When What Is Broken Cannot Be Fixed

Sometimes, something is so broken that it cannot be fixed; it must be replaced.

Not long ago, I got into my car and tried to start it up. Nothing happened. So, I figured my battery was dead – puzzling to me because it was fairly new – but that’s the only reason I could figure out why it would not start. I called AAA and the tech tested the battery and said it was fine. Something else was wrong.

He tinkered around a bit and finally figured out that the gear shift wasn’t completely locked in the “Park” position. He was able to move it to “Neutral” and the car started. He said something was wrong but that as long as when I was driving it I kept it in “neutral,” even when I parked it, it would be OK.

I was comforted, because I had a lot to do, and one of the things I was doing at that time was driving Uber. I had lost a couple of clients because of the car, but once I found out what was wrong, I was on my way. I picked up a group of college kids on their way to Central America. We talked and laughed and when we got to the airport, I did what I always did: I put the car in “Park.”

As soon as I did it I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t move it to “neutral.” Whatever that AAA tech had done (he had finagled something) I could not do. And so I was there, stuck in the airport. I called AAA and they couldn’t do whatever they had done before. I had to have the car towed.  I had been sitting in that space for two hours waiting for the tow truck, only to be told they could do nothing.

I took the car to a mechanic recommended to me by a friend. I had purchased a new gear shift component since that’s what the first AAA person had said was defective. But when the new part was put into the car, it was still impossible to put the car into gear.

The mechanic was puzzled, and so he asked me to give him some time to explore and see what was going on. Several hours later, he called and said, “The gear shift parts are being held together by zip ties,” he said, “and it looks like one of them got loose.”

Zip ties? This was a 2006 car. I had never had any problems, so this was major, but zip ties? The mechanic said that this problem had probably occurred before and it was decided to “fix” it with zip ties.

The part was not fixable, he said. He replaced the old zip ties with new ones and said I should be OK, but I was rattled. The idea that something so vital for the life and operation of the car was being held together with zip ties was scary. The part was not fixable, and a new part was more expensive than the car was worth, and so I had to get a new car.

Sometimes, things that are broken are not fixable. As this nation grapples with the explosion of rage and anger and hurt and grief that is spilling onto our streets and around the world, I keep hearing people say, “we need to heal.”

Yes, we do, but we cannot heal with the toxic, broken system that is the legacy of America still in place. We have been applying zip ties to issues of human rights and human decency since the inception of this country. The zip ties re-worn; we cannot shift ourselves back into “normalcy.” Our foundation needs to be replaced, and only then when the possibility of the same poisonous, degrading, oppressive behaviors and practices never being thrust before us again can we begin to talk about healing. The wounds doled out by the oppressive system have taken all the band-aids, all of the “zip ties” they can handle, and now the oozing of pain will not stop. The system needs to be “done over” so that the glorious words of freedom and justice and liberty for all can be realized.

Nobody ever wants to start over. It is cheaper to “fix” than it is to “replace,” but when replacement is due, it is due. Fixing will no longer work.

Perhaps someone will understand that this nation and its people are at a crisis point that is going to demand more than conversations and task forces and the changing of offensive African American images on syrup bottles and boxes of rice to images that do not remind everyone of the knee that white supremacist practices have had on the necks of all of us – white as well as black – since the Founders put together the Constitution.

The Rev. Dr. James Forbes said, in a recent interview with Bill Moyers, that white people do not even realize all they are missing by refusing to be in community with African Americans, but he said the question must be asked of them, “Haven’t you had enough? Isn’t 400 years of you sucking the lifeblood out of us enough?”

Hopefully, the answer is yes. Hopefully, we can take the zip ties out of the gut of our nation and work to become a nation where all people are valued.

A candid observation …

(c) Susan K Smith

How Do We Make People Care?

This week in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a 13-year old boy. Tyre King was apparently involved in an armed robbery; the amount stolen is said to have been $10, but that has not been confirmed. Young Tyre had a BB gun that looks remarkably real, even having a laser light on it that real guns have. Police apparently saw the gun and fired; only after Tyre lay dead did they realize the gun was not real. (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tyre-king-13-fatally-shot-police-columbus-ohio-n648671)

Columbus authorities responded immediately, the mayor, police chief and public safety director holding a press conference the next day, and the day after that, meeting with faith leaders and finally showing up at a community forum at a local church. (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/17/community-city-officials-talk-about-death-of-tyre-king.html). The pain of the community was and is palpable. The cry is, “enough!”

What was striking to me in everything that happened was the attempt of the police chief to make sure people in the community knew that this child was “an armed suspect,” though the gun was not real. In her press conference, Police Chief Kim Jacobs went to great pains to describe the gun, showing a large picture of what the gun looked like and only after all of that, say the child’s name and remind people that the gun was not real.

But the damage was done.

What Chief Jacobs appeared to be doing was protecting her police officer and trying to quell any violence borne of frustration that might erupt on Columbus streets, the kind of frustration that we have seen in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. No city wants that experience on its hands. Columbus has spent a lot of money in revitalizing and the last thing people want is some angry group of people setting fires and fighting police.

I get it. And I don’t want the violence, either.

But it hurt to the core to hear this woman dehumanize and criminalize young King in that press conference. For those who believe police can do no wrong, Jacobs’ presentation made them rest in their assurance that what happened to King was his own fault.  As she talked, the chief kept talking about there being an investigation and said that the case would go to the grand jury …but her entire presentation showed a lack of sensitivity to what the pain of the black community is all about.

We don’t trust police investigations; we know, or feel, that the laws in place protect police at all costs, so that even when we, the community, feel like a video shows compelling evidence of police wrongdoing, the officer more likely than not gets off. We don’t trust the grand jury and we don’t trust the prosecutor. We feel like it is open season on black people, male and female, and that this nation doesn’t care about our feeling that at all.

As Jacobs spoke, I kept remembering how, when Michael Brown was shot, the police kept that young man lying on the hot pavement in his neighborhood, dead, while they compiled a report about who he was and what he had done. Before his body was moved, they had criminalized him and left the way clear for Officer Darren Wilson to be cleared of wrongdoing.

Jacobs was seemingly doing the same thing: criminalizing this little boy ( because that’s what he was) so that the officer would not be demonized.

The mayor, the public safety director and the police chief kept talking about there needing to be “transparency,” but even as I write this, nobody knows what really happened. The police in Columbus do not wear body cameras, and everyone knows that in a case where a civilian’s word is pitted against the word of a police officer, the civilian usually loses.

And so Columbus, a city that the mayor said is “the safest city in the world,” is reeling with pain and frustration and anger. There is no sensitivity to the pain. In this, an open carry state, King is the second person to be killed carrying a BB gun. John Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in 2014. Crawford was carrying the gun in the store and someone called police and said he was waving it around. Police arrived immediately and say they told him to drop the gun, but began shooting even as Crawford said it was a toy. Crawford was killed.

Then there was Tamir Rice who was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer. Timothy Loehmann. Rice also had a BB gun. Someone called and said a kid had a gun that he was waving around, but apparently also said that it was probably a toy. Police responded to the call and within three seconds of driving up on Tamir, probably scaring him to death. police shot him. He died later in a local hospital. The officer said he had no choice.

Neither Crawford or Rice were criminals. They were young black men with toy guns – which is legal. They were not bothering anyone. And yet, the judgements against them could be heard loud and clear; their actions, the sentiment seemed to say, caused them to die.

