Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nature Takes Care of its Own

 Protection of the young seems to be an instinct that nature has hardwired into most species. Sometimes, though, I feel that the human species wasn't in line the day this trait was handed out. In FY 2012, for instance, an estimated 686,000 children were abused in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, an alarming number by any measure, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, and abuse of children with disabilities. Many of these children were abused by their parents or other primary care-givers.
It’s a sad situation, and enough to turn the rosiest optimist into a cynic. This morning, though, I observed an act of parental care that at least restored my faith in nature – unfortunately, that act was not performed by human parents.
Walking my aged dog in the forest behind my house, I came upon a small herd of deer; several does and their fawns. One of the fawns had gone off by itself, a hundred yards or so separated from the rest. The usual outcome of such encounters is the scattering of the herd, but in this case, I happened to find myself between the fawn and the rest. What happened next is interesting.
The normally timid deer didn’t immediately flee. Two of the does stood their ground, making huffing noises at me, while the fawn froze in place. I stopped walking and, standing as still as I could (getting the dog to stay still is easy, she’s so old, she prefers resting anyway). We stood this way for nearly fifteen minutes. Me and the dog watching the deer, waiting to see what they would do. The does continued to make huffing noises, sometimes edging toward me – getting within fifty yards at times. The fawn remained perfectly still. I sidled toward the fawn. The does came closer, stamping their feet and huffing. When I turned toward them, they withdrew, but only a short way.
Finally, when I turned and walked quickly toward the fawn, it fled toward a stream just downhill of us. The does, frantic now, came even closer, huffing even louder. I stopped and watched. The lead doe sniffed the air and looked down toward the stream. I could no longer see the fawn, but could hear it running through the foliage. Suddenly, the entire herd, which had been waiting a ways back from the two does, turned and fled deeper into the forest. After a couple more huffs at me, the two does turned, and with their white tails flashing, followed.
If I’d been a hunter or a predator, those two deer would have been in great danger. But, they stood their ground in an effort to protect the stray fawn, trying to draw my attention away from it long enough to allow it to flee to safety.

My faith in nature is restored. I only wish more humans would take a lesson from it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Official trailer for 'Marza'

Review of 'Marza,' - A Different View of War

 Every war spawns a whole host of books and films, and the second war in Iraq is no exception. Most, though, focus on the relationships among those who fight. ‘Marza,’ a film written, directed and produced by former Marine Regan A. Young is a film with a difference.

The story of a cynical, battle-hardened Marine sergeant (played by Josh Ansley) who meets and befriends a quizzical, precocious young Iraqi girl, Marza (Claire Geare) who likes chicken and ice cream shows us the human side of war that is seldom portrayed. Sergeant John Whitacre is a man who has seen much war, and as a result has a decidedly dark view of life in general. Marza pulls him out of his funk in ways he could never have anticipated, and teaches him to feel again.

This is a film that has both dark and light moments – and enough death to lift it from the category of a mood movie and firmly into the ‘war’ category. Young, a veteran of tours in Iraq, writes and directs this short film with a sense of awareness of the realities of war that most in the business lack. Moreover, he takes us into the depths of emotions that run rampant when death is a constant companion, and shows that even at the darkest hours, there is a glimmer of light and hope.

If ‘Marza’ doesn’t get an award for best short, independent film of 2014, there is no justice. And, if you can watch it with dry eyes, I’d suggest an immediate trip to an ophthalmologist, because your tear ducts are defective.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Almost Got the Blood Moon

Spent Oct. 6 - 10 at Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. On Oct. 8, there was a lunar eclipse, when the Moon is blood red - a sight Moon watchers and photographers live for. Unfortunately, it rained in Chautauqua on Oct. 8, so I missed it. The next evening, however, the Moon still had a slight reddish hue, so I managed to get an almost Blood Moon, which was almost as good. Take a look and tell me what you think:

I also managed to get a few more good shots of the area around Chautauqua Lake and Lake Erie while I was there:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Airline seats versus American seats

I recently posted a comment on my Facebook page about the relationship between the accommodation of airline economy class seats and the average American's 'seat' size - which averages 41 -45 inches. I fall between these two numbers and find myself with no space between my hips and the sides of the seat when I'm forced to fly cattle class, so I've wondered what it must be like for people who are, um, wider than me. I'd not really paid much attention, but on a recent flight, I got a look at what it's possibly like, and it doesn't look comfortable.

