NOT THE REVOLUTION WE HAD IN MIND…SO FAR

13 09 2015

I came of age in the 1960’s.  I was brought up Jewish, in a synagogue whose Rabbi was an enthusiastic supporter of the civil rights movement, travelled to the South on several occasions in solidarity with Rev. Martin Luther King, and asked probing questions about segregation and racism in our home community, Dayton, Ohio.  While this dismayed some members of the congregation, it was fine with my mother, and we used to go to “interfaith retreats” where we would spend the weekend mixing it up with people–mostly Christian, many African-American–who were similarly interested in a cross-cultural experience.  I joined a local civil rights group, the Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality, and did door-to-door canvassing for them in Dayton’s African-American ghetto, as we freely called it.  This was not a neighborhood of towering, run-down tenements.  Homes were mostly single-family, mostly small, and often a little threadbare.  In those days–the early to mid sixties–somebody was usually home during the day.  There was no air conditioning, so I often found myself knocking on a screen door as I looked through it  into the family’s living room.  I had been brought up comfortably middle-class, but through this exposure I began to understand poverty.

The people I worked with, or, rather, for, were in their 20’s and 30’s, and pretty much all African-American. DARE was a small group, with a half-dozen to a dozen regular members, which, I learned in the course of writing this, did not excuse us from FBI surveillance.  We all had a tremendous admiration for Rev. Martin Luther King, whom we humorously but reverentially referred to as “Maximum Leader.” I lost touch with DARE when I graduated from high school and went off to college, and I’ve often wondered if they followed Rev. King’s lead through his final year, marked by his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York, where he took his crusade for civil rights to a whole new dimension, saying:

….the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Read the rest of this entry »

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EDWARD SNOWDEN AND THE FARM, v.3.2–COUP D’ETAT?

26 08 2015

This has been a difficult piece for me to write and share. I suspect it is similar to the internal process I might undergo if I were inquiring as to whether I had been molested as a child, or raped when I was unconscious.  It involves overcoming the urge to denial.  It involves difficult situations with long-time friends.  It involves doing my best to understand if I am recalling buried memories, or merely falling into paranoid fantasies.  The truth, as they say, is out there, somewhere, and the only way I know to find it is to keep asking questions.

In that spirit, here’s the latest chapter in my inquiry into whether the demise of “The old Farm” was an “oops!” or a “whodunnit?” This is very much a work in progress. I have learned a lot in the course of my investigation.  People handed me “puzzle pieces” that fit in with other sources’ “puzzle pieces” and created a picture that the individual puzzle piece holders could not have seen, and that I could hardly have anticipated. I suspect there may be further surprises awaiting me.  For that reason, this chapter is largely couched in “supposes,” “perhapses,” and questions, and I have chosen not to name names. New information is always welcome. (In case you’re wondering, no, this story is not part of the “Green Hour” radio show broadcasts, but it does have some great music links, mostly in the section dealing with the community’s musical outreach.)                                         (on  8-27-15, I added a paragraph to “The Plot Thickens section, making this v.3.0.1.  I have noted in the text that the paragraph is a later addition.)                            (further additions and corrections made 9-6-15, and enough material added 12-7-15 to rate changing the title number to “3.1.” A small, but significant, further addition was made 12-21-15, to the “Mystery Drums” section, moving the version number to 3.1.1.) (further additions made 1-15-16, bumping it to 3.2)

Here are links to my earlier efforts on this topic: 

EDWARD SNOWDEN AND THE FARM focusses on how a particular NSA document that Snowden released might relate to what happened on The Farm, recounts the community’s history of involvement with a number of other sociopolitical movements, and points out how those groups and others were demonstrably sabotaged by covert government action.

SNOWDEN AND THE FARM, PART TWO    is largely a response to the question, “why does it matter at this late date?”

 

1.ROBERT SCHEER, A FACEBOOK RANT, AND A PAIR OF RAIDS

In a speech in Seattle last March, Robert Scheer, author, investigative journalist, editor of the “Truthdig” website and former editor of Ramparts Magazine, had this to say:

I know why they were after King, because King was not staying put. King was a moral force. King said, I have to deal with poverty and I have to deal with war. And after Selma, I remember, because I published it in Ramparts, King’s speech at Riverside Church condemning the U.S. as the major purveyor of violence in the world today. He said, How can I condemn violence in the ghetto by young kids, and then you draft them and you send them off on to fight in Vietnam to kill and be killed? So King had become an irritant to people of power, a big irritant. When he died, he was there working with garbage collectors in Memphis who were on strike, dealing with poverty issue. So he wouldn’t stay put in his moral concerns…..

….if there is a King alive today, he will be destroyed and you won’t even know it. I’m not talking about the creepy stuff like you control his car and smash into a cliff or do all the other things that can be done with modern technology. I mean, all of us are vulnerable to people who want to smear us, whether they use true stuff or false stuff, whether they make it or they manufacture it. Scott Ritter, who was the most effective critic of the whole phony weapons of mass destruction, he gets entrapped by a police agent in some kind of Internet sex thing and serves time in jail. Elliott Spitzer, the most effective critic of the banks when he was attorney general in New York and then governor, suddenly it’s a big deal that he went to a house of prostitution or something, and he’s destroyed. So the ability to destroy people, like a Martin Luther King or anyone else, is out there. It’s in the hands of all these government agencies, all these police forces. Trust me, it’s going to be rampant.

I share Robert Scheer’s strong suspicion that King was not killed by a random nut with a gun, but by a concerted government effort, and I share his assessment that the government decided that it would be better to nip any possible King successors in the bud, without going to the extreme of murdering them, and thus turning them into martyrs.  Assassinating someone’s character or sabotaging their organization is a lot less messy, and leaves no martyrs. Stephen Gaskin, too, was “not staying put.” He was a major figure in a movement that was bringing together the back-to-the-land counterculture, Native Americans from the US and Central America, inner-city African-Americans, anti-nuclear power activists, and peace activists, among others, to challenge the dominant paradigm.  Why wouldn’t the government want him out of the way? Read the rest of this entry »





AS DOMA GOES, SO GOES THE DEA?

13 04 2013

music:  Greg Brown, “Spring Wind

String Cheese Incident “Land’s End

Same-sex marriage and marijuana use have a lot in common.

Thirty years ago, both were viewed by the American mainstream as beyond the pale, off the table, over the top fringe behaviors that would never see the legal light of day.  But here we are, with nationwide full legal equality for gays trembling on the brink of reality, and marijuana legal for all in two states and those with a medical need in eighteen states.  That’s little more than a third of the states, but they happen to hold about half the population of the country.

At the state level, same-sex marriage is actually somewhat behind legal/medical marijuana, with only 9 states recognizing it, and many states specifically prohibiting it.  On the other hand, there is no such halfway step as “medical marriage.”

It’s hard to tell how the Supreme Court is going to rule on the same-sex marriage cases before it this year.  First of all, six of the judges are Catholic a faith that rejects homosexuality in theory, while some Catholics, of course, practice it.  Still, many of the questions the Supremes asked when they heard the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases.  seem to indicate a more open-minded view of sexual orientation than their pontiff might approve. Read the rest of this entry »





NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS

10 11 2012

I have a confession to make.  In spite of my profound intellectual and political distaste for Barack Obama, I did, in fact, feel physically relieved to wake up last Wednesday morning and find out he was still President, and that the country had rejected Mitt Romney and all he stood for.

Let me make this absolutely clear:  I am not “glad Obama is President.”  I am reasonably certain that everything Glenn Greenwald says in his “The Obama tradeoff” paragraph is what a lot of well-meaning people in this country think, consciously or unconsciously:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with a racist religion, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

Please note that climate change and peak resources don’t even enter this equation. But….Obama’s ostensible “liberalness” has sucked so-called “progressive Democrats” into accepting all the short-sighted spending priorities,  infringements on our rights and liberties, and outright war crimes that they protested vigorously when these same moves were attempted by the Cheney administration.  The morally compromised position of having accepted this from a Democrat would have made it awkward for these “liberals” to protest further restrictions coming from a Romney administration, which presumably would have taken an even more bare-knuckles approach to foreign and domestic policy.

Romney was, after all, raised in a homophobic, repressive, misogynistic, anti-small d democratic religion that, until 1978, held as official doctrine that having “black skin and a flat nose” was the “mark of Cain,” and would not allow African-Americans to take part in its ceremonies, let alone become priests. That’s about as gross as racism can get.  Mitt Romney was 31 years old in 1978, a fully responsible adult, and for the first ten years of his adult life, he “approved that message.”  Barack Obama is only the public relations image of a more racially tolerant society, but, in spite of the vast sums of corporate money spent to persuade voters to let an even more voracious fox guard the henhouse, and in spite of a tsunami of laws intended to limit the number of non-rich citizens who could vote,for the most part the spirit of sharing and open-mindedness prevailed over the spirit of narrow-minded selfishness.

And it’s big money’s failure to prevail, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens’ United decision, that is probably the best news about this election. But there were other bright spots. Read the rest of this entry »





MILLION DOLLAR BLOCKS

28 10 2012

One of the dirty open secrets about “the land of the free” is that, here in America, we have more people in our prison system than any other country in the world.  Here’s the numbers:  as of 2010, there were 2,267,000 people behind bars in America, with 4,934,000 additional Americans on probation and parole.  Fourteen million Americans are “former felons,” who will be handicapped for the rest of their lives with difficulties in being hired or receiving government assistance such as grants or loans for schooling, not to mention the shackles on their minds that all too often  from a stint in prison.

The good ol’ USA is way out in front of the number two imprisoner of human beings–Russia.  The US incarceration rate in 2009 was 743 per hundred thousand, fifty percent ahead of the Russians and Rwandans, both of which clock in at around 560 per hundred thou.  By contrast, only 71 out of every hundred thousand Norwegians is imprisoned.  In Holland, where legal marijuana sales should , according to the DEA, have precipitated a massive crime wave, the incarceration rate is 94 per thousand…hey, maybe they’re just too stoned to bother arresting people….or too high to go out and commit crimes?  And, when Republicans say they don’t want America to be like Europe, is this what they’re talking about?  Is this really a field in which we want America to be “number one”?

Ooh, but aren’t we keeping hordes of violent criminals off the streets?

No, not really.  About eight percent of the roughly two hundred thousand people in federal prison are there for violent crimes.  That’s about sixteen thousand people.  About half the roughly 1.3 million people in state prisons are in for violent crimes–that’s about 650,000 people.  And approximately a fifth of the three-quarter million individuals in local jails are there for violent crimes–that’s about a hundred and fifty thousand people.  When you add it all up, that’s slightly over a third of all prisoners locked up for violent crimes, about 816,000 out of roughly 2.25 million, with two-thirds of those in jail, about one and a half million people, locked up for non-violent, frequently “victimless,” crimes, at a cost to taxpayers–that’s you and  me–of around thirty-six billion dollars a year.

What’s a “victimless” crime?  About half of all federal prisoners are jailed for drug convictions of one kind or another–that’s a hundred thousand people.  A fifth of state prisoners have committed drug crimes–that’s about a quarter million people.  Statistics aren’t available for local jails, but that leaves us with a third of a million of the million and a half people in state and federal penitentiaries locked up for “drugs.” Read the rest of this entry »





NAACP vs. THE ZOMBIES

12 05 2012

We just listened to Richard and Mimi Farina’s”House Un-American Activity Blues Dream,” an electrified and electrifying musical offering that preceded Bob Dylan’s more famous “Bringing It All Back Home”  by several months, and marks the initial cross-fertilization between rock and folk music.  Although it’s  almost fifty years old, it continues to resonate–one recent commentator on Rombama/Obomney even went so far as to note that

Both Obama and Romney stay fit, dress sharply and look vaguely out of sync when wearing blue jeans.

certainly an odd echo of Farina’s line about “Presidential candidates in new Levi jeans.”

And Farina’s solution to his feelings of alienation in the USA–a trip to Cuba–continues to raise American hackles, as Ozzie  Guillen discovered to his dismay.  Talk about getting “banged hard on the head”!

But most of us are not going to pick up and go elsewhere.  “America, love it or leave it,” the reactionaries used to say in the sixties, and a lot of us lefties, from old SDS types like me to the youngest Occupiers, have picked up that gauntlet and said, “yeah, I love America and I ain’t leaving.  What are you gonna do about it?”

