Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Can't We Be Friends?

"They were going down Jefferson Avenue breaking storefront windows. Going right past certain stores, and throwing bricks throw windows of other ones. Setting some of them on fire"

"I remember hearing the cops yelling 'Get Inside Now!' and our living room was full of people. Some of them we didn't even know. And we waited..."  - Michelle Hardaway (age 11 during the Rochester Riots)

Rochester  New York
July  24, 1964

Around 10:00 PM the Rochester police department arrests a young man at a block party for public intoxication.  After other reports of police misconduct and brutality, including the assault of a pregnant woman, and a K-9 unit attacking a minor, the crowd becomes violent. By 11:30 a crowd 400 people had collected in the streets, throwing bricks at police cars. By the time the Rochester Riots ended, 1000 people had been arrested, four people died and large parts of the city lay in ruins, never fully recovering from the damage done during those three days.

(Joseph Ave facing north)

The riots in Rochester didn't happen because of one event. It was a culmination of events that lead there. Rochester, as were many cities in the northeast  a hub of manufacturing. Kodak, Bauch & Lomb and Xerox, locally referred to as "The Big Three" were all headquartered there. And yet blacks remained unemployed in living in sub-standard public housing.

Walter Cooper, who moved to Rochester as a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Rochester, said that in 1954 he was denied almost 70 times before him and his Wife and daughter found an apartment in Corn Hill. Some people didn't even bother to hide their racism telling him flat out they "don't rent to negroes."

I have heard my mother's account of the Rochester Riots many, many times. And I was in school during Black History Month when they taught us about the Civil Rights era, and while I'm well aware that those things happened and are a part of American history, I never thought I would see the day they would be current events.

But last night when I turned on the news, and saw those people in Baltimore, looting the stores and setting fires. I thought to myself is this 21st century America? We have a black president. Black businessmen. How can this be happening. Again? Another dead black man. Another funeral and still no answers. Every single week we hear about another officer killing another black kid. Always different details, same story. Cop stops kid, kid resists, cop shoots, kid dies, cop walks. NEXT.  And now we have people rioting in the streets.

Freddie GrayWalter ScottMichael BrownTamir RiceJohn Crawford IIIEric HarrisAiyana Jones, the list goes on and on. All unarmed black people who were killed by police officers. Walter Scott was shot eight times in the back while running away. Freddie Gray's spinal cord was served from his head. Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy, was shot by police 2 seconds after they found him playing in the park with a toy gun. And the list goes on and on. And our justice system does nothing. As it stands now, even though all seven of those black people are dead, not one person has been charged and convicted. And why would they? We can't reasonably expect cops to send cops up the river, can we?

Aiyana Jones

The worst part though, is the indifference of the people. I can understand why police want to cover their own ass. And I've grown to accept government corruption as a reality. I've also grown to expect systemic racism. Racism in America is no less rampant than when Rochester was plunged into chaos 50 years ago. Now, we just cloak it in pleasantries and political correctness. AKA B.S. Some of you may remember last year when the crap hit celebrity chef Paula Deen's fan? Just in case you don't, let me refresh your memory. Deen was being sued by a former (black) employee for discrimination, and was asked if she'd ever used the word "Nigger", to which she responded yes. It was like she said she had a crush on Hitler and worshipped Satan. She got fired from the Food Network, her cookbooks got pulled from shelves, Americans were PISSED! And do any of you remember Donald Sterling? He's the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was dragged through the mud for making "racially insensitive" comments to his (half-black) girlfriend about former pro-ball player Magic Johnson. He was illegally recorded in his telling her he didn't want her showing up at Clippers games with colored people.. Didn't go over big. Again, America was upset! They fined him, took away his team. He didn't go on the Today Show and cry like Paula Deen did, but he didn't exactly walk away with his head held high either.

And that's why we love America right? Because when a recording of a 90 year old guy making racist remarks, while in the privacy of his own home, surfaces we are outraged and disgusted and call for his head. However, when a recording of a police officer shooting a black man in the back eight times while he's running away surfaces, we act indifferent and say let the system work it out. We're willing to string this poor woman up for something she said years ago,  yet we "Can't say whether those boys deserved to be shot or not, because we weren't there".  And you wonder why people want to throw bricks through windows and set stuff on fire?!? And a better question is this; we have a 93 year old man and a 60 something southern belle, and you're surprised they've made racist remarks? Really?

"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" 

There are few things that hurt more than betrayal. Cuts heal, bruises fade away. Betrayal stays with us forever. To be betrayed by our country, is particularly frustrating and heartbreaking. To compound that, there are people who claim to love and care for you and have no possible understanding of said betrayal tell you you're  overreacting, or that you have no right to feel betrayed. Perhaps you deserved it. I'm not speaking in hypotheticals, I'm speaking for myself and tens of thousands of people of color who are being marginalized minimized and ignored. When a southern TV chef is martyred for saying nigger 30 years ago, and police officers aren't punished for gunning down 12 year old boys playing in the park, we have a problem. How does having my child gunned down in the park translate to the pursuit to Life, Liberty, or Happiness? Well, I figure since the boy is dead, we can toss life out the window. And I have no problem speaking for the black community when I say, in this particular instance.. Happiness? Try again. So that leaves liberty. Does a child have the liberty to play in the park without being gunned down by police officers? Well, if you're a black child, don't bet on it. (Or else you might get shot for illegal gambling)

"I saw it as a rebellion. People were just fed up being treated like animals. Living like animals. Being cussed at, hollered at," Porter said, adding a lack of access to government to the grievances. "You had frustrations of all kinds, and you get to a point it's like a dam. You got a little crack ... you keep the pressure on it, the flood gate is going to crash — and here comes the water." -former  Rochester school board president Darryl Porter, who was 15 at the time and living with his older sister and brother on Clarissa Street.

The people in Rochester were angry, and they had every right to be and so do the people in Baltimore. I'm angry. I am beyond angry. I'm somewhere between angry and enraged. I don't like this particular side of myself, and learned to bury it a long time ago. I don't get angry easily, but when I do, I can be mean and I can be vicious. It is one of the few thousand reasons I detest my Alma Mater.  I was perpetually angry there.  And I was always on the outside looking in. I was called nigger. I was harassed by police. I was kicked and spit on. I was told I didn't belong in Fairport, and on more than one occasion to go back go Africa. I may not be a violent person, but I believe in justice, and I believe in right and wrong. And there was a time when I thought violence was a means to exact justice. I've since grown older, and hopefully wiser, so I no longer feel that way. But I understand people who do, and I honestly don't really blame them at this point.

Over and over again I hear how Michael Brown deserved to get shot. And over and over again I say THAT'S NOT THE POINT! Forgive the yelling, but some are apparently deaf, stupid or have their hands over their ears and didn't hear it the first fifty times. So we'll go over it One. More. Time. If you don't understand this time, have an adult read it to you. There are tens of thousands of innocent people that were killed before Michael Brown. Were we supposed to wait for another innocent person to die before we started to protest? Do you have any idea how moronic that sounds? Yes, he robbed someone, yes he attacked the officer. So, yes, perhaps it was justified. But what of the 3,500 blacks that were lynched between 1880 and 1950. Of course, we know that each and every one of them had it coming too don't we?

But even if each and every one of them did, which we all know of course they didn't, but even if they did, it's not 1950 anymore, it's 2015.  In 2015, I shouldn't have to worry if today is the day get shot just for walking down the street. In 2015 it shouldn't take millions of black people saying police in America are racist to get something done. And what I don't get, and what keeps me up at night, is why the people that I love, the people that know me and claim they trust me just don't get it. Don't believe what you see on TV? Fine. Think the internet is full of crap? Me too. But do you really think all the blacks around the country are protesting because its fun? And how can you look your black friend in the face when they say they're being mistreated and say "I don't believe you" or "no you're not". Imagine if that were your son or daughter, and they came home from school one day, and told you their teacher hit them. Would you say, "Well, since I wasn't there I can't say what happened" and leave it at that? The whole idea of it is stupid. And yet, that's what we get. From people who claim to care. Hey, we have a black president, who nobody respects, so that must mean racism is dead right? Do you have any idea how condescending and presumptuous it is to tell a black person that there's no racism in America? Or better yet, how to deal with the police. Is there one white person out there that walked a mile in a black mans Air Jordans? No. The next time you want to tell a black person how to deal with the cops, unless you're asked, don't. You don't know what you're talking about and you're advice is neither helpful or prudent. In other words, stay in your lane.

Over the course of the last year, I have heard white people blame, the media, Democrats, Republicans, Barack Obama, and blacks as a whole for starting this racial tension. What very few are saying is 'Maybe they have a point'.  The same way people clam up when you mention 'white privilege'.  Another personal favorite is "It's not a skin problem it's a sin problem", as if the two were mutually exclusive. Now, I don't know who came up with that little piece of drivel, but I'd love to see them in a rear naked choke. Maybe Jon Jones can do it I hear he has some free time now. Just to put that nonsense to rest, police murdering children in their beds and shooting people in the back is a problem. The simple fact that these people all have the same color skin, is also a problem.
 It's easier to blame the media or the government than to take a good hard look at yourself and find that maybe you got where you are on the backs of others, whether you had any say in it or not. The idea of your benefitting from someone else's suffering is troubling. Life's a bitch ain't it? And it's easier to use platitudes like "It's not a skin problem..." than to admit that the people beside you are being oppressed, but we are. Your choosing ignore it or write it off as the devil's work makes it no less real or deplorable. Racism isn't a problem as long as your skin is the right color. Or, if you're willing to deal with it, and only complain when celebrities use racial slurs, and not when people get murdered.

When this whole thing bubbled to the surface, I felt so alone, so isolated. I'm 2300 miles away from all of my friends. All of my friends who are white and have no idea how I feel. I was fully prepared to go it alone. It broke my heart. But God has blessed me with some beautiful friends who don't seem to know what race is. They love me, I love them and that's it. Together, we are going to right this wrong. Thank you, I love you. But there are other friends who just don't understand, and never will. I say to them, I love you too. My friends are all great people, and friends stick together. So, yes I'm angry and you may not understand why. And we will probably argue about these things but I tell you this, if I call you friend, you can consider me your brother.

One of my friends, Matt Gonzalez is a police officer for the Rochester Police Department. He's a fine man, and if all policemen were like him, blogs like this wouldn't be needed, but they aren't, so here we are. Every day thousands of police officers strap on their badge and gun, and see and do things that most of us will never have to deal with. The men and women that do that job need to be commended and respected, and we cannot allow the actions of a few rouge idiots poison our opinion of an entire group of people. To do so would make us no better than them. And while I understand a violent reaction, I have to say that it's wrong. It's no better to kill an innocent police officer than it is to kill a civilian. And frankly, the issue stretches far beyond the walls of our police departments, into our cities, into our towns and our neighborhoods.

My wife and I recently moved to Scottsdale, AZ. I kept asking 'Why am I Here?' Scottsdale feels like what Fairport wants to be when it grows up. Stuck up, sports cars, rich people. Why are the only people of color here the people that work here?  One day I said to my wife "I feel like I'm David in the land of the Philestines'. But, now I know why I am here. I am here because I needed to remember.  I had forgotten how much I hated racism. I had forgotten how much I hated being marginalized. I needed to remember. I needed to remember that I am a black man, and I need to stand up and say this is not right. I remember now.

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
1 Samuel 45-47

Of course two sides to every story right? Make sure to read Why Can't We Be Friends? Part II

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