Breathing Easier but Not Easily

            When the announcement was made that Joe Biden had won the presidency in the November General Election, I literally took what felt like a cleansing breath. For four years, I had internalized a type of stress that was ongoing. Every day there was some new attack, some crazy Twitter message. The goal of the former president seemed to be to undo the government as we knew it. Bit by bit, he and his administration chipped away at institutions that had been mainstays of this government.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/07/black-lives-matters-police-departments-have-long-history-racism/3128167001/            

From the first day of his presidency, there was chaos, from making his press secretary lie about the size of his inauguration crowd (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-38707723) to making his first official visit to the CIA. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/trump-visits-cia-day-after-inauguration/580003/) I remember thinking that the visit was weird, but as his presidency moved forward, and he showed continued obeisance and deference to Vladimir Putin, I wondered if there was a nefarious reason that the CIA had been in his crosshairs from the beginning. Was he there because he knew he was going to be compromising America’s security? I wondered about it more as he demanded loyalty from the people around him. While no fan of form Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I found it oddly uncomfortable that he would dismiss an attorney for recusing himself from a situation in which he knew he was compromised and that could have cost him his license to practice law.

            The daily attacks on people who opposed him, the daily attacks on “the Democrats,” the daily name-calling, the doing business by Tweet, …all of that made my spirit uneasy. His tenure as president was like a soap opera; there seemed to be very little progress on work to make the lives of Americans easier, even and especially the people who comprised part of his base, but there was sure to be high drama every single day, and people tuned in to see, to hear, and to react.

            Then came the coronavirus, and his totally inept handling of the crisis. I still cringe when I remember how this president said the virus would “just disappear,” and how he suggested any number of remedies to get rid of it. I cringe when I realize that his administration gagged public health officials, how he discounted, discouraged, and politicized the use of masks, and how he seemed totally unconcerned with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. In the deepest recesses of my soul, I found myself believing that he was using the disease to weed out certain segments of the population. Hearing that Black and brown people were more affected by the disease than whites seemed to be OK with him, a reason, perhaps, to ignore the runaway rate of infection.

            So, when the announcement was made that Biden won the election, I breathed easier. I reacted to and rejoiced with people who took to the streets to celebrate his victory. I believed that the 45th president and his administration would just do what others who have lost the presidency have done: accept the results and allow people like me, who were tired of his ineptness, name-calling, and lying, alone.

            But I was wrong. His attack on the results of the election – which he said during this campaign that the election could only be lost by him if the election was rigged – was breathtaking in its persistence and scope. He had a pattern of attacking elections that did not go his way. In 2016, he made the claim, (https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-election-rigged-2016-10) and he did it in 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9i80SrDc74) He said during the 2016 election that he had only lost the Iowa primary because Ted Cruz had stolen the election and said in 2009 that Obama had only won the election because the voting had been rigged. (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-longstanding-history-calling-elections-rigged-doesnt-results/story?id=74126926)

            That he said it was one thing; that he got millions to agree with him and believe him was quite another. The result was his last-ditch effort to steal (ironic as the mantra of his supporters was “stop the steal) the election from Joe Biden, going so far as to encourage his followers to go to the Capitol and stop the counting of the ballots submitted to the Electoral College. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55640437) (https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech).

            The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, a continuation of violence carried out by his supporters at some state capitals, and the disparity of treatment of these insurrectionists and protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement is why, though I am breathing easier, I am not breathing easily. Trump supporters – which include the rich as well as the poor, the highly educated as well as the uneducated, women as well as men…are angry and are calling their attempts to overthrow governments acts of patriotism. They are not finished and they are not gone. And the fact that many of these supporters are members of law enforcement, and many are ex-military, who operate in a country where they know for the most part that there are two justice systems – one for white people and one for Black- makes my breathing tentative. Where will they go next? Who will they attack? And when?  

            Too much of law enforcement seems to be on the side of those who want to overthrow the government.(https://www.npr.org/2021/01/15/956896923/police-officers-across-nation-face-federal-charges-for-involvement-in-capitol-ri) That is not new; law enforcement has historically participated in – or has ignored – violence against black people,  and of course, the Civil War was fought because white Southerners desired to shut the Union down over the issue of slavery.

            The fact that it is not new, however, is not comforting. These people have been emboldened by the rhetoric of the former president and know that they can claim they are using their First Amendment rights in what they are doing and that they will possibly get away with it, (https://www.courthousenews.com/citing-first-amendment-rights-judge-lifts-iowa-ban-on-protesters/) even as some state legislatures are working to put in place laws that would stem the protests of groups including Black Lives Matter. (https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/rights-protesters/anti-protest-bills-around-country) (https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/11/20/criminalize-protests-civil-rights)

            It is worth noting that these actions do not take into account that the BLM protests and what happened at the Capitol are not the same, though MAGA supporters are making that claim. The BLM movement is an attempt to get convince governments to create policies that will stop the legal extermination of Black people by police; the MAGA protests are about wanting to overthrow governments – local and federal – because they are upset with and want to eliminate a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect.

            So, I breathe easier, but not easily. The angry white people with guns are prowling the country; we do not know who they are, but they are prowling, waiting to attack, and still wanting to destroy the government. They are working to make laws that will make it even more difficult for Black people to vote. They are openly expressing their desire to kill lawmakers who have not been loyal to the former president. We are not in a good place in this country and will not be until we deal with the moral corruption of this nation, a morality which has brought us to the brink of Fascism.

            Until we do that, I will not breathe easily.

            A candid observation …

Tuesday Meditation: Doing the Work of Justice When You are Enraged

Note: I don’t normally share my Tuesday meditations on this blog but the emotion and pain that the president’s insensitive statement comparing what is happening to him to a lynching prompted me to share this meditation today.

Abraham Heschel wrote that “prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”) (italics mine)

Our reading of the prophets suggests that God rages a lot. The lack of the capacity of the children created by Her to align themselves with Her and with Her will takes holy breath out of God. God doesn’t agonize over academic ideals; God agonizes over the depravity of the human spirit, a depravity that causes those whom God created to treat each other poorly. Though men and women are rebellious, Heschel notes, God’s love and compassion for them never wavers. But neither does the divine rage at what God is seeing.

Those who work for justice are prophets; they carry the word and the will of God into their daily attempts to get God’s people to align themselves with what they believe is right, but there are times when their own rage is so powerful, rising within them like water which has bubbled and boiled so much that it is about to spill over. What is it that should be done at times like that?

There have been moments within the past week and including today that have caused that type of rage. A person from the religious right said that God caused Rep. Elijah Cummings to die because Cummings had dared take on the president, and today, the president compared the quest to reveal his abuses of power – and more – to a lynching.

The rage bubbles.

The late James Cone concluded, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the lynching tree was America’s cross. Black people survived the lynching terror because of faith in God and a determination to keep pushing against the system which saw no issue, no problem, in lynching them at will, with no fear of retribution or accountability. Lynching reminded black people to stay in their place, to shut up and go along to get along. There was no angst about what the lynching did to families or to the very spirits of black people who lived under constant cognizance that they or someone they loved could be “next.”

To be honest, lynching is still something that black people, brown and Native American people, and Muslims fight against to this day. The very humanity and dignity of these groups of people, and more, are spat upon every day, and still, we move, we work, we pray, we push for justice. We work in spite of the deep pain we carry, as well as the realization that the lynching tree takes different forms, like mass incarceration, economic injustice, climate change, sexism and racism, gender and sexuality issues, and so much more.

This man who claims that what he is going through is like a lynching, then, is stepping – again – on the very souls of people who live with the threat of lynching every day. Contrary to what he is going through, people who are lynched rarely have the money to seek justice; they are accused and imprisoned or killed without much of a stir. This president is crying because there is an active attempt to expose his crimes and abuses of power. There is justice in that process that people who are lynched have rarely received.

What, though, does one do? The rage bubbles; the audacity of one to use a term that has so much history and pain is beyond the capacity of many to understand. Being put on a lynching tree and yet not being totally exterminated as a people supports Cone’s belief that the cross/lynching tree is for black people a symbol of power; we resurrect, though this system has sought to bury us. That same lynching tree for people like the president continues Cone, is and has been an instrument of terror. Those who have used lynching as a tool of domestic terror do not now get to claim it as now being accessory to their suffering.

One then must exhale and inhale the spirits of the ancestors who endured the lynching tree and yet stayed on earth long enough to pass on the need for us to pray and not faint. One must inhale the power that yet sprinkles down from our ancestors, a power that reminds us to “be still and know” that God is here. Attacking ignorance with raw anger will not help us; like those before us who learned to incline their ears toward heaven so as to stay alive and continue the work, we must do the same – in spite of the bubbling rage.

Amen and amen.

On Being Safe in America

             The current administration is pushing for billions of dollars to build a wall on the Southern border of this country because he says the country is being “invaded” by what are being  called “bad people.”

In his push for this wall, the president has fed fear into the minds of those inclined to believe everything he says. Nobody will forget how he said, in his bid for the presidency, how Mexico was sending its worst people. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/?utm_term=.c7f42d7cfd86) According to him, all that is bad, or much of what is bad about America is because of the “bad” people coming over the Southern border. Because of them, he says, Americans are not safe.

At the same time, to justify his ban on people coming here from Muslim countries, the president is quick to connect terrorism with anyone who is Muslim. He uses the few times in this country that a crime has been carried out by a Muslim as proof for his claim that America must keep all Muslims out.

