Our latest blog post, commemorating the one year anniversary of the killing of Tamir Rice, is being posted as a new page on this site (see above). We are heartbroken at the senseless killing, and enraged by the failure of the Cleveland Police Department to admit its failure to protect the life of this twelve year old child, and bring his killers to justice. Rest in peace, Tamir.
Just when we were having to spend a bit too much time worried, preoccupied about autumnal issues like how the kids are doing as they get back into the rhythm of school, and how our favorite football team is going to fare this season, and whether or not we are going to have to spend another Thanksgiving with our least favorite drunk uncle, and what to get whom for Christmas … well, along come the Attacks on Paris, distracting us. To call the Attacks on Paris a distraction seems horribly callous, cruel, and petty, I admit, but are any of us this side of the pond really going to do anything about them? Probably not. So of course they are a distraction. A mere distraction. The merest distraction. I know, I know, I have probably already made you mad. But bear with me. Follow my logic …
As far as I can see, KNOWLEDGE—learning things in the world and about the world, discovering news and history and fun facts on the web—it only serves three purposes:
And let’s face it. When we surf the web, it’s usually # 3, right? What was the last time you read something on the web and it fundamentally changed who you are? When was the last time it changed you, for good and for real, even a little bit? And how often does what you encounter on the web even impact your actions—oh, and no, surfing to another website because the first website has planted that idea in your head does not count as action. Nor does the impulse to shop, eat, drink, or indulge in onanism, because of something you saw on the web. I am talking about real, outside the box, making a difference sort of action. And so I am guessing that, as heartbroken as you feel about what happened in Paris, you are not upset to the point where you are going to commit yourself to being changed by it. From it. Because of it. And I am guessing that, as heartbroken as you are, it’s not going to change the way you live your life—the things you do every day. So unless you plan to take this incident, or some equally hellish conglomeration of incidents like it, yes, unless you plan to let it CHANGE WHO YOU ARE (NUMBER ONE), or CHANGE WHAT YOU DO in life (NUMBER TWO), then you should acknowledge it for what it is—a distraction. A distraction that makes you feel things, and think a rush of thoughts, and chat heatedly with the other distracted people around you—but still, it remains, nonetheless, a mere distraction from the life you live. And don’t you owe it to the dead to thank them for that? After all, the French invented the term “ennui”, so if anybody would respect a ruthless approach to escaping it, it would be the French.
Let’s face it. We all heard the about the attack. We saw the headlines, we read the stories, we watched the footage, and we soaked in those photographs--moments in time capturing horror, and pain, and sometimes heroism. (This is about the time we could have started asking ourselves the serious question of what were we going to do about it?) But no, then, oh then, we moved onto the forums, the comments. Understandable, yes, because hearing what everybody else is thinking and feeling makes us feel less alone, and the last thing we want to experience as World War III is breaking out, is that sense of being completely on your own.
But the forum comments were predictable too, and like anything that is predictable and redundant, it was rather a waste of our time. I did a highly scientific analysis of every comment made on all the forums in the world and here is what I gleaned: in addition to about 4000 “OMD’S”—this is a French story, after all—33 percent blamed the Bleeding Heart Liberals (letting those damn refugees in), about another third blamed the Heartless Conservatives (damned imperialism, ramming the American flag up the sphincter of every country in the Middle East), a predictable 17 percent blamed Obamacare, 11 percent had a direct line to God Almighty and told us what He wanted us to know about it, and about 5 percent reassured us it was OK, it was going to be fine, because they knew a way that we could make $80 dollars an hour on the internet, first week out of the gate, just as that forum poster’s neighbor and sister-in-law had been doing, to hear them tell it. And on and on the comments go.
Really? Seriously? Isn’t it starting to feel like you are wasting your time? Like you could be doing something more productive in the world right about now? Most of us passed the point of keeping up with current events, of doing diligence as citizens of the world, but we just kept going. Surfing. The average American spends between 9-11 hours a day plugged into the world wide web. That’s millions upon millions of human hours frittered away every day. Imagine, just imagine what would happen if we all committed to taking just a fraction of those hours and used them to volunteer for something—a suggestion harder and harder to deflect with excuses, since you can even volunteer for things while sitting online. The net result would be billions of volunteer hours making the world a better place.
What does it really mean when we spend time perusing the coverage of the Attacks on Paris? I’d say it’s the cyber equivalent of rubbernecking at an accident. We all know there are three kinds of people who pass scenes of bloody carnage on the public roads: People who give the dead and dying and injured their privacy. People who have an attraction to gore. And people who look, but when they look, they are flooded with a sense of “There but for the grace of God go I”--and it jolts them into realizing that it can all be over at any moment, and it makes them a little more grateful for their own life, and the people in it. So Paris is like bloody carnage in the middle of the road: are you going to use Paris as an opportunity to change, and to embrace the frailty of life, the ephemeral nature of being, and to then live life more intensely? To love more deeply? Or are you going to rubberneck, drive on home, fix a cocktail, and watch “Wheel of Fortune”? Or whatever it is that you do when you are deep in the throes of not changing a damn thing about your feeble little existence.
So let’s return to our premise: PARIS ATTACKS AS DISTRACTION: I maintain that unless you do one of these things—to let the Attacks on Paris change you, for real this time, and to change what you do as you move through the world, to let it change the choices you make …and then, from that, you commit to going out, on a regular basis, and doing your part, however humble, to alleviate the troubles in your own little corner of the world--unless you honestly commit to doing one of these things, as a result of the horror you have watched unfold in France, then just as will so many of the critically wounded, the news stories will die over the coming days, and your life will go on just the way it was before. And we will all go back to watching Trump bloviate and sending each other Youtubes of cute animals wearing Christmas hats. So the question is, if you truly want to respect the dead, if you want to take the advice that they surely would give you … if they could come back, like Marley’s ghost … it would be “What are you going to do today, to make the world a better place, to ease somebody’s pain? What are you going to do, to acknowledge that life is fleeting and precious?” If nothing else, you could get from this disaster a renewed resolve to change a relationship in your life that needs some love and attention, to fix a relationship that is broken . . . you become determined to fix it, because you are reminded of how short life is, how fragile it can be. Don’t you think that would be one of the most urgent and heartfelt messages of the people killed in the Attacks on Paris, if the dead could speak?
I, for one, on the anniversary of the Attacks on Paris, plan to spend a few moments every year remembering Big Ben. No, not the clock in London. A little boy. I learned about Big Ben because he was born on the same date as the attacks, but a few years before, and it would be a damnable shame if this brave little child were forgotten by the world—if his tiny life and tragic death were overshadowed by the very real tragedy that cost the lives of dozens of innocents in the City of Lights. Ben Bowen was a little boy I never knew; he earned his nickname because his courage and his smile were both so big. (http://www.bens-story.com) It was about the time that he was one year and a half old that he was diagnosed with a horrific brain tumor, aggressive and usually untreatable. He fought hard, and his parents were there for him every step of the way, as was St. Jude’s Hospital. We do not euthanize children, of course, but in Ben’s case, it meant a torturous end: His neuropathy was so bad, his body so sensitive, that his parents could not even hold him in the final weeks, and he was regurgitating his own fecal matter. Still, through it all, he found the strength to smile. And what a smile. A smile that made the clouds part. . .
We cannot measure the worth of a human life, but I know this: certainly Big Ben is no less worthy of being commemorated, just because he did not make a headline. Sometimes, nowadays we get told what to care about. The ongoing crisis, the tragedy, the sadness, the agony that is life every day for some people, we don’t do anything about, because it hasn’t been put right in our face. Because it’s not a headline. Because it hasn’t gone viral. Because the story is hidden. (That, I think, is something we must be careful about. . . some compassion requires a very circumlocutious journey. As Tolkien so pithily reminds us: “Not all who wander are lost…” ) Ben was two and a half when he was laid to rest, after having been made an honorary firefighter—which was appropriate, after all, since his father was one of the firemen rescuing people at 9-11. We could choose to honor what would surely be in the spirit and wishes of the Paris attack victims by volunteering at a local children’s hospital, or supporting a place like St. Jude’s. It would be something. There is always something you can do. More than commenting on the forums.
So, that’s about it. Seriously. Now it’s up to you. But you are STILL WORRIED ABOUT PARIS: Relax, if you can. Paris doesn’t need you. The planet is praying for Paris, supplies are pouring in, world leaders are talking, action is being taken. The best doctors are there, administering. Paris doesn’t need you. Americans are very good at stepping up when things go wrong in the world, and that’s great, but the infrastructure is already in place: as a people, we give away billions and billions, and we never shirk our duty when there is a disaster in the world. The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders gear up for this kind of thing, and following on the heels of these organizations are literally dozens of other groups ready to lend a hand. So yes, while your prayers are welcome, what is really needed in the world is that we use this disaster as a time for personal introspection, so that when the future comes--which it will have, by the time I am done writing this sentence--YOU are not still part of the problem.
Helen Keller, never one to whine and make excuses, put it as eloquently as I have ever heard: “It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the Devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.” Yes, Americans always step up at times like this, but it usually seems to manifest itself in making shrines out of teddy bears and sending large quantities of gaily festooned gift baskets filled with toiletries and chocolate and fruit and cheese. Again, not to worry. The Parisians, always resourceful ever since their part in the Resistance, have that covered. Not too far from the scene of the tragedy, they have a shrine, ready made, for remembrance and mourning the dead: It’s called Notre Dame. And as for the fruit and cheese basket, for God’s sake, people, don’t send them any American cheese. The French are depressed enough already.
By Meg Langford
Author of “The Little Book of Lynching”, “Liberty’s Tyranny”, and more.
....I didn’t set out to be a middle-aged conservative white person writing for years about racism in America. I had other plans. I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to keep working on “The Adventures of the Fattest Crimefighter in the World”. I wanted to work on an audio version of “The Apocalyptic Pied Piper”. I had lots of outré stories in the queue. And I wanted to work on the miniature museum. But no…)
THIS DAY IN HISTORY, November 3rd 1979
THE GREENSBORO MASSACRE
by Meg Langford
I suppose it started with hearing Buttcrack Boy (I’m sure he has name, but there are some things you just can’t unsee) bellow about “Niggers!’, loud and ugly, right there in the Appomattox McDonald’s. And what was creepier, even, than his epithet, was the casual non-reaction of the Appomatoxins all around him. Meanwhile, the tourists and their little tourist children were of course horrified. For the next two years, I took a daily bath of bigotry, ugly and toxic, as it spewed out from the town, until I could save the money to get me and my business the hell out of there.
That bitterness (and expense) caused me to take a serious look at the history of racism in Appomattox, and then the South in general, and then the country writ large. I’ve been digging into it for years now, on an almost daily basis.
And trust me, when activists screech that there is systemic and systematic racism in America, particularly within the police force from sea to shining sea, they are right. With a military dad I grew up with Republican leanings. Still have ‘em. I have seen enough crises around the world to believe in a strong military, because trust me, given the slightest chance, people will steal your shit. And that goes for countries. And I spent enough time in LA, nearly two decades, to know that there are so many people grifting the welfare system, it's amazing there’s anything left for those truly in need. So I get nervous about excessive government giveaways.
That said, not a week goes by when my morning perusal of what happened This Day In History (history.com and Wikipedia being my two jumping off points) doesn’t lead me to some stunning and sobering anniversary: Over coffee I sadly remember that it is the anniversary of the death of Emmit Till, or the three civil rights workers, or the dragging death of James Byrd--or even the forgotten but no less tragic ones like Jesse Washington, Mary Turner, Bernard Bailey, Keith Warren. I could go on and on ...
That leads us to today. November 3rd. The Greensboro Massacre. I remind us of this forgotten day not just to remember the dead, but to drive home the point that as recently as 1979, long after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and long after our country surviving the tumultuous freedom marches and Democratic convention riots and assassinations of the late 60’s, still, still outrageous derailments of justice were going on. It was Klanish, it was defiant, it was in your face, and anybody who loves this country should still be really pissed off about it. Particularly “the Law and Order Party”. The incidents which took place before, during, and after the Greensboro Massacre are a vile repudiation of Law and Order. Incidents like this one make a mockery of the founding principles of this country, and threaten its very underpinnings: justice can be tossed off whenever the locals decide they want to trash it. So Sean, Bill, Rush, Megyn, Ann: why don’t you take a few moments and publicly mourn the loss of these idealistic Communists? Or is murder only a problem for you when it happens to Republicans?
The particulars are as follows (and yes, this is abbreviated greatly so as to whet your appetite for more):
A group of Communists wanted to stage a “Death to the Klan” rally in Greensboro, North Carolina. A bit of a radical rallying cry, yes, but I don’t think they meant it literally. Calling for the death of an organization is not inciting folks to murder humans, the Supreme Court’s dopey decision that a corporation is a person notwithstanding. It’s fucking metaphor, for chrissake.
But the Klan felt threatened. Their best plan: shoot first, ask question la--well actually they didn’t ask any questions. The Klan hardly ever asks questions. It just spews dogma and thinks it has all the answers.
Once the demonstration was well underway, a Karavan of Klan Klown Kars began moving through the rally, making their presence known. Things got ugly, and that’s when Klansmen got out of their vehicles and began shooting.
And you know who these beefhead Klansmen shot? Five souls: A graduate of Harvard Divinity School. A Cuban immigrant who had graduated magnum cum laude from Duke University. A nurse, Sandi Smith, who had been working doggedly to get Cone Mills and J.P. Stevens, two textile mills in the Greensboro area, to stop using dangerous chemicals in their plants and to upgrade decrepit machinery. And two doctors. One who was a local union organizer also trying to get the mills to apply safety standards--he quit his medical practice to work at the mill and effect this change, but when the mill found out he had medical experience, they fired him. And lastly one doctor, who was Chief of Pediatrics at a local hospital., and who specialized in children from poor homes who couldn’t afford proper care. (Talk about only the good they die young. CUE MUSIC: Dion singing “Abraham, Martin and John.”)
FULL DISCLOSURE: When the Klan caravan began moving through the protest, some demonstrators did start hitting one of the Klan’s car with sticks, so they have their share of blame in escalating the violence. Two rebuttals. ONE: If you look at the history of the Klan in North Carolina, it is easy to understand why the protestors’ rage exploded like this. TWO: America is now becoming the world capital in Escalating Things Into Shooting Rampages. Why couldn’t the Klansmen have just sped away? And it’s not like they turned and shot the person banging on the car. They shot--well, you just read the list. The nurse, for example, was shot when she peeked up from behind a large bush where she was hiding, waiting for the shooting to stop. It is a generally established fact that unarmed people peeking from behind shrubbery are not a threat to someone. Especially a someone who is wielding a large shotgun.
It is also worth noting that a lot of children were a part of that crowd into which the Klan was firing. As if their short stature weren’t enough to suggest that they were, well, innocents, the fact that they were all wearing little red berets should have been a tip off. But the Klan kept shooting anyway, yelling “NIGGER!” and “KIKE!”, right into the crowd with all the kids.
Because television news networks were there, we have preserved for posterity footage of the slaughter. Note the heavily armed Klansmen exit the power blue Ford Fairlane (gorgeous 60’s vintage ride, by the way) and begin the carnage:
OR YOUTUBE SEARCH “GREENSBORO MASSACRE”
AND EVEN WORSE: The police knew this was going to happen. And even though their monitoring/intervention in similar clashes between the same (kinds of) parties had kept the violence to a minimum, they made a conscious choice not to get involved in this one. Although a week before the demonstration they had given the Klan a map of the planned route. When they day came, the police were there, watching from a distance. After the slaughter, the Klan calmly loaded their weapons back up in the trunks of their cars, giving the police plenty of time to close in and arrest them. But they didn’t. The police didn’t arrest them. They didn’t even follow the getaway cars. Some months later, in a deposition, former Greensboro police officer April Wise testified that she and another officer were ordered by a police dispatcher to leave the rally-staging area shortly before the shooting began. And the FBI informant who was supposed to provide evidence of the Klan meeting where the attack was planned later testified that he forgot to put fresh batteries in his tape recorder. One wonders how high up the apathy goes.
THE UPSHOT: Even though it was all captured on film and they knew who did it, the all white jury acquitted every single defendant. The jury was even allowed to wear their Klan hoods during the trial. Just kidding. Wanted to see if you were paying attention. But my point is they might as well have been wearing their hoods. Forty Klansmen were found to have been involved, and nobody got one single slap on the wrist. You see, a couple of the protestors were carrying weapons (although they hadn’t been given legal permits to do so,) because they feared Klan trouble, plus the Klan always defied the law in that same manner and the weapons might come in handy. So these guns were fired by the protesters after the Klan opened fire on the crowd. Hence, the verdict: The Klan had fired in self-defense. (!)
Among the jurors rationalization for their verdict: some of them were particularly disturbed by the rude demonstrations going on during the trials.
Virgil Griffin, a Ku Klux Klan leader who would later, in 1990, bring Klan marches to Washington D.C., was both proud and matter-of-factly about his participation in the Massacre: “I don’t see any difference between killing Communists in Vietnam and killing them over here.”
Frazier Glenn Miller, a North Carolina Klan leader and U.S. Army veteran, who was right in the thick of things that deadly day, remarked soon after the incident: “I was more proud to have been in Greensboro for eighty-eight seconds in 1979 than 20 years in the U.S. Army.” He wrote a little epistle about his memories of that day: “My fear quickly turned to burning hatred, and I stuck my head out the window and screamed back at them, "Niggers, Jew-Kikes, Communist bastards... you ugly Jew Yankee bastards... Death to the Communists." And then he testifies to jumping out of the vehicle he was in and running through the melee swinging his nightstick. It’s too bad that justice wasn’t served on Frazier in some fashion. Then he might have been in jail, or would have had reason to think twice about his 2014 shooting and killing of three people at a Jewish Community Center , one of them a 14 year old boy. He was shouting “Sieg Heil” the entire time he opened fire, by the way. It’s a sad story of how the lack of justice in one year--or one decade or one century--can spiral into even more tragedy and injustice in the next. What is that Santayana quotation we’ve all come to know too well: “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it ..”
CUT TO: 2004. A group of citizens, both black and white, attempted to form the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Committee. This was an idea that had worked well elsewhere: South Africa comes to mind. Also the citizens of Mississippi had done a sterling job with such a committee in getting the evil Ray Killen, mastermind behind the murder of the three Civil Rights workers, life behind bars. It was a delicious moment in jurisprudence, especially as decades had passed, and Killen was cocksure that he had gotten away with it. The idea behind the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Committee was not to stir up old tragedies; no monies would be involved and there would be no legal penalties rendered on any persons. The idea was simple and purely to cleanse the name of Greensboro by acknowledging the errors of the past and coming clean with the truth. Long story short: didn’t go so well. The Mayor was not interested. And the Greensboro City Council voted 6-3 against it, with the “Yea” votes coming from the only three African Americans on the Council. Without this endorsement, there was no funding; more importantly, because they were not endorsed, they lost the power to subpoena witnesses and participants.
Oh Well. The end.
Again, I say cue Dion singing “Abraham Martin and John” Always a favorite. Feeling a little misty.
Blogger Meg Langford is the author of “Wigger: Little Book of Bigots” and “The Little Book of Lynching” The tragically necessary 2nd edition of “ The Little Book of Lynching” should be available on Amazon in December, 2015.
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