There is much we do not know about what happened to young King. What we do know is that he was a kid. A 13-year old boy. Probably a know-it-all, like adolescents and teens tend to be. His parents may have bought him that toy gun, but may not have; he may have gotten it off the street or from a friend. He had probably seen “the big boys” carry real guns and imitated them. We live in a gun culture, a violent gun culture where “defending yourself” is a standard-bearer. He was probably trying to fit in with his peers. Kid stuff. Things that kids do in seeking love, affirmation and a sense of belonging. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people …but he was a kid. A normal kid in a society which does not allow black kids to be normal like white kids are allowed.

This kid, this little boy, is dead. I cannot wrap my head around it. I see in my mind’s eye his little body lying lifeless in an alley, and I hear the cries of his family and loved ones, weeping with a pain that is too deep to even describe.

Many who believe police are right all of the time don’t get it. While police lives are important, so are the lives of the victims of police. Someone said King shouldn’t have run when police showed up. True. But everyone who has ever been a kid and has been involved in something wrong has run when “the grown folks” have shown up.

It’s what kids do.

How do we make people care? How do we get white people, those who are so ready to demonize black people, care about black people on a human level, relating to the things that humans do when they do not feel loved, supported, affirmed and/or needed? I’ll bet this kid was trying to fit in, trying to have friends, trying in his 13-year-old way to find meaning in his life. He may have been getting ready to go down a path of crime, or he may have been involved in one stupid episode…that cost him his life.

There are a lot of things to think about in this case, but I am hoping that authorities will look at this boy as just that … a boy who did something dumb and not as someone who deserved to die.

He didn’t.

A candid observation ….

Black Lives Matter – Not So Much

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It hit me not long ago, as I listened to more than one television pundit say that the Black Lives Matter movement is a hate movement, specifically against, police officers, that they do not understand the concept of perhaps the most important word in the BLM moniker: “matter.”

The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t erupt after a police shooting of an unarmed black man. It erupted after a civilian, a vigilante in the person of George Zimmerman, stalked, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayon Martin, who was unarmed. The angst and anger of much of the black community rose as Zimmerman spun the tale that he was “in fear for his life,” though the only things Martin was carrying were a can of iced tea and a package of Skittles.

The anger continued to rise as the police and the community seemed not to care that Zimmerman had stalked Martin …though being advised to stop doing it by local police, and had confronted the young man, who I am sure was quite worried about this unknown person following him.

Zimmerman’s encounter with Martin ended up with Martin being shot dead and Zimmerman showing some minor injuries from their tussle. Martin had done what any person being followed at night would have done: he defended himself – and yet, nobody seemed to care. His life did not matter. His humanness – meaning, his drive to protect and defend himself against a man with a gun – did not matter. He was effectively blamed for his own death.

And then, to add insult to injury, the jury went with Zimmerman and he was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Yes, there have been lots of extrajudicial killings of black people by law enforcement. That has been a historical reality in this country, and black people have been wrestling with it for literally generations. There have been too many trials to mention where all-white juries have convicted a black person of a crime which the judge, jury and officers knew he or she probably had not committed. That, too, has been a part of the African American search for justice and full American citizenship in this country.

But the Black Lives Matter movement erupted because in spite of what was clearly a case of an armed wanna-be police officer stalking an unarmed black kid – because he “looked suspicious,” the killer got off. One more time, the killer got off.

Are there some in the Black Lives matter movement who say “kill the pigs?” Yes. But the bulk of the protesters in the streets are not calling for the murder of police. They are calling for the end of judicial injustice.  Judicial injustice has said to black people for far too long that our lives have no value, and neither do our cries for justice.

I watch with interest as the rise in opioid addiction by white kids is getting more and more attention, with politicians and media and police doing all they can to save these kids from lives that will only go downhill if they do not shake their addictions. There was no such push to save the lives of black kids becoming addicted to crack cocaine. While white kids are being said to be suffering from the “sickness” of drug addiction, black kids were rounded up and thrown into jail for small amounts of marijuana. I watched with interest as   Brock Turner was treated with compassion after having raped an unconscious woman, the court not wanting to ruin his life by giving him a lengthy – and appropriate sentence –  for his crime. I  watch lawmakers in Flint dancing around what they need to do in order to make water safe for little black kids who have been drinking lead-tainted water for some time now.

