JUST MUSING: “What went right in Charlottesville …”

noI have never been to Charlottesville and without cheating and making a quick reference to a map, I can’t tell you what part of the State of Virginia the city is situated.  Recognizing the city’s name, sitting in a chair, pushing back, readjusting my position, stunned – watching, watching, watching – going silent, moving inward; each passing minute, hour, day.  Witnessing from afar, separated by distance, and time, drawn close by technology.  Seeing the persistent struggle play out; commentary about the south, the Birth of a Nation, statues of horror/of honor, marching/sitting, mouths agape/spewing hate, dogs, guns, jail, confinement, the fraught reality of slavery; love and death.  Wondering what the future may bring, seeing the chasm grow wider; the by-product, the root, southern birth-rights playing out in living color.   Stopping, closing my eyes, wondering to myself – complaining to friends – whether anyone realizes there were actually events which went right in Charlottesville.  Adjust your thought process, wipe your eyes, appreciate for a moment the last statement is somewhat inconsistent with my ingrained minority paranoia.  Please bear with me.

Merriam Webster defines paranoia two ways:   “mental illness characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations” or “a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.”  The word, minority, or the term, being in the minority needs no definition when stated in a racial, national origin, religious context – both are self-explanatory.  Merriam Webster contains no definition for minority paranoia.  With that said, viewing the use of the term, minority paranoia, in a negative context shouldn’t be done, contrary to both definitions of paranoia.

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Turning off Almeda-Genoa, proceeding eastward initially, turning slightly northward on Telephone Road – at a time before the strange voices occupied our phones, became secreted into our dashboards, telling us which direction to proceed – all to reconnect with Almeda-Genoa.  My memory said it was a Sunday night, nearing one in the morning.  Houston was sleeping.  Crossing the landscape making my way back to the freeway, travelling home, fighting sleep, watching, listening to music – as if the music helped me stay attuned – it didn’t, it didn’t.  Seeing lights enter the cab, flashing, bouncing, an invasion of light; lighting up the surrounding area, enveloping my path, causing sleep to flee, the same effect of being invaded by millions and millions of lighting bugs.

Not knowing what I had done, checking the time, checking my vehicle’s speed, looking ahead, for a place to pull over; changing the radio station – to a gospel station, not for prayer, not that I knew the musical preference of the Houston Police officer instructing me to pull over – none of this, none of that.  Correcting my posture, locking both hands in place, sitting, awaiting – for the officer to arrive to the driver’s side of the vehicle; actions developed of time, now a habit, a routine, designed to survive the interaction.  Having travelled the same road over the years, seeing I was near where I was determined years before, also in the early morning hours; stopped by the same Department, detained for two hours.  Cursed and threatened then; words designed to push both societal and racial buttons; an invitation to react, hoping I would react – until the officers determined I was a lawyer.  Apologizing, hiding their badges, some refusing to give me their badge numbers, calling their supervisors.  An ah-ha moment, a moment Allen Funt would have loved (Smile you are on Candid Camera), an event best expressed in the idioms of a southern Negro (“Oh Lord, Oh Lord”); burdened by history, race, humor, I am, only none of unfolding events were funny at the time.

A thousand thoughts flooded in and out, with each step, with every movement of the officer.  How to survive a simple traffic stop?  Don’t accept the bait, ignore the bait, don’t turn the music down until the he reaches the window.  Oh happy days.  When Jesus Washed … Hands up – breathe, breathe, breathe – remain calm.  Give him your license when asked, respond only to the questions asked.

This was the third time I was stopped by Houston Police on this stretch of isolated roadway within a three year period.  Adapting, changing radio stations, sitting erect, remaining erect (statue like), turning the music down – receiving a warning, thanking the officer, vowing not to travel down the same road again, particularly in the early morning hours.   A vow I have kept, forever seeing the spots where I have been stopped, the faces, ingrained images, time.

Is there a correlation in the stops? – I don’t know.  Was my race a factor? – Maybe – possibly.  What I am clear about?  These events are part of the term I used earlier on – minority paranoia.  Minority paranoia established over time, observing ones environment – someone akin to assure life (read the use of life literally, as in remaining alive), liberty (read this as avoiding jail) and the pursuit of happiness (no explanation needed).  Driving away, extending a self-congratulatory pat, remembering the last stop, hearing the officers threaten arrest, calling me stupid.  “What do you think about being so stupid?  His calling other officers over, had to be at least six officers in and out of the back seat, while I remained cuffed, for two hours.  Awaiting a response, obtaining a response, “I guess I’m stupid.”

Driving farther down the road, seeing the other incident, on the same road; stopping to help another driver after a wreck – helping her, not helping him.  He – a stranger to me – was upset because of he felt she was at fault.  She too was a stranger.

Walking near, seeing the terror in her eyes, sensing fear.  He – this stranger – hovering over her window, screaming, yelling; reaching inside of the passenger compartment.

“It was your fault!  It was your fault! Look what you did to my car!”  He said, bellowing his words while she screamed.

“Hey man, it was a wreck, calm down.”

She leaned back and away, restrained by the seat belt, screaming, dazed – these facts didn’t matter – continuing his rant, “Look what you have done!”

“Hey man, move away from her car!”

Touching her, hearing the screams grow louder, grabbing the stranger by his shirt, obtaining a firm grip, licking my free hand with spit, aiming at the nape of the neck, continuing the attempt to get his attention.

“Hey man!  Come on fool!”

Words accompanied by a popping sound, hand against neck, skin against skin, causing a distinctive sound, indicating I was successful in making contact.  I learned quickly, I was successful in getting his attention.  Spinning in place, much like a bull – he did.  Seeing blood on his forehead, and in his eyes; sweat poured liberally down his face.  He was none too happy.

“I’m going to kill you!”

“No, you’re not” – reaching, extending – striking again for good measure.  Moving away, wondering why I was in the middle of the street boxing a total stranger.

“I am going to kill, your ass” – lunging forward, grasping at air, crying in anger, complaining to himself about “my car.”

“Man it’s a damn car.  You’re alive.  She is alive.  Stop before you get hurt!”

“Nigger, bastard” …

Unwelcome words causing a reaction – for every reaction there is a reaction – extending an obligatory strike, to the festering wound on the left side of his forehead.  Ole!

“You need to calm down!” – moving away, circling, making the stranger chase, only striking thereafter when he got too close.

The police ultimately did arrive.  When I tried to tell the officers what happened, they ignored me.  When I attempted to repeat the story, I was stopped.

“She is in shock.  She is not going to let her window down.  Ma’am it is okay, you can let your window down.”

The white man – stranger one – stood to the side no longer than ten feet away, playing victim.  The white woman – stranger two – sat stunned, ultimately lowering her window, stepping out after persistent persuasion, intruding, trying to explain to the other officer why she was frozen in place.   The lone black soul, my meddling-self, my not-minding-my- business-self, stood in the middle of the roadway listening to the officer’s firm instruction – “Leave before we arrest you!” – No address given to him; no telephone number; no name allowed.  A black Casper the Friendly Ghost I was, invisible, irrelevant; obeying the officer’s instruction, entering my car, wondering why I even bothered to stop.

With the above digression, my definition of minority paranoia seems appropriate at this point:  Minority paranoia is a sense of paranoia, real and imagined, clinical and non-clinical.  A paranoia which is ingrained in the souls of a minority group member, when existing in a hostile environment causing the group member to constantly assess and reassess events, based upon past events, and stimuli.  Minority paranoia oft-times causes the minority group member to view the world differently, seeming irrational, when not irrational – somewhat akin to speaking a foreign tongue to the majority group member; akin to asking the majority group member to accept the impossible, even though the non-acceptance of the minority members view of the world is no different than the majority member’s perception (Elvis is still alive, but Michael Jackson can’t be alive).

I give this detailed definition to explain how minority paranoia affects my view of the events in Charlottesville.  A paranoia invoked when shocking societal events occurs; causing worry and anxiety to return; ghosting, shadowing my every step.   We are the ones who are told to leave.  We are the ones who are arrested.  We are the ones whose rights are affected when we silence our enemies.  This time however something else occurred.

First, those men and women of hate were granted their fundamental right to march.  I know, they are our enemies; purveyors of hate, terrorists in our mist.  I don’t disagree – I’m not stupid.  I told you, didn’t I, that when the officer threatened me with my arrest in the middle of the roadway, I put my finger down, I stopped pointing, walked away, dropping my business card in stranger two’s  hand (if she needed a witness later), and moved off the roadway.  I’m not stupid … but I remain the consistent fool.  The boys and girls of hate live under the protection of the First Amendment (United States Constitution) possess the same protections you and I possess – the right to peacefully assembly to protest, spew their odious messages in and about the public square.

The American Civil Liberties Union was right to remain consistent with its history; litigating the issue in federal court, citing the laws which protect the rest of our rights.  The deprivation and silencing of those men and women of hate, silences you – me – denying us a free and open debate.

Call me a fool next.  I’ll take the compliment.  Thousands appeared to have entered the public square protesting the hate of those men and women of hate.   Screaming, yelling, shouting; protecting their love ones when attacked; protesting the clergy who were there to pray; telling the world, “This is not us.”

Remaining forever angry, refusing to good back to the good-old days, recognizing the historical laden words said by those on the other side; words of hate, oppression, and death.  Of course, one can argue that the deaths of Heather Heyer and the officers did not go exactly right.  Not according to Heyer’s mother, embracing Heather’s courage, her cause.  Not according to Heather’s friends (Marcus Martin), flying to the air like Super Man – hit once – twice – by the terrorist’s car, saving his fiancée (now what was the controversy about the possibility of a black man playing Superman?).  Working against type-cast, visions of the old-Southern dissolving, reminding us, we have changed, even in light of being a society in constant flux.

Removing symbols of hate, taking lifeless stone and metal figures out of the public square, dismantling the supposed statues of honor from the landscape; statues erected during the changes, serving as a reminder of the greatest of the Old South – while we, the minority group members, saw something else.

Ordered to desegregate public schools – “We can’t.”  Ordered to arrest those who attacked, terrorized, murdered in an attempt to ensure the constitution meant what it says – “We won’t.”  The Court affirming the constitution wasn’t applied to us (“The negro had no rights the white man is bound to respect.”).  Preventing minority group members from voting, rigging the voting systems, using judicial and extra-judicial acts, purging voting rolls, cheating, threatening, arresting – refusing to hear, refusing to see, denying there ever existed the speaking of evil.

Jews will not replace us!

This city is run by Jews and criminal niggers!

NiggersJews, Homo-sexuals, Mexican, A-rabs, and all different sorts of Chinks stink, and I hate ’em! … Go back to yer country! White power!”

Okay, I’ll admit, I have gone too far.  The last of the quotations did not come from the events in Charlottesville, but is from Dave Chappelle’s show.  I wanted to see whether you were paying attention.  Matters not, I think you get my point.

If you didn’t notice the crowd howling against my boys and girls of hate was different, the majority of them were white.  Welcome to the new south.  Something has gone right.  Sending their children to the streets, recognizing our long hard struggles and freedoms has freed them – that each of our freedoms is tied to others’ freedoms – even our enemies.

Sitting, watching, thinking; moving uncomfortably away from the monitor.  Escaping to the kitchen, counting eggs, removing butter from the refrigerator, checking the flour, making a list; hearing the President’s voice, astonished by his justifying, unjustifiable conduct, bowing my head, seeing the worse and wondering how far back we are going to move.  Watching, listening for the immediate reactions, seeing and hearing repulsion of the majority.  Racism laid bare, sending the our President scurrying to the sidelines, his words and defense having the opposite effect, convincing some who would have never been convinced – the statues have to come down; we can’t go back.

We will never solve the color-line until we admit there is a color-line.  We will retard the march to equality if we fail to admit there was much which went right in Charlottesville.  Kneading, moving flour from one location to another, blending eggs, tasting – much like the motions of life – smiling, not because of the taste – no, no – because of what I saw, because of what I heard.

 

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JUST MUSING: “The wait staff pretended not be listening, not to be watching…”

The invitation to give a speech at the Baytown Country Club was bittersweet in a number of ways.  From third grade through high school my family lived in the shadows of the country club, a world apart, foreign to our everyday reality.   The invitation came two years after an extended and bitter fight over prayer in school.   The case, Santa Fe School District v. Doe, wound a tortured path through the United States District Court, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.  My representation of the Doe(s) served as one of the impetus for then federal judge, Samuel B. Kent, personally expressing his intended life’s mission (“I will make the  next forty years of your life miserable” (his actual quote was more profane and colorful – mean-spirited, bordering on bullying.  Absent spelling out the profane words, the descriptive words used above, coupled with one’s imagination should suffice to provide a proper setting)).

I drove that day with the intent to make the luncheon speech on time.  It was now clear to me His Honor had made good on his promise of my intended demise.  He had dismissed 18 out of the 25 cases in which I had in his court.  His Honor crafted three opinions a week, over a six week period, releasing each opinion with great fanfare.  The opinions inferred the plaintiff’s lawyer (interpretation – me/moi/mì) was suffering from drug or alcohol problem(s).  Each opinion contained faint praise – he at one time was an excellent lawyer, but that something was now amiss in his behavior and practice before the Court (please read this with a cultural twist on my part – “He be talking about me”).

His honor, in those 18 orders, directed I forward a copy of the orders to the affected clients.  All of the orders contained an explicit recommendation for plaintiff file a grievance against their lawyer or sue the lawyer (again, me/moi/mi).  Not surprisingly the clients took the Court’s advice, 18 grievances alleging their lawyer violated his obligations to them.  In hindsight I don’t blame the clients.  The cases were now dismissed.  Their only remedy was an appeal.  They didn’t know my history with His Honor.  Not many people would resist an explicit order from a federal judge inferring their lawyer was a drunk, on drugs, or made a mess of their affairs.   Part of me was internally insulted:  never consuming alcohol in my life, refusing to allow any type of drugs/mind or body altering substance to enter my body.  Avoiding advertisement, peer pressures, expected behavior.   I saw too many of my classmates succumb and fall by the wayside because of the use/abuse/addiction to those substances; substances readily available, far more available than say a fresh apple in our neighborhood.  I wonder why?  I wonder why?

His Honor also visited his fellow federal judges and told of his life altering plans for me.   He requested his fellow “his/her honors” become active participants his goal to rid the bar of my presence.  His expressed invitation was extended in a meeting of his fellow judges for the Southern District of Texas.  One of his fellow judges revealed this secret to me, even though the judges’ meetings are confidential.  Her Honor wasn’t the only one who told, another Her Honor spouse revealed the remaining judges’ decision to reject Judge Kent’s invitation to participate in my demise.  The judges directed me to file any new Galveston Division case in the Houston Division.  The remaining judges directed me to file any new case in the Houston Division, assuring me those cases “would not” be transferred back to Judge Kent’s court.    My complying with the other his/her honors’ request did not protect me from the pending grievances, nor shield me from the public relationship war being waged by Samuel B. Kent as he continued to issue opinion after opinion.  The other judges also made clear they had no authority to remove any of the pending cases from Judge Kent’s court.

When Judge Kent issued his weekly opinions, he followed his orders with a phone call to the local print media (Houston Chronicle and Galveston County Daily News).   The reporters would then in turn call me for my response to the latest edict.  I gracefully demurred.  My addressing the press in a state of anger simply didn’t seem to me a likely path for success or survival.  Judge Kent’s initial attacks began in 1997.  The Supreme Court heard the Doe case in 1999 and issued its opinion in 2000.  I was now two years removed from the Supreme Court’s decision; time’s passage did not make my drive any less internally traumatic.

҉            ҉            ҉

The drive from Galveston to Baytown was bittersweet because all which preceded my invitation to speak gnawed at me in the same manner the chemical plants gnawed at Baytown’s harbors.  My office had now been gutted.  Fear of the unknown became the burden imposed on the young lawyers and staff members prior to their fleeing to safer, more reasonable and lucrative harbors.  As they fled, the office became a poor facsimile of our previous self.  His Honor’s much public attacks devastated our federal docket, obliterated the overall caseload and caused our income to plummet.  Samuel B. Kent’s actions mirrored others’ acts which had played out during my existence in Galveston – different actors, a different time.

The trip to Baytown allowed His Honor’s unwanted attention and my childhood memories of a changing/challenging world of a desegregating south to play out.  The landscape was familiar to me, somewhat akin to watching a well-worn movie, listening but not listening, watching but not watching.  However, none of this is why I muse.  I muse because history is a vicious reminder of our past, and a wonderful predictor of our future.  I muse because as I happily now exit the legal stage somewhat similar to the boxing ring, my history tells me that my being excluded, mistakenly being invited or being expelled from the ring were constants of history’s lessons.

I was running a little bit ahead of schedule.  My decision to travel to the speech immediately after my court appearance in Galveston allowed me to save some time.  I left early also because of other obligations, a requirement I appear in federal court in Houston after the speech.  My office had informed the Houston court of the conflict and the possibility of running ten to fifteen minutes late.

When the invitation was extended, I had not been told much about what my host wanted me to speak about.  The only information given was their wanting to hear of my experiences in Santa Fe v. Doe, no other instructions.   My childhood anxieties refused to remain in the car – they walked with me every step of the way – from car, to sidewalk, to door.  The well-appointed room served as a backdrop for my history and anxieties.  I was immediately met by a gentleman.

“I am glad you made it.  I am glad to meet you personally and not just talk with you on the phone.  We were worried whether your hearing in Galveston would go over.  And then the rains came.”

“I finished early and made up some time.  Thank you for the invitation.”

“I am so excited you are here.”  It was at this time I was given a fuller picture of what the host wanted to hear.  “We want to know whether you were disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling and if so what do you expect in the future?  … Is there a chance of any additional test cases?  … Prayer in schools is important to our members.  … We request you speak for thirty minutes, leave a little time for questions.”  …

The host left me little time to answer his questions.  He left even less to take in this new information, saying, “Excuse me, I must check with my colleague on something else.”  Walking away, leaving me to my own devices.

Why on earth would I be disappointed with a ruling which was in my clients’ favor?  What test cases was my host referring – I didn’t have a clue.  This smartly dressed business man moved across this once prohibited sanctum to visit with others of like ilk.  I had not moved far from the front door when Wanda Cash, a former Assistant Managing Editor for the Galveston County Daily News, approached and asked whether I remembered her.  I assured her I did.  She now occupied the position of editor and publisher of The Baytown Sun.  Wanda too expressed unbridled excitement with my appearance.  A smile seemed permanently etched on her face.  Wanda appeared to be enjoying herself a little too much.

When Wanda left my presence, I reached for a program on the front desk.  I was now confused.  I was described in the program as the lawyer representing the school district.  “An unfortunate loss” the members were informed, but “optimism for new strategies, new cases all to assure prayer in school.”  The Baytown Rotary Club invited the wrong person.  I wasn’t the other lawyer.  I had no earthly idea how those lawyers felt, and was pretty sure no one was going to inform me of any planned test cases in order to get the question of prayer in public schools back before the United States Supreme Court.

My predicament was not one of “guess who coming to dinner”.  I was already at dinner.  When I looked up from the program my smartly-dressed host was approaching again.

“We are going to do some general business first.  There are some agenda items we need to address before I introduce you.  I say five minutes.”

            “Sir, I have something to tell you.”

“You need something from us?”

“No sir, I’m fine.  The description of me on this program is not me.  I think you invited the wrong person. I represented the children and parents who challenged prayer in the public schools, not the school district.  We won.”

As Ali’s phantom punch of Sonny Liston, in their second fight, was too fast for the human eye to perceive so was the effect of my words on this stranger.  Those words propelled his 165 pound frame across the floor.  The tails of an immaculate grey suit flapped as he approached other similarly attired men.  He may have attempted to mask his horror, he couldn’t.  His hands served as tell-tales, flailing uncontrollably.  His body appeared distended with gas.  He attempted to whisper, but the other men did not.

             “Oh shit!”

Oh shit is right.  I’m hungry.  I did not eat breakfast.  I started my day at 5:00 a.m., prepared for two hearings, spent two hours in the first hearing and traveled here in a driving rain storm for the last hour.  If I don’t find something to eat, I’m not going be able to get anything in my stomach until 4:00 p.m.  The first time my Negro butt gets to go the Baytown Country Club and I am going to get kicked out!  I have seen this dance before –‘no you can’t come in, no don’t use that water fountain.  Why to the back of the bus, are you kidding me.’ It wasn’t my mistake! Oh come on, I’m hungry!

 I immediately identified where the food was coming from and played bird dog and headed in that direction.  I was met by one of the wait staff at the door.  I told her what I perceived, what I expected to happen.  I don’t remember what she looked like.  I only remember her showing all thirty twos when I told her what was going on.

           “Can I get a plate to eat before I get kicked out?”

“Sure baby, absolutely.”

When my food was brought, it appeared the entire kitchen staff came out – all people of color.  They were the most friendly, happy bunch of Black people I have ever seen.  Joy filled the air.  Joyous, joyous people of color; I expected a chorus line to form.  While I ate I noticed the word of the mistake passing from lip to lip, ear to ear.  I noticed Wanda Cash standing and watching – the wait staff – her fellow Rotarians – me.  She was happy, a profane giddy happy; happy, happy.

The food was excellent.  The okra gumbo competed with my mother’s.  I consumed the food as fast as I could – wiping and eating, wiping and eating – as efficiently as a starving man could only achieve.  The same fast when you realize the dad doesn’t like you.  The same fast when you realize you don’t like him.  I knew I had to leave as soon as possible.

“Thank you.  The food was good.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed the food.”

“Did you cook the okra gumbo?”

“I did.”

“Check your foot, one may be missing.”

“Oh baby please, you made all our day.  If you want to take some with you, I will make you a container.”

Their day became more joyous as I approached my hosts, still conversing in the southwest corner of this temple of my anticipated expulsion.

“Sorry, excuse me.   I figured out how we can address the mistake.  You can tell your members, I got sick from the food.   I will gracefully excuse myself and make my court appearance on time.”

I expected my host to accept my proposal, he did not.  The frown gracing his forehead, which first appeared when I told him of my discovery, seemed to have become permanent scarring.  “No we want you to stay.”  I was shock by his stance, shocked enough to accept and begin thinking about what I could possibly say at a luncheon I shouldn’t have ever appeared.

The wait staff pretended not be listening, not to be watching.  I pretended not to be noticing those colored people now lining the walls.  Wanda Garner Cash wasn’t having any of our cultural “not be(s)”, she smiled, bounce in her chair in a perceptible manner.  She enjoyed these events more than anyone should publicly enjoy themselves.  Her public display of joy in all probability could meet the definition of obscenity.

I told the shocked faces I knew of the mistake.  I identified myself.  They didn’t clap.  The … Oh Shit … moment still lingered in the air.  The wait staff was having none of our socially acceptable behavior – clapping, smiling, watching – standing in a row, glued in place, collective humanity holding up the wall.

I explained, “My belief in the Constitution was borne in Goose Creek’s public schools, funded by their tax dollars.  “You have no one to blame but yourselves.”  Visions of years past came back, flooding and clouding my thoughts.  Some in the audience flashed oblique smiles.  The wait staff didn’t care, extending a laugh of appreciation, as if Richard Pryor had healed and was on stage again.

I tried to explain the importance of free speech, why the parents’ complaint was upheld by the Court.  “Thank you for the food.  Thank you for the invitation.”  They remained in their seats – astonished – well, except Wanda and the wait staff; standing, clapping, enjoying life’s contradictions a little too much.

After speaking, I hurriedly made my way through the sea of blues and grays.  I was stopped by Wanda before I could escape.  “Anthony wasn’t this just a great meeting”, all spoken while her body continued to tremble with glee, a giddy glee.  Wanda’s only attempt to control her condition came in the form of wiping her eyes.  We wished each other well as I made by dash for the door to escape   “Wanda, I’m so glad you had such a good time.”

 

 

[Author’s note:  The above muse was initially published on November 1, 2014 on Blog.com – thus a throw-back musing.  The musing is the Web-Manager’s favorite musing, and remains so.   It is hoped you enjoyed this version, with slight modifications from the original.]