“It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge.” — W. E. B. Dubois
There is no escape from heartbreak. There is no running away from our problems. The small problems, we can change. The large problems are made by interlocking systems that churn on and on and on. They are fueled by human industry, the blood and sweat of working people held under the thumb of oligarchs and plutocrats.
But, as Mario Savio enjoined us, we can put our bodies on the gears of this machine. And we must.
We must be sand in the gears of the systems that are killing us and choking the planet.
And meanwhile, we must help each other, as often as we can.
The judge ruled that the AK-15 Kyle Rittenhouse killed three people with was not a deadly weapon. Rittenhouse loves police. He admires Proud Boys and other white nationalists. He traveled across state lines with this not-a-deadly-weapon, driven there by his mother.
Black men are killed for just existing.
Black women are killed for just existing.
Black children are killed for just existing.
White men? They are considered good for just existing.
Kyle Rittenhouse, a young white man, was acquitted by Judge Bruce Schroeder and coddled by the system that says protestors deserve to be shot and run down in the streets, and that Black, Latine, Asian, and Indigenous lives don’t matter at all, except as cannon fodder or minds, and hands, and backs that churn out gold and entertainment for the rich.
When a system that kills judges a killer not guilty, what does that say about the society that built it?
A Black man wandered through a building under construction.
White men wandered through a building under construction.
White women wandered through a building under construction.
White children wandered through a building under construction, taking plywood to build a skateboard ramp.
Only one of these people is dead. His name was Ahmaud Arbery. He was chased and killed by three white men. There are eleven white people on the twelve person jury. The prosecutor asked that Black pastors supporting Arbery’s family be removed from the courtroom.
There is to be no succor for the grieving and oppressed.
White supremacy runs rampant through the United States, as in many parts of the globe.
White nationalists crowd school board meetings, intimidating children and parents, screaming—spittle flying from unmasked faces—about sheep.
White nationalists burn torches while shouting “Jews will not replace us!”
White nationalists hunt down Black men and those who support Black liberation. They spray paint synagogues. They drive through crowds. They carry guns. Bear mace. Fists.
White men murder Black trans women.
White women call police on Black men out looking at birds. At Black women who dare to contradict them in public places.
Black, Latine, and Indigenous children end up dead simply for playing, or sleeping, or being.
Tamir Rice was playing in a park.
Andy Lopez was playing in an empty lot.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones was sleeping in her home.
“Who will protect us if we are robbed, or raped, or murdered?”
Dealing with violent crime is only 4% of police activity in most cities.1 Mostly, police harass people that wealthy or middle class white people deem unacceptable. Rich white people close their hearts and their gates.
The systems they uphold close human beings into cages.
Indigenous children are still stolen from their homes.
Black children are still stolen from their homes.
Asian grandparents are beaten on the streets.
Indigenous women go missing every day.
People are terrorized in jails, awaiting trial, because they cannot afford bail.
Black people are stopped and fingerprinted because—by going about their lives—they are considered “suspicious.”
“If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin2
If you do not insist that Black, brown, Asian, and Indigenous lives matter…
If you do not speak out against injustice…
If you do not actively root out racism within yourself and your communities…
If you do not give up your seat at the table when you figure out the only other people sitting there are white like you…
If you do not make noise. Refuse to move. Throw sand on the gears of this brutal machine…
You may as well pull the trigger yourself next time.
Because none of this is about one “bad” person. Or one “bad” institution. This is about all of us. About every white person breathing right now. About our ancestors and who profited, in large ways or small. This is about the whole filthy system and every stinking, interlocking, rotting piece.
Every dead body was a living person once. Someone loved them. Someone mourns them.
Eleanor Bumpurs. Emmet Till. Stonefield Chiefstick. George Stinney Jr. Loreal Tsingine. Sandra Bland. Bobby Hutton. Kayla Moore.
The 12 million indigenous people killed in the US between 1492 and 1900. The thousands more killed or gone missing since.
The 35 million Africans enslaved.
The more than 4000 Chinese workers killed while building railroads.
Their spirits call out for justice. For freedom. For the right to simply live.
What are you doing to help bring about change?
Are you fighting for history to be taught in schools?
Are you working with unhoused people toward solutions around food, sanitation, and housing?
Are you speaking out against injustice?
Are you monkey wrenching?
Are you organizing workers?
Are you sharing food and resources?
Are holding billionaires’ feet to the fire?
Are you listening?
I’ve written these words one hundred times over the past decades. Ideas for engagement. Words calling for us to show up for each other.
So today, I want to hear your ideas.
We can’t run away. We can’t bury our problems. We can’t turn away from suffering.
We cannot escape this. We cannot walk away from Omelas, not while Omelas still stands. Not while one child is still tethered in a dark basement, being tortured.
And these days? Any life of relative comfort is built on torture.
What are we doing about it?
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
— Angela Y. Davis
T. Thorn Coyle
Portland, Oregon, November 2021
1: I’ve seen this sourced in many places, but here is an NYT article on the percentage.
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