Doctors Getting Away with Murder

Cover of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcer...
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There is something wrong in America.

Prisons all over this country are filled, mostly with African-American men. The dramatic increase of arrests and incarcerations of African-American men coincided with President Ronald Reagan‘s “war on drugs,” and most of us Americans have smugly assumed that the war was declared in response to the appearance of crack cocaine in urban areas. According to Michelle Alexander, who brilliantly discusses disparities in incarceration between whites and blacks in her book, The New Jim Crow, the Reagan administration declared the war before crack cocaine began to ravage inner city neighborhoods, but used the spread of the drug to secure funds to carry out policies which exacerbated sentencing disparities.

The “war on drugs” led to policies that resulted an explosion in the penal population in this country, accounting for an increase from 300,000 inmates to over 2 million in less than 30 years, Alexander writes. The end-result is that this country incarcerates more people than any other developed country in the world.  Alexander writes that “the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” (p. 6)

But even as more and more attention is paid to those who use crack cocaine, more and more doctors are getting away with murder, prescribing pain and other medications that are no less damaging or dangerous than is crack. While the prison system is allowing legalized discrimination of African-Americans, American society is allowing legalized murder.

It has been said that Whitney Houston used crack; she herself said she used cocaine, but what we all know by now is that she used prescription meds, and was able to get them fairly easily. She apparently had doctors on both the East and West coasts, and in her room was found bottles of  Xanax, lorazepam, and valium – which are all benzodiazepines – as well as Ibuprofen, Midol and Amoxicillin.

I have heard doctors say that there is no way she should have been taking Xanax, lorazepam and valium at the same time. And the danger of her taking those drugs together was exacerbated by alcohol.

It is no secret that there is a double standard when it comes to crime and criminals; street drugs are looked down upon and those who use them are regarded as the dredge of society, while prescription drugs are acceptable. Go into any affluent neighborhood and it’s easy to hear people talk of the anti-anxiety drugs and pain meds they take regularly. It’s almost fashionable to take such drugs, and, contrarily, not fashionable not to take them. The people who are on prescription drugs not as criminals, though some get them illegally and “doctor shop” in order to satisfy their habits, and are socially accepted.

And who is getting away with supplying the drugs? The drug sellers or providers. On the streets, the drug pushers are labeled thugs by society, but in the suburbs, the drug pushers are called …doctors.

If America is going to have a “thing” about drug use, oughtn’t its concern be about all drug use?  I think of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and Keith Ledger, recent stars who died not because they used crack, but because the sophisticated drug pushers called doctors prescribed them the drugs they were demanding.

The rampant use of drugs –  on the streets and in affluent society – makes me wonder why it is so many of us need to self-medicate. Something, somewhere, has failed if so many people in a country where opportunity is so much more available than in other countries are so unable to cope with life. I have no idea about the pressures in the music and entertainment worlds that seem to lead so many people to a state of deep unhappiness, so deep that they cannot cope without medical help. At least, in urban areas, where men cannot get jobs, where poverty is rampant and there seems to be no way out, there appears to be a justifiable reason to want to escape…but what is it when one is “on top?”

Whatever the reason, my point is that since America is so interested in putting “bad” people away, and since we have more money pumped into building new prisons than we do in improving public schools, then room in the cells ought to be made for medical doctors who are violating the Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm.” These doctors are “doing harm. They are getting away with murder, and they ought to be made to pay for it.

A candid observation …

Angelina, Michael and Kids

I wonder if I missed it – the story by ABC News wondering how or if Angelina Jolie’s black kids would do all right with a white family?

I only ask because I exhaled a sigh of disgust when I saw posted on my Facebook page a link from ABC News. It was entitled, “Will Michael Jackson’s White Kids Get Along With Black Family?”

How amazingly ignorant and telling of where the heads are of the producers of ABC News. Not only was it ignorant but ridiculous. Haven’t these kids BEEN getting along with their black family?

I reacted because, still, the illness called racism stings in ways and places we, or at least I, wish it would not. When Angelina Jolie adopted her black kids from Africa, I do not recall any big news story asking if her black kids would get along with their white family.

In that case, it might have been a more justified question, because those kids, Angelina’s,I mean, came from a nearly all-black environment to a white home. Quite the shock, I’d say.

But Michael Jackson’s kids have been close to their black family from the beginning. I would assume they have had plenty of contact with black kids, black culture, black food. So, what’s up with ABC News?

I have tried to watch quietly as stories touching on race have come up since Michael Jackson died. Before this ABC News piece, I gnawed at my fingernails as I watched Marcus Allen, the little African American boy whose summer camp class was told it was not welcome at a private white swim club, fight back tears as he voiced pain about being talked about so poorly by white families apparently concerned that association with black kids would be bad for their children.

