Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To protect (what?) and to serve (whom?)

I've been struggling today to not go off on a super rant. I completely disagree with the outcome of the grand jury's deliberations on the Michael Brown killing. I'm also distressed about the killing, by a uniformed police officer, of a 12 year old in Cleveland, OH. As I was pondering how to write about these events, and what they have to do with the themes usually found here, I found myself flashing back to the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I was in college, being chewed out in the dean's office for something or someone or other that I hadn't shown proper respect. The news that the president had been shot came over the dean's radio and my alleged misdeeds became much less significant.

Five years later, in 1968, we lost, to assassins with guns, Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June. Those two killings preceded a late August Democratic National Convention, which was noted for, among other things, its association with a police riot, according to the Walker Report. That time, eight police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury.

storm clouds
storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

In 1968, these United States were suffering, I believe, from a lack of community and comity almost as bad as today's. We were a nation motivated, in my opinion, too much by fear and too little by other fundamental characteristics of humanity. Today I believe that we have exceeded our previous nadir and are continuing to sink further  into hostility at a time when we need, more than ever, to find ways to work together.

To lead this back to today's title and to Ferguson, MO, Aldo Leopold, in his profound Sand County Almanac, proposed that we need a land ethic.
"Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of his philosophical achievements was the idea that this ‘community’ should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land.”"

a new day
a new day
Photo by J. Harrington

How do you think we're going to be able to enlarge our sense of community to "the land"when we have seem to lack a sense of community with our fellow humans? Do you think we'll be able to respond successfully to issues that may require a land ethic, like climate change, if we can't, as a community, as a society, agree that police need better legal standards about when the use of deadly force is appropriate and reasonable and to provide those standards before we experience another tragedy? I fear that otherwise the police may become widely perceived as serving only to protect the property and wealth of the 1% from the rest of us. That is something I hope none of us would support. All of the models for a sustainable world I'm familiar with include as necessary elements: equity, economy and ecology. From what I see in the news these days, we have a long way to go on each of these fundamental considerations, but, perhaps, most of all on equity. A sustainable United States is something that should give all of us reason to be thankful, if we can attain it.

Justice, Come Down

By Minnie Bruce Pratt 
A huge sound waits, bound in the ice,
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow
on fir branches, in the falling silence
of snow, glittering in the sun, brilliant
as a swarm of gnats, nothing but hovering
wings at midday. With the sun comes noise.
Tongues of ice break free, fall, shatter,
splinter, speak. If I could write the words.

Simple, like turning a page, to say Write

what happened, but this means a return
to the cold place where I am being punished.
Alone to the stony circle where I am frozen,
the empty space, children, mother, father gone,
lover gone away. There grief still sits
and waits, grim, numb, keeping company with
anger. I can smell my anger like sulfur-
struck matches. I wanted what had happened
to be a wall to burn, a window to smash.
At my fist the pieces would sparkle and fall.
All would be changed. I would not be alone.

Instead I have told my story over and over
at parties, on the edge of meetings, my life
clenched in my fist, my eyes brittle as glass.

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,

stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,

from where you have hidden yourself away. 


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