Thursday, August 06, 2020

Sweet Sixteen

Today is Thursday, August 6th, 2020. Exactly 16 years ago today I was preparing to turn myself in to the authorities at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility – the Nevada County jail. I was sentenced to 60 days on a probation violation – with “good behavior” I would be released in 40 days. A week later I was to turn myself in to the Calaveras County jail on a 90 day sentence for the offense that got me violated in Nevada county. With good time, I would be out in 60 days; since that jail was overcrowded, I was out in eight – the only “good luck” I had probably that entire year. Those crimes and all other legal trouble (beyond simple traffic infractions) were directly or indirectly related to my inability to “control” my use of alcohol and other drugs. “Control” is a relative term, but in my case, they were the common denominator in most of the problems that plagued every area of my life for, roughly, 25 years. 

 

 This day, 16 years ago, I did not drink or use any drugs. That was not my intent, but my life at that point was such a train-wreck that I could not even hustle up one joint. I suppose I could have managed to scrounge up enough for a six-pack of beer, but that wasn’t going to do it for me and I knew it. Why bother? I went to jail “clean and sober” that day and, as history has played out, I have not found it necessary to chemically alter my consciousness since. That does not mean I have not wanted to. Many times, particularly those first few months after being released from jail, I wanted to. I wanted to escape the wreckage and the pain I caused, but the upside was not what it once was and the downside was a promise from the judge that my next home would not be a county jail, but a state prison.

 

And yet, that in and of itself would not have been enough in the long term. Even in the relatively short term, my default “Fuck this!” would have prevailed if not for the help and support of a “recovery community.” Recovery from addiction, whether it be drugs, the drug alcohol, or other destructive obsessive-compulsive behaviors (gambling, food, sex… the list goes on) defies “will power.” Indeed, my problem was not a lack of will – I went to extraordinary lengths to get what I wanted when I wanted it. This thing, whatever one wants to call it - and I am purposefully avoiding the “disease” terminology, it is not necessary for the general public or even those afflicted to accept that – is a real thing, whatever it is and where ever it came from. It’s been around forever and we have, for better or worse, a great deal of experience with it. Through that experience, some remarkably effective treatments, paths to recovery, have been discovered. There is no “one-size-fits-all,” but this communal aspect seems to be the common denominator among them – whether it’s a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous or some other method, the self-help, we’re all in this together, mutual support is the corner stone of them all.

 

 And so it is with me. My story, the one that today celebrates not just 16 years of total abstinence, but also all of the success that comes with it, does not happen without a lot of help from a lot of people who are doing the same thing and, crucially, many who have been in my shoes, who have walked my path before I have. While all of our stories are unique (that is true of everyone – we all have a unique human experience), much or the nuance, the feeling, the hopelessness and the hope, are shared. I want to be absolutely clear – I could not have managed anything close to my 5,844 consecutive days of abstinence if not for those who supported me and showed me the way. And that ability and willingness to ask for and rely on the help of others (grudgingly, at first) has been pivotal in my success beyond recovery from addiction, too. That success includes earning not one, not two, but three degrees from legitimate, accredited universities and through that work, the career I am honored beyond belief to have been graced with – teaching at one of those universities. I have relationships that have an authenticity that I only had with a very small handful of friends prior – and those relationships have grown even deeper. But most importantly, I have mended and continue to mend my relationships with my immediate family, especially my three sons. That is, by far, my most cherished gift from this new life.

 

I was a bull in a china shop until, almost, my 42nd birthday. Although for much of that time I was what some might call a “functioning addict,” that is a euphemism and much too generous. I did parts of being a grown-up, but I was never the total package. I was present for my boys, we did stuff, they might even tell of many of the good time we had – and we did do stuff, and we did have good times – but at what price? I put them through too much, and this despite the absolute fact that my love for them is greater than any love I have for anyone or anything else. Period. Full stop. I am not special, this is not unique, most parents could and would make the same claim. Yet, the drugs were more powerful. That is not a fact that is easy to admit, but it was the truth and, if I allowed them back into my life, could easily be again. Pass. Hard pass. So, with all this under my belt, all these days, these years of experience, I should be good to go, cured, as it were. I got the help I needed, got my life together, now it’s time to move on.

