Seems like I’m writing about jocks a lot of late, but what’s a guy to do? Colin Kaepernick, the once beloved, now beleaguered quarterback from the San Francisco 49ers, hit the news with a big old bang by sitting out the national anthem before his premier appearance in a pre-season nfl game last night. When the expected, foaming-mouthed outcries exploded across the interwebs, Kaepernick doubled down with a now-removed tweet, that read “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”
Oh, Colin. I hope you know what you’re doing.
from people who don’t really get what liberty and free speech means–except that you should be humble and respectful that you have it, and absolutely unable to actually use it–, he’s also getting a tremendous amount of support for taking a stand. I was pleased and surprised to see that support after all the overwrought reaction to Gabby Douglas’s distracted forgetting to place her hand on her heart during her Olympic medal ceremony. Douglas made a mistake, but Kaepernick made a political statement, and frankly I expected that Twitter would be burning up with demands for his literal crucifixion.
It is not something that I would do, even though I passionately and aggressively support the right of anyone to express dissent. I’m absolutely ambivalent about the sanctity of the national anthem. I like the anthem. I like hearing it, I respect the tradition, and I respect those for whom the ritual holds great reverence. I participate in it even though I hate the sheeplike feeling of everyone standing up and fawning over a symbol-whether that symbol is a flag or a song. But I’m not fond of mass oaths and that sort of stuff in general. In church, growing up, the droning Lord’s Prayer and the responsive readings made me uncomfortable. I guess I’m just not much of a joiner.
When I sat down to write this, I had it in my mind that I wanted to talk about the futility of controversial statements and actions and the tendency of those things to do little more than stir up kneejerk reactionaries who tend to equate dissatisfaction with the state and subsequent expressions of free speech as disrespect for God, Jesus, and the sacrifices of our brave veterans.
In the course of writing, that has changed. Much of that change is rooted in Mr. Kaepernick’s explanation of his position. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game against Green Bay. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that we’re in the middle of an ugly Presidential election in which one candidate’s entire platform is based on the fact that America sucks. Every day, his ads tell us we’re not great, we’re awful, we’re losers. Every word that oozes out of his thin, gelatinous lips tells us how just how awful and low we are, how terrible the country is, and yet he is beloved by legions of flag-waving yahoos who brag about wanting to lynch black men by their penises. Yes, apparently that is a thing.
I want to make it very clear that I get, as a white guy, that the America I experience on a day to day basis is very different from the world even my most educated, articulate, and prosperous black friends experience. My pretty blonde wife got pulled over for a burned out tail-light the other day. She never worried about whether that traffic stop would end her life, and the officer didn’t even run her license. “I just wanted to let you know to get that fixed as soon as you can. Have a nice day.”
Nevertheless, I so disagree with the idea that the confederate battle flag and the American Flag are no different from each other. The rebel flag is an overt assertion in favor of oppression, racial supremacy, and exploitation. It is the flag of traitors. The American flag, in my mind, does not symbolize our failures–of which there are so very many–as a nation and a society so much as it does the higher ideals and possibilities to which we should and often do aspire. Equating the American flag with the Southern Hate Rag means surrendering to cynicism and abandoning hope, two things I refuse to do, however tempted I might be from time to time. The stars and stripes represent the dream of what we could be, at our best. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire Mr. Kaepernick for the personal risk he is taking in speaking up for what is right. Perhaps my entitlement has allowed me just enough hope that I’m either unwilling to surrender the American flag to the blathering simpletons of the Redneck Right, which is what I’d feel like I was doing. After all, I still cling to my favorite meme:
Another 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.”
The cops knocked on another door last night and guess who answered? If you said Johnny Manziel, the pride of Texas, you’d be right, although the odds were pretty much stacked in your favor. Something like 67% of all police calls these days involve the ubiquitously undisciplined (soon to be ex-?) Cleveland Browns quarterback.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch a guy shovel money into a shredder, or turn gold into compost, Johnny Football gives you the chance. I simply cannot recall a situation where someone with such promise has so methodically thrown away wealth that folks were literally scrambling over each other to deliver. The only thing he is squandering faster than his future is the goodwill of the people–rich, powerful people who don’t enjoy having noses thumbed in their direction, and who sign his checks. Not only that, but he could have owned Cleveland (like the Steelers do!), a city so desperate for even the promise of success that his inevitably slow development would have been patiently accepted. They’re dying for a hero in Browns’ country.
I’m forced to wonder if he’ll be so cavalier when he’s drawing $32,850 as an assistant football coach at some Division 2 college way out in the sweaty part of Missouri.
Yet another law enforcement officer has been killed, this time near Chicago, and while the initial, uncertain reports available thus far imply that Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was not targeted, but rather that he was doing his job, happening into a suspicious situation in which he intervened, the killing falls into a pattern.
The account I’ve heard was that he pursued three individuals on foot and was not heard from again. He was found dead, without his handgun and “equipment,” a short time later. It appears he had been killed “execution style,” implying that his quarry–three men on foot–somehow turned the tables on him and killed him in cold blood. Lt. Gliniewicz, at age 52, was a 30-year veteran and father of four who was slated to retire in a few weeks.
