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Silence In the Face of Evil Itself: A Dark Meditation of Resistance in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome. In the past three and a half years the President has gone from bad to worse.

He cannot tell the truth about anything, so his staff and supporters invented something they called alternative truth, or alternative facts. Within months of his inauguration he was overturning civil rights protections for many Americans, those who had little power to resist. He went after the voting rights of Black Americans, the elderly, and the poor. He went after LGBTQ people’s basic civil rights, many of which were only recently won. He went after the human rights of immigrants, and refugees, even the children of people who came here decades ago, the Dreamers who were raised as Americans, who served in the military, and how had become contributors to the American way of life, though they were deprived of citizenship. He promised to build a wall to keep out Latin American refugees, though not completed he took actions that separated families and locked children in cages on concrete floors as he enriched the most wealthy with tax cuts, but in the process blew the budget deficit into realms never dreamed about before. He attacked patriotic Americans, including members of the military calling them traitors because they respected the Constitution more than worshipping him. He went after long time American allies and made himself a de facto ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He made his presidency one of White Supremacy and the economy, but his Presidency was built upon smoke mirrors and lies. When the novel Coronavirus 19 was identified as an epidemic in China and then as a pandemic he ignored it and then minimized it time after time again. Then everything came apart on him with dire results for the country at large.

When COVID 19 finally began to hit the United States and kill people he finally acted, but far too late. Now over 118,000 Americans are dead, and that is the official count, which is certainly a large undercount, with two million more being infected and half of those still at risk of death. But it wasn’t until the economy began to tank and Wall Street crashed that he did anything. The virus is still here, with tens of thousands a day being infected, as he continues to push to reopen the economy to go back to a normal that cannot be restored, regardless of the number of lives lost.

Then there were a spate of targeted killings of Black men by Whites acting as vigilantes, and police brutality and excessive force. The men, and a woman who happened to be an EMT for the City of Louisville, can only be classed as murder. The straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until he was dead. When massive protests broke out all over the nation he ordered maximum force to be used and tried to co-opt the military into becoming involved into his political fight for survival. In doing that he attacked peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church. The assault, launched as he was speaking from the Rose Garden was brutal. Tear gas, pepper spray grenades, rubber bullets were followed rolled by an all out assault by Federal Police and National Guardsmen, including mounted units. When the square was cleared the President marched out for a photo-op displaying the Bible as a weapon. Military leaders reacted in horror and refused to support any more such actions.

Sadly, I could keep listing abuse after abuse of the law and Constitution by President Trump, but don’t think that I need to continue.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To the soon to be former GOP Congressman, Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him seem to want blood flowing in the streets, they want a new Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that Congressman King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns, including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”


The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while former Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her successors deny that the President’s words and actions, and vilify anyone that bothers to disagree with the President or their blatant lies. So when Huckabee Sander is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or former DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.


Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my old chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

In fact two years ago Wednesday, in my former Chapel, a parishioner, a retired Navy Officer attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching basic Catholic and Christian social justice teaching that goes back to the Old Testament where the Psalmists cry out for justice against oppressors and the Kings, Priests, and rich who the Prophets condemned, and which at least in the Catholic tradition still remains. The man blatantly lied about what I said. He said that in the sermon I called the President Hitler, and the Border Patrol the Gestapo.

It was all a lie, but an investigation was launched. Instead of trusting my life and career to a brand new Navy lawyer, I reached out to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who found me an experienced former military lawyer who had taken on high profile cases before. The investigating officer wanted to interview me, but I refused without legal counsel. So he interviewed half of the congregation that was present that day. None would corroborate the accusations but some said that they disagreed with my sermon because of their political views. I was exonerated and the investigation stopped there, but if I had retired out of that assignment, I would have probably never darkened the door of a church again. That experience confirmed the worst thoughts that I had about the Conservative Christians who make up the majority of President Trump’s Cult. They no longer care about Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith, but only care about establishing a Christian theocracy on the order of the modern Taliban, Calvin’s Geneva, or Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. In 1945 Captain Gustave Gilbert, a US Army Psychologist assigned room the major Nazi War Criminals noted that one thing tied all of them together, the absence of empathy. He would remark, that he had come to the conclusion that “evil is the absence of empathy.”

As I conclude this article I am reminded of the words of the German General Henning Von Tresckow, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and destroy the Nazi State:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

I think we could easily substitute the United States for Prussia in his words. We have lost that balance that Tresckow described, and it will destroy us if we are not careful.

Sadly, the absence of empathy all too well describes the malignant narcissistic sociopath that is President Trump, his family, his inner circle, and his most faithful supporters appear to be. I could be wrong, but I know that I am not. I expect that things will get worse much worse before they get better. I say this because I truly believe that since they don’t believe in the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or the rights laid out in the Constitution including its amendments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness” an Assassination in Baton Rouge


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday in Baton Rouge three more police officers were assassinated, and another three were wounded, one critically. Once again the assassin was a young black military veteran armed with a killing machine, an assault rifle designed with only one purpose, killing large numbers of people with the utmost of efficiency. Like the man who assassinated five police officers that were guarding a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, this man, a former Marine Corps Sergeant named Gavin Eugene Long was interested not in justice, but vengeance. One of the men that he killed was an African American police officer, named Montrell Jackson, a father who talked of how people in the wake of the police killing of Alton Sterling, “I swear to God that I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.” Two others, Baton Rouge officer Matthew Gerald, who was also a veteran of Iraq, and East Baton Rouge Sheriff Deputy Brad Garafola. The murders were inexcusable, and the killers, well, they put more innocent lives at risk. 

Neither Long, nor Micah Johnson was a freedom fighter, nor were they heroes. They were terrorists and murderers. The men that they killed and wounded were ambushed and assassinated simply because they were police. While Johnson said that he wanted to killed “white people,” Long simply wanted to kill police. Neither helped the cause of African Americnas who have been brutalized by other police officers, they did not bring any lives back, they killed to kill without thought of the repercussions that other African Americans might experience. While others protested peacefully, some even being harassed and others arrested in the name of principled non-violent protest, Johnson and Long used their military training to serve as judge, jury, and executioner of men who had done nothing to them. 

I am angry because these men have only helped the critics of of the Black Lives Matter movement, they have proved that for them no lives matter. Filled with hate Johnson and Long did what countless other nihilistic hate driven assassins have done before them, they killed in order to destroy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “The old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” Sadly, these two men were probably too ignorant to remember or even care about what Dr. King said, and now because of their crimes they have enabled white supremacists and other racists to change the narrative and blame African Americans for violence committed against other African Americans. 

Their actions did nothing to help African Americans, nor did it do anything to end the scourge of violence that has led to so many African Americans dying at the hands of some police. Instead their actions have only ensured that more violence against African Americans as well as law enforcement officers will continue. No words from elected officials or celebrities will change that until people’s hearts change, and sadly, I cannot believe that will happen anytime soon.

Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

If only these two men had heeded his words. When will we ever learn? 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 


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Becoming What We Should Be


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Having completed, with the exception of editing and circulating some hard copies of the first volume of my Civil War text A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change, I have gone back to work on the second volume of my Civil War text “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” Religious Ideology, Race, and Politics in the Civil War Era. Beginning yesterday I began to go through the approximately 160 pages of text, which had been the second chapter of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text, but like A Great War really needed to be split off and turned into its own separate book. 

Yesterday I went back to figure the natural chapter breaks and to begin some minor editing and creating a bibliography and working table of contents as I prepare to really dig in on it. The good thing is that I have continued to research this section even as I concentrated on work on A Great War and major chapter revisions to the book dealing with the campaign of 1863 and the Battle of Gettysburg. 

As I have done this I become more and more convinced that what I am writing about needs to be told. As I look at responses to the Black Lives Matter movement I am appalled by the willing historical ignorance of much of the country, including white America, which has erased from its collective memory the terrible injustices of slavery, the black codes, Jim Crow, segregation, and violence directed at African Americans over nearly three hundred year period before the Supreme Court stuck down the Jim Crow era segregation laws, and the Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and 1965 Voting Rights Act, and less than three years later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the champion of peace protest and civil rights was gunned down and assassinated. 

But it is easy for some people to condemn the Black Rights Movement, it is called racist by some, and it is blamed for a host of issues that it is simply exposing and demanding action to solve. Some people respond to criticism of police with the saying that Blue Lives Matter, and I agree that they do, police officers do dangerous work, and with the proliferation of high powered weaponry in the hands of irresponsible and angry people, their lives are always in danger. But that is no reason not to say that Black Lives Matter is wrong in its intent. Some say that All Lives Matter, and I agree with that in principle, but I would challenge the people that flippantly say that in order to dismiss the validity of Black Lives Matter, while doing nothing to work for the rights of people different than themselves, that they need to put their money where their mouth is. 

In the 1850s and 1860s Abraham Lincoln struggled with this in a country that was becoming increasingly diverse due to massive immigration from Ireland and Germany, and in which Congress and the Courts were making decisions which would allow for the expansion of slavery and the definition of African Americans as a subordinate race without any citizenship rights. Lincoln was worried that America was becoming like a plow horse with blinders fastened to the sides of its eyes, capable of seeing only in one direction: ahead of it. He saw Americans as people increasingly interested only with their present and their future, the things still before them, but disinterested with their own historical past, the things already behind them. A condition that is not much different that what we see today. Maybe because I am a historian I am more sensitive to this, but it is concerning. 

Lincoln realized that people had forgotten the heart and soul of America, the secular scripture found in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” He realized that for most people of his era the proposition that all men are created equal was in the process of dying. He knew that freedom without equality was no freedom at all, and beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation he began the first step to universalize that proposition. Les than a year later he gave a short speech of under three hundred words at Gettysburg in which he went back to the Declaration noting “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and he called on Americans to renew themselves to that proposition: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In a book that I just finished on the Gettysburg Address the author noted something that I find quite true. He said: “We should read the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, and then, the Gettysburg Address. They are, together, our American scriptures. And we should read them aloud, the way they were meant to be. They are words which are most powerful when they are spoken. Their words remain fresh and alive, no matter how many times they are read. All we need to know about what American democracy should be, is found there, among the words of these two ancient manuscripts.”

Now I do not arrogantly claim that we as Americans exemplify those words, or that we even live up to them, but they are something that we need to keep in the forefront of our minds, and strive to achieve if we are to become a better nation. 

I was talking with one of our international officers at the staff college today who has been studying at the Naval War College for the past year before he came to us, and as we talke we agreed that what makes America great is not our military might, nor our economic power, but that proposition of Liberty, the proposition that is so radical that few countries include it in any of their political documents, that proposition, that all men are created equal. It was something that a number of my Korean officers noted at Gettysburg back in May. They all understood something that so many Americans have forgotten. 

So I will continue to read, research, and write, and I am excited about it, especially during this critical time in our nation’s history. I’m sure that in the coming month or two that you will see some of that work appear on this site as I work on Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. 

Until tomorrow I wish you peace,

Padre Steve+

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Why Can’t We All Get Along: Reflections on Violence and Race


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in the 1990s, a black man by the name of Rodney King who had been brutally beaten by police appealed for calm after his attackers were acquitted. As riots broke out in Los Angeles, King called out “why can’t we all get along?” It is still a valid question. 

I have been thinking a lot about the events that have shaken our country over the past week and my thoughts today will meander between reactions to those events and memories of people and events that shaped my life that impact how I see what is happening today. I think that it important to realize that our past experience and the attitudes that we were brought up with shape how we view current events.

First there were men doing nothing violent, no resisting police requests, being gunned down by police, an event that has become all too common. Then there were the five police officers in Dallas protecting a Black Lives Matter March being ambushed and assassinated by an African American former soldier who stated his contempt for the BLM movement even as he claimed he wanted to kill whites, especially police officers. Then there have been the protests against the killings which have become a fixture in some cities that have been plagued by the brutality of some rogue police officers, as well as the very real and uncomfortable fact that police often handle situations involving white men, even armed white men acting in threatening manners, with far more restraint than they do black men. There is such a thing as White privilege, whether most of us want to admit it or not, and it has existed for the entire history of our country, and even the great victories of the Civil Rights movement never completely riddled us of it. 

I was a kid during the great protests of the Civil Rights movement. I remember watching the evening news and seeing police brutally beat peaceful and unarmed protestors senselessly in living black and white since we didn’t get a color television until about 1972. But those images have remained burned into my memory. I went to a desegregated high school which was that way due to court-ordered desegregation which involved bussing kids across town. A lot of parents objected to it, but interestingly enough, most of the kids who attended junior high school together didn’t try to avoid it, we wanted to continue school with the kids that we knew, and to meet new friends. It was an adventure, but initially there were fear of the unknown for all of us. No one knew how this experiment would work. But for our school, Edison High School in Stockton California, it was a defining moment in time; a magical time, where a mixed race student body made up of about a quarter each of Asians, African Americans,Whites,and Mexicans bonded in a remarkable manner, and today some forty years later, many of us remain close, we are the Soul Vikes to this day. That bonding for me has extended to the men and women who went there before and after me. 

Since then I have lived in many parts of the country, and sadly the experience that I had in high school seems like the exception rather than the rule. Many of the cities and towns that we have lived in have stark racial divides. Thankfully, we have been fortunate during my career in the Navy, we have lived in middle class, mixed race neighborhoods, even today, and we not only feel safe, but we know our neighbors, and we look out for each other. 

In my thirty-five years in the military I have served alongside men and women of every race, ethnicity, religion, and social class that found in our country. These are my brothers and sisters. 

That being said, Judy and I have been the victims of violent crime. In 1979 while out with her parents were were held up at gunpoint by two black men. I had a pistol pointed at my head and Judy had her glasses ripped off her face and ground into the parking lot when the robbers fled. But that one incident has not made us fearful of African Americans, even young African American men, and we find that walls can be broken down by simple kindness and respect. 

When I was in the reserves I worked for a social service agency in the slums and barrios of San Antonio, a homeless shelter in Arlington, Texas, and in the trauma and surgery department of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where some of the police officers shot last week were taken. I have seen the effects of poverty and seen the effects of violence, and I have stood by the grieving families and friends of African American men, women, and children who died senseless deaths at the hand of violent people. I have also seen the community activists, teachers, medical personnel, pastors, and dare I say police, who work against huge odds in those neighborhoods  who do all they can to promote a culture of life, respect, and dare I say, hope. So when I see and hear people of great privilege like former New York Mayor Rudi Guilinani did this weekend, I can only shake my head in disgust. Likewise I am disgusted by media coverage, and the often incredibly ignorant and hate-filled posts that I see on social media and blogs, from people who support violence against the protestors, or the police. Frankly, neither is acceptable.

While I can understand anger of people tired of seeing rogue police officers go unpunished for crimes against people of color in their custody, and I fully support protests, I cannot place all of the blame on police. We live in a heavily armed and increasingly violent society, where the gun rules. As such police officers live in a world where they are in fear of their lives, even in routine traffic stops, and the number of people “packing heat”, legally or not, creates an environment where some officers will either overreact or abuse their authority. But there is another thing to add, with the exception of what occured in Dallas and a few other incidents, most police officers are killed by white men, but those stories seldom make the news. 

The thing is that none of this will be solved unless we all start working together as Americans, we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into the belief that nothing can be done. Our problems will not be solved by picking sides or blaming people as there is plenty of that to go around. 

Anyway, at some point I will return to this subject, but I am tired of seeing people die. I have stood over the bodies of far too many men and women killed by gun violence, grieving with their families, as well as those wounded or maimed by bullets. Sadly, most of those were in this country, not in Iraq where I also witnessed violent death. I am tired of seeing our flag at half-mast due to the mass killings of our fellow citizens: Black people in church killed by a White-Supremacist, police killed by a ruthless former soldier, children in an elementary school killed by a seriously disturbed young man whose mother allowed him access and training to use assault weapons, a man killing people in a movie theater, and so many other incidents that I have about lost count of them. 

These events occur so frequently that they seem to almost blend together, but dare say the word that if these killers did not have access to semi-automatic assault style weapons which are designed for one thing and one thing only, for use in combat, to kill as many people as possible in the most effective manner, that we would have fewer mass killings is tantamount to violating the Constitution. I am not against the right of people to own weapons at all, for self-defense, for hunting and recreation, for sport. But why we don’t curtail the sale of the killing machines designed for war complete with high volume magazines which allow a fusillade of bullets to be fired in any action is beyond me. In fact were it not for the massive numbers of these weapons on the street, legally owned and illegally procured, there would be little need for the militarization of our police forces. I have been trained and qualified on how to use these weapons, and yes, they are fun to shoot, but they have only one purpose, killing lots of people. But I digress, and I’m sure that some people that read this will call me all sorts of names. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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