Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's the "Why not?"

It's the "Why not?" that is the most infuriating, for within that phrase reside layers of racism, sexism, and white male entitlement. 

In this piece I will unpack that two-word question, engage Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, and challenge Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price to do the right thing.

The Event

On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 21, 2016, Jacqueline Craig. the mother of a 7-year-old boy, called Fort Worth police to report that a man had assaulted her son for littering, according to news reports. Craig and her son are African Americans. The neighbor accused of assaulting her son is a white man. (According to news reports, the neighbor has admitted grabbing the child by the neck.)

And you already know how this story is going to turn out, don't you? Right. As I write this, nothing has happened to the white neighbor, but the mother and her two daughters were arrested.  And after the arrest, the cops checked her for outstanding warrants - something not routinely done with arrests -- and discovered the mom has some outstanding traffic violations, information they quickly shared with the media. Of course they did.

Here's how the event unfolded.

"Relatives said that a man in their southwest Fort Worth neighborhood had grabbed the boy by the neck in an attempt to get him to pick up the trash," reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A relative of the mother videoed the encounter. See the video here.

"The video shows the officer talking to both the man accused of assaulting Craig’s son and then to Craig. Craig tells the man that he should have alerted her if he believed her son had littered and that he didn’t have the right to put his hands on her son.

“Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” the officer asks Craig.

“He can’t prove to me that my son littered,” Craig responded. “But it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.”

“'Why not?” the officer responds."

Why not?!!!!!!! "Why not?" !!!!!!!!!!

Implicit in that "Why not?" is this question - Why can't your neighbor assault your child any time he wishes, for any reason?

There are layers within layers of things wrong with this white officer of the law asking a black mother why another white man shouldn't be allowed to put his hands on her 7-year-old son without being held to account. Let's unpeel those layers.

Within that phrase sits hundreds of years of women of all colors being publicly shamed and blamed by white men when they dare to speak up and out about wrongs being done to them or their children, when they demand that the law defend them too. 

But most of all, within that patronizing privileged phrase sit hundreds of years of white men doing whatever they damn well pleased to the bodies of black children, black women, black men. 

Within that phrase sits a sense of entitlement and privilege fed and nurtured by centuries of patriarchy and white privilege that meant one white man automatically supported the other white man at the expense of an justifiably aggrieved mother.

That's why that white officer of the law barely dealt with the reason he had been called to the scene -- the suspected assault of a child -  and instead turned the full weight of the authority vested in him by the city of Fort Worth on the black child's mother, focusing all his scorn and outrage on her.

And that black mother reacted exactly as any other mother -- and most fathers -- would react at being asked that outrageous question. She
 got angry. Which, if you watch the video, was pretty clearly the officer's intent in goading her.

The news report continued, "The exchange immediately grows heated with Craig telling the officer that his question made her angry and the officer replying he would take her to jail if she continued yelling at him."

Got that? The officer patronizes her, treats her complaint as worthless, blatantly calls her a bad mother, goads her,  threatens her, and then, when she reacts, arrests her. And then arrests her daughters because they get angry too. 

Ms. Craig did the right thing in calling the police. Hell, if some man had grabbed my child by the throat, I'm not sure I'd have called the police before confronting and assaulting him. And if I had, I suspect I still wouldn't be in jail, because I'm white and my child is white. 


Fort Worth city officials  say they are "disturbed and outraged" at the video, and they have acknowledged the office acted "inappropriately," and agree that investigating the possible assault of the child should have been the officer’s priority when he arrived at the scene.

But Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald (a black man), speaking at a news conference at City Hall on Friday afternoon, "acknowledged that the officer acted rude but said, 'I can’t call [the incident] racism.

"'What I can say is that I noticed in the video that the officer was rude,” Fitzgerald said. “And there is a difference between rude and racist.”

Chief, you are right. This officer's behavior WAS rude, but that rudeness was caused by and rooted in racism and sexism. And I think you know it. Just as it's racism that is forcing you to be so measured and prudent, making you so carefully avoid the slightest appearance of being the dreaded "angry black man."

I get it -- but I hate it. 

Because if we don't name it, we can't change it. 

Mayor, make it right

So I am calling on Mayor Betsy Price to use her status as an elected official and her white privilege to name it. Have your police chief's back and say what he can't -- that this officer's behavior was racist and sexist and that it will not be tolerated in Fort Worth.

Then take appropriate action to back that statement up. Fire the officer. 

And then apologize to Ms. Craig, her daughters, and most of all, her 7-year-old son. 

If you believe it when you say Fort Worth is better than this, prove it. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Living with AIDS

On this World AIDS Day, I am thinking about the term "living with AIDS." I rejoice at the medical advances that make that possible, but not without grieving for the multitudes who didn't make it over that particular line in history.

I am remembering the late 1980s when my husband was, for a time, the only Episcopal priest in Fort Worth who would conduct funerals for AIDS patients. How many funerals did we attend of young men whose families refused to come to the hospital to see them as they were dying, much less to their funerals?

Every Christmas I am reminded of Tom, who left me his amazing fabulous Christmas decorations and memories of so many friendly arguments over meals. If you think our Christmas decorations are just a teeny bit over the top, thank sweet stubborn talented Tom.

I am remembering the times parts of the Quilt came to Fort Worth and we stood for tear-stained hours in the Will Rogers Exhibit Hall reading aloud one by one the names on those quilts, tears eventually making it hard to see the names.

I am remembering my husband firmly explaining to a father who showed up just after we finished burying the ashes of his son in the church garden that no, he could not have the keys to his son's house - a house whose address the father didn't even know, having disowned his son years before. That house was willed to his son's partner, who had cared for him in the much too short time from diagnosis to death, and who now faced his own death from AIDS. I thought my oh-so-gentle husband was going to punch the man out when he tried to bully the partner into giving him the house keys.

I am remembering the many mothers who my husband persuaded to come see their dying children. They would sidle into the hospital rooms, gasp at the sight of their sons, and then, well, they either left weeping or they fell to their knees by the beds, weeping. Some of those who left came back when they had recovered from the shock. Some never did come back. Most made us promise to never tell their husbands -- the fathers of these men -- that they had come to the hospital.

But there was one father who did come -- to tell his son he was damned to hell. He managed to get most of that sentence out before we hustled him out of the room and called hospital security.

I remember the lesbians who cared tenderly for so many sick gay men -- especially men whose partners had already died, men who had no one else to care for them. This was at a time when gay men barely acknowledged common cause with lesbian women, indeed sometimes were hostile to the women. That gap was bridged with the loving care of countless women and the gratitude of way too many dying men.

I remember hearing a woman tell of persuading her priest to bury her son, who had died of AIDS, only to have the priest come up to this grieving mother at the funeral reception and say, "Well, I did my best, but I have to tell you that your son is burning in hell."

So, no, I have no patience with anti-gay crap or with those who vote for people who espouse such views. I especially have no patience with those who use the Bible and God to hammer LGBT folk. In The Episcopal Church, when a baby -- or anyone else -- is baptized, the bishop or priest dabs his or her thumb in blessed oil and makes the sign of the Cross on the person's forehead, saying, "You are sealed as Christ's own forever." There is no asterisk, no conditions are put on that baptism. As Bishop Barbara Harris famously proclaimed, "There are no half-assed baptisms!"

I believe we are all -- straight, LGBTQ, black, white, brown, Indigenous, male, female, gender non-conforming -- ALL OF US named or unnamed are God's own, created in God's image, beloved children of a loving God.

And it will be in the name of those who didn't get to "live with AIDS" that I will stand my ground with that statement for however many time it's needed in the next four years. I hope you will join me.