Thursday, July 30, 2015

Seriously Now, Get Your Priorities Straight

This Facebook meme caught my eye yesterday and helped inspire this post.

Get the tar pots boiling.  Slash those old pillows, you are going to need plenty of feathers.  There is probably a decorative rail fence over in the neighbor’s yard.  A lot of you will want all of the gear.  A lot of you are seriously going to hate this post and be itching to ride the author on the rail straight out of town and off the internet.
On Wednesday social media erupted with a virtual torrent of posts about Cecil, a particularly majestic African lion who had somehow become an internet celebrity.  The big cat was apparently lured out of a heavily protected Zimbabwe game reserve and killed by a bow hunter on what amounted to a canned hunt.  The killer was quickly identified as a dentist from Minnesota who immediately became the most reviled and despised man on the internet and the object of a howling global virtual lynch mob.  I would guess based on my Facebook page that 80 to 90% of the anguish and outrage came from tender hearted white folk who love animals.
I get it.  I really do.  We love animals from cute kittens to the endangered wildlife now routinely captured on breathtaking film by world class cinematographers for endless cable channel nature series.  We are viscerally affected when we see them suffer.  Hell, Jimmie Kimmel, of all people, was in tears over the death of Cecil on his TV show the other night. 

Cecil and his killers.

And I am down with protesting needless cruelty and the wanton destruction of trophy hunting, poaching, baiting, and the like.  Got a petition?  I’ll sign.
But as I scrolled down my Facebook news feed through the almost endless posts I noticed something.  Most of the posts were from friends and acquaintances who otherwise never want to get political.  Very nice people who post those kitten videos, pictures of their lunches, humorous memes, lots of family, and a heavy dose of nostalgia.  People who for the last two years in the face of mounting evidence of structural racism and hair trigger police violence against people of color have never been moved to say a word.  People who are annoyed at and bewildered by all of the fuss and are frightened and offended by street protests.  People who become exasperated by the whole thing and finally add a comment that “all lives matter” or who maintain that “those people must have done something wrong.”
If you heart is big enough and your willingness to get involved is strong enough for both Cecil and the parade of dead and maimed Black men, women, and children,  I am not talking to you—and I did recognize quite a few of you. 
I am talking to the rest of you with your moral blinders on and exquisitely refined and limited sympathies.  Let me put it bluntly…Your priorities are fucked up.  And I am here to hold you accountable—a favorite term, after all, conservatives—for enabling racist, state and socially approved violence against people of color by your silence, squeamishness, and cowardice.

Sandra Bland being roughly arrested after a stop for a minor traffic violation in Texas.

The death of Cecil came a week after the troubling death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail.  In some ways it does not matter if she was murdered in custody, or if she was driven by despair to harm herself.  What is explicitly clear by the video captured by the police’s own camera is that in broad daylight a quite respectably dressed Black Woman was stopped for the very minor moving violation of a broken turn signal and within moments was dragged from her car, slammed violently to the pavement, injured, and ultimately arrested and hauled to jail on charges of resisting arrest.  Once in custody authorities did what they could to prevent her from easily communicating with her distant family and threw every obstacle available to her ability to be released on bail.  After her death county authorities rushed to defame her with claims that marijuana had been found in her system. 
Now wind that scenario back to the beginning and imagine a white woman in an identical circumstance, even one who got sassy to the officer.  Who honestly believes that she would not have been sent on her way with a scolding and a traffic ticket?  Maybe the rate of assault and unjustified incarceration by police against Junior League members is so incredibly low by mere happenstance.  Or not.
Yet so many defenders of Cecil could not work up a yawn about Sandra.  

Was Samuel Dubose murdered for being a scary looking black dude?

Then body camera video was released of University of Cincinnati Police Officer Raymond Tensing executing Black motorist Samuel Dubose by shooting him at point blank range in the face through his open car window.  Dubose was pulled over for the hideous crime of missing a front license tag and was slow to respond to a request for a driver’s license.  These are not capital crimes.  Neither was stealing cigars, selling individual cigarettes on the street, or a 12 year old playing alone with a toy gun in a park to rattle off just a few of the cases of the last two years.  Fortunately in the most recent case, quite different from most of the others, local authorities moved quickly on the overwhelming evidence.  The University fired the officer and yesterday, just one day after the video was released, the Grand Jury handed down an indictment for first degree murder.  The Prosecutor even sounds serious about vigorously pursuing the case.  We’ll see.
Once again so many Cecil fans could not be bestirred.
My Facebook feed is filled with commentary about those cases and others.  But my feed, which includes many friends who are Black and other people of color, committed social justice activists, and religious leaders, may not much resemble yours.  I hear a variety, even a cacophony of voices—even those of hyper-conservatives, gun enthusiasts, law and order hard liners, and a couple of openly avowed racists who have not de-friended me or been blocked for threatening physical attacks on me and my family.  Everyone should be exposed to a variety of opinions and attitudes.  Are you?  Or do you close yourself to those who challenge a cocoon of safety and invulnerability?
The de facto community on my Facebook feed is not perfect.  But some of us engage in the hard issues brought forth by the Black Lives Matter Movement, wrestle with how to best and most effectively act as white allies against racism, and even, most painfully of all, confront and acknowledge our white privilege and grapple with our own implicit participation in a system designed to promote oppression of minorities.  We are no angles.  Far less are we white saviors.  But at least we are engaged.

Go ahead.  Love Cecil.  Seek justice, even revenge for his brutal death.  But literally for Christ’s sake get your priorities straight and offer the same love and thirst for justice to your Black neighbors. 
End of screed.


  1. Fine rant, Patrick. Unless one is being stalked or mauled by a lion, it's 100% inviting and non-political to be in its corner and defending its life with ardor and outrage. But oh, the complications ensuing from our history and biases around race! That forces an issue—multiple issues, actually—where much of our society still fears to tread. No mess with lions; big and fearsome mess with race...

  2. What I see in play here are control issues. I can only suggest. I don't think I have the characteristic of power that gives me an automatic switch to flip on to tell others what to think or do...Inflated ego? Right. ..I have opinions I wish would sway others to agree with and possibly we work together to make ideas happen....I mention them every once in awhile, but they usually get lost in new louder noise incoming everyday.... Still I plan to continue to try and hope something sticks....Life extension, restorative medical tech, space settlements asap.... There are others.....The most effective I mean as suggestion. Take any overwhelming irritating hot button to self particular issue or report of something or someone wrong. I say don't stop at social media for whine fests and argument clinics before going to mentally and physically work on a real correction or solution.. The gist is, ultimately I can only control what I do ....Anything else is bonus esp. if others agree to take that same direction. It's about setting the big E. Example. Shut up! [ ...Addenda: Lives matter. If so, I'd like to suggest and see the serious go get first aid training certified by the Red Cross....Having people know what to do until first responders arrive often makes huge differences.....Another step, also with the Red Cross check eligibility to and then donate blood.... Bone marrow? Bring it on!]

  3. I don't think anyone crazy for tweeting #black lives matter, I think they are crazy for putting all their effort into a problem where a dozen black people are killed a year by cops when 1,000's (or tens of thousands) are killed by each other every year in the "hood" and nobody says anything.
    Seems black lives only matter when they are killed by a white person?