What Then Must We Do?

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That was the heart-breaking cry of the character Billy Kwan when he realized that Sukarno has betrayed the Indonesian people in “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

I haven’t written for a long time. I chose not to add my anger, my despair, my disbelief of the election results after seeing so much of the same thing on Facebook. I shut down. I’m still a bit shut down, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to shut down this blog.

It’s not that I don’t believe in a moral universe that bends toward justice anymore. It’s that I’m not sure I’m the right person to claim it anymore, for many reasons.

I’m confused about so many things.

Let me say outright that I do not support the President-Elect or, so far, any of his cabinet picks.  They appall me. The thought of white supremacy not just creeping, but being invited into the Oval Office is a nightmare. The thought of people who know nothing about foreign policy, about the plight of the poor, about compassion, about diversity, about public education, about the Constitution itself running this government seems to me like a harbinger of the end of times and the end of civilization as we know it.

And I’m cynical enough that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the elections were indeed rigged, but not in the favor of the Democratic candidate.

Equally confusing to me as how this was allowed to happen is the growing backlash from younger civil rights activists. I have been witnessing not only a turning away, but an actual uprising against the people such as John Lewis who sacrificed so much for the cause of equal rights.

I am personally witnessing it, and I don’t know how to respond.

I am beginning to relive, and again in a personal way, what I lived through in college as the Black Power movement rose. At that time, black women in my Washington, DC, college dormitory told me outright that they could not be friends with me because I was white.

It didn’t matter what my beliefs were, where my heart was, what my background was. I was white, and that was all that mattered.

For reasons I have no understanding of, I was born believing that I was one human being sharing this planet with billions of other human beings whose lives mattered as much as mine. I grew up during the MLK years with a burden of guilt about my white skin and tending to identify more with people of color than with white people.

Then I was told that my white skin was not welcome in the struggle.

And the worst thing was that I understood completely. I continue to understand, but it hurts and I’m tired of feeling the burden of white guilt.

I can’t help but continue to do what I do because I can’t help but continue to believe that we are all equal, that our world cries out for the acceptance, the embracing of diversity, and I don’t want to live in a world without that diversity.  I will continue to speak out and protest and do all those things, but I do not feel that I am any longer the person who should be writing about the moral universe.

So thank you to those who have read my scribblings of the past few years. May we all find the courage to work for justice and equality wherever we are, whoever we are. And now I’m going to go get over myself.

The Moral Universe – “What Then Must We Do?”

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The words of Billy Kwan in “The Year of Living Dangerously” have haunted me since I first saw the movie in the early 1980s.

Should I live so long, I will also be haunted for the next 30 years by the picture of the young boy with the big eyes and engaging smile; the smile that ceased to exist on November 22, 2014, on a cold afternoon in Cleveland.

This week a report was released by a consultant hired by the Cleveland district attorney, one of several consultants who will be part of deciding whether Timothy Loehmann will be indicted for the shooting death of Tamir Rice.

Attorney S. Lamar Simms of Colorado concludes that Loehmann’s actions were “reasonable” as judged by federal case law. A similar report by FBI Special Agent Kimberley Crawford comes to the same conclusion.

If the Cleveland prosecutor does not end up indicting Loehmann, the decision – as in the decision not to prosecute Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, will bolster policemen across the country to shoot first and ask questions later.

Perhaps I should emend that to say it will give police the confidence to shoot people of color before considering options.

The conclusions of reasonableness were partly based on the Fourth Amendment, which is meant to protect citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. So, in effect, Mr. Simms’s and Ms. Crawford’s conclusions are that Loehmann was acting reasonably in seizing the 12-year-old Tamar Rice’s life.

The entire incident started with Tamar playing with a friend’s BB gun outside a rec center that he went to every day. The BB gun used plastic pellets, not the lead pellets of BB guns of my childhood that could do a lot of damage. Tamir was outside the rec center with the toy gun from before 2 PM until he was killed at 3:30:23, almost the same moment that the patrol car came to a stop, according to Mr. Simms. In that hour and a half, only two people, whom policemen did not interview until four months later, were alarmed by his actions with the toy gun. Only one was alarmed enough to call the police.

The person who did call 911, who has never been named, was sitting at a table outside the rec center having a beer and waiting for a bus. He said he watched Tamir for about 20 minutes and when he made the 911 call, he reported that the youth was pointing the gun at people. He also told the 911 operator that he thought the gun was probably fake and that Tamir was young.

tamir riceLoehmann never made an official statement about the shooting, according to Mr. Simms, and he used the hearsay of another policeman to gauge Loehmann’s actions. Loehmann told a first responder that he thought Tamir was going to kill him.

Here are my own questions on the reasonableness of Loehmann’s actions:

