JUST MUSING: “Sleepless in Seattle…”

I stood in the middle of Westlake Mall looking for anything uniquely Seattle.  I had traveled to the mall to waste time, not necessarily to shop, not because I was hungry, not because I intended to see a movie.   Escaping to watch, learning about a city by studying her characters from a strategic observation post.  My memory assures me I had hours to waste, having completed a speech to the Legal Aid Society with the next speech, to the State Bar of Washington, the following day.  I begged out of dinner with my hosts, instead electing isolation, sitting and watching, taking mental notes, adjusting my position periodically, smiling when they smiled, wondering from afar when they wiped, not knowing the source of their anguish.

Years had passed since Jill’s harrowing call, telling me of her discovery.  I listened.  Her tears and anger dominated the call – laden with her plea.  A call which now flooded back – revisiting, lingering, remaining with me, as if sitting next to me.  The sun reflected off the glass, a reminder of the promise made years before, now far removed in time and place.

People flowed to and from, oblivious; eyes affixed elsewhere, at least not meeting others’ eyes.  Objects affixed to their faces, as if glued, engaged in conversations afar, even if a companion stood within inches; seldom touching, looking, or interacting as they travelled.  I didn’t record the number of those acting contrary, their number was too small.  The vast majority were preoccupied, otherwise engaged, traipsing a disengaged path.   Our phones were not as smart then, however they foretold a transition, a fixation with an inanimate form of communication; years before texts, eons before Facebook, a Messenger then was a Messenger – someone who picked up a package at point A and delivered the package to point B.

The smell, sights and stores were not different from any other mall – Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Portland, Detroit, – anywhere U.S.A.  The names of familiar stores – the blending of cultures – uniformed services, chained stores, the destruction of regional differences.  Glass and steel structures serving as hosts to different hues and genders, moving about in isolated bubbles, laughing, talking to others unseen, located elsewhere.  I had seen these faces in other cities – Nashville, Madison, Little Rock, Chicago – preoccupied; for the most part orderly, sometimes chaotic, manner and mode mattered not.  Their similarity involved caring little about their surroundings, interacting little, never engaging.

As our world has grown smaller, the crevices between us have grown wider, dividing us, threatening to consume us.  Not talking; not interacting; failing to look for signs of changes.  I could hear Jill’s voice.  I could see her face.  The pattern continued – connected but not connected – passing from port to port, never conversing; somewhat akin to a daily surreal exercise.   Chatter … Chatter … Chatter.

Recently the National Center for Health Statistics issued Report No. 241 [Increase in Suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. 8 pp. (PHS) 2016-1209. April 2016].  The Center’s report serves as a reminder of the disjointed chatter.

  • From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24%, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population; the pace of increase greater after 2006.
  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
  • The percent increase in suicide rates for females was greatest for those aged 10–14, and for males, those aged 45–64.
  • The most frequent suicide method in 2014 for males involved the use of firearms (55.4%), while poisoning was the most frequent method for females (34.1%).
  • Percentages of suicides attributable to suffocation increased for both sexes between 1999 and 2014.

In 2014, the age-adjusted rate for males (20.7) was more than three times that for females (5.8); from 1999 through 2014, the percent increase in the age-adjusted suicide rate was greater for females (45% increase) than males (16% increase), resulting in a narrowing of the gender gap.   Suicide rates for females were highest for those aged 45–64 in both 1999 (6.0 per 100,000) and 2014 (9.8).  This age group also had the second-largest percent increase (63%) since 1999.  Although based on a small number of suicides compared with other age groups, the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 had the largest percent increase (200%) during the time period, tripling from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.5 in 2014.  Percent increases in suicide rates since 1999 for females aged 15–24, 25–44, and 65–74 ranged between 31% and 53%.

