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(Politics) If Respect Is Mandatory, It’s Not Respect

Politics 150Earlier this week I received this response from a person named Kenny Stiles to my post on why I’m boycotting the NFL this season. Kenny thinks that the league should make all players stand for the National Anthem; not doing so is “the wrong way to protest” and a slap in the face for all military servicepeople. He also advises us to wake up, because this is the USA.

I thought about what Kenny had to say and considered my response carefully. In the end, I was inspired to write this. Thanks for encouraging my muse, dude.

Oh, say can you see,

Hello Kenny, I am a black man, aged 37. I work in tech, and I’ve been married to a wonderful man for nearly nine years. I live in California, but I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD — home of the Colts when I was a kid, and now the two-time Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens.

By the dawn’s early light,

This is the city where Freddie Gray died in police custody. None of the six police officers responsible for his care were found guilty of the homicide that the medical examiner ruled as the cause of death. Someone killed him, but it wasn’t any of the six police officers — the only people near him when his life ended.

What so proudly we hailed,

I watched the people in this city — my city — tear it apart because they were angry, grieving, frustrated. Back when the Rams were in St. Louis, they had to deal with the same thing after Trayvon Martin. In Chicago, it was Laquan MacDonald; in New York it was Eric Garner; in Minnesota it was Philando Castile; in Cleveland, it was Tamir Rice, just 12 years old. These are just the names I remember, but there are way too many more.

At the twilight’s last gleaming?

Black folk have been trying to get something done about police brutality for years, but we only started getting attention for it a few years ago. I don’t know if it’s Twitter making it easier for folks to spread the word and get organized, or if it’s the fact that we got black boys and girls being assaulted and killed on tape, but we turned a corner on this. We’re not taking it lying down anymore.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars,

Last season, that protest came to the NFL. Colin Kaepernick started kneeling at the National Anthem during a preseason game and pissed off a ton of people. He also promised to donate a million dollars to charityso far he’s given $700,000 to 24 different places — but nobody talks about that. They talked about ratings going down, and politics not belonging in football, and how Kaep couldn’t get a job this season.

Through the perilous fight,

The owners haven’t said much about it — at least not publicly. Coaches and staff haven’t, either. But they don’t have to; we know what happens to people who don’t stand for the anthem. They get heat. They get told they should shut up and play. They don’t get listened to when they say that people who look like them are dying in the streets because the people supposed to protect us can do what they want and not get in trouble. They get cut for “being a distraction”.

O’er the ramparts we watched,

I’ve heard all kinds of criticism from different corners of the country, people saying that they just want to enjoy the game without politics ruining it. But politics ruin shit for me all the time, including right now. I love this game, and I love my team. I love this city. I even love these United States of America. But this game, this team, this city, this country — I can’t pretend any of ’em have been kind to me, showed me any love back.

Were so gallantly streaming.

It’s not just the police. It’s the way it’s harder for black men to get a job. It’s how black kids don’t get a decent education. It’s how it’s harder for black people to get paid. Or for them to get into leadership positions, even in the NFL. It’s the history of racial inequality and violence in this country in all aspects of our culture.

And the rocket’s red glare,

That history makes it so hard to break out of poverty if you don’t get famous doing something — like rapping, or playing a sport, or being a criminal. When we try to build ourselves up, the USA has a habit of knocking us back down. When we get pushed too far and start pushing back, all of a sudden we’re the ones causing the problem.

The bombs bursting in air,

No matter what we do to protest it isn’t the right way. Non-violent protests are ignored. Disruptive action like blocking traffic just makes people mad. Destroying property gets us called thugs. Taking a knee gets us fired. Going to politicians hasn’t done much for us in a minute — right now Republicans all over the country are doing their damnedest to make it harder or impossible for people of color to vote. Any time our voices are used to call out a problem or lodge dissent, people like you do anything you can to dismiss it, invalidate it, ignore it. It’s clear that this mythical ‘right way to protest’ is actually not protesting at all while bearing all kinds of injustices, just so you wouldn’t have to think about what we’re drawing attention to.

Gave proof through the night,

I want to make sure black children grow up in a country that loves them just as much as I love it, but we’re a long way from that. I want to make sure black men and women get paid fairly for the work they do, that when they see a police officer they doesn’t have to worry about getting shot or beaten. I want my country to admit that it’s been racist for a long, long time and start fixing it.

That our flag was still there.

You say it’s not patriotic to stand for the anthem. You say it’s disrespectful to all the soldiers who died defending my freedom. But isn’t it disrespectful not to say anything when we aren’t living up to the values they died for? Isn’t it disrespectful to pretend that nothing’s wrong, to act like you haven’t been making my whole life political since I was born?

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave,

This is my country, too. I’m an American same as you. And if you cared about respecting this country you would respect the struggle of my people and the history of that struggle. You wouldn’t suggest that the NFL violate the very First Amendment to the Constitution by forcing its players to stand for a country that doesn’t treat them fairly. You do know what it’s called when an organization — government or otherwise — doesn’t allow its members to dissent, don’t you?

