Tag Archives: apartheid

The Misuse of Force: Shock and Awe Backfires in Ferguson

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“When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.” Barbara Tuchman

Not Iraq, not Syria or the Ukraine, but Ferguson Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer was one of the most crass, unconscionable and violent over-reactions of a local government in the United States in years. When the peaceful protests began after the shooting Ferguson and St Louis County police deployed heavy weapons, armored vehicles and chemical weapons against the mainly peaceful protestors who simply sought answers and justice at yet another unjustified killing of a young black man by law enforcement.

The “shock and awe” displayed by the local police agencies had the opposite effect. Instead of defusing the crisis, it provoked violence, mainly from looters by also from young people fed up with police using tactics of fear and intimidation against citizens who have little opportunity. The economic and demographic inequities, including the de-facto segregation in Ferguson are stunning. Two thirds of the population is black and only one member of the city council and one member of the local school board are black. Likewise the police force in Ferguson is overwhelmingly white. It is almost like apartheid South Africa, but it is right here in the United States, and it’s not just a problem in Ferguson but in many other towns and cities in this nation.

After weeks of delay and after days of protests, demonstrations and riots, the Police Chief of Ferguson revealed the name of the officer who killed Brown. However, instead of discussing justice, or inviting an external investigation of the shooting the man took the time to praise and defend the officer and release surveillance video designed to demonize Brown in the eyes of the public. In fact there was no other reason to do it. It was designed to play in his narrative to smear a dead man, for the actions of his officer; and maybe, even more insidiously to possibly taint any jury pool that might have to sit in judgment on that officer. Now I believe in due process and that the officer is innocent until proven guilty, but the calculated actions of the Ferguson police chief were designed to convict a dead man who could not defend his own actions or reputation because his body had at been riddled by at least six bullets including two the to head. Now there may be mitigating circumstances that show that the officer felt that he was in danger, but still six bullets including two to the head.

No wonder instead of subsiding more protests, again mainly peaceful, but with some malicious actors as well have continued. One only has to look at what happened in Cairo’s Tahir Square at the beginning of the Arab Spring, or in Gaza to see why people risk their lives to face overwhelming militarized police forces or military forces deployed in such operations. There is a sense of inequity based on the proportionality of the forces used, and when that inequity becomes too great, revolutions occur.

Part of the problem is that police on every level have become extremely militarized. Local police departments only need to fill out a form to get the latest in surplus combat equipment from the military, thanks to policies enacted after the passage of the wonderfully Orwellian named Patriot Act. Once a department gets the new weaponry, why go back to the old way that police did things. In fact there is an almost a case of “penis envy” that local police departments have. If one department gets an armored MRAP or APC, then another, even if it has no legitimate use for one gets one. Instead of peacefully serving warrants by knocking on a door to confront a non-violent offender, it is time to deploy a platoon of tactical officers to do the same job.

Now I am not excusing looters, arsonists or other criminals that take advantage of unrest such as this to create havoc, and in fact many of the protestors attempted to keep businesses and other property safe from the criminals, even as they themselves were being targeted by the tear gas fired by police. Likewise the police arrested reporters and fired at other reporters covering the story. The reporters had every right to be there covering the protests and nothing in the Constitution excuses the behavior of police interfering with reporters conducting their business.

There is a quote from the most recent television adaptation of Battlestar Galactica where Commander Adama says something most relevant to this needless militarization of police power:

“There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

The fact is that anybody with the slightest understanding of history, sociology, economics or group psychology should know this. It’s not that hard to defuse these kinds of situations before they reach a crisis. It simply takes the courage of leaders to meet people where they are and address their concerns without resorting to deploying heavily armed militarized police forces before any violence occurs. As a career military man who has served with our advisers in Iraq, and who has been an adviser on a boarding team keeping the peace on detained Iraqi oil smugglers in 2002, in both cases unarmed and the latter not even having the body armor of the rest of my team, and having been in a number of potentially violent close quarters situations with emotions running high I can safely say that listening and working to de-escalate the situations worked, and that was with Iraqis, not Americans.

When I was going to seminary and was serving in the National Guard, I worked in poor and crime ridden neighborhoods, homeless shelters and inner city public hospitals. I have seen the inequity and the results in broken homes, lives and communities. Likewise, because we were pretty broke and poor in seminary and in the couple years after it we experienced what is now called “profiling.” We lived on the edge of a very affluent suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, for several years we had a series of crappy hand me down used cars that we used to go to school, work and church. Because some of those cars were so crappy looking we are frequently followed by the police, and every couple of months one of us would be pulled over.

I remember watching through the peep hole on my front door when a tactical team raided my across the hall neighbor late one night in 1991 of 1992. I remember being awakened by the crash of the team breaking through the door, and seeing their guns drawn. It scared the crap out of me, and in fact it made me feel less safe and more vulnerable. What if they had raided my house by mistake, like so often happens, I might have been gunned down at the door. You see, we were poor, and obviously poor people should not be in affluent areas, they are bad for property values. But, we often didn’t know where the next pay check, tank of gas, tuition payment, money for medications or or even groceries were coming from.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to not just experience that for a few years, but to have to live that way with little or no hope of the situation ever getting better. But, that being said, I think I can understand the pent up frustration and rage of those who live their whole lives in such conditions, where they are because of their race, the kind of car they drive or the way that they dress, are accosted and interrogated by the police as a matter of course.

To borrow from the movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” The problem is that it’s the police who are not listening and they are being joined by the cacophony of Right Wing politicians, pundits and preachers blaming everyone but themselves and the long term, economic and social policies that have brought this to a head. The scary think is how the pundits on Fox News, at Townhall.com, World Net Daily and other “conservative” and allegedly “Christian” websites and “news” sources incessantly blame the victims of police violence and intimidation, and lack of opportunity and hope rather than looking at the real problems.

Barbara Tuchman was absolutely right. “When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.” We are seeing that in Ferguson and I dare say that if we as a nation do not take action to solve these problems that this is just the beginning, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, political commentary

The Long Road to Freedom and Reconciliation: Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela

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“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  Nelson Mandela

One of the greatest men of the last century passed away today at the age of 95. Nelson Mandela, the human and civil rights advocate in Apartheid South Africa who spent 27 years in prison before being released and overseeing the end of apartheid and the beginning of reconciliation in that country. As President he understood the importance of sport to the country and helped use the victory of the Springboks, a rugby team that during the Apartheid era embodied the spirit of that system as a way to unify the country. When the team played the New Zealand All Blacks in the World Cup of Rugby Mandela helped use it to unify the country.

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Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential men of our time. He was a rare man of grace, courage integrity and vision. He was a man who fought for the liberation of every South African, not just blacks; those imprisoned by walls and laws and those imprisoned by the attitudes of their hearts an minds.

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Unfortunately so many of us including me did not realize just what an amazing man he was until he had spent so many years in prison. It was only after his release that I began to appreciate and admire him. Up until that point I had only thought that he was another Marxist type revolutionary. Of course I had never read anything he had ever written and didn’t know anything about his life or story. All I knew is that South Africa was “democratic” and stood against the Soviets and their proxies.

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My knowledge of him until his release and later election as the President of South Africa was the product of Cold War anti-Communist propaganda coupled with a distaste for “revolutionaries” in general. However when I began to read his works, understand his life and causes and put them into actual historical context of racism, imperialism and colonialism in Africa I was ashamed of my former views.

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The sad thing was that in the United States I was anti-racism and discrimination and pro equal rights and integration for blacks and other minorities. I was a liberal here in regard to these issues even as I excused the vestiges of colonialism, imperialism and racism in South Africa simply because of the my Cold War “realism.” It is funny how a utilitarian ethic can lead people to positions that are diametrical opposites even in their own life and positions. The irony is that it was the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of Soviet Communism that brought the staunchly anti-Communist President F. W. De Klerk to release Mandela from captivity and eventually work with Mandela to end Apartheid.

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When Mandela became President of South Africa I finally began to understand the man who before had been a caricature painted by my supposed “foreign policy realism.” His actions upon his release from prison, his election and his life after leaving office were nothing more than amazing. He was a man of rare personal and pubic integrity, courage, grace and virtue.

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Unlike other victorious revolutionaries he did not seek vengeance or seek to settle old scores. His committee on reconciliation was just that. It was not a commission that sought to punish men and women who during the apartheid days persecuted him but all non-whites in South Africa. Mandela understood something that others across the political, racial and religious spectrum fail to understand. He understood that resentment  of the other is a poison. His comment that “Having resentment against someone is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill your enemy”  is among the most rue that an philosopher, politician or preacher has ever uttered.

