Archive for the ‘Political’ Category

This is not an easy piece for me to write. My mind has gone back and forth over all aspects of this and I’m pretty sure there is no way I can put my words down in a way that will not upset someone. But, it’s eating at me. It’s like that creature in the movie Aliens. It’s deep in my gut and if I don’t do something, if I don’t write something, it’s going to come bursting out of me at a time when I least expect it, in an equally gross and gory way as it did in the movies.

 Last Saturday, which interestingly enough was also my birthday, an 18 year old black boy was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Here’s what we know specifically about this incident, without a doubt.

      1. A boy was killed.

      2. A police officer shot and killed him.

We know absolutely nothing else for a fact.

Not one other thing can be proven.

Yet.

There have been allegations made against the police officer. There have been allegations made against the boy. Some claim the police officer shot him unjustifiably, more than once, and after the boy put his hands up and surrendered. Some claim the boy attacked the police officer and the officer acted in defense of his own life.

One of these is most likely true. They definitely can’t both be.

We don’t know without a shadow of a doubt what happened, because an investigation never got the chance to take place. A trial – if one is warranted – has not happened. An autopsy has not been performed.

We have a justice system in place in this country for a reason. Is it flawed? Absolutely. Is there room to improve it? You bet there is. Is it a tragedy that Mike Brown, the boy who was killed, can’t testify to his own defense? Yes.

But it is the justice system we have and for all it’s flaws, it is one of the best out there. Unfortunately, it is now permanently muddled by what happened next. A group of individuals in Ferguson decided that they wanted to protest Mike Brown’s death by destroying various businesses in the town and stealing stuff. Or rather they exploited his death to break the law.

What surprised me was the response I started to see. People were surprisingly in support of those who destroyed the livelihood of others. This is something that is complete anathema to me. I believe in the right of protest. I really, truly do. I believe even in the act of non-violent, civil disobedience. I will never, ever support the right of violent, destructive behavior as a form of protest though.

So, there I was, mid-week in the middle of this story, fully against what was happening in this town as a response to this tragedy. And then my world view flipped on it’s head. I watched horrifically as the police in this town went from being a police force to a military one. I watched as they arrested reporters and threw tear gas on them. Two of the most fundamental Constitutional rights were being taken away from people. One was the right to be heard. The second was a right to a free press being able to report on what was happening.

At that moment, if I lived close enough by, I would have been sorely tempted to be a part of the protest. We are no longer America if we are not allowed to speak our mind or protest if we feel called to do so. We are no longer America if our police have that much intense firepower to force a group to bow to their will as they were attempting to do. Similarly to the fact that I believe in the right to protest, I believe in law and order. But the police stepped way over the line. They are not above the law either. It’s one thing to deal with people who are breaking the law, it’s another to bend people into a submissive state.

Finally, after days of this, the Governor of Missouri and the President of the United States finally decide to get involved. The Governor removes the city police from the situation and puts the State Highway patrol in charge. I wasn’t sure exactly how that would work, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that protests, legal and non-violent, continued to happen and the night was relatively peaceful.

But then the police throw a bit of a bombshell. Mike Brown had apparently robbed a store right before he was shot. How is this relevant? My personal opinion is that it is relevant only to his state of mind as he and the police officer had their confrontation. But it is not primarily relevant to the police officer’s state of mind, because he didn’t know Brown had committed the robbery. This is something that has been reported many times, the police officer got into this altercation with Brown over jaywalking, he was not aware of what Brown had done previously.

You know what’s interesting though? Even this information should have waited to be made known until a full investigation is done of the shooting. I actually didn’t feel that way at first, but I’ve become convinced of it now. Mike Brown is also innocent until proven guilty, despite his no longer being alive. That’s a fundamental piece of our justice system, we are all innocent until we have a trial of our crime and are proven guilty. Does it seem pretty obvious that Brown committed the crime? Sure it does. But it hasn’t been proven. That’s what courts are for.

It had the intended effect though. It ticked off a whole bunch of people. And then the scariest thing in my mind happened Friday night. More rioting began and stores began to be destroyed again as people intended to steal and destroy more things. Well, now that we effectively handcuffed the police – mostly in part to their own over the top actions – we left a city that was unprotected by law enforcement.

That was until groups of people started standing in front of buildings preventing them from being looted. I find this both heroic and scary as hell. These people were heroic because they could have very easily been hurt by those wanting to destroy things. It’s scary as hell, because of the reaction I started hearing. “Good for them! We don’t need a police force! We can police ourselves!”

Uh, what?

We can police ourselves? Who manages that? Who controls that? At what point are those that stepped up to “police ourselves” no longer one of us and become someone who has power over us? And since there is no law for them to be bound by, at what point do they become our masters?

