Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Catching up

My husband rises long before me each morning, and by the time I shamble out to the kitchen to make my coffee, he's already in his chair at the dining table beside the window, maps of far flung places lighting up his laptop screen. Beside him on the window sill are his growing retinue of orchids, some in humid terrariums mimicking greenhouses, new buds opening to him daily.

Memory is arbitrary and whimsical. I was stirring milk into my coffee this morning and suddenly the sound of the metal spoon clinking against the ceramic cup took me back to sitting next to my mother on her back porch in St. Lucia, the sun slanting under salmon colored awnings as she delicately stirred sugar into her tea, always in a dainty teacup with a handle bowed like a dancer's skirt, maybe a piece from her Wedgwood china collection, such elegance gave her joy. The sense of her with me was so strong. The sun slanted in through the kitchen window and I felt my mother there.

A few things I had wanted to write about when I was feeling frozen:

1) Three more days until the release of Hamilton, the entire stage production filmed with its original cast. It was to be released in theaters in October 2021, but when the pandemic hit, and all the Broadway shows went dark, the musical's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to release the film this year instead, and beam it into everyone's homes, those with a Disney Plus streaming subscription that is, which if we didn't have, I would certainly get for this. My girl is counting down the days, but we wont be watching it together, as she's spending a week upstate with her in laws, who she and her love have not seen since before New York went into quarantine in March. We've pledged to live text as we watch this Friday. I can't wait to sing along to the songs.

2) You may recall my daughter and her boyfriend had tried to adopt a dog a few months back, but in what was for my girl a shattering turn of events they had to give the dog back to its foster as he bit my daughter several times, drawing blood and leaving bruises. He tried to bite her boyfriend, too, except he managed to keep a firmer hold on him. He also went after a child on the street when they were walking him; they held him back, but it terrified them both. An Australian terrier, the dog clearly needed space to run, and was not well suited to a city apartment. My daughter cried for days after surrendering him. She felt they had failed him, but to be completely honest, I was immensely relieved when they finally came to the decision to let him go. I didn't write about it here, because it was so painful for them, but I secretly thought, how is this going to work with a baby? Yes, I'm looking forward to grandchildren, and my kids know it. Anyway, after fostering several more dogs in the interim, ("Penance," my girl said), they have now adopted a scrappy little pup. He's an English bulldog and schnauzer or terrier mix, a shaggy brindled three month old, and they are in love. As my daughter's boyfriend said when they picked him up last week, "When I saw him, my heart just exploded." Meet Munch.


2) On the corona virus front, New York is steadily emerging, with less than ten deaths from covid yesterday, down from a high of 800 per day at the peak in April, and hospitalizations from covid were down to less than nine hundred yesterday, down from some 18,000 a day at the height of the pandemic in April. My husband's museum re-opens today for essential staff, though not to the public. Most scientific departments are continuing to work from home until further notice, however, and when he does return, he will be able to drive and park for free in their once very expensive public garage, thus avoiding the subway. He has several underlying conditions, so must continue to be very careful.

3) Sadly, due to the idiocy and ineptitude of the narcissist in the White House, parts of the country are now dealing with the nightmare that overtook New York City in April and May. While I can't imagine anything will ever be quite as bad as we had it here in our crowded cacophony of a city, I understand that in some places hospitals are already overrun. And in Austin, a 46-year-old quadriplegic man, Michael Hickson, father of five, was refused treatment for covid by a doctor who told his wife that he had "no quality of life." His wife went to court to fight for her husband's right to care, but the court appointed a third party as the man's guardian instead of his wife, and that third party organization ratified the hospital's decision to deny treatment. Michael Hickson died on June 11 because a doctor decided that someone's beloved wasn't worth making every effort to save. I was so gripped by rage, which was really crushing sorrow, that I could barely read the story through the flares popping behind my eyes.

4) The one bright spot in public life recently was the Supreme Court handing down some unexpectedly progressive decisions. With Chief Justice John Roberts surprising everyone by siding with the four liberal justices, the court ruled that workplaces were not allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ people; upheld the rights of DACA recipients to live and work in the country; and struck down an extreme abortion law in Louisiana that would have removed women's ability to obtain safe and legal procedures. Granted, the rulings in each these cases did not completely close the door against conservatives bringing new challenges, but for now, I'll take the wins.

5) Perhaps equally as significant as the cases decided were the cases the Supreme Court refused to weigh in on, including a Second Amendment case to extend the open carry rights of gun owners, and a case to compel state lawmakers to turn over undocumented people to federal authorities, which would have done away with sanctuary cities like New York and Los Angeles. While I'm happy SCOTUS let the lower court decisions stand in these two instances, I do wish the justices had taken a case against qualified immunity for police officers who use excessive force against citizens. Oh well. You win some, you lose some, you fight another day.

6) Finally, in the week's most exciting news, my son and his love are coming over to spend the day with us tomorrow. My boy has been working with covid patients almost every day for months, so he's stayed away from us since March. But he's been on vacation from the firehouse for two weeks, and continues to have no symptoms, so we've decided to risk social contact as we're all missing each other mightily. "I long to see that boy," my husband said as we lay reading in bed a few night ago. Tomorrow we will see him, and his lovely fiancee, too, and I will definitely hug them as soon as they walk through the door.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"All I was trying to do was become better"

Good morning blog family. Thank you for checking on me these past couple of weeks. I had no words and too many words for all the hell we were, still are, living through, and finally, I just decided to be silent for a spell, to sit with my heartache over the young man in Aurora, Colorado who played his violin for kittens in shelters in his spare time, who wore a ski mask outside because he had anemia and was often cold. That sweet faced boy was walking home one night, gesticulating wildly, possibly dancing to the music coming through his earphones, and someone called the cops on him, said he was acting strangely, said he had no weapon, didn't seem dangerous (so why call the cops on him?), and then the cops came and harassed him, roughed him up the way they do with black men, and he was so confused why they were doing that to him, this boy who played his violin for kittens.

The cops could not provoke him to resistance, which what they do so they can arrest and claim resisting arrest, in fact the boy asked why they were hurting him, he said he loved them, he said he was sorry, and then the cops called EMS saying they had an emotionally disturbed person and the medic came and shot him up with enough ketamine for a 220 pound man even though the boy, sorry the young man, weighed 140 pounds. The ketamine caused his heart to seize and killed him. I know, because my son is a paramedic, that the medic doesn't know his job, because he should have been able to calculate the proper dose for slight bodied boy who had been roughed up by the police for no reason. The young man's name was Elijah McClain.

I keep thinking of him as a boy because he possessed such innocence. His cousin said he was "the sweetest soul." These were his final words.

Now you see why I have not been here. The tragedies pile up, and they pour out of me when I sit down to write. I did not intend to write about Elijah McClain this morning. I thought I would just post a picture of flowers and say thank you. I didn't understand that Elijah McClain was still so much on my heart that he would find his way out through my fingers, through tears wetting the qwerty keys.

But since I went there, I should also bear witness to Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, 27 years old, who had fallen asleep in his car in the drive through line of a Wendy's burger joint. He wasn't blocking anyone. Other cars could pull around him and get their food. It was his daughter's birthday, and he had been drinking. Someone called the cops. When they came, he asked if he could just walk home to his sister's house a few minutes away. But no, they began to harass him and escalate the situation. He was compliant the whole time, until they pointed a taser at him and tried to slap cuffs on him, at which point he grabbed the taser and took off running. He was drunk. He wasn't reasoning at full capacity. All the same, running away from cops seems a very logical thing for a black man to do because if you go anywhere with them you very likely could end up dead. Rayshard ended up dead anyway. The cops shot him in the back, and then walked over to his prone body and one of them kicked him while the other stood on him.

Never mind that after arresting that white boy Dylann Roof who murdered nine black people who had welcomed him into their prayer group at a Charleston church in 2015, the cops bought him a meal from Burger King because he was hungry. He had gunned down nine people in the act of praying yet the cops managed to arrest him without putting a scratch on him. Then bought him food. The least the cops could have done for Rayshard Brooks is call him an uber or offer to drive him home in their squad car. He was unarmed, a family man. He wasn't actually driving drunk though obviously he had been. But driving drunk is not punishable by death. He just needed to get home.

And then there are the seven black men across the country who have been found hanging from trees in the past two weeks, in front of a City Hall, in a school yard, in a park, all ruled suicides. I promise you, black men do not hang themselves from trees, even if they have decided to exit this life. How do you rule a man whose body bears bruises from a recent battering as a suicide? Why is the press not covering this story? Some are whispering that it's cops who are orchestrating this new/old form of terror. I don't know it that's true but they're the ones ruling these lynchings as suicides, and in their response to BLM protests across the country, they're the ones making the most convincing case about police brutality, too. 

My daughter and her boyfriend had to drive to a town in New Jersey two weekends ago and they asked to borrow our car. I thought nothing of it as I waved them off, and then suddenly, I was hyperventilating, realizing they were heading to a small town in the middle of nowhere, a place I knew nothing about and could not visualize, and would they find Trump supporters there, white supremacists who might do them harm, and I couldn't breath properly until they called me a couple hours later and said they were on the way home.

So this is why I have not been writing here. Who wants to read about such casual everyday trauma? And yet, it seems that when I sit down here, I cannot write anything else unless I set this down first. I think I feel driven to bear witness because until November, it is the only thing I can do.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Monday, June 8, 2020

Ship dream


When the man is done building that replica of the 1839 Scottish Maid, right down to the wee perfect ladders to the bunk rooms below deck, we'll tap the boat three times with an enchanted stick and sail around the world on magic seas powered by my lovely shipbuilder's labor of ingenuity and patient love. We'll rewind time and breathe in the salted air of this magnificent blue planet and watch all our wishes come true. In this wished for world, my gentle, fierce-faced husband and our children are loved, not feared, and everyone sings "Lean On Me" with arms laced at twilight and we burn sage in the People's House, leaning into the new and wondering if the past four years, the past four hundred years, really happened.







Sunday, June 7, 2020

Represent

That striking looking protester is my nephew, marching in Washington, D.C. A musician and an artist, he took that American flag and painted the letters BLM for "Black Lives Matter" across it. He also added some red paint to represent the blood of his ancestors that has been spilled for generations, leading us straight to the present moment. My nephew is the child of a Black mother of Jamaican extraction and a Native American father of the Assiniboine Sioux tribe in Montana, and so when he speaks of his ancestors in a social justice context, he's speaking of a dual heritage of spilled blood. I'm so proud of him for being out there, representing. This photo appeared on the social media site @dcist, which has been covering the protests.



Saturday, June 6, 2020

Dismantle the System


I assume by now you've seen Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's response to facist-in-chief clearing peaceful protestors from the street in front of The White House with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons on Monday so he could walk to that church in the middle of the photo above and pose with a Bible held upside down. Mayor Bowser authorized that huge mural to be painted on 16th Street where it happened, and now the words "Black Lives Matter" lead straight to the front door of The White House, and are visible from space. Mayor Bowser also renamed the street where Trump deployed police against American citizens exercising their right to assemble, as "Black Lives Matter Plaza." The new street signs went up yesterday. This is the newest monument in our nation's capital. Mayor Bowser is owning Trump in a rather beautiful way, and I'm here for it all day long. 

My daughter and her love are out in the streets of New York City today, with masks and sunglasses and water bottles, risking cops and covid to join "the march for stolen lives and looted dreams." That's the name of the action. I find it poetic. I am so in love with all the young people protesting in cities across the country. I am in awe of their courage and humanity, their stubborn belief in the possibility of a better world, their awakening to their own power to create such a world, which we are all witnessing them express in real time. Black folks have been very moved by the number of white allies who have joined the fight against police brutality and structural racism. As Obama said the other day, this time it feels different.

All the same, I sat on the side of my bed this morning and prayed for the safety of all the marchers out there today. I do this every morning. I figure the force of my thoughts, my heartfelt wishes, just might help to counteract the force of police batons, and move the malleable universe in the direction of good. 

I do know there are cops who actually intend to protect and serve. We have seen them in some cities, marching and talking with and guarding the protestors. But a whole swath of other cops are proving on video reel after video real the point black people have been making for generations—that the default of the police force is violence, especially against black and brown and LGBTQ people and anyone who dares to speak up for their rights. 

It's not so surprising when you consider that modern police forces were constituted from southern slave patrols and northern night watches, whose mission was to control and dominate black people and other subjugated classes. It's why regular white folks have had the luxury of seeing cops as benign and friendly. Police forces aren't indoctrinated to see them as "the enemy."  

I have been reading dispatches from a white cop who quit the force the week George Floyd was murdered before our eyes. He said he couldn't take any more, but knew that if he tried to speak out against what he'd witnessed throughout his career, his life and his family's lives would be endangered. In his anonymous posts on social media, he lays bare how the force is trained to go after black people, to harass them and escalate the situation until they can be said to be resisting arrest, when all the person was doing when approached by the cops was invoking the right to breathe in public spaces while black.

We get targeted and killed inside our homes, too. Too many examples come to mind with absolutely no effort of thought. Yesterday was Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday. She's the Louisville EMT who was asleep after a long shift dealing with covid patients, when cops burst through her door unannounced on March 13 and started firing. The hit her 8 times, killing her. They arrested her long time love, who had fired his weapon when he heard their front door being bashed in. He has since been released without charges. Remember, the cops at no point identified themselves before they started shooting. They were looking for a man who did not even live in that building. A man who it turned out was already in police custody when they pumped bullets into an award-winning member of the city's Emergency Medical Services as she slept in her bed. And now the world is left the mark Breonna Taylor's birthday without her, to seek justice on her behalf. The cops who killed her have not been charged.

People are now starting to consider what alternatives to a violent police force might look like. The hashtag #DefundThePolice is trending. My friend Scott, a former homicide cop, wrote the other day that we need to "quit asking police to solve our social problems. Police tools are force and violence. They cannot treat the underlying problem and it's unfair of us to ask them to." I hear that loud and clear. So while I may be among the brainwashed masses who can't yet imagine how society would function without this violent force that is clearly not protecting and serving many of us, I'm ready to think about how we can take funds currently used to provide military grade arsenals to local police and instead use that money to create solutions that center people who have been humanely trained to protect citizens, meet their social needs, and preserve the peace. 

Once again, this is not where I thought I would go when I sat down to write this morning. I thought I would talk about my family, and post pictures of the progress my man is making on the model sailing ship he's building, and of my son in his FDNY blues, laughing with my daughter, who ran over to see him when stopped by a firehouse in her neighborhood. "We didn't do well on the social distance, but!" my girl texted when she sent her dad and me the picture. She was so happy to see her brother, who she hasn't hugged since everything went to hell back in March. 

She went to see him to ask if she could write his name and number on her arm when she attends the protest today. In case anything hairy happens. I had told her she could write my name and number, but she decided his was better, as he's been out working as a first responder throughout the covid lock down, and she'd rather me not be exposed to the crowds. She doesn't realize that if anything were to befall her, nothing could keep me from going to her. But her brother agreed she should use his number. Our boy confessed he's getting weary of not seeing us, too. He has three weeks off at the end of the month. He said he is thinking he'll quarantine for two of them and then come see us. He continues to be healthy, thank God. Here's one of the pictures I had intended to post. I've rambled long enough. The ship's progress will have to wait for another time.


 Never wonder why I pray.




Thursday, June 4, 2020

Overnight

My nephew, who joined the National Guard after graduating from college last summer, has just been activated. He is to be in Richmond, Virginia by 1 p.m today. For those of you who have been reading here a while, this is my late Aunt Winnie's grandson. Now he will be out in these streets with a rifle in his hands. He's 23. I don't like it one bit.

When Obama addressed the nation last evening, it was as if we had a president again, as well as a wise professor who could teach us, and a dad who could calm us and give us hope. One day later, reading what happened in cities across the country overnight, I am again plunged into despair.

In Austin, Texas, a 20-year-old college student, Justin Howell, was shot in the head at close range by so called non lethal bullets. As he lay convulsing and bleeding out on the street, a medic ran to help him, his hands raised and crossed at the wrists to identify himself as EMS. The police shot him too, as well as other people trying to get Justin to safety.

This hits home hard for me because my son is a medic and a firefighter in New York City where, as in so many other cities across the country, police in riot gear seem to be losing their natural minds. Please read the young medic's account of what happened in Austin.




Justin Howell, a political science major at Texas State, remains in critical condition with a fractured skull and brain damage. All he was doing was exercising his First Amendment right of protest. I don't want to be gratuitously triggering in this space, but if you want to see what so called "non-lethal" ammunition is doing to people, go ahead and research some of the photos from this past week alone.

Monday, June 1, 2020

So are we a police state now?

Trump is on TV talking and all I can feel listening to him is a blinding, shaking rage! I can barely contain it. He sent mounted police out there to disperse the crowd with flash grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas, while their horses trampled peaceful protesters. And now he is announcing essentially that we are a police state. I am so furious I don't know what to do with myself. He is not becoming, he IS a dictator. I can't believe my ears. And yet this is happening. The man who thinks wearing a mask makes him look weak but hides in a bunker when crowds assemble in protest in front of the White House, gives his first address about the riots and basically says he's going to shoot to kill. He can invoke the insurrection act yet he couldn't invoke the defense production act to make protective gear for health care workers during the pandemic? And now he's going to speak in front of a church for a fucking photo op?? He's holding up a Bible. It's upside down. Is that code for something for his 88 white supremacy crowd? I'm shocked that book doesn't fucking explode.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Uncharted

Does everyone get it yet, why Colin Kaepernick blew up his whole NFL career to take a knee in protest of police officers killing black folks? Everything feels so heavy, and yet so surreal I could float clear away. This morning, as I was catching up on the news, my throat felt tight from the many stories of excessive use of police force against protesters across the country last night. My husband came into the kitchen, stood watching for a minute, then said, “You know, I wonder sometimes if we were right to bring children into this world.” I looked at him, and saw he was being serious, and then tears brimmed for both of us, because of course we would not want a life without our breathtakingly loved children, but what kind of world have we given them? Here are some thoughts from a few smart people I follow on Twitter, because really, I have no good words.







Saturday, May 30, 2020

Black Lives Matter




"A riot is the language of the unheard." Martin Luther King Jr. said that at Stanford University in 1967. It's been quoted repeatedly this week. If you're more appalled by the riots than by the murder of black men and women whose lives have been so callously destroyed, you might ask yourself: Why did police meet peaceful unarmed protestors with tear gas canisters and billy clubs, with rubber bullets and riot gear, when they managed to stand with such equanimity in the face of white supremacists waving Nazi flags and packing assault rifles when they stormed state houses not even a month ago? Why was a white cop in street clothes caught on camera methodically breaking the windows of Auto Zone, the first store to burn in Minneapolis, despite the efforts of locals to stop him? And why were white men with hammers and walkie talkies filmed breaking store windows and setting fires in Oakland last night, only to have the destruction blamed on Black Lives Matter demonstrators today? Why did white allies feel a need to form a line in front of black protestors, creating a wall between them and police mobs brandishing clubs and guns? Why were two black cops in uniform the only ones trying to de-escalate the fevered anger of the crowd in Brooklyn last night, as white plain clothes cops—identifiable to each other by the white armbands they wore—pulled weapons on protestors and knocked them to the ground? When have matching armbands of any color ever been a good omen, or brought peace? "When the looting starts, the shooting starts," Trump tweeted in the midst of the justifiable anguish and rage. It was a dog whistle to his base. As commentator Keith Boykin put it: "America is a tinderbox ... and Donald Trump is an arsonist carelessly flicking a lighter."

Photos from top: 
1. Carlos  Barria/ Reuters
2. Julio Cortez/ AP Photo 
3. John Minchillo/ AP Photo