Tag Archives: violence

Ferguson and the War on Human Rights

15 Aug

FergThe scenes and stories from Ferguson, MO are both tragic and profoundly disturbing.  The death of Michael Brown, Jr., shot in the back by officer Darren Wilson, resonates deeply and clearly sends the message about how black male youth are disproportionately targeted and profiled. That his death sparked brief but significant street violence is understandable, but also sad. That hundreds of people exercising their rights to peacefully demand answers and inform the public have been brutalized by the police takes things to another shocking level. I find myself despondent and distraught, and the whole situation has me reflecting on the intersections of racism, violent culture, and hypocrisy.  It feels to me as though we have learned nothing from history.

I still cannot believe that anyone claims we live in a post-racist society. If anything, the election of President Obama has proved just how deep racism runs and how willing people are to exercise it. From the halls of power to the streets of America, the story is the same. The thread that binds Michael Brown, Jr. to Trayvon Martin to Rodney King is unravelling from the uneasy tapestry of the Civil Rights movement. Sure, we’re all equal now, but if an African American man is someplace that authorities don’t think he should be, that equality evaporates very quickly.

Sadly, the force used to apply that racism is growing exponentially. As the NRA-sponsored culture of guns and violence expands, the reaction to any perceived threat is to shoot first and ask questions later. The officer who shot Michael Brown, Jr. may have felt justified in using his firearm, although that justification is difficult to understand. Even if he did, why did he keep firing until Brown was on the ground dead? How can justice be had for anyone when presumptions of guilt end in the cold facts of death?

The very language we hear from our leaders is steeped in violence. We can’t simply deal with substance abuse, we need a war on drugs. Want to justify endless military action? Start a war on terror. Nothing helps build the prison industrial complex like a war on crime. By waging war on abstractions, we use language to justify needless violence. Those with the least power naturally suffer the most, creating a vicious cycle of loss. When the federal government offloads military supplies to local governments, it is no surprise that those who feel they are fighting these supposed great evils act like combatants rather than civil servants and keepers of the peace.

That irony leads to violent hypocrisy. In the name of protecting the people, suddenly we must gas them. In the name of freedom, journalists must be arrested for being in a fast food restaurant. That hypocrisy is modelled by authorities every day. When George W Bush exercised his executive authority, he was a bold leader; when the President of color does the same thing, he is a malevolent tyrant who must be sued and stopped.When white rancher and known tax criminal Cliven Bundy stands off federal officials, he is left in peace. When people of color peaceably assemble to request answers, they are shot with rubber bullets, gassed, and arrested. And quite sadly, the Mayor seems not to have a clue about racism.  Mayor James Knowles III continues to assert that Ferguson has no racial tension.  Really? The evidence would certainly point to the contrary. Adding to the horrific irony is that Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, was arrested yesterday along with 8 other protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown in St. Louis.  If this is not a cry for how we look at justice and the intersections of race and power, I don’t know what is. 

And so the cycle spins, with racism, violence, and hypocrisy grinding the marginalized and rewarding the powerful. In the end, the only thing that’s really surprising about Ferguson is that anyone is truly surprised. Sadly, every time we have another violent crime against a person of color from those in power, it is an excruciatingly painful reminder that we do not all start from a level playing field. People of color and other targeted populations are barraged with messages that this is not a safe place; that equity and equality are concepts reserved for those occupying the space of the dominant culture.

Mourning James Brady

5 Aug

James BradyJames S. Brady passed away yesterday. I am saddened by this loss and offer my deepest condolences to the family. I remember very clearly the day Ronald Reagan was shot by John W. Hinckley Jr. and watching all the commotion on the television.  We would learn later that it was James Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot in the head. While suffering memory loss, some paralysis that required a wheelchair,  and language impairment, Brady eventually prevailed and was transformed by the tragic incident.

Brady became a fierce gun control advocate and used his power and privilege to encourage the nation to look at requiring background checks and waiting periods for gun owners.  Fortunately, Brady’s legacy is that of working towards greater gun control and eliminating unnecessary deaths. I can only hope that his death will provide the impetus needed to work even harder at limiting access to guns and take a serious look at groups like Open Carry Texas –w hat good is coming from that? Have we learned nothing from the long and absurd history of gun violence in just the last 33 years?

