A Culture Shift

“Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy.” — John Lennon

I sat there in the bleachers watching my daughter play in her last volleyball tournament (indoors) of the year. I listened somewhat intently to the conversation next to me. It was hard not to at least catch bits and pieces of it. Admittedly, I was already a little annoyed.

Seating is limited at these things. Usually we bring in our own chairs and space is on a first come first serve basis. Here, you weren’t allowed to bring in chairs. We all had to fit on the bleachers. The usual course was to vacate as soon as your child is done playing so someone else can fit. These folks didn’t do this. So, I was already admittedly bemused.

They spent a good 20 minutes complaining about the mask mandate. We all had to sign a waiver before entering. Yet, a tournament official had to ask them to put their masks on. They resisted of course, but at least did so quietly. The official finally gave up. I understood her plight. How was she going to enforce the rule herself with a handful of people that were refusing to abide by the rules?

These two seemingly isolated things (refusing to give up seats and refusing to put on the mask) were immediately linked in my mind. It is something I’ve thought for a long time and have had a difficult time articulating into words. Most people link this to politics somehow. The conversation somehow shifts to mouth breathing conservatives or triggered liberals. That’s certainly where their conversation was going.

We have had a culture shift. Naturally, everyone has their own opinion about such things. We differ about where it started. We differ about when it started. We differ on who is to blame for it. Yet, I think it’s something most of us see. Then it becomes a part of the cultural lexicon. For some, it is somehow positive. For others it isn’t. For me, it is impossible to put into words without giving away my thoughts about the phenomenon. The best I can come up with is that we have become a much more self-involved society.

If I were to avoid mincing words I would simply call it selfish. It’s difficult not to be judgmental. I can only imagine someone saying something similar about something I’ve done or said. I have definite opinions about where it comes from and who is at the heart of it all, but at the end of the day I think that is much more of a distraction.

The fight over masks has definitely highlighted this trend. Yet, it would be a mistake to consider the mask debate to be the central issue here. It is simply an easy manifestation of it. People are more self-involved and consider the plight of others to be outside their purview. I had a family member literally say, “I got mine. Go get yours” when the subject of taxes came up.

It would be overly simplistic to say this is an American thing. I think that’s largely true for historic and systemic reasons, but I also think we didn’t used to be this way. People gladly sacrificed during World War II when they were asked to do so. Few if any railed against rationing or any of the other shortages that resulted from meeting the needs of the soldiers first. People stepped up and did their share and then some.

We can point to other periods in history when this happened and there are modern day examples of this too. We banded together following 9/11 and we’ve done it after wild fires, tornados, and hurricanes. So, this isn’t some old geezer pulling the “back in my day” routine. We are fully capable of supporting each other and looking out for the needs of the whole group. For whatever reason, we are conditioned not to.

That’s the ultimate divide in our politics. People overwhelmingly support programs they believe they would benefit from. If you don’t directly benefit then that support drops precipitously. Why should a 50 year old support free community college? Why should someone with a cushy health care plan with their corporation support Medicare for all? Why should someone living in their gated community support any programs that help the poor? When we convince ourselves that it’s every man and woman for themselves then we tend to reject the idea of actions that would help others.

This isn’t necessarily a condemnation of those with legitimate questions about feasibility and costs. Those are worthwhile questions and the reason why we have representative government in the first place. It’s more about those that would object to someone getting something because they aren’t getting it. It’s the vitriol that gets spewed about welfare queens, Obama phones, or various sundry “free stuff.” It isn’t about feasibility or cost. It is about the fact that they didn’t get it, so nobody else should either.

Rugged individualism and self reliance are positive qualities. All societies must balance the needs of the group with the needs of the individual. I also suspect that other cultures around the world would report a trend of selfishness in their midst. However, in the true American way we have gone there on steroids. Put on your mask. Keep your mask on and please shut up about it. It’s amazing how people complain about the easiest things.