I winced and bit my lip as I read what the president of the club said in his club’s defense, saying the problem was not racism but an issue of overcrowding.

OK, I thought. I’ll be stupid today.

The issue for that president is that his members, his paying members, probably threatened him his job if he didn’t do something about getting the undesireables out of their pool.

Little Marcus Allen thought that people “didn’t think like that anymore,” and his mother, the director of the day camp, said that it was ridiculous that in 2009, we were and are still dealing with this type of thing.

Sad as it is, though, we are. We are still dealing with racism because we have never dealt with racism.  Everybody has wanted to believe that just because Barack Obama was elected president that the sticky fingers of racism, a tumor in our society, suddenly dissolved and went away.

How about not?

America is like a patient that knows something is wrong but is afraid to go to the doctor. Our racism is not getting better. It is at best the same, though some explicit, noticeable things have changed.  That is progress for sure.

But what needs to change are the feelings individuals carry inside, feelings of superiority or inferiority, depending on one’s race, that have been incubated and nurtured since slavery. Those feelings are deeply rooted in the psyches of Americans, whether we like it or not. We do not want to admit to the illness. That’s why there’s such a rush to claim “post racial” America. But no such animal exists.

If Angelina Jolie’s black kids will presumably be all right in a white world, not just with a white family, then why would not Michael Jackson’s kids do all right with a black family? Jackson’s kids are in an environment with a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins whom they love and who love them. They have been in each others’ company since birth. Why would they NOT be all right?

America, America, stop denying this peculiarly “American” disease and let’s deal with it, once and for all. Jackson, ironically sang, “It doesn’t matter if I’m black or white.”

How about that’s an ideal that has not yet taken?

That’s a candid observation.

The Worst Day Ever

This has to be the worst day ever for the Jackson family, or for everyone who has suffered a loss.

Oh, there is the day when the person you love dies. That is a bad moment, to look at the stillness, and know there will never be any movement from this person ever again. There is the shudder you get when you touch the person and feel the eerie coolness, replacing the warmth that says there is blood flowing through the veins.

That’s a bad moment.

But the worst day ever is this day, when you walk in the funeral home or church or synagogue and see that damned casket. It isn’t as bad when you see “the body” right after it has been prepared for burial. You still have some days that “the body” will be on this earth, even if it is not breathing and talking.

You can still see him or her. You can touch …

But on this day, when that casket sits in front of the church or wherever, and you know that in a matter of hours, that box will be lowered into the ground … your guts spill out, and the supreme loss that death means for us becomes a sickening reality.

It is the worst day ever.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Oh death, where is thy victory? Where is thy sting?” We in the Christian tradition tend to take those words and work them into a reminder that because of Jesus, there is everlasting life and therefore, death did not win.

But that’s a hard line to tow on this, the worst day ever.

The good thing is that Katherine Jackson and his family and the world will always be in touch with Michael because of his music. It is timeless. He left a legacy, which is what he wanted to do.

As I was thinking about it all this morning, it occured to me that leaving a legacy was the best way, or one of the best, to help people with this “eternal life” thing. Ah, death could take away the body, but could never and can never erase the gifts of God that people use to the utmost while they are yet alive.

In that regard, death really did lose.

But on this, the worst day ever, the fact that that stupid box called a casket will take the remains of a beloved son, brother, father and icon and hold him in the ground …there is no way to erase the sense of loss everyone feels.

And that’s a candid observation.

Black Man, White Face

I have been listening with some interest and some pain, actually, about Michael Jackson and his work to change his appearance.

Actually, I’ve been answering questions of white interviewers as they have asked, confused, why anyone would want to change his or her appearance? Why, they ask, would Michael do that?

How about because white people made it so that the only standard of “beauty” was white beauty. The white definition of beauty made some to many African Americans not want to be brown or dark-skinned. That same definition made black people ashamed of nappy hair, big lips and big hips. 

Little black girls grew up wanting hair that moved and that didn’t puff up after getting wet. Black people ruined their own hair using harsh chemicals to straighten their hair out …so we could look more “white.” Some black people bleached their skin.

Black people (brown and Asian too) grew to hate the way we looked because we did not “fit in.” We could not hide our skin color or our lips or hips. Even if we managed to get a good education, which many of us did, we still could not escape our curse of being of African descent.

The European standard of beauty didn’t only affect black, brown and yellow-skinned people. I remember seeing my Jewish friends and white friends as well put their hair on ironing boards to make it straight. I remember white friends of mine being very upset that they did not have blonde hair and blue eyes – the highest rating one could receive for being beautiful according to European standards.

But at least at the end of the day, Jewish girls who got nose jobs and who straightened their hair, Hispanic girls who could downplay any “ethnic” look they had, and white girls who had brunette or red hair, could “fit in.” White America was slow to admit that someone other than a Nordic look was beautiful. Modeling agencies like the Eileen ford Agency slowly began to look at other ethnic-looking models, but only slowly …but be clear, if one looked “too black,” one could forget about getting a job as a top model.

