We’ve got to do better

MLK: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

MLK: “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

There’s a big difference between condemning religious fanatics slaughtering a dozen unarmed political French cartoonists for satirizing the prophet Mohammed, and endorsing the content of their satirical expression that is plainly offensive to the non-violent Muslim faithful.

It’s a corollary of free speech that coercion against anyone based on what they express by cartoons, prose, or the spoken word is a fundamental violation of “free” speech.

On the other hand, there is hardly anything more destructive of comity in a world so ready to war, than the express or implicit endorsement of satirical disrespect for the founder and prophet of any religion.

Some say: “What does it matter what they publish?”

Since when have we endorsed freedom without responsibility?

How many are comfortable with disrespectful satirical attacks against their own religions and distasteful remarks that may include Krishna, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Lao-Tsu, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, George Fox, John Huss, John Wesley, Swedenborg, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Brigham Young, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, or Gandhi?

One million magazines containing these disrespectful images were sold following this grisly slaughter.

We convened a million person march in Paris to protest killings calculated to still freedom of speech but we’re apparently unable to parse the separate question, whether we approve of disrespect against those religious having nothing to do with the killings.

Nor is this just about timing.

There should be some cultural and personal standards of conduct that are sensitive to a non-believer’s disrespect.

Is this offense, making light of a religious leader, and a prophet, anything like the throwback who just has to use the offensive racist N-word?

I think so.  Continue reading

Jimmie Lee Jackson

Jimmie Lee JacksonJimmie Lee Jackson, 26 years old, unarmed, and black, was shot in the stomach and beaten by State Trooper James Bonard Fowler, at Mack’s Cafe, in Marion, Alabama, because Jimmie Lee had protested for the right to vote; Jimmie Lee lived a week.

Trooper Fowler was not charged with any crime, and said Jimmie Lee tried to take his pistol.  But that’s not what happened.

We heard something just like this from Officer Wilson when he recently killed an unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson.

Jimmie Lee, however, wasn’t murdered recently.  His cold-blooded murder occurred fifty years ago and became the catalyst for an historic protest march in Selma, Alabama.

On February 18, 1965, Jimmie Lee was in an earlier march objecting that Blacks were denied their right to vote.

Jimmie Lee, a service veteran, a church deacon, a father and a laborer, marched with his mother, sister, 82-year-old grandfather, and several hundred protesters.  Local police and state troopers attacked.  Jimmie Lee and his family ran for their lives, and thought they’d found cover in Mack’s Café.  The troopers charged into the café, like a lawless gang, beating people including Jimmie Lee’s Mom.  Jimmie Lee fought to protect her.  Trooper Fowler shot Jimmie Lee in the stomach.  Troopers chased the wounded Jimmie Lee out of the café into the street and continued to beat him, stopping only when he went unconscious.

The Reverend Martin Luther King visited Jimmie Lee at the hospital.  Upon Jimmie Lee’s death, he said: “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered him but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.”  These words unfortunately still have significance today.

At Jimmie Lee’s funeral, the Reverend King said: “he was murdered by the brutality of every Sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of law.”  Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani might well have said that the Reverend King’s words were expressions of hate toward law enforcement.  

King also said that Jimmie Lee “was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician, from governors on down, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.” Continue reading

1984

John Flannery 1984

John Flannery 1984

In 1984, I was running for Congress, as the Democratic nominee for the 10th Congressional district, standing on the floor of the Democratic convention in San Francisco, when New York Governor Mario Cuomo challenged the convention and the nation to get on with the business of the American people.  What he said then remains as urgent today.

As it was true of President Ronald Reagan, we shall soon experience a Republican leadership in our U.S. Congress who invoke the golden rule but their actions and words tell us that what they really believe is “social Darwinism” that, as the Governor said then, means the nation “should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest,” so that “what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.”

Republicans who so easily invoke Judeo-Christian “values” believe, not what Jesus said in his  Sermon on the Mount, namely, that the meek shall inherit the earth, but that only the strong shall.

I believe, as the Governor said then, that “we can make it all the way with the whole family [of men and women, children and seniors] intact.”  This is a more worthy legacy for public service than what we’ve been getting.  Millions now have health care who didn’t.  The Republican leadership looks to deny that coverage. Continue reading

To heal

New York City Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton

New York City Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton

New York City Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton, spoke at an officers’ funeral, over the coffin of Officer Rafael Ramos.  Ramos was killed, shot from behind, by a criminal drifter, while Ramos was in his squad car on duty in Bedford Stuyvesant.  Of all the speakers remembering Officer Ramos, it was “the Commish” who struck the precise correct tone to remember the officer and his slain partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, and to rally those assembled to go forward – and not just to go forward in New York – but across the nation.

Commissioner Bratton said: “We don’t see each other, the police officers and the people mad at the police. If we can learn to see each other, then we will heal, as a department, as a city, as a country. And wouldn’t that be an honor to these officers’ lives?”

At the funeral, Governor Cuomo invoked “the rule of law,” posturing in my opinion, pandering, as he’s more nuanced and able in politics than just to inflame the crowd, especially since the protest following the killing of an unarmed Staten Island resident, Eric Garner, 43, was not about disregarding the law but about the law applying to a police officer who killed an unarmed man, and how he was found blameless, despite the eye witness video and audio recordings of the officer choking the victim to death, and the autopsy confirming the cause of death.

No question that the “rule of law” would have applied to the heinous, cowardly, depraved and addled gunman who ambushed Officer Ramos and his partner in a squad car, had the gunman not taken his own worthless life – and become another catalyst for demagogic trash talk.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the “trash parade” when he said, “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.” Continue reading

Peace on earth

Peace on Earth – that’s what this season is all about.

Yet, we’ve witnessed from afar how in a matter of minutes Pakistani school children can be killed en masse by Taliban terrorists.

francisDoveWe wonder whether peace is an elusive idea that perhaps cannot be achieved on earth.

Our leaders raise their voices in hymns of hate.  Words of killing, conquering, overcoming other peoples, fall too easily from the tips of tongues, untested in tasting words of peace, except to justify the wars they wage, preferring death and suffering instead, and often of the truly innocent, dismissed as the collaterally damaged.

It’s hopeful, therefore, when we can seize upon a peace overture that succeeds.

It shows that we are better than the mad impulse to war.

Pope Francis, 78, became Pontiff in March 2013.  Almost from his first day in the Vatican, he worked in secrecy to enable President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raul Castro of Cuba to set aside past distrust and convene a dialogue for peace.   Continue reading

The constitution as a palimpsest

Palimpsest – a document written over leaving traces of the original

Palimpsest – a document written over leaving traces of the original

A palimpsest is an old writing scraped from the original manuscript material to make room for a later over-writing, leaving only traces of the original.

We have witnessed an erosion of the plain meaning of the words found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting any government, federal, state or local, from “establishing” a religion.  We have a federal appellate decision as recent as this year plainly re-stating that religious worship in schools is an activity that violates the First Amendment.  Yet some government entities have embraced practices establishing religion, in effect, over-writing the plain meaning of the First Amendment.

In the past week, I invited our local government agencies to stop using public buildings for religious worship as a plain and blatant constitutional violation.

In response, some agreed that they couldn’t understand how or why the County permitted church services in our public schools.  One wrote, “I have been bothered by the Grace Church sign on Harmony Middle School for some time.  Wrote a letter to LCPS Administration but didn’t even receive a reply.” Continue reading

Church in school

graceBibleHarmony

US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in 1947 explained in his opinion in Everson v. Board of Education that a government “establishes” a religion in violation of the First Amendment when it’s “set[ting] up a church,” and aiding any religion; Justice Black cautioned that “the wall [separating church and state] must be kept high and impregnable” against even “the slightest breach.”

In past years, around December, we discussed whether we may have crèches, menorahs, and symbols of religious worship displayed on public common grounds when seeking to skirt this prohibition.

We haven’t, however, spent an instant in public dialogue with the county school superintendent, school board or board of supervisors about whether we have been violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment when we have transformed our schools into houses of religious worship on “the Lord’s Day.”

About 40% of our public schools (34 out of 87 schools) in Loudoun County host Masses and religious worship every Sunday.

The gyms, cafeterias and libraries in our public schools have served as the nave and transept for various church denominations going back 12 years or more.  We’ve had these religious services without a murmur of inquiry or dissent, and now suffer from an inertial indifference to question what’s become an unquestioned practice – “don’t rock the boat” – “after all, the services are not during regular school hours” – “the churches pay to lease the space you know” – even though the established practice appears wholly unconstitutional.

It’s time to declare that religious worship is an impermissible use of our public schools. Continue reading

Probable cause for murder in Ferguson

michaelbrowngunshotsDorian Johnson was on Canfield Street in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 when Officer Darren Wilson stopped Dorian and Mike Brown walking in the middle of the street.

Dorian testified under oath before the grand jury on September 10, 2014.  Dorian’s statement was sufficient probable cause for a judge, magistrate or the grand jury to vote a true bill for a homicide by Officer Wilson.

Probable cause is the standard that governs a grand jury proceeding.

Dorian’s testimony was corroborated by witnesses, physical evidence and autopsy reports.  Yet, Officer Wilson was exonerated and the killing found “justified.”

Johnson swore under oath that Officer Wilson “got right directly on the side of us …” and said, “Get the F ___ on the sidewalk” (p. 45)(G. Jury Transcript, pg, 9/10/14).

Johnson said we “continued to walk … but almost a split second [later] we heard the tires screech, and the Officer [Wilson], he pulled back in the truck [SUV] very fast to the point at an angle – if we didn’t hear his tires screech, the back of his cruiser would have struck one of us … (p. 47)” and “it was very aggressive” (p. 74).  Officer Wilson’s “door was thrust open … real hard,” said Johnson, and “it hit” Mike Brown (p. 49).

Wilson’s “arm came out the window [and] … grabbed ahold of [Brown’s] shirt around the neck area” (p. 49).  Brown was “trying to pull off the officer’s grip” (p. 51).  Johnson said, “the officer [was] trying to pull him inside the vehicle through the window … but [Brown was] pulling away” (p. 53).  Johnson said he heard their “cuss words” and “it [was] escalating” (p. 54).  Wilson then threatened, “I’ll shoot.” (p. 100). Continue reading

Freiheit – Freedom

Woodgrove German teacher, Effie Hall (center), with students “protesting” the Berlin Wall

Woodgrove German teacher, Effie Hall (center), with students “protesting” the Berlin Wall

Twenty Five years ago, on November 9, 1989, the 12-foot high Berlin Wall, with its mounted razor wire, manned guard towers, and the adjoining forbidding “strip of death,” all of a sudden, was no longer the brutal towering barrier that prevented East Germans from escaping West to freedom; the wall was coming down.

Woodgrove High School students from Lovettsville, an historic German settlement, and students from Western Loudoun County, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall by “protesting” what the German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, once described as the “wall of shame.”

Students spoke of the offending wall in German and said: “Nie wieder” – Never again!; they said, “Genug!”- Enough!, just as you’d push back against a bully; and they said, as if they were standing before the original wall themselves, “Wir sind frei” – We are free. Continue reading

No-Brainer

Loudoun High School Football Practice

Loudoun High School Football Practice

Loudoun County won’t allow our kids to measure the impact of crashing into each other on the football field – even if that information might guard against brain injuries.

Our County school system should have its collective head examined.

The NFL earlier this year said that nearly three in ten retired players will develop debilitating brain conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

The NFL has reportedly put the same sensors in its players’ helmets as the military is using to evaluate those jarring head movements that could lead to traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).

The American Football League announced earlier this year that they were requiring helmet mounted sensors made by Brain Sentry out of Maryland.

The sensor gives an alert when a player suffers an unusually rapid acceleration of the head, making that player a candidate for a concussion or for successive concussions that must be accurately and timely evaluated to assure the player’s safety.  The sensor also counts the number of hits to a player’s head.

AFL Commissioner, Jerry B. Kurz, said, “[U]ntil we saw the Brain Sentry impact counter and tested it, we did not feel there was a solution that was practical and deployable for the AFL.”

The sensor is a light weight micro-electromechanical, tri-axial acceleromoter capable of measuring acceleration from any direction, attached to the helmet, and it interferes not at all in the field of play.

We are almost at the end of an era of “dumb helmets” – because we need more real-time objective information to guard against players of any age suffering a possible brain injury.

One report claims that the concussion rate for High School athletes in the United States has doubled since 2005, meaning either the injuries have increased or reporting has improved dramatically.

Loudoun parents went out and bought these Brain Sentry sensors – the same ones the AFL is using – to put on their sons’ helmets to assure some greater measure of safety when playing for Loudoun Valley.  The coaches had the players remove the helmets.  The players could have non-contact drills without the helmets.  But they could not have any contact drills with the sensors on the helmets.  Troubling “logic!” Continue reading