Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Curse

I have written about physical punishment countless times before and I’m always horrified with the belief systems of a majority of the people I share this society with. Some people here are very creepy…
* * *

The Curse: Patterns and Spirals
“Forgiveness is another word for letting go.”
-- Matthew Fox

Learning forgiveness, both granting it to others and accepting for ourselves, is one of the primary tools for spiritual growth. For many us, if we are honest enough with ourselves, taking a look at our history is to be plagued with deep-rooted feelings of guilt. We may develop insight, or we finally open to the possibility of being accountable for some of this history, which opens us to a new perspective on life. As human beings, we may also yearn to undo our mistakes. However, many of us carry guilt for years as if we deserved to continue to be punished.

True growth means letting go.

My experience has shown me that it is not until we learn forgiveness that we can stop the patterns that have been handed down from generation to generation. I'll give you an example from my own personal history. I was blessed with two beautiful, intelligent, caring, and courageous parents. The fact that I’m living the way I am today is a testament to their legacy of courage and determination against sometimes great odds. I am very grateful for what they have given me. I honestly believe that if I were to carry my mother on my back for the rest of her life, I still would not be able to repay what she has given me.

However, both of my parents were abused as children. For example, it was a common practice to make children kneel on uncooked rice, or to be hit with a switch until they bled. That’s considered a form of abuse today, thankfully. My father was orphaned by the age of seven, having lost both his parents to disease and was subsequently raised by an older sister who was barely older than him.

I was raised in a home where the specter of violence was always just a moment away until my mother was able to escape that hell. I had seen too much violence before I was even five years old and It took me a long time to even begin to understand all any of it. I loved my parents dearly, as I know they loved me, but there was a lot of abuse and feelings of horror and abandonment in my childhood. I simultaneously adored -- worshipped -- and hated and feared my father, who could be loving and angry to the extreme. My mother, also a sweet and loving person, was quick with her hands, often smacking me in the face, eliciting within me feelings of hatred, which I then felt guilty for harboring.

People today are always amazed at my ability to size people up. I’m often right on point with my ability to analyze people, even if I choose to look at the better side of human nature. I’m no fool -- don't let the suit, tie, and smile fool you. LOL But the fact is that I first learned how to read people as a child. I had to for my own survival because I had to know if the most important person in my life was going to hug or hit me. So I learned to read the body, listen for tones in the voice, check the eyes. I had to become good at this.

Growing up and listening to my mother’s screams or being subjected to physical punishment myself, I would promise myself that I would never re-enact these abuses to others. At those times, I hated my parents and felt guilt about that hate because they were my parents and I was taught that it was wrong for me to feel what I felt.

Years passed and I found myself the primary caregiver to my own son seven years of age. Imagine having me as a father! LOL!!! Whatever! I like to thin that my son and I had a great relationship. I can be very entertaining, to say the least. I think early on my son had a huge crush on me and adored me and I tried my best to develop a relationship based on unconditional love and honesty. I guess only my son can adequately answer whether I was successful or not.

One day, he came home with a report card that I felt wasn’t reflective of his abilities. My son was a gifted child but, as with many brilliant children, he lived in his own world, the “real” world sometimes being very boring. I was the same way. As a child, my mother would send me to the store and I would disappear for hours, causing a family hunt and more often than not, I would be found sitting somewhere daydreaming, or staring at the intricate patterns cracks made on the sidewalk or cloud formations. Anyway, that day I was feeling a little drained and I was feeling very frustrated because here I am, I'm thinking, busting my butt, stressing the importance of education to this kid and he’s not getting it!

So the more I’m talking to him, the angrier I get, and the angrier I get, the more boundaries I trespass. Eventually, as I feed on my frustration and anger, I’m cursing at him, raising my voice, and talking to him in a way I never did before. Heck, in my mind, I want to take him over my knee and spank the shit out of the little fucker.

All the while, there’s a part of me that’s “watching” all of this -- a kind of inner witness -- but my body is in “fight or flight” mode, and I can't stop myself. By now, my son is crying and the more he cries the more frustrated I become and somewhere I know I'm losing control, that I’m going somewhere deep and dark and my son is terrified...

