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.