We DID Start The Fire…

Two fires are burning in America, both fueled by ignorance, indifference, and plain old stupidity.

Curious Kids: when I swipe a matchstick how does it make fire?

In the western US, wildfires burn out of control, consuming millions of acres of forests, entire towns, killing unknown numbers of wildlife, and destroying humans. Many of our fellow Americans push aside the overwhelming evidence of climate change—the intensity of these fires and resulting firestorms are a symptom of the problem—for politics or because of a vested interest in ignoring the science.

Despite the enormous evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we have a President who ignores it all and tells people to “rake their leaves.” That such an unsophisticated, uninformed, scientifically bereft attitude exists in 21st century America is astounding.

We are returning to the Dark Ages where mystics and charlatans guided decisions absent any rational basis. They hide their actions from us by the smoke of fires of our own creation.

We ignore these signs at our own peril, for the earth is resilient. Like any sophisticated, self-sustaining system, our planet has an immune system. If we continue down this path, the earth may come to see us not as the most fantastic product of evolution, but a dangerous one. The signs are already there with glaciers disappearing, sea levels rising, temperatures climbing, and storm intensities increasing.

The planet will protect itself either with us… or from us.

We repeat the pattern of ignoring problems in hopes they will just go away in other matters, the other fire burning across this country—the fire of racism, intolerance, and violent resistance to acknowleding the inequalities in our society.

Despite the mounds of evidence of climate change and racism, we continue to ignore the signs. The only difference between these two issues is we have been ignoring racism for a much longer period, despite having documented it with our own words. Words written by well-intentioned (mostly) individuals or commissions, published with a grand ceremony, then forgotten when the attention fades,

In 1922, the Chicago Commission of Race Relations published a seven-hundred-page report entitled “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and Race Riot.” The report documented evidence of housing and employment discrimination and brutal mistreatment at the hands of the police and the criminal justice system.

(From the report) “… investigations indicate that Negroes are more commonly arrested, subjected to police identification, and convicted than white offenders, that on similar evidence they are generally held and convicted on more serious charges, and that they are given longer sentence… These practices and tendencies are not only unfair to Negroes, but weaken the machinery of Justice and, when taken with the greater inability of Negroes to pay fines in addition to or in lieu of terms of jail, produce misleading statistics of Negro crime.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1935, following riots in Harlem, another report said.

“… The sudden breach of the public order was the result of a highly emotional situation among the colored people of Harlem, due in large part to the nervous strain of years of unemployment and insecurity…it is probable that their justifiable pent-up feelings, that they were victims of gross injustice and prejudice, would sooner or later have brought about an explosion…

The blame belongs to a society that tolerates inadequate and often wretched housing, inadequate and inefficient schools and other public facilities, unemployment, unduly high rents, lack of recreational grounds, discrimination in industry and public utilities against colored people, brutality and lack of courtesy of the police.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1977, Michael Lipsky and David J. Olson published a study entitled “Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America.” They said between 1917 and 1943, at least twenty-one commissions were appointed to investigate race riots.

Take a look at you and me,

are we too blind to see,

do we simply turn our heads

and look the other way

Well the world turns

Despite the sincerity and good intentions of theses twenty-one commissions, nothing changed. The reports were printed, distributed, read, and forgotten.

The Kerner Commission, the grandaddy of race riot reports written after the Watts Riot in LA in the 1960s, is another example. Well written and meticulously researched, it documented the conditions leading to the riot and was largely ignored.

President Lyndon Johnson, who could not understand why his Great Society initiative—Voter Rights Act, Welfare Reform, and other programs—did not solve the problem, refused to accept it.

Nothing changed.

In 1969, Elvis Presley had a hit record called In the Ghetto, written by Mac Davis. A prophetic tune then, and now.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
’cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
it’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
People, don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way
Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
And his hunger burns
so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal
and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto
Then one night in desperation
a young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto
As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

 We face a turning point in America. The challenges we face– the raging inferno of wildfires amplified by climate change, and the hellish nightmare of our failure to address racism and discrimination against our fellow Americans–can be our descent into Armageddon or our rise to Enlightenment.

