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Commentary Uncategorized

Minneapolis Falcon Heights: Time For The NRA to Walk The Walk

160707071532-graphic-video-minnesota-police-shooting-philando-castile-ryan-young-pkg-nd-00010909-large-169Another day, and another American gunned down for having the audacity to be black. Against this latest atrocity, and apart from so much that needs to be said about sympathy for Philando Castile’s friends and loved ones, as well as the angry recriminations that should rightfully be directed at the Falcon Heights Police officer who gunned down a man who seems, from the streaming video that has swept the internet, to have been a perfectly law-abiding, upstanding citizen, this occurs to me: It is time for the NRA to spend a little less energy on defending backdoor tactics that help people to sidestep background checks, and put their effort behind seeking some justice for a law-abiding licensed gun owner who was executed for attempting to provide his registration and identification!

I very much doubt that NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre will have much to say on the subject, because I can’t imagine that would resonate with the gun marketing organization’s core demographic, which is rural white people, or its over-riding mission, which to not to protect anyone’s rights so much as it is to channel fear and hostility into gun and ammo sales. The NRA wants white folks to be afraid of black folks, because fear and suspicion stoke  sales. Stepping up for a gun owner who is black, who was murdered for politely following a white police officer’s shouted instructions, is going to muddy the water for a lot of the singular-minded firearm fetishists who feed the NRA’s coffers.

Still, I’m open to pleasant surprise. Heck, I’m quietly begging to be proven wrong. So here’s my challenge again…

Dear Wayne LaPierre and All NRA Members: prove that you aren’t all hypocrites. Demand that the full power of your organization be turned toward seeking justice for Philando Castile. Make me look like an idiot for doubting your conviction and predicting that you’ll all just sit on your hands and say, “Well, he must have been asking for it.”

#philandocastille

 

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sheer awesomeness

The Black Swallow of Death

I know, you’ve missed me–I’ve been buried in real-world work again–but I’m swimming towards the surface.  In the meantime, here’s a transcript, with some additions, from a Facebook post that’s making the rounds–a story too fascinating, exciting, and (sadly) unsurprising to not share with you.

Eugene_Jacques_Bullard,_first_African_American_combat_pilot_in_uniform,_First_World_War Do you know who this is a photo of? Chances are you don’t, but don’t feel bad because probably not one American in one million does, and that is a National tragedy. His name is Eugene Jacques Bullard, and he is the first African-American fighter pilot in history. But he is also much more then that: He’s also a national hero, and his story is so incredible that I bet if you wrote a movie script based on it Hollywood would reject it as being too far-fetched.

Bullard was an expat living in France, and when World War 1 broke out he joined the French Infantry. He was seriously wounded, and France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire. In 1916 he joined the French air service and he first trained as a gunner but later he trained as a pilot. When American pilots volunteered to help France and formed the famous Lafayette Escadrille, he asked to join but by the time he became a qualified pilot they were no longer accepting new recruits, so he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps instead. He served with French flying units and he completed 20 combat missions.

Eugene Jacques Bullard. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Eugene Jacques Bullard. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When the United States finally joined the war, Bullard was the only member of the Escadrille or the French Flying Corps who was NOT invited to join the US Air Service. The reason? At that time the Air Service only accepted white men.

Now here is the part that almost sounds like a sequel to ‘Casablanca’: After WWI Bullard became a jazz musician in Paris and he eventually owned a nightclub called ‘L’Escadrille’. When the Germans invaded France and conquered it in WW2, his Club, and Bullard, became hugely popular with German officers, but what they DIDN’T know was that Bullard, who spoke fluent German, was actually working for the Free French as a spy. He eventually joined a French infantry unit, but he was badly wounded and had to leave the service.

Bullard became known as "The Black Swallow of Death," a pretty awesome nickname by any accounting.
Bullard became known as “The Black Swallow of Death,” a pretty awesome nickname by any accounting.

By the end of the war, Bullard had become a national hero in France, but he later moved back to the U.S. where he was of course completely unknown. Practically no one in the United States was aware of it when, in 1959, the French government named him a national Chevalier, or Knight.

In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scrambling because most of them, of course, had never even heard of him. They finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally. At the time, Eugene Bullard was working as … An elevator operator.

Not long after Eugene Bullard met with the President of France, he passed away, and today very, very few Americans, and especially African-Americans, even know who he is. But, now YOU do, don’t you? And I hope you’ll be able to find opportunities to tell other people about this great American hero that probably only 1 American in 1 Million has ever heard of.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that I also discovered this photo of Bullard being beaten by police in the famous anti-black, anti-communist, anti-Semitic Peekskill Riots of 1949. God bless America–the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Peekskill--Eugene Bullard attacked

515f1qwGj6L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_The italicized text above arrived in my hands attributed to someone named Terry Dunn, via Facebook. I’m unsure of its provenance.

A more complete biography of Corporal Bullard appears here.
His wikipedia page is here.  (link repaired)

And there is even a book. It is amazing how much there is that we don’t know.

