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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why I'm Glad Officer Wilson Didn't Get Indicted

Ferguson, MO has been the focus of intense media coverage over the past several months following the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer under - shall we say - questionable circumstances. The power structures of the city basically did everything wrong that could be done wrong, and then invented some new things to screw up and turned the city into a simmering pot of rage, resentment, frustration, and lots and lots of cameras.

But what happened was desperately needed in an age when the Supreme Court hosts 5 rich, white men from privileged backgrounds and gated-community-lives who can say - with straight faces - that racism is no longer a problem in this country. What happened very quickly was national focus on the insane militarization of our domestic police forces, the ongoing racial tensions and political disenfranchisement of minorities, and the appalling dehumanization of American citizens by the very institutions we peddle around the world as the benchmarks of civilization and stability.

We saw a suburban police force roll out tanks and weapons of war against protesters who were mostly peacefully demonstrating against generations of feeling preyed upon or abandoned by the police who are supposed to protect them. In spite of the media's moth-to-flame attraction to the small number of violent protesters and straight up looters, most of the protests were peaceful, organized, cogent, and most of all - valid! The citizens of Ferguson had valid cause to protest, and had an important message for communities all over the country.

But yesterday the decision by the grand jury came out and they did not indict officer Darren Wilson on criminal charges in the death of Michael Brown. Cameras and police departments everywhere braced for riots and protests and other dramatic reactions. While the truth for the families of those directly involved is that it was an individual decision about personal justice and accountability, I'm glad that Darren Wilson was not indicted.  If he had been, then the sounds of protest and real issues would have been drowned out by a focus on singular justice (or retribution, depending on your perspective).

The criminal justice system is laser-focused on the particulars - the individual defendant, victim, situation, fact patterns. A trial would have brought forth unflattering facts about the victim, leading to further resentment and feelings that a dead teen is being villainized without being able to defend himself. The family would have been held in that moment in time for months - reliving and reliving and reliving the moments leading up to the death of their child. And in the end, the statutes governing police action may not have yielded a conviction anyway. All of which would have kept Ferguson (and everyone else paying attention) focused on THAT situation and THAT outcome. And if the outcome was not what the public wanted, the reactions could have been exponentially worse and infinitely less impactful.

But the silver lining of this tragic death has been the mobilization of the community and the willingness to demand that the rest of the country see them and hear them and experience life in an American suburb where police respond to people with preparations for open war in America's streets. Everyone looked to Ferguson and saw institutional racism, political disenfranchisement, and basically the total breakdown of relations between citizens of an American town and the police and power structures who are supposed to protect them.

And that is what we need to continue talking about. About the role of domestic police as separate from the military, about why suburban police departments are armed to the teeth with the implements of war and willing to use them on our own people. About why - in 2014 - black communities are still governed by white institutions and why they don't seem to understand how to interact with each other. About why voting rates and political involvement in such communities remain so abysmally low that the power structures remain stagnant. About whether police will behave differently if they are on camera (all evidence points resoundingly to YES!) and why money was spent on military hardware instead of body cameras. About why entire communities feel that the police are the enemy and how the rest of us don't understand that they're actually right in many cases. And about how police deal with these problems in their own ranks. Most police officers are dedicated, caring, brave, and successful in their roles, but when it goes wrong, it goes viciously wrong.

None of this would have been heard if Darren Wilson faced a trial. Now that the incident in isolation is over, the conversation can move on from assigning a level of blame to a single bad actor and on to the more substantive, institutional conversations that we desperately need to have. And hopefully this allows Michael Brown's family to continue bringing attention to the issues more than to the tragedy of the individual shooting. Michael Brown was someone's son, but he is now more than that. He is a symbol of what has gone wrong and what has failed to go right. He shouldn't be a martyr - it does no good to pretend he was a spotless cherub in a harsh world. He was a flawed person, a young person who didn't make good decisions all the time - like most of us. To a greater or lesser degree, most of us can find an incident in our lives when we were just glad no one saw that. That's life. We all do bad things, make bad decisions, make mistakes and we move on and hopefully learn from them. I personally think our social drive to find perfect, spotless, lily-white politicians to elect 'representatives' is an absurdity of counter-productive impulse, but that's another blog. Michael Brown may have done something wrong, but in America, you shouldn't fear being shot dead for that. More importantly, when people respond to things, the police should not be rolling out Tianamen Square style over-responses. The police should be able to relate to the population and bring peace. In Ferguson, the police made everything worse and that is what we need to be talking about.

And I truly hope that we do. We will all benefit from taking a step away from using local police forces as mini-armies. That's not their role and we have no grounds to peddle the American Way in other countries when we can't even distinguish between police and military on our own streets.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Peanut Butter Jelly Time! And Tea


Anyone who’s been around kids has witnessed this scene:

Mom: I’ll make you a PB&J
Kid: I want to do it myself!
Mom: OK fine - do it yourself. 


Mom proceeds to get the peanut butter down from the shelf (cuz it’s too high) and the jelly out of the fridge (cuz it’s in a glass jar) and the butter knife out of the drawer (so Kid doesn’t get hurt). Then the bread - which Mom opens and presents to Kid to select the pieces, then wraps it up and puts it away (cuz the twist tie is too hard to wind). Mom puts down a paper towel and gets a stool out so Kid can reach the counter. Kid can’t open the jars, so mom opens them and presents them back to Kid. Kid makes a sandwich with about ⅓ as much content as is now all over the counter and marches off in triumph.
Kid: “See! I did it all by myself!”

Now imagine that kid as a 55 year old in a tri-corner hat and a “Don’t Tread on Me!” flag. 


This is the internal zeitgeist of the Tea Party and what has become pretty much the mainstream Republican party. Rolling fields of people who’ve been helped along in dozens of dozen of way behind the scenes (and sometimes overtly) by the very institutions they now demonize. The government that build the roads and sewers, the dams and seawalls, the treelines and trade routes that make this country what it is. The government that said “hang on, a river shouldn’t catch on fire!” and “hey, maybe breathing shouldn’t be fatal” is the same government that raises the army that keeps us safe and at least tries to make sure medicine isn’t just death in a bottle.

Nearly every one of those folks remembers the railroads and supports the oil and gas industry - both extremely heavily subsidized by the government during their developmental period. Nearly every one benefited from weekends, minimum wage, occupational safety regulations, and sick time - all brought to you by the government pressed by the labor movement that is now under strident attack by the GOP. Nearly every one has been to a hospital, doctor, or pharmacy for medical care provided by professionals who hold government-issued licenses attesting to minimal competency and efficacy. Nearly every one can drink from a tap, flush a toilet, and drive a car because the government stepped in to make sure they were at least mostly safe. 


And nearly every one will deny their reliance on the government for anything. Cuz they can do it all by themselves!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A liberal democrat's letter to Mitt Romney

Dear Mitt Romney,
Thank you. Seriously - no snark, thank you. I want to thank you for being a fine, upstanding family man. I disagree with pretty much every policy statement I've heard you make and think that you do not understand what most Americans' lives are like, but I'd like to put that aside for a moment and sincerely thank you.

Because you have been - by all accounts - a good, loyal husband, the campaign season is able to actually focus on policy positions, ideologies, opinions, conceptions, and issues both metaphysical and miniscule. We are not being led by the nose to follow tabloid stories of mistresses, hookers, baby mamas, or Rentboys. We are actually in the throes of a political face-off between two men who bring none of the sordid tabloid fodder that modern media (and its viewers) cannot seem to resist. And I, for one, very much appreciate that.

I understand why you don't especially want to talk about some very big issues like Bain Capital, health care, or the environment. I understand that this political climate makes it far easier to simply run against the incumbent and avoid laying specific policy propositions on the table. I can't say I like it, but I understand the political strategy and if I were advising you, I'd do the same thing.

Having said that, one of my early blogs is entitled "The Illusion of "Privatized" Government (or - The Government is NOT a business!) (8/12/10)" and I am exceedingly glad that you have put that very issue in the public eye.Over the past 10-15 years, the "if I ran my business that way I'd be out of business" crowd seems to have dominated the national non-conversation about the roles of businesses and government. I won't repeat my views here - they're in the prior post and not germane to my point now. My point is that we are finally HAVING the conversation. Your record at Bain and Bain's role in industry are more than fair game - they are long overdue lenses through which we and the punditsphere are able to now engage in that critical conversation.

Your history with healthcare is more than fair game - it's exceedingly relevant not only to our national healthcare policy, but as a benchmark for the shifting platforms of the parties who run our increasingly parliamentary government. It is also a perfect launching point for discussions over the role of states and the federal government, devoid of the histrionic religiosity of gay marriage.

Your extreme wealth does not diminish or elevate you as a person or a candidate, but does frame discussions about stratification of our society that have been sorely ignored or even deemed "impolite" in recent years and decades. We seem to have collectively shrugged our shoulders and decided to give Reaganomics a chance and see what happened. Well, now we know what happened, but we haven't seemed to be able to get back to the foundational discussion about ourselves as a collective society. What we learned is that smash-and-grab economics does not make us stronger as a nation. But we have not filled the "and then" void with anything substantive. You give us a framework for discussing class, success, and what America truly values. As well as what has really changed since our glory days.

I realize that petty squabbles, non-controversies, and other silly distractions are part of the political insulation that all candidates employ. My sincerest hope is that, through the noise and drama and name calling, a few voices will raise the questions that you enable us to raise now. Because you and President Obama are fundamentally good men in your personal lives (and I do believe that you are a fundamentally good man overall, even if I also think you're fundamentally wrong about most things), we may have the first chance we've had in decades to take a few moments and consider the deepest roots of who we are as a country, a people, and as citizens.

So thank you for leaving the tabloids hanging. I would wish you luck, but hey ... I'm a liberal Democrat!

Very sincerely,
The Holly Lama