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Justice in America

Justice, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is the maintenance or administration of what is just: Impartial adjustment of conflicting claims. Another definition is the quality or characteristic of being just, in partial or fair. Sometimes, justice in our legal system can be extremely elusive.

Justice not done

I am sure most of you remember Trayvon Martin. Mr. Martin was a 17-year-old walking back from a corner store when he encountered a community-watch guard, George Zimmerman, in February, 2012—almost ten years ago. George Zimmerman thought he had the right to stop in question Trayvon Martin. An altercation broke out, and George Zimmerman fatally shot and killed the unarmed Trayvon Martin.

In the subsequent trial, George Zimmerman claimed that he feared for his life during the altercation. Therefore, he said, he was justified in defending himself (by shooting Trayvon). Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

This was not justice.

No justice in Wisconsin

In August of 2020, Kenosha, Wisconsin police shot an unarmed 29-year-old gentleman named Jacob Blake. The video of this shooting was extremely disturbing. Blake was actually getting into his car. His kids were in the back seat. The police officer opened fire. Fortunately, Mr. Blake did not die—but he was left paralyzed from the incident.

Rioting broke out in Kenosha following the shooting. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white man (boy), who lived in a neighboring state, decided that he needed to drive to Kenosha to help protect private property and also to act as “a medic.” (Rittenhouse has no formal medical training that I can find.) He brought with him an AR-15 rifle, though it is illegal for someone under 18 to own such a weapon (an adult illegally bought it for him).

As you can imagine, a man walking the streets during a large and sometimes violent street protest with a rifle will get noticed. An altercation broke out. Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two men. He wounded a third man.

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse did not focus on the fact that he was a 17-year-old kid with delusions of grandeur who clearly walked into a heated situation with an illegal weapon. Instead, it focused only on the immediate minutes before he open fire. Kyle Rittenhouse—just like George Zimmerman—testified that he feared for his life. He imagined the two unarmed men were going to disarm him, and therefore he had to protect himself. By shooting them to death.

The jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts. He was allowed to walk free. Again, this isn’t justice.

George Zimmerman and Kyle Rittenhouse are similar people. In my opinion, they used poor judgment, and because of their actions innocent people needlessly died. George Zimmerman had no right to stop Trayvon Martin. Kyle Rittenhouse should have never brought a semiautomatic rifle to a volatile protest. Yet both men were allowed to walk free.

I do not believe that justice was served. As a matter fact, I would argue that both men were allowed to walk free because of the NRA. Both men were beneficiaries of laws that were written by the National Rifle Association.

Maybe Merriam-Webster needs to update its definition of justice and its opposite. The opposite of “justice” isn’t only “injustice”; sometimes it’s “white privilege.” And yet …

Justice achieved—in Georgia

Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old black man who was out for a run in his hometown in Brunswick, Georgia. By all accounts, he was a kind and loving man. He like to stay in shape—so he went out jogging.

He was not far from his home when he was confronted by two men in a pickup truck—father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael. A third man, William Bryan, joined the pursuit. For some reason—or for no reason, other than that he was African American—these three white men concluded that Mr. Arbery was the same man who had vandalized house that was under construction in their neighborhood.

Gregory McMichael is a former investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. They decided they had the right to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

An altercation ensued. There was in a fight over the shotgun that Travis McMichael was carrying. Two shots were fired. Ahmaud Arbery was dead.

Because this happened in a small town in Georgia, the case almost disappeared before it got started. One prosecutor argued there was not enough probable cause to arrest those who shot Mr. Arbery. Another recused himself. The case finally went to the Cobb County prosecutor.

Fast forward to the trial, in which, somehow, an almost-all-white jury in Georgia (11 Whites, one Black) found all three men guilty on all courts. This was justice.

(In September, 2021, former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted in for “showing favor and affection” to her former subordinate Gregory McMichael during the investigation, and for obstructing law enforcement by directing that Travis not be arrested. This, too, is justice.)

Omicron

On November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, South African scientists reported to the World Health Organization that they had discovered a new variant of the coronavirus. It is being called “omicron” (the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet).

Right now, it is too early to determine whether this variant is more infectious or even more deadly than the original virus or the delta variant that hit this summer and fall. The initial response from the international community has been to restrict travel from South Africa. The United States is jointing suit.

