21st Century Society

“What would you say if it were true?”

This is the question I ask people the most when they hear, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that policemen are only held accountable to their own justice. What do I mean by this? If a policeman is accused of unjustifiably using violence and even killing a fellow citizen, the only people who will decide their fate are the officers they work with. They control the investigation by controlling the crime scene. So when I tell someone that I saw people brutalized all the time by police for no other reason than those people had nowhere to go, people always ask “well what was that person doing?”

It’s a good question I suppose. When I tell them the person wasn’t doing anything, they don’t believe me. It’s hard to believe an officer of the city would do such a heinous thing. So instead of trying to convince them, I just ask “what would you say if it were true?”

It’s a very tricky question and you can see the reluctant look on their face. Are they denying the incident because they don’t want to believe it or because it’s not true? Am I telling them the truth? And if they knew on their own that my story was true, would they deny it …like they’re doing right at that moment. They realize all of these things at once.

“If I knew something like that were true, I’d at least admit it. It’s the only way I can do anything about it.” That’s what I tell them before they can even answer. Because it doesn’t matter if the particular situation is true. There are well publicized, well-known acts of police brutality all over the news and internet in America. We have a history of police brutality. One could even say our modern police (FBI) were reared on the idea of enforcing racial inequality. Even if police step out of line once, that’s one time they could be stepping on YOU. And that thought usually wakes people from their complacency. They can’t fathom someone hurting them, someone who’s supposed to protect them.

They might then nod and agree, but they understand that their agreement means they ought to do something. If they avert their eyes now, others will publicly know it. They now have a responsibility. They ought to read the story. They ought to learn what happened to the victim’s family, to the officers. They ought to ask “how often does this happen?”

And the person will usually arrive at this question sooner than later, but they don’t announce it in this way. Instead it comes out as a defense of this officer they don’t know, have never seen, and will never meet. He’s infinitely more trustworthy than what he’s accused of, more trustworthy than people they know, like me. “Well that’s completely rare,” they say.

“How do you know?” At this time I’m lightly provoking them to think about what they know about police. They have no idea how often these things happen, but they’re disturbed enough to deny it out of hand. If this happens often, if we believe that our police officers are capable of abusing the law in ways that end peoples’ lives, suddenly our police are no different than Russian or Chinese (our favorite villains) policemen TV — and THAT can’t possibly be the case, they reason. That image of policemen as friendly helpers begins to crumble before my eyes.

Silence usually follows. I’ll usually pat my friend on the shoulder. “All that matters at the moment, is what’s happening at the moment.” I might say. As it happens, a kid was shot and killed by police officers not long ago. This is the moment that contextualizes our conversation. A lone, young black teenager, days away from attending college, shot dead by several policemen.

We know the kid was shot 6 times, twice in the head. We know he was unarmed. We know policemen have to report the situation and their word is final. We know that non-whites are far more likely to be threatened with violence during an encounter with cops — even if unarmed and even if an armed white suspect is on the scene. The most popular case right now is this kid, but he’s reportedly 1 of 5 black men killed by police in the past month nationally. 5 in the same month across the nation. So much for isolated situations.

At a recent rally in the town where this happened, a police officer was caught on video threatening to kill a protester. Now …what are we to think of their attitude towards policing that community? It’s the one piece of evidence everyone will disregard, yet it’s precisely this type of thing that tells us about the people who murdered the kid.

Time for a story. I ran with two other young guys when I was a teen. We were all extremely poor. I stole a lot of things back then. Most of the time unsuccessfully. I’ve been to jail for it. I’ve had scraps with other people on the street and I’ve been to jail for that too. I have no police record. My hispanic counterparts (I grew up in a predominantly black and latino neighborhood) all have records with every single time they stole something or had a fight and were caught. We learned this when we tried getting place together. One of us got a huge break that helped me to get a job when I was 20. We’d all decided to get a house together after we got jobs. It took one of my friends a year longer to find a job (in fact he ended up working for a relative for a while) and the other eventually gave up and left, even when we begged him to stay anyway. I don’t know where he is today. Those jobs were life changing and the fact that some cop decided not to record my arrests is something I continue to benefit from today.

“It’s a real shame what happened to that kid …” my friend finally says, speaking on the police shooting. I can hear a “but” though it’s never spoken. Some part of them hangs on to the faith that our system of justice is equally available to all, that policemen protect us regardless of color or sex. I agree with my friend then casually bring up the recent arrest of a police officer who sexually assaulted six women. Well, 6 of them are known and it took the courage of just one woman to report it. All of the women are black. The officer is white. Some would dare say that race isn’t germane, but it’s equally, if not more relevant than the acts. He threatened to arrest them if they didn’t do what he told them. He usually assaulted them on the spot and raped at least 1 of them. If you were one of these women, your odds were horrible from the start. I mentioned earlier that a policeman threatened to kill a protester. Well that cop was later suspended without pay. The person he threatened was white. The cops who killed the unarmed kid? They got suspended with pay. Anyone could argue that these two facts are different and unrelated. But given the context and the information I’ve given you until now, why would you?

