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I know I am Johnny-come-late to both of these news stories, but I have to say something.
first, watch this video…
Even if, as the police want to say, Eric Garner were resisting arrest (which I don’t see; I see a man not knowing why these officers have gone from talking to now reaching out to grab him, while at the same time, someone in plain clothes has just jumped on his back), if what you are doing leads to my death, at what point would it have been appropriate for me to resist the thing that is killing me?
WHEN do I get to value my own life?
After the fact the officers say that Garner had been accused by a local shop owner of selling individual cigarettes, which means he was not paying taxes on each sale (except for the taxes he paid when he bought the cigarettes himself)–a misdemeanor offense. At most it should have carried a fine. Jumping on someone’s back and choking them into submission is completely disproportional to the alleged crime. and the idea that the onus is on Garner to remain calm in the midst of that sort of life threatening assault is absurd.
That brings me to the second story. Yesterday Israel inadvertently (we hope) bombed a UN-operated school, as it pursues what is supposedly an assault on the militant political party Hamas by terrorizing the entirety of Palestine. As of yesterday the death toll in Israel’s 17-day offensive is 788 Palestinians to 32 Israelis. What about this is anywhere near proportional? No wonder Hamas keeps winning elections in Gaza–the front line for Israeli aggression. As wrong as Hamas usually is, people under fire want someone to fight for them.
Even if we still lived in a world where “an eye for an eye” made sense, in the last 17 days Israel has extracted 20-times the pair of eyes in return for its losses. This is far more than a pound of flesh!
But what kind of moral leadership can America lend? It won’t even demand proportional response from its own law enforcement 50 years after the cameras in Selma laid bare for the world the brutality and harassment under which a select people in this country are forced to live. How can it stand up and demand–not entreat, not ask, not call for, demand!–Israel restrain itself, when both nations’ myths of their own exceptionalism leads them to do exactly the same thing?
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Betwixt and between my various program directory responsibilities at the Goose this year. I also managed to find time to speak. This is my talk from Wild Goose Festival 2014, including question and response time.
You can also get it in bite-size chunks:
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Like the great Moses himself and all but two Hebrews who marched to freedom from Egypt, many good people are too much a part of what was to be a part of what is becoming. At best they can be mid-wives, but that takes a humility not common to what has been.
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Words could not express the profound dismay I felt upon learning that Vincent Harding had gone on before us. At 82, he had lived a long, rich life and deserved to take his rest whenever it suited him. Still, I was not ready for him to go.
Born in Harlem, NY, in 1931, Vincent Harding joined the Army at the age of 22, after earning a bachelor’s degree in history from the City College of New York at a time when being degreed and negro was no small thing. It was his time and success in the military that compelled him toward the Anabaptist peace tradition. Upon his discharge in 1955, he went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and master’s degree and PhD in history from the University of Chicago.
A follower of Jesus, Vincent pastored in Chicago before moving to the South in 1961 with his first wife, Rosemarie (deceased 2004), to start Mennonite House. Mennonite House became one of the command centers for the Movement. It was during that time, Vincent and Martin King became friends and confidants. As such, Vincent was occasionally asked to write for King or to represent him in highly charged, closed-door civic negotiations, when a lower public profile proved useful.
After King’s assassination, at Coretta Scott King’s request Vincent became the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center and, shortly thereafter, of the Institute of the Black World, both in Atlanta. In 1997, Vincent co-founded the Veterans of Hope Project, a multifaceted educational initiative on religion, culture and participatory democracy at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He was the author, co-author or editor of numerous books, including his magnum opus There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement and his most recent, a collaborative work, America Will Be!: Conversations on Hope, Freedom, and Democracy.
A lifetime invested in the Struggle, Vincent transitioned from this life on 19 May 2014. He is survived by his wife Aljosie Aldrich Harding, his adult biological children Rachel and Jonathan, Aljosie’s adult children and grandchildren, many friends all over the world and scores of adopted kin who lovingly call him “Brother” or “Uncle Vincent”. His great gift was making family and teaching others to do the same.
I met Uncle Vincent at the inaugural Wild Goose Festival, 2011. I was actually jealous of my friend Anthony Smith that year because he was able to get Vincent to open up to him, whereas I couldn’t get Vincent to say more than two words. It wasn’t until the following year, after my family and I got to know his beloved Aljosie and taught their grandbabies how to pitch a tent and roast marshmellows, that he invited me out to dinner and extended his friendship. All I was hoping for was a single chance to pick the brain of someone who had been there. Instead, I was given the gift of a familial intimacy that I will forever cherish.
