Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Going Jihadi

The "Mother of the Year" was everywhere yesterday. The hero mom, Toya Graham, is seen delivering a serious whoopin' to her 16-year-old son Michael as he retreats down and across a street. CBS news promised a later feature with the mother and son in their living room. Apparently this was the best feel-good piece the broadcasters could find.

Single mother of six Graham is relentless in her assault, hitting her son repeatedly about the head and face after she says she saw him throwing items at the police trying to quell the riots in Baltimore, and acclaim for her violent reaction is fawning. You go girl, they say.

Turn it around for a moment: say the camera caught a Baltimore policeman hitting the rock-throwing 16-year-old upside the head, all the way across a street. Would the cop be our hero?

What if Ms. Graham began whaling on a policeman in the same way she attacked her son? We would call it, "battery upon an officer". What if a white woman did that to her son? We would think she is crazy, strung out or loveless.

We would ask, "Is it any wonder the young man turned out the way he did?", that is, if we actually cared to know how it is 16-year-old Michael came to be throwing rocks at the cops.

What if a 200-pound white woman charged at the (apparently) smaller young black man, reining her fury down upon him? RACISM, no doubt.

Yet the true racism is revealed by the glee shown uniformly in the news. We accept that these people live in a jungle, and are delighted (as when watching a nature film) the elder member jumps a presumptuous younger member for transgressing the group's mores.

But this is not a nature film, and the younger, smaller member will soon outgrow the family member dispensing jungle justice.

A Philedelphia Times Op-Ed column proclaims with attitude, "Baltimore mother in viral video who beat up her son is my kind of mom." "Who beat up son ..." I wonder if that privileged writer also chose to beat up her children? I wonder what the Department of Children and Families would have to say about that?

If you saw Ms. Graham meting out the punishment to her son in another venue, would it look like child abuse? If your son were involved in mayhem, would pummeling his body be your first reaction?

How about if this were a formative experience of a young President Obama after his mama caught him smoking weed? Would we be reveling in the punishment she exacted, calling it righteous? Would we say, "That is the sort of discipline that allowed Barack to aspire to the White House?

More likely, we would cry foul -- a white woman failing to understand the efforts of the young Barry to fit in. We would chasten ourselves, excusing the lad of simply getting caught in the seine net of hood behavior. We would call his mom a brute, insensitive, surely out of line.

The permutations are many. Look into your heart and decide if this video brings you peace and satisfaction.

This is the soft bigotry of low expectations

Prediction: Either young Michael will become an honorary gang member, he will be given no quarter for being p-whipped before he is even a baby daddy, or he will have a conversion and join the ministry, capitalizing on his 15 minutes.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Running from the Police

 --Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Intelligence is a moral category
--Theodor Adorno

 "Nay, I’ll not unvision
A shape which, somehow, there may be." 
So I went on softly from the glade,
And left her behind me throwing her shade.
--Shadows on the Stone, Thomas Hardy,

Give 'em lots of sex, perversion and rape
Give 'em lots of violence and plenty to hate 
--Give the People What They Want,  
The Kinks

Maybe our fascination with zombies is largely metaphorical. What if the grotesque, suppurating beings represent the vulgarities that live beside, within and among us daily? What a clever and poetic thing to call that which you place outside of you, "undead".

The term recognizes the thing's existence in a liminal area; not quite exterminated, though you wish it were gone. They threaten the existence you think you have lest you avert your eyes for a moment allowing the thing to reanimate, and possibly consume you. Eternal vigilance is the only salvation.

"The Undead" is a trope we may use to explain every recent incident of a black man dying while in contact with the police. Like Casablaca's Captain Renault, we cry a disingenuous "Shocked!" when we see videos which prove the fact.

We prostrate ourselves, overlaying our collective guilt upon the scene, as if to erase the reality of power over a group of people we fear and disdain: the outlaw, the threat to conformity within the society. We can shuttle off our concerns onto the culpable officer of the law and breathe somewhat easily for a moment, but the mise en scene is still "undead".

The benefits to the masses of this forefronting of our outrage, backgrounding our fear, are many.  We get to throw stones, and discharge a collective angst. We get the high of viewing the salacious footage.

Snuff films used to be outre, the outliers in the undercover world of porn. Now, with the advent of our ubiquitous recording devices, we may view heads rolling or bodies pumped with bullets day or night from the comfort of our device of choice, from our own bed (if you wish.) No need to trek to the Coliseum anymore. 

Michael Eric Dyson's recent New York Times Op-Ed, Racial Terror, Fast and Slow, offered little that was new. Dyson wrote, "Problems arise when images of blackness contradict a received racial script" -- what blather. In fact, the "images of blackness" cohere quite nicely with the racial script. 

The images follow the script like night the day: 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock. Children born into a single-parent household languish in most developmental tests from the beginning. It is hard enough to run a household with two parents, how much moreso with one usually marginally-educated parent in a society which does not support single parenthood. 

In 1992, the white, liberal, educated and employed t.v. character Murphy Brown played by an attractive Candace Bergen sallied forth to bear a child without marrying, and the liberal commentariat cheered her. Republican Dan Quayle had the temerity to suggest this might not be a good thing, and the liberals drowned him in howls of execration. A woman can do what she pleases (and it's especially nice when, as with Brown character, she has an attractive Latino handyman and a good paycheck helping her out.) 

An iconic 1970's commercial of female empowerment for a perfume (!) featured a perfectly groomed woman in a power suit and heels slinging a frying pan to the sassy tune, "I can bring home the bacon / fry it up in a pan / and never, ever let you forget you're a man." The reality for most single mothers and their offspring isn't an Enjoli commercial or Murphy Brown's sophisticate dream, and it is their children you are seeing on the real-life snuff films.

Another script is, black men have been marginalized by the advent of various social welfare programs which  benefited single mothers in the 1960's. But perhaps the programs were developed to meet a need, and did not have the nefarious intent of displacing the male head of household. A sociological survey in the 1950's, "The Negro Street Corner Man", suggested that black males, like males in many machismo cultures, enjoy hanging out with their boys (their peers, not their offspring), leaving the women to run the household. Kick it, and run, or as the Jamaicans say, "Trow down and take away."

In a supporting role is the rap culture which glorifies the bling of the lone trolling thug, the female reduced to his adoring toy. (We are not talking about "life-affirming" rap, which is a small subcategory of the genre.) Too many young women have bought into this, so a working-class male cannot match this image. Therefore, they end up with no partner.

In addition, many African tribes are matriarchal, as are many black American families today. During slavery in America, blacks were forbidden to marry. Following Emancipation, there was a rush to enforce marriage in the black community to bring them quickly into the Western Christian model, but many rejected this enclosure.
These are just a couple of idiosyncratic observations, but rather than accept Dyson's constructed script-and-image duality, let us look at the reality. This is not often done as most people want to see themselves as good and as such, refrain from stating anything which might be construed as racist, pejorative or prescriptive. But by not stating what is apparent (though unpalatable to some), one never has the opportunity to change the actuality (if it needs to be, or can be changed.) 
When looking at the black men who have died in police encounters, we should be honest about our presumptions, the realities and the solutions. Over the next few posts, we will aim for that.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Full of Sound and Fury

 Money, it's a hit
Don't give me that do goody good bullshit
I'm in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet 
--Money, Pink Floyd 

Another Earth Day thought from writer I.F. Stone, on the inception of the holiday. He cautioned the would-be hypocrites for congratulating themselves too heartily on their project lest they fail to see the connectivity with all other national priorities.

Stone first came to my attention in a groaning stack of his collected essays being sold (or not) at a dollar store, the place most people go for cleaners and needful paper products. Such is the fate of the iconoclastic essayist, a form most haven't time or inclination for in a while.

The occasional outliers like the Stone book which appear in such stores are intriguing, like the lovely moderne Italian espresso cups and saucers next to the chocolate Easter bunnies on the same trip. Too avant-garde to sell for their actual purpose, someone thought to cleverly stage them as children's tea set.

The largely-forgotten Stone was quoted yesterday in a piece by Naomi Klein on her recent receipt of the "Izzy" (Stone) award for independent writing, and the excerpt voices precisely the problem with our sliced-and-diced sped up views of the supposed problems which we face. Because we lack a gestalt, we exist in frustration and outrage, and do not solve problems.

"There’s no use talking about Earth Day until we begin to think like Earthmen. Not as Americans and Russians, not as blacks and whites, not as Jews and Arabs, but as fellow travelers on a tiny planet in an infinite universe. All that we can muster of kindness, of compassion, of patience, of thoughtfulness, is necessary if this tiny planet of ours is not to go down to destruction.
"Until we have a leadership willing to make the enormous changes—psychological, military, and bureaucratic—to end the existing world system, a system of hatred, of anarchy, of murder, of war and pollution, there is no use talking about buying more wastebaskets or spending a couple of hundred million dollars on the Missouri River. If we do not challenge these fundamental causes of peril, we will be conned by the establishment while basic decisions are being made over which we have very little control, though they endanger everything on which our future and the world’s depend."

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day 2015

 Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life? 
--The Summer Day, Mary Oliver

Happy Earth Day, Ranger readers. We hope you're able to breathe a little fresh air, hear some wildlife noise and smile at the sun today.

It was 45 years ago the first Earth Day was celebrated. It was a time of consciousness raising -- the earth was our mother, and it wasn't nice to "fool with mother nature." Today, the earth is our slag heap. Some remained committed to conserving resources while the others claim there's nothing to worry about, since the water keeps coming out of the tap when it is turned on.

President Obama is in the ever-threatened Everglades today with Bill Nye the Science Guy. Our coral reefs off the coast are dying. Too many people, said a conservationist on National Public Radio today. It is true, but we are not going to wallow in that just today.

We have been AWOL from posting recently, but not due to a lack of interest or concern. We have simply been focusing on productive issues, and have found the negative tone required of so much online writing to be a turn-off and a bummer, so we have just dropped out for a while.

We will be back tomorrow, most likely, with our usual honest thoughts and no knee-jerking. That's why you come to Ranger.