“…” is all I hear from them. My friend is speechless now and somewhat upset. How could they not be?

Most of us, and by most I mean 90% of us, know exactly what’s going on in our country. But it’s so awful that most of us don’t have the fortitude to face it. Some of us are able to lead blind lives, never reading the news, never knowing about these tales. That’s a privilege, one that I enjoy myself thanks a clean police record. We know our cops are racist and we have no shortage of sociological studies pointing out areas of concern. What we lack is the courage to face it. These things don’t happen because of ignorance. They happen because we know we don’t want to know, so we make an effort not to. When we use this deliberate lack of knowledge as an excuse to do nothing, that’s not ignorance. It’s malice.

This is 21st century society, a time of great cowardice and a time when courage is needed the most. There are solutions and ways forward, things we can definitely achieve and improve, but we’re a nation that can’t find the strength to acknowledge our problems. All the men who were killed the past month will be found guilty of provoking those policemen. That’s how these things usually go. The facts reported won’t match the evidence, as is usually the case. The cops will be acquitted of wrongdoing. Many will deny race was a factor. Some will even support these cops even though they violated their own procedures during the encounters.

No wonder everyone is fleeing to the internet. Real society has become a terrifying place.

Talking ‘Bout Love

Blaugust 19th

Despite all my misfortunes of the past there’s no denying how fortunate I’ve become. My life is filled with love and I love thinking about how I got here. It was all an accident in a sense, but chalking it up to pure luck robs love of it’s meaning.

Murf inspired me to write this. He ranted about a love interest and it reminded me about how exciting that is, to adore someone and anticipate a future with them. Things go from “I’ll bet this person does [insert fantasy]” to “I love/hate it when they [insert habit]”. Its exciting to fall in love and to be in love, isn’t it?

The truth is I waited far too long to ask my wife out. We’d spent lots of time together as neighbors and friends in my early 20s. She was still in college and I was barely off the street. I had begun shacking with a few buddies of mine and found a small time job in those years at a grocery store. We shared rent on the place and shared pretty much everything else. We were still very much living in poverty, but at least we had a roof.

Anyway, Sarah was a busy body. Always doing some kind of community work, always studying. She and her roommate had frequent gatherings on weekends, usually just an intimate group of friends, some music, some liquor, some weed. She and I would somehow end up on the porch talking …well she did most of the talking. I didn’t exactly have anything interesting going on in my life. But I remember admiring her passion. She studied sociology and seemed to always be on fire about some issue or other. I always thought she looked beautiful, but strong women are a weakness of mine. I remember how attracted to her I felt. I never asked her out.

Fast forward a few years when I return visit friends and learn she’s available. Surprised was an understatement. I literally couldn’t believe someone like her wasn’t steady with someone else. I asked her out the next time I saw her and she said yes. The rest, as they say, is history. Even though we’d always had good chemistry, the day we turned it into romance was the day my heart went nova for her. I don’t even remember who I was before that day and I know it’s true for her too.

Love is a transformative experience. We’re never the same afterward. In a way, its transcendent too because the world becomes a very different place when we’re in love. It’s easier to find meaning in everything. There’s part of you that has to become absorbed in the other person, things you let fall away willingly because you suddenly understand that something else matters much more. You begin to hope everyone finds something like this and you begin to believe it’s a crime if anyone could live and never experience it. You realize how necessary love is as a cosmic ingredient, an element more powerful. The only reason it’s not on the periodic table is because it’s not matter, but it’s energy and existence are felt everywhere …when you’re in love.

If you’ve never experienced it, I’d say it’s not too difficult to find. I’ve learned that love isn’t so much about the other person as it is about you. What we want, how we see things, what we’re willing to accept. It’s not something that happens or which is found, but something that you discover has been there all along. Or at least that’s my experience with it.

Have you ever been in love?

Scree Tags: #love #romance

Childhood Trauma

Blaugust 18th

First a note. In the spirit of Blaugust I’ll only be doing diary entries to fill daily content. The things I write just really can’t be published in a day and I really hate that I can’t read and comment on my favorite blogs because all of my spare time is spent on publishing each day. So if I set aside 10 little minutes to a daily summary then I won’t have to quit Blaugust 🙂 And I can still dedicate my time to the research needed for my usual articles. Sound like a bargain? Good. Now onto the topic!

My son hurt himself the other day. Pretty badly. He fell off of his bike and got a bloody head and a knot. The thing is, he favors me so all I saw was my childhood self in him. And I apparently blacked out memory wise. The only memory I have of the incident is holding him after the fact while my wife drove us to the emergency room. It felt like holding myself when I was a kid.

