Two Americas

It has been a sobering last few days in the U.S. The recent shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the retaliatory killing of five Dallas police officers have had a chilling effect on America’s psyche. Some are shocked, many are angry and many more are scared. How could this happen? What could have been done to avoid these deaths?

To many who viewed the separate videos of Castile and Sterling it was shocking to witness the killing of these two men. Sadly, this is something that we’ve seen all too often over the past few years with the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Akai Gurley at the hands of police. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the police and appreciate what they do very much. I also understand that they have a very tough job and have to make split second life or death decisions. Their bravery is unparalleled. But there has to be a change.

Across the country we have seen movements spawn such as “Black Lives Matter” and other ones such as “Blue Lives Matter,” but there is something that has to be said about getting to some real solutions. The main problem is perception. Many in the black community feel like the police are not serving as protectors and rather predators while some in the police community feel like they are targeted because of the uniform that they wear.

The contentious relationship that African-Americans have in this country dates back to Civil War era and earlier with the systemic  criminalization of black people through laws enacted by many states that forbade things such as reading, smoking in public, neglecting to step out of the way of a white person approached on a walkway and so forth. There were also vagrancy laws in that stipulated that unemployed individuals could be jailed and leased out as labor–these laws targeted newly freed slaves in particular, and ironically placed them back into the service of the very slave owners that they were freed from.

Conversely, there are the senseless killings of police in Dallas as well as the 2014 ambush style killing of two police officers in their cruiser. With instances like this it can be easy to see why some police officers would be on edge.

I know that many average Americans were unaware of the contentious and some times deadly encounters that people in the African-American community face with police. It was until these very graphic videos surfaced that people’s eyes started to open and reality began to set in. It’s as if we live in two America’s. One where police are perceived as protectors for all and another where they are perceived as predators to certain communities. In a classic Christopher Priest-written issue of Black Panther, T’Challa captures this sentiment perfectly.

Image Courtesy of Black Panther vol. 2 issue 8 (1998)

Indeed, how many nations are in this land? I believe that things can get better once people start acknowledging each other’s grievances and fears, that’s when some progress can happen. I truly hope that someday we can achieve the ideal that is America, “Out of many, one”

Demagogues Like Us

During a news conference earlier this week, president Vladimir Putin praised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as an “absolute leader in the U.S. presidential race.” He also added compliments like ” brilliant and talented,” to describe Mr. Trump.  After hearing about these compliments, Mr. Trump responded by saying, “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Mr. Trump went on to note Mr. Trump’s high poll numbers. In a separate interview with Joe Scarborough, he also mentioned, in an indirect insult to our President, ” at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” During that interview the host, Joe Scarborough mentioned that Putin has killed journalists and political opponents in the past but Mr. Trump casually replied by saying that the U.S. does the same thing.

Wow.

Image courtesy of: The BBC

Now you can see how this is concerning for various reasons. Firstly, Mr. Putin sanctioned the unlawful annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine just to keep the Ukraine from developing closer ties with the west. That alone flies in the face of American values of independence and free rule. Secondly, Mr. Putin has utilized the media, much like Mr. Trump to push their agenda–Mr. Putin directly and Mr. Trump indirectly.  Thirdly, to not condemn violence against a people group, and actually condone it, is not a virtue that a current or potential president should have.

Both New York Times journalist Charles Blow and Professor Michael Signer wrote interesting  articles on demagogues—-Singer’s piece was in the Washington Post . In Singer’s article he quotes author James Fenimore Cooper who described demagogues as meeting four criteria, “they posture as men of the common people; they trigger waves of powerful emotion; they manipulate this emotion for political benefit; and they threaten or break established principles of governance.” When you hear Vladimir Putin railing against Western involvement in Russia’s affairs or Donald Trump talking about placing a wall to keep immigrants out you can see some of Fenimore’s criteria being fulfilled in both men.

One of the interesting things is that these characteristics are seen in long-time Superman arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. He is a character who defines himself as a man of the people, defending the world from the evil alien, Superman. This is rhetoric that we have seen in our political discourse before.

In the series Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, it explores this characters thought process—this is someone who truly sees himself as the good guy in this story.

Image Courtesy of: dcwikia.com

But thankfully in the end the good guy wins out. That, at least, gives us hope.

Putin the Power Ranger

It is amazing to me the hubris of some world leaders. I typically don’t talk about current political events but I think that something needs to be said about this. Russian President Vladimir Putin has inserted himself in the sad events in Syria. He went before the U.N. in late September to urge members of the UN to back Bashar Al-Assad in fighting the Islamic State or ISIL. Now we see the outcome of this, President Putin has sent jet fighters to prop up his buddy, Al-Assad as they take on ISIL. From non-Russian news outlets most of the targets hit were American-friendly Free Syrian rebels. So, I have to ask, “What is this guy’s problem?”

In the past we have seen Mr. Putin shut down protests against parliamentary elections in 2011 as well as those against his re-election in 2012. To him it seems that maintaining the state’s status quo is what’s necessary to maintain order. I think that is why he supports Assad’s regime so strongly. Order at any cost–despite the fact that this man brutalizes his own populace.

And to come to the aid of Assad, Putin springs into action like a Power Ranger.  

Just recently we also saw the two men showing a united front in Moscow with their obviously planned photo op.

I’ve wondered what if there was someone (or someones) who could stand up to this type of aggression without worrying about politics. Now understand me, I am not talking about endless war, but a counterbalance to oppression. People who aren’t afraid to do what’s right. A group of people who do the right thing despite whatever the politics of the days says. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail,  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I explore this in my latest novel. More to come. Stay tuned.