Taking Responsibility for Our Part

Fay Wells, an African American woman who is vice president of strategy at a California company, encountered overwhelming police power at her home in Santa Monica. A neighbor had called police to report what he thought was a break-in at her apartment.

Fay Wells
Fay Wells  ndtv.com

Earlier, she had locked herself out of the apartment on her way to a soccer game. When she returned, she had called a locksmith to let her in and fix the lock, and then had gone inside. It was at that point that seventeen (or nineteen, depending on whose count you accept) officers showed up, and she was ordered out of her home–told to come out with her hands up and walk slowly down the outside stairs, facing a drawn gun and a police dog (and all the other officers).

By her account, she was poorly treated, not by overt physical violence, but by the officers’ refusal to identify themselves or to tell her what had caused their presence. It was a frightening time for her.


Wells wrote about the incident in The Washington Post (connect here to read it in full). The police actions, and her feelings about that, are the primary focus of her story.

However, the continuing drama in many communities about the response of police personnel toward African Americans revealed yet again in her story–the violence perpetrated in the name of law enforcement through unwarranted traffic stops, arrests, treatment during incarceration as well as the killing of persons during what should be not lethal encounters–reflects the deep-seated white supremacy still at work in the culture, the DNA, of our nation. It is not just about the police.

Of course, law enforcement agencies need to change. Retraining in the ways of cultural sensitivity is essential. Probably some cops need to be let go. Some municipal authorities–mayors and city councils, police chiefs–are doing the hard work. Others need to step up. Every agency needs a thorough inventory of itself, with outside help, to figure out what it needs to change–and then the willingness to go through transformation.

Is his life worth more less than mine


However, important as that work is, it is only treating part of the problem. Underneath police department attitudes and practices rests the much deeper foundation of white supremacy and privilege which marks our entire national culture. Alongside that rests our national love affair with guns. The truth is that all of us–certainly all of us who are not people of color–are responsible for the police departments that serve us (yes, they serve us, more than they serve others who don’t look like us, even if unintentionally).

The story does not really begin with the large police presence outside her apartment. It begins with the call from the neighbor. What about him? Would he have called them if Wells had been white? Chances are the answer is “no.”


In her story, she says she spoke to him, and he seemed pretty defensive. Eventually, he identified himself as an attorney. Wells tried to question him, but after a little back and forth, he said,  . . . . “you can go f— yourself,” and walked away.

That sort of says it all . . . . so many people don’t want to take responsibility for their own attitudes as well as their own behavior.

Until more and more of us do, this will not change–even when, or if, the police do.



The Country Is Going Down the Slippery Slope Fast

Can anyone be unaware of how angry many Republicans, very conservative Republicans, ae? As I ponder many things I am reading these days, I think I can understand why, from their vantage point, the nation feels in grave danger.

  • vogue.com

    I have been reading some blog posts about a movement called Free the Nipple–a campaign to change our laws and practices so that women can be bare-chested in public just like men. It seems fair and right to me. Why the double standard? And did you know that it was not until the 1930s that men in the United States could legally go around bare-chested in public (including at the beach)? But some on the Right say the growth of this movement surely is the result of the Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage between two women or two men. Slippery slope here we go!

  • ibtimes.co.uk

    I went to a rally last evening in the District of Columbia to protest the American Enterprise Institute giving Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu an award–and to protest Israeli policies that are causing such pain to Palestinians. The most moving speaker was a lawyer, a Palestinian himself admitted to the bars of Israel, Palestine and the United States, who spoke of the need for empathy. He said that is missing in the attitudes of many Israelis, including the Prime Minister and his government, towards Palestinians. But he also said empathy is needed for Jews who have suffered great trauma. The key difference he said is that Israelis have great power and Palestinians have very little. The second most moving speaker was a young Palestinian-American poet who read about visit to Palestine where he began to claim his Palestinian name, Amin, rather than going by his middle name, Drew. I encourage you to listen to the poem, “Amin,” read at a poetry slam, available here. Here too, you can see how things are unraveling. Israel is, many on the Right believe, our most

    Amin Drew Law vine.com
    Amin Drew Law

    important ally, needing and deserving rock solid U.S. support–whatever Israel wants, Israel gets–and the Prime Minister is right about everything (unlike our President, who is wrong on just about everything, including most of his Middle East policy, except for giving billions to Israel). . . .  but every where the voices of criticism are rising. This must be Obama’s fault. . . . everyone knows he is a Muslim in Christian drag and really hates Jews (and especially Netanyahu).

  • FILE - In this Friday, April 11, 2014, file photo, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe participates in a news conference in Rolla, Mo. Missouri football players announced Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, on Twitter that they will not participate in team activities until the university president is removed from office. The move aligns the team with campus groups who have been protesting the way Wolfe has dealt with issues of racial harassment during the school year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
    University of Missouri System former President Tim Wolfe, who has resigned theblaze.com

    The President and Provost of the University of Missouri have resigned, succumbing to pressure from students and faculty angry at them and the university for a lack of sensitivity about white racism. There were other issues, but it seems anger about inadequate responses to racism that was the most persistent issue. Nobody says it for publication, but I keep hearing what feels like another slippery slope argument. . . .  elect a Black man as President of the United States and this is what you get: uppity students forcing a good white man out of office to appease Black militants. And this is the real kicker: the football team, supported by their coach, threatened not to play if the university president did not resign. The “real men” on the campus refusing to play . . . . America is really in trouble!

So, is President Obama really to blame for everything? Even the campaign for women’s embodied equality? Yes, even that it seems. If he had appointed justices like Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito–those wonderful Bush II appointees (or even Justice Thomas, courtesy of Bush I), then the decision in the marriage case would have gone the other way. Obergefell v. Hodges would have left the sanctity of “traditional” marriage intact.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com
Texas Senator Ted Cruz

So, folks are angry, and they show it by supporting people who want to evict 11 million people from our country, believe abortion is genocide as practiced by Planned Parenthood, and vow as public servants and leaders to disobey orders of courts with which they don’t agree to protect the rights of people to discriminate against some people based on their religious beliefs.

All this is but the surface. I did not mention guns or health care, for example. And there is so much more.

But for today, I guess, these three will be enough. Times really are tough.


You just know that pretty soon naked women will be parading on Capitol Hill demanding paid leave for child care. Israel will have to pull back the settlements of all those peace-loving good Jewish neighbors in the West Bank. And all the university presidents in the country will be Black (maybe a few of them women, too, but at least they probably won’t go topless).

Oy vey! We need to make America great again!

Sex Is Good. Why Is It Illegal?

August 25 is a day that sent shock waves through parts of the LGBT community–the day of the federal raid on the offices of RentBoy.com in New York. In case you didn’t know, RentBoy is a global male escort service with over 10,500 workers.

Rentboy.comThat’s right. Workers. Sex workers to be exact. We used to call them prostitutes. But then seemingly we have become a little more sophisticated. But not too sophisticated.

The Federales are out to protect all of us from the likes of these . . . . . people. Here’s what acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said, “Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution.”

gun-violenceThis is the priority of the Department of Justice, when we are experiencing a crisis of illegal guns and violence against the Black community?

Prostitution is illegal. Yes. But should it be? And why go after RentBoy? And why does this raid seem to have had more news coverage than similar raids on online services that provide the escort and sexual services of women? Is it because the lives of women sex workers actually matter less?

Bottom line for me is pretty simple. We have to stop criminalizing sex among adults. Protect children of course–throw the book at those who sexually abuse children (and also get help for them). And prosecute rape and sexual abuse. But consenting adults?

sex for moneyWhy can’t adults make their own choices about sex? Sex workers want to earn money, and they are willing to share their bodies with customers. Customers want sex, and are willing to share their funds and their bodies with workers to get it.

Other than the fact that folks take their clothes off–presumably–and touch each other in intimate places, this doesn’t seem all that different to me than going to your local florist to buy flowers or the Safeway to buy bread.

anti-gay-minister-begs-his-rent-boy-to-shut-upWhy do we think we need laws to punish those who offer sex for pay (and rarely punish those who seek it)? Who does it protect? And has it ever really worked? Has sex for pay ever been stopped? Or is this just a shaming device that helps keep some folks in line? And also keeps the sex workers hiding out? And what about the “Christian” ministers and others who rail against homosexuality and then hire . . . .  rent boys? Is it possible that decriminalization would help overcome some of the hypocrisy? Maybe then these religious types could enjoy sex the way God creates it…..not to be a nasty secret but instead an occasion of joy.

Indeed, many believe that if we decriminalized sex work, we could more effectively communicate to workers about safer sex and other health concerns, as well as potentially help them gain education and advancement. We might even put some mean and nasty pimps out of business, and put a dent in organized crime.

the joy of sexIn other words, if we understood that these  men and women are workers, often supporting families not to mention elderly parents, etc., we could treat them with dignity. Perhaps then they could become more productive citizens, which would be good for all of us.

the joy of gay sexI am not a lawyer, so I don’t know what legal defense would work to toss this case out of court–sadly, under our system there may not be one. These workers could be cast back to local pimps and others to keep going, which is potentially far more harmful for them than working for RentBoy.com. If I were the judge in the case, I would be the joy of lesbian sexlooking pretty hard to see if I could find a statute or constitutional principle on which I could ground a decision to dismiss.

To me, its about worker’s rights, which should always be protected, and the joy of sex–which should never be illegal.


Sometimes a film screening can feel like a worship service.

Rosenwald schools film photoJonathan and I shared that experience last evening, at the Old Greenbelt Theater screening of Rosenwald, the new documentary about the legendary (but not all that well known) 19th and 20th Century philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald of Chicago.

If you are an African American of a certain age, you may well know about Rosenwald Schools, either because you attended one yourself, or your mama or daddy did, or someone in your family did, or perhaps even was a teacher in one of the more than 5,300 schools built between 1913 and 1932.

Rosenwald School in Louisiana
A Rosenwald School in Louisiana

Many of us probably know about Carnegie libraries, built all over the country, and we are grateful. But the Rosenwald Schools were not, strictly speaking, for the entire country (although our entire nation benefited from them). Instead, they were to provide education for African American youngsters in Southern States where schools to serve the Black population’s youth, particularly in rural areas, were either non-existent or in such deplorable condition as to be almost, if not truly, useless.

Rosenwald, who rose from being the child of first-generation Jewish German immigrants to become the leader of Sears, Roebuck & Company, seems an unlikely benefactor. However, even a keen businessman, as surely Rosenwald was, can have or develop a social conscience.

Julius Rosenwald
Julius Rosenwald was, according to many, an informal, approachable man, whom many called, simply, JR.

According to the film, Rosenwald was influenced to engage in philanthropy directly engaging the needs of the African American community by several factors. First, he was acutely aware of pogroms against Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe. Second, he read Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington, and connected what he learned about Washington’s struggles, and those of other Blacks, with the anti-Semitism of Europe. He was aided in this by Rabbi Emil Hirsch, the widely acclaimed reform rabbi of Chicago’s Sinai Congregation. Rabbi Hirsch preached widely and continually on the Jewish obligation of tikkun olam, to heal the world, and especially of people with much to do much to promote that healing.

Finally, there is the undeniable influence of Booker T. Washington, who became a friend and mentor. Rosenwald served on the Board of Trustees at Tuskegee Institute and responded favorably to Washington’s request that he build a YMCA for “colored young men.” Rosenwald provided challenge funds to build the first one, in Chicago, and then went on to provide the impetus and initial funding for 26 others around the nation.

Booker T Washington
Booker T. Washington

Then came the schools–first a half-dozen near Tuskegee and then more and then more until the South, especially the rural south, was dotted with them. If you want to see the schools in your part of the South, click here for a link to an online database.

The number of schools is undeniably impressive, but so is the list of African American leaders and others who were students in them. Add to that list the names of eminent African American artists–musicians, writers, painters and sculptors–who received important, sometimes life-saving, grants from the Rosenwald Fund. Two well-known African Americans, both students at the school in their area–Julian Bond and Maya Angelou–speaking extensively on film on what Rosenwald did.

Rosenwald Schools map
Map showing 5,295 schools completed by July 1, 1931

Rosenwald did more than any other white man in the first 40 years of the 20th Century to help the African American community get itself ready to topple Jim Crow and move assertively forward to press the case for full civil rights. Yes, he had more money than almost everyone else, and he gave it generously.

But he did something else. He only gave what we would call challenge grants. He promised to pay one-third of the cost of building a school if the local African American community came up with a third, and got the white community (often the State Department of Education, as well as local benefactors) to contribute one-third. This empowered the local Black community to come together to build and maintain its own school, which usually became not only the school but also the community center.

In this way, his philanthropy was of the best kind–helping people meet an immediate need as well as helping them build something more, pride in themselves and organization for the future, a better future.

Charleston massacre
Praying outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston

I urge you to see this film wherever you can (check here for a list of upcoming showings) and watch for it on DVD. The filmmaker, Aviva Kempner, wants to be sure this is seen all over the nation–and certainly in schools and other community venues. She has done a superb job–it is a lively, entertaining, and hugely informative film, bringing together many strands of history from Rosenwald’s youth in Springfield, Illinois all the way to his death in 1932 and the work of the fund beyond. We really see the sweep of his vision.

If you do not come away from your viewing with a desire to go out and do something for civil rights (still imperiled in our nation), or for some other deeply cherished cause to heal the world, then I fear for your sanity, your serenity, your heart, even your soul.

See this film. Be inspired by JR. And do likewise, heal the world in your own way.