TCS: Each Day Bears Witness – Riots in a Plague Year

. . Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


“You’re not supposed to be so blind with
  patriotism that you can’t face reality.
  Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.”

― Malcolm X


Right in the middle of the worst pandemic since the 1918 Influenza killed millions, in the country which is leading the world in new cases of Covid-19, a police officer gives a black man an agonizing death, even as civilians plead with him to stop, seemingly just because he believes he can get away with it. It takes days before he is arrested, and the three other cops who stood by and let him do it were fired, but they have not been arrested or charged.

There are riots, fires and looting across the U.S. Many people are finding this incomprehensible.

In Los Angeles, we’ve been here before. And if things don’t change, we will be here again. And again. 

From The Guardian, August 24, 2018:

From 2010 to 2014, police in Los Angeles County shot 375 people, about one person every 5 days. Black residents make up 9% of the population, but represented 24% of deaths . . .

. . . Since 2000, there have been no charges for the more than 1,500 shootings by police in the county. Since District Attorney Jackie Lacey was elected in 2012, roughly 400 people have been killed by on-duty officers or died in custody, according to Black Lives Matter LA. Lacey even declined to file charges when the chief of the LA Police Department (LAPD) called for the prosecution of one of his own officers.

“It really greenlights this type of behavior,” said Melina Abdullah, a BLM organizer in LA. “Police don’t have to care about anybody’s life, especially if they’re black or brown or poor.”

. . . On a recent afternoon, Abdullah took the Guardian to sites of police killings in south LA. One stop was a quiet alley where three years earlier, LAPD officers had killed Redel Jones, a 30-year-old woman who had a kitchen knife and was fleeing police.

Jones, who had struggled on and off with homelessness, loved web design, dancing, cartoon shows, electronic music and rap and had a “brain that was always moving”, said Marcus Vaughn, Jones’s husband . . .

Headlines, however, reduced her to a “suspect” wanted for a robbery. And two years later, Lacey, the prosecutor, reduced her case to a statistic, clearing the policeman with her standard finding of “lawful self-defense”. . .

“They did not care about Redel. Her death was one less black person. How are you just gonna kill a woman like she just meant nothing?” said Vaughn, adding that Jones was less than five feet tall and had bipolar disorder and depression, but was not violent . . .

In the city of Los Angeles, police shootings were down by 25% in 2019. The LAPD website now has a “Use of Force” page listing incidents. It seemed like a small step toward the change which has been needed for so long.

But that was before COVID-19.

In May, 2019, the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.6%. It’s a deceptive figure, because it doesn’t take into account that the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009, so many hard-working people don’t get paid enough to cover all their bills, and need the federal SNAP food assistance program just to survive. SNAP is a favorite target for budget cuts by Republican lawmakers.

The current unemployment rate is officially 14.7%, but that’s only the people who are eligible for unemployment benefits. There are thousands who still need a job, but aren’t eligible for benefits, that the system doesn’t recognize. Projections say it’s going to get a lot worse.

Add stress from weeks of isolation, fear of the virus, and an administration in Washington which has blocked efforts to fight the pandemic at every level. An Administration which has given billions to huge, profitable corporations, and tax breaks to the nation’s wealthiest, but a pittance to small businesses and the American people. A man in the Oval Office who daily spews racism, classism, and misogyny, who incites violence, praising its perpetrators if they’re gun-toting white nationalists, or ICE agents.

It was only a matter of time before an incident somewhere would spark the fear and frustration, and protests against injustice would turn into blind rage. And as always, there are opportunists who will take advantage of the chaos, making things worse.

Sorry to delay the Monday poetry. As you can probably tell, I’m tired, jittery and thinking too much, sleepless in the dark hours.


For the Consideration of Poets

by Haki R. Madhubuti

where is the poetry of resistance, the poetry of honorable defiance
unafraid of lies from career politicians and business men,
not respectful of journalist who write
official speak void of educated thought
without double search or sub surface questions
that war talk demands?
where is the poetry of doubt and suspicion
not in the service of the state, bishops and priests,
not in the service of beautiful people and late night promises,
not in the service of influence, incompetence and academic clown talk?

“For the Consideration of Poets” from Run Toward Fear © 2004 by Haki R. Madhubuti – Third World Press

Haki R. Madhubuti (1942 – ) was born Don Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is an African-American author, educator, and poet, as well as a publisher and bookstore owner. He chose his name in Swahili in 1974 after visiting Africa. Haki means “justice,” and Madhubuti means “precise and dependable.” His two major poetry collections are GroundWork and HeartLove.


I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

“I, Too” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes – Knopf and Vintage Books

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was born in Joplin Missouri. American poet-author-playwright, social activist, novelist, and columnist.  After working his way to Europe as a ship’s crewman, he spent time in Paris, and London, then returned to the states, spending time in Washington DC, where he met Vachel Lindsay, who helped him gain recognition. He became one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.


We Are Not Responsible

by Harryette Mullen

We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives. 
We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions. 
We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts. 
We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. 

Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations. 
In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. 
Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments. 

If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way. 
In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself. 
Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle
your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we
are unable to find the key to your legal case. 

You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. 
You are not presumed to be innocent if the police 
have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. 
It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color. 
It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. 

Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. 
You have no rights we are bound to respect. 
Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible 
for what happens to you. 

“We Are Not Responsible” from Sleeping With The Dictionary, © 2002 by Harryette Mullen –  University of California Press

Harryette Mullen (1953 – ) was born in Alabama, and grew up in Texas; African American poet, short story writer, and literary scholar. She is a Professor of English at University of California, Los Angeles. Among her nine volumes of poetry are: Tree Tall Women; Muse & Drudge; Blues Baby; and Urban Tumbleweed. Sleeping With the Dictionary was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award for Poetry.


Ghazal, After Ferguson

by Yusef Komunyakaa

Somebody go & ask Biggie to orate
what’s going down in the streets.

No, an attitude is not a suicide note
written on walls around the streets.

Twitter stays lockstep in the frontal lobe
as we hope for a bypass beyond the streets,

but only each day bears witness
in the echo chamber of the streets.

Grandmaster Flash’s thunderclap says
he’s not the grand jury in the streets,

says he doesn’t care if you’re big or small
fear can kill a man on the streets.

Take back the night. Take killjoy’s
cameras & microphones to the streets.

If you’re holding the hand lightning strikes
juice will light you up miles from the streets

where an electric chair surge dims
all the county lights beyond the streets.

Who will go out there & speak laws
of motion & relativity in the streets?

Yusef, this morning proves a crow
the only truth serum in the street.

“Ghazal, After Ferguson” from The Emperor of Water Clocks, © 2015 by Yusef Komunyakaa – Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Yusef Komunyakaa (1941 – ) was born James William Brown in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He took the Komunyakaa, believed to be his grandfather’s African name. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Irvine in 1980. He has taught at the University of New Orleans, Indiana University, Princeton and New York University. Among his poetry collections are: Lost in the Bone Wheel Factory; I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head; Magic City; and Thieves of Paradise. His book Neon Vernacular won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He won the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize for lifetime accomplishment in 2001.


Bent to the Earth

by Blas Manuel de Luna

They had hit Ruben
with the high beams, had blinded
him so that the van
he was driving, full of Mexicans
going to pick tomatoes,
would have to stop. Ruben spun

the van into an irrigation ditch,
spun the five-year-old me awake
to immigration officers,
their batons already out,
already looking for the soft spots on the body,
to my mother being handcuffed
and dragged to a van, to my father
trying to show them our green cards.

They let us go. But Alvaro
was going back.
So was his brother Fernando.
So was their sister Sonia. Their mother
did not escape,
and so was going back. Their father
was somewhere in the field,
and was free. There were no great truths

revealed to me then. No wisdom
given to me by anyone. I was a child
who had seen what a piece of polished wood
could do to a face, who had seen his father
about to lose the one he loved, who had lost
some friends who would never return,
who, later that morning, bent
to the earth and went to work.

“Bent to the Earth” from Bent to the Earth, © 2006 by Blas Manuel De Luna –
 Carnegie Mellon University Press

Blas Manuel De Luna (1969 – ) was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and worked with his family in California’s agricultural fields. He earned a BA and an MA from California State University, Fresno, and an MFA from the University of Washington. His first book of poetry, Bent to the Earth, was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award.  


Making Peace

by Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’

                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .

                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

“Making Peace” from Breathing the Water, © 1987 by Denise Levertov – New Directions Publishing

Denise Levertov (1923-1997) British-born American poet, known for her anti-Vietnam war poems in the 1960s and 1970s, which also included themes of destruction by greed, racism, and sexism. Her later poetry reflects her conversion to Catholicism. No matter the subject, she was always an acute observer, and wrote with a rare combination of economy and grace. Levertov was the author of 24 books of poetry, as well as non-fiction, and she served as poetry editor of The Nation and Mother Jones. She was honored with the Robert Frost Medal in 1990, and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1993. In 1997, Levertov died from complications of lymphoma at the age of seventy-four.


Bonfire photo from the L.A. Riots in 1992

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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