Chokehold, Literally & Figuratively

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The Paul Butler who appears often on MSNBC as a legal expert has a very different voice from the Paul Butler who wrote Chokehold: Policing Black Men. Both voices are critical for our times.

All I knew about him was his role as a legal commentator on shows such Joy Reid or All In With Chris Hayes, where he has mainly been asked about the Trump-Russia investigation. In this book, he is a passionate revolutionary fighting for social change.

Mr. Butler is the Albert Brick Professor in Law at Georgetown University and was formerly a federal prosecutor. The awards he has received and the scholarly articles and other books he has authored lead me to the conclusion that this is a man I need to listen to. His latest book came out last July, but it took me a while to catch up with it.

He uses the term “chokehold” both literally, as in how Eric Garner was murdered, and figuratively, as in the chokehold that official (read white) society has over the lives of African Americans.

As someone who has been arrested for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Butler knows whereof he speaks. He also knows how fortunate he was to have had legal colleagues to help him get out of his dilemma. The vast majority of African-American men and women who are wrongfully arrested, if they are not outright killed by police first, do not have such resources.

And the point is not to make those resources help, though in the short term they are needed. Mr. Butler is looking at the long term and calls for a revolution that will completely reform the way policing is done in this country.

This is from Elizabeth Hinton’s review in The New York Times last July:

“ “Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do,” Butler writes. “The police, as policy, treat African-Americans with contempt.” “

We have seen that with our own eyes, but still police are rarely held accountable and Supreme Court decisions have given them the impunity to do what they do. When SCOTUS decisions support racial profiling, how do we think those in our society who are already racist will behave?

I can’t help but agree with his argument that a complete transformation, not incremental steps, is what is needed in this country. “The United States of America must be disrupted, and made anew,” he writes.

Not only do incremental steps not help in the long run, they are an obscene insult to people whose entire history is one of oppression and inequality at the hands of white society. I’ve heard the “Why can’t they be patient?” argument in every decade of my life. It was an appalling argument in the 1950s and it is an appalling argument now.

Systemic racism, which leads to chokeholds and police violence against African Americans, has been a cancer on this continent for almost 500 years. No matter whether there’s someone we love in the White House or someone we hate, American society has a rot within it that needs to be surgically removed.

I will let you read Mr. Butler’s vision of solutions for the problem for yourself. Some seem shocking at first, such as abolishing prisons. But when you look soberly at our history and where we are now in equal protection under the law, you might start thinking along those shocking lines yourself.

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Ruby Bridges Through Her Eyes

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Having grown up in the area where Norman Rockwell painted some of his most famous works, I remember not only the actual photographs of the little girl, but also the iconic painting of the girl in the white dress flanked by four federal marshals.

The white dress, white socks and shoes emphasize the darkness of her skin. On the wall behind her is a racial epithet. Smashed tomatoes lie at the foot of the wall. You don’t see the marshals’ heads, but their fists are clenched as if ready for battle.

Friday I had the privilege of hearing the woman who grew out of that little girl speak. Ruby Bridges’ name is writ large in the history of civil rights. As she came onto the stage at Smith College, the crowd jumped to its feet with thunderous applause.

ruby nowMs. Bridges is a reluctant speaker. She never meant to spend the last 20 years of her life giving public addresses, she said. But this is what she has felt called to do. She uses no notes, just says what she believes God wants her to say. Her soft voice is mesmerizing as she speaks, reaches back into the memories of her six-year-old self in 1960, as she tells us what it was like through her eyes (the title of her memoir) in segregated New Orleans.

Though Brown vs. the Board of Education mandated the integration of public schools in 1954, it took years for segregated school systems to comply. When the NAACP knocked on doors in the New Orleans projects seeking children who were in the first grade, Ruby’s mother was enthusiastic about letting her daughter be used to integrate the schools. Mrs. Bridges had grown up in a sharecropping family in Louisiana and going to school was a rare occurrence; she regretted not having a chance to be educated.

