They Should Live Where You Live

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait,” Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am not going to rant about the deaths of unarmed Black men and women, and unarmed men and women of color killed by police or those who have unnecessarily died in police custody.  As someone who was once harassed by police, I need no convincing that this nation has a policing problem.  (And I’m too exhausted with the campaigns for President of the United States to make any commentary about that.)  Yet, as much as this nation has a problem about the often poor relationships between police and communities of color, I would add that it is dangerous to make or create a single national narrative about these relationships. We need several narratives and they need to be local.  Let me give you a scenario that paints one local picture about where I live.

On that rare occasion when I have called police, I typically got a quick response.  And I live in a 99.9% Black middle class Atlanta neighborhood.  Typically, the only time the police are called on the street where I live is when someone has a dog that barks late at night (this usually requires a phone call to Animal Control, as well), or when some kids are playing music too loud and late at night; but none of this happens with any real frequency.  Some homes are occupied by renters who often have to learn that some things are not tolerated in this subdivision.  Now, one of the key differences about my subdivision’s relationship to police is that there is a small group of neighbors, all of who are homeowners, who regularly speak with police about anything they see as out of the ordinary.  I also learned from these same neighbors to call the Non-Emergency Police Line and request that an officer come out to see you personally.  You do this when you want a small matter handled without getting someone arrested.  Let me give you an example.

A dog was barking continuously late at night.  I rarely saw the pet’s owner because she worked odd hours.  She was a renter, looked to be maybe twenty-something years old, but I did not know her, and I rarely saw her long enough to speak to her about the dog.  A neighbor had placed a note in her mailbox about the dog, but nothing happened.  I was awakened late at night and in the early morning to this barking dog for about two weeks.  Every night he would bark, I would go look out my windows to make sure there wasn’t some stranger or some intrusive animal lurking around the house.  I never saw anything.  I called Animal Control, first.

Animal Control said call the police because the owner of the dog was violating a Noise Ordinance by allowing the animal to stay outside and disturb the peace after 10:00 PM.  I called the Non-Emergency Police Line.  The officer that answered the phone asked if I had contacted Animal Control.  I told him that I had spoken with Animal Control, and then I asked him to send a police officer to my home so that I could speak with them.  Because it was not an emergency, he told me someone would come by in about two hours.  In roughly 45 minutes a police officer was pulling up in my driveway.  I walked outside and spoke to the officer, and told him about the dog.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.  I said, “I want you to go over to her house and just tell her that she either needs to put the dog in the house at night or get the dog one of those collars that deters barking.  Let her know about the Noise Ordinance law because she might not know this. I don’t want anyone cited for anything.  I just need you to let her know that the dog is keeping people up late at night.” 

The police officer did exactly what I asked him to do.  He came back and told me he had spoken with the woman.  Since all backyards on my street are fenced in, it is quite typical for pets to remain safely outside in one’s backyard during the day or night.  I reasoned that because she worked odd hours, often at night, she probably never heard her dog creating a disturbance.  That same evening before she left for work, she put her dog inside her house so the pet would not wake up her neighbors.

Now, what I did to resolve this small problem here in Atlanta might not work somewhere else.  It might not even work in another section of Atlanta.  In a different town or neighborhood, I might have been harassed (or possibly, shot) because I dared complain about a barking dog; and the police might not have even bothered to come out to speak with me or with my neighbor about what the police considered a trivial matter.  In some scenarios, where you live matters almost as much as the color of your skin or the nature of the problem.  However, too often the narratives or plans of action, come from national leaders who do not have a clue about the relationships between police and citizens in any particular neighborhood or town.  Furthermore, what works in Atlanta might not work in New York City and then again it might work in New York City.  Yet, Atlanta is not New York City is not Ferguson is not Baltimore is not Chicago, and etcetera.

Many powerful public voices are speaking out against police brutality and the need for more meaningful dialogues between the police and people in the communities the police are supposed to serve.  They are right for doing so.  Yet, many of those national and/or regional voices do not live where you and I live.  In fact, many “so-called” local activists do not live where we live.  Every Black person I know, knows of at least one activist minister who only visits a particular neighborhood to preach on Sunday, while that same minister no longer lives in the neighborhood where the church is located, but rather lives in some distant suburb.  We all know at least one activist politician who is always speaking out about something that has gone terribly wrong in one of our communities.  The problem is that minister or politician often never sets foot in the neighborhood in question until there is a problem or until it is election time.  Their voices may be necessary, and much of what they have to say might be useful.  Yet, they should not be the only voices defining the narrative about how to address these problems.

If you want to find out more about the police where you live, you can and probably should stop by a nearby police precinct and introduce yourself.  You will find out rather quickly how cordial those police are to you in a few minutes.  It never hurts when a few police officers know you as a law-abiding citizen that tries to look out for your neighborhood.  Additionally, when there is a real problem in your neighborhood, you might get a much swifter response because of that relationship.

Yet, you should also carefully monitor and choose who should speak for you and your community.  Whoever it is ought to know the lay of the land, how the people who live there interact with each other and with law enforcement officials.  It ought to be someone that has a personal vested interest in where you live, not simply someone who shows up when a problem arises so that they can get some good press coverage.  It ought to be someone who lives where you live.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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A Messed-Up Religious Narrative

by Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

On Easter Sunday morning, 27 March 2016, I received a rather cryptic text message from Facebook.  It read as:

“Facebook Safety Check: Are you affected by the explosion?

Reply SAFE if you’re ok or OUT if you aren’t in the area.”

I got nervous.  I went online to look up if there had been any explosions.  I did not find anything on the Internet that said anything about a recent explosion.  I found older stories about bombings and terrorist attacks in other parts of the world from last year, but not one for Easter Sunday in 2016.  Then I really got paranoid…

I rarely use my smart phone for anything other than an occasional phone call.  I almost never use apps—don’t exactly trust them—and I was slightly worried that this Facebook text might be some hoax going around to see how many people would respond to such a strange message.  If I respond, I thought, I am going to end up with some computer virus…

Reluctantly, I replied “OUT” to the Facebook text. Whoever (or whatever) sent the text would know that I was not in or near this explosion wherever it was, I thought to myself.

I checked the Internet again in about an hour.  The news reports began coming in, stating that some group of Muslim terrorists was claiming responsibility for an explosion in Lahore, Pakistan that killed a minimum of 72 people, and injured over 300 people who were celebrating the Christian holiday of Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus (Yeshua), the Christ.  The murder of Christians by Muslims would again frame much of the news coverage. The religious narrative would—at least superficially—be a Muslim versus Christian narrative.  That narrative is messed-up…

I have never visited Lahore, Pakistan.  Yet, one of my former professors was born there. Indirectly, my association with him, a man who I consider a mentor and good friend, has introduced me to many people located in or from Pakistan.  I am proud to say that I have given academic advice and encouragement via my Facebook inbox to many young men in Lahore who are either going to college or planning to attend graduate school.   So, Facebook, for what it is worth, obviously assumed that I, an African American woman who is from and located in the United States, might actually be located in or near Lahore, Pakistan.  This time Social Media’s interpretation of who (or even what) I was taught me a lesson via an obvious scan of my Facebook Friend list…

I am not Muslim.  The natives of Pakistan that I personally know and those I am in contact with are all Muslims.  They are Muslims who constantly pray for peace, and who condemn the heinous acts of extremists and terrorists, and who also speak out against racism and sexism and religious intolerance. The American news media, however, has conveniently forgotten to tell Americans that the splinter group that broke away from the Taliban, named “Jamaat-ul-Ahrar,” killed as many Muslims as it has Christians. In fact, the majority of those Pakistanis who died in the attacks on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan happened to be Muslim.

CNN’s provocative and rather misleading headline was “In Pakistan, Taliban’s Easter Bombing, targets, kills scores of Christians.”  To be sure, scores of Christians died in that awful attack.  Yet, to ignore the random acts of violence by groups like this (including ISIS or ISIL) that have, honestly, killed more Muslims than Christians is to perpetuate a religious narrative that can get us all killed, have all of us turning on each other instead of talking to each other.

If you have half a brain, you know that to single out any group of people as the sole source of your problems is to also invite a group (any group) outside of that definition to do all manner of harm to you.  This all reminds me of the time when one of my history students hipped me to a video where all of a particular department store’s security guards were watching all of the store’s African-American customers.  Yet, while those same security guards were scrutinizing the Black customers, there was a small band of White patrons who were shoplifting at the store. 

I am only a historian and academic.  Yet, I am one who knows that when people do not do their research, when they fail to look below the surface, when they do not think outside the box, when they succumb to easy answers and easy stereotypes because those stereotypes make them feel safe or superior, all of us suffer.  With an Internet that contains volumes of information—some tainted information, and some that is accurate—there is really no excuse for you or I not knowing anything and not questioning those easy answers that our bought-and-paid-for media and politicians and pundits hand to us on a regular basis.  

Do not be a fool.  Do your work.  Do your research.  Now some people reading this will be upset or annoyed by my comments.  Religion for many people is, after all, a cultural, national, and often racial marker.  After all, the first terrorists my people knew were so-called Christians wearing sheets, lynching and torturing Black bodies and burning crosses on Black families’ lawns.  I would hate to think about my ancestors enduring that on Easter Sunday.   Àṣé!

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016.  All Rights Reserved.

 

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

One of My Mama’s Friends

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I have lived over fifty years and I have never really met and never really dealt with a Black woman who was passive. My experience may not be the same as everyone else’s, but as a young Black girl growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, there simply was no such thing as an uneducated, passive and do-nothing Black woman; and my late Mama and her friends have been that example. Mama’s friends have been a blessing to me while she was alive and a boon to me in her absence…

I will only share a little bit about one of them here…

Her full name is Mrs. Bendolyn Handspike Ricks. Her nickname is “Peaches.” The house she has shared with her husband of more than forty years has always been one of the homes in the neighborhood where all the kids went to just hang out and be kids and clown around.  Even though she insisted that I call her “Peaches” well over twenty years ago, I had to reach the age of fifty before I could call her anything other than “Mrs. Ricks.”  Being raised to be extra respectful to adults, I simply could not call her by her nickname until after I passed the half century mark.  But here is what I learned from “Peaches.”

Make your voice heard! Everyone at City Hall, the Mayor’s Office, and the local police department knows her.  She will call them all day long if need be to get what she needs and what our community needs. I know….

because when a pipe from the street collapsed and created a plumbing problem for me, the City’s water department claimed that they could not arrive at my house for the next three weeks.  So, I called Peaches…

and she told me the city council person I should call.  So, I called them and the water department and crew arrived the next morning rather than the next three weeks…

When she is travelling out of town, she asks that our police department send extra police officers to cruise by and look after her house…

and this past week, while she and her husband were vacationing, I watched as one police car after another sat near her house…

I say this to make a point…

One need not be wealthy to get something done. One need only be persistent enough to demand what one needs and to fight for what one needs… 

and one needs only to have the kind of Black women I know and grew up with…

On those occasions when I worry, I simply pause and remember my Mama and her cronies—some Baaaad Sisters who I can only hope to someday emulate…Àṣé!

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Ralph McGill Would Never Defend “Stand Your Ground”

Photographer: Jon Sullivan.  Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo.

“Scales of Justice” by Jon Sullivan, photographer. Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo. Available from Public-Domain-Image.com

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the late Ralph McGill (1898-1969), he was a White journalist and publisher of the old Atlanta Constitution (now the Atlanta Journal Constitution).  He was also a well-known liberal who wrote about racial discrimination in society at large and within the criminal justice system.  He did this long before the Civil Rights Movement reached its apogee in the 1960s.  Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned McGill in his eloquent “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”  King wrote that McGill and some other White journalists, “have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic and understanding terms.”  Indeed, McGill was a man who watched, learned, and evolved into one of the most progressive voices in the American South and the nation when it came to race relations, civil rights, and the penal system.  With that said, it is important for you to understand that I did not learn about Ralph McGill from a newspaper or a book, but rather from my schoolteacher mother.

Mama remembered that he emphasized that when a Black person killed another Black person they typically received very light jail or prison sentences—that is, if they received any jail time at all.  It was just the opposite if they had killed a White person.  He noted that because of this failure to properly punish Black people who killed other Black people, the judicial system literally encouraged those individuals to carry out their anger to its fullest possible extreme.  He accused the judicial system of encouraging Black folks to kill each other.  Mama said that there was an unsettling joke going around in Atlanta during the 1940s that said: if you were a Black man that killed another Black man you would be out of jail in time to go to your victim’s funeral.  Indeed, in his column in the Atlanta Constitution on September 17, 1941, McGill wrote:

“In the first place our courts, to our shame and, although no one seems to see it, to our very great financial cost, never take Negro crime seriously.  A Negro murderer, killing another Negro, rarely receives any severe punishment.  Juries and prosecutors have, for years, viewed them lightly as just another Negro killing, and therefore, of not much importance.”  (Ralph McGill – Crime, Standards, Methods 9-17-1941)

He remained one of a handful of White journalists that understood that any law or process or social practice that devalued Black life also made Black people the more likely targets of violence by killers of all races.  He also noted that many members of Atlanta’s then all-White police department had poor training and were “quick-on-the-trigger.”

I thought about Ralph McGill after the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February of 2012.  When Jordan Davis of Atlanta, Georgia was killed in Jacksonville, Florida later in November, I again thought about McGill, arguably one of the most vocal writers who paid serious attention to Black-on-Black and White-on-Black violence and the institutionalized racism in the criminal justice systems of Georgia and the nation.  I will not recount how Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin died needless and preventable deaths.  I will leave it to you to read the details of Davis’ death on your own.  (Take a minute and read Madison Gray’s very brief Time Magazine report “With Echoes of Trayvon Martin, Florida Man Claims Self Defense in Shooting Death of Teen.”)  Yet, I wonder what McGill might have said about the horrible killings of these two unarmed Black teenagers by two men—One of Peruvian and Jewish extraction and the other a White man.  I am sure he would have had much to say about the racial dynamics surrounding these two killings and the law known as “Stand Your Ground.”

Nearly half the states in this country have “Stand Your Ground” laws.  At minimum, these laws allow an individual the right to use deadly force if that individual has a reasonable belief that their lives are threatened.  Importantly, the law typically states that it is not necessary for a threatened individual to retreat from the perceived danger.  The jury is still out on whether this kind of law has reduced crime rates anywhere.  It is important to note, however, that there is nothing in these laws that give citizens the right to provoke and/or create a potentially volatile scenario where they place themselves in danger and then use deadly force in response to the dangerous scenario they created.

The fact that George Zimmerman, charged with second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, was told by a 911 operator not to follow Martin, has forced Zimmerman’s attorneys to drop the use of “Stand Your Ground” as a part of his defense is cause for all of us to pause.  The fact that Michael Dunn, charged with the murder of Jordan Davis (and also charged with attempted murder of the other teens in the SUV), told these kids to turn their music down at a gas station is also problematic.  Most people do not stay at a gas station for very long.  Is it safe or even logical to tell total strangers what to do or what not to do while they are seated in their own vehicles at a public place like a gas station at 7:30 in the evening?  Think about it.  Will Florida lawmakers ever understand that the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws are not always working in the best interests of its citizens?  McGill would have recognized the counterproductive and dangerous potential for abuse in “Stand Your Ground” legislation.

When I finally got the opportunity to read some of the newspaper columns written by McGill, I noticed some important qualities:  He spoke his mind about what was going on in the city and the world at that moment.  Yet, he did so with an eye on the future.  Like many of Atlanta’s early boosters, he always prescribed the course of action that he believed was best for the city of Atlanta—the entire city of Atlanta.  He knew that crime, racial discrimination, racial virulence, and the like, were bad for the city.  He was as practical and he was ethical.

I do not know exactly what McGill might have said or asked about the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.  Yet, I have little doubt that he would understand and endorse the necessity of raising the following questions about how citizens interpret their rights as defined in “Stand Your Ground” law:  How does the “Stand Your Ground” law define “feeling threatened”?  If you look menacing or say something that makes me feel afraid, will the law allow me the right to use deadly force against you based solely on my assumption of what I think you might do?  Do citizens need more than the basic right of self-defense?  What might an angry person do if they are armed and know that they might be able to get away with killing someone because, by law, they do not have to retreat from danger?  Much like Atlanta in 1941, does not this law encourage people to choose to kill one another?  Don’t these kind of laws eventually breed a flagrant disregard for the law?  McGill wrote that, “Anything that breeds contempt for the law is costly.”  He was right.

When I asked my Mama why she liked Ralph McGill, she simply said,

“He made sense and he was always, always fair.  He always asked for justice and the fair treatment of all citizens.  Justice and fair treatment were the only things Black people wanted.”

Justice and fair treatment are still all we want.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

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Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.