There have been times in our history when a leader emerged—often one we might least suspect of having the courage or ability—to guide and unite us in a time of need.

George Washington, a surveyor and soldier, who rose to become the epitome of a selfless statesman dedicated to the good of the country, led us through the birth of a nation.

Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky woodsman who rose to lead us toward reunifying the country and abolishing slavery. Who knows how different we might have been if he had lived out his second term?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once seen as weak and ineffectual, rose to lead us out of not one, but two dangerous dark times in our history, the Great Depression and World War II.

We face such a choice this November. Can Joe Biden rise to this moment in history and lead this country out of the conflagration we face? I am uncertain. But I am sure of this; Mr. Trump will not. He is not the leader we desperately need at this moment in history.

We need someone to quell the flames, not fan them.

We need someone who embraces science and reason, not disparages it,

We need someone with compassion for the challenges facing people of color, not one who openly encourages white supremacy and fear-mongering.

There is one other thing I am confident we do not need. We do not need another commission to study these problems. We need a leader who will gather the best and the brightest among us and craft solutions.

Or the song will just repeat itself all over again and the country will continue to burn until there is nothing left of America…

As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

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You Might be a Moron if…

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

H. L. Mencken

What sparked this diatribe (and public service anoouncement) on morons was a meme circulating on Social media. I won’t dignify it by repeating it, but in summary it implied that by having had a black president for eight years that somehow mitigated and eliminated the centuries-long history of racism in this country.

So, I thought I would offer this simple guide to those who may need it to understand their own implicit biases, to help them identify them, and hopefully to work on eliminating them.

Here’s a simple checklist to determine if you harbor any moronic, churlish, idiotic, misanthropic, antisocial, or racially biased fallacies in your character.

You might be a moron if…

…you believe your sexual orientation implicitly grants moral superiority over any other.

…you believe your race implicitly grants intellectual superiority over any other.

…you believe your ethnicity implicitly grants cultural superiority over any other.

…you believe your religion implicitly grants theological superiority over any other.

…you believe your place of birth implicitly grants hereditary superiority over any other.

…you believe your educational level implicitly grants knowledge superiority over any other.

…you believe your lack of education implicitly grants practical superiority over any other.

If you hold any beliefs that your personal characteristics- those mostly an accident or fortune of birth—grant you any measure of superiority over others, you are likely a moron. 

It is the content of your character, and your actions towards others, that measures your value as a person.

Keep these wise words in mind from the Neil Diamond song, Done too Soon whenever you find yourself feeling smug about yourself in comparison to others.

And each one there
Has one thing shared:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done

For being? Done too soon,
For being? Done too soon.
For being? Done.

Done too Soon, Neil Diamond

We all sweat beneath the same sun and look up in wonder at the same moon…

Everything else is just the dust of life.

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JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at info@jebwizardpublishing.com or 401-533-3988.

Signup here for our mailing list for information on all upcoming releases, book signings, and media appearances.

First, Admit the Problem Exists

The first step, the most important step, to solving a problem is to admit there is one. Police officers reflect our society; there are the overwhelming majority of good officers and the few, but dangerous ones, who harbor racial prejudices that impact their approach to the job.

Racial prejudice is endemic to America. The long torturous road to racial equality is not yet fully paved. Cultural misunderstandings, ethnic stereotypes, even geographic differences breed prejudice. The results are always tragic and often deadly.

While all of society must speak out and take a stand against racial prejudice, police officers, by the very nature of the authority they carry, bear a heavier burden. They must balance the oft-necessary use of force in enforcing laws against the fog of conflict they often operate in. More than any other segment of society, they need to recognize it is not a black and white world.

The nature of law enforcement—the uniforms, weapons, aura of authority—draws interest from a somewhat narrow spectrum of society. Rational people run away from gunfire, cops run towards it. We are all better for it that there are those among us willing to risk themselves to save others, even at the cost of their own life. No greater love…

Most seek the job to make a difference, to accomplish some good in the world, to make their neighborhoods, towns, and cities safer.

However, some seek the job to hold authority over others. These officers embrace the Us vs. Them mentality where everyone is guilty until proven innocent.  Every department has them.

Some departments do a better job of weeding out such officers. Others do not. Until agencies instill a sense of responsibility within the rank and file to work to remove such officers from their positions, situations like Minneapolis will happen again and again.

It is often politics within agencies that protect dangerous officers. This is a blight on the profession and a serious issue prolonging the problem.

EPPD

I served for twenty years with the East Providence Police Department. Every officer claims their department is the best. Pride is an important element of being a cop. But I would pit EPPD officers against any in the world in terms of professionalism.

Yet we had our share of problem officers. Some of it was generational, residual attitudes from a different time in America. But some was just plain ignorance. We did our best to deal with them. While we may not have been perfect, the majority of officers did their best to control the few problem children.

We can hope, with each new generation more embracing of our differences, officers holding these attitudes will fade into the past. But for now they are alive and well and we need to face them.

Being a cop is a dangerous job. The very nature of the job, if you want to survive, demands constant preparation for the worst to happen. A suspicious nature protects officers from complacency or letting their guard down. Yet, understanding they can resolve most situations with no or minimal force is key to minimizing deadly confrontations.

When one spends years on the streets seeing the worst of situations, it is easy to become immunized from the trauma. Officers develop a somewhat perverse sense of humor as a shield against the tragedy they see daily. Protecting oneself from the effect of traumatic incidents is one thing. Forgetting that you took on the responsibility to deal in a fair and impartial manner with everyone you come into contact with violates one’s oath to serve and protect.

Last, officers themselves need be a voice to point out and identify those among them who fail to act under the law and with common decency. The thin blue line is a necessary protection for society. We are fortunate that a few women and men will stand on that line and protect us all. But it does not confer on them the right to ignore those among them who act on racial prejudices out of some misguided sense of loyalty.

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We True Americans

Again? When did we stop?

I recently posted several blog pieces during our trip to Morocco.  While the reaction of most was positive, many took exception to my positive portrayal of Muslims and the Islamic Faith.

One struck me as shockingly ill-informed; bordering on dangerous.

The comment included a reference to a false meme about a one-time ban on Muslims coming to the US (never happened) often circulated among the jingoistic-inclined nationalists who see Islam solely through the filter of terrorism. The line that frightened me, not because I feared the truth of the statement but because others might see it as truth, was this;

We True Americans must be on guard against Islam.

The comment gave me pause. Someone, and I am certain they are not alone, believes there is such a thing as a “true American” which is both identifiable and necessary for this nation to survive. It made me wonder.

What is the definition of a true American?

So, I went looking.

Is Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim by birth, who died in Iraq serving in the US Army and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service a true American?

Is Humayun Khan, a Muslim by birth, a US Army officer killed in Iraq serving in the US Army and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service a true American?

Is Dr. Ayub Ommaya a Pakistani American who invented the Ommaya Reservoir (used to provide chemo-therapy directly to the tumor site) a true American?

Is Khaled Hosseni, an American Physician and novelist born in Afghanistan best known for his novel “The Kite Runner” a true American?

Is Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University a true American?

Or

Is Charles Manson, infamous convicted murderer and lunatic, a true American?

Is Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber and self-proclaimed Christian, a true American?

It’s easy to pick and choose when one has an agenda. In particular, an agenda based on fear, ignorance, and misplaced nationalistic fervor. Islam represents the third largest religion in the US and the overwhelming majority of its adherents are as appalled by terrorism in Islam’s name as all those self-proclaimed “True Americans.”

Likely, more so.

I would dare say that the remaining members of the Native America tribes we Christians herded and hunted almost to extinction would argue about what a true American is.