Moving in the Wrong Direction

“They’ll show us how to break the rules
But never how to make the rules
Reduce us down to witless punks
Fascist cries both black and white,
Who’s got the blood, who’s got the gun?”–David Bowie

If you pay attention for long enough you will notice patterns in gun legislation. There are fear ads released every time a Democrat is in the White House. He is coming after your guns. It doesn’t matter who “he” is. It could be Obama. It could be Biden. It could be Clinton. It could be Carter. All we know is that “he” is coming after your guns. I can only imagine how bad it will be when we finally have a “she” in the top spot.

Predictably, Texas is moving forward with legislation to protect the rights of gun owners. The urgency is apparently there because of what Biden is destined to do. Of course, Carter was destined to do it and it didn’t happen. Clinton was destined to do it and it didn’t happen. Obama was destined to do it and it didn’t happen. Anyone noticing a pattern?

Let’s ignore the fact that we are ignoring problems with the power grid, infrastructure, and education. That’s par for the course. Let’s take a look at the issue at hand. Let’s look at gun violence and crime statistics throughout the world and see how we stack up.

According to 2019 data we aren’t the deadliest country in the world in regards to guns. Amazingly, most of the countries ahead of us exist south of us. They include Mexico, Central America, South America, and some of the Caribbean islands. The notable exceptions include the Philippines and Iraq.

When you compare the data with most of Europe and Asia there is no comparison. Those countries are much safer in terms of gun violence. Those nations are safer overall as well. Naturally, there are tons of factors involved here and gun control laws are only a part of it, but it’s high time that we consider the logic of it.

According to known statistics, there are approximately 120 guns per 100 citizens in the United States. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. That is nearly twice as much as the second place country. That’s more than one gun per person. Why in the holy hell do we need more guns? Why do we want to make it easier for people to own guns? How does this make sense? How in the world does this make us safer?

Yet, that is the direction the legislature is going in. I already thought that conceal carry and open carry were the dumbest things I had ever heard. Now, they are doubling down on stupid. Now, they want to allow open carry and conceal carry without a license. I would love to know how that makes us safer.

If I were to invoke logic I would point out that legislation is only wise if you can successfully argue that it makes our lives better. Some would argue that it won’t make our lives worse. Even if you can successfully make that argument (you can’t) you should not be spending valuable time and resources on action that will not have a positive or negative effect.

Government should only act to make the lives of its citizens better. How does this make their lives better? The concept of guns being somehow limited is out the window. No one is coming for your guns. We simply want to take a moment to determine who should have a gun. If you should then there’s no harm in waiting or in barring you from walking around like you’re Wyatt Earp.

The American Idiot

“Well maybe I’m the f**** America
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda
Now everybody do the propaganda
And sing along to the age of paranoia.”–Billy Joe Armstrong

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall as parents talked to their kids throughout time about history. Usually, the phrase “it was a long time ago and people didn’t know any better” is involved. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of science and technology.

Kids are usually incredulous when they hear about things like leaching. My students always listened in awe as I described how George Washington died. We almost always assume we are living in an enlightened time. In many respects we are. We have amazing medical technology and advanced surgical procedures. Furthermore, we are learning more every day.

Yet, there is an undercurrent of stupidity that is nearly impossible to describe. I won’t describe it. I refuse to. Instead, I will bring it directly to you. Following is an excerpt of someone’s diatribe about why they aren’t getting the vaccine. Of course, we will follow with minimal commentary, but otherwise enjoy.

“I’m not really avoiding the vaccine due to potential medical complications, or because of the speed with which it was produced.

Personal liberty is not the reason I’m avoiding it, either. . .

My primary reason for refusing the vaccine is much simpler: I dislike the people who want me to take it, and it makes them mad when they hear about my refusal. That, in turn, makes me happy. . .

I have decided that because the vile political Left, which I despise in the abstract, wants me to take their coveted vaccine, I simply will not. . .

My newly formed and well-developed opinion on vaccines is this: if those bastards want me to get the jab, I’m not going to do it, because it annoys them.

Perhaps you think I’m being obtuse. I do not care.”

The following was written and published by Peter D’Abrosca. Yup, he was actually willing to put his name on this. I certainly will not be the first person making this point. After all, I found this somewhere (Daily Kos). However, it is a point that bears repeating. The pandemic will undoubtedly make the history books.

It’s not only the school history books that we are after. My great grandmother died in the 1918 Flu epidemic. Her loss obviously greatly impacted my grandmother and her brothers and sisters. Those ripple effects shoot up generations. So, hearing about how people treated the pandemic back then was not just an abstraction. It impacted millions of families around the world and here in the United States. It’s sad that with all of our medical advances and knowledge that you could argue we are handling the current pandemic somehow worse.

It’s a paradox that our children will have to explain to their children and then onwards through when we are all a distant memory. Fortunately, we have entries like this one that can help explain why this happened. When you boil it all down, it had nothing to do with knowledge or even beliefs. It was all about spite. Scientific and medical knowledge somehow became conflated with leftist thinking.

People have done this forever. We throw the baby out with the bath water. Students are always amazed when they realize that phrase has actual historical roots. It’s just amazing to see this on a grand scale and admitted openly like this. Usually, our stubbornness is on matters much smaller and we keep it to ourselves. Somehow, we are aware of our own idiocy.

The anger that D’Abrosca attributes to those on the left doesn’t exist in this case. My response fluctuates somewhere between shock, uncontrollable laughter, and pity. I’m not upset that you have chosen to sacrifice your own health to spite us. I’m more flabbergasted than anything.

If there is any ire with the anti-vaxxers of this world it is that their world view is incredibly selfish. Any idiot is free to do idiotic things as long as their idiocy doesn’t impact any of the rest of us. Sadly, anti-vaxxers have never understood that their stupidity can and will impact others. When COVID is still a thing years from now people will ask, “but I thought there was a vaccine? Why didn’t everyone just take it?” Well folks, here is your answer.

Paying the Bills

“Money don’t get everything, it’s true
What it don’t get, I can’t use
Now give me money, (That’s what I want)
That’s what I want.”– Berry Gordy Jr.

It’s difficult walking the tight rope between pointing out obvious shenanigans and avoiding those shenanigans to keep from giving them oxygen. That’s the life of commentating. Ultimately, we are all part of the same game. The name of the game is eyeballs. Once you get them focused on you then you get the sponsorship dollars, the speaking engagements, and the gravitas that comes with relevance.

There are those that have natural relevance because they come from a position of authority or they have something meaningful to offer. Then, there are those that use shock and awe to get their name out there. I suppose it’s not a horrible thing if that relevance is used for good ends. It’s problematic when notoriety is used for notoriety sake.

I’ve generally avoided commenting on Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson on these pages. It is difficult to engage someone that is simultaneously making arguments they know are in bad faith while also profiting from those arguments. At least I assume they know better. It’s hard to tell with Owens, but I think we are all caught up with Carlson’s game by now.

For her part, Owens has successfully confused what Black Lives Matter is all about. That takes some talent. We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. There is a difference between a hero and a victim. Owens purposely conflates the two as a way to somehow impugn BLM.

This is particularly insidious and repugnant. There is a reason why we know George Floyd. It is the same reason why we know everyone else that has come across our news feed in the last several years. It is something the civil rights leaders understood from the get go. We tend to react to that which we see. We saw him die. We can’t deny it. We can’t explain it away. Although I guess if you are Owens you can twist yourself into knots trying.

The civil rights leaders wanted people to see them being mistreated. They wanted people like you and me to see them being peaceful and getting bludgeoned anyway. Yet, Martin Luther King Jr, included a sliver about self-purification in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He did this on purpose. He knew instinctively what would happen. It’s what Owens has done with Floyd.

The fact that she is gaslighting her own is particularly unsavory. Floyd wasn’t canonized. No one called him a martyr. They simply pointed out the obvious. He’s dead and he shouldn’t be. Whether he was passing a bad twenty dollar bill, high on drugs, or had a criminal record doesn’t matter. He’s dead and he shouldn’t be. He’s dead because an officer overstepped his authority and exacted final justice when it wasn’t his place to do so. He did this as a training officer while his trainees stood by and watched.