The news reports portray Gliniewicz as a fantastic, heroic guy and a superior officer, but of course they do–how much he was loved and respected is irrelevant to the greater truth here: another cop has been murdered, something like the 7th in the past month, and it has to stop.
And here’s where I get unpopular. Despite the increased news coverage, police murders have held relatively steady this year, declining slightly from last year, though the perception is quite different. This is not something in which we should take comfort. The numbers are still too high. One officer killed in the line of duty is too many. This isn’t television–most cops go through entire careers without discharging their weapons in the line of duty, and that is how it should be. Behind those statistics, unfortunately, is a promise of more violence to come. The news coverage of these horrible deaths translate to desensitization to violence–potential killers will be inspired.
And we know what happens next: law enforcement, justifiably angry and fearful, will double down. Mainstream contemporary police theory is to employ hyper-dominant, preemptively aggressive behavior to “control” encounters rather than mediation. When you see a cop, on youtube or on the street, yelling and cursing at someone for what seems like a relatively minor reason, that officer is not necessarily an asshole–although he or she has been taught to act that way.
Police orthodoxy has to change. When I was a child, my mother taught me that if I ever was in trouble, and she wasn’t available, that I could go to a cop. Three decades later, an integral part of my teaching my daughters to drive was how to avoid accidentally escalating the always potentially dangerous traffic stop.—Put the car in park and turn off the ignition. Lock the doors and put the window down 1/3. Retrieve your papers while the officer is still in his car calling in your info, but be sure to have your hands where he can see them as he approaches, palms up and open. Turn the dome light on if it is dark. Once the officer is at your door, make no sudden moves–NEVER reach for anything without asking permission first–and even after getting permission, move slowly–a cell phone can look like a gun, and you can be justifiably killed for holding it….”
How have we created a paradigm in which we much fear our protectors? More importantly, are we at a precipice from which we can pull back, or have we gone over the edge? I like to think the latter, and I believe that we can do it with minimal effort and a lot of dialogue.
It has to come from the cops. I’ve written this entire piece without mentioning the giant elephant in the room–police violence. The numbers are shocking, and the individual stories–going far beyond the sensationalized events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City or Cleveland, Ohio and Baltimore are often terrifying. The issue has often been clouded as a racial problem, and while race is often a factor–the police involved are primarily white, the victims primarily brown*–this is overwhelmingly about power more than race. The two dovetail, of course, but the not exclusively.
Community policing, retraining officers to focus on deescalating rather than dominating confrontations, securing a larger percentage of more intelligent officers–by providing better pay and benefits–and, most of all, making the “thin blue line” a lot more transparent–would be a great start. If you know police officers, you know that they know who the jerks in their departments are, and they aren’t surprised when those guys do something stupid. Or something awful. This has to stop. Good officers need to stop tolerating their misbehaving peers–the very few outliers, among the majority of good, hardworking, honorable public servants–even if that means turning their backs on them. I understand this will be a hard thing to do, but the bad cop who beats a suspect, or shoots an unarmed suspect–is a traitor to his community as well as to his brothers and sisters in blue.
But what about the bad guys? There are always going to be bad guys–that’s why we need cops. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get criminals to behave respectably, or to do anything, really. They are also, by definition, traitors to their community. The police, on the other hand, represent our institutions, and must be held to a higher standard. They will not only be making a better community, and doing a better job, but they will be preventing the kind of adverse media attention that puts targets on their own backs, and on the backs of their peers.
If things continue the way they’re going, more and more police will be singled out as potential targets, which will lead to increased vigilance and fear-grounded aggression that leads to more conflict, more violence, and more resentment. The cycle is self-perpetuating. We must demand more from our protectors, in order to put them at less risk.
Interesting Related links:
*Isn’t this the stupidest thing? When I say it like this, I can’t help but shake my head–defining by skin color!
I’ve gone full cliche, recently dropping the “music didn’t used to suck” on one of my kids the other day, after seeing some lame-ass pseudo-country kiddie pop band on the teevee, a wretched clump of excrement called Florida Georgia Line. We got a good laugh at these bozos, but oh, man…before I knew it I was lecturing on the whole “when i was young” theme, all but telling them how I walked seven miles to school in the snow, up hill both ways–and I listend to some real goddam music when I did it. For some reason, N.W.A. jumped into my mind–about the most opposite thing to lame, mindless cookie cutter pop country drivel I could come up with.
I didn’t listen to a lot of rap, being a rural white kid whowas into what was called “progressive music’ at the time–but what became “college rock” and then “alternative.” I was still buried in melodic punk and some of the Austin to Athens jangle rock of the time, but I did like that they got the establishment’s hypothetical knickers in such a twist. Where I lived, one had to actively seek out any music not firmly rooted in the mainstream, and by mainstream I mean pop and AOR. Interesting music just wasn’t on the radio, and even the black kids I was friends with didn’t listen to cutting edge urban music–it simply wasn’t available to us, which is probably difficult for a lot of younger people to imagine. Simply put: if it wasn’t on the radio, it didn’t exist as more than a few lines of text in Rolling Stone or Spin magazines.
I can’t say that I got the music, but I got that it wasn’t for no reason that conservatives were waging war on this band. N.W.A, in a way, was like Radio Free America, a voice of the underground, of revolution. I was in college and just learning about social justice and the civil rights movement, neither of which had been part of my high school education, and I was brimming with the fervor of the newly converted, the freshly disgusted.
The media was telling me these guys were violent, anti-social thugs but my own sensibilities suggested that rap wasn’t all that different from the 1960s folk music I was just discovering, or the then-current punk with which my day to day life was saturated. It would be another 4 years before Rodney King was beaten within an inch of his life on an LA freeway, and we began to understand what this music was really about.
Postscript: Last week I posted a joke entry about the supremely talented Ice Cube, and another blogger pointed out how great his comedic timing was. I had to agree, but it occurred to me in response that “The N.W.A. stuff was both awesome and prophetic–we’re living in the world they were criticized for putting on records 30 years ago–it’s a short jump from Ice Cube’s Compton, to Ferguson, Baltimore, and the hundred of other communities where folks have been pushed past the breaking point. I’d much rather live in his zany comedies, rather than those harsh realities.” I’m sure all those guys feel a little vindicated, but it’s got to be tough to spend so much time and energy shouting from the rooftops, knowing that you were heard, but that nothing it changed nothing.
And because I can’t resist, here’s a cover from Veruca Salt’s punk goddess Nina Gordon.
I 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.
Consider 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.
Policing 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.”
That’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
I 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.
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.
Stupid Headlines that show up in my news aggregator, and other Stupid Stuff that lands in front of me–a new tradition I talked about here. Who knows? No one knows–it’s a big, damn mystery. But the world is brimming with Stupid, and I’m setting out to document it and share it with you on days that I can’t think of anything worthwhile or positive to write about.
“Video Shows California Deputies Beating Man Fleeing On Horse”
—Eleven on one beat down. With the Channel Four helicopter circling overhead. I guess you didn’t notice that the whole Cop Violence thing has been in the news once
or twice in the past few years? And people are watching. Were you really so dead set on beating this dipstick (and I’ll grant you a lot of these guys must be begging for it, but the truth is that I meet a dozen guys a day I’d just like to beat into a puddle, but I don’t–most of us don’t–because we know we live in a society of rules and, more pertinently, we know if we get caught there will be hell to pay–but I guess that’s the rub, right, there isn’t much hell to pay when you’ve got that shiny tin license to kill.) Stupid. Stupid. Stupid–but you sure showed that guy who’s boss, didn’t you?
“With her back turned and her hands cuffed behind her back, she manages to put it in gear and drive. And from what we can gather, she drove at very high speeds with that position somehow manipulating the gears and steering the wheel….”
One would like it to manifest as something bold and beneficial, a cure for disease, for example, or a technological breakthrough that frees us from reliance on fossil fuels, or a transcendent epic poem that defines our age, but it isn’t ours to choose when inspiration–or desperation–will drive one of us to glorious, unexpected heights.
This is, however, something we should strive for. Too often, too many of us–myself chief among us–settle for good enough, when we should strive for something grand and perhaps even noble in scale and aspiration. We should follow the examples of heroic over-achievers like Homer, John Brown, Amelia Earhart and Elvis…if you’re going to go, GO BIG.
Such was the case this week in Pittsburgh with alleged shoplifter/escapee/joyrider and momentary media sensation Roxanne Rimer. This young woman, detained for shoplifting at a moribund mall, crashed a family car with several relatives inside, and was arrested, handcuffed, and locked inside a patrol car. Not satisfied with what would have been a mere blurb deeply buried deep inside the newspaper, Ms. Rimer–still handcuffed behind her back, crawled through and 11″x12″ gap in the plexiglass barrier in the cop car, slipped behind the wheel and, still handcuffed, roared away on a ten-mile joyride, lights flashing and siren howling.
I mean: Holy Icarus, Batman! You want to be a fighter? Fight Tyson. Want to build an Empire? Invade Afganistan. But if you want to steal a car, don’t screw around with Grammy Polinski’s plum-purple Camry parked behind the church on bingo night–steal a freaking police cruiser from a crime scene. Better still, steal it from your crime scene, while handcuffed and under arrest.
When she eventually crashed that car, she either stuck out her thumb and caught a ride further down the road–or stole another car, depending on accounts– before she was finally apprehended, perp-walked before the cameras by an unabashedly impressed media, and ushered into momentary media stardom. All the while, the feisty young woman maintained her insistence that she couldn’t remember a thing about what happened.
For your bold, audacious inspiration, your resourceful and imaginative execution, and your soaringly unselfish-conscious denial, Ms. Rimer, Old Road Apples salutes you.
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