Now, I wonder if the airlines care about the discomfort they must be causing people when they try to cram so many seats into such a confined space, charge us for checking bags, forcing people to carry on more and more, further cramping the space, and then charging us for bags of dried nuts and icky cheese? Really, though, that's just a rhetorical question, because I know they don't really care.

Just venting. But, if you have an airline horror story, feel free to share it in the comments below.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

PnPAuthors Promote ALFRANCENA: PnPAuthors is proud of ALFRANCENA~

PnPAuthors Promote ALFRANCENA: PnPAuthors is proud of ALFRANCENA~: PnPAuthors Promotions ___________________________________________   Author Alfancena   PnPAuthors is so proud of Alfancen...

Presenting Karen Ingalls: Author Karen Ingalls~

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Race and Politics in America

After years of dysfunction, the state of American politics is clear: Washington, D.C. is broken, and the public is too divided to fix it. How did we reach this desperate point? Doug McAdam and Karina Kloos of Stanford University answer this question in Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Postwar America. Our extreme partisanship has less to do with party politics than it does with social movements rooted in years of economic and racial inequality. In their engaging book, McAdam and Kloos explain how the hyperpartisanship that has infected our leaders today actually began decades ago.  
You can purchase the book here.
Go here for an excerpt from this fascinating study of how race has shaped American politics.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Presenting Author Joyce Shaughnessy: AuthorJoyce Shaughnessy

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Heather Marie Schuldt: Presenting Author Heather Marie Schuldt

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Presenting Author R.L. Moatz by PnPAuthors Promotions: Author R.L. Moatz

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Presenting Author Rhoda D'Ettore: Presenting Rhoda D'Ettore

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

As part of Linda Ulleseit's Back to School Blog Hop, I'm offering an interview with the author, a writer who does YA fantasy novels that are great reading for all ages.

YA Fantasy Author Linda Ulleseit

1.          How and when did you get started writing?
I started writing stories in third grade. In fact, I have a story about pigs written in multicolored crayon and illustrated with pink circles that have tails. I presume they are pigs since I’m not an artist. In middle school, I did a report on the Civil War by writing a narrative from the point of view of a slave—in dialect. I took a Creative Writing class in high school that I absolutely loved, and in college I had an English professor that had us imitate the styles of great writers like Hemingway and Steinbeck. I didn’t get serious about writing, though, until about 2007. I was teaching sixth grade at the time and figured if I assigned stories and expected students to write them, that I should be able to do it. I set myself the goal of completing a novel that had a coherent beginning, middle, and end. It took four years and many many many rewrites to make ON A WING AND A DARE coherent. Now I am hooked and have to write.
2.          What motivates you to write?
I see the world in what ifs. Every conversation, every encounter, every news story becomes a scene. What if that happened to my character? What if someone said that to a really selfish person? Full scenes run through my head like movies and I have to write them down. That’s the fun part. The work is tying them all together into a novel.
3.          What is your favorite genre, and why?
I absolutely love fantasy and historical fiction. Most of the books in my classroom (and I have over 500) fall into these two categories. In sixth grade, we learn about ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, and China. Stories with characters, emotions, and real settings bring it alive. Fantasy fires the imagination and allows a reader (especially children) to play out possible reactions to real life problems such as sibling rivalry, jealousy, bullying, or losing a parent.
4.          Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
From my head? No, that’s too easy. I suppose my ideas come mostly from my reading. I read voraciously, every genre, mostly fiction but some nonfiction too. I see how other authors deal with issues like coming of age (which is a key theme in my flying horse books) and it inspires me. Now that I have a solid world built with flying horses in medieval Wales, I can put situations I read about, or see on the playground at school, into place and see how the characters react.
5.          What are you currently working on?
ALOHA SPIRIT is a historical fiction piece set in territorial Hawaii. It follows Carmen James, a young girl born on Kauai to Spanish parents. Her mother dies in childbirth, and her father gives her away at a young age. She lives with a Hawaiian family that mistreats her and marries at sixteen. By age twenty, she has three children and her husband has left her. Nonetheless, through her long life, she embodies the spirit of aloha—everyone is welcome, everyone is ohana, family. Like UNDER THE ALMOND TREES, this new one is based on a real woman in my family—my husband’s grandmother.
6.          Where do you see yourself in 5 - 10 years, regarding your writing?
I am close to retiring from teaching. To me, that means more time to write! I want to write another flying horse trilogy—ideas are already banging around in my head. I also have another woman in my family (at least one!) that I want to write about. Of course I hope that more people hear about my books and enjoy them, but my main motivation is to write them. I also wish for someone (a writer’s fairy godmother) to swoop in and say, “Please! Let me take over marketing your books so you can focus on writing!”
7.          Anything else you'd like to say to my readers about writing?

