This blog entry is in response to this Daily Post prompt: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/overload-alert/

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein

Mel stopped abruptly by my desk, slightly out of breath and excitedly asked me, “Dude! Did you hear what happened?”

Inwardly, I groaned. I knew what was coming. “No, what’s going on?”

Senator Somhemmer! You haven’t heard? It’s everywhere! Twitter, Facebook, it’s even on LinkedIn!”

Well, don’t keep me in suspense, Mel! What is it?”

Mel’s face flushed with excitement as he prepared to tell me the story. “The Senator was at a college party the other night and was heard talking about planning to overtake the White House! He wants to start a revolution and throw the President out on his ear!”

I paused, momentarily trying to digest those words and make some sort of sense of them. “Mel. Slow down. That’s ridiculous! Let’s set the revolution part of the story aside for a moment. He was at a college party? A U.S. Senator? Does this even make sense to you?”

The chair to my right slowly turned around presenting Liam, one of my co-workers, who piped in, “Doug, it may sound weird, but it’s completely true.”

Really, Liam? How so?”

Liam turned back to his computer for a moment and brought up his Instagram account. “Check this out, my friend. I follow Renate Sadlow from the Daily Progressive on Instagram and she has pictures of the Senator at the college dorm from the same day!”

See, Doug! It’s all true!” Mel’s voice squeaked a bit as he pointed towards Liam’s computer screen.

Guys. Look at that picture. See the window he’s standing by? Does it look like it is dark to you? How many parties have you gone to in the middle of the afternoon? Where are all the other students? He standing on a stage, giving a speech, not planning a revolt at some frat party!”

My two co-workers just smirked at each other and turned back to me. Liam, as if he was talking to a young child, continued, “Doug, you really need to pay more attention to what’s going on in the world. There’s no way Renate Sadlow would have a picture on her Instagram account unless it was legitimate.”

I started to respond when Mel interrupted, “Plus, there’s more!”

Do tell, Mel.”

Mel walked over to Liam’s computer, “Mind if I check something, Liam?” Liam gave an affirmative nod and moved out of Mel’s way. Mel logged on to Twitter and brought up his account.

Check this out, Doug. I follow @Politics101 who follows @I_Hate_Libs who follows @ProgressivesRUs who follows @SSIntern! @SSIntern, Doug! @SSIntern!”

Am I supposed to know who that is?”

Mel rolled his eyes. “S.S.? Don’t you think that means ‘Senator Somhemmer’? As in the intern of Senator Somhemmer?”

Mel, even if that’s who that is, so what?”

Dude! She’s got a link to a recording of the night of the party!”

I sighed, knowing I couldn’t win. “Ok, let’s hear it.”

Mel bent over and clicked the link. A garbled recording began. There were several voices, each one seemingly intent on being louder than the other. Towards the end of record, a voice could be heard screaming, “We must fight! For the right! To pa…” and then the recording stops.

Mel and Liam looked at me expectantly. “Guys, I don’t get it.” I told them simply.

It was Liam’s turn to roll his eyes. “Didn’t that sound like the Senator?”

Dude, I don’t know. It didn’t sound like anybody to me. It sounded like someone singing the lyrics to an old Beastie Boys song.”

I could tell the two were getting annoyed. Mel tried one more time, “Doug, I have one more thing I can show you.”

I can hardly wait.”

He ignored me and opened up his Pinterest page. There on the right side was a t-shirt with the picture of the Senator that Liam had showed me earlier. Underneath was the caption: “We must Fight!”

See Doug? It’s right there, in black and white, on Pinterest!” Liam exclaimed.

Well, if it’s on Pinterest, it must be true, I guess.” With that, I walked away, leaving the two to ponder the wisdom of those words.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Posted by Doug White under Personal

I enjoy being around kids. Not always of course, they can be trying at times, but generally speaking I like spending time with them. My own daughters have been one of the best things that have ever happened in my life. I’ve loved watching them grow up and even though the teenage years have had their share of turmoil, I am not looking forward to the day where they each walk out that door on whatever path God puts them on.

Between my wife’s family and mine, I have eleven nieces and nephews, ranging in age from five to twenty-three, each of them unique and brimming with their own personalities. I have different relationships with each of them, but I care for them all very deeply.

I try very hard not to have a “favorite”. I love each of these kids and any time I spend with any of them is very special to me. But, I’m human and I have to admit, I do have one that I just seem to have a closer relationship to than the others. It’s my nephew Kyle.

I know that many will think that they know why I have a closer relationship with Kyle after the next four words. Kyle has Down’s Syndrome. “Well, of course, he’s your favorite, he’s handicapped.” you might think. And you may be right. Regardless, he and I are pretty close and I hope we always will be.

Kyle has been on my mind a lot in the last few weeks, specifically because the subject of Down’s Syndrome became a focus of a controversy recently. Richard Dawkins, scientist and author of a book disgustingly titled, “The God Delusion” came under fire for telling a woman – via Twitter – that the moral thing to do if she found out she was pregnant with a baby that had Down’s would be to abort it.

After being the receiver of quite a bit of understandable anger from people after this happened, he tried to justify his comments by arguing that he was talking about a fetus and not a person who is alive. Which even if I bought the argument that a fetus is not a person – and I don’t – his argument misses the point entirely.

Taking his argument at face value – if the “moral” thing to do is to abort a Down’s Syndrome baby, then the “immoral” thing to do is to allow it to be born. This indicates that he believes that all woman who don’t abort their Down’s Syndrome babies are by his definition, immoral. This isn’t just twisted logic, it’s flat out evil.

I remember when Kyle was born, in the spring of 2000. He was the second grand-kid on my side of the family, my oldest daughter being the first. My wife, daughter and I lived in Marshall, Minnesota at the time and drove to Lincoln, Nebraska so we could see this new baby that entered into our lives.

I remember going to my sister and her husband’s house that weekend and spending time holding Kyle and doing the traditional “oohing” and “aahing” everyone does over a newborn. Then, they sat us down, with my Mother, and shared the news. Kyle had Down’s Syndrome. I remember being in shock as I heard my brother-in-laws voice break. I’d never seen him that emotional before.

That night, I went to bed sad. I was sad for my sister. I was sad for her husband. But most of all, I was sad for Kyle. I had worked with mentally handicapped adults while in college. I saw the struggles they went through. I laid on my pillow and wondered what kind of life Kyle was going to have.

Not long after Kyle was born, he had to undergo heart surgery. Down’s Syndrome kids tend to have some issues with their hearts and Kyle was no exception. Fortunately, he pulled through that surgery very well and to this date, has not had any further serious health issues.

As the years went by, we’d come to Lincoln regularly and I quickly stopped worrying about what kind of life Kyle was going to have and started marveling at what a fantastic nephew I had. Incredibly outgoing, loving and so full of energy, he never stopped making me smile when I saw him. It’s an ongoing joke in the family, that although it’s been said that Down’s Syndrome people are very laid back and relaxed, that someone forgot to tell Kyle this! He is as energetic and playful as any of the other kids in the family.

Kyle is a very athletic young man. He’s played soccer, baseball and basketball and has held his own with kids very close to his age. He’s played in his school band for years and this year is a part of their marching band. He struggles to speak coherently, but he can read and write and academically is doing very well in school.

Kyle is not perfect. Having Down’s has not made Kyle faultless. He is at heart, a very typical boy. A perfect example happened recently. He took a picture of his sister, got onto his mother’s Facebook account and posted it, saying, “This is a picture of my stupid sister”. I bring this up, not to indicate that I think he did something awesome. I bring it up because it was sort of obnoxious, and if I would have had Facebook as a young boy, I probably would have done the exact same thing at some point. Because kids are wonderful and they can also be wonderfully obnoxious. Kyle is no exception to this. (For the record, his sister is far from stupid. But that’s a story for another day.)

I love this kid and although I don’t see him near often enough, I enjoy every minute I do with him. After the Richard Dawkins story, I had a strong urge to go visit my family in Lincoln and I hoped to get some quality time with Kyle. His brother was celebrating his birthday and wanted to go see a football movie. I’m not a big sports fan but I like movies so I went with them, their parents and another nephew of mine. Kyle sat next to me and I watched him, watching the movie. Which probably seems silly. But I watched him as the movie showed something he liked and how he would smile and silently clap. He got more out of that movie than anyone else in that theater. I’m sure of it.

Kyle is never going to be President. He’s not going to be super famous or become a neurosurgeon or something equally significant. However, neither am I. Kyle is going to be ordinary. Just like pretty much every one else I know and care about. This is not only ok, it’s absolutely wonderful. I hope I get to spend a lot of years watching him be ordinary. This would make me very happy. Kyle’s existence was not an “immoral” choice. It was the most moral thing that could have ever been done.

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.