James Brady was a dedicated public servant who turned his personal tragedy into an opportunity to engage the public in a much-needed conversation. His heroic efforts spurred Congress into taking simple, common-sense action. Sadly, 30 years later we see an even more partisan Congress paralyzed by the historically inaccurate Second Amendment rantings of the Tea Party and the shrill but effective lobbying of the NRA. What does it say about our nation that the shooting of one outspoken man could once lead to needed change but the slaughter of dozens of students and children now motivates us to do nothing?

Let us honor James Brady’s legacy by pausing to reflect on our national discourse around guns and look for meaningful solutions to prevent future tragedy.

 

Guns, Gun Culture, Starting a Dialogue…

13 Jun

Gun ControlThis has been yet another horrific week for schools across the United States.  Following the school shootings in Santa Barbara and Seattle, we lost two youth to a school shooting in Portland, Oregon at Reynolds High School.  If one calculates the average number of school shootings since Sandy Hook, we are averaging at least one school shooting each school week — 74 shootings and counting.

These school shootings take place against a backdrop of decreased gun restrictions and more aggressive gun activism. Consider the Open Carry Texas group, who are carrying guns into public places, including the Baby Toys departments at Target stores. Consider Cliven Bundy and his crew, arming themselves to defend his right to renege on a government contract. Consider the shooters in Las Vegas, who were too extreme for Bundy and one of whom trolled for guns on Facebook despite a felony conviction that prohibited his ownership of firearms.

I am inviting perspectives from all sides of this debate here, for I am truly nonplussed. With full transparency, I am not a proponent of guns and I am a strong supporter of gun control. With that being said, I am so very curious as to how people are not supportive of gun control? I am not passing judgment but I am confounded and horribly worried about youth being killed just attending school. How does the supposed right of a hunter or an antique collector become an imperative to proliferate arms?

I wonder why people feel they need access to guns? How does this promote a culture of peace? How does this promote a culture of non-violence? I hear people quoting the Second Amendment and I wonder if everyone has read the history of this particular amendment and how it has morphed, as living documents do. Strangely, the right to participate in a “well-regulated militia” has become something quite different. Since the NRA transformed from a hobbyist organization to a lobbyist for firearms manufacturers, its efforts have clouded the issue effectively. This has resulted in confusion over legal intent and such ready, under-regulated access to guns that schoolchildren find firearms drills routine — until the day that it turns out not to be a drill.

Where do we go from here? How do we respect individual rights but protect our most vulnerable and intentionally marginalized citizens? When is enough more than enough?

Higher Ground: Syria and Violence

2 Sep

SyriaI initially had a Labor Day story prepared, but scrapped it because the impending attack on Syria is sticking in my craw. I’m happy to share last year’s Labor Day story if you would rather read that.

I heard President Obama’s speech imploring congress to give the green light to attack Syria and I was left feeling forlorn and felt somewhat betrayed. I thought President Obama was going to be the President who would find a way to remove the United States from wars, yet we are still in Afghanistan. (“Never fight a land war in Asia” — thank you Princess Bride.) I thought this was the president who learned from history about the spoils of war — the great profit machine.

The President repeated the phrase “national security” in his speech, a verbal tic that was disturbingly Bush-y. Those words ring hollow when lives are at stake and no credible evidence shows any real risk to our country. Am I missing something? Can anyone tell me where this threat lies?

Of course I believe we need to offer some way to interrupt the violence and the people being killed via chemical warfare.  But do we have no other options aside from more violence, which has no guarantee of changing the overall system in place in Syria?  As with Iraq and Afghanistan, we know many civilian lives were lost. Are we still comfortable to simply call it “collateral damage?”

Have we asked the people of Syria if they want  help and how they envision what that help might look like?  Have explored the myriad options of what an intervention might look like, aside from violence?

Let us also look at the soldiers that will be sent and the disproportionate number of soldiers of color and lower socioeconomic status who will be fighting. When we lose these lives we also alter our political landscape — we continue to silence an already marginalized and disenfranchised population. Do we learn nothing from history?