We hope you may enjoy your earth, today and beyond.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Rush to Judgement

 I read the news today oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh 

--A Day in the Life, The Beatles 

Ebony and ivory 
live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, 
oh Lord, why don't we?  
--Ebony and Ivory, Paul McCartney 

There are a thousand hacking at the branches
of evil to one who is striking at the root 
--Walden, Henry David Thoreau

I opened the paper this morning to see the lede: Black man shot by white officer. Apparently the victim was shot while running off with the officer's Taser gun.

I thought about a similar shooting in our town last month that should have gotten press, but didn't. The man killed was a casual associate of Ranger's.

Garland Wingo, white male, age 64, was felled by three bullets fired by a black Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) officer while walking away from him down the street. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene. It was a bright sunny early evening around 7:00 at Lake Ella, the favorite park in our area for socializing and walking after work.

On a nice day Lake Ella is always a popular place. Not really a lake but a drainage pond housing monster carp which seem to thrive on the effluent, but it is as close to a nature park downtown as Tallahassee comes. All ages and colors mingle freely at all hours of the day in this outpost of general safety in a town growing increasingly unsafe. The park abuts the police department, adding to that sense of security.

On 18 March 2015, someone is said to have reported Mr. Wingo as having a gun on his person to the police. At that time, he was reported as sitting on one of the many benches surrounding the lake.

Mr. Wingo was a long-time fixture of the Lake Ella area, as he usually took advantage of the Wi-Fi at the nearby Publix grocery food court. He was always neat and tidy, and fit-looking -- a bit quiet, but friendly when spoken to. No one recalls him as ever being loud, hostile or out of line.

The regulars say he had a concealed carry permit. Many people do in this area. It is not unusual to sit down to a meal at a restaurant and see a civilian's gun peek out from under her clothing. That is just how it is in these parts.

The only report with any details was given on 19 March by the Famuan, the campus paper of Florida A & M University; still, it wasn't much. They reported, according to TPD spokesman David Northway, 

“At approximately 6:55 p.m. Wednesday evening, TPD received a call about a man with a weapon at Lake Ella sitting on a park bench.”

"(Zackari) Jones, who was the first officer on the scene, found Wingo walking in the roadway on the south side of the lake. Jones went up to Wingo. Officer Northway said, the two 'made contact with each other.'  At some point, Jones had to draw his weapon and fire, striking Wingo. Emergency medical services were applied but Wingo died at the scene.

"TPD officers came to the scene to assist and section off the scene. The Homicide and Forensic Units collected found a handgun on Wingo’s body."

There are no details given regarding what was said, or why the officer felt he had to fire three shots into 64-year-old Mr. Wingo. What is certain is that no witnesses reported that Mr. Wingo was brandishing a weapon (though the headline in one news outlet said just that.) One woman reported seeing the officer fire three shots and then standing over Wingo's body.

I guess Mr. Wingo's killing at the hands of a black police officer doesn't merit national coverage because ... maybe it doesn't happen that often (except in the case of now-dead Mr. Wingo.) It must be that white people just don't get killed at the hands of officers of the law, and certainly not black officers.

Perhaps it is that Tallahassee is not that big a deal being a rather uneventful place, though it is the capital of the state. Surely it is as important as Ferguson, Missouri.

There are those who will say, "Carrying a gun is just asking for it," but it is legal to do so in Florida with a $135 CCW permit, which Mr. Wingo is said to have had. Surely it is no more egregious than reaching into an officer's car and grappling for his weapon. Probably less so on the measure of threat level.

But alas, the white-on-black meme will run 'round the globe via 100's of thousands of social networking posts. They won't accomplish anything beyond allowing the poster to expulse some of his or her bile for the moment. "Look for another such killing in a few more months," Chad Lorenz, Slate's news editor and Cassandra hopefully extolled today.

What comes of this fixation? Surely we continue to have a racial problem in the U.S., but are we seeing the whole truth? Are we understanding it? What are we not focusing on when we vent our holy outrage at the shooting du jour? What do we gain by our collective cognitive dissonance?

Our social platforms require speed over rigor, and we will suffer ignorance due to our addiction. Anger and outrage are the things that gain readership, and isn't one's number of followers the only metric for success today?

In Tallahassee two weeks ago the city held a forum to discuss the problem of crime in the predominately black South side of town. There will be grants awarded, but the police are not hopeful. A TPD spokesman speaking on the local NPR radio station said the problem was too complex to be fixed with one approach. Basically the grant would be a fallow gesture, is what he was saying.

White Mr. Wingo is still dead. The TPD Public Information Officer declined to return my call. Almost one month on, it is unlikely we will receive further.

Meanwhile, keep tuned for the next black man to be jumped by a white officer. Slate has promised it.

A little something to keep you occupied.


Correction: The video appears to show the victim, Walter Scott, did not have the officer's Taser when he was running. Still missing is film showing the period of time between the officer's dash cam showing the traffic stop and when the bystander began shooting his video of Mr. Scott and the officer getting up off the ground and Mr. Scott running prior to being shot by the officer.

UPDATE: Sgt. Bossio of the TPD returned my call today and said, though he could give me no further details, I could come to the station and view the incident report after the Grand Jury convenes 6 May 15.

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