My Post-Election Night Thoughts

I woke up this morning firmly in the icy-cold grip of an ominous fog of helplessness, the same disturbing sensation so many others across the country felt as well. Upset with myself, I wondered aloud how I could fail to fully realize how imminently possible a Presidency backed by hate and oppression was. There was no longer anything I could do in my power to prevent a future America backed by intolerance, and I was quick to blame myself for not doing more in the first place.

However, I quickly reminded myself that there is little one person can do that could present a devastating catastrophe on the national scale like the one we bore witness to Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Besides, there is no time for assigning blame or justifying fault.

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Photo by Brian “BT” Twitty Photography

It is my belief that fear of the unknown is the strongest motivating emotion in human existence. I usually use the same example to illustrate this: If someone tells you to do ten push ups, you do ten push ups and then you’re done. No worries. Now imagine someone tells you to start doing push ups until they say stop. Gets a bit more dicey then, doesn’t it? With each consecutive push up, the uncertainty of your directive doesn’t allow for you to relax, making the aches and sores in your shoulder that much more difficult to ignore.

Fear of the unknown is exactly what had me worried the most today. Fear of what will happen to my friends and family that aren’t straight white males. Fear of what regressive policies will do to the Earth’s already fragile and wounded environment. Fear of what a pro-ignorance Presidency will do to an economy that is just beginning to see the light of day again. Fear of what Russian influence and Vladimir Putin could have on a bombastic yet morally weak and easily manipulated leadership.

This cloudy uncertainty is the feeling that is hitting me the hardest at this moment. Will we start rounding up all those who don’t fit a certain profile and send them to modern day concentration camps? It wasn’t all that long ago we did exactly that to Japanese Americans, back in the day when the new leadership constantly reminds us that America was supposedly great. Will free speech be banished and replaced by a state-sponsored system of propaganda? Will a Gestapo-like force knock on my door one night to make sure I’m not protecting people of color? Will it be determined that I have just enough color (and an odd enough last name) in me to be the person the Gestapo is looking for? Just like I’m not sure when I have to stop doing push ups, I’m not sure when I might need to go into a Hunger Games-like mode of survival.

Fear and uncertainty, however, cannot win.

Despite having a person that epitomizes all that I stand against in the greatest single position of power in this country, I still have the power to put positive energy into this world, and no one can take that from me. I still have the power in me to stand up for what I believe is right. I still have the power to set a positive example in my community, at a time when it is needed the most. I still have the power to stand firmly against the persecution of my friends and family. I still have the power to become more educated and, in turn, help educate others. I still have the power, while there is still a single breath in my lungs, to speak truth to power, and hold accountable those who seek to oppress, diminish or marginalize anyone in my community. I still have the power to volunteer for causes and the money to donate to charities. I still have the power to create art and music and share it with the world. I still have the power to make positive contributions to my neighbors and my society, for building a stronger foundation of knowledge and respect is how I, personally, can make a difference in the face of seemingly impenetrable hate. I still have the power to do all of these things, and no one, certainly not an elected official, can ever take that away from me.

I’m trying my best to remain confident and optimistic that our state of affairs seems much more bleak than what will actually transpire. Regardless, now is the time to stand tallest and most proud of who we are, and to lift up those around us. We are at our strongest when we are together, and we will overcome whatever uncertainty we may face.

This is a new reality. As painful as it may be, it’s one in which we will be forced to become the best possible versions of ourselves, and maybe that’s not as bad as it seems.

In One Week I Saw the Spectrum of Human Emotion Play Out In The Streets: Part II

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Wednesday night of the protest. Less than a block and less than an hour from the spot where Justin Carr was shot

An all too familiar scene unfolded, one that I had only been exposed to through social media in other, far more remote and flawed cities. As if to make sure there was no confusion to the point, another unarmed black man was shot dead in the streets. This time, in my seemingly picture-perfect and socially insulated home city of Charlotte.

This incident, the killing of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of the Charlotte Mecklenburg PD, played out not unlike most other highly (and not-so-highly) publicized instances of police brutality. A lone, unarmed black man encounters a group of police officers who, despite outnumbering him, fear for their own lives and react with the swift pull of a trigger. Four shots ring out and in an instant, seven kids are without their father, a wife without her husband, and the strange fruit that once hung from a tree is now lying in a pool of blood in an apartment parking lot.

The date was Tuesday, September 20. Mere hours after I had felt an inescapable sense of community with a group of strangers whose only common bond was the love of life, another group of strangers would be bound together in the streets by an inescapable sense of fear and anger under the ominous specter of unjustified death. The universal joy and happiness was replaced by a cold and bitter, yet all too familiar feeling of hopelessness.

Just a few hours after those fateful four shots were fired, protests erupted in the area. Fueled by the countless images of violence and bloodshed that the black community had been cruelly exposed to for what seems like an eternity, tensions had reached a boiling point. Like a fire hydrant that had been burst open, the streets of northeast Charlotte furiously flooded with people who had enough. A spontaneous burst of emotion that could no longer be quelled manifested itself in hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who had no more patience for silent hope. An unorganized but intensely passionate protest raged through the night, even blocking part of I85 during the early hours of the morning.

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Police in riot gear march down Trade Street towards College Ave.

Over the next several days, the protests would continue. Wednesday and Thursday night saw the flame fanned into uncontrollable rioting in Uptown, resulting in the calling of state police, the SWAT team and National Guard. The governor of North Carolina called a state of emergency. The mayor of Charlotte signed a curfew order. The blood of another innocent black man, Justin Carr, was spilled on the same sidewalks I stroll by on a daily basis on my way to lunch.

Several of these nights I witnessed this surreal scene for myself. Streets blocked off by Humvees. Lines of riot police blocking other streets in gear that seemed more at home in Fallujah than Mecklenburg County. The unmistakable smell of tear gas in the air. The deafening bang of stun grenades. Protesters with signs, chants and makeshift gas masks fashioned out of t-shirts. Blocked highways. Shattered windows and store fronts. Blood-smeared police wagons. Helicopters circling above. Young girls not old enough to fully understand what’s happening crying in front of city council. Grainy and shaky video of the catalyst incident was dissected over and over Zapruder-style after an awkward wait for it’s release.

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Blood on the police van

The emotional makeup of the city was as scattered and fragmented as it had ever been. Besides the vitriol of the protesters, others experienced emotional reactions that were reflected, perhaps rooted in, who they were at their core. Some people condemned protesters for lashing out at their own community. Some people lamented the fact that their previously pristine city was being portrayed as chaotic in the national news. Many grappled with an internal struggle that came to terms when they were forced to acknowledge a side of the city that they had tried so hard to dismiss. Others saw it as an opportunity to create chaos without repercussion, or a chance to live out a voyeuristic fantasy. For some, it was finally their time to be heard.

All of this played out in the streets. Groups of people who were previously strangers connected by an intangible force, moving in unison. The parallels to what I saw a week earlier in Atlanta were uncanny, except with wildly different emotions.

In one week, I saw the spectrum of human emotion play out in the streets.

Durham Lawyer Reveals What Systematic Racism Looks Like

I love Twitter.

Twitter is the social platform that speaks to me and my ADHD-addled brain the most. Information flying in and out at real-time speed, 140 characters forces you to say something important/funny/profound in a concise manner, the occasional opportunity for notoriety, and stream-of-consciousness thoughts that can only be captured by Twitter’s ease of use.

That last factor is what brings me to today’s post. Yesterday, amid the perpetual swirling of a chaotic and confusing discussion about race relations (ignited by Black History Month, the CIAA, the LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance and general southern racial tensions), a friend of mine and former counsel T. Greg Doucette (@greg_doucette) had apparently had enough.

A criminal defense lawyer by trade, Greg routinely handles cases from the trenches. Robberies, assaults, drug possession etc. So it’s no surprise that he sees first hand on a daily basis what the effects are on a community when the legal system (whether actively or implicitly) works against that community.

Yesterday, a case involving a client produced an all-too familiar scene, one that he could no longer keep quiet about. Here, I present his series of 40-some tweets (with Greg’s permission, of course) that tell a story that is hidden from the eyes of the public, but one that rings true for so many.

(I’ve edited his words for continuity, grammar and punctuation, but his words are verbatim otherwise. See the entire thread in it’s original form here)

I get asked – often – if I hate police. I don’t.

I look at “police” generally like I look at teachers. When a teacher decides to rape a student, we don’t demonize all teachers. Same with teachers who are woefully inept at teaching. But, at the same time, no sane person denies there are teacher-rapists and teachers who suck at their job. I view police the same; I’m willing to take a leap of faith and assume you’re competent, until you prove otherwise.

Soooooo that brings me to court today.

Client is a 17 year-old black male, “YBM” in defense lawyer parlance. My YBM is charged with reckless driving to endanger, a very serious offense. He’s terrified. Cried in my office explaining the situation. He insisted he was just trying to avoid an animal that darted into the road, and swerved to the right. I pull the shuck, and read the officer’s narrative of what happened:

“Neighbor saw driver doing donuts in street, nearly hit wife. Skid marks show clear 360° circles. Driver claimed he was trying to avoid hitting cat.”

Re-read that: “clear 360° circles”.

Thankfully (how fucking sad is it that “thankfully” is the appropriate word here?) his mom didn’t trust the officer, and took pictures which she kept and sent to me (most of which were useless. People take pictures of a lot of useless shit when they’re terrified, by the way).

Now go back and re-re-read: “Clear. 360°. Circles.”

What. The actual. Fuck.

Do I hate police? No. I hate raging incompetent cowboys with badges financed by my tax money who clearly haven’t had an eye exam recently.

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻)

The DA was kind enough to dismiss the case without putting up a fight. My YBM client’s family is out what they paid me. Client himself is traumatized. And basis for police mistrust gets a fresh exhibit. While the officer who (wrongfully) charged him – and pretty clearly lied on official court documents – will face *0* repercussions.

This is what police brutality looks like. It’s not just people having their rights violated and the shit kicked out of them. It’s an innocent 17 year-old black kid trying to be a good human being and not running over a cat getting thrown headlong into our court system. It’s having to come up with money you don’t have, to defend yourself against charges that shouldn’t have been filed. And recognizing that – but for photographs that someone had the foresight to take immediately – you’d have been convicted based solely on the word of a law enforcement officer who swore an oath to serve and protect who then lied to the court with impunity.

The state doesn’t care of course. For every one case dismissed, hundreds more plead guilty. Court costs are $188 and up apiece. A day’s worth of traffic cases can finance an ADA’s salary for a year. Likewise for a clerk or judge.

Guess what that means for legislators? They can cut preexisting court funding and put it somewhere where it’ll buy them more votes. So you’ve got a court system that ends up somehow being underfunded despite charging a shitload of money for minor offenses; police rerouting more and more people (predominantly young and black) into the court system, patting themselves on the back (all for protecting us from eeeeeevil 17 year-old YBMs trying not to hit cats while driving). While the politicians fiddle as their constituents burn, because people naively assume things like this would never happen.

Welcome to the clusterfuck that is our criminal justice system. I filed to run for the State Senate because of this bullshit.

It doesn’t matter if you put an R or a D or a U beside your name – this is wrong.

Sorry for taking up your timeline. For reasons I still don’t understand, I’m *still* in disbelief that this shit *still* happens, when I know better. I’m now going to clog my arteries with BoJangles in the hope/prayer that I won’t still be flamingly pissed after lunch.

“clear 360° circles”

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻)

I decided to reproduce this because it’s a candid look into the micro-inequalities (hooray for new words) that quietly exist within our society. When people talk about racism being a system that benefits a certain person over another, this is exactly what that system is. Not using the N-word or moving people to the back of the bus. It’s a systematic and clandestine effort between multiple moving parts that allows prejudice to manifest itself, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Yes, we’ve moved on from fire hoses and separate water fountains. No, the underlying hatred and ignorance hasn’t changed a bit.