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Beyond Equal Rights

By R U Bored

Wednesday, August 26, 2015, Moneta, Virginia – Alison Parker, 24, reporter, and Adam Ward, 27, camera man, are shot and killed at a local mall in a live interview with Vicki Gardner, who survives with serious back injuries. All three are white. The shooter, a black man, Vester Flanagan, 41, is a former, fired employee of the same television station that employed Ward and Parker. Hours later, he fatally shoots himself.

Friday, August 28, 2015, Houston, Texas –  Darren Goforth, 47, a Harris County sheriff’s deputy, on duty, is shot to death after refueling his squad at a gas station. The shooter, Shannon Miles, 30, quickly arrested on the basis of forensic evidence, is black. Goforth, white.

Are these recent events backlash from the past year of nationwide incidents of white police officers killing black suspects? Were they triggered by, or retribution for, the shooting deaths of nine black people by a white man in a South Carolina church on June 17? Are these the battles of a race war in America? Some will see them as such. I believe it best to consider each situation on an individual basis, with its own unique factors, not assuming or jumping to conclusions or generalizations. Conversely, if several or many very similar events keep happening, I find it wise to examine them for patterns and question possible cause and effect connections.

In Virginia, Flanagan, angry about the South Carolina killings, bought his gun two days later. But online he admired other killers, including Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters, who were not racially motivated. According to a Facebook newswire report, Flanagan had quite a history of perceived persecution by “former colleagues of all ethnicities.” He had a pattern of complaints, wherever he went, taking offense easily, feeling targeted for being black and gay. There were many signs, over time, that he was a very disturbed person, but no clear indication of what was his final provocation.

In Texas, news reports say that the attack on Goforth was “clearly unprovoked.” Shot in the back fifteen times, he didn’t see his attacker. There’s no evidence that these two men ever met before that day. Miles had a record of jail time for petty offenses. Again, no clear motive in the killing.

Incidents like these stir up all kinds of controversy, coming from all kinds of people with all kinds of deep, long-held, precious beliefs. Issues are so multi-layered and multi-dimensional and historical and cultural and religious and political and personal and so tightly intertwined that it’s hard to pull a thread out of it anywhere that won’t make it all bunch up ugly. For example, after Goforth died, Ron Hickman, sheriff of Harris County, Texas, made this statement – “We’ve heard ‘black lives matter,’ All lives matter. Well, cops lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifiers and just say “Lives matter…”

He was criticized by DeRay McKesson, a local leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, who said, “It is unfortunate that Sheriff Hickman has chosen to politicize this tragedy and to attribute the officer’s death to a movement that seeks to end violence.” Huh? How did McKesson get “attributing the officer’s death to the Black Lives Matter movement” out of “All lives matter?” Maybe I’m missing something here; maybe there’s more to the story. But I don’t see how Hickman is politicizing anything. Seems to me he’s agreeing with the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, “Yes. Black lives do matter.” Again, agreeing, “All lives matter.” He adds that police officers lives also matter, which is not a contradiction, as cops lives are part of all lives. Then he repeats what I perceive to be a very unifying and inclusive statement – that “Lives matter.” No qualifiers. Lives matter.

To me, that means every single one of us – not just the tall, strong, smart, rich, healthy, handsome, powerful, white, patriarchal male ones, but women and children, elders, black, brown, yellow and red, short, fat, ignorant, unemployed, homeless, hungry, struggling, angry, drug addicted – the weakest of the weak, the sickest of the sick, and, politically incorrectly, the craziest of the crazy. The ugly and the stubborn ones. The ones we don’t like to look at, that are difficult to deal with. Because in a true democracy – and, yah, yah, I know we’re not, but theoretically – every life has equal value. If not equal value, then at least value. Hard to grasp that, comparing a Harvard graduate, president of some big company, to a single mom on welfare, or the most likely to succeed of a high school class compared to a cognitively disabled classmate. How practical is this principle, applied to real, daily life?

I don’t know. What I do know is that violent incidents like this are poignantly provocative for me in multiple ways. Because of my life experience I can perceive, and ponder, these events from many perspectives. I grew up with a bi-polar mother and an alcoholic father, who were both sometimes violent. I have had mental health issues in my life. I married a man who was a police officer for thirty-one years. I have two adult children with learning disabilities, and grandchildren whose father has a criminal past and is only sporadically employed. Someone I love, also an abused child, was once convicted of a felony.

So I feel that I sit in the middle of these issues, knowing the difficulties and deep, deep emotional frustrations of being considered inferior by the society in which you live, even as you struggle daily against your own inner obstacles and the limits of society’s ideas and resources, trying to survive and do your best to succeed. This is a lot, even without consideration of age, gender and race issues, which skew the odds of equality even more. I understand the hatred and rage that can be felt toward a system that seems to be intentionally set against you. I deeply feel the unfairness of it all, and the desire to rise up and fight, to strike out against it.

But, looking at it differently, I also feel frustration at the realization that the ultimate irony of democracy is that we must protect the rights of criminals equally – more so, it sometimes seems – as those they harm and kill. The lengthy, cumbersome legal process of “Innocent until proven guilty” requires a massive, extensive, expensive effort. Somebody goes out and kills and we have Civil Rights and People with Disabilities Act advocates screaming about the killer’s rights, while the families of those now dead are wracked with loss and pain, never to be the same. Pragmatically speaking, democracy is one big kettle of smelly, bony fish.

How can we, as individuals and as a society, treat our most difficult citizens in ways that don’t compromise other people’s freedoms, so that no one’s rights are violated? Is that possible? Is there a point where it no longer makes sense to protect one, with the rest of the community in jeopardy? How can we restrain these people without hurting them? When does force become violence? What can we do, how can we cope when someone is so damaged, so angry, so unbalanced that they are incapable of perceiving beyond their own very self-limiting prejudices? There are many such truly sick individuals living among us – a lot of them undiagnosed, untreated – and potentially dangerous.

For each one who explodes in violence there are many who live at a low simmer, living miserable lives and making life miserable for those around them. How do you approach someone who is so paranoid that they can see any advance as an attack? I don’t think you can, safely. I felt I was in such a situation recently, and even though I tried, at the time, to do everything I knew to be peaceful and non-threatening, I ended up very shocked by the response I got, and with my intentions and actions in question. And that’s how it is. Without witnesses, or with contradictory testimony, all the evidence anyone has of what they might or might not do in any given moment is their own personality, character and previous behavior. And any one of us, even the most kind and patient among us, can have a moment. Anyway, I learned a lot. I see now how I misjudged the situation, and have insights about it, although I’m not yet sure of their future application.

I want to be a kind and loving, non-violent person. But I don’t want to be victimized, either. I’m slowly learning how to stand up for myself and my rights without infringing on others. I’ve been told to come from my heart, without judgment. I believe that love is the most powerful force in the Universe, but I must admit that it’s hard to feel the love for someone who might go off on you any minute, or with whom there is an ongoing history of instability, violence and/or abuse.

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