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Mandela’s personal leadership in South Africa’s transition from apartheid was perhaps on of his greatest triumphs. It would have been very easy for the country to collapse, for whites to be forced to flee or for civil war between the ANC, various tribal leaders and governments and the South Africa’s white population to tear the country apart and lead to great bloodshed. Instead Mandela modeled reconciliation. He understood something about freedom that many of us never really understand. He wrote: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Likewise Mandela understood the dynamic human tension that exists between hatred and love. He understood that both were learned behaviors. His words “for to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others,” embody that dynamic. That goes back to Mandela’s many years of imprisonment, years that many in the same situation would become bitter, consumed by hatred and ready to seek revenge, a revenge that he knew would achieve nothing positive. He knew that unless he left hatred and bitterness behind that he would still be in prison, a prison that so many of us, including me at times find ourselves. A prison without physical walls and bars but a prison nonetheless.

He understood that that hatred and bitterness only served to fill a cup of resentment which in his words “resentment is like drinking poison then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

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He was not unrealistic. He understood that many people saw him as their enemy. He also understood that in a country where great differences existed that such was the case. That being said he understood something that is lacking in much political discourse in our country today. He noted “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” That is something that we need to learn again.

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I thank God for Nelson Mandela, his life and works. He was truly a man for the ages. He was a giant. May he rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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30 Years of Marriage: Marriage the Definitive Icebreaker in an Ever Changing World

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…

Cut! Wrong galaxy…

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The year was 1983 and a newly commissioned Army Second Lieutenant was marrying the love of his life in an old Presbyterian Church in Stockton California. The wedding was done on a shoestring but was quite nice, you would never have known that on that warm but not too hot day in Stockton California, only 89 degrees at game time with almost no humidity. Since the groom’s 1975 Chevy Monza didn’t have air conditioning that was a good thing.

Other things were going on in the world that day and that year.

Yasir Arafat was expelled from Syria after his accusations that President Hafez al-Assad was behind the anti-Arafat rebellion among Palestine Liberation Organization troops in Lebanon.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana had just had their first son, William.

Evita closed on Broadway after 1568 performances.

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Flashdance…What A Feeling by Irene Cara was the Billboard top single.

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Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video became the biggest video hit of all time and he would die on our 26th wedding anniversary in 2009.

In sports an Indian team led by the legendary Kapil Dev overcame the mighty, two-time champion West Indies at Lord’s to win the Prudential World Cup.

The Orioles lost to the Tigers 9-3, the Giants lost to the Padres 3-2 and the A’s lost to the Rangers 8-3. The O’s would go on to win the World Series.

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Superman III was the top box office draw but would be de-throned by Star Wars VI, Return of the Jedi on the 26th. The top ten box office hits for 1983 were: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, WarGames, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom and Risky Business.

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M*A*S*H had ended its epic run as one of the favorite television shows in the United States.

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The Car and Driver Magazine Top Ten Best list included the 1983 Pontiac 6000STE, 1983 Porsche 944, 1983 Toyota Celica Supra, 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, 1983 AMC/Renault Alliance, 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, 1983 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, 1983 Honda Accord, 1983 Mazda RX-7 and the 1983 Mercedes-Benz 380SEL. Pontiac and AMC are no more and we now own a 2013 Mustang.

Ronald Reagan was President and Yuri Andropov the Soviet Premier as the Cold War began to reach its crescendo even as both countries were enmeshed in wars or attempts to subvert each other’s allies, the US in Nicaragua and the Soviets in Afghanistan even as Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars program.

The Polish Pope, John Paul II was making waves in Poland as the Solidarity movement continued to confound local Communist authorities and the Soviet Union, helping to set the stage for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in then a repressive and racist apartheid South Africa.

Iran and Iraq were locked in a bloody struggle, Israel had invaded Lebanon and become  involved in a quagmire and Saddam Hussein was considered to be our friend. Osama Bin Laden was supported by the United States in Afghanistan.

The Space Shuttle Challenger returned to earth after a historic mission with Sally Ride the first woman to go into space.

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It is hard to believe that all of that was going on. In fact since there was no internet yet and even cable news was still in its infancy most of us lived in a world that was not so complicated. In light of the current concerns regarding privacy which make Orwell’s 1984 seem all too real, that novel was merely interesting.

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Who would have thought then that the world would be where we are today. Likewise who would believe that Judy and I are still married after all these years? Sure I think that most people enter into marriage with the intent of it lasting the rest of their lives but tragically so many don’t. In light of all the failed marriages out there I almost wonder if 30 is the new 50 as far as anniversaries are concerned. I guess that we are rather fortunate. We have done the whole sickness and in health, for richer or poorer deal a number of times already, seen our shares of joys and heartaches and since I have been in some type of military service our whole marriage endured many separations.  So far we still love each other.

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One of my favorite movies about marriage is the classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There is a great sequence in the film which sometimes I wonder might just be true:

Gareth: I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can’t think of a single thing to say to each other. That’s it: panic! Then suddenly it-it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He’ll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they’ve got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships

Meditations on a Wednesday Night in Washington DC

I was reflective tonight and thinking about all of those great men and women who sacrificed so much to the sake of this land and also the world as I walked the capitol late this evening.  As I saw the flags around theWashingtonMonumentat half staff in honor of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili my thoughts turned to the words ofAmericathe Beautiful.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Today was another very good day in regard to the conference I have been attending at the George Washington University Medical School Institute for Spirituality and Healthcare.  Today was a day to practice what we have earned so far with men and women that are employed by the Medical School as “model patients.”  These are people that work with medical students before they even see a real patient and that simulate what the students might encounter when they actually start seeing patients as senior medical students and then as in their various internships and residencies following graduation.  I was very enlightening as we had the chance to be the physician in our encounters with the various actors.  Mine went very well and I thank God for the fact that I have worked with some very fine physicians that have modeled wonderful, compassionate and human care of patients on the various ICUs that I have worked in.

I have been very pensive this week due to the chaos that seems to reign in the halls of Congress in regard to the debt ceiling and intransigence of the members of that esteemed body to bother to work with each other or the President.

This evening I went out with my cousin Becky, actually she is my wife Judy’s cousin and works with one of the “Men in Black” law enforcement agencies headquartered in our nation’s capitol.  She was with a co-worker who has served at the end of the Cold War in Germany and in the Gulf War and we had a wonderful night talking, eating and drinking good beer at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington.  After we were one I had Becky drop me off near the White House because I wanted to wander again about some of the monuments this time with my good camera as I wanted some good pictures from what I observed Tuesday night.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassion’d stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness.

America! America!

God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

Since I have been at the conference or out most of the day I have only heard bits and pieces of the news, just enough to know that the Republicans and Democrats are still driving the train over the cliff even as some in each party attempt to throw the emergency brake to try to stop disaster from overtaking our fragile economy as well as that of the world.  The problem as I see it is that a vocal minority is hell bent on forcing their agenda at any cost and sabotaging the cooler heads in their own and the opposition party.

O beautiful for heroes prov’d

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country lov’d,

And mercy more than life.

America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

Last night I was out and was a bit melancholy as I walked the monuments but came home encouraged by an immigrant cabbie fromMoroccowho still holds this nation in awe and wonder. It was something that I didn’t expect because it seems that so many of us that have lived here for all of our lives no longer have that sense of awe, wonder and appreciation for this now battered land.

I started at the White House and the proceeded past the Washington Monument to the World War Two Memorial, down the National Mall and pat the reflecting pool to the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial before walking the 7 or 8 blocks back to the GWU campus where I am staying.

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

Tonight I took my time and did not get back to my room until 1230 AM.  I was more deliberate than last night and really pondered then things that made this country great and the sacrifices made by so many that we might enjoy freedom that most of the world cannot imagine.  I realized that it was not our economic or military might that made us great but the ideals that this country was founded upon and the sacrifices of men and women of many races and faiths who have each in their own way worked for the cause of liberty many at the cost of their lives in war or sadly in some cases at the hands of their own countrymen.

I do pray that the politicians, pundits and preachers, that “unholy Trinity” who have so terribly afflicted out nation and people with their loathing of all that are different than them will realize the damage that they have done to the peace and the very fabric of this country.  I pray that we are able to be one nation, or as it so well expressed on the Great Seal of the United States E Plurbus Unum, “out of many one.”

As I settled down and prepared for bed I came across a poem in a book of prayers that Judy put together for my birthday during one of those very lean seminary years.  It is by Alan Paton, a South African educator, writer and anti-apartheid activist who died in 1988 five years before the end of that evil system.  It is a poem but also a prayer and I think that it speaks as much to me now as the first time that I read it when Judy gave me this gift.

O Lord, open my eyes that I might see the needs of others;

Open my ears that I may hear their cries;

Open my heart that they need not be without succor;

Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,

Nor defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.

Show me where love and faith are needed and bring me to those places;

And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day

Be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, leadership, philosophy, Political Commentary