Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is What Apartheid Looks Like in America

Words failed me because America failed in race relations again.  I spent a sleepless night after Prosecutor McColloch spent half an hour defending the grand jury process even though his use of it was far outside standard procedure. He spent most of the time bashing witness credibility and Michael Brown’s character while defending Darren Wilson, the man he was supposed to be considering charges against. With nine whites and three blacks on the jury, there was no other outcome possible. I knew this even as I held a glimmer of hope.
Then I watched the streets of Ferguson swirl into chaos, fire, anguish, rage, and hopelessness.
AP photo of Ferguson protests
This is what Apartheid looks like in America. This is the systemic implementation of racist and biased policies, laws, and actions in our courtrooms, in our neighborhoods, in stand your ground laws that seem expressly written for the protection of white Americans, and in the ethnic and racial makeup of a militarized police presence.
CNN reported, “Wilson called the area where Brown was shot a "hostile environment."
Wilson testified, "There's a lot of gangs that reside or associate with that area. There's a lot of violence in that area, there's a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community. That community doesn't like the police."
Why is the community suspicious of police? Because the police and the city used the community as a source of income, issuing tickets and fining people based on petty charges. The police presence was not a positive presence but a force of containment and oppression.
I believe it is a high crime area. There is a lot of poverty with few paths out. That causes an environment where some believe crime is an acceptable way of life. But not all citizens who live there believe that and live good, honest lives. They should be afforded the same police protections that the rest of America, white America, enjoys. They are there by circumstance, not necessarily by choice. Why do the police, officials, and the media impugn the whole community and not just the criminals? How can a police officer adequately protect and serve a community he doesn’t like?
He can’t.
Justice is bankrupt, and racism prevails.
While we argue causes and fling hatred and suspicion back and forth, more black men and boys die.
Including Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old carrying a toy gun. Look at his face. He is a child. Why did the man who called 911 call him a man and why didn’t the police acknowledge that he was just a kid and treat him as one? Racial bias blinds them.
Tamir Rice
Ronald left the house twenty minutes before the verdict was read. We had already watched four hours of coverage, and he said he didn’t want to see the verdict. He did not want to relive the George Zimmerman verdict. We had watched that verdict together. I cried; he got angry, then silent.
I knew I had to watch the grand jury announcement even as I understood he could not. I kissed him good-bye and told him to be careful. He already knew the verdict, and my silence when he got home, and again this morning, told him he was correct.
I understand hopelessness. I see it in the faces of the protestors, in the tears shed by Michael Brown’s family, in the comments on my Facebook page, and in the way Ronald grows more introspective daily. I suffer the same hopelessness.
If we don’t fight for change, the violence will grow and more black boys and men will die, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The death of black men and boys is epidemic in this country.
I also understand that the election of a mixed race president did not usher us into a post-racial world. Instead it brought to light the very real inequality and injustice under which our society operates. Denial won’t change that fact.
The things that will change systemic racism are the following:
·      Video cameras on every police officer
·      Police departments that reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the communities they serve
·      Viable citizen review boards
·      Better and more comprehensive diversity training for officers
·      Better and more comprehensive training for officers on how to provide a positive community presence that promotes a safe environment rather than an adversarial force that works against citizens
·      Equality in the criminal justice system including the charges brought against offenders, sentencing, and the length of prison terms
We also need to have that conversation about race in America.  
Let me be brutally honest: If you believe race does not affect your life, then you are one of the privileged in this country. If you don’t care about or support the growing use of unnecessary force against citizens of color, you are racist and one of the privileged. If you don’t care about black boys and men being killed at the hands of police officers and vigilantes hiding behind stand your ground laws, you are a racist and one of the privileged. If you believe that every black community is full of lazy and lawless people, you are a racist and one of the privileged.
This is a tragedy for all Americans, not just black Americans.
We need to dig down into the history of our country and the institutional and systemic factors that cause bias and oppression. We need to acknowledge how this country was taken from Native Americans and how it was built on the backs of slaves. We need to acknowledge that  we continue to create an underclass through sub-poverty wages, sub-standard schools, and the high cost of college tuition.
Then we need to educate the public about these truths and make the changes necessary through the enactment of laws that protect equality and through Federal government oversight. We already know that states fail to achieve equality and justice for their citizens. Ferguson has proven that yet again with the appointment of a biased prosecutor, an almost all-white police force in a city that is 70% black, a jury that was predominately white, and in the militarized response to protests.
If we don’t make those changes, black men and boys will continue to die in record numbers.