The answer has been, “do everything we can to disfranchise as many left-wingers as possible, so we can continue to hold the reins in this country.”  Some people have been directly disfranchised, like the five million or more Americans who cannot vote because they have been convicted of felonies.  The US is one of the only countries in which felony conviction results in permanent loss of voting rights, at the same time as it has, both by percentage and in raw numbers, more of its population in jail or under control of the penal system through probation and parole than any other country in the world, largely for “victimless” crimes such as drugs–mostly marijuana–pornography, prostitution, and traffic violations.  The allegedly felonious percentage of our population picked up markedly when Reagan declared the “war on drugs,” which, as I commented last month, turned the “war on poverty” into a war on the poor.

this is your prison population on a “war on drugs”!

Even if they have never suffered legal consequences from the herb’s contraband status, marijuana users who wish to remain free will tend to keep a lower political profile due to their vulnerability, an effective form of “passive-aggressive” repression that, I believe, is one of the deliberate consequences of the government’s unrelenting efforts to keep marijuana illegal.

But there are subtler ways to disfranchise people than by outright busting them.  The NAACP has written an excellent report on this subject, and I’m going to summarize it for you. It’s called “Defending Democracy:  Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights In America.”

The NAACP starts by pointing out that the non-white population of the US is increasing faster than the white population.  I was surprised to learn that heavily white Republican-ruled Texas is now a “majority-minority” state–one in which non-whites outnumber whites.  This is also the status of California, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.  I was also surprised to learn that five other states–Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and Nevada–are likely to join that category by the next census.  in this context, the extraordinary efforts of mostly white Republicans to limit ballot access and civil rights that have been so prominent  in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia make sense–the old order is indeed crumbling, and those who have reaped its benefits are determined not to surrender them without a fight.  In those states and others, the NAACP lists several common tactics:

1 )Tighter restrictions on voter registration drives, such as the extreme penalties imposed in some states for getting registration details wrong or failing to return  petitions in a very narrow window of time.

2 ) Greater limitations on where and when citizens can register to vote.  State legislatures have moved to shut down “same day registration,” which allows citizens to register and cast a ballot at the same time.  Other states have simply never complied with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which required state public assistance agencies to provide voter registration services.  “Public assistance agencies” doesn’t just mean “welfare agencies”–it includes motor vehicle and drivers’ license bureaus.

3) Stricter laws about proof of eligibility, such as demanding “proof of citizenship.”  Many older African-Americans were born at home and never had a birth certificate, thus cannot “prove” they are citizens.  Another way in which white Republicans are limiting the right to vote is by instituting longer residency requirements.  This has a heavier impact on non-whites, who, since they are less likely to own their own homes, move more frequently than whites.

4 )Some states are reversing more liberal policies about re-enfranchising ex-felons, which has, according to the NAACP, removed “hundreds of thousands” of–primarily non-white–voters from the rolls. This has been most egregious in Florida, whichis one of the states teetering on the brink of being “majority-minority,” while Iowa has some of the strictest anti-drug laws in the country.

5) States are purging voters from the voter rolls on the allegation that they are dead, have moved out of the district, or are felons, when in fact they may merely have the same name as such a person. Frequently, those purged are not notified and only find out they have been erroneously disqualified when they show up to vote. According to the NAACP  “in Florida, a flawed purge program erroneously flagged and purged 12,000 voters (mostly due to typos and other obvious clerical errors). Over 70% of those flagged voters were African-American or Latino.”

6) Many states have substantially reduced the days and hours when early voting is allowed.  Since people of color are more likely than whites to be working jobs that will not allow them to take time off to go to the polls for a Tuesday election, this has a disproportionate impact on non-white, low-income voters, who are likely to favor candidates espousing more liberal social policies–i.e., candidates who are not Republicans.

7) Many states have passed laws requiring voters to present a photo ID.  According to the NAACP’s report, “Eleven percent of U.S. citizens nationwide—approximately 22.9 million people—do not have government-issued photo IDs. Twenty-five percent of African-American voting-age citizens (over six million people) and 16% of Latino voting-age citizens (nearly three million people) do not possess valid government-issued photo ID. ”  Note that the average is one in ten, but among African-Americans, it’s one in four.  When you factor in the one out of every eight African-American men who can’t vote because of a felony conviction (and granted there’s some overlap), the trend gets kind of obvious, doesn’t it?