Broken down in terms of race and ethnicity the chatter is just as telling.  White females have seen a 60% increase in suicides; White males 28%.   Black females have seen a 2.1% increase; Hispanic females a 2.5% increase.   American Indian and Alaska Natives have seen a startling 89% increase among women and 38% among men.  As to the latter group, the Huffington Post, October 2015 [Native American Youth Suicide Rates Are At Crisis Levels] explained:  “Native American suicide rates look very different in Native communities than it does in the general population.  Nationally, suicide tends to skew middle-aged (and white); but among Native Americans, 40 percent of those who die by suicide are between the ages of 15 and 24.  And among young adults ages 18 to 24, Native American have higher rates of suicide than any other ethnicity, and higher than the general population.”  Chatter … Chatter … Chatter.

The American Society of Suicide Prevention draws further distinctions.  “In 2014, the highest U.S. suicide rate (14.7) [per 100,000] was among Whites and the second highest rate (10.9) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Hispanics (6.3), Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.9), and Blacks (5.5).”  The study revealed that the only sub-group which saw a decrease in suicide rates was the African American males.  As to the latter group, or stated differently, for those of you who are one, don’t glow too bright.  Your numbers for untimely deaths are enhanced by homicide, disease, and drugs – leading to a much lower life expectancy than other groups.  “Some studies have found suicide can be considered a ‘white thing’, among African Americans, ‘anathema to a culture noted for its resiliency in the face of racial discrimination and oppression’ – but suicide is not an insignificant issue for black Americans.  A recent study found that black children aged five to 11 are twice as likely to kill themselves as white children, and suicide is the third leading cause of death of young black men ages 15 to 24.”  My point, celebrate not my brother, if our government under-reports on everything else, don’t you believe our suicide rate is also underreported.

If fact, none of us are immune.  Moving around each other, never looking, checking, or realizing our love ones have become less connected.  When we do notice, somehow justifying the differing behavior, rationalizing and then putting aside contact for another day.  We have a problem, a problem which will become worst as our cultures become more reliant on technology, manipulating our new toys, tools of avoidance.

A text, a message, an email are not akin to an actual conversation.  A digital picture transmitted instantly surely provides instant gratification.  Your friend, parent, love one would readily forfeit the picture to hear your voice, even if just briefly.  For every text, email, message – promise, promise, promise – a call, a visit, a touch, reminding your child, friend, love one, parent, how important they are to yours, theirs and others worlds.  Reach across the bed and remind him/her.  Intrude in your child’s world, even if they tell you they don’t want you to intrude … silence, silence, silence, surely follows …turning, turning, turning away … attempting to hide their smile of appreciation.

No, please don’t accuse me of believing depression, hopelessness, and act of giving up can be conquered by pulling oneself up by one’s bootstrap.  Some can, I guess, but most of us need more.  Also, please don’t assume that my musing on the need for human interaction in anyway equates and substitutes for the work of health professionals.  No, the actions I suggest only constitute the act of being human, sharing, watching, talking, listening, helping those we care for, and ourselves, exist and survive in an oft-times hostile world.  And finally, there is no hidden religious message contained in this muse.  I am surely not qualified.  You need not believe and should not believe I consider myself an expert on anything – yes, you read right – on anything.  My advice and observations are more life’s truths than anything else.

Wondering whether you can take another step has been experienced by most, even those who will never admit to experiencing such a human emotion.  Crying outwardly, then inwardly, grabbing at the seen – then the unseen – feeling isolated while moving inward to a place in which others are not invited.  Remembering you smiled once, mimicking the smile to mask your true feelings, not the same smile however; eyes venturing elsewhere, not dancing, laughing, not celebrating life, serving its purpose however, to mask the pain.  Watching others pass, rationalizing that no one cares; convincing yourself that no one cares.  And we all must agree, no matter how much we protest to the contrary, life has no meaning if no one cares; whether the belief is real or imagined.

Oh, surely, the manly/big girl thing to do is to declare, “Not I”, turn, and walk in an opposite direction, rationalizing the numbers apply to others.  However, they don’t, they reach and touch us all.

So care.  Listen.  Talk.  Watch.  Write a letter.  Make a call.  Take a little time to say that you care, so that their, ours, your world actually becomes a little less hostile.  Remember, even if we ignore those inanimate appendages attached to our ears, fingers, sides – even if only for one memento – it – they – that – thing,  will still love you, not needing any reinforcement, touching, reminders.  We are not things, we need more.

