lies, damn lies, and statistics

Let’s talk about gerrymandering.  It’s bullshit, and I’m going to explain exactly why.  The topic sort of requires visual aids which is why it’s a post and not a podcast.

Let’s invent a state and call it Fredonia.  Let’s say that Fredonia has six million residents, which allots it ten congressional districts and ten electoral votes.  Let’s also say that of its registered voters, roughly 40% are registered as Democrats, 40% are registered as Republicans, and 20% are registered as Independent or ‘no party stated’.  Let’s also assume that it follows the same rough demographics as other states, and have the registered Democrats be more concentrated around cities, and less concentrated in rural areas; with the inverse true of registered Republicans, because this is the general trend in the population of America.  Independents are all over with no particular concentration points.  (I might use this construct again, so if in future posts I refer to Fredonia, I’ll link back here and we’ll all agree it means ‘average state with a fairly even distribution of political sensibilities’.)

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the state legislature would follow the 40/40/20 spread or something fairly close to it, or even that it would be fairly evenly divided between the two major political parties with the odd independent; and that their representation in Congress would be similar.

NOW LET’S GERRYMANDER THE CRAP OUT OF IT

Absent the idea of gerrymandering, congressional districts are divided up by population, with each district getting as close to an equal portion of the population as can be managed with a target of ‘as close to six hundred thousand people as possible’.  Other than that, the lines are supposed to be drawn to be roughly in line with borders of cities, towns, counties, etc.  This makes it simpler for someone to tell who their representative is – ‘I live in Hooterville, so I’m in the 3rd district’ vs. ‘Lemme just plug my zip code and four digit extension into this here calculator’.

Gerrymandering is the practice of jiggering congressional district borders around to produce an intended result – either by drawing the lines to include as many members of their desired political party as possible, thus increasing the chances that the district will vote that way; or excluding their opponent’s party.  It also refers to splitting a concentration of a rival political party among as many districts as possible, to dilute their effect and deny them a bloc.  Advanced Gerrymandering flips the script a little – it recognizes that Overshoe Heights is hopelessly lost to their opponent, so it draws the district around Overshoe Heights to pack as many members of its rival party into it as possible, thus keeping those voters out of other districts.  Master-class Gerrymandering is a reactive process vs. the proactive processes of basic and advanced gerrymandering: it involves either merging two districts together and making up the difference by creating a new one elsewhere, thus forcing two incumbents to compete; or flipping a district from predominantly one party to another to dispose of an annoying incumbent.

But wait, you say, no matter how you draw the lines, there’s still going to be a few Republicans in your gerrymandered Democrat district or vice versa.  And you’re right, but remember, the goal of gerrymandering isn’t to manipulate individual voters, but rather, districts.  Furthermore, people tend to succumb to the ‘wasted vote effect’, which means that although Dogville might have 20% of its voters registered as Democrat, they’re likely to look at the fact that 75% of its voters are registered Republican and figure ‘why bother’ and stay home on election day.

My good friend Professor Wik E. Pedia has seen fit to provide me with some examples:

12th district of North Carolina – this one’s packed with as many Democrats as possible to get them out of neighboring districts, favoring the Republican party.

38th district of California – this one’s jiggered around to favor the Democrats.

really
(4th district of Illinois.  You can just barely see the thin line on the left there that connects the two halves.  Districts are required to be contiguous, but there’s nothing saying you can’t have a connecting bit that’s exactly as wide as Interstate 294.  This was redistricted in 2013 to make the connecting bit a little bit wider, but it’s still positively ridiculous.)

Okay, so if gerrymandering is so obviously bullshit, why is it allowed?  Several reasons – first, it’s a game of inches.  It’s not as if someone with evil in their heart starts with a completely even map of districts that would be a simple grid laid over the state modulo some wobbles for population density, and jumps straight to the horrible runes illustrated above, they’ll nudge a line a little here, a little there, until half a dozen revisions later they get what they want.  Second, both parties do it.  Seriously, although the bulk of cases of obvious gerrymandering favor the Republican party, the Democrats aren’t innocent either.  Why would either party outlaw a practice they have used to great effect?  Third, it’s been a Thing since there’s been a United States.  Seriously, Patrick Henry and his bros gerrymandered Virginia’s 5th to try and keep James Madison out of Congress. (It didn’t work.)  And finally, gerrymandering is a bit like pornography – hard to really define when you get right down to it, but you know it when you see it, to borrow a turn of phrase from Justice Stewart.  There’s a difference between pointing at that horrible nightmare going on in Illinois, and being able to actually codify the difference in legal language.

