Brave New World

I lost my grandmother this month. She succumbed to cancer on July 19. She was 89 years old, just a few months shy of her 90th birthday.  Though logically I realize that the longer she held on the more pain she would be in, I am saddened by her death.

I am a very analytical person. Therefore, I have been thinking about things. My cousin made a speech about my grandmother at the funeral. Listening to him reminded me of some things that I take for granted now without even thinking about.

My cousin talked about how nobody ever went into her house through the front door. Everybody knew to come in through the side door that led to the kitchen. When we heard a knock on the front door we knew that someone was visiting from somewhere else. There were no strangers at my grandmother’s house, only visitors.

My grandmother welcomed everybody. One of the first thing she always did was to ask if you were hungry. Didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, she would try to feed you. And my cousin also reminded me that my grandmother welcomed anyone when they needed a place to stay.

He reminded me that she could be pretty tough at times. If you did something wrong, she was quick to scold you or spank you depending on the severity of the wrong. She was always a tough woman.

My grandmother survived many tragedies during her lifetime.  None of these tragedies ever seemed to slow her down or change her ways. She was always the same loving and welcoming person no matter what was going on in her life.

I guess the biggest lesson I can take from my grandmother’s life is that it is possible to be tough and loving at the same time. There is no contradiction between these terms. My grandmother was always tough with us. She never babied us. But never in my life did I ever doubt her love.

On Quixotic Behavior

I have seen the news about an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department Officer firing a shot from his firearm while confronting a group of teenagers near his home. I watched 2 different versions of a video that documented; one that ended as the officer pulls out his firearm and fires, and one that continues after the shot and shows the scattering of the crowd; they both appear to be from the same source though one is edited to achieve a particular reaction. I observed a couple of things about this event, some from the video itself, but mostly from the reactions of the people who watched the video on social media.

Both of the videos I saw started after the altercation started. I noticed that the officer was seemingly surrounded by hostile teens and what seemed to be a large number of watching bystanders. Neither version shows how the altercation started. When the videos start they both show a teenager being manhandled by an adult male.

I am unaware of there being any sound attached to the video. I remember only the video of what happened. An obviously exasperated adult, surrounded by hostile teens, is trying to gain control of a situation that he clearly has no control over. His actions are predictable. He is reacting to hostility with hostility.

The actions of the surrounding teens, seeing one of their own being assaulted by an adult, are also predictable. Several teens tried to pull the teen being manhandled away from the adult. I saw the adult punched solidly at least once. They too were reacting to hostility with hostility.

What I was unable to tell from the video was whether the adult was a police officer. There was nothing I could see that showed whether the teens knew this was a police officer or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were announcing that fact to the teens. However, given the circumstances, seeing their peer being manhandled by an adult, I will not pretend that the teens were obligated to believe a man who has his hands on one of them.

I suppose the reactions were what shocked me the most. I presumably watched the same video that others were watching, but I did not react the same way. I saw people assigning blame to one party or another. Ascribing guilt and motive to either side from the same basis of  information. The kids must have been doing something wrong. The cop is a monster who can only communicate with his gun.

I don’t know how it started. I don’t know who started it. I saw bad behavior on both sides. That teenagers lack impulse control hardly needs to be stated; this does lead to bad behavior. Without the full context, however, it is hard to blame the teenagers for the way they acted.

The police officer could also be held blameless for feeling the hostility being hurled at him. However, I would expect that the police officer should have some tools to help him deescalate these situations. His manhandling of a teenager is what caused the problem. I cannot say that he was not within his rights as a citizen and a peace officer because I do not know what really happened. What I did see was someone who looked like a civilian pull out a gun and fire it to scare off a bunch of teenagers.

As a specialist in conflict resolution I am not trying to assign blame. What happened was the result of poor decision making on both sides of the confrontation. It does not surprise me that a large group of teenagers might lack the skills necessary to deal with conflict, though it is saddening. What shocks me is that a police officer, a person who presumably deals with people and conflicts on a daily basis, also lacked those skills.