What Floyd had done or not done up until that moment doesn’t matter. I suspect Owens knows this and is purposely being obtuse because she is novelty. She can make these bad faith arguments and get paid for doing it. The rest of us would be called racist and rightfully so. I hope she doesn’t spend those 30 pieces of silver all in one place.

As for Carlson, I hardly want to spend too much time on the latest controversy. For those that don’t want to go down the rabbit hole, he suggested on his show that you should call CPS on parents that have their children wear masks outdoors. I hardly know where to begin on this one.

Again, I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and he may even be aware of the amazing hypocrisy of that statement. The MAGA crowd has been all gung ho against masks from the get go. It curtails their freedom. As hard as it is to imagine, there were parts of the world and people in it that regularly wore masks before this pandemic. They did so because of SARS and other epidemics that may have been in their corner of the world even if they weren’t here. Heck, they may have done it because they like the feel of cloth on their face.

Yet, this situation has somehow turned from the freedom not to wear a mask if you so choose into the duty not to wear a mask. If you are all about choice then you should respect the choice of those that choose to follow stricter guidelines than what the CDC recommends just as much as you respect the choice of those that choose to flaunt those recommendations.

What Carlson and Owens have in common is that they know good and well that they are making bad faith arguments. They also know they don’t make their bones dealing in facts. Owens knows that there is a considerable group of people looking to discount this BLM stuff any way they can. Carlson knows there is a group of people that hate masks and look down on anyone still wearing them. Those people happen to be their target audience.

An idiot can’t help being an idiot anymore than I can help being diabetic. I sure can live in a way that mitigates that condition and idiots can slowly learn and become less idiotic. What’s tragic are those that know better and choose to profit on the backs of those that don’t. Maybe they can drive their nice cars and go home to their gated communities built on an empire of gaslighting. They are the ones that have to live with themselves in the end.

An Adjustment Period

“It’s ticking away with my sanity
I’ve got too much time on my hands
It’s hard to believe such a calamity
I’ve got too much time on my hands
And it’s ticking away, ticking away from me.”– Tommy Shaw

Over the years, I’ve managed to teach every social studies course offered in high school with the exception of Sociology. I’m technically certified to teach it even though I haven’t taken a single course in my life. Of course, that didn’t stop me from teaching World Geography. However, the study of cultures, norms, and rituals has always been fascinating.

There’s nothing overwhelmingly urgent to talk about in the news. Maybe that’s why we get these stories that seem to fold over into a single news cycle. It’s my job to see if I can find any interesting kernel of connection to tie them together with a neat bow. So, my mind went to sociology.

We have three stories rattling around the brain today. First, we have Dan Patrick spouting some interesting statistics about African American voters. According to tale, half of the African American population in Texas doesn’t own a car. Therefore, we shouldn’t have drive in voting. There are any number of holes I can poke in that, but I’m making an overall point here, so I’ll hold off for now.

The second story involves our very own governor Greg Abbott and other conservatives. It seems Joe Biden wants us all to become vegetarians. A story circulated that he wanted beef consumption to be cut by 90 percent and wanted every American to be limited to four pounds of beef a year. I’ve attached the snopes report on that story because again I am making a larger point here and don’t have time for the foolishness.

Finally, you get Larry Kudlow and his complaints about Biden forcing us to drink “plant based beer.” What’s next? Fruit based orange juice? Naturally, I’m sure most of you know that beer is made from plants. It includes hops, malted barlay, and other things depending on the flavor. Maybe he was thinking a cow or pig were involved but I can assure him that the beer I drink doesn’t have any animal byproducts. I admittedly haven’t tried every beer on the market.

What do these three stories all have in common? They are three easily disprovable mistruths that are being propagated by prominent politicians. Why? Because they can. It’s part of the paradox for a public that has millions if not billions of pieces of information at their fingertips and yet bumbles on with ignorance of a serf during feudal times.

The sociological portion of it is fascinating. We see these periods in history at different points. The invention of the printing press made books affordable for the masses. It can be no coincidence that the period immediately following brought about much strife and lasting change.

We’ve had similar periods throughout history where access to knowledge expanded for one reason or another. The internet was designed originally as a way for academics to exchange ideas more freely. It really wasn’t designed with you and me in mind. Slowly but surely that evolved. We used to pay 20 dollars a month for America Online. Now, we can all access the internet from our smartphones.

It always takes society longer to adjust to technology than it takes for that technology to develop. We increasingly have access to the internet and most people now have high speed internet. That doesn’t mean we are any smarter or wiser about what we read. In fact, you could make the argument that we are collectively less informed even though we have increased access.

It’s a paradox I’m sure we share with those other important points in history when everything changed. It will take time for us to adjust as a society. In the meantime I’ll help you out. Nearly 90 percent of African American families in Texas own at least one car. No, there will not be rationing of meat. Beer is in fact made from plants. Not everything on the internet is true and not everything our leaders tell us is true or even rational. Maybe someday the common man will have the wherewithal to double check these things. For now, we just have to hope there are enough people with common sense.

Boiling it down

“These teeth are white
Trainers ultra bright
This band is perfect
Just don’t scratch the surface.” — Simon Le Bon

Sometimes when you see something you immediately think of something from the distant past. I was perusing Twitter a few weeks ago and noticed a tweet that was overwhelmingly honest and yet lacked all self-awareness. Of course, in that medium such a phenomenon is less than rare.

The tweet in question urged conservatives to understand the difference between cancel culture and righteously boycotting Ungodly people and products. I double-checked, their tongue was not firmly planted in their cheek. They were deadly serious. Unfortunately, with Twitter you rarely get the follow up tweet actually explaining the difference. I was waiting with baited breath because I’ve wanted to know for quite awhile.

I flashed back to a WKRP in Cincinnati episode where a religious group was threatening to boycott the station if they continued to play certain songs. It’s one of those episodes that stays with you over time. It was filmed in 1981, but it might as well been done yesterday given the various issues we have to face in today’s society.

It ends when Carlson (the manager of the station) confronts the leader of the movement and asked him to read the lyrics of “Imagine” by John Lennon. The minister announces that the song would not be acceptable because it promotes communism. Carlson (who is usually an idiot) correctly points out that the song says to imagine that and more importantly, the decision to bar the song was made by one man.

The irony of the tweet and the whole movement is that there is no difference between cancel culture and righteously boycotting ungodly things. They are the same thing. If there is a difference it is in who is doing the boycotting and who and what they are boycotting. Beyond that there is no difference.

Of course, this level of hypocrisy cuts both ways. Ardent defenders of the rights of artists, singers, and entertainers are many of the same people participating in what is called cancel culture now. That is perfectly fair as long as it is done honestly and with open intentions. No one can force me to buy a Ted Nugent record. I hate his politics, but I’m also not a huge fan of his music. So, a refusal to support him is not the same thing as exerting undue influence on his ability to market himself and his ideas.

The Dixie Chicks famously learned this lesson. They spoke out against then president George W. Bush at a concert and suffered a dramatic backlash that essentially killed their careers as a group. You choose to say what you want. I choose how I want to respond.

I’m free to respond in any way I see fit. I can choose not to purchase your product or shop at your store. I am free to urge others to do the same. I am not free to bar you from your choice. This is where the difference comes and its the difference between a harmless boycott and censorship.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Cancel culture is only a thing as it pertains to what has always been there. Censorship, public shaming, and ostracization have been a part of society for centuries. Our methods might be new as different mediums become available to us, but it is all the same thing. The sooner we admit that the more effectively we can navigate our way through it all.

Behind the Curtain

“Oh can’t you see, you belong to me.” — Gordon Sumner

Most of you know Sumner by a different name. There are those that consider this song one of the more romantic songs in history. I worry about them. I worry if they believe in the same type of ownership that the subject of this song does. More than anything, I wonder if Democrats and Republicans think of their voters the same way.

Check that, I really don’t wonder about Republicans. As vile as many of them are, at least they don’t try to hide it anymore. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to make Washington D.C. a state. The GOP response was equal kinds predictable and indicative of where they are as a party.

To be perfectly fair, the Democrats know how to read numbers just as easily. Over 90 percent of residents voted for Joe Biden in the last election. The district has been Democratic for years. So, one could forgive the Democratically controlled House for having a sense of urgency here.

Then again, we must remember not to count our chickens before they hatch. Just because someone votes Democratic now doesn’t mean they will always vote Democratic. The South used to be in the bag for Democrats up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When you move past regional patterns you will find all kinds of demographic groups where the battle still wages.

Yet, that’s the mindset of the modern Republican party. They don’t believe in competing for votes. They don’t believe in competing in the marketplace of ideas. Their voters belong to them and not the other way around. Republican representatives accused Democrats of a partisan grab as if that has any bearing on whether the district deserves to be its own state.

Even if the barbs are true, that’s not the point. The point is you have a group of people (Puerto Rico as well) that do not have adequate representation. They have more people in DC than several states already admitted to the union. If we are going to fly down the “why should they be a state” rabbit hole we would immediately ask ourselves why we need two Dakotas, Wyoming, and Idaho.

It’s really a simple proposition. The answer is two-fold. First, our system has always been skewed towards land. In the beginning, you could only vote if you owned land. From there, we attempted to balance the needs and desires of small states with bigger states. They did this by giving Wyoming the same number of senators as California. Seems perfectly fair and reasonable when you think about it.

The second proposition is that those states have the right voters. That’s why a 50/50 split Senate sees Democrats represent 41 million more people. Instead of battling in the marketplace of ideas we are trying to kidnap our own voters and keep everyone else on the outside looking in. So, voices on the floor complained about a socialist agenda and a sinister plot to get it through. Let’s ignore that if there was such a thing, that thing is highly popular amongst those surveyed.

The movement in state legislatures is proof that they aren’t trying to convince people that their ideas are better. They are trying to limit the number of people that could possibly choose that agenda. That’s not sufficient enough reason to deny the people of DC statehood. The same goes for Puerto Rico as well.

The Rorschach Test

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose and still somehow, it’s life’s allusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”– Joni Mitchell

The Ma’Khia Bryant case seems to be the perfect Rorschach test for policing and race relations as they currently stand. The 16 year old teen was shot and killed by police on the same day the Derek Chauvin verdict came down. The dark irony was not lost on the African American community. Many peacefully protested immediately following the event.

Each side of the political spectrum seem to throw out their own snark and neither seem to be particularly helpful. What we know is that she was shot while threatening others with a kitchen knife. So, the right threw out memes about all of knife fights they had growing up. Their tongues were firmly planted in their cheeks. It’s a laugh a minute with them.

The left pointed out that she was a honor student. For instance, I usually love John Pavlovitz’s work, but his recent post on this missed out on a lot of nuance. In an earlier piece, I talked about the perception problem that came with showing pictures of Daunte Wright with a gun. The mention of her as a honor student presents the same problem. While it might be relevant to her overall character, it is not particularly helpful in sorting through the facts of this particular case.

When the officers approached they could have no idea who Bryant was. They couldn’t have known whether she was an “A” student or a potential dropout. They saw a potentially dangerous teenager that was threatening the lives of everyone on the scene. They saw the dangerous weapon. Contrary to what some would have us believe. This is not a normal scene for most of us. That would be the genesis of those jokes told in right wing memes.

However, what is equally misleading is the false dichotomy that the right forces us into in these situations. The reflexive reaction seems to be to force police to stand back and allow whatever bad is going to happen happen and then investigate after the fact. In other words, certainly don’t intervene because then you will be blamed for whatever you do.

I certainly do love passive aggressive behavior. Moreover, the response demonstrates the binary thinking that usually comes from the right. You can do nothing or you can shoot to kill. They fail to see that while much of the criticism lacks nuance, it comes from a place where we want better outcomes. How do we get those better outcomes? That’s a fair question.

