Land of the Feared. Home of the Terrorized.

Philando Castile shooting

It was July of 2016 when Jeronimo Yanez pulled over 32-year old Philando Castile, the 52nd time being pulled over as a licensed driver, along with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and her child.  The infraction was a broken tail-light.  However, the sentence he received was death.  For Philando Castile had the audacity to voluntarily inform Yanez that he was (legally) carrying a firearm with him on his person.  Within five seconds of this notification, Yanez knew all he needed to know to diagnose Castile as a threat to his own life so his only option was to end Castile’s.

Almost a full year later, Jeronimo Yanez was put on trial for Manslaughter and after five days of deliberation, a jury of his peers(meaning 10 white and 2 black) found him not guilty.  How the decision was reached was due to a strict interpretation of the law.  How the jury can live with themselves and their decision, particularly after the police dash camera was released, is utterly baffling.  But it’s their ability to live with themselves and Jeronimo Yanez and others like Betty Shelby, Darren Wilson and Timothy Loehmann, law enforcement officers that have murdered black males over the last several years without facing justice, have done nothing but send a vivid message to the rest of us black men in America who have to live with lack of accountability for killing us.  Particularly for the rather benign and otherwise common actions which has brought about our death.  Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir Rice while he was playing.  Playing with a toy.  Others like Alton Sterling and John Crawford were shot to death for shopping.

However, in this particular case, the consequences are much more alarming.  Philando Castile was a legally licensed owner of a firearm with full rights and privileges to carry that firearm, a right that we’re often reminded of by the Gun Lobby and it’s allies like the National Rifle Association.  Of course these parties are fairly silent about Castile’s rights.  Now, despite my proclivities and aberration, Philando Castile should have the right to have a firearm and that right should be protected, in all pathetic irony, by the same law enforcement that took his life.  The sad fact of the matter is that Philando Castile would be alive today if he did not own a gun.  But we, as Americans, are allowed to own guns.  How can those two dualities exist in one singularity?

Trust me, I get it. I do.  I’ve been black for nearly 40 years.  And while I have been just as friendly for just as long, we are raised to learn lessons unique to who we are to better navigate society.  It’s like women being told to not dress a certain way or act a certain way to not incur any unwanted advances and attention.  Black men are also told to keep our distance, moderate our vocals, keep our hands visible, stand with our feet together(yeah, I know), etc.  All in an attempt to be less threatening.  Now, like with women, we are told to do these things for our own safety.  And fair or unfair, it’s what it is.  But this is not that.  Walking down a dark street or riding an elevator with a female are not CONSTITUTIONALLY guaranteed rights.  Philando Castile’s right to keep and bear arms absolutely is.  Which means, the consequences of allowing his murder to go without the justice it deserves doesn’t simply violate his rights, but when we continue to see instances like this take place, none of us can assume those same rights or assume those right will be protected.  Particularly when it’s being taken away by those who are supposed to protect those rights for us.  And no matter how much certain rights and freedoms are guaranteed, some of us are not able to take full advantage of them out of the vivid fear of losing our own lives for it.

The sad reality for black men in America is that this no longer shocking.  Not only are we killed for benign reasons, but our killers routinely go unpunished.  And that lack of punishment would cause any of us to question our very actions to avoid those same circumstances.  Philando Castile was not a criminal.  He worked with children at a school.  By all accounts, he was no more a threat to Jeronimo Yanez as he was to the kids around him on a daily basis.  That did not prevent him from losing his life.  Tamir Rice was a kid, playing outside.  Something we’ve ALL done.  John Crawford was shopping, while talking on a cellphone.  That is normal human behavior.  These men and dozens more like them were doing nothing more than any of us could be doing.  And if they can be shot and killed without consequence, doing anything I could be doing, what reason could I have to believe the same won’t happen to me?

This is not the America we were promised.  This is not how we should be judged.  I should not have to have in my mind that my actions can dictate whether I live or die when I am approached by law enforcement.  I should not have to fear for my life.  My mother and mothers of black children should not be afraid that their child’s next encounter with the police will be their last.  But that is what has become of being a black man in America.  And no matter how friendly or compliant I may be, at the end of the day I am still black.  Because even at my best, the worst will be assumed.  And while many Americans gloriously sing the virtues of being proud to be an American,  I do not have such a luxury.  Increasingly, I cannot be proud to be an American because I simply don’t know if I can be free.  However, what I actually am starting to accept is our new reality.

I am not proud to be an American, but I am afraid of be an American.

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Lost in Memorial

This weekend, families across America will gather with more family and friends and celebrate the unofficial beginning of Summer.  Americans nationwide mark our yearly Memorial Day traditions with shimmering swimming pools, colorful parades, grilled foods, inconspicously donned American flags and to my nightful wonder, fireworks.  Yes the crackling and popping of fireworks.  Our year of cold weather, biting winds and even the torrents of rain this week all seem to be a distant memory with the first day free of school and work where the weather is all but guaranteed to be at its best.

Yet, it was on one of these sunny Summer nights two years ago that a 21-year old South Carolinian walked into Emanuel AME Church, seemingly for prayer services, but instead pulled a gun and shot to death nine members of the all-black congregation.  Dylann Roof would later state that his intent was to start a race war, a war to divide the nation on racial lines.  However, the actual effect of Roof’s heartless masaacre was much more profound and the complete opposite of what he intended.  Roof’s shooting caused the South Carolinian community to further examine the idols of his ideology and what grounds his hate.  Within days, the attention of the state turned to South Carolina’s Confederate memorial in front of the Capitol building.  And within weeks, Governor Nikki Haley lead the state legislature in voting to remove the Confederate battle flag at the State House grounds.

