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“Justice Is Supposed To Be Blind”: The Oregon Standoff And America’s Double Standards On Race And Religion

What do you think the response would be if a bunch of black people, filled with rage and armed to the teeth, took over a federal government installation and defied officials to kick them out? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be wait-and-see.

Probably more like point-and-shoot.

Or what if the occupiers were Mexican American? They wouldn’t be described with the semi-legitimizing term “militia,” harking to the days of the patriots. And if the gun-toting citizens happened to be Muslim, heaven forbid, there would be wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the “terrorist assault.” I can hear Donald Trump braying for blood.

Not to worry, however, because the extremists who seized the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon on Saturday are white. As such, they are permitted to engage in a “standoff” with authorities who keep their distance lest there be needless loss of life.

Such courtesy was not extended to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park on Nov. 22, 2014. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, police officer Timothy Loehmann shot the boy, who died the next day. Prosecutors led a grand jury investigation and announced last month that Loehmann would face no charges. A “perfect storm of human error” was blamed, and apparently storms cannot be held accountable.

Such courtesy, in fact, is routinely denied to unarmed black men and boys who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know the litany of names — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray. And you know how these stories end. Just weeks ago, a Baltimore jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of the first of six officers charged with Gray’s death. Another perfect storm, I guess.

I probably sound cynical, but in truth I’m just weary. And worried.

Justice is supposed to be blind. Race, ethnicity and religion are not supposed to matter. Yet we’re constantly reminded that these factors can make the difference between justifiable and unjustifiable killing — and between life and death.

The yahoos in Oregon are protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s policies, hardly a red-button issue for most Americans. The federal building they seized is in a wildlife refuge, which means that by definition it’s in the middle of nowhere; the nearest sizable city is Boise, Idaho, about 200 miles away. The protesters’ guns pose more of a threat to bears than people.

So no, I don’t think authorities have any immediate reason to blast their way into the woods with a column of armored vehicles. But I would argue there was no good reason to do so on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., either. Is the salient difference that the Oregon protesters are believed to be heavily armed? If so, what message does that send? Does somebody need to found a Minority Rifle Association so that communities of color are given similar deference?

The organization’s name would have to be changed in a few decades, anyway, when whites in the United States cease to constitute a racial majority. This inexorable demographic shift, I believe, helps explain why the world of politics seems to have gone insane of late.

What I want is that African Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans and other “outsiders” be seen as the Americans we are. What I want is acknowledgment that we, too, have a stake in our democracy and its future course. What I want is the recognition that no one can “take back” the country — which happens to be led by its first African American president — because it belongs to me as much as to you.

These are not the sentiments we’re hearing in the presidential campaign, though — at least, not on the Republican side. Following Trump’s lead, candidates are competing to sound angrier and more embittered. That’s why I am so worried.

You’d think there might be at least a few prominent voices on the right expressing horror and outrage at the wrongful killing of a 12-year-old boy. You’d think that Republicans running for president might find the time to condemn the armed takeover of federal property by zealots. Yet all we hear is crickets chirping.

The GOP candidates have apparently concluded that voicing hope, embracing change and broadening our concept of the American mainstream constitute a losing strategy. They see Trump’s success and mimic him in fostering a sense of “beleaguered” us vs. “menacing” them. This may be an effective way to pursue the nomination, but it’s a terrible disservice to the country.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 4, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Domestic Terrorism, Equal Justice, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time For A Collective And Unbridled Demand For Justice”: Following MLK’s Example Means Ending Our ‘Whatever’ Mindset

I am often deeply disturbed by our remorseless witness. We are all implicated; we share responsibility for our witness of well-defined evil.

We don’t protect our most vulnerable children; we value people according to arbitrary standards blind to the image of God on every face; we are too quick to kill and to slow to forgive; we tolerate the desecration of the only earth we will ever know. We give a platform to political leaders who want to “take back our country” — by setting policies that favor the wealthiest over everyone else, selling public schools to the highest bidder, and tearing apart the safety net that sustains the elderly and assists our most vulnerable — as if their words and ideas are worth listening to, or are grounded in principles worthy of our attention or even support.

Our response? Too often it is tantamount to this: “Whatever.”

We allow injustices to persist as if solutions are someone else’s responsibility. We watched our Congress over the last six years — as we slid deeper into recession, as our immigration crisis worsened, as tragic deaths from gun violence killed children school by school, people in movie theaters, women and children in the sanctity of their homes — do less and less, making history for inactivity. Even now, behind all of the soaring rhetoric is a shocking lack of action. It’s almost as if Congress said, whatever. How will we respond?

February is African-American History Month, so rest assured there will be plenty of posturing by our elected leaders. I hope we will revisit a figure often celebrated at this time of year — but I hope we will have a new appreciation of his example, and what his example should mean in our daily lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man, going about his daily business, following his predictable path when God called. He was a preacher’s kid from a solid middle class upbringing, attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Boston University School of Theology, earning a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. He was on a Yellow Brick Road headed for Oz. But God had need of him and he joined the ranks of prophets like Samuel, Amos and Jeremiah; like Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonheoffer; like Gandhi, Ella Baker, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others that could be named.

In part, what distinguishes King and these moral giants is the fullness with which they heard the cry of injustice and responded. And we can all hear it if we listen, and we can all respond. As Callie Plunket-Brewton remarked, “The overwhelming witness of the prophets is that God has no tolerance for those who prey on the weak, who abuse their power, or who eat their fill while others are hungry.”

God has no tolerance for whatever.

And King had no tolerance for it either. In 1959 he said, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” Six years later, in 1965, he described his vision for where that career in humanity should lead us: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

Today, are we not a society that has lost its conscience? One only has to listen to the foolishness that passes for debate in any political season — and there is one on the horizon — or to the witless chatter on our televisions to feel the weight of Whatever pulling us down into the gravity of our condition.

But I have hope. I have hope that people of faith in every tradition will heed the words and examples of King and other prophets, and will wake up and rise up, will speak up and stand up; will turn for a moment from entertaining ourselves, buying things, cheering sports teams and entertainers, and insist on a world where children have clean water to drink and safe places to sleep; where the elderly can rest secure, the fruit of their labor beyond the reach of politicians; where a good public education awaits every eager child and a job with a living wage is there for every adult willing and able to work; where health care is a right, not a privilege, and humanity has matured beyond the illusion that our security is gained by weapons and wars.

This month we will celebrate many great African-Americans whose contributions to better our nation and world seem incalculable. But rather than set them apart, let us learn from their example and respond as they would have responded. I long for the day when people of all faith traditions call upon those who exercise power in our nation with words lifted from the heart of our faith — so that our living may be transformed. The time for whatever has long since passed — it’s time for a collective and unbridled demand for justice.

 

By: Rev. Michael Livingston, Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Company, February 15, 2015; This post first appeared at TalkPoverty.

February 17, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black History Month, Equal Justice | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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