Don’t Add to Puerto Rico’s Problems

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I’m getting wind of rumors about Puerto Rico that seem to be part of a propaganda campaign to explain away why the territory is not getting the help it needs from the US government to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Another possible intent of the propaganda is to enact even more restrictive voter ID laws; even as the “president” dissolved the voter fraud commission, he started tweeting about voter IDs.

His Twitter fans are very enthusiastic, one person calling for both an ID and a birth certificate to be shown when voting. The thing is that it’s very unlikely that white people will be asked to show both of these, while people of color will.

INVENTED RUMOR: Puerto Ricans who have left the island since Hurricane Maria, not just for fun but for survival, will allow “illegal Mexicans” to reproduce their IDs so the “illegals” can vote too.

UNTRUE RUMOR: Puerto Ricans don’t pay into Social Security or Medicare, but they can get Social Security and Medicare. The implication is that we mainland taxpayers are funding the shiftless Puerto Ricans. In fact, Puerto Ricans do pay into Social Security and Medicare.

MISLEADING RUMOR: Puerto Ricans don’t pay taxes to the US so don’t deserve aid. While it’s true that Puerto Ricans don’t pay a personal income tax, they do pay taxes in Puerto Rico that are shared out to the federal government. According to VOX, Puerto Rico paid $3.6 billion in taxes in 2016.

What I thought was the most vicious rumor turns out to be true; well, the facts are true, but the way it was sad to me was vicious. There is a very high incidence of squatting on abandoned or government land. Lorraine Woellert of Politico tells the story at https://www.politico.com/staff/lorraine-woellert

Puerto Rico propaganda artLet’s get this straight: The US “won” Puerto Rico under the Treaty of Paris of 1898 along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam, after the Spanish-American War. Spain had owned the island since good old Christopher Columbus “discovered” it in 1493. The French, Dutch, and English all tried to take it away. US Forces invaded during the Spanish-American War and managed to wrest it away from Spain.

At no time did the indigenous Taino and Carib Indian population have a say in any of this, much less the offspring of Africans who were enslaved and brought to Puerto Rico by Spain.

Puerto Rico became a US Commonwealth in 1952. Puerto Ricans are US citizens but have no voting rights in Congress and can only vote in Presidential primaries but not Presidential elections as they don’t qualify for Electoral College votes.

Yet over the years American companies have enriched themselves by locating in Puerto Rico and paying low wages and enjoying tax laws that benefit them. A venture called “Operation Bootstrap,” patronizingly designed (or said to) help pull Puerto Ricans out of poverty in fact caused more poverty and dislocation.

The harm that these rumors and half-truths will do if left unchecked will cause incalculable harm. Puerto Rico has been at a disadvantage for hundreds of years. As the modern-day commonwealth tries to recover from a storm as destructive as Maria need all the help they can get, from the US government and from fellow US citizens.

Please, if anyone brings these subjects up in front of you, shut them down.

 

 

 

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Ghost of The Innocent Man

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Had I known how emotional I would get at the end of listening to Ghost of an Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin, I probably would have waited until I was at home to play it.

Instead, I was zooming along a major highway through Pennsylvania at 70-plus miles per hour with tears streaming down my face.

Tears of relief, happiness, sadness, and release of tension.

I knew from the beginning how the true story of Willie Grimes and the 25 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit would end, but Mr. Rachlin’s book, which came out late this year, still kept me in suspense for many an evening while eating dinner. I can’t number the heavy sighs that came out of me at each twist of the botched investigation, the refusal of the Catawba County officials to do more, and the heartbreaking years during which Mr. Grimes was shuttled from prison to prison, all the while protesting his innocence and searching for someone who would listen to him.

It wasn’t until the creation of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, spearheaded by young lawyer Christine Mumma, that someone did.

Carrie Elliott, a woman in her late 60s, was raped in 1987 In her own home. One evening a knock came at her door, and she opened it to find an African-American man who forced his way in and proceeded to rape her repeatedly.

Willie Grimes was miles away with his girlfriend, Brenda, doing a personal errand and then attending a party. Mr. Grimes slept that night on a sofa at a friend’s house. A couple of days later, he was told that the police were looking for him, so he went to the police station to find out why. He was not free again until 2007.

Mrs. Elliott was shown two different sets of pictures of possible assailants. In one was the picture of the man who had raped her, Albert Turner. In the second, Mr. Turner’s picture was not included but Willie Grimes’s was. Influenced by a neighbor, who said that the assailant sounded like Mr. Grimes and gave her a description of Mr. Grimes, Mrs. Elliott then picked Willie’s picture.

The neighbor also went directly to the police and received a $1,000 reward for naming Mr. Grimes.

The two men looked nothing alike. And though Mrs. Elliott had not mentioned a man with a mole on his cheek or scars on his chest (Willie) right after the rape, the police thought they had an open and shut conviction. That, along with a pseudo-science report that a hair found in Mrs. Elliott’s house was identical to Mr. Grimes’s hair, the police in fact did have an open and shut case.

The police also ignored a banana that the rapist had eaten part of and tossed aside, which would prove to have fingerprints that would have identified Mr. Turner, the actual rapist.

And Willie Grimes, in his early 40s, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

His girlfriend died while he was in prison. Carrie Elliott died while he was in prison. Three brothers died while he was in prison. He was repeatedly denied privileges because of his refusal to “accept responsibility for his crime.”

I came to love Willie Grimes during the course of the book, for his perseverance, for his anger, for his joy when freed, for everything he endured.

We know that he is just one of many, many people wrongfully imprisoned whose fate is in the hands of organizations such as the Innocence Project, Equal Justice Initiative, and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

Knowing just one person’s story leads to an understanding of others’ stories and the hopes and prayers that they too will find the exoneration they seek and deserve. We can help by supporting such organizations as well as calling for reform in the American justice system. Just one day in prison for an innocent person is one day too much.

You can hear an NPR interview with Mr. Rachlin and Mr. Grimes here: https://www.npr.org/2017/08/27/546497386/-ghost-of-the-innocent-man-a-story-of-24-years-of-wrongful-imprisonment

The GOP’s War on Christmas

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Yes, Virginia, there is a War on Christmas.

It’s just not being waged by those who the “president” and Bill O’Reilly have accused.

You see, Virginia, the “president” and the Congressional GOP mostly identify as Christians. Yet, less than a week before the celebration of the birth of Jesus, they have shown themselves to either blatantly disregard, or not believe in, any of Jesus’s teachings.

Rather than feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit those in prison, or heal the sick, the “president” and the GOP want to enrich the already wealthy, steal from the poor, arrest the protesters. and let the sick get sicker even to the point of death.

Take care of widows and orphans? Oh no, they say with their actions, we need that money to pay for the billions of dollars we are giving our donors and ourselves.

Not only that, your children and your children’s children will have to deal with the mess of the trillion-dollar deficit and the ruined environment.

We don’t really know whether Jesus was born in a barn, but we have faith that this story reflects God’s message to human kind.

Wealth, earthly power, and political authority are not what God wants for God’s people. Sharing one’s heart and soul with all God’s children – and therefore our sisters and brothers – and caring for the most vulnerable in any society is what brings the kingdom of heaven to earth.

If we fight the GOP’s War on Christmas, we have righteousness on our side, Virginia. Never forget that loving the outcast, welcoming the stranger, and walking side by side with those who have met with discrimination are our weapons.

This is a war we can win if we believe in the sanctity of our cause. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and humanists can all agree and come together to form a great army that is on the side of justice.

Let it be so.

 

 

 

Howard Thurman’s Vision

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howardthurmanTheologian Howard Thurman might not have wished his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, would be as important today as it was when he wrote it in 1949.

Sadly, the African-American mystic would have hoped that his vision of Jesus’s love overpowering fear and hatred of the marginalized and most vulnerable people in our society would have been taken to heart by all who call themselves Christians.

Thurman grew up in Florida in the early 1900s, in a segregated Daytona. His grandmother had been enslaved and told him stories of slave preachers. Much of his young life was centered around the church and people who came to speak there. He remembered Mary Mcleod Bethune singing and talking about her dreams for education for Negro youth.

He was an exceptionally smart youth; since there were only three high schools for black youth in all of Florida, he boarded with relatives in order to go to the Florida Baptist Academy. Because he graduated as valedictorian, he earned a scholarship to Morehouse College. He eventually went to Rochester Theological Seminary in New York (many other seminaries did not accept Negroes).

Thurman was considered a mystic because of his ability to put himself into a place where he felt himself to be in the presence of God. In Disciplines of the Spirit, he calls that place the Inner Sea. Over a long career with many distinguishing chapters, including being dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, founding the interdenominational Fellowship Church in San Francisco, being honored by Eleanor Roosevelt, and being an influence on Martin Luther King Jr., there was yet one painful issue that he came back to again and again.

