So, You’re Afraid of Tyranny?

As of November 2008, TYRANNY became America’s greatest fear.

Death panels, FEMA camps, chemtrails…TYRANNY(Yeah, I know, but some Americans truly fear this stuff.)

All manner of things like the Affordable Care Act, taxation, background checks, Mrs. Obama’s healthy eating initiative, and the fight for racial and gender equality have been labeled as tyrannical mandates sure to destroy America as we know it.  (Yeah, I know, but some Americans truly believe this stuff.)

But, let’s be honest, some Americans don’t know what tyranny means.  CAP LOCKED or not.

Merriam-Webster has defined the word thusly:

1 : oppressive power <every form of tyranny over the mind of man — Thomas Jefferson>; especially: oppressive power exerted by government <the tyranny of a police state>
2 a: a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler; especially: one characteristic of an ancient Greek city-state
   b: the office, authority, and administration of a tyrant
3 : a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force <living under the tyranny of the clock — Dixon Wecter>
4 : an oppressive, harsh, or unjust act : a tyrannical act <workers who had suffered tyrannies>
Even though many patriots seem to be confused as to the word’s meaning, their fear of tyranny is not entirely without merit.  While they will argue that the stockpiling of (evermore dangerous and military-like) weapons is necessary to defend against tyrannical rule, they seem to be confused as to where it is coming from.
I know, I know, I know.  Obummer, Big Gubmint, the Framer’s, etc. Obama can do better, Congress is on what seems like another planet, Jefferson and company were fairly intelligent men.  But, look again at the definition above.
Oppressive, harsh, and unjust acts.  Oppressive power.  The tyranny of a police state.

(cough, cough)

The tyranny of a police state.

 
“If citizens cannot trust that laws will be enforced in an evenhanded and honest fashion, they cannot be said to live under the rule of law. Instead, they live under the rule of men corrupted by the law.” ― Dale Carpenter 
 
Whoa!  Before you scream at your screen… “All cops aren’t bad cops!  A cop’s job is dangerous!  They are just taking steps to ensure that they make it home alive.” …  I know this.  Most people know this.  This is not about making all cops look bad.  This is about making bad cops former bad cops.
 
No rational person believes that our nation’s police officers shouldn’t protect themselves.  But consider this.

“In 2013, 33 law enforcement officers were killed by gunfire. While it is a morbid statistic, it is the lowest number since 1887. Meanwhile, in 2012, police committed over 400 justifiable homicides for the first time in more than a decade. This trend would suggest that crime is increasing…but it isn’t. It only means that officers are more frequently resorting to violence.”

 

We also know that investigating suspicious activity is a part of the job description.  But seriously? Cruel and unusual.

““Nothing was found inside of Mr. Eckert,” the police report notes. So after he woke up, he was released — after 13 hours, two rectal exams, three enemas, two X-rays and a colonoscopy.”

Likewise, none of us want to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods.  But one in three Americans are in criminal databases.

“Researchers report that more than 40% of the male subjects have been arrested at least once by the age of 23. The rate was highest for blacks, at 49%, 44% for Hispanics and 38% for whites. Researchers found that nearly one in five women had been arrested at least once by the age of 23.  They further determined that 47% of those arrested weren’t convicted. In more than a quarter of cases, subjects weren’t even formally charged.”

 

Look.  America is a nation of laws. We trust our police departments with the task of keeping law and order.  Without them (both laws and officers), things would be a little chaotic.  I’m no more into anarchy than you are, but this is getting out of hand and lives are being lost and destroyed.

So, if you are honestly afraid of tyranny, ask yourself a few questions.  Why are our cops earning respect at the end of a gun barrel rather than with community involvement?  Why should our civil rights be suspended just because we are in the presence of a guy with a badge?  Why are our peacekeepers training with the military?  Why are they using military hardware?  Are we insurgents or are we citizens?  And, finally, what are we going to do about it?

Ignoring overzealous, ill-trained, or power-hungry officers does a disservice to We, the People.  It also does a disservice to the majority of good cops out there honestly trying to make our communities safer.
 
If you are honestly afraid of tyranny, this should concern you.  Not black you or white you.  Not liberal you or conservative you.  But American you.
 
Liberty and Justice for all, right?
 
Further Reading
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

911: What’s your emergency?

This is 911.  What’s your emergency?

I need help.  My community, my state, my nation is being overrun.

Overrun?  By whom, Ma’am?

Men and women carrying BIG guns like soldiers.  They’re driving armored cars and sometimes tanks.  Yes, I said tanks.  And they are wearing all black riot gear and..and….badges.

copld

If I say “police”, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  (Cue Jeopardy music)

Once upon a time, I would have thought of public service.  Of bravery.  Of courage.   As a child (and, no, how long ago that was does not matter), I remember having fun interactions with police officers.  They were the “good guys” who passed out lollipops when they saw you at the playground.  They visited our schools with plastic badges and mini flashlights.  They encouraged us to “be good and stay out of trouble” with smiles on their faces.  We were allowed to sit in the police car, lights flashing and sirens blasting.  They made me feel …safe.

Here we are a few years later (yes, a few years) and that feeling of safety is nearly non-existent.  Don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly aware of the fact that the world had changed in the few years it took me to grow up.  We’re not in Mayberry anymore, Andy.  The danger that they face is not imagined.  And, sure, I know that not all police officers are bad apples.

But, come on….

swat

Storm Troopers?  And tanks?  Really?

Beating and kicking a man after you’ve hit him with the stun gun?

Two officers stand over the motionless man and begin kicking him. A third officer drives up and attacks him.

That sounds more like brutality than bravery.

Excessive use of force in New Mexico..courage..or crisis?

Five officers gave chase, and when Lopez reached a fence and began to turn around, one of the officers fired three times, hitting Lopez once. The nonlethal shot put Lopez on his back, the report said, and the officer approached him and fired a fourth shot into his chest, killing him.

 I know it’s hot as Hades out there, but seriously?  Are they losing their minds??

All over the nation, our children are scarred for life.  Rendered sterile.  Because hoodies.

But don’t get too comfortable in your justifications.  Eight year old girls are deadly!

Our blackberry bushes and sunflowers must not be allowed to disturb the peace.

And whatever you do.. Don’t. Clinch. Your. Buttocks!

Is this what we are?  Who does this militarization help?

…a sheriff in Illinois was accused of lending the assault rifles, which he got through the 1033 program, to his friends.

…a firearms manager in North Carolina pled guilty to selling his on eBay.

…a county in Arizona acquired $7m worth of weapons and Humvees before giving them to unauthorized persons and attempting to sell them to boost their budget.

…in Mississippi, it took six years before federal authorities discovered that a state office, which was ineligible for the program, had received $8m worth of equipment, despite the fact that the Defense Department is supposed to review the program every two years.
 

As an American, I know we don’t want cops who resemble this…

funny cop

…but the statistics on police brutality and misconduct are appalling.  (Check out Radley Balko.)

Know your rights!  Also know that knowing your rights won’t always protect you.

So, yeah, dispatcher..that is my emergency.  That is everyone’s emergency.  Can you help us?

Or…Maybe Flava Flav had the right of it…911 is a joke in your town.  And mine.

Continue reading

Liberty and Justice for All

To the Parents of Trayvon Martin:

I am so sorry.  So very sorry.

As a mother, I am tempted to say something insensitive like I feel your pain.  Perhaps even I can imagine how you must feel.  But, both are lies.  I can not feel your pain, nor can I even begin to fathom how badly this must hurt.  My brain can not wrap around the excruciating, soul-wrenching pain you must be in.  So, I am left with…I’m sorry.

I, like millions of others, am sorry that you will never again hug or kiss your boy.  We are saddened that his life ended in such a senseless, tragic, and  preventable way.  It breaks our hearts that it took nothing more than traversing the street – in a hooded shirt – for Trayvon to become a “suspicious” person.  To be thought of as “up to no good”.  To be stalked, and murdered.