 

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Commentary

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

 

 

Categories
Commentary

The Old Road Apples Reader, Volume 1

When I hit the internet I generally become distracted and start reading things I never set out to read, while not reading a lot of the stuff I’d like to read.  I set book marks on blog posts and articles I’ve opened in windows and don’t have the time to consume, collecting thousands of them over time.  Many of them turn out to have better headlines and leads than the writing deserves, but I read a lot of really good stuff that deserves to be shared.  The Old Road Apples Reader will be the vehicle for that sharing–expect it sporadically at first, until it either settles into a regular rhythm or until I get bored with it.

This issue’s selection:
On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014
W. Kamau Bell in Vanity Fair

Chuck’s comments:  Over Thanksgiving I was talking to a few of my nephews from Virginia and North Carolina about race and culture–a discussion that began with my disgusted railing over the stubborn fetishism of some people, northern and southern alike, for the confederate battle flag, specifically a giant flag raised near Fredericksburg, Virginia on a fenced off lot along Interstate 95.  Predictably, one of these fine young men raised the “southern culture” thing, which I countered with, “and that’s what you want as a symbol of your culture?  You do know Nazi iconography is illegal in Germany.”  He reminded me of the first amendment, but I just shrugged.  “I didn’t say they couldn’t fly it. It’s better off we know what they stand for.”  As for that giant flag, fenced in to ward off those who might destroy it, two words came to mind: flaming arrows.

The conversation then turned to my serious questions about Richmond, a city where I’ve visited by only briefly, and the the small, rural community in North Carolina where my 5500_i-m-not-racist-plasma-other nephews live.  Specifically: how did people get along?  And by people I mean black people and white people.  I’d come to this realization, I explained, “For all of my progressivism, I’m stuck with these preconceptions, especially when I find myself a racial minority in a certain situation: I get a little nervous, mostly because I expect to be disliked, distrusted.  If I was black, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t like me.  On principle–a bullshit bit of reasoning, but still….”

I tried to explain it, and it eventually came to me “I don’t trust my perspective,” I said.  “Fear, guilt, paranoia, limited experience–it’s one thing to say “this is what I believe” but it’s quite another to shake off that baggage.”

That said, perhaps the heaviest baggage we carry today as a nation is the inability–and in many cases, the unwillingness–to talk freely and openly–and the way this lack of 1013communication makes it impossible to understand different perspectives than our own.  I often think of a small, jewish lesbian woman I know who confided in me once that her “worst moment” was a time when she was walking near the University of Pennsylvania after dark, watching a large, young black man, his face lost in the shadows, ambling towards her up the sidewalk.  She related how every ounce of her wanted to cross the street, or run, but only a determined willful refusal to reveal her fear–and a very personal experience with bigotry in her own life- kept her walking, pretending not to watch the man’s every move right up to the point where, as they passed, he smiled and said, “Good evening, ma’am.”

As worst moments go, that’s not so awful, but it’s indicative of the feelings and fears and thoughts and preconceptions so many of us carry into our interactions.

end-racial-profilingIt’s a luxury that I get to worry that some deeply buried racial awkwardness corrodes my perceptions.  It is almost impossible for me to imagine, on the other hand, what it feels like knowing–knowing!–that one’s life could be forfeit on the basis of one minor misunderstanding, or one encounter with an adrenaline-soaked psychotic with a badge, a gun, and the utter surety that, whatever he does, there will be no consequences.

I found the referenced article to be illuminating.

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/11/w-kamau-bell-black-in-america

See also:

61 Percent Of Black Americans Say Race Relations Getting Worse

 

 

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Uncategorized

Children’s Letters to Megyn Kelly, Posted by Andy Borowitz

Too funny not to post.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2013/12/childrens-letters-to-megyn-kelly.html

‘Black-As-Hell’-Santa-Claus-Appears-on-SNL‘s-Weekend-Update-to-Address-Megyn-Kelly-Mediaite
‘Black-As-Hell’-Santa-Claus-is not real.

Why is this funny?  Because Kelly recently set the record straight regarding people of color who dared to think that Santa might possibly look more like them that he is traditionally portrayed. Kelly wasn’t hearing it.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” She said.  Of course, she couldn’t just stop there.  Overcome by a sudden attack of foot-in-mouth disease, there were megyn-kellya few other concerns Ms. Kelly, who was obviously hired at Fox for her unfathomably awesome intellect, set everything–er–right.  “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”  I found her words to be deeply reassuring.

I’ve always been a little unsettled by the fact that Jesus came from the jesus_pictures_wallpapers_christ_christian_chrstmas_xamas_06Middle East, where all the Terrorists come from.  I had read an article a while back in Popular Mechanics about a forensic artist who gathered all the data he could find about Jesus and his worldly ancestors and attempted to create a reasonable approximation of what a carpenter from Nazareth might have looked like–and the result looked NOTHING like me.  This guy to the right, except for the Woodstock hair style, is much more appealing.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a234/1282186/