So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin

It’s not enough just to be an ally – be an active ally, and arm yourself with ways you will choose, every day, to defend those who are being victimized.

What a Witch

rainbow-safety-pin

Great. This is a necessary behavior in the face of the election of the most overtly racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti- gender and sexual minority candidate in the history of the modern United States. You know the rhetoric of his campaign was wrong. It was the very worst thing about America and you want to do what you can to combat the result. Good. Do that.

But don’t do it without a plan. Because the very last thing a tense situation needs is someone full of good intentions but with no knowledge of de-escalation tactics or self-defense. Your intentions are not a tangible shield. If you don’t make a plan, you will get yourself or the person you are trying to defend very killed.

Let’s avoid that.

So make a plan.

Some of you can stop reading now. You have, or know how to make a plan and you don’t need…

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Heartbreak.

I am traumatized. As I sit here listening to the NPR newstream, waiting for Hillary to address her supporters following the dismal 2016 election news, I am and have been literally speechless (in person, in speech; not in writing). Though in writing a bit, too. I really don’t know what to say. I never believed that Trump would win. Even saying those words makes me cringe. I knew there were horrible people in America, but I thought love would trump hate. I thought kindness and goodness would win. I thought it must. Instead, we face a nation with uncertainty. No one knows what Trump will really do as President. He didn’t give many if any clues during the campaign, and he is a pathological liar. Even when video evidence directly contradicts him, he has now proven that if he says something loud enough and nasty enough, people will choose to willfully believe him over actual evidence. Now that I think about it, it’s probably why we also have people who choose to ignore science and believe in the bible. I mean, I guess that’s how this happens. But how does THAT happen? How do we raise so many people who cannot think critically, who either are incapable or unwilling to believe in what can actually be proven?

Oh god. The Supreme Court. That’s that NPR is talking about right now; a potentially 30+ year conservative-majority Supreme Court. I was hoping Ginsberg could finally retire. With the Senate, House and White House red, and with the Supreme Court turning that way – what will happen to our country? Will hatred and bigotry reign? Will some Republicans sense a rising tide of equality, or will they feel a secret relief that straight, white men can once again rule comfortably and securely?

I’ll be honest. On the train this morning, I wanted to hug the Black woman sitting across from me. I wanted to say that I’m so sorry. I wondered: does this victory make some men feel more secure in treating women like second-class citizens? Should I be afraid? Should I have deference? Is this the new world I need to accept? Or will we revolt and rise?

This victory just took us backwards. It told women and minorities that haha, they don’t win. White nationalism wins. Anti-immigration sentiment wins. The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer. Yet what does Trump care? The poor are not a voting majority. I feel heartbroken for Hillary. She worked so hard for this. Her entire life was tracing a trajectory towards becoming the first female president in US history – something that is more than a long time coming, especially considering how the US is supposed to compare against other countries. We are behind. I thought America was better than this, but apparently we’re not much better than some of those countries I considered our enemies.

Good lord. What do we do? Do we honestly prepare to leave the country? I’m glad we applied for legal benefits this coming year, as we need to protect ourselves, K and I. Planned Parenthood defunded. Same-sex marriage and Obamacare overturned. Are we going to have buyer’s remorse like the Brexit voters, or will people STILL be blind to what Trump represents? How scared should I be? Right now I’m numb. I cry easily. I haven’t felt this depressed since the months after my child died. Yes, I feel nearly as awful as I did after my son DIED. That’s what this means to women, to minorities. Clinton won the popular vote, but lost. She lost. It’s unthinkable. Unimaginable. Yet now I have to somehow think those awful words, that that person is president. A reality TV star. A misogynist. Someone who should really be locked up, someone we should build a wall to keep out.

Yet. America has always made some suspect choices, and I guess if we saw the ratings for shows like The Apprentice and all the other disgusting stuff that is in the American mainstream media (Duck Dynasty, for example), we should have or could have seen this coming.

NPR is talking about the possibility of Clinton contesting. I would love that but I don’t know if that would help much. We are a country divided. She was going to bring us together, by loving everyone, by fighting for everyone. He is going to drive us further apart, economically and socially. But a contest would take away that moral victory for her, as much as I want it. A contested Clinton win would just stir up the violent and ignorant elements of the US society who may now be either emboldened by a Trump victory or will settle down now that their man has won. I hope the latter. I fear the former. This is awful.

My rights are threatened. I am so sad for my son, for my future children. I am terrified for all of us. I want to get out. I want to stay and fight. I feel like giving up. I know I can’t. I know I was on the right side of history, but what does that matter if civil rights are disappearing, if we dissenters are facing persecution? I don’t want to be a martyr for the cause; I just want to live the life I was living and enjoying under Obama. WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? Really, what the hell? Maybe this will inspire a new wave of women. It certainly proves that we are not a post-racial society, that we are not “over” feminism. Rather, we need them now more than ever. This is crazy. Thank God we live in Chicago, but that also meant I was out of touch with the pulse of rural America and truly did not see this coming. Clinton won the Chicago area in a landslide, over 90%. Wow. I wonder if establishment Republicans are just as much at a loss for words as I am.

Clinton is being introduced now. I’m off to listen. And cry for her.

Reading Roundup

Your (at this rate, annual) reading roundup.

  1. When White teachers teach predominantly African American (or Hispanic, or non-White) students, they have to work harder to understand the world in which their students live.
  2. Lest others argue that our stance on Syrian refugees is totally different from our historical stance on Jewish refugees during World War II, have them read this.
  3. Then, when they argue that ISIS (or ISIL) will infiltrate the refugee populations and increase domestic terrorism, remind them that that is very unlikely.

Beyond “Birth Mothers”

In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, I encourage you to visit ChicagoNow’s “Portrait of an Adoption” blog to see various perspectives on adoption. This one, posted today, helped me get past some unconscious biases I held regarding unwed, teenage “birth moms” – specifically, how that very phrase can be used to dehumanize and de-emphasize the emotions and sacrifices that are part of giving a child to adoption.

Check it out!

Go read “I, Racist.” Like, now.

Because this, and so much more:

“The reality of America is that White people are fundamentally good, and so when a white person commits a crime, it is a sign that they, as an individual, are bad. Their actions as a person are not indicative of any broader social construct. Even the fact that America has a growing number of violent hate groups, populated mostly by white men, and that nearly *all* serial killers are white men can not shadow the fundamental truth of white male goodness. In fact, we like White serial killers so much, we make mini-series about them.”

Other posts you should read today

In light of my last post and the decreasing furor surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, here are some other things worth reading.

1. What if the news talked about White people like they do about Black people? In particular, why are Black people responsible as an entirety (the “Black community”) while Whites are afforded more diversity?

2. Why peaceful protest doesn’t always work, though they seems so idyllic. Just think: which cases of Black men being killed by police officers do you remember off the top of your head? Ferguson? Baltimore? Yeah, I thought so.

3. The personal essay that brings us this great quote: “And I have to ask myself a difficult question – who is the worse moral monster: The young man whose hopelessness leads him to jump on the hood of a cop car, or me, a person who has acquiesced to a system that creates justified hopelessness among young people in places like Baltimore?”

4. An always-necessary reminder of White privilege.

5. An important reminder that many Black citizens of Baltimore were also scared of the rioters and looters. 

“Condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society”

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” — MLK, Jr

I posted the above on my FB page, and honestly, I’ll admit it was a cowardly move. It was said by someone who is, to most, above reproach and a paragon of understanding and virtue, a champion of peaceful resistance in the face of extreme racism. Of course, I used this quote in the context of the Baltimore riots, hoping not to incite the type of vitriolic debate several of my friends were forced to encounter on their own pages. Reminding people that we must not only condemn the riots but also the conditions that created them is, after all, fairly innocuous, right? Don’t most people see the gray in this? Sigh. Of course not. It’s Facebook – what was I expecting?

