What’s Going On.

It seems appropriate that the last time I updated this blog was on occasion of a mass shooting. That’s what a friend told me when he recommended I pen a post for catharsis’ sake in the wake of a massacre of my people in Orlando, Florida.

As a gay man, the slaughter at Pulse shook me to my core. I had never been to Pulse but I’ve been at enough clubs to know exactly what it, and the victims, looked like. Coincidentally I was in Orlando the week before; a few changes in circumstance and that could have easily been me bleeding out on a dance floor, alone and terrified. Or, with my also-mortally-wounded boyfriend, both of us alone and terrified. I saw on repeat videos taken from inside the club by people who died that night. I can still hear the rifle splitting the boozy air. 

Can you believe that was not even one month ago?

Tuesday morning we woke up to news of the shooting death of Alton Sterling. Sterling was selling bootleg CD’s when someone dialed 911 claiming he threatened a person with a firearm. The police arrived, tackled him, and pinned him to the ground. Then one of the officers yelled, “Gun!”, and a gun was drawn, placed to Alton’s back, and fired. And fired four more times. Though media was quick to note his detailed criminal history, and not to recognize that it is irrelevant since the police did not look up his record before shooting, few noticed he left behind five children. I can still hear the shots piercing the night.

Sterling’s violent end deeply troubled me. Yet another black man turned into yet another hashtag. It’s not as if these events are new — not to America at-large since 2014 and not to Black America since ever — but Sterling’s abrupt end was the first of those videos I had seen since Walter Scott’s brazen assassination was just too much to bear. And before him, John Crawford’s execution for buying something from a Walmart. And before that, Tamir Rice, just a little baby, his life stolen for playing in a park.

Thursday morning we woke up to news of the shooting death of Philando Castile. Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light, around when the police scanner allegedly mentioned Castile fit the profile of a robbery suspect “’cause of the wide-set nose” he had. Castile notified the officer he had a licensed firearm in the car. He reached for his wallet for his identification, as instructed. The officer drew his weapon, and shortly thereafter fired. Four times. I can still hear the shots cracking the afternoon calm.

Castile’s violent end, frankly, devastated me. And terrified me. As much as I loathe relating that word to news stories, Philando Castile’s killing terrified me. Between my mother and the firearm safety courses I’ve taken, I’ve been told multiple times, if I’m pulled over with a firearm in the car I am to tell the officer straight away, “For safety’s sake, I want you to know that I have a licensed firearm in the car.” Castile, it seems, did just that. He followed the rules. Everything police officers have told me personally to do in that situation. Yet, he is dead.

And then Friday morning, the unimaginable. I saw the news all day and I still cannot believe it. Five officers of the Dallas Police Department shot to death by a sniper. One at point-blank range, graphically broadcast on late-night cable news. Scenes of panicked civilians ducking and scattering, and a seemingly unending stream of police bravely engaging the shooter as best they could. So many gunshots; it’s impossible to count.  I can still hear the assassin’s rifle thundering through the city center.

There are hardly words to describe the brutal, inhumane carnage in Dallas. As prevalent as racial killings of black people by police are, odds still are that most police officers you encounter are at least decent people, if not outright good cops. Dallas in particular earned national praise for putting in the challenging work to reform their department, to avoid the sorts of tragedies that have struck Baton Rouge and Saint Paul and Chicago and Baltimore and Cleveland and New York and so many other places. Prior to the attack Dallas police officers were taking photos with and even joining in with protesters, in addition to protecting them from danger.

Then they got a tragedy all their own. Of the five officers murdered in cold blood, only one has been identified so far. Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson left behind a grandchild, and a marriage only two weeks old. Thompson is DART’s first officer fatality in its 27 years of existence. I don’t know if I watched him die today, but I saw plenty of corpses so there is a good possibility I saw his demise as well.

What can one even say? Or do? I know I have spent the entire day intermittently, and uncharacteristically, crying. I see people taking their outrage to the streets, demanding at once police reform and respect for officers’ lives. As we all should. But at the moment I am paralyzed by sorrow. A profound sorrow that people matching my demographics are still routinely killed, often with state power, for little to no reason. A profound sorrow that example-setting officers can be randomly gunned down in a disgusting perversion of the name of a movement pressing for other police departments to follow the lead of Dallas.

And I am afraid. I hate to admit it, but I am afraid.

I am afraid that a night out with my love could end in a hail of gunfire obscured by the bass from a Beyoncé song or a haze of whiskey. I am afraid that a routine stop or even chat with a police officer could end with a gun, or a bullet, in my face. I am afraid for the police officers under fire last night and, stunningly, all throughout today. I am afraid that the mayhem visited upon Dallas and across the country will only make things worse for both minority communities and police departments.

And there is the amplified fear that I, or someone I know, will simply be one of the 30 or so Americans killed each and every day with a firearm. One of the 30 or so nobody notices or remembers, because it is just “routine gun violence.”

Please be safe out there.


American Exceptionalism, FMJ

President Obama keeps insisting this isn’t normal, and that we cannot let it become normal.

I have lost count of how many times he has made that comment. I think that makes this, saddeningly, normal.

How many people have to die?

How many people have to die. I struggle to say anything meaningful, not only because of the crushing routine of it all, but because everything that can be said has been said, because this is normal.

Like so many people, about three years ago I believed with all my heart that the cold slaughter of five year olds at school would be enough to turn the tide, to stem the constant torrent of firearms gushing through the country. And, as is normal, nothing came of it.

Congress failed, as is normal. And people die for it, as is normal.

I live and work in the Washington, D.C. area. I have for most of my life. Despite how D.C. is a constant target for attack, I do not think I have ever been more regularly anxious about losing my life to a gunman than I have been recently. I have to reach back to the beltway sniper attacks, when a trained marksman stalked and killed random civilians for a month. A few of the crime scenes were places I frequented. Walking home from the bus stop in October 2002, I stuck close to street parked cars in case I needed to duck. Today, children have active shooter drills in school where they hit the floor when they hear a loud bang. Home alone I stuffed pillow upon pillow in front of the window, doing what I could to obscure my movements. Today, you can buy an emergency bulletproof throw for home, office, or school use. Is this really what our country has become?

The modern mass shooting can happen to anybody, anywhere, anytime. Some disaffected man with $500 could decide to buy a shotgun tonight, and blast me to pieces on my way to work tomorrow. Or they could kill your friends eating out at a restaurant. Or they could murder your children at daycare.

It is fine to like guns, and it is fine to want to keep them. But they are killing tools, first and foremost. All of their power, even their nonlethal intimidation factor, derives from the common knowledge that a gun makes killing fast and easy. So easy even toddlers can do it. Keep your guns, but acknowledge that they are uniquely dangerous items to own. Killing tools carefully designed to end lives with maximum efficiency should be strongly regulated. Knives cut vegetables and open Amazon packages. Bats play baseball. Guns just kill.*

After one of the countless massacres, President Obama mentioned that people may have to become single-issue voters to finally kick the government into action. After all the blood, destroyed families, and daily anxiety I may have to take him up on that. We may all even have a moral imperative to take him up on it.

Too many people have died. I fear every day I could be next. This has to stop.


*Setting aside target shooting, but that is not so precious a right that we cannot have any new gun control at all.

Sins of the Father

Racism continues to be a defining issue of 2015. Any person of color will likely tell you that racism is always a defining issue of any given year, past present or future. But the last few years are unique in that broader society is actually discussing the effects racism continues to have on society. Since this is the internet, by “discussing” I mean “calling each other fascists and racist and misogynistic slurs.” It’s still an improvement from the status quo, when the routine oppression of people of color was ignored by everyone except the immediate witnesses. One of the later manifestations of this broad-based consciousness of race is the growing furor to drop President Woodrow Wilson’s name and likenesses from Princeton University, a school Wilson administered as its president before doing the same for the whole country.

Sometimes these “change the name” targets make sense. Jefferson Davis’ only meaningful legacy is treason in the name of slavery. Stonewall Jackson is only memorable for his battlefield prowess in the pursuit of preserving slavery forever. Woodrow Wilson was a trenchant racist his entire life. Perhaps most famously he hosted an official screening of Birth of a Nation in the White House; the film included a quote of his about “a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, [rising up] to protect the Southern country.” Abhorrent as this hate is today, hatred is not Wilson’s only legacy, and to reduce it to that would be a great disservice to the good things he did contribute.
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Shameful Life Advice

Just yesterday evening Chicago police released dashcam video of the CPD killing Laquan McDonald one year ago. I have not watched the video, am not linking to it, and do not plan to do either; particularly after Tamir Rice and Walter Scott’s summary executions I feel no desire to. Those were heinous enough for one lifetime, and none of these police shooting videos ever seem to be that different. From what I’ve heard this one is much the same story: McDonald posed no immediate threat, fell to the ground within two seconds of the first shot, and remained there motionless for the next thirteen seconds of gunfire.
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In my year-plus absence, one pleasant development in the U.S. has been what appears to be a greater appreciation for, or at least attention to, the plight of black America. While there are still the brutish hordes who hate people for simply being themselves, it can be easy to think a certain tide is turning, if it hasn’t already. #BlackLivesMatter is the rare hashtag-turned-movement, and even helped convince President Obama to curtail the Defense Department’s longstanding practice of offloading gear meant to invade countries onto domestic police forces. Despite what may seem to be a slightly less slow march of progress these days, the minorities asserting themselves still wrangle with daily discrimination.

As a light skinned black man, it isn’t an uncommon occurrence to hear any of the following from (overwhelmingly white) strangers: “Which one of your parents is white?” “How do you get your hair like that?” “I was wondering how black people felt about ______, what are your thoughts?” The answers are “neither,” “showering, just like you,” and “I’m not 40 million people so I don’t know,” respectively. The prevailing term for these pinpricks of ignorance is “microaggressions:” casual, everyday interactions that unintentionally seem to denigrate a minority for being a minority. Microaggressions are real, and they are particularly annoying the four-thousandth time you explain to a disbelieving white person that two black parents can indeed have offspring lighter skinned than Lupita Nyong’o. Continue reading

The Card Cheat

The Royal Navy bombarding Solovetsky Monastery during the Crimean War. [Wikimedia]

The Royal Navy bombarding Solovetsky Monastery during the Crimean War. [Wikimedia]

You may recall about six months ago, the Obama administration tied its shoes together over a hazy “red line” in Syria. A year prior Obama claimed the use of chemical weapons would provoke a US response, then someone used them, and the administration stammered. There wasn’t much point in bombing Syria, “arming the opposition” brought us the Taliban, and there was never any way in hell America was going to invade yet another brown, sandy country. (Don’t you love how all of our options revolved around violence?) But thankfully the day was saved: an off-hand remark by Secretary of State John Kerry laid the foundation for, of all things, a Russian drive to be the world leader on Syria. Kerry and his Moscow counterpart worked out an agreement for the Assad regime to voluntarily hand over all their chemical weapons for destruction, which they are doing. Vladimir Putin, de facto autocrat of Russia, took the opportunity to do some grandstanding and wrote a NY Times op-ed warning of reckless unilateral action, and promoting the United Nations Security Council as “one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.” Continue reading

Southern Strategy 2014

[h/t salon.com]

Like most Americans last night I watched the band of thugs known as the Seattle Seahawks prey upon the Denver Broncos en route to a pretty dominating victory. The game itself was alright; unlike most people I enjoy a good blowout. And Bruno Mars, however sexy he may be, still isn’t that enthralling a musician, but I suppose that’s what happens when you grow up a child star covering other people’s songs. As usual though, unique to Super Bowl Sunday, the commercials were the star of the evening. Budweiser rolled out their big horses for something allegedly tear-jerking that I missed, Chobani had a confusing thirty seconds involving a bear and a grating Bob Dylan song, but perhaps most notably two big Americana brands ran ads that were as controversial as they should not have been. Continue reading