He is strangely quiet, however, about the young white men in this country who have been radicalized by white supremacist ideology, and he gives little to no attention or verbiage that mass murders in this country are being carried out by these American citizens.

We don’t need to belabor that truth, but what we really do need to pay attention to is the fact that so many non-white people in this country are afraid. We are afraid of these thugs who carry guns and drink beer, ready to attack and kill people of color on a whim, knowing they can do it and get away with it. We are watching white people, filled with hate, spewing the worst of verbal attacks against non-white people, some as young as middle school age. (https://www.ktnv.com/news/parents-demand-more-communication-after-racist-threats-at-las-vegas-high-school) Synagogues and mosques are under attack,  (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html) as well as individual members of the Muslim community. (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/15/assaults-against-muslims-in-u-s-surpass-2001-level/). Dylann Roof, who walked into a black church and killed nine people who had welcomed him to their Bible study, was treated with respect after his mass murder, being taken to a Burger King by police who apprehended him before being taken into custody. Everyone knew he was a murderer who had a gun, and yet he lived; black people are shot in the back when police officers say that they thought the person they killed had a gun. They say and do that over and over – and nobody cares.

Stephon Clark was shot in the back in his backyard by police officers who said they thought he had a gun. He didn’t, but the officers got off and will face no charges. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/us/stephon-clark-police-shooting-sacramento.html) Years ago, Amadou Diallo was shot in excess of 41 times by police officers who said they thought he had a gun. (https://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/05/nyregion/officers-in-bronx-fire-41-shots-and-an-unarmed-man-is-killed.html) (https://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html)

This week I had an interesting conversation with my son. He hates guns. When he was a child, he would pray every night that all the guns be destroyed. He is now 30 years old and he said to me, as he said he was considering getting a gun, “Ma, I’m afraid of these white folks.”

Many of us are. Non-white people are walking targets in this country; we cannot count on either the police or the justice system for protection or for justice. While the world is upset about Jussie Smollett, few people are concerned that unarmed black people continue to get shot and killed by law enforcement officers, who are never held accountable.

The history of being targeted by racist and hate-filled people is one known well by black people. From Emmett Till, who was murdered by two white men who were acquitted to Trayvon Martin, who was murdered by George Zimmerman, also acquitted, we know what it is to walk with trepidation.

Black, brown, transgender, Muslim, and who knows what other groups are targeted by radicalized white people who know they can kill us and get away with it. We are not safe. The Southern border and who comes here that way has nothing on the breeding and nurturing of white supremacist terrorists in this country.

My son said he is afraid of “these white folks.” I am, too.

A candid observation.

On Terrorism and White Men

CNN anchor Don Lemon is taking some heat today because he said that white men are the biggest terror threat to this country. (https://www.businessinsider.com/don-lemon-says-on-cnn-the-biggest-terror-threat-to-the-us-is-white-men-2018-10) This he said as a Jewish community in Pittsburgh reels from the actions of an angry white man who killed 11 people who were worshiping in their synagogue, and as families of two black people grieved the murders of their loved ones by a white man who is said to have said to another white man who tried to stop him, “whites don’t kill whites.”

Don Lemon

In spite of the pushback, what Lemon said is true. According to data compiled in a February 2018 article which appeared in Mother Jones, (54 percent of 97 mass murders committed since 1980 were committed by white men.)

Entire cities inhabited by black people were destroyed by mobs of angry white men, including the Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Elaine, Arkansas. While some of the attacked cities managed to survive the attacks, the fact is that many blacks were killed in cities including Rosewood, Florida (https://timeline.com/all-black-town-rosewood-wiped-off-the-map-by-white-mob-73ca6630802b) and East St. Louis, Missouri.

Angry white men murdered African Americans, many still in uniform, when they returned home after their tours of service. The horrific beating of Isaac Woodard is one of the best-known attacks which fall into this category. He was beaten by a mob which included law enforcement officers because he dared ask a bus driver to stop so that he could go to the bathroom. In Elaine, Arkansas, an African American soldier, Leroy Johnston, who had spent nine months in a hospital recovering from wounds he received in the war, was pulled from a train and shot to death by angry white men. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/)

White men lynched black men (and women as well) with impunity, knowing they would most likely never be held accountable. White men lynched a young teen named Emmett Till, who reportedly whistled at a white woman. Thousands of black men were killed by mobs of white men. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-lynching-america/)

Records show that nearly 4000 blacks were lynched in the South from 1877 to 1950 (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/10/us/history-of-lynchings-in-the-south-documents-nearly-4000-names.html). White men attacked the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Between 1982 and 2018, 59 of 104 mass killings, which I consider to be acts of domestic terrorism, were committed by white men. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/). The targets were not always black people, but the facts show that it has been white men who have been the primary assailants in mass killings.

It is disingenuous for anyone to raise an eyebrow at what Don Lemon said, given the available history. White men were known to lynch black people at will, for “crimes” including registering people to vote or being out too late at night. These are not made up stories; they are recorded history.

It is baffling as to why white men in this country have been so angry for so long. The world is at their fingertips, or so it seems, but maybe the anger comes because “the American dream” eludes so many Americans, including white men. Maybe they are angry because they have not been able to benefit from what they believe is their right as white men. Again, it is notable that they have not always targeted people of color; they have killed many of “their own” as they have expressed their rage through mass killings.

As bitter a pill as it may be to swallow, Don Lemon was correct. In these days of heightened racist and hateful rhetoric, it is very possible that this country will so more white men lashing out.

Our society has basically looked the other way when it has come to acknowledging how radicalized white men have terrorized and killed so many people. It is and has been domestic terrorism. Rather than criticize Lemon, perhaps we should all do a careful study of history and work to understand why what he said is true.

A candid observation …

American Terrorism, Again

Last week, President Obama created quite a stir in some communities when he said that ISIS is not the only religious group which has done horrible and brutal things in the name of religion. He mentioned the Crusades and the Inquisition and…Jim Crow, here in the United States. He said that America ought not get on its high horse, given the history of violence meted out against black people, much of it justified by religious beliefs.

I listened to the complaints leveled against the president, and was bothered by the fact that much of white America does not and will not “own” this country’s horrible record, its terrorism, which went on for far too long. Some criticized the president for going so far back in history to mention the Crusades …but the violence that came from white supremacy was not – and is not – all that long ago. While everyone is celebrating the movie “Selma,” it is important to note that in Dallas County, Alabama, the county in which Selma sits, there were 19 recorded lynchings between 1892 and 1913. So many African-Americans, still alive and talking, recall stories of having been terrorized by white people, with crosses being burned on their front lawns, their windows blown out in the middle of the night, and worse. And yes, much of this violence was done in the name of Jesus, in the name of Christianity.

I thought about that as the sister of the young Muslim man shot to death this week by an angry white man who professed to be an atheist, did an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN. In a soft and trembling voice, the young woman spoke of her brother and the two young women now gone. “If it had been reversed,” she said, “if it had been a person of Arab descent who had shot three white people, it would have been called terrorism. I haven’t heard that term used,” she said, “but it was terrorism, and you ought to name it for what it is.”

Craig Hicks, 46, shot the three students, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, on Tuesday at the Finely Forest condominiums in Chapel Hill. His attorney is saying it was not a hate crime …but it looks like one …and it smells like one, so much so that the FBI is launching an investigation into the murders to determine if they were in fact, hate crimes.

Advocates for Hicks say that the murders happened because of a dispute over a parking space. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the slain sisters, told reporters that the three students had run-ins with Hicks in the past, and the sister of the Deah Barakat said that the parking space in question had been deemed by apartment management to be free and open to anyone who wanted to use it. This was, the grieving father said, a hate crime.

The families of the slain students, and Muslim groups, not only here but all over the world are resolute as well in their belief that the crime was one of hate. They believe it was an act of hatred, part of the overall spirit of dislike for Muslims that is spreading all over the world like blue-black ink.

America is so hesitant to admit that it has a problem with terrorizing people who are not white and Protestant, and has always had that problem. America will not admit that too many of her citizens live in hatred and that our own government has been complicit in these acts of terror, with “law enforcement” sometimes …too many times …being right in the mix instead of trying to protect those being targeted because of their race, color, religion, sexual orientation or even, in the past, because of their being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

President Obama has weighed in on the murders of the three students, and Arabs from all over the world are demanding an investigation.  Will those investigating have the chutzpah and morality to admit that it was, in fact, an act of terror based on hatred of Muslims?

It’s not a guarantee. America has a track record of supporting or at least ignoring, acts of domestic terrorism.

America’s white supremacy, and the tendency, or worse, need, of so many to make another group, religious, racial or otherwise, the “bad guy” is going to come back to haunt her. Truth, crushed to the ground, will rise, and the truth is that domestic terrorism has been a problem in this country for a long, long time.

When the terror has been levied against black or gay or poor people in this country, nobody has wanted to hear, and people have in fact rejected even the suggestion that what was done was terrorism. Now, though, the act of terror has been committed against three young people who have support – strong support – from all over the world. America is on the hot seat.

Terrorism is terrorism. What was done to those three students was barbaric, just as what has been done to black people and Jewish people and any number of other people in this nation has been barbaric as well. America really cannot point a finger at what is being done by ISIS, horrible as it is, or we should not, because we as a nation have never owned our own terror tactics. Our cry of outrage appears to be hypocritical.

Terrorism is terrorism.

A candid observation…