Today I was routinely checking my twitter feed when I saw a story about a viral video. A young mother can gone to a center in New York to request child care vouchers. Because there were no seats in the crowded room she sat down on the floor with her baby. She was not causing a disturbance but for some reason the police were called. Onlookers urged the police to leave her alone but instead they were violently tugging at her to get her child. And the police waved a stun gun at the crowd and the mother. She was arrested and falsely charged but public outcry will probably force the District Attorney to drop the charges. More needs to be done to ensure this never happens again. Human services workers need to be retained. I feel strongly about this because I was victimized in a similar incident in Milwaukee years ago. I went to the Human Services building where poor people go and I was looking for a friend who was applying for food stamps and the sheriffs were called on me for standing instead of sitting. Poor people need help not arrests and those who call the police without cause should be disciplined. Brutal police like the ones who violently traumatized the young woman in the viral video in New York should be fired. This is not the kind of America we were promised. Here is a link to a news report about the arrest. https://abc7ny.com/society/officers-pry-1-year-old-from-moms-arms-during-arrest/4868592/
This week I went to a meeting about the Republican power grab in our state of Wisconsin. Republicans have had things their way in Madison with majorities in both houses of the legislature and the governorship. Scott Walker was at the top of his game limiting the power of unions and Democrats. He even attempted an ill-fated run for the presidency. However, since 2016 the trends have started to favor democrats and their candidates. They won a series of special elections with including the race for Senate in Alabama and a couple of open seats in Wisconsin. Things became so bad that Walker began delaying calling for special elections, to keep the republicans from losing their grip on power.
He sounded the alarm that democrats were out to get him after years of cuts in education and health care and the growing opposition to the republican policies in Washington. There were predictions that 2018 would be a blue wave year sweeping in democrats across the country and in many ways it was. Democrats won all the statewide races a couple of weeks ago and they received the majority of votes in the legislature. However, because of unfair election maps, they actually lost a seat. The Republicans have become more ideological because they haven’t had to sit down and make any deals to pretend that they are bi-partisan. This unwillingness to compromise was displayed in a horrible fashion in Wisconsin and Michigan when Republican legislators rammed through bills that would severely limited the power of the incoming Democratic governors and attorneys general.
Democrats across the state rallied, testified against the bills and sent emails. Newspapers wrote editorials shaming the power grab. This graceful show was a leading topic on social media. The satirical newspaper The Onion published a story about the Republicans burning down the state in order to prevent Democrats from coming to power. Even some Republicans like wealthy businessman Sheldon Lubar denounced the bills. The stage is set for a prolonged fight over the next for years with lawsuits planned if Walker signs the bills as expected. I will do my part to resist the forces of conservatives and attempt to restore our state’s battered reputation for progressive politics.
The Black Lives Matter Committee at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee which I chair, manged to have a successful event on Nov. 18th. We had a screening of The Blood is at the Doorstep which tells the story of the killing of Dontre Hamilton by Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney on April 30, 2014. The Black community arose in protest and people from across Milwaukee including the Unitarian Universalists joined in solidarity. This movement achieved many positive results including the firing of Officer Manney, a commitment by Mayor Tom Barrett that police would undergo 40 hours of training to help them better understand how to deal with persons who were living with a mental illness. In addition the City of Milwaukee made a $2.3 million settlement with the Hamilton family after they filed a lawsuit. However, neither the District Attorney John Chisholm nor US Department of Justice filed charges in the case against Manney and he was later awarded disability based upon the stress that the shooting had caused him.
The story was well known throughout the community and the movie has been shown several times since its premier at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2017. However, there is still interest in learning more about what people could do to assist the Mothers United For Justice, an organization which Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, founded. News of the event took place through word of and Facebook. Black Lives Matter successfully recruited three co-sponsors: Mothers Against Gun Violence, Mothers For Gun Sense and Progressive Mothers of Wisconsin.
I chaired the event and helped recruit the sponsors. Maria Hamilton was the featured speaker and spoke about her goal of being able to mentor parents like herself who lost loved ones to police violence. Mary Devitt, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, spoke of her commitment to finding justice for the Hamiltons. Khary Penebaker of Mothers For Gun Sense spoke at the event. He detailed his experience as the son of a mother who had committed suicide with a gun. People from the co-sponsoring groups contributed a lot to the success while coping with illnesses and injuries. Like the song said, I get by with a little help from my friends.
I had a moment of impulse this week. I suddenly emailed the staff person for a committee that I co-chair I was quitting the committee. After thinking about what I had done I followed up by saying I was tired of the work I had been doing and was burnt out.
After doing this I stayed home and waited until my significant other, who is also on the committee, returned home. She told me that people were disappointed by my decision, even heartbroken, it seemed. They were hoping I would return. It was very touching and indeed I get a lot of positive reinforcement from my work on the committee. I am at the point where I would like to pick and choose how I spend my time: is it in work that makes me feel good? Is it doing something because somebody tells me I must? Am I doing something just to pay the bills? How would people react if you weren’t there for whatever reason? How would it affect your decisions?
I have been thinking about my public persona since last year’s presidential election. It was the most polarizing election I had ever witnessed and I noticed that the many candidates and their supporters were very active on social media. I was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders who I had noticed for the previous two years saying more and more things I approved.
But as I joined different Bernie Sanders groups I became concerned that some of them seemed to use ideas from the far right in attacking Hillary Clinton. I also saw nude pictures of Trump’s wife being circulated as if she was a campaign issue. As the campaign wore on I noticed people in the Sanders camp trading stories about law suits and supposedly uncounted votes and there was nothing you could say to them that could change their minds. I decided some websites were publishing fake news and told my friends to stop spreading them.
Similarly the things I saw from so-called Jill Stein supporters portrayed Hillary Clinton as a war monger. When I looked at what Stein presented I was clear that she was unqualified and a waste of time. I found myself in more heated discussions and blocking people on a regular basis. There was no evidence that the Green Party had any impact or tried to raise issues between the presidential elections.
Another source of Facebook arguments is on atheist and humanist pages. Some religious people troll these pages and I enjoy mocking them and their beliefs. Why not? I often block these trolls who think that all I need to do is read the bible. Not going to happen.
Trolls are people at the bottom of the social media visiting and disrupting sites they don’t agree with, throwing insults and disrupting discussions. They are not worth anyone’s time so I get rid of them. Trolls are people who are looking for a fight. Occasionally I am accused of being a troll when I ask questions. I visited a page for a candidate for governor of Wisconsin and someone very soon said he thought I was a troll. I think supporters of candidates need to be less defensive.
What I find more surprising is that I have been drawn into arguments with people in introvert groups. Some of these were very religious people who liked to regularly ask people what religion if any they followed. Others were introverts who were incredibly socially isolated. One man talked about not he had not left his room in 3 years and it would be my fault if he went back into there. Obviously you don’t want to communicate with people like that so I needed to block them. Other people in introvert groups were pushing their politics, especially Donald Trump. I left most of the introvert focused groups I had joined because I become tired of seeing them talk about how wonderful it would be to live in the middle of nowhere.
I have grown more impatient this year in my political discussions. Some people still want to fight over last year’s elections. I have focused a lot of attention on the off-year elections and found reason for hope. The people who want to talk about how they distrust the Democratic National Committee or want to bring up Donna Brazile are a waste of time, in my opinion. I don’t want to be drawn into more arguments about who does not like Hillary Clinton because there is not enough aspirin.
I am surprised that I am really a hardass on Facebook. I don’t usually go around telling people STFU in person. I may be arguing with people who are at least as old and grumpy as me in which case they are used to me. For everyone else, if you were not such a knucklehead you would have blocked me or been spending more time with your loved ones instead of arguing on social media.
I just listened to a story on This American Life about Alan Pean, a young African-American man who experienced a severe psychiatric breakdown while living in Houston, Texas. Alan was a college student who had previously survived a couple of episodes of manic depressive disorder. Alan came from a high achieving family with doctors including his father.
Alan found that his mind was overpowered by a delusion that caused him to jump off the balcony of his third story apartment, make his way to his car and crash through the gates. He drove toward St. Joseph Hospital, a major medical facility in downtown Houston. He crashed and totaled his car into the hospital and somehow told the emergency room staff he was having a manic episode. But he was never treated for his mental disorder. His father who is of Haitian descent arrived a few hours later and also told the staff that his son was having mental problems and yet Alan was still not evaluated by a psychiatrist.
His father left to try to arrange getting Alan help for his mental illness and shortly afterwards the staff had trouble with Alan and called for security. This turned out to be Houston police with guns who were not trained in dealing with psychiatric patients. Alan was tasered, then shot and almost killed and later charged with assault. Although the charges were later dropped there is a disturbing pattern of mental patients being shot or tasered by police who have little or no training in dealing with them.
There is a New York Times article about the incident involving Alan Pean. People need to be aware of these kinds of incidents and understand that psychiatric patients need help, not bullets. They need people trained to deescalate and force is the last thing you would ever want to use to help someone recover his or her mind.
This story raises other questions, such as what if Alan and his father had been white? Would the outcome be different? Would the hospital staff you turn to for help be able to recognize that when a white person says he needs mental help, they would hear the person and attempt to provide help? What prevents them from hearing the same statements from people of color? What information is available about the hospital you use and their policy about the use of force? How equipped are they to handle people with a mental illness? Is the person the staff calls for help going to be an armed police officer? And finally, what safe alternatives are there to hospitals for people with mental illness and how widely known are these alternatives?
This has been one of those horrible weeks where one looks out into the city and sees chaos. I am not going to repeat everything here because if you have been awake you have seen the murders of two black men and the equally horrendous murders of police yesterday. It seems that we are making the same move over and over. A black person encounters the police for seemingly innocuous reasons: routine traffic stop, for example, and the police officer becomes unusually aggressive. When the black person attempts to respond he or she is either pulled out of their vehicle or shot while still in the car. The person may also be tackled, pepper sprayed and shot dead. The family becomes angry and asks for justice for their loved one. There is an investigation, very rarely a trial and even there there is no conviction for the taking of black lives on the street.
The president is often part of this scenario as white racists claim that having a black president has divided the country. One former congressman even threatened to kill President Obama and then deleted it. This most recent tragedy was twisted by the fact a one or more snipers in Dallas took advantage of a peaceful protest to begin opening fire, killing and wounding.
So, those are the facts. The NRA and the politicians they own will saw, how dare anyone try to limit unfettered access to deadly weapons, high powered magazines and everything that goes with it. One possible answer came during the press conference held by the Dallas chief of police and the mayor who mentioned that their police department is trained to de-escalate conflict. That was part of the sadness that they must be feeling. They want to be able to protect citizen’s rights. That sounds like a reasonable and sound approach to take.
It is not time for war, as the New York Post screamed. It is time for comfort, sorrow and solutions. Black lives matter is not about murder. It’s about freedom and dignity. We want the police to treat us the way you would want to be treated.