Thursday, January 5, 2017

I, ONE-TERM MAYOR


Activist and writer Josmar Trujillo wrote a piece in amNY yesterday about the upcoming mayoral election. In it, he discusses how Mayor Bill de Blasio—and the city’s entire progressive delegation, really—have turned out to be duds for the cause.

I don’t disagree, and I think their failures illustrate the real problem that's at work in New York and most of America: the interests that now run our political system are so deeply entrenched that it is no longer capable of delivering meaningful reform on our behalf. If candidates do try and say and do what needs to be done and said, like Bernie Sanders, for example, the establishment crushes them.

Even when elected officials that campaign for progressive change win, like Bill de Blasio, by the time they've stood on the podium and sworn the oath of office it’s already too late. They've already been co-opted. If they want to get re-elected, they can’t afford to alienate the interests that have the money, clout and manpower to put them there again, so they offer up mostly symbolic gestures, put their names on a few shiny things, and then it's business as usual.

Josmar, and many others I’m sure, have been thinking a lot about what a true progressive campaign platform would look like, one that would pursue and achieve justice for all in all of its forms—environmental, economic, housing, criminal justice, etc. At the end of his piece he wrote, “What the heck, run for office yourself. I’d rather vote for you than what’s currently on the menu.”

Well, I’d like to indulge in the fantasy of what would happen if such a thing were still possible for a moment. If I were to run for mayor in a world where a properly functioning political system existed, what platform would I unveil? Well, here goes (and spoiler: it would probably get me killed in our current political system):

  • I will accept no money, ever. Does not matter how high, or how far I go, in politicszero money. If people contribute anyway, the money will go straight to men and women getting out of jail and prison in the form of cellphones to call employers, suits and clothing to wear for interviews, MTA passes to get around town, vouchers to get a haircut, etc.;
  • My first act upon taking office will be to conduct a thorough review of all NYPD, NYC Corrections, NYCHA, ACS, and all other departments’ internal files. Any cases of misconduct where probable cause exists that a crime has been committed within the statutory period of limitations will be turned into a criminal complaint and charged. I’ll create a citywide public corruption prosecution team responsible for prosecuting these cases directly since the elected prosecutors in this city have proven incapable of doing their jobs time and time again;
  • During this review, we will also look at court files and civil rights violation judgments in federal civil court. Any officer or city employee who has three or more civil rights judgments adjudicated against her or him will be declared unfit for city employment and terminated without pay or pension;
  • Going forward, New York City taxpayers will no longer pay more than one civil judgment on behalf of city employees. The first judgment is on us. Accidents happen. Anything after that, the judgment is their responsibility to pay personally:
  • All NYPD and Corrections officers will be required to wear a functioning body camera that is recording at all times while on duty. If the camera is turned off when an incident of alleged misconduct occurs, the officer will be held personally liable for any resulting judgment or judgments. Same applies for officers who violate department protocols that result in great bodily harm or death. If you use a prohibited chokehold, for example, and cause injury or death, you will be personally liable for any subsequent judgments that may result against you;
  • All of the money saved from civil judgments and officers terminated for three or more misconduct judgments will be reinvested in programs that data have shown reduce gun violence and shootings with targeted non-law enforcement intervention;
  • Rikers Island and all city detention facilities will be turned into GED, diploma, college education, and job training facilities with seamless transitions to partners on the outside for people who are released before completing the programs inside. The programs will be made available for any and all inmates who choose to complete them, however they won't be compulsory;
  • Housing developers, if they want permits and tax breaks, will be required to hire 75% of employees from the neighborhood where they wish to develop, and they will be required to give, yes give, deeds to 10% of new units to residents of the area that have been displaced by new building, and 40% of units must be designated affordable as measured by an amount equal or lesser than the median income of said area’s residents for a period covering the last 20 years, with first rental lottery preference given to those residents who have lived in the area being developed the longest;
  • The NYPD will not spend one dime or commit one officer to protecting President Donald Trump. His security is the federal government’s responsibility, not New York City's;
  • The NYPD will be re-tasked with a new mandate. It will no longer make minor arrests for quality of life offenses. The homicide unit will stay, as will the sexual assault unit and child abuse unit. All other units will be disbanded or repurposed to seek out and conduct surveillance on groups data show are the most dangerous to American citizens on American soil: lone white gunmen and members of white supremacist hate groups. Any white supremacist or white nationalist who sets foot on New York City soil will be subject to indefinite detention and questioning, including David Bannon, Richard Spencer, and any and all others who have publicly or privately advocated for ethnic cleansing of particular races. Officers will be trained to look out for hate crimes and to fully investigate and prosecute perpetrators of racial and/or sexual orientation violence;
  • Cars will be phased out by the end of my first term. Year one the city will implement congestion charges like London does. Any cars not designated livery or commercial will be charged a $10 daily rate for driving within the five boroughs between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. In my second year the fee will apply 24/7. Third year it will double and also apply to livery and commercial vehicles, which gives them a two-year grace period to upgrade. Fourth year triple, and so on. This will only apply to cars that run on fossil fuel and emit C02. Hybrids will pay half the tax while natural gas, electric, solar, or Hydrgogen run vehicles will pay nothing. MTA yearly passes for residents will be distributed based on income. Low-income residents, artists and single moms, etc., will pay little, big wigs and fat cats will pay more;
  • The same will go for residential and commercial buildings. You will pay a graduating tax each year that gets higher and higher until you are 100% green. If you do it now, within a two-year grace period, there will be considerable tax incentives for you to take advantage of...


I could keep going, but as you can see, I’ve at this point already alienated just about every business interest and agency in the city. They'll despise me, perhaps even try to kill me, and there's honestly no chance for me to get re-elected because I’m forcing individuals and businesses to make huge sacrifices that will make them want to relocate elsewhere rather than stay. It’s a fun exercise, and it feels good to dream about what true justice for the people might look like, but it also reveals the problem here is not the political system.

The problem is that human beings are individually and collectively selfish. We don’t like to compromise our comfort, or risk our hides. We could easily implement every last one of these policies. None of them are difficult or hard to understand and all of 'em would likely result in a fairer system. But we haven't implemented them and we won't. Nothing changes not because the political system is broken, but because we are. The simple fact is that the majority of us would rather go with the flow and not rock the boat in order to get ahead, get elected, etc. Just ask Bill de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IS GUN VIOLENCE AMERICA'S NEXT AIDS SCANDAL?


In 1997 my uncle Brian died, prey to America’s inaction in the face of the AIDS crisis in the '80s. A heterosexual male with a wife and kids, he was infected by an unscreened blood transfusion after the Reagan administration and the rest of Puritan-reflux, cis-het America found it more appropriate to judge and crack jokes for the better part of a decade, rather than getting a jump start on the treatment and prevention that could have saved his and many others' lives.

I mention Uncle Brian’s passing after the recent observation of World AIDS Day, Dec 1st, because America's inaction in the face of that burgeoning crisis—inaction that led to his and many others' untimely deaths—bears a disturbing resemblance to a new inaction, one that has already led to at least 100,000 unnecessary deaths in American cities.

In the mid-90s, when America was just starting to admit that HIV/AIDS was a real crisis and scrambling to scale treatment and prevention programs nationally, a gun violence epidemic was taking root in the nation’s cities. Like AIDS, it affected mostly men, and, in particular, young black men in densely populated, hyper-segregated, economically poor neighborhoods. As with the outbreak of AIDS, the pearl-clutching public responded not with sympathy or a redoubled emphasis on public health, but rather by hyperventilating, judging, and fear-mongering, using terms such as superpredator, thug, and gangbanger.

Though the proximate cause of these two epidemics bear little comparison, it is in the cruel, vicious pubic response—given that both were later found to be completely preventable epidemics—wherein the analogy, and hopefully solidarity, lie. From the time AIDS first appeared in a medical journal in 1981, to the time Ronald Reagan first spoke the word in public, approximately 21,000 people had died. In all, roughly a million people lost their lives before the public came around and treatment and funding finally caught up.  

Similarly, with the epidemic of gun violence, criminologists at Harvard and the University of Chicago learned how to turn it off and prevent it completely—and I mean that literally—in 1996. That year a program later dubbed the Boston Miracle ended teen gun deaths in Boston for 29 straight months. A similar thing happened in Chicago, where a like program cut gun violence by as much as 73% in target areas, and cut retaliation shootings by as much as 100%.

With AIDS, the non-LGBTQH public eventually came around, if reluctantly, and with proper treatment the disease can today be managedit's no longer a death sentence for those infected. On gun violence, however, despite 20 years of data showing that such deaths are likewise entirely manageable, the public stubbornly refuses to come around. Jurisdictions with the worst gun violence epidemics in the country continue to underfund, ridicule, and axe the programs that have been proven to save so many lives, and for the most part the general public has remained completely silent. 

Boston, which I mention because it was the first city to pilot Operation Ceasefire (the program responsible for the Boston Miracle) abruptly discontinued it in 2000, causing teen gun homicides to more than double. By 2005 homicides in Beantown spiked to a 10-year high. Today that city spends $318 million on police salaries and $1 million on program salaries for a streetworker program similar to Ceasefire—that’s a 318:1 ratio of what data has shown doesn't work to what data show does work, for those who are keeping track. 

In Chicago, a city with one of the nation's worst gun violence problems, rather than scaling programs like Ceasefire to all of the city's hotspots, city and state leaders cut funding in 2007 and then cut it again in 2013. Today, with homicides at the highest level seen in 20 years, city officials vehemently claim that they have no answers and that there's simply not enough money for life-saving programs such as Ceasefire, even as they dig up more than enough funding from city coffers to cover an astounding $521 million in police misconduct judgments by Chicago Police. 

Baltimore, another city with a severe gun violence problem, has seen similarly inexplicable cuts and inaction. Charm City adopted a version of Ceasefire in 2000, which it called Safe Streets, and piloted it in four of the city’s eleven hotspots. Twelve years later, a team of expert statisticians at Johns Hopkins reported implementation sites saw “large, statistically significant, program-related reductions in homicides.”

Not only had the trial sites seen large reductions directly related to the program, but in May 2015, Baltimore’s most violent month in the city's most violent year on record, the Safe Streets site in Cherry Hill reported there hadn’t been a gun homicide in over a year. Another site, Mondawmin, hadn’t had a shooting all month. Same in Park Heights, another site. Meanwhile, in the police-only hotspot areas where Safe Streets was for some reason still not operating three years after the Hopkins data had been published, the city saw an 83% increase in shootings, more than three a day, with 29 people shot over the Memorial Day weekend alone. Like Chicago, Baltimore city officials claim no money while spending $5.7 on police misconduct—a sum that could have scaled Safe Streets to all eleven of the city's hotspots.

With the recent passing of World AIDS Day, we've seen what can happen when a nation recognizes that it's wrong to stand by and judge while people die from a totally treatable and preventable epidemic. Baltimore sees around 300 gun homicides a year, Chicago around 800, which amounts to roughly 24,000 unnecessary gun deathssince treatment programs were first discovered in 1996in those two cities alone. Nationally, with roughly 11,000 gun homicides per year, the death toll stands anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 preventable deaths to date. It’s long past time that we recognize as a nation that if it was wrong to stand by and do nothing during the AIDS epidemicwhich everyone now universally agrees it wasthen it's also wrong to stand by and do nothing while young black men lose their lives to a completely preventable gun violence epidemic in America's cities. 

                                   

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Liberalism's Last Chance U



























I’ve been meaning to watch Last Chance U, a documentary series about junior college football at Eastern Mississippi Community College, since it came out this summer, but each time I’ve gotten sidetracked by shows I'd hoped would provide clues, signposts, explanations of the times, and such, for the anthropological anomaly that has been 2016. Shows like Black Mirror, Westworld, and Stranger Things, if you feel me?

But then I watched all six episodes of Last Chance U this week and realized my mistake. Not only was it some of the best television I’ve seen in a long time—it’s honestly hard to believe all this stuff happened while the cameras were rolling for the documentary—but the show contained more answers and clues about the recent demise of liberalism in America than all of those other shows combined.

If you haven’t watched it yet, SPOILERS COMING. The show profiles a junior college that serves as a last refuge for aspiring football athletes that have hit roadblocks on the path to D-1. The reasons include bad grades, arrests, and in a few cases, players getting stuck riding pine behind older, more experienced players. Many of the young men on the team have overcome immense challenges to get to EMCC, and though a good many are traumatized and bearing their scars openly, they're making it despite odds stacked against them. And, man, can the kids on this team play football.

The season gets rolling and the drama is intense. The head coach, Buddy Stephens, a husky white man with a goatee and an unapologetically foul mouth, warns his squad: We run over teams. We shove the ball up their nose. They hate us as a result, so be prepared. By the final game of the regular season, the squad has only lost once and they are in contention for the national championship. The rankings are in large part based on score, so the team does not hold back, piling on points, calling timeouts in garbage time, remorselessly, and shamelessly, scoring touchdown after touchdown.

Coach Stephens again warns his squad. These guys, Mississippi Delta, the final opponent before the playoffs, are going to play dirty. Be ready. Don’t respond. The only way you can lose is if you let them get inside your head. Before the game one of the Delta players punches an EMCC assistant coach off camera, and Stephens’s players pace back and forth apoplectic while a staff trainer sews five stitches into his face. 

The game starts and out of the gate Delta is playing like their coach has assigned Conrad Dobler’s autobiography for English and asked them to act it out on the field in lieu of writing book reports. Low hits, late hits, out of bounds hits—it gets ugly fast. Each and every time Coach Stephens urges his players to hold back, don’t engage them, don’t let them get to you, they nod and somehow superhumanly comply.

But the other team wants a fight and they are not going to stop until they get it. After an incomplete pass attempt to running back DJ Law, a first-class talent who’s a virtual lock for a prestigious D-1 school, a Delta player hits him helmet-to-helmet while he’s prone and vulnerable on the ground, seemingly trying to concuss or decapitate him. Law pops up and shoves him by reflex, and it's the moment Delta's been waiting for. They clear the bench and crowd over Law, who’s on the ground, stomping and kicking with cleats.

Coach Stephens is screaming at his players to hold back, while they are watching their friend and teammate curl up in the fetal position at the bottom of a stampede. Delta players pick up trashcans and hurl them and swing their helmets like balls and chains. The Delta coaching staff meanwhile stand by and do nothing. At this point Stephens’s players decide that saving Law is more important than anything else, including making it to the title game, and they rush into the scrum to retrieve him and bring him to safety.

Finally it breaks up and Law's in bad shape. Coach Stephens stands over his group of players, young mostly black men on one knee, except for Law, who is teetering and wobbling with a trainer in the background. Coach begins berating them, calling them thugs and labeling their behavior "gangster shit." He seems—and clearly is—angrier about his players clearing the bench than about the other team trying to kill DJ Law. It’s the show’s moment of truth, and in this moment Coach uses the bulk of his energy, and words, speaking about decorum, rules, how his team isn’t like the other team, and that they are better than that. He never once stops his tirade to check in on DJ Law.

Predictably, the players can’t believe it. Law walks out of the locker room during the coach’s screaming and boards the bus alone, reeling and distraught. The rest of the players leave and begin grumbling about racism, self-defense, white men, and how the white man simply does not and will never care about them—Coach has lost his team.

Which all leads me back to liberals, who're in the aftermath of a similar drubbing. We played a dirty opponent, one who refused to play by the rules, one who came for a fight and refused to settle for less, and, who, as a result, ended up kicking our sissy liberal asses Mississippi Delta-style. And after the fight, rather than stopping to check in on DJ Law, or in this case, the many people of color who're being targeted by acts of racial violence and terror all across the country, we’re lording over them and lecturing, too.

Finding no quarter anywhere else, people of color have come to the Democratic Party—much like Stephens’s players arrived at Eastern Mississippi Community College. Yet during the campaign, when students asked us for protection against feces swastikas, n-words, KKK and blackface costumes on campus, we said police it yourselves. When they asked for safe spaces, we lectured them about the importance of free speech.

Instead of validating their concerns about safety and promising them protection, which in light of the nearly 900 incidents of racial violence since the election, are very real, we huddle them up for a lecture on “identity politics.” Rather than saying, “You got it, we'll protect you even if it means we lose the next ten games, or in this case, elections,” we lecture about how liberals are “over-defending” minorities. Instead of saying, “Wait, white supremacists are rallying behind Donald Trump and moving into the White House?", we double down, devising ever-more creative ways to say the same thing.

So as I sat in horror as Last Chance U came to a close, so I sit in horror at white liberals. Our black and brown brothers and sisters are telling us they’re in danger, surrounded by angry people who, like Delta's players, are openly demonstrating a desire to hurt them. They’re telling us we’re wrong to lecture about identity politics and wrong to give a pass to people who don’t think racial violence is a deal-breaker—but like Stephens our only focus is on making the next game, decorum, and winning.

But in the end Coach had an epiphany. He listened, if a bit reluctantly, and went back to the film room to re-watch the tape. Coach Stephens was smart enough to suspect he may have been wrong, to admit his first and only response should’ve been to protect Law, and afterwards, his players when they went to protect him. Coach Stephens was smart enough to get his team together, apologize, tell them they were right, that he was proud of them. The question is, liberals, will we ever be smart enough to do the same?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

LIBERAL WHITE GENOCIDE AND WHY I'M SO MAD


I had a great conversation with a friend who's visiting from out of town last night, and one of the things he mentioned was how angry I seem on social media all the time: "Like, do you have to be SUCH a dick?" he said to me, probably hoping it would go down as a kind of intervention on behalf of all of the other white people in my life who're probably thinking the same thing at the moment.

He was talking about why I'm always lumping white people together in the same boat, calling ALL of us, YES, ALL of us, racist--basically that use of caps right there was what he was referring to, why I specifically and it seems deliberately opt for all caps in such situations, to strike nerves, rather than pausing and taking the time to make critical distinctions for strategic diplomatic purposes and feelings.

What I realized throughout the course of our conversation was that not even the people closest to me, people who've been like surrogate family to me, people who I know and love, and who know and love me, understand why it is that I or anyone else with a brain would ever choose to do such a thing.

So I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain. Here is what happens when you do the latter, when you make nuanced distinctions over tea with your pinky finger in the air in order to respect people's feelings: Not a single, boot-licking, phone-call-making, petition-signing, social-media-sharing, goddamned fucking thing.

You might not believe me, and such, so I'll prove it: I've already written this post. Nicely. A dozen times. I'm not exaggerating. Wrote about it in the Guardian. Wrote about it in the Boston Globe. Wrote about it on my blog and social media. Basically for the last ten years or so I've been telling anyone and everyone who'll listen that a genocide has been ongoing in our cities for 20 years, and right now, rather than thinking to yourself, holy shit, there's a genocide going on in our very own liberal ass Bernie ass Sanders ass leg humping ass cities, you're thinking to yourself that I'm merely using this post as a pretext to show off how great I am because of all of the stuff I've written, telling yourself that I'm doing it because I want a cookie from black people, because I want to be special. 

This is why I'm mad. Because much like the AIDS crisis in the 80s, hundreds of thousands of mostly young men are dying from something we've known how to stop for decades, and all you can do is sit there and point out how much of a narcissist and white savior I am for trying to tell you about it.

And it's not just me, either. Pro Publica told you. So did Leana Wen. So did Sanjay Gupta. So did a billion other others that I could cite, but it doesn't matter to you and it won't matter to you. How do I know it won't matter? Are you suddenly jumping up to do something? Are you picking up the phone? Are you donating money? Are you rushing to City Hall and refusing to leave until your mayor scales these lifesaving programs citywide? No, you aren't. You don't give a fuck. You're more mad about me lumping those of you who think you give a fuck in with those that don't give a fuck than you are about a goddamn genocide of neglect that's been underway since 1996.

This is why I'm mad, white people. Because you aren't mad. Because you haven't been for 20 years. Because I've asked you to care about this nicely a thousand times and you've done nothing but ignore me, tell me I have an agenda, call me a narcissist, a martyr, putting myself on a cross, I'm mentally ill--literally, you've said anything and everything--and I'm being literal when I say anything and everything--other than: "holy shit Batman a genocide has been going on for 20 years we need to stop it!" 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A TANGIBLE WAY TO STOP TRUMP SUPPORTER RACISM RIGHT NOW


Four years ago, in 2012, I tried an experiment. I'd spent the last 12 years bouncing around America's political and justice systems, trying every conceivable strategy in the book to reform the things I'd seen the nice way, the diplomatic way, the way I'd been taught good, conscientious citizens achieved reform in school: by playing by the rules, appealing to the best in people, employing diplomacy, logic, persuasion, reason, rule of law. I'd written reports full of data, cited national best practices, published op-eds, blog posts, Venn Diagrams, pie charts, legislation, presentations with fancy slides--name the measure, I tried it. Only none of it, ever, had worked.

So I decided to try something different. I planned a lobby-in at City Hall and invited all of my friends, family, and former colleagues to join me. We'd refuse to leave until the mayor stopped breaking the law and violating millions of New Yorkers' rights with Stop and Frisk. Reformers and criminal justice heads in the city had tried everything under the sun already to stop the mayor, but he'd refused. He believed breaking the law was a necessary means to an end, and that was that. I'd hoped that a group of white people, lawyers, former business executives, and such, people who used to work with him and his staff, sitting out front and refusing to leave, would shame him for this conduct, make him change his mind.

On the day of the action, no one, not a single family member, friend, loved one, or colleague, joined me, so I audibled and switched up the plan. If they didn't want to engage I'd make them. Part of me was hurt, annoyed, wanted to lash out, sure, but part of me we was also tired of the apathy, the disinterest, the talk about how we were such exceptional people but at the same time could allow such cruel, illegal things to happen. And lastly, after failing in the system for so long, part of me was hungry to find strategies that actually worked. So I grabbed a can of spray-paint and aimed at the one thing I knew the people in my life cared about, my relationship with them, my future, my safety. I told everyone in my life that since they weren't going to come with me I was going to paint graffiti all over the mayor's office alone, get arrested, released, repeat, until either they engaged and forced the mayor to end Stop and Frisk or until I racked up a criminal record 20 pages long and got sent away to prison. I posted the news in my blog and told everyone who to call and what to say when they got through.

For years in that space, this space, my blog, I'd been sharing stories of the young men I'd worked with in Dorchester and Roxbury. I'd once posted about one of the men in my program in Roxbury, who I likened to Will Hunting. Reggie was a guy who'd gotten caught up in the court system and who was one of the smartest kids I'd ever met. Everything he said was so on-point, poised, and nuanced. I'd asked for help with job leads, old cell phones, stipends for meeting benchmarks, and so on, and not a single person had responded, except Sue, who was our program's employment coordinator.

But now, now that it was me, my life, my future, suddenly all of my friends and family came out of the woodwork, hundreds of them, to rubberneck. Where my blog posts had gotten 2 or 3 hits until then, suddenly they were all clicking, reading, devouring every update, wanting to know what the hell was going on, why I was throwing my life away, racking up a criminal record. In a word, it worked. Their racism wouldn't let them see Reggie, wouldn't let me center his experience for them, but they sure as hell could still see me.

Which brings me back to Donald Trump, and more importantly, to his supporters who are acting openly on the racism and xenophobia that his campaign rhetoric has inspired. Yesterday, in response to the bombshell news that Donald Trump had actually won the election, a writer named Damon Young, editor of Very Smart Brothas, wrote the following:

"This is on ALL White people. Who are complicit even if they didn’t vote for Trump. Because they obviously haven’t done enough to repudiate the mindsets existing in their families and amongst their friends; possessed by their co-workers and neighbors; shared during private holiday gatherings and public city townhalls."

I'm mentioning my experiment strong-arming loved ones into action now because for years I'd tried everything in the book to do what Damon said, to repudiate the mindset of my family and friends, the nice way, through emotional pleas, love, dialogue, engagement--it never worked. My father, sister, and I think even my mother, who I saw post a reasons to vote for Trump article on Facebook, by an evangelical minister of all people, the day before the election, all supported Donald Trump though my daughter, their granddaughter and niece, is mixed race and thus one of the very people that Trump's followers have decided to scapegoat and target. 

How they could do this I'll never understand, but despite all of my efforts, and despite the thrust of my entire life's work, they did it anyway, so now it's time to hold them accountable for corking this bottle the only way that I've found works. If there's one thing all people have in common, no matter where they fall on the racism spectrum--unwitting and wholly implicit, or explicit full-on costume wearers who drop n-bombs and wave confederate flags--it's that they love their families. Often I have found that the most virulent racists are the most doting and protective of their children and grandchildren. 

So, if we truly want to repudiate such mindsets, like Damon Young said, or at least force people who supported Trump to hold the overt racists who act on their racism among them accountable, this is what we'll have to take away from them: the thing they care about most, their family members, us, because if my experiences have taught me anything, it's that nothing short of this will accomplish a damn thing. 

Today I saw video on social media of kids chanting "Build the Wall!" in a school cafeteria, and pictures of a transgendered Veteran's car burned and vandalized with the word "Trump." So this is what I'm proposing: For every one of these incidents that happens, mom, dad, sis, and everyone else that supported Trump despite knowing he was inviting these behaviors into the open, I'm adding a day to the time I'm not coming home to visit. Every single time one of these incidents happens, I'll add another day, and another. It's two weeks until Thanksgiving, and a month until Christmas, so if you want to see me and your granddaughter over the holidays, watch football, exchange presents, or see us ever again for that matter, you better get to work before too many more of these incidents add up. 

