Press Freedom?

“Stakes Is High”

You ever get a song stuck in your head?

It’s usually because it’s something that you just heard. For example, I had Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” stuck in my head for a solid week. Because of this, I believe that Samsung is the Devil and I will never buy their products. That was torture.

But last Wednesday, “Fancy” was replaced by DeLa Soul’s “Stakes Is High”.

Now I love DeLa Soul and “Stakes Is High” is a ringtone on my phone. But, that’s not why it’s been on a continuous loop in my head since Wednesday.

It’s because I’ve seen pictures of a young, dead Black boy lying in the street after being shot by a cop.

It’s because he was unarmed.

It’s because he was the fourth unarmed Black person this month who came across an armed White person, in all four cases a police officer, and wound up with a tag on his toe at the morgue.

It’s because this incident has caused a suburb of a major American city to blow up and take the First Amendment of the Constitution with it, reminding a lot of people of what was going on the year I was born, 1964.

It’s because if we’ve learned nothing else from everything that’s happened since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday, we should have learned that the stakes are indeed high.

Ferguson residents began mounting protests of Brown’s death on Sunday night. Because protests sometimes attract people who have the wrong idea of what protest is about, windows were broken, looting happened, and fires started, all stuff that can make the police kind of take a dim view of your chosen mode of expression.

But I didn’t know just how dim of a view the police were taking until I saw this on my Twitter feed on the way home from work on Wednesday:

American tank

No, you’re not imagining things. That’s two soldiers. On a tank. Brandishing semi-automatic weapons and combat gear. In a suburb in a major American city.

Not in Afghanistan. Not in Mozul. In a suburb of St. Louis. Home of the Cardinals. Not too far from where St. Louis Rams rookie Michael Sam hopes to make history as a pro football’s first openly gay player.

Kinda stops your gaze, doesn’t it?

When I came home and started seeing folks getting tear gassed, including an AlJazeera reporter doing a live shot, I kinda knew I wasn’t going to sleep. You don’t want to see peaceful protestors getting hit with tear gas, especially when they’re standing in their own front yards.

In fact, so much tear gas has been flying around Ferguson that residents have been getting advice from Palestinians on Twitter on how to handle being tear gassed.

(Use Coke or milk to clean your face. Water just makes it burn worse….)

But that this was happening is yet another example of just how badly the powers that be in Ferguson have handled this situation from the very beginning.

From not allowing medical professionals to tend to Brown quickly enough to save his life, to leaving his lifeless body to bake in the sun for four hours, to not releasing Wilson’s name or his incident report, to hiring the all-White public relations firm that just made matters worse, this has been the gang that can’t shoot straight.

And they really screwed up when they started arresting reporters. Between last Wednesday night and the time I’m writing this, 15 folks who do my job found themselves hearing the “clink-clink” sound from “Law and Order”…

(Not really…it was more like the “rippp” of a zip tie, but you know what I mean…)

Now I guess I should get to the reason why “Stakes Is High” has been stuck in my head. Why the stakes are high. Why attention must be paid and paid now.

As I mentioned earlier, Michael Brown was the third of four unarmed Black men who came upon an armed White man and ended up dead this month.

This month.

As in August.

And August isn’t over yet.

Last Monday night, Ezell Ford, 24, was shot in the back by the Los Angeles Police Department. Police say that he lunged for an officer’s gun, which kind of makes me scratch my head considering the whole “shot in the back” thing.

John Crawford, of Beavercreek Ohio, was looking at an unloaded BB gun at a WalMart in his town and got shot to death when he didn’t put it down quickly enough. Being shot while looking at a BB gun in a place that sells BB guns usually doesn’t happen, but it happened here.

And yes, I’m including Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York police officer in this. He may have died of a chokehold, but the cop was armed.

But when these things happen, another process inevitably starts, and we’ve seen it too this week:

A young, unarmed, Black man and White armed person get into confrontation.

Unarmed Black person dies.

Blacks get mad and take to the streets.

Authorities, aided by certain media outlets, take apart dead Black person’s life to find whatever can be found to try and paint this person, who is not there to defend his or herself, as a “thug”, and thus deserving of being shot to death.

(In Michael Brown’s case, it’s a combination of stolen cigars and pot in his system. And can someone tell me where folks are getting this weed that makes people violent? Most of the weed heads I know don’t want to attack anything but a cheesesteak when they get high…much less a cop…)

The trial of the person who did the shooting becomes a referendum on the “Innocence” of the person who’s been shot, and that’s only if charges are filed and the person goes to trial at all. Which leads to…

…the person who did the shooting getting off and Black parents left to give their Black male children a list of things they’re not allowed to wear or do in order to keep from being shot by people who are already so terrified by your very existence that you could be walking down the street in a suit carrying a briefcase and you still might catch a bullet.

This, of course, also leads into the whole “What about Black on Black Crime?” thing. You see, Black folks aren’t allowed to worry about the deaths of four unarmed Black men at the hands of the police and the deaths of young men in their neighborhoods at the same time. Oh, and White on White crime doesn’t exist. Or at least that’s what we get told in so many words.

