Planet Waves is running a membership drive.
Read more in Solstice Fire and the Art of Service, by Eric Francis.
I’m here to change history. If we want a change we can really truly make it happen.”
–Sandra Bland, b. 1987, d. Waller County Jail, Texas, on July 10, 2015.
Yet another theatre shooting ended a week that gave us an indecisive Jeb, a creatively dramatic Rand, and a copycat Lindsey, all vying for attention and sucked into the vortex that is Donald. You’d think Bush the Youngest declaring Medicare obsolete, then walking it back as he does most of his talking points, would grab some attention. Or that Rand Paul taking a chain saw to the IRS code, or Lindsey Graham doing violence to his cell phone after Trump outed his number, would tickle the masses, but no. All eyes were glued to our big-mouthed national embarrassment, who — capturing first place with the radical right as the “tell ‘em like it is” candidate — is making it plain what the Republican party has come to.
Two young women are dead in Louisiana, nine wounded. The shooter, described as a middle-aged drifter (who killed himself rather than be captured) is being vetted at this writing, authorities looking for motive. That seems at cross-purpose to me. He’s white, so it won’t be labeled terrorism — white folks get a pass on that, wrongfully. That he had mental health issues is a given, no one opens fire in a crowd who has all their bb’s in the pack. Still, what we SHOULD be vetting is our absurdly lax law giving us access to guns and our heartbreaking inability to establish reasonable controls and safeguards, both of which the President has identified as his largest regret in office, thus far.
Despite anything the NRA might propose — everyone packing heat in the movie theatre, for instance — engaging the shooter in a gun fight would have created a shitstorm of bullets, even more havoc and wounding, if not more death. I’m surprised that didn’t happen, frankly. While I’m not anti-self-defense, in Louisiana — with some of the most lenient gun restrictions in the nation — you’d think someone would have been better prepared.
Since the shooter walked out with the crowd (before sighting the cops and running back in the theatre), it might have been productive if someone in the audience had one of those pink tasers in her purse — you know, hostess gift at the down-home Tupperware Party? — although even that makes me cringe. Still, there is a vast difference between tasing to stun and shooting to kill. One is self-defense, the other seems to me a bridge too far.
We’re very familiar with death in this country. We like to think that war and displacement only occur somewhere else in the world, that oppression and cruel conditions are only possible far from our shores, but that’s fantasy and it’s becoming more obvious every day. We started to notice not that long ago. The Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri, seems a lifetime ago, but it was just last August. Remarkably, it provided a turning point regarding police reform, a critical need pushed forward in large part by a group of activists who named themselves #BlackLivesMatter.
Separate from the Department of Justice investigation into Ferguson’s police department and Brown’s death — which found that the cops routinely engaged in profiling and excessive force, as well as violating the constitutional rights of the city residents by “pattern or practice of unlawful conduct” — the President’s commission on police reform issued recommendations this March that included “establishment of external and independent criminal investigations” of officer shooting or in-custody death.
It did not take a presidential commission to convince most on-lookers that this was a grievous situation of police exploitation and cover-up, just one of thousands occurring in this nation and routinely ignored — unless those on-lookers were white. Early polls indicated a white finger pointed at black troublemakers, and a complete misunderstanding of the perils of “breathing while black.”
Here’s the good news: we’ve come a long way, although it certainly came at a price. White America is quickly waking up to the disparities of systemic racial bias. Oh, not the smug conservative farts on the Supreme Court or the crusty old fools that still watch the FOX propaganda channel to validate that Obama — and his ‘kind’ — are the real problem in America. No, not them, hanging on to their world-view through thick and thin.
The rest of us are getting an education, a reality check, if you will. Certainly the kids are aware of the inequality situation, as are those of us who have noted the long list of people of color who have died in this revealing year since Ferguson. Statistics point to one black death every 28 hours, many of them brutally senseless.
Recently, poor oblivious Dem candidate, Lincoln Chafee, put his foot in it at Netroot’s Nation, confronted by a chanting Black Lives Matter crowd. Chafee, a particularly well-mannered man and one born to privilege in the nation’s smallest state, agreed by saying that “Black lives matter, white lives matter, ALL lives matter.” When he was booed, he seemed perplexed and repeated the sentence, more slowly.
Over at FOX, much was made about those black folks hooting at one of their own who was, after all, only speaking up for caucasians. They too, missed the point. The point of the movement — yes, it’s a movement and it’s gathering steam — is to make clear that black life is devalued in this nation, as proven by the dreadful statistics, and that is the issue taking prominence at this moment. The protesters wanted recognition by white America that they, as representatives of Black America, were on equal footing as American citizens. Yes, all life matters — but not in that particular conversation at that time.
Chafee was being asked to respond to the desperate need for action regarding the African-American population at crosshairs in cities across the nation, and he flubbed it. Well, Rhode Island isn’t famous for its ghetto scenes and racial disruption, I suppose, so Lincoln got a lesson in broader presidential politics — but the response from conservatives, pointing to this exchange with glee, shows how tone-deaf they are to the actual problem at hand. It is not within their tradition to figure it out, since it would shatter their mythology of superiority.
But here’s one of those things that’s changing quickly, adding fuel to the fire that finds not just government untrustworthy, but all of the justice system: the call that ‘young black men’ are dying all around the nation has to expand to include not just women of color, but people of all colors who do not have the means to defend themselves.
Economist and populist pundit Robert Reich argues that we mustn’t allow “… the progressive movement to split into a “Black lives matter” movement and an “economic justice” movement.” He writes:
This would only play into the hands of the right.
For decades Republicans have exploited the economic frustrations of the white working and middle class to drive a wedge between races, channeling those frustrations into bigotry and resentment.
The Republican strategy has been to divide-and-conquer. They want to prevent the majority of Americans – poor, working class, and middle-class, blacks, Latinos, and whites – from uniting in common cause against the moneyed interests.
We must not let them.
While I understand the desire for validation from the white community, we must become aware how much a class issue this is — even more than racial, although perhaps not so overtly. Eventually we are going to find, I think, that — different moment, similar context and stealing no virtue from the demand that racist genocide end — Lincoln Chafee was right as rain. ALL lives matter. All colors, all sexes, all classes, and that’s because it isn’t a simple matter of racism that is driving the problem. It’s a misunderstanding of purpose by the law enforcement community, taking clues from a paradigm fighting to hold on to power. In short, this an ethical matter of civil liberty in the face of abusive authority, and that, unless addressed by a motivated public, will define our future on every level.
First, the particulars. I’ve been following issues of police brutality for much of a decade, my go-to girl on this is Digby over at Hullabaloo (and Salon) who shares a loathing for authority with a taser in its hand (let alone a service revolver). Unhappily, my scads of examples are hiding in my next-to-dead computer, awaiting liberation at the hands of some (pricey) techy type, so I can’t flood you with the gory details — or perhaps happily, given the content. But here are a few examples.
We all remember the woman who, apparently disoriented by driving into a White House fence, was chased to the Capitol building in October of 2013. Hemmed in by police vehicles, when she put her car in reverse, bumping up against a patrol car, she was shot five times, killing her, the bullets miraculously missing her one-year-old daughter in the back seat.
How about the eleven-year-old Bronx school girl who witnessed a snowball fight last winter that lead to allegations of cell phone theft. Mistaken for the perp, she was manhandled, thrown to the ground and cuffed. While she was released to her parents eventually, she is still dealing with the system and marked as a troublemaker, even though she was the one terrorized by those who have pledged to “serve and protect.” She will likely mistrust authority for all of her life, and with reason.
Here’s a piece by Charles Pierce detailing the five-year-old murder — no other word will do for this car shooting — of an unarmed mother of four by police outside Atlanta, and the complete corruption of the justice system in both overlooking and dismissing any culpability, including a congratulatory discussion of how the target — her head — exploded.
In January, cops fired eight bullets into the car that a young 17-year-old Hispanic woman was driving trying to escape. They felt compelled to answer the threat to their life by killing this girl for driving 16 feet, going all of 11 miles an hour before hitting a fence. She was, they testified, “too close” to them.
