Saturday, May 30, 2015

Black Lives Matter

I get up most mornings between 5:30 and 6.  I just naturally wake up early.  This is a new thing in the last year, as I've always been something of a night owl.  In any case, I usually get up, make myself a bit of coffee, and head to the gym. My normal routine there is a bit of cardio and then a bit of weight lifting. Then home, breakfast, and off to dive into my work day.  It's a nice routine. Healthy.  Since I'm at the gym early and since I don't really want to talk to humans that time of day, I haven't made many friends. I'm one of the regulars. Me and the old timers do our stuff and go.  There are a couple of bro dudes who continue to swell their pectorals and utter guttural phrases such as "gotta get swole" and "I'm doing two-a-days this week. Gotta get a tiny waist."  There is a younger guy, perhaps in his early twenties, and his buddy and possibly bro dude mentor, in his late 30s to 40s.  For some reason, Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" is the older bro dude's favorite song.  Why do I know that? Because I didn't have my music turned up high enough. They are sort of intimidating at first, due to the dropping of weights and profound advice, but I got used to them. On the other hand, I actively enjoy the morning crew: Pat, who is the only person to talk to me, is retired and is traveling to Germany and Turkey next year; old guy #1, #2, and #3, all of whom do cardio for like a minute, then circulate chatting about agriculture and investments while periodically lifting a weight and scratching. They all have those old Navy style tattoos like "Mom" and the eagle with where they were stationed on their biceps.  There's Seahawks gal who wears head to toe gear every day. She's got style. I have a place too: sleepy sweaty woman who never talks.

There have been recent changes at my gym. New owners, one a personal trainer and the other a former police officer.

I don't like change, not this kind.  I like the old owner; he always says good morning to me and is both peppy and mellow. He sort of sets the vibe in the room to "chill".

Some of the changes are good.  There is more emphasis and space for the personal trainers. There are now books on nutrition and training available. They tried offering daycare, even though that didn't work out.  And there's a push for better equipment and more group fitness classes.

And a problem: There's a free for all board where members can anonymously write whatever is on their minds. I like that, for the most part. I commented on how women feel comfortable working out there. But one week there was a comment about one of the staff members.  That he was hot chocolate.  Another member commented assent. This went on for two weeks. I don't like the idea of objectifying people or commenting on their hotness (or coldness?), and this made me uncomfortable. I'm pretty sure if this were a female they were commenting on, it would have been erased quickly.

And another problem. There are now printed signs everywhere that say "Law Enforcement Lives Matter. We support all law enforcement, all the time".

Please bear with me. I support law enforcement. They are necessary to the functioning of a just society.  They are to protect and serve. I won't go on ad nauseam about this. I will say that my family has a long history of both law enforcement and military service.  Believe me, I get it. I know that there are good ones and bad ones.

What I don't "get", what makes me disagree, what makes me uncomfortable enough to keep me awake at night, is the idea that police are above the law, that they are above accountability and reproach.  That men like Eric Garner can be choked to death with no arrest, with no inquiry, with no justice even though this was recorded and even though if this was done by non-police, it's most likely that two people would be standing trial for murder.

I wish they would change that sign to "We Support All Law Enforcement, except when they abuse their power, because we believe in them so much that we hold them to the highest ethical standards."

Here's what happened yesterday, though. An older guy at the gym, who is there maybe two mornings a week, came in wearing this:

If you don't know what this is, it's a reference to the death of Eric Garner, who was choked by police- on film (warning: graphic video)- and saying "I can't breathe!"  He was not resisting at all and they choked him to death. To death. No charges. Why were they arresting him? Possibly for selling cigarettes. And here is this man, wearing a shirt MOCKING the death of someone at the hands of bullies who have no business being police officers. Bullying others who might think of stepping out of line.  I mean, according to this logic, I could and perhaps should be shot for speeding. Or jaywalking. Or participating in an act of disobedience against an unjust law.  Or selling cigarettes, or being a prostitute, or a drug user. Or being Black.

The shock of this message did take my breath away.

I'm going to offer several links related to statistics and the death of black men in our country.  Yes, I am going there. Go there with me. Or keep reading and catch them later. Just remember: I don't particularly trust the media but I do trust statistics.

I was pretty incensed by this shirt, and by the privileged and arrogant position this person takes. Yes, it's a free country. Yes, he has the right to free speech. But I also have a right to be outraged by someone with the audacity to say that if you break the law at all, you deserve to be murdered. That your life doesn't matter. And that due process of law means that the police are judge, jury, and executioner.  Due process. That's what I demand. Due process for everyone.

But mostly, I'm sad. At the lack of compassion and understanding by both this business and the human being who finds it necessary to wear bigoted clothing. I hope he someday, somehow, feels really ashamed of himself.

And I'm really proud of myself for not getting in his face. But perhaps he needs that. Perhaps he, like so many of us, is just ignorant. And perhaps I would have beat the snot out of him and gone to jail.

Instead, next week, all week, I'm going to wear my own shirt; one I bought a few weeks ago. Because if you need to advertise who you are, then perhaps you need to know who I am as well.

We all matter. Not some of us; all of us. Nobody matters more than anyone else. Black Lives Matter.

I wore this shirt last Friday on campus. I was in the student union making small talk with a group of students. Another person came up and complimented me on my shirt. Then he said "All lives matter."  "Yes," I said, "but today we're talking about Black lives."  "Right on." Yes, white people can have conversations about race. And it's time we did because it's not the job of non-white people to explain this to us. Or convince us. The evidence is all around us, but we've been trained not to see, so I'm making the invisible visible.

Maybe it doesn't matter at all if I wear my shirt. It's not a huge protest. It's not getting in a bigot's face, because that's not going to change his heart. But it's my thing, because I cannot be silent about casual racism and bigotry. The little things are sometimes big things.


  1. I saw this yesterday when the photo of the tee-shirt could be seen. It was a shocking and cruel, hateful tee-shirt. Racism by anyone is just wrong. I thought since the 1960's we had come much further than this.

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