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“A Drifting, Angry America”: America Has Gone Mad And There’s No Place To Hide

“What sort of people are we, we Americans? … Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.” — Historian Arthur Schlesinger

As these words are written, I am on a cruise ship pulling into the harbor of the Greek island of Crete. All around me, the morning sparkles. The water is placid, the sky is clear and pale blue, our ship is embraced by gently sloping hills dotted with houses and shops.

And I just turned on the television.

And I just heard about Dallas.

I have made it a point to keep the news at something of a distance these last two weeks of travel, filling my days instead with shell craters on a beach in Normandy, a shopping square in Barcelona, the ghostly remains of Pompeii. So while I know that two African-American men were killed by police under dubious circumstances in Louisiana and Minnesota a couple days ago, I haven’t seen the videos, haven’t checked too deeply into the circumstances.

I’m off the clock now. I wanted to keep the horror at arm’s length.

But distance is an illusion, isn’t it? That’s what I just learned when I made the mistake of turning on the television.

Indeed, sitting here in this picturesque place on this peaceful morning far away, it feels as if I can see the madness of my country even more clearly than usual.

Two more black men shot down for no good reason in a country that still insists — with righteous indignation, yet — upon equating black men with danger.

That’s madness.

Last night, I called my sons and grandson to tell them I love them, explain to them yet again that they terrorize people simply by being and plead with them to be careful. I am required to fear what might happen to my children when they encounter those who are supposed to serve and protect them.

That’s madness.

Eleven police officers shot by sniper fire, five fatally, while guarding a peaceful demonstration against police brutality.

That’s madness.

The usual loud voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.

That is madness.

And then, there was this coda: A black man, a “person of interest” turns himself in to police after carrying an AR-15 rifle through the protest in downtown Dallas.

An AR-15.

Through downtown Dallas.

As police are dealing with an active shooter.

Apparently, the guy was not guilty of a crime, but he is certainly guilty of the worst judgment imaginable — and lucky to be alive. But then, in carrying that war weapon on a city street, he was only exercising his legal right under Texas law. The NRA calls that freedom.

But make no mistake: It, too, is madness.

America has gone mad before.

The quote at the top is from one such period, 1968. Hundreds of urban riots had wracked the country, the war in Vietnam was uselessly grinding up lives, recent years had seen the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Now, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had just been murdered within two months of one another.

And many people were wondering, as Arthur Schlesinger was, about America and its character, about what kind of country — and people — we were. Said New York Mayor John Lindsay, “This is a drifting, angry America that needs to find its way again.”

His words, like Schlesinger’s, feel freshly relevant to this era, almost 50 years down the line.

There is a sickness afoot in our country, my friends, a putrefaction of the soul, a rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another — and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops.

Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.

On the night Martin Luther King died, two months almost to the day before he himself would be shot down in a hotel kitchen, Bobby Kennedy faced a grief-stricken, largely African-American crowd in Indianapolis and with extemporaneous eloquence, prescribed a cure for the sickness he saw.

“My favorite poet,” he told them, “was Aeschylus. And he once wrote, ‘And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Those words feel hopelessly idealistic, impossibly innocent and yet, wise, grace-filled and … right for the raw pain of this moment I commend them to all our wounded spirits on this shining morning from a peaceful place that, as it turns out, is not nearly far enough away.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 10, 2016

July 11, 2016 - Posted by | Americans, Black Men, Gun Violence, Police Shootings | , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Much needed post. We need to listen to each other and not talk past one another. We need to check the zero sum games of “I win/ you lose” partisan politics and task our leaders with solving the problem. Violence is not the answer. Civil discussion and interaction is. We must not condone leaders who foam at the mouth with bigoted, racist and xenophobic comments as that makes the problems worse not better, as they demonize groups.

    We are all biased. We all have predispositions that we must guard against. As a 57 year-old White man, I can pretty much go anywhere I want without repercussions and do not fear for my life when stopped by a patrolman. The same freedom does not exist for a Black man even when dressed in his Sunday best. Even when polite and moving slowly, the thought that “this may be the last thing I do in my life” goes through his head.

    I encourage everyone to read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” which talks about how we can be influenced to act based on our sub-conscious set of experiences. In “Blink” he speaks of the example sung about by Bruce Springsteen in “American Skin (41 Shots)” how a Brown man who did not speak English ran from police as he did not know who they were and was shot 41 times on a stoop.

    In the movie “South Pacific,” written as a veiled critique of the Jim Crow era in an island far away, Oscar Hammerstein song lyrics are profound even today.

    “You have to be carefully taught by the time you are seven or eight,
    to hate the people your parents hate. You have to be carefully taught.”

    Bigotry and bias exist, even when not extreme. My suggestion to parents is you decide what to teach your kids, but remember your actions teach them more than anything. A few off-the-cuff remarks can undo progress when witnessed by impressionable kids.

    Like

    Comment by Keith | July 11, 2016 | Reply

    • Very good comments Keith, well said!

      Like

      Comment by raemd95 | July 12, 2016 | Reply


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