Monday, June 08, 2015

A Tragedy We Share

A young black man in New York City, who had been imprisoned and tortured for three years without charge (he'd been arrested for stealing a backpack, which he denied) killed himself.  His story had been told in the New Yorker, and the writer posted this news.

The Mayor of New York, who had made changes in response to the initial story, today vowed more reforms.

We hardly needed more evidence to know that the entire police and prison system is enveloped in darkness.  In many places in America, corruption that apparently reaches into district attorney and judicial offices, institutionalized cruelty,  and the phenomenon of police departments acting as autonomous agencies that rule by their own law have become startlingly clear.  The Guardian (in England of course) has a running count of individuals killed by U.S. police.  The count for this year so far is at 490.

But especially troubling about the story of Kalief Browder, who was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16, kept in solitary for long periods without charge, and whose beatings by prison staff and other inmates are documented in video obtained and posted by the New Yorker, is simply how many people had to know what was happening to him, and let it happen, or helped it happen.  They cooperated, they said nothing.  No public officials responded (and perhaps were never contacted) until the New Yorker story, which was published after Browder was finally released without ever being charged.

For those who believe that human nature is all about individual survival and success, and that cruelty and violence dominate our genetic legacy, all of this must seem natural.  That view of human nature is historically recent and short, and is being superseded in our time by science that shows cooperation, empathy, altruism, generosity are just as vital to human nature.

Individual conscience and courage tip the scales, but cultural standards can make a big difference.  Law is part of those standards, and the law must take an interest in situations like this that should never happen in this country.  Never.

But cultural standards are everyone's responsibility.  That not a single person apparently rose to the occasion before Kalief Browder's psyche was destroyed is shocking and sobering.  None of us hold our heads high today.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Eulogy of Hope

President Obama's eulogy for Beau Biden is more than a tribute to this "good man" but the statement of life principles that illuminate not only his own commitments but a path for others.  His words were underscored by those of Beau's kid sister and his brother at the funeral Saturday.  The entire service is viewable on C-Span, as are the other eulogies and songs.

I spotted a story today I won't dignify by linking that asserts that these events shed a different light on Joe Biden, who has otherwise been seen as a joke, a punchline. Pretty obviously, nothing has changed but the media spin.  Joe Biden, as these eulogies attest, has not changed--that's really the point that runs through these memorials, from Joe and his parents even before that, to Beau and his siblings, and to the next generation of their children, the same commitments to the love that is always there, to compassion, generosity and service.  But the media can't deal with anything so incomprehensible, and would rather stick with the Republican-fed cynicism, slavery to fashion and triviality and the cliche-ridden sensibility for which they are so justly infamous.