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

The Eternal Requiem

The crime of “Living While Black” has been part of the American criminal justice system since colonial times. Every black man, woman and child in this country is subject to indictment. The punishment for this crime has taken the form of housing discrimination, employment bias and all too many times death. Sometimes it is a slow death occasioned by factors such as environmental racism (see Flint, Michigan) and sometimes the death sentence is carried out by a policeman’s gun.

The recent roll call of Americans of African descent that have died at the hands of police or while in police custody seems never ending because it is never ending. The names of men, women and children who could have been famous for their good deeds, who could have remained anonymous in the ordinary pursuit of ordinary happiness, are known to us because they are dead.

Children like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, women like Eleanor Bumphurs and Sandra Bland and men like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Sean Bell are known to us only because they suffered the death sentence imposed for the crime of “Living While Black”. And just now, two more names are added to the eternal requiem roll call – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile should be alive as this column is being read. They are dead because white police officers murdered them. We know that they were murdered and not killed incidental to some criminal act because there is real time video that undeniably reveals those Baton Rouge and St. Paul police officers to be murderers.

And we also know that without the real time video evidence Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would join the countless anonymous men, women and children who have been killed by the police without witness. And we have to wonder what the real body count is in the reign of terror that targets black Americans everywhere in America?

There are the predictable calls for quiet and restraint in the national black community – and there is simply no reason for black Americans to kill each other and burn down their own homes – or anyone else’s home – upon the commission of another outrage. But we wait, not so quietly and definitely impatiently for calls for quiet and restraint to be exercised by police officers. We wait not so quietly and definitely impatiently for members of the criminal justice system – police officers, district attorneys, prosecutors – to righteously and vociferously condemn this Blue Carnage which afflicts the national black community.

The tears of the parents of the dead, the orphans of the dead, the lovers and spouses and partners of the dead drench the earth of this nation. Justice delayed is no justice at all. And in the case of Blue Carnage, the justice that is called for is not simply convicting the police officers who pulled the trigger. True justice will include transformation of the criminal justice system so that “Living While Black” is no longer a capital crime and every black, woman and child is not an automatic suspect and potential victim.

True justice will mean an end to mass incarceration, but it will also mean an end to the state sanctioned dehumanization of the black community. True justice will mean that black parents will not have to teach their nine year old boys and girls how to avoid being killed by the police. True justice will mean that black teenagers should be able to be as silly and outrageous on 125th Street as white teenagers on Spring Break in Florida without silly and outrageous becoming death defying acts.

And finally, true justice will be known to all of us when the foul heritage of the Black Codes and race-based slavery and Jim Crow and state sponsored segregation and serial lynching is finally and absolutely condemned by every sentient being in this country. It when that true justice is made known that this nation can begin to actually aspire to the high ideals and aspirations that were so eloquently stated at the inception of the Republic.

These high ideals and aspirations have become museum pieces instead of being the living, breathing heritage and culture of all Americans.

Only True Justice and change that.

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Point of View Columns

Bill Cosby is not Emmett Till

The end of 2015 presented the sad and pathetic spectacle of Bill Cosby doing the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania version of the “perp walk” as the first criminal charges for sexual misconduct were formally filed against him. This comes after half a hundred women have publicly alleged all manner of sexual transgressions have been committed by this formerly iconic public figure. And now the real controversy begins.

Given the legal reality that Mr. Cosby is innocent until proven guilty – beyond a reasonable doubt – there is certainly no direct path to prison being paved especially for him. And given the very real and deep psychological factors at work in female and male victims of sexual assault, it should be understood that the timelines for such victims to come forward to confront their attackers can be fundamentally different from that of a victim of say, robbery or assault.

Of course this is the United States of America, a country founded on the institution of race-based slavery. We live in a country that is still shackled to its racist past and there is no post-racist present. And, because Bill Cosby is an American of African descent, there is no way that racial factors will not be a part of the narrative that is now being played out in real time.

And as this narrative plays out questions are being asked and assertions are being made in various precincts in the national black community to the effect that Mr. Cosby is being treated unfairly because he is black. Here are a few of these/questions assertions with some suggested responses/observations:

1. Bill Cosby is a victim – he is only being prosecuted because the “system” is choosing to bring down yet another prominent black man. While the American system of justice is undoubtedly unfair to black Americans far too often –witness the crime within a crime of mass incarceration and racially disproportionate sentencing – that is not the problem here. Before the issue of race, the issue of class should be examined. Bill Cosby is a very wealthy and very prominent man. These kinds of charges are rarely brought against members of this class. But a brief survey of America’s prisons will reveal more than a few members of this class charged with all manner of criminal conduct, most of them white, who are wearing orange jumpsuits for long periods of time.

2. If he were white these charges never would have been brought. As noted, there are white millionaires in prison who would strenuously disagree. Since Bill Cosby is black there is a reflex response in the national black community that something unfair must be going on – but the virtual blizzard of accusations certainly warrant examination by the criminal justice system – then very subjective discretion comes into play – as it does in all criminal cases.

3. The charges against Bill Cosby are so old they are calcified, therefore it is unfair to prosecute him. There are entire libraries full of books and articles describing the various responses of victims of sexual crimes. There are no standards in the world of these victims. Their allegations may never be proven – but to diminish them because of time factors is simply ignorant.

What is important about this l’affaire Cosby is that because it is viewed through the lens of the reality of race and law in America, defenders of Bill Cosby may be erroneously putting him in the category of the many thousands of black Americans who are unjustly accused, overcharged and over sentenced virtually every day of every year.

Simply put, unlike Emmett Till or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or Geronimo Pratt, Bill Cosby should not be the symbol of racial injustice. To do so tarnishes the painful legacies of Till, Garner, Rice, Pratt and so many others – so many others who deserve better than Bill Cosby as their avatar.

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Point of View Columns

In Search of a Happy New Year

It is that time of the year when the champagne glasses are chilled and the confetti is bagged and ready for release. Resolutions are being listed and the anticipation of 2016 far outweighs the most unpleasant memories of 2015. But for some, actually for too many, 2016 will not and cannot be a Happy New Year. For some, for too many, the deaths of loved ones due to inexplicable and inexcusable gunfire cloud the dawn of the New Year, and that of every New Year that may follow.

Freddie Gray may not have led the most distinguished life, but he was someone’s child and did not deserve to die in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. His family and those who loved him still await some measure of justice. Tamir Rice was a child who had yet to live his life and he was summarily executed by a member of the Cleveland Police Department who, we have learned, will not be indicted for any criminal charges. The parents of Tamir Rice will never know him as a man and, as of now, will never know even a small measure of justice after unspeakable tragedy.

Dylan Roof was not a member of any law enforcement agency, but he enforced the Law of the Gun, slaughtering nine black worshippers in South Carolina even as they prayed. Tyshawn Lee was gunned down by demented gangbangers on the meanest streets of Chicago and his small corpse was added to the endless awful body count.

The toll of death by gun in the national black community can only be displayed on a crazed kaleidoscopic scoreboard when the numbers only go up while dreams and hopes go to hell. And all the while a dollar-driven interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution keeps the industrial spigot spewing rifles and pistols and shotguns and automatic pistols and machine guns into the streets – and so the blood continues to flow in the streets.

The Black Lives Matter Movement began, not to identify the lives of black Americans as exceptional, but rather to make sure that black lives are not an exception in the national conversation about lives mattering. Certainly, a review of the history of the United States does not lead to an automatic conclusion that black lives matter.

Indeed, there are far too many actions by government and the private sector that have led to mass incarceration, limited life expectancy and limited life aspirations to automatically conclude that black lives do matter. And, there is also the dismaying and depressing reality that too often black Americans act as if black lives do not matter – a state of mind that is reflected in murder, mayhem and disrespect that is directed at other black people.

And so, as the New Year approaches, it remains to be seen whether it will be an unhappy one for even more people. For those already cloaked in sadness and despair we can hope that there are tomorrows which will reveal that the sun of expectation will again shine for them. Of course it will take more than hope….it will take a national change of mind. It will take a national change of heart. Indeed the heart and soul of this country will have to change for there to be any real chance of a Happy New Year.

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Point of View Columns

The Sad Story of Cleveland

The recent bench verdict acquitting Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo of all charges in the shooting deaths of unarmed Malissa Williams and unarmed Timothy Russell – both black Americans – is another stain on the pages of American history and the pretense of equal justice under the law in these United States. And while we collectively stagger in disbelief, we apprehensively await the result of the six month investigation into the shooting of the unarmed twelve year old Tamir Rice – a black American –  by police officer Timothy Loehmann. What is going on in Cleveland? What is going on in America?

The sad story of Cleveland has no real beginning as it is clear that police brutality and racist law enforcement have been such a part of life in that city that it was necessary for the United States Department of Justice to intervene and establish court-enforced protocols on the police department. Given that Cleveland is far from alone among American cities in featuring police brutality and racist law enforcement, one can only imagine how bad it must be in Cleveland for the United States government to come in to protect the basic human rights and civil rights of the black citizens in that city.

Actually, we do not have to wonder, we just have to look at the recent tragic cases in that city to get an idea of what life must be like for a black citizen in Cleveland, Ohio. In the matter of police officer Michael Brelo, he was accused of firing 49 shots into a car in which unarmed and black Malissa Williams and unarmed and black Timothy Russell were sitting. That would be 49 shots out of a total of over 130 shots fired by the Cleveland police.

Officer Brelo at some point stood on the hood of the Williams-Russell car and fired fifteen shots into the windshield. Ms. Williams and Mr. Russell were each shot twenty times. It bears repeating that neither of them was armed. It is also important note that this spasm of police violence began when the Williams-Russell car seems to have backfired while passing a police station. This resulted in a bizarre action-movie drenched car chase.

We begin to understand how this horror could have metastasized into a double murder by cop when we learn that Ms. Williams and Mr. Russell were mentally ill, homeless and drug addicts. Indeed, when the gun smoke cleared a crack pipe was found in the death car.

It would appear that if you are a black, mentally ill, homeless, unarmed drug addict with a malfunctioning car in the city of Cleveland, you could be committing a capital offense if you drive erratically. And in committing that capital offense, you could be subject to immediate execution without a trial.

It is also painfully clear that if you are twelve years old and black and are carrying a toy pellet gun, you can be subject to immediate extermination without question or pause or cause. That is the basic fact pattern in the sad death of Tamir Rice, a black pre-teen fooling around with a pellet gun who was shot dead by Cleveland Police Officer Loehmann who not only did not read Tamir his rights, he did not even give him the opportunity to put down the toy weapon.

It has now taken the Cleveland criminal justice apparatus a half a year to determine whether or not a crime might have been committed in the street slaughter of Tamir Rice. It took Officer Loehmann two seconds to decide that Tamir Rice had to die. Yet it is taking over a half a year to determine if there might be a possibility that shooting a black twelve year old boy with a toy is a crime.

The sad subtext to these tales from the Cleveland crypt is that Officer Loehmann and Officer Brelo are white. We know from the recent indictments in Baltimore that black police officers also engage in racist police practices. And we also know that as far as the victims and their families are concerned, their grief knows no color. And the victims are just as dead.

The Cleveland story is a sad story. The Cleveland story is part of the greater American sad story.

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