Why doesn’t white America understand that?

I heard a Michael Jackson biographer talk about howthe pop star made disparaging remarks about black people, though he was black. That cut to my heart, if it’s true, because his own community so loved him.  African Americans have hated our look because white America said we were ugly. That Michael would hate his African ethnicity so much to essentially butcher his own natural good looks is so painful to think about, and it is more painful to think that he may have hated those who so loved him.

I can remember the daughter of a friend of mine crushed at prom time. She was a beautiful, very dark-skinned girl with amazing features and a stunning head of jet black hair that fell past her shoulders. She had a boyfriend who decided he would not and could not take her to her prom because she was “too dark.”

There are still African Americans who would rather be anything other than who they are, African American men who will not date African American women, or if they do, those women have to be very light-skinned.

Everyone wants to “fit in,” but America made it hard for African Americans to do that. Instead, we stuck out like sore thumbs, walking targets for the most horrible judgments and comments to be made about who we were and what we looked like.

That’s why Michael Jackson “went there.” Obviously, there were some other things which drove him; changing his looks became an obsession, or so it seems from the outside, but clearly, his desire to change from black to white came from a hatred of what this world seemingly hates.

I am grateful that for some African Americans, at least, we have dropped the term “good hair,” meaning hair that is not nappy. In my mind, any hair on one’s head is good hair! I am glad we are free enough to wear dread locks and other natural styles. I smile when I see white people now imitating us, not only with the hairstyles, but with injections to get bigger lips, and efforts to get darker skin.

Seems we weren’t so bad after all, eh?

Wish Michael had known that.

That’s just a candid observation.

What Michael’s Pain Says About Us

I just heard an interview on CNN between Wolf Blitzer and Deepak Chopra and it made my skin crawl and my spirit cry.

Chopra, talking about his concern about his belief that the king of pop was addicted to prescription drugs, also said that Michael hated himself.

He said that he kept his face covered because he was ashamed of how the vertiligo made him look. (the disease takes all pigment from the skin). And, Chopra said, he engaged in “self-mulitation,” including plastic surgery, to make himself feel better about the way he looked.

I thought of how I have heard people say they hate themselves because of the way they look. Overweight people will often stay in the house because they do not want to go outside and be stared at. I remember Oprah saying that after she had gained weight after losing a lot that she felt terrible, that she didn’t want be onstage and accept an award, that she felt uncomfortable and self-conscious on her own show.

How quickly we forget that we like to “fit in,” and that we like to be liked. We need to be liked; we need the affirmation of people, and even though Michael Jackson received great affirmation for his great and unique talent, it was the sneers about how he looked that he heard more.

He was a great man, and a greatly misunderstood man. He gave all he had inside through his music and dancing, and received acclaim for that, but knew the whispers about him were not good.

If it is a fact that he was addicted to prescription drugs, I wonder if it was partly because he needed to numb the pain. I think it is a fact that all of us, or most of us, are addicted to something. I do not understand it – this tendency of us to need something with which to self-medicate, but what I do know is that we as a culture, or maybe we as people everywhere in the world, seek to ease the pain of the reality of being alive.

Deepak Chopra talked about Michael’s addiction to prescription pain meds. Oprah and others have talked about food being their drug of choice. There are those addicted to cigarettes; I heard, in light of the recent sex scandals involving national legislators, that they were possibly addicted to sex. Dr. Drew said in an interview that sexual addiction is one of the hardest ones to lose. There are people addicted to gambling, others are addicted to hurting themselves.

What in the world is up? Why can’t we live without the addictions?

What makes me sad about Michael Jackson, his pain and his possible addictions, is that it shows how unsympathetic we are, how prone we are to rush to judgement and make disparaging remarks about others, remarks that hurt bad and go very deep.  How many of us sneered at Michael Jackson’s consistently changing appearance, due to the excessive plastic surgeries?  How much do we laugh at and criticize people who are obviously addicted or out of control? And how much of our criticism and laughter is an attempt by us to run from our own demons?

I would sure like to know the physiology of addiction, or maybe the psychophysiology of addiction. I would like to know what it is about humans that makes us so prone to need a crutch to get through our days and nights. But I would also like to be able to understand our incapacity as humans to show real compassion for each other. 

We would rather point a finger and laugh, as well as make assumptions about what is than to extend a hand to someone who is obviously in trouble.

It happens, often, that great people are very often very tormented people. Michael Jackson falls into that category, or at least it seems. If it was that he was addicted to pain meds, and the doctors with whom he was in relationship fed his drug habit in order to collect healthy paychecks, I will be angry and sad, but not surprised …because people are also addicted to power and money.

Or at least that’s my candid observation.