 

I have been tempted to see it that way, many times over the years. And, with the recovery community disrupted by COVID, like everything else, it has been trying for any “fellowship” to actually fellowship. Because, we do like to get together. A lot. In my case, it’s not such a disruption, however, the temptation to put everything that worked aside is one that I still need to resist for a couple of reasons. First, I have seen what happens to some people who leave, some with more time than I have, thinking they “got this” only to come crawling back with their asses kicked once again. I am not one of those people who thinks that everyone who ventures out of whatever program they recovered in will relapse – in fact, I know that is not true – but many do and the potential is there. It would be foolish not to at least consider it. The other reason actually has more impact for me, and that is to be that person with some time and success to show someone who is struggling to get clean and/or sober that it can be done and, if asked, to help in more tangible ways. It was done for me and I can’t do that if I’m not around.

 

But… I also don’t have to maintain a daily presence - and I don’t. There are many who have made the recovery life their life, and it that works for them, I am in their corner. However, as I mentioned above, one size does not fit all. There is a part of the path, a process of discovery that parallels the self-discovery process that will, if we pay attention, provide indicators regarding how much is enough. I don’t know what is “right” for anyone else. Hell, half the time I am trying to figure out what is right for me. I guide, never dictate. I wish, sometimes, others were not so damned sure what the “answer” is all the time. How the fuck do they know? Tell me what worked for you, not what will work for me. I am - we are smart enough to see good examples and follow them. And, hopefully, we are smart enough to see good examples of bad examples and steer clear.

 

I have made a few mistakes in the last 16 years, and some have been pretty monumental, but none of them have taken me back to where I came from. In fact, in the longer-term retrospect, they weren’t really all that bad anyway – nothing like the ones I made prior, one of which, almost 20 years ago, should have killed me. That was the beginning of the end, and a story for another time, but even with that near-death experience, even for a so-called “smart-guy,” I went back to what almost killed me. The life or death aspect of this pair of milestones is never lost of me. That I get to sit here, outside my hotel in Sturgis, SD, watching the world go by while attending the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic, in the middle of a global pandemic, celebrating this anniversary here for the seventh year in a row is a gift. And I don’t ever take it lightly.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Floods and Shoes


This time of year – for the past few years at least, I am usually filled with anticipation and excitement. Things are about to happen and I am like a little kid who knows he’s about to go to Disneyland. Okay, maybe not quite just like that, but all hyperbole aside, things that I look forward to all year are about to pop off. The big one is my big motorcycle ride that centers around the annual quintessential motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD – the ride to and from, much more than the actual time spent in Sturgis, is always the highlight, at least since the my second time there. The spectacle of the event, the Mecca that is Sturgis used to be the highlight, it was the first two times I went. But not much changes there year to year, really, I still go because it’s like a hub; “been there, done that” and I get the t-shirt every year.

There are other things coming up as well. My newest grandson celebrates his first birthday in less than a week, a brand new fall semester at California State University, Sacramento (Sac State) is only about a month away and some of my own, personal, annual milestones of significance are also on the horizon. All of that, however, is clouded by a global pandemic, by COVID-19. Everything is different now and, while all of our lives have been significantly altered, I am not complaining or joining any “for” or “against” movements. It’s a fucking virus, it doesn’t care what we think, if we believe in it, if we don’t, whatever – it will do what it can, it will flow where it can, just like water does. My job is to make sure it doesn’t wash over me or mine… I’ll come back to that later.

My ride to Sturgis this year was going to be epic, much more epic than normal, much more epic than it is still going to be, despite the pandemic. I would already be gone more than 10 days, more than several thousand miles and, by now, on my way up to Nova Scotia. I don’t ever firmly nail these things down (which helped when the pandemic hit – no reservations to “manage”), so I’m not sure exactly where I would be, but this was the “coast-to-coast, border-to-border,” 10,000(ish) mile summer. It was (and still is) a bucket-list ride that would be in progress right now. As is, it will be just another two-week, 5,000 mile, five or six state “normal” Sturgis ride. I know, it still sounds epic – it is – and, to more than a few, perhaps a bit reckless, even stupid, but it’s my job to keep the water from washing over me and I can do that. However, there is more to say about that, too – and I will.


All of those other things and more – not just my things, but everyone’s things – have been affected by the pandemic, and that is true whether or not one “believes in it” or not. (Just as an aside: Writing that, and it’s not the first time, always strikes me as odd. It’s tantamount to writing whether or not one believes in science.) Of course, those who are discounting some or all aspects of it are more angry about the ramifications, about their “rights” being taken away, but we’re all, graciously or not, suffering. Some have been refusing to suffer, refusing to deprive themselves of the comforts our society has built, refusing to believe the science, and the results are beginning to accumulate. One of those results is one of my closest friends who is in the hospital fighting for his life right now. He is not a “science-denier” or a hoax-believer, but to say he was taking to virus seriously would be false – he was not being careful. Many of our friends have not been and at least one other has been hospitalized, though in his case the severity is not as bad – he is recovering. Both are very social people and have been, gradually, as the weeks went by, more and more social. They are not the only ones.

My employer, Sac State, and the entire California State University system, made the decision early on to migrate the majority of our classes to online, distance learning. There are some courses that must take place on campus, in a classroom or, more likely, a lab, but all of my sections will take place virtually. There are obvious advantages, but they evaporate when compared to the collaborative learning environment that is lost. Add in the additional (and in my position, unpaid) work required to migrate curriculum to an online environment, and all of the commute/parking/flexibility advantages don’t even rate. However, the water will not flow over me or my students and despite being adjacent to the American River, there will be no flood of any kind at Sac State.

The pandemic will affect all those other things I look forward to, as well. However, for those who might be following the news, for those in the “biker” (I hate that term and what it represents, but it’s about to prove itself useful) community, the “controversy” over whether or not to hold the 80th Annual Sturgis Rally is over, the rally is on and that is that. There are many reasons why is was not cancelled, the main one is that is not a discrete “thing.” There is no singular “Sturgis Rally.” There is the town of Sturgis and it participates. There are the various campgrounds, like the Buffalo Chip, and they participate. There are other local municipalities, like Deadwood, and they participate and finally there are various organizations and they participate, too, but no one “owns” it. It grew organically over the years and is a regional event, a festival not unlike Mardi Gras – it can’t be wholesale “cancelled.” Only the South Dakota governor could do that and she was not inclined to. And even if she did, the bikers were coming anyway.

Many organizations did withdraw, many vendors did as well, but many, like the City of Sturgis, after much deliberation, decided to participate. As I said, the bikers are coming anyway, the city does not have the authority to “shut down” the city and, by participating, not only collects a ton of money, it also pays for and institutes regulations and controls, including an increased law enforcement presence. The control this year is greater and includes pandemic-related safety measures, but I predict that many if not most of those will be ignored. Because the demographic consists of a lot of freedom-loving, hoax-believing, science-denying “bikers.” Not all of them, certainly not me, but a lot. Am I riding into a hornets’ nest – or a flood?