Black kids, suffering, do not matter. Their lives do not matter. Their futures do not matter.

That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, as much as it is about getting rogue, racist, ultra-violent police off the streets.

Just thought I’d share a personal and very painful …candid observation.

 

Tamar Rice’s Life Reduced to Money

When the news report told the world that the family of Tamir Rice, the unarmed, 12-year-old African American boy who was shot to death by police officers, had been awarded $6 million by the city of Cleveland, I was sick. And angry. (http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/25/us/tamir-rice-settlement/)

I was sick because once again, a family received money but not justice. The officers who killed Tamir Rice were not charged with his murder. Although they rode up on this young boy, who was holding a toy pellet gun, probably scaring him half to death, and shot him within seconds, they were able to give the standard “I was in fear for my life” line and they got off.  Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fired the fatal shot is still on the police force, still on the streets.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city of Cleveland admits no wrong and the family has agreed to drop criminal charges against the two officers involved in the tragedy. (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35793-tamir-rice-s-family-gets-6-million-settlement-for-police-killing-of-12-year-old)

The whole scenario, one which is repeated over and over in this country, makes me sick.

But I was angry because there is a disconnect between the cry of what “taxpayers” complain about and what they are willing to spend millions of dollars for. “Taxpayers,” which seems to be code for “white” taxpayers, are willing to pay millions of dollars to families of victims of police violence and brutality, and they are also willing to pay millions to keep people, too many of whom are black, poor …and innocent of violent crime – in prison. They are willing to pay millions of dollars to build prisons but not willing to put that same amount of money into building quality schools in urban neighborhoods. They are willing to pay millions of dollars to families of murdered children, but not willing to pay millions to expand Medicaid so that poor people can have access to health care.

It is sickening.

If it were my child who had been murdered as had been Tamir Rice or John Crawford, or Mike Brown …no amount of money would be enough. I would not want money. In the absence of my child, killed unjustly, I would want justice.  I would want some court, somewhere, to make the police pay for what they had done. I would want a movement started that would demand all police departments go through some kind of training, something , to make it so they would have to stop killing unarmed black people. I would want it and I would want it bad.

I wouldn’t care about the money. The hell with the money.

Whenever a loved one is murdered, the ones left behind want justice. It is a normal human reaction and need, but it seems that this society doesn’t understand that the continued lack of justice for families of victims  shot by police only creates more anger, anguish and pain for survivors.

This society doesn’t understand and doesn’t care. That is the nucleus, the center of the pain that the African American community carries and has carried for literally generations. From the time when whites could hunt down and kill escaped slaves legally, to the countless times when blacks were tried by white judges in front of all-white juries, many times for crimes the judge and jury knew they hadn’t committed, this travesty and absence of justice has been a reason for a deep-seated anger and pain for African-Americans.

To add insult to injury, the head of the Cleveland police union, Steve Loomis, had the audacity to suggest that perhaps the family of Tamir Rice would use a part of the money they receive to “educate” children on the dangers of mishandling either toy or real guns. Loomis said he wants something positive to come out of Tamir’s death.

Seriously. The police department of Cleveland, which murdered Tamir Rice, now wants to dictate how the family of this child should spend money they received?

White supremacy, which has deluded white people into thinking that they are superior and that if a black person is shot by police, he or she deserved it, is a sickness. It is a mental illness, and those afflicted, need help and treatment. To think that any family would be satisfied with money after losing a child, is the height of arrogance and racism.

It is insulting and is, frankly, a troubling …candid observation.

ISIS at Home

It just doesn’t stop.

While the media has gone crazy nuts, covering the terrorist attack in Brussels, which was, for sure, horrific, America’s own terrorism against people of color, specifically and especially against black men, continues with hardly a whisper.

I was shocked, then saddened, and then …angry…when I read about New York police officers who handcuffed an African-American mail carrier in Brooklyn because…well, because they could.

According to the article about the incident which appeared in the New York Times, Glen Grays, 27, yelled at a car which came careening around a corner, coming dangerously close to him and his mail truck. He was afraid he was going to be sideswiped.

When Grays yelled, the car was put into reverse and the driver said to Grays, “I have the right of way because I am law enforcement.” Inside the car were three other officers, all plainclothes. They all approached Grays and ended up handcuffing him, telling him to “stop resisting,” although a video taken at the scene doesn’t show him resisting at all, except to say, “I didn’t do anything!” He was handcuffed nonetheless, taken down to the police station, his mail truck left unattended. He was charged with disorderly conduct, and was released. He is going to have to appear in court to answer the charges. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/nyregion/glen-grays-the-mailman-cuffed-in-brooklyn.html?_r=0&login=google)

When will this craziness end? And when will the media take seriously the cry that black lives do  matter, a cry which has come from generations of black lives being denigrated and destroyed by law enforcement? When will law enforcement stop whining about finally being called out on its behavior, a behavior with which it has gotten away with for generations, perhaps more so since the issuance of the Fugitive Slave Laws? When will this nation admit that, based on how its agencies charged with protecting American citizens, it has shown that black lives really do not matter?

The criminalization of black people has destroyed families and communities. It has caused little black children to be at risk..of being kids …kids who do things that all of us as kids have done. This week, a six-year old child was handcuffed in Chicago for taking candy off a teacher’s desk. (https://www.rawstory.com/2016/03/crying-6-year-old-put-in-handcuffs-under-schools-stairs-for-taking-candy-off-teachers-desk/) She was six years old. Perhaps being put in a corner would have been a suitable response, or being put in “time out,” but being handcuffed?”

It’s really hard to listen to the outrage expressed over terrorist attacks on cities like Brussels and Paris while equally or worse attacks are carried out in Nigeria and Turkey and Somalia and Palestine with little to no mention. I despise terrorism, but I despise more the selective reporting of terrorism.

But I am also incensed by America’s refusal to own her own brand of “ISIS.” Law enforcement officers in this nation, as well as the courts and entire justice system, have terrorized and demonized and in effect, killed the spirits of literally hundreds of thousands of African-Americans just because they could. The justice system has played with the lives of black people accused and of offenses which they often did not do, by putting them in mock courts with white prosecutors, white judges and all-white juries, basically condemning them and forcing them to second and third rate citizenship in this country which prides itself on having the best justice system in the world.

While the media is bleeding over what happened in San Bernadino, Brussels and in Paris, it has showed little stomach or empathy  for the injustice and damage done on this side of the pond to African-Americans, surely, but also to brown people, and Native Americans. All day long the media has been talking abut Brussels and the ineptitude of law enforcement there. Isn’t there a lot of ineptitude here that the media ought to be lifting up? How in the world can America show horror at what ISIS did in Brussels without coming to terms what our justice system, America’s ISIS, did to Kalief Browder? If you remember, Kalief was a high school student when he was accused of stealing someone’s book bag – which he had not done. He was arrested and was in prison for three years without a trial. When he was finally released, after trying to reconnect with society and get his life back, he gave up  and committed suicide. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/nyregion/kalief-browder-held-at-rikers-island-for-3-years-without-trial-commits-suicide.html)

Where is the outrage of the media, of the people running for president? While some white people try to steer the conversation away from the complaint about how black people are treated in this nation, urging the slogan to be “ALL lives matter,” the fact of the matter is that white power treats black lives as though they are nothing, like they are disposable income, so to speak.

Thinking about this young mail carrier, arrested and charged because he yelled at an unmarked police car that scared him, just makes my anger grow deeper and deeper. I need for America to stop talking so much about international terrorism and deal with the terrorism which is right in front of us all, on America’s Main Streets.

A candid observation …