Posts Tagged ‘Eric Garner’

Letter From New York 01 19 15 Thoughts on MLK Day…

January 19, 2015

The sun is setting in New York City, the world outside turning grey and dark. I am back at the apartment for the first time in a week, settling in for a few days in the city.

It is Martin Luther King Day and I came into the city to have lunch with my old friend Kevin, as well as John, his traveling companion. It was a long, leisurely lunch at one of my favorite spots, the café above the Fairway Market on 74th and Broadway.

After lunch, not quite finished visiting, we went to the Starbucks across the street, where I have always found a seat but today it was crammed to the gills and we wandered into the Viand Café across the street. Kevin wasn’t surprised it was full – after all, it was a holiday.

And, yes, it is, a holiday set aside to remember one of the most remarkable men of the 20th Century. As I was sitting, thinking about what I might do for today’s blog, I found myself back in 1968 when I was a teenager and heard that Martin Luther King was dead. I don’t remember where I was, exactly, as I did when JFK was shot but I remember the dread I felt when I heard he was dead.

As I felt when JFK was shot, as I felt when RFK was assassinated, I felt something good had gone out of the world, forcibly and wrongly and before his time. For all the ‘60’s were a swinging time, they also were dark and violent, a time when all our best hopes seem to be taken from us by madmen with guns.

Today in Mobile, hundreds marched; in Philadelphia, there were thousands. The last Freedom Train ran today, sold out, in California.

It is nearly fifty years since his death but Martin Luther King stands as an example for us all. As I was thinking about what to write today, I read an article on The Daily Kos about the real legacy of Martin Luther King. This writer posited that what MLK really did was to end the terror of living in the South, that by facing and experiencing their worst fears, black men and women learned to live without fear.

Not only did he give great speeches and lead marches, he led men and women to an interior place they had never known.

The world in which he grew up is nearly incomprehensible to me. I never experienced it. I barely knew anyone of color. In my Catholic boys high school, there was one African-American, and two Asians out of 1600. Of those, only one graduated with us, one of the Asians. We had no neighbors of color. I lived in a very white bread world and didn’t even realize it until I was older.

But growing up, I was aware of the sea change that was coming to the country. On the nightly news there were the horrific scenes of human beings being bashed and sprayed by water hoses.

Television made it impossible to hide the reality of what was happening, contributing to changes. The whole world was changing before my young eyes. Viet Nam was the first war that was televised and hundreds of thousands marched against that. There was a feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.

Civil rights were part of the changes being wrought.

Today’s march in Philadelphia found many carrying signs that said: Black Lives Matter. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have called into question how far we actually have come. The questions of fifty years ago still have to be asked it seems.

We have come a long way. We still have a ways to go.

It is right to pay honor to Martin Luther King and the best way of paying honor is to continue to work to achieve his goals. His dream has been partly realized. Let us hope the next fifty years sees the completion of that dream, with hopes it will not take so long.

Letter From New York 12 29 14 Solace in the countryside…

December 29, 2014

Yesterday was a chill, dark, grey, desolate sort of day; so dark it required lights to be turned on in the house early in the day. My mood seemed to match the day and I had to forcibly choose not to be as gloomy as the day.

It had been my intention when I got up in the morning to get myself to church but I dawdled too much and my window of opportunity closed. I simply didn’t feel motivated to move.

The day brightened when my neighbors, the Karics, phoned and invited me as well as Lionel and Pierre over for “wine and nibbles” at 6:30. Jim and Pat have the loveliest home on the block and set out a feast of nibbles and we chatted late into the evening, about all manner of things.

This morning there is a bit of blue in the sky but the early morning sudden sun is now hidden behind clouds. I have an agenda of things to do today, one of which is find a birthday present for Pierre. He turns thirty today.

This is an interesting time, this week between Christmas and New Year’s. Many offices are closed or people have taken the time off of work. It feels like a time poised between events, a slow moving week of rest and relaxation.

The NY Times had a breakdown of what Mr. Obama has been doing on his vacation in Hawaii, golfing six times and bowling once. He played golf with the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who is now home and having what must be a terrible time as another airliner has gone down in the region and is probably at the bottom of the ocean. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are all involved in what might be a hopeless search. The United States is on alert to help if requested.

Ah, the sun has come out and is casting a golden glow across the landscape out the windows where I am writing. My stand of trees glistens in the light. Squirrels are romping across the gravel drive, looking, it appears, for crumbs. It is another day in the country.

It is so peaceful here, in my little corner of the world. I know that the world out beyond ii is not peaceful but I find respite and solace in the quiet of my world.

Twenty thousand strong was the crowd that came out to say good-bye to Officer Ramos, shot down execution style in New York last week. Many of the police officers turned their backs on Mayor DeBlasio as he gave the eulogy. They blame him for having encouraged protests to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two black men killed by police officers earlier this year in separate parts of the country, one in Missouri and one on Staten Island, here in New York. The man who killed Officer Ramos and his partner said they were revenge killings.