Yes… and no; I can protect myself and I will, but the how is not the point of all of this. Because the reality is that if everyone did the simple shit and kept their spit to themselves, we would be able to do most all the things. Almost all of them. Those who are saying that the virus is so small it will pass right through masks are either ignoring that viruses don’t travel that way (they need a vehicle and the vehicle, in this case, is spit, water droplets that are very small but too big to get through masks) or they are ignorant. Pick one. The same goes for the distance – six feet appears to be the magic number where those heavier tiny spit particles fall out of the air before making their way into someone else’s mouth, nose or eyes. It might seem kind of gross that y’all been living your life catching other people’s spit all day every day, but you have. Deal with it. That, and transfers from your hands to your face (mouth, nose and eyes) is how you catch most illnesses. They, like this one, are preventable. But first you have to believe it’s real.

I have friends and family who are concerned that I am going to a place where so many others who are not concerned are congregating. I get it. I am fortunate in that my experience with Sturgis and the attitudes of the “biker” population will help me with avoiding certain over-populated areas and I will certainly wear an N95 mask when I cannot avoid them. Furthermore, and I actually made this decision pre-COVID, I’ll only be there for four nights and only three of those will be officially “rally” nights. The five days there and the five days back are not going to be an issue – staying away from others while on the road is easy – and it is what I seek while on the road anyway. As far as the Sturgis crowds, the spectacle and all… I enjoy observing, “people-watching,” but I’ve never been comfortable “in the mix.” I’ve seen enough tits, drunks and shiny stuff to last a lifetime, I won’t be missing a thing if I never set a foot in downtown Sturgis, Deadwood, Keystone or any of the other “hotspots” (and I never go to the campgrounds anyway).

These are a lot of words that probably don’t much matter. I want my friends to take this shit seriously. I want the so-called “bikers,” to continue to love their freedom, to question authority, to remain non-conforming but to not ignore reality when the flood is coming. And I want that for others, too. This is not and should not be a political issue, it is and should only be a medical one. Once “sides” started getting taken, everyone started losing. If you think a mask is controlling you, if that is the ground you’ve decided to stand on, you already lost. Your fucking cell phone has more control over you than a mask or the government ever will (except you do know the government can access that, too, right?), but you’ll never give that up, will you? I know, I know… it’s really hard to be consistent in the ever-changing world. Every time you turn around you’ve become a hypocrite all over again. Well, maybe now is a good time to talk about shoes and how well they fit and whether or not y’all should lace them up and wear them. Some shoes work better in floods than others and not all shoes are waterproof.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Anniversaries


As I continue to collect years, the number of notable annual dates, particular days of the year that are personally meaningful for whatever reason, continue to increase. So, too, are those dates that once were, but no longer are. When I was much younger, my birthday was very important – in fact, in terms of personal annual occurrences, that day was the only one that held any special meaning to me for the first 15 or 20 years of my life. Nothing else that I remember today holds any special place in my memory from first very memories to around 1980(ish). And, truth be told, I’d prefer to just forego all occurrences of December 6th in the future. Of course, that day will not go away – my 59th December 6th (my 58th birthday) is just a few months away.


As the years have ticked by, other dates have become important to me as well. I was married on Feb. 7th, 1987. I have three boys, each of whom has a birthday. I was divorced sometime in 1990 (I don’t remember the exact date, but there was one), I bought my first new car, bought a house, kids first days of school, graduations, deaths – all have a footnote in my personal history, many are attached to a particular date and even those that do not have a specific date, a general time of year spurs a memory. Many of the older ones have faded in detail and magnitude, including the time-memory trigger (my first wedding anniversary is a good example, when February 7th comes around, I usually don’t even think about it), but they are all still part of what makes me who I am.

It seems that this time of year brings up a host of more important and relatively recent anniversaries. I got married again in on July 12th, 2012 and that divorce was final on July 9th, 2014 – six years ago today. I remember that, still, because the marriage and ensuing divorce was fairly recent and it was such a disaster right from the start. And it was a disaster I not only should have seen coming – I did see it coming, and I did it anyway. I don’t often wish I could “undo” mistakes, but that was certainly one of them. However, I did learn a thing or two, and among the lessons learned actually paid off just about a year ago – another “anniversary” of sorts. I dissolved an almost three-year relationship that was considerably more healthy than my marriage was, however, it was no longer a positive contribution to my life. The lesson? Love is not enough. It alone will not rescue a relationship. The time had come to end it, this time I did so before I did things that would become much more difficult to undo.