I am not sure that this is the right move. Two years ago, China first identified the coronavirus, and the Trump administration told us that everything would be fine. They stood around and did nothing—and then they opted to limit travel from China. As it turns out, by the time the Trump administration had decided, the coronavirus had already crossed the Pacific Ocean and was in Washington state.

What was completely unknown at the time was that the coronavirus had actually crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was beginning to ravish New York. Apparently, it had already reached various places in Europe directly from China. The China travel ban was completely useless.

As of this writing, the omicron variant is already here. Eighteen states have reported the omicron variant by early December. I am not sure that limiting travel to South Africa has any value; in part, it punishes South Africa for doing the right thing: immediately alerting the world to the new variant. Instead, testing all passengers from South Africa and those who recently traveled to South Africa for coronavirus might be a much better move.

When will we learn?

We are beginning to enter our second year of dealing with the coronavirus. As soon as a surge passes, we begin to relax. Life begins to return to almost normal—then there is another surge. Over 789,000 Americans have died because of Covid-19, and many more will die during the next surge—and the one after that.

We must get as many people as possible vaccinated. We need to help the rest of the world get vaccinated. This is truly an international disaster. Until we get everyone vaccinated, we are going to continue to fight Covid. (By everyone I mean more than 90% of the adult population.)

’Tis the Season

So Merry Christmas to everyone. I’m serious. Merry Christmas. May your hearts be full of love and joy. In addition, wear a mask. Find a couple of special masks for the holiday season. Get together with family and friends who are vaccinated.

I would still avoid large crowds. I haven’t been to a movie theater in over 20 months. And remember, I love movies. I have been to theaters for the opening week of every James Bond movie since The Spy Who Loved Me. But I didn’t see No Time to Die until it was available on Google Play. Although I hated not to see it on the big screen, I thought that the title was talking to me. It was telling me not to risk it. Going to a movie wasn’t worth my life. It isn’t worth your life either. This is no time to die. 2021 was better than 2020. And truly, I’m looking for 2022 to be even better. So, not just Merry Christmas, but Happy New Year to all!

By |2022-08-18T21:15:31-04:00December 18th, 2021|Coronavirus, Domestic Issues, Healthcare|Comments Off on Justice in America

Whose America?

This is not the America that I grew up in.

I grew up in the 1970s. Forty years ago, for a person of color, the world was still your oyster. You could do anything that you wanted—as long as you put your mind to it.

Work hard and be rewarded

Workers leaving Pennsylvania shipyards, Beaumont, Texas (LOC)

You had to work hard. The mantra that was beaten into all of us was to get your education. Education was the ticket to a better life. Education was the way out of the ghetto. That was the way out of low-end jobs. Education.

People of color understood that the playing field wasn’t level, but this obstacle could be overcome with hard work. Then something happened during the 1980s. America stopped investing in education. We stopped investing in ourselves. Sure, President Clinton and President Obama did their best to reverse this trend, but when you look back over the last 30 to 40 years, we simply have not invested in ourselves.

Instead, we believed, as a nation, that tax cuts for the wealthy would help everyone. It was like magic pixie dust. Tax cuts would turn everything into gold and silver.

The fact is that tax cuts helped only the rich. No one else. There was no money for infrastructure. There was no money for education. There was only money to help the rich get richer—just as they were designed to do.

President Joe Biden

As comedian Steve Martin used to say, “I’m just a wild and crazy guy.” Joe Biden wants to do something crazy. Joe Biden wants to invest in us.

In his State of the Union address, Joe Biden laid out a plan in which we would invest in the United States of America. We would repair and build bridges. We would improve our infrastructure. We would improve our electrical grid. We would invest billions into high-speed broadband. We would invest in ourselves so that we can compete with China, Russia, and any other nation in the world. We would invest in education again. Two years of free community college, this is one of the best ideas I have heard in decades. Let’s not saddle our young adults with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

How can you be an American and oppose this? Well, if you are a Republican and you really don’t want to see a Democratic president succeed, you can oppose this. The first thing out of your mouth would be surprise at the “ridiculously” high price tag.

I would ask how much should we spend on a country of over 330 million people in order to improve the lives of everyone? A couple hundred million? A couple hundred billion? Or should we spend what is necessary in order to improve the lives of Americans?

Here’s my question: Would you invest $10,000 in your own education and training? $40,000 for the wellbeing of your family of four? Well, that’s more than what Joe Biden is asking: $3 trillion dollars for 330 million people comes to $9,090 per person. Don’t you think everyday Americans are worth an investment of ten thousand dollars, when we just let the top CEOs of America’s biggest companies—Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and others—increase their personal wealth by well over a billion dollars each last year?

Republicans commonly pass spending bills for aircraft carriers, fighter jets, and tax cuts without a second thought about how to pay for them. (Of course, many of them lied to us and told him that the tax cuts would pay for themselves. That has never happened. That never will happen.) Now, that we are trying to help the American people, now they want a price tag. I’m sorry, I’m not playing this game.

Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina gave what can only be described as a sad rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address. It is clear that Senator Scott lives in a bubble in which no reality can really penetrate. Then again, when you think about it, he has to live in a bubble. If he were to see that the Republican Party has turned in the party of white supremacy, he would have to question his own self-worth. Why does he belong to a party that hates who he is?

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By |2021-05-16T15:55:10-04:00May 16th, 2021|Coronavirus, Economy, Newsletter, Poverty, Race|Comments Off on Whose America?

May 2020 Newsletter – Worst President Ever

I wrote this for the May 2020 issue of the Urban News.

I have been trying to think of some tune that would elevate my mood. I thought of “Love Train” by the O’Jays. Of course, there’s Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Then there’s Katrina’s “Walking on Sunshine.” But none of these tunes really seem to hit the spot. Ricky Martin’s “Living La Vida Loca,” James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is a perennial pick-me-up, but not this time. Finally, there is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Well, I’m sorry, but I’m in a funk. None of these tunes is changing my mood. As of this writing, the United States has more than 1.1 million Americans who been infected with the coronavirus and more than 70,000 deaths. 70,000! That is more than three-quarters of the population of Asheville. (To put this in perspective, there were 39,773 firearm deaths in the US for all of 2017.)

This is why I am dysphoric. I know that Jared Kushner, president’s son-in-law and top aide, recently said that the administration has done an outstanding job with the coronavirus. My first response is “HAH!” That is not reality; that is political posturing. The Trump administration has done a terrible job.

Petri Dishes for the Coronavirus

Last month, in this newspaper, I stressed that I was worried about nursing homes. In nursing homes there is the perfect combination of elderly patients, close quarters, and a population with multiple comorbidities. That is the perfect environment for the coronavirus to grow, thrive, and kill.

Unfortunately, I was right. Many states did not enact any specific legislation to safeguard nursing homes. Facilities across the country became a fertile breeding ground for the coronavirus. Here in West Virginia, in Wayne County, 30 of the 41 residents at one nursing home tested positive for the novel coronavirus, as did 34 of the 68 staff—50%—in a county with a total population of less than 40,000. There were seven deaths from this one nursing home. After nursing homes made the national news, governors across the nation began enacting proclamations to make nursing homes safer, but it seems a little too late.

Unfortunately, when I was writing my newsletter last month, I didn’t even think about prisons. Prisons are overcrowded. So it’s not a surprise that at the Cook County jail, in Chicago, 276 inmates and 172 correctional officers tested positive for the coronavirus. Again, this is the perfect combination of people in close quarters who can easily and rapidly spread the virus between each other. Some prisons are trying to release some prisoners early in order to decrease overcrowding. One federal prison in Washington DC is shipping over 100 prisoners to West Virginia to decrease overcrowding. I am not sure if it is possible to do social distancing in a prison. This is a problem that no one seems all that eager to solve.

Huge coronavirus outbreaks are taking place at large meat processing plants. It appears that the owners of these plants did little to change their practices to try to decrease the possibility of a coronavirus infection. Over 20 of these plants have closed down because of coronavirus outbreaks—and now even Wendy’s is running out of hamburgers at some of its outlets! In his infinite wisdom (please understand, I’m inserting as much sarcasm as I can with eyerolling), President Trump signed an executive order ordering meat processing plants to stay open. Trump did not order these meatpacking plants to furnish all their workers with masks. He didn’t order them to begin testing all of their workers for the virus. He didn’t order frequent hand washing or social distancing. Instead, he issued an executive order which seems to make the problem worse.

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By |2020-06-02T06:35:28-04:00June 2nd, 2020|Coronavirus, Elections|Comments Off on May 2020 Newsletter – Worst President Ever
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