Taking the Knee — Will the murder of George Floyd shatter America’s emotional paralysis?

May 30th 2020

As I write this, we’re moving into the fifth night of civil unrest and full-on riots in the wake of the video of four Minneapolis police systematically murdering an African American man for – supposedly – spending a ten or a twenty dollar bill that might have been counterfeit. There’s pretty much zero evidence of any criminal intent, and even if Floyd was an evil mastermind producing millions of bogus notes in his basement, that usually doesn’t carry a death sentence.

Under any circumstances, the videos of Floyd’s murder would have been horrifying, but what made this stand out was how calm and collected the four cops were as a man lay dying under their knees. They were chatting, who knows about what? The Stanley Cup round robin? The weather? Lamenting about how the Civil War made killing slaves illegal? It was a cold, calculating murder, of the sort you associate with the Nazis, or Bond villains.

I was scared that America was becoming inured to the willful murder of African-Americans. In recent times, there have been Trayvon Martin, who was shot in 2012 by a murderous cop wannabee, George Zimmerman. Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, and neo-Nazi bigots crowed that he had it coming because he shoved a shopkeeper a half-hour earlier. Brown’s murder sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement, much ridiculed by Donald Trump and other right wing trash. Dontre Hamilton was killed for being schizophrenic in public. Aside from being noisy, he wasn’t breaking any law, but a cop, Christopher Manney, decided to pat him down, and when Hamilton pulled away, Manney shot him.

Eric Garner was famously murdered by New York’s finest for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. He uttered the phrase, hideously echoed this week, “I can’t breathe.” There are still apologists for racist murders who say if he could speak, he could breathe, and that he probably actually died from an ingrown toe nail, or some other hidden medical condition aggravated by having oxygen to the brain cut off for ten minutes. The same fools were saying the same thing six years later.

John Crawford, 22, was gunned down for picking up a toy .22 rifle in a WalMart and walking with it to the checkout stands in order to purchase it.

Ezell Ford, unarmed, was shot in the back by two police officers. He was accused of no crime, and the investigation was put on “administrative hold.”

Dante Parker was tased to death by San Bernardino cops. Tanisha Anderson, 37, died after cops smashed her head repeatedly against the pavement. Apparently they considered that a viable treatment for schizophrenia. Akai Gurley, 28, was shot for no reason at all by a cop. “Accidental discharge” they called it. Gurley wound up accidentally dead as a result.

Tamir Rice, age 12, was just a kid playing with a toy gun. In Cleveland, that, and black skin, is enough to get you killed. The poor panicked cops mistook him for an adult with an AR-15. The one who actually killed Tamir got fired, but don’t worry—he’s a cop somewhere else now, protecting white society from kids with toy guns.

Jerame Reid, 36, was shot and killed by police on suspicion of being black while a passenger in New Jersey.

That just brings us up to 2015. There have been a dozen or more incidents each year since of African-Americans dying at the hands of police where there were images proving that the cops were, at best, reckless, and at worst, murdering swine. Multiply that by dozens, perhaps hundreds of incidents where it was the word of our noble police against that of some black street thug who “reached for his waistband.”

According to the Guardian, in the first five months of 2015, “In total, 478 of those people were shot and killed, while 31 died after being shocked by a Taser, 16 died after being struck by police vehicles, and 19 – including 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore – have died after altercations in police custody.” We were on course for, and eventually met a total of 1,100 dying in police custody or confrontations with police. Over half of those killed were black. Twenty percent were white. It’s only gotten worse since then, led by a fascist regime that values vicious police suppression. Further, there’s no federal law requiring police departments to report fatal encounters to any central agency (the Guardian did its own, private survey), so the number of people killed by police may be double what we know about, or even worse.

Most encounters aren’t caught on camera. Personal webcams some police have to wear have a way of failing at critical moments, so until the rise of smartphones, it was always the word of sorrowful-looking officers against that of some dead guy.

But phones have changed all that. As Will Smith the actor acidly remarked, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” And dozens of times a year, the viciousness and sadism of our alleged public defenders is put on full display.

Such spasms of rage are nothing new in America, of course. Slave revolts were so common, and so feared, that the Founders put the second amendment in, giving cover to slaveowners to hunt down and/or kill rebellious slaves. Slavery led to the civil war. Tulsa, Oklahoma saw its black community nearly exterminated by a mass lynching some 120 years ago. Lynchings were common, and praised by civic leaders from 1870 to 1960. The race riots of the 60s were sparked by a minor incident in Watts, where police stopped a youth, determined he had an outstanding warrant, and arrested him. They didn’t kill him or even rough him up. But onlookers were tired of constantly being detained on suspicion of being black. Then Martin Luther King Junior and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the rage broke wide open.

The only thing surprising about this week’s events is that it took so long to happen. We’ve had three years of a president who has devoted his whole vicious, wastrel life to cheating and defaming African-Americans, a weak, cowardly racist even by the shit standards of the white supremacist.