Community policing is just one answer. I mentioned that none of the responding officers knew Bryant. Why not? If those that patrolled the neighborhood frequently also responded to the call it’s more likely they would have known Bryant. Maybe they would have known she was an honor student and could have used that relationship and knowledge to talk her down before shots needed to be fired.

However, the more pressing question is why we always have to shoot to kill. Couldn’t they have disabled her instead? It’s a knife. All that needs to happen is to allow those in her path to get out of the way and away from danger. Maybe Bryant has a future after that. Maybe she could make good on the promise she was showing as a student. Maybe she could learn from her mistakes and become a productive member of society.

Racism is usually never overt. It is usually subtle and this is where both sides often get it wrong. Those officers didn’t shoot Bryant because she was black. They would have responded to a call of a white girl with a knife. They would have taken the situation just as seriously. Would they have done the same thing? That’s a much more complicated question.

All we need to do is consider the cases of Dylan Roof and the Santa Fe shooter. They survived their ordeals. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have. Maybe I wouldn’t have taken Roof to McDonald’s afterwards, but we don’t have to shoot to kill either. There is something going on here that has to be addressed. We need to ask ourselves why these situations often turn out this way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something nefarious or illegal. It usually isn’t.

The officers involved in the Bryant case didn’t do anything illegal necessarily. It was a dangerous situation. Lives potentially hung in the balance. They acted and that was that. What we can’t quite put our finger on is that there is a slice of humanity they seem to see when they see white suspects. Maybe they see themselves. Maybe they see the potential. Maybe they feel something they just don’t feel when they encounter suspects that are people of color. Maybe there is just some level of connection that isn’t there.

I don’t know how you fix that. I think community policing would help. If police get to know the members in their community then it is easier to see them as people when bad things go down. I think psychological testing of potential officers would certainly help. Rooting out would be racists before they start would be a huge help. I think new training would also help. There are a number of options to try between doing nothing and shooting to kill. All of those are good things and things that would make the situation better. It won’t eliminate every situation. Perfect is the enemy of good. There will never be a perfect, but we need to do better and we can’t afford to wait any longer.

The Beginning

“Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away.”– Mick Jagger

The verdict in the Derek Chauvin case came down yesterday afternoon. If you went into a news coma then you didn’t know that he was found guilty on all three charges. He will be sentenced in two months and could serve up to 75 years in prison. As you might imagine, that story has only just begun.

The story of the effort to reform policing also has only just begun. I’ve always thought that the more voices we hear from the better. It’s a lot like a choir performance that way. The more sections and the more different types of voices we can hear from then the fuller the melody and harmony will be.

Naturally, there will be off key voices as there usually is when you listen to the church choir or try to sing along when the radio is playing. It may not sound beautiful but it is authentic and we need to have an authentic conversation about policing. We’ve been debating the Daunte Wright case here and on other mediums for over a week. It’s time to take a broader picture.

I cannot begin to understand how people of color feel in regards of policing. I can voice the words and I can try as best I can, but I simply can’t feel what they feel. That’s where we need a multitude of voices to chime in. After my previous encounter in January I can somewhat get it, but I never feared for my life. I can’t relate to the feeling that I may not come out alive. I can’t relate to the feeling that my daughter might not survive an encounter with the police. For me and people like me, the police are there to protect her from bad people that would want to harm her.

I can’t emphasize that enough. The common refrain I hear is that if people would just follow the law and follow instructions then they would be fine. It’s easy to follow the law and follow instructions when you have absolute faith you will be treated fairly, kindly, and humanely. When you don’t believe that it is becomes much more difficult. When you don’t believe that it becomes easier to understand resistance. It is also easy to see how resistance gets blown out of proportion and turns into something horribly tragic.

I can only begin to understand the other side based on my experience as a teacher. It’s all about mindset. Every teacher has had that kid that has gotten under their skin. Maybe they are sarcastic. Maybe they are lazy. Maybe they are hyperactive. Maybe they are smarter than you. What isn’t easy to admit is that we have the control in that situation. We can control how we choose to interact each day. We can begin each encounter and treat them with respect and love (in the plutonic parental sense). We can also do the opposite.

How we begin those interactions usually dictates how those interactions end up going. If we see a pattern in how those interactions go then both sides build up that expectation going in. It’s crazy to think about laying the blame for a negative interaction at the hands of the powerless, but that’s what we see most of the time. If Wright had not resisted. If he had not taken pictures of himself looking like a thug. If he had not missed a virtual hearing he didn’t necessarily know about since the notice was sent to the wrong address. If if if if if. None of those include if the officers had reacted differently or begun the process differently.

Of course, this isn’t to completely excuse Wright for his own choices. He may or may not have participated in a robbery. He may or may not have been guilty of a gun charge. He could have allowed himself to be handcuffed and taken to the station. Take any of those circumstances away and he might still be alive. All that being said, he is not the one with the authority. He is not the one armed with a taser, revolver, and handcuffs. In fact, he wasn’t armed at all.

Each tragic encounter is different. Each has its own set of circumstances. Each can attribute different levels of culpability to the officers involved and the victims. We start by acknowledging the term victim. Victim does not mean saint. Victim does not mean blameless. Victim is a simple acknowledgment that someone is dead and they shouldn’t be. It might be their own fault. It might be the fault of the officers. They may share blame. Either way, it’s time for voices to be heard. It is time for all involved to openly consider all of the relevant factors and decide what we can collectively do to keep these things from happening. It is time for each of us to strive to reach beyond ourselves to attempt to understand where others are coming from. We owe at least that to each other.

The Battle for Our Soul

“And you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.”– Marcus Mumford

There is another haunting line in the song I references above. It says, “darkness is a harsh term don’t you think. Yet it dominates the things I see.” I debated using that line instead as the jumping off point, but this one seemed more appropriate. Occasionally, we come to a collective moment where our personal souls become intertwined with the soul of the nation.

This is one of those times. As I write this, the Derek Chauvin verdict has not gone down. I imagine it will by the time you read this. So, a lot of what I say here will be rendered either moot or prescient depending on the outcome. Yet, it seems we are having more and more of these moments as a nation. The last two presidential elections were similar moments. Despite what it might seem, very few elections produce a similar moment.

They are moments where we get to decide who we are and what we are about as a whole nation. That’s an awesome responsibility for twelve people to take, but they have taken that responsibility upon themselves. They get to decide what the story will be for the next several days if not the next several weeks.

I didn’t hear the evidence and I wasn’t a witness to the crime. So, anything I say has to be taken with that in mind. Yet, I think we all know the score here. Chauvin is guilty. The only question will be whether those jurors have the courage to say so. Like I said, as I write this that issue is in doubt. I’m not a legal analyst, so I have no idea what going into a second day of deliberations means. I don’t know if it’s normal, good for the prosecution, or good for the defense. I guess I could quote a Law & Order episode, but that is hardly compelling evidence.

All I know is what’s at stake. Either we stand up as a people and hold everyone accountable for their actions or we don’t. Either we acknowledge that some people can and have abused the awesome authority we give them or we don’t. Either we acknowledge that life is different and more dangerous for people of color or we don’t. Either we stand up in one clear voice and demand better or we don’t.

We’ve been down this road before. As a kid I remember the Rodney King incident and the subsequent trial. I remember the same excuses then as the ones we are getting now. He was high. He was a criminal. He got what he deserved. At least King didn’t die. Bones mend and bruises heal. He should consider himself lucky. You know the drill.

Those alive then also remember the subsequent riots well. Representative Maxine Waters was at the heart of it then and she finds herself at the heart of it now. Majorie Taylor Greene wants her expelled for her comments. Pot, meet kettle. If we back away and think, we get the anger. We understand the rage and we empathize. This has all the look of one of those moments where rage just my boil over.

It is also one of those situations that forces us to choose sides. Many of us are content to stand on the sidelines and I get it. We just want to all get along. Usually that’s admirable, but this time around it’s ducking our responsibility as thinking and caring humans. Either we are for equal justice under the law or we aren’t. It’s time to choose a side.