I watched that night in Seattle for an hour, never venturing into any stores.  Still hearing Jill’s voice, mentally charting my course through the streets of Galveston, wondering what I could I have done differently, worrying what to say to Jill when she opened the door, asking the question why?  Jill’s anguish stayed with me that night moving from the mall, to hotel, intruding into the speech the next day.  A voice which has followed me in my life’s path, accompanied by the voices of others, asking the same question, when their love ones unexpectedly took flight, leaving them.

So I muse …

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JUST MUSING: “The greatest show on earth” …Act 3

We had been having plumbing problems in the downstairs’ conference room for some time, a year or more.  The plumber assigned the problems to the city’s side, line failure.  “We’ve done all that we can do.  You need to call the city.”  We did call and when the city finished its examination of the line, a city worker pulled me to the side, admitting the problem was theirs.  “If the line breaks, the sewer will flow from roughly eight blocks down, into this line, terminating at this point.”

“Here?”

“Yes, here, the line is failing on the other side of your office and when it breaks the only place for the sewage to go is here.”

“Here?”

“Yes, here.”

“Are you going to fix it?”

His response was both shocking and telling.  Lowering his head, diverting his eyes, moving away while answering, “No, we will wait for the line to break and then address the problem.”  He entered his city issued truck, maneuvered around the pumping equipment, never acknowledging, as he drove away.  He didn’t drive into the sunset, he didn’t play the role of a television hero, going to get help; he was not the intervening soul who provides otherworldly wisdom – none of those – he just drove away, leaving me hanging, wondering what he meant by “when it breaks.”

“We will clean the line, there are no guarantees.  Tonight, a week, ten years from now, who knows?  We do know one thing, it will break.”

I didn’t possess the power or authority to dig up the city’s sewer line to make the repairs myself.  Those are powers not bestowed on an individual citizen; money, status, location may have made a difference in what the city was willing to do, shouldn’t be and surely wasn’t something I could exercise as my hero of lore turned the corner.  As a singular voice, I was incapable of causing him to return, to turn around, saying he made a mistake, “we will do the repairs.”  He drove away, leaving me standing in place wondering when I would be gifted with everyone else’s waste.   The system was broken.  There is nothing he could do about it, so it said.  There is nothing he was willing do about it, so he affirmed.  Just wait … just wait … just wait, it will break was his assessment, his solution.  And wait I did, hoping for ten years, praying for a lifetime.  I didn’t get the ten years.  I didn’t get a lifetime.

When I entered the conference room I spoke to Debbie as she neared completion of a brief to the appellate court.  Our conversation was no different than most of our late evening exchanges, sharing our day, addressing any emergencies, gossiping, then inquiring of the other whether help was needed on a particular project.  I moved around her to enter the restroom, brushing her right shoulder as I did so.   At this time, the conversation I had with the city’s supervisor had long recessed in the crevices of my mind – but not now – flowing upward and outward in a brown funnel, with great force, forcing the toilet seat backward, the seat seemingly riding the violent wave – bouncing, bouncing, bouncing.  The funnel struck the wall, situated two feet away, seemingly remaining intact as it flowed as a unified body unto the floor, immersing and coloring the carpet, creeping, moving as a united force, somewhat akin to gelatin, with bits of shredded coconut – everyone’s fecal waste for an eight block radius – upward, outward, downward.  My brain told me not to inhale, not to smell – standing in place I did, watching with amazement, if only for a nanosecond, a force I had never seen before – at least not in this form; uniformed, invading, forceful.

Scientists tell us the neurotransmitters for fear and excitement are essentially the same – I think that’s right – it matters not – I was now serotonin inspired, propelling a scream, still not breathing, still not smelling, while moonwalking backward, lifting one foot, then the next,  wishing I could fly and hover,  touching but not wanting to touch the floor, daring not to move forward as a force greater than I moved towards me, forgetting I needed to use the restroom, slamming the door too late, the invader now splashing and pushing on the underside, then seemingly reaching and removing my hand from the knob, pushing and opening the door, smiling and stinking at the same time.  Instead of slightly touching Debbie’s shoulder, I now grabbed both shoulders, pointing at the problem, describing the problem with two words, followed by an exclamation point attached, exhuming fears thought long buried, grabbing materials, moving backwards, never forward, escaping with the visions of the continual violent dumping taking place.

