Sunday, July 21, 2013

What if's, trust, complacency and dinosaurs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm just another old white guy chiming in on the results and reactions to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. Just trying to keep track of where my thoughts lead me.

After the jury verdict: TV commentators and legal consultants on CNN on both sides of the issue accepted the vagaries of jury decisions, but they lay a lot of blame on the prosecution as it failed to prepare its witnesses and argued weakly against George Zimmerman and whose theory of what happened to Trayvon Martin was simply unbelievable to the jury. It was the prosecution's case to win but they blew it. One or two commentators went so far as to state that the prosecution took a "fall."

What if's: The "what ifs" were flying everywhere. What if George Zimmerman backed off and waited for the police? What if he waited in his car? What if he wasn't carrying a gun? What if Trayvon Martin went straight home? What if Trayvon Martin called 911?  If you're reading this you know all this and you're probably sick of the jabber.

Trust: But underlying the events is the topic that no one has spent anytime discussing. That is, George Zimmermn didn't trust that the Sanford, Florida police would arrive in time to get the "effen punks."  As far as he was concerned they had a miserable record in his community, that's why he "had" to do something about these so and so punks. It was not going to happen again. Punks weren't going to get away under his watch. And, what about Trayvon Martin? Why didn't he call 911 and alert them that he was being followed by an adult white male who he believed may have wanted to kidnap or rape him. Young black boys/men don't trust the police, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. So, these two guys took the law into their own hands and exercised their version cowboy justice.

"We don't need no stinkin' badges. I don't have to show you no stinkin' badges!"

"Post-Racial" false complacency: The other aspect of this case that no one mentioned is the false complacency among white people about race relations. After all, they think, "Doesn't the election of our first African/America president prove that we are a post-racial society? Aren't we beyond racial prejudice now?"

That's probably why so many people feel offended by the president and members of the black community at large who argue that this case was about race. "No, no, no it wasn't," say both the defense and prosecuting lawyers, Juror B37,("that's just the way 'they' talk among themselves"), the conservative talking heads, and legal consultants appearing on talk shows who limited their perception of the trial to the facts presented. In fact, both sides stipulated during the trial that they wouldn't refer to racial profiling.

Self-Reflection: This is taking me a long time to write, because to be honest, I don't like what I see when I try to confront my own thoughts about race. I'm not naive. We don't live in a race neutral world. As children we observed how adults acted, whether consciously or unconsciously toward others, and people of color. Those were the first lessons about how to navigate safely through the world. And, if you grew up in an urban environment, you were reminded frequently by your friends about who was dangerous or suspect. The easiest markers were ethnicity and color. A little harder to detect were those who came from the wrong block or neighborhood. There were neighborhood DMZ's but there were always clear but coded demarcations separating "we" from "other."

I look back at my 8th grade graduation group photo. Not one black child. But I also remember my father, a Greek immigrant, telling me that he was looking for work in Ohio steel mills in the 1920's when he saw a boldly printed sign outside an eatery which warned "No Niggers, No Greeks, No Dogs!" reminding us of the infamous sign expressing the same sentiments against the Irish.

Today, racism is less overt than it was years ago. It's less black and white, a lot more casual, and often expressed in social gatherings by ethnic or race based humor. And, even though the old standbys continue to have a starring role as the butt of the humor, the new targets are often Muslims. It's interesting, however, to substitute black or Jew or China man or faggot to see if the joke continues to work. In fact, Arabs, Middle-Easterners in general and Muslims who were once referred to as "towel-heads" are now derisively referred to as "sand niggers." Racists will always find something or some group to hate and appropriate words to deride another group.

Then you have the people who are sure of the "facts" about race or ethnicity. I'm not going to go there because it's too depressing to witness otherwise intelligent people who send emails that are so blatantly false and that insinuate that you are un-American if you don't forward the email. Depressing.

Irony: Do racist find comfort in the Obama presidency? Has it given them "cover?" Does the fact that the country elected a black man as its president give them a legitimate language to express their race hatred? You know, "All's fair in love war and politics." Here's a short list of code words that mask the racism: he's a socialist; he's a Muslim; he's un-American; and, the more virulent association of Obama with Hitler and, even Nixon! Is that just code for "nigger?" Seems implausible, but when you listen  to Congressman Bridenstein (OK) and read about Tea Party member Jules Manson referring to Obama's girls as "monkey children," then this irony isn't as far fetched as you think. Politics now serves as a mask for racism.

Dinosaurs: The social evolution required to develop a race-neutral society, seems as far off into the future as the last mass extinction in the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago seems to be far off in the past. The next mass extinction may solve the problem.

Signed: Another old, white man thinking about America.





Friday, February 1, 2013

Protest Against the Gun Industry

Is it time for public pension fund managers to divest from gun manufacturing companies?

Even though it is unclear how divestment of gun manufacturing companies from public sector pension funds would hurt the industry's bottom line and returns to investors, it would be a start in changing how pension fund managers think about their fiscal versus their social responsibilities. If, in the minds of most people, using guns to kill fellow human adults and children is unacceptable, then public investment in companies that produce those guns should also be considered unacceptable. 

The sell-off probably wouldn't have much affect on the profitability of these manufacturing companies, however there would be a significant social and moral cost. 

If we look at tobacco companies as an example, we can see that in the 1990's public opinion and medical evidence turned against tobacco use and the sale of cigarettes. By then, public sector pension fund managers in many states and insurance companies started to divest in earnest. The emphasis changed from focusing on fiscal responsibility to taking into account the social responsibility of investing public funds in businesses that engage in activities that cause harm to the health and well-being of the country. 

Gun manufacturers, like tobacco companies did in the past, will insist that public investment fund managers should concentrate on fiscal returns to the beneficiaries of these pension funds. However, there is still the ethical social responsibility issue. Do manufacturers of goods have a responsibility to society at large and its customers in particular? Tobacco manufacturers are forced to warn you that the use of their products can cause death from cancer. The gun lobby insists that the gun is a benign tool.

Gun manufacturers, gun owners and their chief lobbyists, the NRA, insist gun ownership in this country is legitimized by the Second Amendment and can not be infringed in any way, shape or form. It's time for our society to revoke such a far-reaching understanding of the Second Amendment. Guns, like tobacco, are historical artifacts of our American society. We had the ceremonial and religious uses of tobacco sacred to the indigenous peoples and commercialized by the earliest European settlers of this nation. Tobacco has lost its significance with the acknowledgement of the health hazards involved with its use. Guns owners, too,  have started to recognize the problems associated with unbridled gun ownership and availability. At a minimum, most believe that background checks should be part and parcel of the gun ownership process. Current gun owners overwhelmingly support universal background checks for new gun purchases. 

But, in addition, the society at large must stand up in protest and consider those who sell assault and military style weapons to the general public as pariahs who exist outside the parameters of a civil and lawful society. It just not acceptable to invest our pension funds in those commercial enterprises.  



 


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Congressman Tim Bishop responds to call for sensible gun laws

In the wake of the Newtown, CT massacre, I, like many other concerned citizens, wrote to my congressman to help motivate governmental action to enact sensible gun laws that would go a long way in preventing horrific events like this from happening again.

My representative, Tim Bishop, New York's First Congressional District, responded in a thoughtful letter and laid out his beliefs. Here is a portion of that letter:

"While we have witnessed tragic acts of gun violence too many times in the recent past, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary is one of the most unfathomable events in our nation’s history. We are all deeply saddened in the wake of such a terrible crime; hopefully we can now agree that enough is enough and strong action is required. 

Sensible gun safety laws can be achieved without compromising the Second Amendment just as responsible checks on certain forms of offensive speech exist that do not abridge the rights afforded by the First Amendment. Such measures should be enacted as soon as possible in order to protect our families and our communities. 

We must reinstate the assault weapons ban, once the law of the land, and examine other reasonable policies such as limiting magazine capacity, strengthening laws on ammunition sales, closing the gun show loophole, and allowing comprehensive background checks for anyone attempting to purchase a firearm regardless of where it is purchased. 

Simultaneously, we must ensure local law enforcement possesses the tools needed to keep guns out of the hands of those who seek to do harm in our communities. We must also evaluate the status of mental health care and decide whether we are ready to invest in efforts to close the growing divide between those who need care and those who receive it. Please be assured that I will continue to advocate sensible reforms and will keep your views in mind as the debate surrounding our nation’s gun laws continues."

Mr. Bishop, we will be watching.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Safe Sanctuaries or Armed Fortresses?


On Thursday, (Dec 20, 2012) the AFT and NEA put out a joint statement opposing the position of extreme gun advocates that calls for arming teachers in schools. A day later (Dec 21, 2012) the NRA said in a press conference that they encourage law makers to make more guns available to trained personnel in schools and across a wide spectrum of our society.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a press statement on Friday that "Schools must be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses. Anyone who would suggest otherwise doesn't understand that our public schools must first and foremost be places where teachers can safely educate and nurture our students."

How many more babies have to be killed before we have the courage to rethink the issue and enact strict gun control laws that at a minimum limit access to WMD-type weapons and volume purchases of ammunition.

Take a look at Japan in this Washington Post piece. Strong gun control laws, thorough background and mental health checks all contribute to making Japan's gun control laws the strictest in the world. In 2008, 11 people were victims of gun violence in that country, while in the United States more than 11,000 were killed.
Video games are not the issue because Japanese teens love violent video games as much as their American counterparts. The one obvious difference is that in America, we have access to guns.

During the last election cycle, I got two calls from the NRA who wanted me to know that they were endorsing a local candidate. I let the caller know the the NRA's endorsement was the primary reason I would never vote for their candidate. That wasn't entirely true, but I figured it would be one way to stop them from calling me again. By the way, the NRA endorsed candidate lost the election.

Perhaps thoughtful people should start considering NRA endorsements in the same way they would consider KKK endorsements.

As the news attention moves to the fiscal cliff debacle in Washington, I urge you to keep the gun-control momentum going and make sure you sign up on Facebook and "like" One Million Child March on D.C. for Gun Control, and sign the petition  that tells the NRA to stand down and endorses CREDO's emergency march on the NRA in Washington D.C. Sign on to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence that said in its press statement "The solution to protecting our children is not to place them in the middle of shootouts between “good guys” and “bad guys."

Contact your local representatives and let them know what you feel. It doesn't have to be a very involved message. Just let them know that you will be watching how they vote on the issue.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sadness in Newtown, CT

I really don't want to add my voice to the expressions of horror and sadness the teachers, families and citizens of Newtown, Connecticut experienced at the Sandy Hook Elementary school. I think empathy and reflection are all we can do to help as we come to grips with the extent of the tragedy.

There are no immediate answers that can prevent this from happening again. There are simply too many guns out there, too many mentally and morally deficient people and too much glorification of violence in our society. Greater control of WMD-type guns would help, but that's not the only thing we can to do. Better understanding and treatment of mental illness and personality disorders would go a long way to prevent some of these situations in the future. Finally, it may be time to classify depictions of violence the same way we classify pornography--not fit for mainstream public consumption--definitely not to be viewed by children.

As an educator who served once as an ad hoc grief counselor in New York City after a student was assassinated in his classroom in front of his high school classmates, I can tell you that the psychological trauma experienced by the students and teachers was difficult to deal with. No one there was able to face the world and the school environment in the same way again. We tend to think that only little children will need our sustained attention and counseling, but even older children and adults need tender treatment and concentrated counseling.

The AFT has a series of valuable links that parents, teachers and student should find helpful when confronted with school violence. You can find them here in both English and Spanish. Here's a link from the Connecticut Department of Education. American Psychological Association has some very good information for dealing and talking about this kind of school trauma.

I call on the AFT and Connecticut Department of Education to offer the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School the highest award for public service in their roles as "super heroes" who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the children in their charge.

Let us reflect on thoughts of peace and kindness.

Friday, November 9, 2012