Minnesota, Race, USA

I’m a Black Lives Matter supporter, and I’m frustrated

I am a vehement supporter of the group Black Lives Matter. Some people mistake this to mean that I support everything that every member of every chapter of Black Lives Matter says and does—that I have some explaining to do every time a Black Lives Matter member makes an outlandish remark or chucks a bottle into a crowd of police.  Not so. What it means is that I support the movement’s overarching cause, the termination of an injustice that I believe to be real—the discrepancy between the value that we as a society place on white lives and the value that we place on black ones.

But as much as I support their cause, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with some of the methods the movement has chosen to achieve its goals, particularly in my hometown of Minneapolis as it relates to the shooting death of Jamar Clark. I’m certainly not alone in this sentiment, but while most peoples’ frustrations stem from the types of protests the Minneapolis chapter of BLM has been conducting—from blocking traffic on 94 to camping-out outside the precinct—my own personal frustration has less to do with their choice of protest and more to do with the narrative they have built those protests on.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the highway shutdown. It wouldn’t be the first tactic that I would choose from the long list of non-violent resistance methods, but I think that interrupting privilege and forcing people to pay attention is an important component to the BLM gameplan. And while I’ve heard several legitimate criticisms of this tactic, such as the hypothetical ambulance on its way to or from an emergency, I think this criticism is also somewhat illustrative of the essential claim to the Black Lives Matter cause, as it places more importance on the life of that hypothetical victim in the hypothetical ambulance than the life of the victim who was, in reality, already killed.

I also don’t have a problem with the precinct camp-out. If an institution is a purveyor of injustice, then that institution deserves to be a target of the protests fighting to eliminate those injustices, even if many of that institution’s members are providing the admirable and essential societal services that most police officers do indeed provide.

Where I do have a problem with #Justice4Jamar is that both of these protests have been based on a version of the Jamar Clark story that, in all likelihood, is not entirely true. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has gone all-in on an improbable counter-narrative that, in the long-run, will greatly reduce its credibility, as well as its ability to gain widespread support.

In the BLM narrative, Jamar Clark is an innocent victim, facedown on the ground, handcuffed and helpless, when he is shot in the head by Minneapolis Police. The last part of this narrative has been confirmed to be true. However, other evidence suggests that the rest of the narrative is not. It suggests instead that Jamar was not innocent nor handcuffed nor helpless. That he was violent towards his girlfriend, violent towards the police and paramedics attempting to provide her treatment, and that it was his own actions, his own reaching for the weapon holstered on the belt of one of the officers at the scene, that ultimately led to that officer using the weapon against him.

Right now, we don’t really know. We have our own versions of the story in our heads—what we believe, what we don’t—but as the investigation continues, the larger truth still evades us. Even when that “truth” comes outs, when the official version of the story has been released, it will still likely be comprised of incomplete and contradictory evidence. And no matter what the official version of that story says, I understand why people, specifically those associated with Black Lives Matter, will still be skeptical of the version produced by the very institution they are protesting.

But what I’m fairly certain about is that, upon its release, this official version will put to rest many of the claims that Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has been purporting about Jamar Clark’s death, claims that have played an integral role in the controversial protests that the movement has been conducting.

In a way, we’ve seen this movie before. It played out one year ago in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, when unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Much like the Jamar Clark case, the immediate details were murky. We knew the end of the story, but we didn’t know how we got there. Many narratives were created to fill in the blanks, but the narrative adopted by the newly created Black Lives Matter movement, and the nation as a whole, was the narrative of “Hands up, Don’t shoot.”

In this narrative, Michael Brown and a friend were walking down the street when they were stopped by police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson noted that Brown matched the description for a convenience store theft, and tried to question Brown on the matter. An altercation occurred. Brown took off running. Wilson gave chase. Realizing that his attempts at escape were futile, Brown stopped, raised his hands in the air, and prepared to give himself up. Wilson then shot Brown six times, killing him on the spot.

It is easy to see how this story inspired a national outrage. “Hands up, Don’t shoot,” chants rang out in marches and rallies across the country, even making appearances in rap concerts and NFL games. The problem with the chant is that it wasn’t exactly true.

According to multiple eyewitness accounts, Brown did not have his hands up. Instead he was aggressively charging at officer Wilson when the six fatal shots were fired that ultimately took his life. Furthermore, prior to the shooting, Brown robbed a convenience store, assaulted an officer, and tried to grab an officer’s weapon. In other words, “Hands up, Don’t shoot” was more than misleading, it was a lie.

I suspect that #Justice4Jamar may be heading in the same direction—that the shutdowns and sit-ins and marches that have been conducted in Jamar’s name, will ultimately have been built on a narrative that inaccurately reflects the final moments of his life. I also suspect that once this narrative has been discredited, the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter will be discredited as well, just as it was in Ferguson.

And as a BLM supporter, that pisses me off. It pisses me off because it undermines all the other crusades against racial injustice that are built on real narratives, narratives without exaggerations or fabrications, narratives that are just built on good, old-fashion, real-life, institutional racism—narratives that are built on the truth.

While “Hands up, Don’t shoot” and #Justice4Jamar have succeeded in bringing much needed attention to the Black Lives Matter mission, not all press is good press, and when the Jamar Clark headlines are turned on their heads just like they were in the Michael Brown case, that publicity will only be used to discredit the movement on a larger scale.

This is the last thing that Black Lives Matter needs. There are already enough people out there who deny the existence of systemic racism, who don’t understand the inherent ignorance in #AllLivesMatter, and who continually cite black-on-black crime as the reason that the Black Lives Matter movement is bullshit.  How is the movement supposed to challenge these falsities, much less win these people over, if it completely destroys its own credibility?

The ironic part is that the unembellished narratives of both the Michael Brown and Jamar Clark cases have aspects that maybe should be a part of the injustices that Black Lives Matter is trying to combat. Brown and Clark may not have been saints or martyrs, but they are still two unarmed men who did not deserve to be shot in the head. If these narratives were used correctly, if these narratives were used truthfully, they could provide powerful support to the larger battles Black Lives Matter is fighting against the excessive use of police force and the targeting of black bodies. But once these narratives have been corrupted with even the slightest hint of dishonesty or disingenuity, it discredits the whole narrative, and becomes ammunition for the opposition.

So please Black Lives Matter, don’t make the narrative of #Justice4Jamar more than it is. The fact that another unarmed black man was killed by a police officer is significant enough. If it comes out that Jamar was indeed handcuffed, then yes, by all means, go fucking nuts—shut down highways, occupy precincts, rally, march, and boycott…But until we know for sure,  don’t treat that narrative as truth. Continue to demand the truth, but don’t create your own version of it. Because if you create your own version of the truth, and that version turns out to be anything less than truthful, you will lose the support of a lot people. And that’s a shame, because the support of a lot of people is exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement deserves and needs.

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Immigration, Military, Politics, Race, Religion, USA, World

Thinking through Paris

Paris fucked me up. It was one of those events that seemed to have me reconsidering nearly everything I thought I believed—what I believed about people, what I believed about politics…It threw me into a state of mental disequilibrium so profound that a week-and-change later, I still haven’t really settled back into the post-Paris me. In that sense, this post is a thinking-through, a consideration of the clusterfuck that was last week’s events and the tangled mess of causes and consequences that connect to it, in hopes of finding equilibrium again.

When I first caught wind of the attacks, the radio man was being very cautious about the details he was releasing, but I remember knowing one detail of the attacks right away without anyone needing to tell me: the attackers were radical Islamists.

I didn’t want to be right about that. Upon confirming what I already knew on the World Wide Web, I took to Twitter, and aside from the Parisians directly affected by the attacks, there isn’t any people for whom I felt more pity than the Muslims from around the world who felt compelled to tweet out their opposition to these atrocities lest they be labeled as terrorists themselves.

But the Islamic question is upon us again, and I don’t know where I stand. I know for sure that the vast, vast, vast majority of the world’s Muslims are peaceful people who should not have to explain themselves nor apologize for the actions of these crazy, ISIS assholes. But I also think that thinkers like Sam Harris have a point when they say things like the religion of Islam “has a unique problem at this moment in history.”

When I try to reconcile these ideas in my own head, I find myself trying to differentiate between Muslims as people and Islam as a set of ideas. I don’t agree with any sweeping generalizations that people make about Muslim people, but I do think that you can criticize the religion of Islam, and certain radical Muslims, without being a bigot. As an atheist, I criticize Christianity all the time, and no one ever bigotizes me for it. I also have a life crammed full of Christians who are way better people than I am, people that I love and adore, despite my opposition to the theology they subscribe to. And just like it’s unintellectual to suggest that all Muslims are terrorists, I also find it unintellectual when President Obama and other liberals go out of their way to avoid using the word Islamic to describe the self-described Islamic terrorists they are describing.

But as far as doctrine goes, is Islam really any more violent than a religion like Christianity? The Quran is certainly violent, and Jesus was a peaceful dude, but the god of the Old Testament was a homicidal maniac who indiscriminately killed all those who failed to appease his capricious demands. Furthermore, Christianity experienced millennia of war and violence before it found the relative peaceful epoch that many Christians experience today.

That’s why a big part of me also believes that the violence associated with Islam is less about the religion and more about the places where people who subscribe to that religion happen to live, places where people are generally much more politically and economically disempowered than their Christian brethren in the Western World. Any religion can be radicalized, but radicalization is more likely in certain places than in others, places like war-torn Syria and Iraq or occupied countries like Palestine and Afghanistan.

And then I ask myself what the world would look like if the tables were turned—if Muslims around the world experienced the relative prosperity and stability of Christians today, and Christians the impoverished and violent dystopias of so many Muslims. What it would look like if Islamic countries controlled the UN and the IMF and the Christians nations were still recovering from decades of colonialism and imperialism. How much more vulnerable would Christians be to the radical wings of their own religion, groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan? Certainly there’s no shortage of things like racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia in the Christian world as it is. How much worse would it be if they were thrown into the desperate and dire circumstances known by so many Muslims, if they really had something to be angry about?

Yet most Muslims aren’t angry. They’re just scared. Scared of the same lunatics that shot up the city of Paris ten days ago. And that’s why they’re running.

Which leads to the questions surrounding the world refugee crisis, questions about the number of refugees we in the United States should accept, questions about the vetting process refugees should be subjected to in order to gain admission.

While I’ve been appalled by many of the racist arguments equating refugees to terrorists, I have to admit that some of those arguments contain a small but significant dose of truth: the more refugees that the United States accepts and the more lenient the vetting process, the more likely it is that that process will be exploited by people who wish to do the United States harm.

I really think that’s undeniable. It doesn’t mean that refugees are terrorists. Refugees are refugees. It does mean, however, that terrorism is a problem in the world, a problem that often comes from the same places as the refugees do, and that those terrorists are not above the exploitation of humanitarian compassion. If you want to make an argument for refugee acceptance, I think that’s a reality that you have to come to terms with.

I do acknowledge that reality, but I also don’t think that it has to dictate our response to our fellow human beings in crisis. I whole-heartedly agree with the overused mantra that to deny refugees based on fears of terrorism would be letting the terrorists win. More importantly, it would be letting the refugees lose, and that would be unacceptable.

Sometimes in discussions like these, the tone seems to take an us-and-them mentality.  “It will put us in danger if we take them in.”  “How are we going to help their people if we can’t even help our own people?”   Fair points, but for me, those words carry little weight when I’m looking at images like these. When I look at these pictures, I don’t see Syrians. I don’t see Muslims. I don’t see us or them. I just see children—children who desperately need a world to do the right thing in spite of any potential consequences.

And while this decision should not be a political one, it does present the United States with a tremendous opportunity to begin reforming its image in the Muslim world. By taking in tens-of-thousands of Muslims (and many non-Muslims) in need, the United States not only provides an essential service to humanity, it also simultaneously delivers a big “fuck you” to radical Islamists everywhere, demonstrating our unwillingness to let their terroristic threats dictate the way that we care for our Muslim brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings in need.

And after the Paris attacks, it is clear that we in the Western World need a reminder of who our fellow human beings are. The outpouring of sympathy for Paris was, in my opinion, beautiful. Changing your Facebook profile picture or retweeting #PrayForParis could be seen as pretty meaningless gestures, but I love the idea of the world coming together across borders and oceans to show support and offer hope, to send prayers and positive energy to a city and a people who desperately need them. No one should be made to feel bad for clicking with their hearts.

But there is something that we should feel bad about, and that is what Paris revealed about who we choose to grieve for.

I remember having this thought while watching the news coverage of Paris two Friday’s ago, but in hindsight, I didn’t know shit about Beirut or Baghdad either, and a week-and-a-half later, it’s still not those attacks that I’m “thinking through.” Black Lives Matter is usually something discussed in relation to domestic issues inside the United States, but Paris made it clear that there is a definite discrepancy in the way that we values the lives of white people compared with those of black and brown people in the rest of the world as well.


And what about the response? What does France and its allies do to “strike back” at ISIS? It scared me when my gut-reaction to this question was eerily similar to Trump’s idea of “bomb the shit out of them,” the kind of balls-over-brains thinking that helped to create ISIS in the first place. Looking at recent history, military intervention seems to do way more to create terrorism than it ever does to eliminate it. That being said, while I hope our world leaders won’t be making such decisions with their collective gut, I can see why military intervention, in this case, might be called for.

