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?

Congratulations!!!

Congrats to the Alabama Crimson Tide football team for winning the CFP Championship last night.  A tip of the hat to Coach Swinney and the Clemson Tigers for a great game as well.  For all the lackluster bowl games that college football fans were subjected to, the bowl season ended on a high note.

As a big college football fan, I watched most of the games as it seems like my schedule gave me off days at the right moments to allow it.  Other than the Oregon/TCU game, last night’s game was the best out of all the bowl games.

While everyone starts to recruit for next year, we’ll begin the “Process” of reloading.

ROLL TIDE ROLL!!!!

Welcome 2016

Peach Drop at Underground Atlanta 12/31/2015

Goodbye 2015 and hello 2016.

There are so many things that transpired in 2015 that it’s impossible to list them all.  From celebrating births and marriages to mourning those lost.  The year 2015 was like an epic roller coaster full of twists and turns.

I was ready to write something cheerful and giddy about 2016 this morning.  After all, I watched my Crimson Tide demolish Michigan State last night in the Cotton Bowl.  I knew that Alabama was going to win last night because I didn’t have a child last year while they were playing in the Sugar Bowl.  I had also watched my three children enjoying themselves through Christmas and into the New Year.  The youngest is walking now, and he’s doing everything he can to keep up with his sisters.

Then, I read where Natalie Cole passed away today at the age of 65 and Wayne Rogers passed yesterday at 82.  My giddiness turned solemn as I thought about all the people lost in 2015.  Whether through natural causes, in acts of terrorism, or under suspicious circumstances, we’ve collectively gone through a lot over the past year.

Some people love to make resolutions, but I’m not one of them.  I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions because I’ve seen where most people don’t keep them beyond February.  While reflecting on things, I did have an epiphany of sorts if you want to call it that.  It’s not a resolution as much as it is a revelation and/or evolution.

This year, I am going to try to refrain from using the word assimilate.  Not that I think there’s anything wrong with it per se, but reflecting on the things that make us who we are made me realize that it’s impossible to assimilate in America.  This is a country that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day (Irish) as though it originated here.  We celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the same manner.

How can you assimilate into a society that is multi-faceted and multi-cultural?  What do you choose to conform to and what do you reject?  The thing that makes America so great is that we can all be singularly different yet all be of one identity at the same time.

From this day forward, I will reject the notion of people having to conform to one singular standard.  I will be accepting of everyone whether they are single/married, gay/straight, Black/White/Asian/Native, Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Sikh or any other label that society applies to an individual or group to segregate them from everyone else.  It’s not as much as a person having to change to fit into the group in my view.  It’s all about the group accepting the person for who they are instead of what they want that person to be.

Here’s to you 2016.  I’m going to do what I can to change the world.

Heritage, hate, or both

Statue honoring Emma Sansom (Johnson) for her contributions towards helping Confederate troops that were chasing down Union troops through my hometown, Gadsden, Alabama. That statue sits right above the Coosa River on an island in Broad Street right in front of the municipal building. Click on the photo to read up on her.

 

I’ve thought long and hard over the whole Confederate Battle Flag issue.  Growing up as a Black man in the South, I can honestly say that I understand both arguments when it comes to heritage vs hate.  I’ve seen the monuments, watched the flag flap in the breeze, and I’ve walked the battlefields myself just to understand this part of our history and how it affected me personally.

Heritage

From the heritage viewpoint, hundreds of thousands of Southern men gave their lives trying to protect their way of life.  If you study the history of the United States and its formation, the Civil War was set into motion as soon as the ink was dry on the Constitution.  There is nothing wrong with honoring the sacrifice by those who fought and died for the Confederacy as they did what they felt they had to at that time.  Monday morning quarterbacking things now cannot accurately reflect the mindset of that time, so it is an exercise in futility trying to do so.

We have to acknowledge that the Confederate States of America is as much of a part of our history as Betsy Ross and Paul Revere.  Not all history is going to be glorious and happy.  Not all of those who choose to honor the Confederacy are bigots and/or racists.  That should not take away from us remembering our past.  We have to learn to accept ourselves for who we are, warts and all.  Our history is not perfect by any stretch of the means, and to know our past is important if we’re going to continue to work towards that more perfect union that our forefathers wrote of.

Hate

Those who see the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of hatred are more likely to be groups who cowered in fear over the acts committed by those who waved that flag while terrorizing fellow Americans.  This goes beyond slavery and the Civil War, and it behooves those who claim the heritage aspect to understand the viewpoint of this group and vice versa.

When the KKK rode out to intimidate Blacks after the Civil War, they did so and carried the battle flag with them. When the South protested integration, one of the acts of defiance was to raise the battle flag over the state capitols and other buildings.  Throughout all those acts, the symbol of heritage was hijacked and used as a symbol of hate.  Even today, some still use that symbol while spewing hatred, whether it’s hatred of the federal government or different classes and groups of people.  No matter how much heritage there is behind that banner, it has been stained by the hatred of a few.

My view on the flag

The flag is symbolic, but the symbolism depends on the person viewing it.  Two people can see the same identical thing and come away with two entirely different opinions.  This flag is proof of that.  It is both, a symbol of heritage, and a symbol of hate.  It does not belong on or around state buildings where governance takes place.  While it would acknowledge the past for those who fought bravely, it also acknowledges a past where people resisted acknowledging the civil rights of ALL Americans.

The flag should be preserved for all posterity.  The organizations that pay homage to the South should create a park where the flag can fly in memorial to those who fought for the Confederacy.  These organizations could also create museums where the history can be told of the story behind the flag.  I would suggest that the FULL history be told and not just the glorified, good stuff.  By no means should the states themselves be involved in this as that could be construed as the states sponsoring or advocating sedition or the rejection of civil rights for citizens who rightly deserve their rights respected.

By the same token, memorials should not be on the grounds of state capitols or other buildings of governance.  The state itself should separate itself from the issue and allow the private citizens to honor the CSA as they see fit.  No one should be trying to destroy or remove memorials on private property, and I would argue strongly against anyone advocating to do such.  Cemetaries should be left alone and any tributes there as well.  Many cities and towns, my current location included, have memorials to civil war soldiers on the town square.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and they should not be bothered either as long as the cities and towns don’t try to infringe on the rights of others who would want to place memorials for others in the same manner.

I could go on and on about this, but why should I?  I seriously doubt anyone’s mind will be changed by what I’ve written as most minds are set in stone over this issue.  My only hope is that people will open their minds to at least try to understand the opposing views and why they are as strong as the views they hold themselves.  Purposefully, I did not include a single, solitary image of any flag of the CSA.  That was by design.  I could show countless photos of memorials and battlefields where I have personally walked to show there’s no way of ever erasing this time period out of existence, but I’m sure we all know that’s not going to happen.  Instead of inflaming tensions, my goal is to educate anyone who stops by to read this.

Black distrust of the justice system

Since the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Dunn, and Michael Brown, there has been all kinds of talk about the American justice system and whether the treatment of Blacks is different from everyone else.  There has been impassioned debate from both sides of the argument.

I’ll offer up one sobering statistic that I feel encapsulates one of the primary reasons why Blacks distrust the justice system.

First the set up…

A study of lynchings by the Tuskegee Institute calculated that between the years of 1882 – 1968, there were 3446 Blacks that were lynched in the US.  Although lynchings slowed down after that time frame, there were still lynchings that occurred in the US.  There was the Michael Donald case in Mobile, Alabama in 1981, which was considered the last lynching.  There’s also the James Byrd dragging murder, which has also been referred to as a lynching.  There’s no official count or record to show how many of these lynchings were perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, but there’s overwhelming evidence of KKK involvement in many of these deaths.

And now for the head scratcher…

Of all the lynchings carried out or involving members of the KKK in the entire 20th Century, only one member of the KKK was ever convicted of murdering a Black person and was executed as a result of their conviction.  One.

That one person was Henry Francis Hays, and he was convicted for the lynching of Michael Donald in March of 1981.  He was executed on June 6, 1997 in Atmore, Alabama by electric chair.  So, for all the Blacks killed by KKK members after January 1, 1900, it took 97 years, 5 months, and 5 days for a state government to apply capital punishment for the death of a Black man by the hands of a White man.  35,585 days.

Now, there were people who were convicted of killing Blacks in that time.  They usually got no more than a 10 year sentence, but that was if they were actually convicted of a crime in the first place.  Many killings were either never prosecuted or all White juries refused to indict or convict the killers.

Some people seem to think that dredging up the past does more harm than good.  Pretending as though these things didn’t happen does more harm than anything else.  You can’t or won’t understand a person’s argument about bias in the system if you refuse to acknowledge the long-term bias built into the system.  When we see Blacks still being treated more harshly by the justice system, it’s hard to trust things nowadays given the past applications of American Justice.