You can argue that the police are in that same state, having power over us and I won’t argue with you completely. But I will argue that they are bound by the law and we do have ways to deal with them if they don’t abide by it. Not perfect, but we are imperfect people in an imperfect society. But they are there. I’m sorry but the other way is pure anarchy and it frightens me in ways that I’ve never been frightened before for this country.

So where do we stand now? I honestly don’t know. I see so much that is wrong on every side of the equation here. No one is trying to handle the very basic facts:

                    1. A boy was killed.

    1. A police officer shot and killed him.

People want to make this about many other things. Some of those things I readily agree with. We have a very large race problem in this country. There are things that are better today than they were 50 years ago. There are things that are not. I know white people that are racists. This saddens me greatly. I know black people that are racists. This too, saddens me greatly.

So, we want to make this about race, and it may definitely be, but we don’t want to have true, genuine conversations about race. We want to be mad, we want to protest, which is all good and fine. But where do you want to go from there? What do you effectively want to see changed? That no black person will every be arrested, shot or killed again? Or that people, regardless of race, are treated the same in a given situation? I hope it’s the latter. I assume it’s the latter. But this week has given me pause. I’m not sure that’s what everyone thinks anymore.

I’m not a perfect person, therefore I can’t assure you I’ve never acted racist. I don’t think I have, but it’s possible I’ve done so and that bothers me too. What bothers me even more though is that now, as a middle-aged white man, there is a growing idea that I can’t even speak about these issues. I can’t be a voice in the discussion. People even call it by a name…”white-splainin” (or “man-splainin” if you’re talking about gender issues), not even realizing themselves that adding “splainin” to a word is inherently racist as well (don’t believe me? Ask yourself where the word “splainin” comes from?)

I don’t know what the right answer is in Ferguson. I don’t know if there is a right answer anymore. This last week has muddied things so badly that I don’t think we can get easily get them back on track again.

I know this though. We have to respect each other. We’ve got to learn to appreciate each other. We need to obey the rule of law. We need to respect authority. We need to let people’s voices be heard. All of them. We need to pause a moment, take a collective breath as a nation, and try to figure out where we go from here. This is the greatest country this world has ever known and this is a difficult issue to resolve. We’ve resolved worse. We can do it again.

I have great faith in our nation’s ideals. The most important one in mind is the following, from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are CREATED EQUAL, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. (emphasis is mine).

Until we all feel that way about everyone, none of us are truly free. We will continue to be bound by the ugliness of what we’ve seen this last week in a little town in Missouri. My personal, American dream, naive though it may be, is to live in a country where this ugliness is one day permanently put behind us. Sadly, I’m not sure that dream will ever come true.

I will admit to a bit of apprehension about writing this.  This issue is such an inflammatory one anymore that I believe that there is no way to espouse any opinion without angering someone.  However, it’s weighed on my mind for so long now I have to put something down on paper.  I’m asking ahead of time for some patience.  Please read it through and hear me out.

In 1991, I was a 22 year old Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  There had been a debate going on in the paper about homosexuality in the military and I decided to put my two cents in.  Below is a small tidbit of what I said back then:

I have no particular love of homosexuality, but then I’m not a homosexual.  But, as I’ve worked with people who’ve been divorced, had sex before marriage and other activities, which the Bible states are wrong, I see no problem working with someone who is gay.  It’s not my job to take the place of God and judge anyone.  And, as much as the military would think it’s their right, it’s really none of their concern what a person does in his private life, especially if it’s done with another consenting adult.  Let God be God.  If it’s wrong, He’ll let them know.

Not the best worded opinion I’ve ever wrote, but I was pretty young.   However, I still feel this way.

As you might imagine, I received some flak from my immediate supervisor over this article.  (Keep in mind, this was several years before, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.)  The third to last sentence talks about how it’s none of the militiary’s business about this issue.  I was told I had no right to say this in a public forum as a member of the military. In fact, I was ordered to submit any future “opinions” I had to my supervisor before they were sent to the paper.  I may not like to admit this, but as arcane as that sounds, my supervisor was right.  I was in the military and like it or not, your freedom is limited to a degree when you serve.

I wrote this article because I had a very close friend in the Marines that was gay.  He was my first supervisor when I was stationed in North Carolina.  He got out of the military not long after that but we remained friends.  I cared for him and I saw the struggles he went through and it bothered me that he couldn’t just be who he was.  He had to keep it a secret the entire time he served our country and generally most of his adult life.  He struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction and I’m sure that his keeping this a secret was partly to blame.  Today, I don’t even know if this man is still alive.

