Taking a Knee Stands for Something

If you are not a person of color, and you are judging the #takeaknee protests for being an insult to our anthem, our flag, or our country, do these 10 things.

by Shadra Bruce

If you are not a person of color, and you are judging the #TakeAKnee protests for being an insult to our anthem, our flag, or our country, I urge you to:

  1. Recognize that the protest is not about the flag or the anthem (or football).
  2. Understand that there is no possible way you or I could ever even come close to understanding what it’s like to grow up black or brown in this country – and that so recognizing is only the beginning of becoming an informed person when it comes to race, equality, and justice in this country. The disparity is real.
  3. Educate yourself. You can gain empathy and compassion for the experience of others, even if you can never actually comprehend the true terror of the atrocities they have endured.
  4. Stop placing judgment on where protests happen or when they are happening or why you think they’re happening, and instead of offering your opinion about alternative means of protest you find less offensive, recognize that this has happened because no one is listening and nothing is changing. So LISTEN. Hear the concerns and fears.
  5. Acknowledge the injustice. Acknowledge that when you get pulled over by an officer, the risk you face is far less than what it is for people of color – even when they are 100-% compliant and innocent.
  6. Recognize that a person can be against police brutality and still support the police, that a person can want police officers who have committed crimes to be removed from their jobs (just as we would teachers, priests, and politicians who violate our trust and don’t uphold their promises), without disparaging all the great officers who put their lives on the line every day.
  7. Acknowledge that this country has always had a problem with race and that it is a very powerful basis for the inequality that still exists today – that sometimes you can’t just pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make a better life for yourself, that some people do start out with an advantage that others have no access to.
  8. Question your own motives. If you were supportive of Tim Tebow taking a knee after every touchdown to thank Jesus Christ because that was something about which he felt strongly; if you were supportive of Kim Davis protesting gay marriage by refusing to issue marriage licenses because that was her belief; it’s important to examine why those incidents were okay – why them and not Colin Kaepernick.
  9. Start learning about the racist history of this country. Read Race by Studs Terkel; White Like Me and Dear White America by Tim Wise; Race Matters by Cornel West and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
  10. Start listening to people of color – without passing judgment. Listen to their stories, their concerns, their first-hand experiences. Hear them. Imagine how you would feel if your child had endured the same experiences, if you had.

Open your heart and your mind.

It is the only way forward.

 

The Patriot Is a Scarce Man

“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, brave, hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds however, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” ~ Mark Twain

by David T. Bruce

dissent_fb_picYou know, I don’t often speak out in regards to what are often perceived as social injustices, but this seems like a proper time to do so, maybe because I feel so passionately about the direction I see our country taking in regards to foreign and domestic policies.

I served my country. I was a member of our military forces, and I served with pride and distinction. I served more than others, less than some, and I do not pretend to have sacrificed of myself in the same way that those in combat have. But I do feel that I have perspective.

I do not regret having served during a time when I believed that the causes that we were fighting for were just. But we are not always right. And I don’t think what we are right now. Our country is run largely by career politicians who do not give two shits about you, me, or the world we live in. We have a citizenry being brainwashed to believe that simply because we protest, we are not patriotic. We are led to believe that because we choose to protest our government, we are damning its citizens and our troops.

[ctt template=”8″ link=”bPYfp” via=”yes” ]Our country is run largely by career politicians who do not give two shits about you, me, or the world we live in.[/ctt]

Personally, I have a great deal of respect for those who choose to defend our country. But I have a great deal of disrespect for a government who turns a blind eye to the fallout associated with sending our troops into conflict for causes that are essentially self-serving, without a means to defend themselves, and without a support system in place when they return home.

I have a great deal of disrespect for local, state, and federal governments who fail to see the injustices served upon citizens of our country simply because of their skin color or their choice of religion. When did it become okay for rogue officers to take the law into their own hands? When did it become okay to openly and passionately discriminate against an entire race because of the actions of a relatively small percentage of radicals? Or has it always been this way in the United States?

Do we truly believe that when calling out the behavior of one, we are condemning an entire lot? As a society, I suspect many are comfortable with the idea of deporting an entire population of Muslims because of the actions of a few. Yet we bristle when one officer is condemned, for fear of bringing shame to an entire force. It is for the sake of the majority that we must single out the one.

Frankly, I’m ashamed. And I’m angry. I’m also proud that one man recently decided to protest these injustices by protesting at least the symbol of what our country is supposed to stand for. Our soldiers serve to give everyone the right to peacefully protest in the manner that suits them, not one that suits the majority or one that the majority finds least offensive. No one has the right to tell us when and where and how we choose to protest our government. And don’t you dare tell me that I am less of a patriot because I dare to stand up to a government that is slowly but ever so surely becoming corrupt.

[ctt template=”8″ link=”bPYfp” via=”yes” ]No one has the right to tell us when and where and how we choose to protest our government.[/ctt]

The historian and playwright, Howard Zinn, (who served during the second world war) said that “there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Many innocent people are dying and the shame belongs to each of us. Perhaps that is why I feel I must speak out.

Just Say No to Government Bullies

by David T. Bruce

Schools across the United States have adopted anti-bullying programs, and many school districts have reported varying degrees of success in minimizing bullying in their schools. Virtually all of us have been witness to, victims of or perpetrators of bullying. And even if all schools have not found success implementing programs that curb bullying, at least awareness about bullying has been raised across the nation. For those students who may look or behave differently than their peers, there is support. This is a good thing.

However . . .

erIf a student happens to be gay or lesbian (or even perceived as such), that student is still more likely to be bullied than another student, with almost two thirds of students expressing concern for their safety in school as a result of their sexual orientation. And three fourths of teens in the LGBT community have acknowledged being bullied as a result of their sexual orientation, with little or no intervention from teachers or school districts. And while the verbal and physical bullying cited in these reports is most obvious, perhaps the most prevalent bullying is of an indirect nature.

Indirect bullying – a more covert type of bullying that often goes unseen and includes excluding people from social groups – not only prevails in our schools but in our society as well, and if we are going to eradicate bullying in our schools, we have to eliminate bullying in our society as well, starting with our government leaders.

A civil rights battle is currently being waged throughout the United States, as state governments wrestle with the social, ethical and religious implications associated with allowing LGBT couples to wed. While some government leaders have opted to bring down the barriers that prevent couples marrying regardless of sexual orientation, others choose to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, thereby excluding them from a particular social group. To be blunt: this is bullying.

Most recently Utah Governor Gary Herbert has announced that he will not recognize same-sex marriages recently married in the state, even thought the U.S. Constitution affords gay couples equal protection under the law. This is not the example we should be setting for those students whom we are telling that bullying is unacceptable. How can we hope that bullying will be eliminated from schools and that students will grow to see the worth in all people, while a governor indirectly bullies a group of people because they do not fit his social, ethical and religious schema? There are enough bullies on the playground. We don’t need them in our government.

Occupy Wall Street – Reclaim Our Independence

Only in America Can 1% Be The Majority

by David T. Bruce

occupytogether_poster07A small group of students are responsible for launching a campaign against the practices of Wall Street and the United States government, the fiscally brutal corporate tag-team that has launched their own campaign against the poorest Americans. In an Associated Press article, the events of the past two weeks surrounding the Wall Street Protests have been summarized, giving voice to the hundreds of citizens who are taking the time to exercise their power of speech during a time when millions of Americans feel powerless to do anything else. While the Republicans and Democrats continue pointing fingers at each other and the President (regardless of who holds the office), our federal government as a whole is demonstrating to an increasing number of American citizens that their health and welfare, their life and liberty, and their happiness mean nothing.

While 14 percent of Americans are relying on the food stamp program to feed themselves, the Republican Party is proposing for the 2012 budget plan that this program should be curtailed and restructured much in the same was as they are proposing to restructure the Medicaid program. Subsidies would be eliminated, replaced by federal grants. Capitol Hill has been relentless in their less-than-bipartisan efforts to shave billions of dollars from the deficit by cutting back on “entitlement” programs from the Americans who need assistance the most.

I am not writing of the small group of Americans who indeed enjoy taking something for nothing. I am writing of the Americans who have worked hard to build a life and raise a family and now find themselves without a job, without a home, and without money for food and healthcare – primarily because of a system that favored corporate greed and Wall Street corruption that led to a broken economy.  It is appalling that the government is cutting back on programs that these people paid taxes to help support while continuing to support tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and big oil.  I am writing of the Americans that are trying to get ahead and improve their lives but are trapped in a system that almost forces people to make less or go hungry, as food prices continue to rise.

While the Associated Press suggests that a clear objective is not apparent, the rallying cry is clear enough: “Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

This objective seems clear enough.

It is blatantly clear that the 1% does not get it – or does not want to. The objective does not need to be detailed or obtuse. The plan does not need to have a laundry list of stake holders and varied implementation strategies. The United States Constitution is the governing plan for this country, and our current government officials have spent at least the past few decades manipulating and twisting the words of the Constitution to satisfy their (im)moral, corporate, and personal agendas.

We have a right to speak out against such corruption, and the protestors on Wall Street are doing just that. We must speak out with words, with votes, and with dollars that work in support of Americans, not for a political party.

We may not be at Liberty Square with the protestors right now, but we stand firmly with them in every way, as members of the 99% who will no longer tolerate the disintegration of America over the greed, hypocrisy, and the corruption of Wall Street, Congress, and corporations.

Every year, our government asks that we donate $3 to the Presidential election campaign.  The instructions for the 1040 form specifically state that “the fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups.”

Please.

Candidates do not just depend on these contributions. They thrive on them, and the companies and groups that make these large contributions thrive on the support that their candidate gives to their cause.

Our federal government, led by either party, has done little or nothing for us over the past few decades – and little or nothing to change what is broken within the system. What little they have done has been to further their own interests and that of the major companies that have been filling and continue to fill the coffers of our elected representatives.

If any taxpayer is at all compelled to check the box that allows candidates to have any more money, please give the money to Occupy Wall Street or similar movements. Give $3 to a homeless person. Help feed a neighbor. Those people are the Americans that are fighting for the rights of all Americans, and they do so without massive contributions or media attention.

Take heed, Wall Street. Someday – perhaps soon – American citizens will have nothing left to lose and will gleefully sit by and watch while your economic empire crumbles.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. – Declaration of Independence

We Cannot Afford the Death Penalty for a Number of Reasons

by David T. Bruce

death penaltyTroy Davis, convicted of the fatal shooting of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989, was put to death on September 21, 2011 in the state of Georgia.  Davis was convicted, although no gun was found, and no DNA evidence was produced unquestionably linking the accused to the crime.

A recent Reuters news article pointed out that in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Davis receive a new hearing to examine new evidence that would support his innocence.  Furthermore, “former FBI Director William Sessions called for Davis’ sentence to be commuted to life in prison, saying the case was ‘permeated in doubt.’”  The new evidence, however, was rejected by the U.S. District Court in Georgia a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the review.  Last-minute appeals to the county court and pardons board were likewise rejected.  With significant cause to doubt the validity of Davis’ conviction, why were the survivors and the Georgia officials hell-bent on executing a potentially innocent man?

An article in the Huffington Post describes an incident reported in the New Yorker that shows an innocent man was wrongly accused of a murder and subsequently executed following 12 years on death row.  The investigative reporter, David Grann, points out that “experts who testified [against the accused] should have known” that the forensic evidence was “completely invalid.”  A forensic research consultant submitted data from the Death Penalty Information Center illustrating that prior to the 1972 Furman moratorium (overturned in 1976), approximately 14,489 executions were recorded, and since 1977, 1,118 (1,267 as of September 18, 2011) have been executed.  Of those sentenced to death since 1977, 139 have been exonerated; an estimated 39 inmates found to be innocent were wrongly executed.  Based on data collected in 2009 approximately 11% of the people convicted of a crime warranting the death penalty have been found to be innocent.  Such a failure rate suggests that the system is flawed, and this also suggests that the fate of Troy Davis is not isolated nor the argument in favor of his innocence uncalled for.

A brief review of recent statistics related to the death penalty illustrate that the United States is the only industrialized nation other than Japan that tolerates the death penalty, and seemingly in spite of evidence suggesting innocence or mental retardation.  Thirty-four states currently allow for executions, typically by lethal injection; however, the use of the electric chair is legal.  How can this be, when according to a Lake Research Partners 2010 poll, 61% of voters believed that a punishment other than the death penalty should be used against those convicted of murder?

I cannot begin to fathom the grief that survivors must endure when a loved one is murdered.  At the same time, I cannot reconcile in my own mind how we can present ourselves to the rest of the world as a society and a country that is evolved and against cruelty to man, while we can put a person to death based on circumstantial evidence.  How can we as a nation persistently tout the rights of the unborn child, while we look the other way as inmates are put to death for crimes that may not have committed?  Frighteningly, how many of us can look onward as those on death row are executed?  How many of us demand retribution?  Why were the Georgia officials and the survivors hell-bent on the execution of Troy Davis?

Revenge.

Is this human emotion understandable?  Yes.  Does this help us understand why officials looked the other way or ignored evidence suggesting the innocence of the convicted?  No.  Should we search for an alternative to execution?  Yes.

If we cannot rationalize the moral and ethical implications associated with the death penalty, then let’s talk about something that we can rationalize: the cost, especially as the fate of our global economy is also in question.  The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice reported that an additional $90,000 is spent per inmate sentenced to death per year, compared to that of inmates serving life sentences. The 670 inmates on death row in California cost the state an additional $63.3 million annually.  The commission estimates the annual cost of the current death penalty system to be $137 million. With suggested reforms, that cost would rise to $232.7 million per year. To impose a lifetime of incarceration instead of the death penalty would cost $11.5 million per year. That’s a savings of $125 million or more per year, just in California.

During a period of time when our nation is struggling to make ends meet, we have no valid fiscal excuse for executing prisoners.  Not that we have a good excuse to begin with.  “An eye for an eye” has a nice barbaric ring to it, but we as a society must find some resolve for our need for revenge.  We are not doing ourselves any justice by putting someone to death.  A piece of us is lost when we turn our backs to this bias. There must be far better punishments than the death penalty.