  1. Tamir was at a rec center in his neighborhood that he went to almost every day. Was he not a familiar face to other people using the center?
  2. If he was pointing the toy gun at so many people, why were none of the witnesses interviewed anyone who said he pointed the gun at them?
  3. Why did no one who reportedly had the gun pointed at them call 911?
  4. Why wasn’t a blood alcohol level taken from the 911 caller? Is it legal to drink alcohol on the grounds of a community recreation center?
  5. We can answer the first part of #4 because neither the caller nor any other witnesses were interviewed until March 2015. Why were the caller’s and other accounts trusted so implicitly after such a long period of time? Can most people recall details of a day four months earlier?
  6. Why did the 911 operator not inform the dispatcher, or the dispatcher pass on to the policemen, that the caller said the youth’s gun was probably fake?
  7. Why did the responding patrol car drive into the park, jump the curb and come to a stop such that the vehicle rocked back and forth (brakes applied heavily) within seven feet of Tamir rather than approach, stop out of harm’s reach and assess the situation?
  8. Four seconds elapsed between Loehmann’s jumping out of the patrol car and the fatal shooting of Tamir. Is it reasonable that a 12-year-old would hear and comprehend an order to show his hands (as is alleged that Loehmann said to him) in that short space of time?
  9. The 911 caller said that Tamir kept putting the toy gun in his waistband and then pulling it out. Loehmann maintains that he fired because Tamir refused to show his hands and reached toward his waistband. But if the gun wasn’t visible, how was the determination made in seconds upon screeching to a halt at the playground that Tamir was the person the call was about?
  10. Keeping in mind how you behaved when you were 12 years old, imagine yourself playing in a place you went to every day and suddenly hearing and seeing a police car pull up within seven feet of you and a policeman pulling a gun on you, all within four seconds. Would there have been time for Tamir to think of anything in that space of time?
  11. The “shots fired” call was made at 13:31:51. If four seconds is a reasonable amount of time for a policeman to decide to use deadly force, why is a minute and 28 seconds not considered an unreasonable amount of time to decide to call in the shooting?
  12. Why are Patrolmen Garmack and Loehmann repeatedly called “officers”? Patrolmen are not officers. Officers are sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. Does calling them officers make them seem more reasonable?
  13. Ohio is an open-carry gun state, so how did a report of a male with a gun turn so deadly? There are many similarities to the killing of John Crawford, also in Ohio.

Agent. Crawford also uses a federal case, Graham vs. Connor (1989) to make her argument. The Supreme Court ruled in that case that reasonable of the use of deadly force by a policeman can only be judged from the point of view of the policeman. (My italics)

In this day and age, that is about the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard. If that is “reasonable,” what then must we do?

(You can read Mr. Simms’s report here: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2454875-tamir-rice-report-s-lamar-sims.html and Ms. Crawford’s report here: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/10/crawford-review.of.deadly.force-tamir.rice.pdf)

The Moral Universe – “Oppression of the Oppressed”

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Mass incarceration in the United States is a subject fraught with implications for who we are as a nation, who we are as North Americans, who we are as members of a global society, and who we are as inhabitants of a smallish planet in the Milky Way galaxy.

One activist is trying to reach hearts and minds on this subject through his creative talents. The result, a play called “The Oppression of the Oppressed” by Máximo Anguiano, will have a staged reading on September 19 in San Antonio, Texas.

I first came across Mr. Anguiano’s name while writing a blog post a year ago about the little-known (to white people) history of Latino lynchings. He had reviewed an article by Richard Delgado. I have since been following his Facebook posts.

At least since Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, came out a few years ago, the subject of mass incarceration in America and privatized prisons has been in the forefront of issues addressing discrimination against black and brown people.

How Mr. Anguiano came to the subject is perhaps different from most people.

“A few years back I was asked to assist with the Latino population inside of a state prison,” he said in an interview. “There were many disputes of gang warfare, intercultural fighting, and things of the like there. The purpose of my assistance was to help with a cultural program and to help cease much of the fighting. This event is what really opened my eyes to what was going on inside the prison walls. . .”

The main themes of his play address the war on drugs, mental health of prisoners/inmates, disproportionality of blacks and Latinos incarcerated, solitary confinement, capital punishment and privatization among others. The play is inspired by true events, Mr. Anguiano said, adding that he has spent about 100 hours in the last few months on the phone talking to people coming out of prison.

He points out the well-known and alarming statistics of incarceration in the US: With 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prison population at a cost of more than $63 billion a year. There are almost seven million people imprisoned in the US, and the majority of them are people of color. We also know now, thanks to the Herculean efforts of people like Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, that many of them are innocent, are children sentenced under adult guidelines, and are even people who are languishing in prison without being charged of any crime and/or imprisoned for being too poor to pay a fine for something as insignificant as a traffic violation.

Does this not sound like Soviet stalags or what happened in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power? Donald Trump’s lunatic bellowings on immigration have empowered every racist in the country to show their true colors. (Note: I wrote this sentence two weeks ago. It is a main headline in the NYT of 9/13/15.)

The lead character in Mr. Anguiano’s play, he said, is loosely based on Hakim Nathaniel Crampton, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. “He was sentenced to life for murder and finally set free because of a false confession.” (You can read more about Mr. Crampton, a poet and activist, here: Convicted on false confession

But Mr. Anguiano does not sentimentalize the level of violence he witnessed in prisons. “Some of these men are savages,” he said. But, “were they that way before they were locked up?”

He also addressed privately owned prisons: “Private prisons are a business. They have to keep enrollment up.” Such prisons don’t address rehabilitation because they need the prisoners to turn a profit. And it’s not just the prisons themselves that need prisoners, but food, clothing, and linen vendors; anyone who supplies anything to a prison has a stake in mass incarceration.

Maximo Anguiano

Maximo Anguiano

Mr. Anguiano has been able to capture various audiences with outspoken perspectives and motivational expressions, crediting much of his work from the mind’s images, societal issues, the Hip Hop culture, and forgotten history. He often performs on stage theatrically and poetically, in addition to consulting educationally & politically. As a leader & trendsetter in fashion, athletics, and current events, Mr. Anguiano is a mobilizer for progressive ideas and awareness.

Where is the hope for Mr. Anguiano in the travesties of justice that mass incarceration lead to?

“We need to continue to have these voices cross over,” he said. “We need to get the information to people who aren’t in the chair. We need to keep open minds and communicate the humanity of prisoners.”

In the end, if we don’t address the societal ills that put people in prison, the poverty, the racial injustice, “we’re all going to pay for this together.”

Visit Mr. Anguiano’s RAW profile to see videos of his work: Independent Creative Services