Writing is the hardest job I’ve ever loved. I know just about every writer says that, but it’s so true. The more I write, the better the first drafts are. That is something I tell my students—you’ll get better only if you practice. Of course, I also tell them I revised ON A WING AND A DARE for four years, so if I ask you to rewrite your two-page story twice don’t groan!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting the military ready for the world after Afghanistan

After 20 years in the U.S. Army and 30 in the U.S. Foreign Service – including two tours of duty as a U.S. ambassador – I’ve been involved in numerous civil-military exercises since I retired in 2012. In particular, I was asked to help prepare the military to work effectively in a post-Afghanistan environment.
Organizations operate like they train. So, it’s important that training is relevant and realistic to make sure our young men and women, in and out of uniform, are prepared for future challenges.  Read more . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Presenting Salvatore Buttaci : Author Salvatore Buttaci

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Presenting Charles Ray: Author Charles Ray~

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

9-11: A Day Not to be Forgotten

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Like people on December 7, 1941, you probably remember each detail of that day - if you're an American, it was day that should have finally awakened us to the realization that we do not stand above the world, but are a part of it.

On that morning, I was in a hotel in Seattle, Washington, part of a trip I was taking with other colleagues in the Senior Seminar, a former State Department program for senior foreign affairs officials. For some reason, I woke up at 5:30, and for some reason turned on the TV set, which just happened to be tuned to a local channel. The early morning news was on, and I saw an announcer standing in front of a skyscraper with smoke pouring from an upper floor. It took a while for me to recognize the World Trade Center tower, and even longer for me to realize that I wasn't looking at a promo for some new disaster movie.

I was staring dumbfound at the screen when, at 6:03 Seattle time I saw the second plane slicing toward the second tower, and watched live as it knifed through the building, sending flames and debris out the other side from the explosion. My brain refused at first to process what it had just seen - hundreds of people, including all those on board that plane, perished in an instant, and millions were watching it live and in color on their TVs.

The rest of my stay in Seattle is kind of a blur, as are the first few days back in Washington, DC as my colleagues and I wrestled with what to do next. Should we end training and return to our organizations to see if there was anything we could do to help? Or, should we continue our training and try to prepare ourselves to make a difference in the new world that was born out of those fiery explosions? We decided to stay, and for us the rest is kind of history. What I woke up remembering today, though, was just how strange that day was for me.

