When the Tables Are Turned…

I had the honor this past week of serving on a jury trial in my current home city of Vallejo, California. Yes, that Vallejo. The city with the distinction of being the most racially diverse city in the United States. And we are known for a number of other things, as well. Most of which are not on the positive side of the ledger…

What was initially surprising was how quickly the 12 jurors were selected. Only two of the initial 13 randomly selected jurors, 12 plus one alternate, were excused, due to their comments made on a questionnaire, as well as their replies when queried by the judge about those statements. Some of their comments were quite hilarious. It opened my eyes again, to how non-conforming many people walking among us are.

Our case was a criminal one, which involved a young woman who had been charged with obstructing, resisting or delaying an officer in the performance of his duty, and also charged with possessing a device that is used to smoke a controlled substance. The judge, in giving his instructions, told us it would likely be only a single day trial. The DA’s office was seeking to uphold the charges made by the arresting officers who work in a different city in Solano County. The defendant was being represented by a public defender.

Now that the 12 of us are confirmed and sworn in, we begin to hear the opening statements as presented by the prosecuting and defending attorneys. They both make their cases as to how the events transpired and what the defendant did to provoke her being arrested and charged. I listened intently, and with an open mind, so as to not form any bias or opinion. Yet.

The only witnesses that testify are two of the four officers who were present during this interaction and arrest. We heard their testimonies and were allowed to watch footage from the body camera of the main arresting officer. I now see how valuable having audio and video from those cameras can be. It clearly shows the actions of the officers and the young woman being charged. It would play a pivotal role in our decision-making.

After closing comments from both attorneys, we are then ushered into the deliberation room…somewhere deep in the bowels of this county building. So, here we are, twelve individuals who will determine whether or not this woman actually committed a crime or two. Or not. I think I know how I will cast my vote. But, having been part of a jury in Oakland 25 years ago, and knowing how important it is to not be locked into my position prior to our discussions, I plan to listen to my fellow jurors concerns.

As was the case in 1992, I was selected as foreman of this jury. Not sure if that is due to my silver hair, or my prior experience as foreman 25 years earlier…but, whatever the motives, I accept the designation by the group, and now we begin.

I lay out the parameters by which we should begin to discuss what we heard and saw in testimony from the witnesses and presented by both attorneys. And I reminded everyone that we must only consider those elements as we decide the fate of the defendant.

As I scan this room of my fellow jurors, it is truly one that exemplifies the rich and emerging diversity that is Vallejo, and I hope, America. We have three middle-aged Asian men, two young Latino men, a working mother from Fiji, two middle-aged African-American men, a 7 months pregnant Black woman, a young Asian/Caucasian bi-racial 19 year old, me…and one White male.

It becomes apparent early in this process that a couple of my fellow jurors already have their minds made up. In our discussions on both counts of which we are deliberating, they are certain that the arresting officer is to be trusted. That his accounts of what occurred that afternoon is good enough for them, and this young woman, who we are told was either on drugs or suffering with a mental illness, is guilty. I have my doubts.

My first concern is to what this woman was obstructing, delaying or resisting. She had committed no crime…but wait. We were told that there was a glass pipe found on her person during the arrest. It was confiscated by one of the officers. It is illegal to have one of these in your possession in California. Yet, these pipes are sold, legally, in numerous smoke shops throughout the county. Does this seem oddly ironic to anyone else?

That pipe. That legally sold item, but illegally possessed by the defendant, was never produced as evidence, due to it’s being broken while in the pants pocket of one of the officers on scene that afternoon. As with all controlled substance containers, which become either broken or contaminated, it must be discarded using universal precautions. Meaning; it is placed into a locked sharps container, and thus not available for our observations. And, to our chagrin, we never see nor hear on the body cam video, any mention of the discovery of said pipe. When was it found? And how? Clank.

Somewhere in our discussions, the OJ Simpson trial came up. I allowed it to go on for a few minutes before I decide to reel us back in. However, I wanted to share one element from that debacle from 1995, which might be good for us to consider. The Los Angeles PD had plenty to learn from that experience, not the least of which is that evidence must not be tainted, nor ever allow it to appear to have been compromised. The blood samples gathered at the crime scene were not taken directly to the LAPD lab for processing, but had been left overnight in the trunk of one of the officer’s vehicle. That was one of the major tears in the prosecutions attempt to convict Simpson… And here we are, 22 years later with an officer not properly securing evidence. Funny, how history can truly give us lessons to use going forward. A funny side note; at least one of our jurors was not yet born during that historic trial.

It became apparent, once again, that at least two of my fellow jurors were already in the mindset to trust the officers’ testimonies and move to a guilty verdict. Up to this point in our being together in deliberations, I have not yet called for a vote. But, I could read the body language and hear their comments, and knew that these two were locked in. Guilty.

It was decided that we would focus upon the first count, that of obstructing, delaying and resisting the officer in his duties. Once we had watched the video footage, it was apparent that the defendant was not in her right mind during the entirety of the encounter. Was she high on drugs? Does she have a mental illness?

We debated on what the officer could have done differently; to engage with her better, to keep her from running into the mid-afternoon traffic on a busy downtown street, and once detained, to decipher what she was saying…which none of us could comprehend.

After 15 minutes of this debate, I called for a vote. I asked if anyone was uncomfortable with a visible vote, by a show of hands, on which way each person would cast his or her vote. All were in favor of this method. I had offered to use slips of paper, which would allow for anonymity. They trusted me, and each other, to where that was not needed. All hands were raised when I asked was she guilty on count one.

This is where, I believe, the best part of what our nation can provide in this judicial process can be found. I had gone into the deliberation room prepared to vote not guilty on both counts…more because of my belief that too many cops are trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of poor people and people of color, many of whom cannot afford proper legal representation. As a Black man of more than 60 years of living, I know all too well how many people have been falsely accused and convicted by “dirty cops.” Through the discussions that we engaged in today, I was willing to see it from another perspective. And thus, I changed my vote to guilty on count one.

Now, it’s time to wade into the deep waters on count number two.

I had taken time, during the course of the courtroom presentations that morning, to observe the activity and demeanor of the defendant. I wanted to get a feel for her state of mind…was she a person whom the matters of life have broken? Was she a drug-addicted woman for whom treatment in a program is warranted? I wanted to have that sense when it came time to cast a vote which could possibly send her to jail versus to a place where she could receive counseling and, possibly, a fresh start.

As a nation we are now in the thralls of tRump and his band of billionaire pirates, with daily tweets about all sorts of unimportant, and often trivial, national matters. One that is currently on the front page is the epidemic of persons addicted to opioid painkillers. Those beta-blocking miracle drugs which far too many physicians have been prescribing to any and every one with a bad back, strained shoulder or broken life.

Yet, prior to this latest epidemic, which is the name given for anything that is grossly impacting the White community in negative ways, it had been the addiction to methamphetamines. The suburban communities albatross to what crack cocaine has been in the poor and Black communities. Deceit. Destroyed lives. Death.

We must now seek to determine whether the defendant was in possession of a pipe that is used for smoking meth. We know that there was a pipe. Both attorneys had attested to that. What I am troubled by, in my Johnny Cochran mind, is why there is no photograph of this broken pipe? Heck, every cell phone today is equipped with a camera. If the pipe was broken in the pants pocket of the second officer, when it was extracted, why not snap a few date and time stamped photos for evidence. He should have known better. Really.

On the witness stand he spoke of how, during his two years on the force, he had made at least 50 arrests of persons who used some sort of controlled substances. He knew the signs. He knew the look. He just didn’t know how to properly secure this pipe. Like the hungry pit bull with a piece of meat, I was not letting go of this discrepancy. And, to my surprise, neither were the majority of my fellow jurists. Except, the lone white male. Then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

This is that place where he is not in the majority in a room. He is not in charge. This is unfamiliar territory. He cannot fathom that an officer who looked like him, who may have plenty in common with him, would not be trusted. This is how officers who murder unarmed and innocent Black men and women can be acquitted. Are acquitted. Are released even when video shows the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Not today.

He was the only juror who, after all of our discussions on the lack of physical evidence of a pipe, held onto the “circumstantial evidence” bone. Even other jurors appealing to him using various scenarios could not sway his opinion. I smiled inside. For now, I can see clearly. Whether in Omaha, Baltimore or San Francisco, a jury that is not made up of the broad backgrounds and experience of our unique communities, will never reject the “honest cop” mentality and serve justice to those who are voiceless. We decided upon a not guilty to count two; 11 to 1. We made the call to the bailiff. We are ready.

The presiding judge reviewed the documents that I had submitted, and asked me if this is our decision. I assured him yes, it is. As the counts, and our choices were read, I watched the faces of the legal team and the defendant. The arresting officer was not present. I wonder if he had concluded that all would just go according to the norm.

Not today.

The judge thanked us for our time and service to the process. He also stated that he would do his best to refer the defendant to get the proper help; whether for her drug addiction and/or mental health challenges. Once again, I smiled. We had made the right choices.

Outside the courtroom I thanked each juror for their assistance in this judicial proceeding. I was not able to connect with the lone hold out…whether he was avoiding me or me not wanting to see him, I am not sure. Whatever the case, I believe that justice was served today, and that the men and women who allowed me to guide them in this process have gained immeasurable insight into what can make this nation great. It is my prayer that each of them will return home and share this experience with their family and friends, and implore them to not shy away from serving on a jury when summoned. It could make the difference between someone getting a fair trial or being another casualty in our ever-growing prison population.

And for my brother from another Caucasian mother, he has now tasted the bitter fruit of this yet-imperfect judicial system, when the control is out of your hands and the tables are turned.

Yes, today.

Peace.

On Second Thought…

On Second Thought…

Most of us have heard, or either stated, those words. It is usually after having given a bit more consideration to something asked of us. All too often, at least for me, the first comment out of my mouth may not be the best statement I could make. You know, the “off the top of my head”, comment.

However, it is the second comment, or the one that has been run through our filter, that is usually the most telling as to what we truly think, and who we really are.

Take inventory over the next 48 hours to watch and listen to how you respond, when asked a question or, maybe equally important, when you see something or someone that provokes your opinion. What is the second thought?

Is it one of acceptance or criticism? Do you give room for possible factors, unknown to you, that should be considered? Or, do you make a hasty judgment, and feel justified?

In such a time as this, when our nation is being pulled in many directions, let us consider that the first thought that we think may not be the best, nor might it be one that gives room for understanding of issues that are real for the other person.

What thoughts do these images provoke for you?

Peace.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneels during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Hands Up, Don’t Watch NFL…

Hands Up, Don’t Watch…

It has been a strange week in America.

We have witnessed one of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes devastate many Caribbean nations and Florida. The damage to property and loss of life, between Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, is staggering.

Somehow, the first week of official NFL games were played…and to view some photos from various locations in stadiums that had thousands of empty seats. Hmmm. What could this be attributed to?

Then add the recent revelation that Seattle Seahawks All-Pro Michael Bennett was racially profiled and threatened, at gunpoint, by a Las Vegas police officer; I must now ask you, you who have not the desire nor fortitude, to see the truth, what don’t you understand about the Colin Kaepernick situation?

The fact that every NFL teams ownership has passed on even inviting Kaepernick in to see if he is in shape to play…let alone make their squad, is atrocious. Yet, you will spend much of your Sunday yelling at the TV…talking about how YOUR team is doing.

Your Team?

It is time to say no more NFL until they break their collusion.

There is power in UNITY.

Peace.

End Game Enterprise

September 11, 2017

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the falling of the World trade center towers, World trade center building 7, the downing of flight 93 in Pennsylvania and the hit on the pentagon. An interesting way, you might think, to describe events that have made an indelible imprint upon the minds and psyche of Americans, and I would guess, people worldwide.

Today will be marked with comments from the 45th president, survivors of that day in 2001, as well as those who doubt its authenticity. In the 8 months since tRump took the office of US President, our nation has become even more polarized along, racial, economic and political lines. It will be interesting to see, over the next 24 hours, what today’s remembrance will create.

For me, who has a long history of questioning authority and having doubts about the truths that are promulgated towards “We the People”, in order to form a more perfect mindset of blind allegiance, I will again ask people, “is it possible?”

Is it possible that 19 people, armed only with box cutters, could overpower army-trained pilots? Could they fly commercial aircraft in ways that confound even the best-trained military pilots? Could 2 buildings that were engineered and built to withstand the impacts of 747 aircraft, really be brought down by burning jet fuel and office furniture?

Is it possible, that we have not been told the truth, the whole truth, so help them God?

As we mourn the lives that were taken on that day, let us honor them by demanding that the truth be finally told. Oh right, with 45 in office, the truth is not something that he, nor his administration, is familiar with.

Afghanistan. Iraq. Yemen. Libya. Sudan. North Korea…..next?

Peace?

Why we MUST #BoycottNFL…

The past few weeks have been quiet hectic, even without all the madness that emanates from thre tRump White House.

One story that continues to hold our attention is that of NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who is yet to be invited to a tryout to any NFL team this preseason. Most of us who know better understand that this is more about his political stance than it is his skill set to run a football team.

One of his more ardent supporters has been Seattle Seahawks player, Michael Bennett, who has remained seated during the playing of the national anthem thus far. To now have Mr. Bennett describe his being accosted and abused by the Las Vegas P.D., while he was in town for the Floyd Mayweather fight…is disgusting.

The incident has created a great deal of buzz this week on various sports talk programs. Here is one that is particularly nauseating….well, the responses from too many of the people who tuned in…watch this:

Fast Forward to the Past…

Fast Forward to the Past…

What a time in which we are living.

A boastful imbecile sits in the chair of the most powerful office in our nation. His ignorance of world affairs, national economic needs, and inability to call out domestic terrorism is obvious to all but his fervent, though continually dwindling, support base.

In the past 72 hours we have witnessed a white-nationalist march, an anti-racist rally, and the death of three Americans…at the hands of men and women who are proud to be labeled alt-right neo Nazis. The United States has seemingly been thrust backwards to the 1950’s. And this nation’s president refuses to denounce such
actions.

Maybe this is the spark that must ignite the flames needed to burn away any pretense of decency that some of us have hoped existed within the mind of Donald tRump.

Our nation is mired in a paralysis of failed leadership the likes of which anyone under the age of 35 has never seen. It reminds me of the first 2 years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He, like tRump, was so ill qualified to lead our nation. Yet, it was his façade and intonations about nostalgia, coined in his phrase, “it’s morning in America,” that swelled up the chests and minds of his fervent followers. And within one year we were mired in a deep economic recession.

The America in which we now live will not accept the hate-filled comments and actions of any group. We will stand up and stand
together to resist and defeat those who use fear and violence to subdue progress.

Teach your children about the importance of rejecting these types of assaults on living together as brothers and sisters. A nation that can prosper without judgment. Without condemnation. Without hate.

The world that we leave for them requires a unified defense. And each of us must play our part. Put on your uniform. Be ready for your moment. Our nation needs you.

Peace.

B-Movie 2…

The great philosopher/musician Gil Scott Heron wrote a song in 1981, after the election to the US Presidency of Ronald Reagan, named “B Movie.” It was never a commercial hit, likely because of it’s raw content, lashing out at the unbelievable election of this B movie actor…to the highest office in the Nation.

I loved the song…from the first time I heard it. Today, as we are witnessing the daily tweets, comments and disparaging disrespects, by Donald Trump, towards any and everyone whom he deems disloyal, this song reminds me of how little we have moved since 1981. How little we have learned about what we need to do to thrive here in our nation and as citizens of the world.

When you have seven minutes, listen to the song. Hear how piercing are its lyrics. You may be reminded, if you were alive then, or now privy to if you are under 35years of age, of how unqualified Reagan was to be the POTUS. How he changed positions and beliefs in order to appease whomever he deemed important. Yet, here we are today, with someone even more unqualified to lead our country…who tells us how his victory in November’s election was the largest ever…his mandate. His delusion.

Wake up America. The nostalgia that Reagan and tRump espouse is nothing but a smoke screen to blind us all to their true end game. An empire state run by the elites. By 1982, the US was in a major recession. Reagan raised taxes six times in the next 2 years, in an effort to stimulate the economy. Yet, he is remembered as a President who cut taxes. He who tells the story gets to write it to his/her liking.

We cannot allow this generation’s “B-movie” to play itself out. We have too much at stake. Our children, our economy and our world are begging for us to stand up and make it right.

Here is the link to listen to the prophetic message of “B-Movie.

Peace.

The Silence of the Masses…

The Silence of the Masses…

Imagine, if you can, walking to your place of employment. Every day. For 381 consecutive days. Rain, hail, sleet or snow. No, this is not an advertisement for a mail carrier position with the postal service. This is so much bigger than that.

Beginning on December 5, 1955, the Black men and women, boys and girls of Montgomery, Alabama set out to make the case that they should be allowed to sit in any seat, front or back, on the buses in their city. They had been preparing for this for some time. As had Ms. Rosa Parks, whom also had been chosen and prepared to refuse to move to the back of the bus only four days earlier.

And of all of the people who made that historic achievement possible, the only name we know of, and hold dear, is that of Ms. Parks. The real power of that movement was made possible by the masses of courageous and unnamed, but not forgotten, warriors.

I would have to believe that many of those who had attended meetings, in private homes and local churches, could not fully comprehend that what they had been planning would actually succeed. The seeds of doubt, fear and loss of income, or worse, life itself, must have kept many of them awake each night as the December 5th date approached.

Who among us today would not have been afraid? Hell, how many of us today are unwilling to sacrifice a few hours of pay to go vote? Even when it is something your employer cannot withhold pay for your participation. How many of us are reluctant in serving as a juror? Yet, we are quick to rail against an unfair verdict handed down by a jury of peers that do not fully resemble your community?

This year, this fear, must be crushed.

We are at a time that will, just like 1955, be recorded today, and remembered tomorrow and beyond, by those who are yet unborn. Will they view us as brave liberators, who were unafraid of the backlash from the media and of our “good jobs?” Will they compare us to those brave souls who never gave in to their fears…in Montgomery, for 381 consecutive days, or we will be remembered for our continued apathy in the face of an amoral police and judicial system that placed no value on the lives of Black men and women?

My heart and soul sings praise, and gives honor, to those who, on December 20, 1956 put their coins in those bus turnstiles and sat down any damn where they pleased. To them, we owe a debt of gratitude. For them we MUST now do our part.

Because of them we must remain silent no more.

Peace.

Rosa Parks seated toward the front of the bus, Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Privileged Paralysis

Privileged Paralysis

In this time of trauma and turmoil, both at home and abroad, it is telling how silent and still the majority of Whites are about everything. Whether about the latest revelations of how the trump family and friends co-opted, in 2016, with Russian operatives, to subvert our presidential election, or the latest news where an unarmed and innocent person of color is murdered by a “peace officer”, it is quiet amongst the majority.

As a man of more than 60 years, I am at a loss in my ability to comprehend all of this. For I, like most of us educated in the American school systems, have been indoctrinated from my early years about how great America is. Whether it is in the area of sports, education, and commerce, we were always made to believe that we, the US of A, held the flag high for moral justice. Yet, were not we the same nation that held on to Jim Crow laws long after slavery…because, it was still believed, by those whose skin pigmentation is light, that they were the favored race?

So much is discussed about the privilege that Whites have created in America. Whether it is the opportunities afforded in education, employment or social settings, the fact that they have always known it is there’s to control and gain benefit, gave them a sense of security that is now under attack.

The number of “legal” immigrants that have been welcomed into our nation, from Europe, Vietnam, and other countries ravaged by uncivilized wars, was acceptable as long as Whites remained in the drivers seat. But, over the past 10 years it has been stated that by 2050, Whites will no longer be that majority “race” in America. And that is, it seems, when things began to change.

What we are witnessing is the tipping point in America, where Whites are feeling what everyone else has always felt all along. Uncertainty. Doubt. Fear.

Welcome to the real world that you constructed.

We ask that you now join us in seeing the truth of what is evident to the “new majority.” Speak out against the greed, income inequality, sexism and misogyny. Speak out against brutal policing and an unjust judicial system that refuses to punish racists that hide behind a badge and the “thin blue line.”

The America that you have believed in can be a reality. For all of us. It will require your active participation and the peeling away of your privilege. Like the deer that is paralyzed by the headlights of the oncoming car, it is time to react. Let us hear your voice. Show your support. Demand justice. We either rise or lose it all. One Nation, Under God with Liberty and Justice for ALL.

Peace.

NoThing to Celebrate 4 Me

NoThing To Celebrate 4 Me

As those who still believe that we have something to celebrate, on this Independence Day in the year 2017, I am left to wonder how much longer the people of this Nation can remain asleep. What I have come to realize, as I have become more awakened and aware of the slumber in which I have been subject to, having chased the American Dream of a successful career, a home with the white, picket fence and the multi-vehicle garage, I now see the illusion for what it truly is.

I now seek to converse with others in an effort to gauge this new found clarity, maybe to determine whether or not I am hallucinating or just living in a parallel universe. What we once believed in as Americans is now cause for polarizing discord. We have a lunatic President who has no clue, nor experience, in government nor in building collaborative organizations. Still millions will march in parades, wave flags and marvel at fireworks in a showing of national pride. Bound by tradition. Blinded by rhetoric. While the citizens of the World look at us with disdain and disbelief.

It is likely no accident that students at all levels no longer are required to learn of national or world histories. No longer having debates about civic issues that impact us at the local, state and national level. We are a citizenry that is more informed about the latest free agent moves and contracts of professional basketball players, than we are about the liberties and freedoms, workers rights and wealth disparities that are being unraveled before our very eyes.

So, count me not in those who will feel patriotic on your July 4th holiday. For it has not yet lived up to the credo of the founding fathers: those men who took a stand against the tyranny of the King of England. Yet, offered no less the same oppression upon anyone who was not a white male, with wealth and who owned property. We are witnessing a similar displacement of people, property and promise by today’s ruling elite. To deny this truth would be the greatest indignity to my ancestors.

The only year in my lifetime that compares to this one, would be 1968. A year that saw two national leaders assassinated. A year that saw thug violence committed by the Chicago police department during the Democratic National Convention. A year where we saw Black athletes hoist black-gloved fists into the air, to draw global attention to a society that applauds their athletic exploits but offers nothing else to their people.

So, should you desire to see our nation Become Great, pull up YouTube on any Internet-capable electronic device and take the time to share with your family the speeches of Frederick Douglass, Christopher Hedges and Malcolm X. This struggle is not new. But, it is at a critical time in our history. Leave a legacy that your future heirs will feel proud to uphold. They will salute you and, I pray, a flag that truly represents all.

Peace

The Silver Surfer