Of course they did. Because that’s what they do. They inflict violence on people they perceive have no power, and that they believe will lose any we said/cop said scenario. They almost always escalate. It’s a version of the old “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Police academy training primes them to assume that everyone not wearing a badge is just someone waiting for an excuse to attack them, and they only tools they believe they can rely on are violence and the complicity of their fellow officers.
If they were serious at reform they would look at those federal cases, we see that in the eyes of the law, cops are just crime accountants, not crime fighters. Their only obligations are to observe and record the aftermath of crimes, not prevent crimes, and not even to arrest criminals if they don’t want to.
So what we need is a Law Enforcement Act. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed various kinds of discrimination under an argument that while the Constitution guarantees basic civil rights, it doesn’t always spell out what those rights are. Though the Tenth Amendment does say that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government in the Constitution belong to the States and to the People. And the Fourteenth Amendment says that no person can be deprived of the equal protection of the law and that citizens can’t have their rights abridged has often been interpreted as affirming that people are entitled to rights not spelled out elsewhere. That was most of the legal justification of the Civil Rights Act: at attempt by Congress to define what some of those unspecified rights are, and to provide a framework for the enforcement of both enumerated and unspecified rights.
The Law Enforcement Act could extend that framework, though the points I suggest such an Act must have can be read right out of one ennumerated right from the First Amendment, and one part of the Fourteenth.
Lots of people claim all sorts of things are protected by the First Amendment, and I don’t want to get into that debate. For this purpose, I’m going to stick to the text. One of the rights specifically mentioned in the First Amendment that most people forget about is the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” My proposed Law Enforcement Act would define the following things as part of that right to petition the Government:
- The right to sue individual police, police departments, and local and state governments which fund those police departments for failure to protect ordinary residents, or for police misconduct that harms a person or deprives them of property, or for wrongful death. In other words, repeal limited immunity.
- The right to require public hearings for police misconduct allegations, and a right for ordinary residents who make such allegations to appeal any findings of the misconduct hearings to a civil authority outside the police department.
- The right to demand judicial review of clauses of police union contracts which in any way impede those aforementioned rights
- the right to have any property seized through asset forfeiture returned (and in the case of cash, with interest) unless there is a conviction by a jury of a crime related to said assets. (I would prefer that asset forfeiture be outlawed completely, but I know that’s not going to happen.)
Next, turning to the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the rights that it forbids States from infringing is “the equal protection of the laws.” And so the act should spell out the equal protection includes:
- An obligation of the police to protect all persons within their jurisdiction.
- Any State the fails to enact laws that protect the rights listed in the Act shall be denied all federal monies for any current or future program to support law enforcement.
There are a lot of others things that Act ought to have, but if we can just get the right to sue the police and government over misconduct and failure to protect citizens, the stick of all those lawsuits is going to force police reform.
Let’s change topicsSince the surprisingly pro-LGBTQ pro-trans Supreme Court ruling about employment discrimination, I have heard and read a lot of queer folks incorrectly saying that the Court found employment discrimination about queer folks unconstitutional. No. The ruling was not about constitutionality. It was a statutory interpretation ruling. It was a logical recognition that discrimination against LGBTQ people is a form of sex discrimination. The ruling could probably be undone by the simple passage of a law of Congress that “clarifies” the meaning of sex discrimination in the earlier law.
Now, as long as the Democrats control at least one house of Congress, that isn’t likely to happen. And, heck, if you noticed how few Republican Senators put out a spirited criticism of the ruling, reflects the reality that a large majority of voters support the ruling, so support for such a bill is likely soft on the Republican side.
However, religious freedom is explicitly protected in the Constitution, so we shouldn’t be surprised if, before the Court adjourns for the summer, one of those so-called Religious Freedom cases doesn’t walk much of that ruling back (Like Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru which was just argued last month). And whether it does or not, we can expect a lot more attempts to invalidate our lives in the name of religion.
Laws have frequently been used to target minorities and marginalized people who are not doing what most people would think of as criminal activity. When writing about the origins of Pride Month, I often mention that before the early-to-mid-seventies it was illegal for a woman to wear pants in public. This seems crazy to most people now, and it sometimes came as a shock to people back then, but there it was.
Other laws sound more reasonable until you understand how they were actually applied. For example, in 1968 the Nixon campaign committee came up with the idea of the War on Drugs as a way to target two groups which opposed all of Nixon’s priorities: black people and those opposed to the Vietnam War. Many years after the fact, Nixon domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, explained it:
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Long before that loitering laws were used to harass anyone that the powers that be found undesirable. Loitering was usually defined as “a person simply being in a public place for no apparent reason.” In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that loitering ordinances and vagrancy ordinances were unconstitutional for two reason: they were so vague that a common citizens couldn’t be sure what behavior constituted the crime, and police were able to arbitrarily enforce it on people who were poor, members of minorities, and so forth.
Historically, the laws were almost always used to target minorities.
The Supreme Court ruling led many jurisdictions to replace the ordinances with so-called “loitering plus” laws. These were ordinances supposedly didn’t make simply being in a public place a crime, but rather being in public for various nefarious purposes. And one of the most popular in the late 80s and 90s were so-called “drug loitering” laws. These laws allowed police to demand ID and to perform personal searches on anyone who was in public and behaving in a way that made the cop suspect that maybe they might possibly be trying to buy or sell illegal drugs. Common activities that could get you arrested under these laws were such horrible criminal acts as: looking at the cars driving by on the roadway, waving at someone, appearing to be trying to make contact with other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
And the sad thing is that even though people tried to appeal these laws to the Supreme Court, it hasn’t accepted such a case for review in decades.
The City of Seattle passed one of these laws back in the 90s. I donated money to a campaign that tried to appeal the low through the courts. When that didn’t get anywhere, I donated money and even volunteered to phone back for a campaign that tried to get an initiative on the ballot to repeal the law. We didn’t succeed.
Year after year people brought forward evidence that both the drug loitering ordinance and the prostitution loitering ordinance were disproportionately used to target black people and gender-non-conforming people, the laws stayed on the books. A few years ago a new city attorney was elected he ceased prosecutions on the two laws precisely for those reasons, but it didn’t really solve the problem, because the next city attorney could just start filing the charges again, and cops would know they could start harassing people in the name of those laws again.
Finally, the laws have been repealed: Seattle City Council Repeals Loitering Laws – The council has voted to repeal two loitering ordinances, which they say had racist origins and disproportionately targeted minorities.
This is a direct result of the Black Lives Matter protests still going on in the city. So we’ve made a teensy bit of progress!
There are many other problems to address. The biggest problem is that virtually all politicians and most common people believe that myth that police forces protect the public from crime. Statistically, they don’t. Of the most common categories of property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft), only between 13% to 22% of those reported result in an arrest. And those percentages have been so low, that by best estimates, less than 29% of burglaries and larceny are even reported—that means fewer than 4% of such crimes are ever solved!. Heck, fewer the 70% of car thefts are reported to police!
Only abut 38% of rape cases reported to police are cleared (and a laughably even tinier percentage result in any conviction). And since only 25%-40% of sexual assaults are even reported to the police, again we’re looking at fewer than 10% leading to an arrest. Only about 60% of murders are ever solved.
Meanwhile, through abuse of asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies steal far more from the people in their communities that all the burglaries and other robbery categories combined!
There are many reasons for this. One is that in most police departments across the country, the units tasks with investigating robberies and sexual assaults get the lowest budgets, and for various reasons even then, they are the departments most likely to be understaffed (as in, fewer officers actually working in those divisions than is budgeted for).
And then there are the cultural issues. K.L. Williams is a former police chief who now runs the Institute of Justice and Accountability, trying to reform police training (among other things). He sums up the police culture problem this way: about 15% of officers will do the right thing no matter what. And approximately 15% percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70% could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
At first glance that might not seem too bad—only 15% of cops are abusing their authority, right? But with 70% willing to look the other way and even cover up for the bad cops, that means that it’s 85% of cops who are bad, nut merely 15%. And surveys of cops have shown that a clear majority of cops admit that most of the colleagues routinely look the other way and often help cover up misconduct by other cops.
It’s just just that systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny leads policing to victimize, rather than protect, minorities and marginalized people—those things combined with police attitudes about the public in general and anyone they perceive as being worth even less than the public means that queer (especially gender-non-conforming) and trans people have been oppressed, harassed, and abused by police forever. And as the article above explains, race, perceived ethnicity (not always the same thing), and perceived immigration status simply amplify that.
Which brings us full circle back to the trans women of color who threw the first bunches, the first bricks, the first shot glasses, that started the Stonewall Riots.
I know this is something I’ve written about before on this blog, but as we approach what would have been the weekend of the Pride Parade here in Seattle (and many other cities around the country)—while the world is engulfed in a pandemic, and many protests about police brutality and racial inequality—it is vital to remember that the first Pride was a riot. Or, rather, a series of riots the continued for several nights after that first uprising in response to yet another police raid on a gay bar. No one knows for certain why that night people started fighting back. I think it was simply that a bunch of those trans and gender-non-conforming women of color were simply fed up.
And no, the Stonewall riots weren’t the first time that queers had protested and rioted over police brutality of queer people.
In 1959 in Los Angeles, for instance, there was the Cooper Do-nuts Riot. Cooper Do-nuts was a 24-hour donut shop located about halfway between two of the city’s gay bars. It was a place where queer people often congregated at night. At the time it was illegal in California (and many other places and would remain so for many years after), for a person to appear in public wearing clothes traditionally worn by the opposite gender. Because cops liked having an easy excuse to harass queer people, the gay bars didn’t like lots of trans people and street queens to be inside. Cooper Do-nuts served everyone, so it was always full of not just LGBTQ patrons, but specifically trans people, drag queens, and other very obviously gender nonconforming people. So the cops routine showed up there, demanded to see people’s ID and would arrest anyone whose legal ID showed them to a different gender than how they were dressed.
And remember, at the time, that law meant it was illegal for women to wear pants.
Anyway, in May of 1959 a couple of cops came into the shop, demanded to see everyone’s ID, and then tried to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. As at least one of those being arrested protested, the crowd erupted, pelting the cops with donuts, trash, and in some cases hot coffee. The cops fled the scene without arresting anyone. Unfortunately, the cops came back with backup and blocked off the entire street. A lot of people wound up arrested.
In 1966 in San Fransisco the management of a Compton’s Cafe decided they didn’t like how many transgender people were hangin out in their cafe, and they started calling the police to get the customers arrested. This caused the community to organize a picket line outside the cafe. Cops were called to arrest the trans people again, and this time a riot broke out. The windows of the cafe were smashed, along with a lot of furniture and all the windows of the first cop car. Eventually reinforcements came in and the riot intensified, but a lot of the riots were beaten, shoved into paddy wagons, and thrown in jail.
While the riot didn’t inspire a national movement, it did motivate a lot of homeless queer youth and others to join an organization called Vanguard Street Actions which staged various mostly peaceful protests, and over time the city began to try making changes in policy to reduce police harassment of queer people.
On New Year’s Eve 1967, at a Los Angeles gay bar called the Black Cat Tavern, a busy New Year’s Eve party took place. The newspaper accounts later said the party was “hopping” and the crowd was happy. Right up until midnight, when couples all over the bar started kissing to ring in the New Year. And then a bunch of undercover police started beating and arresting those kissing couples. Fourteen people were arrested that night. There was no riot. Some weeks later there was an organized public demonstration, and organizations that were lobbying government officials for LGBTQ rights raised a lot of money for among other things to try to appeal the convictions of some of the arrested same-sex couples. The Advocate, which remains a leading queer news source, was founded as a newsletter as part of the organized protests because of the Black Cat raid.
Seven months later, at another Los Angeles gay bar called the Patch, police raided one night, and started arresting people. The owner of the bar, Lee Glaze, jumped up on stage and got the crowd to chant various slogans and tried to convince the cops to let the arrestees go. When they didn’t work, they did not riot. Instead, Glaze led the rest of the crowd up the street to a flower shop, where they bought every single flower in the shop, and then marched to the police station, handing out flowers and chanting as they went. The protested peacefully outside the precinct until everyone arrested made bail and was released.
One of the protesters was a formerly-closeted pastor (who had been kicked out of the church) named Troy Perry, whose boyfriend (Tony Valdez) was among those arrested. After making bail, Valdez told Perry that his jail experience convinced him that god doesn’t love queer people. Perry decided to stop trying to fit in at the established churches that looked at his queerness as a sin, and to found a gay friendly church, which is how the Metropolitan Community Church came into being.
And then the next year the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City…
So that night at Stonewall wasn’t the first time that queer people got fed up with police harassment and brutality, but it was the first time where the protests and rioting continued for many days afterward. And probably because one of the newspapers that tried to cover the events objectively, The Village Voice, was read by a lot of professional journalists and academics far outside of New York City, is why Stonewall seemed to kick off a more organized fight for LGBTQ rights. Within a year, chapters of the new Gay Liberation Front had opened in many cities around the country, and within a couple more years nearly every college town in the U.S. had a chapter.
Most of the people targeted by the police in all of those incidents were those who were gender-nonconforming and/or not white. The cops harassed any queers that they could, but those were the people who got singled out every time. And in most of the cases they were the ones who get fed up and fought back.
I’m an old, white-bearded, cisgender blue-eyed white gay guy who is college educated and work in the software industry. A lot of people think that the LGBTQ rights movement is about and for people like me. But the real heroes, the first leaders, were the trans women of color. And just as we should never forget that they only gave us rights because queers gave them riots, we should remember that it was those trans and gender-non-conforming people of color who started and inspired the riots by fighting back against police brutality.
My typical Weekend Update post features stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or that broke after I completed the Friday Five post, or update a news story/event that I have linked to and/or commented upon in an earlier post. Today I’m focused almost entirely one one story, which was one of yesterday’s “Stories of the Week” and deserves more than just being linked to.
Officer Kept Knee on George Floyd’s Neck for Nearly 3 Minutes After He Was Non-Responsive. Here’s what we know: a clerk at a store called police to report that a black man had tried to pay for his purchase with a counterfeit bill. Minneapolis police arrive, find the black man, George Floyd, sitting in his car in the parking lot. They pull him out, handcuff him, force him to the ground, and then one officer placed his knee and his full weight on Floyd’s neck. Floyds last words were, “I can’t breathe.” Many minutes later the officer in question finally lets up on the neck.
That’s murder. Sorry, not alleged, it’s straight-up murder.
The officer who killed Floyd was fired the next day, as were the other three officers on the scene. The other three were fired because after many previous cases of police brutality, the city had instituted a policy that officers who witness another officer using excess force but fail to intervene will be terminated.
But it took four days before prosecutors decided to charge the cop with murder. And I firmly believe the only reason that murder charges were filed at all was because of the protests that have been raging all week.
Arrest report for officer charged with George Floyd’s murder has a damning new piece of evidence. The additional detail is that there was a point, caught on video, where one of the other officers notes that Floyd had stopped struggling minutes ago, and maybe they should roll him onto his side. The killer cop doesn’t let up on the neck, but does feel for a pulse, and says clearly that he can’t find a pulse. And yet he still keeps his weight on Floyd’s neck for a few more minutes until the EMTs arrive.
When you can’t find a pulse, you can’t claim that you fear for your life.
Wife of Minneapolis cop who killed an unarmed black man is filing for divorce, report says. I just want to point out that multiple studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence. Cops are 4 times as likely as typical people to abuse their significant other and/or children, and other statistics show that when it’s reported, a cop is half as likely to face prosecution for it. Can’t say whether this is a factor in her decision, but…
Protests are happening not just in Minneapolis, and are quickly labeled as riots, despite the fact that we have more than one confirmed case of white men clearly not aligned with protesters damaging buildings and such. In more than one of those cases, we have video of the protestors trying to stop the guy. Riot or resistance? The way the media frames the unrest in Minneapolis will shape the public’s view of protest – Research finds that protests about anti-black racism and indigenous people’s rights receives the least legitimizing coverage.All of that said… peaceful protest is not all it’s cracked up to be. In the last few week, small bands of white people armed to the teeth stormed state capitals, governor’s mansions, and the like. Cops didn’t arrest anyone. Cops didn’t even show up in riot gear. Despite the clear threat the guns implied (along with more than one incident of the so-called protestors hanging in effigy one of their perceived opponents or another), far too many pundits and so-called news agencies called those peaceful protests. When the first protest march of George Floyd happened earlier this week, protestors (mostly black) showed up in street clothes and without weapons. Cops rolled out in full riot gear from the get-go. The violence was brought by the police, not the protestors.
Some people will try to say that I’m simply arguing about who hit first, but it is much more profound than that. At the top of this post I have a picture and link to a tweet from Martin Luthor King III, alluding to a comment his father once made. Here’s Dr. King’s original:
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. In the final analysis, the riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that America has failed to hear? In a sense, our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our winter’s delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these occurrences of riots and violence over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America”
Society as a whole hit first. Police like to say that they are here to protect and serve the public, but overwhelming they oppress and control the most vulnerable and marginalized. Oh, they’ll protect the property of white well-to-do people and will serve the interests of the ruling class, but that inherently means keeping everyone else in their place. All of that is important context from the next couple of headlines:
I’m not black. I am a pasty-white blue-eyed guy, and my usual approach to topics regarding racial injustice is to listen to members of those communities and when I can, amplify their voices. But I think it’s also important that I try to find ways to use my white privilege to help them do more than be heard. And I all white people in our society have a certain amount of privilege, regardless of our economic status or other factors. Following up on the George Floyd story reminded me of a very specific example of how that privilege plays out:
Many years ago, when I was in my late twenties, I had stopped at a fast food place to get some food. I handed to guy behind the counter a $10 bill from my wallet. He peered at it, rubbed it with his fingers, and did a few other things. After a moment he handed it back to me and asked if I had another bill. I asked if he thought it was counterfeit. He explained that his employer was requiring them to reject bills if they were suspicious or it would be taken out of their pay. I looked at the bill and said that I didn’t remember where I got it. Then I pulled out my wallet, looked through my bills and pulled out one of the 20s.
While he was looking that bill over, I folded the 10 and stuck it in a different pocket of the wallet. After a minute the guy says, “This is fine,” and handed me my change and my food. Sometime later I took the 10 to my bank, explained what happened, and asked if they could tell me whether it was a counterfeit. The bank teller only took a few moments to examine it. Then she explained that there had been a lot of recent counterfeit 20s in the area, and she figured a lot of businesses had gotten a bit over zealous explaining how to look for them. She also said she that 10-dollar bills weren’t very cost effective to counterfeit. “Let’s just go ahead and deposit this one in your account.”
That was the end of it. The guy at the fast food place didn’t call the cops on me. He didn’t leap to the conclusion that I was intentionally trying to pass the bill.
We don’t know for cure at this point whether the bill Floyd tried to pay with that night was a counterfeit. Even if it was, we have no way to know whether he knew it was counterfeit. It could have been a bad 20 he got from someone else who also didn’t know it was fake, because they’re gotten it from someone else, who had gotten it from someone else, et cetera.
But in Floyd’s case, the moment a clerk saw what he thought was a counterfeit bill, he made the decision to call the cops. And the cops assumed that the bill was counterfeit, that Floyd knew it was counterfeit, and that Floyd was trying to commit a crime. Even if all those things were true, the penalty for passing a single (usually charged as fraud or forgery, depending) is never death.
I also point out that initial official reports on the incident said that Floyd had tried to pass a forged check, which is a different crime. That might just a minor mistatement if in Minnesota the usual practice is to charge a person who intentionally tries to pay with a counterfeit bill with forgery. It might, however, also have been an intentional decision by someone in the department to make it sound like a more serious crime.Finally, I’d like to point out that the event which kicked off the modern gay rights movement as series of riots. It started as a violent resistance to yet another police raid (including beatings) on a gay bar. There are conflicting stories about who threw the first brick or shot glass at a cop (that’s right, we can’t even agree whether the first projectile was a brick!), but all of the contenders were either black or lantinx street queens/trans women. Whatever that first projectile was, it was not thrown at some random window (as a certain film showed) and it wasn’t thrown by a clean cut white guy from the midwest. It was thrown at the cops by a queer person of color. And for good reason. I’ve many times repeated the fact that the very first Gay Pride was a riot. In this country we have an LGBTQ+ pride parade in late June because it is the anniversary of those riots. Eventually the movement got around to things like job discrimination and marriage equality, but before we could even broach those topics, we had to get laws, policies, and attitudes changed so that cops were not free to harass us, beat us, arrest us, and sometimes kill us merely because we were queer.
That’s what protests like the ones underway now for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other recent victims of police brutality.
Now I want to pivot to another story that I don’t want to get lost: Rev. Lou Sheldon, Who Founded ‘Traditional Values Coalition’ in 1980 to Warn Americans of ‘Gay Threat,’ Dead at 85. Sheldon was an evil, lying man who repeatedly tried to make the law even more anti-gay that it was when he founded the so-called Traditional Values Coalition. The Coalition was designated a hated group long ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center for use of “known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.”
Sheldon was at the forefront of trying to have AIDS patients rounded up into concentration camps, among many other things. While most people will focus on the Traditional Values Coalition’s anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, it is important to note that the Coalition has long been opposed to immigration reform, and frequently repeats racist and anti-semitic dog whistles in their many, many press releases and calls to action.
Lou Sheldon is dead. Good.
Enough about him. Let’s close with a video.
Jimmy Kimmel on George Floyd, Riots in Minneapolis & Trump’s Violent Stupidity:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I had planned to write something else today, but then I saw this post on tumblr:
“You’ll notice that LGBT pride parades are being cancelled, and LGBT people are not complaining and calling it an injustice. Meanwhile, Christians are calling it an injustice that churches are being closed, and conservatives are calling it an injustice that stay at home orders exist. That’s because LGBT people actually experience injustices, so they know when an injustice is happening. They face way too many injustices to label everything they don’t like as an injustice. And they’re not defying social distancing orders to have the parade anyway.”
“We also know the consequences of an unaddressed pandemic.”
A couple of other things worth noting. The U.S. stock market started going down in response to pandemic concerns the week of February 20, many weeks before the first stay-at-home order. The Dow Jones officially crashed (prices dropping so fast it triggered an automatic suspension of trading) on March 9th. There were no stay-at-home orders in place anywhere in the U.S. at that time. Companies were already laying people off and cutting back hours in anticipation not so much of stay-at-home orders but the fact that simply having lots of people sick, lots of other people afraid of being sick, and so forth was already causing people to cancel travel plans and so forth.
My employer, for instance, in early February cancelled most schedule employee travel (for sales, installation, and trade shower appearances, for instance) out of an abundance of caution.
Personally, in mid February I woke up with a fairly severe cough on a day that wasn’t scheduled to be a work-from-home day, and decided since I didn’t know if I had a something that I shouldn’t go into the office. The following week, again out of an abundance of caution, upper management encouraged everyone who could work from home to do so full time. Again, this was weeks before stay-at-home orders had been issued in any of the states where my employer has offices.
And when people are working from home, a lot of small restaurants, coffee shops, and the like in the vicinity of office buildings have a sudden significant drop off in business. So employees at those businesses get their hours cut. And so they have less money to spend on anything, and that means they cut out (first) non-essential spending, which causes more small businesses to cut hours, and it becomes a self-perpetuating downward economic spiral for everyone.
Lifting stay-at-home orders isn’t going to make everything spring back. It’s going to put a lot of people in the position of deciding to risk getting infected or starve, because if the order has been lifted not working is no longer involuntary and therefore they can’t collect unemployment. The science of the virus tells us that when people stop doing the mandated social distancing, infection rates will start rising again within a couple of weeks. And they will spike if we don’t have adequate means of testing people and a system for tracking down other people who have recently come in contact when an infected person, and so on.
Which means people will get scared and will cut back on activities that put them in contact with others and we continue to have places like restaurants, bars, theaters, and so forth not making enough money to pay their employees, et cetera.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to read a much better (and scary) analysis, check out this article: We Cannot “Reopen” America – No matter when government stay-at-home orders are revoked, the American economy will not reopen. Because the source of the economic shock is not government orders. It’s the pandemic.
Note: My cough went away after about two weeks and I never had a fever… but the cough has come back several times. So far, still no fever. I have long suffered from severe hay fever and sometimes when the pollen count has been high for many days in a row, in addition to sinus congestion and typical allergy symptoms, I also get a cough. And we’ve had a lot of really high pollen days during the last two and a half months, so that’s probably what it is. Probably.
But we’ve had a bit of a scare because yesterday my husband was running a fever and had some non-repiratory symptoms that sometimes occur with the coronavirus… today his fever is gone and the other symptoms are subsiding, but that’s not necessarily proof that he’s well.
I linked to this story a couple of days ago: Wall Street Journal Types Wonder Aloud If Nation’s Health Is ‘Worth’ The Economic Hit. And then of course there was this guy: Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick: I and Many Other Grandparents Would Rather Die from COVID-19 Than See the Economy Ruined . And online I’ve seen a number of people grumbling because they think only older people are vulnerable to serious illness. One comment that was extremely chilling: “Why do we have to suffer to keep some people alive who don’t have that many years left, anyway?”
It may not be quite as bad as that time (when I was a very closeted guy in my early-twenties) while my head was bowed in church when the pastor leading the prayer thanked god for the scourge of AIDS which was “killing all the gays” but it came close. Nor is it quite as bad as the time a college classmate said to me, “I know Jesus said to take care of the sick, but they didn’t know what caused all illnesses back then. We know what causes AIDS…”
So, in both cases we are talking about a virus. As I have pointed out, outside of the U.S., the vast majority of people who have been sickened and died of AIDS are straight women and children, not gay men. HIV is a virus, a natural phenomenon which is passed from person-to-person through behaviors that are a natural part of being a human being.
And while you can cherry pick the data to show that older people are more likely to die of complications of COVID-19, they aren’t the only people who do. In fact, that data is looking more and more suspect as time goes on: The Coronavirus Is Sending Lots Of Younger People To The Hospital – It’s increasingly clear that early data out of China was an anomaly: the coronavirus is severely harming substantial numbers of people under 50, too.
We know that factors which increase the likelihood of developing severe symptoms include a lot of chronic health problems that are widespread in the population. About 60% of adults have at least one of those known chronic health disorders. We also know that people how smoke or who are ex-smokers are at higher risk for getting severely ill. We have less data about whether vaping is also a risk factor, but it isn’t unreasonable to think so.
But there’s another risk factor that people aren’t taking into consideration: lack of health care options. Sure, it appears that the death rate is about 3.4% in general… yet we have places such as Italy and Spain that are seeing something closer to 8%, and at least one reason why is that so many people got sick at the same time that there weren’t enough hospital beds for the severely sick, and there weren’t enough respirators for those severely sick people who needed them.
Which is why the shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders are important. Slowing the spread makes it possible that we might not have too many people severely sick at the same time than we have facilities for.
Though it’s quite likely that several spots in the U.S. are going to overwhelm their medical facilities, soon.
I am worried about my own health, it’s true. I am far more worried about the health of people that I know and love. I am worried about the economic hardships many are already facing, and that a lot more of us may be facing, soon. But most of those economic hardships (and many worse) will happen if infection rates surge to the point that millions die. The notion that ordinary people aren’t going to face disruptions and financial problems if all the orders are lifted and everyone goes back to work is simply wrong.
Humans are social animals. One of our survival traits as a species is that we take care of each other. My community didn’t survive the plague of AIDS by taking an “everyone for themself” attitude. The world won’t survive if you fail to learn the lessons of our ordeal:
Edited to Add: I’d already started the draft of this post before this tweet went across my timeline and I chose to re-tweet it. Decided I should add it here:
I’ve been trying not to get all ranty and also not to turn this blog into all-pandemic all-the-time, but… Here’s the thing. I know that all of us are anxious, and it feels as if washing our hands and avoiding crowded places, and wiping down the handle of our shopping cart, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera isn’t really doing anything. But the panicked buying and the profiteering isn’t actually helping, either.
Besides being an old fart, and therefore automatically in a higher risk group for getting severely sick, I am also diabetic (and before certain people chime in, it’s been identified as one of the genetic types, so no, there is absolutely no amount of exercise nor weight loss that could prevent it—I have long joked the diabetes doesn’t run in my dad’s family, it stampedes and now I have medical proof that it isn’t a joke). Besides putting me in yet another high risk category, what that also means is that a couple times a day I have to swab some part of my skin with alcohol, poke it with a lancing device, and place a drop of blood on a test strip to check my blood sugar (while pressing the alcohol swab to the pinprick to help stop the bleeding in a sterile way), and at least once a day I also have to inject myself with the medication that controls my condition and guess what—that also requires swabbing some spot of my skin with alcohol before stabbing myself with the needle (and afterward wiping again, as per medical recommendations).
Now, I come for a long, long, long line of penny-pinchers, so I worked out the routine a long time ago of doing the swab-lance-test-press-swab-stab-inject-swab-again routine in a short enough time frame that it only takes one alcohol wipe to get the test and inject job done. But, that’s the morning injection. I’m also supposed to check my blood sugar twice more during the day, and under certain circumstances, inject myself with a second medication at bedtime.
So when all the panic-buying started, I double-checked my wipe supply and confirmed that I had an unopened box in the cabinet in addition to the box I was using. And I had two. (Because it’s cheaper to order the three-pack). Then I reached the end of the current box, and I told myself, “That’s fine, I have a couple more boxes.” But then I saw enough comments about people having things back-ordered and I thought, “Okay, though this should last me a couple of months, maybe it’s okay to order a single box, knowing that it isn’t going to ship for many weeks.”
That was merely eight days ago. This morning I got the third update in that time advising me that the arrival date is being pushed back some more.
The problem is that some people will read this and think, “Oh, no! I need to buy more of blank just in case…” which is just going to make things worse.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s dive in:
Please Stop Treating Me Like I’m Disposable When You Talk About The Coronavirus . This one really hits several spots. I keep seeing people insisted that “only a few percent of people are at risk” and variants. First, a lot of people are at risk. High risk groups include older people, and if you are not old you may think that means it doesn’t matter to you—but what about your parents and other older relatives? Do you really not care about them?
But it’s more than just “old people” who are at risk, it is also people with pre-existing chronic health conditions (including high blood pressure [33% of adults in America], diabetes [9.4% of Americans], heart disease [6% of adults in America], and a wide variety of chronic illnesses and disabilities that compromise the immune system). The best guess is about 60% of the population has at least one such underlying health issue, and 40% have more than one.
So think of it this way: imagine yourself and your two best friends get infected. Out of just those three people, statistically, two of you are probably at higher risk to develop a severe case and require hospitalization and a ventilator/respirator to have any hope of surviving.
And no, I’m not making that up: What Will You Do If You Start Coughing? “Stay home” is not a sufficient plan. When health officials say most people will have mild symptoms, that word doesn’t mean what you think it means: “a “mild” case of COVID-19 is not equivalent to a mild cold. Expect it to be much worse: fever and coughing, sometimes pneumonia—anything short of requiring oxygen.”
But wait, there’s more: “Flattening the Curve” is a deadly delusion. “Once a person is on the ventilator, it often takes about 4 weeks for them to get out of intensive care again.”
And don’t get me started on all the lies and worse in the White House press briefings…
That’s enough of depressing news. Don’t forget to wash your hands (soap and water are fine). Also, moisturize! While the washing literally kills the virus (and other nanoparticals), it also damages the skin, which makes your hands more vulnerable. Your skin is your first defense, so use some lotion regularly, too!
Finally, Randy Rainbow has humorously summarized many related issues, while making a parody for a song from one of my favorite under-appreciated musicals (Guys and Dolls)—
The CORONAVIRUS Lament – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Edited to add: Some comments indicated people don’t understand what kind of alcohol wipes I’m talking about in the opening two paragraphs. They are TINY little wipes intended for a single medical purpose. They aren’t big enough to effectively wipes door handles, cart handles, doorknobs, and other large objects in the real world that need to be disinfected.
This divide, or course, exists on a spectrum. The beliefs of most people within the community fall somewhere between the extremes, but, enough are on one side or other of the middle that arguments happen. For instance, I’ve been accused of being an assimilationist because Michael and I got legally married once we were able to do so, and I watch football. I’ve also been called out in the other direction because I wear earrings, the color purple, rainbows, and call myself ‘queer.’
The tension between these two ideas plays out in many (and sometimes weird) ways—and not just within the community. There are still plenty of people (straight and not), who insist that LGBT+ rights advocates should be civil, and politely make their case about why we deserve equality. They wrongly insist that the radical approach never works. They completely ignore the actual history of the movements: decades of work by so-called homophile organizations in the U.S. and Europe politely advocating for decriminalization—always careful for the men to dress in suits and ties, and the women to were skirts and blouses—and never making any progress. It was the riots by drag queens, transgender people of color, and the like that finally made any change happen at all.
Yes, the other approach works well for raising money and countering backlash to each step forward. So both approaches have their place in the long running battle for equality.
Which isn’t to say that only the non-conforming people matter, or that there is some sort of meaning to the question of whether one person is gayer than another (despite some people trying to drag that distinction into some political races this year), it’s mostly a recognition of the old proverb that the “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both kinds of LGBT/queer person are valid and just as “gay” as the other.
In the last few years as a small number of mostly-gender-conforming male professional athletes have decided to come out of the closet, you see various media people calling them trailblazers whose bravery will somehow make it easier for non-heterosexual kids to be themselves. Ignoring that fact that the actual trailblazers were blazing those trails for many years. It’s not the macho professional male athlete coming out in the twenty-teens who is leading the way, they are trailing far, far in the dust behind the femmy boys and glittery street queens and butch dykes and trans people of all types who led the way at Stonewall and in the years immediately following. And as has been demonstrated many times, no matter how unthreatening, conventional, and mainstream non-heterosexual people are, as soon as they dare to come out of the closet someone is ready with the slurs and attacks.
The two philosophies I mentioned at the beginning (Assimilationist/Radical) roughly map to two distinctive kinds of experiences many queer people lived through growing up:
- Some of us never fit in. We were bullied by classmates (as well as adults) for the way we talked, or the way we walked, or the things we expressed interest in.
- Others blended in so well that when they eventually did come out, people who knew them when they were younger express genuine and emphatic shock.
Make no mistake: neither kind of kid had it easy. The ones who did blend in realized, at some point, that they were different, and they lived in just as much fear as those of us who couldn’t figure out why we were constantly being called all those homophobic slurs. Both kinds internalized homophobia leading to feelings of self-loathing.
Those of us who couldn’t blend in are somewhat more likely to focus on trying to make society more accepting of all differences, while those who did blend in seem to be more likely to think our goal should be to convince straight people that we are no different from them.
But it isn’t an exact correlation.
I’m saying all of this for context. Now, let’s move on to my point: any time in the last few months that I have criticized the policies and statements of presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg I get accused of saying he isn’t gay enough. As if that phrase even means anything. That’s not what’s happening. My beef with Buttigieg is very few of his statements about policies would sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. Most wouldn’t sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Mayor Pete is not a progressive politician. He doesn’t advocate positions that I believe will move us forward. At best, his detailed policies look to undo most of the harm Trump has done, and otherwise only promise to not to let things get much worse.
We can do better than that.
Now, I have some theories about why he doesn’t see how harmful late stage capitalism is to most working class and middle class people of every gender, orientation, and race. And I have some theories on why many of his responses as mayor to issues related to marginalized communities were tone deaf or outright dismissive. The quickest summation is: he is unaware of how the privileges he has had (being a man in our society, being white, having university-educated parents, being from a family well-to-do enough to send him to private school, and then to Harvard, and yes, being the kind of gay who can pass for straight when he wants) has protected him from the problems those less fortunate have had to deal with.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s gay enough. That does means I don’t think he is either self-aware enough nor empathetic enough to be a good president.
It’s really hard to remain respectful in some arguments. For instance, I fully support the proposals of several progressive politicians that we make university education free. Every other industrialized country in the world does it, so why can’t we? Well, one argument that comes up again and again is, “But won’t that make all the people who had to pay off huge college debts angry?” My first response is, speaking as someone who spent many years trying to pay off his education loans, and only managed it because he was lucky enough to be an early employee of a tech start up that succeeded (so guess where 90% of my stock option earnings went?), “No, I would not be the slightest bit angry if no one else had to go through what I went through!”
My middle school wrestling coach (who was also my 8th grade math teacher) was old enough that he nearly died of polio as a child. He had to wear a leg brace the rest of his life, among other negative health issues left over from that ordeal. And while the anti-vax movement hadn’t reached its current level of penetration in society, back when I was in school the early stirrings of the movement existed. There was a story in the news about someone urging parents not to get their kids vaccinated for reasons that indicated they didn’t understand how vaccines or the immune system worked while I was his student, and so one day before we had our math lesson, we were treated to an impassioned talk from Coach about how 1) he wished the vaccine had existed when he was a child, and 2) how could any parent be so irresponsible as to not want to spare their child the pain and suffering or a preventable illness?
Almost every year during Pride Month I wind up writing at least one blog post where I say I am proud of myself and my fellow queer survivors because we survived the bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and oppression and have managed to create beautiful meaningful lives. But while I’m proud of having survived that, I don’t think any less of anyone who didn’t get bullied as much as me. What kind of psychopathic monster would wish that kind of pain on another person?
Part of the answer, I know, is that most of us have been taught from a very early age that misery builds character—that we become a better person by enduring these experiences. It’s reasonable to infer that I believe that from my comments such as that in the previous paragraph. But that isn’t quite what I mean. Misery doesn’t build anything.
It’s like exercise: you’re probably familiar with the notion that engaging in exercise which stresses the muscles will stimulate the body to increase muscle mass. That’s true enough, as far as it goes. But it isn’t the exercise which is building the muscles. It’s your body that is building extra muscle mass, and it can only do that if your diet includes enough protein, and if it has time to rest in between periods of exercise. Exercise is a specific type of stress placed on your muscles. It isn’t random. Beating a person will also stress the muscles, but that kind of stress doesn’t elicit the muscle-building activity at a bio-chemical level.
Similarly, it isn’t the bullying to built character, it’s several other things. One factor is how the person experiencing the suffering responds to it. Some survivors of abuse become abusers themselves later in life. That isn’t what people usually mean by “building character” even though it is a perfectly predictable response to being abused. Another factor is whether the person had other positive things in their life. Were they getting emotional support? Did that have someone in their life who loved them unconditionally? Were the places or times when they could escape the abuse?
I’m proud of people I know who survived bullying and worse not because of the bullying, but because they have embraced kindness and compassion despite the bad times. It’s what they did with it that matters.
Life will always have challenges. But some challenges are artificial. People forget that the very notion of money and private property are things humans just made up. They aren’t like laws of physics. We can change how the system works. And it isn’t that hard, because we do it all the time. Every time we change a tax (whether an increase or a decrease), we’re changing how the financial system works.
We live in a world where nearly 40% of the food we produce each year is just wasted. Yet there are people who can’t get enough food (or enough nutritious food) to survive. We’ve reached the point where large financial institutions are starting to panic a bit because of the sheer volume of wealth that is being hoarded in non-productive ways by the billionaire class. People are finally beginning to realize that the old truism (usually attributed to Henry Ford—hardly a progressive icon) that if workers are not paid enough to afford whatever products industries are producing, those industries will collapse.
I want the world to be a better place. I want people who are small children now to grow up and not have to struggle against problems that are entirely arbitrary and artificial—problems that we know how to fix—even though I had to fight those problems. I’m perfectly okay with them growing up in a better world than I did.
Don’t you agree?
In one of those conversations a person made a comment about how some Baby Boomers don’t understand technology, and while it turned out to be a bit tongue-in-cheek (the person followed up by speculating that the person being clueless was actually a ghost from the 18th Century misunderstanding modern copyright law). Anyway, it reminded my that I keep meaning to follow up on the post I wrote three years ago about the cavalier way some people use terms such as “Baby Boomer” and “Millenial.”
Some folks want to list anyone who is over the age of, say, 35, as a Baby Boomer. I’m seen just as many older folks insist that everyone under 30 is a Millenial. Which makes any commentary about the social and economic issues faced by people who grew up in different time periods meaningless.
The term Baby Boom originally referred to the significant uptick in the birth rate when World War II came to an end and when the world economy recovered from the Great Depression. Contrary to over-simplified understandings of history, those two events weren’t the same—the U.S. domestic economy was noticeably improving before the U.S. even entered the war, and the birthrate started picking up during the war itself (though not as dramatically as it did a few years later). So some sociologist and economists tagged the beggining of the Baby Boom in 1945, while others in 1942 or ’43.
Similarly, the birthrate’s rate of increase started slowing down in the U.S. (though not dropping) in the mid-fifties. Later, when social scientists started talking about the Baby Boom generation, many of them placed much importance upon the attitudes and expectations of that cohort based on their formative years being in the 1950s, where, in the U.S. at least, there was an exuberant economic boom and no war. I was in my late teens when I first started reading articles about the Baby Boom generation, and those articles defined is as people born between about 1942 and 1955. Which meant that my mother and father were both Baby Boomers.
Which is one of the reasons I sometimes have a negative visceral reaction to the more current definition, which is people born between 1946 and 1965. Because that makes me a Baby Boomer… and because I spent years thinking of my parents as Baby Boomers and that just seems wrong. Also, I was born after the 50s ended, and by the time my formative years were going, the U.S. was at war in Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement was causing many to feel that the world was changing for the worse. So I think my assumptions about life are a bit different than those who grew up in the 50s.
The chart that I reproduce above shows only one of the many possible definitions of generational groups. I believe for broad discussions about economics, sociology, politics, and the like that it is useful to make some generalizations about the broad societal conditions that people of different ages grew up under. A lot of people of my mother’s generation (The Silent Generation, people born between 1925 and 1945) supposedly don’t understand computers and modern technology. My mom has very strong feelings about several parts of Quantum Mechanics (word to the wise: if you don’t want to find yourself cowering in a corner, saying you are sorry and will never stray again, do not mention Erwin Schrödinger or his thought experiment about a cat and an atomic trigger within earshot of my mom, okay?). Once, when her computer had been misbehav ing for several months she told me that the reason she hadn’t called me was because none of the errors had risen to the level fo “kernal panic” and she had been able to get everything working again on her own.
Let me repeat that: my 76-year-old mother knows what a kernel panic is and is able to solve a lot of her computer and related problems on her own. So, just because they are a member of the generation before the Baby Boomers doesn’t mean they don’t understand technology.By most definitions, I am a Baby Boomer. I was programming computers (with punch-card version of Fortran) in 1976 at the age of 15 when most people thought that computers would always be either the size of a large room or a small building. The first personal computer I owned I soldered together myself in 1982 (and I didn’t actually own it, because at that time I couldn’t afford the $99 for the basic kit nor the $49.95 for the 16 kilobyte memory expansion kit that made it useful; the father of a friend bought the kits and I did the soldering and assembly and got to use the machine for two months out of the deal). My current day job official title includes the word “principal” and I am expected to be able to understand all functions from the Physical Layer through the Application Layer with the ability to write specifications for sub-layers such as the Data Access, Business Logic, and Presentation.
And no one should be surprised that most of Generation X (whose original name was Gen X Atari Wave) understands technology, but I’ve noticed that a lot of member of both Gen Y (the original Millenials) and Gen Z don’t really understand how the technology works. They both understand many of the implications of the internet, but to varying degrees, they don’t understand how those things actually work, because it’s no longer necessary to understand things happening below the Presentation layer to use the technology. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. Just as you don’t need to know how to machine a piston in order to operate a car, you don’t need to understand all of that other stuff in order to be active on social media.
Unfortunately, that means that you have situations such as the one that started one of the comment threads I mentioned above: folks who don’t understand what a hyperlink on a web page actually is, will get upset and file a DCMA take down notice on someone who is linking to someone else’s publicly accessible page. But a hyperlink isn’t content, it’s a pointer.
For much of my life, the cliche was that older people didn’t know how to work new technological devices, and that the answer was to find a child who could fix things for you. Some of those “children”—the leading edge of Gen X—are 50 years old now. And some are now shaking their heads looking at the younger people who are much better at knowing how to make things go viral, for instance, but may not even know what HTML is.
* “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” ― Alexandre Dumas-fils