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Friday, October 31, 2014

Beyond Our Prejudices

Ferguson, Missouri remains in the news... as it should. The social amnesia that is such a prominent feature of our culture is a fact of life that we need to recover from. We need to wake up from the Media-induced malaise that dulls our conscientiousness and shortens our attention span. The execution style killing of Mike Brown by policeman Darren Wilson remains a stark reminder of a societal dysfunction that has its roots in the culture of injustice that remains prevalent in a society that has yet to come to terms with the idea of the inherent value of every human life.

The killing of this eighteen year old by a white officer of the Law has been cast in terms of the tragic racial dynamic that has been entrenched in daily experiences in our country. This, without doubt, is a function of the history of oppression over which a most bloody civil war was fought. The reaction to this event in Ferguson is promising. Continued protests have underlined the truth that we are indeed a society in flux... “The times, they are a changing”. And they must.

In the heat of passion we all tend to harbor a certain tunnel vision, and the duty to examine the broader truth of this tragedy suffers as a result. I grew up in a country that is ninety six percent Black. The police force of Jamaica is Black. As a seventeen year old I had the unfortunate experience of being shot at by the police in Kingston, the capital. It was around eleven o’clock at night, and I was on my way home from the weekly Youth Fellowship meeting at the church I was then a member of.

It was on a Friday night and I was within a three minute walk from the bus stop to home. I had been mistaken for someone else. After being roughed up and tossed into the unmarked police car, I was released in the middle of East Avenue, in Greenwich Town...without an apology or an explanation. They just stopped, swung the door open, and let me go. These were men who could have been my father or uncle or cousins. They were black...just like me.

I have inadvertently walked into curfew situations where an officer sitting carelessly on the back of his police truck told me to run...so he could have an excuse to shoot me. These were black officers in a predominantly black community in a predominantly black country. I, like so many others who grew up under similar circumstances, understood that I should at no time challenge a policeman... Or police woman. I shared one important similarity with Mike Brown. I was a poor young man at the mercy of a corrupted law enforcement apparatus.

The cries of “racism” that resound from Ferguson, Missouri, address a particular aspect of this dynamic in our societal dysfunction. But racism, and in this case the fallacy of “white supremacy”, is an expression of a deeper malady. It is not just an expression of someone's innate prejudice. In reality it is more aptly an expression of the criminal behavior that emanates from the sometimes blatant institutionalization of injustice in a society such as we have become. Racism is a crime. It is a violation of everything that we should stand for as civil society. Anyone may harbor prejudice; we are entitled to individual likes and dislikes. However, to inflict harm by any means as a result of that personal dysfunction is cause for remedial legal action.

The focus on Darren Wilson's complexion and the complexion of the young man he killed is essentially a distraction. It is a distraction because it redirects our focus to his individual racial angst, rather than on the essential criminality of his actions. This act of redirection serves those who would have us not seriously examine the real roots of such behavior. To be absolutely clear, there are oppressive brutes of all hue. Criminals come in all colors and in all the variations of gender. As in the country that I was born and grew up in, there needs to be a real awakening to the structural injustices that become institutionalized in entities such as our police forces.

It is time to wake up to the reality that there are individuals and corporate entities among us intent on
accruing to themselves everything their vain hearts desire. They act to accomplish their goals through every agency they can, and at the expense of the life and humanity of others. To such characters and corporations (keep in mind that our Supreme Court would have us believe that Corporations are people), “white supremacy" is just one of many excuses used to rationalize the inequity they perpetuate. To such persons the question “How much is enough?” is nothing more that an itch that they must endure.

Among the other “inconveniences” they must suffer, we may include the following: demands for just wages at home and abroad; more reasonable cost of credit for those who need it; responsible care and sharing of the environment; the demilitarization of our economies; a real focus on equal access to education; and ensuring the availability of life-saving technologies to all people in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected.

We must continue the work to bring about a more just society. As long as we are human we will experience the foibles of unperfected character. We will in all honesty admit personal prejudices that, if exposed, will shame us. It is therefore imperative that we be constrained by the Rule of Law in our various interactions. The work of Justice demands that we act according to the standards of civility in a society where no one is above the Law. No one.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Frank Serpico On Police Corruption

Click on the link below and read the real Frank Serpico on police corruption then and now. His first hand account of this continuing problem is very useful to our understanding of police culture.

http://politi.co/1nDjGZv

Thursday, October 23, 2014

John Holt... Another Messenger in the Choir of Reggae Angels


Sixty Nine years among us but timeless in his artistic impact. Yes. He aspired to... and attained greatness as an ambassador of the universal phenomenon which is the power of the music of Love. John was truly a Paragon... A model of excellence in his craft. When he spoke he reminded us of the responsibility to project in our lives and in our work, that positivity that comes from a constructive Vibe. When he wrote he used the power of his poetry to communicate that constructive wonderfullness that love endows us with. On stage he was the consummate messenger. His was a voice so appealing, so un-strained, so unrestrained in its virtuosity, so mellifluous... indeed a thing of musical and rhythmic beauty. It is no wonder that he inspired so many... and was imitated by so many.

Measured by the "Hits" he made, there was none greater in the arena of Reggae music. Expressed in terms of his electrifying impact, we experience "a thousand volts of Holt" in hits like: 'Ali Baba', 'Stick By Me', 'Love I Can Feel', 'Memories By The Score', 'My Heart Is Gone', 'Police In Helicopter', 'Stealing Stealing', 'The Tide Is High'... just to name a few. Born in Greenwich Farm, Kingston 13, Jamaica (where I grew up), his contribution was seminal in the development of Jamaican music. The appeal of his body of work was universal, as songs like 'The Tide Is High' were reproduced to great acclaim by a number of international artists. It is true that the richness of John Holt's work made many rich, not just in terms of his soulful appeal, but the economic benefits of that appeal. 'The Tide Is High' sold millions all over the world. John had a string of number one hits in the history of Jamaican music longer than any of his peers.

This boy from Greenwich Farm, Kingston 13, Jamaica, went on to perform on the greatest stages in the world. His concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was a thing of beauty. And now he takes his place with the Choir of Reggae Angels. He joins Bob and Dennis and Peter and Gregory and Cynthia and Hortense and Jacob... and all those who now make up that distinguished Chorus. In tribute to them we make this request of those who seek to walk in their shoes : 

“Sing us a song... Like a morning in Spring
Play us a tune... That warm sunshine will bring
Wake us up... With words so warm
Sing us a song... That will sound the alarm
Of all… all… all… All of our senses

Sing us a song... Like a mid-day sun
Play us a tune... With a heated exclamation
Inspire us to seek... Shade from the warmth
Sing us a song... That will bring out the charm
Of all… all… all... All of our senses

Sing us a song... Like a Summer sunset
Play us a tune... That will make us forget
The many seasons... Of our discontentment
Sing us a song... That vibrates with the rhythms
Of the horizons… the horizons...
The horizons of love"

(Adapted from the poem 'For All My Seasons' from the book 'Of Scattered Seed and Broken Souls)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Suppressing The Vote ... Jim Crow's Last Loud Hurrah

Facing the real threat of demographic extinction, the Republican Party is resorting to measures long condemned by no less an authority than the Constitution of the United States Of America to suppress the vote of Blacks and Hispanic voters. The 24th Ammendment states:
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."
Some members of the Supreme Court would argue that requiring voters to purchase state and federal IDs for the purpose of participating in elections is not a form of poll tax. While there may be some vague CommonSense appeal to that objection the facts on the ground speak a different truth, one articulated clearly by Justice Ginsburg in her dissent on the Texas Voter ID Law. The startling reality is that any economic burden that places an obstacle in the path of anyone desiring to exercise their sacred franchise amounts to, and qualifies as a "poll tax". There is a terrible history of voter obstruction that is in and of itself the only definition we need to qualify these actions as such.  

Justice Ginsburg was joined in her dissent by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. She wrote:

"The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, ... Senate Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification. A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic."

An examination of the tendency to impose voter ID requirements will show that this is a trend among Republican governors in the states that they govern. Never mind the fact that there has been no proven proliferation of voter fraud. The intent is clearly not to prevent voter fraud. Indeed this, by all accounts, is an attempt by a certain political group to perpetuate a fraud upon the electorate. A few simple unanswered questions are : Who would have an interest in voter suppression in our democracy? Why would our "elected" representatives want to limit the ability of citizens to vote? The simple answer is ... Those who realize that they and their policies have no future where the people have a vote...and a voice.


Monday, October 13, 2014

MALALA... A Symbol Of The Hope That Courage Inspires


E·qual·i·ty 
əˈkwälədē/

noun ... the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.
"Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. As a child, she became an advocate for girls' education, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. On October 9, 2012, a gunman shot Malala when she was traveling home from school. She survived, and has continued to speak out on the importance of education. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. In 2014, she was nominated again and won, becoming the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize... " 
~From her biography 

All of us, female, male, and those who find themselves in the challenging position of not being able to declare for either side of the gender equation must speak with our own words about our own lives. We must articulate our aspirations with the force of our own breaths. This is the great challenge of our existence. It is a challenge that we must own in the face of every circumstance that seeks to define who we are and what we can become. And when we have lived up to that challenge we must then become the voice of those who cannot speak. We must stand up for those who cannot stand. We must insist on equal treatment for our fellow beings who depend on us because they suffer disadvantages and disabilities that make them unable to do so for themselves. 
In a world that has tended to encode the "law of the jungle" as our modus operandi, we continue to witness the use of tradition and religion to express the imbalance that is a fact of our communal experiences. In too many of our "villages" the "strong" continue to inflict their will on those they can use force to victimize. It is in this kind of world that a girl can be shot in her head for pursuing an education that does not limit her to the roles that some men have carved out for her. It is in this kind of world that girls and women are raped and sold into slavery to satisfy the fundamentalist delusions of those who have not sorted out their existential insecurities. The rest of us must not stand by and allow this lunacy. We must face this madness with resolve. We cannot ignore the cries of the disadvantaged, nor can we remain in our safe enclaves while our fellow human beings are subjected to the unspeakable horrors of a culture of vile ignorance.
The great challenge of our time is not just the building of civil societies. That work must be enhanced by our insistence on the encoding of Justice in our laws. Justice is a function of Equality... the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunity. This then is not just a work that must be pursued in Pakistan and other places afar off. The work of Justice must be done on our own doorsteps, in our own homes, and community, and nation. The areas of concern are many. They include the arenas of race and gender. Just wages. Equal access to every opportunity for betterment. Equal pay for equal work. The right to vote of every citizen must be guaranteed. 
Those who seek to deny others these basic human rights are in fact not better than the men who shot this young woman in her head. It is time to stand with courage against every brute who lives by denying others their just claim to Life,  Liberty,  and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Ebola Pandemic...The Promise And Peril Of A Connected World

Ebola outbreak 'running' ahead of world's response: UN official

Initial responses to the outbreak of HIV/AIDS were hampered by the stigmatization and discrimination that went with the assumption that it was an affliction of gay men and intravenous drug users. In fact the condition came to be called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). With the prevailing historical prejudices against these groups, the Reagan Administration of the time was notoriously slow in initiating and funding an evidenced based approach to dealing with what became an international public health crisis.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compared this Ebola outbreak to the AIDS epidemic. This week politicians in Washington have been haggling about the allocation of appropriate monies to mount an effective response to this epidemic. According to the CDC Ebola has already infected over 8,000 and counting, with casualties passing the 4,000 mark as of today. Countries with widespread infection are listed as Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

There is no wishing away the horror that is Ebola. There are no safe borders from the tragedy that this epidemic brings in its wake. The death of a Liberian national in Texas this week brings this tragedy to our very doorsteps. We no longer have the vain luxury of thinking that this is just a problem for some people "over there". Efforts to othercize and ostracize the victims of this terrible disease will come back to haunt us.

We live in a world that continues to shrink. Air travel now makes intercontinental and international contact a matter of hours away instead of days and months. The barriers of time and space are reduced daily by technologies that bring home the fact that we are more and more "a village" in terms of how we affect, and are affected, by each other's lives...and deaths. It is time for us to start to truly act as neighbors. The fact is, we protect ourselves by acting in the best interests of others in our global village.

When a  Liberian shows up in the Emergency Room of a Texas hospital describing in himself the symptoms of a deadly disease we must stop and take notice. It no longer matters whether or not he looks or sounds like us. It matters not whether he has health insurance. What matters is that we give him the attention due to a fellow human being... A fellow villager. To give this person some Tylenol and some antibiotics and send him home with a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit is uncaring to say the least.

In the face of the perils of a death-bearing condition, we are obliged to keep the promise of our common humanity. That promise dictates that we treat each other as we ourselves would want to be treated. To neglect to do so for any reason, is to bring upon ourselves the same fate that beset those we carelessly brush aside.

In the fight against the spread of disease we emphasize the use of what we call Universal Precautions. Proper hand washing, the use of gloves, the wearing of protective cloaks and masks, and appropriate isolation of infected persons are all part of this. These measures are intended to protect both patients and their caregivers. As in the case of AIDS, our responses to this epidemic may be influenced by inappropriate cultural attitudes to its initial victims. With that in mind we should begin this fight by washing our hands of the cultural insensitivity that besets us. Ultimately it is the "cloak" of genuine concern that will protect us all from the threats of a proven devastating disease.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Promise And The Peril Of A Connected World


  • In this March 28, 2014 photo provided by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), healthcare workers from the organization prepare isolation and treatment areas for their Ebola virus operations in Gueckedou, Guinea. One preacher advocated fasting and prayer to spare people from a virus that usually leads to a horrible death. Some people pray that the Ebola virus stays confined to a rural district. Others are unruffled and say the outbreak will blow over. (Kjell Gunnar Beraas/MSF/AP)

    There is no wishing away the horror that is Ebola. There are no safe borders from the tragedy that this epidemic brings in its wake... And with the death of a Liberian national in Texas we can no longer rest in the false sense of security that thinking it is just a problem for some people far away from the assumed safety of our own borders. We live in a world that continues to shrink. The barriers of time and space are reduced daily by technologies that bring home the fact that we are more and more "a village" in terms of how we affect, and are affected, by each other's lives...and deaths. It is time for us to start to truly act as neighbors. 

    When a  Liberian shows up in the Emergency Room of a Texas hospital describing in himself the symptoms of a deadly disease we must stop and take notice. It no longer matters whether or not he looks or sounds like us. It matters not whether he has health insurance. What matters is that we give him the attention due to a fellow human being... A fellow villager. In the face of the perils of a death-bearing condition, we are obliged to keep the promise of our common humanity. That promise dictates that we love each other as we love ourselves. To neglect to do so for any reason, is to bring upon ourselves the same fate that beset those we carelessly brush aside. Now let us wake up and fight this thing together. 

    And as far as "precautions" are concerned... Let us begin by washing our hands of the cultural insensitivity that besets us. Ultimately it is the "cloak" of genuine concern that will protect us all.

Ebola... The horror!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Wheels Of Justice Grind On... The Michael Dunn Verdict

CNN BREAKING NEWS : Jurors found Michael Dunn guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday in the 2012 shooting death 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Today a man in Florida found out the ultimate meaning of the term Civil Society.  Two years ago he indiscriminately ...and criminally ...unleashed the deadly force of the measure of his corrupted manhood on a group of black teenage boys playing music loudly in the SUV they were in. It was "Black Friday", and a dark day for the family of 17 year-old Jordan Davis. He was murdered by Michael Dunn.

As reported by CNN
 "Dunn has said he shot at the vehicle because he thought Davis had a weapon and feared for his life, but the prosecution has alleged Dunn was the aggressor and pointed out he kept firing even after the teens fled."

In closing arguments prosecutor Erin Wolfson declared to the jury
"Let me be very clear: There was no shotgun in that red Durango that night. ... There was no stick, there was no branch, there was no hollow pipe. There was no weapon. Inside that Dodge Durango were four teenagers... four kids who had just left their moms, four kids who were spending their Black Friday doing what lots of people do -- out at the mall, they were just hanging out, being kids, listening to music that they liked."

Those who knew him have spoken out about the belligerent vileness of Michael Dunn.
"Taking aim at Jordan Davis, 10 shots -- that's what he fired that Friday night, nine of them hitting his intended target, each time intending to kill, and kill he did," Wolfson said.
Dunn would have us believe that he is no racist, but his own words testify against him. These are his words in a letter he wrote from jail:
"I'm really not prejudiced against race, but I have no use for certain cultures. This gangster-rap, ghetto talking thug 'culture' that certain segments of society flock to is intolerable. They espouse violence and disrespect towards women. The black community here in Jacksonville is in an uproar against me -- the 3 other thugs that were in the car are telling stories to cover up their true 'colors."

Michael Dunn will have ample time for reflection. He faces life without parole...or a death sentence. In either case he must now man-up to the consequences of his inhumanity.

There was a time when he would have gotten away with this crime. There was a time in Florida when he would not have to face the legal ramifications of his actions. There was a time when white men in the South felt that black persons had no rights that they were bound to respect... Even the right to listen to music of their choice...at a volume of their choice, just like white people. That time must now end.

Now let the wheels of Justice grind... Ferguson, Missouri waits, and Darren Wilson is laying prostrate in its path. He has not yet been arrested.