Zarafa

On my early morning ride on the #4 train the other morning, a young woman in Muslim garb, including a hijab covering her head, enters the train at Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn and stands by the door. She’s holding a cup of coffee. At the next stop, Atlantic Avenue, the door is closing and a big, blue slippered foot with a dirty white sock or gauze on it, is placed between the closing doors, preventing the train doors from closing. A big, dirty brown homeless male who looks like the Thing enters the train. He has on a dingy, patterned pair of pajamas, a dark sweat shirt, and a brown woolen hat with New York emblazoned on it on his head. He doesn’t smell as some homeless people smell, but immediately two young Black women get up from their seats and move towards the middle of the car. The homeless man slides into the seat they’ve vacated. Another Black woman stays seated at the opposite end of the seat. There is room for two more people. The Muslim woman offers the homeless male her coffee. He takes it, nods his head in acknowledgment. She then reaches into her pocket and withdraws a health bar snack and offers it to him. He declines, but acknowledges the offer. He takes off his hat and rubs, scratches his head. The young woman sits down next to him, and once again offers him the health bar snack, which he again declines. By now he’s finished his coffee. He drops the cup on the floor. The train makes its way through the stygian darkness. At the Brooklyn Bridge stop, the young woman rises to exit. The homeless man extends a big swollen hand. She takes it, and they exchange a gentle handshake. I am moved by her actions, her humanity, her fearlessness in facing someone, some “Thing” to others, that we encounter every day, on the streets, in the subterranean subway system, and I feel hopeful. I have noted that not once, since he’s entered the train, has she recoiled from him.

After the young Muslim woman exits the train, the two spots near the homeless man remains vacant until he gets off at 125th Street.

This has been a powerful moment; it makes me think about something I have been reading about, about transformative leadership. In watching this young woman, I saw leadership traits. For the rest of the day this young woman is on my mind, and I think it’ll people like her that will make America great again.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering 9/11/

Almost everyone has a 9/11 memory.  On that fateful day, I was on an uptown #4 train, heading to work.  When the first plane struck the first tower at 8:46 AM, I was still underground, in a tunnel, riding the iron horse.  When I emerged from the train station at Nevins Street and took a right on to Fulton Street, going East, the smoke was already rising but it was behind me, slightly northwest.  My mobile phone rang.  “Did you hear what happened?”  At this time, it wasn’t known that it was a terrorist attack.  Moments later, at 9:03 AM, it was clear that this was no mere accident.

 

Two months prior, I was standing in line in one of the twin towers, to go up on the Observation Deck with someone who had not been born in this country but was now a Brooklynite.  We were about to pay for our tickets when she said she was tired, from a day of shopping, and that perhaps we could do this another day.  We got out of the line.  Incidentally, the person who called me on 9/11 was the very same person standing on that line with me in the tower.

The weekend before 9/11, I was on a boat in the East River.  As the boat passed the World Trade Center, I snapped several pictures of the iconic towers.  Months later, when I got the film developed, I looked at the pictures of the towers, date stamped 09/08/11.

In the office, a TV was set up in the staff lounge.  My coworkers, silently, in disbelief, watched the tragedy unfold.  I don’t remember getting any work done this day.  We were mostly glued to the TV, watching the endless coverage.

Hours later, legions of Brooklynites crossed the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, escaping from Manhattan.  They filed down Fulton Street, covered in soot.  It was surreal.  It was…apocalyptic.  You could see the shock etched on the faces of these survivors.  One coworker, who went straight from her home to lower Manhattan because she had court, was among the legions, the seemingly endless line streaming across the bridges, filing down Fulton Street.  She, too, was covered in soot, clearly traumatized.  She made it into the office.  Before the end of the day, however, she was taken to the hospital, still in shock.  All these years later, she doesn’t remember how she got back to Brooklyn and to the office.

 

I am a born and bred Brooklynite.  I have memories of standing on the Brooklyn promenade in Brooklyn Heights throughout the course of my life looking at the Manhattan skyline.  I have countless pictures with and now without the towers in them.

 

On that fateful day, the City that never sleeps, where dreams are born, entered a terroristic nightmare.  New Yorkers, though, as resilient as they come, emerged from that nightmare and, as the Empire state motto declares: Excelsior (“ever upward’).  Just look at the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights, the buildings going up.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill Cosby v. Jeronimo Yanez

On its face, there doesn’t appear to be any connection between the bill Cosby sexual assault case and that of former Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile on July 6, 2016; but if we look at the two cases together, we see a disturbing pattern within the criminal legal system.

On June 16, 2017, Jeronimo Yanez, Minnesota police officer, was acquitted of shooting and killing Philando Castile during a “routine” traffic stop – note that Castile had been stopped over forty times driving while Black!

On June 17, 2017, after the jury was “hopelessly deadlocked” in the bill Cosby sexual assault trial, the judge declared a mistrial.

Yanez, 28, while awaiting trial, was out on his own “recognizance” – translated, he did not have to post bail for a manslaughter case, the killing of Philando Castile, a Black male.

When #BlackLivesMatter activists make the case against law enforcement in killing mostly unarmed Black males, this, not imposing any bail on Yanez, once again proves a point in terms of the disparate treatment of law enforcement officials accused of killing people and any other civilian – there’s probably no recorded case of anyone outside of law enforcement being released on his or her own recognizance for the “unlawful taking of human life.”

On the other hand, Bill Cosby, while awaiting trial for a decades old sexual assault case, at 79, was out on $1 million bail, for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a multiracial female from Canada.  (Bill Cosby had many other accusers, but the statute of limitations to file charges against him had expired, and then again, what’s the point in mentioning these “cases,” but to imply that Bill Cosby is a “serial sexual assaulter,” to disparage Cosby even more?)

In imposing a $1 million bail, we must ask why.  The case was more than a decade old, Cosby, famous, was not a flight risk, and on his next birth, less than a month away, would be 80.  Cosby, a millionaire, could make such a bail, but that is not the point.  The Constitution requires “reasonable bail,” and given the totality of the circumstances of the case, clearly, I think, a $1 million-dollar bail violated the spirt and letter of the Constitution.  Note that former Judge Bruce Wright, was called “cut ‘em loose Bruce” by the tabloids because he followed the Constitution as it pertained to bail and gave bail based on the crime and other factors such as ability to pay.

There is history in the U.S. where law enforcement officials literally get away with killing unarmed Black males.  There’s case after case after case, and often no charges are even filed against cops when they kill unarmed people.  Note that in Minnesota there were about 200 cases that never resulted in an arrest and indictment of law enforcement for killing a civilian.

There is also history in the U.S. where Black males accused of sexual offenses, especially against white females, is dealt with in the most severe manner, both outside (lynch and castration mobs) and inside (sentenced to death) the courtroom.  In fact, in 1963, 17 states, almost all of them in the Southern and Western United States, the District of Columbia, and the Federal government, authorized the death penalty for the rape of an adult woman.  By 1977, only one state, Georgia, continued such a practice, until the United States Supreme Court, in Coker v. Georgia, ruled that such, imposition of the death penalty for the rape of an adult woman, was grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and struck down that state’s law.

The prosecution in the Bill Cosby case stated that he will retry Cosby.  Jeronimo Yanez walked away from a possible prison sentence for manslaughter.  He was fired by the police department for which he worked.

Until we as a society, and the judicial system look seriously at the “unlawful taking of human [Black] life,” especially by law enforcement, and prosecute such crimes to the fullest extent of the law, more and more people will lose faith in a system that has proven repeatedly that there is not “justice for all.”

Posted in crime, Justice Chronicles, police involved shooting, police-involved killing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Timeless Enemies, Timeless “little” White Lies

In my penultimate blog, I wrote about the TV series, “Timeless.”  At the end, I mentioned Puerto Rican nationalist-revolutionary Oscar Lopez Rivera, and how the opposition to honoring him in the 2017 Puerto Rican Day Parade is connected to “Timeless,” in that “Timeless” revolves around protecting history, especially the “little” white lies,  as we know it.

Oscar Lopez Rivera was part of FALN, Puerto Rico’s Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (Armed Forces of National Liberation).  Between 1974 and 1983, FALN was responsible for about 120 bomb attacks on United States targets that killed five people and injured several others.  U.S. law enforcement officials have labeled FALN a terrorist group, as well as labeled Lopez Rivera a terrorist, even though he was not convicted of a violent crime.  (Note that U.S. law enforcement officials have never labeled the Ku Klux Klan a terrorist group, even during its heyday of the 1860s, 1920s and early 1960s, and even though it is responsible for far more than five killings of mostly Black people on American soil.)

In a statement, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. acknowledges that “while Lopez Rivera is undoubtedly ‘controversial,’ he is nevertheless an extremely influential Puerto Rican.”  It went on to say, “Some people call him a terrorist while others think of him as a freedom fighter, as was the case with Nelson Mandela.”

We are familiar with the saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.  Indeed, all of the revolutionary Founding Fathers were considered at least rebels by the British – today, perhaps they would be labeled terrorists; the Confederates during America’s Civil War were considered rebels by the Union – history should remember them as domestic terrorists –yet today Southerners still put up a fight to preserve monuments and statues and the treasonous Confederate flag of these rebels; and prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, the British considered the following Jewish paramilitary groups terrorist groups: Haganah, Irgun and Lehi (also known as the “Stern Gang”) – Irgun was responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1945, and the Deir Yassin Massacre on April 9, 1948.  Note that many of Israel’s Prime Ministers were affiliated with or led these groups, including Israel’s “founding father,” David Ben Gurion, and Yizhak Shamir who, at 5’ 0”, earned the sobriquet, “the little murderer.”

 

History is not timeless.  It is not etched in stone.  It is like re-reading a book at different stages of your life.  You are bound to see things differently, assuming you have more knowledge and have become more enlightened.  This “seeing things differently” might be called “revisionism” by some because we are looking at history with different eyes.  Indeed, read different accounts of history, not just the accounts of the victors, and obviously you will see at least two sides of history.  A case on point is Christopher Columbus.  His supporters would say that he “discovered America,” his detractors that he was nothing but a pirate and set in motion the genocide of the indigenous people in the “Americas.”

 

When we look at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, let us not forget how it became a territory of the United States.  America defeated the Spanish in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and as a result of that acquired, among other things, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

In the final analysis, Lopez Rivera bowed out of being honored, and will simply march in the parade as a proud, regular Puerto Rican.  Say what you want about the man.  He stood for what he believed, then and now, and that’s…timeless.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saluting Black Soldiers that Served in Every Major American War — “My Lord, What A Morning”

(For Marian Anderson)

 

I am Black and proud,

O Daughters of the American Revolution,

Like the soil of Creation,

Like the land of Mother Africa.

Do not look at me with contempt because I am Black.

Your mythology says I am sun‑burnt,

That my forefathers were cursed.

My forebears sold my ancestors into slavery,

Made generations toilers of the land;

But the land I made great rejected me

When I came up from slavery.

You found other ways to keep me down,

Would not allow me to sing my song

In this land that is mine as well as yours.

 

My forefathers fought in the American Revolution,

My foremothers supported the Civil War,

My father fought to make the world safe for democracy,

My brother would fight to end all wars.

How dare you not allow me to sing my song!

I will lift my voice and sing,

I will sing a song of sweet liberty,

I will sing so loud the earth will be torn asunder,

I will sing so loud those war dead will rise.

Listen, and hear the angels weep,

Listen, the temple’s curtains have been rent,

Listen, and know that God speaks through me.

Hear my voice, O Daughters of the American Revolution,

Hear my voice and eat your hearts out!

Posted in Black patriotism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Timeless”

The idea of time travel has fascinated people for quite some time.  In 1895, H.G. Wells published the science fiction novel, “The Time Machine.”  Wells is credited with popularizing the concept of time travel.  The novel itself has been adapted into three movies, as well as two television shows, and many comic book adaptions as well as several works of fiction in many media productions.

The most recent incarnation of this idea is the television series, “Timeless,” where “an unlikely trio [an historian, a soldier, and a techie] travel through time in order to battle unknown criminals and protect history as we know it.”  Recently I started watching this series On Demand.  Just the other day I watched episode two of the first season, “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.”  In this episode, the trio goes back in time, not to prevent the assassination of President Lincoln, but to prevent a larger conspiracy to disrupt the American government – remember, Lincoln’s murderer, John Wilkes Booth, was a Confederate sympathizer – to coordinate assassinations of not only Lincoln but also General Ulysses S. Grant and Lincoln’s Secretary of State William H. Seward.

In “In the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the techie, played by Malcolm Barrett, has interesting exchanges with “Negro” Union soldiers.  Towards the end, Rufus, African American, tells one of the Black Union soldiers to head North, that, despite the assassination of the Great Emancipator, although things get rough for descendants of Africans on American soil, they ultimately get much better.

Rufus, in my opinion, is the most interesting character in “Timeless.”  In another episode, in an exchange with his Black handler, he comments about there being no “safe” era for him as a Black man when traveling back in time in American history – imagine, as an African American, having to go back to April 15, 1865 in American history!

In my next blog, I will write something about Oscar Lopez Rivera, “controversial” honoree at this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.  Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist-revolutionary, served nearly 30 years imprisoned before President Obama commuted his sentence before leaving Office this past January.  The organizers, in deciding to honor Lopez Rivera, had several sponsors pull out, including Univision, the Spanish language media giant.  The connection is not obvious, but it is part of this “timeless” theme, “to protect history as we know it.”

Posted in Black patriotism, Patriotism, Slavery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Redlining, Reentry, and the Nonprofit Game

The past twenty years I have worked in the nonprofit sector which, if it wasn’t a business entity, would provide a classic illustration of a misnomer, because many entities and people profit in this sector, some much more than others. I have worked with grassroots nonprofit organizations where budgets consisted of whatever we, the working board of directors, were willing to pull out of our pockets to pay bank fees, make copies, and send out mailings, until we developed a track record and history and learned how to play the game. I have also worked for medium-sized nonprofits with revenue of $20 million, as well as a larger nonprofit with revenue in excess of $220 million. At the medium and larger nonprofits, I saw something similar in the institutional structure. The majority of the CEOs, Presidents, and Executive Directors, are white. In Fiscal, this held true, too, as well as in Development, though in Fiscal, Asians would also be represented.

As you went from top to bottom, that is, as you went down the organizational chart, you would start to see people of color as managers and mid-managers. When you reached the line workers, where the magic really happened – what made the magic possible – people of color would dominant. The people they serve, by and large, look like them, too.

There are some obvious reasons why, especially in the reentry nonprofit world, these organizations are white at the top and mostly black and brown on the bottom. Many at the “bottom” are, as one formerly incarcerated individual said, former “consumers of correctional services” – a phrase I abhor, for the record.

A number of years ago, a colleague whom I respect, said that one of her fears was that the reentry world would become just another institution, a post-prison industrial complex (reentry industrial complex), if you will, not an institution that was looking to put itself out of business because it was successful and thus shrinking because the demand for such services would not be as great instead of expanding. When you look at the movement to #CloseRikers, the impetus and energy comes from the line workers I mentioned earlier, the formerly incarcerated. For the most part, you won’t see those CEOs, Presidents and Executive Directors on the front lines – I know, they have more pressing business – which nonetheless makes you wonder….

When I look at the structure of the reentry industrial complex, and I know a lot of good people doing great work there, I still wonder about the redlining and the political games and the extent of exploitation of those formerly incarcerated working in reentry, as well as children receiving services from these organizations because they are impacted by the prison industrial complex. This exploitation often comes in the form of a narrative, similar to the slave narratives – a tale of how horrible the jail and prison systems are, even in its treatment of innocent children with incarcerated parents, and how this or that organization helped them during this time. I have been at a number of fundraisers and when people reached into their pockets and purses for their wallets or checkbooks, they gave because of these narratives, not the eloquent speeches of keynotes, of CEOs, Presidents and Executive Directors. They just provide the setting where more magic is allowed to be on display.

I started writing this blog intending to write about a redlining experience I experienced working for two grassroots nonprofits, but was moved to write about the above instead. I still plan to write about that experience, because I think it illustrates some of the things in this blog.

Stay tuned.

Posted in crime, ezwwaters, Justice Chronicles, Politics, Reentry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment