Silence Is Not an Option

SilenceI know I am not the only one that has continued to read and think about the death of George Floyd and the protests that continue to spread around our nation. Just about everyone has had something to say and you cannot spend any time online at all without encountering something related to Floyd’s death and /or the protests. But in the past 24 hours I have been intentionally seeking and reading what African Americans have to say about it all. I have been doing that not because I think they have a monopoly on offense at the actions of Derek Chauvin, because I do not. Nor have I been doing it because I think that African Americans somehow have a more valuable or more relevant perspective or insight on the tragedy of Floyd’s death. I do, however, recognize that many African Americans have a different perspective and different insight into the situation than I do, and considering them has value.

Herman Cain began his May 31 commentary with this statement:

Everyone who saw the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is right to be incensed by it. It’s one of the worst and most obvious instances of police brutality we have ever witnessed as a nation.

I agree with Mr. Cain completely and I specifically appreciate his use of the word “everyone.” There is no way that anyone, regardless of skin color, could watch what happened to George Floyd and think it is possible for it to be justified or necessary–or that it should not result in the full punishment the law allows.

Also on May 31, Ben Carson’s Facebook post began with this: “The blatant callous murder of Mr. George Floyd is one of the most heartless acts of cruelty ever recorded.” Again, I agree.

Senator Kamala Harris, who is at the other end of the political spectrum from Cain and Carson, released a statement on May 29 that said that the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are “the result of broader systematic racism that exists in our country.” Her statement concluded,

Police brutality is a matter of life and death for Black people in this country, and we have to be clear about the injustices within our criminal justice system and demand accountability to the communities law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve.

Do you notice a difference in what Cain and Carson said and what Harris said? Cain and Carson addressed the death of Georg Floyd as a terribly evil act without any reference to race. Harris made race and racism the foremost issue in her comments.

Oprah Winfrey posted a statement on Twitter on the same day that Harris released her statement. Winfrey pointed out what was going through her mind as she went through the motions of her day, “I think: he doesn’t get to do this.” She concluded her statement:

#GeorgeFloyd, we speak your name. But this time, we will not let your name be just a hashtag. Your spirit is lifted by the cries of all of us who call for justice in your name.

There was not a single mention of race or racism in her post. There was no mention of a Black community or any institutional racism. Instead, she used the words “all of us.” That is as broad and as inclusive as Herman Cain’s “everyone.”

On June 1, Dawn Staley, the women’s basketball coach at South Carolina, posted on The Players’ Tribune an editorial entitled “Black People Are Tired.” With a title like that, it is hard to interpret her us of the word “us” as meaning anything other than African Americans. And that is unfortunate, because I agree with much of what she has to say. Staley shared a very personal story about her mother having to leave South Carolina as a thirteen-year-old because of her grandmother’s concern that she might be lynched. Staley said that happened about sixty years ago. That is tragic and there is no excuse for it.

That’s why I both appreciate Staley’s post and dislike it. She says that Black people are angry. They should be. But all people should be angry. Being white does not give me a pass on being angry about George Floyd’s death or about the fear of Dawn Staley’s grandmother.

Staley goes on to write:

When you are privileged — when you are the privileged race, you don’t have to think about what we think about daily.

You just see the world through your own eyes. And it’s a lot different than it is through a black person’s eyes. A lot different. Say what you wanna say, but it’s a lot different.

I cannot dispute that. I have only ever been white and I will only ever be white. Accordingly, I can never experience life through a black person’s eyes and can never approach life with the experiences and history of a black person. And while it may be appropriate and helpful for me to understand and acknowledge that, it is not helpful for Dawn Staley or anyone else to suggest that because of that I cannot contribute to the solution. Staley writes,

That’s why I have to constantly ask myself: Am I doing right by our players?

Are they learning? Are they understanding? Are they being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman in our society?

That’s a problematic line of thinking. First of all, as she acknowledged earlier in her piece, Staley does not coach black women only. Thus, to equate doing right by her players with being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman is drawing an unhelpful line on her own team.

She seems to recognize the problem there, because she immediately writes this:

And that’s not to divide our team by race. It’s just a statement of reality that as human beings, we see color. Yes, we see color. We feel color. Without a doubt. And it’s a shame, but that’s how we have to navigate the world.

This is the second problem with her line of thinking. It is not how we have to navigate the world. To suggest that it is is to suggest that we cannot do better. Early in her piece Staley says, “People are mad because NOTHING HAS CHANGED.” Saying that continuing that way is “how we have to navigate the world” is to assert that nothing can change.

I may not be able to agree with him on much, but Mokokoma Mokhonoana was spot on when he said, “Racism is one of the most common results of the combination of stupidity and the ability to see.” We do not want to deny people the ability to see. Not literally, anyway. A world full of blind people would have quite a few problems. What we need to do, then, is try to fix the “stupidity.” It’s been widely said—and I’ve said it myself—that you can’t fix stupid. But that is not really true. Racism is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be changed.

Herman Cain wrote,

…we make a mistake if we see this entirely in the context of race. Statistically, black-on-black crime is a much bigger problem than white-on-black crime. Statistically, police officers are much more likely to be victims of deadly violence than they are to be the perpetrators of it.

