Posts Tagged ‘violence’

So it’s a few days into the new regime and the weather has only gotten worse. Well, this morning the sun may have come out again, but why dwell on facts? Am I doing this right?

This was inauguration weekend, which is always loud but this year came with all the fervor of a good football game. Things almost got as bad as when college kids celebrate championships! Go Sports!

No but seriously. There was a lot of action this weekend. Upwards of 4 or 5 million people total on EVERY continent (including Antarctica!) marched and demonstrated for various reasons related to Trump’s campaign promises, cabinet picks, sexual preferences… the list really goes on and on here. Or as Aziz Ansari said, it’s only day 1 and Trump’s already got an entire gender demonstrating globally just how unsatisfied he’s left them. Ouchhh #sickburn. The Women’s march on Saturday was the single largest march EVER in American history. Wow. What’s the word I’m looking for? … Tremendous!

I live just outside DC so I went into the city when I could, but sadly I couldn’t spend much time down in the real thick of things. I only ended up downtown for a little over an hour Friday evening, but even that happened to put me at the exact moment and place where “the limo” was set on fire.

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Yup, that one.

Just a single block away was McPherson Square, where a huge family-friendly, non-violent, peaceful protest was taking place. Several groups like Black Lives Matter, anti-war groups, anti-Dakota Access Pipeline land and water protectors from Standing Rock, pro-choice/pro-ACA demonstrators, LGBTQ activists and others all had converged on McPherson Square for a beautiful moment of art, music, and dialogue spanning all their missions and where they all intersected.

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The “Deport Trump” community art wall set up by @dc2standingrock (instagram)

Literally one block down, however, was quite a different story. There, a ring of smoldering trash cans made for an art installation straight out of Silent Hill, while another flaming can lay few meters away going solo. All around it, people took selfies and artistic photos of the street art. Then somebody set a limo on fire. Apparently people were surprised by how easy it was by just mashing a window and throwing a flare in the cabin. At that point the white smoke from the dying trash can fires was devoured by the thick black smoke of the limo… art.

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Once the limo was… dare I say… lit, those selfie sticks went away and people started backing off the street and onto Franklin Square (one block down from McPherson). Well, a lot of people did. A lot got real close to the street again soon after. Trying to figure out how far back was far enough in case that limo exploded, I wondered then, why a crowd started to form again along the street. I could see a few professional-looking cameras scurrying along behind reporters with awkwardly large microphones, along with all the usual cell phones in the sky for a better angle all rushing the street again. I was confused until I heard the concussion grenades felt a bit of that pepper spray sting on my eyes.

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Ah, like Johnny Cash said, that old, familiar sting…

Turns out the “front line” of riot cops had pushed protesters back down the street, from further down the road toward McPherson and the peaceful demonstrations happening on the next block back. Out of nowhere it seemed that block had become the center of the ongoing clash between the riot police line and those refusing to leave the street. From a few yards off the street all you could see was a crowd of people backing up and moving in closer, like the tides, while above the crowd things were being thrown back and forth: concussion grenades, blocks of rock and concrete, sticks, the orange arch of pepper spray, echoing the new president’s majestically wispy hairline…

 

Now, I’m not one to take credit where it isn’t deserved, so at that point I decided to head out. ;D Heh. As I turned away and faced the rest of the crowd, not only did I see reporters (like even that one guy from France24!) but all types of onlookers, from scary-looking guys in black bandanas, to scared-looking families wearing matching red “Make America Great Again” hats, to native elders in full regalia. I even saw that guy with the boot on his head! Vermin Supreme, who has run for president every election for a while, had his boot on his head and a megaphone in his hand and he was repeating health advice, like how you might want to take out your contacts before getting pepper sprayed because that’s never any fun.

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The red hats are coming, the red hats are coming!

Still, the image that sticks with me the clearest is one of a big white man in a nice suit and long blue coat, pulling his small daughter by the hand. Both wearing matching red MAGA hats, they were both on the far end of McPherson, a good distance from the non-family-friendly action happening over by Franklin Square. They were moving with another crowd, the pro-Trump visitors and inauguration attendees who I assume wanted a glimpse of the peaceful community protest space on their way to the metro.

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But just looking at this crowd of singers and artists and demonstrators, this father had this look of such terror on his face, while his daughter was so intrigued by it all. Both red hats sat above jaws that had fallen to the floor. The terror in one’s eyes bouncing of the amazement in the other’s, this one father-daughter duo remains such a clear image in my head. I don’t think they even saw the riot police or the limo on fire. That was, after all, a couple blocks down.