So you might say that I have a somewhat libertarian view of homosexuality.  I’ve been raised in a faith and then chose a different faith as an adult in which both teach homosexuality is a sin.  I believe that to be true.  But, I also believe it’s not my place to interfere in what someone does in their personal life.  I believe in essence, “each to their own.”  I’ve known several people in my life that are gay and I really don’t care.  It’s their life.  It really, truly is none of my business.

That being said, I draw the line at when the tables are turned and now people who have a spiritual conviction against homosexuality are being told they must ignore their convictions and participate – in any way – in something they feel is sinful.

In both Kansas and in South Dakota there were laws that were debated this winter about protecting the right of a business owner from being sued if they refuse to provide a service to a same sex couple because of their religious convictions.  Both laws never completely made it through their states’ Congress and are now dead in the water.

This is probably a good thing – to a degree.  Both laws were too broad from what I can determine.  It seemed they could be used to allow firing of someone for being gay as well as allowing discrimination against same sex couples for pretty much anything.  All of that is wrong.

It does bring up some issues for me though.  Here are some of the things I think of and my thoughts on each.

Should a business owner be allowed to refuse service to a same sex couple?

If the service is done in regards to a religious ceremony – such as a wedding – then my opinion is yes, that business owner should be able to refuse service if they choose.  Telling a business owner that they are not allowed to have a religious conviction when they choose to go into business is absolutely foolish.  That’s like me asking you to cut off your toe before you go into your career field.  People’s religious convictions are a part of who they are.  You can’t turn that off and on.  If you can, then it’s not a true conviction.

I’ve heard people also argue that it is ok to say a preacher can’t be forced to marry a same sex couple but that a business owner isn’t afforded that same right?  Why?  Just because a person isn’t a preacher, that doesn’t mean they don’t have religious convictions similar to that preacher!  It just means the preacher chose to make his convictions into a career.   The business owner didn’t but his/her convictions are still a part of who they are every day.

So, if a business, such as a cake decorating company or a photography shop was asked to provide their service for a same sex wedding, they should be able to refuse – in my opinion.  But, that same company being asked to provide the same service outside of a wedding or other religious activity, should not be able to refuse the service, even if the people who requested it are gay.

Likewise, if any business is asked to perform a service that is not part of a religious ceremony, then I believe that business cannot refuse service when requested to do this by someone who is gay.  If you feel that strongly about keeping gay people out of your life, then honestly, you need to remove yourself from the public entirely.

Should a business owner be forced to refuse service to a same sex couple?

Absolutely not.  I’ve heard some say that the law that they tried to pass in South Dakota would have done this.  If so, it deserved to die.  What a ridiculous concept.

Should a gay person be allowed to be fired for being gay?

Again, no.  Seems odd that in the 21st century we even have to ask this question.  I truly thought that being gay was a protected status.  Recently, I learned otherwise and that shocked me.  It seems to me to be an arbitrary reason to fire someone.  It’s like firing someone because they like peanut butter and jelly.

As you can see my only real issue is tied to when a business owner is being required to ignore his/her convictions.  I believe that my thoughts on that  as described above could be a viable way to create a solution to the problem – but one voice like mine gets drowned out in the thunderous clamor of screams of “bigot!” and/or “sinner!” that seem to take up so much of this discussion.

I have to pause for a moment and talk about those two words, bigot and sinner.  These two words take up so much of any conversation on this topic that it is difficult to have a rational conversation with anyone anymore.

If you look at a person who has a religious conviction against homosexuality and with nothing more than that to go on call them a bigot, you are absolutely the same as the Westboro group that goes around preaching hate towards everyone.  Seriously.  It’s an inflammatory word that makes discussion impossible.

Likewise, if you look at someone who is either gay or believes homosexuality to be a normal part of life and call them a sinner with nothing more than that to go on, you are the same as the Westboro group as well.  Keep in mind, if you truly believe it’s a sin, you must believe we are all sinners, and that includes you so explain to me why you feel it’s your right to yell it into someone else’s face?

I believe we are on the cusp of a huge change in this country.  Because of the way people are approaching this issue, I truly believe any solution we come up with is going to hurt someone.  We seem bent on either two solutions:

  • Ignore a person’s right to have religious convictions against homosexuality.
  • Ignore a person’s right to live a homosexual life free from discrimination.

This makes me sad.  I think in as country as great as ours, that we should be able to come up with a more reasoned approach.  The older I get though, the more convinced I’m becoming that “reasoned approaches” are a thing of the past.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thirty one words.  Individually they seem rather harmless.  Two of them, put together cause many great concern.  The totality of them together, spoken of free will should provoke feelings of patriotism and love of country.  Yet, they seem destined to cause continued controversy in this wonderful country of ours.

Recently, the town I live in, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has come under national scrutiny because of these thirty-one words.  Before all this happened, the policy in this city was that grade school kids would say the Pledge each morning.  There was no policy to require Middle School kids to do it, but they were doing it.  High school kids have not done it for a very long time. 

Veterans had come before the school board and made a request that high school kids be required to say the Pledge.  The school board voted and declined to make this a requirement.  However, this was misreported, not just at a city level, but at a national one.  The report that had been given was that they changed the rule and that high school kids were no longer being required to say the Pledge.  This is not true.  They never were required to begin with.

The national news that picked this up and continued to misrepresent it at first was Fox News.  Now, I’m a conservative and I have watched Fox News off and on.  I tend to be dubious when liberals say Fox News is nothing but lies.  However, in all fairness, Fox News screwed up.  They ended up admitting this later on, but not before the damage was done.

What happened?  Well, apparently there were many people who are so patriotic and upset about the fact that the high school kids aren’t being forced to say a Pledge, they contacted members of the school board anonymously and issued death threats to them.  I say patriotic with a sense of sarcasm.  There is nothing patriotic with the issuing of death threats against people you disagree with.  None.  No excuse for it.  There is nothing that can be said that will make me think otherwise.

I’ve been giving this whole Pledge controversy some thought this week.  I personally, have no objection to the pledge.  Both my kids grew up in this school system and have said it every day while they were in grade school and middle school.  I think that’s fine.  I don’t object to it and I don’t object to the words “under God” in it either.

I also don’t object to not forcing the high school kids to do so either.  Since all this happened, the school system has done a survey and it appears a majority of the people who responded said they’d like to have high school kids say the Pledge.  Ok, fine, I don’t object to that either.  As long as it isn’t forced upon them.

Here’s where I tend to stray in my personal beliefs and some of hard core conservative or religious people.  We live in a huge melting pot of a society.  We are one of the few countries that has a wide variety of races, religious beliefs, etc interacting with each other on a daily basis.  Because of that, we have to be very careful about imposing what seems like a good thing to us for religious or other reasons that may violate another person’s perception of those same beliefs.

We have atheists in this country people.  It’s a fact.  There are people who don’t believe in God.  I am saddened by this, I personally don’t understand how you can look at the beauty of this world and not see the hand of God in it, but it’s a fact.  People don’t believe in Him.

We have people who do believe in Him, but in a different way than you might.  We have people, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who find it a violation of their beliefs to pledge allegiance to anything other than God.  It’s a different belief.  I don’t share it, but I can certainly respect it.

For this country to work, we have to be understanding of those differences.  I am constantly amazed by the people who think that we should put God into our schools.  I ask them, “Which one?” and since most people I know are Christian, I get, “The only one.  God.”  (For the record, I also believe He’s the only one.)  I follow that with, “Ok, say we then ignore all the people who don’t believe, or believe in Buddha, or Mohammed or those other Gods, which Christian faith do we bring in?  Catholicism?  Baptist?  Pentecostal?  Jehovah’s Witness?  Mormon?”

Most of the time, there isn’t a good answer to that.  I might occasionally get a “Well, all of them,” at which point I would argue that the school’s job is not to teach about every religion.  That’s not its place.  That should be done at home.

But ultimately, I am perfectly fine with religion being kept out of public schools.  It enables us to teach non-spiritual things in a manner that prevents an imposition of one or more people’s beliefs on others that simply do not share it.

The Pledge, while not exactly the same, is similar.  The Pledge, at its core, is simply about being a united group of people, pledging their allegiance to the flag and what it stands for.  That I stand firmly behind.  The phrase “under God” does not overtly concern me in this context, there’s more to those two words than “imposing faith” onto someone as some believe.

So, I would be fine with making time for the Pledge.  But only, if those who have an objection to saying it are allowed to refrain from doing so.  In fact, the Supreme Court has even ruled on this, and they have stated we can’t force anyone to say this Pledge.  But making time for it for those who want to is something I would not object to.

What I do object to though is the level of hate that was brought towards people who don’t agree with the idea of having the Pledge in the high school.  Their behavior was un-American.  If you don’t like a decision being made, find a legitimate way to fight it.  Issuing death threats from behind the anonymity of a telephone is not only un-American, it’s cowardly.

The last seven words of the Pledge state: indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. As the years go by, the word “indivisible” has been sorely tested in this country.  We are more and more a divided nation.  But those last six words have for the most part still rung true.  Liberty and justice for all, in a country of such varied beliefs can only come through an understanding of each other and NOT by the level of hate seen in my city the last few weeks.

We can do better than that.  Sioux Falls is a phenomenal city and a typical American one.  Let’s not let the cowardly behavior of a select few divide us and take away liberty and justice for everyone.