In 1935, Thurman chaired a delegation sent on a pilgrimage of American students to India, Burma, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). After a talk at the Law College of the University of Colombo, he had tea with the principle. The principle said this to him:

“. . . During all the period since then [Emancipation] you have lived in a Christian nation in which you are segregated, lynched, and burned. . . I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense of your position.”

While referring to this painful episode in his memoir, With Head and Heart, as “the paradox of being a black Christian minister who was representing and, by implication, defending a religion associated in the minds of many of these nonwhite peoples with racism and colonialism,” Jesus and the Disinherited was his book-length answer.

In this time when Christianity has been hijacked by political agendas that again marginalize people of color, the poor and the powerless – and all the intersections of those categories – Jesus and the Disinherited should be a wake-up call to members of the Jesus Movement and those who would be part of the Beloved Community.

Jesus, a radical outcast, preached a radical love, and especially radical love for those, in Thurman’s words, with their backs against the wall. Why, then, “is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin?” he asks.

And in just 102 pages, he gives a prescription for doing so.

 

By Their Fruits You’ll Know Them

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When I was in my 20s, I went out with a man who made himself objectionable to my friends.

One friend, an older man, tried to talk to me about the relationship. He pointed out that if a person is kind to everyone, that is a good character trait. But, he said, if someone like my boyfriend was only nice to me but unkind to others, it could mean he was just trying to get something from me.

I was hurt, and the relationship went on to a predictably unhappy ending. It took many years for me to gain the wisdom to see that my friend had given me some serious life advice.

I thought of this unhappy episode Saturday morning while listening to Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition. He interviewed David French of The National Review. This was before the Northern California shooting, and not a week after the Sutherland, Texas, rampage.

Mr. French was there to accuse “Twitter activists” of being unfair to politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings.

“. . .the prayer life of a Christian is something that’s very, very rich,” he said. “And prayer saturates their lives. . .So when you’re targeting prayers, a Christian, for example, would look at that and be, frankly, kind of puzzled by it.”

As a Christian, as someone who believes in the power of prayer, and as a “Twitter activist,” I bristled at Mr. French’s words. Perhaps you had to hear his patronizing tone. He spoke as if only Christians have a rich prayer life and as if “Twitter activists” are heathens.

Mr. French went on to say that “it’s not that these politicians are offering thoughts and prayers and no action . . . “ Yet he equivocated about what kind of action these politicians are supposedly taking. In fact, Mr. French said that he can’t even imagine what kind of action might have been appropriate after the Las Vegas massacre.

When Mr. Simon suggested that it is the difference in reactions to domestic terrorism and imported terrorism, Mr. French said, “But different mass killings demand different kinds of responses. They’re not all the same.”

He concludes by saying, “What use is an activist tweet anyway?”

Well, I’ll you, Mr. French. The more people who are talking about the problem of gun violence in this country by home-grown terrorists, the better. The politicians you say we twitter activists are criticizing unfairly are white male members of the GOP such as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who only like government when it is used to hurt people, such as punishing tax “reform” (read tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy) and taking away any kind of a safety net for the most vulnerable among us.

I do not believe them when they speak of thoughts and prayers. Mr. French, you quoted Scripture on the air; I’ll quote back at you: “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) This is Jesus speaking, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, where he has spoken about the poor, the humble, and hypocrites. It doesn’t get any more “Christian” than that. And the fruits of the politicians who talk about “thoughts and prayers” when they have the power to take action (“Faith without works is dead” James; not a scriptural principle, Mr. French, but actual Scripture) to prevent these tragic, senseless, avoidable murders is nil. If a bill is brought to the Senate or the Congress that might actually help citizens of the United States, and I include Puerto Ricans here, these politicians will do their damnedest to derail it.

I learned my friend’s lesson well, because what he was really telling me was “You will know them by their fruits.” That’s what I look for in a politician. They can say whatever they like, but what do they do?

If they do good in the rest of their dealings, fine, I believe them when they send thoughts and prayers. If they don’t, like our current GOP-controlled Congress, I don’t believe them. And I’m not puzzled by twitter activists who criticize them.

Adventures in Twitterland

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Here’s a tip: If you use Twitter, don’t mention “white men” and “guns” in the same sentence unless you want to hear from every angry white man with a gun in the country.

I did and got more than 600 angry notifications and still counting.

Oh, their white female counterparts chimed in also; it’s hard to tell sometimes because not one of them uses his or her own name and the majority use an avatar for their profile picture.

I was called everything from an ignoramus to a cow to an old hag to cunt. It was suggested that since I obviously was alive during World War II, I should know how important white men with guns are. And I should be reported to the FBI. These are some of the less offensive remarks!

In just seven words in which I suggested that white men with guns are dangerous in our society, it somehow also turns out that I am racist, sexist, a “libtard,” a race-baiter, and a traitor to my country.

Here’s the irony: The respondents jumped all over themselves to charge that Muslims, African-Americans, and Mexicans are the truly dangerous people; one gentleman suggested that I am a racist while using the “N” word.

And Chicago. I can’t even count how many people mentioned Chicago. These people’s Supreme Leader started talking about what a morass Chicago was during his campaign and even this week brought up Chicago after Ali Vitali of NBC asked him about extreme vetting for gun buyers. You might recall this was when he said that with gun control, the slaughter in Sutherland, Texas, would have been much worse.

Then the “conversation” (of which I was no longer a part) turned to the stated “fact” that the white male killers are all Democrats, liberals, and atheists.

I forebore to bring up the white men with guns who originally plundered this continent and decimated the indigenous peoples.

I forebore to bring up the white men with guns who herded human beings they’d kidnapped onto ships , tossed some overboard if they needed to lighten the ship, and sold the rest into slavery.

I forebore to bring up the mass murder of freed African-Americans by white men with guns during Reconstruction, or the lynchings that have continued to this day.

I also forebore to call any of these people by derogatory, vile names or make suggestions about violent sexual acts they could perform on themselves.

I’m not seeking sympathy or comfort. I’m a big girl now and we have to know what is going through the minds of the opposition in order to respond to it. But how does one respond to people who appear to be brainwashed from birth? And who are so insecure that they threaten 65-year-old women who don’t agree with them?

I know that not all shooters are white men. However, when the shooter IS a white man, we can be damn sure that nothing will be done to prevent it happening again. The GOP simply refuses to put the word “domestic” in front of “terrorism.”

 

 

He Accentuates The Positive

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Harry Bell, left, with CT NAACP head Scot Esdaile

“Instead of dope in a vein, hope in a brain,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. when he made a guest appearance on “A Different World” many, many years ago.

Harry Bell was 9 years old at the time and he never forgot it.

He had a good reason to be sensitive to messages about drug use. His young birth mother was an addict and she left him at the hospital where he was born in Bridgeport, CT. His aunt, Marvetta Bell, raised him. He grew in low-income housing where he witnessed peers be defeated by the negative situation of their young lives.

Mr. Bell chose a different path. “I always knew that with every negative situation, there is a positive way out,” he says in his bio. That positive way out for him was to create a series of coloring books called “Color a Positive Thought,” and he hopes to them into the hands of as many children as possible.

coloring book“I wanted to create something fun, educational and empowering at the same time,” he recalled. “I dwelled on it for weeks, considering many different ideas. During this time, I was hit with a huge blow that will affect my entire life. My son was diagnosed with Type One diabetes.”

But, “the day I thought my life had ended was the day my life began,” he says now. Seeing his son having to grapple with a negative situation, he tried to find a coloring book that would make him feel better. He couldn’t anything so he dug up an old shoebox full on inspirational quotes and sketches that he had collected in his youth. A friend who was a graphic designer took the sketches and ideas and turned Mr. Bell’s vision into a coloring book with his son’s face on the cover.

That was that, he thought, but his son loved it so much he took it to school with and showed his friends and teachers. One teacher passed it around to her coworkers and it ended with an invitation to talk to her class about each page. Soon, a news station called asking for an interview. It snowballed from there.

“Before long I was getting calls from local media, schools, churches, parents, daycare center, and libraries to speak or to do interviews about the book. Everybody wanted copies. Suddenly, I realized this was my calling.”

In addition to the coloring book, Mr. Bell has created two programs through his work as a school resource officer. One is a mentoring program that was inspired by his own mentor, Howard T. Owens. “The mentors are from low=income areas but they made it through,” he said. They’ve all experienced the negative influences that youth are going through, so their relationships with their mentees have authenticity to them.

Munchkin Fridays is another program that Mr. Bell started three years ago. It’s appropriately named, as those who participate are youngsters, and who doesn’t love a Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin or two on a Friday?

He gives out doughnuts to about 60 children and with each one offers a positive message. Dunkin’ Donuts is now donating the tasty treats.

In a world that has many people feeling negative about a whole lot of things, Mr. Bell’s optimism and energy is refreshing and inspirational. I’m tempted to ask him to make a coloring book with positive messages for adults!

Mr. Bell is available for book signings and speaking engagements. His website, where the coloring books can be purchased, is http://www.colorapositivethought.com/