What I know I don’t want is to see some sort of unilateral Western intervention composed of France, the States, and other Western allies. I think critics of intervention are right when they say that this is exactly what ISIS wants, a war on Islam by the West, the ultimate tool to galvanize support among the enlisted and provide additional propaganda for recruitment to ensure that their fucked-up brand of backwards hate will only continue to grow. The West can’t solve this problem alone, no matter how many bombs or drones they drop. This is a worldwide problem, and it needs a worldwide solution.

Perhaps most important to this worldwide solution is the support needed from the Muslim world, the collaborative effort from countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to take out a group that should be considered an enemy to all Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, and any other group that considers themselves a part of humanity. Furthermore, it will take cooperation between West and East, between Western Europe and North America and China and Russia, and a dramatic departure from the Machiavellian, balance-of-power bullshit that has defined the conflict thus far. And while a united effort of this magnitude could easily wipe the wanna-be caliphate off the face of the fucking planet, history also tells us that this kind of humanitarian-driven, united effort has zero chance of happening.

And that’s what makes this situation so impossible. That’s why nearly two weeks removed from the Paris attacks I still have no idea what the fuck to think or what the fuck to do. It makes me want to eternally avoid the likes of MPR and CNN and forever hide within the comfortable confines of KFAN and the WWE.

But thinking about these things is the least we can do. Thinking about what we can do in our lives to fight back against ignorance and hatred. Thinking about those who are less fortunate than us, and what we can do to make their existence on this planet a little more tolerable. Thinking about how we can be the best human beings we are capable of being, and inspire others to realize their full human potential as well. And continuing to remember that it is easier to be the ones tasked with thinking about these horrible events, than it is to be the ones tasked with feeling them.

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History, Race, USA

Systemic racism, or just racism?

“Systemic racism” means that the system is racist. It means that something in or about the system is systematically providing white people with advantages while consequently disadvantaging people of color. The intent of the system does not always seem or mean to be racist, but nevertheless, the results are.

Statistics on things like wealth distribution, employment, incarceration rates, and other social phenomena strongly suggest that systemic racism is indeed a problem in the United States. Yet, I often get the feeling that people don’t buy it—that they think that “systemic racism” is just a term invented by Black Lives Matter members to make excuses for their own failures and shortcomings.

But the statistics remain. The racial disparities are real. And if systemic racism is not the cause, then some other phenomenon must be.

I’m not saying that all systemic-racism skeptics are racists. However, I can’t think of any other way to rationally explain the statistics, the facts, surrounding America’s racial divide other than actual racism. You either need to believe in the existence of systemic racism, or you almost by default need to believe in some racist ideas.

Take student test scores for example—the racial disparity between black students and white students commonly referred to as the “achievement gap.” If you believe that black students and white students are born equally capable of succeeding in school, equally intelligent and talented, than you have to believe that there is something in the system, something in society that creates the results that we see. It could be due to inequitable funding between schools, or test questions that cater to a specific cultural group, but it certainly is not due to a lack of intelligence or capability in black children, unless you’re a racist, that is.


How about incarceration, the fact that black people make up little more than 10% of the general population, but nearly 50% of the prisoner population. Is this because black people are inherently less moral? Inherently more violent? Inherently more susceptible to a life of crime? If you’re a racist, perhaps. But if you’re not, than you have to believe that something in the system created those results—racial profiling, the school-to-prison pipeline, unrectified historical injustices…something…


And then there’s poverty. Black people live below the poverty line at more than twice the rate of white people. Black children are more than three times more likely to be living in poverty than are children who are white. Why? Is it because black people are incapable of performing the work demanded by higher paying jobs? Is it because black people are allergic to money and success? Or is it something systemic—some kind of hidden societal mechanism that borns blacks into poverty and works throughout their lives to keep them from getting out? Unless you’re a racist, the answer has to be the latter.


We are now a half-century removed from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, a movement that saw black people finally gain access to many of the protections and liberties that they had been denied since their arrival on this continent. Yet, even Martin Luther King knew that political equality would be the easy part of the African American struggle. In the struggle for what he called “genuine equality,” King said that things like integrated lunch counters wouldn’t be enough. After all, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” King was talking about the economics of systemic racism—the enslaved and oppressed history of the black race that entrenched its people in poverty, and the prevailing structures and attitudes that make it difficult for them to escape it. The Civil Rights Movements won many important battles, victories that deserve to be celebrated, but the struggle for genuine equality was not resolved then, and it remains unresolved now.

Systemic racism is a real thing. It’s the left overs and continuation of a racist past, the remnants of the racism that didn’t go away with the abolition of slavery and the desegregation of schools. It’s the cogs that continue to turn deep within the societal machine keeping black people in America underpaid, undereducated, and their lives undervalued—the pumping pistons that perpetuate the imprisonment of their people, or worse, leave them face down in the streets as victims of violence, violence that is all too often inflicted by the system itself. And if you’re willing to accept that the system is racist, that systemic racism is a real problem in United States that needs fixing, than you also have to accept that there is only one way to fix a systemic problem: change the system.

sound system

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Economics, Politics, USA

The case for some socialism

I’m not a Bernie Sanders guy. It’s not that I don’t like Bernie. I like him a lot. He’s refreshingly unrefined and seems to be speaking my language on a lot of issues. Although I think it’s highly unlikely that it happens, I’m passionately rooting for him to win the nomination over current Democratic front-runner and political robot Hilary Clinton.

That being said, I tend to subscribe to the Bill Maher notion of political allegiance, of being loyal to political ideals, not political people. Although I haven’t done much research on Bernie to know how closely he does or does not align with my own personal political convictions, the research that I have done through my uber-commie news networks tells me to be skeptical. Although Bernie embraces the label of socialist, which is a big deal, he is still running as a cog of the Democratic, and consequently capitalistic, machine.

the revolution will not be televised

But as a guy who has a lot of socialist sympathies, I love that Bernie is in this race. Even if he’s not a dream candidate for the reddest of socialists, Bernie has presented socialism with a tremendous opportunity, a chance to make its case to the American people, to gain some mainstream understanding, and hopefully acceptance.

If my history is correct, this is the first time socialism has had such an opportunity in nearly a century, at least since 1918 when perennial presidential candidate Eugene Debs was tossed in the slammer for speaking out against U.S. participation in WWI. Shortly thereafter, the brutal brand of communism established by Joseph Stalin and the ensuing decades-long Cold War that followed transformed the idea of communism, and consequently socialism, into a four-letter word here in the United States, a word unfit for serious political discourse.

This legacy remains in American politics today. The word “socialism” is loaded with negative assumptions. With the way that some politicians use it, you would think that it was some sort of fucked-up brand of Orwellian autocracy, coined to describe a dystopian future where we all sport one-piece gray jumpsuits, eat flavorless rations, and work menial jobs maintaining the King Obama estate.

The fact that this remains the state of conversation about socialism in many corners of this country is both unintellectual and unfair. You can disagree with socialist principles and ideas, but first you have to acknowledge what those ideas actually are.

Ironically, the United States already has a quasi-socialistic society. Anything provided by the government and paid for with tax dollars is, in essence, socialism. Americans, for the most part, love these things—things like Medicare and Medicaid, minimum wages and 40-hour workweeks, public education, roads, parks, and bridges—things that an unregulated capitalistic market does not and cannot provide.

There are also many other ideas that, while socialistic in nature, are nowhere close to evil, nor even all that radical. The idea that the minimum wage should be a livable wage, or in other words, that your full-time job should pay the rent and put food on the table, is a great example of socialist thinking. Another is the idea that healthcare should not be a commodity to be purchased, but a human right that all people deserve access to, regardless of how much money they make. One more is the idea that vital things like schools, hospitals, and banks should not be businesses established to create profits, but collectively-owned institutions established to provide essential services to human beings who need them.

Many Americans also associate socialism with big government. This is partially true considering that certain human rights need to be enforced on a national level. Discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation should not be tolerated no matter what city or state you call home. But many socialists also advocate for increased authority at the state and local level, a notion that many states-rights republicans can probably identify with. It makes sense, after all, that the aforementioned schools, hospitals, and banks would be better run by the communities that they serve as opposed to some distant federal government. What is more, even if government has proven time and time again that it has an uncanny ability to mix inefficiency and incompetence, I’ll take the democratically elected leaders over the conquering corporate elites any day.

A trend towards socialism would also by definition mean a willingness to depart with capitalism. Just like socialism still exists in a capitalist America, capitalism would still exist in a more socialist America, but to a much lesser degree. Competition and profit-based motives do undoubtedly have power to inspire innovation and create economic prosperity, but they also cause people to do a lot of harm to one another, and that’s a trade-off that most forms of socialism will not accept.

I don’t know if the United States is realistically ready for such a dramatic shift in paradigm, but I do think that we are ready to talk about it.  Socialism deserves to be treated as the viable belief set that it indeed is. It deserves a voice in American politics, in the discourse that drives decision-making in this country and in the world. I’m not convinced that Bernie Sanders is that voice, but even if he’s not, maybe he will lend voice to those who are.

SNL: The Inaugural Democratic Presidential Debate

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