Posts Tagged ‘Ferguson’

Letter From New York 11 16 2015 From Paris to Beirut to Minneapolis…

November 16, 2015

Hudson River. Hudson Valley. Paris attacks. French manhunt. IS. Raqqa. Alabama. Michigan. Minneapolis shooting.  Jamar Clark.  Ferguson. Beirut. Lebanese bombings.

It is Monday and the sun glistens off the Hudson River as I ride south, into the city for a meeting today and a lunch tomorrow and then back north to celebrate my birthday on Wednesday.  Another year has passed, this one having moved past me more quickly than any other year.

My mother said often that time moves more quickly the older you get and it appears that she was right, in this instance.

It is a beautiful day in the Hudson Valley, a day so bright and cheerful it feels as if everything was right everywhere in the world.

Of course, it’s not.  The world is still reeling from the Paris attacks.  A manhunt is on throughout France and Belgium looking for a man believed to be one of the attackers who escaped in the chaos following the shootings and suicide bombings. Many have been arrested and taken into custody. 

A Belgian, now believed to be in Syria, is said to be the mastermind. He is 27 years old.

A video was released, purportedly from IS, saying more Paris style attacks would be coming, specifically naming Washington, DC as a target. Its authenticity is questionable and it does not have the high production values usually associated with IS videos. 

In retaliation, French jets, with help from the US, bombed Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of IS. There were at least twenty sorties.

Muslims across Europe are fearful of more backlash because of this and they are, unfortunately, right.  The Governors of Alabama and Michigan have declared their states are closed to Syrian refugees.

At the same time, Obama is ruling out ground forces against IS.  Hollande says he going to speak with both Obama and Putin in the next few days to discuss the situation.

On Thursday, bombs went off in Lebanon, killing 48.  There was no great outcry or notice until Paris.  Now people are noticing and vigils are being held for the Lebanese victims of IS, too.

France has declared itself at war and Hollande is asking for three months of emergency measures.  The US Military has told service members they are not allowed to go to France on leave.

Obama has declared this is a war on civilization.  It is.

I glide south, seagulls swooping over the river in graceful circles.  A tanker inches southward.  We are nearing the city and it becomes more industrial.

Minneapolis is my hometown. There was a shooting there last night.  A young black man was shot and is, according to his family, brain dead.  Witnesses say he was handcuffed and on the ground when he was shot.  The police report a different story.  Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has gathered in protest and is occupying the lobby of the Police Precinct in North Minneapolis where the shooting took place.

North Minneapolis has long had a reputation as a dangerous place.  When I was in my twenties I worked there in an alternative high school.  One of the students warned me against wearing the expensive watch I had as well as the ring I wore.  People were planning to relieve me of them.

People are asking if Minneapolis is having its “Ferguson” moment.  Hard to think of Minneapolis, my hometown, as a “Ferguson” kind of place.

But violence is everywhere and we are becoming so aware of it.

Letter From Martha’s Vineyard 08 10 15 Absolute peace vs. absolute violence…

August 10, 2015

Edgartown harbor is awash with golden light; boats are moving in both directions in front of me, to and fro, mostly using power rather than sails as the wind is light this afternoon. It’s been a lazy day; without the wind there is no sailing. I spent the morning on the veranda, reading a book, checking a few emails and taking in the breathtaking view.

Later, Jeffrey and I went down to Behind The Bookstore and had lunch, at the same time a rep was in offering wines to the restaurant. I sipped a very good Muscadet and a lovely Mont Gravet. I had a lamb burger and fries, wandering after lunch into the bookstore to pick up a copy of “All The Light You Cannot See” which had been recommended to me by my friend Neva Rae Fox.

Following that, we returned to the veranda, Jeffrey to do a bit of work and for me to write.

Tomorrow I will leave and go back to the cottage, spend a day there and then head down to the city for a couple of days. It is peaceful here; it is peaceful there.

There is not much peace elsewhere.

The one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO was marred by gunshots at the police. Responding, the police shot a man, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris, injuring him critically. He is being treated and has been charged with four counts, including assault on a police officer. Police were pelted with objects; there was another drive-by shooting and St. Louis County has declared a State of Emergency.

In Dubai, an Asian man prevented lifeguards from saving his twenty-year-old daughter when she began to drown. He felt their touch would “defile” her and he would rather her be dead than defiled. He got his way. He was arrested.

Pakistan is wracked by a child abuse scandal in a town near the Indian border. It is alleged a gang of fifteen to twenty men would force children at gunpoint or under the influence of drugs to have sex. They would take videos of them and then blackmail them and/or their families to keep them from being released. If they couldn’t pay, the children were expected to supply another child for abuse. It is estimated in the last years 280 children may have been used by this ring.

It makes me shudder. Yesterday Behind The Bookstore was crawling with children of the age of the abused in Pakistan. All that innocence destroyed.

Bombs have gone off in Afghanistan. That nation’s President blames Pakistan. Two gun-wielding women targeted the US Consulate in Istanbul; one of them was wounded and captured. In various attacks in Turkey, nine have been killed.

Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, a Mexican activist, was found slain in his taxi today. He played a prominent role in the search for the 43 students who have been missing as well as others who have disappeared. There are no suspects at this time.

Two men apparently killed a man and a woman in the cookware department of an Ikea in Sweden, about 100 kilometers from Stockholm.

That’s the sort of day it has been out there in the world. It keeps on with its violence while I sit on the veranda and absorb the peace of Martha’s Vineyard. A sailboat glides by, running on its engine, towing a dingy behind it. It is picture postcard perfect here in Edgartown.

Letter From New York 03 12 15 Some charming and some not so charming things…

March 12, 2015

The sun has been out brilliantly all day and the temperature has been around fifty degrees. Though it has been a bright and cheery day, I have only enjoyed it by sitting at my dining room table while working on the speech I will be giving at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, on March 29th. Since this morning I have been attempting to find a through thread for my remarks. I am speaking at a conference that seems to be largely about robotics and applying engineering and technology to social problems. I suppose that out of all this I can find things to say and to hope the students will ask a lot of questions.

All in all, I’m looking forward to it. As usual, I started the day with coffee and The NY Times. It is a pleasant way to ease myself into the day.

I woke with regret that shut down abruptly this week. It was the other site I posted my blog on, other than WordPress and I consistently got more views there. Now it’s gone. Minutes after I posted my last blog there, I received an e-mail saying: good-bye, we’re done. Good-bye.

Nobody is saying good-bye to the open letter written by the 47 Republican Senators to the leaders of Iran. The normally conservative New York Daily News blasted them as “traitors.” The Ayatollah has slammed them back while continuing to support the Iranian team that is negotiating but he thinks, after the letter, that we are “deceitful and backbiting.” Somewhere between 165,000 and 225,000 people have signed petitions asking they be tried for treason. Germany has piled on, too, more than irked by the Letter of 47.

Nor is anyone saying good-bye to the Clinton email fiasco though it seems quieter out there today. Notable is that not many Democrats are piling on her for the ruckus she has caused and that may be because no one is really contesting her run for the Presidential nomination.

In Ferguson, MO two police officers were shot outside police headquarters, throwing kerosene on the fire that still burns there. Thankfully, while seriously hurt, their lives are not in danger. As resignations from city officials were beginning to tamper down the heat, this only makes it worse.

In Moscow, the rumor mills are spinning wildly as Putin has been visibly absent for the last week, skipping some important dates in his diary. He will not be making a speech this year to the FSB, successor the KGB, as he usually does. He has cancelled trips. All unusual for the macho man, Putin. The rumors run from him being ill to staying put to contain an internal Kremlin power struggle. Shades of the Soviet past.

Boko Haram seems to be in retreat in Nigeria. IS seems to be in retreat in Tikrit.

IS has accepted the allegiance of Boko Haram, they announced today in an audiotape, saying their “Caliphate” had now grown to include the territory held by Boko Haram.

In a new twist to the Nigerian situation, South African mercenaries are fighting alongside Nigerian soldiers. Apparently they have been around now for a while and have had a positive influence in turning the tide though the South African government has said they will be arrested on their return.

Not returned are the three British girls who crossed through Turkey to join IS. It is now being reported that a spy working for one of the coalition countries fighting IS, helped them across the border and is now in Turkish custody.

In much brighter news about something British, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the set of Downton Abbey today, shooting its sixth season at Ealing Studios. She apparently charmed everyone.

Charming, too, is the day I’ve had and now I am prepping to go off to Coyote Flaco to have their fajitas, I think. Then home to sleep and off to the city tomorrow for a few meetings.

Letter From New York 03 11 15 As the sun glints down…

March 11, 2015

As I move north toward Hudson, the sun glitters sharply off the Hudson River, the ice floes seem more diminished and it was nearly sixty degrees in New York City today. On a day that was supposed to be cloudy, the sun has been present in all its yellow glory.

On my way home after several meetings, I will be meeting friends at the Red Dot for dinner tonight and then home to sleep and to work from the cottage tomorrow.

In Ferguson, Missouri, the Chief of Police, Thomas Jackson, has stepped down, following the City Manager yesterday and a judge earlier this week. All of this, of course, is fall out from the report issued by the Justice Department that was harshly critical of the practices of the City of Ferguson, accusing the town of systemic bias against African-Americans.

As I left the Acela Lounge, a report was airing on CNN regarding the apology of a University of Oklahoma student identified as one of the leaders of a fraternity’s racist chant.

In Atlanta, an unarmed black man was killed today, the third unarmed black man to have been killed by officers since Friday. Naked and acting deranged, he was shot by a police officer.

In a story that will keep on giving, Hillary Clinton declared that she used one email for “convenience” and that perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea. No, Hillary, it was not a good idea. As she marches toward the declaration of a run for the Presidency, it seems her opponents are not other members of the party but the media. Her relationship with the media has long been tumultuous and it looks as if it will stay that way.

Moving further north, the ice floes have thickened but it looks like the ice pack of two days ago is beginning to break.

While we hear frequently about the number of foreigners slipping away from their home country to fight with IS, we don’t hear much about Americans who are flying to Iraq to fight IS. Apparently there are a few, mostly veterans who have become dissatisfied with life at home. The US government is actively discouraging this and pushing anti-IS troops in Iraq to keep them away from the front lines. Some have gone across to Syria and join groups there after their battle hopes have been frustrated. Officially, the Pesh Merga says that there are no Americans fighting with them at this point. At one point, they said there were about a hundred.

On the BBC app this morning, I read a heartbreaking story out of China. Apparently there are 20,000 children who are abducted every year in China and then sold online to individuals desperate for a child. It may be that there are as many as 200,000 abducted every year. The man profiled today had his five year old son abducted and has spent years looking for him to no avail. It did not sound as if stopping this was a priority for the authorities.

In Nigeria, approximately 150 children five to seven years of age have been rescued from Boko Haram. They do not remember who they are or where they came from, recalling nothing of the lives they lived before their kidnapping, making it difficult to return them to their families.

The Iraqis are making steady progress in Tikrit while IS set off 21 car bombs in Ramadi, just to remind people of their abilities. Because defenses have been strengthened around Ramadi, the car bombs mostly exploded before they reached their targets.

A member of a Russian Human Rights group has said that one of the suspects in the death of Boris Nemtsov, the anti-Putin activist, probably gave his confession after torture. The activist is facing jail for having spoken out. Ah, the beauty of democracy in Russia.

New York City announced this morning that it will continue its ban on ferrets while in Italy, a young woman is devoting her life to rescuing pigs. She claims, and I have heard from others, that pigs are smarter than cats or dogs.

The train is rolling slowly north and soon I will be back in Hudson and on my way to the Red Dot.

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.

Letter From New York August 19, 2014

August 19, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The sun continues to play hide and seek and it is still unseasonably cool in the Northeast; which makes for beautiful weather. I have called these days “Goldilocks” days, not too warm, not too cool, just right.  And today is one of those “Goldilocks” days.  Clear, sharp shadows splatter the gravel circle in front of the cottage.  It is only in the low 60’s with promises of greater warmth for the day.

I am sipping that incredibly important first coffee of the day after having just perused the headlines of the New York Times on my iPhone.  This is the last of the five consecutive days I have spent at the cottage, lost in the thrall of these “Goldilocks” days, able to feel detached from the world while surrounded by green comfort of the countryside.  While I have been here, events move on and I have viewed them dispassionately for the most part.

Yet, even cosseted in the country, I am not able to ignore events here and abroad.  They feel further away but that is emotional distance not real distance – real distance has been compressed to jet flight hours.  Yesterday a woman on her way to treatment for cancer fell sick in Dubai from what might have been Ebola.  The total death toll from that disease is now above 1200 and mounting with the day.  Those who have sickened but lived to tell the tale are treated with suspicion and fear when they return to their villages.

The fragile Gaza ceasefire seems to have been broken by rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns.  While the tension continues there, anti-semitism is rising in parts of Europe.  In France, Jews are leaving for other countries, many for Israel. In Germany, similar things are happening.  Since the war, a place where Jews have lived, for the most part in peace, there is a sense of shadows falling upon a population that once felt safe.  Hungary has been turning anti-semitic for some time now.  Generally tolerant Italy has seen businesses and synagogues defaced.  There are anti-semitic gatherings in the Netherlands.  Britain is on its way to recording its worst year of anti-semitic incidents in years.  Jews were blamed in Spain for the defeat of Soccer teams. A Belgian doctor refused to treat a Jew for a broken rib.  

Ancient hatreds rise to the surface, it seems, when events scratch away choreographed civility.  And it is shame that civility is choreographed.  Why can’t it be a part of the civil fabric?  Because we have not learned that the “outsider” is not the cause of our troubles?

In Ferguson, MO the National Guard was called out to maintain order.  31 were arrested; unrest continues, fueled by an apparently small number of agitators and outside disruptors.  The wounds of racism have not healed in Ferguson; apparently they were only papered over.  Michael Brown’s death ripped that away and fury erupted.  And it is likely that racism’s wounds still remain to be healed in much of this country.  We’ve come a long way but not as far as we could or should.  If we had, Ferguson might not have happened.



Letter From New York August 17, 2014

August 17, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The sun has been an inconsistent friend these last few days; mostly the days are grey with brief moments of satisfying sun pouring through the trees around the cottage.  

The cottage encourages contemplation.  While I have been here, I have not paid as much attention as I normally do to the world around me.  It has seemed distant, faraway, events of the week feel as if they are taking place on a distant planet. All here is calm, placid, the beat of ordinary life going on peacefully, tranquilly.  An evening passed with neighbors and while we acknowledged the world outside, most of our conversation was about our little world:  the circle where the cottage resides, the little town of Claverack and the big city of Hudson.  We talked of golfing days and high school reunions, of neighbors and local politics.  It was intensely rich.

But not so far away, things are happening, things that are deeply disturbing.  A handbook will be written on what not to do after a police shooting, based on what has happened in Ferguson, MO.  A tragic event spiraled into a chaotic melange of toxic negativity.  Photos showed what has happened with the militarization of police in America.  Awash after 9/11 with funds from the Department of Homeland Security, police departments across the country armed themselves to the teeth but for the most part the country didn’t see it – until Ferguson.  Police officers looking like combat troops stormed through the streets of the town, fueling the flames of rage by their presence.  A mishandled tragedy produced more violence and piled wrong upon wrong.

Protests became riots, protestors devolved into looters.  Patrolling police became riot squads.  Some calm returned when the Ferguson police were replaced by State Troopers.  Last night though, despite a curfew, seven were arrested and one shot, critically.  It will now take a long time for this to heal with hopes that all learn from this series of tragedies.

Tragedies.  Our world is full of tragedies.  In Africa the Boko Haram have now abducted about a hundred men and boys, demonstrating their abilities to cross great swaths of Nigeria with impunity, unhindered by the military.  In neighboring Liberia, the Ebola dead are being abandoned where they lie.  Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are vastly under resourced to cope with the ravages of the disease and it looks to be months before the outbreak is contained.  

Spin the globe and arrive in the cradle of civilization.  American airstrikes have broken the siege of Mount Sinjar, letting the religious minorities there to flee into Kurdish territory or to parts of Iraq not gobbled up by ISIS.  The Kurds will likely get Western Arms to fight ISIS, who have been successfully using the materiel left behind by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.  

Arms and death seem to be how resolutions are being reached.  A fragile cease fire exists this moment between Hamas and Israel, with peace talks ongoing in Cairo.  One set of proposals has already been shot down by Hamas.

It seems difficult to find hope and happiness in all this malaise.

But yesterday, as I was driving, I heard a TED Talk on NPR.  The speaker was saying we humans are hard wired for happiness, that we find ways, despite all, to find happiness in our lives. 

If only we were hard wired for peace.