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On a Horrible Tragedy and Its Opportunities

Wednesday’s murders of nine innocent people as they gathered together to worship God in an historic Charleston, South Carolina, church is an incomprehensible tragedy. For some, of course, it is also an opportunity to push political agendas that are better considered in less emotional circumstances.
Already there is the usual clamoring for more laws restricting the right to gun ownership, which follows each of the all-too-frequent mass killings that occur in this country. President Barack Obama took a few moments out of his busy schedule of fund-raising to make the familiar pitch, falsely asserting that such tragedies are unique to America before backpedaling a bit and stating that they’re simply more common here, which might or might not be true and in any case cannot be explained by the Second Amendment. The causes of such senseless slaughter are not easily understood, nor are any solutions readily apparent, and society’s ongoing efforts to grapple with the problem should be based on facts and logic rather than even the most justifiable outrage, but those of us who believe that every citizen has a natural right to arm himself against such ineradicable dangers, and that gun laws frequently prove counter-productive, will have to hope that cooler heads once again prevail.
In this awful case all nine murder victims were black, their murderer was white, the motive was apparently a severely psychotic racism, and that unusual circumstance of course raises all sorts of issues and plenty of opportunity for an appeal to raw emotion.
Those who advocate for additional penalties against “hate crimes” have predictably seized the opportunity to make their case. There’s no denying that a long-simmering race hatred is an especially odious reason to commit murder, compared to the monetary fits of passion or sense of desperation of simple lack of moral reasoning that are far more often the cause, but the results are always the same and the reasons are never clear and the legal ramifications of trying to make such distinctions are problematic and best assessed dispassionately. The “hate crimes” advocates always seize on the most horrific cases, such as the murder of Wyoming youth Matthew Shepard ,which might or might not have been motivated by anti-homosexual animus, or the brutal death of black and blameless James Byrd by being chained and dragged from a pickup truck driven by some severely psychotic racists, but such unusual stories seem to undermine their arguments. In Shepard’s case the killers were sentenced to two consecutive life prison sentences without the possibility of parole, spared the death penalty only by means of a plea agreement that the victim’s parents supported, and in Byrd’s case the less culpable killers were given similarly life-long sentences and the ringleader’s death warrant was duly signed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who nonetheless was subjected to attack ads during his subsequent presidential campaign that featured the victim’s daughter saying he was insufficiently tough on “hate crimes” because he had refused to sign legislation that would attach those unspecified  tougher penalties. Our recent experience of staunchly conservative and Christian and death-penalty imposing South Carolina suggests that its juries and judges will take an equally strong stand against anyone who walks into a church and murders nine innocent people who have gathered to worship God, for whatever reason he might have, and whatever color he and his victims might be. The case for adding additional penalties to distinguish the victim from the other equally-bereaved murdered should also be considered by facts and logic rather than emotion.
This senseless murder of nine innocent black people by a severely psychotic white racist comes at a particularly inopportune moment in America’s race relations, as well, and those who are intent on further roiling the country haven’t been able to resist that ripe opportunity. Those who allege that white America at large is severely and psychotically racist and prone to murder, from the oh-so-respectable staff of Salon.com to that angry black woman who heckled a Cable News Networks’ white reporter and black commentator during their attempt at a broadcast, the tragedy in Charleston is a satisfying verification of their most long-simmering prejudices. There are indeed plenty of psychotically racist white people out there, as the sickening comments section on one of the media reports shows, but the facts are that a black American is far more likely to die at the hands of some impassioned or desperate or morally impaired black man than because of a severely psychotic white racist, and logic and moral reasoning suggests that this tragic fact should also be given society’s most deliberate and dispassionate consideration, so those of us who truly believe that all lives matter will once again have to hope that cooler heads prevail. In the meantime we will mourn the victims of this terrible crime, pray that the God they had gathered to worship will be merciful to their souls, and keep faith our justice system will be true to its stern purpose.

— Bud Norman

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Java Jive

Last week entailed our annual three night run on the local amateur stage, and it was so exhausting that we’ve decided to forgo our usual trenchant analysis and simply run the satirical skit we composed and starred in. It’s premised on a few-weeks old story about the Starbucks coffee shops making it a policy to discuss race relations with its customers, and we already groused about it a few weeks ago in a columned headlined “Black Coffee, White Guilt,” but we’re still annoyed by the company’s self-righteous racial hectoring, even though we’ve never patronized any of its zillions of shops, and it got some laughs on each of our three nights, and we’re plumb puckered, so we’ll go ahead and once again present the script, which was dubbed “Java Jive” in the program.
The scene opens on any old Starbucks, where a CUSTOMER is yawning as he finally takes his place at the counter where a pretty young smiling and chirpy BARISTA greets him:
BARISTA: Good morning and Welcome to Starbucks. I’m Julie, you’re barista.
CUSTOMER:”Barista,” you say? I’m afraid I might not be speaking to the right person, then. I just wanted a cup of coffee.
BARISTA: I’d be glad to help you, sir. What would you like?
CUSTOMER: Just a cup of coffee, please. You know, a cuppa joe, a mugga java, a jolt of the ol’ caffeine.
BARISTA: We have a wide variety, sir. Would you like a tiramisu latte, our signature espresso with hints of cream mascarpone, finished with our whipped cream and a dusting of rich chocolate powder? Or perhaps a caramel flan latte, an espresso with steamed milk and caramel flavors of creamy flan, topped with caramel-infused whipped cream and flan drizzle?
CUSTOMER: I’m not much for flan.
BARISTA: Then how about a tiramisu Frappuccino blended beverage, a coffee blended with creamy mascarpone flavor, milk and ice, topped with whipped cream and a dusting of rich cocoa powder? We also have caffe Americano, caffe latte, caffe mocha …
CUSTOMER: I was really hoping for just a cup of coffee. You know, a plain old hot-water-run-through-coffee-grounds cup of coffee. Do you having anything like that?
BARISTA: But of course, sir. We are a coffee shop, after all. Would you like that blonde roast, caffe mist, our featured dark roast, or our clover-brewed coffee?
CUSTOMER: I’m sorry, but I grew up in an age when we only had three channels on TV and two kinds of blue jeans, and I’m afraid I’m a bit overwhelmed by all these choices. Could you please just sell me a cup of coffee? Just black coffee, no cream or sugar or flan or any of that stuff.
BARISTA: I understand, sir. What size would you like?
CUSTOMER: At this point, I’m going to need the biggest you’ve got.
BARISTA: Very well, sir. that would be our “venti.” And would you care to engage me in a meaningful discussion about the state of race relations in America?
CUSTOMER: Uh, no, not really. Thank you, though.
BARISTA: Are you sure, sir? It comes with the price of the coffee, and it will finally give me a chance to put my multi-cultural studies degree to use. It was very expensive, you know.
CUSTOMER: I’m sure it was. Still, I’ll be quite content with just the cup of coffee, thank you.
BARISTA: It’s our company policy to engage customers in conversation about racial issues. You don’t object to that, do you?
CUSTOMER: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, I’m all for racial equality and social justice and all that jazz, but really, I just wanted a cup of coffee.
BARISTA: Don’t you think it’s time America had a serious conversation about race?
CUSTOMER: America has been having a conversation about race for more than 200 years, not to mention a Civil War and a civil rights movement and all those miniseries and Academy Award acceptance speeches.
BARISTA: But we haven’t had the conversation where whitey agrees to pay reparations.
CUSTOMER: But you’re white, and your whole multi-national corporation, and your one-percenter CEO with this annoying policy, and almost all of your customers, they’re all white.
BARISTA: At least we’re remorseful. I think you need to check your white privilege.
CUSTOMER: White privilege? Lady, I haven’t been laid in months. Find me one brother who will say that. And what the hell good is white privilege if you can’t get a cup of black coffee without two lumps of white guilt?
BARISTA: Sir, your micro-agressions are not appreciated here. Starbucks is a micro-aggression-free space, and if you persist, I’m afraid I’ll be forced to ask the security guards to beat you to a bloody pulp.
CUSTOMER: I’m sorry, I just wanted a cup of coffee, and I’m afraid that a thorough discussion of the past 400 years of American history will make me late for the racial sensitivity training seminar at my office. Besides, I’m not even white.
BARISTA: Really?
CUSTOMER: Yes, I self-identify as a Uygher-American, and as I understand the new rules you’re supposed to regard me however I self-identify.
BARISTA: A Uygher? The Turkish ethnic group of eastern and central Asia?
CUSTOMER: That’s right, but we pronounce it “Uyg-ah,” and you don’t get to stay that.
BARISTA: Please forgive me, sir. Here’s your coffee, and that’ll be six dollars. You know, we don’t get a lot of Uyger-Americans in here.
CUSTOMER: And at these prices, you won’t get a lot more.
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

It Could Have Been Obama

Does anyone really want to live in an America where a young black man can’t even pound some creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement without fear of being shot? We do, to be frank, but being of such a pale hue that some angry young black man or another might mistake us for a creepy-ass cracker we are grateful for any deterrent effect that the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges of murdering Trayvon Martin might have. The President of the United States is apparently among the many who would prefer different rules for our cross-racial social interactions, on the other hand, and on Friday he declared in an impromptu appearance before the press that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
One might take this to mean that it could have been Barack Obama pounding that creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement, but we are hopefully willing to give him the benefit the doubt. It seems well within the realm of possibility that Obama’s only knowledge of the case has been gleaned from the more Obama-friendly media and is thus unaware of the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that proved Martin was pounding Zimmerman’s head against the pavement at the time he was shot, or that Martin had described Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker” during a cell phone conversation shortly before the attack, or that Martin was a self-proclaimed “thug,” or that Zimmerman had once been a loyal Obama supporter. It is a sad state of affairs when the best one can hope for that the president simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but here we are.
There has been much speculation that the president is talking about the case in order to divert attention from a variety of other issues, including an Internal Revenue Service scandal that can now be traced to a presidential appointee, the continuing train wreck that is Obamacare, or the part-time economy it has spawned, or the bankruptcy of Detroit, or any of the several deteriorating situations abroad, or even the extraordinary number of young black men dying violent deaths in his old hometown, but once again we’re willing concede the possibility that Obama truly believes that Martin’s right to pound a creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement is of greater importance. Or perhaps he believes that his preferred solutions to all those other problems will be more easily imposed upon a country divided by race, and that frank talk about the racial aspects of such problems as the Detroit bankruptcy and all those murders in Chicago will lead conclusions he does not prefer. The theory that it’s all a diversion is more comforting, but not at all satisfying.

— Bud Norman

Seeking Justice, Not Revenge

All we know about the death of Trayvon Martin is what we read in the news, and much of what appears in the news often turns out to be wrong. The only pertinent facts known with any certainty are: That on Feb. 26 Martin was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., by a man named George Zimmerman; Martin was unarmed; Zimmerman was not arrested at the scene; and it was tragic.

These few facts clearly warrant an investigation by the proper local and state authorities, perhaps even federal law enforcement officials, and if the results of that investigation prove damning to Zimmerman he should answer to whatever charges are called for and face whatever punishment is proscribed by law. A lynch mob is not warranted, even by the additional facts that Martin was a young black man and Zimmerman is not.

Given the unhappy state of race relations in America, however, it was predictable that something akin to a lynch mob would develop. The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose incendiary rhetoric preceded the murderous pogrom in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section in 1991 and a fatal fire at a Harlem clothing store in 1995, has led rallies demanding an arrest and conviction. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has “tweeted” to his followers that “Soon and very soon, the law of retaliation may very well be applied,” adding that “You must get up and do it for yourself.” Taking the advice to heart, the New Black Panther Party has reportedly offered a $10,000 payment for the “capture” of Zimmerman. Anyone seeking to collect the reward can consult the “tweets” of filmmaker Spike Lee, who posted Zimmerman’s address and asked his followers to pass it along through the Internet. Several did, adding threats with explicitly racial language.

In each case the calls for revenge are couched as a demand for justice, but mobs and intimidation are never conducive to justice.

Justice can only be based on the truth, and at this point none of these men can possibly know all the relevant facts. The infamous Tawana Brawley hoax that Sharpton helped to perpetrate, the rush to convict the Duke University lacrosse team on rape charge that were later disproved, and countless other racially-charged controversies that turned out to be something very than what was originally reported should serve as caution against premature conclusions. Already stories are appearing the press that mention a witness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, and physical evidence corroborating that the claim, as well as friends who vouch that Zimmerman had no animus toward any race and was on good terms with black family members. Even if true those stories don’t necessarily exonerate Zimmerman, but they could lead to a lesser charge than murder, and at this point it will take a courageous prosecutor to bring charges that fail to satisfy the growing mob.

Whatever happened in Sanford on Feb. 26, both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman deserve justice, the kind that comes from reason and the rule of law rather than the emotions of an angry mob. Let us hope that wiser leaders will seek to calm the situation rather than aggravate it.

— Bud Norman

Race and the Race

This column is being written on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and is therefore racist. That would seem to be the message, at least, of the group in Burlington, Vermont, that protested a bank for being open on the holiday.

Working on Monday wasn’t our only racist act of the week. While attempting to purchase our weekly apres-church donuts at a local Mexican bakery on Sunday we were asked for some spare change by a man who appeared to be African-American, and we obliged him with a couple of quarters. According to one of the talking heads at CNN, who criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for giving $50 to an African-American woman who had told him about her recent financial hardships, such largess “only plays into every sort of patronizing stereotype of black people.”

Racism is becoming ever harder to avoid, judging by other stories we’ve encountered in the news. During Monday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina the moderator Juan Williams charged former House Speaker New Gingrich with racism for decrying the record rate of food stamp usage during the Obama administration and suggesting that poor children of all races should be allowed part time jobs. We have never associated food stamps and poverty exclusively with minorities, and apparently our failure to do so is racist.

In case you’ve been wondering why the United States Department of Justice would intentionally allow Mexican drug gangs to purchase hundreds of weapons, at least one of which wound up killing an American law enforcement officer, please be advised that such questions are also racist. Attorney General Eric Holder helpfully explained to the New York Times that congressional critics of the “Fast and Furious” operation are motivated by animus toward him and the president “due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”

More than three years into the current administration the unemployment rate for black men is 19 percent and the net worth of black households has declined 53 percent, but any suggestion that a change of policies might be called for is also deemed racist by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who moonlights as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. The Democratic Party remains the “natural home” of minorities, Schultz told Bill Maher’s audience of trained seals, because “Republicans shun them.”

Many Americans seem to be growing weary of such accusations of racism, as evidenced by the lusty booing that Williams provoked the debate audience, but we expect they’ll only become more frequent as we approach Election Day.

— Bud Norman