American Brother Malcolm

About 18 years ago, while I was still living in Lincoln, Nebraska, my brother-in-law decided to fly further west from being in Chicago for a Catholic Worker’s conference, for a little visit before heading back to Albany.  During his stay, we rented a car and made a pilgrimage out to Omaha for two reasons: to visit Boy’s Town headquarters — literally in the nearby village of Boy’s Town, Nebraska — for my father who was a fan of Father Flanagan, and to visit the birth-home of Malcolm Little, of course also known as Malcolm X.

Figuring we were very close to the house, we spotted a local social justice center in the city to ask.  We introduced ourselves, enthusiastically shared how we came all the way from New York and, well, Lincoln, and asked about some other possible details surrounding the house.  But the guy’s tone unusually erred towards disappointment.  After we told him the address of the house, he pointed over our shoulders and indicated, well, it “used to be” up that hill.

So we drove up, and from the side of the road all we saw was this plaque…

malcolm x plaque

And for some reason the text of the plaque was not even facing the road, but the woods behind it. “Is that it? (emphasis two different times, on “that” and “it”)!  I remember looking down to my left and still seeing the pole with street-signs for 34th and Pinkney mixed with the trees.  My brother-in-law and I both felt a big sense of disappointment and sadness, while mitigating a sense of outrage.  (I could not help but note the choice of wording in the text of “allegedly murdered”, as well as “became outspoken” as opposed to ‘spoke out against’.)

And with that said, fifty years ago this past February 21st happened to be the assassination of Malcolm, in New York City, at both the non-alleged hands and as a result of having spoken out against its ego-corrupted head of his former brotherhood.

Money Talks, and where does ‘the Right Thing’ Walk?

I don’t agree with the headline that he ‘rips McConnell a new one': http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/02/20/obama-trashes-mcconnell/

…I wonder, when it comes to the issue of fiscal irresponsibility if Democrats and Republicans on the ground are mad at the same thing, but just choose to label it differently.  The labeling is of course a result of disinformation and misinformation, from the right-wing, to which I wish The White House and/or Democrats in Congress would put together some sort of widely publicized, ‘round-the-clock or just a daily effort to more concertedly, transparently inform the public regarding what they are actually trying to do for the middle-class.  Let me just clarify that our economic progress has been a credit to those beneath and between all of the ballyhoo from above, but it could have been improving at a faster pace.  And, I suppose this may still answer the question behind “genuine ideas”, as mentioned in here speech.  But I still wonder if both sides agree we are living in a corporatocracy (or, plutocracy), and both sides blame the government for allowing corporate money to continue to do its damage, and thus just label who is right and wrong differently.  The lack of civilized conversation between red and blue states of mind still foster this stitched-in-Cambodia blanket of runaway greed.

The GOP, in their continued attempts to label themselves as the GNP, are simply still a long ways worthy of our trust, in both message and spirit.  ‘How many more election losses is it going to take?’, can safely be the new Democratic campaign slogan.  We cannot have all-out Social Darwinism if, for one, many on the right still insist on living in the 1950s as far as many a social value.  As former Speaker of the House during Reagan’s tenure, Tip O’Neill said it, their economic policy is all theory and no practice.  It sounds lovely and just, all in the name of liberty.  In theory, we can all individually push to create our own opportunity, and create communities in order to foster any and all various fields of opportunity, without the help of ‘big’ government.  Everyone can do the right thing for one another, and compete fairly against one another, in theory.  But you gotta somehow share the wealth.  (And, for any who want to label this as preaching socialism, bear in mind of course how any ‘ism’ can work just fine so long as it is not corrupt.)

A Higher Love

In the past, like many do so now, I’ve felt plenty desire to be outspoken against Valentine’s Day. But like all the times you can’t give up on love ’cause it ain’t gonna give up on you, for all the arguments to try and dismiss this holiday, I have found that all can actually be countermanded…

I went as far as wanting to renounce it as a made-up holiday ironically designed to get us to spend cash in this wintry down-season for retail, forgetting (or, I guess, wanting to deny) reading accounts of a martyred saint.

Legend has it in the 3rd century A.D. a Father Valentine performed marriages in direct defiance of the tradition being banned by then Roman emperor, Claudius II. The Father was captured and imprisoned, and from there sentenced to death. Couples whom he had married, however, visited him in prison, and parted with gifts of flowers and notes of gratitude for his brave actions.

He was then believed to have fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter, and on the day he was to be executed — February 14 — had written her a note with the salutation, ‘from your Valentine’.

…Quite the heavy set of underpinnings when thinking of gifting someone chocolates.

Or, the idea that giving romance an international holiday would defy it of one of its principal ingredients: spontaneity.

As life evolves under this and virtually every economic system, trying to mitigate choices and pressures both tedious and necessary, romance to some greater or lesser degree gets ‘banned’.