My son is fine. Kids fall off of their bikes, it’s not unusual. His head injury was minor for all the blood on my shirt, didn’t even merit a stitch. But the event triggered some memories in me I thought were long gone, things I thought I’d dealt with. Memory loss during traumatic events isn’t uncommon and now I’m thinking I should get some counseling for those memories. There are bad things from my childhood that I don’t remember.

The particular memory the accident triggered was something I had forgotten as a kid too. My head was bleeding. This happened the same year I ran away I think. I didn’t even remember it until now. And now I’m wondering how much other stuff I don’t remember. It’s not a good feeling because you can’t resolve things you don’t remember. You can’t deal with things that you don’t know happened to you.

The doctors checked Jacob out and all the usual to make sure he was alright, then sent us home. It was just a really blood scrape. Kids fall off of their bikes all the time. For the rest of the day he played with his sisters. He watched a movie. He was fine. I was the one who wasn’t fine.

I’ll be looking into some kind of therapy that helps with these kinds of memory things. There are apparently still things that stick with us even in adulthood and I can’t black out every time one of my kids has a bloody scrape. I can’t even believe I’m typing this, but …here I am. It’s kind of hard to admit to having a problem, isn’t it? Especially when you didn’t know you had it. Anyway, this should be an interesting new adventure I suppose. I wonder what kinds of things I’ll learn about myself during therapy. Maybe I’ll amuse you with stories about it.

Pages I Write

Blaugust 14th

I write because …I’m not good at talking, but I have things I want to say.

Writing everyday is a LOT. I’ve seen some Blaugust participants say the same, that writing everyday isn’t their style. It’s definitely not mine either. But it’s been a fun challenge to participate in.

The problem I’m struggling with the most is like whack a mole. If I put more time into publishing something everyday, then I have less time to read. So I’ve been getting behind once again on my blog reading. Making that worse is that every blogger I know is doing Blaugust, so there will literally be a mountain of things I want to read by the time this is all over. Some conversations are happening that I will miss by writing everyday.

I’ve come to appreciate my usual writing schedule even more because Blaugust is showing me how balanced I”ve actually been in managing all of this. It’s hard to know if you’ve got balance while you’re maintaining, but the minute you stop and do something different you notice right away. Between work, home life and gaming, I sure do miss my usual writing schedule!

Still, I want to do this challenge. I want to know what it’s like again to do more writing than editing, which really becomes a problem over time. Some of my articles the past 2 weeks have had far less editing than I usually would do (and it shows), but it’s nice to just put something imperfect out there and be done with it. Some of you may have noticed that my diary type posts (the ones that start with Blaugust [insert date]) give you a glimpse into things I do outside of gaming like research on community issues and spending time with my babies.

I like writing, obviously right? But what I’m liking about Blaugust is learning how to press publish more often without editing too much. I may yet regret that for some of these topics, but for now it’s nice to know what that’s like once again.

Scree Tags: #Blaugust

Sleeping in Public

Blaugust 9th

homeless-dblupThis is a crime in many places around the United States. Just take a long moment and really thinking about that. A person falling asleep in public as a crime.

No, I mean it: Think about that for a moment. Then take a look at this national report.

What kind of society criminalizes sleep? Try to imagine that.

Did you know that begging in public is also a crime in many cities across the US? How about sleeping in vehicles? Did you know it’s a crime in many places to sleep in your own car?

The city you live in, more than likely, criminalizes homelessness in one way or another. Since the great crash of 2008, homelessness has been on the rise. It’s no mystery that there’s a relationship between the housing crisis and the increase of homelessness. So why isn’t this a high priority? In my experience, people tend to think of problems like homelessness as something that happens to other people. In other words, they don’t see it as a real problem. Some lazy slob doesn’t have a home and they ought to bootstrap themselves into prosperity. People tend to believe we control whether this kind of thing happens to us, thus there’s very low perception of homelessness as a national problem. It’s considered a personal problem.

homeless-carsMost people that are homeless are just like you. Usually they fall on bad times from the lose of a job or a house. Affordable housing is one of the most important factors to observe when predicting where the next homelessness crisis will strike. None of us is untouched by the human suffering of homelessness. You could be homeless tomorrow through no cause of your own. Contrary to the words of prominent politicians, homelessness isn’t something that only affects lazy moochers. Most homeless persons were gainfully employed just before they lost their homes. What this tells us is that a right to work is directly tied to a right to food and shelter.

homeless-sheltersAn increase in unemployment doesn’t have to mean an increase in homelessness if society provides humane safety nets for it’s citizens. But we have people actively lobbying against protecting citizens from the tyranny of companies. There are people who actually believe that we ought to live on the whims of employers. They enforce this by dismantling social services which help citizens who fall on hard times (which happens for any number of reasons like family changes, deaths, illness, unemployment, disabilities, etc). These people say that welfare makes us weak and discourages people from trying. Being poor is therefore seen as a crime.

I ask that you look at the homeless ordinances in your hometown. Learn how your neighborhood treats the least of you. Read up on the statistics of homeless persons near you and learn what’s being done to solve the problem. I won’t ask you to write legislation or attend rallies or even to vote. All I ask is that you learn about the issue in your community. Be aware of how your neighbors are treated and what your city is doing about it. Awareness can go a long ways and it’s a start. Only you can decide what to do with what you know.

For those in the Los Angeles area and California region generally, here’s some resources to help you get up to speed on things in our neighborhood.

Keep in mind that the distance between shelters can be extremely far, so if you’re looking for shelters and centers you’ll need to look them up locally.

Do You Have An Identity?

Blaugust 8th 

Do you? Are you sure?

Well in the US you don’t unless someone gives you an identity. Does that offend your sense of being? You don’t exist unless someone Official tells you that you do. Your appearance won’t change anyone’s mind about this. Simply occupying space isn’t enough to prove that you’re really there. You could claim to be anything, including human, if you don’t have an identity card. But if you have this card, we’ll know for sure that you have a right to breathe and walk around and do things like vote.

This is the stuff of sci-fi novels, denying humans rights on the basis of some arbitrary legal requirement that politicians know will disenfranchise the citizenry. I know there are those who would say that requiring ID to walk around a country makes sense because we have to be able to identify citizens from non-citizens. To that I say: and why is it important to distinguish the two? And they’ll answer with more legal justifications:

And probably more excuses that I can’t fathom the importance of when it comes to human rights. Here’s a question: if a poor family showed up on my doorstep, starved, sick from exposure, destitute and speaking only a foreign language, I have a right to turn them away and even call the cops. That’s the law. But don’t I also have a moral duty to feed them and assist them with their healthcare in any way that I’m able? Is turning them away simply because it’s legal somehow justification for not doing what is right?

Voter ID laws seek to undo what was done when Obama was elected president of the USA. For those on the outside, this reference to Obama has to do with how it was possible to elect a black man, the first time my country has ever had a President that wasn’t white and male. The minority vote was crucial and decades of voter data show that conservatives struggle to win the approval of certain minority groups, usually all of them. When more people vote, the Republican party tends to lose. This hasn’t been a problem for them in the past, as minorities were a minority and all these politicians needed to focus on was the white male vote. That’s changed dramatically since Obama. They know now that they can no longer win elections on this demographic. So their approach is to change who gets to vote. They’ll cry illegals, and criminals and all other things to mask the fact that they want to disenfranchise the voters who don’t vote for them. That’s the bottom line: if you’re not voting for me, you can’t vote at all. All of their policies seek to decrease the number of eligible voters, instead of increasing them which is what every politician elected to offices ought to do.

These charlattans use voter scams all the time and they find them unobjectionable when it’s in their favor. One cannot deny that Florida has been rigging presidential elections for over a decade, but since those machines tend to favor conservative candidates, blindeye is the policy. The bottom-line is that the more people that vote, the less likely the Republican party is to win that election. So they have a political interest in disenfranchising voters and their policies aim to prevent voting, not help get more voters to the polls.

A note about this rant: I don’t actually believe that there are two political groups in my country, conservatives and liberals, but I believe people use these labels anyway because they’re easy to understand. When I say conservative, I’m referring only to those who label themselves as such, the self-proclaimed conservatives. And these are the politicians bothering themselves over voter ID laws.

Second to note is that voter ID laws share a lot in common with poll-taxes and literacy tests, in that they conveniently are inapplicable to those who want to implement them because the criteria is based on things they have. The assumption is that only legitimate citizens can afford to vote, and others who are indeed citizens but who are non-the-less illegitimate in the eyes of the majority, can be prevented from voting by requiring things of them that they find it difficult to acquire.

Identification is one of those things.

Law mandates that anything the government requires us to have must be given to us. The law can’t say that we must have ID’s and then charge us money to get them. This is why voter ID law has been stricken down at the federal level. If conservatives want ID to be mandatory, then they have to distribute those ID’s for free. And we all know how they feel about government giving out anything. It’s about principles people. Stand on them!

I wish people had the fortitude to be honest in our modern times. It’s annoying to see so many cowardly politicians and citizens hide behind clever wording, and manipulative legislation instead of coming right out and telling us what they really believe. But these people know that they’d be rejected out of hand were they to be honest. People find people repulsive who slander others, citing the law, while refusing to help those others because they have dire need. Just like the poor family on my doorstep above. These self-proclaimed conservatives believe in principles, they say. And I’d have to agree. It’s just that these principles don’t include compassion for human beings. It’s all about sticking it to’em and rigid laws and following rules without ever addressing real people’s needs.