Besides those who posted blatantly false reports of what was happening in Baltimore based on totally incredible news sources, there was a good question raised. Before I get to that: seriously, people? This is not the first time this week that people (on their own walls) have propagated and spread “news” reports that were totally untrue, and with very little research effort on my part I was able to determine this (note: “news” not related to Baltimore). Blogs are not valid news sources. If you cannot tell whether a headline is intended to be sensationalist click-bait, or if a site is biased, please sign up for a journalism class at a local community college. It’s really, really not that hard to find three or four reputable sources – and yes, I know that some of our major media outlets are politically motivated, so it may help to watch or listen to those as well, to ensure you’re getting all sides of the story. BUT BLOGS ARE NOT MEDIA OUTLETS. They have no obligations to report facts. They are not subject to any journalistic integrity. Please do at least a modicum of looking at other sources before posting things on FB and further inciting sensationalism and propaganda. You are contributing to the problem.

Breathe. Okay. So to the reasonable question, though it rather baffles my mind because to me the answer, while complex, has been reported on ad nauseum since the Michael Brown case. That said, it may help to cover it again, so here goes.

First, a start off comment from the same reader: “That doesn’t mean that violent protest is today’s answers.”

My response, again trying to deflect conflict (I don’t love confrontation, but I’m ready if need be. That said, I reverted back to MLK rather than going directly for Baltimore): “MLK isn’t saying violent protest is an answer. He’s saying that you can’t condemn the riots without also condemning the conditions and situations that led to them.”

The point: we must look at both sides. I believe this to be true. Riots are not the answer, but people do not riot for no reason. There must be a reason. We must, therefore, ask why people are rioting. It doesn’t excuse the rioters, or make amends for the damage done, but it’s a cop-out to simply call people “animals” and “thugs” and not at least make an attempt to understand what has brought about such a strong response. Scorning the rioters and dehumanizing them only contributes to the problem. It does not help. Rioters are not going to stop rioting because you call them names on Facebook.

The follow-up question:

“So what specifically are the conditions and situations that need to change so that young people don’t feel like the only recourse is to break in and loot businesses in their own communities? How do you convince young people to serve their communities as policeman, fireman, medical staff?”

Okay. This one’s tougher, and people smarter than I have been writing and speaking about this for years, decades even.

1. The conditions and situations that need to change

The primary problem in this and similar cases over the past few years is that many people in urban, predominantly Black communities do not trust the police force.

Police

What the police do well

Being an urban police officer is a dangerous, difficult and stressful job. In many cases, officers have to make split-second decisions in the defense of their own or others’ lives. They have to walk beats in which they are unwelcome, and they can at times see the worst of humanity. I agree with my friend Erin here: “In defense of the riot police, I would pee my pants if I were standing out there as an officer. Probably multiple times. They have an incredibly hard job, and unfortunately most of them (especially those extra support officers coming in from other areas) are not the problem, yet they have to take the abuse for it.” The majority of officers are protecting people and neighborhoods, and many have literally saved lives. Being an officer can be a noble, selfless, and sometimes thankless occupation.

What the police don’t do well

However, in no occupation are all members paragons of virtue or not subject to scrutiny or legal repercussions for improper actions (not even the President). Police, like people in all other occupations, are a mix of all types. They may be united in their job duties, but they are as diverse a group as any other. Some make mistakes. Some are racist. Some are criminals. Some abuse their wives, children, and those they arrest. Some – like the looters themselves – are subject to mob mentality. “Remember that many of these incidents involved groups of officers, not individuals acting alone,” Erin reminds us. “Remember that there ARE great police officers and think about how comfortable they would feel standing up for what they believe is right when more senior officers are participating in what they believe is wrong.”

Unfortunately, in Baltimore, there has been an erosion of trust in the police force in the past few years. Why? Well, consider that “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of [police] brutality and civil rights violations.” Taxpayer money has paid $5.7 million in settlement to the plaintiffs, and the city has paid an additional $5.8 million in legal fees. Baltimore has even had to increase their budget by over $4 million this year to cover additional payouts they expect to be ordered to pay by judge/jury. As the Baltimore Sun article linked to above notes, these “undue force” arrests “can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime.” Viewed in this light, the Freddie Gray case is just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. To recap: “An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead.” Could Freddie Gray have committed a crime? It’s possible. In Maryland, it is legal to openly carry a switchblade, but not legal to concealed carry – presumably the arrest here was due to concealed carry. Did Freddie deserve to die for this, though? It’s clear he was not given the due process allowed him under the law. Instead, something happened in the back of that police van that was enough to nearly sever his spine. I think he would have won an undue force case.

Is it any wonder that for many Black teens and men, upon seeing a police officer, their reaction is “fight or flight?”

It’s important to note that criminals deserve to be caught and prosecuted. I am not trying to excuse those who break the law. I just happen to think that in this and similar cases, the police were acting in a way that was criminally negligent and also deserve prosecution.

I will note here, as the author of the above notes, that it is more than a little ironic that the police are calling for people to not respond to their undue force with, well, undue force. As they plead for peace and nonviolence, perhaps we can better understand why there are those who are viewing these requests as hypocritical and thus are ignoring them. Fortunately, there are many more people who, like MLK Jr., believe that responding to violence with violence just perpetuates a vicious cycle. There were more peaceful protesters than rioters in Baltimore, and it’s important to remember that. That doesn’t mean it’s not important to try to understand those who did not respond peacefully, and consider why the feel so “unheard” otherwise.

It’s also important to note that I have not even started to touch upon all the other newsworthy death of Black teens and men in that past few years. I have not mentioned racial profiling, disproportionate arrests and convictions, or the phenomenon of Driving While Black. If there is interest stemming from this post on a broader history of these issues, just let me know and I will address it next.

Racism

A secondary problem in this and similar cases over the past few years is systemic racism and bias.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this bias justified? Don’t more crimes occur in poor, predominantly Black urban areas? Yes, in many cases they do, and the reasons for this are long-standing and well outside my ability to fix. But “there are huge problems with … attributing violent criminality to blackness—rather than particular conditions faced by some black people—and the injustice of treating all blacks as criminally suspect because of the actions of a small minority.” It is these “particular conditions” that are too numerous to get into in this already long post – but one of them is, in fact, racism.

Racism is still a problem, and not just for the police. I am racist. You are racist. Don’t believe me? Try the “skin-tone” test, which is one of the Implicit Association tests created by Harvard University. The trick isn’t not having bias. It’s recognizing that you are biased and making conscious choices to not act on those biases – which is understandably harder to do when you’re in a high-stress, high-possibility-of-danger situation. It’s no surprise that cops with more experience and technical training are less likely to react with undue force in such a situation. What can we do? Education about bias helps, especially when we teach our children from a young age not that race doesn’t exist, but that all people matter equally and deserve love, empathy and compassion, no matter what color they are. We teach the cops of tomorrow have empathy for both the victims of crime and the criminals themselves. Education, education, education. We can also help by working in our and nearby communities  to help alleviate the circumstances that lead people to turn to a life of crime. (Not sure what these circumstances are? Let me know. A whole other post!)

So how do we convince young people to serve their communities as policemen, firemen and medical staff? Rebuilding trust in the police force will not be easy. Studies have shown that community policing efforts can help, especially when police are serving communities in other ways, such as through food banks (this goes to the “helping alleviate the circumstances that lead people to turn to a life of crime” situation). But it’s not a quick fix, and neither is the “education” plea above. Of course nothing about this is a quick fix. We will never be able to eradicate all the bad apples from the police force. We will never be able to stop all the rioters and looters.

What can we, individuals who do not even live in Baltimore, do today? Recognize our own biases, and work to overcome them. Do our research, and ensure we are listening to both sides of the story. Remember that both sides may be to blame; both parties may be complicit in wrongdoing. Ask yourself: are you just condemning the rioters and looters, or are you also criticizing the police actions that brought about such rage? If just the former, why? If just the latter, why?

I agree again with Erin: “I don’t know about you, but I would not want to be a cop in the city right now. But, I would also not want to be in a community where I felt targeted and unprotected and like a huge protest was the only way to enact any change.” I can’t say how I would feel if I were a cop, or if I were a Black Baltimorean. I’m neither of those things. “I’m just appalled at the amount of people looking in from the outside (on both groups!) and making incredibly insensitive comments, even making jokes, saying people should get a job, dehumanizing the very real people this tragic story affects. Not every human acts intelligently when put in a bad situation – even when in a great situation. I’m not saying any actions are smart/not or are logical/illogical. I’m just trying hard to have empathy for others, and to understand both sides of the story.”