And why is this happening?  Proponents of tighter restrictions on voter eligibility blow a lot of hot air about “voter fraud,” but even their best efforts have turned up only an insignificant number of unqualified people attempting to vote, certainly not enough in any district to actually influence an election, and most cases are due to clerical error or misunderstanding.  On the other hand, advocates of stricter voter ID laws in South Carolina were honest, or foolish, enough to come out and say, according to the NAACP’s well-footnoted document, “that suppression of the African-American vote was ‘why we ‘need [voter ID laws in South Carolina].”

And that wasn’t just an isolated, fringe opinion.  The NAACP also quotes American Legislative Exchange Council founder Paul Weyrich, who said

“our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This sounds like a job for the U.S. Department of Justice, which has the 1965 Voting Rights Act to use against such blatant racism.  But there’s good news and bad news there.  The good news is, Section 5 of the Act requires the DOJ to  “preclear”  any changes in the voting laws in 15 target states that have reputations for discriminating against minorities. That is, the Department of Justice has to OK changes, including redistricting plans, before they can be implemented.  The bad news is, that only applies to 15 states, while the American Legislative Exchange Council’s henchmen and henchwomen have pushed through restrictive legislation in 31 states.  The further bad news is that the DOJ’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act has grown increasingly anemic through the years, and came to a virtual standstill  during the Cheney administration.  Despite rhetoric to the contrary, under the Obama administration the DOJ has not focused on this area, seemingly preferring the easier pickings of going after medical marijuana providers, while the restricted-voting cabal pushes several cases on the Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act through the Courts, probably figuring that, if they can persist long enough to get it all the way to the Supremes, that fascist body will grant their petition. The court’s stance has pretty uniformly been “more rights for rich corporations, fewer for the average Joe, or, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm,  “Some animals are more equal than others.”

And, even if the Supreme Court, Inc. doesn’t take the case or decides in favor of the Voting Rights Act, the corporatists will keep on coming, just as they have kept on coming about abortion, climate change denial, and every other issue that might imperil their control or their profits.  If you’ve been thinking,” if this is an Apocalypse, where are the zombies?” you need look no further.  They Who Cannot Die are in the Republican Party, propelled by the profit motive and dysfunctional belief systems.  If it wasn’t so serious, it would be pathetically humorous to watch the Democrats attempting to reason with them.   The NAACP’s report concludes with a call to return to the tactics that initially advanced the Civil Rights movement, which, considering the many differences between America 50 years ago and America now, may or may not be effective, especially since corporatism has largely displaced populism in the halls of power.  They–no, we–had better gird up our loins.  It’s going to be quite a struggle.

music:  Ani DiFranco, “Which Side Are You On?” (1st link is the recorded version, 2nd is a wonderfully spirited live one)





TRAYVON MARTIN AND THE CULTURE OF FEAR

7 04 2012

OK, today is Easter, and it’s time for the latest crucifixion news.  I just wish I had some resurrections  to report on along with them, but, alas, I don’t.  By now, it is hardly news that Trayvon Martin, unarmed and in fear for his life, was murdered in cold blood by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer who, as of this writing, has not been charged with any crime, apparently on the grounds that he acted in fear for his own  life, which, according to the “stand your ground” law promulgated in Florida and many other states, including Tennessee, by the American Legislative Exchange Council, excuses murder if you’re afraid of the person you kill. How’s that for a ‘get out of jail free” card?

When we drop back from the immediate facts of this case, it becomes another link in a long chain of black men who have been killed by whites, generally with impunity.  This chain stretches back through the many murders visited on the Civil Rights movement, to the notorious case of Emmett Till in the early 1960’s, to pogroms that destroyed entire African-American towns and neighborhoods in the twenties, to the brutal repression of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South, to slave owners’ desire to break the will of any person of color who was perceived as “uppity,” or likely to fight back against oppression, back to the Nat Turner revolt and the forced origin of African-American immigration to the Western Hemisphere–virtually every African-American’s ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Oh, but that was centuries ago.  No way our conscience could still be bothering us, right?  Yeah, right.  What in the world do they want “reparations” for?

the late Eric Perez

Let’s put Trayvon Martin’s murder in perspective, by examining some similar incidents.  Let’s start with the death of Eric Perez.  One of the ironies of life in America is that this young man with a Hispanic name looks African-American, while George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, bears a German name but looks Hispanic, not African, but still would almost certainly be discriminated against by any white racist who had the opportunity.  Poop, as they say, rolls down hill, and here’s the story of how it hit the fan for the unfortunate Eric Perez.  On July 9th of last year, 17-year old Eric was riding his bicycle after dark, and the bicycle didn’t have a light on it, so the police stopped him, frisked him, and found a small amount of marijuana.  Because Eric was still on probation for crimes committed when he was 13 (and who isn’t crazy when they’re 13?), his probation was immediately revoked, and he was taken to the West Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center.  That night, under the guise of making sure he wasn’t taking any food back to his cell, guards at the jail roughed him up, banging his head on the concrete floor.  When the dazed young man obeyed their orders to stand up, he fell and hit his head on a table.  Within a few hours, he was nauseous and hallucinating, but the guards didn’t call 911, because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of filing an incident report, and the nurse who was ostensibly responsible for after-hours medical care at the jail didn’t return the guards’ phone call.  Next morning, Eric Perez was dead, executed by neglect for the terrible crimes of riding a bicycle without a light and having a small amount of marijuana on his person–and it’s worth noting that defenders of George Zimmerman have attempted to slander Trayvon Martin by pointing out that he had been suspended from school for having a baggie with traces of marijuana in his pocket.  People, America is not Singapore.  Yet.

And what happened to the killers of Eric Perez?  Well, they lost their jobs, after five months of paid ‘administrative leave,” but they were not prosecuted, because, the Grand Jury determined, “no existing statute applies to the facts of the matter.”  Apparently, Eric’s death somehow does not fit any definition of murder, homicide, or manslaughter.  However, in an official statement,the Grand Jury did urge  “… the Florida Legislature to enact a statute that criminalizes the neglect of anyone in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.”  Just the thing Rick Scott and his Tea Party buddies in the Florida legislature will jump right up and do…not.  In a further insult to Eric’s family, the state offered $5,000 to help with burial expenses, then stopped the check, before reissuing it.  Talk about “jerking people around.”

So that’s the murder of Eric Perez–killed by prison guards because he didn’t have a light on his bike and he did have a baggie in his pocket, and might be taking food to his room.  Next, let’s look at the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, who actually did have all his ducks in a row–and was shot dead in his own home by police at point-blank range anyway.

the late Kenneth Chamberlain

At five o’clock in the morning last November, the African-American former Marine and prison guard, who was under treatment for a heart condition, rolled over in his sleep and accidentally set off a “life-aid pendant” used by many older Americans so that, wherever they are, they can alert 911 in the event of a medical emergency, and so 911 operators dispatched an ambulance and police car to see what the matter was.  Perhaps because Mr. Chamberlain lived in a public housing project, where common prejudice has it that crime is more prevalent than elsewhere,  the police were not satisfied when Mr. Chamberlain told them he was fine and declined to get out of bed and let them into his one-room home at such an early hour.  “I know my rights,” he told them, and asked them to leave.  The police, apparently, did not know theirs, and cursed at the accidental object of their unwanted attention, demanding that he let them in.   They called for reinforcements, until there were eleven officers in the hall outside the apartment, and then they broke in and tasered the unfortunate but completely innocent occupant, who was clad only in his underwear and making no attempt to resist their unlawful entry.  When tasering didn’t knock him down, one of the officers ordered the minicam on the taser shut off, and shot him twice.  The second shot killed him.  He had done no wrong. There was no contraband of any kind in his possession.  And he was dead, just like Trayvon Martin, Eric Perez, and so many before them, and,  as has all too often been the case, no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Another irony emerges in this story.  Many people, including me, have expressed concerns about the increasing intrusion of security cameras into our lives.  In this case, the entire incident was caught on tape by security cameras, not just on the taser, but in the hall of the apartment, and by an audio recorder on Chamberlain’s 911 device, which did not get turned off, giving the lie to the police story that the 5’6″ heart patient had threatened them, and for that reason they had used deadly force.  Like Trayvon Martin, Chamberlain had been on the phone as he felt his doom approach.  Chamberlain was talking to the 911 operator, pleading with authorities to call off their attack dogs–er, police officers, and letting the 911 operator know he was in fear for his life.

When I took a break from writing this story, I discovered that Chamberlain’s murderer has been identified, thanks to Democracy Now! reporter Juan Gonzalez, as Anthony Corelli, who, in spite of being indicted and about to go to trial on Federal civil rights violations in another case, was still on duty.  And I also learned that the white New Orleans police who shot peaceful, unarmed African-Americans trying to escape the city after Hurricane Katrina have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms….seven years after the fact.  I wish I could take some satisfaction in that, but I can’t.  What we are dealing with here is widespread and systemic, and punishing individuals for acting on the basis of conditioning that was instilled in them when they were too young to think, and that they were never encouraged to question, is not an answer.  Jail time is unlikely to change anybody’s mind, and more likely to simply breed deeper fear and resentment.  We need a more creative solution, a way to transform people.  Except in rare cases, putting people in jail doesn’t transform them, it deforms them even further.

I could spend the rest of this radio show, and many more, detailing the European-American-generated tragedies that have unravelled the lives of people who just happened to be born African-American.  And much has been written already about the deep cause–the seemingly insatiable European drive to conquer, exploit, convert, and control every person and acre of ground on this little blue ball we call home.  The question is not so much “what’s the problem?” as it is, “what can we do to heal this ongoing, world-wide wound?”  As a human being of pretty nearly unadulterated European descent, this is an extremely personal question for me, one that I have grappled with ever since, in my early teens, I began to become aware of just how much privilege I took for granted.

I didn’t quite realize where this story was going when I started writing it.  My head was full of the switcheroo in the early 80’s, when big corporations responded to the expansion of ecological and social justice consciousness in this country by moving their operations beyond the reach of American law, thus beginning the destruction of the middle class, leaving people less time for reflection and activism, and the linked switch from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs.  The War on Poverty was offensive to the corporatocracy because it empowered people and led them to question the status quo.  The War on Drugs changed the government’s primary focus from empowering the poor to imprisoning–and disenfranchising–them.  The U.S. prison population is now seven times what it was in 1980, despite a dropping crime rate–thank you, Ronald Reagan!  Thank you Bill Clinton!  But I digress…that story will have to wait for another time.  We’re going deeper than that.

Becoming a hippie solved some of my conflicts about being born into such a privileged situation.  The exploitation and destruction of the natural world is driven largely by clean-cut white guys in business suits, and so from an early age I did my best not to be one of those.  I can’t do anything about the color of my skin or the y chromosome in every cell of my body, but being clean-cut and wearing a necktie are two things that a white guy can abandon, and, in the process, get at least a little taste of what it’s like to be a member of the powerless, dark-skinned underclass.  And hey, all it takes is a shave, a haircut, and a suit, and you are once again indistinguishable from the oppressor class!

But being powerless has its own difficulties, especially when coupled with a desire to make the world a better place for everyone.  In the early 70’s, my fellow counterculturalists and I hoped to prevail by sheer force of numbers and the fact that we were having more fun than our square, bought-in counterparts, but time, fear, and financial fetters conspired to erode those attractions for far too many of my unindicted co-conspirators, many of whom (including, some would say, me) have taken the easy way out and accepted the privilege of our heritage.  Since the 70’s, the crisis we perceived then has only snowballed in severity, and there is no sign of any let-up.  Were we wrong to bail on the lives we could have led, to attempt the creation of a counterculture in which black men, and everyone else, young and old, need not fear for their lives, rather than to fully enter the mainstream and attempt that same work in the belly of the beast?  Was Margaret Thatcher right?  Is no alternative possible?

No.  Margaret Thatcher was wrong.  Not only is an alternative possible, it is imperative.  The only way to change a society as steeped in fear and domination as ours is to do all we can to create a real, living, breathing, wake-up-to-it-in-the-morning alternative, to the very best of our admittedly limited ability.  Patience, tolerance, and flexibility are core values for this new society, and one way to practice them is to apply them to the limitations we all have due to our deep conditioning to, and inescapable links with, the impatient, intolerant,inflexible culture that confines us.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s the only game in town, besides the one that is so afraid of its own shadow and the evil it has visited on others that it excuses the murders of innocent people whose skin happens to be the wrong color, or who happen to maybe smoke the wrong kind of cigarettes, or who happen to live in places where fossil fuels or other deadly drugs could be produced.   Our success is not certain–but if we don’t try, our failure is inevitable.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”








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