What Dylann Roof set in motion was to turn society’s attention to face it’s past and connection to a history that as much as we’ve tried to forget, others in our society saw fit to have memorialized for remembrance.  Thus, over the last two years the fight to remove monuments and memorials to the leaders of the Confederacy has spread across the South and to the nation as a whole.

And believe it or not, it’s on this premise that America initially began its observance of Memorial Day.

History hardly remembers precisely how Memorial Day started in America.  The stories vary.  Some attribute it to former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, the very city where Emanuel AME is located, who began memorializing those who died fighting for America.  Some point to a gathering of Civil War veterans in Waterloo, New York.  And then there are those who highlight stories of those decorating flowers on the graves of the Civil War dead in states like Virginia, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Georgia along with over another dozen locations, which mirrored a familiar practice of those desiring to honor the dead dating back hundreds if not thousands of years.

What is actually known to history is that Memorial Day was the responsibility of Civil War general, John A. Logan, who issued a proclamation calling for what was initially called “Decoration Day” to remember and honor those who fought and died in the Civil War.  Logan chose May 30th, as a day to decorate the graves of the fallen because it was free from any direct link to any particular battle or conflict.  Eventually, as states begin to recognize “Decoration Day” as an official holiday, it would become known nationally as Memorial Day.

What is also known is that this was not the first Memorial Day celebrated by Americans.  John Logan actually found out about a day where Confederate veterans and families also decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.  Logan adopted the idea to honor the Union dead and when he did, those who honored the Confederate dead decided to demark their Memorial Day as Confederate Memorial Day to make sure it is not confused with the one Logan started in 1868.

The Confederate Memorial Day, which is still observed to this day by several states in the south, is but one of the few ways many have chosen to honor the “Confederate Cause” from the Civil War.  Initially, southerners observed their Memorial Day as a day to remember their loved ones who died in the war.  But as the years passed and the leaders of the Confederacy begin to pass with them, the closer it got to anniversaries, the more the south begin to remember the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy and memorialize it in other ways.

The Lost Cause was the south’s attempt to rewrite the origins of the Confederacy and why the Civil War was fought.  It sought to heroically canonize those who fought against the North and what they saw as unjust aggression.  It was a critical belief to help those in the south, as well as the north, to instill a sense of righteousness and absolution in who they were.  Northerners begin to slowly believe their efforts to push for the Civil Rights of Black Americans had be sufficient.  Southerners desperately wanted to go back to their way of life prior to the Civil War.  The Lost Cause set forth the mentality the south wanted to be remembered and not lost to history. Slavery was a benevolent practice mutually beneficial to slave and slave master and not the central cause of the Civil War.  Jim Crow laws were the natural extention of what society should be the only workable solution for southern whites who had to live beside southern blacks.  And, of course the heroes of the Confederacy were to be honored and remembered as patriots, to be memorialized throughout the south on monuments, in schools and on other sacred grounds.  That was the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy and those like Dylann Roof celebrate the relics of their failed past.  That is the template with which we observe Memorial Day.

In America, we celebrate Memorial Day in different ways.  Some extremely curious and derth of any connection to why we are given the day to begin with.  It is, afterall a federal holiday.  Like most holidays, the meaning and significance of why we celebrate the day is often remembered in the background while most take their day off to spend with friends and family.  However, there are those who do remember that Memorial Day is not a holiday to be celebrated, but to be observed.  We honor and remember the men and women who fought and died serving the United States of America.  Concurrently, the fight to honor and remember the men who took up arms against the United States, who fought and died under a different flag of a separate nation do not deserve the observance of Memorial Day.  They do not deserve the honor and dignity of any memorial.  Those memorials are the antithesis of what days like Memorial Day are all about.  They should be remembered for exactly what they fought for.  Just as the tenants of the Lost Cause dictates, the soldiers emblazoned on statues and monuments across America, did fight to preserve their way of life.  Their way of life is endemically linked to the substature of the Black American.  And that is not who we are on this day or any other day of the year.  It’s time we remember the “Lost Cause” for what it was: a lost cause.

How The Press Was Won

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16 months ago, the animal rights organization, PETA found out about an operation undertaken by a military contractor to intentionally maim and kill live animals for military training purposes.  Mike Mather, a local reporter in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, where PETA is headquartered, found out about the program and broke the story that the locality of Suffolk, Virginia was attempting to cover up the operation.  Eventually, as the story broke and complaints from the public were received, Suffolk ordered the military to cease it’s training operation.  However, the military persisted and over the last year, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in congress to permanently stop the program once and for all.

That is what a free press is able to do.  That is what a free press is supposed to do.

Last month, the President of the United States launched an assault on journalism referring to them on social media and in speeches as “fake news” and ultimately an “enemy of the American people”, a comment echoed by his chief adviser, Steve Bannon.  This has come in the light of a trail of reports and near-daily breaking news stories of leaks from the administration that has besieged the president since he’s taken office.  Their hostility towards most reputable media sources like CNN, New York Times, Washington Post as well as the major television networks NBC, ABC and CBS began early in his campaign and has lasted effectively due to the president’s unethical, amoral and objectionable comments and behavior that would cause most to question what they see and what they hear from him and his administration.

The media’s role in politics is necessary.  Some may consider it a necessary evil.  But political leaders have dedicated communications staff, specifically not just for the sake of transparency, but to use the press to show the public the good their office is doing on their behalf, generating good press and positive feedback from voters.  Naturally, any elected official would have a problem when something being reported is not complimentary of them or their office and that’s to be expected.  What is not expected, is for those in power to call the press an enemy, not just of them, but of the “American people”.  Particularly, when the purpose of the “News Media” is to be just that: be a medium or distributor for news and dissemination of information.  The actions and conduct of our government is news and because it has an affect on our living, it needs to be known.  That is the purpose of the news media and journalism, to give us knowledge.  But it’s important to know why they have that purpose, especially when it’s our political leadership that wants to tell us otherwise.

The relationship of journalism and governing in America goes back to the death of the first King George, the grandfather of the monarch we fought against in the American Revolution.  When George I died, all royal commissions had to be renewed under his son, George II.  These commissions included gubernatorial appointments in the English Colonies.  George II would appoint John Montgomerie as the governor of New York and New Jersey who himself would die after only four years in that position.  And his eventual replacement was British Colonel, William Cosby.  Now the position of “Captain General and Governor in Chief” was a coveted position in the Colonies, which came with an increased salary.  However, Cosby was initially denied this salary and decided to go to court to recoup what he felt he was rightfully owed.  This decision and the way it was conducted was extremely unpopular with colonist because it was seen as another decision removed from their power of self-governing.  The chief justice agreed and initially dismissed the case.  However, Governor Cosby persisted and, in response, he removed the chief justice from office and also refused to have elections for the state Assembly in an effort to secure himself the salary he wanted as governor.

It were these actions, among others, that caused newspaper printer and journalist John Peter Zenger to become fiercely critical of the governor and his overtly tyrannical actions.  He published a series of editorials deriding Governor Cosby and all he did in his own interest.  This did not go unnoticed by the Governor and eventually he issued a proclamation condemning the newspaper and when that did not stop Zenger from attacking the governor, the governor proceeded to take him to court as well, charging him with libel.  Eventually, Zenger would be found not guilty and the reason stated that “even if defamatory, it is not libelous if it can be proven.”  Needless to say, Zenger’s charges were all true.

John Peter Zenger’s case set the stage for the need of colonial journalist to inform all American colonist on the actions of what the English monarchy was doing in America.  It was the template set by Zenger and Cosby that gave the founders of our Republic the reason to include the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.  Zenger was one of the first to outwardly use the power of the press to criticize those in power.  However, the practice is much older, dating back with James Franklin’s own newspaper publishing, his brother and Founding Father, Ben Franklin when he wanted to be critical of his governor.  He created the identity, Silence Dogood, to protect himself from any retribution from the government he criticized after James was arrested and imprisoned for publishing unflattering material himself years earlier.  He stated, “without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and there can be no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

Zenger and Franklin defined the role of journalism in early America.  This was crystallized by Thomas Paine and his printing of “Common Sense”, which was widely published and universally read by virtually all colonist.  That was the genesis of our revolution and what spurred our own government.  Simply put, it is BECAUSE we have a free press that we have a United States of America.  But the power of the press was not just used by those opposing the government.  It was used by those in power as well.  Throughout the 19th Century, newspapers were primarily used as extensions of political parties themselves to viciously attack their opponents and to promote their own ideology.  This was evident in several of our national elections dating as far back as the election of 1796.  That was the first competitive election when a northern liberal, John Adams, ran against a southern conservative, Thomas Jefferson, to succeed George Washington who decided to not run for a third term.  Since neither Adams or Jefferson actively campaigned for the presidency, it was the power of the press that was chiefly responsible for forming the candidate’s message.

But as the nation expanded, so did the need for news information across the country with it.  And as newspaper readerships swelled, the number of publishers grew and eventually, competition for readers became commonplace.  Publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Putlizer had intense rivalries, which caused them to embrace new ways to gain readers, which in turn lead to sensationalism or “Yellow Journalism” as it was called.  Eye-catching headlines, exaggerated stories of scandal and corruption using taboo subjects to gain attention in a crowded market.  Publishers would hire writers who were not afraid to write stories to grab that sort of attention and, as proven endemic through our history, it is the doings of those in power that generates the attention publishers wanted.  Eventually, a term was coined for publishers and writers that went out their way to avoid virtuous stories that elected leaders wanted the public to see to instead write about the hard-hitting “filth” or “muck” that shined a light on what they would rather keep hidden.  President Theodore Roosevelt, who is responsible for creating the cabinet position of Press Secretary, specifically to avoid these sensationalized stories, referred to such writers as “men with the muck rakes” or “Muckrakers” that can damage the well being of a society.

And that they did.  When police reporter and photojournalist Jacob Riis published How The Other Half Lives, documenting the dangerous, dirty and decrepit tenement life in New York City slums, the upper and middle classes could no longer willfully turn a blind eye to living conditions across America, which were only getting worse.  He was joined by journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair, who spent nearly two months undercover, of the six spent investigating, in Chicago’s meat packing industry when he wrote The Jungle, not just exposing the meat and food service industry, but also the deplorable factory conditions of the American worker.  Famed civil rights activist and co-founder of the NAACP, Ida B. Wells wrote extensively about the corrupt Jim Crow laws and how lynching was used as a tactic of terrorism and not the punitive actions against criminals it was assumed to be.  Her efforts helped awaken the minds of northern whites that often ignored what Black Americans were going through in the deep south.

Whether it was called “Muckraking” or what we now refer to it as “Investigative Jounralism”, these were the trailblazers responsible for shaping what our nation would look like for years and decades to come.  It is specifically because of their actions that our government responded.  This has been a pattern repeated throughout our history as well.  When 14-year old Emmett Till was brutally beaten and lynched in 1955, Black journalist with the Chicago Defender and Jet Magazine published pictures of his badly beaten face that shocked the entire nation, launching the Civil Rights Movement.  In 1964 when Civil Rights activist Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney went missing and later found dead, their disappearance lead nightly news broadcast and captured national attention.  That spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  A year later, when future congressman and statesman John Lewis and 600 others tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, they were beaten and brutalized in their attempt and the images of the savage attack was televised live for national and international audiences.  A few months later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed in Congress.

