I dared to challenge a cop… Part 2

In part 1, I shared my encounter with a crooked cop in 1999. He cited me for reckless driving, which was a completely bogus charge. He was in the wrong, and he knew it, which is why he failed to show up in court a month later. I was exonerated, but since that injustice against me I’ve been wary of police personnel and their intentions. I dared to challenge him, question him, at times my voice dripping with sarcasm. There was no witness to this abuse of police power, nor did I have a camera to videotape the incident, as is often the case these days when evidence of police brutality is captured and shared on social and news media sites. It is important to note that I walked away from this heated exchange physically unharmed. Many of our fellow Americans cannot say the same.

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The Black Lives Matter Movement has increased awareness about the number of African Americans killed—often unarmed—by police and imprisoned for even minor infractions. Whether you agree with Black Lives Matter’s ideas or tactics, to dismiss what it is they are trying to accomplish and communicate means racial tensions and misunderstandings will continue during law enforcement interventions and that needed adjustments to policies that will eradicate institutional racism will never happen. It behooves white people to listen to what they are saying, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us, and even more important, to listen without getting defensive.

Brittney Cooper wrote on Salon.com of Black Lives Matter:

“To be clear, the Black Lives Matter Movement is not an anti-cop movement. It is a movement that vigorously and voraciously opposes the overpolicing of Black communities and the state-sanctioned killing of unarmed Black people (and yes, all people) by the police. It is a movement that insists on holding police accountable for their violence and that will hold police to a higher standard precisely because the state gives police the right to use lethal force. With more power comes more responsibility.

 But here’s the thing: White people know this. Conservative Black people who insist on speaking about the rule of law and the issue of Black-on-Black crime know this. This is basic. They know that these young people don’t want to kill cops. They want the cops to stop killing them.”

Law enforcement officers deserve our respect, but respect goes both ways. One can simultaneously support policemen yet still want them to be held accountable for gross negligence or outright murder. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be what is reflected on today’s social media sites: If you support Black Lives Matter, you must hate all police. If you support the police, you hate African Americans. It’s not that simple.

Still, there are many instances where police officers have been exonerated, even when video proves what transpired. Below are a few examples of police overreach or blatant disregard for life: Continue reading

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This Is What Labor Day Is

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April 20, 1914 

The good news is that you have work. The bad news is that you work for Mr. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company in Ludlow, CO. You live in a tent on company land with your wife and two young sons. It’s hard, but the community of about 1,200 other mining families sticks together and you keep each other’s spirits up. You can’t help but worry lately. You’ve been on the front lines of a strike, because you’ve got to have something just a little better. You only get paid for the coal you dig out of the mountain, but the work you have to do before and after that – like digging tunnels and carting the coal out – you give the company for free. At first you thought maybe the company would listen to you and the other UMWA boys, but the past few days things have been getting kind of nasty.


If that was you, the next thing you would have seen is two companies of Colorado National Guardsmen installing machine guns on a ridge near your camp. You’d have spent the day trying to protect your family from a militia stirred up and paid by mine owners. By dark, the entire camp was on fire. Miners and their wives and children were slaughtered. At least four women and eleven children died in one pit under a burning tent. Because you and your co-workers thought it was reasonable to demand that you not be asked to work more than eight hours a day, and that you be paid for your work.

Today we call that the Ludlow Massacre. The land the camp was on is owned by the UMWA, and there’s a nice monument there.

March 25, 1911 

The early morning is still cold as you walk the few blocks from your parents’ apartment in a Greenwich Village tenement to the Asch Building. You’ll spend the day – Saturday – cutting fabric on the 9th floor, as you do every day. But today is payday! At 16 years old, the thought of putting that seven dollars in your pocket at the end of the day is exciting enough to get you through the day.

If you were that girl, late that afternoon you would have smelled smoke. You would have been part of a panicked crowd pushing for the doors – which the company kept locked to keep you keep you and your co-workers from stealing – and you and 146 other workers from the eighth, ninth and tenth floors would have been asphyxiatd, burned or fallen to your death.

May 4, 1886
You’re standing in Haymarket Square in Chicago chanting, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” You’re tired of working until the bossman lets you go, and you’ve seen too many men die from the working conditions in the plant where you work. This British guy, Samuel Fielden, he’s making a lot of sense to you and the hundreds of other men who have showed up. You’re all pretty angry about what the police did to break the strike at the McCormick plant yesterday.


If you were that man, probably a German immigrant, around 10:30 that night you would have heard a homemade bomb go off, and then gunfire, lots of gunfire. Seven policemen and at least four of your worker brothers would be dead, although no one can honestly say how many strikers were wounded or died.

