Perhaps I should have known earlier in the week that events weren’t going to go as smoothly as I’d hoped. Given that all the adults were vaccinated, we decided to risk getting together for our youngest child’s birthday only to be reminded that, oh yeah, there were reasons we didn’t do that before the pandemic put everyone in quarantine. It was a minor infraction in the grand scheme of things, but in hindsight, it serves as a red flag that the rest of the week wasn’t going to get much better.
We watched the Derek Chauvin trial end defense testimony on Thursday without the defendant taking the stand, wondering what that might mean. Then, after going to bed early Thursday evening, we woke up Friday morning to the news that there had been another mass shooting, this one a mere 17 miles from my front door. Eight people dead, including four from the Indianapolis Sikh community. My heart immediately sank as we waited with everyone else in the city to see if anyone we knew was among the deceased.
Then, we discover, well after the fact, that a 13-year-old boy, Adam Toledo, was shot and killed by a police officer in Chicago. Bodycam footage gives the officer no defense for the shooting. He said stop and the child stopped. He said “raise your hands” and the child raised his hands. There was no gun. Sure, there may have been one somewhere back in an alley, but it damn sure wasn’t in that baby boy’s hands. And still, the officer shot.
I’m not sure what else I can say at this point that I haven’t already said one place or another. The past four weeks have all addressed some aspect of gun violence in our culture, a culture that is wholly unique to the United States. No other country in the world has the strangely obsessive gun culture that we do. We’ve talked about police and the impossible situation we find ourselves in trying to balance public protection with the reality of a racist, militarized, and too often corrupt police force.
I was listening to Ari Fleischer on NPR’s It’s Been A Minute this morning, and heard journalist O’nika Nicole Craven talk about her interview with a 60-year-old black man, the same age as I am. He told her how that looking at the atmosphere of the 60s and comparing it to now, he doesn’t see any change. All the marches, all the activism, all of it has resulted in nothing of substance, largely because of politicians who systematically dismantled any gains made.
Ari then talked with The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah who discussed the racist and militaristic origins of the phrase, “thin blue line,” and how the symbolism has come to represent a level of white supremacy within policing that poisons the entire system all across the nation.
One might see a glimmer of hope when one of the world’s top three publishing houses, Simon and Schuster, announces that it won’t distribute a book about the Breonna Taylor case written by one of the cops who participated in her murder. But the company isn’t the original publisher of the book. The book’s publisher is Post Hill Press which has a long-running history of perpetuating false and misleading information in its books. Just because Simon and Schuster won’t distribute the white-supremacist apologetics doesn’t mean it won’t be available, especially if the author does a speaking tour.
The Guardian revealed this week that a number of police offers and other law enforcement officials and politicians around the country contributed to the online defense fund of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two protesters in Wisconsin last year, praising him for committing murder in cold blood.
For all its past good, for all its past innovations and leadership, for everything that the United States did right at one point or another, I look at the events of the past few days and can only come to the conclusion that the United States is a disgrace of a nation. We have failed morally. We have failed philosophically. We have failed humanity 101. We have failed the concept of “One Nation.” We have failed to provide liberty and justice for all.
And in disgracing ourselves, we have disgraced the world. Christian groups want to ban yoga because they’re afraid of people becoming Hindu. Guns provided by or stolen from US entities are ripping apart Central America, creating the immigration crisis for which there seems to be no solution. In Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Palestine, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and almost every other country where US operations are powerful, we have caused infinitely more death and destruction than we have help.
If what we’ve done before hasn’t resulted in lasting change, then we need to change our tactics to become more aggressively progressive. We have to make sure that companies and politicians supporting a pro-gun agenda feel the wrath of voters. We have to use extreme measures to make sure the voices of those being perpetually mistreated are heard, one way or another. We have to make good trouble at a level that the late John Lewis would have found extreme.
We make no apologies. We accept no excuses. Politicians need to change laws to stop the nonsense or resign. We must hold everyone accountable, both publicly and privately, for what they say and do, every minute of every day. Police cannot be allowed to hide behind laws protecting them from what they do on duty. Politicians cannot be allowed to have sex with staff or minors without having to leave office. Journalists and newscasters perpetuating racism and false narratives cannot be allowed to keep their voices.
We talked last week about “Whose Rights Are These, Anyway.” After this week, I’m more convinced than ever of the need to put what’s best for the public ahead of the individual. Your right to speak ends when you deny or diminish the humanity of another person. Your right to broadcast ends where everyone else’s right to live peacefully begins.
I’m also increasingly convinced that being nice isn’t the best tactic. After the January 6 insurrection attempt on the US Capitol, Republican fundraising surged. Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic movie, appeared at a conference on Friday of this past week promoting a Qanon theory about blood harvesting. The launch of the America First caucus by ultraconservative members of the House of Representatives is specifically aimed at “protecting Anglo-Saxon traditions.” In giving these conversations oxygen under the guise of free speech, we’ve allowed their fires to grow and fundamentally threaten the rights of people of color and any white person with half a brain. Defending their right to speak no longer makes sense as their very reason for existing is to bring about the extermination of others.
Aggressive tactics are called for, but at the same time, I’m not certain that violence such as the fires in Portland is any better than the hate that ignited them. To confront Fascists face-to-face becomes dangerous and risks physical harm. We can’t sit back and post memes on Facebook, though, and expect anything to change.
What we’re experiencing is a problem unique to the United States and the resolution will have to come from within ourselves. Voting is a start. Andy Borowitz was writing a humor column for The New Yorker when he lamented, “Americans Opposed To Being Shot Seek Representation in Washington.” The machine that produces our elected representatives isn’t working and one might argue that for women and people of color, it never has. But even outside Washington, we need a reckoning for our willingness to accept murder from those who are supposed to protect us, racism from those elected to represent us, and dangerous, malicious rhetoric from those hired to inform us.
That’s it. I don’t have a solution or a benediction or even a closing thought. I get to this point and I’m stuck in the frustration that after 60 years we have accomplished absolutely nothing when it comes to human rights. So, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off. We’ll call this the end of Season One and I’ll come back around May 8 in the hope that we’ll have seen something that resembles progress by then.
Until then, stay safe, keep the ball between the gutters, and may every roll be a strike.