Point of View Columns

The Secret Danger of Living While Black

In just a week we have seen the madness that is the Trump Era played out for all the world to see. Multiple mail bombs sent to designated Trump “enemies” including two former presidents, Trump’s opponent in the last presidential campaign and a major media Trump critic sounds like a plot from some the fevered hate swamp in some mythical third world country. Instead it is the America that Trump promised to make great again. And this is what greatness looks like in Trump World.

And the day after 11 Jewish worshipers were shot down in a Pittsburgh synagogue, two innocent black citizens are shot dead in Kentucky by a self-avowed white supremacist. And as we view the news with trepidation and horror, we can be assured that as long as Donald Trump is president there is more to come. But while we are revolted by this new wave of domestic terror, we are distracted from an ongoing terror, the terror visited upon those who have discovered the all too prevalent everyday danger of Living While Black.

While it should be self-evident that the potentially fatal condition of Living While Black (or LWB) is a condition that only affects black Americans, there are a growing number of mutations that seem to be proliferating across the United States, creating an epidemic that is reminiscent of the 19th (or even the 18th) century. The news over the past few years has chronicled the progression of this peculiar American epidemic:

  • HWB (Hooded While Black) – Trayvon Martin
  • SCWB (Selling Cigarettes While Black) – Eric Garner
  • BWB (Belligerent While Black) – Michael Brown

But now there are new iterations. Recent news reports from Detroit indicate that GWB (Gardening While Black) is a condition that can result from offended white women calling the police because they don’t appreciate the community garden on a vacant lot tended to by a black man by the name of Marc Peeples. In Dallas, SWB (Sleeping While Black) turned out to be a fatal condition for Botham Jean who was shot to death by a white policewoman who mistakenly entered his apartment thinking that it was hers. And then there was an outbreak of GHWB (Going Home While Black) in St. Louis when D’Arreion Toles was challenged by a white woman while trying to lawfully enter the building in which his apartment was located.

Sad to say, these are not isolated events. Driving While Black (DWB) has been a common malady for many years. And all of these events can have life-threatening consequences depending upon the mood (and color) of the police officers responding to calls for assistance from white faux damsels in distress. And, sad to say, there has yet to be any consequences visited upon the instigators, even though false or baseless calls for police assistance constitute a criminal act in many jurisdictions across this country.

The point is that even with the madness of the mail bombings, synagogue massacres and white supremacist rampages, it is important to remember that there are other insidious, but just as repellent outrages that part of daily life in America.

These are behaviors that endanger the lives of black Americans every day – behaviors that are no less vicious due to the lack of concern for the potential consequences. And it is so very sad that in this Trump Era, the standards for decent and humane conduct have been degraded to the point that Living While Black is fraught with dangers, dangers that every black American must risk every day.

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Point of View Columns

When a Sham Becomes a Shame

The only thing surprising about the Trump presidency is how consistently awful he is and how there seem to be no redeeming factors with which he can be associated. At times the only redemptive feature of President Trump is that, no matter what, he cannot be president after January of 2025. And that is a poverty stricken gossamer thread of hope for anyone who cares about this country and its people.

One would think that insulting the entire NATO alliance, tossing candy at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, endorsing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political nemesis and walking in front of Queen Elizabeth would have been enough chaos for Hurricane Donald. But there was more, much more. Virtually fawning over his bromantic partner Vladimir Putin, Trump actually denigrated the American justice and intelligence communities while stating that America was at fault for the differences between Russia and the United States, managing to also turn the evidence-laden proof of Russian meddling in the 2016 election into just more “fake news”.

It will be up to historians in the future to fully comprehend the amount of damage that this man has caused in just 18 months of being president. Trade wars around the world, engaging in a futile pas de deux with North Korea, inhuman treatment of immigrants at the American border with Mexico and the demonization of the American news media (or were the recent shootings in the Annapolis newsroom too long ago for anyone to remember) – these are actions which have current repercussions. But it is the turmoil that is still incubating which is even more worrisome.

While Americans wake up every morning literally wondering what outrageous statement will spew from the White House, so much more is going on right below the surface. It is hard to keep pace with the termite-like attacks that the Trump Administration is pursuing, attacks that are just below the surface and will not become apparent until the edifice starts to splinter, crack and crash.

As you are reading this, the Trump Department of Education and the Trump Department of Justice are looking to virtually outlaw affirmative action in higher education. If his minions are successful, and with the likely installment of Brett Kavanaugh insuring an iron conservative majority on the Supreme Court for the next 10-15 years they almost certainly will succeed, diversity will no longer be a reality on many college campuses – it will only be a word found in a dictionary in a library, if anyone can find a library.

Meanwhile departure of Scott Pruitt as Executive Director of the EPA was a cause for only momentary celebration for those of us who think that clear air and clean water are like………important. That is because his replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is a coal industry executive and destroying the environment is a key element of his professional resume.

The Trump/Sessions Department of Justice tries to make people think that reopening the Emmett Till case is an example of the shell game also known as benevolent ivory justice. One can only assume that we should forget Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and all of the other black men and women who have been “lawfully” lynched by the system that has reneged on a promise of “justice for all”.

The point of course, is that while we continue to be focused on the Trump Clown Show, Trump and his minions are engaged in the serious and serial and systematic dismantling of so much of the infrastructure of hope and promise (as imperfect as it has been) that has made many of us believe that this country worth saving. And every day that Donald Trump is president is another day that hope and promise fade just a little bit more.

And that may be The True Tragedy That is Trump.

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Point of View Columns

Remembering Watts – the Day that All Hell Broke Loose

It was fifty years ago, August 11, 1965, that all hell broke loose in Los Angeles. What began as a simple traffic stop, turned into a rebellion/riot that result in 34 people dead, 1000 people injured, over 4000 citizens arrested. The Watts Riots, as the event came to be known, also ripped the veil of complacency and hypocrisy from America’s self-image, as the immortal specter of racism and racial oppression made itself known to all the world.

In the last fifty years there have been scores of similar conflagrations – in Washington, Harlem, Los Angeles (again), Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Philadelphia. In the last half century there has been a sense of a “Groundhog Day” pattern – there is a police incident/miscarriage of justice/no justice – then frustration turns to rage that turns to burning and looting – there is a paramilitary response to “restore order” – “order is restored” – a commission/panel/forum is convened to identify the root causes of the disorder – recommendations/proposals/commitments to change are made – change takes place, but not fundamental/institutional/cultural change – Reset.

Even with the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Reset button has never been far away. Black mayors, Congressional Representatives, Senators, Governors and a black president have been elected, again and again and yet, the Reset button has never been far away. The failure to indict the officers who tried to beat Rodney King to death caused the Reset button to be pressed again –as was the case after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, as was the case after the police execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The philosopher George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And it seems that as a society, as a nation, although we claim to remember the past, we seem to ignore it or not give it the credence and importance that it deserves. As so we repeat the past over and over. The Reset button remains, simply waiting for the next tragedy or the next egregious demonstration of injustice.

A library could be filled with the books, reports, articles and commission findings that followed the aftermath of Watts, Harlem, Newark, Detroit, etc. Some of the presumed greatest minds have labored to propose strategies and solutions that would remove the need to resort to that damned Reset button. And yet, there is an unstated recognition that no time will be the last time because when it comes to the fire born of frustration combined with racism, inequality, injustice and racial oppression, the fire has never gone out, and there will always be a next time.

And as we watch the all too familiar made for television drama play out in Ferguson, the embers of death and destruction have only just now cooled down in Baltimore and we can only wonder when and where the Reset button will be pressed.

The sad symbols of sorrow, the inevitable eulogies, the pledges of reconstruction and reconciliation – they are part of the ritual of this country. They are part of the ritual because the necessary predicate of recognizing the humanity of all people, including black Americans has not taken place. The statistics of unemployment and mortality and incarceration tend to only partially deodorize the stench of racism.

The entire country watches the demented kabuki choreography of public officials refusing to recognize the fact that the facts don’t lie – the disparity, inequality, unfairness and injustice that are the unwanted birthright of the national black community leaves too many with no option other than to press the Reset button that leads to rebellion that leads to repression that leads to resentment that leads to soon to be forgotten promises of reconciliation and renewal.

As we remember the Watts Rebellion of fifty years ago, we would all do well to remember the words of George Santayana.

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