We Are All Ferguson

Today is Thanksgiving Day, but many of us can’t shake the images we’ve been seeing from Ferguson, Missouri.

For those living under a rock, take heart: almost none of us had heard of this suburb of St. Louis before August 9, 2014. On that date police officer Dennis Wilson responded to a call of a young black man stealing cigarillos from a local store. Arriving on the scene Officer Wilson found two young men walking in the street, one of whom (Michael Brown) fit the description of the man who stole the cigarillos. Two minutes later Officer Brown had redness and swelling on his right cheek and Mr. Brown was dead from at least six gunshot wounds.

Protests began almost immediately. Many in Ferguson, and elsewhere, believed Mr. Brown was killed by law enforcement because he was a young black man. Had he been white he would still be with us.

This perception was exacerbated by the fact that the city of Ferguson is 69% black (according to the 2010 census) while the police force is 6% black. This is due, in no small part, to the changing demographics in Ferguson. In 1980 the population of Ferguson was 85% white, but by 2010 it had plummeted to 30% (I got this from a New York Times article).

This led to a perfect storm where the majority of the population was black while the majority of law enforcement was white. I call this a perfect storm because it brings back reminders of the history of slavery. From 1630 to 1865 the majority of Africans experienced America as a place of enslavement. From 1865 to the present day many of them have experienced America as a place of discrimination.

This is not universal and the fact that our President is African American gives us proof that we live in a nation that accepts people of different races.

That said we should never forget that discrimination continues to exist and seemingly random events focus us toward this reality.

The events of August 9th gives us just this reality. In the last few days I’ve read some of the testimony of the grand jury (and I encourage you to do the same. You can access much of the testimony on this New York Times article).

It’s a complicated series of events but after reading Officer Wilson’s testimony I believe he acted properly. I think he had a reasonable fear for his life and did what he had to do.

At the same time I continue to understand that much of the protest is justified. This isn’t about Michael Brown and Darren Wilson: it’s about the state of race relations in the United States. And it has to be talked about.

All of my experience of law enforcement have been positive but mine is not everyone’s experience. People of color (of all ages) recognize “the look.” They know that they come under extra scrutiny when they walk into a convenience store and countless of them have had experiences with law enforcement that I would find more bewildering than offensive.

And when someone like Michael Brown is shot to death it feels like an attack on an entire community. I briefly lived in Memphis several years ago, less than a mile from the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. I remember speaking with people from the neighborhood who lived there then. They felt that his assassination was the first shot in a war against them and this feeling was exacerbated when they saw National Guard troops in tanks rolling into the neighborhood. The residents of Ferguson certainly had the same feeling when they saw the National Guard roll into their town with weapons from the 1033 program. The 1033 program provides local police departments with weapons designed for warfare. If you’re in law enforcement it’s free stuff; if you’re a minority it looks like you’re unarmed and at war with someone who wants you dead.

We also need to view these events against another reality: race relations in this country are riddled with crimes against people of color where justice was promised but not delivered. In 1963 the civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers was shot to death in his own front yard. His killer was not convicted until 1994. That same year four young girls were killed when dynamite was placed under the washroom of their church. The first of the bombers was not convicted until 1977; two more were convicted in 2001 and 2002 (a fourth died in 1994 before he could be brought to trial). In 1964 three civil rights workers were slain in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1967 seven men were convicted but none of them served more than six years.

All these cases involved lies from law enforcement that these crimes would be investigated. I ambivalent about this, but I’ve been reading about the charge that the district attorney in Ferguson convened the grand jury with no interest in indicting Officer Wilson.

I write this with a certain amount of discomfort, and maybe that’s the point. The events of Ferguson in the last three months has shown a light on a topic many of us would like to ignore: we’re not done working to achieve true harmony of skin color.

As long as I don’t get “the look” when I walk into a store but someone else does, we’re not done. As long as I see a peace officer and feel protected while another looks at the same peace officer and feels unsafe, we’re not done. And as long as anyone believes the end of slavery 149 years ago means we’re done, we’re not done.

Carl, Thank You For Conceeding But You Could Have Been More Gracious

In an earlier post I spoke about the close race for my U.S. Representative. Two years ago we unseated Brian Bilbray by electing Scott Peters; shortly after that, Carl DeMaio announced he would run against Scott in 2014. Carl served on the San Diego City Council and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2012.

Carl is nothing but bad news for those of us who want a good future for our city and nation. Nancy had a few occasions to watch Carl live as a member of the city council. She found him to be a slimy bully.

When he planned his campaign to unseat Scott he tried to brand himself as a team player, a problem solver, and a “new type of Republican.” He wasn’t any of those. Carl is gay and is in a long term relationship with Jonathon Hale; he claims that he is hoping to make the Republican Party more accepting of gays.

As a Democrat I applaud him and hope he is successful. Alas, I don’t think he will be successful because I don’t think he’s honest. All along he’s assumed that because he’s gay he would automatically get the San Diego gay vote. He didn’t and it never occurred to him that he would have to actually have to work for the gay vote.

I’ve spent the last several days waiting for his concession and hoped he would be gracious. Yeah, right. Toward the end of his campaign there were allegations that he sexually harassed two of his campaign aids. This is never good news for someone running for office but Carl’s strategy came down to accusing Scott of planting these stories.

It was his last opportunity to show some class and he blew it. Good riddance Carl.

Happy Anniversary to this Blog

As of yesterday it’s been 10 years since I started this online blog. At the time I was on the cusp of leaving my job as a chaplain at Odyssey Hospice, which is now part of Gentiva Hospice. I wasn’t sure where my path led, but I knew it didn’t follow the same path as Odyssey Hospice. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to be a hospice chaplain and I took some time off to explore my next step.

I was “between jobs” from November 13, 2004 until February 14, 2005. I learned a number of things, but mostly I learned that I don’t do unemployment well. I caught two colds, suffered several days of indecision, and learned that I like the simple pleasure of a good days’ work. As I look back on the blog I have to admit a certain amount of embarrassment over the blog posts in the first few months: it had a “dear diary” flavor to it. That only changed when I started working again; I posted less, but thought more.

Since then the blog has turned into my honest thoughts. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve written, and in 2007 my friend Chip suggested that I move my page to his server. Since then I’ve had a page that gives you the ability to search my page and give me feedback. It’s been good.

Hopefully everyone who reads this will keep reading. I love writing, and I love (even more) getting your feedback.

It's Been a Few Days and I'm Feeling a Little Better

On Tuesday night I stopped blogging at 8PM, mostly because all the news coverage was all about the stunning Republican landslide. The idea of Republican control of the Senate, even without the 60 vote filibuster proof majority, troubles me.

It’s been a few days and I’m starting to feel a little more hope. While things on the national level didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, things in California generally went well. We re-elected California Governor Jerry Brown for a 4th term. By all accounts he’s done a remarkable job of reversing the downward slide we experienced from Arnold Schwarzenegger and he was able to win re-election with little campaigning.

Two years ago Scott Peters narrowly unseated incumbent Brian Bilbray. The race was so close that it took 10 days after the election to be sure Scott won. A congressman faces his toughest re-election after his first term and this was no exception. From Scott’s first day on the job Carl DeMaio, a former city council member, announced his intention to run for Scot’s seat in 2014. The race was neck and neck and on election night Carl was winning the counted votes by 752. On Wednesday night it was reversed and Scott was ahead by 861 votes. At this point all the votes cast on election day and most of the mail in votes had been counted; all that was left were the mail in votes that were dropped off on election day and provisional ballots.

Frankly this time last night I was pretty optimistic. Most mail in ballots skew Republican and were mailed in early. I’m not sure I’m proud of this but most people who wait until the last minute vote Democrat. I also believe that most provisional ballots would skew Democrat.

In any case I was pretty anxious waiting for the results. I was hoping that Scott’s momentum would continue and afraid it would reverse. The results were so good I had to check a few places to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Scott’s lead went from 861 votes to 4,491 with somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 votes left to count.

In my mind this finishes the election. For the sake of simplicity I’ve rounded the number up from 4,491 to 4,500. If there are 15,000 ballots left to count, Carl would have to win 9,750 of them. If there are 10,000 ballots left to count, Carl would have to win 7,250 of them. Either way it’s a hard hill to climb.

On the Republican side I’m impressed that Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham beat back challenges from the tea party (I refuse to link or capitalize). I’m hoping that will make moderate Republicans more willing (or less fearful) to actually work with President Obama.

Finally, I read an excellent column by David Broder who speaks eloquently about the reality that Republican demographics are diminishing. Almost nobody who has recently become an American citizen or has recently become old enough to vote thinks their future lies with the Republican party. I think David is right and I’m happy to think so.

Election Night 2014: Not Sure How Long I'll Blog Tonight

It’s my tradition to blog on election as we follow the races. I may not follow them as far into the night as I usually do for a few reasons. The first is that I’m generally disappointed with how the candidates are running the election.

The Republicans are running this as a referendum on a President with two years left on his political life. The Democrats are running like President Obama doesn’t exist. I’m proud of my votes for him, I think he’s done an excellent job given what he faced in January of 2009, and I’m angry that my party is trying to pretend he’s not there.

The other reason is a more simple one: I don’t think there is as much at stake tonight. Nobody believes the leadership of the House of Representatives will change, the Presidency will certainly not change, and while the majority may shift in the Senate we likely won’t know tonight. There are close Senate races in North Carolina and Louisiana but they likely won’t be decided now. Both races have more than 2 candidates and require 50% plus one to win. In other words it’s a fair bet that both races will require runoffs.

7:00PM Pacific Time, 10:00PM Eastern Time, 3:00 AM Greenwich Mean Time: The polls don’t close for another hour here in California so I have nothing to report. I’m disappointed but not surprised to see that Mitch McConnell survived a strong challenge. He had to fight for the Republican nomination from Matt Bevin, a member of the Tea Party. He won the nomination and I had hoped he would be so wounded that the Democrats would unite against him. Alas, Mitch won, and if the Republicans win the Senate he will be the majority leader.

I’m also disappointed by the 7th Congressional district of Virginia. In a stunning upset in June, Dave Brat defeated Eric Cantor. Dave is an economics professor at Randolf Macon College, and this placed him against the Democratic nominee, Jack Trammell, who ironically enough, is also a faculty member at Randolf Macon. Jack was supposed to be the guy Eric Cantor would destroy in the election. When Brat won, I hoped the Democrats would unite and defeat Brat, but it didn’t happen. The 7th Virginia Congressional district is still pretty Republican and I’m guessing that moderate Republicans who liked Eric held their noses and voted for Brat.

On the other hand I’m pleased with New Hampshire. Senator Jean Shaheen was challenged by Scott Brown. Scott was born in Maine, but moved to Massachusetts as an infant. In 2010 he won a special election to fill the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy who died of cancer. Scott expected that this would lead to him holding that seat for a long time, but he lost to Elizabeth Warren in the general election in 2012.

Scott then moved to New Hampshire and challenged Jean. Tonight’s projections show that he will lose to Jean. I find this good news because it shows Scott as an opportunist. He doesn’t care who he represents, he just wants to be a Senator. This makes the charge that he is a carpetbagger who will go anywhere and say anything to gain power.

8:00 PM Pacific Team, 11:00 PM Eastern Time, 4:00 AM Greenwich Mean Time: The polls have closed in California but almost nothing is certain where I live. My congressional race pits the incumbent Scott Peters (Democrat) against Carl Demaio (Republican) and almost certainly won’t be settled tonight. In fairness, two years ago Scott’s victory wasn’t announced until 3 days after the election. It may happen again. While my district is trending Democrat, it may be a few more years to turn it blue.

We voted on several ballot measures, but the measure that I cared the most about was Propsition 46. As most of you know I’m married to a doctor. If you’ve been harmed by a doctor on a medical procedure you can sue the doctor. If it’s found that it was malpractice you can sue on a few grounds. If the doctor’s malpractice prevents you from ever working again you can sue the doctor for the wages you would have earned for the rest of your career and there is no ceiling on what you can sue for. If the doctor’s malpractice causes you to need medical care for the rest of your life you can sue for the care you need for the rest of your life.

So what is left? Well if you sue somebody you can claim the money you need to care for the injured person and to replace his (or her) wages but you can also sue for “pain and suffering.”

“Pain and suffering” is the money you get for saying that the plaintiff was irresponsible. It’s meant as a scare tactic against large companies who feel that settling lawsuits is a good financial decision. Right now in California there is a cap of $250,000; that is, no matter what happens a plaintiff can’t collect more than $250,000 for pain and suffering. Proposition 46 would raise that immediately to $1,100,000 and index yearly increases to inflation. To be fair the $250,000 cap has not moved since 1975. But Prop 46 would have had a catastrophic effect on malpractice insurance and the ability of doctors to practice medicine in the state. There may be room for an intelligent discussion on pain and suffering caps, but this was nothing more than a money grab for lawyers.

OK, I’m getting sufficiently depressed that I need to stop blogging and get a night’s sleep.