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Friday, July 29, 2016

I'm Worried About Josiah--A Little One's Concern

Philando Castile was the supervisor at our school's cafeteria, one of two black men who provided a constant, gentle presence in our kid's lives. 503 kids, about 30 of them African-American with another 7% Somali and others who are Oromo and Ethiopian--so, say, 40% of our kids are black. 

The other person is--well, I'll call him Josiah. He works with our special needs kids and is the only person I thought to ask to babysit for my special needs child one summer--instead, Josiah volunteered to work--for free--with a child who was profoundly struggling in school, with a single mother who had no funds at all, either for child care or support services for her little boy. Josiah chose, that summer, to work two jobs, one non-paying, because the kid needed him and responded well to Josiah's quiet persistance. Because that's the kind of man Josiah is. A man like Philando was--a man who cared deeply about children and made them his life's work. The kind of man all children need to be around. 

Yesterday, my little one asked about Josiah. "I haven't seen him. We've seen Vanessa," Phil's coworker in the cafeteria. We've seen Phil's mother and his uncle, but we haven't seen Josiah. "And he could be killed, like Mr. Phil," said my little one. 

My little one says things and the wave hits me. I'm so grateful that I have the time and the luxury and the experiences of being around people of different races--being family to people of different races--being comfortable talking and listening about not just race and bigotry but also that I can listen to my child's emotion. 

We have to make certain that the children at our school--the children of our country--get the same kind of listening and talking. Our future stands in the balance and the time for changing our world, for healing our world, is now. 

It's Beyond Her Comprehension--That's No Longer A Good Enough Excuse.

Photo attribution from Pioneer Press. 

Falcon Heights, the small suburban municipality where Philando Castile was shot by during a faked traffic stop, for Driving While Black and Legally Armed, has had it's second town hall meeting, and did they get an earful from residents and visitors of color. 
According to the Pioneer Press, "black residents and neighbors told horror stories of frequent, frightening traffic stops while some white residents confessed they witnessed unequal treatment but did nothing about it." 
But some members of the Falcon Heights City council are having a hard time wrapping their minds around what it's like to Drive While Black in their community. 
Several people walked out when Randy Gustafson said he still didn't know enough about what happened to take action--perhaps he was speaking about Philando's murder, or maybe he was just telling all those prior speakers to their faces that he didn't believe them. 
Council member Pamela Harris said it was "beyond my comprehension" that black people were treated so badly on Falcon Heights streets--despite what she was hearing at the meeting. 

So, let's give her the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that this comment was the messy, verbal equivalent of an "Oh, my!" Let's assume that she is thus completely tone deaf and did not realize she had just erased the experiences of everyone who had spoken out about police harassment of people of color under her watch. 

Either way, it is no longer acceptable to pretend you're living in the 1950's while Jim Crow policing goes on in 2016. I am not a resident of Falcon Heights, but I would happily sign a petition calling for all of them to resign. 

Fortunately, someone has started one. "If that's how unaware you are, you're not qualified to represent my city," Paula Milke said of her petition. 
As always, Philando's mother spoke with grace and calm--much like her son, Phil.  Valerie Castile told council members that Phil got a lot of traffic tickets because he was devoted to his job and "his children"--the kids he fed--and he needed to drive to get to work.   "It's just unfortunate that this happened in your backyard," she said to the council and then turned to the black men and women in the audience. "Any one of you could be Philando." 
She is more generous than I. Given the kind of policing organization that Falcon Heights hired and the racial profiling that Falcon Heights allowed to take place, particularly along that stretch of Larpenteur, I side more with an unnamed Baptist minister who spoke to the group. 
"You have permitted a black man to be killed out there," he shouted at the council as he rose to leave. "Get the blood off your hands! You have blood on your hands, every one of you. Get the blood off your hands, mayor!" And he left, followed by most of the African-Americans in his audience. 
We all have to get this to change, not just in Falcon Heights, not just in the Twin Cities, not just in Minnesota, not just in the Midwest--in the entire United States of America. We have to get this blood off our hands. We must. For Phil. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

It's Not Just A Detail If It's Your Kid--

This was the moment that stood out for me from Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech. 
"So it's true. I sweat the details of policy – whether we're talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs.
"Because it's not just a detail if it's your kid - if it's your family.
"It's a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president, too." 
Philando Castile is a big deal. His death at the hands of a trigger-happy officer who saw blackness as danger is a big deal for his family, his friends, his mother, his colleagues, for every kid at our school and for all of their parents. 
A refugee denied asylum is not just a detail. A black woman earning 60% of her white counter-point is not just a detail--her family had to live off that much lower salary.  Like Clinton, I could go on and on.  A special needs kid denied an education is not just a detail--I did not know that Hillary Rodham Clinton was largely responsible for the IDEA laws that allowed my little one to go to school and consider as a friend, a child with Down's syndrome, and allowed my older child to do the same with someone pretty far out the autism spectrum.  
Maybe it isn't true that His eye is on the sparrow. (It's hard as a Holocaust survivor family, to accept that the eyes of God were on us as our children were gassed.)  But our eyes can be upon each other. Together, we can pay attention to the details of our world and work to heal them together. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are You There, Philando? If So, Give Me Five

My little one said when she was alone three nights ago, she held her hand in the air. She demonstrated, hand above her head  palm forward and out. 

"If you're there," she told the space around her, "Give me five." 

"For a ghost?" I asked. 

"For Mr. Phil. He always gave us five in the mornings when we walked through the breakfast line." Philando Castile. 

"But he wasn't there," she said. "He'll never be there again. I'll never see him again." 

I felt that familiar rush of tears and hot grief. "No, sweetie, we'll never see him again." And I pulled her into a tight hug--for her comfort and for my own.  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Welcome To Readers in Russia. Добро пожаловать на читателей в России


Suddenly, many Russians are reading my blog. Welcome to you. I am glad to have you here. I hope you enjoy the information about our smallish city in the United States, and that you will feel free to comment about books, child-rearing, 
 music and race and bigotry. The closest we come to Russian connections are family who spent time in labor camps in Siberia and also in salt mines in Khazakstan during WWII. (Not exactly cheery memories, though they did bring back some folk songs.) 

If anyone else had family in salt mines in Khazakstan, I would love to learn more about their experiences. We are Jews and that might change how things were experienced. And please forgive my Google translate. Thank you.

The closest we come to Russian The closest The closest we come to Russian connections are family who spent time during WWII in labor camps in Siberia and also working in the salt mines in Khazakstan. (Not exactly cheery memories, though they did bring back some folk songs.) 

If anyone else had family in salt mines in Khazakstan, I would love to learn more about their experiences. Thank you. We are Jews, and that might influence how things were experienced. 

Внезапно , многие россияне читают мой блог . Добро пожаловать к вам. Я рад , что ты здесь . Я надеюсь, что вы наслаждаетесь информацией о нашем небольшом городе в Соединенных Штатах , и что вы будете чувствовать себя свободно комментировать книги, воспитание детей , музыки и расы и фанатизма .  
Ближе мы подходим к российским соединений являются семьи, которые проводили время в трудовых лагерях в Сибири , а также в соляных шахтах в Khazakstan во время Второй мировой войны . ( Не совсем радостные воспоминания , хотя они вернуть некоторые народные песни . )

Если кто-то имел семью в соляных шахтах в Khazakstan , я хотел бы узнать больше о своем опыте . Мы евреи , и это может измениться , как были испытаны вещи . И, пожалуйста, простите мой Google Translate . Спасибо.

At Last The Truth From A Police Officer's Mouth.

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2016/07/22/3801048/police-body-slam-elementary-school-teacher/

For those who claim that it's because of anything but racism--this white officer puts it right out in the open, talking to a school teacher who asks the right questions--after she has been incredibly brutalized by a white police officer. I hate to ask you to watch the video. It's like PTSD. It's sickening. 

Why Did Kipling Write The Jungle Book Inside Out?



I'm having the profound pleasure of reading the Jungle Book out loud. And because we're using the edition with Nicola Bayley, there are imaginative visual treasures, too. Even my big kid can be lured into the delights, even when said child is tired and grumpy. That's the power of the premise, the characters, and racing plot. 

And yet--reading it (repeatedly--my little one wants me to start at the beginning as soon as we are done) I am very aware of Kipling's structure. So--for all you writers and readers out there, help me figure this one out. Why does Kipling write Mowgli's story inside out? 

First, we watch a baby wandering the wolves cave. As Mother Wolf--Rakshi, the Demon--falls in love with this newest baby, the lame tiger, Shere Khan, snarls outside the door, unable to come in because of the size of his great head. 
Then, we grow up with Mowgli, into the paradise that is his home, scratches and bites and bear smacks and all. We meet Akela, the great wolf, Baloo and Bagheera, and of course, the cowardly tiger, Shere Khan, the Lame One, who happens to be an orange bully with a big mouth who gets others to fight his battles for him or else he feasts on cattle and humans, i.e. those who cannot fight back. 

We learn all of this through prose and poetry--something I'm delighted that my children now insist on reading out loud themselves, with relish, as we pass the book back and forth. 

We also meet the lesser wonders--Ikki, the porcupine, Tabaqui, the jackal. We learn the laws of the jungle--laws showing respect and fairness (at this point). And Mowgli's paradise is made better by his human ability to learn other's speech and to stare down all within it, which he considers a game. 

But those who live within the jungle do not find Mowgli's abilities a game, something the bully, Shere Khan, plays on when Akela begins to grow old. 


So Mowgli, advised by Bagheera, goes to man to get the Red Flower--fire. He saves Akela's life, but, feeling the pain of profound rejection for the very first time, he is forced to leave and join another klan--man. 

Middle of story, right? We're at the peak of that ark. Clearly, what comes next will be the slide down--either Shere Khan eating Mowlgi or Mowgli killing Shere Khan. 

Except here, instead of racing to the showdown, Kipling veers backward, into idyll, and instead, we learn of Mowgli's wonderful, terrifying kidnapping by the banderlog--the monkey tribe, who think they are the most important creatures on earth and who are always bragging about what they're going to do--until they forget to do it and instead, race off to do something else. This is an incredible story on its own. The banderlog, who are funny, chilling, make us fear for Mowgli's life, and that of Baloo, and Bagheera. Plus, we meet Chil, the kite, the blind cobras, and a thirty-foot, near-sighted python named Kaa, and the the abandoned city of a great king, far in the jungle
where Mowgli is ultimately rescued. And we watch as Bagheera and Baloo nearly walk down the hypnotic path that leads to Kaa's belly. (It seems only Mowgli, the man-cub, is immune.)

Then, bam, we're back in the original story arc, back in the village, where Mowgli must learn to fit in--picking up man-speak within three months, and plotting with his brother wolves and Akela to kill Shere Khan. 

But Mowgli's success at this venture leads the man people to believe that Mowgli is a sorcerer who can become animals at will, so they, too, cast him out. Though the ending is happy, it is also about having nowhere to belong--neither with the Man clan nor the Wolf clan. 

It is, perhaps, a story about being a writer. 

So--many of you guys and all of you guys read. Kipling could have easily folded the banderlog tail--er tale--into its proper place in a linear plot, and yet he doesn't. Those of us who watch various film or theater versions watch it in a linear way. 

So--why did Kipling flip part of it into the middle? Would you have written it that way? I'm not sure I would have, though honestly, I would flat out love to write something that is as clean and pure and dreamily gut-real as Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

No!, Really! Give Me Suggestions! (Escapist Lit Cry For Help)

Urgent--Escapist Reading Therapy! Help Required!

 


So I want to read. Nice, escapist books. Well-written, fun books where I can walk away feeling I've learned something Deep but in a few bite-sized morsels. The present-day equivalent of Tammy Tell Me True, or the Little House books (where grief is summarized in a few terse sentences except when Jack, the dog, dies.) Or the entire  cannon of Anne of Green Gables books, where Matthew and     
Marilla's deaths are the worst things that happen for fifteen or so  volumes until one of Anne and Gilbert's sons is killed in WWI.

As you can see, I'm gravitating children's books, which I tend to do when wounded. The last time this happened, I dove into the entire canon of Dianna Wynn Jones, and the time before that, managed not only Anne of Green Gables, but Emily of New Moon, the Rainbow Valley series and discovered Betsy Tacy and Tibb. Plus, I threw in Jane Langton's Diamond in the Window books (that begin in the 1920's but inexplicably become the 1970's and 80's thanks to her publsher's thinking that modern kids couldn't relate to pre-depression era kids, as Ms. Langton confirmed when I write to ask  her--what the heck?) And then I found the Mrs. Pollifax mysteries and gulped them down whole. 

I suppose I can always reread all of those. But I'd love something new and fresh. I just finished Ava Finch's Fishing With Rayanne (and am wishing it were a series, or that a subsequent novel focused on sister-in-law, Ingrid.) Help me out here, guys. I'll take one-offs but would prefer a series of Black church lady books, or clever children defeating evil polluters novels like Jane Louise Curry. Nothing dark or dystopian, and nothing perfectly sunny. (A slight vitamin D deficiency, yes, but no permanent rickets.) 

It doesn't have to be a series if the author writes others in a similar vein. Help! Now! thank you. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why Couldn't We Each Be A Different Color?

My kids are receiving much more political education than I would wish. 

Driving in the car, my little one says, "Big Brother says he thinks its great that when we ride the bus we get to be with more African-Americans and Asians. But I think it's because they don't have as many cars. Because look at that little bitty girl back there walking along that busy street and there isn't even any sidewalk." 

What follows is a long talk about slavery and Jim Crow laws, how unions work and how long they resisted allowing minorities as members, what a factory is like and when they moved to China and Mexico and India. The conversation veers into an explanation of housing racial exclusionary laws--that only allowed people of color and Jews to be inhabitants if they were "domestic help;" how much more people of color had to pay for houses in those neighborhoods when they were finally allowed in--money that was not given back to them if a freeway was forced through their neighborhood--and the expenses of Driving While Black, like Philando experienced. (Enough almost for a downpayment on a house.)

A little later, in the bathroom: "Somebody had to make up words," says my little one. "Somebody made up the word white. What if they'd called black white and white black. Then people would be saying they didn't like white people." She's trying so hard to figure all this out. 

And on the drive home: "Why couldn't we all be a different color from one another? Each person their own special color? Then no group of one color could be hating the other people, because each people would be alone with that color." 

A sigh from me. "That would be lovely, wouldn't it?" 

Now, take a breath for a moment, and imagine To Kill A Mockingbird from the point of view of Tom and Helen Robinson's children as well as from Scout's. 

Imagine Diamond Reynold's conversations with her little daughter. . . 

This is a really rough summer. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Only Thing That Can Stop A Bad Guy With A Gun--Is Not Being Able To Get A Gun.

Calling Central Casting. I need an evil genius trying to destroy the world--




That's him! Perfect!

I Don't Know If This Will Work--But Here Is Coverage Of Philando Castile's home-going cookout.

Passionate, humble, intelligent and loving—words used by a co-worker to describe Philando Castile.
FOX9.COM|BY FOX

Child's Play in a Time of Violence

Yesterday, my oldest child showed my little one a video explaining that some butterflies can be carnivorous. The video showed a butterfly drinking blood from somebody's bloody sock.

My little one needed to talk to me about it. Not for the reasons you expect, but because of Mr. Phil and Dae Dae Reynolds, the child in the car when he was killed. 

 "And just looking at that bloody sock," says my child, "It made me hurt, it made my little toe hurt. And I that was only a butterfly I saw on the computer. But that little girl saw Mr. Phil get shot and die. Right in front of her. Which you won't even let me watch on the computer. And he might have wound up being her new daddy. And she's littler than even me."

I swallow.

"And then, somebody goes and shoots other people," Little One continues. "Shooting other people won't make it better for her. Or for anybody. Then other people shoot other people. And, and it doesn't help anybody. Everybody would wind up shot."

What can I say? "Yes. It's wrong. And bad. And we will do our best to change it." And then a warm hug. But this is not enough, not for children. Not for grownups. 

This morning, my little one plays with stuffed animals. The soft sounds of pretend conversation form a backdrop to my trying to heal the world, working from my computer.

Behind me, I hear a stern, small voice: "You shouldn't go and shoot people. You can't do that. It is wrong."

"I had to," says a different voice.

"No,' says the first voice, clearly the wisest one. "You betrayed them. You must talk. You must meet together and talk and talk. That is the way it is done."

Out of the mouths of babes. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Can Art Heal? Painting and Mosiacs for Philando Castile

This is what I saw when we biked to J.J. Hill yesterday. I  had parked and was talking to other parents and to the art-makers, wandering among mosaics and children's paintings when Mr. Phil said hello. Philando Castile, to the life. I felt like bawling. And celebrating. Sad and joyful at the same time. And I also felt a sense of awe--that misused word that means the gasp of astonished, skin-crawling emotion that can be either terror and bliss, that moment when everything stops and everything in it is connected, in one great thing. 

When someone from our school posted a day of healing through art on our website, I pooh-poohed the idea. We need to organize, I thought. We need to make real change. We need to contact our legislature. And the national legislature. We need to heal our city, our children. We need to support Phil's mother, his family, his girlfriend, her daughter. We don't have time to sit around making art. 

How wrong I was. Art transforms. Art translates. Art can almost transubstantiate--for a moment, Phil was here. With us. His own self. 

As we are all here, in this mural, currently hanging from our school's wall. 
 

Thank you, then, GoodSpace Murals, to Mosaic on a Stick, and to the organizers of National Day of Action Through Art.  

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Aw, Philando, This is What Killed You?

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/us/minnesota-police-officers-bulletproof-warrior-training-is-questioned.html?_r=0 by Mitch Smith and Timothy Williams. 


So, before Officer Geronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile--Mr. Phil, of J. J. Hill--to death, the St. Anthony police department sent Mr. Yanez to a two-day training called Bulletproof Warrior, that, as the title suggests, treats policing like war, with charts and graphs on "Combat Efficiency" and "Perceptual Distortions in Combat." 

According to the New York Times, who have a copy of several of the pamphlet's used in Officer Yanez's training, the section called "Pre-attack Indicators," reads: "Unfortunately, the will to survive is all too often trained out of the psyches of our police officers." It warns of "predators," and "adversaries," who are younger than officers and who have "been in more gunfights and violent encounters." It advises: "An attack on you is a violent act! What is the only way to overcome that violence?" 

You guessed it: shoot someone. 


Never mind that for twenty years, violent crime has been on the ebb, and that the last few have been among the safest times for American police. 

"Another booklet distributed at seminars, 'Anatomy of Force Incidents,' repeatedly makes the point that officers are allowed to--and need to--use more force than they may believe, and to use it preemptively. 'Myth: the officer must use the minimal amount of force necessary to affect their lawful law enforcement objectives,' it says, and 'Myth: an officer must use the 'least intrusive' or 'best' option when using force." 



You get it, right? In their minds, these officers are being trained to be Rambo and Commando; cheap, 1980's cartoon-macho action heroes created with layers of suntan makeup and handfuls of steroids. 


 

In 2014, Officer Yanez (who maybe likes his donuts) went through twenty hours of this training. That was his second go round. Quite a bit of that training involved watching video of police officers being shot to death during traffic stops--the film regularly slowed down or stopped for commentary on how a more macho cop would have survived. That's forty hours--paid for by Yanez's workplace--of being taught and retaught to be terrified unless he used excessive force--preemptively. 

"Courses like this reinforce the thinking that everyone is out to get police officers," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy organization based in Washington. "This teaches officers, 'If you hesitate, you could lose your life.' It is the exact opposite of the way many police chiefs are going." 

Today, I saw a snatch of video of you, Phil, laughing in your dreadlocks, relaxed and calm. I caught my breath. For an instant, you were alive again. 

Oh, Philando. Mr. Phil: The people you touched. The children you cared for. The mother who loved you. The girlfriend who walked through fire to create a legacy for you even as she watched you die. 

The child who saw it all. 

 Lost. For Rambo.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The First Thing Falcon Heights City Council Did After Philando Castile Was Murdered By Cop?

Buried deep, deep deep in today's Pioneer Press story about the Falcon Heights City Council: (http://www.twincities.com/2016/07/13/falcon-heights-residents-demand-change-after-philando-castile-shooting/) is this fact: the first thing the Falcon Height's city council did after Phil Castile's shooting was to hold an emergency meeting to hire a public relations firm. 


That's right, folks. A good man, a kind man, a young man--murdered, in a community whose police force statistics for racial profiling are off the charts 
and who does the lily white City Council of Falcon Heights marches into battle against? That demon, that evil--bad publicity. (http://www.twincities.com/2016/07/13/st-anthony-police-data-shows-disproportionate-arrests-of-blacks/) 

Mayor Peter Lindstrom, in the first article, brags that the administration decided not to hired a publicist after all. 

And as for Philando Castile, murdered for driving while black--Lindstrom is not okay with that. "I'm deeply upset and deeply hurt by what has happened in a community that I love and I am not OK with it," Lindstrom said. 

Whew. There is still hope for humanity. 

If I sound rage-filled, it's because I am. 

Philando's Funeral--You Ain't No Thug, You're Royalty

Today, we joined more than 3000 family, friends, colleagues and citizens of St. Paul, Minnesota, to celebrate Philando Castile's life. 

I have not much time and some hungry children, so here's just a few moments:

* Seeing his face without the spirit in it. Jews don't do open coffins, so I was trying to explain to my little one as we headed in--"he might be wearing makeup. He might look a little odd. He might not look like Mr. Phil." But I was the one who felt smacked in the gut. He's dead. He really, truly is dead. He wasn't in there. It was his kind face, but he is gone from it.

The area near his coffin was lined with funeral parlor ladies, dressed all in white, holding tissue boxes. I was grateful. I needed more than one.

My youngest and I found a seat. Suddenly, I felt a hug. It was another class mom, small and round, African-American, working on her doctorate in education. "I just wanted to give you a hug," she said. "I can see how you are hurting. I hold myself together in public," she said. "I'll probably fall apart when we get home."

"He's really dead," I said.

She nodded, her eyes filling up. "I'm a Christian, and it helped when I saw him. When I realized that his spirit is home. His spirit is no longer on earth. He's home."

The Reverend talking about how Phil was killed because he had a "wide-type nose." Then, he introduced Sounds of Blackness singing, "Royalty,"

"You got a message from above," he said, "you ain't no thug-- you're royalty."


Born with two strikes against you
Trapped in poverty
Generations of injustice
And inequality

Ancestors changed the world
Though they came in chains.
In you the strength and hope
Lives and still remains.


You’re mighty and majestic
Descendents of kings and queens
Royal blood rolls through your veins.
Children of the dream

So hold your head up high.
Keep reaching for the sky
No matter what, know you can take it.
No matter what, you’re going to make it.

You’re royalty

You are royalty.
You got a message from above.
You ain’t no thug, you’re royalty.

Brother, you’re a king, sister, you’re a queen.
Children of the dream.
If you never been told
Time for you to know

You’re royalty." 

At the cookout later, a fellow cafeteria worker, wearing his uniform, hollered, “I, too, am Philando Castile. I wear this uniform. I feed the kids. I started working here right after high school. We got a choice, we can work summers or we can take them off. I saw Phil a week ago, and I said, "Why you working this summer?" He was working summer school at Chelsea Heights. ‘Why? You could take it easy? Take time off?’ He said, ‘I love the kids. It’s all about the kids.’”

If only that officer could have seen Phil as he is. Message from above, he ain't no thug. He was royalty. 





Monday, July 11, 2016

One Child's Fears--The Children's March for Philandro Castile

My little one didn't tell me this while we were marching, along with all the children, on foot and in strollers, the adults toting babies, my oldest helping a mom pull a wagon with two small girls tucked in with pillows, my husband waving at cars that stopped to honk in support. 

My little one didn't say anything as we turned the first corner and the police car honked a little to get ahead of us so they could block the traffic. She didn't say anything when the children rounded the corner onto the busy street. 

She didn't tell me while we walked in the heat down the street past the coffee shop, or when we turned again toward our school where the flag still stood at half-mast for our cafeteria supervisor, Philando Castile. 

She didn't tell me through the speeches, or say anything when she finally got bored and went to play on the jungle gym, or later, when we came home and tried to watch a funny movie together. 

No, my child waited until we were driving to the thrift store the next day to explain that she had been afraid throughout the whole march--afraid that the police might shoot one of the African-American children who were marching alongside us. Children like the little girl clinging to her mommy with one hand, and in the other, toting a sign that said, "I'm just learning to read. Am I next?" 




Children like five-year-old Kenandrian Mack, riding his daddy's big shoulders. 















"I thought the police might shoot them," she said. 

"You thought they might get shot?" Its hard to put yourself in the mind of a child. So, I took my default position with a child when I don't know what to say--I asked questions. 

She said, "Well, Mr. Phil was a nice man. He didn't do anything wrong. And they shot him. The policeman shot him." 

How do you answer that? When it is the truth? 

I tried. "We live in a city where the officers are mostly nicer than that. Last night, Papa and I were talking to one policeman who went to Middle School with Mr. Phil and said he was a fabulous guy, just like we know him to be." 

(I didn't say that the officer, who seemed sincere, also said he knew that they would find out that Phil had done something--something--something--that had caused him to get shot. He was certain.) 

"I thought maybe it was silly," my daughter said. "But I was afraid all the same. Mr. Phil didn't do anything wrong. And he was such a nice man. So I was scared. Of the police." 

I drove in silence. My child is not silly. Not at all. So--what about that little girl just learning to read--will she be a target when she grows up? Will little Kenandrian? 

Or will we have managed--can we join together, can we do it? Can we change the laws to protect their black bodies before they're deemed old enough to be judged criminals on sight? It's only a few years--society judges black children to be "mature" long before it views white children that way. Do our children have to stay afraid? Can we do it? 

Philando Castile's HomeGoing.

The family wanted to hold Philando's funeral at our school, with a cook-out. Hotdogs. Hamburgers. I said they have to be sure to serve vegetables. (Phil always encourage our kids to eat more vegetables. "Now that Mr. Phil is dead," said one little girl, "who will ask us if we want more vegetables?") 

The family said they wanted to have the food served by cafeteria workers, like Philandro, dressed in their white uniforms and their hairnets, honoring the work that he care about so much.  

I started bawling.  And why not? Why couldn't we? But how? Where to get tables? Chairs? Security? How to get the school opened for bathrooms? In the summer? 

At the Children's March, a mother of my child's classmate, said, "Go straight to the top. That's what I would do." She's a brilliant woman, getting her PhD in education. And she was right--why not?

So--an email to the out-going superintendent, suggesting that this could be a legacy, this, instead of that could be how you are remembered. The email Cc-ed to any one else with the power. Emails kicked back (Chief operations officer--On vacation until, her assistant--On vacation until, her assistant--On vacation until--His assistant--this is getting crazy.) 

More emails to more people, including a separate one to our school board, (many of them caring people) suggesting that any support they could give would rebound in good will for the district following a very rough time. 

Hoping, hoping, that somebody would hear and think that this was a wise choice--on any level. Hoping that they would do not just the right thing, but the good thing, the thing from the heart. 

Then, this morning, a phone call. From the office of District Engagement. (Don't you just love jargon-speak? Engagement to whom? For marriage?) The professional voice sounds wary: What exactly does the family want? 

Trying, with what little information I have, to sketch a bare outline, promising to get more. 

Being given the assistant's phone number, (does everybody in this district have an assistant?) and then reaching out to the friend who has a connection to the family. 

Finally, getting a more direct connection. Now, I could text the district's number to the family. The whole thing feeling a little like   telephone tag--but without the risk of the words getting twisted down the road.  

Tonight, then, the glorious news-- the district will provide almost all the family requires. 

Tonight, the family texts a thank you: "It's going to be awesome for Phil." 

Tonight, word that his family, our school, our city, maybe even some of our country, will be able to heal--just a little bit, just from some of this. Just to say goodbye. Let us pray that this is so. 

And please, people, please, let us all gather in peace to celebrate the things that mattered most to a most peaceful man. Music and tears and laughter. Good food and friends and servers who smile and make sure the kids eat a few more vegetables. If only Phil could join us there. . .




Saturday, July 9, 2016

Be Peaceful--For A Peaceful Man, Philando Castile




I am grateful for our city's forbearance so far, and fearful that people will snap. Phil was always so calm and mellow. We never saw him lose his temper, not in three years--and a lot of children in his cafeteria. We can work for change, in his name, and we can honor him by doing so peacefully. I do not believe he would ever want someone hurt--certainly not like his family has been hurt, like he was killed. Please honor his memory with peaceful protest. 

It is painful to me that people are slandering Philando, libeling his name. It hurts almost as much to see him reduced to a symbol. I ache for the children he would someday have and the wonderful parent he would have been. I pray that we will stay calm and fight as peaceful warriors for the change that Phil would have wanted us to make. 

After Philando Castile's Death--We Will Never Be Normal Again



My little one just came in, and saw this photo. It shows the essence of Mr. Phil, Philando Castile, who was murdered by a police officer and our culture of racism Wednesday night, while driving home from the grocery story. 

"That's our Mr. Phil," I said. 

She put her small hand over his image on the screen. "He's not there." 

I moved her hand away. "That's Mr. Phil. Our Mr. Phil with his mama." 

She put her hand over his image once more. "He's not there," she said again. 

I thought I understood, then. "You mean he's dead." I tilted my head back, my neck in pain. "He's dead and he won't be there any more, is that it?" 

She waited, quietly, her hand still covering his image. 

I nodded. "I guess we need to find a way that he can stay with us and still be dead."

"Yeah," she said. "Like maybe in that movie with the guy with the white hair, where he draws a mustache on his face and they arrest the other guy." I think she is referring to Leslie Neilson in one of his silly movies. I'm honestly not sure. But I nod again. 

"Maybe that would work." 

She takes her hand off his face and wanders out of the room. 

We will never be normal again. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Lamentations for Philando Castile. And Put On Your Marching Boots--please forward this call to action

My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed in the streets of the city." Eicha (Lamentations) 2:11
Our little school vigil for Philando Castile became a rally several thousand strong, with every race and many religions * supporting Phil's family, demanding change. 
But at the end of the day, Phil was still dead. And he's still dead this morning. My little one wiped her tears on her fuzzy hand-me-down bathrobe while she tried to understand how our Cafeteria Gentleman, as one child called him, got shot-- because his skin is brown. (One of hundreds of children around the country, beginning with little Dae'anna Reynolds, trying to understand.) I can't even begin to explain to her why the officers involved comforted the shooter and did nothing for Phil, bleeding and unconscious, or why they hauled his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds out, withheld four-year-old Dae-anna from her, forced Diamond facedown on the concrete and cuffed her, put her in detention, didn't allow her a phone call. Why they didn't allow Phil's mother, Valerie, to see her son before he died, why they didn't even tell Diamond her boyfriend was dead--why they sent her to the wrong hospital to try to see him there, after he had already died. 

And you understand, I'm not Phil's mother, trying to cope with the loss of her only son, her good, gentle son. (Oh, Warrier Mother, I will join your fight) My daughter was not in the back seat of that car, learning that police officers are the bad guys, who shoot kind men on the way home from the grocery store. 


Valerie Castile

I'm not Phil's uncle, who me helped carry poster board for signs yesterday, or his niece or his cousin, or his best friends from high school, or our shared neighbor, the kindest woman I know and the most warm-hearted, a woman who leads with love, who lives in love, who wiped tears away and asked me to write "Love, you, baby," on her poster board. "I loved Phil since before he was born."


 Loved you since before you were born, I wrote. She shook her head. "No." Rolling it up, putting it away. "I love you, baby. You know that's true, but I can't say I loved him. I love him and I will always love him. I have always loved him and I always will." 


And I'm not Phil's fierce girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, ravaged with grief, raging with clarity, repeatedly and powerful making her call to action. 

But I am here, and I am going to answer her call. I will not be sitting around weeping, though I will weep. I will not be sitting around praying things will change, though I will pray. I will be studying and seeking allies and my prayers will lead my feet to march. And the next time I march, it will be for specific things that we will be pressuring our leaders to implement--a stop to any allowance of racial profiling from police officers. (Philando was picked out by the police officer because of his "wide nose.") A change to the Supreme Court's ruling that a stop for a busted light can be probably cause for a search. (They believed that Phil--because he had dread locks and said "wide nose" might be an armed robbery suspect and that's why they called in the traffic stop.) A change to police recruitment and training, so that they are not just judged by how many bullets they can put into a target and how quickly, but by how well they can think in tight situations without killing their fellow citizens. And anything else that I can find out to work for. I ask that you join me. Please spread the word on this. For Phil, for his girlfriend, his mother, for 520 children, beginning with his girlfriend's little girl, and continuing through his school' students, and for everyone else with brown skin, like Philando Castile. 

*Probably no Yazidis, Zoroastrians or Manicheans, but what do I know?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Getting Ready to Honor Philando Castile--and Grieve.

I told my son first thing this morning and watched his young face grow hard. "I thought you were going to tell me we have to put the dog to sleep," he said. (The children's daily worries, with a very old dog.) "I can't believe it, but this is worse." 

I told my daughter at the park, where she was playing with her best friend, digging in the cool sand, building a kind of bowl-castle for a ground bee. Her mother and I thought the best friends might help one another cope. 

"You remember Phil from the cafeteria?" I said. "Well, last night, he got shot. But the police. And they killed him. He didn't do anything wrong, but they shot him." 

Why did they shoot him?" my daughter asked. 

"Because he was brown," I said. "Because the police man looked at his dark skin and thought he was scary. He didn't see Mr. Phil, who is so kind. He saw a monster." 

They nodded. The friend's mother is reading Ta-Nihisi Coates, and we lived in South Central Los Angeles. "Could she walk home with me?" the other child asked, and the little girls took hands and started walking and I picked up the phone to call the press and do everything I can to best express the totality of the kind, warm, human being that we know.