*             *                   *

In an article published by Aljazeera America [Most Americans don’t vote in elections. Here’s Why, June 27, 2015], an initial assessment of the health of The Greatest Show on Earth is provided.  “New U.S. Census data released on July 19 confirm what we already knew about American elections:  Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the developed world.  Only 42 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest level of voter turnout since 1978.  And midterm voters tend to be older, whiter and richer than the general population.”

The problem however does not stop at voter participation.  Exclusion is just as telling.  The number of citizens disqualified from voting because of felony convictions now stands at roughly  5.85 million. A Sentencing Projects Report reveals some startling findings:

  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than        four times greater than non-African Americans.  Nearly 7.7 percent of the adult          African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-  African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In three    states – Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent) – more  than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

The greatest areas of disenfranchisement takes place in the southern states, home to large African American populations (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas), in states in which there exists large Hispanic populations (Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho) and/or in states where large Native American populations (American Indian/Alaskan Native) exists (North Dakota, Alaska).  History’s whisper tells us these truisms are not happenstance.

Absolutely there have been improvements – gone, all white primaries; gone, literacy tests; gone, secret ballots; gone, poll taxes – exiting stage right – then seemingly doubling around the back of the stage, down the steps to don new costumes, make-up, props – then reemerging – stage left – proclaiming to be a new act, a new show, new characters.

Indeed the show must go on – voter id laws, voter purges, and machines which can’t count, don’t’ count or don’t work.   A new script, attacking long-established cast members; whispering to us, its audience, telling us absence does make the heart grow fonder.

The show always goes on doesn’t it?  – Enduring without violence, for the most part; self-sustaining, however imperfect; inclusive, while still insisting upon excluding.  A union formed by revolution is the same union which never contemplated “others” as being beneficiaries of the union – an imperfect union indeed.

*             *                   *

I had options on the Day of Judgment, screaming, slamming the door, and moving away from our unexpected guest.  Debbie and I fled, hoping the courts would make sense out the anticipated motions to extend the time and our stranger than-life explanation of being unprepared.  “Things happen” – is that the idiom?

I also had additional options when the giver of the unexpected gift stopped the flow the next day.  Hauling, discarding, tearing, bleaching, wiping, smelling and insisting on a new toilet – even though the last act was only symbolic – then bleaching, wiping, smelling; over and over again.  Nearly eight months passed before we occupied the conference room again, quarantined, quartered off – bleaching, wiping, smelling.   Or is the idiom? – “Thing – happens.”

And even though individually I had options, collectively we don’t have the same options when it comes to voting and political participation.  We should never fool ourselves in believing we are a true democracy – that is not why I muse.  We should never ever attempt to convince ourselves that ours is a perfect union.  We should never allow The Greatest Show on Earth to continue on without addressing what we know is broken:  historical patterns of non-voting, barriers to voting, not counting every vote.  We will not have options if and when these historical truths flow upward, outward and downward, flowing uncontrollably, causing the union to cease, the citizenry to disbelieve, then divest, discarding as they flee.  The Greatest Show on Earth even repackaged, reinforced, sustaining itself by character changes, makeovers, and makeup will be no more; something predictable and foreseen, the same prediction the city supervisor gifted me with when he lowered his head and moved away.

JUST MUSING: “Happy belated Black History Month”…

He, Elmo Willard, sat before me, a mixture of both anger and sadness.  A sadness which should not have existed, which belied his history, inconsistent with his recent nomination by the Eastern District Judges naming him as the next United States Magistrate for the Beaumont Division of the court.  He held in his hands a package, obtained after making a Freedom of Information Act request, containing letters opposing his appointment, from members of his bar, some even occupying the state court benches in Beaumont.  The names had been redacted, even with the redaction, a careful read allowed one to determine the author of most, if not all, the letters.  Time slowed, we both grew quiet, we both started to cry.  Not the cry you cry when you lose a parent. Not the cry which accompanies the unexpected death of a child.  Not the cry you cry with the loss of a love, no matter whose fault it is, no matter what each of you have said in anger, matters not, you cry.  I excused myself from the table, moving around, passing this elegant man, reaching, grabbing for tissues, as if they were our life-line – blowing, blowing, attempting to blow away the years the documents’ history represented, the memories.

We shared stories and catalogued names: Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, Ned Wade, Matthew Plummer, Aloysius Wickliff, Theodore R. Johns.  “I receive, one, maybe two calls a year from Mr. Plummer and Mr. Wickliff.”  Men I had not personally met, always encouraging, inviting me to visit when I was in Houston.  “I know who you are, sir.  I am honored to receive your call,” I told Elmo.   I said I understood the importance of their calls, binding history, providing understanding of my work as a lawyer, lending an extended hand.

“I know who you are,” telling Elmo the same thing I said to Mr. Plummer and Mr. Wickliff, without telling him the source of my knowledge.  My source was reading, and conversations with Gabrielle surrounding the contributions of the African American bar.  Contributions ignored by our profession, leading to attacked by our colleagues, the public, using the grievance process as both shield and ax, part of the continuum.   I reached and grabbed another tissue, continued to read, thumping, cataloging, seeing and remembering history, mindlessly wiping and blowing.

I mentioned Ned Wade’s disbarment.  Ned represented the best of us, not a race assessment – he was the best of us.  I told Elmo of the outpouring the Houston bar showed at his funeral, “not an empty seat, not a dry eye.”  I saw and heard shame in the faces and voices of the lawyers and judges who paid homage.  Ned’s smile radiated from the pages of the program.  His anguish still remained in my heart.  “Prior to Ned’s death, he hired me to determine how he could obtain his law license back.  He had no intentions of practicing again.  He wanted his license back, maybe he anticipated his death.  I proposed a constitutional challenge to the requirement that he retake the bar exam, studying, suggesting, evaluating.  It was not to be, maybe age, maybe time, maybe he was just tired.  Ned always kept in touch, calling, stopping into the office, looking for, “my constitutional lawyer”, causing my chest to swell, the color in my hands to become more intense, forcing my eyes to cast in another direction, the same casting a boy does when a father’s acknowledges, bestowing blessings.

Elmo and his partner, Theodore Johns, brought suit in September 1954 against the City of Beaumont to open the golf course and other city facilities, including the public libraries, to citizens of color.  In 1955, they sued Lamar State College, now Lamar University, to end discrimination.  Suits against the school district and other public entities followed – he didn’t have to tell me who he was, I had studied history, wishing to meet him and Mr. Johns one day.  While reading, I too cried history’s cry, understanding then and when he sat before me that the redacted letters represented the historical hate he endured, and fought against.

“What is the position of the district judges, are they going to stand by their recommendation?”

“As far as I know, they are.  They are encouraging me to continue through the process.  I believe I still have their votes.”

“You do intend to continue through the process?”

“No, I do not, I do not.”

The big, tall man, with elegant African features, withdrew further, curled his body inward, placed his hands over his face, steeling tears, reliving those years, attempting to mask his anger, failing he did, the tears flowed.  He didn’t bother to wipe at this time; didn’t bother to mask.

“I want you to write a letter to each one of the persons (confession:  Ned actually used another word to provide a description of persons) who wrote these letters, demanding an apology and retraction.  If an apology is not forthcoming, I want you to sue them for defamation.”

I tried to lessen the hurt, I told him of stories told to me by others and their experiences.  My words didn’t matter.  Others histories didn’t either.  His history lied in the contours of his hands (age lines telling their own story), and in the copies of the documents he had provided me, documents which he had tabbed, and annotated.  Elmo then reached in his bag, pulling out yellowing and slightly torn news articles, and letters he had saved over the years (containing veiled threats and promises of retribution), allowing me to identify for myself the authors.

“I have already told the judges of my anticipated intent to withdraw my name from consideration after this meeting.  Will you represent me?  Will you write the letters?  Will you bring the lawsuits if necessary?”

“Yes, sir, I will.”

Time continued to conspire.  Images of separate bathrooms, restricted water fountains, segregated schools, and the harrowing resignation sealed and contained in my father’s eyes, played out while we talked.  Words of hate, danced about us, occupying the physical and emotional space we occupied.  Elmo, generations older than I, became licensed the year I was born, extended his graceful hand, then just as fast withdrew his hand, grabbing and pulling instead.  Holding, hugging, and securing, bound by a bellowing laugh-cry; complimenting, “happy to meet you.” I too laughed and hugged while attempting not to see the mythical words and images which hung above us, in a cartoon bubble no less.  I dared not interfere with his thoughts, dared not puncture the bubble, causing the words to flow outward; I didn’t want to cry any more.

I wrote the letters, letters addressed to district judges, politicians, prominent members of the Jefferson County Bar, men (and if I remember, one woman) who were the status quo, or represented the status quo, who fought to keep segregation forever.  Men who had not forgotten, promising Elmo that they would pay him back for his challenge, lawsuits representing social change, and decades later making good their promise, writing letters opposing his appointment to the federal bench.  “He divided our community”, were their words.  “He should not be rewarded with such an august appointment”, was their conclusion.  The letters inferred criminality, without any proof of criminality.  They hinted at moral transgressions, spreading dirt, covering and soiling, as best they could – actions designed to prevent Elmo’s assignment to a bench traditionally reserved for them, for their heirs.

I never saw Elmo again.  We received letters of apologies and transmitted those letters immediately to him.  Some of the letters came from the very judges I practiced before, apologies extended, letter withdrawn, and admitting the falsity of their words.  I handled my business, moving in and about their courtrooms and then escaping as soon as I could.  Elmo and I never talked again.  He withdrew his name from consideration, asking the federal judges to appoint someone else.   He copied me with a copy of the letter and their acknowledgment.  Elmo Willard, III passed from this earth in 1991, at the age of sixty, I sure still crying, laughing, and hugging.  I know Black History month has since passed, “may I, Mother may I”, muse on why race still matters.

*          *          *

 Recently, Judge Olu Stevens, a Circuit Judge in Louisville, Kentucky (pictured above) was declared ineligible to try criminal cases.  This occurred after Judge Stevens granted motions, and stated verbally, that black jurors too should be allowed to serve on jurors.  Judge Stevens’ rulings, and verbal statement, were consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky.  After being reinstated to hear criminal cases (by the superior court), the prosecutors renewed their motions, accompanied by a public debate as to the ability of the judge to be fair.  His Honor then brought suit seeking to protect his First Amendment rights.  When I read, I wished, I wished, I so wished I could have introduced Judge Stevens to Elmo Willard.

The web-site, Race, Racism and the Law provides a review of the problem:  The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) reported that [o]nly 1 in 25 lawyers is African American, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. These numbers clearly illustrate that minority groups are severely under-represented in the legal profession. African American males, in particular, are among the most under-represented groups.  Based on the 2000 Census, African Americans represent 3.9% of lawyers in the country, of whom 2.0% are African American males. Even though there has been some increase in the number of African American male lawyers during the past forty years, the increase has only been marginal.  One study of census data reported that in 1960, 2.0% of male lawyers and judges ages 36-45 were African Americans. After several decades of litigation, affirmative action, and various initiatives, in 2000 the proportion in the same group has grown only modestly to 2.8% of male lawyers.”   The Guardian (May 2015), surmised what the numbers meant (Why the US needs black lawyers even more than it needs black police), writing, “According to the American Bar Association, 88% of all lawyers are white and only 4.8% are black, so for each of the 60,864 black lawyers, there are 686 black citizens needing assistance (compared with only 282 white citizens for each of the 1,117,118 white lawyers).”

The source of the quote, “You’re still black” can’t be determined by a quick search.  Since, I can’t determine the source I will assign the quote to my mother.  A generational reminder, something she didn’t want her children to forget; something the society will never let us forget.  Let me see if I can make this make a little more sense, not so esoteric.  The Guardian article recounts the story of Assata Shakur, which evolved out of a police stop on May 2, 1973. “Assata Shakur was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike by a state trooper named James Harper, allegedly for driving with a faulty rear light. In the car with Shakur were fellow Black Liberation Army (BLA) members Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli. In a second patrol car was Trooper Werner Foerster.  Minutes after they pulled over, both Zayd Malik Shakur and Trooper Foerster were dead, and Assata and Trooper Harper were shot and wounded.  In 1977, Shakur was convicted on one murder charge and six assault charges and sentenced to life in prison. She escaped in 1979 with the assistance of BLA members posing as visitors, and has been a fugitive ever since. … The FBI placed the 66-year-old on its list of the top 10 most-wanted terrorists.”  Shakkur met Lennox Hinds, the National Director of Black Lawyers, while in the hospital.  After his hospital visit, Hinds told the press, “In the history of New Jersey, no woman pretrial detainee or prisoner has ever been treated as she was, continuously confined in a men’s prison, under 24-hour surveillance, without adequate medical attention and exercise.”  Hinds’ statements were made before bringing a civil rights suit against the state to address the constitutionality of her pre-trial detention.

“In January 1977, after years of incarceration, the case was brought before a judge and jury in New Jersey.”   Hinds called the trial “a legal lynching and a kangaroo court”.   Hinds’ inability to keep his mouth shut caused the New Jersey Bar Association to bring Hinds up on ethics charges (seeking disbarment), a case which wound itself in and out of the court system for years before Hinds’ was exonerated.  The best I can tell Lennox Hinds is still living.  Somehow I wish the good professor would pick up the phone and instruct the good judge to attribute the statement on race to his mother or even better, allow him, the good judge, to attribute the statement to his mother.  I wouldn’t object.  Elmo wouldn’t object – I’m sure – even though the reminders would cause him to wipe, and clear his voice, before agreeing.

My memory tells me that Judge McDonald faced at least two motions from litigants questioning how a non-white judge could ever be fair to whites, there may have been more.  May Judge Stevens not be discouraged and recognize other judges of color have been likewise treated.  May he and his lawyers study history, and others’ treatment, as he continues his fight to remain a judge; salvaging his reputation, quieting the voices of contempt?  If Judge Stevens won’t listen to Judge McDonald, possibly he will read and study the history of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.  Judge Higginbotham too was subjected to similar motions.    I am sure he, Ned and Elmo have spent a many nights discussing the law, casting aside aspersions, laughing and hugging while wondering whether race still matters, even though they have long since left us, gifting us with illustrative histories, histories which suggest race still does matter.

So go figure, an African American judge residing in the State of Kentucky, removed for seeking to make sure juries reflect the community’s composition; a ruling supported by the highest court in the land’s previous decision, directed to the conduct of prosecutors in the same state – Kentucky.  We are a funny, funny country.  Happy belated Black History Month “Your Honor” … so I muse.

 

 

JUST MUSING: “The greatest show on earth” … Act 2

She, Whitney Houston, granted a long-awaited interview.  The year was 2002, we, the public, watched from afar as Diane Sawyer, with ABC News questioned, and explored, asking the obvious and the not so obvious.  No one can dispute that Whitney was an accomplished entertainer, the voice of weddings, anniversaries, and reunions; casting memories, blessing us with her gifts, delivered with an engrossing smile.  Cissy’s daughter, Dionne, Dee Dee, and Leontyne’s cousin; bonded by tradition, imbued by blood, blessed to be undeniably great.

Her voice seemed coarser, body thinner – still pretty she was, a familiar face, looking like our sisters, daughters, friends.  Letting us into her home, knowing full-well that our wonderment and curiosity, permitted entrance with the cameras, allowed us to dissect her every word, movement, and flinch.  Denying but not denying, admitting but not admitting, she did.  Yes, she did.

“Crack is cheap; I made too much money to do crack.  We don’t do crack, crack is whack.”

We then knew what we suspected, confirming, watching a star descend on a not so starry night.  She never blamed others, never attempted to place blame at anyone else’s feet.  “It is my decision, the biggest devil is me”, while pivoting, professing a desire to live, looking to the future.  Whitney Houston lost her battle with her devils, dying on February 11, 2012.  I muse to say we need not lose ours.  Thrills are cheap, a dime a dozen, as this current presidential campaign has shown.  The greatest show on earth is mimicking Whitney, too much money to do cheap.  “Crack is whack.”

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Why is the greatest show on earth broken?  Some preliminary concessions are necessary  – from a pure First Amendment analysis I believe money equates to free speech.  I believe everyone should be able to participate in the election processes, not without limitations however.  You can’t yell fire in the theater (if there is no fire) and believe free speech is going to protect you.  I disagree with the Court’s myth that corporations are persons.  I do not believe corporations represent unmitigated evil, and I am not willing to rant and rave about a supposed change, knowing full well they (corporations) touch every aspect of our lives, providing wealth, differentiating our society from others.  This does not mean we shouldn’t continue to fight for change, adapting the positive part of Whitney’s self-assessment – we too shouldn’t lay blame at anyone’s feet.  “Crack is whack.”

The presidential campaign in the United States is a two year process, costing 2.6 billion for the 2012 election cycle (this is the amount of money spent by the candidates; the number does not include the costs of running the election in the various states, nor the parties’ costs), entails  primaries and caucuses for each state and territory (some closed and some open).  Time, geography, the length of the process has birthed a system allowing small, less diverse states define the initial viability of candidates, permits the southern strategy to ferment and remain a reality (pitting the north against the south, races against races), and a ridiculous debate schedule, laden with an ad nausea speaking schedule (an horror on Elm Street reality-show, birthing silly statements, promises, and contentions, once, twice, thrice).  Multiple time zones, three to four cities a day, blending night and day, sleep deprived creatures propped, prodded, kneaded into submission.

Canadians elects their Prime Minister in a far shorter period of time, a minimum length of a campaign is 36 days.   Even if we account for population (35 million) (Canada) versus the 326 million (United States), Canada remains the second largest country in the world (land mass) and the United States the fourth.   The use of technology, a condensed debate schedule, and having all the states hold their primaries on the same day would work to drive the cost down, lessen the influence of money, and work to stop the insanity, spending billions of dollars which can surely be placed to better use.  The reduced and condensed schedule requires the media to condense its reporting (pooling reports), narrow their questioning (more pointed questions), strip and repackage their presentation (taking the show business influence out, recognizing time is at a premium).  The population difference between the United States and Canada is accounted for by adjusting Canada’s election period by ten (36 days x 10) still means we can accomplish the election of a president within 360 days (less than one year) from the date everyone is required to announce their candidacy for the office.

So you contend that the schedule means the candidates can’t visit every state – so what.  Surrogates, television, and the internet solves the problem, causes the world to become smaller, more connected.  The Trump phenomenon should be studied, twitting, telephoning in, dismantling the consultancy industry; reducing the costs by rejecting the previous history and pattern used when running for the highest office in the land.  Skype rallies connecting millions.  A new day indeed is called for when reality strikes and we realize the billions spent represents money directly and indirectly tied to our pocket books.  HULU, HULU … who would have ever thought I would ever compliment Trump?

I bet.  I bet … the data reflects the candidates don’t visit every state, concentrating instead on battle ground states, avoiding the blue-blue states and the red-red states.  Most of us decide our choice of candidate within months, and absent mind-bending revelations, we don’t move off our position.  Technology increases our ability to discover those mind-bending events (there are no secrets anymore), takes away the time for mischief, cheating, and lies and makes the candidates, parties and power brokers realize the reduced schedule levels the playing field, making the political system more responsive.  Crack is whack, a slow and predicate death to the greatest show on earth.