And if that’s not enough, here are a dozen more black women who fell prey to the system. There are fewer, but no less serious, allegations regarding many white men and women — many of them with identifiable mental illness, which is dealt with as a character flaw that makes them ‘dangerous.’ If they aren’t killed outright, the for-profit prison system folds them in with little concern for their treatment.
Much as Michael Brown will be remembered as someone who was picked off for minimal reason and the subsequent, unjustifiable response of law enforcement in the Heartland, from street to court, Sandra Bland is going to be the poster child for naked aggression and abuse of power. Even so unlikely an accuser as The Donald has remarked on how disturbing he found this sequence of policing events. Perhaps you’ve seen the clip before, but it’s worth further scrutiny, because — as Larry Wilmore made clear — this is a study in escalation of authoritarianism. Given the deep divide with which this nation is forced to deal — along with the fixity of the Aquarian signature that will color much of our future — we need to get this under control now!
The video is a symposium of what’s wrong with law enforcement at this point. It presumes that the citizen has NO rights, when in fact she does. It presumes she may NOT question authority, which in fact she can. It assumes that absolute unquestioning obedience is the first and only requirement for this woman to escape violence to her person. That is not what the Bill of Rights guarantees and is, in fact, a vivid example of what prompted its writing.
We have turned away, too often, from these stories, thinking there’s nothing we can do about them. We’ve given away our own essential freedoms by refusing to defend the liberties of those around us who are receiving the short end of the stick. We have scorched ourselves on this kind of oppression, probably not feeling that heat as much as the victimized citizens we’ve discussed here. We’ve seen the judicial system too often compromised, those with money dancing away from worse crimes scott free. We’ve seen the system no longer working. If it didn’t work for Sandra Bland, I guarantee it will not work for you and me.
With Venus slipping into retrograde today, we have several weeks ahead of us to rethink what is important to us, what we value. That can be a very private matter, very personal — or it can be very broad, as is the codified system of checks and balances that kept the ship of state on an even keel for a few brief decades. If we’re to keep her afloat, we all have to decide if we value Lady Liberty enough to create a groundswell of demand for her restoration.
To me, Venus has always represented comfort, a kind of authentic skin we occasionally slip into that soothes and allows us to present our best self. Given the mayhem of the moment, our larger national skin, unhappily, cannot feel all right to any of us today. The frightened, constricted response that puts a gun in the hand of law enforcement with no checks and balances is the fascism of absolute control.
ANY whiff of that energy must be dealt with from an intelligent perspective, putting paranoia and hysteria behind. There are answers to be found in retraining, in psychological testing, in inclusive culture and the review of professional ethics. There are techniques to be learned that de-escalate violence rather than provoking it. There are spiritual concepts that help us to shed old biases and let go of irrational fears.
But we need to WANT those badly enough to take notice, to become an active voice for healing the wounds of separation, to find commonality and respect for one another that will produce positive outcome.
Sandra Bland told us that she came here to change history, and she may have done just that. Her voice will not be silenced in this fight for civil liberty and balanced justice. We have come a long way in a short time, seems to me, and with a newly energized president who understands every nuanced bit of the problem. There’s every indication that he’s working behind the curtain to deal with the prison system, judicial inequity, and too-tough sentencing for drug violations. His ability to do what he’d like to do will very much depend on the energy that you and I can bring to that demand! Pushing him ahead on this will provide him the cover he needs to accomplish change in the short time left to him.
Let’s bring our best dynamic to the process, shall we? With the news of the day, we have another opportunity to demonize the man with the gun and idealize the victims, or perhaps, instead, we could see the vulnerability that has shoved so many of us to the edge. Once we stop placing blame, and see this matter of gun control as equally impacting us all — black, white, sane and not so much — there are options in front of us that weren’t available when our hearts were closed.
This shooting in Louisiana may be a similar fulcrum for tipping gun legislation as happened last year — begun with Michael Brown and ending with Sandra Bland — with a clear look at structured racism within the judicial system, leading to evolvement and adjustment. With Venus whispering in our ear, asking us to rethink, review, renew, perhaps we will realize that we need a more loving, more temperate and more inclusive way forward into a healing future for all our citizens. As ever — and especially for all of our brothers and sisters under the skin — we can only win this battle for tomorrow if we lead with our hearts.