Outside of Civil Rights, journalist have had an impact elsewhere as well.  Peter Buxton, a social worker and epidemiologist filed a complaint to the Public Health Service and Center for Disease Control when he found out about a program that injected and tested the effects of syphilis on Black men in rural Alabama.  For nearly six years his complaints went ignored or deemed irrelevant until he relayed this information to Washington Star reporter Jean Heller who broke the story of the Tuskegee Experiments.  Then and only then did the program stop.  The role of journalism continued to impact American life.  Embedded journalist in Vietnam reporting or the daily American loss of life during that conflict changed American opinion of what was thought to be a just-cause war.  When Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated a link of a burglar to the re-election campaign of President Richard Nixon, it eventually lead to his impeachment and resignation from office.  CNN was filming live when a gunman shot President ronald reagan and coincidentally, his press Secretary James Brady.  This lead eventually to 1993’s Brady Handgun Prevention Act, which since it’s passage, has seen our homicide rate cut in half.  Time after time, our history has vindicated our right and need for a free press.  That is not antithetical to who we are.  It made us who we are.

Chicago humorist and writer, Finley Peter Dunne, who was a favorite read of Theodore Roosevelt during his time in office, satirically wrote about the power and influence of the American media that it “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”  America is a large and extremely diverse nation and we’ve been that way since our inception.  Throughout our history, the press has been responsible for telling ALL of our stories, from the most comforted to the most afflicted.  When Sir Francis Bacon said “knowledge is power,” it never meant as much as it does to a democracy with a free and responsible press.  What the president fails to understand is that the press is not the “enemy of the people.”  It empowers the people.  The kind of power the press has given to the people is the ultimate check and balance to the power given to our democracy.  It holds them accountable and forces them to be responsive.  That is what they do.  And for the sake of our democracy and for all of those it serve, that is what they have to do.  There is nothing fake about that.

The Reality of A Dream

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Two Score and nearly 10 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who was as consequential to our story and our success as any of our greatest Founding Fathers, gave a speech about where he saw the path of this nation leading and where we have tread since.  Four years prior to that point, Dr. Martin Luther King had laid out his dream, a dream where this nation was able to leave behind the bonds of racial inequality and disparity and embrace what the promise of this nation has always been about: the equality of ALL, no matter their race, class or gender.  However by 1967, Dr. King had slowly begin to realize that the dream he had was becoming a nightmare.  We were being bogged down in foreign wars.  His struggle against intolerance with his own brand of tolerance was being ignored.  And he also begin to see that racial prejudice often went hand in glove with economic deprivation.

In the 1967 speech that Dr. King gave, he noted that if this nation is to realize the dream that he laid out 1963, America must undergo a revolution of values.  He also described what that revolution will look like when he said:

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

A year after he said those words, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed.

However, in the 50 years since, this nation has come a long way down that road.  Our schools have desegregated.  Our workforce has diversified.  Our neighborhoods and communities have been largely amalgamated to a degree where a complete disassociation of someone outside of your background is a near impossibility.  And the hallmark of all of this was realized in 2008 when men, women, white and those of color elected the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

Born during the very years that Dr. King’s dream of racial equality was just that, Barack Obama is nothing short of a direct product of that dream.  With a African father, an Asian stepfather, a white mother raised formatively by white grandparents, Barack Obama married an African-American woman and has been the head of a middle-class American family.  If that were the end of his journey that would be remarkable enough.  But what has aided his path to becoming our nation’s duly-elected leader was not just his uniquely American experience, but also his ability to speak to us and open our hearts and mind and to connect to our humanity in a way that has been unmatched by an other leader of this nation’s history.

What drove his his path to the presidency was the fundamental idea of hope.  A hope for a future where the dream of a Martin Luther King can be a reality.  Not just a dream of racial equality, but a dream of economic and social fairness.  And that was the motif with which he not only campaigned on but would be the precipice of his presidency.  And it is also that hope of his example that many of us outside the mainstream wanted to see revered.  The unfortunate reality of Dr. King’s dream is that the image of the Black American man has changed very little over the last 50 years.  Many of the same obstructions that has hindered our progress in 1967 still exist in 2017.  Yes, some are self-inflicted, but many others are due to the structure of society that continues to produce the societal ills that cannot be fixed by the efforts of a few.

But Barack Obama was an emergence from that image.  In a society that often sees Black males as criminal, he was a constructive force.  In a society that often hears about the miseducation of Black males, he was a Harvard-educated law professor.  In a society that often is subjected to Black males absent in their families, he has raised two daughters to be beautiful young women.  In a society that often thinks of Black males as a drag on societal resources, he gave back to his community, his state and ultimately his country.  Individually, as Black men, our lives are sorted.  Some have done better than others and collectively we show the world who we are.  Fairly or unfairly, we are judged because of it.  Barack Obama has done in life what we all could hope to accomplish.  He has not only become our example how how to lead our lives, he’s become America’s example of what we can be.  He is not only Martin Luther King’s Dream, he’s also the American Dream.

Without a shadow of doubt, Barack Obama is the best of us.  Not because of his politics, but because of what he was and what he became; Successful.  However, as much as we wanted this to be an example of who we are and what we can do, I have come to the slow realization that, while he’s been a success, one battle does not win the war.  What I have see isn’t an acceptance of the image of what we can be, but unrecognition of who we actually are.  His very words and intentions, which are completely familiar to Black America, are often misinterpreted as something more duplicitous and egotistic.  The last eight years have been a reminder of how disconnected we still are on lines of race and class. And sadly, that was the legacy many outside Black America perceived from Barack Obama. But for us, Barack Obama showed us who we always thought we were and who we wish the world would see.

But what we have left is the society that has produced a Barack Obama.  Have we been able to achieve the dream with which Martin Luther King informed us about?  Again, while we have been able to produce a Barack Obama, what has it amounted to?  He has still been reviled, maligned and disparaged, no matter how accomplished he is.  The many aspersions he’s experienced have only prevented him from being able to restructure the edifice that continues to plague our society.  American exceptionalism would indeed be exceptional if it weren’t for the exceptions we have continued to accept.  We have indeed come a long way in 50 years.  But if we are to judge the reaction to the realization of what one of our greatest Americans could only dream of, we have not come nearly far enough.  What good has it been to achieve a dream when the reality is still a nightmare for so many others?

Active SHOOTERS

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It is now 2017.  We are 17 years in to the 21st Century.  Ten centuries prior, almost an entire millennia ago, we saw the first recorded use of gunpowder to deliver a projectile with the specific intent to kill.  Ostensibly, before being used to propel what was known as “fire arrows”, gunpowder was also called “fire medicine” due to it’s medicinal use by the Chinese trying to achieve immortality.  Yes, the gun was invented during the search for eternal life, which has now granted humanity the gift of instant death.

We are not even a full week into 2017 where the breaking news has reported a gunman, traveling from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, who retrieved his legally obtained and checked weapon from baggage claim and commenced an assault on travelers at Hollywood International Airport, killing five and wounding eight others.   Sadly, while many will remember this attack is in the same state that we saw 2016’s massacre of 49 at Orlando’s Pulse night club, this actually is the same metropolitan area that sees gun violence on a nightly basis.  Just a quick search of the local news in the Fort Lauderdale area over the last week will show over a dozen cases where someone has been victimized by gun violence, including the elderly, a pregnant woman and a child under the age of 10.  While tragic, Esteban Santiago’s rampage in Fort Lauderdale is just the latest of a long line of very public and prolific shootings in a country that has become prone to ignore what is now routine.

Broward County is not alone.  Gun violence affects practically every major metropolitan area in the country.  As I live and breath, I can guarantee you that the very night you read this or the night prior, someone within your daily driving commute has come face-to-barrel with a gun and has had their lives or their families lives changed forever.  In the time it takes you to read this, another American will have been shot by a gun.  By the end of the hour, an American child will be shot by a gun.  Combined with the one shot at the beginning of the hour, 17,000 children are shot on a yearly basis in America.  If an American woman dies unnaturally, it is more likely than not that she was shot to death by a man she knew, and that’s more likely than not to be by an intimate or domestic partner.

Make no mistake about it:  America has a gun problem.

It is a plague on American life no different than cancer or influenza, but only more efficient.  And while gun violence is as cherished of an American tradition as popping fireworks on Independence Day, our unwillingness to deal with the problem is not.  Very early in our nation’s history, America has prohibited certain individuals from owning firearms, African Americans, Native Americans and women among them.  Throughout the 1800’s when American life was thought to be at it’s gravest threat in the “Wild West”, frontier towns experiencing rashes of gun violence typically passed laws to ban any firearm within town borders.  As a matter of fact, the most notorious shootout in the Old West and probably in American history, the “Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral” happened because Wyatt Earp and his brother tried to enforce Tombstone’s ordinance prohibiting the carrying of firearms within city limits.

As the west tamed, gun violence would again become a plague on American life, this time in urban cities in the early 1900’s with the rise of organized crime and machine gun carrying gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson.  It took a deadly and brazen massacre by crime boss Al Capone for the nation to take notice and pass the National Firearms Act of 1934, which put limits on the types of weaponry that could be sold in America.  A few decades later, after the public assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, limiting who could sell firearms.  And a few decades after that, when a gunman shot President reagan and Press Secretary James Brady, this spurred the Brady Bill in 1993, which mandated background checks for individuals purchasing firearms.

Every time in America history gun violence has impacted American life, our lawmakers have reacted.  Until now.  The last update to our firearm laws was an amendment that banned individuals convicted of domestic violence from buying or owning firearms.  That was twenty years ago.  Since then, the debate over Gun Control has only intensified, most notably due to the mass murder of 23 children in Connecticut and the aforementioned murder of 49 Americans in Orlando among dozens of other high-profile massacres committed with firearms.  The Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting is only the latest salvo.  Sadly it will not be the last.

What gives our nation the most resistance is the profound and intense ignorance of our gun laws that give cover to a congress more concerned with political ramifications than they are with common sense, human decency and the will of the American people.  Gun rights advocates are willing to believe that criminals will obtain guns no matter the restrictions, so passing any restrictions would only hurt “law abiding” citizens.  Although this logic ignores several facts like these laws are not simply for prevention, but for punishment as well, but they also ignore the fact that guns do not appear out of nowhere.  This isn’t a video game where a criminal just punches in a cheat code to get any gun he wants.  Nor is it the Matrix where they just dial a number and an aisle of guns show up for their choosing.  They get their gun from private sellers without a background check or stolen from irresponsible “law abiding” citizens with very little consequential redress.

The unfortunate perception that has become a political reality being fed to gun advocates by an agenda driven lobby is that the government is trying to universally disarm all Americans leaving them vulnerable to criminals and the government alike.  Nevermind the fact there is nothing a .38 Special can do to stop what the U.S. military has at it’s disposal, there is no rational basis for this belief.  Even if it were practical, which it isn’t.  However, this has lead us to an environment where the very perception of “Gun Control” is interpreted as absolute disarmament.  It is this ignorance, that there isn’t EVERY reason and very real and historical precedent to prevent certain individuals from obtaining firearms, it is impractical and impossible to cure this plague upon our nation until we’re able to recognize we are indeed at risk and have every reason to do something about it.  And all it takes is the political will that has gripped our federal government in standstill.

Even the most stringent gun advocate, who may think every American should be issued a side arm at birth will probably tell you that it’s probably not a good idea to let unrepentant murderers obtain guns.  They would also be comfortable with extending such restrictions to terrorist, non-citizens and those considered mentally ill or mentally dependent.  The latter of which often bears the brunt of the blame of gun violence in America.  However, while that might be a reason for mass murderers, it does nothing to address what happens on a nightly basis in American cities.  Of course you would not only have to believe America has more mentally ill than any other 1st world nation, but you would also have to wonder why those same advocates continuously try to cut social services, health services and repeal healthcare laws that assist those individuals, but that’s another story.

In any normal pretense, if you are ill, you take medicine to make yourself better.  However if you are ill and are unwilling to even admit to there being an illness, you cause yourself more pain.  As a nation, we are causing ourselves more pain by not addressing this illness.  If Chinese alchemist from a thousand years ago thought to use gunpowder for purification purposes, in 2017, we have to begin to purify our society.  We must recognize that we are ill and work towards getting better.  The sad truth of the matter is our attention is easily diverted elsewhere.  We see as the weeks and months past, terrorist attacks in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and recently Germany and France, have plagued these nation.  And each time we see these attacks, our resolve to combat terror and extremism grows stronger.  But yet, our lawmakers refuse to lift a finger to combat gun violence, which effectively turns certain American cities to comparable warzones.  If we can recognize what plagues their nations and act accordingly, why do we refuse to see what has infected our own?

 

 

2020 Vision

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We are a month clear from when America decided to take the Thelma and Louise tour of the Grand Canyon and effectively elect Lex Luthor with a worse head of hair as our president.  And no matter how many times I tell myself we are in a parallel Earth, this world will keep on spinning.  Especially in the world of U.S. politics and elections.  Where we have not even completed our favorite post-electoral past time of counting votes in Florida before the Democratic Party has engaged in their own post-electoral analysis of their party, their candidate and their future.  We’ve barely taken the last yard sign out of the last yard of the 2016 election before we’ve turned our attention to the 2020 election and who the Democratic Nominee should be.

But before we can do that, we have to take a quick look at what went wrong.  Hillary Clinton’s loss can be and has been attributed to a variety of reasons.  Most analysis have pointed to a lack of effort to shore up the support of the “white working class” vote, particularly in the three states that were the “Democratic Firewall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Others have blamed a lack of excitement of her candidacy that couldn’t drive out voters to sustain her loses in swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Ohio.

The reality is there were a number of factors that were completely out of her control.  Ranging from Low-information voters, who were inclined to believe the worse about her when given a particular narrative or being the “Experience Candidate” in a “Change Election” which also hurt as well.

That said, I’ve looked at what the Democratic Party and their candidates can control to optimize their chances in 2020.  There are five main qualities, which contributed to the 2016 outcome that also has to be in the forefront of Democratic voters’ attention over the next four years:  1) Age.  Hillary Clinton was a throwback to a past generation in a party that continues to embrace the politics of the next generation.  2)  Communication.  Hillary Clinton will tell you that she is not the kind of communicator that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama is.  Being a good and effective communicator will not only generate excitement, but will also allow you to connect with a diverse electorate, which is absolutely CRITICAL. 3)  Progressive.  The Democratic Party has embraced along with a new generation of voters, a new politics that is reflective of that generation.  This is why candidates like Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and even Howard Dean were as popular as they were.  4) Outsider.  Hillary Clinton was as much of an insider and “establishment” as there could be.  Clearly losing to someone with ZERO elected experience shows experience wasn’t the be all we thought it would be or should.  5) Trust.  This was her biggest hurdle.  If there was one reason voters reneged on their common sense and voted for a bottomless pit of ignorance that’s the President-Elect wasn’t because he was a better candidate.  It was because she was seen as “corrupt” or shady, if not just simply criminal.  Almost none of it was at all true, but perception is often reality and that was her reality.

The candidates I have listed exude these qualities and some are on the fast track to national politics, if they are not there already.  But there are some names not on this list.  You won’t see Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, (the recently announced) Joe Biden or Tim Kaine.  As talked about as they have been, it’s hard for me to imagine the Democratic Party turning to someone in their 70s to carry the party to 2028 and beyond.  Moreover, the Democratic Party will definitely need someone to reflect not just the politics of the party, but the face of the party as well and that face is becoming more younger and more diverse.  But without further adieu, using those metrics, these five individuals have best chances for winning the Democratic Nomination in 2020.

5. Martin O’Malley

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The former Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley will be 57 years old on November 3, 2020.  Outside of being the two-term governor of Maryland, O’Malley also served as the two-term Mayor of Baltimore and chaired the Democratic Governors Association as well.  O’Malley often toted(correctly) that everything Democrats like, he was able to accomplish as Governor.  And quite frankly, being a white Mayor elected in a heavily African-American city, not only should say he’s solidly progressive, but can communicate to those not thought to be his base.  Sadly, it is that fact that might be his largest detriment as well.  His mayorial election could have been seen much like this current presidential election, as a last gasp of an electorate losing it’s power.  And given how rather tone-deaf he has been about Black issues and culture, despite being the mayor of Baltimore, that could also hurt as well.

4. Julian Castro

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The current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Mayor of San Antonio will be 46 on November 3, 2020.  Prior to serving as Mayor, Castro served in San Antonio’s City Council, which was the height of his experience.  Sadly, being in the middle of a large red state, he has been rather limited with how much further he could go to increase his national profile.  Senate or Governor would be unlikely.  His prominent role at the 2012 Democratic Convention and appointment to HUD was mostly due to these reasons, to give him greater prominence and a greater base of experience, which he also lacked.  That said, as a Latino male, he will have an audience and being a Democrat in a deep red state, you have to know how to talk to voters outside of your base.  That is a quality that could do him well.

3. Tulsi Gabbard

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The current Representative of Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, Tulsi Gabbard has an extremely impressive resume.  Born in Samoa, she became Hawaii’s youngest state elected official before volunteering to serve in Iraq in 2004.  After returning from her second tour, she served in Honolulu’s City Council until 2014 when she ran and won her House seat in a major upset.  At just 35 years old(39 in 2020), thoroughly accomplished, and(keeping it honest) epicly beautiful, she was clearly a rising star in the Democratic Party, being named as a Vice Chair in 2015.  Most notable is the recent attention she received resigning her post and endorsing Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Primary.  In doing such, she has earned the support from the Bernie Sanders base of the Democratic Party, which could also hurt her due to her lukewarm support of Hillary Clinton in the General Election.  Also not to mention, as a Congresswoman, if she is to run for President, she would run the risk of losing her seat as an elected official completely.

2. Cory Booker

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Turning 51 in 2020, the Junior Senator from New Jersey has been one of the most high profile senators in U.S. Senate since his election in 2014 and even before that point.  Profiled in the Oscar-nominated Documentary “Street Fight”, Cory Booker rose up through Newark’s political machine and became the city’s Mayor.  A young black elected official that was easily as magnetic as the then State Senator, Barack Obama, Cory Booker was on a path just as large.  A gifted speaker that could naturally connect to anyone, it was only a matter of time before he was on the national stage.  However, being the type that campaigned in Newark and the state as a reformer, he rustled some feathers with teacher unions and with comments he made critical of the President’s 2012 campaign.  He’s also been seen as a “neoliberal” or more fiscally conservative and more business friendly, which might bother some on the hard left.  Not to mention, like Gabbard, his term in the Senate ends in 2020 and he’ll have to decide whether running for President is worth not being in office at all.

1. Gavin Newsom

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Of all the potential candidates being given the earliest of early considerations for being a possible Democratic Nominee few are talking about Gavin Newsom.  Turning 53 three weeks before November 3, 2020, Gavin Newsom is in his second term as the Lieutenant Governor of California, the nation’s largest state and largest economy.  The former two-term Mayor of San Francisco, Newsom has garnered as much media attention as any local or state level politician has, particularly from the liberal media.  Deeply progressive and boldly supportive of issues like marijuana legalization, LGBT rights and immigration reform that define his hometown of San Francisco, Newsom might have avoided notice as a potential candidate being just the Lieutenant Governor, but early last year he opened a campaign account to succeed Jerry Brown as the next Governor of the state in 2018.  Of course being someone of his profile is not without controversy.  He was once married to Fox News’ Kimberly Guilfoyle and was also revealed to have had an affair with the wife of his then campaign manager, which lead to his treatment of alcoholism as well.  Though it did impact his reputation, he has since recovered and has continued on a path that many are beginning to recognize might be bigger than just California.  He was successful in business, unapologetically liberal, never lost an election and soon to be the most powerful man in the largest state in America.  It will be hard to deny that Gavin Newsom can very possibly be the next Democratic Nominee for President of the United States in 2020.

So there you have it.  An early “Power Ranking” of possible candidates who could win in 2020 and restore balance to humanity.  Naturally, second-guessers will come along with additional names like Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Cuomo, John Bel Edwards and a few others.  While I might have given a few such names consideration, for the reasons stated above, those top five stand the BEST chance.  So with 2017 coming up and three full years of campaigning to go along with it, let’s see which of these names will breakout and be ready to lead and have the best vision for the Democratic Party in 2020.

It CAN Happen Here

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By the start of the 1930’s, the United States of America, as well as the rest of the world, was becoming a much different place.  In the aftermath of World War I, economic sanctions to pay for it’s destruction had put Europe in turmoil.    On the other side of the Atlantic, a steep drop in stock market prices lead to a Wall Street panic in New York causing the Great Depression.  These burgeoning economic crises worldwide would give a rallying cry to enterprising politicians, building newer coalitions with the poor and working class, to use the promise of national reemergence to their advantage.  Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and abolished the role of President, becoming the nation’s Head of State.  In the United States, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the first of his four terms as president and also began to address fears of the working class instituting a variety of programs, collectively known as the New Deal, which increased the size and scope of the federal government.  Roosevelt was not alone.  In Louisiana, political boss and bombastic populist, Huey P. Long campaigned on a promise of wealth distribution and banking retribution.  He was poised to challenge Roosevelt for the White House in 1936 when he was assassinated a year earlier.

It was under these conditions that America’s first Nobel Prize winning author, Sinclair Lewis, wrote the satirical political thriller, It Can’t Happen Here.  In it, Lewis describes the ascension of an American politician, ostensibly based on Huey Long, named Berzelius Windrip and his path to the presidency.  During his campaign, “Buzz” Windrip uses the stagnation of the economy to stoke fears with working class Americans.  He promises sweeping economic and social reforms, restoring “traditional” American values in a campaign using the force of his personality to get elected.  Once in power, a President Windrip uses his “Corporatist” regime to dissolve the United States Congress and target political enemies in government and the press.  All the while, Americans willfully ignore or tolerate these actions, expecting them to result in the restoration of American greatness, but in denial of any long-term authoritarian actions with a faith in our democracy, reassuring themselves by saying “it can’t happen here.”

When Sinclair Lewis wrote this book, the idea of an authoritarian did not have the same connotation it does today.  The Third Reich had only begun.  The atrocities of the Nazi regime were largely unknown or still years in the future.  Even in an historical context, Imperialism seemed attractive because it the showed overall strength of a nation on the world stage, so long as there remained the idea of individual liberty and national prosperity.  But after other dictatorships began to restrict rights and eliminate political opposition, the “Corporatist” government described in It Can’t Happen Here, may have seemed somewhat familiar to audiences who read about it in 1935.  However, after the rise and fall of the Third Reich and other powerful strong men in the last 70 years like Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Saddam Hussein, the path from nationalism to authoritarianism is a scene familiar to many Americans in 2016.

And in 2016, beyond most rational expectations, business tycoon Donald Trump was just elected President of the United States.  This was the culmination of a campaign that began by slandering Mexican immigrants as rapist and murderers.  It wasn’t before long that he turned his attention to Muslim refugees seeking asylum in America and proposing a ban of Muslims entering and a registry of Muslims currently within our borders.  He continued to taunt the media, court racial nationalists, all the while praying on fear and ignorance using egregious lies and blatant deception against his opponents.  This included the mother and father of slain soldier, a beauty pageant contestant and a U.S. district court judge.  And despite disgusting and garish comments that we would never tolerate from our children let alone our elected leadership, he was STILL elected.

And through it all, it did not take long for many to begin to compare Donald Trump and his campaign to the likes of a Buzz Windrip and the plutocratic reign in Lewis’ novel.  However, as ostentatious as he has been and signs pointing in the post-election to fulfill the radical agenda he spoke of, many Americans are still willing to give Donald Trump the benefit of doubt.  We collectively look at history’s examples of extremism and dismiss such brazen instances as judging too harshly.  Since his election, most political and historical commentators believe that comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler is a comparison that goes too far.  We are, after all, still a republic where power is separated and shared.  But with that said, In 2016 America, like Lewis’ 1930’s America and 1920’s Germany before that, we too assume what they assumed, that what happened then and there can’t happen here…

But it did.

In the book, Lewis describes Buzz Windrip saying, “the senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar, easily detected, and his “ideas” almost idiotic.”  With the way Donald Trump has talked about women and the often inarticulate vocabulary he uses, while spreading proven falsehoods and questionable policies, you would think Lewis was describing the President-Elect instead of his fictional character.  Lewis also used his novel as a way to talk about the politics of the day.  From a character’s perspective he spoke about Fascism saying, “with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours—not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini—like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good old days—and have ‘em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again.”  Similar statements have been made by Donald Trump supporters over the course of the 2016 election, particularly with the ending predicate vividly saying, in alternate wording, “Make America Great Again.”  And if that doesn’t sound frighteningly familiar, listen to what Lewis wrote about Windrip’s opponent and his party.  He said, “it represented integrity and reason, in a year when the electorate hungered for frisky emotions, for the peppery sensations associated, usually, not with monetary systems and taxation rates but with […] the primitive sensations which they thought they found in the screaming of Buzz Windrip.”  And like then, our 2016 electorate ignored the integrity and reason that Donald Trump lacked to seek solace in an emotional connections in his many baseless claims.

Our 2016 Presidential Election continued to compare with what Lewis wrote eighty years before.  Buzz Windrip won the presidency not in a simple head to head, just as Donald Trump won the presidency despite losing the popular vote.  Additionally, believe it or not, later in the book, the fictional Corporatist government tried to garner support by spreading slanderous lies against the Mexican government, again something Donald Trump used to his advantage.  And the cherry on top for the Bernie or Bust crowd, the protagonist of the novel actually was a social democrat from Vermont.

What readers saw in the 1935 novel, history has seen many times before.  Like what we see today, a rational and clear thinking electorate was able to tolerate or ignore the Nazi Party’s blatant anti-Semitism with the hopes that they would be able to follow through on their economic agenda to bring back jobs and opportunity.  That was also the aim of the fictional electorate in the book.  Other hallmarks of despotism and totalitarianism that have signaled what was read in the novel were also present in this election.  The targeting of minority groups or cultures.  Harnessing nationalism and painting an outside threat as reason to be given power to protect a vulnerable society.  Using anger and ignorance to incite fear and the acceptance of unconventional actions and beliefs.  The saying “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it” should be a reminder that our past can very well be our prologue.

When Sinclair Lewis wrote the words “it can’t happen here”, Americans could easily identify the rise of Nazism and emphatically reject it.  Just as today, we can look at the abomination of the Third Reich and safely assume, no matter how bad Donald Trump is that, likewise, it can’t happen here.  But German citizens of the 1920’s also said the same thing.  Donald Trump may not be another Hitler.  But Hitler wasn’t the first or the last.  And no matter how great we think our republic is, like all functioning world powers before us, we can fall.  Remember, with his rhetoric, antics and behavior, he was unlikely to win the Republican Nomination to begin with.  And winning the Presidency, in an environment where his intemperance increased even with the moderation of the electorate, was thought to be even less likelier.  However, with the unlikelihood of Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency, we simply cannot dismiss the unlikelihood that his presidency can become something we don’t recognize in America.  Because, yes, it can happen here.