For the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Kenny, you need to wake up. This is the USA. The people who sacrifice their bodies and youth every Sunday so you can watch a game with your buddies deserve better than you. You who think that we should be forced to honor the state above all, especially when it doesn’t live up to its own values. You, who cares so little for the free expression that our military protects that you would dare suggest silencing an entire group of people because you don’t want to know what they care about. Our country deserves better than you.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Politics, Pop Culture

 

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What Ferguson Means to Me

Politics 150On Monday evening, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on charges for the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who lived and died in Ferguson, MO. This was the result of a three-month process, in which the grand jury heard from witnesses of the shooting, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy for Brown, and Officer Wilson himself. Despite the fact that there were numerous facts in dispute about the whole affair, and that both Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department had changed their account of what happened during and after the altercation, it was decided that there was no reason to bring the matter to a trial. I was gutted.

I watched as Ferguson exploded right around the same time as my Twitter feed. Brown’s family had pleaded for loud and forceful — but peaceful — voices, but instead a lot of businesses were vandalized, looted, burned. The next morning people people were talking about the riots as much as what’s caused them, chastising the residents of Ferguson for burning down the stores and buildings in their own neighborhood.

Here’s the thing: I completely understand why the black community in Ferguson responded the way it did. They are a people who have tried to hold their head up through the this long line of injustices — from the Governor of Missouri declaring a state of emergency ahead of the indictment results, to the condescending manner in which the prosecuting attorney read those results, to the fact that it took three months for a jury to decide that Officer Wilson was not guilty of any at LEAST questionable actions, to the reaction of the police during the first round of protests, to the fact that Michael Brown’s body was left on the street for 4.5 hours, to the fact that he was killed at all. Each action and reaction by the system around them has told them that they are not being looked out for, not even being considered, that they will be treated as hostile forces just for speaking up. Why work within a system that had already decided it will treat you like criminals?

This is what Ferguson means to me, and what the results of the grand jury investigation tells me. From my understanding, the grand jury is only there to decide if something was off about the way Officer Wilson handled the shooting of Michael Brown. There have been numerous inconsistencies among the stories of the police department, the witnesses, and most of the people involved. I’m not going to go into the particulars of it — there are so many places online you can find them. But there’s more than enough of a reasonable doubt about it that there should be further investigation.

But the grand jury says that “No, we see nothing wrong with this. A police officer shooting an unarmed teenager in the back five times is not suspicious at all. The system is working as designed.” And that tells me that a police officer can use excessive force against me just because he sees me as more threatening to him based on the color of my skin. I can be targeted, harassed, brutalized, and killed, and that’s supported by the system in place. I can expect to be treated much more harshly by police if they even THINK I might be a threat, in contrast to many white perpetrators who have shown a willingness to use deadly force and yet have been taken into custody alive.

The reaction of Ferguson residents and so many people around the country is not just built around Michael Brown. He’s the final straw. But police targeting of people of color is nothing new. Remember stop-and-frisk in New York? Remember Oscar Grant III, shot by a BART officer in Oakland? Since Michael Brown, there have been so many other reports of police brutality. A black man was shot inside of an Ohio Wal-Mart for holding a pellet gun. A black boy was shot on a playground for holding a toy gun. A black man holding a sword as part of a cosplay costume was shot in Utah. The list goes on, and on, and on. In many of these cases, the police officers aren’t convicted — they aren’t even charged.

Police will often say that they use the force they did because they felt threatened. Why are they so drastically threatened by people of color that “shoot first, above all” is the only acceptable response? What does that mean to someone like me, or any other geeky black guy who might want to dress up like — I don’t know, a pirate, or a fantasy warrior, or Morpheus from The Matrix? Can we not carry swords now? Can we not even touch the fake guns on the shelves of a store for fear of an off-duty police officer killing us right there in the aisle? Are we being allowed to die because the color of our skin makes other people uncomfortable?

Whenever I see open-carry advocates sitting in Chipotle with assault rifles and yet not being shot to death by police officers, what I’m seeing is an unequivocal “YES”. When I see police officers being paid $400,000 for killing a black man and not even being charged for it, I see that the system is against me. That there is no legal recourse for being treated unfairly by an authority figure. That the system is indeed working as designed.

So when the people of Ferguson riot over Darren Wilson not being brought up on charges, it’s not because they’re animals. It’s because they’re angry. They’re being told that they are not going to be treated the same as other Americans because they’re black and poor. They’re being told that engaging with the system will get you nothing but further harassment. They’re being told that the oppression and disenfranchisement they feel is not important. That any one of their number can be shot, at any time, and then be criminalized after the fact….and that’s just the way the system works.

Over the past eight years I’ve seen the undercurrent of racism still alive in America rise up and become an unacceptable part of our national conversation. What Ferguson means to me is that for all the strides we’ve taken towards racial and social equality, there is still a lot of work to be done. It means that there are still people in positions of power who are comfortable with abusing that power to target people like me, and that the system can (and will) support it. It means that I can’t put my faith in the law and trust it will support my rights to life and liberty.

The riots are a forceful, angry, immediate rejection of those realities. I believe in more measured and channeled ways of rejecting them. But I also believe in action. I can’t trust that things will sort themselves out any more; I have to get involved to make sure they do. I can’t live and let live, because the system simply won’t let me. Ferguson means I need to take action, and support those who are taking action to demand their rights. Ferguson means that I need to fight for my place in this country.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Politics

 

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