection. Here is my attempt at doing so through a parable.

 

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a planet, Vegaria, which was the envy of the galaxy. Vegaria was a rich planet with plenty of resources and a high standard of living.

Twenty years ago, Vegaria was viciously attacked by one of the planets in a nearby solar system, OOminia. Fifty million Vegarians perished on the day of the attack, which leveled an entire continent. Vegaria had launched a counter attack and exacted revenge upon the OOminians. Vegaria then focused itself on rebuilding, and now there is little trace of the attack left, except in the memories of the Vegarians.

There are 6 planets in the OOminian solar system, all of them inhabited by OOminians. While the inhabitants of some of the planets in the solar system are very aggressive and violent, most OOminians are peaceful.

Now, thanks to the successful counter-attack from Vegaria, the OOminians are pretty much confined to their own little solar system. The aggressive OOminians have overtaken all the planets in their solar system. The peaceful OOminians, who allied themselves with Vegaria after the attacks, now live in a continuous war zone, afraid to even step outside of their homes for fear of being conscripted or, worse, of being imprisoned and killed.

Other planets in the galaxy have tried to help the peaceful OOminians, helping them to escape and providing a place of refuge for them. Some of the refugees have even made their way to Vegaria and been granted admission as refugees. At the same time, however, the aggressive OOminians have been sneaking out of their solar system and launching guerrilla attacks on other planets. Citizens of Vegaria fear that OOminia will launch another attack upon them.

Two OOminian refugee families have settled in a large city on Vegaria. They both have found jobs and are trying to make a home for themselves and their families on what is to THEM an alien world.

It is very easy to identify OOminians. While Vegarians are quadrupeds with heads at the end of an expandable neck, OOminians are amorphous blobs that ooze from one place to another by means of extending pseudopods from their bodies. OOminians are also very slimy, and carry slime applicators with them wherever they go to keep their skin from drying out in the atmosphere of Vegaria.

One of the OOminians, Poth, finds a job with a company that has a diverse group of employees, including many other aliens. The other OOminian, Jav, finds a job with a different company that doesn’t hire many aliens. All of Jav’s co-workers are Vegarian.

Poth feels very welcome at his company. Poth’s manager tells him that she isn’t familiar with the OOminian culture and that she will depend on him to help her learn about it. At staff meetings, she makes a point of asking Poth how certain situations would be addressed on OOminian planets. Poth is frequently invited to dine with his co-workers, and he sometimes joins them after work for drinks. He even joins the company basketball team, where his ability to extend his pseudopod to great heights makes him a very popular player.

Four times a day, OOminians have to do a ritual called spreading out, where they extrude several limbs from their bodies as far as they can and then slowly re-absorb them. The ritual takes about 20 minutes. After trying to complete this ritual quietly in the limited space in the men’s restroom, Poth talks to his manager who secures permission for Poth to perform his spreading out in privacy in a large storage area.

Jav’s workplace is different from Poth’s. Her coworkers make a point of wiping their hands after shaking hands with her pseudopod. Sometimes they hide her slime applicator—when Jav mentions this to her manager, the manager tells her that the co-workers are just kidding. A couple of times at staff meetings, Jav tries to make suggestions based on her experiences on OOminia, but her manager quickly shuts that down. “We are not on OOminia,” her manager says firmly. “You need to learn how we do things here.”

Jav also has a difficult time finding a place to perform her spreading out ritual. Co-workers complained after they walked into the women’s restroom when she was performing the ritual, so she asks her manager for ideas on where she could go. The manager shrugged. “I have no idea,” she replied. “I’m not even sure we should be letting you do this on our property or on company time. I’ve heard complaints from the others that you are getting special treatment. Maybe you should clock out and go home to do your little thing.”

Not wanting to cause trouble, Jav starts leaving at lunch and goes home to complete her ritual. She doesn’t really mind because no one ever eats with her anyway. Everyone moves away from her when she enters the lunchroom, and if she tries to sit next to someone, they quickly get up and leave. Her manager tells her it’s because of her body odor.

Because she can only clock out of her job once during the day, Jav performs her spreading out ritual 3 times a day instead of 4. It makes her uncomfortable, especially since her co-workers still hide her slime applicator on a regular basis, so her skin frequently develops large dry spots.

Meanwhile the aggressive OOminians continue to attack other planets, including some in the Vegarian solar system. People on Vegaria become very concerned about the possibility of another attack from Vegaria on their own planet. Some people demand that OOminians living on Vegaria be registered and put into special camps, or even exiled from the planet. Random groups of armed Vegarians begin standing guard outside of houses where OOminians live, keeping armed weapons pointed at the doors. “We’re keeping an eye on the oozers,” they announce loudly. “They can’t bomb us if they can’t leave their houses.”

Poth’s manager talks to him about it. “How are you and your family doing?” she asks with concern. “I know things are pretty unpleasant right now.” Poth confides that he had to walk through a group of armed Vegarians that was stationed outside his house when he came to work that morning. He had actually kept his kids home from school because he was concerned for their safety. The next morning Poth answers a knock at his door to find a group of his co-workers standing outside. “We’re taking you to work,” they say. “And some of us will make sure your kids get to school okay. Those wingnuts will have to go through us to get to you.”

Jav, however, steps out of her house on the same morning and is also met by a group of armed Vegarians. To her horror, she recognizes some of her co-workers among the group. She steps back inside and calls her manager to let her know she can’t make it in to work. The manager tells her that she won’t be paid for the day.

Jav hesitantly tells her manager that some of her co-workers are part of the armed group surrounding her house. “They are on their own time,” the manager says curtly. “They took some vacation time. They have a right to do whatever they want on their own time.”

Jav hangs up and goes to her computer to look through her messages, including several from friends and relatives left behind in the OOminian solar system. She reads through them, answers and deletes them in turn, except for one from a distant cousin. He has been estranged from Jav’s family for years as he is a member of the OOminian military and has been a key figure in several of the recent attacks on other planets. However, she finds herself reading his message over and over again. “Hi cuz! I hope you are okay. I hear things are kind of uncomfortable for OOminians on Vegaria right now. If you are having any problems, let me know. I might know some people who can help.”

Jav nervously extrudes a pseudopod and reabsorbs it several times. Then, slowly, she begins to type. “Dear Cousin, thank you for your note. Things are very scary here right now. I would really appreciate your help.

Six months later, Jav’s manager stares bleakly at what is left of the building where she used to work and shakes her head at the reporter. “I can’t believe it was Jav,” she says. “She was always so quiet. She had a couple of problems when she first got here, but once she settled in, I never heard anything from her.”

“What about her co-workers” the reporter asks. “Did she get along with them?”

“As far as I could tell. They were always joking around with her.” The manager bows her head. “I just can’t believe they are all… gone.”

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