Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The All or Nothing Narrative

When I was in college, I wrote a paper on how it was possible to be against the Iraq War and support the troops. I wrote it in response to the all or nothing coverage of some news channels and newspapers. There was this perception that not supporting the war meant that you were against the troops and it irritated me to no end. I believe that our troops are brave people and I respect what they do for our country, but let's face it, troops follow orders. I was against the orders, not the people who carried out those orders. 

I don't want to talk about international policies, though. I want to talk about America. Why must everything be all or nothing? I have seen all types of outrage over people (especially athletes) wearing "I Can't Breathe" shirts. Thinking that one police officer acted improperly does not mean that a person is anti-police. Many of the people wearing those shirts will happily tell you that they support most police. They know that police are just like all other groups of people: there are good officers and bad officers. They understand that sometimes police have to kill people. It's unfortunate, but it happens. When police shoot and kill an armed suspect who fired at them or pointed a gun at them, pretty much everyone agrees that the suspect got what they deserved. When a policeman uses a chokehold (based on their department's definition) on camera and then testifies that it wasn't a chokehold, people have the right to ask questions. When a policeman shoots and kills a man who is holding an air rifle pointed down, in an open carry state, in a store that sells said air rifle, people have the right to ask questions. 

I think that making it a black/white issue is a mistake. These cases are American issues. Are we okay with police accidentally choking a man to death because they think he might be selling loose cigarettes and he has the audacity to tell them that he isn't doing anything wrong? Are we okay with the police pulling up to an alleged "man" with a gun tucked in his waistband (in an open carry state) and opening fire before they get out of the car? Are we okay with police walking in to a store and killing a man, in an open carry state, simply because he has a gun? This isn't about pointing out that statistically more Native Americans are killed by police than black people or in terms of total numbers, more white people are killed by police than black people. This is about asking how many of those deaths could have been prevented with better training and better attitudes.

Criticizing the police is not synonymous with hating them so why do we put up with such foolish notions? You can dislike parts of a person, without disliking the whole person, much in the same way that you can dislike people in a community without disliking the whole community. We need police. They serve us and most of the time they protect us, but that doesn't mean that they are perfect, so stop acting like people hate the police, because the majority of Americans, even those protesting, support the police.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Only the Inhumane

If you cannot see the tragedy in what happened to Eric Garner, then you are inhumane. I don't know how else to put it. I'm not saying that you have to disagree with the grand jury's decision not to charge the officer, but you should be able to at least have empathy for his family. Failure to do that reflects poorly on you.

 I'd like to address a few comments that have rubbed me the wrong way.

1) "Eric Garner died because he was overweight." The coroner said that the chokehold caused the heart attack that killed Garner. The coroner ruled Garner's death a homicide. Yes, Garner was overweight, but he was overweight when he woke up that morning. He might have died from a heart attack one day, but his heart attack that day was caused by the chokehold. I didn't randomly decide that. A medical profession, who determines cause of death every day, decided that.

2) "Eric Garner was resisting arrest." On the video, Garner asked the police to leave him alone. When the officer grabbed Garner from behind, Garner put his hands up. As the officer dragged Garner to the ground, Garner did not fight back. Even if you want to argue that Garner's words were him resisting arrest, you still have to concede that once the policeman tried to subdue him, Garner peacefully complied.

3) "Garner was engaged in illegal activities." For starters, Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes. No cigarettes were found on him, but he did have a history of selling loose cigarettes, so I'll play. This is usually where people make the comparison to the Bundy Ranch, but I'd like to take a different route. To argue that Garner was responsible for his death because he was committing a low level offense is to argue that a 21-year old who buys alcohol for his 19 year-old sibling is eligible for death. Petty crime is petty crime. You don't get to pick and choose who should be ticketed and released and who should pay with their life. If you believe that a petty crime is punishable by death then you are un-American and inhumane.

4) "Garner was a career criminal." This is America, even career criminals have rights.