But there are other even more important anniversaries coming up. One of them was a direct result of the freedom I experience of severing that ill-fated marriage – my first excursion to the quintessential motorcycle rally know as “Sturgis.” Officially, “The Black Hills Motorcycle Classic,” in 2014 I went to the 74th annual for my very first time. It was a dream of mine since forever and from the ashes of that marriage rose a near-perfect alignment of the planets that gave me and my Harley the opportunity to go and celebrate freedom. My seventh consecutive Sturgis excursion begins in about three weeks. Although the COVID-19 pandemic will change that experience significantly, the ride there and back (which is at least as important, if not more so) will be largely unchanged and although the four days I plan to be there will be muted, I should be able to ride the Black Hills and keep to myself.

There are two other anniversaries that are much more pivotal. They are not likely to be forgotten even though one of them I don’t directly remember. The first is October 17th, 2000 and the other is August 6th, 2004. The first, almost 20 years ago, is a day that nearly ended my life. In fact, it should have – not could have, should have. Due to a lifestyle will be explained by that second anniversary, I was involved in a wreck that put me in the hospital with major life-threatening injuries for three months, almost half of which I was in a medically induced coma. I don’t remember most of about six weeks of my life and what I do remember is nothing short of weird. The accident was my fault and I am profoundly grateful that I did not kill or seriously injure anyone else. The second anniversary, coming up on 16 years ago, is the date I got clean for good. I have not ingested any mind or mood altering chemicals – no drugs or alcohol – for 5,816 consecutive days.

While all of these various anniversaries are important – not the least of which are my boys’ and grandsons’ birthdays – those two days almost 20 and 16 years ago literally made the rest possible. The almost four years between that wreck and finally getting my shit together were a kind of purgatory for me – it was the time between the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. I got clean for about nine months in March of 2003 only to go backwards at the end of the year. During that time I experienced medical complications, physical rehabilitation, incarceration, residential drug rehabilitation and the beginning of furthering my college education. August 6th, 2004 was not a good day – I reported to jail to do some time on a probation violation only to report to another jail a week after being released to do some time on the charge that got me violated. When I was finally free sometime in late September of 2004, I was beat, pissed off and hopeless.

I was almost 42 years old and lucky to be live, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I was not and never have been suicidal, but I get how some can feel that kind of hopelessness. I had two choices – stay clean or violate again and go to prison. But I did not see how staying clean was going to get me to a place where I would ever feel “good.” I knew drugs would at least make me not care (they stopped making me feel “good” years before). And I also knew that the threat of going to prison alone would not work long-term. I had some recent recovery experience and some recent recovery success, so I tried again, not at all convinced it would work. Day after day, I did what I saw others doing and day after day, without my even noticing, things got better.

In the Spring of 2005, I returned to the local junior college with a plan. I need just that one semester to transfer to California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) as a junior in the fall. Before that spring semester was over, I was able to look back one day and notice it was a few days since I was angry about anything. While I might not have been “happy,” not being pissed off all day everyday was a monumental improvement. Being angry all the time was fucking exhausting. Also, being clean, focused and motivated had a huge impact on my grades. By the time I graduated from CSUS, I had achieved a couple of 4.0 semesters and my overall GPA at Sac State was 3.83 – I graduated magna cum laude in the fall of 2007. Considering I was asked to leave San Diego State in 1985 with a 0.7 GPA, it is clear that being “dumb” was not my problem. Being stupid was.

Since then, I have gone on to earn a MA at CSUS, advance to Ph.D. candidacy at Louisiana State University (LSU) before using my work there for another MA (a “failure,” but in the world of failures, one that comes with a lot of success). I have had the chance to add other anniversaries like that ill-fated marriage, its subsequent divorce, six and a soon-to-be seventh Sturgis the acquisition of not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six different Harleys and many other material items – “things” that I like. The intangibles are more important, however. By just staying alive, I now have four grandsons. However, my career is, perhaps, most notable. When I returned from LSU in the summer of 2015, I applied for a lecturer position at CSUS. While not the tenure-track professorship I planned to be pursuing originally, I am still teaching at the school that gave me the tools to go to LSU and do something I never in a million years dreamed possible – doctoral research at an elite R1 university. And now, for the past five years, I have been teaching at the same school that did so much for me. Add another anniversary to the list.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Connections


This essay – this blog post – is being written specifically for my original, nearly 15 year-old blog, The 25 Year Plan. That blog came into existence in December of 2005 due to a number of factors and it has outlived all of my other online “profiles” for many of the same reasons. I have other blogs that are now dormant, but this one, while enjoying more of my attention lately than it has in recent years, is nowhere near as active as it was early on. There are many reasons for that, too, most of which are not important or particularly interesting. However, one reason it got the attention it did (from me, it has never been externally “famous”) was that I had no other good outlet to publish myself.

That concept, “publishing oneself,” still strikes me as odd, but that is, whatever we want to call it, a thing. Maybe it’s a Facebook post, a “tweet,” a picture on Instagram or, now, Snapchat and TikTok – and so many others – but at the end of the day, we are making ourselves publicly available to others. We are publishing ourselves. Why? I can’t say what the attraction is for others, however, the attraction is undeniably there. For me, it predates social media as we know it. When I saw my name in the byline of my stories in the local newspaper, it did something for me, when that story was an editorial, it did something more. Much more. And I say this while saying, sincerely, that attention, fame, notoriety and all other acclaim is not what I seek. I seek, for lack of a better word, connection. On second thought, maybe that is the best word. Yes… connection.

That can happen in a number of ways and much of what I write about is personal, even when is has a political or social or societal or public slant. The subtext of my blog’s title for all these years remains, Perspectives, Purpose and Opinion. That is a very large category that allows for virtually anything. Over the years and 643 published posts (most, but not all, my own original work – some earlier posts were quotes and pictures and other things I found compelling), I wrote about current events, political goings-on, personal trials and tribulations, navigating life as a middle-aged college student and just about anything else. Sometimes I wrote just for the sake of writing. And, for those who read carefully, I likely have contradicted myself and changed positions over the years. For better and (more often) worse, Facebook has supplanted my blog. There are, again, many reasons, but it is impossible to discount or minimize the “publication” factor. Facebook reaches more people faster and easier – it makes for more, faster and easier connections. More, faster and easier, however, does not necessarily mean better.

As much as Facebook has continued to add features giving the platform more access and making it even faster and easier, and as much as it has to some extent evolved to a slightly deeper content level (even Twitter has doubled its character limit), it still doesn’t favor much more than sound-bite and headline level engagement. The proof is everywhere, every day. I am “accused” of being too verbose in my Facebook posts on a regular basis. And when longer articles are linked, most people do not read them – I know this from my own stats. When I link this to my Facebook timeline, I will get more comments and “reactions” than I do hits on my blog’s web page. While the comments often reveal the level of engagement with my work, the reactions (likes, loves, wows, etc.) do not. Is that connection?

I’ve said it before and it’s still true – I don’t do it for the likes. In fact, when my stories appeared in a newspaper, there was no “like” button. Occasionally a sufficiently inspired reader might be compelled to write a letter to the editor, and sometimes the newspaper’s online presence (as rudimentary as it was at the time) would generate comments from readers, but not often. My connection came from my personal interaction in the community I wrote for and the knowledge that a certain number of people had my words delivered on their doorstep. And, although I still prefer the actual feel of a newspaper in my hands, I don’t have a paper delivered to my home anymore. Progress.

The point of all of this got somewhat lost, but maybe that is the point. My online presence, my “publications,” my life experience is shared to make a connection with others. I get drawn into others’ words, like these, and I can relate. The inspiration today came from, as much as I hate to admit it, Facebook and it’s “Memories” feature. My active Facebook history now dates back well past 10 years; the changes as well as the patterns are interesting. It is easy enough to see how the quantity, speed and ease of one platform has supplanted the other. However, it is noteworthy that, for all Facebook is, it has not replaced the deeper and more robust ability for this medium to make a more meaningful connection. A lot has happened in the last 15 years and this time of year seems to be full of surprises. So far, while this has been a crazy, tumultuous year, my personal life has been relatively quiet. My stress about things has an external source, from my connection to others.

I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t like way too much of what I see. I try, really hard, to understand without condemnation, but at some point, with some people, I simply cannot continue to engage. There is no connection; it is either lost or, perhaps, was never there in the first place. Sometimes it becomes clear I can do nothing, say nothing – I cannot even capitulate, apparently that is not what they are after, I’m not sure they even know what they are after. It is as frustrating as it is sad, but walking away from “it all,” as much as I want to, is not my nature. For those who are still willing to sincerely connect, I’ll keep talking, keep listening, keep writing and keep reading. It’s not just about my “perspectives, purpose and opinion,” it’s about everyone’s. It’s about connections.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Too Much


Video has changed the game. It, along with television, was the turning point in the civil rights movement. The technology brought visceral images to the nation, and to the world, of what was happening in “the land of the free.” There it was, right in our own living rooms. We knew about it, we heard about it, but for too many of us it was so far removed from our daily lives that we could turn a blind eye because we were, in fact, blind. No more.

Fast forward to the early 90s when the technology finds its way into the hands of everyday people. Camcorders were becoming cheaper and easier to use and one of them was trained on some Los Angeles cops as they mercilessly beat Rodney King after arresting him. Although instant access to distribution channels was not yet available, the recording was aired by a local news station and it quickly went “viral.” People were, again, appalled. This sort of police brutality was nothing new, as those who were subjected to it knew all too well, and although we had heard of such things, we were, until the King beating, blissfully blind. The “system” failed to realize the outrage acquitting those cops would cause, but that, too, came right into our living rooms.

So, lesson learned, right? We had a problem. The “racial problems” were not a thing of the past, not an ugly and unpleasant footnote in our history, they were still there lurking under the surface in our institutions. Get to work, identify the cause, craft solutions and eliminate the source of the rage that was a tinder box waiting to ignite. And although some steps were taken, it is clear that we are nowhere near “there” yet. As the technology has become so advanced that video is everywhere, one would think that the very threat of getting caught would compel those who are prone to violate the rights of others to stop. It would be better if their actual attitudes changed, if those in positions of power did the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, but that is na├»ve. It is puzzling, however, that the risk of getting caught is not enough to keep these cops from exerting unwarranted and excessive force.

It might be that the risk is not that great. Time after time we see those who have been caught in the video cross-hairs sent home, free, with minimal or no consequences. Even in this most recent case, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd was not even arrested or charged until days later. No one except a cop would be afforded that kind of grace. And the other three who stood by and allowed it to happen? So far they have lost only their jobs, and the police union will, no doubt, fight that. Here we have a case where virtually everyone agrees that this was a cold-blooded heinous crime and yet the standard operating procedure that applies to all other criminals who perpetrate this type of crime did not apply. Why?

We have given the cops too much. Too much privacy. Too much secrecy. Too much power. Too much autonomy. We have also not demanded enough from them. Not enough training. Not enough screening. Not enough professionalism. Not enough empathy. Of course, even with all that taken into account, we cannot prevent an occasional rogue cop from slipping in under the radar, but at this point it is becoming increasingly clear that there are way too many and, more importantly, the rest are not policing those who are not upholding a level of trust necessary for police to be effective in any community.

I wrote a piece on Facebook recently in which I argued “there are no good cops.” The premise is based upon the mythical, magical “thin blue line,” that veil of secrecy that binds cops to silent solidarity. I got some push back, some resistance – I knew I would – and while I readily admit that not all cops are bad and that most are not “dirty,” far too many will look the other way. Derek Chauvin worked for the Minneapolis Police Department for 18 years. In that time he had 18 complaints made against him, only two of which incurred any disciplinary action –  “letters of reprimand.” It is actually remarkable that we even know that much, considering the privacy that police personnel records get. There is no indication where those complaints came from, but I’d bet real money that not one came from a fellow officer and, furthermore, I’d bet no fellow officers were particularly helpful in the investigation of those complaints. This is a major metropolitan police department, not the Podunk PD.

This is not an isolated case, it is the latest in a long line of police killings, brutality and other major indescretions that have been documented and in most cases, nothing happened – the officers were found not at fault. And those who were still got special treatment. But wait, this is only the tip of the iceberg – these are only the cases that happened to find their way onto video and into the public domain. With that many that happened to find themselves on camera, just imagine those that have been summarily swept under the rug and behind the veil of a blue curtain – beyond public reach. Is it any wonder people are angry. I am white, male and have seen it myself, experienced it myself, been lied about in police reports myself. I have black friends who have stories that are far worse.

There is so much wrong and so much work to do, but if we don’t focus on law enforcement as a priority, nothing else will matter. The trust that the police must have to do their job does not exist. God cops, good cops that don’t say anything about bad cops and bad cops all look the same. There are no white hats and black hats to tell them apart – I have no idea who I’m going to get when I call them, so I won’t unless it’s is absolutely necessary. That is the reality. The unrest, the anger, the dismay, the disillusionment, the distrust did not come out of a vacuum. The uprising on a national level is not some orchestrated, coordinated ploy by those trying to destroy this nation. It is organic. It is the natural extension of what happens when too many people are denied too long the freedom that this very nation promised them.

We have seen enough. We have seen far too much.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

In the History of Failures


I had four years of "funding" at LSU. That is, for four years, they would pay me to teach two classes, pay my tuition for the three graduate classes I took each semester that were required for a Ph.D., and some miscellaneous other contractual obligations and benefits. At the close of the spring 2015 semester, that contract came to an end. I finished my coursework, I finished my exams and I was one large hurdle away from completing my degree, but I no longer had to take any classes and only had to pay for doctoral advising hours. In other words, there was no reason to stay in Baton Rouge if I wasn't working there. And to stay, I had to work.
But the truth, at least part of it, is that as much as I wanted to permanently get the fuck out of Sacramento a couple of years earlier, the smoke had cleared - somewhat - by then (less than I imagined from 2,200 miles away, but that's another story for another time). I wanted to go back home, work there and work on my dissertation from there. I knew that would make a difficult project more so, but I did not care. That was not the only factor involved, but retrospect being both 20/20 and undo-able, it doesn't much matter anyway. That same hindsight tells me that my being home in Sacramento served some very certain irreplaceable benefits as well. Such is the nature of intangibles. That unfinished work towards my Ph.D. didn't get me nothing; it got me a shitload of experience I value quite a lot. And it got me another MA degree. But it did not give me reason enough to go back to LSU for commencement.
So it was on this day, five years ago that I turned in my office keys and walked out of Coates Hall for the last time. I've been back to Baton Rouge a few times, I planned to go back this summer and, depending on how this current pandemic plays through, I still might. I have friends there and I have family in southern Louisiana. I am a loyal alumnus. I was as proud as any Tiger could be to see our football team not only win the National Championship last season but also put together a perfect season and produce a Heisman Trophy winner in the process. And they beat Alabama, too. Even though I didn't come away with letters in front of my name as well as letters behind it, just getting there and hanging in there - with all that was going on while I was there - was a monumental long shot. In the world of "failure," especially in the history of my failures, that is a failure I can be proud of.