First, before that when I traveled, when I woke up, I never started my morning with TV, and never with the news. My usual habit was to shave, shower, brush my teeth, and then watch cartoons while I got dressed. I hate to start the day depressed, and news always does that. What made me turn on the TV before even going to the bathroom? I'll never know, but what I do know, is that day - that act - changed my life forever.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Channeling Famous Writers - Who Do You Write Like?

I was taking a break from writing today, having just finished making some serious corrections in my latest Buffalo Soldier novel, and getting a fairly good start on my next Al Pennyback mystery. I did get my word quota done, but that was mostly journaling and plotting, so I was just doing some idle reading. In doing that, I came across a blog describing an analytical program that takes samples of a person's writing and compares it to famous writers. I suppose we're all at some time or another curious, so I decided to give it a try.

Me being me, I wasn't satisfied to just do a single sample, so I took samples from nine of my novels (different genres) and three recent blog posts. Following are the results:

Deadbeat (Al Pennyback mystery) - William Gibson
Buffalo Soldier: Comanchero (western/historical) - Margaret Mitchel
Frontier Justice (western/historical) - Jack London
Dragon Slayer (international intrigue) - H.P. Lovecraft
A Good Day to Die (Al Pennyback mystery) - William Gibson
Dead Men Don't Answer (Al Pennyback mystery) - Dan Brown
Deadline (Al Pennyback mystery) - David Foster Wallace
Death in White Satin (Al Pennyback mystery) - H. P. Lovecraft
If I Should Die Before I Wake (Al Pennyback mystery) - Chuck Palahniuk
Blog post on the colorful wild west - H.P. Lovecraft
Blog post on events in Ferguson, MO - Cory Doctorow
Blog post on demise of content mills - Cory Doctorow

I write like
Cory Doctorow
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Now, I'm not sure what any of this really means. I write according to what I feel about the subject - sometimes I'm going for a bit of humor, at other times I want to scare your pants off, or make you think about the subject. When I write, I try to see the scene I'm writing in my mind, and hear the characters as they interact, and then write it like I imagine it. I've read Lovecraft, Brown, Mitchel, and Doctorow - although, except for Brown, not in many years - so, I can't account for this analysis. It's fun to do, though, so maybe you writers out there might want to go to I Write Like and check it out.

I write like
William Gibson
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

At the end of the day, I suppose, I just write like me. This blog, though, when analyzed was determined to be in the style of H. P. Lovecraft. Is that channeling or what?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

America's Wild West Was Colorful - In More Ways Than One

Growing up in the late 40s, 50s and very early 60s, like most kids of my generation I was fascinated by westerns. First on radio, and later on TV, I was enthralled by the tales of American’s Wild West. Many days after school and on most Saturdays, you’d find me glued to the radio or TV anxiously absorbing the latest adventure of Red Ryder, the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger, and all the other daring heroes of the western plains, deserts and mountains.

I don’t think I really noticed at the time that the old west I saw on our old black and white television set was overwhelmingly white. If I did notice, I probably just thought, ‘that’s the way things were.’ It’s not like there were alternative sources of information or images to compare with. I mean, things weren’t totally white. There were the Indians – or Native Americans. But, with the exception of the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, and the Last of the Mohicans, they were all blood thirsty and portrayed as always wanting to scalp someone. There were also Mexicans, like Red Ryder’s companion, and Cisco Kid’s pal, Pancho – but, except for their overdone Spanish accents, they were pretty white. Lest I forget, now and then a Chinese laundryman or cook, like Hop Sing on Bonanza, would put in an appearance. As for black people, I struggle to remember if there were any with other than walk-on parts as slaves or former slaves who never really did much. The cavalry that came to the rescue of the besieged settlers were all a bunch of white guys.
So, when I left my home in Texas in 1962 to join the army, those were the images I carried with me. I joined the army to see the world, and man oh man did I ever. A whole new world opened up to me – and, not just the fact that there were people in the rest of the world very unlike those I’d grown up around in a small east Texas town, but my access to historical records opened up a whole new window on the past. And, I learned that not only had the past taught to me been distorted, much of it was false by omission.