Yet, if I were able to do something whenever the moment would seize me for my now long-distance fiancée, throughout a whole year, what would be the harm in doing something for her on this day in unison with others?

As you can see, I am still one, and not the sort who thinks Fifty Shades of Grandiose Pretense is. And as long as the gift is simple, creative, and from the heart, you’re good. It is supposed to be kept easy and fun, since not all of us can do it laying down.

I, like so many an undeveloped youth, could not help but develop the notion that the more random the search the more romantic you are. By this route, you are just making things exceptionally difficult for yourself.

The search for love, like with just about everything else in life, essentially comes down to basic math. If you place yourself in a community who are civil to your values and interests, it increases your self-esteem, decreases anxiety, and drastically increases your chances of meeting and establishing something with someone. For in either case, it finds you more often than you find it.

Love, the intimate sharing thereof, is something both the creative and misperceived not-so-creative long for in order to become better at what they do. It is a higher power, for which we can never fight off its mortal wounds but can only free ourselves upon acknowledging we’re never alone in the fight.

So to all esteemed martyrs who may still feel lacking on this day, don’t respond hopelessly or bitterly against it, but bigger about it. The opposite should be wrong with the idea of designating a virtual International Day of Romance, yes?

Black and Blue, All Over

In the early 1950s, President Eisenhower needed to nominate a new Chief Justice.  His attention ultimately centered on the three-term governor of California, Earl Warren. Warren, the more conservative Eisenhower felt, on paper, like a political moderate, and was enthused the two would relate.

However, as David Halberstam put it in one of my favorite books, The Fifties: “If Dwight Eisenhower had decided from Earl Warren’s record that the two of them shared similar attitudes and values, then he was wrong. They could not have been more different. They might have come from similar backgrounds, but Eisenhower had long ago removed himself from the complexities of contemporary American life by going off to the military; there he was largely isolated from the changes in the society.”

I loved this insight when I first read it.  One of my closest friends for almost thirty years has been a Marine now for about twenty-five of them.  And reading that paragraph instantly reminded me of the many rifts between civilians and many of his military friends and peers when we often hung out.

I can’t speak for them but I nor my friend were ever easily accepting of such rifts.  Marines can adapt a very clique-ish, walk-on-water attitude when out and about among civilians (and not to mention, among other branches in the military).  Such instances paid towards myself, I would quietly resent how all they pretty much had to do was sign their names on a dotted line and obtain an instant career — along with obtain future benefits like free travel and a free college education.

As an artist, I have always felt among the lowest scrapping along the opportunity totem-pole, with an ego just as big but an even bigger — that is, recognizable — inferiority complex.  So, in this sense, I know what it is like to feel shunned.  But, unlike regular folk, the common fear/point of view military and law enforcement people are trained for and more accustomed to is the enormous, practical responsibility of having to think in terms of enforcing general safety, every day.

However, it has become very easy to sense how this social disconnect has now drastically widened as police forces in unheard-of small towns and cities across America have become inexplicably militarized — courtesy of hand-me-down equipment like tanks and grenade-launchers, from our most recent wars.  Having been at war for now over thirteen years, we as a nation have certainly become very accustomed to it.  And these weapons have certainly handed down a tangible, offensive sense of amoral over-dramatization — and, overcompensated imagination — to tellingly drama-free areas.  I mean, there are reasons, say, here in upstate New York one can only see ‘Repeal the SAFE Act’ signs out on cricket-laden suburban and rural lawns — largely populated by whites — and only ‘Stop the violence’ signs posted around poor, inner-city neighborhoods — largely populated by minorities.

Meanwhile, and by absolutely no means to underscore, the real ‘thieves’ — the lobbying powers anchoring the revenue of guns, et al — continue to go about business as usual.

 

In the immediate aftermath of his death Eric Garner’s widow and daughter both expressed believing race had nothing to do with it.  A very wise declaration — as wisdom is yet again stubbornly lacking on both sides of this matter.  For one, saying this of course downplays any a potential riot that could spring at any time, any place, and under any circumstance, under their family name.  And on the flip-side, we can all see how difficult it can be to reasonably rule out race as a factor, in the abstract, upon gathering the facts from one such incident to the next.

We’ve all seen the video and read the key components about the Eric Garner incident:
– Why go to such great lengths to arrest a man for selling tax-free cigarettes?
– The local police had a history of verbally harassing Garner, over this, according to both what he kept saying in the video and in later accounts from his family.
– The two officers questioning him initially appeared as calm as can be.  It was in broad daylight, and there was no chase to get their adrenaline revved up.

And so when they finally motioned to make an arrest Garner backed up a little, held his hands back, and up, insisting, “Please, do not touch me.”  Then the one officer from behind slipped a choke-hold on him.  (Now, if one sustains an object while applying some type of force this can be referred to as a ‘hold’.  And if such a hold happens to be an arm wrapped around a person’s throat, then this can literally be referred to as a ‘choke-hold’ — which is illegal in the NYPD.)