You might say this is unfair, but honestly, when Islamic terrorists commit acts of violence, aren't you the first to call for moderate Muslims to round up their people, get their house in order? So now it's time for you to apply the same logic to your new friends: Go get your people, the racist psychopaths you've gotten yourselves into bed with, or enjoy Thanksgiving turkey, eggnog, and Easter egg hunting without us.

It's not that I don't want to see you, or for you to not have a relationship with me and my daughter, by the way. It's quite the opposite, really. I love you, and I know you love her. I want her to know this side of her family, and to have a good relationship with you. It's just that this is too important, for her and people like her, to play nice with you anymore, to gloss over it, pretend like everything's okay--it's not.

                            [This post was edited on Friday, November 11, at 0922 EST]

Thursday, March 3, 2016

THE TRUMP TRAIN

On October 27, 1936, It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, opened simultaneously in 21 theaters. The Los Angeles Yiddish production, pictured here, featured Morris Weisman as "Buzz" Windrip. Credit: Federal Theatre Project Collection

There’s been a lot of criticism lately of Donald Trump and his supporters’ rising Fascism. Proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States, erect a wall between the US-Mexico border, crowds ejecting, beating, and assaulting attendees of color at rallies. It has been suggested Donald Trump is the candidate the Republican Party deserves, but this is unfair. Donald Trump is the candidate every white person in America deserves.

A comedian named W. Kamau Bell recently said in Salon, “I don’t care if you had no plans to vote for Trump. If you are white, he is your problem above all else.”

We are in this embarrassing Trump hurtbox right now, white people, because we have refused to police ourselves for 200 years. We offered freed slaves Forty Acres and a Mule as a gesture of restitution and then did nothing when the promise was reneged. Martin Luther King wrote us a letter from Birmingham Jail. We ignored it. A man yelled out at a soccer field to take out a black soccer player. We did nothing. It explains all.

In the most liberal cities in America we are watching police officers teach the American people it’s okay to stop black people on the street, violate their rights, strangle them for minor infractions, and shoot them in the back. We’re allowing the military to teach us the same about Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and wherever else they live. We blame mass shootings on guns when our government has been teaching us that the way to solve all of our problems is with drone strikes and machine guns.

We watch white supremacists shoot up churches. We act confused when our moral cancer wipes us out with heroin, suicide, and alcoholism. We stand by while courts, legislatures, and municipal governments grind down to a halt and refuse to perform their designated functions. Kindness, diplomacy, reason, and rule of law have ceased, yet we prattle endlessly about diplomacy, reason, and the rule of law from our couches. Meanwhile black people are showing up and risking their hides and their lives, getting ejected, beaten, and threatened with fiery deaths.  

When Trump and his supporters get together and dream about doing big things, we are frozen in place, spouting off at the mouth as though everything that can be done to stop them is being done. Meanwhile, a cursory scan of American history shows literally thousands of additional options at our disposal. Actions that are as quintessentially “American” as apple pie and baseball. Our Colonist ancestors used boycotts of tea and other nonviolent resistance measures when the British stole money and killed unarmed civilians. Women used the same tactics to gain Suffrage, as did Hispanic crop workers seeking fair pay and more rights. In one book alone, Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters,” you can find literally thousands of examples of direct nonviolent action tactics that have been proven to work when democratic systems fail to protect We the People.

Like any pathology, racism must be policed. If not, it spreads and grows. Our systems are clearly not policing it. Our police are clearly not policing it. Which leaves us. You and me, America. Not just the brave men and women of Black Lives Matter and other groups, but white people. Writers, lawyers, judges, techies, and media gurus—everyone. If you are on a soapbox lamenting the rise of Trump, if you are complaining about it on Facebook, or Twitter, and you are not willing to employ the additional measures that our ancestors used to combat tyranny, then stop talking. In the history of the world, whining has never once stopped a genocide train from chugging. Free speech is important, but only in a democracy where reason and order still hold sway. It’s time now, good white people everywhere, to shut up and get in front of the train.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

THE NEW MEANING OF "FREE SPEECH"

Is #freespeechmatters the new #alllivesmatter?  (Daily Beast)
















Trouble is brewing at America’s colleges and universities, and I'm not talking about shrinking enrollment, state legislators with budget axes, or recent student protests on campuses from Connecticut to California. I’m talking about something stealthier, and more sinister: A broad consensus of academics, school administrators, faculty, journalists, and political commentators using coded constitutional arguments to dismiss student protests and drown their legitimate grievances with academic debate.
  
It started back in August, during summer break, when a group of Black Lives Matter protesters took over a Bernie Sanders rally. Commentators of all political stripes, far left to far right, lambasted them, not on the merits, but with lectures about free political discourse. Next, in September, a white student at Wesleyan wrote an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. When students of color demanded sanctions against the paper, they were lectured again, this time on the importance of a free press.

In October, Yale tried to spare its students of color the daily racial indignities—n-words, feces Swastikas, “Kanye Western” parties—that students at the University of Missouri, UCLA, and other schools were experiencing. School administrators sent students an email urging them to make conscientious Halloween attire choices. In response, another lecture (albeit employing perfected gold-butter euphemism) from a resident teacher. She hit reply all, told students more censorship wasn’t the answer, and basically said lighten up and police such trivial things as costumes yourselves.

When Yalies protested and demanded her resignation, Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic called the students “misguided.” Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine was more critical, likening students to Marxist Fascists who were hell-bent on crushing any and all opposing viewpoints. Ben Carson and Megyn Kelly had an hysterical exchange on Fox News. Columnists from USA Today to Washington Post piled on, decrying free speech on America’s college campuses in danger of imminent annihilation.

It should go without saying that students at Yale and anywhere else they protest are not trying to destroy free speech, a free press, or suppress the exchange of ideas. What they are trying to tell us is that they've had enough. They've had all of the n-words, feces Swastikas, blackface parties, George Zimmerman costumes, and school police officers profiling them and throwing them to the ground that they can take. Things that we might think are minor, like Halloween costumes, are not minor. They are a constant reminder that students of color are not safe anywhere on American soil—and perhaps especially not on their very own college campuses.

Yet when they ask us to take these concerns seriously and police such incidents to avoid their experience of further trauma, we hide in our cars. When they ask us to police mayor’s husbands in KKK costumes, we say police it yourselves. When they tell us they can't handle another school police officer throwing them to the ground, as at Brown, we call them petulant toddlers and liken them to lawless foreign mobs. 

Racism, like any pathology, must be policed. If there are no consequences for minor incidents, they escalate. Police in Chicago are presently murdering teenagers while City Hall helps them hide the video because they've learned they can upgrade all the way without consequence. When Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani employed this logic in the 1990s, we signed up to arrest and prosecute minorities at higher rates for 20 years. It was common sense. The ends of safe cities justified suspending Equal Protection. Today, however, when students tell us that the ends of safe campuses justify the aggressive policing of racism—whose end logic is genocide—the Constitution is transmogrified into an inviolable tablet of bedrock and used to pummel them.

Our students are letting us know they've been seeking protection in America's halls of democracy for the last 60 years. They are trying to tell us that our police, Supreme Court, Congress, and Justice Department aren’t getting the job done. Our schools are more segregated than they were before Brown v. Board, housing discrimination as rampant as it was prior to the Fair Housing Act, lynchings outsourced to police, security guards, and neighborhood watchmen, and oversight agencies refusing to do their jobs.

They are telling us if we love free speech, order, college football, and the many other things that make America great, we'll start owning these legitimate grievances. And if we don't, they're putting us on notice we don't belong on campus teaching them, in deans' offices advising them, in presidents' offices representing them, or on newspaper editorial boards writing for them. They are putting us on notice that they are willing to do what it takes to replace us with people who take protecting them seriously.  

When compelling interests collide, the Supreme Court has often held that there are exceptions to constitutional speech protections. Try exercising your 1st Amendment right to protest on the Court's front steps, for example, and you will quickly find yourself moved across the street or wearing steel bracelets in a transport wagon. This is because the safety of the Court’s clerks, lawyers and justices warrants exception. America's college students should be treated no differently. There is no more compelling interest than protecting students from ubiquitous racial trauma on campus.

Yelling #freespeechmatters!—or anything other than “you got it” in response to such demands for protection—and doubling down when it is brought to our attention that we’re dead wrong, is little more than a genteel academic version of showing up to Black Lives Matter rallies and drowning students out with chants of #alllivesmatter!