Baltimore: Really, Who Didn’t See This Coming?

cop 1I feel bad for Baltimore, just as I felt bad for Ferguson–because of the innocents who get caught up in the mayhem, because of setbacks the violence and thievery of a few selfish punks who inevitably appear to take advantage of the frustration, grief, and despair which always lay behind these incidents. I feel bad for the victims, not just from today but from the harsh, inevitable retribution that will storm down upon citizens of the affected communities long after our short collective attention spans have moved on to the next big thing.

I’ve heard it asked over and over again, “how can those people do this?” Those people.

I’ve heard words like “thugs’ and “savages”–the same words we use to describe our foreign enemies, words spoken in true ignorance, but with all due respect to the innocent, we reap what we sow.  But then, who didn’t see this coming? Young people, especially young black men, have been dying at the hands of police officers in almost plague-like numbers.  Worse still, these incidents have not abated one bit despite growing community concern and unprecedented media attention–a indicator of just  t how arrogant the offenders are, and just how little they worry about punishment.

dangerousConsider the young man in San Bernardino County, California who ran from Sheriff’s deputies looking to arrest him on identity theft charges. He ran for it, in a T.J, Hooker-worthy chase  that ultimately included automobiles, motorcycles, helicopters, running through the desert and stolen horses. Ignore for a moment the wisdom of investing so much time, energy, resources, effort and, most of all, ego into chasing a suspect of a non-violent crime, and move to the finish where, having been tasered off a stolen horse, the really, really pissed off cops–eleven of them–kicked the crap out of this guy, who had surrendered, face down in the dirt, hands behind his back.  It was so crowded around his body that the cops had to take turns getting their kicks in.  Did I mention that all this happened with a new helicopter hovering overhead?  That’s what I mean by arrogance–and zero fear of justice. And this was a white guy!  Imagine if it had been a young black kid?  I have this vision of them burying the body right there in amidst the brush, taking selfies and waving to the copter while they took turns digging his shallow grave.

And yet, most people are good people, although we’ve allowed things to get this far. All of us.  Most leaders are conscientious leaders, but they have settled for plugging the holes in our breached social dam with mud and tree stumps. despite the rain. Heck, most cops are good cops–I have friends and relatives are among them–but too many have made the easy choice and put brotherhood over honest service. I know many officers lose sleep over that choice, but it is silence that takes us this place where a man is taken into custody because of a suspicion–there was no observed or alleged crime, no outstanding warrant–and ended up dead. He was pursued and apprehended because he ran. That is all.  If he ran because he was afraid it seems that he was right to feel that way–let’s be forthright here: as inflammatory as it sounds, it is a short step to equate what law enforcement has been doing to black folks to the tacitly approved lynchings in the southern USA only a generation ago

Now, I’ve already seen conservatives arguing that this guy was a recidivist not worthy of the destruction being wrought in his name, but here’s the thing: it’s not so much about Pepper Gray: it’s about the last guy, and the guy before that, and the guy before that. Black folks have a particular right to be both terrified and outraged, pushed into a metaphorical corner by a seemingly relentless pattern of authoritarian violence, the only possible end to which had to be rebellion; but this extends beyond race.

help-policePolicing has become synonymous with dominant aggression.  Officers are trained to assume a posture of outrageous aggression as a preemption to resistance or, in layman’s terms, that cop who gets in your face and shouts and curses at you is doing it purposefully, to establish his dominance and control your interaction.  Trained to approach all interactions from an aggressive posture, it is little wonder so many encounters quickly go bad. It is only a few steps up the escalation ladder from there.

The problem is that the good cops, as I said earlier, put brotherhood ahead of justice.  I understand this. They must feel it is an obligation, literally putting their lives in each others hands sometimes, to circle the wagons when one of them screws up.  By the same logic, our prosecutors who rely on and work with theses officers on an daily basis feel that obligation.  And the juries, faced with an allegedly abusive cop, the evidence against whom has been white-washed by a protective establishment, is forced to decide between an allegedly bad cop and the allegedly deserving “criminal,” with whom are they going to identify? I’d make examples here, but the victims are too many to count.  Pick the homeless guy on the BART platform in San Francisco a few years back, or the little kid with a toy gun in Cleveland, or the dude selling loose smokes in New York.  Or the kid with Downs syndrome who was killed barehanded because he had a tantrum about leaving a movie theater.  Or a hundred others–there are hundreds of cases all a click away, if one chooses to look, of cops who lose it and never, ever face justice.

Unfortunately, when one officer is shielded from justice, then another, and another, and another–while their victims are killed in what seems like an almost methodical attempt at putting the disenfranchised in their places, tension tends to build.  A person who watched the TV news sees and endless parade of mostly black suspects–not convicts, but suspects–perp-walked across the TV screen every night, with not a word mentioned when many of these suspects are later released.  Similarly, law enforcement blithely posts booking photos of suspects on their web sites, but never offers explanations when many of those people are released.

But when a police officer kills a citizen, we face the great blue wall of silence, with no orange jumpsuits or perp-walks, no parading before the public.  Some variation of “Police officials declined to reveal the names of the officers involved, or comment beyond saying that there would be an internal investigation.  The officers have been put on administrative leave with pay.”

7b3298070c7aec58d144ae6027ddc52fThat’s not right, but we tolerate it.  Until we resist, and demand sweeping reform of law enforcement, we are all complicit in both the rioting and the murders that preceded them.  Communities must rise up and demand accountability, and honest police officers must abandon the “thin blue line” mentality and regard transgressors as soldiers regard traitors whose behavior endangers both their mission and their lives.  If we don’t, the prospect of expanded, open rebellion and the violence that accompanies both it and the inevitable government response is inevitable



Commentary Quote

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Malcolm X

malcolmxI believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn’t know how to return the treatment.
—Malcolm X

I’m still working on my words about Baltimore, but this quote comes to mind as  informative and deeply applicable.  A lot of poor folks haven’t been treated right for a long time, and as Malcolm’s contemporary once said, “a hard rain’s a gonna fall” if things don’t change soon.


Tunesday: 1988 Throwing Muses–Juno, Bright Yellow Gun & More

614Y9SNK81LKristen Hersh and her band, Throwing Muses, have been among my very favorites since I initially heard the song “Juno” from their first full length album, House Tornado, grind it’s way out of my stereo speakers back in 1988.  I’ve begun to realize what a magnificent year that was for my musical tastes–maybe there was something special in the air, maybe something in me, but I discovered a phenomenal number of artists that year that still hear regular play at my house, and for the next several Tunesdays I’ll be sharing some of them with you.

That album, House Tornado, was utterly vital and fantastic, and Hersh’s deeply personal writing struck a note with my poetry-addicted mind.  And doesn’t she look cool in her modest skirt, cardigan, and bad-ass rock and roll guitar pose?  Of note: I bought House Tornado on vinyl a few weeks after its release, then bought it again as one of the first three CDs I ever bought (the same day I bought my first CD player–I was a late and reluctant adopter) because, at the time, it was my favorite album.

Juno (1988) Not the best quality video, but….

kristin h trim

Bright Yellow Gun (1995) Doesn’t this one want you to break traffic laws?

Not Too Soon (1991)

Commentary Funny and/or Strange meme

Monday Meme: Help From Above

I saw this first via American Injustica.  The “mudflap” sensibility was selected to satisfy my own peculiar sense of humor.

art Commentary Photo I Like Yinzerism/Pittsburgh Advocacy

The NINELIVES of Cody Baker–At The Pittsburgh Gallery Crawl


One of the great things of living in Westsylvania is the vigor of our regional art community–we hit the city last night for the spring edition of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District “Gallery Crawl,” a seasonal festival of open galleries and performances downtown, all open to the public and free of charge.  You wander around, in and and of the venues, and take in work from artists ranging from polished professionals to school kids.  And maybe you have yourself an orgiastic beef brisket sandwich to start out the night.

Spring’s gallery is crawling near

We were lucky enough to briefly meet a young artist named Cody Baker, who was presiding over his first show last night.  This impressive kid has the stuff–his images–to which my clumsy screen grab above do not give justice–were the work that most resonated with me from the evening–and to think, I very nearly skipped the very crowded space.  I’m glad that I didn’t.




Fiction Excerpt Uncategorized

Excerpt: The Irishman’s Tale

Desert Meets Ocean

The Irishman’s Tale is a short story relating a pivotal moment in the life of a mysterious, iconic character from the earliest days of second tier colonization and namesake of The Irishman’s Mountains. As the story goes, the Irishman, whose name has been lost to history, emerged from the desert with a squad of devoted followers and liberated the pioneers of Red Hills City from a company of loathesome, murderous picaroons who had descended upon the already struggling settlement.  Some believe he was veteran, weary of the violence and corruption of the United Colonies during the tax wars, while others hold that he was a phantom, or even an angel.  A growing number of people suspect he is just a myth, a tall tale left over from a simpler time, which is a real shame because, in the end, he was just a man, not even a particularly good man, and that was what made all the difference. 

