No Longer Can We Hear the Words ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and Do Nothing

George_Floyd_Memorial_Lorie Shaull

Mourners remember George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photo by Lorie Shaull, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

Tears

“Black America feels like it cannot breathe,” said Trymaine Lee, Host of NBC’s Into America podcast in a CNN interview.

On the same channel, Brooke Baldwin wept. “I’m so angry, and I cannot even begin….” As Andrea Jenkins, who represents Mr. Floyd’s ward on City Council, said, “What sparks so much outrage, is that there seemed no regard to humanity or for human life.”

And Bakari Sellers, author of My Vanishing Country, in another CNN interview sobbed as he said, “There’s so much pain…. It’s hard to be black in this country when your life is not valued. And people are worried about the protesters and the looters. It’s people who are frustrated, who for far too long have not had their voices heard.”

“It’s not an isolated incident. It is a continuum of cases and situations that has been going on for decades…. These are just chapters in a book. And the title of the book is ‘Continuing Injustice and Inequality in America.’ That’s why the outrage. It’s not about one situation. It’s about the same situation happening again and again and again and again.” Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York. He pointed out the systemic racism that has led to more minorities being affected by COVID-19 than anyone else. “Nobody sanctions the violence and destruction, he said, “but the protests, the fear, the anger, and frustration, yes. And they demand is for justice…. How repugnant to the concept of America.”

The sentiments of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy were similar. “George Floyd should be alive today—not just as a matter of principle or justice, but as a matter of human dignity,” he said. “Too many times, we’ve gotten a national wake-up call and done nothing. Justice for George means acknowledging our nation’s centuries-old stain of racism.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden held a briefing. “No longer can we hear the words ‘I can’t breathe’ and do nothing,” he said, adding that what happened to George Floyd was “an act of brutality so elemental … it denied him of his humanity, it denied him of his life.” It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound.

And yet…

One politician, the President, however, had a different view. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Donald Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, May 29. And he added, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter called the tweet out, adding that it violated the platform’s fules about glorifying violence.  Furthermore, the New York Times pointed out that the statement was unattributed quote of Walter Headley, Miami’s police chief in 1967, threatening citizens who were upset that police had terrorized a black teenager by holding him over a bridge.

 

A Gentle Giant

Christopher Harris, a close friend, remembered George Floyd as a gentle giant. “…You see he was like a big, soft teddy bear.”

“I’m never going to get my brother back,” said his brother, Philonise Floyd.

Like Bakari Sellers, mom and blogger Georgina Dukes thought about what the tragedy will mean for her young child. “When my beautiful black boy grows from cute to a threat” She spoke of having the Talk. “I wish I didn’t have to have this conversation with my brilliant son.”

 

We Can No Longer Do Nothing

Said John Pavlovitz in his blog, Stuff that Needs to Be Said, “As a white person, I am grieving how prolific the white hatred of people of color is right now, but more than that I’m grieving how comfortable white Americans have all made it, the unimpeded path we’ve provided it, the way we’ve cooperated with it.”

So, we must act. “It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets,” said Michelle Obama. “I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.”

Among them: Amadou Diallou, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor.

Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo had that dialogue. “And when [white people] see everyday racism, they don’t stand up for it. Imagine how that feels to people of color in this country,” said CNN host Don Lemon. “The only word I can use it ‘hurt.’ It all hurts. This is why Colin Kaepernick took a knee. That’s why people are protesting.” This, as Mr. Lemon pointed out, is in stark contrast with those groups shouting in state capitols, white guys who are armed, heavily armed. “I am so sick, as a person of color, a black man… my actions, whatever I do is seen as being more aggressive or somehow sinister, just because of this shell that I am in. I am sick of it…. And that is how people of color feel in this country.

Among “75 things white people can do for racial justice,” are organizations to join, African-American businesses to patronize, civil-rights charities to support, and issues to follow. And a storyteller offers ideas on how white people can be allies, such as important books to read to become more knowledgeable on institutional racism—and being an empathetic listener.

Four excellent organizations fighting systemic racism:

 

Seven must-read books addressing systemic racism:

  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
  • Ta-Nihisi Coates, Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power
  • Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
  • Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy
  • Ibrahim X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
  • Patrice Khan Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist, reviewed in this blog previously

    More books can be found in this article in British Vogue.

    If you are buying a copy of any these books, please go to Bookshop.org and support a struggling independent bookseller.

 

Other things you can do:

Black Lives Matter has produced a comprehensive list. Please take a look. And there is Anguish and Action, The Obama Foundation

 

Not being a bystander – speaking out:

Moreover, as I discussed earlier, everyone must speak out when they see or hear any kind of bigotry. To recap review the Southern Poverty Law Center’s four-step model:

  1. Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
  2. Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
  3. Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
  4. Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful.