None of that gets better if we view each other with suspicion and hostility.

That’s another way of saying that we cannot see and feel color…and he is right. What we must learn to do is see human. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeing and taking notice of skin color. In and of itself, it is no more wrong than noticing if someone has brown, green, blue or gray eyes or blonde, black, brunette or red hair. The problem is not in the noticing. The problem, rather, is in the notion—the belief—that skin color matters.

It is not wrong for there to be genuine and healthy differences of opinion. It is not wrong for me to think that the comments by Kamala Harris and Dawn Staley are not all that helpful. It is not wrong for me to think that Sarah Parcak was in the wrong when she tweeted instructions designed to help rioters know how to tear down monuments or that celebrities paying bail for “protestors” is not helping address the real problem. It is not wrong for me to think that Billie Eilish’s Instagram rant was a waste of cyberspace or for me to think that Reese Witherspoon’s use of Instagram to urge parents to talk to their children about racism was worthwhile and helpful. It is not wrong for me to find some of Natasha Cloud’s piece “Your Silence Is a Knee On My Neck” to be offensive while also agreeing wholeheartedly with her conclusion that “if you’re silent, you are part of the problem.”

I am not going to stop intentionally seeking to hear, read and understand the black perspective. I do hope, though, that there is also an intentional effort for all of us who are furious about what happened to George Floyd to seek to understand each other and to work together to achieve real change. The collective “we”—all of humanity—will never agree on everything. Nor would we really want a world in which we did all agree on everything. What we must do, though, is agree that all human lives matter and every human being deserves to be treated with respect. That the problem can be resolved peacefully. And that silence is not an option.

Truly Haunted

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Mural portrait of George Floyd by Eme Street Art in Mauerpark (Berlin, Germany)

A week ago I, like thousands of others in the United States, saw, for the first time, reports that an African American man had died in Minneapolis while a white police officer was kneeling on his neck. My initial reaction was probably somewhat numb. The stories of African Americans dying at the hands of, and/or in the custody of, law enforcement have become too common. Too, I am reluctant to jump to conclusion, especially when it seems that maybe I do not know or understand the full story. Furthermore, I am a relative of a police officer and a friend of a number of others, and I recognize that their jobs are often thankless—that they have to make difficult decisions every day, often without the time and the privilege of thinking through every possible option before acting.

When I saw the video footage of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd, though, I was confident that, whatever the further details of the situation may be, the matter was not handled properly and there was no reason for Floyd to have died. I could not imagine any scenario in which the officer would not be charged with murder. When Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, said that Floyd “should not have died” and that the officer involved had “failed in the most basic human sense,” I had to agree. Melvin Carter, the mayor of St. Paul, said that the cell phone footage of “a defenseless, handcuffed man one of the most vile and heartbreaking images” he had seen. I had to agree. When Senator Amy Klobuchar said, “Those involved in this incident must be held accountable,” I had to agree.

Less than thirty minutes ago, as I write this, the results of Floyd’s autopsy were released. The finding was that Floyd died as a result of asphyxiation from sustained pressure.

The New York Times has put together a video that resulted from “combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts.” It is an interesting video. It makes valid and significant points. For example, the police officers who responded to the scene were expecting, based on the 911 call they received, to be dealing with a man who was “awfully drunk” and out of control. No doubt that influenced their attitude and mindset before they even encountered Floyd. It also states that Floyd told the police officers who tried to put him into their vehicle that he was claustrophobic and unwilling to get in. I am sure that police officers hear excuses on a regular basis, and I cannot fault them for not putting much stock in that statement from Floyd. It goes to explain that nine minutes into the arrest, officers Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin arrive together. Apparently they are partners. Assuming the Times report that Thao has had six complaints and been the subject of a brutality lawsuit, and that Chauvin has had seventeen complaints and been involved in three shootings is correct, one has to question why these two men are partners—if not why they are still on the police force at all. Why Chauvin gets involved in trying to get Floyd into the vehicle, and why he then pulls Floyd all the way through and onto the road, is unclear. What is clear is that he puts his knee on Floyd’s neck and it remains there. According to the Times, it remained there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Someone is heard telling Floyd to get up and get in the car. Whether or not that is Chauvin, I cannot tell, but obviously Floyd could not get up or get in the car while Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

According to the Times, Floyd tells the officers at least sixteen times in less than five minutes that he cannot breathe. To be fair, the first time I watched the footage of the incident I was skeptical of Floyd at first. After all, if he could continue to say that he could not breathe, he was obviously breathing. My thinking changed, however, when Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after Floyd stopped saying anything and appeared to be either unconscious or dead. Bystanders repeatedly asked that Chauvin get off of Floyd or that he at least check Floyd’s pulse. Again, I am sure that police officers hear many things from the public in the midst of an arrest and no doubt tend to ignore them, but it is clear that both Chauvin and Thao can hear them because Chauvin appears to draw mace from his belt and Thao is interacting with the bystanders and trying to position himself to block their view. Chauvin keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly a minute after EMS personnel arrive, and while Floyd is put into the ambulance and the ambulance drives away, he is pronounced dead at the hospital.

