So much to unpack in this image. So terribly, terribly much. First off, Jonathan Bachman deserves a Pulitzer for this. I understand right place, right time, perfect timing on the shutter, but this is an iconic photo. Iesha Evans stands like a perfect statue of peace, eyes closed against the oncoming wave, arms crossed in front of her as if containing her power. Her dress is caught ever so lightly by the breeze, giving her an ethereal, almost angelic quality, as if she’s just landed. The riot officers, (thankfully) slowing, appear to be encountering her aura and repulsed by it.
That’s just the composition.
The reality is that Ms. Evans is about to be dragged down and zip-cuffed by two men more heavily armored than combat soldiers, men both nearly twice her size. She represents zero threat. No reasonable onlooker would conclude that she is armed. She is not in any way aggressive. She is peacefully protesting, but committing the ultimate crime of blocking a thoroughfare. For this, the police deemed greater than military force was necessary.
Putting aside that I’m presented with yet another peaceful civilian being brutalized by a police force unconcerned with “serve and protect” and fattened on years of cheap military surplus, I have a different problem with this image and what it represents. It’s almost too perfect. It might actually work. It might start to change public opinion about how policing is handled. That’s great, but my question is: why this one? Why this image? Why this woman?
Because we’re looking for Black Jesus.
These protests arose out of the general impression that minorities, particularly African-Americans, are assumed by the legal system to be guilty until proven innocent, unworthy of justice if they are, subject to summary punishment, that the system is unaccountable when it errs concerning their rights. I could recite a litany of names here, but it would seem incomplete because there will be another one horrifyingly soon. The largest issue is that even when the dead black (typically) man has done nothing to warrant roadside execution, the narrative always circles back to assume he somehow deserved it, somehow brought it on himself. Maybe he was a criminal a decade ago. Maybe he was rude. Maybe he had a toy gun. Maybe he was being suspicious.
In 1956, Rosa Parks was hauled off to jail for not giving up her seat on a bus. Her’s wasn’t the first case, in fact, there was already a case working through the legal system that would successfully end Montgomery’s bus segregation. But why were the women involved in that suit not raised up as icons of the Civil Rights movement like Parks was? The first one to be arrested, Claudette Colvin, well, she was 15 and girl had a mouth on her. She wouldn’t play well in the media. She wasn’t a good face for the movement. She wasn’t the Black Jesus they needed to show the injustice. Similarly, all of these people who’ve wound up dead after interacting non-violently with police have been somehow less-than-holy. Michael Brown may have robbed a store. Freddie Gray was packing a knife. Sandra Bland may have mouthed off to an officer. Eric Garner was selling cigarettes. Alton Sterling had a record. No qualifiers for Black Jesus there.
Now we have Philando Castille, who, by all accounts, was a model citizen. Gunned down without hesitation in his car after informing the officer that he was going to produce his permit to carry, Castille seems like the perfect person to hold up and say “this man did everything right.” He yielded to the officer when pulled over. He informed the officer that he was legally carrying. He followed all of the motions, and still wound up bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds.
But, like Jesus, he hung out with a woman who may have been less than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, and if there’s one thing this Christian Nation cannot tolerate, it’s someone who is not white and less than perfect. So maybe he’s not our Black Jesus after all.
It’s possible that Iesha Evans is the Black Jesus of protesters. Maybe not. I’m sure we’ll hear in the coming days how she once got a B on a midterm or said a bad word once, or was in some way less than perfect, justifying her treatment in the scene in which she’s been immortalized. But maybe we need to stop looking for Black Jesus. Maybe we need to stop looking for that perfection and understand that we’ve already seen enough to know that there is brutal injustice going on in this nation. Half of the country lives in fear of the law, lives with a sense that they are not equal under the law, lives with examples that they can be refused justice without repercussions. Even if this is just a perception problem, it’s a problem. We need to stop looking for a savior to be crucified before our eyes to start working for salvation.
Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a hoax bomb. That’s the official reason for his arrest. But that’s not why he was arrested. The why of why he was arrested is a little more complicated, but it boils down pretty succinctly to bigotry, xenophobia, and terrorism.
Let’s get a few things straight, this wasn’t a “post-9/11 overreaction.” This was a number of people actively taking their racism out on a 13-year-old boy. There was, at no point in the ordeal, an actual fear or even belief that he had made a bomb or even intended to make a device that people would believe was a bomb. Ahmed’s English teacher decided that it would be better to err on the side of lynching than let this opportunity to be a terrible example to the class pass by. Upon seeing the clock, the teacher declared that it looked like a bomb, despite Ahmed’s calm protests that it didn’t.
This teacher, this brave first responder, then had Ahmed taken out of class. Note that the teacher didn’t immediately call for a lockdown and evacuate the class. The teacher didn’t actually think that it was a bomb and the teacher at no point believed that there was any danger. The teacher was (to use the accurate terminology) a fucking asshole racist bigoted xenophobe who had found the perfect excuse to toss the local Muslim kid to the wolves. But the fun didn’t stop with Ahmed’s English teacher.
Upon being escorted to the office, highly not dangerous clock in tow, the police were called. Someone in the office called the police on a 13-year-old with a clock. They did not call the police and say HOLY FUCK THERE IS A BOMB HERE SEND HELP, because a few officers showed up in orderly fashion, not the entire bomb squad. Helicopters did not circle. Students were not evacuated. CNN was not on scene in minutes. No one at any time actually thought this was a bomb.
Ahmed, for his part, consistently maintained that he had made a clock. He did not mention to anyone that this was a device intended to emulate a bomb.
The police arrived, and began questioning Ahmed, who asked to speak to his parents. That request was denied, because he was “in the middle of an interrogation.” I understand that the maximum IQ for a police officer is at least 24 points lower than the minimum to get into Mensa, but even the most barely-functional police officer should know that this is a blatant violation of a person’s Constitutional rights. So it’s safe to say that the intent here was not to discern whether there was any threat here, it was to intimidate. The interrogation was simply to send the message “your freedom is at our whim.”
After the interrogation, this cooperative, whip thin 13-year-old boy, who could have been snapped like a twig by any of the officers, and that everyone knew was not building a bomb, was handcuffed, “for his safety and for the safety of the officers,” in full view of his peers, and frog-marched to the local precinct, where he was processed and charged with creating a hoax bomb.
He was wearing a NASA t-shirt. I don’t claim to know a lot of jihadis, but I can bet that none of them have screamed “DEATH TO AMERICA EXCEPT FOR YOUR SPACE PROGRAM!”
The charge was, of course, bogus, and quickly dismissed after social media turned up for the circus that the authorities were putting on. The media, for its part, immediately began pushing the narrative that Ahmed had been arrested for making a hoax bomb. But he wasn’t. He was arrested for being brown. The clock is even incidental here: when the first police officer saw him, his reaction was “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” He wasn’t expecting the quiet white nominally-Christian boy who is far more likely to be a mass shooter. He was expecting Ahmed. They wanted to arrest the brown kid. They wanted to haul in the Muslim like he was a trophy.
There’s another part to this story, one that actually involves terrorism. Ahmed’s father is a political person. He’s a vocal opponent of anti-Islamic activity in America who happens to live in a town with a mayor who is leading the charge against “Sharia Law,” as if that’s actually a thing that is happening in America. He often returns to his native Sudan to run for president. He has debated notorious bigots. He’s outspoken in claiming his rights.
And now, seemingly out of nowhere, his son has been rounded up, had his rights violated, and been accused of egregious crimes that no one involved actually believes he intended to commit. They weren’t even polite enough to disguise it. “Yup. That’s who I thought it was,” the police said. They knew who this was. They knew what they were doing and who they were targeting. This arrest was an act of terrorism.
the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
This was unambiguously the use of intimidation (and, it could be argued, violence), in the pursuit of political aims. It doesn’t matter that they tried to do it under the color of law, this was thuggery, pure and simple. This was an act of terrorism, against American citizens, on American soil.
The real crisis that we face is that, even though Ahmed has been invited to the White House, even though he’s going to be held up as an example by well-meaning groups, Ahmed case isn’t unique, and his case is not an outlier. This happens every day. Ahmed is fortunate that his interaction with police didn’t involve a coroner’s report. The media isn’t going to call this an act of terrorism. Even people who should be calling it an act of terror (people like the President and even Ahmed’s father) don’t recognize it as terrorism, because they don’t recognize that it is, because most Americans can’t even think in those terms. Terrorism is something that happens over there or is perpetrated by people who aren’t white.
White terrorism is never called terrorism. We need to start calling it that. We’re going to keep seeing stories like this, stories like the shooting in Charleston, stories like the shooting in Oak Creek, and we’re going to keep viewing them as isolated incidents. They’re not. They’re fomented by a culture that gives implicit backing by ignoring what they are. They’re abetted by an investigative and preventive framework that refuses to accept that they are actual politically-motivated threats to public safety. This is terrorism. We need to start treating it like terrorism.
That’s a solid string of wins for a lot of people, and everyone who views them as losses is going to be viewed by history as backward relics hanging on to barbarism (if they’re not already). I really can’t overstate how great these four things are – the last one, in particular, is something I will never forget reading about, something I will cherish as a defining moment of a generation. Marriage equality! FINALLY!
Seriously, great job to everyone who fought for this, from Stonewall to today. People bled for this, please don’t ever forget that.
Does it sound like I’m leading up to a big ‘but’?
Weeks like this are great, and there’s a lot to celebrate, but my fear is that the wins in these battles are so big, so earth-shattering, that they set back the rest of the war. They take attention and momentum away from other, related battles. They drive opponents further into the trench and embolden them to fight even harder for anything they can hold on to. They make it that much harder to get with less flashy wins on even more important issues.
Great, yeah, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is finally being fully recognized as a symbol of horrific racism and treason, and is being pulled down and thrown on the garbage pile of history where it belongs. Even Walmart is refusing to sell it. Of course, removing this symbol required a blood sacrifice of 9 innocents, and has become the point of focus. Not the fact that a known radical was easily able to obtain a firearm, not the fact that he was a radicalized terrorist, not the fact that an ingrained system of hatred lead to this horrific act. It was the flag that did this, and if we take it away, everything is fine!
We’ve got marriage equality now, and thousands upon thousands of people who were denied basic human rights based solely on their gender are legally entitled to those rights. But, in the meantime, there are still 27 states where you can be fired or evicted from your apartment for legally getting married to the wrong person. There are 31 states where you can be tossed out on your ear for not dressing/acting/being the person your genitals say you are. Everyone cheered Obama schooling a heckler without a thought to the fact that said heckler was protesting the government’s horrible detention of LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers. These are issues of livelihood and shelter and freedom that are still up for debate, but now people can get married, so what more do you people want?
To make matters worse, the politicians that we would hope are leading the charge on these wins are simply riding their coattails. They claim victories that they had little or nothing to do with and have actually been counterproductive toward in the past. The very leaders we need to drive the fight forward are the same ones who would have us declare the war done. They are, if anything, more detrimental to the fight than the vocal opponents.
These are the fights we can’t forget about. These are the issues that we need to point to and realize that the war is far from won, that there is so much work left to be done. This was a good week. These were a lot of victories. Don’t expect every week to be like this.
I think it’s safe to say at this point that sports hasn’t been exactly charitable to women, and thathasbeenputondisplaytimeandtimeagainrecently. Yet for all the many high profile cases where various leagues and teams have completely failed women and their growing female fan bases, we tend to gloss over the various day-to-day miserableness that women who enjoy sports have to put up with.
Recently, I’ve started following a lot of people who talk hockey on Twitter, and the majority of those new follows are women. They’re smart, funny, and know their sport, as least as well as, and typically better than, their male peers. There’s probably an argument to be made that they do because they have to be better to be taken seriously, but I’m not even talking about bloggers here – just casual fans who are independently commenting on the sport that they love.
Most of these women I’ve started following because they said something intelligent about hockey. What keeps me around is that they’re, each and every one, pretty awesome people. Turns out most of them are passionate about other things I am passionate about, non-sports related things (please see the image at the top of the page for a random sampling). I tend to get a little mad when people I consider awesome are dumped on simply because of their plumbing.
Nearly three weeks ago, someone I respect on Twitter (despite the fact that she persists on rooting for the wrong team) called out a paid commentator of the team she roots for on yet another entry in his long documented history of being an absolute scumbag in his treatment of women. His response was, predictably, to cast himself as a victim and then double down on being awful.
I can imagine that there’s a temptation to look at the firestorm that ensued as a neutral observer and say “just a random fan getting into it with a shock jock,” but that’s not what it is. I say ‘is,’ because nearly three weeks on and it’s still going on, despite now being an entirely one-sided affair. Called on his awfulness, the commentator started by deflecting and claiming he was terribly wronged in a way that he was obviously not, and then very quickly ramped up to full-blown threats against her career in order to silence her.
Let me recap – A paid mouthpiece for a professional sports franchise overtly threatened a fan of that franchise with actions that could have lead to dramatic loss of income because she accurately pointed out he was being a misogynist bully. Can you guess what the reaction from that franchise was?
Oh, sorry, I left this box of crickets here.
Eventually, while not exactly concerned over the threats, she locked down her Twitter in order to remove herself from what was an unresolvable situation that was being tacitly supported by said franchise. But he was having none of that, preferring to mention her on Twitter in a manner akin to a third-grader playing “I’m not touching you!” Mind you, this is someone who has nearly 70,000 Twitter followers, many of whom “mobilized” on his behalf to back him up, horribly wounded victim that he is. He gets to amplify his signal many many times over to people willing to step into the fray for 30 seconds. While she has a number of people willing to actively defend her, the effort that they have to expend in defense is far and away more taxing than all of the offense combined. This is a gross power imbalance, and most of the people on the short side are already weary from having to deal with this kind of shit every day.
We’ve seen this type of behavior from various big-name GamerGate supporters who mobilize their flocks to anonymously peck at their targets while casting themselves as the real victims. The difference here is that, despite the distributed nature of GamerGate, there actually is a central authority to appeal to here – the team itself. Unfortunately, that team doesn’t seem to care. I’ve imagined they’ve done the math already and concluded that even passing acknowledgement of the issue would generate a backlash they don’t want to waste the time addressing. “So what if the commentator was harassing someone? He interviewed our favorite player and we like him!” This calculation effectively sells out 40% of their fanbase that, due to various social reasons, tend to be less vocal (and less heard when they are) in favor of not upsetting a rather small minority existing in the other 60%, a minority that gets shriller and more aggressive even as it grows smaller. Eventually that math is going to look very bad, but the damage is going to be long since done.
There’s this neat website I found around a decade ago called the Political Compass. It’s basically a short test with a number of rather generic questions about your views on various economic and social issues. It’s short – takes about five minutes – and it gives you an X/Y axis position for your political views. The X axis represents your economic views, from left to right, and the Y axis represents your social views, from the extremes of Authoritarian to Libertarian.
The test forces you to answer all of the questions, and gives you four options: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree and Strongly Agree, which prevents hedging. It forces you to take a stance. The best part is that after it’s done asking you its analysis questions, it gives you your results! That’s right, no entering your email or a ton of demographic questions. It’s just a test to give you a result.
I take this test every year in May. It happens in May because that’s the first time I took it, and just happened to take it again almost exactly a year later. Now, I take it once a year in May, kind of as a benchmark for where I’m at. Spoiler alert: there are only minor fluctuations in my numbers after 2005.