We celebrate “Labor Day”  in the United States not “in honor of the workingman”, as many will tell you. No, we have a day off because President Grover Cleveland needed to calm the Labor movement in the 1890’s. On this three-day weekend, take a moment to imagine what it was like to be the people described in the events above. They were not unique. Women, men and children all over America, and for decades, bled and died for your eight-hour workday. For your two and three day weekends. The very least we can do is honor their memories once a year.

I dared to challenge a cop… Part 1

“…the officer could be heard saying that the traffic stop occurred “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it.”

 “The traffic infraction was verified by the video; however making direct eye contact with an officer is not a basis for a traffic stop.”

The above incident happened recently. The “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it” comment reminded me of a police encounter I had back in 1999. I was pulled over by a cop in Covington, Kentucky. I’d been to a holiday party, celebrating with theatre friends and colleagues and was heading home, back to Hyde Park, which is about seven miles northeast from downtown Cincinnati off I-71. It was after midnight,

The encounter occurred at an intersection where there was a stoplight. It was green and I had the right of way because I was turning right. The cop was coming from the opposite direction and turning left. I looked the cop straight in the eye, held that contact for a few seconds as I made my turn, basically indicating/reminding him that: “Hey, buddy, I have the right of way.”

I guess he didn’t like being challenged by a woman, so he pulled me over, saying I had caused him to veer into the oncoming lane, that I was driving recklessly, when in reality it was he who was doing so. He didn’t have his lights or siren on either, otherwise, of course, I would’ve pulled over.

He stood at my driver’s window explaining this. I challenged him by asking, “Aren’t police officers held to the same traffic laws as the rest of us?” In the meantime his crony cop buddy had walked to the passenger side of my car, gawking in the window at me. Talk about an intimidating and scary situation: a small woman late at night alone with two male cops. I was scared, but I’m an actor, so I played the bravado for all it was worth. In my mind, these guys were the kind of policemen who would plant drugs in someone’s car or orchestrate something incriminating just to make an arrest.

The officer wrote a ticket, handed it to me, and said I could contest it in court. To which I replied, looking directly at him (he could hardly make eye contact with me), “Oh, you better believe I’ll see you in court, officer.”

I drove away, trembling and tears welling up in my eyes. My tough exterior crumbled as I seethed at the injustice of it. I ended up writing the Covington chief of police and carbon copied the Kentucky state attorney general as well as Covington’s judge-executive and three county commissioners. I was willing to pay the fine and court costs if needed because I was not going to just pay the fine and was determined to have my day in court to refute it. I showed up in court a month later, but that cowardly cop was nowhere to be seen. I was exonerated and didn’t have to pay one cent.

This encounter and the fact that the chief of police in Covington never responded to my letter spawned resentment toward policemen. Even to this day I’m a bit distrustful.

Read my detailed letter: Police Complaint

I would be remiss if I failed to admit that I have also been granted leniency by cops on occasion, either because I am a woman or they knew my father, who was employed by the Indiana department of corrections. It is because of experiencing the extremes of police encounters that I view the current narrative saturating the media that states you either “love or hate the police, affording no middle ground” as a gross over-simplification of the dynamics of equal justice and policing at play in our society.

This issue is too vast to possibly address all the intricacies in a blog post. The majority of policemen in this country are decent people who do a good job. They take pride in their work and want to protect and serve. It is a tough occupation and oftentimes a thankless one. They sometimes endure vitriol from citizens, encounter criminals, and face the possibility of being injured or killed in the line of duty, which is frightening, I’ve no doubt.

However, police possess much power and they are armed—at times heavily. They are granted a good deal of leniency with regards to the law that backs them up, even when sometimes what they have done is lawless. There are bad apples in the system and accountability is important when an arrest or traffic stop goes terribly wrong. That’s not to say we shouldn’t mourn the killings of police officers either. Of course, we should, even those in the Black Lives Matter movement don’t want to see cops killed, despite what some in the media are claiming. We can do better. We must.

Part two will focus on over-policing, the Black Lives Matter movement and why they should not be dismissed or demonized, and the contrast between my police encounter to that of Sandra Bland.

The GOP “pledge” is a ridiculous stunt and means nothing

Do you see anything binding about this "pledge?" I sure don't... (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Do you see anything binding about this “pledge?” I sure don’t… (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The headline sounds like a Trump-ism and it probably resembles what Trump will say when he announces his run as an independent around July 2016. Here’s the thing, without a binding agreement, the pledge is nothing more than a great way for the GOP to earn media and for GOP chair Reince Priebus to look like he’s leading the party, but he’s missing a crucial element: Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily ardent Republicans, they are just conservatives.

Confusing partisanship and ideology is fairly commonplace in American politics and it remains confusing for some studying political behavior at the graduate level. Yes, partisanship and ideology are closely related, with most liberals identifying as Democrats and most conservatives identifying as Republicans, but one’s ideology doesn’t mean they are “party people.” Yes, they may tell a pollster they are a “Republican,” but that may have more to do with their ideology lining up with one particular party than the strength of their partisanship. (Essentially, the Republicans better represent a conservative ideology, therefore a conservative identifies as a Republican.) Trump attract ideologues on the right. Conservatives who fully agree that we need to kick out the “illegals” and build a gigantic wall along both the Mexican AND Canadian borders don’t necessarily rock elephant lapel pins and pendants, but they do support the tea party and other movements associated with the Republican party, but more explicitly tied to the conservative ideology.

This is an important point for Priebus and other Republican bigwigs worried about the Trump-effect. Trump can sign the loyalty pledge now, in early-September 2015 when the stakes are high for both Trump and the Republican Party, but if Trump’s support among Republican party elites starts to wane, but his support among those identifying as very conservative remains high, the likelihood Trump bucks the pledge and runs as an independent strengthens.

Continue reading

Jimmy Carter Was A Great President

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Very little about modern politics bothers me more than the ubiquitous phrase, “Jimmy Carter has been a great ex-president.”

Not that it isn’t true. He has been. It’s possible that no one will ever accomplish as much after leaving the White House as President Carter.

But you and I hear very well the intended but unspoken dig: “… but he sure was feckless as president!”

Let’s set some records straight, shall we?

James Earl Carter, Jr. was as much of an “outsider” as we’re ever likely to see in the Oval Office. Following Watergate, Vietnam and the Arab Oil Embargo (yes, that happened under Nixon, not Carter) America was ready for a different kind of leader. Or so we told ourselves.

The Beltway Media, never kind to outsiders, branded Carter’s team of non-beltway staff the “Georgia Mafia” almost immediately. I’m not sure I saw a single editorial cartoon for four years that didn’t go out of its way to depict the President – a Naval Academy graduate, successful businessman and former governor – as an ignorant hick. It was clear before he ever took the oath of office that whatever he accomplished would be diminished at every turn by the national press.

The day after his inauguration President Carter (again, a former Naval officer) issued a blanket pardon to all those who had “dodged” the military draft during the Vietnam era. He freed at least 200,000 Americans from the specter of prosection.

He established the Departments of Education and Energy.

He established a national energy policy  – focused on conservation and alternative energy sources – that his successors dust-binned. Nearly every day I wonder how much better-off America and all of humanity would be right now if we had kept the solar panels on the White House and our foot off the gas pedal. Of course, having the unmitigated gall to ask Americans to conserve energy never ends well.

Remember when Israel and Egypt used to be at war all the time? Not if you were born after the Carter administration you don’t. Because President Carter brought Begin and Sadat to Camp David and ended that. It was kind of a big deal.

He began, ever so slowly, to dismantle creeping American imperialism by turning over the Panama Canal to … Panama.  And in response to growing Soviet imperialism following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (remember when invading Afghanistan was bad?), Carter made the principled choice to keep America out of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Have you heard of superfund sites? The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) was a Carter intiative to help communities clean up the environmental messes left behind by corporate ineptitude. My community is still using superfund money for that purpose thirty-five years later.

It’s true that the national debt did increase under Carter – by 43%. Which was less than the 47% his predecessor (Ford) increased it by in a term of fewer than three years. And his successor? The “fiscally responsible” Ronald Reagan? Yeah, he increased the national debt by 186%. But it did take him two terms to do it.

It’s true that President Carter inherited a dismal financial situation in 1977. What you won’t often read about Carter is that in the four years before he took office, US GDP grew at an average rate of 9.84%. In the four years following his term it grew at 8.53%. During the Carter administration US GDP grew at 11.49%. No president since has managed that kind of growth.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t a perfect president. A number of America’s prior mistakes came home to roost during his term, and he didn’t handle them all well. Compare his actual record to that of other modern presidents and draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps the most important thing you should remember about the Carter administration is this: “We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people …”

That may not mean a thing to you. If that’s the case, you may walk away from this blog post thinking nothing more than, “Jimmy Carter has been a great ex-president.”

But it means something to me. I hope the next time someone starts to tell you about what a great ex-president Jimmy Carter has been you’ll correct them in-kind.


For further reading on the same topic, please reference this piece from the New York Times.

Kanye 2020 and the end of the American democracy?

No, Kanye, you can't be president, bruh! (Photo credit: Getty Images)

No, Kanye, you can’t be president, bruh! (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Alright, so the headline is a bit hyperbolic, but Kanye West’s rambling, 12-minute diatribe at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday left me grumpy about the future of our grand experiment in democracy. A few bad apples aside, Americans typically come together every four years to hire someone to run the country. It’s quite possibly the most challenging job in the country, even if it doesn’t require the skills as a brain surgeon–although Dr. Ben Carson would probably tell you otherwise.

Kanye’s bizarre remarks made a mockery of our presidential system, even if Kanye’s goal was to address the candidacy of jokers like Donald Trump. However, young people who hopped on the #Kanye2020 train immediately following his remarks are sadly growing up in a country where we belittle the concept of public service, believe all politicians are self-serving and that any person has the capacity to run the country.

A few things:

  1. Public service should absolutely be taken seriously
  2. A few bad politicians should not spoil those truly looking to make their community, state, country, or world a better place
  3. It requires incredible intelligence, patience, and tenor to be president.

Continue reading

Reflections on Katrina, 10 years later

hlward:

I wish I had something profound and hopeful to write about Hurricane Katrina and the City – the people – of New Orleans. It’s been ten years now, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to reflect on that doesn’t make me feel ashamed of my country.

I could go through the litany of ways every level of government failed our brothers and sisters in New Orleans, but what would be the point?

Instead I think I’ll tell you some things I’ve learned since August 29, 2005.

– Every major city in America is a short series of official mistakes from being part of the “Third World.” Your comfortable suburb and mine could look just like the Lower Ninth Ward if just a few bad things happen. The question is, will your state and the federal government send help for you? Or will CNN show up first and make you and your home the next iconic image of helplessness and despair? Let’s be clear: The United States government has the capacity and resources to save you and your family – and probably a lot of your stuff – if whoever is in charge when the shit hits the fan makes you a priority.

– New Orleans is now the “Third World.” George Bush did not prioritize the families of New Orleans, and they have not recovered. They will not recover. New Orleans will never be “The City That Care Forgot” again. Yeah, New Orleans had its problems before Katrina. Not like this.

– When disaster strikes, if your leaders consider /for one moment/ how their actions will affect their political careers, people will die. You might die. Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco and George Bush are case studies in this respect. And no, political leaders do not always act like those fools did. Great leaders prove themselves in time of crisis. The people of New Orleans were not fortunate enough to have one single great leader in the long chain of government officials.

– New Orleans is doomed. That’s something I used to think was part of the charm … you always knew disaster was right around the corner, but you hoped you’d have time to finish your drink before the reaper showed up. And if you didn’t have time you were pretty sure you could get a go-cup anyway. At least that’s the way /I/ always felt. The reality isn’t romantic or charming at all. The reaper won’t let you bring a go-cup. You will stand in line at the SuperDome with no food or water or you will camp in the August sunshine on the remains of an asphalt bridge. It’s going to happen again. We know now that the People In Charge knew very well that the levees would break before the levees broke. And we know that that they will break again when the next storm comes. We know that despite the best efforts of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River wants to reroute itself many miles West, far from the city. When those things happen, the devastation will be complete.

– It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to put people ahead of profit. We can say “no” to the idea that “Government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.” We can take care of each other and we can all prosper. But if we choose to allow some to prosper and leave the rest to fend for themselves … we can all end up like our brothers and sisters in New Orleans.

Maybe that’s the closest thing I can find to “hopeful” in the wake of Katrina. We can do better. Will we? I can’t tell your that.

samanthaimperiatrix:

2005 was a big year for me. I became a mother, and I got married for the first time. Watching the horrors unfold in New Orleans fell as I held my infant son, and put the final touches on the wedding. I saw the images of the people in towns on their roofs, the houses completely envelloped in water, and the residents clinging for some shred of dignity.
“How can this be happening here? Aren’t we a big important country? Isn’t there more we can do? Or could have done?”
I tried to mentally block out the blame that passed around from agency to agency over the next months, but in some sense they were all guilty. They all failed those people in some way. Living in coastal Florida my entire existence, I cringe at the thought that we could be next. The next horrific images and stories you see on the news next of an American city underwater could be mine.
Shortly there after, people from the Biloxi area transferred to my work, because they were now out of jobs, and had nothing to go home to. I made friends with some, and they told me their stories.
There was no media embellishment there. They were as bad as you imagine.


Seyyal Edibe:

In 2005, my family and I were living in Germany, where I was working for the Army. We had been there since 2002, but I had not managed to “settle in” and feel at home there. It was like I was on an extended vacation, except I had to work … a lot. A by-product of that is I felt like I was living in some netherworld: I didn’t really fit in in Germany, but I wasn’t in the U.S. either. We were finally able to get Sky TV out of the UK after almost a year, so we could watch English-language TV, but it was British TV. We had CNN, but it was CNN International. The only American news feed we had was Fox News. I know.

I still remember that day. Germany is 6 hours ahead of East Coast U.S. so that in itself can be disorienting. I want to say we found out about Katrina from CNN International. It was a nice, sunny day in Germany, which isn’t exactly the norm, even in August. So I turned to Fox to get the “hometown version.”

All I can say is that it was surreal. I was seeing Katrina through the eyes of a “foreigner,” but at the same time not: I had attended Loyola for a semester and a summer, and had been stationed there for 3 years. I knew East Bank from West Bank. Algiers. Ninth Ward. The French Quarter. The CBD. New Orleans East. Crescent City Connection. The Huey P. Long Bridge. My husband and I sat there in disbelief: watching how one of the most famous cities in the U.S. had devolved into little more than a Third World country. I sat there and watched while Shepard Smith (who’s from Mississippi, BTW), was actually /screaming/ on TV that people were dying on the Crescent City Connection because people were on the Gretna side of the bridge standing there with guns, threatening to shoot them if they even tried to enter Gretna for food and water. And another meltdown as he reported how children were being sexually molested in the SuperDome that had become a makeshift shelter for those who were unable to leave New Orleans for a myriad of reasons.

I sat there and watched the coverage hour after hour. Horrified, but unable to change the channel. Because somehow, I felt it was my /responsibility/ to watch this, so when I went back out into the community, I could attempt to explain to the Germans I regularly interacted with “our” side of the story. I watched people sitting on the roofs of their houses, which was the only thing above the water line, shooting at National Guard helicopters trying to rescue them. I listened while they described how old people in nursing homes had never been evacuated because there was no evacuation plan, so they just died in place. How people in hospitals were dying because there wasn’t sufficient auxiliary power to keep their life support systems going, or any coherent mass evacuation plan. How New Orleans police were breaking into luxury car dealerships and taking cars because “the police cruisers [were] underwater” or they “needed SUVs to navigate the flooded streets.”

All of a sudden “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” stopped being the battle cry of committed partiers and more a declaration of “We’re a bunch of clueless, careless idiots.”

And we won’t even discuss Mayor Ray Nagin surveying the devastation in designer suits and declaring New Orleans would arise as a “Chocolate City!”

alethiam:

I went to the coast of the panhandle after Katrina brushed by Florida. I was with two friends, and the normally clear water was murky with stirred up sand (and god-knows-what else). We could see there had been a storm surge. The usually brilliant white sand was covered with rotting dead fish and a few dead sharks. The smell of death and the dark, but gentle, waves of the Gulf were ominous. I took some photos of the beach, but not of the death or destruction. I’m not sure why.

I remember being relieved when I heard Katrina was only a Category 3 as it made landfall over the coast to the West of me. I had studied photographs of New Orleans before and after Camille, and thought the city would be spared a little.

And then, the levees broke. I hadn’t foreseen that. I had to go over to a friend’s house to watch TV, and the images and witness reports were horrific.

A year later, I found myself in New Orleans. We drove around the city, curious to see how it was recovering.

Parts of the city seemed unscathed. But right next to a beautiful home, there would be a house, boarded up, with spray paint on it, informing all it was too be demolished. The city was discombobulated. It was trying, but next to every effort were ashes or ruins.

We kept driving, and ended up in a middle class neighborhood. Something seemed amiss, though. It was evening, and there were no cars on the road or in the driveways. No lights were on inside the homes. There were no people walking on the sidewalk. I looked from my right to my left. To my right, there were houses. To the left, there was water that was higher than the houses.

All of this must have flooded. No one lived in these houses anymore. They were ruined. It was such an eerie, spooky feeling. The lake to the left of me no longer seemed scenic. The water, calm in the evening sun, was suddenly cruel; it was a destroyer of lives and dreams.

Some links I’ve found interesting:
Race and Recovery 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina
A Katrina Lexicon