Okay, so if gerrymandering is obviously bullshit, and we’re not getting rid of it anytime soon, what now?

The short answer is to change the way we vote.  For Presidential elections, and for congressional representation in all but one state (Maine), we use a system called ‘first past the post’.  Everyone gets one vote, they vote for one candidate and one candidate only, and the candidate that gets the most votes wins.  Simple, but lends itself well to manipulation via gerrymandering and some other tactics.

Maine recently switched to a system called Ranked-Choice Voting – each person still gets one vote, but instead of picking one candidate, they list them in order of preference.  When it comes time to tally the votes, first the counters look at everyone’s first choice and tally those.  If one candidate takes more than 50% of the total votes, wham done.  If not, then the candidate who got the fewest votes is eliminated, and the ballots who had that candidate listed as their first choice are counted for whatever that ballot had listed as its second choice – so on and so forth until one candidate beats 50%, and then they’re declared the winner.  This system is still slightly vulnerable to gerrymandering in that by packing, you can still produce a district that’s all but guaranteed to vote a certain way, but fogs it up a little by removing the disincentive to vote for less popular candidates.  In first-past-the-post, a vote for a candidate that isn’t the nominee of either of the two major political parties is not only almost guaranteed not to win, but also means that vote ISN’T counted for either of the two political parties – ask your buddy who wrote in Bernie on the ballot how much grief they took from Hillary supporters to explain how that goes down.

Most of Europe uses a system called Proportional Representation, in which each party on the ballot nominates not a single candidate, but a list, and voters vote for which party they want.  A party which wins 40% of the vote wins 40% of the seats, which they fill from their list from the top down.  A variant called ‘open’ allows voters to also vote for individual candidates on the list, thus choosing which candidates on the list fill the seats the party wins.  This actually eliminates the need for congressional districts entirely – instead of each district choosing a representative, the states chooses all its representatives at once, and the proportion of each party’s candidates in the pool of that state’s representatives reflects the proportion of that party’s supporters within the state.

The downside is that voting gets a little more complicated with Ranked-choice voting or with Proportional Representation than with our simple first-past-the-post method, but it’s significantly more fair, breaks the duopoly the Democrats and Republicans have, reduces the impact of gerrymandering and other forms of manipulation, and (especially with Proportional Representation) more accurately reflects the will of the people.  In exchange for that, I think we can handle ‘rank these candidates in order of your preference’ or ‘what party do you want, optionally, which people on that party’s list do you want’.  It’s an idea whose time has long since come, and the only parties that stand to really lose out are the established political parties who, let’s be real, haven’t accurately represented the will of most people for a very long time.

Give it a think and maybe start some conversations about it.  Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

-30-

and there we were all in one place

Funny things happen to Washington DC when you drop half a million people or more on it.  We basically took over most of downtown, streets were shut down, the National Mall was packed solid, and the Metro was so far beyond capacity that station managers gave up trying to get everyone to pay and just focussed on getting them through. If your card didn’t beep after a couple tries, well, whatever, go on through.

And yet there were no arrests – at the inauguration, which I wouldn’t have gone to for any amount of money, there were 217 arrests.  Assaults, rioting, protesters crossing the line.  Drop three times as many folks at least in the same space only a day later, and you’d expect bedlam – but there was not a single arrest.

There was instead an air of relentless positivity and radical peacefulness – even the signs displayed this.  For every sign that boiled down to ‘oh SCREW THIS GUY’ there were a dozen more that were messages of positivity and support. “Never forget you are valuable, powerful, and deserving of opportunity.” “Love is love.” “No human is illegal.” “Women deserve equal rights.” “Black lives matter.” “Refugees welcome.”

It’s resistance, but joyful resistance.  It’s the happiness of returning to fulfilling work – a vocation, a Calling, instead of just a job – after a too-long sleep.  America is waking up.

Excited people swapping tales of the people they were marching for and interspersing them with sightings of the faces of the previous and greatly missed administration. A woman with a Hillary pin tells a man with a Shrek sign (Get out of my swamp!) about seeing John Kerry walking his dog.  A man holding a sign announcing that Trump’s approval rating (32%) is less than the Rotten Tomatoes score for Paul Blart: Mall Cop (33%) talking to someone with a pussy hat about his mother with an aw-shucks smile.  People telling each other about their friends and loved ones who couldn’t make it to DC but they’re at a sister march in Boston, or in Seattle, or in Paris.

Reassuring themselves and each other that none of us are alone, that this is a fight we will keep fighting, that if their feet get tired there’s a million more pairs marching in lockstep.

Given the tremendous amount of people dropped on the Capitol, and the crap that went down at the inauguration, the DC police and various federal agencies freaked out a little – I spotted a division of mounted officers (horses!) and several sniper nests atop tall buildings which became more frequent the closer we got to the White House.  But every DC cop and uniformed Secret Service agent and National Guard member seemed surprised and relieved at the radical positivity – I lost count of the number of times I marched past and saw an officer chatting with someone who’d stopped to take a rest or ask for directions.  Every time, without fail, they were smiling – not the uniform, move-along-citizen sanitised smile of official positivity, but a genuine happiness at seeing democracy taken to the streets without the chaos.  Unrest without unruliness.

And that’s how we’re going to win this one, and every other fight we’ve got coming in the next however long.  Hate is strong, and scary, and has long sharp teeth.  But love is stronger, fearless, and has hide too thick for any fang to pierce.  They’re going to try to bring us down and get us mired in negativity and goad us into violence so they can point and shriek and call us all criminals – because that’s the only way they can win.  They can never defeat us if we don’t follow their script.

Write your own story.  Don’t let them hand you one.  Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

eighty bucks and deamonte driver

Deamonte Driver, who lived not far from where I live, would have been looking forward to his 23rd birthday this year, a young life at the very peak of its potential – instead, his mother is looking at the tenth anniversary of his death. Because she lost Medicaid due to a paperwork mixup that resulted from the family having to move, and not having the $80 for an extraction, she could not find anyone willing to remove the abscessed tooth.

Eighty bucks. That’s about what the average family spends on groceries in a week (source: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm) For want of eighty bucks, the bacteria in Deamonte’s mouth spread to his brain, where it killed him on February 25, 2007 despite emergency brain surgery.

That surgery, and the costs of the healthcare that started when his health declined to the point where he was rushed to a hospital, totalled to about a quarter million dollars. Since Deamonte’s mom didn’t have eighty bucks, she sure as hell didn’t have a quarter million, so that cost went unpaid, where it was picked up partially by taxpayers and partially by the healthcare industry (and therefore by healthcare consumers).

Congress soon afterward passed a bill requiring pediatric dental coverage to be included in Medicaid, a provision which was eventually included in the Affordable Care Act. Repealing Obamacare would mean creating the same situation that killed Deamonte Driver for want of eighty bucks, instead forcing the public in general – whether they can afford health coverage or not – to help shoulder the burden of a young man’s life and a quarter million dollar bill.

It goes without saying that I’d rather not be complicit in the death of a 12 year old kid. It also goes without saying that I’d rather pay part of $80 than part of $250,000. There is no situation where a straight repeal of the ACA makes sense.

Opponents of the ACA will scream about how much it costs to cover everybody. They’ll scream about how it’s not fair that the costs of one person’s healthcare should be spread among everybody. What they won’t tell you is that it costs LESS to cover everybody, BECAUSE the costs of one person’s healthcare DOES get spread among everybody if they don’t happen to be independently wealthy enough to pay it out of pocket. (And if you think anyone wealthy enough to pay for their healthcare out of pocket does so, and doesn’t have very good health coverage, you’re out of touch with reality.)

Eighty bucks is less than two hundred fifty thousand bucks. I don’t care what direction you look at it from, I don’t care if it’s a great big 80 made out of diamond and an itty bitty 250,000 made out of balsa wood. Eighty is, was, and always shall be less than 250,000.

And a mother should never have to put flowers on her baby’s grave because she didn’t have $80 for the dentist.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/02/27/AR2007022702116_3.html

what now?

Okay here’s the scoop.
Let me preface this by pointing out that the National Suicide Hotline exists, its number is 800/273-8255, it is open 24 hours a day, and exists to talk to you if you or someone you know are in crisis. They are not going to laugh at you or preach at you, they are not going to dismiss your concerns. If you’re thinking of hurting yourself, or worried that someone close to you is, please call that number. Won’t cost you a dime. There is help.
Regardless of whether you were disconsolate or elated by last night’s results, the last few months have made one thing extremely clear: Our political system is sort of broken. We’ve lost the ability to see our neighbor as a person with hopes and ideas if we see them with an opposing political candidate’s sign in their yard. We’ve stopped treating each other like fellow citizens of a nation and started treating them as potential enemies. All sides are guilty of this, and I’m not excluding myself from the path of this wide paintbrush either, we’ve all done it.
This has gotta stop.
For good or ill, Trump is the president-elect, and whether this makes you scream in terror or delight, we all still have a job to do: Making the next four (or eight) years go as smoothly as possible for everyone. Whether you want to support him or battle him, the answer is the same: Participate in our government. You don’t have to brush up your resume and run for local office or anything like that, but take a few minutes a day and read the news, national and local. Pay attention when they say an election is coming up, no matter how local or miniscule. If you’re not happy with either of the two parties, well, starting from the bottom is how a new political party gets going.
Stein or Johnson didn’t exactly have a hope of winning the election last night, but at least they were on the ballot – because a lot of hard work by a WHOLE lot of people brought their parties up from the bottom. That same effort could apply to any new political party, and heck, more work from more people and they could easily have a shot in four (or eight) years.
Voter turnout went up this election – but a whoooole lot of people stayed home. This worries me. I hear from a lot of people who refuse to vote because they think the system is broken – and, well, if we’re being honest with each other, it is. But the way to fix it is to vote out the jerks that broke it, and vote in the people to fix it.
Please, please, PLEASE participate in our government. It needs you more than ever, no matter which side you fall on, or whether you fall on no side at all. I’m not asking you to agree to political ideas you hate, or make compromises – all I’m asking is that you make your ideas known at the ballot box. None of the candidates for a given race satisfy you? Write someone in, or don’t pick anyone at all. I’ll bet you a Snickers that there’s SOMETHING on the ballot you have an opinion on, you don’t have to fill out the whole thing.
To close, I’ll fall back on the words of Ben Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

matthew 25:40

I want you to do me a favor.  It won’t take long and won’t cost a penny.  Think back to when you were five years old, and try to remember what the biggest worries in your life were.  The sort of things that kept you up at night.  For the vast overwhelming number of people fortunate enough to have the internet connection required to be reading this in the first place, it’s probably stuff like ‘I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow so I can go play on the swings’ or ‘I wonder what I want for my birthday’.  Simple worries from small times, nothing too earth-shattering, despite the fact that at five, those were definitely Big Concerns.

And then there’s Omran Daqneesh.

I’m sure by now you’ve seen That Photo – if not, here’s a New York Times article that has That Photo right at the top.  That’s Omran – he’s a five year old boy living in Aleppo.  For pretty much as long as he’s been alive, his homeland has been the site of a brutal and hard-fought civil war.  He has literally never known the sort of peace required for one’s biggest concerns to be ‘I hope Mom doesn’t make me eat brussels sprouts again’.  I obviously don’t know the family, but it’s probably safe to assume that the parents do their best to try to make their children’s lives as happy and fulfilling as possible – but needs must, and happiness necessarily takes a back seat to simple survival; so I can only imagine that despite their best efforts, Omran and his siblings have had to see and experience the sort of things that you and I couldn’t imagine even in our worst nightmares.

There’s a video, if you can bring yourself to watch it.  In the video, Omran is sitting alone in the back of an ambulance after having been pulled free from the wreckage.  He’s covered in dirt and blood – blood that he only notices when he wipes some off his face, and looks at it with only mild surprise.  A world where a five year old kid is only barely surprised by blood coming out of his head is troubling.

A few days after that iconic photo of Omran was taken, his brother Ali died.  So now Omran has one less shoulder to cry on when the blasts get too close, one less set of arms to hug him and tell him he is loved and that he will be safe, and one more hole in his life when he already has so many.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Ali is one of a hundred children that have died in Aleppo since July 31.  As of the time of this writing, that’s 22 days.  A little more than once a day, one more Ali closes their eyes forever; one more Omran learns far too soon the meaning of grief and loss and that the world is not fair; one more family tries to figure out how to move on, like a car missing a wheel.

We’re lucky.  We can get through a basic day without worrying about our homes being blasted to ash or roaming death squads shooting us to ribbons because we go to the wrong church.  For all of its problems – and it does have problems – America truly is a land of plenty.  We need to use these gifts for the greater good.  We need to house and feed and clothe and care for as many refugees from Syria and all other places, as best we can, as many as we can, for as long as we can.  It’s on the Statue of Liberty, for sanity’s sake:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We need to do it, otherwise we’re all talk.  We owe it to ourselves, so we don’t have to feel ashamed of the missed opportunity.  We owe it to our children, to show them the meaning of compassion.  We owe it to fellow nations, if we have any hope whatsoever of the favor being returned should we need it later.

We owe it to Omran, for reasons I wish I had the words to express.  Just look at that picture again, and look in his eyes, and try not to shed a tear.

“I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” – Matthew 25:40

thought police

The Intercept, a news and commentary outlet not known for fabrication, recently published an article about four citizens of Detroit who were arrested for social media postings.  None of the four have been named or formally charged.

Three of the accused – or is that even the term for a person arrested but not charged? – allegedly made posts that, on their face, appear to be legally actionable.  The first was “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter.  Kill all cops.”  I was behind him one hundred percent until those last three words, but those last three words don’t take a particularly creative prosecutor to wangle into an incitement charge.  The second was less eloquent but similar – “It’s time to wage war and shoot the police first.”  Again, incitement, and pretty clearly actionable.  Number three allegedly posted photos and videos of police officers being shot and said “This needs to happen more often.” Incitement.  Then we get to the fourth.

The fourth referred to Micah Johnson as a “hero”, and stated that “He inspired me to do the exact same thing”.  This one’s a little… less clear.  Since the author isn’t commanding or even suggesting that others act, incitement doesn’t apply.  A clever prosecutor could still turn this into a terroristic threat, though.

My issue isn’t with the first three being arrested for fairly unmistakable incitement, or even really with the fourth being arrested for something that might or might not be a threat.  My issue is that all four of these men were arrested first and then attempts made afterward to determine if a crime took place.  Two of the men have been released for now with warrants pending, the other two remain in custody due to outstanding warrants.

Police Chief James Craig said (according to this Detroit News article) that ‘it should be a crime to make threats to kill police officers’ (quote from reporter) “Especially now, in this current climate […] I don’t think that’s protected speech.” (quote from Chief Craig)

Here we see the meat of the problem.  By saying it SHOULD be a crime, he’s implicitly saying it MIGHT NOT be a crime, and if it might not be a crime, why the arrests?  Last I checked, in order to be arrested, a law enforcement officer needs to have a probable cause to believe that you have committed a specific crime.  Even people who get pulled over for ‘driving while black’ are ticketed for a busted taillight (which just might have been busted when the officer ‘accidentally’ ‘tapped’ it with their nightstick) or ‘erratic driving’ (which is so far from a subjective judgment it’s impossible to prove or disprove) or something like that.  There’s at least the appearance of an actual specific infraction.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure deciding what is and isn’t protected speech is for a judge to decide, not a law enforcement officer.  That deals with constitutional law, and that’s for high courts to decide.  There’s putting the cart before the horse, and there’s setting up the cart while you wait for the horse to be born.

Here, the four men – all black men, which should surprise precisely no one – have been arrested because ‘well, we’re pretty sure that the things we say they did shouldn’t be allowed.  We’re totally gonna check with the higher-ups to make sure, though.  We promise.’

Sure you are.  ‘Kill this cop’ – a clear and specific threat.  ‘Kill all cops’ – a clear but nonspecific threat, and generally left up to a judge to determine actionability.  ‘A cop died, I liked it, I was inspired to do the same’ – inspired isn’t the same as planning to.  I get inspired to do a lot of things I never do.  Worth keeping an eye on, sure, but arrest? And what’s next?  Are the surviving members of NWA to be arrested for their hit ‘Fuck Tha Police’ because the lyrics included nonspecific threats?  If so, is someone posting ‘fuck the police’ to twitter to be arrested because they are referencing the song’s lyrics? Or perhaps because the cops don’t like it and think it’s rude?

It doesn’t take a particularly creative mind to see where this leads.  The back-and-forth between law enforcement and civilians has long been a story of expansion and resistance – law enforcement attempts to re-interpret laws in ways that grant them more power (and honestly, they often have the best of intentions, but we all know what they say about the road to Hell…), and they keep pushing it until the citizenry (or a higher office) pushes back and gets it in front of a judge.  We’ve seen this play out time and time again from Prohibition to Jim Crow to profanity laws to speeding cameras to any number of issues where law enforcement has pushed and pushed until they get their hand slapped by a judge.

And now they’re pushing on the First Amendment.  This isn’t something we can afford to spend a decade getting cranky about before we do anything – because the nature of the issue means that if we give it time for it to be clearly something we need a judge’s input on, it could well be illegal to argue.

the art of sociological triage

Let’s say you trip over something and sprain your ankle.  Your regular doctor can’t see you for a week and a half, for whatever reason there isn’t an urgent care clinic available, so off you go to the emergency room.  At the same time you walk up to the registration desk, you see a person at the registration desk right next to you holding a wadded-up tee shirt over what appears to be a large wound on their neck that’s bleeding quite badly.  Raise your hand if you expect the gushing neck injury to be seen by a doctor before your sprained ankle.

That’s what I thought.  We expect the more urgent cases to be taken care of before the less urgent ones.  When lives are on the line, it only makes sense to prioritize care and attention to make sure that the people in the most danger get helped first.  Why, then, is it so difficult for people to understand the concepts behind Black Lives Matter?

I know, that was kind of a swerve.  Bear with me, I’m connecting the dots.

Recently, President Obama took a moment from a trip to Warsaw (he was there for a NATO conference) to say the following (quote from NPR)

According to various studies — not just one but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years — African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

After being pulled over African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched.

Last year African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites.

African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

Recently, two separate black men were killed by the police.  Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul.  Sterling was shot by police – several times, in the chest and back – while officers were holding him on the ground.  Castile was shot during a traffic stop while following an order from the officer to produce his identification.

This is the part where the “can we please find a reason why this was Okay so I don’t have to think about it anymore” set starts wringing their hands and pointing out that Sterling had a gun on him, and the police were responding to a 911 call of him allegedly brandishing it, and that Castile had just informed the officer who killed him that he was in possession of a firearm (one which he had a concealed carry permit for, and informing the officer as early as possible that 1) the firearm exists and 2) you have a permit for it is EXACTLY what authorities tell people to do if they find themselves in a situation where they are interacting with law enforcement).  My point is none of that matters.  If you look at the video of Sterling’s shooting (widely available on the internet, I am not providing a link here as it is shocking and disturbing to watch a man be killed, if you want to see it, Google is your friend), you can see that although Sterling is struggling, he is on the ground with two officers holding him down.  He is neutralized as a threat.  Still, though, one of the officers drew his weapon, held it a couple inches from Sterling’s chest, possibly to scare him into total submission, and then when Sterling continued to struggle, fired multiple times.

Not having had the benefit of a police academy education, I can’t say for sure, but I’m reasonably certain deadly force is not necessary when dealing with a person who is armed, but prevented from accessing their weapon by the sheer force of two police officers holding them down.  One assumes that the more prudent course of action would have been to continue to restrain the subject, perhaps even with a less lethal method like a taser, without resorting to gunfire.

Castile’s killing was even less defensible.  He was pulled over.  The officer asked him to provide identification.  Castile informed the officer that there was a firearm in the vehicle, informed the officer that he was retrieving his wallet from his back pocket to comply with the officer’s instructions, began to do so, and the officer opened fire.

The fact that Castile was carrying a concealed weapon should not be a factor in his shooting.  Castile was granted a permit to carry the weapon in a concealed fashion.  He was exercising his rights as a citizen.  He followed the best practices given to him – always, always inform a police officer if you have a weapon, as early in the interaction as is possible, and narrate your actions – and followed the police officer’s instructions to provide his identification.  He did everything he was told and was killed for it.

That’s two men killed in two days.  Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota has gone on record as saying “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and passenger were white? I don’t think it would have.”  Gov. Edwards of Louisiana offered a significantly more hedged-bets comment of the usual promises of a full and transparent investigation, while carefully failing to mention the racial aspect of the killing.

But the hell of it is, it’s not merely being killed that black people have to fear from law enforcement – if you look at the statistics mentioned above, or speak to any of the untold millions of black families nationwide that have to sit their children down and tell them to fear the police, to be on their absolute best behavior when in public, to expect that they are going to be harassed by law enforcement, and how to survive it – it becomes clear that at every level, at every moment, black people are treated badly by our society.

We can whine and cry and wring our hands all we want about how ‘well maybe he shouldn’t have been carrying a gun’ or ‘if that Freddie Gray fellow hadn’t gotten himself arrested, he’d still be alive’ or ‘ALL lives matter, you know’ or (my personal favorite) ‘he wasn’t exactly an angel’, but the fact remains: Our bruised ego is a sprained ankle.  The way we treat black people in this society is the gushing neck wound.  One is more important to immediately address than the other.

Black lives matter.

really don’t mind if you sit this one out

My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout.

I haven’t written as much as I’d like lately. It’s frustrating in the same way it’s humbling – it’s hard to reach people who don’t already agree on some level with the things I’m arguing for, and on the occasion I can get new eyeballs on things, it just gets lost in the noise.

I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think.

I think a part of that is that one of the unwritten rules of polite society is that we generally don’t confront people to challenge their views on politics, money, and other forms of religion.  For every Trump supporter you argue with, there’s probably at least a dozen others you just roll your eyes at because engagement isn’t worth the effort. Heck, I’m guilty of that too.  It’s a cultural issue, not an individual one.  By shying away from discussing our beliefs with others, we shy away from analyzing them for ourselves.  We should think more and +like less.

And the sandcastle virtues are all stripped away
By the tidal destruction,  the moral melee.

But we don’t, because polite society runs on compromise.  We agree not to start uncomfortable discussions with any but our close friends, and generally fail to do even that.  As a result, your average person can get through a basic day without having to discuss the philosophy of their politics for half an hour on the subway. A fair compromise, sure, as long as the big problems get addressed. As a result of that comprise and its attendant assumption, we avoid thinking about the deep cracks in the mask of justice and freedom Lady Liberty wears.  At least, until the atrocities start to pile up.

And your new shoes are worn at the heels

Then we discuss them, but always with a subtext of “can we please find a reason not to talk about this” like Tamir Rice and the pellet gun, or how Michael Brown smoked pot and shoplifted, or if Freddie Gray hadn’t done something to get himself arrested, he never would have died.  We look for reasons behind these things that are more palatable then “the American justice system and a too – large portion of its agents are racist as all hell”. And then we can stop thinking about it.

And you shake your head, and say it’s a shame.

Sure, it’s hard and scary to think Big Thinks and it’s not a lot of fun to really put a large amount of thought into a complicated issue.  It’s also a necessary thing if we’re going to make the world a place where everybody gets a fair shot.  In the words of Michael Arnovitz – a far better writer than I am and definitely worthy of your eyeballs – “…bigotry is a societal virus.  And to one extent or another, most of us are infected.  Our job is not to throw things at people who point this out, and it’s not to pretend that we are fine while we walk around coughing and sneezing on each other.  Our job is to get better.”

Now I’m not suggesting we start chatting up people at random about their political leanings.  That’s a good way to get banned from your favorite Arby’s. (Don’t hate.  Arby’s is good.)  Start small.  Next time you get one of Those Emails or Those Facebook Posts from that one person you went to school with so you don’t feel right about unfriending them or blocking their email – you know the ones, the ones where they’re hollering about how the political candidate you’d dismissed as the latest Villain Of The Week – ask them privately about it.  What do you like about this candidate? What don’t you like about the opposition?  What issues are most important to you?  Here’s what issues are important to me.

You’re going to get a lot of pushback, especially at first, because people are used to political discussion being a binary of ‘absolutely no discussion whatsoever’ or ‘holy war’.  We can’t be afraid to talk about what’s important.  We can’t be afraid to gain alternative perspectives.  After all, if we’re afraid to really explore our thinking and challenge our assumptions, then how confident can we really be that we’re in the right?

We can build our invincible fortresses of moral ‘rightness’ all we want, but until we recognize the cracks in the foundation, they won’t stand up to a whole lot of punishment.

Would you be the fool stood in his suit of armor
or the wiser man who rushes clear

(Post title and italic text from Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull)