Black Life in Retrograde


The morning the news broke about the massacre in Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal, I was driving. Having been unemployed since early April I’d tried to make my money by ridesharing. I found it difficult and I never was able to make the ends solidly meet, but made more than I would have on unemployment. Like most mornings, I did my best to be awake and alert at five a.m. in order to catch rides to the airport. Like most mornings, I made my own coffee and turned on NPR. These activities always made me feel more in control, more put together, better at adulting. I heard the news shortly before my first ride, and I was numb.

I was so numb, that I drove nearly an hour north from my home while listening to James Blake’s “Retrograde” on repeat. Something about the melancholy music that buzzes with such heavy vibrations hypnotized me. These lyrics sunk into me for an hour:

Is this darkness of the dawn?
And your friends are gone
When you friends won’t come
So show me where you fit
So show me where you fit
I’ll wait, so show me why you’re strong
Ignore everybody else,
We’re alone now
We’re alone now
We’re alone now

The song is about finding love, but I clung to the emotion of darkness. I felt like we were truly at war with white supremacy. People are gone and we’re so alone here. If you asked me about that hour, I couldn’t tell you anything. All I remember was feeling cold; totally focused on moving forward with the sky full of blushing peach tones of the rising sun. I felt alert, yet dead, completely hollowed out, filling myself with this song.

I spent the later half of that day and the entire next day inside, crying, on the couch repeatedly asking ‘why’. And: Where are we allowed to be human? Where can we feel safe from slaughter?

I didn’t listen to it again for 11 weeks.

Now it makes me cry. It makes me feel despair. If I can get through a listen without tears I feel strong.

The reaction to the tragic killing of two reporters in Virginia in August truly seared this despair into my being. Read more

O’Malley on GOP economics: “Kind of patently bullshit”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, weighing a Democratic presidential bid, continued to hit his recent themes of re-regulating the economy to protect ordinary people, in a pre-recorded upcoming NPR interview, this time much more strongly:

“And, certainly, the concentrated wealth and accumulated power and the systematic deregulation of Wall Street has led to this situation where the economy isn’t working for us. All of that is true. But it is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bullshit.

NPR’s full interview with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will be broadcast Monday on NPR’s Morning Edition.

O’Malley also asked:

“The bigger issue is, do we have the ability as a party to lead by our principles? Or are we going to conduct polls every time we try to determine where the middle is on any given day?”

The former governor also recently addressed the National Action Network (Al Sharpton’s organization) and spoke at quite some length — drawing upon his experiences as Governor of Maryland and Mayor of Baltimore — about the death of Walter Scott, police violence against Black Americans more broadly, and the general challenges surrounding race in America today. More than six minutes of excerpts were posted in this video:

Most of his remarks were pretty solid, in my opinion, and I think it’s been a while since a White politician spoke this openly with these words for this amount of time on this issue.

Film the Police

When Mike Brown was murdered on August 9th, 2014, something that the US has been trying to hide for decades erupted. In the town of Ferguson MO, years and years of living under oppressive circumstances was brought to a head in the months after the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old teenager who was walking with his friends. There were what seemed like endless and dangerous marches, where protesters bravely stared down armored vehicles and assault rifles, armed with nothing but signs imploring anyone who could read them to recognize the humanity of Black people. All across the country Black people, as well as other People of Color, began to speak louder to get their message across. Despite efforts, it seems as if nothing is changing. In fact things are getting worse, as more and more are being added to the list of hashtagged names of victims of the police’s extrajudicial killings.

Last Saturday, in North Charleston, South Carolina, a Coast Guard veteran named Walter Scott was killed by a police officer who shot him eight times in the back, but claims to have “feared for his life” — a phrase commonly used in these killings. Someone nearby managed to get a video of the shooting, which shows the police officer not only shooting Walter Scott from a distance, but also apparently planting what people believe is the stun gun that the officer claims Mr. Scott had tried to take from him.

Walter L. Scott was killed on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard.)

Walter L. Scott was killed on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard.)

Another video was also released this week of a shooting in Miami FL. In this video, the shooting of Lavell Hall is documented. The police state they shot for fear of Mr. Hall attacking them with a broomstick. In a disturbingly familiar turn of events, Hall’s mother had called the police in the first place because he was schizophrenic, and she was hoping they would take him to a mental health facility. In the video, there’s no broomstick seen, and Mr. Hall is running away from the police.

In a break from the normal course of events, after Walter Scott’s death — or at least after the subsequent release of the video of his murder — North Charleston’s police department has taken quick action, something that is rare in police-involved shootings where the officer is the shooter. After release of the video on Tuesday, Officer Michael Slager was arrested and charged with the murder of Mr. Scott. Whether or not he will be put in jail for the crime is another story, but it doesn’t seem as if Officer Slager will be able to get much help, as a crowdfunding attempt for him was already rejected by GoFundMe.

With more and more people willing and able to pull out cameras and record police brutality, you would think that would mean less frequent incidents of police brutality, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Many people during the Ferguson protests, as well as at other protests for victims like Eric Garner, had their phones confiscated from them during confrontations with the police. Eric Orta, the man who managed to get film of the police harassing and ultimately killing Eric Garner, was arrested shortly after the video was released. The police solution seems to be suppressing the exposure, not ending the problem.

Despite the efforts of so many people, it seems that these murders, arrests, trials and even news coverage of these events are only making baby steps towards progress. Many people, specifically people of color and especially Black people, are left to wonder when will it end. With every passing week and every added name to the long list of those unjustly killed by police, what exactly is needed to convince police departments across the country that there needs to be a sweeping change in the way they handle confrontations? Things like routine traffic stops, as occurred with Walter Scott and so many others, shouldn’t end in the death of unarmed people. Whether their hands are in the air, or they’re running for their life, a Black person’s mere presence shouldn’t be considered life-threatening to an officer with a gun.