Sunday, July 28, 2013


Russian President Vladimir Putin turns out not to be a nice guy after all. In 2001, at their first meeting, then US President George W. Bush said "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul." I can only imagine what Mr. Putin thought about Mr. Bush; perhaps something like "I looked into his eyes and, holy Kremlin, what naiveté!!" 

Mr. Putin enjoys power, and in order to keep it he persecutes everyone and anyone he deems to be a threat. Under Mr. Putin, the new Russia seems to be more and more like the old Soviet. 

And so it is that President Putin has signed into Russian law some very severe anti-homosexual measures. These laws persecute gay people and supporters of gay people. One recent law signed by Mr. Putin bans the adoption of any Russian child by same sex couples, or even anyone who lives in a country that has marriage equality! Most recently, Putin signed a law that allows the police to arrest tourists and foreigners suspected of being gay or pro-gay, and hold them for 14 days. And yet another law defines "homosexual propaganda" as pornography, and can lead to detention and fines for people who advocate tolerance or educate children about homosexual issues. 

The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Russia this coming February. Although the Charter of the International Olympic Committee has anti-discrimination language, the Olympic Committee appears to be strangely silent on this issue.  One can only wonder about the potential danger LGBT athletes, fans, and visitors who are openly supportive of equal rights might find themselves in. We can only hope that Mr. Putin understands the concept of "the whole world is watching." 

I openly support the rights of LGBT persons. The anti-gay Russian laws, supported and signed by Mr. Putin, are evil. If I were to gaze searchingly into Mr. Putins eyes (and not get arrested on suspicion of being gay), I would likely find a deep, dark pool of evil. 

I plan to write to the Olympic Committee on this issue.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

TRAYVON MARTIN WAS MY GRANDSON... fact, if you are a parent or grandparent in America, Trayvon was your son or grandson, too.  I have three grandsons. One just turned 18, the other two are almost 15. I have seen all of them wearing a hoody, walking down the street, carrying snacks and a drink. Tray (that's what I would have called him  - I have nicknames for all my grandsons) seemed just like my other grandsons, at least from the stories and photos of him that I've read and seen. A sweet kid, good with little kids, a quick and warm smile, likes to horse around with Opa (that's what my grandsons call me), and tall because, well, teenagers now seem to get taller than we used to.

I can't imagine knowing that someone with a gun was following my grandson because he "looked suspicious." Why would my grandson look suspicious? Because of his hoody? Because he was a tall, skinny teenager? Because he was carrying a box of Skittles? Why? WHY?

Trayvon was African American; I'm Eastern-European American. Trayvon was Black; my grandsons are White. And that is why. There is no other explanation.

Unfortunately, racism, specifically racial fear and distrust, is very much alive and well in America. The outrage in the Black community is always just below the surface, and runs deep. For good reasons.

I, too, am outraged, but my outrage is not based on direct and overt racism that I encounter every day. My outrage is based on what goes on within our society, the overt and covert, individual and institutionalized racism that grinds people down if their skin just isn't light enough. Grinds them down and often, way too often, kills them.

Many teenagers, a disproportionate number of them Black, are killed by gun every week in America. In that sense, the death of Trayvon Martin is just another disturbing statistic. But Trayvon's killing was so much more important because the law allowed it, both before and after the fatal shot was fired. George Zimmerman was allowed by the law to carry a gun. And the verdict in Mr. Zimmerman's trial tells us that Mr. Zimmerman was allowed by the law to kill another person. Both of these "allows" must be questioned equally. Neither of these "allows" should have been.

I am sad when I think of Trayvon; even more so when I picture my grandsons. I miss Tray. I miss the opportunity to know him, to read about him someday because he did something awesome, and just to know that he and every other Trayvon is alive and well and being a teenager. I will not let the Florida legal system or the media ruin the image of the Trayvon I know by somehow suggesting that it was his fault, that he was the aggressor, that he somehow was the criminal against whom George Zimmerman had to defend himself. No. Not for a second!

I am sad about Trayvon's family and friends. How do you carry on after someone you love is murdered? How do you carry on after the murderer is set free by the legal system? How do you not let the outrage that is always just beneath the surface boil over?

Let us not forget Trayvon Martin. Let all parents and grandparents keep his name and his image close in our hearts, just like our own kids and grandkids - because he was one of them, one of ours. We should all be outraged that the law allowed our child to be murdered. Trayvon is alive in our hearts; let's make certain that Trayvon is alive in the fight to end racism in every ugly form, including the law. Trayvon Martin's boyish smile is the sign we hold high for all to see, for all to grieve, and for all to fight for.


Monday, July 15, 2013


I don't have anything new to add to this conversation, but I feel compelled to put my opinion into the virtual stream of consciousness swirling around this topic.

The trial is over, Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of murder in the second degree. Like it or not, our legal system has cranked out a decision and this phase of the story is over. The facts now are:

  1. a 17-year old boy, Trayvon Martin, is dead; shot and killed by an armed citizen;
  2. Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter, has been found not guilty of the crime of murder, and is free;
  3. Mr. Zimmerman can once again, if he so chooses, legally walk the streets with a gun; 
  4. unless the U.S. Department of Justice brings a civil rights action, or the parents of Trayvon bring a civil suit, the story is over. 
But is the story over? No - not by a long shot.

You see, every day - every day - people are killed by gun in this country. And every day - every single day - legal injustices are done to someone somewhere in this country. If you study the issues you will find ample and overwhelming information about gun deaths and the injustices of the legal system. People of color and/or poor people are most often the victims. This statement alone doesn't convey the magnitude and seriousness of the problem. 

Racism is alive and well in America, and it's not just the George Zimmermans in our society. Racism has been institutionalized in this country to the point where it is difficult to see it and pin it down, but it is pervasive in our institutions. The American justice system, since the start of the Reagan War on Drugs, has become a system of mass incarceration of Black and Latino people, mostly young men.(Note 1)  It should not be a surprise that Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty; the Florida law is on his side. He has the right to "stand his ground" and protect himself, including the use of deadly force. 

The death of Trayvon Martin is tragic, but it is not unusual; unfortunately, it is the norm in America. Yesterday, July 14, 2013, at least 41 people were killed by gun in America. The day before yesterday, July 13, 2013, at least 46 people were killed by gun in America. Since the Newtown killings on December 14, 2012,  at least 6,210 deaths by gun have been reported. (Note 2) This is a massacre. 

George Zimmerman was carrying a loaded gun the night he killed Trayvon Martin. I'm willing to bet that if he had not had a gun, Mr. Zimmerman would not have gotten out of his car, and would not have followed and confronted Trayvon Martin. A gun changes every potentially violent situation into a potential deadly situation. Mr. Zimmerman's gun changed a Neighborhood Watch Program into a Neighborhood Death Program. 

America - Americans - need to come to grips with racism and gun control. We need to dismantle the institutionalized system of racism from top to bottom; this will not be easy. Many Americans think that we made great strides as a result of the Civil Rights movement. We did, in many ways, but unfortunately the old racism has been replaced by a new racism under which young Blacks and Latinos, mostly men, are swept up in a legal system designed to take them off the streets and turn them into second class citizens. Wars on drugs and wars on immigrants are cover for blatant societal racism, and we have to fight to end these faux wars and repair the tremendous damage done to these brothers and sisters in our communities.

And we absolutely need to end the epidemic of gun violence and death in America by establishing very firm control of the sale and possession of guns. A Neighborhood Watch volunteer has absolutely no business carrying a gun. In my opinion, there is no reason for anyone to carry a gun, unless they are going hunting or target shooting. 

The killing of Trayvon Martin has captured the spotlight, but unfortunately, like so many other very important issues, I'm afraid it will soon be forgotten as our attention is directed to other things by the news media. What will it take to move forward from each tragedy and make needed change in this country? I don't know, but I'm trying to figure it out. 


(1) An excellent book on the topic of institutionalized racism in America is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.