I stand by Black Lives Matter.

Despite all that I hear about black on black or black on white crime, I stand in solidarity with BLM. I do so because the causes and foundation of racism in the US have never, ever been fully and openly addressed. The deterioration and disintegration I have observed over the past 40 years have convinced me that the war on black people has resulted in the unraveling in the inner-city of their culture, communities and values. I do not believe that the people residing in ghettos are inherently more violent or prone to criminality. I believe that by marginalizing, demonizing and disenfranchising poor blacks this country has created the environment and circumstances which has resulted in the devastation we see today.

My personal experience in the inner-city lead me to the conclusion that we over-incarcerated, under-educated and created the conditions upon which gangs can freely infest and prey upon the communities. But the gangs are in fact the product of the conditions I have cited. Gang kids are not born, they are created.

Chicago police historically and relentlessly preyed upon lower-income blacks. They committed crimes including torture against young black male suspects. They framed them for crimes they did not commit. They took payoffs to let gangs operate. They robbed drug dealers and resold the product they stole and spent the cash. One elite special operations group of the CPD has been implicated in significant series of serious crimes including attempted murder for hire on a police officer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/chicago-police-charged-wi_n_846528.html

Chicago is just one of many departments that committed crimes against the community they swore to protect. While victims were many and diverse, the bulk of the crimes were committed against black men.

There are more good cops than bad cops if we use a yardstick based on intent. But if we use a different measure which requires a good cop to be intolerant of bad cops, we have a serious shortage of good cops. We need to challenge police officers to rise up intellectually and spiritually to actively do the Right Thing. When what is intolerant is police misconduct and when peer pressure weighs against misconduct, then we may see a seismic shift in policing practices and an end to the need for BLM.

We can not change people’s racist attitudes but we can diminish their impact. We cannot fix the stubborn racist black or white who tenaciously clings to his hate. But we can deprive him of permission so that he acts alone if he acts at all. Racist should be as afraid to come out of the closet just like a pedophile. It should be a source of shame in the presence of our society to proclaim your racial animus. Lest we forget what community norms result in, remember Emmett Till, a 14 yo black boy beaten to death.

http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/?xid=time_socialflow_facebook

We are the frontline of defense against racism and its harm to our entire way of life. No more uncomfortable laughter at cocktail hour racist jokes. No silent acquiescence to locker room chatter about “those people”. Our young white athletes and students need to be given our permission and encouragement to stand up to this insidiousness. Power to the people ought to mean all people. You may just be the best example of a human being that some people ever see.

Is a Ghetto always to be a Ghetto?

Just returned from Chicago and I was reminded why I left. The traffic, the cost and the crime. I was there to work.

So I am working a case of a police officer shooting and killing a 20 y.o man who I shall call Damon. The bullet entered in through Damon’s back. The young man was allegedly shooting at the plain-clothed police officer, but no gun was ever recovered. No debate that the officer fired 16 times at Damon. No debate it was his bullet which killed Damon. No doubt that at some point Damon was running away from the cop. He died about a half block from where the officer says Damon was shooting at the officer. But this post is not about Damon per se, but about where he lived.

My investigation took me into an area of Chicago which is depressed. It is called West Englewood. Up until the early 70s I believe it was a white community. Now it is 98% Black/African American.

Where my time was spent is an area of mostly single family homes. Some homes were so very well-kept. Many others were boarded up. I interviewed about 20 people or more. This is what struck me. Most of the residents have been in prison, which includes men and women. Most are jobless. Most know someone or themselves have been shot. Most would probably qualify as suffering from some level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder based on experiencing or witnessing traumatic events.

This community and many others have been distressed a long time. It is brutally ugly to come face to face with. I ask, where are the governmental concerns, plans and objectives to improve the community. Why would Chicago news media not have constant stories about the task forces, resources and enhancements to the community? Why are the lake front and the North Side so gentrified and beautified and the South Side so bereft of assistance? When school gets out in Englewood, there are yellow- vested personnel everywhere who are part of Safe Passage. http://www.suntimes.com/news/education/19113214-418/cps-to-hire-more-safe-passage-patrols-to-watch-over-kids-going-to-different-schools.html#.VE7Q8_nF98E

The reason for these people is that as schools are closed and students transferred their lives are in jeopardy. So, these Safe Passage folks have to try and facilitate the safe transit of these children. A neighborhood so dangerous that people are hired to stand on the street and try to get the school kids home safely!!!

Well Chicagoans often can be heard bemoaning the prevalence of guns in Chicago. Those are not ghetto folks generally. You can’t hear the bemoaning emanating from the inner-city. It is drowned out by tears, poverty and violence. Where is your fucking indignation at the conditions that your fellow Chicagoans are living in? How can the mayor advocate for health, safety and welfare of his town without holding press conferences about the persistent, consistent and massive efforts to help those in poverty?

I see it this way. A prison record can hamper someone from getting a job. Lack of jobs requires resourcefulness. Drug dealers are resourceful. Drug dealers get busted and get prison records. Prisoners become ex-prisoners who can’t find jobs. Jobless people get hungry and are required to be resourceful. Resourceful people often become drug dealers. Drug dealers get busted.

Good houses must be boarded up as soon as they are vacant to prevent being sacked by thieves. Boarded homes are unattractive. Property values are not as high in unattractive communities. Lower property values in neighborhoods where local citizens can’t afford to buy property leads to predatory practices by outside landlords. Ex-cons without jobs sit on stoops drinking beer all day. Fathers are in prison. Children grow up without dad. Boys without dads often land up in prison. 4 generations later, boys have no relationship with Middle America. Their relationships, value system, and education are derived from their experience in prisons and streets. The prevailing social system in prison is gangs. Gang members return to the community and further blight the already depressed community. They prey upon other gangs and the innocent. The innocents move away or join gangs for protection. They adopt the values of the gangs. They are no longer innocents.

Stores have a higher cost of operation in the inner-city because of crime and poverty. So major stores abandon he area because of the difficulties associated with operating there. Instead, small convenience stores owned and run by daring immigrants become the primary providers of dry goods, prepared foods and restaurants. They charge more money because they have less buying power and more risk. The people in the community have less spending power, spend more for what they do get and have they fewer choices in products.

So the politicians convince the Haves that the Have Nots are a burden on society. They convince the Haves that the Have Nots are just sucking at the tit of society, parasitic and ungrateful to boot. The solutions is often to cut welfare as if then poor people will suddenly jump in their make believe cars, drive to the make believe jobs and bring home the make believe pay. Notwithstanding the lack of education, mobility and money, what could possibly be wrong with such a plan?

If we start right now, it will take generations to unravel the Gordian knot which is the inner-city. You can hate Blacks and other inner-city dwellers. You can cast aspersions on their ethics, values and lifestyles. But if you do not expend the resources to bring up the least of us the chickens will of necessity come home to roost. Inner-city dwellers have higher birth rates than others. They have a greater propensity for violence and crime. They run the drug trade at the street level. At some point you will be unable to gentrify them out of existence. They will not leave the city to become farmers nor will they relax and while away their remaining years on the porches of the new suburbs you push them to.

So if it were up to me, I would harness the best brains and capital and I would invest in these communities. I would empower the people to work and derive income in their communities. I would make it so attractive to businesses to relocate and hire the locals that someday, some day in the future, the mindset of the inner-city dweller would be very much like that of people not confined to the ghetto and gangs. In a future I may not live long enough to see, there would suddenly be born a generation that breaks the inclination towards incarceration. Someday, a new generation would adopt a value system and pride itself on education and production. Someday we would have a generation where gang kids are an aberration not a logical outcome of the environment.

The people I interviewed were just lovely.  Most all had been convicted of crimes thus they were criminals by societal definition. But all were more likely to know their neighbors than any other community I have worked in. These persons who were generally kind to me, a stranger, were used to gunshots. They expressed fear of violence and theft. They shared a sense that cops were there to protect society from them not protect them from predators.

 I do not have the psychological mindset to face, as a lawyer, a system that lacks concern for the salvation of the lives brought before it. It is a system which emphasizes punishment at every turn versus rehabilitation and reformation. Hell, you should be very afraid of all the convicts and ex-cons who have been required to survive an environment where dog eats and rapes dog. Some of my clients deserved prison but most didn’t deserve to be sent to a hell which was controlled externally by the government. The crimes which loom largest are those of a government which makes laws which work to the advantage of criminal cartels and their bankers.

Oh well, I am tired and you have read stuff like this many times before. I didn’t write anything new. Just cannot understand how years and years go by without the recruitment of the best minds, (not political hacks) and a monumental commitment of financial and intellectual resources to solving the dilemma that is our entrenched acceptance of persons residing in poverty with its attendant assault on the mental, psychological and physical well-being.

When I was Black.

God willing, that got your attention. Sometime in my life I strove to be a young black man. It all starts when I was real young and got picked on a lot. I will not engage in the minutiae of my life but early years were filled with fear and potential violence due to my crazy dad and the crazy Catholics who hated Jews.

Along about 8th grade, my school began to experience a dramatic shift in demographics. There was a significant influx of black families. Remarkably, this change became a source of salvation. The new black students frowned on kids bullying me. They expressed disdain for those that would pick on me given I was one of the youngest, shortest kids in our class. Jeffrey Branch (JB) in particular became “my bodyguard”. He was the toughest kid in our grade school. He became a street gang leader and star athlete on the playground. And he exhibited a moral compass that had previously eluded my classmates. He interfered, disrupted and dissuaded the local bullies, white and black from messing with the weakest of his classmates. He chased away the parochial school kids who had long persecuted small Jewish kids.

When we got to high school, JB and some of my other grade school classmates were there and still willing to dissuade predators in the new school. If you look like lunch you will be eaten. In high school, being 12 years old and 4′ 11″, I looked like lunch. But even some of the black girls I went to grade school with came to my assistance. Norma Taylor and Jenina Daniels personally saved me from separate violent attacks.

I was still white at this point. But jump ahead to when I lived as a runway for months at a time. I found it was easier to hide in the inner-city than in my own middle class community. I was absorbed into the black culture that gave me shelter from the storm of my home life. I attempted to blend into my new environment. I dressed, spoke and gestured like my black peers.

I probably looked weird to blacks and whites alike. I am certain I stuck out like a sore thumb. So peculiar that I may have seemed insane at times. I became uncomfortable and awkward around white people. I lost sense of what my white peers would act like. I had white friends, mostly alternative lifestyle sorts like hippies. So I didn’t stick out as badly as if I was mingling with straight-laced whites but awkward just the same.

When I drove my car, I leaned my body hard to the right. I wore “pimp tint” sunglasses all time of night and day. I supported the Black Panther party. I wore leather jackets and carried a gun. My words came out in a quasi-southern drawl and my language was slang. I wasn’t just trying to be black. I was trying to be ghetto black. I was trying to convince the world I was a scary felonious person who wished to be left alone or else. And I learned to hide fear. I learned to take simple acts of aggression and escalate them to scary heights. I preferred to be perceived as a predator than prey. I was introduced to and and dove deep into the waters of the criminal subculture. I got a buzz from moving seamlessly through the ghetto, its bars, chop shops and drug houses. 

I took my 17 year old self down to the blues lounges to hear Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy before they were mainstream. I threw back shots and snorted drugs, sitting in automobile repair shops in the deep ghetto that doubled as stolen merchandise exchanges.

I met force with greater force. My boys were tougher than your boys. My guys were better armed. We were smarter, more cunning and savvier. We didn’t fear the police, incarceration or death. In truth I feared all of it but I learned to never, ever show fear. No crime was beyond us and no consequence harsh enough to dissuade us from our tasks. We didn’t bully. We didn’t prey upon women or weaker persons. In fact we stood up for others when we saw them being picked on. Our intervention was almost always enough to alter the equation of the situation. Picking on a women was easy until we showed up.

I tell you there was a language and a movement to the inner-city which stayed in my speech and walk for many years. I still have episodes every day where I hear the voices of my youth in my head. They are phrases and combinations of words which are unique, colorful, and pointed. A day did not go by then that was not infused with a way of communicating that most whites will only hear in movies or read in books. 

It was crazy. It was just wild. My sisters could probably describe best how I appeared to their world. It was when visiting my own middle class family that the strangeness must have been most pronounced. The friendships made in the ghetto during those years seemed so solid and real. How could we really be different if we were all in, all the way? It took years to re-segregate and observe that I was always odd and expendable. The truth at the end of the day was that I could modify my dress and voice and gestures and disappear into the mainstream. But my ghetto pals could never hide in plain view. They would never have the financial resources to protect themselves from the harsh reality of being an inner-city black in Chicago. They knew intuitively that I was a visitor. A committed one. A sincere one. But ultimately, a visitor.

Years later as I began to mature and leave the immediacy of the streets behind for the pursuit of a profession and education, the trappings of the inner-city lost their luster. While I could hide it, I could not escape the constant fear in the streets of being killed or going to prison.

My experiences have held me in good stead. I regret nothing. I learned things, saw stuff and lived with realities that most people in my world will never know. I have used my experience to help hundreds of clients as a social worker and lawyer. I learned empathy. I saw the obstacles to success quite clearly and never suffered the delusion that exiting the ghetto was simply a matter of choice. It was mostly luck. And I am a better lawyer and counselor as a direct result of my years in the inner-city. Truth be told, I never completely left it all behind and I never forget. Sometimes I set out to recall the details and write them down. Like so many other life events they seem too layered and nuanced and detailed to share.