But all I want to do is kick this kid’s butt!

Just then, my son -- voice quavering and his body trembling -- my son pleads to me, “But Pops I don't understand, what do you want me to do? Please, tell me... ”

And my heart just melts right then and there because I look at my son’s face and see the tears welling in those beautiful blue eyes and at that moment I'm overwhelmed with love for my son. At that precise moment, I saw reflected in my son’s eyes, my own inner child and was vividly reminded of the horrors and trauma of my own childhood. It was as if his plea awakened me from an unconscious or deep-rooted rage and I became terrified myself.

Feeling as if I have awakened from a bad dream, all the fears, all the rage dissipates. I take my son in my arms and hold him tight, repeating over and over, “I’m so sorry... ”

You see? This is how patterns are repeated. I often say we're probably playing to scripts that were written generations ago.

That moment served as an awakening or epiphany for me because I realized that I had to find resolution with my own demons. If I didn’t, they would get passed down to my son and those that I love the most. Before I could be the father I wanted to be, I had to forgive my own parents, and let that rage go because that abuse was so powerful a force that it threatened everything that was important in my life.

I had to let go.

Fortunately, I was able to do that -- at least to a certain extent. I was also able to speak to my son about my own fears and how sometimes when he didn't do well in school, my fear was that he would eventually suffer as I did. It was an irrational fear, but that’s where my head went in those moments when I became most angry or fearful. I believe my son is a good man today, having gone to college and attempting to fulfill his dreams as a musician. I know now that I never had to hit my son for him to respect me, though sometimes I convinced myself that I had to. I am certain that he respected me, not because I terrified him, or beat him, but because he internalized the value of trust. One day, my brother called me from Florida where my son was staying for a couple of weeks during summer vacation. It was late, about 1 AM on a Friday and I asked if everything was okay. My brother told me that he was at a Blockbuster video rental with my son and that he had offered my son the chance to pick out a porn flick. He told my son that it would be their secret and that I didn’t have to know (grrrrrr… ). My son’s response was, “I can’t do that because my father and I respect each other and that would be wrong.”

You see, it wasn’t fear that stopped my son, but respect and love. Eventually, I learned that my anger stemmed from a deep-rooted fear – probably the fear I experienced as a child in an violent home and community.

Did I become the “model” father after that day? No!!! LOL!!! But that day I began to try understand to importance of forgiveness and the practice of letting go because letting go is not just something you do, it's something you become.

Forgiveness is not saying that what you or someone else did is OK. Rather, forgiveness is a state of being in which you allow yourself to get rid of the fear and rage through a long and slow, but necessary process. The price you pay for not letting go is pain, not just for yourself, but for those closest to you.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Policing as A Form of Systemic Brutality

In the wake of the senseless murders of Michael Brown,
Kajieme Powell (link to graphic video here), and Eric Garner (here) people are calling for black communities and other communities of color to calm down. I submit if this were to happen in a white community -- even once -- the same people would be outraged. Below, is a perspective on policing filtered through my personal experiences. Perhaps my experiences are similar to yours or, more likely, they may be alien to your experiences. In any case, the following is true. More importantly, it happens more often than you would like to admit.
* * *

Policing as an Occupying Force
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin

More than 40 years later, I can still remember the incident as if it happened yesterday. It was my first real interaction with a NYC police officer. A few of us were headed home after being let out of school, waiting for the “M” train on the elevated Wyckoff  and Myrtle Ave. platform. It was a rainy, drizzly early spring day. My friends and I were all “A” students -- the talented tenth -- at the (even then) notorious Bushwick High School. We were just standing around cracking jokes on one another, talking about girls -- the usual fare of masculine adolescence. We weren’t being loud, weren’t breaking any laws. We were, well, breathing while Latino (we were all of Puerto Rican descent). 

As we stood there bonding, a police officer approached us and demanded to know what we were doing. He was tall -- over six feet -- and towered over my then 5 feet five-inch, 120-125-lb frame. I had never had any bad experiences with the police; maybe it was because I looked white. My friends would always tease me that I often got a free pass because of my looks. This time, however, everyone immediately became quiet and the tension was palpable. 

I informed the officer that were all going home, that we had just left school. I wasn’t being confrontational, just merely stating a fact as I would if I had commented on the weather. He then asked for ID, or our “program cards.” What I remember most was that he unnecessarily was rude and abrupt. 

We all showed him our school IDs and then he looked at me and said, “Get the fuck off here.”
We were all taken aback since we had to be on the platform in order to catch our train home. When we didn’t react, he looked straight at me but said to everyone, “Didn’t you hear what I said, you little spics?! Get the FUCK off this platform.” Now, the “spic” part was uncalled for, I felt. In a nice way, I informed the officer that we were all headed home and we had to take the train. Up to that point, I wasn’t arguing with him, I was trying to reason, even though he had used profanity and an ethnic slur. We were standing by the stairs leading down to the street.

“If you don’t get the fuck off of this platform now, you little prick, I will kick your spic ass down those stairs.”

And that’s when I became argumentative and things took a turn for the worse. I stated that we all had a right to stand on the platform and that we hadn’t done anything wrong to provoke him. I asked him by what authority could he speak to us in that manner and violate our basic rights.

I’ll never forget his response. He said, in a low, threatening growl, “If you don’t get off this station by the time I count to three, I will kick you down those stairs.”

I stood there, staring at him defiantly, determined not to move. By then, my friends, all of whom were intimidated, advised me, “C’mon, Eddie, let’s go,” “Don’t get into any trouble, man,” “It’s not worth it.” I said, "I’m not moving." 

The police officer counted: 


And I don’t know why, perhaps it was the look of pure hatred on the man’s face, but I decided to move right before he counted to three. I turned around and started walking down the steps and that's when I felt his foot slam into my back. I don’t know how I did it, maybe it was instinct, but somehow, as my body began its propulsion head first down the metal stairs, I reached out and grabbed on to the only thing available -- the officer's foot. 

And in that way we tumbled down those long, cement-and-metal stairs, tangled in a ball, for I was holding on to dear life. After what seemed like an eternity, we landed and I immediately noted the unnatural position of the officer’s leg and his banshee howls of pain. I remember two elderly white women shouting and a crowd gathering. At that very moment, taking in everything, I realized I was fucked... and I ran. 

After, my friends told me that the police officer rounded them up and tried to get them to tell him who I was. To their credit no one ever ratted on me. For over two years, I was unable to take the train to school; I had to walk to school (a 45-minute walk each way) rain, cold, snow, or shine.
I was a 14-year-old, an honors student who never did anything wrong and my life could’ve have easily been destroyed by that one chance encounter. 

The problem is that these chance encounters have (and continue to) destroyed lives and the fabric of mostly communities of color. Growing up, my experience wasn’t outside the norm. My close friend, Michael, had his penis almost shot off by a police officer. It was a Saturday night, one of our acquaintances was running from the police, passed by us, and when we heard gunshots, we all ran. My friend, Michael, who was not the target, was shot and the bullet passed through his thigh and through his penis. When we picked him up, we saw the blood flowing from his groin area. He was lucky, the main “dick vein” (as Michael explained it) wasn't destroyed, and the doctors were able to stitch it all back together again. He did have the ugliest penis I ever saw. Accustomed to experiencing trauma, we used the time-worn urban coping skill of macabre wit to kid him and called his penis Frankenstein Dick. 

My friend Shadow, one of the blackest Puerto Ricans I ever met (hence the nickname), was a Golden Gloves champion with a promising boxing career. He was going to box for the Air Force after high school. He was “accidentally” shot dead in the flower of his youth by a stray police bullet. Another stray police bullet left a friend, George, paralyzed from the waist-down at the tender age of17. Both incidents were termed as “mistaken shootings” or “unfortunate” incidents or some such bullshit. And those were only the most egregious infractions. I can’t even begin to enumerate all the little infractions, the almost daily “minor” humiliations and indignities, at the hands of the police. I can’t begin to count the countless times parents, grandmothers even, were rounded up like common criminals during drug “sweeps” -- periodic lockdowns of whole city blocks in which the police ran roughshod, with total disregard for all basic human rights. 

This is not to say all police are brutal or even corrupt. I am, however, trying to offer two  insights. One that the relationship between communities of color and the police are strained at best. Secondly, it isn’t an issue of a few “rotten apples,” it’s the whole barrel of so-called criminal justice that’s rotted. Oftentimes, policing is merely an expression or manifestation of structural racism. 

Today, when I hold workshops teaching children how to protect themselves from those who are supposed to protect us, I hear the same stories. Stories of young people of color being thrown against a wall, or with a boot on their neck. I continue to hear stories of young men literally being undressed in broad daylight. I still hear about the humiliations and of a police force that resembles more of an occupying force than a beneficent social institution. So, whenever I hear justifications for racial profiling, such as the ones in use in major urban areas such as New York and Los Angeles, or outright murders of black and brown men, I am not surprised, for I know the drill. However, it doesn’t mean that I am not outraged. 

You should be too. 

Racial profiling leads to very real and harmful consequences, one of which includes police brutality and the curtailing of basic American freedoms. Yet, you will hear high-level officials defend it in the same manner one acquaintance put it to me: 
Police deployment these days is determined almost strictly by rates of relative violence/crime in each police district. The rate of violence is not some subjective quotient created by a racist cop, but is determined by counting citizens reporting that they were shot, stabbed, beat up and otherwise assaulted, this is combined with citizen reports of burglary, robbery, theft, etc. You see, your racist conspiracy theory is illogical when you know that police resources are deployed based on crime as reported by citizens and not some racist plot to destroy minorities. That is logical. 
The problem with this line of thinking, aside from its moral bankruptcy, is that it is not based on fact or reason. Racial conservatives -- both black and white -- maintain that racial profiling isn’t racist. They argue, like the individual above, that racial profiling is justified since we all know blacks and Latin@s are criminally predisposed [sarcasm intended]. As Heather MacDonald of the conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute, puts it, “Judging by arrest rates, minorities are overly represented among drug traffickers” (MacDonald, 2001) . Black conservative, Randall Kennedy agrees. He goes so far as to say that arrest rates present a “sad reality” and justifies racial profiling on those grounds (Kennedy, 1999). Well, if this is true, scientific examinations of racial profiling should yield results that back up the claims of racial conservatives. The problem is… they don’t.

For example, a New York Attorney General’s study of stops and frisks in New York City, issued in 1999, recorded 175,000 encounters between officers and citizens over fifteen months. The study tracked hit rates by analyzing the percentage of stops and frisks that ended in an arrest. The data is damning. The study found that police arrested 12.6 percent of the whites they stopped, only 11.5 percent of the Latino/as, and only 10.5 percent of the blacks (Spitzer, 1999). This is exactly the opposite of what defenders of racial profiling would predict. When New York City police officers utilized racial profiling intensively, they found what they wanted less often on blacks and Latino/as than they did on whites.

From a personal perspective, I have a sneaking suspicion that those who champion racial profiling don’t do so because they actually believe it’s statistically “sound policing.” I submit they support such practices because they want to justify racist practices. They are comfortable with such practices because, for the most part, it doesn’t affect them. They are not the ones being dragged handcuffed from their homes, or suffering humiliation while driving or even walking down a city street. They think it’s acceptable to commit such acts on certain Americans because they just don’t give a good goddamn -- until it happens to them.

There’s a price we all pay for racial profiling, the least of which it makes all of us less safe, as police are more determined to bust low-level black drug dealers in the streets while the big drug game is taking place somewhere in a sleepy suburban enclave or high roller penthouse loft.

My name is Eddie and I'm in recovery from civilization...


[un]Common Sense