Those millions and I are further sorry that our justice system failed you. We were shocked that your son had barely been retrieved from the ground before his killer was home.  Home.  We were upset that it took national flash mobs to ensure an investigation.   We were angry that his character was attacked and his named maligned.  We were livid at the notion that somehow Trayvon has less of a right to be on that street than his attacker.  We were determined to stand with you, and all who loved your son, while the wheels of justice turned.

We were stunned and outraged that, after all was said and done, George Zimmerman was convicted of nothing.

While we may not know how you feel, we did feel.  We do feel.

We feel that it is shameful, in America, that the way your son was dressed garnered suspicion and began this entire train wreck of events.   We know that the pervasive racism in this country continues to give credence to ridiculous stereotypes like the one your son came face to face with.  And that is wrong.

We feel that it is completely and totally unacceptable that our children are being stalked and killed due to someone else’s irrational fears.  We know that, in this country, the acts of rogue vigilantes should be discouraged.

We feel that if Stand Your Ground is a right of some, it is a right for all – Trayvon included.  He had just as much right to be where he was that night as his shooter did.

We try to imagine the confusion and fear your son must have felt that night.  We teach our children wonderful lessons about America.  We continually remind them that they can be anything they so desire, if they try hard enough.  We recount the horror stories of the past in order for them to appreciate the freedom and equality they enjoy now.  We tell them that their clothes, their hair styles, their shoes don’t matter.  Because what matters is on the inside.

I am certain Trayvon learned differently that night.  I am sure he didn’t have the foggiest idea why he was being pursued.  How could he?  His pursuer only knew he “looked off”.  He learned what hundreds of thousands of young, black males already know.  He learned that, for some, fitting a profile is deadly.  He learned that stereotypes can get you killed.  He learned that, sometimes, adults are wrong.  Sometimes, you don’t have to look for trouble, because trouble looks for you.

And that is the hardest thing to admit.  We were wrong.  We failed him.

Regardless of how hard we wish it, we will never be able to change the horrible events of that sad night.  But there are things that we can do.  We can’t give you back the child of your heart.  But we can work so that his dying was not in vain.  We can’t give you justice for his death.  But we can fight to change laws, removing them if necessary.  We can’t get rid of every irrational person.  But we can fight for a society that does not condone irrational actions.  We can’t heal you.  But we can stand with you.

We can stand with you in our communities and states.  We can stand with you in our jails and courthouses.  We can stand with you in the voting booths.

Our sympathy is a start, but we can do more.  We will do more.

Because liberty and justice for all is more than a slogan.

Our hearts, heavy and broken, are with you.

Sincerely,

America

The AMA is Wrong

A few weeks ago, the American Medical Association voted to declare obesity a disease.

…members of the AMA’s House of Delegates rejected cautionary advice from their own experts and extended the new status to a condition that affects more than one-third of adults and 17% of children in the United States.

Why, I wondered, would the esteemed AMA reject cautionary advice from their own experts about declaring obesity a disease?

There may be several reasons, and sadly, not one of them get to the crux of the matter.

With so many people qualifying as “obese,” there’s money to be made with this classification. If you have a disease, you need to be treated.

As is, the diet industry is already making money hand over fist, with few success stories The lack of success stories is due to the fact diets don’t work. Long-term, meaningful changes MAY work. But cutting caloric intake, reaching a goal weight, and then resuming normal eating habits is a recipe for failure in keeping weight off.

Instead, the US spends over 60 BILLION dollars a year on dieting.

$60,000,000,000.

The lack of success stories is telling: it’s our culture. It’s the priorities. It’s the fact that it’s a lot cheaper for most families to buy processed foods than it is for them to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh meats, etc.

But that the AMA ignored the advice of experts and declared obesity is darker and more sinister. It’s about the money for Big Pharma. After all, now that obesity is an illness, pharmaceutical companies can start making more medicines to “treat” the new “illness.”

Via:

It’s inaccurate:

It distracts from the real issues:

It’s a win for the weight cycling industry

Unfortunately, what’s good for the weight cycling industry isn’t necessarily good for patients: 

This new categorization has an interesting “benefit”–the ACA (aka “Obamacare”) will cover treatments for obesity.

But even that’s a very questionable “benefit.” This still seems, once again, to be all about the money.

If we, as a society, wanted to address obesity, we’d quench the many food deserts within our country. We’d make fresher, healthier foods cheaper. It still costs more to buy bananas, broccoli, or apples than it does to buy a box of Mac n’ Cheese. We would stop blaming people for being obese and realize that there are many reasons why some people are heavier than others.

We also wouldn’t equate thin with good health.  This is one of the most harmful lies we tell ourselves, at least in my opinion.

But hey, it’s all about the Benjamin’s (or Franklin’s, thanks DH!) in the end, right?

 

If It’s Wednesday, We Must Be Bargaining

You read a lot of books over in 20 years of schooling.  Many are blurs.  Some are definite favorites. Some bounce back into your memory at opportune moments. Lately, I’ve found my way back to one of my perennial favorites:  Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying.” I don’t think Dr. Kübler-Ross had any idea of the far-reaching implications of what – on its face – is a pretty simple theory: grief is not a static emotion, it is a complex, dynamic process. Over the years, this theory has been applied to an ever-widening range of human conditions, from getting married and the “death” of your “single self,”  to a serious illness that causes the loss of your identity as a healthy person, to a death of a loved one, to  facing your imminent death of a fatal illness. While the intensity and length of the process may vary, there is a universality in the way we, as humans, deal with significant, emotional events that involve a net loss.

DABDA itself is pretty simple.  Where the complexity comes in is that, while each stage has some general common characteristics, they manifest differently in each individual. The time one spends in each stage will vary, and while the five stages are somewhat sequential,  it is very possible – and not uncommon – to jump between stages in a somewhat random manner. For example: I can work my way through denial and anger, get to bargaining, and wake up one morning back in denial.There is also the school of thought that says we can be operating in more than one stage simultaneously. Grieving, my friends, is a messy, messy business. Looking back, I can see the randomness of DABDA running all through the experiences I related in last week’s post.

So, you may ask, what is it like navigating the River Denial? Right now, the waters are fairly warm and the currents quite gentle. I believe I have invented a new stage: Stunned. All indications are that my sister is no longer with us on this earth. While I may have been able to luxuriate in denial for a while, once I received a copy of her death certificate with information I could verify pertained to her, it was logical to assume I was not being Punk’d. Still, the whole thing continues to ring hollow to me, like an uncalibrated steel drum. It’s like I’m encased in a giant, latex-free bubble, and the reality of Deborah’s death keeps bouncing off of it, but can’t break through. BOING! Yes, she’s gone. BOING! No, she’s not. BOING! Get a clue. BOING! Make me. BOING! I feel like an over-grown, petulant child, refusing to accept that there is not another funnel cake in my immediate future.

As I sit here, awaiting the nuclear meltdown I know will eventually occur, I’m thinking to myself: what can I do to try to ensure my children have better coping mechanisms? Fully admitting my brokenness, in an effort to forestall the inevitable devastation of losing my Thelma (long story), I’ve decided to occupy my mind with trying to figure out how I can turn this into a teachable moment for our (my and Deborah’s) children. How do I turn what so feels like a random act of cruelty visited upon us by the cosmos into something we can use in the continuous process of growth? And why – which is perhaps the bigger question – do I feel my larger duty in all this is to ensure those I see as more vulnerable are okay? Is a part of denial – at least for me  denying my own vulnerability?

Yeah. I know the answer. I’ve been here before. If I allow it, my heart will shatter into a million pieces; too many pieces to ever gather them all, super glue them back together, and be able to move forward. And so, my stage of denial is all about denying the desire – or need – to be totally consumed by this.  I was so offended by the posts to Deborah’s oldest son’s Facebook page that told him to “be strong.” No! I told him, “Don’t be strong! Feel what you feel! Go through the process!” And yet, here I am, fighting the process, still.

There is a part of me  – a secret part of me –  that wants to just be swept away by all this. But there is a larger part of me that fears that – if swept away – I will never find my way back.

So, next week, we’ll park the Party Bus and get back to work. Lots to talk about. Lots to think about. Lots to do.