Do all lives really matter?

When I initially began writing this post, my mind was focused on the justice system.  This week there were two death penalty cases in the news that set my brain cells ablaze in that special way that forces me to burn Google searches like they’re hot dogs on a grill.  These two cases were interesting in their own rights, but they also led me to reading up on disparities in how the death penalty is applied in America.

Just hours before he was supposed to be put to death, Marcellus Williams received a stay of execution from the governor of Missouri.  His stay was granted because there was new evidence involving DNA that could potentially exonerate Williams for the killing of Felicia Gayle in 2001.  The testing was unavailable then, but testing on material on the murder weapon excluded Williams as a possible contributor to the DNA.  It is not something that necessarily means that Williams is innocent, but it does cast doubt on the case put forth by the state.

In the other case, Mark Asay was executed in Florida for the 1988 murder of Robert McDowell and Robert Lee Booker in Jacksonville.  His case piqued my interest because Asay was the very first white person in Florida to be executed for killing a black person since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  In that same time frame, Florida has executed many blacks for killing white people.

Reading that information on the second case mentioned got me to digging for statistics.  I’m not a big fan of capital punishment, so I don’t really follow those cases very well.  I remembered one other “first” in that Henry Francis Hayes was executed on June 6, 1997.  His execution was the first KKK member in the state of Alabama that was convicted and executed for the lynching of a black person.  Through all the decades upon decades of racial violence in my home state of Alabama throughout the 20th Century, the first KKK member who was executed for that violence was put to death at the tail end of the century.  This train of thought led me to this information courtesy of the Washington Post:

Since the death penalty was reintroduced, the number of nonwhite people who’ve been executed has consistently been overrepresented. While most of those who are executed are white, they consistently make up a lower percentage of the population of those put to death than of the country on the whole.

More to the point, most white people who are executed are put to death for killing other white people. Most black people who are executed? Also executed for killing white people.

Credit: Washington Post/Death Penalty Information Center

Credit: Washington Post/Death Penalty Information Center

After reading this, I wondered how someone could utter the words “all lives matter” when our actions as a country disprove this.  On top of what I was finding, we had the rally and death in Charlottesville which compounded things for me.  There’s the new ban on transgender people serving in a volunteer military.  Now, the president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff who was convicted of contempt of court for repeatedly violating the Constitution by targeting people based on their race after courts had ordered him to stop.

Now, if “all lives matter”, wouldn’t we all be protesting to protect the lives of Native Americans?  From CNN in 2014:

In fact, despite the available statistical evidence, most people don’t know that Native Americans are most likely to be killed by police, compared with other racial groups. Native Americans make up about 0.8% of the population, yet account for 1.9% of police killings.

I don’t recall very many people out marching or attempting to shed light on the difficulties faced by Native Americans.  Then again, at about 1% of the total population, many people probably don’t realize they exist beyond the pages of history books.

As much as I thought the justice system was broken, I’ve come to realize that the system operates just as our society does.  Our society does not place equal value on our lives.  We’re all filed away in little neat boxes whether we’re black, white, male, female, old, young, gay, straight, or whatever category is the flavor of the day.  We’ve let those little neat boxes determine the value or worth of people as opposed to people being judged on the content of their character.  If your boxes are of the “good” kind, you have a far easier time in navigating your way through society.  If your boxes are not good, then it basically sucks to be you.

If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be worried about transgender people wearing a uniform of our military.  If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be targeting people as illegal immigrants just because of their complexion.  Furthermore, if all lives mattered, we wouldn’t have the leader of the country telling us through his actions that all lives matter, on many sides…  many sides.  Some just matter more than others.

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Stay strong Texas

I’ve been through a few storms myself from hurricanes to tornadoes and even a blizzard or two.  They are never fun, at least in my opinion.  I’ve never understood why people in coastal areas choose to stare down the barrel of a loaded gun, but for those who decided to stay at home in coastal Texas, I wish you the best.

I would have boarded up and hauled ass myself.  Then again, my first responder designation means that I have to stay to help those who refuse to leave.  I’ve seen the effects of wind and water enough to know that a Category 3 hurricane is not something that I’d purposefully choose to try to ride out.  My life is far more important than any material item whatsoever.

For those outside of Texas, I hope you have full tanks of gas.  Our major refining and gasoline production is sitting in the bullseye, so expect some disruption to the availability of gas for next week.  If the damage is extensive, be prepared to feel some pain for a while.

Edit @ 7:22pm EST

Harvey has increased strength and is now a Category 4 hurricane.  It’s the strongest storm that’s made landfall in more than a decade as America hasn’t felt a direct hit from a major hurricane since 2005.

My prayers goes out to all who are in the pathway of this storm.

Clueless

Can someone please hide Trump’s phone or change his Twitter password?  I guess he does not understand what a solar eclipse is does he?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and the earth, temporarily blocking the light necessary for life itself.  It is only temporary and the sunlight returns to continue the circle of life.

