One Small Voice

I would like to add my small voice to the din surrounding the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman. As a resident of Minnesota I am especially embarrassed by the actions of one of those pledged to serve and protect in what I regard as our best and largest city. It is beyond reckoning. But it happened. And it happens.

As one who was raised in Baltimore, Maryland throughout my adolescent years, I saw some of the blatant racism that pervades the South. Now for those who don’t regard Maryland as a Southern state because it remained neutral during the Civil War, I would simply point out that the state is below the Mason-Dixon line and is in some ways fiercely Southern. Perhaps it’s precisely because it did remain neutral during the Civil War. Now many in that state seem to be out to prove that they, too, are Southern rednecks.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean to tar all Southerners with the same brush.(And I certainly don’t mean to imply that racism is peculiar to the South. The recent events in Minneapolis prove otherwise.)  Many Southeners are fine people who are just as upset by the murder of Floyd as am I. But there are those in the South who wear their bigotry proudly on their sleeves — as there are Northerners as well.

I was a student in high school in Baltimore in 1954 when the Supreme Court decided that schools should not be segregated and recall vividly making my way through angry crowds at the end of the school day in order to get the bus back home.

In addition, one of my black classmates in college attended a Catholic Church in Annapolis, Maryland during her first year in college. At the end of the service the priest took her aside and told her that there was another Catholic church on the other side of town “for you folks.” I was astonished and deeply embarrassed on her behalf, but not altogether surprised. I had worked throughout my high school years in a grocery store in Baltimore with two black delivery men who often told me of their anger and pain and I listened in stunned silence. What does one say? I recall one day when one of them looked at me and said “I can take most of the hatred, but when I take my family out for a drive on a Sunday it pains me to see the signs that read ‘No Colored.’ What do I tell my kids?” I had never even noticed the signs before he mentioned it. As I said, Maryland could be as fiercely Southern as Mississippi.

The George Floyd murder has the world in a buzz and one only hopes it isn’t the usual outrage that follows such an event and goes nowhere — like the outrage that followed the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. We can explain the carnage as an expression of bottled up rage and frustration that has followed this event, but surely we cannot justify it — just as we can explain Hitler’s hatred of the Jews while we can never justify it. Let’s hope the outrage in this case that has expressed itself in the trashing of private property results in positive steps taken to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again. The problem with the carnage, of course, is that many will focus on that and forget what it stems from.

However, it does seem as though the graphic pictures of the policeman with his knee on the throat of the black man handcuffed and pinned to the ground by two other policemen takes the fact of racism in this country to another level: that it makes us realize that the determination of football players such as Colin Kaepernick to protest a few years ago were not out of order, but  a timely reminder that there is hatred and bigotry in this country and that the black population have been the brunt of much of it for many, many years.

What is one to do? That is the burning question of the day and it is heartening to see people around the country talking about steps that can be taken to thwart these sorts of events and help make the world safer for the black population in this country. Black Lives Do Matter. Indeed. What is especially heartening is to see the growing numbers of white folks who are joining with their black brothers and sisters to help see that at least some of the deep-seated racism in the country is brought into the air and dissipated. One can only hope.

Smoke Before Fire

When he first threw his baseball cap into the presidential race I figured that no one would take the Trumpet seriously and that, like a bad odor, he would eventually fade away. But such is not the case. By now one would think the American people would have become aware that the man is a mere wind-egg who is more concerned about staying in the limelight than winning a presidential race. But, not only is he still around making absurd and hateful claims, his popularity seems to be on the rise. And that’s what worries me.

I am aware that experts claim the Trumpet’s racist comments about Muslims have actually fueled the fires in the Middle East and increased the numbers of people who hate and distrust this country. And I was somewhat aware that he was having the same sort of effect in this country, increasing fear and hatred of those who follow the religion of Islam, no matter what sorts of people they happen to be. What bothers him, and increasing numbers of his countrymen apparently, is not the religion that the Muslims follow (I daresay neither he nor his followers have ever turned a single page the Quran). What bothers the Trumpet and others of his ilk is the skin color of those who may or may not follow the religion of Islam who are, ipso facto, terrorists. The point was driven home to me recently when a friend handed me a copy of an open letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune written by Deepinder Mayell, an American citizen who was born  in New York, attended Boston University where he played J.V. football, and now lives and works in Minneapolis. Thinking he might at some future date bring his family, the man decided to attend a Vikings game recently where he was confronted by an angry bully who

“pushed aside other people and pointed his finger in my face, demanding to know if I were a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.”