This is what Apartheid looks like in America.
Michael Brown will not be forgotten

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Change of Color

I loved autumn as a child. The turning of the leaves coincided with the joy I felt being back at school, learning new things, reading new books, and getting to know new teachers and classmates. For me, it was the start of things rather than the beginning of the end. The crisp air and cold puddles hinted at what was to come.
The leaves are at their peak, and they are as lovely as ever. The changing of the seasons helps me remember that all things change even when they feel static as lead weights. Knowing change is part of the life cycle keeps me hopeful.
A year ago I began what I imagined was the painful process of growing the dye out of my hair and letting it turn to its natural color. I had dyed my hair since the age of 38 and now I am 57, so I had no idea just how much or how little gray would come in. I imagined walking around with a skunk stripe and being judged harshly by anyone caring to notice. I wore hats most of the winter, and that helped the transition go smoothly. I strategically lopped off hair, not too short, as it caused Ronald anxiety, but enough to speed the process. A year later, my transformation is complete.

I love my steel gray hair mixed liberally with dark brown strands. It is beautiful. Instead of being judged as old or ugly, I’ve been stopped countless times and told how lovely my hair is. One young woman asked if I’d had it dyed that way, and I gave her my shy smile and said, “Just the opposite. I’ve let it go natural.”
“It’s so beautiful,” she said.
Ronald, supportive but slightly anxious about my penchant for impulsivity, declared my natural hair as beautiful as he remembered it and stated, as if we had not discussed it in depth many times, that he knew it all along.
Nature knows how to put colors together just like those autumn leaves, so why do we try to second-guess it?
We early voted this week. The poll was not too crowded. We waited less than ten minutes. I was surprised to see a constitutional amendment up for vote. The last one we voted on in 2012, the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, was effectively called unconstitutional by the SCOTUS. Of course, Thom Tillis, Speaker of the State Legislature, who is running against Senator Kay Hagan, is hiring outside counsel at taxpayers’ expense to defend the amendment. I call it beating a dead horse. I’m hoping his campaign ends up dying, too, in spite of the Koch brothers’ money funding it.
The new amendment is stated as follows: “Constitutional amendment providing that a person accused of any criminal offense for which the State is not seeking a sentence of death in superior court may, in writing or on the record in court and with the consent of the trial judge, waive the person’s right to a trial by jury.”

Read more here: Charlotte Observer
North Carolina is apparently the only state that requires a trial by jury for defendants facing felony charges. But, hey, it’s North Carolina, and after reading the amendment, I chose to vote no. Walking back to the car after voting, Ronald and I talked about it. We both came to the conclusion that coercion might be a tactic for saving money on jury trials and to ensure the outcome wanted whether it is justice or injustice. The Charlotte Observer, in the article linked above, noted that attorneys might sway judges through campaign contributions and other methods. The history here is too awful to be ignored.
Because it’s campaign season again, I am angry and tired by the hate ads in the media. Our phone rings constantly, I open my email to see hundreds of pleas for money, and the mailbox is stuffed with flyers. I understand the urgency, and I get information from both parties because I have written to my representatives and, even if I am in disagreement, I end up on their mailing lists.
I am offended by the GOP’s courting of women and minorities even though they do not and will not have our interests in mind. Do they really think we are that stupid?
Halloween hasn’t helped with Internet photos of white people in blackface, decorations that depict lynching, and the articles written about them. Privilege of the few is exhausting for everyone else on the other side. It’s also dangerous and sometimes fatal.
Then I can’t face it anymore. I don’t want to talk or write about it. I am too angry and too offended by the news and reports. I wish it would just go away. But there it is, every single day, with millions of people pretending it doesn’t exist.
I guess that’s why I still get excited when I vote. I think about the people who waged battles and the ones who lost their lives to ensure women and blacks could vote, and I want to both honor those who sacrificed and also feel like my vote can make a difference. I’m not sure it makes a difference, but if we don’t try, what is left to do?
Today as I finish this post a cold rain pelts the colorful leaves and they drop to the ground, one or many at a time. The trees are turning barren and gray. I can feel the chill in my bones, and I’m voting for the sun to appear, but I know my vote will not count in this case.

But nature makes the colors work and gives me hope for the change I know will come.