Observing Memorial Day During the Pandemic

First, I reflect on my gratitude for the tens of thousands of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives so we can live in this great country.

Gratitude. If Memorial Day and this pandemic have taught us anything, it is gratitude.

So, today I have been at a loss as I strolled through my community today and could hear large numbers of people partying during a pandemic, the benefits of prudence and courtesy of social distancing dispensed with. Then, there were the pictures and videos of large crowds at the shore, in lakes and swimming pools, and at parks.

As is often the case, it is a child who has the best answer. Indeed, my fellow blogger, Ryland’s Newspaper published an excellent perspective. So, over to him….

Ryland's Newspaper

Crowds at Newport Beach, California. Photo: 24 May 2020
Newport Beach, California

Today is Memorial Day in the US! Many Americans consider Memorial Day weekend the start of summer and go to parties, go to the beach and hang out with friends. But due to Covid-19, we are supposed to practice social distancing and wear masks in even a small crowd.

Lots of people are following the rules but unfortunately some people aren’t. In Florida, hundreds of people were gathered at Daytona Beach on Saturday. In Missouri, bars at the Lake of Ozarks were packed with people. And in California, huge crowds of people gathered at Newport Beach. As you can see in the picture, none of these people are practicing social distancing and most of them are not even wearing masks!

So why is this a problem? Well, Dr. Deborah Birx, the US coronavirus task force chief said, “We really want to be clear all the time that…

View original post 132 more words

A Loss Beyond Numbers, a Loss Beyond Words

NYT 100 000

 

“An incalculable loss.” That’s the headline on today’s New York Times. The rest of the page are the names of Americans who have died of COVID-19. (You can read about everything behind the project here.) Just words, no picture. Rather, these words, these names are the pictured. Yet, the 1,000 deaths on the cover and page 12, 13, and 14 are less than one percent of the total. An average of more than 1,100 a day.

 

Say their names. It’s a long-honored tradition in Judaism. The World Holocaust Center in Jerusalem is called Yad Vashem. It means “a memorial and a name.” The names of the Holocaust victims are remembered by name. Every year on September 11, the nearly 3,000 names of the victims are read aloud. The 2,400 deaths at Pearl Harbor was a day that would live in infamy. A columnist in the Boston Globe in 2016 urged everyone to say the names of the African Americans murdered by racial violence.

 

The additional cruelty of COVID-19 is that we cannot hug one another, be there in person to offer support.

 

President Trump has declared that the United States will have done a “very good job” if the death toll from coronavirus is 100,000 or fewer as he extended the shutdown by at least a month. That was on March 31, two weeks before Easter Sunday, when he wanted the country “opened up and raring to go.”

 

Even more sobering, Nicholas Kristof cited research in his May 13 column that the 100,000 marker had already been passed.

 

And how do we remember the many people mourning for each one of these 100,000? How do we remember the many people who risked their lives to save countless others from being added to this tally?

 

John Pavolovitz asked how we grieve 100,000 souls. So, yes, when we say their names, we honor the dead. But it is up to all of us to honor these each by doing our part. We choose to wear a mask, because we choose to say and show we care. We do so by being better human beings.

Bearing Witness, Children Create Newspapers

Maly Przegelad

As difficult as the current pandemic is for adults to comprehend, one can only imagine what it must be like for children. To help and inform children two large papers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, created a section for and by their youngest audience.

 

Washington Post

Back in April 2000, the Washington Post conceived of its own section for and by children, KidsPost. With the current pandemic, children everywhere are asking questions, such as what will end the the quarantine and what social distancing is. (The previous post described three world leaders answering the questions and concerns of children.)

To mark the 20th anniversary of KidsPost, the editors profiled 12 children “from around the world who have noticed problems in their communities or countries and are working to solve them.” Continues Christina Barron, KidsPost editor, “They have fostered abandoned kittens, collected eyeglasses for those who can’t afford them and created artwork for the apartments of people moving out of homelessness. And they have raised awareness of countless issues, including hunger, gun violence and bullying.” The twelve are the following:

  • Shana Grant, Washington, DC. Gun control and nonviolence
  • Kauã Rodolfo, Brazil. Environmental awareness
  • Maimouna Ndiaye, Mali. Girls in programming
  • William Winslow, California. Childhood hunger
  • Haaziq Kazi, India. Ocean trash
  • Genesis Butler, California. Animal rights
  • Naudia Greenwalt and Linkin Eger, Wisconsin. Childhood cancer
  • Sidney Keys III, Illinois. Enhancing literacy among boys
  • Milena Radoytseva, Bulgaria. Improving online behavior
  • Demetri Sideva, Florida. Protecting Tampa Bay waterways
  • Alice Imbastari, Italy. Picking up trash

 

Children’s Newspapers

Adrian GrycukTablica_Mały_przegląd_Pałac_Mostowskich_Nowolipki

This plaque commemorates Maly Przeglad, the newspaper for and by children that Janusz Korczak started. Photo by Adrian Grycuk, in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most remarkably, KidsPost featured newspapers that children themselves have started. “There’s little chance you will forget the home quarantine of 2020. But the details will fade over time—unless you create something that lasts. Kids around the country are doing just that by making their own newspapers,” the authors say. “They’ve become reporters, photographers, editors, art directors, and even cartoonists. And they are doing what good journalists do: keeping their communities (or maybe just their families) informed and entertained.” The young creators discuss what they can do during the quarantine, find humor in writing about their siblings, advocate the purchase of fair-trade chocolate, tell about caring for a pet. One writer went a step further, creating a news website, Ryland’s Newspaper, with news, comics, and puzzles. This page is honored to follow this remarkable publication.

Their contributions offer a ray of positivity and hope. I am reminded of the efforts of Janusz Korczak (1878-1942). A Polish pediatrician and orphanage director who dedicated himself to the rights and dignity of children, he founded a newspaper, Mały Przegląd (Little Review), written and produced by children. Just as children are learning from caring adults, adults themselves can learn a lot by listening to the voices of children!

 

The New York Times

The former, for its Sunday, May 14, 2017, edition, created a special section, New York Times for Kids. Although the section has pieces by professional writers, Caitlin Roper, a school teacher who conceived the idea, “wanted to make sure to feature children’s voices, too … It captures where kids are at and what they’re caring about.” For the second edition, which appeared November, the paper hired its first junior columnist, Harper Ediger. To this day, the section comes with a warning: “Editors Note: This section should not be read by grown-ups!” Starting 2018, the Times for Kids became a monthly feature. It’s entertaining and informative. And, yes, there are fart jokes.

In This Time of Crisis, Three World Leaders Give Children a Voice

children have a voice Easter Bunny is essential

Children have a voice. And they need to express that voice and caring adults who listen.

In his orphanage, Janusz Korczak created a Children’s Court. There, the students upheld the school’s constitution by acting as judge and jury of their peers. Even if the court comprised only teachers and administrators, the message would have been the responsibility to the community. With the children themselves acting in these roles, it was they who led in maintaining their community.

Fred Rogers was another beloved figure who took children—what they said and how they felt – seriously. He related to their fears, concerns, and sadness in everyday situations. And he addressed frightened children publicly during times of profound crisis: in 1968, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on live TV; in 2001, with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The heads of state of three countries, Norway, New Zealand, and Finland have followed these examples.

 

Norway

Prime Minister Erna Solberg in March 2020 held a press conference to address the worries of children in her country. “Many children think it is scary,” Ms Solberg said, “It is okay to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.” She reminded children that they are not at high risk of suffering major ill effects, but they can play an important part to protect older people and others who are vulnerable. She held a second telecast in April, after which she answered questions, such as when they would be able to visit their grandparents again. Norway has national day, May 17, as a celebration of children.

 

New Zealand

Declaring the Easter Bunny an essential worker, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern ensured that springtime would still hold magic for her country’s children. Even before then, in March, the Prime Minister convened a conference to address the fears of children. “Kids ask a lot of questions most of the time, and right now they understandably have plenty about COVID-19,” said the Prime Minister. Accompanying her was a child-development specialist, Dr. Michelle Dickinson. “The kids just had questions about the virus, how they are transmitted, how to keep their grandparents safe, how does soap work,” she said.

 

Finland

On Friday, April 24, the Government of Finland, comprising Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Minister of Education Li Andersson, and Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen, dedicated a time to answer from children ages 7 to 12. They have many concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. What does the pandemic mean? When can we go back to school? What about those of us graduating?

This is Finland’s National Child Strategy. Based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), itself inspired by the teachings of Janusz Korczak, the initiative sets out to “formulate a vision for a child and family-friendly Finland that spans government terms and crosses administrative boundaries. The Child Strategy will be based on information and research evidence, and it will promote the implementation of the CRC.”

In this time of crisis, three world leaders gave children a voice. What did they have in common? They were all women. And back in March, for the sake of the children of America, our future, I hoped, I thought a woman would be next… to be our next leader.

 

Addendum: The New York Times on Friday, May 1, published an editorial recognizing three outstanding leaders. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand is one of them. The others are Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. All three are women.

We Are Much Better with Immigrants than Without

Lady Liberty

 

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens. I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”

That’s what Donald J. Trump said in a tweet yesterday. This is yet another attempt by the current administration to use immigrants as a scapegoat, under the pretense of acting in the interest of public health. Speaking out against all forms of bigotry is a moral imperative. The following letter to the president explains why barring persons seeking to immigrate is a false narrative. Please feel free to copy the letter. (You will need to leave out the cited sources, as there is not enough space in the form.) As anyone who has written on behalf of Amnesty International knows, when writing to a head of state or elected official, it is very important to maintain a respectful tone.

 

Donald J. Trump
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

It was with grave concern I learned about your considering an Executive Order to close the United States to legal immigration. Most Americans are rightly worried about the novel coronavirus. However, if COVID-19 were the true reason for your action, a 14-day quarantine of persons entering the country would surely be the reasonable policy. This Executive order, therefore, strongly suggests that it is an anti-immigration policy, not public-health policy.

Reliable sources attest to the fact that immigrants are a net benefit to the country. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (2015), for each one immigrant, 1.2 jobs are created. An earlier NB.E.R. study (2010) finds that rather than costing American jobs, immigration “reduces the share of off-shored jobs.” Researchers at the Brookings Institute cite “…while immigrants represent about 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of entrepreneurs and a quarter of investors in the U.S.” Even the Cato Institute, a conservative organization, attests that “There are also enough differences between the skills of immigrants and natives, that most native-born workers’ wages end up going up. Almost all Americans workers are better off with immigration than without.”

I, therefore, urge you, Mr. President, to consider the net positive contributions immigrants bring to America and not pursue your Executive Order.

 

Sources:

Hoban, B. (2017). “Do Immigrants ‘Steal’ Jobs from American Workers?” Brookings Now.  Online at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2017/08/24/do-immigrants-steal-jobs-from-american-workers/

Hong, G. & McLaren, J. (2015). “Are Immigrants a Shot in the Arm for the Local Economy?”  NBER Working Paper, No. 21123. https://www.nber.org/papers/w21123.pdf

Lewis, E. (2017). “How Immigration Affects Workers: Two Wrong Models and One Right One.” Cato Journal, Vol. 37. No. 3, 461-472. https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2017/9/cato-journal-v37n3-3.pdf

Moobarak, A.M. (2017). “Does Immigration Create Jobs?” Yale Insights. Online at: https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/does-immigration-create-jobs

Ottaviano, G, Peri G. & Wright G. (2010). “Immigration, Offshoring and American Jobs.” NBER Working Paper, No. 16439. https://www.nber.org/papers/w16439

761 Days at Home in Hiding

Anne_Frank_House_Model_AlexisIsrael

This model shows the annex, where Anne Frank and seven others spent 761 days in hiding. The secret annex could be reached only behind a sliding bookshelf, on the second level, as shown in the center of the model. Photo by Alexisrael, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

“I wander from one room to the next, down the stairs and back up again and feel like a songbird that has had its wings torn off and flies against the bars of its cage in total darkness,” wrote Anne Frank in her diary. Her Sunday, October 29, 1943, continues: “Outside, fresh air and laughter, a voice inside me screams; I don’t even try to answer anymore, I lie down on a divan and sleep in order to shorten the time, the silence,  the terrible fear too, because there is no question of killing them.”

 

For Anne, boredom was not the only challenge she faced. From July 6, 1942, though August 3, 1944, the group faced the ever-present terror of being discovered by the Nazis and deported to the concentration and death camps. “Why do I always think and dream the most awful things and want to scream in terror,” wrote Anne on Dec 29, 1943. A typical day in the annex began at 6:45 a.m. and ended with sundown, when the windows had to be blacked out. Each morning, everyone had to keep quiet until 9:00 a.m., when the workers arrived. Even the slightest sound before then could give them away.

 

Now, in 2020, those of us in hour homes can take an interactive virtual tour of the Anne Frank House. The museum nowadays itself is largely empty of furnishings. The details were reconstructed on a set in 1999.

 

Back in the 1940s, there was no internet, no video calls. There were no movies or TV series to stream. Radio was the family’s connection to the world at large. And radio was very much a luxury then. Before the Franks went into hiding, they were forced to surrender their set. “It’s a pity we have to turn in our big Philips, but when you’re in hiding, you can’t afford to bring the authorities down on your heads,” Anne wrote on June 15, 1943. “Of course, we’ll put the ‘baby’ radio upstairs. What’s a clandestine radio when there are already clandestine Jews and clandestine money?”

 

As we know, Anne had another way to pass the time and create something in the process. “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate,” she wrote on March 16, 1944.

 

On March 28, 1944, Anne found an additional purpose for her diary. While listening to the radio, the people in hiding heard Minister Gerrit Bolkestein’s appeal from London. He urged the Dutch to keep to important documents, so that it would be clear after the war what they all had experienced during the German occupation.

 

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

 

That entry was on July 15, 1944, barely two weeks before her last, on August 1944.