Using the logic of his retweet shown above, Trump is claiming that he is temporarily blocking the life-sustaining light that Obama provided to the world and will move out of the way so that Obama can continue to shine.  In other words, Obama is the light and life giving while Trump is dark and void of life.  SMDH…

I could continue on and on with this, but I imagine that you get the picture.  If anything else, this meme is poking fun of Trump more than it makes him great.  As Trump has posted and retweeted numerous things that have done the same, I doubt that he recognizes how much he demeans himself on social media.

Will someone in DC please fight to save America and destroy that phone or change the Twitter password?  Please???

The president America rightly deserves

I had to take a vacation from writing this summer.  Work was a bit more hectic.  Life in general picked up a bit of speed.  But mostly, I grew sick and tired of President Trump’s ability to suck the oxygen out of the atmosphere and manage to be THE attention whores of all attention whores.  So, instead of posting daily “tributes” to Trump, I unplugged and refocused on my personal well being.  Silly me for thinking that would solve everything.

Love him, hate him, or indifferent towards him, Donald J. Trump IS the president that America rightly deserves now.  In the seven months that he has been in office, he has simultaneously energized and angered the masses.  He has worked hard to change the definition of what’s presidential in terms of actions and behavior.  His administration and governing position is the living, breathing definition of chaos.  And, in my honest opinion, he is the embodiment of the worldwide perception of America, Americans, and Americanism.  He is famous, attention getting, controversial, wealthy*, and arrogant all wrapped up in one package.  *true amount of his wealth is not known

One of numerous political cartoons about Trump. Click to open a Google Image Search to see others.

Trump is what America deserves because we rightfully need to have an open and honest dialogue about who we are and what we stand for.  In the 1940s, our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents went to war against Nazis and the belief of white supremacy abroad while we openly engaged in the same practice at home.  We’ve always considered ourselves to be a society where anyone can achieve that “American dream”, but we’ve continually fed into a political and business class that continually make that dream more impossible to achieve by each passing generation.  We love to tout our society based on freedom that every other country should emulate while constantly fighting to curtail the freedoms of those we don’t agree with.

Based on what we claim to be about vs what we actually practice, America is a fraud.  What better way to perpetrate a fraud than to elect one to run the fraud?

Now, before I get accused of being anti-American, I am not.  I am 100% red-blooded American as it gets.  I work to defend the country of my birth, and I take my oath to defend the Constitution very seriously.  I simply call things as I see it.  America preaches one thing and practices something altogether different.  Sometimes, it is for the better, and sometimes it is not.  It also varies from person to person based on their beliefs and perspectives.  That’s just how life operates.

The reason for me writing this is because of the Charlottesville fiasco.  I’m of the belief that he blew a serious chance to get America into a discussion to heal animosity and racial strife.  I also believe that he did not intend to lead America down that pathway as he showed himself and his beliefs on race in the words he chose.  His history has shown his racial attitudes, and I doubt very seriously that you will get a 71-year-old man to suddenly change now.

That said, this does not prevent the rest of America from engaging in that dialogue on our own.  We don’t need the president, a rabbi, pastor, or even a parent to give us the permission to start that conversation.  We can do it on our own.

At some point, we have to be honest that America was founded on the belief of White Supremacy.  It was written into the Constitution as a compromise to get slave dependent states to ratify it.  White Supremacy drove America’s westward expansion as well as our world expansion of influence as well.  Some people may not agree with that, and that’s their right to do so.  It does not change the history that has already passed.  None of us can change that.  We can only change the future.

Destroying statues and memorials does not erase history.  History is only lost when it is not taught and passed down in its entirety.  We have to learn to love our warts as much as we love our exceptionalism.  We are not a perfect country, and all of our actions in the past were not honorable.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from the past in order to better shape the future.

I’ll go on record as being one that believes the statues and memorials in question still have a relevant place in our society.  They simply do not belong on public grounds or areas where our current government operates.  We do not erect any remembrances to the British, French, Spanish, Mexicans, or Native Americans who previously ruled lands that now belong to America.  We should be the same across the board for all nations.

Private property and museums should be free to display any and all remembrances of their choosing, without controversy, so that we can study and learn from history.  There will always be someone who will feel hurt by such displays.  That is unavoidable.  What we should be doing is ensuring that we understand and empathize with that hurt so that history does not repeat itself.

If we cannot talk openly and honestly with each other about this, then we will never learn the lessons of the past and will continue to repeat them time and time again.

 

The Impermanence of Man

Popeyes Chicken located in Gadsden, AL

I was reading away on the Comey hearing yesterday when a story from my WordPress feed made me stop in my tracks.  In the day to day hustle and bustle of living, we tend to forget how fragile or impermanent life truly is for all of us.  The story in question dealt with an Alabama inmate that was scheduled for execution yesterday.  Additional search revealed that the inmate was indeed executed last night, pronounced dead at 10:27 CST.

This isn’t an essay over whether the death penalty is right or wrong.  This is a reflection upon life itself, and I’ll explain.  Here’s how the story began on April 15, 1994.

GADSDEN, Ala. — Three employees of a fast-food restaurant were herded into a walk-in cooler and shot to death early Saturday, police said. A fourth worker, wounded and left for dead, crawled to a phone and called police.

Less than two hours later, police arrested two people and charged them with capital murder. One of the suspects had been fired Monday from the Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken restaurant, police Capt. Jimmie Flanagan said.

Cuhuatemoc Peraita, 17, and Robert Bryant Melson, 22, were arrested in an auto that was stopped by police in nearby Rainbow City, Ala. Peraita reportedly had been fired for excessive absenteeism, police said.

Flanagan said robbery was the apparent motive. “Money was taken and recovered,” he said. He did not disclose the amount.

Officials said Peraita was being charged as an adult under a state law signed Thursday by Gov. Jim Folsom, which allows authorities to execute people as young as 16 if they are convicted of a capital offense.

The restaurant was supposed to close at 11:30 p.m. Friday. Authorities said they believe that the shootings occurred sometime after midnight.

Killed were Tamika Collins, 18, Nathaniel Baker, 17, and Darrell Collier, 23, the restaurant manager.

Police who arrived at the fast-food restaurant said they found the bodies of the three employees stacked on top of each other in the narrow, back-room cooler.

Bryant Archer, 17, crawled to a phone and called authorities about 12:30 a.m. He was taken to a hospital with multiple gunshot wounds in the chest and was listed in serious condition Saturday.

I don’t think I’ve posted anything about this here, as I don’t really talk much about this anyway.  The first job I ever worked was working for Popeyes in Rainbow City, AL.  The person that hired me was Darrell Collier.  From March of my junior year of high school in 1990 until the August that I started college in the fall of 1991, I worked there pretty much as a full-time employee.  We were a close-knit group among each other as well as with our sister locations, one of which was the Gadsden restaurant.  We had friendly competitions ranging from sales contests to an annual football game played on Thanksgiving Day that even included a trophy to the winning location.

Anyway, after I went off to college at Alabama State University, I’d sometimes come home and work on the weekends for extra cash and just to hang out with friends.  If I didn’t work, I’d still just pop in to see everyone and get caught up on news.  I would drive the two hours home and my first stop was usually Popeyes, where I would hang out until after closing was finished.  Then, we’d sit in the parking lot or go somewhere to get drinks or food.

April 15, 1994 started off like any other day for me.  It was awards day at ASU, and my mother drove down for the ceremony.  I don’t remember exactly what award I received, but the ceremony was over before noon, and my roommate and I were contemplating the drive home that afternoon.  I had told my mom that I was headed home before we parted company and she drove on to work.  My roommate and I loafed around for a while and eventually decided to wait and drive home early Saturday morning.  I can vividly recall making that decision because a thunderstorm popped up around that time, and that was part of the reason why I didn’t want to drive.  Anyway, the only two people who knew the change of plans were he and I unless he told someone himself.

Sometime early in the morning, I think around 2am, the phone started ringing.  Family and friends were calling to see where I was.  Once they found out I was in the room, they said okay and that was that.  I think it may have been the second or third call when my aunt was on the other end, I can’t remember for sure  Instead of just getting off the phone, she told me that there was a shooting at one of the restaurants at home, and she was checking to see if I had left Montgomery.  She worked at the nearby hospital and could see the flashing lights from all the emergency personnel from her building which was at least 1.5 miles away.

Her daughter worked at a KFC in the same area, and my aunt thought that the shooting happened at KFC.  Once she found out that it wasn’t KFC and was Popeyes, she was worried that I was there as I would have gone to Popeyes to hang out with Darrell.  At first, they had no idea of how many victims were there.  At that point, I understood why people were calling.  They thought that I was one of the victims.  See, not only did I know Darrell and hang out with him when I came home.  The shooter, Robert Melson, was a long-time friend and classmate of mine.

Robert and I went back to elementary school as far as knowing each other.  We played little league baseball on the same team, and attended school from first grade to graduating high school together.  We didn’t run in the same exact social circles, but the town isn’t so big that circles don’t overlap.

I know that, without a doubt, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that decision to not drive home that night.  I cried when I got the news as I couldn’t imagine what they went through in those moments that night.  I drove home for the funerals, but I didn’t have the strength to attend.  Just being home was all I could do.

When I came home for that summer, I switched from working in the Rainbow City location to the Gadsden restaurant.  I continued to work at that location until I left Popeyes for good after I graduated college in 1996.  It was surreal to enter the location and see where my friend had lost his life.  Even though they tried to repair everything, you could still see where the bullet holes were in the freezer.  I had recently met Tamika before the robbery, but I did not know her well.  I didn’t know the other two at all.  I still mourned their deaths as though they were family as we were all a tight-knit group.

After reading about Robert’s execution last night, I looked around me.  I have a nice home, a beautiful wife, three amazing kids, and so much more going on.  The political crap that’s going on in this country can take a break.  Sometimes, it is good to just sit back and realize how little time we really have in this world.  I feel like I’ve been living on borrowed time for more than 23 years now.  I don’t know what God has planned for me to accomplish, but I do know that I haven’t achieved that goal yet.  He has made sure that I’m still here, and that is something that I don’t take for granted.  Maybe that is something that more people should think about instead of worrying about who lied and who didn’t.  There’s always tomorrow to deal with the political crap.  Take a break and enjoy your life today.  You never know when it’s your last day to do so, so why wait?