Lawfully convicted murderers should live with their crimes and suffer a lifetime of incarceration without hope for parole.  This is obviously a less expensive alternative.  Execution is more expensive, sets convicted murderers free (death can indeed be construed as freedom), and presents the risk of executing an innocent person (thereby committing murder – who answers for that crime?).  Ultimately, execution is for the benefit of the survivors.  We are giving in to the basest part of ourselves, and we are kidding ourselves by arguing otherwise.

An innocent man was executed on September 21, 2011.  Many innocent people have been executed before him, and many more will follow.  We speak of change.  This is a change we must make – for our own humanity.

Family Values Are Private, Not Political

by David T. Bruce

familyWe hear so much discussion regarding the sanctity of the family unit and the importance of family values.  With a presidential election soon to come, the rhetoric surrounding the sanctity and legitimacy of same-sex marriages will be talked about more so.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines family as “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.”  In this sense, a family can be what we typically envision, in which a man and a woman marry, raise children, and make a life for themselves.  Businesses, schools, and communities may also be considered families.

As a music lover and a fan of many bands, I read and hear arguments that any given band is no longer the band it once was without a certain singer or without all founding members on board.  This doesn’t seem quite fair.  The band may be different following personnel changes, influenced by the new member’s inspiration and talent, but the name carries on nonetheless.  Similarly, the family unit can morph and develop over time.

Family names carry on with the birth of a baby.  Parents are divorced.  A family member moves way or passes away.  The family unit changes, yet the family name carries on.  This concept of the family is not necessarily difficult for us to grasp.  If a family can be blended, changing over time, then can our definition of the family and of marriage change as well?

Granted, much of the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage is faith-based.  Presenting statistics is not necessary, however, when we begin to recollect in respect to how many times we have read of or heard of domestic crimes that occur within the traditional family unit.  Family values are not inherent to a marriage solely between a man and a woman, and the sanctity of the family unit is tarnished in the light of violent crimes within the family.

With these ideas in mind, I struggle to understand why same-sex marriages must be the platform of anyone’s political campaign.  With over 14 million Americans unemployed, over 69 million Americans on Medicaid, and a record 44 million Americans on food stamps, we have more to be concerned with in this country than two people falling in love, regardless of the genders of the couple.  A 2009 analysis published in the New York Times illustrated that the approval of same-sex marriage would improve the economy in New York City and New York State.  The same may be said for other states.

If our goal is to create a family unit with positive family values, then perhaps we need to reflect on our individual values that compel us to fear or hate two people because their vision of family skews our preconceptions.  A family can have value and realize love whether the family is guided by a mom and a dad, a mom and a mom, or a dad and a dad.  We need to put our resources and our energies to better use this election season.

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union

by David T. Bruce

independencedayOur family enjoyed watching the local fireworks display this Independence Day, and I enjoyed watching my children’s faces as the colors from the bursts reflected in their smiles.  At the same time we celebrated the day, I questioned the reality of what we were supposedly celebrating.

As a good parent, I share with my children the significance of Independence Day, and I try to instill a measure of patriotism within them.  As a citizen, I wrestle with how we tend to define patriotism following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.  If a person speaks out against a policy that is in any way tied to our military or military support, that person is considered to be unpatriotic.  If a person finds a measure of government support beneficial, that person is considered to be socialist.  Corporate bail-outs are acceptable, however.

For the right to have super department stores, credit cards, MP3 devices, and cell phones, we have pawned our right to speak freely against a government that repeatedly reveals itself to be as corrupt as that government we declared independence from over 230 years ago.  In 1776, we invoked the people’s right of revolution against a corrupt government, for “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”  The Declaration of Independence provides for this right, yet like so many of our rights, we do not exercise the right to vote or speak out against possible and obvious government corruption.  What I find most chilling is that the choice to speak out is often discouraged by our peers and to some degree, depending on what community a person lives in, by local governments.

When we celebrate Independence Day, we celebrate a moment in time that was profound and inspirational.  We also celebrate a continued freedom.  I wonder, however, if we are examining closely the price of freedom, not in lives sacrificed in conflicts, but in rights sacrificed on the home front.  How ironic that for the sake of freedom, we tend to look the other way from government corruption related to business and religious conviction, thereby forsaking our rights.

I am proud of where America comes from and what America stands for in that context.  I am pleased that I have the opportunity to share these words today with an audience that may or may not be forgiving of my criticism.  I am guarded and fearful, however, of a government that is systematically forging a regime that forsakes the individual, giving allegiance only to collectives with the heaviest coffers.   Instead of resting on our laurels, perhaps we should look to the future, observing Independence Day as an affirmation of what the day is intended to signify and as a reminder of the work we, the People, still have to do.