Now, let's go on a tangent:

I sometimes watch MSNBC and Fox News, please don't judge me. I know that both channels are terrible for my mind. One is radically Liberal and the other is radically Conservative. Those are code words for "Democrat" and "Republican." For the record, there are conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, but they are pretty much ignored by both sides. That's not my point though. My point is that both extremes agree that what happened to Eric Garner was wrong. Let me repeat that, because surely hell hath frozen over and the devil is giving ice skating lessons: MSNBC and Fox News are in AGREEMENT. I never thought this day would come. These two stations are so vehemently opposed to one another that if one said, "yes," the other would yell, "no" out of reflex. (Yes, I realize that the stations believe the Garner incident is wrong for different reasons.)

Here is the point: When both MSNBC and Fox News agree that it was wrong, it's safe to say that it was wrong.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

About Ferguson

It's been a few days since the "no indictment" decision was announced. I like to reflect on things before I comment, but I think that I'm ready to comment. 

First, I don't understand why anyone was surprised by the grand jury decision. The writing was on the wall from day 1. I never had real hope that it would end any other way and when the governor called in the National Guard and issued a State of Emergency, I became 99.9% sure that I knew the outcome.  Now, let me stop here and explain for those of you who are rationally challenged that this does not mean that I think Darren Wilson is guilty or that he should fry for what he did. This means that I think there was enough evidence to have a trial and that McCulloch tanked the grand jury (I base this on what prosecutors have said about the way McCulloch handled the grand jury). My assumption is that the trial would have ended with a "not guilty" verdict because I can't see McCulloch trying very hard to get a conviction. That said, I guess in the big picture, McCulloch saved us all a lot of time and energy.

I was not surprised by the rioting and looting that occurred after the verdict, but I was upset with the way that it was handled. I try not to be a conspiracy theorist, but someone has to ask the following questions: If you are afraid that people will react violently, why do you make the announcement at night? If you called a State of Emergency the week before and you have the National Guard troops at your disposal, why don't you station them in front of all the stores on the main strip? Why leave the mostly minority owned stores unprotected, but have police stationed in front of the mostly white owned stores? I'm not going to bother answering those questions, but I do want you to think about it.

Now for the media. I can't help but wonder why the media focused so heavily on the rioting and looting and virtually ignored the peaceful protestors and the residents of Ferguson who tried to stop the looting. I'm sure a few residents from Ferguson engaged in looting, but the consensus seems to be that the majority of the looters were anarchist who came to seize the opportunity to loot. I saw lots of the violence on television, but very little of the kindness. I had to go online to see people trying to take a stand against the looters. I support peaceful protests, but I don't support rioting or looting and while we're on the topic, I don't support walking on a highway and stopping traffic. I'm fine with protestors shutting down certain streets because people can always take an alternate route, but shutting down the highway, while dramatic and attention grabbing, is also annoying as hell to many of those stuck in traffic.

Now for the online trolls. I saw one person make a joke that if the police wanted to scatter the protestors, all they had to do was drop job applications. Clearly, the person has not listened to the residents of Ferguson. One of their top complaints is that the jobs have dried up. The people want to work, but there aren't enough jobs to go around. If the government dropped legitimate job applications for open positions, the people would probably knock each other down trying to get their hands on the applications.

The unrest in Ferguson has been bigger than Mike Brown since the beginning. The residents of Ferguson have aired their grievances on multiple occasions, but it appears that most people have not been listening. The Mike Brown incident was the final straw in a long string of perceived injustices. I've heard the residents complain that there are few job opportunities in their area. I've heard them complain about subpar schools. I've heard them complain about over policing in their area and tell stories about being mistreated by the police, but not once have I heard them say that they want to be unemployed and living off the government. I hate when people try to perpetuate their biases on a group of people. Most black people  are not lazy. Of course there are exceptions, but there are lazy people in every race. I've heard since I was a child that "black people are the last hired and first fired." Job statistics seem to support that. Before you complain about the number of black people on welfare, try looking at the unemployment rate for black people and remember that the unemployment rate only counts those who are actively seeking employment.