Here are my results for 2013:
That’s -9.00 Economic, -8.05 Social. Basically, I’m a left libertarian. Waaaay left libertarian.
Now, the fun comes with the analysis of where I measure up compared to the various 2012 Presidential candidates. You might be surprised to see Barack Obama hanging out within one point of his “ideological opposite” Mitt Romney up in right-wing authoritarian land, but if you are, that means you really haven’t been paying attention.
Here are my previous nine results:
May 2012: -9.62 / -7.38
May 2011: -9.12 / -8.21
May 2010: -8.12 / -8.67
May 2009: -7.88 / -7.44
May 2008: -7.50 / -6.97
May 2007: -7.75 / -7.49
May 2006: -8.50 / -7.33
May 2005: -7.25 / -8.51
May 2004t: -8.00 / -5.79
So go take the test! I love seeing where other people place on the spectrum.
I’m a big fan of editorial cartoons, both as an artform and as a medium for political commentary. I would have to point to a number of political cartoonists that, in 1, 3, 4 or even 8 panels, have helped shape my political ideology. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and for editorial cartoons, that maxim is incredibly on-point. A single-panel cartoon can often convey an entire editorial’s worth of ideas. Usually, those ideas are condensed or refined, but that’s the point.
I first “discovered” political cartoons in 2000, when I would see them in the old Pittsburgh Weekly. I honestly don’t remember the cartoonists featured, though I’m fairly certain that Ted Rall was in there, and I remember eagerly awaiting the next issue largely for the cartoons. Rall was my “in” to the medium, which now seems a bit strange to me. I consider myself very far left-wing these days, but not what I would consider a radical. Rall, however, is a radical, and proud of it. His work started me on the leftward path, and while we have many issues in common, there’s a lot of disconnect between the two of us as to how to accomplish those ideas. Anyway, I digress. It wasn’t until around 2002 that I really started reading cartoons regularly. I found Daryl Cagle’s Political Cartoonist Index, which is a clearinghouse for most of the professional editorial cartoonists in America and a number abroad. I checked it daily for years before having to step back and focus on just a few. In that time I found favorites, fell out with some of those favorites, and then found new favorites.
I also found bugbears, which was a large part of my whittling down my consumption of editorial cartoons. I try not to live in an echo chamber, but that’s what we tend to do. I don’t read the likes of Michael Ramirez and Chuck Asay anymore, because they tell me nothing that interests me, but often infuriates me. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes I do read them over at A Good Cartoon, which makes them manageable.
While I’m a hard-boiled leftie, I’m not a big fan of hyper-partisans and their associated news outlets like Daily Kos. This is mainly because while there are a number of people close to me ideologically there, most of them are quite willing – eager, even – to sell that ideology out to put yet another moderate-to-right wing Democrat into office, and scream at me for not doing the same. The exception I make concerning Kos, however, is Comics at Daily Kos, which was launched and is curated by another one of my favorites, Tom Tomorrow. Comics at Daily Kos is practically a clearinghouse of my favorites: Matt Bors, Jen Sorensen, and Brian McFadden, just to name a few. What’s interesting about most of the cartoonists featured on Kos is that they share my “ideology first, party very second” approach (which has earned more than one of them the ire of the group mind there).
These cartoonists have created succinct messages that have in turn lead me to discover larger points about issues that I previously was uneducated about or simply didn’t realize I should have an opinion on, which has lead me to nailing down where I stand. That has been immeasurably helpful, because my world view is very important to me. Understanding how I see the world and what I believe is allows me to not just float along, being pushed and pulled by whatever currents I happen to be in. The first election I ever voted in was 2004, because prior to that, I didn’t see the point. Cartoonists like Rall, Kirk Anderson, and David Horsey, just to name a few, helped me shape my first truly political thoughts. Heck, even the right-wing cartoonists helped by giving me a counterpoint to look at and understand that I vehemently disagreed with. Since then, I’ve voted in every primary and general since then, twice a year every year. I help out my state representative on election day. I’ve stood in the rain passing out literature for insurgent candidates who drew less than 1% of the vote.
Editorial cartooning has become a dying art, though. Newspapers are dropping cartoons, and the alt-weeklies, long the cash-cow for modern cartoonists, have begun slashing costs wherever they can, starting with their cartoon syndication. Cartoonists are turning more and more to new forms of revenue to continue doing what they do, from merchandising their websites to running Kickstarter campaigns to put out book collections. So when you see a Kickstarter for a cartoonist that you like, kick in a few dollars. If your local newspaper runs editorial cartoons, let them that you appreciate them running editorial cartoons and ask them to get a few more. If they don’t, tell them that they should get one. If you come across an editorial cartoon that you like and want to post it to social media, find out who drew it and link to their website. But most of all, keep reading them!
*Disclosure (which makes me appear cooler than I actually am): I coded www.mattbors.com and www.jensorensen.com.
Back just before the election (October 26th, to be exact), one of my favorite political cartoonists, Matt Bors, published this cartoon:
Matt was running a Kickstarter to raise money for an upcoming book at the time, and one of the donors, someone he considered a friend, retracted his $250 donation and cut off contact over this. $250 is a big chunk of change to fork over for a book. It’s also a big chunk of change to take back over an opinion, especially when you consider that Matt was no stranger to taking Obama to task for drone warfare.
Now that we’ve established that, according to the Democratic base, criticizing Obama was off-limits in the run-up to the election (not to mention strongly frowned-upon for the entirety of the past four years), when is it acceptable? Now that we no longer have to worry about electing or re-electing the first Black president (or any of the other insane justifications I’ve heard), can we criticize him for what his administration has done?
Back in 2008, I put a lot of thought into the candidate I was backing from among the initially crowded Democratic field. I examined my priorities and weighed them against the stated positions of the candidates, and came up with Bill Richardson, who agreed with all of my deal-breakers except capital punishment. He dropped out early, so I shifted to John Edwards who agreed with me slightly less than than Richardson. Once Edwards bowed out, I grudgingly moved my support to Obama. I did not donate to the campaign, and I did not volunteer for the campaign. I voted for him, but I wasn’t going any further than that.
Fast-forward to 2012, by which time I was so disgusted with the administration that I refused to repeat that vote (I voted for Jill Stein). I had a host of reasons – Indefinite detention, drone warfare, milquetoast healthcare “reform,” repeated capitulation in the face of an increasingly shrill and out-of-touch minority, especially when he had the mandate and numbers to quash their obstruction, and the ever-increasing seizure of power by the executive. When I voted for Obama in 2008, there was one thing that made it all OK – he was a Constitutional scholar, a professor who intimately understood the document and promised to return to its precepts after the eight years of shredding it took. That lasted all of a few months. Nearly all of the Bush-era abuses of Constitutional authority remained, and a number were expanded. I was not about to vote in favor of that.
Now, I was told by many people (including my State Senator, who described my position as “masturbatory”) that a vote for “Not Obama” was exactly the same as a vote for Romney. I viewed this as the height of flawed logic. I understand that we’re kind of stuck with our first-past-the-post system, but that doesn’t put the onus on me to vote for one of the two major parties simply based on a blind taste test, especially when there were three other parties on the ballot. The onus is on those parties themselves to make themselves palatable. Just because one party took positions favorable to rape and murder is not enough, should not be enough, to compel me to vote for the other party – which, incidentally, itself took a favorable position on murder, as long as the murderees were brown and in other countries.
So, getting back to the question – is it safe to come out now? Can I openly criticize the President and his horrifying policies, or is that setting up Democrats for failure in 2014 and 2016? And if not, will it ever be safe to express an opinion out of lockstep with the party and not be branded as a country-destroying lunatic by people I who might otherwise agree with me if the President doing these things was a Republican?