The NY Times, which I check every morning on my iPhone, is full of things that are sobering. It always is. The world is a sobering place every morning and every morning this fall that I have been at the cottage, I find my solace in the rhythms of nature as reflected in my yard.

Letter From New York 12 21 14 Io, Saturnalia!

December 21, 2014

There was a light dusting of snow when I woke this morning, just enough to return a little Christmas magic to the countryside. It was a usual morning for me, coffee and the NY Times and some household chores. Right now I am doing a load of napkins in the washing machine so I have an ample supply for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners.

Things have been organized to go to the cleaners including a couple of tablecloths that need pressing to bring them up to Holiday snuff. Recipes are scattered across the dining room table to put together the shopping lists for the next few days. Everything is humming along.

Household cleaning is scheduled for Tuesday and the marathon of quiche making will happen later today and tomorrow. Marcel, Lionel and Pierre’s poodle, is sleeping on the settee by the front door, quietly waiting for them to come back from church. Jazz versions of Christmas carols play on Pandora.

It’s a pretty good day at the cottage, a soft, sleepy sort of day.

While wanting to shut the world out this morning, I didn’t do it. The NY Times beckoned to me too much and I curled in bed with coffee and my iPad to read the major stories of the day.

They’re not very Christmasy.

A man who had posted on social media that he was out to kill some policemen gunned down two police officers in Brooklyn in an execution style killing. He had just shot his girlfriend in the stomach, who will live. He headed to New York from Maryland and had committed the murders by the time the warnings came to be watching for him had arrived. He said they were retribution for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. He then committed suicide in a subway station.

Kim Jung-un, the North Korean dictator, is threatening us. I’m not sure exactly what he’s threatening us with but he is threatening us. He’s not happy the United States doesn’t want to take him up on the offer of a joint investigation of the Sony hack. So he is threatening us with mighty mischief.

So, the world is still a pretty bleak place out there but Christmas is arriving and thoughts of the Holiday fill the world. Thank goodness!

“Io Saturnalia!” used to be the greeting that filled Roman streets during the weeklong festival they celebrated in the middle of winter, starting around December 17th. They exchanged presents and ate and drank to excess. Sound familiar? Christians co-opted the festival in the 4th Century AD, turning it in to Christmas. Since some Christian historians believe that Christ was actually born in the spring, early Christians moved the date up to coincide with the popular Saturnalia.

Our Puritan forefathers didn’t celebrate Christmas. Apparently you could get in a lot of trouble with them if you had any parties around December 25th. It was a very naughty thing to do.

But the Puritans couldn’t hold down a good party; Christmas became legalized in the 1680’s and America was off and running in making this Holiday uniquely its own. It was a frenzy of gift giving, not to everyone’s appreciation. People were lamenting the commercialization of Christmas back in 1904. People have been lamenting that ever since.

This year I have pulled back some and focused on a few good friends and relatives. I make quiches for other friends and my neighbors. It feels good to be simpler this year. It feels good to be giving presents from my kitchen.

There was, of course, splurging on a few people. For them, I managed, I think, to find things for them that would both be useful and, hopefully, treasured in years to come.

I’d like to think my Christmas gifts would speak to the recipients in years to come, fostering enjoyment and recollection even when I am not present in person.

Letter From New York December 5, 2014 Repeal Day

December 5, 2014

Do you know what day it is today? Well, it’s December 5th and today is the day in 1934 that Prohibition was repealed. The Great Experiment was declared a failure and Utah became the state that triggered repeal though you couldn’t drink in Mississippi until 1966.

The Roaring ‘20’s, fueled by bathtub gin, had long since faded into the Great Depression and it was time for America to have a break. Brother, can you spare a beer?

So today is Repeal Day and there is a Repeal Day Cocktail Conference happening and I guess I will toast Repeal Day when I sit down for dinner tonight. It will be a bit of a celebration and I will mark it on my calendar for future years.

What I won’t be celebrating but will be acknowledging are the myriad protests that are being conducted regarding the failure of the Grand Jury to indict the police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

Two hundred some were arrested last night in New York and a photo of a spontaneous protest in Grand Central went viral. People began to lie down in the main hall until there were several hundred, imaging the death scene of Eric Garner.

In Phoenix there were marches because an unarmed black man was shot down there. Eric Holder went to Cincinnati to announce the results of a two year study of police there that didn’t portray them well; excessive force was one of the faults found with them.

It was said at one point that the election of Obama was going to usher in a post-racial era. It hasn’t and of late it has seemed the drumbeat of police violence against minorities has, if anything, increased.

The Mayor of New York, DeBlasio, is walking a fine line in being sympathetic to the protestors while being supportive of the police. It’s a tightrope.

But perhaps it is more than minorities. A white acquaintance was mugged on the Upper West Side a week ago and claimed the police treated him very badly when he reported the incident. His take from what he’s heard is that the police are intimidating folks so they don’t make reports so the crime statistics go up. They’re very down this year in the five boroughs, on the way to a record year of lows in most kinds of crime.

But the incidents of police violence towards minorities feels like it is on the upswing because of the high profile nature of Eric Garner’s death and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And they put a pall across the land. Putin’s Russia is having a field day with the stories as I’m sure are other countries less friendly to us. China, too, may be having a day with the stories. We lecture them regularly on human rights.

So while tonight I will be toasting Repeal Day, where we were freed from the yoke of Prohibition, I will not be raising a glass to law enforcement. I will do that on a day when there is a swing in relations and we feel that all are treated the same, regardless of color.

Letter From New York Dec 4 2014 An Attitude of Gratitude

December 4, 2014

Today I am in the apartment in New York, the afternoon sun is pouring in as it begins to shift to the west, slowly setting. I attended a Holiday gathering in the city last night at the Upper West Side of my friends, the Foxes. They live in an elegant, classic old apartment in New York with spacious rooms and tall ceilings. Doubling as an art gallery, walls are adorned with modern works by up and coming artists. It was the perfect setting for a city party.

The room was filled with young people, middle-aged ones and those of us who are departing middle age for the third act of life. One of the young ladies serving will soon be on the boards on Broadway, having landed her first role in a Broadway production. Two of the Fox’s sons chatted with their friends and their parents’ friends, both are artistic in nature.

There must have been a hundred people crammed into the apartment, jostling each other while sipping wine or champagne or eating the mountain of shrimp from the dining room table. The party started at six; I arrived about seven with barely enough room to hang my coat.

Shortly after my arrival, I contemplated my departure. I’m not good in crowded situations, especially if playing the guest, not the host. I wanted to be sure I said hello to my hosts before slipping away but before I could do that, I found a moment of calm in the office, a space undiscovered by the hordes. Sitting there was a young man named David and we started chatting, the icebreaker being – wasn’t it good to find a spot where one could breathe? We chatted; he was an actor now transitioning to becoming a director. Seemed to be doing rather well with that; he’s assistant director on a couple of Broadway shows.

When he left, others filtered into the room, seeking respite. The room became a kind of mini-party. A bottle of wine found its way to us and we started a philosophical conversation on the power of gratitude.

One man, a hair dresser to the blue haired ladies who lunch and who sport classic old line names like DuPont, stated that every day he was grateful for what he had and was able to do that day. And he was grateful to God. Another member of the conversation, a retired Wall Street banker, declared his atheism but also said he was grateful, if not to God, per se. I chimed in and called what they were talking about as the attitude to gratitude. We all agreed that gratitude helped us psychologically, whether or not that gratitude was directed toward God.

As the party ended, I was invited to stay on for dinner. We ordered in Indian from our favorite local place and when it arrived sat down around the now cleared dining room table and chatted, six of us in total: the Foxes, three overnight guests and me.

We were a lively crowd with lively chatter amongst us; subjects ranged from travel in India [several of us had], to where we would like to go in the future, to the jewelry made by Tina, one of the six.

Inevitably, the subject came up of the decision that had been announced earlier in the day that the police officer involved in the Eric Garner chokehold death would not be indicted. The room was filled with deep concern about it and a sense of frustration. Were police immune in deaths of minorities in America? Following on the lack of an indictment against Darren Wilson in Ferguson it might seem to be that way. There was no conclusion; no dining room indictment but there was concern.

The concern spilled over into the streets last night, mostly peacefully. Some were arrested but on minor charges. Crowds marched up the West Side Highway, chanting: We can’t breathe! We can’t breathe! I can’t breathe being the last words of Eric Garner.

There was an attempt to disrupt the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center but that wasn’t going to happen – the police were well prepared for that, causing someone to tweet that the police were protecting the tree better than they did Eric Garner.

The Ferguson tragedy was one scene in the play of race tension in America, the Eric Garner case another.

This morning, running late to an appointment, I hailed a livery service. I asked the driver, a white man, and immigrant by his accent, how he was today? He shook his head, “I just worry about justice in this country.”

And that summed up how all of us had felt at dinner, worried about justice in this country. Two incidents, added to other incidents, caused us to ponder whether justice had a level playing field, not just between races but also between social classes, between the mentally ill and the healthy, between “the other” and ourselves.

Texas will perhaps execute tonight a man who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, who defended himself and called as witnesses, among some 200, the Pope and John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of people and dozens of organizations cry for clemency for a man they see as mentally sick. Probably their cries will not be heard tonight in Texas.

As one who attempts to practice the attitude of gratitude, I hope that one day I can be grateful that concern over justice in this country has abated.