Now back to the Mike Brown shooting. Pretty much everyone agrees that some sort of altercation happened at the vehicle. I for one am impressed that a "five year old" was able to win a wrestling match with "Hulk Hogan," but hey, stranger things have happened (yes, that's a little bit of shade). I wasn't there. I don't know what happened, but I do know that the aftermath wasn't handled properly. The Medical Examiner didn't take any photos at the scene because the camera didn't have batteries. Are you kidding me? Even if the camera didn't have batteries, why didn't anyone go buy some batteries? Mike Brown's body laid in the street for four and a half hours. What's another few minutes if it means that there is more evidence? I've seen reports that Darren Wilson was allowed to keep his gun and to drive himself back to the precinct, I haven't been able to confirm that, but if it is true, then what the hell? Is a police shooting that normal, that it's literally business as usual afterwards? The surveillance video of Mike Brown robbing a store was released at a press conference that was supposed to be about naming the officer. The prosecutor sounded like a defense attorney when he announced the grand jury decision. McCulloch discredited the witnesses (way to make people want to come forward), condemned the media (yes they deserved it, but that was neither the time nor the place) then shaded the victim (because nothing says you were a worthless thug like the prosecutor reminding everyone that you were no angel). A simple reading of the decision would have sufficed.

McCulloch's speech left a bitter taste in my mouth, but one thing that he said stuck out to me. He made a point of mentioning that white people have also been killed by police. Few people latched on to that statement, but it was the one that caught my attention. For starters, black males are killed by police at a much higher rate, but that is neither here nor there for the argument I am about to make. How can you defend the shooting of a black man by reminding people that police shoot and kill white men too? Why did no one care about that comment? To me, it says everything that is wrong with our system. We've created police forces that are trigger happy. Unless someone is shooting at you, your gun should be one of the last things that you reach for, yet here, in America, it is often the first thing. What's the point of creating mace and tasers and letting police have batons if their hands are going to go for the gun first? Why bother with all the extras?

By Wilson's own admission, he thought, "Do I have the legal right to shoot?" He thought he did and the grand jury agreed. That isn't his fault, that's the system's fault. Let's say that everything happened exactly the way that Wilson said it did. I think if Darren Wilson would have shot Mike Brown multiple times at the vehicle, none of this extra stuff would have happened. More people would say, well, Brown shouldn't have touched the gun. What did he think was going to happen? The officer was trapped in the car, of course the officer shot him. The argument stems from the fact that Mike Brown was running away but Darren Wilson got out of his vehicle and started firing at him. It has been found that Darren Wilson was well within his rights as a policeman, so any anger directed towards Wilson is misdirected. He didn't break any laws. If you don't approve of his actions then you need to try to change the laws. Speaking of which, I think that the Mike Brown Law should be passed because cameras eliminate the questions. If Darren Wilson had on a body camera, no one would wonder about what happened, because everyone would know for sure.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Beyond the Lights

I saw an advance screening of Beyond the Lights two weeks ago. I've been waiting to post about it because what good is a movie review that's done two weeks before the movie is released? By the way, Beyond the Lights comes out on Friday, November 14, 2014. Should you see it? 


If you loved Love & Basketball, then this movie is a must see. Beyond the Lights is the exact movie that it appears to be in the trailers. It's the story of a pop star, Noni, who has tired of pretending to be someone she's not. If you've seen the preview then you know that Noni jumps from a balcony and is rescued by a policeman named Kaz (aka, my new crush, Nate Parker). You also know that they fall in love and her mother and his father do not approve. Noni and Kaz's relationship develops in a very sweet and endearing way. It's clear that Kaz wants to help Noni face her demons, but he understands that he can't force her hand, so he sits on the sidelines and encourages her to be herself. Eventually, Noni hears him  and begins to find her own voice, which, surprise, surprise, is not the voice that her record company or her mother want her to have. While helping Noni, Kaz loses sight of his life goal and his father is quick to tell him all the ways that Noni is ruining his life, but this is a love story, so you can pretty much guess how well that conversation played out in the movie. At its core, Beyond the Lights is a classic love story set against a music back drop.

Overall Grade: B-.  I give the movie a B- because there isn't anything special or surprising about the movie. The movie is what it is and in this case, that was enough to keep me entertained. There were some weak moments in the writing, but the superb acting made me quite forgiving.


MGK (rapper Machine Gun Kelly for those who aren't in the know) plays Kid Culprit, Noni's boyfriend for publicity purposes. I understand that MGK was pretty much playing a variation of himself, but as a Clevelander, it was nice to see a hometown boy doing big things and actually holding his own as an actor. Kid Culprit is all about image and it becomes clear during the movie that his image is far more important to him than Noni could ever hope to be.

Minnie Driver plays Noni's "momanger." I have loved Minnie Driver since Good Will Hunting, so I wasn't surprised that she delivered as Macy Jean. Macy wants the best for Noni, but it's clear from the beginning of the movie that Macy never really listens to what Noni wants. In the beginning, Noni was all about pleasing her mother. There was one scene in which the photographer at a photoshoot asks Noni to take her top off and Noni looks to her mother so that her mother can make the decision for her. I thought that moment was particularly poignant in terms of conveying the dynamics of their relationship. Macy was okay with pushing the limits and playing up Noni's sexuality as long as it made them money, while Noni wasn't really comfortable with it, but understood that she needed to play her part.

Danny Glover plays Kaz's father, Captain Nicol. Like Macy, Captain Nicol has helped mold his child's life. He wants Kaz to go in to politics and it is implied that he has groomed Kaz for politics since Kaz was a young age.

Now for the stars. Let's begin with Nate Parker. This movie marks the first time that I have looked at Nate Parker as a man. His portrayal of Kaz was well done. I enjoyed his acting. I enjoyed looking at him. I enjoyed the way he looked at Noni and the way his character only wanted to protect Noni. I enjoyed that his character accepted Noni as she was and even though he didn't understand everything about her life, he wanted her to be happy because her happiness dictated his own.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Noni. I loved her! Her acting was very good. She was just as convincing as a sex pot in the music video scenes as she was when she showed how vulnerable her character felt on the inside. She was undoubtedly the star of the movie and there is little need for her to worry about scene stealers, because no one was able to take her shine. I believe that she felt trap and that her love for Kaz helped set her free.


First Shout-out: This movie made me fall in love with "Blackbird." That song is depressing as hell. Nina Simone sure knew how to be a dream killer.

Second Shout-out: Darryl Stephens plays Quentin in this movie. I have loved Darryl since Noah's Arc.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why Did You Have to Make it About Race?

By now, you should have heard the headline: A white woman was impregnated with the wrong sperm and the result was a mixed-race child. I've waited all month to post about this case. I wanted to hear the facts and take a couple of weeks to remove my emotions from the situation. I think I'm finally ready to give my opinion. 

For starters, Jennifer Cramblett and her partner, Amanda Zinkon are right to sue Midwest Sperm Bank for giving them the wrong sperm. The mistake was inexcusable and someone needs to pay the price. These women asked for a blue-eyed, blonde hair, white donor and received an African-American donor. Clearly, their expectations were not met. I would expect a lawsuit even if they received sperm from a white donor who had brown eyes and brown hair, because that donor would not meet their requirements.

I think that the lawyer should have focused the complaint on the ineptness of the sperm bank and backwards method used by the bank. Using handwritten notes for vial numbers in 2011 is unbelievable. Inseminating a woman with the wrong sperm on multiple occasions is inexcusable. The sperm bank has to be held accountable for its mistake, and had the lawsuit stuck to that offense, I would be pushing for the sperm bank to pay some obscene settlement so that all sperm banks understand that you can't make mistakes like this.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit couldn't stick to the mistake. The lawsuit had to explain why a lesbian couple having a mixed race child in Uniontown, Ohio was an unbelievably challenging experience. According to the lawsuit, after Cramblett was informed about the mix up, "she began to cry uncontrollably. She began to shake and she could not breathe. She could not speak or think straight. Her hands and feet became numb." This rubbed me the wrong way. I could understand her crying and being extremely upset, but to behave as if someone just told her that she was giving birth to the spawn of Satan is a bit much. I read that part of the lawsuit and my interpretation was: The mere thought of having a non-white child sent her in to breakdown mode.