{First draft, redundancies intact}

I’d either find a way to survive, or I wouldn’t, and if I didn’t then I wouldn’t exactly have a lot of time to consider my mistakes in detail. I’d have better things to fill that flash that goes by as my breath slips away.  Not much to do but shake your head and smile in that regard–a lot of folks give lip service to “living without regret,” but here I was, walking the walk, however involuntarily.

Fearing death—it was useless. I have no loved ones to feel my absence or grieve my memory. What grand hubris it is, to ruminate on one’s own non-existence, a state which by its very definition I’d never get to see?  Oh, the dying part of it could be bad. I’d seen death enough times to understand. Pain is a bugger; futility is a drag. But death? Once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s the beauty of it. You’re either nothing, or you’re dancing in limbo with three cherubs, a couple of folks from history you always wanted to drink with, and dear departed Aunt Gilda.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t rage against the light, as the poet encouraged. Kick and scream, spit in death’s eye—it may beat you in the end, but what a hollow victory that is: death never gets to gloat.

And it hit me: I’m spending a hell of a lot of time thinking about not thinking about death.  Not much to do with that but laugh. the sound buried by the grumbling waves–rolling in as far as my failing eyes could see, to the north and to the south

Water, water–oh Coleridge, you old bastard.

I slugged down the final, hot ounces from my canteen, replaced the bottle in my bag and considered tossing the whole thing into the sand for archeologists to enjoy one day. The sky remained blue, and I winked at it. Tell the cherubs they’ll need to find a different sitter. I would be late.

The tide seemed to be receding, and the hard wet sand near the water’s edge provided the first solid footing in three days. I headed south and left the driftwood behind me.

Funny and/or Strange

This Should Be A Writing Prompt…

I grabbed this from Tumblr a few months ago because it made me smile. Now, finally getting around to posting it, it freaks me out a little.



The Boston Bomber–To Kill or Not To Kill

I found myself, once again, over at Jonathan Turley’s always compelling and substantive blog, where he’s been writing about the decision to allow an image of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in his orange prison jumpsuit, defiantly raising his middle finger after his arrest.  Mr. Turley raises the legal question: was this evidence prejudicial or probative and, by extension, should it have been allowed?

It’s a tough call; one that, given my absolute lack of legal training or experience, I am very comfortable making. However close to the line (and it is very close) the simple fact is that this gesture is how he chose to represent himself–unrepentant and defiant.  Separate from the heinousness of his actions, his defiance is almost amusing, coming just hours after he was found cowering in a parked boat.  He had scrawled out an equally defiant note with all the usual, juvenile junior jihadist rhetoric—blah, blah, blah.

Let’s not forget how the younger Mr. Tsarnaev had escaped his previous encounter with law enforcement–by engaging in a furious firefight that included home-made bombs and semi-automatic weapons, before fleeing in a stolen vehicle, running over his older brother and dragging his body 25 to 30 feet down the street on the way. I think a raised middle finger is not only a concise and illuminating view into this young man’s soul but quite literally the least of his worries. That said, I’m hoping for life in prison rather than death, because the latter is too easy. This guy wouldn’t last a week in the general prison population, and he’s an infamous mass murderer, making Super Max isolation for the half century or more he’s got left fits the bill. I know a lot of folks are screaming for justice, and I get that. Does it take much to imagine my hands around the neck of a punk-ass like him?  Absolutely not–my blood pressure rises each time I see his face in the news.

But I like to think I’m savvy enough to distinguish emotion from reason.  I don’t think the hypocritical “it’s bad to kill so we’ll kill you if you do” brand of justice is morally compelling. If the state holds that the taking of life is an unpardonable crime, the state should not take a life as reprisal. That’s not justice, it’s revenge. The death penalty, likewise, does very little if anything to discourage others.

Mr Tsarnaev gave little thought, beyond the abstract, to the fact that he might die for his barbarism.  At best, he had whimsical daydreams of fantastical rewards–but it’s not the rewards that inspire monsters like this–it is the notoriety, because the man who raises his middle finger as he did is, at his core, a trembling narcissist. He longs for fame–and that’s how we take him.

These guys, we kill them and they become martyrs. Lock ’em up forever and they’re forgotten–and that’s pretty fine punishment indeed. We lead by example, and they end up as examples to no one.


Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Anaïs Nin

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment 1e918848603ce0826dfc5bfb6d8a951c
and in retrospect.”
–Anaïs Nin

Tunesday Uncategorized video

Tunesday: Violent Femmes–Gone Daddy Gone

I was in tenth grade. Xylophone solo?  Hell, yes.  This song is even better now than it was 30 years ago.  I used to listen to these guys for hours.