Wednesday, July 6, 2016

#AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile

Note: I want to believe we, the American people, are better than police slaughtering people of color, the systematized racist solution to keeping white people in the majority and people of color powerless. How many of you feel fear every time your spouse leaves the house, because you are afraid he won't come home? That he will be stopped by the police and possibly killed? I do -- every single time he goes out the door and even when I go with him, because I know I cannot protect him. I watched that police officer who killed Philando Castile become completely unhinged, unfit for duty, and yet, he got to go home and Philando didn't. He died, sitting in his car, as his girlfriend and her four-year-old watched. The world has proven to me that my beliefs are naive and this post is naive. No justice. No peace.

Alton Castile

Philando Castile

I am immersed in this election campaign, debating and sharing mostly with my liberal friends – most of my conservative friends no longer speak to me, nor I to them. I never thought I would be that person. I always enjoyed having a diverse group of friends, friends who could never gather all together in one room at the same time. Then one day I got angry.
I am an optimist. If I didn’t have that trait, I might not have made it through my childhood with an alcoholic mother. I might not have made it through the years when the world thought our interracial marriage was wrong and took actions against us to prove it. I might not have picked up and moved from a somewhat comfortable place to a new place with a new culture – from North to South. From a place where immigrants are common to a place that takes pride in its generations-long heritage, no matter how violent, oppressive, exclusionary, and divided it was.
My optimism keeps me going.
But on the 4th of July, I lost my optimism.
I am in mourning for so many senseless, violent, terrorist acts, and the lives they took, being perpetrated across the world in Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, Dahka, and Baghdad. I am holding my breath, anticipating the next tragedy.
In the United States a vile, negative presidential campaign is building up to the conventions taking place this month. It is a cult of personality: a clash between reality and reality TV; between the truth of progress and the lies of racism, hatred, misogyny, fear, and illusion; and between two different visions of America’s past, present, and future.
Daily I feel assaulted by the Trump campaign messages and the comments of his supporters. No political correctness on their parts, just plain discriminatory and hateful messages. Yet they come with the self-righteousness of disenfranchised, mostly white people who are impacted by a rigged system – a system rigged in favor of white, wealthy people and against everyone else, although there is a hierarchy of the disenfranchised with white males on top and women, people of color, and LGBT people at the bottom. Unfortunately, these same individuals are supporting the very person who epitomizes the unfairness of the system.
Then today I heard about a shooting in Baton Rouge. The alleged suspect Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two police officers when one of the officers pulled his gun and shot him in the chest six times, execution style. Alton Sterling was 37 years old. He was the father of five.  They had already tasered him, and after they shot and killed him, they pulled a gun from his pants pocket. I watched the mother of his oldest son speak to the media at a press conference called by the local NAACP, religious leaders, and elected city officials. I watched his fifteen-year-old son cry unabashedly in front of the cameras – a child full of despair, who lost his father and has the video of his execution burned into his brain. A child who is no safer on the street than his father was.
Where is my optimism now? It is crushed beneath the weight of Jim Crow.
How is it that some people can support Trump as a candidate and a military-style, vigilante-style police presence in predominately ethnic minority communities? Racism is alive and well.  Jim Crow is thriving. Individuals unaffected by racism pretend it doesn’t exist. Yet their subconscious racial bias supports systemic racism. Oftentimes they blame the targeted group, people of color, as being somehow unfit and unworthy of equal treatment.
This case has been turned over to the FBI and the Federal Department of Justice for a thorough investigation. However, the burden of proof is so strict in these violent and murderous police stops that very few are prosecuted. It seems a fruitless endeavor. Strange fruit, no longer hanging from trees, but lying on concrete, bodies, often left uncovered, surrounded by police tape, growing stiff, families and communities left behind to mourn: all to warn people of color what will happen to them if they forget their marginalized status in society.
I still want to feel that small kernel of hope in my heart. Strange, right? Yet I want to believe humanity will understand inequality, discrimination, and supremacy and want to stop them, because it is the right thing to do.
I felt it after crying my way through Free State of Jones, which we saw on Independence Day, the same day I suffered the loss of optimism. The truth is human beings are complex, feelings are complex, and we often have conflicting feelings about the world around us.
The film is about Newt Knight, a white Southerner who deserted the Confederate army because he believed it was a rich man’s war, fought by poor men. He also assisted the Union army, embraced slaves as his equals, and raised an American flag at the courthouse of the Jones County Seat in Mississippi, one of the most historically racist states in our country.
After watching Alton Sterling die over and over on the news, I started researching Newt Knight on the internet and found this article from Simthsonian Magazine. It parses out the true story from the poetic license of the movie and talks about the process writer and director Gary Ross (Hunger Games) went through to make the film.
Joseph Hosey, a forester in Jones County, and an extra on the film Free State of Jones said, when interviewed for the article, “When you grow up in the South, you hear all the time about your ‘heritage,’ like it’s the greatest thing there is. When I hear that word, I think of grits and sweet tea, but mostly I think about slavery and racism, and it pains me. Newt Knight gives me something in my heritage, as a white Southerner, that I can feel proud about. We didn’t all go along with it.”
Many other community members of Jones County consider Newt Knight “what we call trailer trash.”
John Cox, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans went on to say, “I wouldn’t have him in my house. And like all poor, white, ignorant trash, he was in it for himself. Some people are far too enamored of the idea that he was Martin Luther King, and these are the same people who believe the War Between the States was about slavery, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
I find it interesting when wealthy white people claim that it is poor people who are crafty and unreliable with the truth. Trump exhibits that same distinction every time he steps up to the podium and spins his version of America.
Reading the article on Newt Knight lit the coal of my optimism again. It isn’t because the history of Jones County and Newt Knight is clear and simple. It is because his story reveals our country’s complex history and who we are as a people, inclusive of all Americans, not just some.
Newt Knight, his life story, and the story of his mixed-race descendants, remind me that there are people who can move beyond systemic racism, the craziness of segregation, and self-righteous superiority.
There are people who think as I do and feel as I do. They are the ones who refuse to turn a blind eye, who refuse to accept an unfair system based on skin color, and who refuse to be silent. They understand the country and its relationship with race are complex, but they don’t give up. They are quietly heroic, and sometimes loudly and violently opposed to the directions our country took, and continues to take, throughout our history. They tell the stories of race in our country even when Hollywood can’t believe anyone would be interested and there may be no money made from making the film. 
Together we can challenge those who refuse to see the truth of our country and who will not acknowledge the systemic racism that ensures continued white supremacy and privilege and makes life dangerous and deadly for people like Alton Sterling. We can challenge Trump and the ignorance he is peddling like a carnie peddling snake oil.
Newt Knight continued to be a true rebel even after death. He asked to be buried next to Rachel his black common-law wife (he never divorced his first wife, and mixed race marriage was illegal) who was his grandfather’s slave and with whom he fathered five children. It was illegal for whites and blacks to be buried side-by-side in Mississippi, but his family refused to bend, and he was buried next to the woman he loved for eternity.
His gravestone tells the story of his life and legacy: “He lived for others.” May each of us one day be able to claim that truth.
#HandsUp; #Don’tShoot; #BlackLivesMatter; #AltonSterling; #Morethan500; #Don’tBeSilent

Newt Knight 
Note: Another fatal police shooting in MN overnight (7/7/2016). Philando Castile, 34, stopped for a broken taillight  and asked to get his license and registration, was shot as he retrieved them. Jim Crow lives. People of color die. Don't be silent. #PhilandoCastile

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