Ruby’s father had a different point of view. He had served in the segregated Army of the Korean War. He might be on the front lines with white soldiers at one moment, but when they returned to base, he had to go to the “colored” barracks and the white soldiers to the white barracks. He did not want his daughter to experience the shame he had known.

Ruby’s mother overrode his wishes. Ruby was taken for all-day testing and passed. Since she hadn’t been told anything about what was happening, she got it into her head that she was going to skip from first grade directly to college.

Then came the first day of her new school. Creating a new ritual, neighbors came to her house to help get her dressed in her beautiful new clothes (though she hated the coat her mother made her wear). Four white men came to the door, put her and her mother into a car, and her journey began.

Seeing all the people lining the route to the school, hearing them shout, seeing them throwing things, seeing police on horses and motorcycles, Ruby thought she was in a Mardi Gras parade, even though it was November. The white men told her mother that when they got out of the car, the men would surround her and Ruby and they should not look around them. They entered the school and went to the principal’s office. And there they sat all day long as white parents entered the school, angrily pointed at Ruby, and then took their children home.

“College is easy!” Ms. Bridges said she thought when she went home that day. She ended up having school alone with a teacher, Mrs. Henry, all day every day for the rest of that school year. She loved Mrs. Henry and she learned a lot, but she was so lonely for the company of other children. She slowly came to understand what was happening and that she was alone in her class because of the color of her skin. She could hear the voices of other children when she hung up her coat in the cloakroom. She could smell food from the cafeteria but had to bring her own lunch because of threats made to poison her food.

Eventually, because she kept asking about the children’s voices, Mrs. Henry took her to the cloakroom, moved a cabinet that revealed a door, and took her to a room where white children were playing. She sat down next to a little boy who told her, “My mother said I can’t play with you because you’re a nigger.”

His words gave birth to what she now emphasizes when she speaks in public. “Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.” It is adults who have failed, she said, and brought us to where we are now, by “robbing children of their innocence.” Children aren’t born racists; they are taught to be racists. We must raise them a different way, encourage their dreams, and truly follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dictum to judge others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

There really is an “us” and a “them,” she said. “We all have a common enemy and it is evil.” Sometimes the evil looks just like us and is hard to recognize, she said as she talked about the murder of her oldest son, who was killed for trying to find out who had shot into his younger brother’s car.

Ms. Bridges noted at the beginning of her talk that she gets many letters from children telling her how brave she was when she took those historic steps into a white school. “I have to set the record straight,” she laughed, “I wasn’t brave at all because I didn’t really know what was going on.”

But it is bravery, and it is courage, to follow her faith and tell her story over and over again all these years later. Her insistence on inclusion at all points is sometimes not popular – as when a student seemed to seek her approve for the effort to get all-black housing at Smith and Ms. Bridges said she did not approve of black separatism – and her refusal to hate the little boy who said he couldn’t play with her show courage indeed.

I have cried over the picture of the beautiful smiling little girl who was in effect offered up to be the face of integration. Having seen her in person, and heard her words, I will just smile and celebrate her from now on.

 

Lágrimas para Puerto Rico

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Revelation 12:7-12

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

I’ve been saying for a while now that the Trump reign seems Apocalyptic. When I read this morning’s assigned Scripture, I started in the shock of recognition, especially at verse 12.

We all know that POTUS goes into an irrational spasm the closer Robert Mueller’s team gets to him. One can be an atheist, an agnostic, a humanist and any other –ist and agree that Trump “knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

The shorter the better, and I pray that his non-response to the plight of Puerto Ricans also becomes the subject of an investigation one day. Such blisteringly cruel abandonment of US citizens is unimaginable. Except, of course, almost any cruelty is imaginable from this government, and that is the American tragedy.

When Dorothy Parker said, “What fresh hell is this?”, she was predicting the words of millions of Americans as they wake up every day to learn of some new outrage coming from the White House.

I’ve heard people saying in astonishment, “How could (Trump, Price, Pruitt, Jared, Ivanka, Pence, Zinke <fill in a name>) not be aware that what they were doing was wrong?”

I don’t believe for a second that any of these people were not aware that what they were doing was wrong, but that they didn’t care and thought they would get away with it. Their white hyper-privilege just makes them think they deserve to do whatever they want. This is the definition of “white-collar crime.”

In the case of these spawn of Satan, however, their crimes are causing death and destruction of innocent people who have done nothing to deserve what they’re getting.

It was known for days that Hurricane Maria was going to hit Puerto Rico head-on. From 8 pm on Tuesday, September 19, to early morning on Thursday, September 21, it ravaged every bit of the island. And yet, no plans for federal help were in place.

Thousands of shipping containers with desperately needed food, medicine, and survival supplies were allowed to sit at a harbor in the days since because there were no troops to unload and distribute them until the last several hours, eight days after Maria hit.

FEMA officials took over the San Juan Convention Center and then told mayors, even of the farthest and most rural districts, that they had to come to San Juan and ASK FOR HELP.

That says it all.

Genocide in Burma

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It is easy to be distracted from what is going on in the rest of the world by the crazy clown show that has become the US’s daily life.

On a recent road trip, my sister Sally said more than once, “But why isn’t anyone paying attention to the Rohingya people?”

I stood accused, because I hadn’t been attention either. I am now.

It turns out that the Muslim minority in Buddhist Burma has been persecuted for many, many years, despite the fact that generations of them have lived in Burma. Other ethnic/religious minorities, such as Hindus, are also persecuted. None of them is allowed to actually be considered a citizen of Burma and so have rights under the “law.”

Thanks to Twitter, I am following several people, most of them Rohingya themselves who are either in Bangladesh or in other countries as well as people inside Burma who are smuggling videos out. Some of them are following me, and I can tell you that it is beyond humbling that they appreciate my adding my voice.

It was in the mid-1990s that I first heard of Aung San Suu Kyi from a summer intern at the newspaper where I worked. She was being hailed as the savior of Burma’s soul to the extent of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, she has isolated herself and gives weak excuses for the genocide of the Muslim minority of her country.

On September 13, 13 fellow Nobel Laureates and 23 other influential people signed an open letter to the UN, and so to her, asking the Security Council to intervene in Rakhine state in Burma, where the military is systematically destroying Rohingyan villages. It is reported that upward of 400,000 Rohingyan people have fled to Bangladesh, which has a Muslim majority; despite its own problems with catastrophic flooding, Bangladesh is setting up camps for the refugees. It is also reported, however, that the Burma military is trying to avert aid ships from delivering help to Bangladesh.

Those refugees will never be able to return to Burma. They are stateless.

In addition, according to a story by Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast, reported on September 18 that Rohingya activists inside Burma and in Western countries report that Facebook is suspending or deleting their accounts when they try to document what is happening.

I have managed to find horrific pictures of dead children and burned corpses of Rohingya Muslims. I wasn’t looking for them and God knows, I wish the images could fade from my mind. They never will.

The Burmese military’s latest tactic is to kill Hindu men while wearing uniforms without insignia on them so that Hindus will think the murderers are Rohingyan. Hindus have been pressed without success by the military to side with it against the Muslims.

 In fact, there are radicalized Rohingyans and the latest round of genocide began when they attacked police stations on August 25. In return, the military has systematically been going through village by village, burning, raping, killing all in their way.

Disinformation is being spread that the radicalized are part of ISIS. Rohingyans who have tried to get word out on Facebook, the only social media available in Burma, are finding their posts and accounts deleted.

The more than 4 million who have managed to make it to Burma will never be able to return to their homeland; hundreds of them are children whose parents were murdered.

It cannot be forgotten that Burma is another of the many unstable countries around the world that were once part of the British Empire. So was Bangladesh, of course, or East Pakistan as it was known after the disaster known as Partition brought to you by Great Britain.

The politics aside, the straight-up fact is that people, fellow human beings, are dying or living on the edge of death. They need help. Here are links to some agencies that are doing relief work. Please consider donating.

Save The Children

Islamic Relief USA for Myanmar

United Muslim Relief Burma/Myanmar

International Rescue Committee

 

 

Who We Are, Who We Want to Be

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In the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, amid the outrage and grief and disbelief, I had to re-learn a painful lesson for a white American.

Most of the people I follow on Twitter are African-American journalists, politicians and activitists: Charles Blow, Bree Newsome, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Vann R. Newkirk II, Jamelle Bouie.

Ms. Newsome, the woman who climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina statehouse and took down the flag, put what the others were saying in one form or another most succinctly.

As white Americans cried, “This is not who we are!”, in fact, this is exactly who you are and have been and all black people know it, she said.

I know it too; I’ve been writing about it for some time now, but it hasn’t stayed at the forefront of my attention. White America is a racist society and has been since the first white European stepped foot on this continent and had the arrogance to claim it as a white man’s (and I do mean man’s, not human’s) paradise.

To make that paradise, however, meant neutralizing one way or another the indigenous peoples. Usually by slaughter, often by treaties that were never meant to be kept and to this day are not honored.

Then came the importation of Africans to actually do the work of building an economy. Next came the battles to seize land from the indigenous Mexicans, Polynesians and Inuits and Aleuts.

In every era, white “Americans” have taken something away from someone else, right up to the present time. Now, it’s not only enough to take something away, but white American society wants to bar others from coming in, based solely on religion. And even the liberal arguments in favor of immigrants more often than not points out their economic worth rather than their worth as human beings.

What happened in Charlottesville is not new to its black citizenry; Mr. Newkirk’s most recent article in The Atlantic spells it out briefly and powerfully.

We cannot say, “This is not who we are!” We can, and must, say, “This is not who we want to be,” but only if we’re willing to follow up words with action. Mr. Newkirk quotes Charlottesville-Albemarle NAACP President Emeritus M. Rick Turner: “People want to have a conversation . . . But see we’ve had conservations, ever since the Civil War, every time something happens. That’s why nothing ever gets done beyond that, because the courage stops right there.”

I could say that the counter-protestors in Boston and other cities this weekend prove this thesis wrong. But we have not heard the last from the white supremacists. Do we, who consider ourselves non-racist, have the courage to go beyond the conversations?

Heather Heyer did.

“By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them”

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I am just plain sick and tired of being discriminated against because I’m white and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Oh wait, I’m not discriminated against because I’m white.

Never mind.

I’m really getting very good at levitating when news breaks while I’m watching MSNBC.

And of course I turned to Twitter and #affirmativeaction to see how other people were expressing their horror and revulsion at the thought of Jeff Sessions using the Civil Rights Division to investigate the non-discrimination of white people at universities.

Heart-sickeningly, what I found were mostly accolades for Sessions and his decision, which I personally think is his way of trying to get back into Donald Trump’s good graces.

I responded to only a couple of the tweets, pointing out that Affirmative Action is a really tiny step that the US has made toward reparations and should be kept strong.

Here are the tweets, starting with the one I initially replied to:

#AffirmativeAction is a racist cancer. Paternalistic whites who think blacks can only get ahead if they’re given a head start. Toxic.

 

(Me: Not paternalism, just a tiny step toward reparations.)

Same tweeter:

So many socks.https://twitter.com/Radicalgrrrrl/status/892736574059884544 

Not sure what that means, but he posted my twitter profile.

A different tweeter:

Take your tablets and go back to bed now, Cynthia.

 

Yet another:

Does welfare count?

 

The next few are from the same person:

  • For dead people by people that didn’t have crap to do with it? Lol. Nope.
  • People who blame others for their failures are destined to stay failures.
  • It’s a discriminatory law.
  • The government shouldn’t be involved AT ALL with hiring decisions.

 

From the tweeter who told me to take my tablets and go to bed:

Yes. Go on now, dear.

 

The most recent:

Only 3% of the white people living today had ancestors who owned slaves! WHY SHOULD WE ALL PAY FOR THE EVIL OF THE FEW?! YOU ARE SICK!!!!!

 

It was interesting to note that all four of the respondents use made-up names and pictures of well-known people or cartoons in their profiles.

The Scripture “By their fruits ye shall know them” becomes more meaningful to me day by day. I am blessed to know the compassionate, loving, peace-filled, generous fruits of many, many people on Twitter and in person. Sadly, this can make them the target of people who hide behind fake images and names. At least we have the courage of our convictions.

PS: It’s time to rename the Department of Justice.

Refugees – 0; White Supremacy – 14

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It started this way:

I follow Amarnath Amarasingam on Twitter. He is a senior research fellow at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. On July 19, he posted part of an article that he and Jacob Davey wrote for The Mantle, a newsletter of mantlethought.org about Generation Identitaire.

Among other things this group does is hire ships to go to sea and interfere with humanitarian efforts to rescue refugees.

“They are vehemently nativist, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-liberal and anti-left wing. Individual members of the group express support for white supremacism, and their anti-globalist rhetoric is often dog-whistle anti-Semitism,” wrote Mr. Amarasingam and Mr. Davey in their article.

I responded to Mr. Amarasingam’s tweet: “Heard about them about a month ago. Scariest thing is how young they are. What makes people so evil?”

I got many likes and retweets and one comment agreeing with me. Two people took exception. Here’s the first one:

“And let’s be clear, they are human beings that fit your narrative. If Donald Trump and his family was in a boat you’d be happy to see it sunk.”

Not sure how this person knows that I would do that. In fact, I would try to save them if I were in a position to, but I’m sure the Trumps would take over my boat and toss me off.

Someone else was much more exercised and sent several tweets between July 19 and July 24. This is the order in which they came. I am omitting quotation marks now and have not edited the tweets for spelling or grammar:

  1. A majority of the people in Italy are pleading to stop these NGO’s are 62% of the Italians Evil?
  2. Are the Dutch, Austrians and Poles assholes because they do not want to subjugate their country to Africans?
  3. Africa a continent 5 times the size of Europe, full of minerals and resources abundant agricultural opportunities? Why Europe??

(I responded that perhaps the answer is karma because Europe had raped Africa and plundered its resources.)

  1. The white Europeans are the destiny for millions Africans, while Africa is 5 times Europ, full of resources and agricultural posibilities.

(I responded that this is the original racist argument and doesn’t fly.)

  1. In 1900 a large part of Africa did not have a written history, they literally lived in the pre-history
  2. Colonization lasted 60 years, compare that with Polish plight, It was invade in 1939 and freed in 1990. Befor 1914 itwas 200 year occupied
  3. Africans had cordial contact with Europeans since 1450, but somehowe they did not learn anything from the Europeans
  4. It was in 1900 that Europeans started to abolish slavery in Africa.
  5. Europeans did not need much resources during the period of Colonization
  6. The population explosion in Africa is thanks to Europeans, Nigeria can only feed its population thanks to oil export!
  7. By blaming the Europeans for the plight of the Africans you are inciting hate and conducting hate speech.
  8. 11 mln black slaves were transported in 200 years all sold by black Africans, 11 mln white males were slaughtered in 4 years Worl War I
  9. (This is paraphrased) You don’t know your African history.
  10. Strong line of reasoning: “they are white supremacist”. brilliant!

Well, I guess they told me! In all this tweeting, however, I can’t help but think of the boatloads of Jews who were turned away from safe shores in the late 1930s.