Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No Excuses: Angry Thugs and Looters are Still Thugs and Looters

I know you might hate this, but I'm going to do it anyway.  I'm going to write this as a mother, as a grandmother, as a card-carrying citizen of the United States, as a goddamned human being.

I'm white, but if you dare hold that against me you're no better than those who hold color against anyone.  We're going to talk about those stupid vandals who rampaged through their own Baltimore neighborhood the night before last, looting, burning, destroying nearly everything in sight.  They were black kids and they used the funeral of a young black man as an excuse to raise so much hell we'll be adding Baltimore once again to the list of the worst riots in the U.S.

So far, as of this writing, there have been no reported deaths--thank the light above for small favors.  But vicious, creepy thugs willfully savaged an entire neighborhood, and I submit the only thing poor Freddie Gray's funeral had to do with it was opportunity.  It was their big chance to blaze their way in, using righteous protest as a flimsy excuse to riot.

Rumor has it that they were mainly teenagers, that they used social media to get the word out, that a movie fueled their fervor for vengeance.  There are reports that the police themselves showed up at the school campus in riot gear and wouldn't let the kids get to their buses to go home.  They went to the neighborhood instead.

Some of the people who have lived through the cop-on-black violence in West Baltimore abhorred the rioting but tried to find ways to explain it beyond simple vandalism.  TaNehisi Coates knows the area and the police activities well.  He writes:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
 But it wasn't just the police and the politicians pleading for nonviolence.  Freddie Gray's family begged for it.  The preachers in the community prayed for it.  Neighborhood families hoped against hope for it.

If the thugs had stuck with setting police cars afire, with throwing bricks at police officers, I might have understood, but still not condoned, that kind of disrespect.  They see the police as the enemy. But they didn't stop there.  They didn't even start there.  Their intent was to riot.  To disrespect the community.

 For 48 hours, since the riot began, we've heard non-stop talk about the reasons why.  I won't go into all of them, except to say that the Baltimore police are known pigs who seem to thrive on punishing black people, and Freddie Gray, the young man who didn't deserve to die at their hands, did die at their hands.  Horribly.  They broke his spine, curled him up into a ball and stuffed him into their paddy wagon.  They ignored his need for immediate medical care. He died in their care and nobody but him has so far paid the price.

If I lived in that neighborhood and knew what I knew about the police and about this case and about the hundreds of other cases where justice was as cruelly denied, I would want someone's hide.  Not literally, of course, but I would want retribution.  I would want somebody to pay.  I would protest.  Loudly.  I would not shut up.  I would be just like the thousands of people in that neighborhood who finally have had enough and want something done now. But I, along with those thousands of others, would have respected Freddie Gray's grieving family enough to grant their wish for peaceful protest.

Freddie Gray's funeral sparked the riots, even though his parents and his twin sister begged for peace.  Begged for it.  Said it out loud many times:  "Please.  No violence.  Please."

But within hours of Freddie's funeral the mourners' remembrances of the slain young man took a back seat to the nightmarish witnessing of a full-blown incendiary riot.

The rioters (do not call them protesters) busted out windows and doors of small businesses, made off with the goods inside, and looted and vandalized a CVS drug store.  They commandeered a police car, severely injured the occupants, and set the car on fire. They rampaged through a liquor store and a check-cashing store. The CVS went up in flames. More cars burned. Then more buildings. Through the night, fires roared.

And--get this--when the fire truck arrived to put out the fires in this neighborhood where families live, one of the punks pulled out a knife and spiked the hose. Twice. The water meant to put out the fire spewed like a swell fountain into the air, far from its directed target.  I'm guessing the punks around him thought it was pretty cool, too.  Nobody--I mean nobody--said, "Uh, not the fire hoses, idiot."

Yesterday the community came together to clean up their streets.  Mothers, fathers, small children.  The elders.  They're trying to put their lives back together again. They're heartbroken.  They're ashamed.  They're angry.  They know how this will look.  NBC news correspondent Rehema Elllis reported that she saw women standing in front of the burned-out CVS store weeping--weeping--because they spent years trying to get a pharmacy to put down roots in their neighborhood. What are the odds that CVS--or any pharmacy--will build there again?

This is the harm that riots do.  Riots aren't protests. There is no good outcome from riots.  They're remembered into eternity as the crazed response to a bad situation, and when it happens in a black community it's the black community that has to answer for it.  The thugs, the vandals, the looters need to get that message.  Making excuses for their criminal behavior doesn't just let them off the hook, it gives them license to keep their destructive anger alive.

Toya Graham, the mother who whupped her son in front of the cameras yesterday to keep him from joining the looters showed us the way well-placed anger wins the day. Her raw desperation, hard as it is to watch, is about as heroic as it gets.
"'That's my only son and at the end of the day I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray'. . .
 'Graham says after she got her son home they both watched news coverage of the demonstrations and riots on television. As images of her reaction started to go viral, Graham says comments started appearing on her son's Facebook page, many in support of her.
'Friends and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn't be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,' said Graham.  [She] hopes the incident will serve as a teachable moment for her son."

Thugs will be thugs and to hell with them.  They almost destroyed this community.  Almost.  But the beauty of it, if there is such a thing, is that the people who live there aren't about to let them.  If something positive finally gets done in the community of West Baltimore, don't thank the rioters, thank the people in the neighborhoods who, in spite of the destruction, choose to rise from the ashes and work to build anew.

Addendum 4/30/15.  Since I published this yesterday I'm getting all kinds of flak about the use of the word "thug".  Yes, I must be living in a cave because I had no idea that word was now seen as some sort of code word for "black".  "Thug" is a word that has been around for over a century and is used appropriately to describe troublemakers.  There has never been a hint of color attached to it that I know of, and it's not my intent--or the President's, I'm sure--to offend anybody but the looters.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland.  Featured on Crooks and Liars MBRU))

Sunday, April 12, 2015

As Long as There is a Constitution, The GOP Can't Win

It's been a while, but here I am.  Illnesses and the vagaries of the gypsy life have taken a toll, frazzled my brain, and, if you can believe it, have led me to thinking about things other than the state of the nation.  During my enforced R&R I read a few novels, watched a few movies, spent time with friends, marveled at scenery, and all-around de-fragged.  I hung around on the edges of the political debates, but found myself thinking the unthinkable:  "Who cares?"

Now I'm back.

So. . .

What the devil has gotten into those Republicans?  Are there no grownups left in that party? It's as if, this past January, they all just got out of juvie, where they were plotting their mischief, and now's the time to put their malicious but childishly goofy plans into action.

They're fussing about bakers having to bake cakes for gay weddings, or, worse, cater the damn things.  Entire Republican-oriented states are busy working up laws that'll put a stop to it without looking like they're trying to put a stop to it, because, you know. . .discrimination.     It's all the media talked about for days.  As if the future of our country rested on whether or not gays are entitled to food or dry goods sold by, you know, Christians.

(About those Religious Freedom Restoration Acts:  Presumably they mean restoring religious freedoms to those given the Pilgrims before they fled Britain's shores and headed for what would become the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Because who has more religious freedom than Americans?)

Meanwhile, the latest polls show more Americans (many, many, many of them Christians) favor gay marriage than don't.  It's getting to the point where, one of these days, the mainstream media might have to recognize a dead issue when they see it and stop pandering to the bigots for stories that bring the greatest ratings.

And speaking of great, the great state of Tennessee is moving toward making the Bible the State Book.  (What is a State Book, you ask?  It's a book any state designates as a State Book.  Notice the caps. That makes it official.)  The closest I could come to finding other state books is a whimsical, non-binding list Kristen Iversen put together for Brooklyn Magazine last October.  Interesting selections--so interesting I forgot I was writing a blog and spent an hour over there, mulling them over, looking some of them up, arguing against some choices and cheering others on.  (Eudora Welty would have been a good choice for Mississippi, and Garrison Keillor for Minnesota, but in Michigan, my Michigan, it's Elmore Leonard all the way.  And what's with New York City having a place of its own among the states?)

As wonderful as some of those books might be, none of them is on a scale with The Bible.  No getting away from it, The Bible is a Big Book in some circles.  It's been at the top of the best seller lists for so long it's no longer even listed.  But we know it's there.  (Brooklyn Mag's choice for Tennessee, by the way, is Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God."  Gives you chills, doesn't it?)   But good luck, Tennessee.  (You do realize you're a state and not the protestant equivalent of the Vatican, right?)  By the way, Mississippi is thinking about it, and Louisiana gave this same thing some thought last year and then scrapped the whole idea.  But don't let that stop you.  Please.

Food stamps are a big issue these days.  According to the Republicans, nobody should be on food stamps, but since they can't stop it entirely, the next best thing is to shame the recipients into dropping out voluntarily.  Turn the masses against them.  Make them grovel for what little they get.  Pretend they're using it for lobster and filet mignon and Haagen Daz.  But understand this:  Since children should be unseen and unheard, except for those in the womb, tightening the food stamp belt will have no affect on the little kiddies.  None.  None at all.

To this new and nasty bunch of GOPers, welfare and Medicaid are tools of the devil, causing huge deficits in our coffers because the poor would rather live off the taxpayer's teat than work at any kind of job.  (What?  What's that you say?  Some people on welfare and Medicaid are working? At jobs?  I can't HEAR you!)

As Dana Milbank wrote in The Rush To Humiliate The Poor:
Last week, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”

The Kansas legislators must be pleased that they have protected their swimming pools from those nasty welfare recipients. But the gratuitous nature of the law becomes obvious when you consider that it also bans all out-of-state spending of welfare dollars — so the inclusion of a cruise-ship ban is redundant in landlocked Kansas.
Now we're hearing that some states are officially banning climate change talk in any state agency having to do with the environment where they might, on the off-chance, find themselves discussing that sort of thing.  They're not even making it a secret.  It's as if they don't know it's something no normal government body would do.  It's as if they think nobody has ever heard of their sugar daddies, the Koch brothers, and their vested interests in the fossil fuel industries. (I wonder what happens to anyone who defies that ban?  Boiled in oil?  Stretched on a rack? Tongues cut out?)

Oh, there's more.  Of course there's more.  Misogyny, racism, collusion, corruption, adultery, Downton Abbey. . .it never ends.  But what might save us is not the Good Book but our country's most important document.  As Thom Hartmann reminds us in a brilliant article called Why the Right Hates American History, our rights are, in fact, inalienable, not because we're Americans or Oklahomans or Kansans or Michiganders, but because we're humans:
The simple reality is that there are many “rights” that are not specified in the Constitution, but which we daily enjoy and cannot be taken away from us by the government. But if that’s the case. . .why doesn’t the Constitution list those rights in the Bill of Rights?

If you know your history, you know that the reason is simple: the Constitution wasn’t written as a vehicle to grant us rights. We don’t derive our rights from the constitution.

Rather, in the minds of the Founders, human rights are inalienable—inseparable—from humans themselves. We are born with rights by simple fact of existence, as defined by John Locke and written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Founders wrote.

Humans are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights….” These rights are clear and obvious, the Founders repeatedly said. They belong to us from birth, as opposed to something the Constitution must hand to us, and are more ancient than any government.

The job of the Constitution was to define a legal framework within which government and business could operate in a manner least intrusive to “We, The People,” who are the holders of the rights. In its first draft it didn’t even have a Bill of Rights, because the Framers felt it wasn’t necessary to state out loud that human rights came from something greater, larger, and older than government. They all knew this; it was simply obvious.
Thomas Jefferson, however, foreseeing a time when the concepts fundamental to the founding of America were forgotten, strongly argued that the Constitution must contain at least a rudimentary statement of rights, laying out those main areas where government could, at the minimum, never intrude into our lives.
We can't stop now.  I can't stop now. Not as long as the Republicans insist on doing their nasty work out in the open, for everyone to see. They're trying to create a new and terrible normal, using dirty money given to them by people who seek to profit by bringing our country down.

Hands on the Constitution, by the power vested in us, we cannot let it happen.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)