No, I think they came for a day of family fun and got slapped with just a little bit of struggle and reality, terrifying the father and mesmerizing the daughter. Why do I get a feeling this is happening all over?

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The next night I helped support some of the people caught up in the pool of 200 the police arrested on Friday. People were corralled for being near the action, but of course those who actually did anything ghosted way before the cops actually got their shit together enough to respond. So unable to charge anyone with specific offenses, everyone was held overnight and released with some b.s. “disturbing the peace” charges and things like that. Quite a few were from out of town and didn’t really have any support networks out here so others helped give them food once they were released, rides from the station, and places to stay for the night. This was all especially helpful since some weren’t released until midnight Saturday. Though everyone’s phones were confiscated “as evidence” leading some people to get arrested by association just for going to pick others up from the police station. And clothes with large amounts of pepper spray on them weren’t given back either.

I dunno. Smelling kinda fishy these days… I sure do hope this weather clears up soon.

Onward and upward.

Z

P.s. The Trump portrait and the first limo pic are not mine. The rest are. Except the words, every one of which I learned from someone else.

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i know

Everything I do involves the transfer of ideas. I teach English, thankfully often to people who actually plan to use it in either the US or Europe (or England, which I guess doesn’t count anymore?). So I am constantly figuring out new better ways to understand ideas people are trying to communicate to me, and to effectively communicate my own ideas to others. But this isn’t just my job. It’s my whole life. And it’s not just a job for me. This one is for all of us.

I get home from work and the work continues, because as anyone who studies or works in language already knows, INeffective MIScommunication is pretty much where every shitstorm starts. Words just seem to have this nasty habit of changing, evolving, and flipping their meaning 9000 degrees along that treacherous journey from mouth to ear. There’s so much room out there for walls and booby-traps to stop ideas in their tracks, with results ranging everywhere from funny to fatal.

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Take the US for example (can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, amiright??). The past few weeks we’ve seen a tragic evolution in the country’s paralyzing addiction to violence and aggression.  After years of reports and videos of what many feel to be excessive police violence, the violence has turned its crooked smile back on the police themselves.

Two major national tragedies in two weeks – mass shootings of police officers, and both by US veterans – have thrust the US into a dark time. But it seems like every time we try and begin a productive conversation about even the general problem of violence in the US, the sad problem of miscommunication gets in the way once again.

Watching from the outside, it looks to me like the entire country is talking past each other, particularly when it comes to violence and the police. How is this possible? The simplest way I can rationalize it is a fundamental difference in abstraction. Abstraction is basically how you draw the line between one “thing” and another in your mind.

Where does one “thing” end and the next begin? As a new driver, the act of “starting the car” involves numerous small steps like adjusting your mirrors, buckling your seatbelt, turning the key, shifting into 1st (or Drive), etc. After 20 years behind the wheel, “starting the car” becomes one action that happens to include all these smaller steps we no longer think about. This is abstraction. To me and most others, a chair is a chair. It’s a thing I sit on. To a master carpenter however, a chair is a work of art, many little pieces that fit together perfectly in a particular, beautiful way in order to stand tall and elegantly support the weight of my lazy ass.

So there appears to be a fundamental problem with abstraction when we talk about “the police” in the United States. To some, “the police” refers to the system of police and policing, including rules, regulations, quotas, metrics, training, culture, job descriptions, transparency, etc. that we all pay for, yet clearly and definitely contains some serious problems.

To others, the “police” are simply those wearing the uniforms, those you can point out of a crowd. Police are the men and women who perform a necessary, difficult, and dangerous duty everyday. Failure to clarify whether you mean police-as-people or “the police” as a system or particular government program appears to end any productive conversation on this issue before it ever even begins.

The Black Lives Matter movement wants changes in the system of policing in the US. Meanwhile, opponents claim that individual police officers are often good people who deserve to be respected. What’s often missed is that both are true, and more importantly, both are possible! You can respect the courage of individuals while criticizing the broken systems they may represent on the clock.

In fact, if you truly want to honor individual police, you should want the system that employs them to be as fair and safe as possible for everyone involved. From the good, honorable men and women who don the badge and put their lives on the line everyday, to the citizens on the street whose taxes pay for this program of “protection” and “service,” everyone benefits from a better system of policing. Well, everyone except those who would plan to abuse it.

So in my opinion, as a professional communication enhancer and clarifier-of-ideas (look how good I am at the putting-together-of-the-words), it’s important to start taking the time to clarify the language we use when debating this volatile, yet essential issue. Unless we can agree on what “it” is that we’re actually even talking about, we’ll never make any progress and in our stagnation, lives will surely be lost.

Until we first agree on which bone is broken, we’ll never be able to make the right cast (or perform the right surgery). If you really care about the senseless loss of life on either side of this picket line, you’ve got to start caring about how effectively we are even communicating with each other in the first place. Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between “lightning” and “lightning bug.” Let’s make sure we’re all talking about lightning, or we’ll never make it out of this storm on the horizon alive.

lorax

I ni sògòma Internet, (that’s ‘Hello’ in Bambara)

Sadly, this week nine U.N. peacekeepers were killed in northeast Mali.  To date this is the largest attack on peacekeepers by extremists since the invasion in the north began in 2011.  For the sake of relevance, today’s post is a brief outline of the situation in Mali, one of Africa’s most vibrant nations.

It all started with Gaddafi.  Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011, when he was forcibly removed.  When his dynasty fell, Western powers were ecstatic.  A brutal, socialist dictator had fallen.  Not everyone was as relieved with his removal however.  In Mali, then-president Amadou Toumani Tourè was heavily invested in and closely tied to Gaddafi’s regime.  If you look around Bamako, Mali’s capital city, you can still see numerous grand hotels, offices, and ministerial buildings littering the landscape, all financed by Gaddafi’s bloody empire.  As a result, after Gaddafi’s fall in 2011 – while other countries scrambled to protect their borders from waves of armed Gaddafi supporters fleeing Libya – President Tourè effectively turned his back to the issue.  Unconcerned with the wandering rebels, Tourè left Mali’s vast northern border, which digs deep into the massive Sahara desert, totally unguarded.

The second piece of this puzzle dates back way before Gaddafi or any of his opposing Western nations.  I refer of course, to the Tuaregs.  The rebels may have slipped into Mali in 2011, but the Tuaregs have been here since, like… 1011.  The Tuareg people are the people of the Sahara.  They are a nomadic tribe of herders who have traversed the dunes of the Sahara for centuries, some dating them back as early as the 4th or 5th.  One of the main issues the Tuaregs have always faced is their lack of land.  They travel through the various countries that stretch into their ancient Saharan grazing lands, surviving but longing for more stability.  Fast forward to the past twenty years alone and their land has diminished tenfold.  Africa’s population as a whole has just about doubled in the last twenty years.  In the countries that border the Sahara, this means farmlands have expanded deeper into its dry landscape.  Bigger cities and wider reaching farmlands have drastically cut traditional Tuareg grazing lands, causing many Tuaregs to take up initiatives to fight for permanent grazing lands of their own.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), as they call themselves, have been part of a series of campaigns for land stretching back to the early 1900’s.  In 2011 the region’s armed Tuaregs teamed up with those insurgents fleeing the Libyan civil war, and under the banner of the MNLA, staged the first attack associated with this particular conflict on January 16th, 2012.  However there were other forces tied to these Libyan insurgents.  Little did the Tuaregs know, much of the MNLA was essentially financed by the Islamist group, Ansar Dine.  Unfortunately, this meant that once the MLNA had pushed the Malian military out of what they call Azawad, the northern half of Mali, the Islamists cemented their presence and declared radical Sharia, or doctrinal Islamic law.  Such law meant things like women’s rights vanished, non-religious texts and music were banned, and other non-Islamic institutions (like monuments, bars, and secular libraries) were destroyed.  The significance of this is tragic if we consider the extensive wealth of worldly knowledge housed at one of the world’s oldest centers of trade; Timbuktu.  Once the Tuareg fighters realized the Islamist agenda of their allies, they separated themselves from the extremists and even tried fighting them off themselves, but were no match.  The foothold had been established; by July 2012 Islamists ran the north.

Azawad in context

Well, needless to say, the Malian people were not too happy to find out that their president had essentially laid out a red carpet for these heavily armed extremists in the north, so on March 22nd, 2012, Captain Amadou Sanogo led a military coup d’etat and ousted President Tourè.  Fun fact: the coup was staged in the ministerial compound right down the street from my house!  It looks overgrown and planet-of-the-apes-esque now, but neighbors say just a couple years ago they remember hearing the sirens and gunshots clearly.

In January of 2013 the Malian military, who was running the country’s interim government, appealed to the international world for aid in defeating the northern extremists.  Strategically, Mali poses a great threat to French stability, as the northern region is one of the closest French territories to France itself, just across the Mediterranean Sea.  So the French military intervened and, with the help of the U.N., took back the northern territories and chased the guerrillas into the desert.  Though the military had taken back control over the northern cities however, the war was far from finished.

In July of 2013, with help from the West, elections were “successfully” held in Bamako, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became the President we have today.  Though President Keita is not affiliated with Gaddafi, he has not exactly been the country’s savior either.  So far he has pretty much just gotten a few friends some pretty nice jobs, and bought himself a fresh new plane to travel in to Washington.  Trash still overflows the gutters and streams, half-finished construction projects still litter the capital and its surrounding cities, and U.N., French, and Portuguese forces still provide the strongest barrier between the extremists and the country’s major population centers.

This brings us to today.  Earlier this week the largest single attack on U.N. peacekeepers was carried out in the northeastern Menaka-Asongo corridor.  Nine peacekeepers from Niger were killed when their convoy was attacked by assailants on motorbikes, raising the death-toll of UN peacekeepers alone to 26 since their intervention in Mali.  The U.N. currently has 9,000 soldiers stationed in Mali, in addition to French and Portuguese forces, and though elections have passed and the the northern territories have been officially reclaimed by the military, officials are adamant that they are here to stay until the situation is actually under control.

What does that mean?  How long will that take?  Well, now we touch on the issue of global extremism.  It seems the fight against the Islamist state in the Middle East is rearing its ugly head in more and more regions, and the war in Mali marks a major security risk to international stability.  Mali is a foothold for both sides of this fight, so neither plans to give up with ease.  Unfortunately the heavy-handed tactics of the West give birth to more and more anti-Western sentiment as attacks against yet another mobile enemy decimate cities throughout the Middle East, which means people around the world are adopting more and more reasons to hate.  We aren’t even fighting fire with fire, we’re fighting gunpowder with matches.

How do we stop all this, then?  It’s unfortunate, but it seems the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council doesn’t even really want to.  We know ISIS is funded primarily by Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi’s remain one of America’s strongest allies.  Why?  Well, as long as they promise to keep trading all that Saudi oil in dollars, they keep the dollar valuable, and the last thing the U.S. wants is to make room for a new Saudi regime that might decide to stray from that path, much like Saddam (and Gaddafi) planned to do.  So until we decide to hit ISIS and other extremist groups where it hurts most, in their pockets like everyone else, Western-led assaults will most likely only stir up more hatred in these regions, and doom the world to endless escalating conflict.

I am 24.  My country, the United States, has been at war since I was a child.  I have known a life of privilege, but no-one my age has ever known a life of peace.  I fear my children may share my fate.  I don’t know how to fix this muddy, bloody mess, but I know one thing for sure; there are people out there with violence and hatred in their hearts, but that hatred is useless without the resources necessary to act it out.  Can the whole world really be expected to work together to truly end all this unnecessary violence?  Will anything short of the impending alien invasion bring us together in peace?  I sure hope so.  I may be cynical about the present, but I am optimistic about the future.

That’s it for my own take on the situation at hand, friends.  Thanks for following along.  Following are some things others have produced that I cannot help but think of at this time.  I welcome your comments and concerns.  This is a delicate and volatile issue that must be addressed in its entirety if we ever expect to rid ourselves of this barbarism.

 

Al Jazeera article on the latest Malian attack: http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201410425341768552

 

Argument on Bill Maher’s ‘Real Time’ over the inherent violence in Islamic doctrine.  Disclaimer (and believe me, I know this gets touchy): I agree with Bill Maher, but don’t think he goes far enough.  Religious followers are not necessarily bad people, nor are they necessarily good.  The fact of the matter is that every religious doctrine promotes violence in some way or another.  The only variation is how closely the violent words are followed within each faith.  And that may not even be much of a difference at all.  Nevertheless the issue is that these works promote violence in certain contexts and that simply ignoring the instances where this is true does nothing to prevent violent people from using “faith” and dedication to these doctrines to justify the violence in their own hearts.  This video marks a classic and beautiful failure in communication.  Entertaining at the very least.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IafWePD1DVw

 

And finally, I am reminded of Robert Kennedy, on the “mindless menace of violence” in the America he fought and died for.  Oddly enough, my favorite speech of his, given 22 years before I was born, to the day.  Heh.

Robert F. Kennedy
Cleveland City Club
April 5, 1968

“This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some looks for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

 

I hope this all sparked something inside you.  Whether you agree or disagree with my own interpretations, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Until next time Internet, kambufo! (Bye!)

Onward and upward,

– Z