Friday, July 8, 2016

Outrage Concerning a Lack of Outrage?

On Tuesday (7/5/16), two major news stories hit the internet. One was that of a black man by the name of Alton Sterling who was shot and killed by two white police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; the other was that of the FBI reaching a decision concerning Hillary Clinton's improper storage of government e-mail. Both stories generated a lot of heated discussion on Facebook and other sites allowing public comment. 

Yesterday (7/6), a friend posted the following observation concerning these stories:
"There is a racial line down my friends newsfeed. Those posting about the Hillary email scandal and those about the shooting of a black man in Louisiana. White and Black, which way do you think it goes?"
Although my friend was doing little more than posting an observation, I began to notice a disturbing trend as more an more people turned their anger toward "white people" who had not spoken out concerning Mr. Sterling's death (or that of another black man, Philando Castile, who was shot at a simple traffic stop near St. Paul, Minnesota the next day). More than once I saw that my lack of comment on the matter was being taken, at least by some, as evidence of racism - or at the least, a lack of empathy - since, at the time these erroneous accusations were being made, I had in fact posted concerning the Hillary Clinton news story, but not the Alton Sterling story.

So, for the record, let me state that the deaths of these two men, and of the five Dallas police officers shortly thereafter, concern me greatly. Any death of any human being, at the hands of another human being, is a tragedy. Period. Even in cases of an individual's demise by their own reckless actions, these people are loved - by a mother, a brother, a child, a friend, a spouse. These events hurt our collective humanity as well, often turning friends and neighbors against one another over differences of opinion or reaction.

These events are nothing new. The fact that nearly everyone in America now carries a camera on them at all times, and that this camera can quickly share photographs, video, and commentary with millions of people is the new aspect. And while I believe there are some positives of us being shown a reality that we may never have to face ourselves, there is also a danger to this ease of communication.

There is an old proverb (ironically often falsely attributed to Mark Twain), that "a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can even put on its shoes." For our generation, this should perhaps be altered somewhat to say "public outrage can go viral before fact can even log on." It's very easy to get millions of people outraged these days, independent of fact - just look at the campaign of Donald Trump. I have friends now who are already convinced that the police were in the right, having absolutely no facts on the incident, already hard at work to assassinate the character of the deceased as well. Others are convinced that the police involved were racist murderers, again, without anyone having the details of the events. This is exactly why I haven't made any comment - it is not for lack of empathy, but for lack of the truth.

This is, ironically, the exact reason I was posting concerning the issue of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and not of the tragic deaths of these men. This is not a racial issue, but one of information. Although Clinton's malfeasance was uncovered some time ago - I waited for over a year for the investigation to run its course. I was then able to report, as I had suspected, that the truth of the issue was neither as innocent as many Democrats had stated nor as damning as the narrative Republicans had been repeating.

In early August of 2014, another black man was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. For weeks, reactions to the death of Michael Brown dominated news feeds and community conversations. Early reports claimed that Brown had surrendered to the police, with his hands up, before he was killed. As a result, public opinion was greatly steered against police officer Darrell Wilson, with everyone from the St. Louis Rams football team to black members of Congress making the gesture "in support" of Michael Brown. The phrase "hands up, don't shoot" quickly became a mantra against police brutality.

By March of 2015, more than one autopsy concluded that the numerous individuals who had claimed to be eyewitnesses to the shooting had in fact fabricated this part of the story. The Department of Justice reported that:
"Investigators tracked down several individuals who, via the aforementioned media, claimed to have witnessed Wilson shooting Brown as Brown held his hands up in clear surrender. All of these purported witnesses, upon being interviewed by law enforcement, acknowledged that they did not actually witness the shooting, but rather repeated what others told them in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. … Witness accounts suggesting that Brown was standing still with his hands raised in an unambiguous signal of surrender when Wilson shot Brown are inconsistent with the physical evidence, are otherwise not credible because of internal inconsistencies, or are not credible because of inconsistencies with other credible evidence. In contrast, Wilson’s account of Brown’s actions, if true, would establish that the shootings were not objectively unreasonable under the relevant Constitutional standards governing an officer’s use of deadly force."
All of this is not to say that I don't believe that racism continues to plague many aspects of our nation, including within law enforcement.  While the Department of Justice did find that the facts did "not support federal civil rights charges against Ferguson police officer Darrell Wilson", it also found that the FPD collectively "engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments of the Constitution".  In other words, the truth was again found in the middle - Mr. Wilson did not murder a black man in cold blood, but at the same time, those defending the police as "heroes" were also incorrect.

Without detracting from the issue of these shootings, they are in fact complicated by another unfortunate reality: we have contracted an ugly strain of polarization, which flares up with every new tragedy. With every shooting, every court case, and every election, we continue to point fingers at one another, dividing ourselves voluntarily by lines of color, ideology, or religion. More and more people are all too comfortable with assigning guilt (almost always on a group of "those people" to which the judge does not belong), with collectively less concern with the truth.

By all means, there are problems with our society that will require more than outrage. We can't solve these issues by posting insults, accusations, or a volley of snarky Facebook memes. Bumper-sticker talking points aren't helpful, either. A fractured society will simply be unable to correct any of the issues we face; as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." So for those of you angered by my lack of commentary on any given subject, please be patient. I know many of you are hurting, and perhaps it is simply human nature to lash out in such situations, saying things we might not otherwise say, but I am your brother, not your enemy. I will gladly stand beside the oppressed, but justice can't be built upon outrage alone. It requires the foundation of truth.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Taking It Back

Who would have ever thought this would happen? It is all but certain now that the nominee for the "family values" party has had three wives, and the likely nominee for the Democratic party will, if successful, return the last president to be impeached by the House of Representatives to the White House. What have we done? Where did we go wrong? How did we end up the prodigal son, finding ourselves in squalor, living among swine? Can't we just go back home and admit the error of our ways?

This isn't the first time I've suggested returning to British rule, but given the state of our politics today, this may just be the first time it gets some serious traction. It's not like I'm suggesting we all move to what is currently the United Kingdom; no need to abandon American regional cuisine, or to live in a land of ubiquitous rain and fog. We need not start "talking funny" by finally speaking "the King's" correctly - although it makes sense as everyone but Sarah Palin already speaks "English" - she "speaks American". All we have to do is admit that we blew it, and ask to come back home. I'm sure that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith (a lot longer to say than "President Trump", but so much less painful) would take us back with open arms. I hear she's getting soft in her old age.

Sure, we had some good times, even decades to be proud of. We can carry with us all the fond memories of our two-century national rumspringa; no one's taking that away. We've simply run our course, and now have reached that age where we are finally mature enough to know that Mum always knew best. Best of all, the idea has some merit for every mindset in America.

For the religious right, so often lamenting (or even denying the existence of) the separation of church and state, this is your opportunity to finally make Christianity the official state religion! Unlike America, which is prohibited from establishing a national church, Great Britain has had an official state religion for centuries. The Church of England welcomes you. Just be forewarned that you can't have extreme points of view.

If you're a Bernie Socialist, you can finally relax. You may even be able to feel your blood pressure return to normal as you realize that there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Great Britain already has a national health service, and a progressive (yet relatively simple) tax code. You'll even win on gun control.

For traditionalists or history buffs, you can instantaneously multiply your national history and traditions by four or five. We can even return to our first flag, the Grand Union Flag, and consequently need not worry about having to fit in a 51st star for Puerto Rico. We can keep our patriotic colours of red, white, and blue.

If you're a political outsider tired of the same two-party system, the Parliamentary system might be just the thing. Yes, they still have two major parties, but there are a number of other parties represented in Parliament, and they can often break a stalemate by siding with one side over the other. If you're a conservative, you'll be pleased to know that the conservative party not only currently controls Parliament (and thus also names the Prime Minister), but their conservatives are not in the midst of a civil war. And if you're a Trump fan, and just like to see politicians insult each other, these guys wrote the book.

If you like the celebrity gossip, you'll still get a steady stream of all that, but with royals instead of Kardashians. Will and Kate beats Jon and Kate even with only two instead of eight (and they have yet to separate). The BBC can actually still broadcast neutral news, where Fox and MSNBC frequently abandon reality.

As Scotland recently showed us, we can still reject independence. Who says you can't go home?