The Road to Chicano Identity

I was very young when I first heard the word Chicano. I asked my mother what the word meant and she explained it as a term for militants. Apparently this explanation was sufficient because I didn’t question it even though I was far too young to understand what a militant is.

It did not come until several years later when I was a teenager in high school. That was then when I first read Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The book is a recounting of a drug addled weekend Thompson spent in Las Vegas with his attorney Dr. Gonzo. I was fascinated by this book and wanted to learn everything I could about it.

One thing I did learn was that Dr. Gonzo was a stand-in for Oscar Z. Acosta, a Los Angeles based civil rights attorney who was investigating the death of journalist Ruben Salazar with Thompson. Then I read Acosta’s books Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of the Cockroach People. These books introduced me to Chicano activism without necessarily motivating me to involve myself in that activism.

I then joined the army where I went into a militaristic phase and forgot all about the idea of Chicano activism. The idea of activism did come back to me after I left the service. This next phase of interest was more encompassing. I read Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, though instead of going deeper into the Chicano literature I turned to books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I read authors like Victor Villasenor, Ilan Stavans, and Luis Rodriguez, but I was also fascinated by the work of Joseph Campbell and the translations of Thomas Cleary.

When my eldest daughter Annette was born I became more pragmatic (I did read William James). Activism was then more of an interest than an activity. I again forgot about the idea of the Chicano for many years. Then, while I was in grad school, I learned about identity theory. Identity politics plays a very definite role in identity theory. Though I did not yet apply identity theory to the idea of being a Chicano, those theories were available to me when the Chicano concept came back to me.

After I earned my master’s degree I took some Chicano studies classes at East Los Angeles College. I was looking to learn enough to generalize my graduate thesis to Hispanic, mainly Mexican, communities. I found something that was not quite what I was looking for.

I found that many of the young people I encountered were trying to establish their own identity. Though I am not sure that they saw what they were doing this way, I recognized it because of my studies of identity theory. They were attending these classes to get a degree in order earn themselves a better income and position in life. They are also, generally speaking, still trying to learn how to learn. I saw a lot of my younger self in those faces. I found much I could identify with in their yearning to better themselves.

I have since learned that Chicano identity is not simply tied to demographics. Technically speaking, as the American born child of American born parents of Mexican descent, I am by definition a Chicano. However, the adoption of a Chicano identity also relates to political militantism as my mother described to me.

I learned from these classes is that I am a Chicano regardless of whether I claim it as my identity or not. I grew up not interested in claiming Chicano as a factor in my identity; that I am Mexican has always been sufficient to explain my origins to anybody who had an interest. The truth is that I am not really a Mexican except, perhaps, in an atavistic sense.

I am an American citizen. I watched American TV growing up. I listened to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and heavy metal music growing up. I loved Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I served in the US Army.

Physiognomy, however, betrays my fundamental Americanness, at least in the context of United States citizenship. My brown skin invites the question, “Where are you from?” In certain circumstances my command of the English language draws confusion and inquires into how I learned to speak so well. Some people are incredulous when I detail my educational accomplishments. I have never really been the type of person who can abide this kind of contempt. I fight back.

This is where the identity politics comes into play. The color of my skin, my belligerent nature, my interest in politics, and my education all suggest that in American (US) society I do not know my place. That I participate in politics and can stand up for myself when necessary mark me as a militant. I never thought so, I just thought I was exercising my rights as a citizen.

I do know I am stepping out of my place because I have been told so by political rivals. I have been told what is appropriate to discuss and what is inappropriate to civil political discourse. What amuses me about these conversations is that my heritage, that which makes me what I am, is always inappropriate to civil discourse. I have been told time after time that we do not have race or class in the United States. To bring these issues up makes me sound like a militant. Even without trying, it seems that I am a Chicano.

Trump World

My dislike of Donald Trump is no secret. I have been openly railing against him for over a year and a half. I have disliked him far longer, though I cannot recall the origins of my spite for him.

So yesterday this buffoon was elected President of the United States. His running mate is a blithering right-wing moron. In my estimation, maybe the best thing that happens is Trump goes down in infamy (which seems likely) and Pence runs the country over the next four years.

In either case, whether Trump continues to rule or Pence does so in his stead, they got to this office because of their overtly racist attitudes. I will not make any claim that they won the election despite their racism because I am not an apologist for the system; I am a political pragmatist and it is my job to view the political system in the light of reality and acknowledge its ugliness when I see it.

Trump has attacked many constituencies: the disabled, African-Americans, and women come immediately to mind. I am sure there are more that I can speak to, but my big concern is his attacks on Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent. This is not to imply that I think Mexican identity is more important than anything else, though I have no trouble admitting this concern comes down to self-interest. I am an American citizen of Mexican descent.

Trump began his campaign by villainizing Mexican immigrants. Though his rhetoric has since grown to encompass immigrants in general, he started out specifically targeting Mexicans. When Scott and Steve Leader assaulted a homeless Hispanic man in Boston on August 19, 2015, Trump stated “the people that are following me are very passionate.” He later issued a perfunctory disavowal of the incident on Twitter (21 August 2015).

Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel earlier this year are what I find most repulsive. In his statements Trump implied that Curiel’s heritage (born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents) made him unqualified to be a judge. Trump actually stated that dispite Curiel’s “Spanish” and “Hispanic” heritage he had not asked the judge to be recused.

The promise to “Make America Great Again” means what? It harkens to the days when minority populations in the United States were second class citizens.When minorities were attacked and beaten by groups of white men and then arrested for disturbing the peace. The rhetoric against immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, has energized the overly racist thorughout the nation.

At this point we can only wait and see what happens next. I will pour my energy into making sure that any attempts to remake second class citizenship are met with stiff and effective resistance. I want to make one particular point explicit: do not think your citizenship or ideological perspective will save you from the racism that Trump and his cronies promote. White supremacy means that if you are not white, you belong to the underclass.

I am back

I like writing. I suppose that one must write occasionally to become a successful writer. For my part I have not been writing on any of my blogs for a long time now. Part of this can be attributed to laziness, part of it to life getting in the way of things, and the largest part to thinking about what I want to do with my life and my writing. I still do not have a definitive answer to what I want to do with my life. However, I do know about a few things I am interested in pursuing. Writing is one of those things.

I have this blog, Leo’s World, that I will use to comment on things generally. My views on conflict resolution and public policy will greatly influence the things I write about. I suppose my love of movies will play a part as well, though I have not been to a theater to watch a movie in a very long time; there is very little that interests me in the theaters these days. That still leaves DVDs, or Blue Ray discs. I guess we will all see what interests me at any given moment. I also have my other blogs, The Digital Guerrilla Project, The NCR 594 Projectand my Photoblog. I will be attempting to add to each of those over the next many years.

The point of this is to get into the habit of writing. Hopefully I will write things that people like, though I do not mind if they don’t like it. Indifference is what I would like to avoid. Wish me luck.

Sandra Bland and Arbitrary Tyranny

As you are probably aware, Sandra Bland is a young woman who was found dead in her cell in Waller County, Texas on July 13. I have been giving no small amount of thought to this senseless series of events. I have watched as people in both mainstream and social media take sides to assign culpability in this sad, sad death.  I know I am coming late to the argument, but as details have arisen I have been reminded of the idea of arbitrary tyranny.

Whether or not the police officers who arrested and detained Sandra Bland actively participated in her death or merely stood by helplessly as she suicidally hung herself in her cell is really beside the point. She was in a cell to begin with because she was pulled over by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal while changing lanes. This woman is dead as a result of a minor traffic infraction.

Perhaps there have been several major tragedies happen as a result of improper lane changes by motorists in Waller County, Texas. I am willing to give the police officer the benefit of the doubt on that count. I will concede that he had a legal reason to pull Sandra Bland over; however minor this particular traffic violation may have been, it was still an illegal act. Therefore, trooper Encinia was well within his rights and obligations in pulling her over.

What concerns me most is that Sandra Bland went to jail for a minor traffic violation. Her behavior, however poorly it might be judged by the police officer involved, and secondary observers after the fact, did not provide the grounds for this woman to be denied her freedom and agency. People have a right not to be happy about being pulled over by the police. People have a right to record their treatment by the police. Whatever legal justification was given for her arrest, Sandra Bland’s real crime was contempt of cop.

Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate writes about the concept of contempt of cop here. On the matter of Sandra Bland he writes:

…it seems clear from the video that Encinia’s actions, not to mention his initial verbal escalation of the situation, happened in large part because he took offense at what he perceived as Bland’s disrespectful attitude—what is known in legal circles as “contempt of cop”—rather than any belief that she presented an imminent threat to anyone’s safety.

Contempt of cop is important because it complements the idea of arbitrary tyranny. Arbitrary tyranny is the idea that there are things most people do on a daily basis that are illegal. Most of the time these technically illegal but common activities are ignored. However, because these things are illegal they consequently provide authorities with a rationale to detain or arrest people at will. The point being that, under a system of arbitrary tyranny, the only thing the state, usually in the form of a police officer, needs to arrest you is the desire to do so.

Selma

Selma is a fascinating movie. Anyone with a sense of civil rights history in the United States has heard of the city of Selma, Alabama. I knew that there was a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama some time in the nineteen sixties. It had something to do with Dr. Martin Luther King.

I know that there were many sacrifices of life and many courageous people who took part in the civil rights struggles in the United States. However, the way the history of this struggle is presented in the mainstream media is that Dr. King made a few great speeches, took part in some nonviolent protests, and in the end the white people who ran this Country made a considered decision to grant equality and the right to vote to minorities. Anti-civil rights violence is a series of aberrations which were righted through the courageous efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That is not what this movie presents. This movie presents many things which I was already aware of: the FBI was surveilling and attempting to discredit Dr. King, the virulent opposition to civil rights in the South, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference worked for civil rights.

That is the thing, we are always hearing disparate facts, good and bad and indifferent, about the civil rights movement and United States history in general. These facts are rarely put together in a coherent narrative. First this happened, it was a a bad thing. Then that happened, it was an indifferent thing. There was a victory here, that was good. And so on. A bunch of facts, a small narrative here and there, and we have a sanitized, management approved version of history. This movie, Selma, reminded me of the quote attributed to Woodrow Wilson about “writing history with lightning.”

I felt, watching this movie, that the march toward civil rights was not a point on the inevitable march of reason and justice in the United States, as it always seems to be presented; it was a victory  brought on through the hard work and sacrifices of people willing to put their lives on the line. It was a hard won fight wherein strategy and perseverance won out over power and prejudice. I learned something from this movie.

Though I was not alive to witness the events of this film, I have seen in the last several years that the battles are not over. Selma celebrates the events that lead up to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I was alive to witness the Supreme Court gut this particular piece of legislation in 2012. The film portrays the murder of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama State Trooper. A little research revealed that a grand jury failed to indict that trooper for this murder. Need I mention Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo?

This movie made me angry. The idea of a brutal and ignorant system that dehumanizes and destroys wide swathes of people for no other reason than their skin color makes me rage. The events depicted made me forget that the movie began with a bomb that killed 4 little girls. It was jarring and disgusting and sad, but later scenes in the film caused me to forget all about that opening scene. It is hard for me to see all of the progress we have made in the United States since 1965. I have to wonder if anything has really changed at all.