death

I’m back, but I’m sad

When I blogged about conscious consumption on June 7th, I planned on blogging weekly from then on.

Then, on June 12th, a man killed 49 people and injured 50+ more at a gay night club in Orlando. I cried, I tweeted and retweeted, I devoured reports about the lives of the victims, I walked in the St. Pete Pride Parade, I donated some money. I looked up my congresspeople and representatives and made phone calls, sent emails urging for gun control. Mostly, however, I felt depressed and helpless, as I often do in these situations (See “People Die Every Day” and “On Ferguson”).

In early July, I watched the video of Alton Sterling being shot by police while he was pinned face-down to the ground. A day later, I watched video of Philando Castile immediately after he’d been shot by a police officer while he sat in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car. The blood was so bright red and his girlfriend so level headed, it took me a minute to recognize the video was real.

There have been more deaths. I watched video of the shooting at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, a shooting that resulted in the death of several police officers. I’ve been limiting the attention I pay to all of this violence because it wears on me and sometimes pushes me into depression, but I couldn’t help but see that Charles Kinsey, a man who works one-on-one with an autistic man, was shot by police in front of the person he cares for while sitting on the ground with his hands up in North Miami.

More recently, Chicago police shot and killed teenager Laquan McDonald while he was walking down the street. Even more recently, they killed teenager Paul O’Neal. The United States has a lot of problems, and it has become undeniable that the police are one of them. The police-caused deaths we hear about in the news are only a small slice of the deaths that are actually happening–check the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database to see that the police kill people every day.

I am not writing this post to argue for any particular answer or solution, although I, like many people, have some ideas. Essentially, I want to start blogging again, and I wouldn’t feel right doing so without acknowledging what’s been happening. Even though this violence is difficult and heavy, I believe all Americans need to continue facing it and continue speaking up about it. It hurts. It’s depressing. Feeling that hurt, pain, and sadness is what will push us to demand change. No matter how much I want to descend into my own little cocoon, I will not look away.

We need police reform immediately. We needed it years ago. Having police forces mirror the demographics of the communities they serve would be a start. (Clearly this issue disproportionately affects Americans based on race and class.) Or, better yet, require police to be from the communities they serve. Body and dash cameras would be another start. To paraphrase the tweets of many–this isn’t a new problem; we’re just now finding out the extent of it because it’s being recorded. I hope never to find myself in one of these situations live, but if I do, I know to record the police. It seems to be the main thing driving change.

In response to the other shootings–the Pulse shooting, the shootings in movie theatres, schools, etc.–I have become firmly pro-gun control. I used to not care much about the issue. I have relatives who hunt for food and sport, and friends who own hand guns for protection and target shooting. I’ve shot guns before and found it enjoyable, and I know there can be such a thing as responsible gun ownership. Still, things are absolutely out of control. It should not be easier to get a gun than to get a driver’s license. People should most definitely be required to have background checks, psychological tests, and educational training before they can own guns. Also, military grade guns should be illegal, bottom line. There’s no justifiable reason for them whatsoever.

This New York Times article shows just how uncommon gun deaths are in other countries, really emphasizing that this is not an uncontrollable issue. In Poland and England, a person’s chance of dying from a gun is equal to an American’s chance of dying by falling off a ladder. In Japan, a person’s chance of dying from a gun is equal to an American’s chance of dying after being struck by lightning. The massive rate of gun deaths in the US is a direct result of pro-gun culture and public policy. Other countries–many other countries–are not experiencing the same gun violence crisis.

Again, I have no nice and easy clear answer. I will be blogging again–hopefully at least weekly, but ideally more often. Most of my posts should be happier than this one, but as long as this level of violence is occurring in the US, I will keep facing it and using what I have, which is generally writing, to push back against it, to say it’s not okay, to make it clear that this is not the country I want to live in, that we as Americans are better than this, we can do better, we can turn things around, we can foster a space where people coexist peacefully, we can create a place that doesn’t involve a constant turning to violence to resolve problems or express difficult emotions.

 

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death, education, internet, police, race, society, teaching, twitter

On Ferguson

Along with much of the country, I’ve followed the aftermath of police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri for the past few months. Through this, I became more aware of institutionalized racism in the US, particularly where it overlaps with police brutality and the militarization of police forces. I was already aware of these issues to an extent, but really had no clue how often the injustices lead to death, specifically the death of Black men. The Guardian article comparing lynchings of years past to police killings today was one of many that opened my eyes.

As is usually true when I turn my attention toward death, I’ve felt helpless as I’ve watched the scene in Ferguson unfold and learned more about similar incidents happening all over the United States. I’ve wondered what I could do. Thanks to twitter, I found three concrete things:

1. Donate to the Ferguson Library.

I learned about the Ferguson Municipal Public Library fundraising effort via Ashley Ford. The Ferguson Library’s website has a donation button in the upper right corner of the front page. They received around $300,000 in donations last week, which exceeds their yearly budget. They might hire a second full-time librarian as a result. They stayed open when the local public schools closed as a result of unrest and they host many community events. Although I did not have very much money to give, I felt good supporting this community institution. I believe in the transformative power of reading and writing, and donating to a library is a way to translate that belief into action.

2. Talk about Ferguson in my classroom.

I learned about #FergusonSyllabus via David M. Perry, who wrote an article calling upon academics to use the lenses of their disciplines to analyze Ferguson-related texts such as Darren Wilson’s testimony in the classroom. Next semester I am teaching a composition course focused on rhetorical analysis of public campaigns so this will fit in perfectly. I originally wanted to use local social issues as examples in the class so I might choose a police brutality case from Florida to focus in on instead, but the conversation will be similar and I can easily relate it to the Mike Brown killing as well.

The challenge here will be approaching this as objectively as possible. Clearly I have strong opinions on police brutality in the US right now–I will not share them outright in the classroom and I don’t want them to become immediately obvious to my students through the structure of my lessons. The purpose will be for them to think critically about the rhetoric used by all of the involved parties, engage in dialogue about it, and draw their own conclusions, which could very well end up being different than my own. Maybe I will share what I come up with on this blog as I develop course objectives and create my lesson plans.

3. Start conversations with people. Write a blog post.

I follow many writers on twitter and several of them wrote about Ferguson. I am often awed by Roxane Gay’s writings on current events, and her response to Ferguson was no exception. She is consistently eloquent and moving, putting forth honest, raw emotion that only bolsters her often strong and logical arguments. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article on Obama’s official response to the Darren Wilson non-indictment is another one that got me thinking more deeply about the issue.

At first I hesitated to write about Ferguson. It’s a blatantly racially-charged situation and I’m White. Also, I don’t have a journalism background or regularly write about current events. I worried I’d mess it all up and look both racist and stupid (or, perhaps worse, faux-enlightened and arrogant). Then I realized that allowing my self-conscious fears to determine my action (or inaction) would be the ultimate selfish, ego-driven act. This tragic event–one of many in a nationwide pattern of similar events–is not about me.

We currently live in a society where White police kill Black citizens once every few days and face few or no repercussions. It isn’t okay. It is systemic, institutionalized violence and murder. To recognize that and remain silent is to assent to this system of injustice. Although my initial responses to Ferguson were sadness and helplessness, I will not allow those to lead to complacency or inaction. The three things I’m doing about this issue might be small, but they are the actions available to me.

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