He demonstrated his hate and fear on the third night, tweeting that that protesters could have been attacked with “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” wielded by the US Secret Service. He also attacked the Washington DC, mayor for supposedly not providing police to protect the White House. Poor defenseless widdle American president. I posted that perhaps the best answer was to put one of those vicious dogs in the Oval Office and put Trump out on the White House lawn to snarl at passers-by. Certainly it would be a win-win for the nation.

“They let the ‘protesters’ scream and rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard – didn’t know what hit them,” Trump said. Nothing more pathetic than a blustering, cowardly, racist bully.

In all of this, there was one gleaming, memorable moment that happened after the night protesters burned Minneapolis’ 3rd Precinct, the pig pen that housed the four cops that murdered George Floyd. The nearby Gandhi Mahal Restaurant was severely damaged by fire. The owner, Ruhel Islam, told a friend, “Let my building burn,” he said. “Justice needs to be served.” The next day, he stood by that statement, saying, “We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human. The community is still here, and we can work together to rebuild.” Mind you, Mr. Islam is almost certainly a Muslim. He’s as much a target of Trump’s fear and hate as any African-American. Nonetheless, he believes in us, whether we deserve it or not.

In the 18th century, a slaveowner, anguished by guilt and aware of the incredible damage slavery and bigotry would do to the country he helped create, wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Thomas Jefferson, no Christian, knew the price to be paid because humans value justice. He would be totally unsurprised by the events of this week.

He might have even felt that justice was being served.

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Biden Ain’t Black and Blacks aren’t Fascists and Fools

Biden Ain’t Black

and Blacks aren’t Fascists and Fools

May 22nd 2020

Joe Biden got himself in hot water yesterday with one of his characteristic gaffes. He told a radio host, “[I]f you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

OK, it was tone deaf and more than a bit goofy. And old white guy trying to define “black” for African Americans is never going to go over well, and the best thing Biden could do is apologize and retract promptly and whole-heartedly. Yeah, he was annoyed at the questioner, but that’s no excuse.

And he did apologize, because while he blurts things out, he isn’t stupid. According to the Guardian, he said, “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” on a call with the US Black Chambers, an African-American business group, which was added to his public schedule. “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.” Biden also said he would never “take the African American community for granted”.

He isn’t likely to lose many African-American votes over this, because about 95% of all African Americans know they would have to be out of their goddamned minds to support Trump and his racist party. But the Republicans will howl in their usual ersatz moral outrage. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina (R-Lawn Jockeys) huffed that “That is the most condescending and arrogant comment I’ve heard in a very long time.”

Really, Scotty? Try this one on for size, from David Drucker of the Washington Examiner last month: “President Trump earned a 19% job approval rating from black voters in the latest Fox News poll as the Trump reelection campaign works to double the 8% support he received from this cohort four years ago.”

Cohort? Really? Yes the word was used correctly, if unfortunately. In modern American usage, it has a rather unsavory connotation, suggesting criminality. Or at least disrepute. The use of the term dripped with condensation and arrogance. Scotty, do you think you can get permission from Trump to criticize that remark? I’m curious.

Republicans don’t like African-Americans, don’t respect them, and don’t care about them. It’s not a secret, and I’m surprised that as many as 19% of African-Americans would support Trump in any way, shape or form. Indeed, most non-Faux polls show his support around 5-8%. At this point, only fascists or fools support Trump, and the worst of his supporters support him precisely because he wants to remove African-Americans from the national equation.

Biden has a chance to learn a valuable lesson here. He may well have meant nothing more than to state a belief that African-Americans as a whole aren’t fascists or fools but by saying it the way he said, he has taken the support of African-Americans for granted, with a tone of “You have to vote for me because you don’t have any real choice in the matter.” It’s the same mistake that allowed Hillary to lose, if technically, to the worst candidate any major party has ever offered in American history.

It isn’t enough to inspire people to vote against Trump and his filthy party. Trump and the Republicans are doing a fine job of that. Biden has to give people something to vote FOR. If he campaigns with a tone of “You’re stuck with me, cheap dates” then people aren’t going to vote for Trump, but they are going to stay home and sit on their hands. He can’t blow off labor, the poor, scientists, intellectuals, minorities, women and the left and hope to beat Trump. Trump will get 55 million votes because America has a lot of fools and and relatively few, but very powerful fascists. Biden has to stand strong for policies that will directly affect the groups whose votes he needs to overcome the vicious cult of the Republican party. It isn’t enough that he supported the Voting Right Act over the past 25 years; Republicans have gutted that, and he has to promise to restore it. Obamacare can’t address the needs of the people in this era of plague—he must support universal health care. It isn’t enough to support minimum wage increases and Social Security: he has to fight for a guaranteed universal income that will give everyone home and food security, especially in these times.

If he can’t do that, then the Dems need to consider another candidate and call for an open convention. If he can, he’ll win.

But the Dems and Biden don’t fully understand that it’s not enough to weakly oppose the vicious authoritarianism of the GOP. They must be prepared to fight it, with every tool at their disposal. If the Dems can’t do that, people will turn off and just wait for the inevitable collapse and massive strife that GOP rule will bring.

Biden can’t say stupid shit like, “[I]f you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” He has to make people realize that if we don’t defeat Trumpism and defeat it thoroughly, then we ain’t nothing. It won’t matter if we were black, liberal, female, whatever; we’ll all be getting crushed in the wheels of Trump’s endless cruelty and malice.

If we can’t see the difference between Biden and Trump, then we ain’t human. But it’s up to Biden to make the difference between the two meaningful.

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“God-Given” — The only right you’ll get there is the right to die

God-Given”

The only right you’ll get there is the right to die

May 11th, 2020

 

We had a mass gathering of morons about 75 miles down I-5 over the weekend, a rodeo in a town called Cottonwood. Over 2,000 attended an event whose only rationale was that it was semi-traditional.

This event’s been going on for 50 years, it’s a tradition for probably most of us, the rest of them that are here have been tired of being cooped up for months,” rodeo-goer Don Johnson told KRCR News.

We have constitutional rights, we have inalienable rights given to us by God,” he added.

Well, first there’s the matter of the fact that 2,000 yahoos got together to yell at cowboys mistreating animals. Yes, Northern California has been lightly hit by the pandemic (my county, which is adjacent to Shasta County where Cottonwood is located, has had five cases, none fatal, with the last one on April 10th). Yes, California has moved to Stage 2 of the lock down, and our county has petitioned to be moved to Stage 3. So it’s reasonable for people to drop their guard a bit. But you can be sure none of the yahoos were staying six feet apart, and wearing a mask to fight something a millionth your size just ain’t manly, yuh know?

There was a show on HBO called Avenue 5, about a luxury cruise liner in space which gets knocked off course, and instead of a projected eight weeks, it’s three and a half years from Earth. Written two years before anyone ever heard the phrase “Covid-19” the passengers chafe against the involuntary and seemingly endless isolation, and in the penultimate episode many passengers become convinced that the whole “marooned in space” thing is a hoax, and a number “die of stupidity” in the Captain’s (Hugh Laurie’s) words, by “exposing the hoax” of being in space by stepping out the airlock. You couldn’t watch that without thinking of the whole “ReOpen” movement.

With the exception of certain high-ranking members of the administration, I don’t wish this disease on anybody, and I sincerely hope that all the attendees at the rodeo are in good health two weeks from now. Given the generally light contagion in this region, there’s a chance that wish will pan out. If if just ONE attendee is feeling fine right now has the disease, the stage for an outbreak is set. But I’m sure you’ve been following the course of the pandemic as closely as I have, and know all this.

One line that Johnson uttered was particularly grating. “… [W]e have inalienable rights given to us by God.”

The first thing that crossed my mind was medieval Europe, when contagions swept through (including, most famously, the Black Plague), and people would gather in churches and cathedrals seeking shelter and salvation from the curse. It was a habit that killed additional tens of thousands of people, perhaps more. And while people did not know how the disease spread from one person to another, they couldn’t help but notice that more people who were at those gatherings died. It’s pretty hard to miss something like that, especially if you’re in a small town and it’s easy to see who is dying, and the rate at which they are dying.

But they couldn’t talk about it. It was sacrilege, you see, and at various times and in various places, suggesting that a gathering in the sight of God for salvation wasn’t working out, was in fact making things worse, could get you burned at the stake, or hung, drawn and quartered, or any number of other medieval amusements designed to protect the gods from doubters.

The other reason it irritated is that none of the rights American enjoy were “God-given.” The phrase does appear in the Declaration of Independence, America’s “Dear John” letter to King George III. It was inserted, over author Thomas Jefferson’s objections, as a rhetorical flourish intended to give the document some gravitas in the eyes of the King by citing the one thing in England deemed more powerful than the King himself. Didn’t work, but hey, nice try, guys! Kings are kinda notorious for having only cosmetic reverence for God, and George III was no exception.

The rights that god-struck types like to describe as being Ordained from Above were actually torn from the long history of feudal oppression in Europe by the people themselves. It’s for a reason that the opening words of the Constitution, “We the People…” set the tone for the entire document. Not only did gods and churches have no role in the government of the people being proposed, but the Constitution specified that neither church nor state should interfere in the working of the other, and that no religious qualification should be permitted for any office or position of public trust in America. Nor was that a mere flourish: by its language, “…but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” it’s the one thing in the entire document that cannot be amended.

So when people talk about ‘God-given rights’ not only are they talking about a different set of rights assigned to God by a half-hearted and ineffectual flourish, but the rights they are talking about (incorrectly, in the case of the rodeo) are very explicitly created by People for People. No gods need apply.

I’ve said at several occasions that I social distance, not because the government said so, but as a matter of common sense. Not only am I protecting myself, but I’m lowering the odds of my wandering around with no symptoms but crawling with disease, and thus am protecting you and yours.

I don’t have the government violating my rights because god likes rodeos, and I see no need to take advice from a god that, following the logic of magical thinking, caused the plague in the first place.

 

 

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