Men of K Troop, 9th Cavalry. Public
Domain Image. Wikimedia images.
The first unit to which I was assigned after basic and advanced training was the 24th Infantry Division in Germany. You can imagine my surprise when I learned shortly after arriving that the division’s lineage descended from the 24th Infantry Regiment, one of four regiments (9th and 10th Cavalry, and 25th Infantry) authorized by congress after the Civil War to be led by white officers but otherwise made up of black men. They were part of what was then known as the United States Colored Troops. These four regiments were assigned to the expanding frontier west of the Mississippi, and made up ten percent of the army stationed in the west. At one time after 1870, the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry were stationed in New Mexico Territory and Texas, so any cavalry coming to anyone’s rescue from about 1874 to nearly 1885 wouldn’t have been white. In addition, the army recruited free blacks who had been members of the Seminole tribe in Florida during the removal of that tribe to Oklahoma Territory, but had fled to Mexico to escape discrimination, to form the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts who aided in the fight against Comanche and other hostile tribes in Texas.

Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts
Public Domain image.
Between the scouts and the Buffalo Soldiers (a name given to the black soldiers by the Native American tribes they fought), blacks were involved in many, if not most, of the battles against the various tribes. In addition, they helped local law enforcement maintain order (such as the Lincoln County War in New Mexico), carried mail and supplies, built roads, and provided security to those building the railroads. After nearly two decades in Texas and New Mexico, they were transferred to the Dakotas where they continued to fight, explore, and build. When the first national parks were established, the army provided security, and Buffalo Soldiers were among those assigned this duty. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite Park, for instance, men from the Ninth provided his guard of honor and escort.

Black homesteaders kids in
Nebraska. Public domain image.
 But, people of color were in the west in more than military uniforms. Before the Civil War, Texas had a large number of slaves, who worked the ranches, and continued to do so after being freed. Most ranches had white, black, and Hispanic hands driving cattle, mending fences, and taming horses. When the country was moving westward, black settlers made the long and arduous journey – establishing all-black towns in several places.

The outlaw, Isom Dart.
Bass Reeves
There were even black outlaws and lawmen in the Old West. Ned Huddleston was born a slave in Arkansas in 1849, and accompanied his owner to Texas during the Civil War. After when he was freed, he joined a band of rustlers and changed his name to Isom Dart. Despite wanting to live an honest life, the call of the wild kept luring him back to rustling until he was killed in 1900. One of the most famous black lawmen was Bass Reeves, also a former slave, who became one of the first black deputy US marshals west of the Mississippi. Although he’d never learned to read or write, he spoke six Native American languages, and had an amazing memory. He would have someone read fugitive warrants to him and memorize the contents. During his 30+ year career he brought in over 3,000 fugitives.

Bill Pickett
A bit of trivia about cowboys. How many of you are rodeo fans? Do you know what bulldogging is? That’s where a rodeo rider leaps from a horse going at full gallop, grabs a steer by the horns and wrestles it to the ground. It is now a main event at most rodeos, and it was invented by a black cowboy, Bill Pickett, who was born in Texas in 1870. Because of his race, he wasn’t allowed to compete against white rodeo performers, but he toured parts of the US, Canada, Mexico, England and South America performing for rapt audiences. He died in 1932 after being kicked in the head by a horse. In 1972 he was inducted in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, and in 1989 into the Pro-rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. In 1994, the US Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his memory.  

And, of course, no tale of black cowboys would be complete without mention of Nat Love, known as Deadwood Dick, born a slave in Tennessee.  After freedom and the death of his father, he moved first to Texas where he demonstrated amazing skills as a cowboy, especially breaking horses. After a few years he moved to Arizona where he became even more famous. Deadwood Dick  worked as a cowboy for 20 years before getting married and settling down. He worked a number of jobs in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada before finally settling down in California. In 1907, he published his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick.” While few of the claims in his book could be verified, except his skill as a cowboy, the American reading public devoured his book as avidly as the ‘dime novels’ of the time.

There you have it. The Old West was colorful. And, in a literal, not just rhetorical sense.
Available to read on Wattpad for a limited time. If you like it, a review on Amazon, etc., would be appreciated.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

PnP Promotional Video

Check out my promotional video at PnP Authors Promotion site. Thanks and a tip of the hat to Parrimari Sheets Cacciolfi for a great production.

Life Is a Story: 5 Words I Wish I Could Use--and Why I Can't.

Life Is a Story: 5 Words I Wish I Could Use--and Why I Can't.: I love language. I was a lucky, blessed toddler whose parents read to her on a regular basis. I love the way words feel and move, how they...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I'm Not Lazy, This is My PT

I grew up thinking the image of a person sitting behind a desk, with feet up on that desk, represented laziness or arrogance. Recently, though, I had an experience that has caused me to re-evaluate that idea, and now see that person with feet upon desk as someone taking care of his or her health.
It goes something like this. A few days ago, my daughter and two granddaughters were visiting. I was walking around barefoot, and my daughter commented that my feet were swollen. What she said, in actuality was, “Dad, your feet look like Fred Flintstone’s.” I’d not suffered any discomfort or pain, so I really hadn’t noticed. But, after her remark, I looked down, and dammit, my feet were a bit puffy. We then noticed that the veins and bone structure I could usually see on the back of my hands was also missing – my hands were a bit swollen.
The two of us did some research, and learned that this kind of edema is caused by blood pooling in the extremities. Unless it’s a symptom of RA or heart problems, it’s not really dangerous, but can become uncomfortable if not brought under control. The recommendations we found were surprising, but simple. Decrease salt intake, increase exercise, increase intake of citric acid (from lemons and limes, which can be added to water), and elevate the swollen limbs above the heart for about 30 minutes a day. Elevating hands is easy, but if you work in an office environment, the only way to elevate your feet is to put them on your desk or computer work table.
Doing it in my home office is no problem, but I just happened to be about to leave on a trip to consult with some DOD colleagues at a research facility, so I’d be working in a lab with four or five other people. I explained my situation, and they laughed, but encouraged me to give it a try. To my surprise, within two days, the swelling in m y hands had completely subsided, and decreased considerably in my feet – more in the right foot than the left, but noticeable in both. Thing was, I also figured out how to get the same amount of work done.
So, the next time you see someone leaning back with feet on desk, don’t think ‘lazy bum.’ That person is just doing a little valuable physical therapy to improve health and lengthen work life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What the hell's happening in Ferguson?

Police in riot gear. (Photo from Google images)
In the Canadian-made TV series ‘Continuum,’ now showing on SyFy channel, Kiera Cameron, a police officer from the year 2077, while serving as a witness at the execution of Liber8 terrorists, is thrown with them back to the year 2013 when the anti-corporate terrorist movement started. In one episode, Cameron encounters young Julian Randal, an anti-corporate activist who becomes a master terrorist in her time. After watching Randal tortured by two cops trying to extract information from, Cameron then puts a gun to his head, planning to kill him to prevent his future self. Randal begs for his life, assuring her that he will no longer engage in his activist agenda. She is talked out of this rash and illegal move by her new partner, 2013 detective Carlos Fonnegra. In the next scene after Randal runs away, Cameron and Fonnegra are sitting on the ground and she asks him whether or not her actions are the thing that pushed Randal onto his murderous course. “What if,” she asks. “My putting a gun to his head is the event that caused him to do what he does in the future?”
“What does this have to do with events in Ferguson,” Missouri, you might well ask. For those who haven’t been following one of the hottest stories in the U.S. these days, on August 9, in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an unarmed young black man named Michael Brown. There are conflicting accounts of just what happened, with the fact that Brown was unarmed the only real point of agreement. Other facts, though, are chilling – especially in the aftermath of this tragedy. A private pathologist’s examination of Brown’s body found that he’d been shot at least six times, including two times in the head, while the county coroner’s report said he’d been shot six to eight times. The local police haven’t covered themselves in glory in the handling of this case from day one, and in particular in dealing with the violent demonstrations that erupted almost immediately after the incident. What appears to be selective release of information designed to tarnish the victim’s reputation, while withholding other information, the police’s aggressive stance vis-√†-vis sometimes peaceful demonstrators, arrest and detention of journalists, etc. The list, unfortunately, goes on.
It would be easy to take one side or the other and pass judgment from afar on the situation in Ferguson. A town where 67 percent of the citizens are black, but where, of the 53 police officers on the town police department, only three are black, Ferguson has a history of poor relations between the citizens and the police. A recent racial profiling report from the Missouri Attorney General’s office, for instance, found that last year, innocent blacks in Ferguson were much more likely to be searched when detained by police than whites. The report found that 21.7 percent of black people searched were found to be carrying contraband (the specific nature of the contraband was not identified), which means that four of out of every five were innocent. Searches of whites during the same period produced contraband 34 percent of the time. In Ferguson, blacks are also far more likely to be arrested than whites. Last year, 92.7 percent of all people arrested in Ferguson were black.
This is limited information, but viewing it, a pattern begins to emerge. A friend of mine decried the citizen reaction to this incident, claiming that police were justified in their militant response – deploying with body armor and military equipment obtained under the Pentagon’s 1033 program that provides excess military equipment to local police to aid them in their war on terror and drugs. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this equipment has ended up being used just as it has in Ferguson, against citizens. A chilling image from this incident – CNN footage showed a police officer shouting at protesters, “bring it, you fucking animals! Bring it!” The rules of engagement for use of this equipment on U.S. streets are less restrictive than they are for our military in the Afghanistan war zone. In fact, one of the requirements of the program is that those police forces receiving equipment must use it within one year or lose it. Thus, if they don’t encounter an al-Qaeda cell or a narco-army, they end up using it in routine police operations. That is truly scary, considering that there is no training that comes along with the gear.
But, I digress. In responding to my friend about the depth of citizen anger in Ferguson, while I do not condone criminal behavior, I must point out that most people don’t just go out and start riots. As was the case with the Los Angeles riots that erupted after police beat Rodney King, and the video tape of the beating aired nationwide, these things happen often as a result of anger and frustration built up over a long period of time. Sometimes, it’s a result of a gun being held at peoples’ heads too long, and some precipitating incident just pushes them over the edge. I worked in government for more than 50 years, and my sentiment is often with the authorities. It’s often a thankless job – pay is low, and the dangers are many.
As in the King incident, or the O.J. Simpson trial, views on this are likely to break down along racial lines – and, that’s unfortunate, for it’s likely to also obscure the truth – if in fact it ever emerges. With the competing investigations, local, state, and federal, there are likely to be slightly divergent findings, and we humans have an amazing ability to discount any inconvenient ‘fact’ that doesn’t accord with our preconceptions.
I, for one, would like to remove myself from the mainstream of humanity at this point and take the ‘wait and see’ position. Let the investigators to their work and then let’s objectively evaluate their findings. To the people of Ferguson I say, I understand your anger and frustration, but now is the time for calm not anger. To the police I say, your job is to protect and serve. When you view the citizens of your community as ‘the enemy,’ you set yourself up for failure.
I’ll go out on a limb with one finding of my own, though. What we have here is dysfunction – a dysfunctional community, and a dysfunctional police force – a situation that prevails in far too many communities in the U.S. these days, by the way. What has made them this way is unimportant. What is important is that both sides need to recognize the problem and then mutually agree to take the steps necessary to begin its resolution As for the rest of us, rather than engage in Monday-morning quarterbacking Ferguson, and taking sides in the dispute, maybe we need to around to assess our own environment.