My personal favorite part of the lawsuit is the line, "On August 21, 2012, Jennifer gave birth to Payton, a beautiful, obviously mixed race, baby girl." For me the emphasis was on the "obviously mixed race" and made me wonder if there would have been such outrage if the child wasn't "obviously mixed race." The lawsuit takes care to explain that "Jennifer bonded with Payton"  and that she and her partner love Payton. However, in that same paragraph, the article goes on to say that "Jennifer lives each day with fears, anxieties and uncertainty" and she "admits that she was raised around stereotypical attitudes about people other than those in her all-white environment" and that "family members...speak openly and derisively about persons of color." This immediately threw up red flags for me and had me cursing the lawyer for taking that route. How can I feel sympathy for you when you were perfectly content with the idea of raising a white child in a community that you knew fostered hatred for non-white people? Are you serious? You want me to feel bad for you because you now have a mixed race child who is screwing up your all-white community? Really?

Oh, but it gets better. The lawsuit says, "As just one example, getting a young daughter's hair cut is not particularly stressful for most mothers, but...Jennifer...because Payton has hair typical of an African American girl...must travel to a black neighborhood, far from where she lives, where she is obviously different in appearance and not overtly welcome."  This part had me stuck somewhere between laughing from disbelief and outrage that the lawyer actually put that in the lawsuit as an example of how having a mixed race child has impacted Cramblett's life. I get what is being implied by the "typical of an African-American girl" part. I think most people get it. I have two bones to pick with that statement. First of all, African-American girls have all types of hair textures, if you don't believe me, go online and look through the categories of natural hair that are determined by the curl patterns of the hair. Second of all, I've seen the pictures of the little girl and she has what I consider to be typical mixed race hair. Take from that whatever you will. Now, I'll try to be brief with the other parts. You don't get sympathy from me because you live far away from a black neighborhood or because you look different from black people. As for the "not overtly welcome" part, what do you want them to do? Lay down the red carpet for you or bend over backwards to show you that they love and accept white people? Maybe you don't feel welcomed because you act like you don't want to be there or because you're nervous because you are not accustomed to being around black people. People can pick up on whether you seem standoffish or not. And heaven forbid if Cramblett mentioned that she was from Uniontown, you know that lily white, racist community far away from you people.

The lawsuit continues and explains that "one of Jennifer's biggest fears is the life experiences Payton will undergo, not only in her all-white community, but in her all-white, and often unconsciously insensitive family." Jennifer admits that her family hasn't fully accepted her homosexuality. Now we get to the part where I agree with Jennifer. Jennifer can hide what makes her different, but Payton cannot. "Jennifer does not want Payton to feel stigmatized or unrecognized due simply to the circumstances of her birth." Her "stress and anxiety intensify when she envisions Payton entering an all-white school." She is "well aware of the child psychology research and literature correlating intolerance and racism with reduced academic and psychological well-being of biracial children" and because of this, "for her psychological and parental well-being, she must relocate to a racially diverse community with good schools." (This is where I ignore the fact that Jennifer and her partner chose to move from a racially diverse community, back to a racist community to raise what they thought would be their white child.) I think it's great that Jennifer wants Payton to grow up in a welcoming environment where Payton can flourish. That is what all parents should want for their children.

I want Jennifer to win more than enough money to move so that she, her partner and Payton can live a decent life in a diverse community, but I don't want the decision to be based on saving a black child from a racist white community or the potential horrors of raising a black child in an all-white community. I want the decision to be based on the fact that the sperm bank screwed up. I felt bad for Jennifer when she was on television crying because people thought that she was a racist based on the facts of the case. I don't think that she is a racist, but I do think that her lawyer is an idiot who inadvertently painted her in that light. You can't argue about all the terrible consequences of having a mixed-race child then say that the case isn't about race, but the case never should have been about race. The lawyer should have formed the same argument that he would have formed if Jennifer had been given sperm from a brown hair, brown eyed, white donor, because that argument works just as well in this case.

In conclusion, if you can get the money without making it about race, don't make it about race. Race is far too sensitive and divisive of an issue to just casually toss in to an argument without expecting to light a few fires.