I am Ahmaud Arbery, 60 Years Ago

White men can’t jump, but Black people can’t run (without being shot)

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

Recently, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered in Brunswick, Georgia while innocently jogging in broad daylight; sixty year ago, I, too, encountered a similar experience involving racist white cops, probably like many other black and brown people in America. The difference is that, while I was terrorized, I lived to talk about it. Here is my story:

It was January, a dreary and cold Friday evening in Detroit, Michigan, where I was born and raised. I had just finished delivering The Free Press to the loyal customers on my paper route, some of whom had paid their balances due from the previous week’s deliveries. I was carrying twenty bucks, or so, mostly in change. My best buddy Tyrone, who was seventeen, two years older than me, had somehow scored a bottle of MD 2020, a cheap red wine made especially, in retrospect, for mischievous adolescents trying to act grown.

Tyrone and I lived in a neighborhood that was another version of what must have looked like The United Nations: most of our friends were from first generation immigrant families from everywhere, or at least that’s how we viewed our diverse lower East Side community in 1960. Many of us attended St. Catherine Catholic School and were considered normal adolescents who got into occasional scrapes with one another as young boys do. We sometimes had issues with the nuns and priests, but never anything serious enough to call in law enforcement. Generally, we were all good kids; and cops, we thought, were mostly good people.

My paper route customers were good people, too. One of the new customers on my route had a family of several stair-step young sisters around our age, all of whom were attractive, as Tyrone and I could not help but notice. So, on the Friday evening in question, he and I decided to stop by the sister’s house, hoping their parents weren’t home, so we could share the wine Tyrone had scored.

After hanging out with the girls, Tyrone and I decided to head on home, which was just a few blocks away. Since the sisters couldn’t put the empty wine bottle in the trash for fear their parents might notice, we ended up taking it with us. Walking home, neither were we certain what to do with the wine bottle. But the pitch-dark alleyways provided us a foolish option: heave the glass bottle down the cement ally, then run like hell so the neighbors would never know who spattered glass all around their garage driveways.

Here’s where my personal story — -a story about two black teenage boys running — -begins to juxtapose itself with the Ahmaud Arbery murder in Georgia; here’s where I first became aware of what ‘racial profiling’ was all about, and it almost cost me my life. I was only 15 years old.

In the 1950’s and 60’s in Detroit there was an elite crime-fighting undercover police squad known on the streets as ‘The Big Four’. The units were comprised of four white cops who roamed black and marginal neighborhoods in unmarked Chrysler Imperials. Their stated goal was to ride herd on black youth, harass, question, get identification, and learn where they were going. They were trained to frighten, brutalize, and intimidate. When excessive measures didn’t work, they had no qualms about pulling their weapons and shooting their victims. Here is another description taken from an article in the Detroit Free Press in 1962:

“These 4-man units frequently stopped youths who were driving or walking through black neighborhoods. They verbally degraded these youths, calling them “boy” and “n****r”, asking them who they were and where they were going. Most of the time, black residents were asked to produce identification, and having suffered their requisite share of humiliation, were allowed to proceed on their way. But if one could not produce “proper” identification, this could lead to arrest or worse. In a few notable cases, police stops led to the injury or death of those who were detained. Such excessive use of force was manifested in the 1962 police shooting of a black prostitute named Shirley Scott, who was shot in the back while fleeing from the back of a patrol car. Other high-profile cases of police brutality in Detroit included the severe beating of another prostitute, Barbara Jackson, in 1964, and the beating of Howard King, a black teenager, for “allegedly disturbing the peace”.

Those are the cops who chased me and Tyrone down as we fled towards our homes on that frigid January night after tossing a wine bottle down an alleyway.

Never had I been in a hide and seek situation with the police but realizing that we were being hunted by this group of cops simply because we were running in our neighborhood was a sobering thought. Tyrone ran one way, me another. I cut through several backyards and made it to my block, my house just a few doors down. Breathless and drenched in sweat after traversing a neighbor’s picket fence, my heart stopped as I encountered a tall white man standing only ten feet away in the dark shadows. He had a gun and it was pointed directly at me “Stop, police!” he shouted.

To this day, I believe it was only an act of Providence that kept him from pulling the trigger. Given the reputation of this notorious police squad, I sighed in relief that I was still alive. Nevertheless, I was thrown to the ground, cuffed, and taken to an idling, waiting, unmarked Chrysler police Imperial where Tyrone and I were reunited; he had been captured too, alive, but shaken.

After questioning us about the twenty bucks worth of change in my pockets, insinuating that we must have been involved in a robbery, they pushed me into the back seat, Tyrone in the front, both of us still cuffed with our hands behind our backs and straddled on both sides by two mean and brutal-looking white men. True to form, they drove us around for the next hour-and-a-half, questioning, threatening, and insulting us.

As a final indignation, they released us into the winter cold, five miles from where we were picked up. I still have the image in my head of the four of them laughing arrogantly and joking as they removed the handcuffs and let us go, by remarking that if we were too far from home, why not use some of my paper route money to catch a bus!

Ahmaud Arbery’s brutal murder, as well as the continued mistreatment of black and brown people in America, is a cautionary reminder that not much has changed in the land of the free from sixty years ago, when running while black was, and still is, a life and death proposition.

I Really Don’t Like to Curse, But…

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Photo by M. B. M. on Unsplash

I don’t, I really don’t like to curse, but if we don’t elect Joe Biden president in November, I simply won’t be able to stop cursing so much. The current guy we have in the White House, in fairness, didn’t have much to do with me cursing earlier in my life, but has me cursing now more than usual damn near every time he opens his mouth.

As I said, I didn’t just start cursing when Donald was elected, but since around 2012 when he continued lying about Obama being born in Kenya, I’ve been cursing a lot. And what’s worse is, it’s really hard to stop because Hillary lost the 2016 election and Donald has continued his lying about damn near everything.

You’ll recall, when Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib was sworn in on January 4, 2017. She said, “We’re gonna impeach the motherfucker”. Well, when she said that on national television, I knew all my prior cursing had been justified.

With Donald in office, the word ‘motherfucker’ is just so appropriate. I mean, some folks like to use a variety of euphemisms to describe him. Reportedly, some folks have referred to him as: a wannabe dictator, or an asshole, and a cruel bastard. Early in his Administration, his first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him “a simple moron”. But me, I prefer “motherfucker”, it just seems to fit him.

Day by day, Donald never fails to embarrass himself, and by extension, the entire country. When, for example, he callously mocked a disabled reporter who had questioned Donald’s truthfulness about the number of people who were supposedly celebrating when the World Trade Centers were attacked. My parents raised me better than to mock someone’s unfortunate health issues. So yeah, admittedly, I called trump a motherfucker back then, and a no-good one, at that!

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Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Of course, Donald loves the spotlight at his Klan rallies. He’s known to play to his red-hat-wearing supporters who seem to thrive off his gangsterism and bullying. At a rally in Iowa during his campaign in 2016, I couldn’t help but be pissed off when he said:

“There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience. So, if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato at me, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? I promise I’ll pay for the legal fees. It won’t be so much ’cause the courts agree with us too.”

This drew an incredibly angry “You motherfucker, you!”, from me, and I was just a breath away from throwing something at the TV.

With Trump, the list is endless. How about the time he called the National Football Players “sons of bitches”, or when he referenced African and Caribbean Countries as “shitholes”. On those two occasions, Yes, I was especially angry, given my African roots and the fact that 80% of NFL players are also Black. He earned “a low- down, no good motherfucker” from me after hearing those nasty put downs from him. But honestly, I am gonna try to quit cussing one day.

That day is still in the distance though, because as I think about the daily array of childish insults that he spits out about anyone who disagrees with him, well, I may not stop cursing for a while yet.

He can’t seem to stop his pettiness. For instance, his misogynistic reference “horseface” regarding his bedmate, Stormy Daniels, was totally uncalled for. He paid $130,000 for her services, so why degrade her? Kind of makes me wonder if he knows what Melania did for a living before she met him, right? And besides, has HE looked in the mirror lately?

Hopefully, come November I can repent and return to a degree of sanity and be able to look my kid and grandkids in the eyes without shame and disgust. Maybe then I can clean up my speech patterns and ditch my abject vulgarity and carry on descent conversations when I’m in polite company. Maybe then, when President-elect Joe Biden enters the Oval Office, I can correct the error of my ways and accept reality the way Joe once did when he remarked to President Obama, “This is a big fucking deal”. For God’s sake November, hurry!

White People: Please, No More Laws!

Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash

The United States is a racist country, it always has been. Over time, a bunch of laws have been passed in attempts to rectify that truth, but they always fail. The reason they fail is that they are not meant to provide an equal and lasting footing for black people because they are simply window dressing: unenforceable edicts that few white people ever follow. It’s kind of like trying to paint lipstick on a pig that simply wants to look and feel better after waddling through a pig sty for more than two-hundred-and-forty-years. But it is still a pig.

The first attempt, officially known as ‘The Reconstruction’, was implemented under President Lincoln in 1863 during the Civil War. For Lincoln, it was a well-meaning attempt to bring the South back into the Union and abolish slavery. It lasted roughly thirteen years, until 1877, a period in which slaves supposedly were granted full citizenship and the right to vote through the Congressional passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments. But the elephant in the room here is the fact that this is the era in which the Ku Klux Klan was born, so any thought that actual laws helping black people would ever be taken seriously is moot to begin with.

Of course, both Amendments were never actually worth the paper they were written on, widely ignored in the anti-slavery North, but especially so in the South where all manner of barriers were constructed to suppress and ignore the new laws. In fact, black people endured another one-hundred years of oppression and apartheid under the infamous and cruel Jim Crow statues, which were mostly southern edicts that found great joy in such things as public hangings of black folks. These were de facto sporting events during which white families bought the kids and picnic baskets to the town square for a fun evening of lynching. From 1882 to 1968 there were almost five-thousand hangings of Reconstructed black people in the United States, in spite of the passing of a slew of laws.

A variety of publications have described the horror of lynch mobs in 1882 after the collapse of the first Reconstruction in 1877: “…black victims would be seized and subjected to every imaginable manner of physical torment, with the torture usually ending with being hung from a tree and set on fire…be dismembered and mob members would take pieces of their flesh and bone as souvenirs…the mobs were aided and abetted by law enforcement (indeed, they often were the same people). Officers would routinely leave a black inmate’s jail cell unguarded after rumors of a lynching began to circulate to allow for a mob to kill them before any trial or legal defense could take place.” This behavior would seem to be illegal, according to the laws.

Fast forward to the early 1960’s when television, in its infancy at the time, broadcast nationwide images of powerful firehoses and vicious German Shepard dogs being used by police on children and young black protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, who were trying to desegregate public spaces and lunch counters. The nightly news covered the bloody events, night after night, and temporarily captured the consciousness white liberals, thereby forcing national politicians to act.

The Second Reconstruction quickly began as President Lyndon Johnson rushed through the passage of what was advertised as new legislation, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was intended to end segregation in education, public facilities, jobs, and housing. And then in 1965, Congress passed a voting rights act designed to halt the use of racist poll taxes and literacy tests.

Both were essentially the same laws from the first Reconstruction one hundred years earlier; but the action was highly-regarded as landmark legislation, having the effect of giving black folks a degree of hope, and hoodwinking liberal whites into believing great racial progress was being achieved. There was hope for fair voting because the law required the Federal government to regulate the vote in seven southern states, which had been consistent abusers of voting rights. But history would record that it really achieved extraordinarily little for race relations in the macro scheme of things.

The truth is that from 1866–1964 there were nine different Civil Rights Acts passed through The United States Congress, but over the decades they were rarely enforced, although white people were impressed with the country’s ‘progress’. In a poll conducted by CBS News in 2014, fifty years after the signing of the civil rights legislation, Whites (82 percent) were more likely than African Americans (29 percent) to think real progress had been realized.

The third and most recent attempt at some form of reconciliation concerning the race problem in this country came about in 2008 with the election of the first black president, Barack Obama. And as such, Obama was in a difficult spot when it came to race. While he pushed through thousands of new regulations during his eight years in office, none were race-specific; he was a president for all the people, and at times he was criticized for being so.

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

But while in office, Obama worked to provide economic and educational opportunities, improved healthcare coverage, and worked to ensure that the criminal justice system was applied fairly to all citizens. During his administration, African Americans made some strides in many of these areas along with all Americans, but aside from healthcare, Obama’s most-significant achievement for black people was hope; he gave black people hope that one day whites would learn to accept black people as human beings, who strive for the same things as whites.

In his best-selling book, We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: [“…as Obama’s motorcade was leaving the White House for the last time] I had never seen so many white people cheer on a black man who was neither an athlete or an entertainer… and it seemed they loved him for this…and I thought they might love me too, and my wife, and my child…and love us all in the manner that the God they so fervently cited had commanded”.

Then, before the love could flow, before the illusion of the so-called post-racial society could hope to develop, white people elected a demon for president. And the one thing black folks knew about Donald Trump, a dyed in the wool bigot, is that he never intended to push through any laws; in fact, black people were not surprised as he has spent the last four years rolling back every law he could. He bought racial division and hate to the United Sates and has turned back black lives to the Civil War years; thus, the plethora of civil rights enactments over one-hundred and sixty years are deemed meaningless.

But recently, Congress passed another bill that the president signed into law. It is now illegal to hang black people, the new law says. What it does not address is the outrageous police brutality and murder of unarmed black and brown people all around the country, which may as well be considered the equivalent of public lynching, just like in 1882.

So, while we already have enough laws, we do not have enough righteous white people who follow the laws.

“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” — — Montesquieu

The Grand Old Party Is Dead!

(Note: This article was written leading up to the Michigan general election for the governor’s seat and the Legislature in 2018. It predicted the outcome, which as we can see now was spot on. The GOP Legislature in Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states, including the United States Senate under Mitch McConnell have all proven to be corrupt, complicit, and out of touch with reality, all in support of a wannabe gangster and dictator, Donald J. Trump.)

Michigan’s primary election has trimmed the candidates for governor down to two nominees: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, and Republican Bill Schutte. The crucial general election to decide who will sit in the governor’s seat is November 6, 2018.

But, even though Schutte and Bill Calley both ran in the primary, the Republican Party really does not have any candidates running for office. You see, if you look carefully, you will find it almost impossible to locate a traditional, dyed-in-the-wool Republican because there are not any. The party of Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, or even Richard Nixon no longer exists, and that is a turning out to be a disaster for the country.

Right now, Congress is filled with pseudo-Republicans, imposters—people who won elections claiming to be Republicans—and many others are running for office this November. All have been endorsed by President Trump, and all of them fall far short of simple cordialities like respect, honesty, compassion, and kindness. Indeed, they don’t even attempt to hide behind a facade anymore. In fact, like the president, they are in your face flaunting their lack of compassion, honor, truth, and importantly, outright racism and bigotry.

The dying Republican Party has stocked itself with a dreadful and odious combination of thieves, sexual abusers, Nazis, unpatriotic conspirators, and liars; bold-faced liars who go beyond the accepted hyperbole Americans have come to expect from their politicians.

In Illinois, for example, a Nazi named Arthur Jones will be on the ballot running for a Congressional seat supposedly under the Republican orthodoxy. Of note, American soldiers gave their lives to defeat fascism in WWII. Jones, the Nazi, shamelessly said, “I snookered them (the voters).”

 Repulsive illustrations of this sort are rampant among the fake Republicans; there is the case of the infamous former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona.  Joe Arpaio, 86, had been criminally convicted for contempt for disobeying a judge’s lawful order to cease racial profiling and the mistreatment of prisoners in the county jail he supervised. Trump quickly pardoned Arpaio to allow him to run for a Senatorial seat in Arizona.

Shamefully, imaginary Republican candidates are trying to out-Trump Trump. In Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis is running for governor and has produced a ridiculous television commercial in which he teaches his own toddler how to build a wall using toy blocks. He tells her that doing so, “Will make America great again.”

Other former patriots include the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He cleverly devised a scheme in which he purposely delayed a vote for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for almost a year, but as soon as Trump nominated a fringe right-wing candidate, McConnell primed the Senate to approve the nominee. Clearly, he stole Obama’s pick to suit his own tastes when the time was ripe. He is an overt and sinister thief.

And so, the choices in Michigan could not be clearer starting with Gretchen Whitmer for governor. There is a stark difference between her Democratic ideals and goals than those of any of the wannabee Republicans. While Whitmer intends to overturn the tax on pensions, help our schools, and provide affordable housing for the poor, she also has plans to repair our infrastructure, strengthen health care, support equal rights, and curb gun violence. Meanwhile, the near-dead Republican Party continues to embrace regressive tax policies, voter suppression, and further disabling the poorest.

Rest in peace, Grand Old Party. We rarely agreed on the issues, but we’ll miss your character, honor, and rectitude.

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