(I wrote this for the Urban News in July 2020.)
So, protests have swept the nation. There were protests from California to Texas to Florida and everywhere in between. There were protests in large cities like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago. And there were protests in small towns throughout the United States like Canton, MO, Morgantown, WV, Potsdam, NY, and Woburn, MA. More than a hundred protesters even showed up for Black Lives Matter in Pen Argyl, PA (population 3,600). The majority of the protests were peaceful. Unfortunately, there was some looting, though whether connected to protesters or simply opportunistic is in question. Lately, it appears that the protests have been centered around Confederate monuments.
This whole movement, whatever you want to call it, must be about more than pulling down Confederate monuments. There must be something tangible that comes out of all this heartache and pain.
I grew up in the South. I have lived more than 90 percent of my life in the South—from Dallas, to Shreveport, to Atlanta, to Asheville. I live and breathe southern culture. We glossed over the Civil War in high school. I did read Battle Cry of Freedom, an 800-page monstrosity written by James McPherson. It is incredibly detailed; it even appears to me that McPherson told it like it was. Like it still is.
States’ Rights v. Slavery
When you grow up in the South, you are taught that the Civil War was fought because of “states’ rights.” That is, the southern states simply wanted the right to do whatever they wanted without Washington telling them what to do. And because of this, young men took up arms against those bad old Yankees. And, the argument continues, Southerners just wanted to be free. They were rebels against too much government power.
Unfortunately, this is a nice, innocent, and utterly dishonest retelling of history. The South wanted to own slaves. The Civil War was about slavery.
Now, when I look back at it, it was almost funny, if not criminal, the way the Civil War was taught in high school. We only really covered three things: we learned about a few battles; the North won; and Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.
That was mostly it. Oh, and there was this thing called Reconstruction, but it didn’t last.
But when you delve deeply into the War Between the States, you see something different. South Carolina was the first state to withdraw from the union. Their leaders wrote up this very nice document that resembles the Declaration of Independence in some ways. They laid out their grievances. They opined that the Constitution of States that were the original 13 states were to be “free, sovereign and independent states.” (They did write this in CAPS, just to make sure that nobody misses it.)
But toward the end of their declaration they began to rail against the “non-slaveowning states,” writing, “They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies whose avowed object is to disrupt the peace and to eloign [take away] the property of the citizens of other states. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes, and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
It would be heartwarming if South Carolina were the only state that openly stated they left the union because of slavery. But, almost every one of the states that seceded had something like this in their declarations of secession. More importantly, in the Articles of Confederate States (Constitution of the Confederate States), the document that the seceded states put together, clearly delineates in Article 1, section 9 that the South was about slavery. The clearest section is subsection 4, No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed.
To me, this is pretty clear. The Civil War wasn’t about honor or virtue. Now, did honor and virtue occur during the war? Of course they did. Honor and virtue appear during every war. So does noble sacrifice, and even heroism. All of these are noble qualities.
But that’s not what the Civil War was about. The Civil War was about slavery. It was about the South’s right to keep human beings enslaved as personal property; as chattel. That’s what the Civil War was all about.
Until we, as Southerners, understand this, embrace that truth, make it become one with our souls, we are doing everybody a disservice.
Speaking of which, why do we have US military bases named after Confederate generals? I’m sorry, but that’s just crazy. I never knew until recently that Fort Bragg was named after Braxton Bragg, a Confederate general. Fort Benning was named after Henry Benning, who fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, and Gettysburg. I don’t understand this. We actually named military bases after generals who fought against us—who took up arms against their own government (isn’t that one of the definitions of treason?).
Why don’t we have any military bases named after Erwin Rommel, who was a great German general? Or what about Isoroku Yamamoto, the great Japanese Naval commander who attacked Pearl Harbor? They, too, were military heroes—just not ours. We should honor our own heroes, not our enemies.
Who polices the police?
In Tucson, Arizona, a place that’s generally associated with progressive values, the police were called to Carlos Ingram Lopez’s house. The police body cams clearly show the police holding Mr. Lopez face down, telling the officers he could not breathe. Mr. Lopez went into cardiac arrest and died at the scene. He was 27.
The police officers who were involved in the incident resigned. Yet, once again, resignation is not the punishment for murder in this country. These police officers need to be charged with a crime. They killed an unarmed man.
There have been a lot of people who have embraced this movement to “defund the police.” To some people, this movement means to remove all funding from the police departments and let anarchy rain. To others it means that the police department is doing a lot of things that most Americans would think are outside of law enforcement’s purview. Besides the 1950s sitcom scenario from Leave It to Beaver, where police officers rescue cats out of trees, the police are called for the mentally ill; they’re also called when drunks are asleep in the park, and when kids misbehave in school. I’m not sure that all of this activity really needs to be done by the police. A social worker can find a homeless man/woman someplace to sleep at night. Animal control can get the cat out of the tree. Social workers can also talk to most mentally ill people and get them to someplace that can help them.
Taking funds out of the police department and giving them to other departments that could probably use the funding, in order to help, in a nonviolent way, care for Americans is a good idea, in my book. This would free up the police to focus more on traditional police work. This is what I mean when I say defund the police.
The Coronavirus Strikes Back
Republicans can’t and shouldn’t govern. They have proved this time and time again. I just finished rereading, The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley, about Hurricane Katrina and how it devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—along with the anemic (some believe criminal) response from the Bush administration. I had forgotten many household names like Michael Brown (Director of FEMA, which has been rolled into Homeland Security) and Michael Chertoff (Director of Homeland Security), who allowed over 1,500 Americans—mostly Black—to die. The combination of miscommunication and ineptitude led to disaster.
We saw the same thing with the Trump administration in 2017 when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico (another mostly nonwhite population), and we’re experiencing it again with the pandemic, with the Trump administration pushing states to reopen. There were almost no guidelines on what should be reopened or how or when. States had to figured it out for themselves. Some did a great job; some—all with Republican governors—are actively killing their own citizens.
The coronavirus is a respiratory virus. This means it attacks the lungs. It enters your body through your mouth or nose. Basically, you inhale the virus. If you don’t inhale the virus, for the most part, you will be fine. This is why social distancing works. If we stay more than six feet away from someone who is infected, even if they cough—even if they cough forcefully—they cannot shoot virus more than four or five feet. Masks work by trapping whenever it is that you are coughing out of your mouth or sneezing out of your nose—which keeps it away from others. Special masks, N-95 masks, can actually trap virus in the mask before it enters your respiratory system. Frequent handwashing can remove virus from your hands before you touch your face and inadvertently allow the virus to enter your respiratory system.
There are certain things I just don’t understand about how we are handling—or not handling—the coronavirus response. I don’t understand how you’re supposed to be able to eat in an indoor restaurant. This is a place where your mouth is open a lot. Anyone infected with the virus could be laughing and talking and spraying virus over everyone else at the table, as well as the waiter or waitress. On the other hand, outdoor restaurants could be fine; so would take-out meals from restaurants.
Beaches, bars, and … churches!
But I don’t understand opening beaches. Unless you’re going to hole up with your family, beaches are places where people interact. You meet new people. You laugh. You talk. You don’t stand six feet apart. You don’t wear masks.
Bars? Drinking, hanging out, flirting, “cozying up to the bar”! Who thought being in a bar during the coronavirus pandemic would be a good idea? It is not.
And surprisingly, singing in churches seems to be particularly bad. There have been several well documented coronavirus outbreaks in the US, including a choir where one infected person gave the virus to 52 others, two of whom died. When you think about how we sing and the mechanism of pushing air through our windpipes out of our mouths, it becomes obvious how the virus spreads.
Basically, we have a huge disaster unfolding. Large states like Texas and Florida are reporting record numbers of the coronavirus cases. Hospitals are seeing a surge in admissions. The virus is completely out of control in Arizona. Unfortunately, people are going to needlessly die. If we only had some thoughtful leadership in Washington. If only we had a president who would listen to experts and then implement that advice.
Leadership? What leadership?
Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of president. We have Donald Trump. Just the other day, as the coronavirus news got worse and worse, Donald Trump was tweeting about Sean Hannity’s wonderful ratings on Fox News. The incompetence of the Trump administration cannot be understated. Tens of thousands of Americans are going to die because we don’t have good leadership in Washington. It is that simple.
I love the United States of America. We have so much good in this country. We have to work together to eliminate the bad. We’ve come a long way in race relations but we have a long way to go. We have to turn protests into action. We have to pass laws that prevent needless violence against Blacks, Latinos, and other minorities. We have to understand that the Confederacy was all about preserving Black servitude. Now, more than ever, we have to protect each other. Donald Trump is not going to protect us. And if you live in certain states whose governor has an (R) after his or her name, your governor may not be on your side, either.