Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Atlanta Riots - Part II

As I was writing the first part of this, I had this strange feeling of deja vu, so I went back to see what I had written in the past about this incident. I could not find it here, then remembered that I had probably written about this experience for the class I taught ten years ago! Although I won't be looking through the crates to see what I wrote then, it was interesting to look back through some of what I wrote here during that time period. Perhaps I need to repost and update a few things to demonstrate how my voice has evolved. Nevertheless, back to my analysis of the Atlanta Riots some 25 years later. 

I confirmed with a friend who graduated that year that my recollection of how the situation ended and quickly returned to what we would call normal was accurate. I went home, started a summer job, and here I am 25 years later trying to understand what we did and how it informs my opinions of what I see in police protests and interactions today.

Rodney King to Mike Brown to Freddie Gray
We were rightfully outraged by the King verdict, which to many of us proved that race almost always colors how people see the same incidents. None of us students felt that King's drug use justified such a savage beating. In hindsight, I still don't, especially as we compare it to the riots that engulfed Baltimore just two years ago or that took place in Ferguson, Missouri months earlier. The names are different, but the results and the finger-pointing are the same--the victims are blamed for escalating police behavior.

As we head into our first summer under the regime of a President who has been overtly supportive of the police tactics that have been practiced in all three of these confrontations, I am worried. It bothers me that when Rodney King was beaten for resisting arrest, we were told that he provoked their response. The same has been said about Mike Brown even though it is unclear if he resisted arrest. And as for Freddie Gray, that situation is so muddled and messy...

But what about those instances when the victim complies and still gets wounded or dies? What about Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice? How many more names do we add to that sad roll of inquiry before anyone acknowledges that the power to deescalate a potentially volatile situation resides with the person/people holding the lethal weapons with the power of the state encrusted on their lapels?

Public Protests and Black Lives Matter
I just happened to read another negative reaction to Black Lives Matter (BLM) and as I try not to dismiss that point of view, it occurs in the backdrop of a completely unrelated post a friend wrote about public Confederate monuments. However, in both situations, we are dealing with perspective.

And when I delve into how we perceive race and law enforcement in their historical intersections, then these two matters are not all that distinct. As a BLM supporter, I have never regarded the statement nor the movement as elevating one race over another. It has always been about demanding the humanization of black/brown lives. Similarly, as a person who has absolutely no sympathy for the Confederacy, I cannot regard monuments to the Lost Cause as honorable. Quite frankly, I believe that your revered ancestors died to preserve a system and way of life that did not regard black and brown lives as having any human value. Period.

Yet, when asked to consider the opposite viewpoints--that of law enforcement facing the hostility of an enraged mob or that of a Southerner seeking to reconcile the contradictions of family honor, I get it. Perhaps it is too easy to demonize police actions as overzealous in complicated situations. And maybe it is intellectually lazy to assume that every Confederate was an unrepentant racist. Alternatively, thousands take to the streets to march and protest in support of black/brown victims because we believe they had rights, irrespective of their bad or questionable behavior. If I can see the humanity in my neighbor who is a police officer or of a long-dead Confederate general who sincerely believed in my ancestors' inferiority, then surely you can muster up a modicum of human compassion for the mother whose child was taken from her prematurely under questionable circumstances.

We are all accountable for our actions--victim, oppressor, citizen, undocumented, insurrectionist, civil servant, rich, poor, black, white, President, soldier, civilian, sinner, and saint.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Atlanta Riots - Part I

I was listening to the radio this morning and the story that caught my attention was a commemoration of the Los Angeles riots 25 years ago. It triggered my memory of the uprising that took place in Atlanta at the same time. This piece is not to compare the events because the country was rightfully riveted by the conflagration of Los Angeles in the aftermath of a very controversial verdict in the trial of the officers charged with beating Rodney King. Even if I could articulate a perspective on what went on in LA, it occurs alongside what I/we experienced in Atlanta and it is through that lens that I offer these thoughts.

It was the end of the semester. The night that the verdict was announced, many of us were at King's Chapel for the Miss Maroon and White pageant, which was to be the final show of the semester before exams. This is the time before smartphones, so the news did not come to us via Twitter. We found out because someone had been watching CNN during a break in the show. While we were waiting for the announcement of the court, someone took to the stage to announce the verdict.

Next I remember a lot of discussion and honestly, I don't recall that we processed the news as being nearly as serious until later on in the dorms. That is when we saw the first news reports of rioting in Los Angeles.

Somehow, we got word that a protest rally would be taking place the next day. Again, this is in the era before the internet or social media, so it was spread via word of mouth, which meant information was all over the place. A few of us decided to attend the protest, and walked out of Spelman's front gate without knowing what to expect.

At this point, I need to insert some commentary about the events that followed, because this is my memory and it is subject to my personal biases. Which may or may not reflect what actually happened to those who were active and visible participants...but it is what I observed, and in some cases, what I experienced. It might not be a flattering recollection either, but I want to emphasize that often in circumstances of chaos, there are not always bright lines of right and wrong.

Monday, April 03, 2017


I had a really bad weekend.

I left the house last night with the alleged intention of going to the movies, but changed my mind when I thought that it might be too pathetic (but more importantly, unsafe). So I went to Target to return a $5 DVD in exchange for $100 worth of stuff.

The mundane details of today are unimportant, because there was nothing really bad that happened to make me so sad. It was more a series of events that have been unfolding since mid-week. Beginning with a phone call that jarred me concerning something that happened to someone else. I had a very emotional reaction, but then went into problem-solving mode, which helped me temporarily until Thursday. I went over to see my parents and that triggered this slide that has me back in the depths of inconsolable sadness.

Since January, the situation with my mother has been changing, and not for the best. It has been depressing and emotionally overwhelming to experience, and the background turmoil of family drama has made things pretty bad.

I have already alluded to some of my issues in previous posts, but I need to let down my guards somewhat because I feel that I have no other outlet. And while I'm convinced that no one reading this will be able to offer me anything, I just need to get a lot of this off my heart.

My Dad is falling apart because taking care of my Mom and watching her deteriorate is unbearable. He has been dealing with small, nagging health issues that I am convinced are stress-related. But he will not make any changes to his daily habits or routine to deal with things, so like yesterday, he comes home not feeling well and chugs down a glass of soda...I have no idea how to support him in a way that does not backfire and deepen my own misery and sense of total helplessness.

Watching this unfold and not being able to really get any relief is killing both of us softly. Which is part of the reason for my ire at other members of my family. I am still angry with myself for not properly defending my Dad against a sideswipe earlier this year, and when it redirected and came for me, I became and remain furious. And unwilling to forgive. That is totally uncharacteristic of me, and that only intensifies my emotions.

I am trapped in an unending cycle of bitterness and anger and sadness. I cannot break it by pretending that all is well. I cannot break it by focusing on others, not even by focusing on my daughter. Because after I have given every drop of emotional care and concern to others, nothing is left for me. Nothing.

And no one notices. My husband, who is just as unobservant and clueless as my Dad (who didn't notice what was going on with his wife of 35+ years) is incapable of offering me any form of emotional support. And after 20 years, I don't expect that to ever change. Like my Mom when she was well, he can offer the support that others need, but when it comes to his wife, he expects me to be able to shake it off and get over it. Ironic that I would marry my parents...

And my friends, y'all don't notice shit either. When you need me, you call and I am there. If I call, you are busy--out having fun, never inviting me to come along, and then wondering why I never talk about things. Perhaps that is unfair, but it is how I perceive things. I spent the entire weekend sad and alone and saw all the pics of places I could have gone but for the lack of inclusion.

Finally, it hurts beyond words to witness my mother's decline like this. It is incomparable to any other experience of losing one's parent. That doesn't mean that one death is worse than another, because anyone who has endured that loss feels it forever. But I am simply saying that Alzheimer's disease, in particular, is a horrible death to experience. Despite the miracle that some hope will occur, this is a very long and excruciating goodbye. My sense of loss became real the week that I insisted that she be hospitalized...and it is a daily dread.

I am not ready, but I am holding on to that mustard seed that tells me all will be well. It might not be the type of bold faith that believes in abundance and prosperity and dominion; it is a much quieter faith that believes in forgiveness, blessing others, and endurance until the end.