UPDATE: November 25, 2019

Much remains the same since I wrote this post back in 2014, and some are actually worse. One thing that is better (and worse) is a new Tamir Rice Safety Handbook created by the ACLU of Ohio in collaboration with Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice.

The better is that Samaria Rice can help publicize a tool that may keep other children from being killed. The worse is that we need a guide for black and brown children to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

 

ORIGINAL POST: November 25, 2014

I knew the Ferguson grand jury would not indict officer Wilson. I’m not cynical, just familiar with history.

I knew I would feel like shit hearing the outcome, but I wouldn’t have predicted the sadness. I naturally lean toward anger & outrage in the face of our ongoing social & political injustice.

Closer to home, Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy from my old neighborhood who was killed by a police officer on November 22 for having a toy gun, deepens my sadness and amplifies the questions.

  • How will we change the value we place on black lives in this country?
  • How will we change the perception that black skin is to be feared – the assumption that drives and justifies a violent response from police?
  • How will we grant black teenagers the benefit of youthful stupidity – a privilege widely enjoyed by white teenagers?

The biggest question, the one that is currently making me sad is – what do we do now?

I just taught a workshop the other day about dealing with difficult situations by recognizing your habitual responses and learning about different potential choices. Deciding how to respond rather than just reacting.

So how will we respond to our deeply flawed and biased society? What do we address first? The legal system? Gun culture? Institutional racism? The fact that citizens are brainwashed into thinking that they have no power to change the system?

If I had my druthers I’d start with eliminating folks feelings of collective helplessness so we can get to collective action.

We need to do more.

I need to do more.

Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir Rice was killed

Thank god for cell phones.

The images of the protests and police reaction in Ferguson, Missouri over the past week are grotesquely similar to images from the civil rights confrontations from the 1960’s. One difference being the real-time broadcast to the world of events that seem like they should be taking place in another country.

A country at war.

Maybe its the litany of names that is making it hard to ignore the truth but it seems like attention is finally being paid to the institutional racism that is fact in the USA.

I watched a video blogger this morning reading and reacting to a HuffPost story about how white suspects are treated better than black victims. What struck me about it wasn’t his outrage, but the fact that institutional bias and subtle racism are still news.

A lot of people still don’t believe – no matter what evidence is presented – that we live in and have created a country of unequal treatment, unequal opportunity and unequal justice under the law.

People of the American “Cis-majority” – people assigned to white privilege at birth – need to understand the magnitude of difference in how they experience the world and how African-Americans experience the world.

The concept of white privilege seems to have stopped shocking people the way it once did. Maybe a concept of “Cis-majority” can rattle the cages of those who do not count themselves among the culpable.

We are all culpable. Everyone operates from unconscious bias. I do. You do, no exceptions. All of us have power to do harm.

Some of us just happen to have the power to do grievous harm when choices are informed by unchecked unconscious bias and institutional structures that aid and abet racist outcomes.

Some of us just happen to jump to the conclusion that a black man, by his very existence, is dangerous. Some of those jumping to conclusions carry guns.

All of us, no matter the degree of our “Cis-majority”, can at minimum shut up and believe black people when they say they are experiencing discrimination, racial profiling, disproportionate arrest and wildly disproportionate incarceration.

Black people standing in the streets in Ferguson are not “complaining”, “defying the rule of law”, or “being disrespectful to police”, they are protesting. Exercising a right that’s supposed to belong to all American citizens.

Oh wait, we’re not comfortable with “them” exercising that right because it makes “us” uncomfortable what with “them” being so prone to violence and all. It just goes on and on and on and on.

Heres a hope. When he gets back from vacation maybe President Obama can work with the slogan “Shut up and believe” since he can’t seem to get behind “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

Something has gotta change. Now.

Read the Huff Post article here.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

 

 

 

An uncomfortable truth is hidden under the national discussion about music being played too loud, and the hoodies that criminals wear. Racism is not going anywhere.

I feel this observation needs to be made especially in light of the recent Academy Award’s presented to Lupita Nyong’o and John Ridley. I don’t wish to minimize their achievements, just to point out that they will eventually be used by someone as an example of our post-racial society.

I’ve written this particular post several times since mid-February when the trial of Jordan Davis’s killer was in the news. I filed rather than published because I’m always weighing the relative merits of my opinions about racial justice issues against the fact that I am white, female, suburban and part of the “chattering class”, which may actually be a generous stretch for this blog.

I hesitated because as good as it feels to vent, or in this case Rant, self-righteousness and hyperbole are rarely positives. I care too much about these issues to be flip or off the cuff.

It is the impact of these “Stand Your Ground” self-defense cases that is haunting my thinking at the moment. Specifically the no duty to retreat provision.

The institutional racism of our judicial system, or any kind of systemic oppression, is a hard sell when people are not willing to acknowledge their own biases. So anyone talking about how the killings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin are racially motivated is derailed, shouted down and marginalized.

The national discussion of the Stand Your Ground laws invariably skirts racism by focusing on an individuals right to protect themselves against a perceived threat. Self-defense is at the core. Rarely is the fact established that the act of being a black male in our culture IS automatically a perceived threat.

If you are afraid for your safety, and there is no need to de-escalate, a “reasonable person” would be justified in protecting themselves. Media generally presents black men as dangerous, so a “reasonable person” can be expected to be afraid of black men. Except that second sentence is never stated.

Klappstecker_SicherheitNo duty to retreat is the linchpin to this specific kind of institutional racism. Subjective perceptions of threat trump evidence and facts. My feelings about your potential to hurt me justifies necessary force. It’s quite disheartening.

I have heard some folks saying that the celebrating of 12 Years a Slave by the Academy shows that we as a culture are ready to talk about race and slavery in an honest way. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe its true.

If we are ready to talk about race in the US, let’s start the conversation by believing that racism still exists, there is no such thing as the race card, and actions count more than intentions. My recommended moderators for this national conversation:

Onward and upward.

It is disheartening how little impact the mass murder of 20 elementary school children has had on gun regulations. Increased background check legislation stalled, restrictions on automatic weapons and military grade ammunition not happening. I guess the horror fades for some folks if it’s not your kid, and the political will to take on the gun lobby is clearly nonexistent.

In fact “In the 12 months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., almost every state has enacted at least one new gun law“, however, of the 109 laws passed 70 eased restrictions and expanded the rights of gun owners.

Unbelievable in the wake of the unspeakable.

Below is what I wrote a year ago in reaction to the massacre of 20 children and the 6 teachers trying to protect them.

December 21, 2012

It is such a short trip to the land of fear. It’s a place you can get to from just about anywhere.

The predictable response from the NRA to the massacre in Sandy Hook was to blame every other societal ill beside gun proliferation. And of course to advocate for more guns because “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre points to our “blood-soaked culture” as reason for the violence rather than the ease of obtaining military grade weapons equipped with high-powered ammunition. One of many arguments based on the idea that our culture has disintegrated, youth are desensitized, music videos glorify thug life, and we are not safe.

What we are is a gun culture. And the easiest way to perpetuate the need for guns is through fear.

After it happened, we talked with our daughter about Sandy Hook. She talked about the intruder drill they had at school the next week and how unsatisfying it was. She said she didn’t feel safe with this one particular teacher, and that the room had too many windows. The drill had kids hide under the desks, and most of them are too big to fit, which doesn’t matter anyway because it’s about as useful as  “duck and cover.”

When she identified other rooms and teachers she’d rather be with if “something happened for real”, I asked her to imagine what she’d do if she was in charge of that classroom. She had an immediate answer. I said if something “real” ever did happen, she should trust herself if she didn’t think the adult could keep her safe. This is a dangerous thing to say, but I don’t know how better to clarify that we trust her to trust herself.

This conversation was actually Part 2 of an earlier conversation about fear. We were in a run down neighborhood and she remarked that she always felt a little afraid in poor neighborhoods but then she feels bad because she is afraid that’s racist. (I think the DSM-V should consider including this as “The White Folks Dilemma.”) We teased apart what she was afraid of and why, and it was clear that none of the reasons were because the people were black. Poverty scares a lot of people. It can look like desperation, potential crime and violence.

What I was afraid of with The White Folks Dilemma was that she would talk herself out of her instincts. Our bodies always know danger faster than our minds. And our minds are trained to overrule all sorts of useful signals. It’s useful to be afraid sometimes, it heightens your awareness. It’s not useful to be afraid all the time because, again your mind is overruling instinct.

It’s so easy to give in to fear. Its much easier than joy, or love or trust. But that kind of “the world is a dangerous place” fear, seems implausible to me. I’m much more afraid of easy access to semi-automatic handguns than I am of a shooter going in my daughters school. Or randomly shoot me through the floor to ceiling windows in my office, which just occurred to me today after 8 years in this office.

I don’t have any solution except to keep reminding myself and others that fear is just one of our emotions. And I will continue to stumble stupidly through the world believing that humans are inherently good. I am a Platonist at heart – “To know the good is to do the good”.

Now we just need to teach the NRA the meaning of “the good”.

birds_eye_view_map

I have been struggling to write about the George Zimmerman verdict while I got my thoughts together. Unfortunately, even though this post has been in draft since 7/15, my thoughts still aren’t together.

We have a hard time talking about race in the US, calmly or otherwise, and the Zimmerman case was absolutely about race. From one side the verdict was vindication for a man trying to do the right thing under a Stand Your Ground law, from the other side it is evidence of a justice system stacked against minorities.

It feels like a miscarriage of justice to me for several reasons the first one being that Zimmerman violated the rule of self-preservation by getting out of his car to pursue Trayvon Martin whom he perceived to be a threat. Even a basic concept of fairness supports that it’s not “self-defense” if you go in search of trouble. Zimmerman made a choice, did not have to get out of his car, but he did.

The Why? Zimmerman got out of the car is trickier. Maybe because he felt he had a “duty” to his neighborhood, because he felt empowered by his gun, or because he suspected Martin was “up to no good” because of how he looked and acted. Any or all of these may be true but its clear that Zimmerman felt he had cause and the right to follow Martin.

The profiling that Zimmerman did, calling Martin suspicious because he wasn’t walking quickly in the rain, seemed to stem primarily from how Martin was dressed – like a black teenager – in jeans and a hoodie. Martin’s profiling happened because black teenagers were seen previously in Zimmerman’s neighborhood breaking into houses, hence the neighborhood watch.

Prima facie it is reasonable for Zimmerman to jump to the conclusion that a kid he doesn’t know, strolling through his development wearing a hoodie is up to no good. The problem is, built into that reasonable assumption, there is a deeper and more troubling assumption that the hoodie itself signals “up to no good”. This is where race comes in.

Whether Zimmerman himself profiled Martin because of his hoodie is almost immaterial in light of the societal profiling of black men and boys. Plenty of racial profiling goes on with black women and girls as well, but I am setting that aside for this post.

Operating from our biases is a daily part of human life. It allows us to make benign choices, like chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or use criteria like male/female or young/old, when choosing a doctor.  These choices, based on personal preference, don’t impact society at large. I like female doctors because they have the same body I do, but there are still plenty of patients for the male doctors.

However, some choices are impacted by unconscious biases which are kissin cousins to prejudice and racism.

The expectation that black boys & men are more likely to be criminals or “up to no good” is a bias, conscious or unconscious, that stems from a systemic racism in our justice system, media and public narrative. This means that individual acts may not appear to be informed by unconcious bias or systemic racism, but research tells a different story (happy to point you to longitudinal Harvard studies).

This is the part folks sometimes don’t get –  unconscious bias means that you don’t know that you don’t know.

The people on the receiving end of unconscious bias are the ones who know. Those black boys & men who say they are followed in stores, pulled over by police and generally have all of their actions viewed through a lens of fear and criminal intent, they are the experts on their lived experience. So a good kid has to be an even better kid – and dress to impress – and still might experience racist behavior.

This post is a rambly mess. A mess that resembles the national narrative swirling over the Zimmerman verdict because it is so complex. A narrative that is equal parts rational information and emotional interpretation. The last thing I want to say about the Zimmerman verdict, for this post at least, is that I have an overwhelming desire to tell all boys and men of color to stop wearing hoodies.

That smacks of blame the victim I know, but I want to be public about my biases too. I’m not perfect. I want these boys & men to not be judged by their clothing but I know that brown skin + hoodie =  suspicion. So don’t wear the hoodie! Without going all “Talented Tenth” I want the trappings of gang culture, whether adopted via hiphop stylizing or the real deal, to lose its stranglehold on youth.

Humans judge a person within seconds. Lightening fast information processing takes in your gender, skin color, age, attitude and status. Friend or foe. Its how we are biologically wired. So why stack the deck by signifying danger through wearing clothing that allows you to hide your face?

My conflicted thoughts are a small corner of a big picture. I’m just pessimistic enough to think that changing hearts and minds to accept brown skin + hoodie is impossible, and optimistic enough to think getting folks to drop the hoodie might help a little bit.

Trayvon Martin, as a US citizen, had the right to walk from the store to a house wearing whatever clothing he wanted. Trayvon Martin, as a black teenager wearing a hoodie, had a different set of rights.

clothing-and-accesories

I’m just going to hit the publish button. Apologies for the ramble.

Writing about violence is much like writing about rape.

As a culture we understand the definitions but it gets fuzzy when we move from the general to the specific, or from the specific to the general. However, this post is not intended to be a lesson on the merits or flaws of using deductive versus inductive logic. Rather I am thinking of all the ways “running” is part of the act of terrorism in Boston.

  • People targeted while they were running.
  • The average runner finishes the Boston Marathon in four hours, the time the bombs exploded.
  • People running away, in fear and confusion.
  • People running to, to help and save lives.
  • Thoughts running to fear for our loved ones, friends and acquaintances who might be in Boston.
  • Thoughts running to fear for ourselves and our loved ones at similar large events that might be targeted.
  • Thoughts running to understand, blame, accuse, and ultimately – not today of course – leverage for whatever agenda or prejudice it can be attached to.

The word running is losing meaning as I read it now. Which is part of my point as meaning, or sense-making, will be a Swiss cheese affair no matter what evidence is eventually produced. It seems to me that it’s always the holes in the cheese, the negative space, that is used to support the “leveraged agenda”. The arguments that this proves that “Obama is a bad president”, or “we need more guns” or “stronger immigration laws” or “stronger policy on North Korea” (saw this one already) whether it has anything to do with the Boston event or not.

I watched the violence in Chardon and Sandy Hook get tied to agendas outside those stories, so I’m pretty sure it will happen about Boston soon enough. There’s a whole category of religious, political and news commentators (and I use that term very loosely) “running their mouths”, offering answers that makes national tragedies even worse. For me at least.

The only answer I’m looking for is how to adequately explain to my daughter that we can each decide how world events shape us. We’re not clay, we can choose. And the choices for processing and reacting to world events are endlessly complex – fear, courage, love, hate, action, destruction, paralysis, and on and on and on. Deciding rather than hiding is my policy because ultimately we can never run away from ourselves.

My deepest sympathies are extended to those affected by the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Wishing all those injured or responding a speedy reunion with loved ones.

It is such a short trip to the land of fear. It is one of those places you can get to from just about anywhere.

The predictable response from the NRA to the massacre in Sandy Hook was to blame every other societal ill beside gun proliferation. And of course to advocate for more guns because “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre points to our “blood-soaked culture” as reason for the violence rather than the ease of obtaining military grade weapons equipped with high-powered ammunition. One of many arguments based in the idea that our culture has disintegrated, youth are desensitized, music videos glorify thug life, we are not safe.

What we are is a gun culture. And the easiest way to perpetuate the need for guns is through fear.

We talked with our daughter about her thoughts on Sandy Hook. Mostly she described the reactionary intruder drill the school held the next week and how unsatisfying it was. She said she didn’t feel safe with this one teacher and the room had too many windows. They had the kids hide under the desks, and most of them are too big to fit, which doesn’t matter anyway because its as useful as  “duck & cover.”

When she identified other rooms & teachers she’d rather be with if “something happened for real”, I asked her to imagine what she’d do if she was in charge of that classroom. She had an immediate answer. I said if something “real” ever did happen, she should trust herself if she didn’t think the adult could keep her safe. This is a dangerous thing to say, but I don’t know how better to clarify that we trust her to trust herself.

This conversation was actually Part 2 of an earlier conversation about fear. We were in a run down neighborhood and she remarked that she always felt a little afraid in poor neighborhoods but then she feels bad because she is afraid that’s racist. I think the DSM-V should consider including this as “The White Folks Dilemma.” We teased apart what she was afraid of and why, and none of the reasons were because the people were black. Poverty scares a lot of people. It can look like desperation, potential crime and violence.

What I was afraid of with The White Folks Dilemma was that she would talk herself out of her instincts. Our bodies know danger faster than our minds. And our minds are trained to overrule all sorts of useful signals. Its useful to be afraid sometimes, it heightens your awareness. Its not useful to be afraid all the time because, again your mind is overruling instinct.

Its so easy to give in to fear. Its much easier than joy, or love or trust. But that kind of “the world is a dangerous place” fear, seems implausible to me. I am much more afraid of easy access to semi-automatic handguns than I am of a shooter going in my daughters school. Or randomly shoot me through the floor to ceiling windows in my office. That just occurred to me today after 8 years in this office by the way.

I don’t have any solution except to keep reminding myself and others that fear is just one of our emotions. And I will continue to stumble stupidly through the world believing that humans are inherently good. I am a Platonist at heart – “To know the good is to do the good”. Now we just need to teach the NRA the meaning of “the good”.

sandy+hook+school+sign

I made a mistake the other day of responding to a Tweet about the Sandy Hook school shooting. Got a flurry of replies and personal messages from folks saying things like “quit living in fantasy land”, “gun laws don’t work” and “I protect my children with a Glock”. Continue reading

Like many people in the US, and around the world, I have been deeply affected by the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th. When President Obama made his statement Friday afternoon I thought this has to be the single hardest thing he has had to do as President – be the POTUS while feeling like a father.

More than other acts of terrorism and public violence we have experienced in the last 11 years, this seemed personal. I found myself unable to concentrate once the story started to break, and spent the remainder of the day intermittently crying. As a parent, the idea that I could outlive my child is an abomination, and the idea that I might bury my child because of violence, a horror. That’s where everyones mind was on Friday.

Within hours the rage was unleashed, the natural companion to the compassion and sorrow. Rage against “gun nuts”, the 2nd amendment and the NRA lobbying dollars.  Rage against liberals who don’t understand the formula more guns = less violence (Rep. Gohmert, on Fox News wanted the Sandy Hook principal to be armed armed so she could have taken “his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”) Rage against the godless, gay agenda that causes such things to happen (Huckabee & Westboro Baptist). The usual.

As I have said on this blog before, I am a supporter of the 2nd amendment, and all the other amendments to the constitution for that matter, so I can’t get behind the folks who are saying things like “strike down the 2nd amendment”,  and “ban all guns”, because there are perfectly legitimate reasons for owning a gun…on a farm. Or for seasonal hunting. Or even for sport. Its tough to swallow, but there is a legitimate and compelling argument for maintaining and protecting the 2nd amendment.

I think instead we should reclaim the 2nd amendment for the people. Turn it back to the intent of the framers – common defense against a tyrannical government – rather than the modern interpretation of keep and bear arms to defend yourself. I would love to see semi-automatic handguns (used in Sandy Hook, Columbine, Chardon etc.) banned altogether.  Let the conceal & carry crowd have revolvers, “six-shooters”, 38-special – guns that no one has ever felt compelled to turn sideways when they shoot it in a movie. Can’t that be enough? Six bullets? To “defend your castle” and “stand your ground”?

There will be a great deal of opposition to any proposed changes in gun laws, the manufacture and sale of guns, or the regulation of gun owners because not only is the nonprofit, “grassroots NRA” funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers, but the firearm industry has  $11 billion in sales in 2012. So far. That’s a lot of skin in the game. The NRA spokespeople (some of whom are politicians) will try to deflect attention by advocating for increased mental health interventions rather than gun regulations. We need both so I hope they are successful. The Koch Bros. could redirect their lobbying dollars and make up children’s mental health services cuts in the 2013 Federal Health & Human Services budget. That would be a mitzvah.

The question that continues to worry me, is how long do we have for Congress to “take meaningful action” in regulating firearms before Sandy Hook fades to “another school shooting”. People were already irritated that the President’s speech on Sunday interrupted their football game and it was only 48-hours after it happened.

Given that many in our society follow football more closely than politics, is there “societal will” for gun control? Will this massacre of children, because they were so young, be enough to sustain US citizens through the intricacies and compromises of gun control legislation? Will the occasional reminder that someone else’s child will never grow old be enough to re-fuel the moral outrage that’s burning so brightly today?

Thinking about never seeing your child grow old should be the mental cliff we all stand on until meaningful gun regulations are passed.

The school shooting in Chardon is tragic.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be a parent of murdered child. Or a student who no longer feels safe at school. Or a teacher with a double burden of personal safety and protecting their students. I cannot imagine.

I have heart clenching terror when I put myself in their shoes, but I would not insult them by believing that I can know what its like.

I grew up around violence and with lots of kids who experienced “broken homes” similar to that of the shooter. That violence was mostly directed inward – to the self, to relatives, to girlfriends. Even street violence has some logic to it. Robbery, gang fighting, drug wars. This modern, execution style violence has no logic that I can follow.

A unifying fact that cannot be denied is the use of guns to commit these crimes. The NRA and gun enthusiasts will begin their howling about how “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” even before the victims are buried. The arguments that a person bent on violence will use any weapon (“knife, bat or words”) so blaming guns is illogical, is specious until there is evidence of a “mass stabbing” at a school.

The truth is people with guns kill people.

Handguns are like no other weapon. Their only purpose is to kill people. Whether you call the person you are killing an intruder, an enemy or a classmate, the purpose of the handgun is to kill people. How is the access to guns not part of the problem? How does restricting handguns and assault weapons infringe on the right to bear arms or hunt? This is not what the 2nd amendment is about.

Do people even notice that there a two-page pull out section in the paper today advertising handguns for sale at Fin & Feather? Camo and deer blinds I get, two solid pages of handguns (.38 specials etc.) ranging in price from $150 – $1,500, I don’t get. Why is this acceptable?

I hope in the months to come the media coverage does not focus on those people who vociferously proclaim they will now buy and carry their own handgun in order to feel safe. None of those students who were shot in the back or the back of the head, had any chance to defend themselves.

Knowing one more person owns a gun does not make me feel safe.