People keep on learnin’
Soldiers keep on warrin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
I’m so darn glad he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
Till I reach the highest ground
Teachers keep on teachin’
Preachers keep on preachin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Oh no
Lovers keep on lovin’
Believers keep on believin’
Sleepers just stop sleepin’
Cause it won’t be too long

You can hear Stevie Wonder perform this song  here.  I want to believe that people “keep on learnin'”and that we will stop warring, but there is little evidence of that thus far.  I would also add that when voices like John McCain and John Boehner are supporting an attack on Syria, it would seem prudent and wise to alter one’s plan of attack.

Hero of the Week Award, August 23: Antoinette Tuff

23 Aug
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week, tragedy was averted; this week, children did not die. Credit for the peaceful resolution to a potentially devastating situation goes to one person: Antoinette Tuff.

When Michael Brandon Hill  walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA with an AK47 style rifle, anything could have happened. Fortunately, he encountered Tuff, a clerk and bookkeeper at the school. Hill said he was off his medication and wanted her to call a probation officer. She called 911 and began to quietly and calmly reassure Hill that everything could work out fine. Even as Hill fired his weapon into the floor, she kept the line open and kept talking to him. While 870 students — Pre-K to 5th Grade — were evacuated, she was a model of courage and compassion.

The 911 recordings show a woman dedicated to humanity. She shares her own struggles, telling Hill about her husband leaving her and her disabled son, making herself a real person to him in the tense moment. She offered him encouragement.

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?… We all go through something in life…You going to be OK.

It was building relationship with words of love and support and understanding, not armed guards or concealed pistols in teachers’ desks, that helped Hill make the right decision. Even after a brief exchange of gunfire with police, he was able to hear Tuff’s message and surrender. As things came to a close, what did this heroic woman say?

We not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up, so we’re not going to hate you.

In the face of potential violence, she expressed compassion. She allowed Hill to retain his humanity, dignity, and that human chose to seek more help rather than be another horrifying statistic.

Thank you, Antoinette Tuff, for doing all the right things. Not just calling 911 as procedure demanded, but for seeing a person in pain and doing everything you could to help. Dozens of lives may have been spared, and millions have seen the power of a caring word triumph over the threat of a weapon.  Would that we had more Antoinette Tuffs in the world that answer violence with love and compassion rather than hate and more violence. Brava, Ms. Tuff!

Hero of the Week Award, June 26: Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage

26 Jul
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Let my start this week’s award with a sincere thank-you to my friend Jay, a fierce supporter of LGBT rights, for pointing out these two powerful responses to a horrific situation. Russia is not known as a particularly friendly nation toward the LGBT community. In fact, it is more than just hostile. Years of oppression and occasional violent outbreaks have escalated in recent years. As more nations adopt marriage equality and LGBT rights are promoted by the United Nations, internal pressure has caused a real backlash, including lethal violence against gay rights activists and pride participants. This slideshow (which features some graphic results of violence) is a harrowing review of recent treatment of the Russian LGBT community.

Rather than provide courageous leadership to prevent this atmosphere, President Putin has encouraged and signed virulently homophobic legislation including an adoption ban and a “gay propaganda” law that is so vague it makes Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill look like a coming out speech.  My, who knew that President Putin seems to be obsessed with us gays.  I’m a little scared.

Award winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein and journalist and provocateur Dan Savage have taken up the fight to demand international pressure on Russia and its leaders. With the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the opportunity to make a strong statement is better than ever.

Fierstein penned a powerful Op-Ed for the New York Times outlining Putin’s nasty legislative ways. He rightly points out that a gay athlete simply being out could result in arrest under the new propaganda law. Looking at the larger picture with his distinctive critical eye, he calls out the President and deftly demonstrates where this trend will lead.

Historically this kind of scapegoating is used by politicians to solidify their bases and draw attention away from their failing policies, and no doubt this is what’s happening in Russia. Counting on the natural backlash against the success of marriage equality around the world and recruiting support from conservative religious organizations, Mr. Putin has sallied forth into this battle, figuring that the only opposition he will face will come from the left, his favorite boogeyman. Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction, a strategy of demonizing a minority for political gain taken straight from the Nazi playbook. Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered? Although Mr. Putin may think he can control his creation, history proves he cannot: his condemnations are permission to commit violence against gays and lesbians.

Savage, citing Fierstein, demands attention and action as well. He wrote a nice piece for Slog promoting a boycott of Russian vodka. This strong, simple statement is something that millions can participate in and requires none of the business or political leverage that other trading blocks might.

That one of the most powerful nations in the world does nothing to protect its LGBT citizens is appalling. That its president actively works against them is even worse. International attention and pressure are critical, and the United States should lead the way. Thank you Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage for leading the charge.  President Putin is carving his legacy and it looks so very similar to that of Uncle Joe Stalin and Hitler.  Some may remember that Hitler said Germany would not enforce the genocide of the Jews and of Gays for the three weeks during the 1936 Olympics.  Now Putin has said Russia will not enforce the bloodbath of persecuting the LGBT community during the 2014 Olympics.  How sad to see history repeating itself.

Superman and Nostalgia

10 Jul
Message of Hope or Greed?

Message of Hope or Greed?

Last night, my husband and I went to the movies, something very rare indeed, but the cinema not far from us has a deal of $6 tickets on Tuesdays — great deal.  We decided to see Man of Steel, primarily because we both loved the Christopher Reeve movie Superman (1978) and we both liked Henry Cavill in Stardust.

Sadly, I was exceedingly disappointed. Cavill does a good job, as does Amy Adams as Lois Lane, but the whole movie lacked a sense of humanity. It missed the opportunity to demonstrate how we are all called upon to work for the greater good — a conversation that seems to be in desperate need of life support in the 21st Century.

Man of Steel made me quite nostalgic for the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. The 1978 version presents a picture of humanity and develops characters that I feel invested in and want to watch. The movie also had a richness of pathos and wit.  Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor was nothing less than brilliant, and Ned Beatty just adds to that brilliance. I would also argue that the 1978 version is very family friendly — there is not a lot of gratuitous violence. Finally, I’m just not convinced that anyone but our Terrence Stamp (Bernadette from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) can play General Zod.

Henry Cavill does a good job of playing Superman and he is certainly easy on the eyes, but his character lacks the humanity that Superman had with Christopher Reeve. Amy Adams starts off as a wonderfully strong and independent woman, but the character loses all credibility as a strong independent woman with the awful awful line: “What if I have to tinkle?”  Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Jor-El is a bit over the top and certainly lacks all of the humanity that Marlon Brando delivered. Alas, I think the worst crime of this movie was the 35 minutes of non-stop gratuitous violence that does nothing to move the story along, nor does it make us feel more invested in any of the characters.  Rather than watching a movie about the plight and hope for humanity, I felt as though I was watching a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

When I watch the 1978 version of Superman, I leave the movie inspired and hopeful that humans are capable of a transformative experience and that we are dedicated to the greater good for the greater cause.  I left Man of Steel feeling grateful I only paid $10 for my husband and me to see an enormous amount of violence and a rather nasty nationalistic, almost jingoistic message of patriotism.

Bigot of the Week Award: May 10, Texas Gov. Rick Perry

10 May
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

As the date draws near for the Boy Scouts of America to take their next vote on just how icky the gays are, the hypothetically Christian far right is mounting its vocal protests of any change in Scout policy. There are plenty of BWA nominees in the making, but my friend Jennifer Carey sent me the clear winner this week.

The Family Research Council hosted its bigotastic “Stand With Scouts Sunday” last weekend. Hosted by the ever nefarious Tony Perkins, it was a festival of hate disguised as religious freedom and family values. One of the virtual guests at the Jamboree of Hate was Texas Governor Rick Perry. Somehow his inability to form a cohesive sentence qualifies him as an FRC guest spokesman.

Perry calls civil rights for gay scouts and leaders the “flavor of the month” and mere “pop culture.” He then manages to toss a bit of Texas Pride into his babblings, invoking the spectre of Sam Houston. He refers to Houston’s opposition to slavery and secession as the kind of principled stand the Scouts would be taking by NOT changing their homophobic practices.

MEMO TO PERRY: Houston’s actions were principled because they represented ADVOCACY of human rights. That’s really not what you’re talking about here…

Dishonorable mention this week goes to wrestler Jay Briscoe. The Ring of Honor Champion displays some real dishonor in his response to the creation of marriage equality in Delaware this week. He tweeted a congratulatory message “if that makes you happy,” then added a truly disturbing follow-up.

… try and teach my kids that there’s nothing wrong with that and I’ll f**king shoot you!

Wow! Briscoe manages to oppose education, trivialize equal rights under the law, and make a strong argument for gun control all in one tweet.

Hero of the Week Award: April 19, Patricia Maisch

19 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Despite massive popular support and rising levels of public violence, the U.S. Senate failed to pass even the weakest of gun control bills this week. In the face of this shameful behavior, one voice called out in the Senate chamber: “Shame on you!” That voice belonged to Patricia Maisch, my hero.

The woman from Tucson knows what she’s talking about. She was in the crowd when Jared Loughner opened fire, killing six and wounding many others including Rep. Gabby Giffords. Maisch leapt into action, helping subdue Loughner before he could reload. She has become an outspoken advocate for gun control and had testified in favor of congressional action.

She spoke for all sensible Americans with her outburst (which got her escorted out of the building). Congress is broken. Human lives matter less than lobbyists and corporations. Someone needs to speak the truth. Thank you, Patricia Maisch, for taking up that charge.

Honorable mention this week goes to the latest two countries to approve marriage equality for their LGBT citizens. Uruguay passed a bill last week which simply awaits the President’s signature (which he has promised). New Zealand’s Parliament approved a marriage bill on Wednesday, resulting in a joyous celebration amongst the legislators and onlookers. They are the 12th and 13th nations to approve full equality as a matter of law. How sad that the “Land of the Free” is still waiting for the same kind of justice.

Government Of the Gun Lobby, By the Gun Lobby, For the Gun Lobby?

3 Apr
That's not how I remember it...

That’s not how I remember it…

Just over 100 days ago, Adam Lanza killed his mother, took two guns from her house to Sandy Hook Elementary School, and killed two dozen people there, most of them children under the age of eight. This horrific shooting capped a year with dozens of deaths in public shootings. Public sentiment quickly turned to the need to revisit gun control legislation.

Two basic proposals have massive support, even four months later. Universal background checks for gun purchases enjoys between 80 and 90 percent support cutting across party lines and declared political ideology. Bans or restrictions on certain assault weapons and high capacity clips (the things that made Lanza’s killing spree possible) enjoy 60 to 70 percent support, including a plurality of Republicans. The people want things to change.

Congress has done nothing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA) sponsored an assault weapons ban. Sen. Charles Schumer (D – NY) led a bipartisan attempt to craft background check legislation. Everything is stalled out in the Senate and the House has made it clear that no action is forthcoming. Why won’t Congress listen to the will of the people? Apparently they are more afraid of the NRA than they are interested in doing their jobs.

Since Sandy Hook, public opinion of the NRA has plummeted. Lunatic spokesman Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre rants and proposal to arm every school have been met with scorn and disapproval. Somehow, however, the fear that the NRA will fund opponents of gun control has Congress paralyzed. The myth of the power of the Second Amendment and the very loud “out of my cold, dead hands” minority are ruling the day.

There has been a little progress. Connecticut (not surprisingly) is poised to pass sweeping new gun regulations; New York already has. So has Colorado, long a bastion of Western libertarianism and gun freedom. In the special election to pick the Democrat to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Illinois, Robin Kelly ran on a strong gun control platform. Despite NRA resistance, she won handily, speaking to the needs of the district. These should be lessons.

Instead, judges who have ruled for reasonable gun restrictions are filibustered and no reasonable laws are moving. The American people overwhelmingly want action. We need to speak up. Contact your Representative and Senator. Insist that they take action and remind them that the will of the people is bigger than the NRA’s purse. It’s time we ensured that our representative government really represents us.

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