Of considerable interest in this awful confrontation is the fact that this confrontation was met with silence. No one stepped forth to confront the man and accuse him of racism or simply to tell him to sit down and shut up. Now, granted this was a football crowd, but if we can make the somewhat safe inference that he is not all that different from others around us, we can surely conclude that this man gained the courage to confront a stranger at a football game because he was confident that those around him agreed with him. Such is the climate of present-day America. Whatever he might have meant by using the word “refugee,” it is clear that he was talking about another human being whose skin color and, presumably, religious affiliation, is different from his own. This is what is deeply disturbing about this incident and about the fear and hatred that one of the major players in this presidential race is now inciting in the population at large, not only in the United States but elsewhere as well.

In any event, Mr. Mayell, who is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program in Minneapolis, sought a security guard and confronted the bigot who had, by his own admission, scared him. He was able to get an apology “uttered in an adolescent way” that indicated the man felt “entitled to hurl hatred.” He was hoping to have the man ejected from the stadium, but that didn’t happen. So he returned to his seat and watched the game with one eye on the bully who had confronted him and frightened that the situation might repeat itself, or worse. He reflected on his experience in his open letter to the newspaper:

“I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning to us all. It is like smoke . . . [which may] become an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world and [driven them] to commit horrible crimes.”

Indeed so. We all need to reflect on the words of this man and the fact that we are all, at one time or another, descended from “refugees” many of whom fled their countries out of fear of religious or political persecution. Somehow the smoke needs to be smothered before it becomes the fire that will surely consume us all.

Bang You’re Dead!

Just when you think you’ve heard about the most absurd human behavior —  a contest to see who can eat the most worms and cockroaches in order to win a python — you read a story like the one in a recent Minneapolis Tribune article that tells about a couple in a Minneapolis suburb who are making money from having created a “simulated killing of Osama Bin Laden experience.” (Seriously, I did not make this up!) Let’s start with a couple of paragraphs from the story itself:

Six AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are loaded with paint bullets. The Kevlar vests are 25 pounds of light body armor. And the nondescript industrial park in New Hope sits 6,900 miles from Osama bin Laden’s former compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

But the mixture of fear, adrenaline and smell of gunpowder was real enough to jump-start the heart rates of five mock Navy SEALs who cashed in Groupons for this simulated adventure that has transformed a firearms studio north of Minneapolis into a gung-ho war-game night out.

Eighteen months after a team of SEALs killed the world’s most-wanted terrorist, everyday folks like these guys can plunk down $150 for their own vicarious shot at Operation Geronimo.

The story attempts to make the project seem quite reasonable — giving a struggling business in a Minneapolis suburb a boost while helping people learn how to protect themselves under simulated conditions that make the adrenalin flow and the palms sweat, just like the “real thing.” Participants wear plastic body armor and use paintball rifles. But this is not Sheldon Cooper and his nerdy friends shooting paint balls at the pseudo-scientists in the geology department. This is supposed to simulate real life with real villains. The bottom line is that we have people pretending they are Navy SEALs, shooting cardboard cutouts of women who represent Bin Laden’s wives –“who might be carrying a bottle of kerosene” — or they might not. And, of course, there’s the fact that the real-life character they shoot in the end  — a former police sniper disguised to look like Bin Laden — constitutes a racial profile if there ever was one. Needless to say, there are minority groups in the Twin Cities who are deeply disturbed by reports of these goings-on.

So we have several interesting moral issues here in the name of teaching people how to protect themselves: racial profiling; acceptable “killing” of persons who might well be innocent bystanders in the name of “self-defense”; and fostering aggressive impulses in ordinary people who have a spare $150.00 to blow on playing a war game, of sorts. One of the participants was Ben Leber a former Minnesota Viking whose wife bought him a gift certificate for his birthday. Seriously?

I have blogged before about our limitless appetite for distractions, which Aldous Huxley noted many years ago. And to be sure, we need distractions in our stressful world. But isn’t there a point when these distractions start telling us something deeply disturbing about ourselves? Just when you think you have heard the most bizarre example possible you read about this newest attempt to give bored folks something to do in their spare time that will give them an adrenalin rush and make them feel like they have actually accomplished something important. Apparently, participants get so worked up they have trouble sleeping the following night. It does give one pause.