That some people lay claim to be the only True Americans is about as far from the very nature of America as one can get.

And it bears remembering when they demand we follow their lead in denying others the same American dream we all enjoy based on their religion or place of origin .

I am fairly certain a true American is better than that.

Heel, don’t Kneel

The First Amendment protects us from government restrictions on the free expression of one’s personal and political views. It is different within the private sector.

Employers may limit the exercise of free speech when it directly affects their business.

No one can argue this. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

Aside from the legal arguments, there is a more significant issue at stake with the NFL ban on players taking a knee during the National Anthem.

While most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, freely stand during the National Anthem in gratitude for those who fought to preserve our way of life, implicit in that sacrifice is the right to do otherwise.

I often chafe at the inattentive, text-addicted, hats still on idiots who either stand because everyone else is or sit drinking beer when the anthem is played before a game. But it is their right to do so.

Ignorant, rude, or just downright asinine as it may be.

But I wouldn’t want to see uniformed police officers roaming through the crowd and hauling them off for it either. (I might find it momentarily amusing, aside from the serious constitutional issue.)

The NFL situation is different on two levels.

First, if this was an intrinsic element of the game, then the owners have every right to insist players comply.

It is not. It is a moment at most public venues where we pay homage to this nation. Which implies the right to express a different political opinion.

Second, and more critical, this wailing and gnashing of teeth that the constitutional guarantee of free speech has limitations in the private sector and players must comply with a workplace requirement is all a smokescreen to the real issue.

Americans do not like the very public reminder of the persistence of bigotry and prejudice. They do not like their sacred sports game marred by such a divisive issue. They prefer to keep it in the closet on game day, and then ignore it for the rest of the week.

To further illustrate the point, the protest must be working in raising the issue otherwise no one would care.

Which makes the restrictions put in place by the NFL, albeit legitimate under the most common interpretation of the Constitution, more troubling.

While the NFL owners have much latitude in controlling the players when they are “working,” to insist they can regulate free speech, during a ceremony that honors free speech, for the benefit of their bottom line, is troubling.

If it is that important an issue, fire them.

Remember, the first act of American patriotism was to challenge the King’s government for the right of freedom of expression.

Do we seek to return to the times of pledging loyalty to the government as a condition of being an American? Is it that some people miss the days when the government would ask “Are you, or have you ever been, a communist?”

While the NFL issue is minor in the big scheme of things, it is the conglomeration of little things, chipping away at liberties, that cause real damage. This issue may be nothing but a single termite, but termites are never alone.

Let the players take a knee, do backflips, or whatever. When the anthem plays, focus all the cameras on the Stars and Stripes flapping in the breeze above the flag-draped Bud Light advertisements.

Black Skin Kevlar Skin

It is impossible for me to know what it is like to be black in America. My upbringing in Cumberland, Rhode Island in the 1960’s could not have been more plain vanilla. Cumberland wasn’t home to very many black families.

The first conversation I ever had with a black person wasn’t until I went into the Air Force. So for me to pretend to understand what it’s like to be black in America is foolish at best and dangerous at worst.

Later, when I became a police officer, I came into daily contact with a much wider variety of ethnicities. Yet, it was easy to fall prey to the us versus them mentality. As my experience grew, so did my appreciation for the similarities we shared rather than the superficial differences.

Unfamiliarity breeds misconceptions and prejudices.

The America of the 60’s was torn by the strife of racial hatred. Cities in America were burning. Images of riots showed lines of club-wielding police officers, almost exclusively white, facing off against protesters, mostly black, in the confrontations over segregation and racial discrimination.

It was these images that served as the basis of my exposure to people of color. I didn’t see prejudice in Cumberland. Not because it didn’t exist, but because there were few people of color living there.

As a police officer, I saw examples of prejudice perpetrated by officers. Yet, the times were changing. These acts, once institutionalized, were by individual officers rather than department policies.