The day before he went into the hospital, Uncle Vincent and I had spoken briefly. I was calling on a whim to ask about an article he had written in the mid-70s, “No Turning Back?,” a critical reflection on black liberation theology that kept coming up in my reading of James Cone.
Whenever I would speak to Uncle Vincent, I would reflexively hurry because I lived in awe of him. With his trademark patience, however, he had been teaching me to slow down. “We must always take time to be fully human,” he would say or imply to me, as he’d ask about the family, even if we had just spoken or seen each other the day before. This time… that last time… I remembered and slowed myself down, making a point to ask about his and Aunt Aljosie’s time on sabbatical in Philadelphia. He insisted that I must bring the family someday to the Quaker Retreat Center, Pendle Hill, where they were staying.
To my pleasant surprise, he informed me that he likely had a copy of the article with him. In response to an aside that I would love to talk to him one day about black theology, he immediately suggested that I call back the next day when he would have his calendar in front of him, and we could schedule some time. That was his way; there was no time like the present for him. It was an “appointment to make an appointment,” he remarked with a grin in his voice. We were never able to keep it.
Later that week, after word reached me of Uncle Vincent’s hospitalization, I found myself conspiring with Lucas Johnson, another of Vincent’s nephews, as to how we might help facilitate our mentor’s need to conserve his strength. Among the many things we discussed, what felt most hopeful was the idea of hosting an annual family reunion when all Uncle Vincent’s adopted nieces and nephews could come together to spend time with him and, at the same time, build relationship with each other. We figured that knowing there was a date certain each year when that generational transmittal could take place would take some of the pressure off of Uncle Vincent to have to entertain every phone call that came his way and some of the anxiousness out of each of us to have to make that phone call every time. But on 19 May 2014, the hope of being able to have that time with him died.
The news of Vincent’s passing came to me in a most unceremonious way. A friend, not knowing how close my family and I were to Uncle Vincent and Aunt Aljosie, caught me in transition as I was exiting the building of a conference I was helping to host. “Did you see the email that Vincent Harding died?” I had come outside to hang for a moment with the group of friends with which my informant was standing, but I just kept walking. I refused to believe it. The notice must be premature I told myself.
I made two calls: one to Aljosie, one to my wife, Leslie. Then I cried.
I need more of him. More of his 82-year-old mischievous grin. More of his full-throated, belly laugh. More of his and his beloved Aljosie’s feet under my dining room table. More of the love in his eyes and gentleness in voice toward my children. More of his appreciative interest and investment in the work Leslie is doing with our kids and other homeschooling families. More of his magnificent use of language. More of his favorite adjective—”magnificent”. More of his stories. More lessons on what it means to live with a big heart. More of the perspective of years he was able to provide. More of his closed-eyed thoughtfulness…. More of his wisdom.
Getting to know Vincent Harding over the past three years has made me more mindful of many things, not the least of which is the urgency to connect with those elders who lived the history that made the world I know possible. When I was in college, many of them were still active in their careers, but even at my HBCU, there was no one coordinating a national program that had us going from state-to-state in a series of 2-week seminars with the likes of Vincent Harding and Maya Angelou and Ozzie Davis and Grace Lee Boggs. At this point, so many have gone on and many who are still with us just can’t manage the stress of that sort of engagement like they used to. But there are those who can, and we need to do whatever it takes to glean from them all we can before the opportunity to do so has passed us by.
I will miss Uncle Vincent. I am grateful for the time we had; perhaps even more so when I remember that he wasn’t just my “Uncle Vincent”. You see, when you only wear a size 10.5 like I do, it’s hard to imagine being able to fill shoes the size of his all by one’s self. But when I remember his gift for making family and helping folks see they are not alone, I realize I don’t have to fill his shoes all by my lonesome. If we all step in with both feet, together we can fill the socially transformative shoes he left for us on the way to beloved community. Knowing him, that’s the way he would want it in the first place.
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Republicans are making a “pretty strange argument…. Essentially, what they’re saying is, once this is fully implemented and millions of people who currently don’t have health care have health care at reasonable prices and protections are in place for consumers across the board, that it will be sufficiently successful and popular that people won’t want to repeal it.
“Well, that’s a strange argument. So the notion is, we’ve got to stop it before people like it too much. That’s not an argument that I think most people buy.”
Part of the argument being made is that people come to like things that the government can’t afford anymore. “This is the argument that was made with respect to Social Security. This is the argument that was made to Medicare. It turns out, actually, people liked it, and we could afford it. And unlike the prescription drug plan that was passed by Republicans, which now is very popular with seniors — although at the time that it was passed was actually less popular than the Affordable Care Act, according to the polls–we paid for the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t add to the deficit. In fact, repealing it would increase the deficit.”
Though others seeking to advance a contradictory ideology want to argue different. All “the assumptions [we advanced] so far not only have held; they’ve actually exceeded expectations. Health care costs have gone up slower since we passed the Affordable Care Act. There were great predictions coming from the Republicans that health care costs would go up even faster; that hasn’t happened. There were predictions that the marketplaces that we’re setting up–essentially, the group plans where people buy health insurance — would not offer a good deal to consumers, and so far, the bids have come in from insurance companies, and lo and behold, they’ve actually come under the estimates that the government had so far.
Unlike the prescription drug plan that was passed by Republicans, which now is very popular with seniors — although at the time that it was passed was actually less popular than the Affordable Care Act, according to the polls–we paid for the Affordable Care Act.
So the truth is that every prediction about how bad the Affordable Care Act would be for individual consumers out there has not proven to be true, and so I understand why some Republicans who have made great political hay over the last two, three years about what a disaster this is going to be are worried about when it’s fully implemented and it turns out not to be a disaster–I get that. But that’s certainly not an argument for us to leave a whole bunch of people out there who don’t have health insurance to continue to suffer. We’re not going to do that.”
To hear more good sense, you can find the full interview between the President and NPR’s Steve Inskeep here.
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“I don’t try to think back to when I was one. I just try to live the life I have now.”
~Melvin IV, at 6-years-old
My son went to bed sad last night that he had run out of time to finish his pizza. We had a really late dinner and by 9:30 it was time to call it. He was really worried that I or his mother would eat this slice of cheesy deliciousness he had coveted with patience, “saving the best for last”–his words, not mine. Unfortunately, he just ran out of time.
I wouldn’t promise him anything, so my son woke up with pizza on the brain. Experiencing him trying to find a polite but decisive way to ask me about the food that remained was comical. I told him he reminded me of when I was six (man, I loved to eat). Melvin then remarked how hard it is to imagine me (and really, really old people) as a child. He then hit me with that statement about being fully present at six.
And I was glad that this morning when he came out his room and wanted to talk, I had completely stopped what I was doing on the computer to look, touch and listen to him.
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If you could never wrap your brain around the concept of systemic privilege, here’s one stark, uncoded and concrete example. In her interview with Anderson Cooper, Juror B37 from the George Zimmerman trial for the death of Trayvon Martin admits to ignoring the judge’s instructions to disregard the Sanford police detective’s testimony that he found Zimmerman credible when he interviewed him. She also volunteers that there was debate among the jury as to whether a conviction of manslaughter can be predicated on all actions leading up to the death of Trayvon or should it just consider what happened at that moment. Now the Florida Criminal Jury Instructions Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, Section 7.7, clearly states the prosecution must prove:
“(Defendent) intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of (victim).”
Oddly enough, it was never disputed that George Zimmerman randomly and falsely labeled Martin a criminal, branded him a threat to Zimmerman’s personal safety, hunted him down after expressing contempt for “assholes” who “always get away” and then used deadly force to make sure it didn’t happen this time. The only thing up for debate was who threw the first blow and, strangely, did Martin at some point gain the upper hand. Now it’s one kind of privilege that one can freely admit to doing multiple terrorizing things over the course of several minutes that provoke a fight–except possibly throw the first punch and/or win the entire time–and then kill the person they had spent minutes threatening, yet not be found guilty of inexcusable, unjustifiable “acts that caused the death of the victim.”
However, it’s a totally different privilege to be able to get on television after acquitting the killer and announce that, by the way, my decision was based on (1) disregarding the judge’s instructions that a detective’s assessment as to Zimmerman’s credibility was not admissible, (2) disregarding the judge’s ruling that the cries for help could not be definitively attributed to either Zimmerman or Martin (disregarding the only other witness to the start of the fight all together) and (3) disregarding jury instructions as written–and half the country won’t find that problematic at all! Now THAT’S some privilege!! And what makes it systemic is that somehow it doesn’t call into legal question the credibility of the entire judicial proceedings.
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On 13 July 2013 at 10p EST, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen whom George fatally shot the previous year. He had been charged with Second Degree Murder. In the stated of Florida that means the prosecution had to prove 3 specific things beyond a reasonable doubt according to section 7.4 of the Florida Criminal Jury Instructions Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition:
- The victim is dead.
- The death was caused by the criminal act of the defendant (with “act” being further defined to include “a series of related actions… performed pursuant to a single… purpose” of creating the dangerous condition that led to a death).
- There was an unlawful killing of the victim by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life (with the underlined phrase being further defined as having 3 necessary components: foreseeable harm, “ill will” and “indifference”).
As you can see, it was a fairly simple matter; then again, it wasn’t. The legal definitions of things are always more involved than the public’s general notions of what particular words mean. Still juries are made up of the public (at least select portions of it), and some would say “second degree murders often are decided on the ‘common sense’ of the jury.” And one can understand that. As writer, professor and culture critic Jimi Izrael has said, the Zimmerman trial was basically He said/He said. The problem is that one party couldn’t be present (will never be present ever again), yet his involuntary absence was taken as commentary against him. Trayvon Martin was tried and convicted for his own murder, with the only witness being the man who pulled the trigger.
As for George Zimmerman, the trigger man, of course there was reasonable doubt as to his criminal involvement in Trayvon Martin’s death. Trayvon was “up to no good,” “on drugs or something” the night of his demise. How do we know? George told us. Not at trial, mind you, where his version of events could be cross examined directly, but rather on the night he chose to see Trayvon as a threat 6 minutes before ending Trayvon’s life. What was Trayvon doing that made him “a real suspicious guy”? “Walking around” while talking on the phone and “looking about.” How do we know? Again George told us! Well, admittedly, we know about the phone call from phone records. George doesn’t mention the call, presumably because he doesn’t recognize it’s taking place. Why would recognizing Trayvon was on a phone call have been material? Because as common as the notion may be, there is no such thing as multi-tasking, only trying to switch between multiple things quickly, and if Trayvon were actually engrossed in a conversation on the phone, that would explain aimless pacing, meandering about, talking to himself and exhibiting sporadic body movements like “something’s wrong with him”, “just staring” and “looking at all the houses” to get one’s bearing in an otherwise unfamiliar neighborhood. But none of that explains the behavior to which George openly attributed nefarious motive. How do we know? George says so. And his mere saying so while not under oath establishes reasonable doubt.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say it doesn’t. Even if he weren’t guilty of any of the ways in which George profiled him as worthy of suspicion and characterized him as on drugs to the emergency dispatcher, we still know Trayvon was “up to no good.” Why else would he turn toward George–who was only politely, non-aggressively, non-threateningly following Trayvon in his car? Why would Trayvon walk toward George with “his hand in his waist band” and end up with “something in his hands” as he moved “to check [George] out”? And we know he did. How do we know? George tells us, just 5 minutes before he shoots Trayvon. Never mind the fact that absolutely nothing comes of this convincingly hostile act. In fact, so little comes of it that George stops narrating Trayvon’s actions for nearly 40 seconds. George’s uncross-examined blow-by-blow account of Trayvon’s actions are the official record, however, as to exactly what happened that night. And even though he has insisted that the police hurry while on the phone with the dispatcher, punctuating the urgency of the situation with all manner of erroneous speculation regarding Trayvon, George clearly has no motive to insinuate Trayvon has armed himself and even less reason to brandish his own firearm in response. According to George’s lawyers, it is “irresponsible” for the prosecution to imagine what George did in response to what he says he perceived as first suspicious and then threatening behavior. We must have facts, and the only facts we have are George’s interpretation of them on this 9-1-1 recording as they are happening, which only reference Trayvon and George’s feelings about Trayvon. George doesn’t say what he himself is doing or how that might be interpreted by a 17-year-old walking alone at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood, so all that must be inconsequential. That’s reasonable doubt right there.
Trayvon must have been “up to no good.” Why else would he run… from a stranger who has a gun and has been following him slowly in a truck for at the very least a full 2 minutes? Rachel Jeantel says Trayvon was worried and expressed relief when he loses George for a while, but let’s ignore her. She could barely talk straight and lied about multiple things not related to her testimony, including why she didn’t want to attend Trayvon’s funeral, so what she has to say, however contradictory to George’s account, doesn’t count. She’s only saying anything to help Trayvon and out of loyalty to his parents. George, on the other hand, has no such personal stake in the outcome of the trial. He only personally and permanently eliminated the one witness of equal involvement. As long as George can suggest that Trayvon ran because he had been caught doing something wrong or in order to get the drop on him, that’s reasonable doubt that he, George, acted with singularity of purpose. Dismiss Rachel and there is no evidence that George’s account of what Trayvon was up to and how the fight started is wrong. Dismiss Rachel and everything but George’s account of what happened is conjecture or conflicting 3rd-party testimony.
Even if we recognize how much uncritical deference we are giving to George’s account of what is taking place prior to the confrontation that ended Trayvon’s life, we know Trayvon was “up to no good,” which therefore exonerates George of any ill will in profiling, mischaracterizing and stalking him. We know it because at some point Trayvon fights back. How could any reasonable person foresee this? And better yet, how dare he? Hasn’t he learned about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King? Fighting back immediately disqualifies Trayvon as a credible witness to his own death.
Now here’s the thing, according to George’s attorney’s, it is irresponsible for us to imagine that anything more or other than what George has reported to the emergency dispatcher occurred that fateful night, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with simply assuming that George has told the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth to the dispatcher, investigators, family, friends, attorneys and TV cameras leading up to the trial–even though every verifiable judgement George makes about Trayvon on the emergency dispatch recording turns out to be false. Sure George acted on these false judgements, but this isn’t indifference to human life. Indifference doesn’t start with profiling and end with death. No, George’s forthrightness with law enforcement and apparent regret for killing a “kid” he at first reported to be in his “late teens” but later at his arraignment said he mistook as being in his mid- to late-twenties are actions steeped in ethics and good intent. Even though George’s ethics and good intent didn’t stop him from profiling, mischaracterizing, stalking and articulating disdain that “they always get away”–clearly identifying Trayvon, a person George doesn’t know, as one of “they”–we should imagine that George’s ethics and good intent stopped him from continuing to act on all his presumptions the moment the emergency dispatcher says to. Just because George says so and Trayvon’s not alive to say otherwise, that’s reasonable doubt.
Mind you, the imagination George and his attorneys do ask us to exercise in favor of George seems to have to rule out all kinds of real life experience. You can’t remember being a kid, tripping or sliding on concrete and scraping up your leg, because that might account for why with two people wrestling on concrete, a head and a hand would get bumped and scraped. You also can’t have ever pounded anything repeatedly against concrete, because then you’d remember how hard things break and soft things dent, bruise and tear badly–not a little. You also can’t have ever punched anything very hard, because you’d know how easily knuckles bruise (unlike Trayvon’s). And you can’t have ever fought for dear life, because you’d know that scratching is just a part of it (though nothing was found under Trayvon’s nails). It’s okay to imagine in favor of George, you just have to imagine that most of what George and his attorneys describe about both the fight and George’s reasons for being suspicious of Trayvon in the first place happened in a different world. As long as you do, that’s reasonable doubt as to any ill will on George’s part.
This is why a jury of his peers acquitted George Zimmerman of not only 2nd Degree Murder, which requires a victim, the intentional endangerment of human life and discernible commitment to follow through, but also of every possible lesser charge, including Manslaughter, which only requires a victim whose slaying was unjustified. Since the fact that Trayvon was killed at the hands of George was not in dispute, in this instance, as George’s attorney’s point out, being found “not guilty” means George is innocent of any crime as far as the jury is concerned. Obviously, like George, George’s attorneys and the jury live in a world where randomly labeling a stranger a criminal, branding him a threat to your personal safety, hunting him down after expressing contempt for “assholes” who “always get away” and then using deadly force to make sure it didn’t happen this time isn’t evidence of ill will and indifference and no reasonable person could have foreseen that each act in that series would have led to the next. It was the common sense of George’s six peers that Trayvon’s death at the hands of George was justified. In other words, it’s Trayvon’s fault he’s dead. How do George’s peers know this? That’s what George through his lawyers told them. Trayvon, the only other witness to the entire series of acts that precipitated his death, wasn’t here to say otherwise–and that’s American justice for some.
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Okay, brother and sister English teachers still fighting the good fight. You now have your “in” with black kids, if you didn’t before. Rachel Jeantel is arguably the most important witness in the Trayvon Martin murder. People with a heart for justice, want to see her succeed in shining light on the fact that Zimmerman was the aggressor even in the moment of confrontation. However, Rachel lacks the requisite language skills to have presented her testimony as clearly, coherently and convincingly as even she would have liked.
Her being pitted in a courtroom against attorneys whose business is language and logic is tantamount to me suiting up as the fifth man for the Heat against the Spurs and thinking I’m going to contribute something.
What an awful situation to be in. To have something to say. To want to say it in such a way that others might listen and understand. To need to be able to speak up on behalf of someone or something you care about. Yet to be unable to do so ____________.
To hell with folks who want to make fun of her! How dare you? Do you not understand that to diminish someone else is to diminish yourself? And you somehow think she’s the only one worthy of ridicule? How can you not see yourself?
It’s senseless to see this as only an opportunity to mock another. This is an opportunity to rally our children–all children–to the value of finding one’s voice and learning how to use it well.