At no point was Garner physically resisting arrest, even after he was pulled face-down, head pinned against the pavement, repeatedly heard pleading, “I can’t breathe”, while several officers now jumped in, and at some point as a result of all this, dying.

This is a very clear case of police-misconduct.

Trayvon Martin: in one particular defense of George Zimmerman’s character, he was among the few protesting a police beating of a black homeless man, Sherman Ware, in 2010.  By all accounts, it seems reasonable to assess that Mr. Zimmerman simply should not have created his own ‘Ground’ […sigh] by getting out of his out of his car, as a result of, well, manifested boredom.

Michael Brown was an upsetting result of differing eyewitness accounts.  But, later, in nearby Berkeley, Missouri, was a clear case of an actual armed [black] man having pulled his gun on a [white] police officer and the officer justifiably engaging in self-defense.  And in between, we have this interesting, recent post by a retired St. Louis police officer.

Tamir Rice is an extraordinary case of incompetence, immaturity, poor training and conditioning.  I mean, of course with complete respect to Tamir’s family, but this fool of an officer must have gone to the Reno 911 academy.

Akai Gurley is yet another clear case of lack of common sense.  If officers — in this case, an Asian-American officer — are ordered to patrol a housing project of poor residents, very late at night, as a result of some recent homicides, but there is no lighting in the building, then YOU CANNOT PATROL WHAT YOU CANNOT SEE!

Jerome Reid: despite being very loudly, clearly, and repeatedly warned not to move, with a gun pointed at his face, he started to step out of his car with his hands raised about shoulder level.  The officers then opened fire, killing him.  Reid and the man driving the car were black.  The Bridgeton officer who spotted the gun, Braheme Days, is black; his partner, white.  Reid had spent about 13 years in prison for shooting at three state troopers when he was a teenager, and officer Days knew who he was.  Days was among the arresting officers last year when Reid was charged with several crimes, including drug possession and obstruction.  Both officers have been placed on leave while prosecutors investigate.

Since the Rodney King travesty, in spite of the LAPD’s decision to undergo sensitivity training as they continue to largely, successfully conduct community outreach, there was the recent case of a California officer pummeling a homeless, black great-grandmother alongside a highway.  This did end up with a $1.5 million settlement in her favor.

 

There are countless scripts, even in our recent history.  Take the Central Park Five case from the not-too-long-ago 1980s: five black teens with five different, video-recorded confessions, charged with the rape of a white, female jogger, one night, in Central Park.  With each different video-confession presented in front of the jury, each of the five were still convicted of the same crime.  Or, personally, the stunning dozen or so instances my one friend rattled off in one conversation of being pulled over for DWB.  I never knew it was illegal, for one, to have something like an air-freshener hang from your rearview-mirror.  I suppose, because I never ‘fit the description’.  The perennially high percentage of mistrust minorities have towards law enforcement in cities and towns throughout the country reflects the high percentage who have a decreased confidence in our legal system.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, there is a chapter towards the end entitled, “Seven Seconds in the Bronx”.  This chapter I strongly urge reading for the sake of here conversation.  It extensively deconstructs — and proposes ideas and solutions, analyzed and practiced, among some local police forces — details surrounding the Amadou Diallo shooting.

The four officers in this famous case made a string of instinctively shallow and profoundly regrettable decisions: no real second-guessing of the subtly influential elements surrounding them, and very little precaution taken to better ensure self-defense.

Towards the end of the chapter is a quote by a psychologist, Keith Payne, that pretty well sums up everything here: “When we make a split-second decision we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe [my italics].”  The word ‘prejudice’ of course never automatically refers to racial-prejudice, but you can see how race can still be considered a factor, both directly and indirectly, in every case involving a law enforcement official shooting a usually poor, black civilian.

 

We are all very busy people, continuing to go about our daily lives business as usual.  And this does not forgive how easily sensationalized we can be from being more generally bored than we would care to admit.  And, so long as we are here, journalistic leads ought to exclude mentioning race in their initial reporting of these instances until more of the facts are gathered.

 

One of the first Supreme Court cases Chief Justice Warren presided over was Brown v. Board of Education.  He sought amongst his associates a clear, unanimous 9-0 decision (unheard of in today’s Court) in favor of desegregation as a means to signal at least a legal balance between liberals and conservatives alike. Naturally, a more conservative justice wanted to write his own concurring opinion and another continued to hold out at 8-1.  But, by May of 1954, the unanimous decision was reached.

This decision was long deliberated over, as a result of being very long overdue.  For later in life, a few years since retired now, Warren would be brought to tears when asked during an interview about his decision as California governor to intern 110,000 Japanese-American citizens living in the state, during WWII.  As a strong advocate throughout his career for young Americans to have a decent education, and to be treated with equity and respect, fear and misunderstanding obviously overtook reason at this point in time.  Oh, the inestimable power of conformity, and the difficulty — if ever — to think for oneself in the face of it.