More than likely, you know most, of not all, of the above. There is nothing that can be done to change any of that, but there is much that can be learned from the incident. There are many questions to ask and attempt to answer. And then, of course, there is the reaction that is spreading across the country in the form of riots and looting. I would naïve to think or suggest that I have all of the answers or even that I have much to add to the discussion that is unique or new. But I am going to share a few thoughts regardless.

First, as I have already mentioned, law enforcement is a difficult and often thankless job. It is also a necessary job. As long as human beings are the ones serving in law enforcement, there will be mistakes made. There will be “bad apples.” There will be individuals who misuse and abuse their authority and their power. That is not a racial issue, it is a human issue. No race or gender or ethnicity is exempt from flaws. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there are more than 800,000 law enforcement officers currently serving in the U.S. I am confident that many of them do their very best every day on the job and that they are just as upset over the death of George Floyd as anyone else. According to the same source, there has been an average of one law enforcement officer dying in the line of duty every 54 hours over the past ten years. That is a startling number, and a great reminder that law enforcement officers literally put their lives at risk to do their jobs.

Second, while it is clear that Chauvin needed to be both fired and charged, not much more than that is entirely clear yet. I read person comment on Facebook, of Chauvin’s charges, “Never seen a charge this fast with peaceful protests, all I’m saying.” Well, there is no way to know if the charges would have come that quickly without protests, though I cannot help but think that they would have. And if the point of the protests was to get Chauvin charged then the protests should stop. Is a third degree murder charge too lenient? My inclination is no…unless there is more to the story that we do not yet know. Multiple news sources, for example, are reporting that Floyd and Chauvin worked at the same night club in Minneapolis, El Nuevo Rodeo, and may have known each other. That needs to be investigated. If there was some personal motive behind Chauvin’s actions then the charges need to be increased and the protests against police discrimination and brutality are off the mark. Specifically, as The Western Journal noted, “that should give pause to those portraying law enforcement and the criminal justice system as being inherently biased against minority Americans.”

Third, cooler heads really do need to prevail. Saying something that captures headlines but has zero basis in reality is nothing short of stupid. Leslie Raymond, the president of Minneapolis NAACP, called Floyd’s death a “cruel display of the state-sanctioned murder.” That’s absurd, and not even remotely helpful. Raymond went on to say, “Their actions represent a dangerous precedent set forth by the racist, xenophobic, and prejudicial sentiment in our society against Black people.” Again, both absurd and unhelpful. Floyd’s death was wrong and that would be true even if the perpetrator were black and the victim were white. It would be true if the perpetrator and victim were both white. Or both black. Or both blue. That is a deeper truth that needs to be grasped. The taking of a life is wrong. Period. That’s not a racial issue.

In today’s issue of The Briefing—which is excellent in its entirety—Albert Mohler writes,

Every single human being is of the same dignity and of the same worth and have the same value, precisely because we are made by the same Creator equally in his image. And thus, every one of us bears the same dignity and that dignity must never be denied. It must never be slighted. It must never be reduced. It must never be hidden.

Mohler is correct, and that is why the death of George Floyd must not go unnoticed or unpunished.

Yesterday Wynton Marsalis wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page addressing Floyd’s death and the deeper issues surrounding it. About halfway through, Marsalis wrote,

The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway. It is a labyrinth of bullshit designed to keep you lost and running around and around in search of a solution that can only be found outside of the game itself.

Excuse his language, but Marsalis is spot on. The problem is not racism and the solution is not eliminating racism. He continued,

Our form of Democracy affords us the opportunity to mine a collective intelligence, a collective creativity, and a collective human heritage. But the game keeps us focused on beating people we should be helping. And the more helpless the target, the more vicious the beating. Like I was trying to explain to my daughter, something just feels good about abusing another person when you feel bad about yourself.

I do not know if Chauvin felt bad himself, or somehow felt bigger, badder and tougher by kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, but the temporary good feeling that comes from abusing another is not a racial issue. It is human issue and a heart issue. It is, in fact, the very issue at the root of the current riots and looting. No one in their right mind thinks for a second that the destruction and violence we are seeing around the country will bring back George Floyd, make law enforcement officers act differently or improve race relations in the U.S. There is nothing constructive or helpful about the riots and looting. It is, quite frankly, part of the labyrinth of bovine feces Marsalis referred to in his post.

Earlier in the post, Marsalis describes a conversation he had with his eleven-year-old daughter about the death of Floyd. She asked him why “that man” would “just kneel on him and kill him like that in front of everybody?” Like a good parent in a teachable moment, Marsalis responded with an illustration and asked his daughter to come up with the answer herself. She gave some good ones, but she never quite got to where Marsalis wanted her to go, prompting him to—at her urging—just tell her. What was the deepest reason he had in mind? “Because he enjoyed it. For him, and for many others, that type of thing is fun.” He elaborated, saying, “this type of fun is much older even than America itself.”

I do not agree with everything that Marsalis said in his post. I do agree, however, that the death of George Floyd is not fundamentally a racist issue. That Chauvin enjoyed it—assuming he did (and there is no evident hesitance or concern on his face in the video)—would likely have been true if almost anyone had been under his knee. I do not know, of course, but I suspect that if we ever find out for sure, we will discover that Floyd said or did something to Chauvin that upset him—either when they worked at the club or just before Chauvin pulled Floyd through the vehicle onto the road—and Chauvin wasn’t going to put up with it.

This is a human flaw illustrated perfectly by Haman in the Old Testament book of Esther. Haman was a Jew and he refused to show Haman the physical homage he felt he deserved. Esther 3:5 reads, “And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury.” So full of fury was Haman, in fact, that he had a 75-foot gallows constructed and devised an elaborate plan to get the king to let him execute Mordecai—all because he got on his nerves. If you are not familiar with it, you can read the book of Esther to see how that worked out for Haman. Unfortunately, Derek Chauvin succeeded in killing George Floyd. Whether that was his intention or not I do not know and I doubt anyone ever will truly know. But, in the words of Max Lucado, here is what we do know: “the heart of the human problem is the heart of the human.” Why would Lucado say that? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says this: “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable” (HCSB). That is true of Derek Chauvin. It was also true of George Floyd. Whether we like it or not, it is also true of you and me.

Seemingly everyone, everywhere, is saying something about how wrong the killing of George Floyd was, and that’s fine. Within the past couple of hours I have seen messages from two of my alma maters condemning the actions of Derek Chauvin. One was headlined, “University condemns racial injustice and senseless violence.” The other included the statement, “Justice demands that we all do our part to confront and overcome the legacy of bigotry….” I suppose it is good that these schools, and others, are making such statements but they do not really do much.

Fifty-seven years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Sadly, our nation is still not that place. The color of one’s skin still matters far too much. No murder sentence for a police officer will change that. No riots will change that. No university announcements or presidential proclamations will change that. Nothing will change it until we realize, as Wynton Marsalis said, “The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway.” Or, as Albert Mohler said, “Every single human being is of the same dignity and of the same worth and have the same value….”

Maybe Nkwachukwu Ogbuagu said it best: “I have this feeling in me that those who continue to see race and color in everything must be as miserable as those who continue to see ghosts in every nook and cranny. They have no peace of mind because they are truly haunted.”

 

Photo credit: Singlespeedfahrer / CC0

Profiles of Tyranny: Eric Garcetti

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Mayor Eric Garcetti

On March 24, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, began his COVID-19 briefing by sharing that the virus had taken its first teenage life in Los Angeles County. Then, like his colleague Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, he felt the need to point out that the actions of individuals impact lives. “Your behavior can save a life and take a life,” Garcetti said. Is that not true all the time? Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, didn’t the actions of individuals potentially take and save lives? Actually, is that not the very argument made regularly by opponents of gun control—that it is the actions of individuals that make the difference, not the gun? But I digress…

During the same briefing, Garcetti said that the “Safer at Home” restrictions would not be extended “one day longer than we need to.” Keep that in mind, as we will come back to it.

Garcetti then deployed some beautiful political doublespeak, announcing a “business ambassadors” program. Sounds great, right? The point of the program was to identify and shame non-essential businesses that had not shut down. Calling the behavior of such business owners “irresponsible and selfish,” Garcetti announced that the Department of Water and Power would shut down services to businesses that did not comply. Furthermore, neighborhood prosecutors would implement safety measures. Businesses would receive a warning first, but misdemeanor penalties, citations and fines were all possibilities that Garcetti left on the table. “You know who you are. You need to stop it,” Garcetti blustered. “This is your chance to step up and to shut it down, because if you don’t, we will shut you down.”

Strangely, Garcetti also announced that restaurants and bars would be permitted, as a means of stimulating business, deliver alcohol. Funny how alcohol was deemed essential, given that there is literally nothing essential about alcohol in any definition of “essential” that has been used in these COVID-19 crackdowns. Funny how Garcetti was interested in stimulating business while saying, out the other side of his mouth, that business owners who were operating were going to have services for which they were paying shut down.

By the way, this was all announced at a time when Los Angeles County had all of 669 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with a mortality rate of 1.6% and California as a whole had a mortality rate of 1.9%. So how has Garcetti responded in the weeks since?

On April 5, Garcetti told the Associated Press that he was considering requiring people to stay mostly in their neighborhoods, rather than travel longer distances for shopping and exercise. In a press conference the next day he admitted how un-American such action would be, and used that as way to try to scare Angelenos into voluntarily restricting their movements. “We can’t yet do that, nor do we have an enforcement mechanism, nor are we a country where, thankfully, we monitor people’s cell phones or where they are all the time and I don’t think we’re gonna do that anytime soon,” Garcetti said. If any mayor, anywhere in the United States, had floated such a possibility in January, February, even the first week of March, they would have been laughed at and ignored. Unless they were impeached!

By mid-April, LA County has over 8,400 cases and a mortality rate of 2.9%. By that point the county’s beaches, piers, bike path and trailheads had been closed and anyone going to an essential business, either as an employee or as a patron, was required to wear a mask. Per Garcetti’s order, businesses would be permitted to deny service to customers not wearing masks or some covering of the mouth and nose.

On May 4, California governor Gavin Newsom, who has been rather tyrannical in his own right, announced that COVID restrictions would begin to be eased in California. Not so fast, responded Garcetti. Newsom “isn’t talking to all of us in exactly the same way” he announced, and he—Garcetti—would lift restrictions in Los Angeles when he was good and ready. “I will reopen our city with careful consideration, guided by the advice of public health professionals. What we should all ready ourselves for, is the new normal, no matter what is open or closed.”

Earlier this week, at a Board of Supervisors meeting, Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles Public Health Director, said “with all certainty” that the county’s stay-at-home order would be extended into July. Garcetti said that did not necessarily meant that the restrictions would look the same way they do today for the duration of that time, but that the city could not fully resume normal activities until a vaccine has been developed for COVID-19.

If he is serious about that, I suspect Los Angeles will see either mass protests against the Safer at Home restrictions or a mass exodus of people fleeing LA, because the likelihood of a vaccine in the near future is slim. Just days ago the Mayo Clinic said that while the development of a vaccine is “perhaps the best hope for ending the pandemic” the medical professionals “don’t know yet whether an effective vaccine is possible for this virus.” And if it is possible? “Realistically,” the Mayo Clinic report stated, “a vaccine will take 12 to 18 months or longer to develop and test in human clinical trials” and then, if a successful vaccine is developed, “it will take time to produce, distribute and administer to the global population.”

If Eric Garcetti thinks people in LA are going to sit back and wait for that to happen, he’s got another thing coming. Instead of “Safer at Home” many Angelenos will likely decide they will be “Safer Somewhere Else.”

 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Job Number One

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Michelle Obama

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. According to Wikipedia, this is “is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.” That Mother’s Day is upon us is no doubt a significant part of the reason why there have been a number of reports in recent days about comments Michelle Obama makes in the Netflix documentary “Becoming” about being a mother.

Peter Debruge’s article for Variety begins by pointing out that while the official White House web site has biographies of the first ladies, and many begin with “some variation on the phrase ‘So-and-So was the wife of President Such-and-Such,’” Michelle Obama’s entry begins, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, writer, and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama.” That is noteworthy, Debruge writes: “Lawyer first, writer second and then wife.”

It is interesting that Debruge highlights that, because if you look at the full White House biography, the second paragraph begins, “When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate to say that first and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha’s mom.” That the appearance of Obama’s daughters comes so early in her biography is also notable. The biography of Melania Trump, for example, does not mention until paragraph five that “she is first and foremost a mother and wife.” The biography of Hillary Clinton does not mention daughter Chelsea until the seventh paragraph and the biography of Laura Bush does not mention her twin daughters Jenna and Barbara until the last paragraph.

Why am I beginning a post on motherhood by examining Michelle Obama’s White House biography? Precisely because, as I said in the first paragraph, Obama made comments about motherhood in the Netflix documentary that are unsettling to some.

Writing earlier this week for The Western Journal, Carmine Sabia began an article, “It is astounding how members of the Democratic Party openly discuss the miracle of giving birth as if it were a disease.” I do not necessarily disagree with that statement in principle; there have been plenty of notable instances of denigrating motherhood and celebrating abortion. But Sabia, and Joshua Caplan in an article on Breitbart the day before, both fixated on the fact that Obama says during the documentary that she gave up some of her own aspirations and dreams to become a mother.

“My relationship with Barack was all about our equal partnership,” Obama says. “If I was going to have a unique voice with this very opinionated man, I had to get myself up and set myself off to a place where I was going to be his equal.” No real surprise there; we all know that Michelle Obama was a Harvard-educated attorney. But she goes on to say, “The thing that really changed it was the birth of our children. I wasn’t really ready for that. That really made it harder. Something had to give and it was my aspirations and dreams.”

Sabia and Caplan both make this the emphasis. Michelle Obama is saying that motherhood cost her her aspirations and dreams! “Imagine being Sasha and Malia Obama — two accomplished, beautiful young ladies who just learned that they ruined their mother’s life,” Sabia writes. “Imagine the pain of hearing those words, to know that your life was a ‘concession’ that caused your mother to ‘tone down’ her aspirations.”

Sadly, I think Sabia and Caplan both miss the point in their effort to denigrate Obama and Democrats in general. She also says in the documentary, “I made that concession not because he [Barack Obama] said ‘you have to quit your job,’ but it felt like ‘I can’t do all of this so I have to tone down my aspirations, I have to dial it back.” That is a stark and worthy contrast to what Michelle Williams said when in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in January. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose, to choose when to have my children and with whom,” she said. That is a deeply troubling statement. Williams was publicly celebrating the fact that she ended the life of her unborn child in order to pursue her own dreams and to achieve success in her chosen profession. Obama acknowledged that in choosing motherhood she also chose to forego some of the other things she might have done without having children or without choosing to be a devoted mother.

That is really what motherhood is, though. Every mother could do something different with her life if she did not have children. Caitlin Weaver wrote an article in February 2019 entitled “The Inconvenience of Motherhood.” Weaver’s thoughts are honest reflections on what it costs to be a mother. “I seesawed wildly back and forth about having kids,” she wrote on the day her son turned one. “Even while actively trying to get pregnant, all I could think about were the sacrifices ahead.” She goes on, however, to say this:

Far from robbing me of my identity, motherhood has brought it into sharper focus.

I have never been clearer about the things I value. I worried that as a mother I wouldn’t have time for the long list of things I thought made me me. As it turns out, I didn’t. Motherhood, however, has made me ruthlessly honest about how many of those were things that truly brought me joy….

Motherhood has a way of changing what is important, Weaver admits. “So yes, there have been sacrifices. Along the way, though, life sneakily reprioritized itself so that the changes I feared don’t feel so important after all. I do love my child more than I ever thought possible, and it is an honor to be his mother.”  I find Weaver’s comments to be refreshingly honest. She is well aware of the things that she gave up to become a mother and she finds that being a mother is worth far more than what she could have done instead. Indeed, she has come to a place where she wonders how much time she was wasting on things that did not—and do not—matter. In thinking back to the minutes she “squandered pre-children” Weaver wonders, “How is it that I didn’t train for an Iron Man, cure cancer, and write a heavily footnoted historical novel?” I am not sure, of course, but I think it is fair to say that she would not now give up being a mother in order to do any of those things. Could Michelle Obama have won dozens or court cases, been a successful politician herself, or written more best-selling books had she not become a mother? Who knows. Probably. But I do not think that she would give up Sasha and Malia to do that.

In fact, I think just the opposite. Last July, when Megan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, had a baby, USA Today ran an article highlighting Obama’s “best quotes on motherhood.” Obama told Markle, “When Malia and Sasha were newborns, Barack and I could lose hours just watching them sleep. We loved to listen to the little sounds they’d make – especially the way they cooed when they were deep into dreaming.” I do not know of a parent who cannot remember the sheer pleasure of watching a newborn sleeping. “Savor it all,” Obama said.

In a 2015 commencement address at Tuskegee University Obama said,

I love our daughters more than anything in the world ― more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league-educated lawyer, it is truly who I am. So for me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one.

That does not sound like a mother who resents the sacrifices that she made or the aspirations that she gave up to become a mother. Far from criticizing her honesty, then, let’s express admiration and appreciation to Michelle Obama for the choice that she made to be a mother. We do not have to agree with everything that she has done or said or everything that she stands for. We do not even have to like her. But she made the conscious choice to put her own aspirations aside in order to be a mother.

Whether they have ever said it so clearly or bluntly as Michelle Obama, every mother made a similar decision. And every one of us who is alive owes our lives to mothers who made that decision. So, thank you, Mrs. Obama. And Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Photo credit: EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics / Shutterstock.com

Profiles of Tyranny – Lori Lightfoot

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has perhaps not has as much national media attention as Bill de Blasio in New York City, but she has stepped gleefully into the role of tyrant none the less.

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order that began on March 21. It was originally to run through April 7, but it was extended to April 30 on March 31. When NBC Chicago reported on Pritzker’s original order it also quoted Lightfoot as saying, “I want to say to be clear, this is not a lockdown, it’s not martial law.” She said that grocery stores would remain open and stocked and no one needed to change their shopping habits or hoard anything. At the same time, though, Lightfoot shut down the city’s parks and libraries.

An Associated Press report on April 11 quoted Lightfoot saying of people who had gone to Chicago parks and trails during a day of 70-degree weather, “Your conduct — yours — is posing a direct threat to our public health.” Lightfoot reported that she has personally ordered groups of people outside in one Chicago neighborhood to “break it up” and said, “I mean what I say. We have to protect ourselves. We have to be smart about what we’re doing in the course of this pandemic. And if it means that I drive around and check whether or not people are in compliance, I am happy to do it.”

Around that same time Lightfoot was announcing to national media that COVID-19 was killing a disproportionate number of African Americans because, in her words, “In many of our African-American households, they don’t have three, four floors where they can separate themselves.” She told PBS News reporter Yamiche Alcindor that she was 100% right in suggesting that social distancing is a privilege for some and that, nationwide, African Americans are more likely to have to take public transportation and less likely to be able to work from home. She told Alcindor that data on the racial breakdown of COVID-19 deaths was “absolutely essential.” I am not sure what racial data has to do with combating COVID-19, but since Mayor Lightfoot thinks it matters I would like to remind her that the rate of abortions among African Americans is nearly three times higher than it is among Caucasian women according to the Guttmacher Institute. It is true, according to the website blackdemographics.com, that the percentage of African American COVID-19 deaths is higher than the African American percentage of the state population in a number of states. But it is also true that it is lower than the population percentage in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington and is exactly the same in New Jersey. According to APM Research lab, African Americans do have a disproportionate percentage of COVID-19 deaths overall, but in Texas, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Washington, Idaho and Colorado Caucasians are dying at disproportionate rates, in Alaska, Oregon, California and Vermont Asians are and in New York, New Hampshire and Missouri Latinos are.

Interestingly, just yesterday the Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Four weeks ago, Latinos comprised 14 percent of Chicago’s coronavirus cases and 9 percent of the deaths. Now, it’s 37 percent of the cases and 25 percent of the deaths — in a city where 29 percent of the population is Hispanic.” How did Lightfoot respond? She “expanded the scope of the ‘racial equity rapid response teams’ first created to address the spike in cases among Chicago’s African American residents.” I think the fact that there even is such a thing as “racial equity rapid response teams” speaks for itself. COVID-19 is a big enough mess already without trying to make it a racial issue, but Lightfoot couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “There are consequences of the president’s hateful, xenophobic demonization of this community,” she said, insisting that President Trump’s position in immigrants was responsible for the surge in Latino cases.

On May 3, the AP reported Lightfoot as “warning decisive actions will be taken against city residents who flout Illinois’ stay at home order by holding house parties.” The day before, Amanda Vinicky, of WTTW News, had provided more detail, reporting that Lightfoot had complained of the lack of compliance with Chicago’s restrictions, saying of them, “Your actions are going to make a difference whether we get out sooner than later. Whether we have a summer or not. I’m not going to allow any individuals to upend the progress that we’ve made.”

Indeed, Lightfoot had said on May 2, regarding people having parties,

We will shut you down. We will cite you and if we need to, we will arrest you and we will take you to jail. Period. Don’t make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and you refuse to do what is necessary to save lives in this city during a pandemic we will take you to jail, period.

She added, “We are watching.” Then Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said that the CPD would “be on the lookout for gatherings large and small.” He continued, “Don’t leave your house unless absolutely necessary. Don’t invite people over either. Chicagoans have done too much good thus far to risk a spike in cases of this deadly virus.”

Of course, what good the restrictions have done and what progress has been made is unclear. Last weekend Chicago passed 1,000 COVID-related deaths. The Chicago Tribune reported that Lightfoot said at that time that the city had made only “slight progress” in dealing with the virus. If you look at the reports of numbers in Illinois as a whole and Chicago specifically, there is virtually no evidence that the city’s strict shut down orders have made any difference.

Some folks are starting to notice the use of power and accompanying lack of success. Many people are willing to abide a temporary excessive use of authority when it proves to be beneficial, but Lightfoot is not showing any results. So unhappy with Lightfoot’s use of power during her COVID response that, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, “City Council’s budget chair has convened a working group of rivals to meet weekly and keep an eye on COVID-related spending.”

Oh, and by the way… Lightfoot might not mind patrolling the streets to yell at everyone else to get inside, but she doesn’t seem to think the restrictions she has placed on others apply to her. In April she got a haircut from a stylist despite the fact that Governor Pritzker’s state-wide order shut down salons and barbershops. When Lightfoot faced criticism for her choice she did not back down or acknowledge a lapse in judgment. Instead, she whipped out the “I’m more important than you” card, explaining, “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.”

Maybe so, Mayor Lightfoot. But don’t be surprised if the voters of Chicago decide they want a different “public face” next time they go to the mayoral polls.

 

 

Photo credit: lightfootforchicago.com/about-lori/

Profiles of Tyranny: Ralph Northam

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Gov. Ralph Northam

Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, put a Stay at Home order in place on March 24. It is currently set to remain in place until June 10. That’s not a typo. June 10 at 11:59 p.m.

Virginia’s state web site has a FAQ regarding the order and one of the questions is, “Can I leave my house?” First of all, can we just pause a moment to reflect on how ridiculous it is that this would even be a frequently asked question anywhere in the United States? But here’s the answer:

Yes. However, Governor Northam is urging Virginians to limit all non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible. If you choose to go to the park, for a walk, or exercise outside, please practice strict social distancing and keep six feet apart from others. All public and private gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

There are obvious problems with this answer. “If and when possible” it says. Who gets to decide that? The answer assumes that people—at least some people—will choose to go to the park or take a walk. Is that considered essential travel? If so, why is that and not many other things that someone might choose to do? Northam’s order required state parks to close visitor centers and required privately-owned campgrounds to stop accepting reservations of less than 14 nights. So outdoor exercise, and even hiking, is okay, but going to a visitor’s center or going camping is not.

And notice that Northam’s order bans all private and public gatherings of more than 10 people. That includes religious services. The FAQ states that people may drive to their places of worship and participate in services from within their vehicles, but absolutely must remain in their vehicles other than to use the restroom. “There must be no more than 10 individuals leading the religious ceremony or functioning outside of the church in support of the religious ceremony,” the FAQ states.

I have already addressed elsewhere the myriad reasons why such restrictions on religious worship is unconstitutional, and the courts are beginning to rule accordingly. One pastor in Virginia was given a criminal citation for holding a Palm Sunday service with sixteen people present. And while a judge denied the church’s petition for a restraining order, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest supporting the church. The church observed social distancing, the Justice Department said, and the state “cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings.”

Like others, Northam has encouraged citizens to report violations of his order. The FAQ states, “You may wish to report this information to your local law enforcement agency,” in response to the question of what should be done if people are observed violating the order. This is despite the fact that back in March, Northam urged Virginia’s law enforcement officials to make every effort to avoid making arrests and to find alternatives to putting people in jail. Is it just me, or should it be normal protocol to pursue options other than jailing people when such options are viable alternatives?

Northam’s March 25 order states, “This Order does not apply to the full suite of family planning services and procedures nor to treatment for patients with emergency or urgent needs.” That, of course, means abortion is not restricted. This is despite the fact that the state’s FAQ says, “Non-essential medical care like eye exams, teeth cleaning, and elective procedures should be cancelled or rescheduled. Non-urgent medical appointments should be cancelled or held via telehealth.” You caught that, right? Abortion is not considered an elective procedure.

In fact, not only did Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions not limit abortion, he signed a bill on April 10—in the middle of the COVID-19 shut down, eliminating the state’s mandate that a woman receive an ultrasound within 24-hours before getting an abortion and allowing nurse practitioners who are jointly licensed by the Board of Medicine and Board of Nursing to perform first-trimester abortions. In a statement issued upon signing the bill, Northam said, “No more will legislators in Richmond—most of whom are men—be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies.”

Wow.

First of all, since when do the characteristics of a legislator have anything to do with their ability to pass laws? Does this mean that African-American legislators should not be allowed to support or pass bills that impact Caucasians? Does it mean that legislators under 40 cannot pass laws that apply to senior citizens? Does it mean that heterosexual legislators cannot initiate legislation that will have an effect on homosexuals? The very notion is, of course, absurd.

Secondly, would someone mind telling Ralph Northam that it is just plain silly to tout the idea that elected men in Richmond will no longer be telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies while Mr. Northam is simultaneously telling people what they can and cannot do with their bodies, businesses what they can and cannot do with their stores and their employees, health care providers what they can and cannot do with their patients, schools what they can and cannot do with the patients, churches what they can and cannot do with their parishioners… You get the idea.

See, it’s not that Northam doesn’t want anyone to be able to tell other people what they can and cannot do, it’s just that he wants to be the one doing the telling.

 

Photo credit: Gov. Northam’s Twitter @GovernorVA

Profiles of Tyranny: Bill de Blasio

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Mayor Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City and former Democratic presidential candidate, has done such a poor job handling the COVID-19 pandemic that liberal news magazine The Atlantic ran an article about him on April 6 entitled “The Mayor Who Can’t Rise to the Occasion.” In that article, Alexander Nazaryan says that de Blasio seems irritated about having to deal with the coronavirus and “has indicated that irritation with the subtlety of a Times Square advertisement” and that “he has evinced no passion for New Yorkers, or New York.”

Of course, much of that article, and a March 26 column in the Intelligencer headlined “When New York Needed Him Most, Bill de Blasio Had His Worst Week As Mayor,” both focus on de Blasio not doing enough, soon enough, to combat COVID-19. If you were frustrated or upset by de Blasio’s early reluctance to take tyrannical measures in New York City, then you must be delighted by the way he has made up for it since then.

On March 27 de Blasio held a press conference in which he outlined all of the steps that would be taken to combat the spread of the virus. You can read a complete transcript of the press conference if you’d like, but about twenty-three minutes into it he begins to address religious gatherings. De Blasio commended religious leaders for taking steps to minimize risk and for going to online services when they were able to do so, but then transitioned to threat mode: “I want to say to all those who are preparing the potential of religious services this weekend, if you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.” He wasn’t finished, though. Saying that in-person religious services were to cease wasn’t yet unconstitutional enough for him, apparently, as he decided to go all the way, adding,

So, the NYPD, Fire Department, Buildings Department, everyone has been instructed that if they see worship services going on, they will go to the officials of that congregation, they’ll inform them they need to stop the services and disperse. If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.

The reaction to that was swift and widespread. Kristin Waggoner, writing in the Daily News, said that de Blasio needed to apologize and clarify if his “threat was a careless exaggeration,” and that if it was not an exaggeration “his threat was both cruel and unconstitutional.” One might expect that response from Waggoner, though, since she is the senior vice president for Alliance Defending Freedom and was the lead counsel for Jack Phillips and the Masterpiece Cakeshop. Another conservative organization, the First Liberty Institute, “said de Blasio’s statement crossed the line from protecting people in a pandemic to totalitarian action against churches and religious institutions,” according to an article on RealClear Politics. Terry Firma, on The Friendly Atheist, said “good on him” to de Blasio’s bluster because, according to Firma, “Too many religious people apparently believe that their faith should excuse them from any responsibility for the health and well-being of their fellow citizens.” One might excuse an atheist for not knowing that that is actually the very opposite of what many “religious people” are taught within their faith. I would love to tell you that even some Democrats spoke out against de Blasio’s dictatorial statement, but I have been unable to find any examples.

Fast forward a few weeks and de Blasio stepped it up another notch. Following the example of Eric Garcetti, de Blasio announced via Twitter on April 18 that New Yorkers could help ensure compliance with social distancing orders. Reporting is simple: “just snap a photo and text it to 311-692,” the tweet read. Not surprisingly, the number was inundated with texts and pictures—many of them inappropriate and/or expressing opposition to the encouragement to spy on one another.

In between the threat to permanently close churches and synagogues and his exhortation for New Yorkers to become government snoops, de Blasio urged President Trump to deploy the military to address the pandemic and he signed an executive order the NYPD and the Sheriff’s Department the authority to seize unused medical equipment. According to NYC, the “official website of the City of New York” de Blasio called, on April 2, for “the federal government to institute an essential draft of all private medical personnel to help in the fight against COVID-19.” Writing of de Blasio’s draft proposal, J.D. Tuccille wrote, “Bill de Blasio isn’t alone as a government official who sees in the crisis an opportunity to go full commissar.”

For his asserted conviction that he has the right to permanently close churches and synagogues, that he has the right to order the seizure of medical equipment, that medical personnel should be assigned to his fiefdom and his encouragement for New Yorkers to snitch on one another, Bill de Blasio is the second selection for my Profiles of Tyranny series.

 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr