City on fire!
Rats in the grass
And the lunatics yelling in the streets!
It’s the end of the world! Yes!
City on fire!
Stirrings in the ground
And the whirring of giant wings!
Blotting out the moonlight,
Thick black rain falling on the
City on fire!
City on fire!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim
I struggled all weekend with what to write today. At the end of last week, I was trying to put together the words to address the murder of George Floyd, as well as the deaths of Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
All senseless. All horrible.
On one hand, it felt like I needed to say something. On the other, I realize that I have a very small audience here, and that most already agree.
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
– Martin Luther
With all due respect, Marty, I’m not sure that’s gonna cut it anymore.
What could a southern, white, male senior citizen possibly contribute to the conversation?
I mean, I am someone who has never been denied a job or dismissed from a job because of skin color…incompetence is an entirely different post…and, FWIW, politics is an entire novel…
I am someone who doesn’t get looked at with suspicion when he walks into a store…
I am a father who never has to worry about his sons “driving while black”… again, driving while doing something stupid is an entirely different post…
What could I possibly say? What right do I have to say it?
And yet, how can I stay silent?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
But Thursday, and even Friday during the day, I looked at the commentary I saw. Left and right were condemning what happened to George Floyd. I didn’t see anyone defending the policemen. Oh, a couple of wingnuts here and there tried. But everyone else, and I do mean everyone else, was condemning what happened and calling for swift action.
Then the protests came, and the rioting started, followed by the fires and the looting.
On one hand, we were watching the historic SpaceX launch, but at the same time, we were watching our cities burn.
I couldn’t keep up with the news.
It was like watching the landing scene in Airplane…now arriving…gate 10, gate 11, gate 12…
Hopefully, that will help.
I go on Twitter (I know, it’s a cesspool), and see that celebrities are donating to the defense funds of those arrested in Minneapolis and I’m like once again…excuse my abbreviated French…WTF?
No, I don’t get what it’s like to be black in America. I don’t have the same fears. I don’t have the experiences that would cause me to react in similar manners.
But I can’t find any scenario where the rioting and the looting and the property damage make sense.
When my friends on the left (some of them lefter than others) post the memes about how the football kneeling protests or marches didn’t work so now there has to be violence, all I can think is, have you lost your effing mind?
How does destroying the dream of an African American bar owner in Minneapolis who saw his life savings burned to the ground bring justice?
How does beating a Dallas shop owner to nearly to death, just because he wanted to defend his property, bring justice?
How does looting a Catholic bookstore run by nuns in Chicago bring justice?
How does beating an elderly woman with a two-by-four while she and her husband are trying to defend their shop bring justice?
How does destroying the offices of a progressive newspaper in Raleigh bring justice?
How does setting a house with a child inside on fire, and then blocking the fire department bring justice?
I live in a city where, three months ago, some 20,000 2nd Amendment supporters marched on the State Capitol in defense of their rights and in opposition to overreaching gun control laws coming out of the General Assembly (sorry, was that politicizing?).
While most of them were armed, not a single shot was fired. And on their way home, they picked up their trash.
I spent days watching the Tweets and Facebook posts of friends who were terrified at the very thought.
Now, many of those same friends are defending the riots. Riots that damaged multiple businesses in our arts district.
We were already on the edge of economic disaster. Many small businesses will never recover from the COVID-19 lock down.
Now their property, perhaps the only leverage they had against reopening, is gone.
How is this justice?
I know, as a white man, I’m not allowed to ask that question. So, I’ll let the Mayor of Atlanta do it for me.
Years ago, I had another spell where I had given up on active involvement in politics. It was the picture of Elian Gonzalez at the business end of a storm trooper’s gun that got me involved again. And I stayed involved for years, working in local politics, blogging online.
Finally, I came to a point where I was just as disgusted with those I was promoting as I was with the not-so-loyal opposition and I turned my attention elsewhere. I turned to writing, to making art, to making theatre, and to the wearing of the red suit.
I’m still trying to focus on those things, but they may not be enough.
Maybe the problem is when we choose not to speak up for injustice.
Maybe the larger problem is not being able to agree on what justice is.
For now, it may be that we have to learn to agree on what justice is not.
Justice is not what happened to George Floyd.
Justice is also not rioting and burning down our cities.
Both statements can be true.
But, am I allowed to say them?