Trouble in Ferguson City? I’m Shocked. Shocked I Am.

I’m not sure there could be more bizarre news in America than the news that Lawrence O’Donnell reported the other night — that the Assistant District Attorney read the wrong law to the Grand Jury as the standard by which they were supposed to measure things. The law that she showed them said that “legitimate force” includes shooting a suspect from behind if they are fleeing. That particular version of the law was written years before and found unconstitutional. Would they have found him guilty on the other standard? We will never know.
That right — and the right to justice for the family — was removed right then. I don’t know much about law, but isn’t it unethical or unprofessional to give the Grand Jury the wrong instructions? That woman should be fired. Whether she is or not doesn’t matter. Michael Brown’s family will never get justice.

OK, as if that’s not bizarre enough, there are reports that Darren Wilson left the scene with evidence, washed off his gun, and came back? Then the fact that no less than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia weighted in on the case and said the Grand Jury did what Grand Juries are supposed to not do — try the case. Then, Officer Wilson got to testify before the Grand Jury? That his superiors spent time with evidence? That another policeman didn’t take notes of an interview? Does anyone else hear “systemic coverup”?

I want to believe in the system. I want to believe that the right people did the right things and the right verdict came out — whatever that is. But that is not what happened. What happened is that the wrong people asked the wrong people to do the wrong thing and come up with a correct answer. They did what they were told to do, and not surprisingly, they came up with an answer that had nothing to do with justice. There are two choices here: 1) The authorities didn’t know it was wrong, and are thus incompetent or 2) the authorities knew what they were doing, and did it intentionally, in which case they are corrupt.

Because there are so many parts to this, actual justice — or at least the justice that White people normally get — won’t happen. Once again, African-Americans live in a parallel universe, segregated from the rights promised them by the Constitution.

Make no mistake, there is method to the madness. In my work as a therapist, I have come to realize that when people are stuck fighting about reality nothing can change, and nothingwill.

Whether a bi-product of, or an actual intended consequence, this is what happens. Michael Brown’s death is a loss in the war that is the quest for racial justice/equality. We will continue to remain stuck if we continue to argue about the reality of his case. Ferguson must become a lost skirmish for now. It may need to become a sidetrack that we can return to at a later date.

In the meantime, we need to get back to learning how these things happen. Then we need to do something different. We must look in the nooks and crannies of hiring and election and diversity and how we treat each other and how and why we give respect and authority. Mostly we need to look in our hearts, and teach others to do the same.

THIS just isn’t working.

Peace,

John

Conflict Resolution and Ferguson — The Good News

As a therapist, I can tell when a couple is doing well and when they are not. When both people act like jerks to each other and say, “We’re great”, I can see that they are not. When both people act lovingly and say “we’re great”, I can agree that they are.

When both parties get angry and let it all out, I see that change is in the air, because all of the real issues are out on the table, all of the false impressions and the true ones are on the table. Misunderstandings come to light and people can find a common language to describe what’s real. Does this always work? Well, to be honest, divorces still happen because once the work becomes clear, some people think it’s too much work to do.

But, more often than not, going from cold rage to warm passion is a good thing and it can lead to good make-up relations in the short-term and — if the work is done, a healthy relationship in the future.

This is what Ferguson has done. We have gone from a cold disrespect and rage to a hot expression of serious anger. “The truth shall set you free, but first it’ll make you miserable”. By the time this is over, we will have been through plenty of misery. But the anger will subside because there’s only so much of Ferguson to burn down and so much anger to go around. NOTE: I am not saying that violence is ever the answer. There are better ways to express anger and it’s easier if it’s done sooner rather than later. But here we are, and violence has already happened and will continue until it doesn’t anymore.

But, after this, White America can never say that they don’t know what Black America thinks or how upset they are. As my friends and I pour through all of this, we define and redefine our words. On this blog alone, we have differentiated between “race hatred“, “racism”, and “systemic racism”. We’re not throwing names at each other, we’re clarifying our version of reality. Black America probably already knows what White America thinks of it, but as both Sean and Bob point out, it’s not as cut-and-dry as that. I hopefully shed light on that thought as well.

Sean wants rationality and I don’t blame him for wanting that. I do, too. I think Bob does, as well. The difference is that I don’t expect rationality from people when there’s this much rage, and I’m aware that there is. So, let this thing burn itself out. It will. At some point, when there’s only cooler heads left, we can understand each other and correct our behavior according to what the other needs, even if we don’t “get it” on a gut level.

Police and administration in Ferguson can see what they did wrong, and what they did right. Protesters can see what they did wrong and what they did right. People will learn what “buttons” not to push, and what kinds of things just appear stupidly horrendous to the other, so as to avoid them. There are good people on the ground in Ferguson — among others, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, I am told. Nobody likes their city being burned to the ground because it is, after all, their city. A client recently told me that “anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will get sick”. Once people realize they are getting sick due to their anger, the chance for real healing exists.

I, for one, am willing to do the work, and I believe my friends are, as well.

Peace,

John

Ferguson, Race, and Police: What Now?

My friend Sean Murphy was right. According to the Grand Jury of Ferguson, MO, Darren Wilson didn’t do anything wrong, or at least criminal. I don’t like the verdict, but if those are the facts, those are the facts.

My African-American train friendĀ  and I were talking about the case and I asked her about “The Talk” with her daughter. I knew that parents had “The Talk” with their sons about interacting with the police, but I didn’t know if they had it with daughters and she assured me that they did. She spoke about what to do when pulled over and where not to go, because African-Americans “stick out” there.

You know we’re going to make a moral out of the story, right? The news will cover it, and people will write on Facebook and Twitter and we’ll all say what it means. What does this case mean, then, for life in America and whether we’re “post-racial”. Should she stop worrying? Should she tell her daughters not to worry?

I have to ask her, but I don’t think she’s going to go for it. Here’s the problem as we discussed it, with my spin on it somewhat. Most normal White people would not do anything as racist as beat someone up or shoot them simply because they were Black. In fact, most normal White people can’t even imagine doing that. Because they wouldn’t do it, and because they don’t experience it, they have a hard time believing it happens. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It just means that it’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been there.

Still, every day as a therapist, I hear about actions that no normal person would ever engage in. Incest, rape, and molestation are a lot more common that anyone can imagine. Drug use and robbery and domestic violence and male rape and … the list goes on. Did these things happen, as my clients maintain? In reality, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I choose to believe them. Why? Because they can’t imagine it happening, either, and they are frequently in shock. I believe them because something happened, because their bodies and their psyches are out-of-whack and they no longer act normally. They have experienced the unimaginable and believing them seems to relieve their misery.

So, Darren Wilson didn’t commit a crime. According to our laws, that’s the fact. Darren Wilson got justice, according to the law. Does that mean that “driving while Black” isn’t a reality? Does it mean that parents don’t have conversations with their children? Does it mean that the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t exist? No, it doesn’t mean any of those things. Does it mean that we don’t need to consider what “appropriate force” is again? Does it mean that laws and consequences aren’t used more harshly against Blacks than Whites? No. It doesn’t mean that either.

Does it mean that we shouldn’t believe Blacks anymore — because of Tawana Brawley and now Michael Brown? Like everything else, we have a choice. We can listen to them and believe them and build friendships and trust or refuse to believe them and watch the divide between us widen. Listening and believing leads to healing. Not listening and not believing leads to a colder world and a divided world, and the fear that everybody’s crazy.

I am convinced that we need to reach across color lines in our day to day lives, that we need to listen and believe what we hear — not stupidly or blindly — but with open minds and hearts. If we do that, we will experience the racism which is so hard to imagine. If we see each other as brothers and sisters to start with, we can experience each others’ cultural experiences. Where we experience pain and the unimaginable, then we can become motivated to change things. Where things turn out to be lies, we have enough of a relationship to cope with it or claim the reality without the rest of the world being impacted.

These are our choices. In whatever stories we hear, this should be the process — 1) listen with an open mind 2) get the reality of the situation 3) make decisions based in the reality of the situation. That has happened in the case of Darren Wilson, as far as we know. Let’s make it so for everybody else in America.

Peace,

John

“Career Creators” vs. “Job Creators” — Education and “Reform” (for Dawn)

I have wanted to write something for my friend Dawn, who is a teacher outside of Boston, for awhile. She posted on Facebook that some new ruling/department decision was making it nearly too hard to do her job. There are two or three things you should know about Dawn — 1) She loves teaching; 2) She’s not a particularly political person; 3) She never complains. In short, she is normal, but unrepresented in the press. She goes through life, raising her kids and her students, whom she sees as “her kids”. She goes to work, does her job, and goes home. She cares about people, wouldn’t rip anybody off because, well, she wouldn’t. She pays her taxes and — though you’ve never heard of her — she makes the world better in her corner of the world.

For the world to lose such a person in such a career would be a terrible waste and a sign that something is wrong. When we make life hard for the average person who isn’t doing anything wrong — and in fact, is doing things right — there’s a problem. When the political among us write and say and do things, we expect backlash. When non-political types start having difficulties, there’s a serious problem.

Education reform is a complicated thing based in a lot of factors, mostly politics and money, test scores, standardization, privatization and unions and/or union busting. Given all of that, it’s hard to understand the situation and I have generally refrained from saying something I don’t actually understand.

Turns out, I know a lot of teachers and I hear from them all about the complex system that causes them pain when, frankly, they’d rather just teach. They teach because they believe in education, they teach because they like kids (on a side note, there are a lot of teachers who don’t like kids and are working out their own issues of control on students — especially inner city ones — but that’s a whole other blog piece) and their kids get smarter because of it. College professors, high school teachers, early-education teachers, elementary teachers, generally teach because they believe in education and creating fully functioning individuals who know things about their world.

Schools where students are overwhelmingly violent are not schools, really, but warehouses until those kids can be let out in into the world and society can say “Good luck!” to them. No teacher should be forced to work in a situation like that and no student should try to learn in a situation like that. So, yes, there are things that parents should be doing in this whole educational process. This is difficult when there’s one parent or when both parents work, so economics again effect things. Aside from that, though, it seems like we’re doing things wrong in schools.

This is what I think is wrong: as in much of America today, we’re too short sighted. The new basic philosophy is that students should be 1) productive and 2) ready for work in the jobs we foresee coming. In short, those “job creators” we pay so much attention to want people to fill those jobs and it’s the educational system’s job to create the people who can do that. Further, they want teachers to prove that they are doing that, so that they can keep their jobs.

Put succinctly, they want education to produce people who know things, not think about things, or create things. I think we’re starting with the wrong premise. we are aiming for people who know what we know about, rather than people who can face anything. I always kind of thought it was stupid to publish lists of careers that people should go into because a) people already know what they like to do and b) if everybody rushes toward those jobs and college takes 7 years, by the time they get there, the job market will have changed and people already in the field will have taken those jobs. Oops.

The best teachers that I know want kids to know things, to think about things, and to creatively face whatever challenges face them. They want kids to learn because they are curious more than anything else, and they see kids as full people who need to know about the world they live in.

I still can’t believe it when I see what my kids are expected to know and do in school and — right or wrong — I go back to my own childhood. Kindergarten was a half a day because kids can’t be expected to produce all day long. They can be expected to play. Our “texts” were “We Read Pictures” and we played with trucks and sand and dolls from 8am to noon.

Later, in elementary school, we learned basic fundamentals by rote. I know that this is not every teachers favorite style of learning, but it worked. I can add, subtract, and multiply in my head to this day I have a fairly good vocabulary. I do believe in learning facts and I think that may have been where the problem was that people felt we needed to reform.

In junior high, aka “Middle School” now, we started developing Selves — figuring out who we were, who we wanted to be and what we were good at. In High School, we began to think about what it all meant. We could learn about atoms in elementary school, figure out that they were cool in junior high, and think about the ways they should be used — or not — in High School. If we wanted to think more or think in depth, we could go to college. If not, we could think on our feet and adjust to life. We were supposed to be “well-rounded individuals”. Out of that, I got an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I got a career or two and a way to decide what to do with my life.

In those days, though, we had recess. We had art, we had music, we had vocational and tech ed. Now, like everybody else in America, we want our children to do more with less. We take away art as not “practical enough”, we take away music as “not practical or productive enough”, we de-fund programs for hands-on learners and then we test them about what they know.

Brains don’t function that way, though. Music and beauty and fun and time to think and time to play are all important to learning, and they make the difference between smart people and wise people. It’s like an orange and orange juice are better for because of things that are in the peel than reduced to their core, processed, and put in a can. It’s the whole thing that makes it work, not just the obvious, and not minus the obvious. (Orange peel is no substitute for a whole orange, and it doesn’t make much juice).

We should educate kids as they are, and we should let teachers teach to kids as they are. They know how to teach. They know what it takes to make wise, well-rounded adults. The Powers That Be won’t let them do that. They have different goals in mind.

Kids coming out of the way of education I experienced have careers, not jobs. They have callings, not an 8 hour day. They create new industries, rather than jobs for the old ones. Let Dawn and all the teachers like her do their job. Fund education, let kids be kids, and let them use their whole Self. It might make things messier, but it’ll be a whole lot more useful.

Peace,

John