The truth of the matter is they became more concealed, more insidious because they hid behind the façade of arresting criminals. If there is one thing I learned as a police officer, it is that everyone is one dire change of circumstances away from committing a crime.

All it takes is a sudden downturn in fortune and a once successful, happy, employed individual might turn to some criminal action to obtain money or sink into the abyss of drug addiction.

This condition is color-blind.

There is another aspect to being a police officer that creates conflict. We started wearing ballistic vests, donning Kevlar skin as part of our job. A necessary evil that created a mindset that every moment on the job was fraught with risk.

Cops are not taught that people of color are dangerous. They are taught that everyone is. Cops begin every encounter assuming the person they are in contact with poses a threat. It is drilled into them in the academy and in the field. They evaluate the person starting from that assumption. It sets a certain tone to every encounter.

For anyone not raised with black skin to say they understand the problem or can empathize with someone of color is ludicrous.

For persons of color to assume the individual in Kevlar skin is a racist threat with murderous intentions is equally ludicrous.

I was taught to seek out a police officer if I were in trouble. People of color often teach their children to fear cops based on their own experiences. As a country, we can do better.

To applaud the killing of Police Officers while doing their job is to sustain the perception and problem. It derails any attempt at a solution.

America can no longer afford to ignore the endemic racism prevalent within our society. We must confront it in an open and honest manner.

The reason our prisons are full of people of color has nothing to do with propensity to commit a crime. It has to do with a difference in access to justice. The lack of access to dedicated legal advice is the prime factor behind incarceration rates. Until access to justice no longer comes with a price tag, such disparity will continue.

I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be a person of color in this country. Just as most people cannot begin to understand what putting on Kevlar skin and going out into the dark night is like.

There is room for increased understanding and conversation on both sides of that spectrum. The time to act is now. The cities are smoldering. Now is the time to remove the fuel of discrimination before they are burning once again

 

Cops, Superheroes, and Stupidity

In my almost 60 complete revolutions of the sun, I have heard people say some stupid things. Truth be told, I spewed some idiocy myself. But, after reading a story about a protest over the recent police involved shooting in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I saw a statement that defies explanation.

The words are so without an inkling of intelligence or rationality as to be laughable if they didn’t revolve around such a serious matter.

The Providence Journal (http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20160409/video-protesters-in-pawtucket-call-silence-over-fatal-police-shooting-injustice) quoted one of the protesters as saying,

“A Police Officer should disarm someone, not shoot to kill.”

Where to begin?

Statements such as this come from people whose experience with police procedure comes from one of three places: Television, movies, or riding in the back seat of a police car with their hands bound behind them.

Such ignorance does nothing to promote better relations between the community and the police. Such lack of intellectual foundation does nothing but reveal the lack of understanding of the situations officers find themselves in on a daily basis.

If she had said, we have to discourage people from carrying guns so the police won’t be forced to kill them I could agree with her.

If she said, we in the community must work with the police to tell them about those who carry guns so we can prevent such confrontations I could agree with her.

But to expect an Officer, in a dark alley, after having a gun pointed at her twice, to somehow disarm the individual regardless of the risk to the officer is nonsense.

I have always said that much remains to be done to eliminate prejudice within our society. Much remains to improve relations between the police and the minority community. Statements like this hurt such efforts.

I can guarantee you that at the moment that Officer decided to fire, she did so because she recognized a threat to herself and her fellow officers. She didn’t see skin color, she didn’t see a socially handicapped victim of prejudice, she didn’t see anything but a gun pointed at her by someone she reasonably believed would use it.

Much is made about rights in these cases. Too often an important element of this discussion is left out, the right of the officer to live.

Officers have a responsibility to perform their duties impartially and lawfully. It is a heavy burden and one we should be glad that there are those among us willing to bear it. Officers accept the responsibility knowing it may come at the cost of their lives. That doesn’t mean it must.

Behind that badge beats a human heart. One that has a family, friends, and loved ones it cares for. Officers have an equal right to enjoy their lives.