Now if that’s not enough, here’s some statistics that we need to pay attention to: Ferguson is roughly 60 percent Black. Yet, the Mayor is White, the Police Department is predominately White, and so is City Council. How’s that happen in a place that’s 60 percent Black, you might ask?

Voter turnout in the last election was a lofty 12 percent.

Twelve percent.

Okay…

I wish that I could say that Ferguson’s the exception, but it’s the rule unfortunately. And because of this, Black folks, despite having one of us in the Nation’s Highest Office, are still catching Hell. We have to remember that politicians, like just about anyone else in  customer service, do their best work for the people who support them.

To make sure that you don’t have police departments that do this kind of thing and invent the kinds of cover ups that would make most novelists jealous, you have to make sure that people are accountable to you. The best way to do that is by voting.

That and following up with being a pain in the behind to the people who get elected, whether you vote for them or not.

When people believe that they can do anything they want to you, and that you’ll do nothing because you’re so distracted by reality television, or what’s going on in Jay Z and Beyonce’s marriage that you’re not paying attention, they’re going to take advantage.

And if you’re not careful, that advantage taking is going to occasionally come in the form of people getting hit with tear gas in their front yards in a suburb of a major American city.

The stakes is high folks.

It’s time we acted like we understand that.

I’ll leave you with the video for “Stakes Is High”. You might recognize some folks…

Bar Hopping with the Constitution


My original intention tonight was to sit around the house, watch “The Closer” on TNT, maybe do a little light reading before the heavy reading begins in earnest next week….

But I got a call from Bill, the bartender at the watering hole that I often visit with my buddy, the United States Constitution.

Apparently, the document, known as “The Constitution” (sort of like “Jersey Shore’s” The Situation, except he’s got a brain to go with that six-pack) went to the bar and found himself face to face with Tea Baggers, people bent on religious persecution, and some of the other dumbasses that have been giving him a hard way to go of late.

In fact, according to Bill, the word dumbasses was the word that started the fight.

You see, Constitution was at the bar after a long, hard day of being the law of the land. He’s used to working hard. He did manage to survive the Bush Administration, USA PATRIOT Act notwithstanding.

But he thought that he’d get a break with President Barack Obama, a dude who was a Constitutional Law Professor, in the White House.

He was wrong.

A group of Tea Baggers, anti-immigration folks, and folks bent on religious persecution came into the bar and started touting their recent successes. In Tennessee, California, and Kentucky, mosques are facing zoning challenges. Protestors bragged about interrupting Friday Ramadan prayers. A dude from Florida bragged about the knucklehead from his state that put a pipe bomb near a mosque in hopes of blowing it up. Arizona was heard from in the form of the anti-immigration folks who want to rip apart the 14th Amendment so that the children of illegal immigrants won’t enjoy the citizenship rights that their birth in this country grants them.

But between the announcement from a Florida church has declared Sept 11 “International Burn a Koran Day” and the phrase “Ground Zero Mosque” Constitution had heard enough.

Sitting in his condo near the National Constitution Center (where he hangs out by the way. You knew he was a Philadelphian, right?) Constitution poured himself another Jack Daniels (straight, no ice, no nuttin’) and told me how he tried to patiently sit and listen as folks planned their “Burn a Koran Day” activities and bragged about how they were going to get the Islamic Cultural Center, which is actually going to be located two blocks away from the former World Trade Center, moved.

He couldn’t take it anymore.

“I said, listen you dumb asses! My boy the First Amendment says that this religious center can stay right where it is. It doesn’t matter if you think it should be there. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like the religion. It’s the law of the land. If you don’t like it, you can kiss my ass you dumb sons of bitches!”

The folks didn’t care that this was the Constitution, otherwise known as the law of the land, saying this. They took him on.

For awhile, he was able to hold his own.

But by the time that i got there, the fight had gotten to the point where torches had been pulled out and lit, and when you’re a 222-year-old piece of paper, give or take a few amendments, that could be a very, very bad thing. I got him out, thanks to the help of some of the other folks in the bar, including ACLU and People for the American Way.

I bought them a round before we left. They were pretty understanding. They were catching some of the same hell that Constitution was going through.

I get where they’re all coming from. It’s bad enough that my homeboy has to deal with crazy assed Orly Taitz and the lawsuits she keeps bringing that say President Obama is a “secret” Muslim that was born in Kenya and Sarah “It’s considered an obstruction of the Constitution if the FCC thinks its uncool for a pop psychologist to say the word “nigger” for five minutes on her nationally syndicated talk show” Palin.

But should he also have to deal with people who want to dismantle the very essence of his first born because they’re scared, racist, stupid, or some combination of all three? He’s 222-years-old for God’s sake! Can somebody show him some love and tell these knuckleheads to pound sand!?

I finally got my buddy up to bed. He’ll sleep the evening’s activities off and he’ll try again tomorrow

But if we don’t help him out, the Constitution is going to have a nasty case of cirrhosis of the liver.

Let’s give him a hand…..or send him to AA, whichever comes first.

Dick Cheney, Chris Wallace, and why I left my last newspaper gig.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always love journalism. The feeling of being in a newsroom on deadline day is a drug that requires an extra special kind of rehab.

But after awhile, I got to the point where my patience with newsroom journalism had reached its end. I kept running into folks that seemed to have forgotten everything (and I do mean everything) that they learned in J-School and were content to allow themselves to be twisted like a pretzel to keep advertising revenues and subscriptions flowing.

And don’t get me started on the fact that I always seemed to get the one editor, usually a female, who lacked self-confidence, and seemed to have a problem with me because I didn’t do the same.

One of those editors, who shall remain nameless, was the person I thought of when I was watching Fox News’ Chris Wallace interview former Vice President Dick Cheney this past Sunday. I specifically remembered a conversation that I had with her that became strangely relevant to this particular interview.

When I came to my last newspaper job from the one I had left, I was a much different person. Having to take a different route home, check under the hood of your car for Klan-planted bombs, and watching as police came by your house every night to make sure you made it into the house tends to do that to you. My bullshit tolerance no longer existed and I didn’t really care who knew it.

Anyway, I had this editor who was, to put it frankly, a little too “Desperate Housewives” for me. She and I used to go knuckles on a pretty regular basis. (She also used to have this nasty habit of yelling at me which almost got her dragged around the newspaper’s parking lot face down by her hair, but I won’t get into that.)

One day, we got into a discussion about one of the municipalities I covered. Apparently, one of the township councilmen didn’t appreciate the fact that I was covering some of the more ignorant shit that was going on. Mind you, this was a guy that would occasionally say the most ignorant things possible in front of a live microphone, but that didn’t stop folks from calling this particular editor and telling her that I was unfair.

I make it my business to get both sides of every story I do whether I believe both sides make sense or not. But what this clown wanted was deference. I don’t do deference when it comes to journalism. Facts are neither Republican or Democrat. They’re simply plain, old, garden variety, facts.

When I explained this to this particular editor, she told me that I needed to learn how to “kiss a little ass”.

Now if you are easily offended, please skip this next section. I don’t want to offend anyone, but sometimes when someone has pissed me off to the level that this woman did, things come out. Having delivered this warning, please feel free to continue reading.

Because I’d been a journalist for a lot of years by this point, I understood that in order to get information, you need to kiss a little ass, I told her.

However, I continued, the problem with you is that you don’t seem to know the difference between kissing ass and giving head. Giving head is a much more intimate act that I really have to like you a lot in order to perform. Since it is obvious to me that this is what you want me to do for these people, and I don’t like them that way, we’re kind of at an impasse.

That I didn’t get fired that day still amazes me. But while I didn’t get kicked to the curb then, it did show me that it was time for me to start looking for another way to do what I love that wouldn’t lead to my having to get rid of all of the mirrors in my house.

As much as I hate to admit it, the main thing that I got from watching the Cheney/Wallace interview is the conclusion that quite a few folks in the journalism business seem to be laboring under the same confusion as my former boss.

I can understand that in order to get the chance to talk to Cheney after he’s heard the news that Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a special investigator to take a much harder look at the Bush Administration’s torture policy, you had to kiss a within reason amount of ass. This was a pretty big “get” for Chris Wallace. Everyone who used the footage had to give Fox props for getting it.

But Wallace took the wrong turn at Cheney’s hip bone and ended up somewhere he shouldn’t have. I understand that you had to be really, really, nice to get that interview, but do you have to pretend he’s your boyfriend in order to keep him talking? Geez!

What makes this even sadder is that it was a Wallace doing it. Chris Wallace is the son of Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes”, a man so terrifying that everything from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Far Side” has parodied his ability to find the truth, no matter how deeply you try to hide it.

What’s up with your kid, Mike?

While I can understand that you have to follow the rules of your workplace, you have to draw a line. Even if you work for Fox News.

It might be time for Chris Wallace to realize this.

Or if he chooses not to, it might be time for him to make it less obvious.

Tricky Dick Would Have Been Proud

When you think of nations that imprison reporters for doing their jobs, where do you focus?

Do you focus on African countries like Zimbabwe that are run by strongmen like Robert Mugabe? Or maybe you think of Iran, where free speech is in short supply? Does your mind drift to Russia, China or Cuba perhaps?

But of course you’d never think of America as one of those countries, right?

That’s because reporting in America is a Constitutionally-protected job. Under the First Amendment, you’re allowed to give people the news and make sure that they know what’s going on here. In fact, part of the function of the press is to keep the populace informed enough for them to make decisions on things that impact their lives.

Until yesterday, I believed that you could be a reporter in America without fear of arrest. I believed that you could cover stories no matter how unpopular and not have to worry about being carted away by police.

Then, as she often does, Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica’s Democracy Now! showed me that the America I thought I knew, and the real America, are sometimes two different places: