this one word


I am 65 years old. In my lifetime, I have been referred to (and I have referred to myself) successively as Negro, Black, and African American. Throughout my lifetime, there’s another word, whatever my age, to which I have been referred, though never by me about me (and, here, I will not use the pseudo-polite euphemism, the n-word): nigger.

I can remember the first time I heard (or perhaps more accurately stated, I can remember the first time I recall hearing) this word. I was 13. On a crisp autumn Saturday, my St. Louis Boy Scout troop was on a 5-mile hike near the town of Hillsboro, Missouri. On a remote backcountry road, passing by a lone house, four white children standing on the porch called out, pointing, laughing, “Look at the niggers!” All of us were angry. A few of us doffed our backpacks, preparing to race toward that house and confront those mean-mouthed children. Our Scoutmaster, Willie Chapman, surely mindful of where we were and alone against whoever might be in that house, commanded, “Keep marching!” We did.

I can remember the last time I heard this word. Early September, a bit more than a year ago. I stood in the checkout line (all those well acquainted with my “indoorsman” housebound tendencies might be surprised!) of one of the local hardware stores; my cart laden with tools for some garden projects. A young man was in the adjacent line; his head swathed in a sweaty bandana, his shirtless sinewy frame draped in bib overalls, the cuffs, hanging over scruffy steel-toed boots. A construction worker, I reckoned, inspiring my instant admiration for one, far surpassing me, skilled with the use of his hands to build. Leaving the store, we crossed paths, our carts nearly colliding. He grunted, “Nigger.” Surprised, I looked at him. “Yeah,” he snarled, “that’s what I said.” As calmly as I could, I answered, “I heard you” and walked away.

Today, in Charlottesville, Virginia, violent skirmishes broke out between white nationalists staging a “Unite the Right” rally and counter-demonstrators, leading to multiple injuries and, as I write, one fatality.

I believe in the free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I also decry the hatred embraced, embodied in the principles and practices of racial supremacy. Whenever the two collide, as they have in Charlottesville, in countless incidences in the past, and doubtless in times to come, this one word, nigger, ringing in my consciousness of history and my experience, offending my every righteous sensibility, and reanimating my passion for the justice of equality summons me to stand against any and all who dishonor humanity by claiming any inherent or inherited superiority.


plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

In my blog post (September 30: where I stand on sitting & kneeling), I wrote, in part: Colin Kaepernick and others continue to protest against racial disparity and police brutality by kneeling at the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. I find it curious that some who disagree with the protesters seem…far more outraged about what they consider disrespect and denigration of our national anthem and flag than they are concerned about the long-playing and unresolved issues of racial animus in our country…

This morning, I was led by some motivation – at dawn’s light, not quite conscious to me, but perhaps, as I’ve thought through the day about that initial visceral stirring, it was, is the inspiration of deepest remembrance and resonance – to reread Martin Luther King, Jr’s., Letter from Birmingham City Jail.

Written on April 16, 1963, King, jailed for participating in civil rights protests, addressed his epistle as a lengthy rebuttal to liberal Alabama clergy who had published an open letter urging that the fight for racial integration be allowed to run its due course in the local and federal court systems and warning that the nonviolent resistance movement would incite civil unrest. In part, King wrote: You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes…

Protests against the status quo stir counter-protests. Always. So, today, 53½ years after King’s observation, anyone, even, I daresay, the casual, though not indifferent, the diffident, though honest spectator might sense some sorrow that we, as a nation, haven’t moved far enough to peer beneath the protest to pinpoint and proceed to act on the cause.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

transparent opacity?

Yesterday, two videos, from police body and dashboard cameras, of the shooting and killing of Keith Lamont Scott were released to the public. This followed a press conference by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney who, among several points, stressed his efforts at transparency. Neither video, from my perspective, proves definitively the assertion either of the police that Mr. Scott had a gun and, thus, was considered “an imminent threat” or of his family who maintained that Mr. Scott, holding only a book, posed no harm.

The authorities are in possession of additional video. To achieve the aim of transparency, why not share all recorded footage with the public? I’ve not heard, again, from my perspective, a justifiable rationale.

This is my argument for fullest disclosure…

No matter what the videos show and don’t show, all who view them will evaluate what they’ve seen through the lenses of their individual perceptions and opinions, in part, freshly formed in the moment and in equal, perhaps greater part wrought from their personal histories and their memories of their life’s experiences and their suppositions about the way things are. This is to say that there will not (and never will or can) be one truth, one explanation of what happened, one way to interpret the evidence.

At a deeper degree of existential complexity, verily, difficulty, an underlying matter – hardly the proverbial elephant in the room of a conspicuous concern that no one wants to identify and address, but rather an issue long named and known – is trust between, at the least, a portion of the populace and the police. I also believe that the loss of trust is mutual. Some people have little to no confidence in anything the police say or do and some police feel a similar lack of assurance in the intentions and action of some people.

One (though surely not the only) way to attempt to restore not merely the idea of faith, but its reality, “good faith”, is to have all share the same information. Transparency without fullest disclosure remains a convenient word or an idealized concept, ever apparent, but never actual.

the protests ought continue until black li(v)es matter

On Tuesday afternoon, September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year old African American, was shot and killed by Officer Brentley Vinson, also an African American, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Police Department.

This is irrefutable. All else concerning this tragic encounter is in dispute.

The police claim that Mr. Scott wielded a gun and refused several commands to drop the weapon. Considered an “imminent deadly threat,” Mr. Scott was shot. The police maintain that the weapon in Mr. Scott’s possession was recovered at the scene.

Mr. Scott’s family counters that he was holding a book and posed no danger to anyone.

The authorities are in possession of video footage recorded on police body and dashboard cameras. To date, it remains kept from public view, both Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney citing the necessity of maintaining the integrity of the police investigation.

Yesterday, Mr. Scott’s wife, Rakeiya Scott, released a video of the incident taken on her cell phone. Watching the video, I heard her ardent appeals to the police not to shoot her husband, telling them that he had a traumatic brain injury and had taken his medicine, her pleading with Mr. Scott “not to do it” (what “it” was being unclear), the sound of gunfire, and Mr. Scott’s fallen body surrounded by police officers.

The killing of Mr. Scott has provoked several days of protests. Charlotte Uprising, “a (community) coalition…committed to ensuring the safety of their communities…police accountability, transparency and social and economic equity,” has developed a list of ten petitions under the heading We Demand. Number 5 reads in part: “A release of the police report and body camera footage connected with the killing of Keith L. Scott…”[1]

I think the authorities ought[2] to release the police video for public viewing because I believe what’s at stake is more important than police investigative procedures. The issue is one of public trust that black lives matter enough to be protected; the reinforcement, the refurbishment of which cannot begin, much less be achieved without fullest transparency. If and until that happens, I believe the protests, peaceful and involving no harm to human life or property damage, ought continue…


On a related note, the Republican Party presidential candidate, Donald Trump, at an evening campaign rally, coincidentally in North Carolina and on Tuesday, September 20, declared that black communities in America are “absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever…You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street. They’re worse – I mean, honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”

This statement is a part of Mr. Trump’s presumed appeal to African American voters, “What have you got to lose (in voting for me)”; though oddly, I think, in this recent instance and at other times previously, proclaimed before largely white audiences.

Yes, I believe African Americans, relative to white Americans, continue to experience, to suffer disparities of opportunity and fulfillment in the vital fields of economics, education, health, and social justice.[3] Yet these substantial difficulties cannot compare to the horrors of institutional slavery and the era of Jim Crow law.

Mr. Trump has proven himself to me to have a feeble grasp of history and a more fragile hold on truth. His statement, woefully lacking in accuracy and in reality is a lie about black people and, thus, a black lie.

The protests – by all people who treasure truth – ought continue until black lies matter enough to be rejected.



[1] See

[2] For me, ought, along with must and should, is always a heavily morally-weighted-and-freighted-word, inferring to do otherwise is immoral. Because this triumvirate of terms bears an unmistakable force of judgment, I use them infrequently and carefully.

[3] See The National Urban League’s Locked Out – Education, Jobs, Justice: A Message to the Next President (

Friday, September 16, 2016, Tulsa, Oklahoma, approximately 7.30 p.m.

Terence Crutcher

yet another

son, brother,

and father

put down

on the ground;

an unarmed

black man




from life –

permanently, perpetually

irreversibly, irretrievably –

shot to death

by police,

white police.


What is, will be the excuse, the rationale


the reason or rhyme

this time?


And where,

oh, where

are the critics’ voices

who condemned Colin Kaepernick’s

and others’ choices

to express

their protest

against the racial disparity

of our country

by first sitting,

then kneeling,

(in a more respectful manner)

at the playing

of The Star-Spangled Banner?


Are they, these critics, unaware

or do they not care

that the point of the protest

sadly has been made manifest



Oh, when

will we understand

that Black Lives Matter

because they,




not yet?

another night of horror

Last night, another deadly (will this, I dread, be daily?) horror. During a public demonstration in Dallas, Texas, hundreds of marchers walking in peaceful protest against the days before police-involved killings in Minnesota and Louisiana, shots rang out.

The assailant. A sniper.

The target. Police officers. Several were wounded. Five are dead.

The day. The deadliest for law enforcement in the city of Dallas and one of the deadliest in the history of American law enforcement.

The reason. As yet, not fully known. Although a nearly conspicuous immediate speculation, if not conclusion, might name the cause as a violent, vengeful reaction to fatal encounters with the police. There is and can be no justification for this wholly unconscionable, utterly contemptible attack.

I grieve for the slain and wounded officers, for their families, friends, and fellow officers, for the city of Dallas, and for (again, I must write, for I, over time, have learned and deeply internalized at my soul’s depth the necessity of including) all of us who love life, our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of all, for all lives matter and who, therefore, hate violence and vengeance.

In this spirit of revulsion, I reflect on the tellingly prophetic words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.[1]

In the Spirit of love, I remember names. Names are important. For me, the most important words I know, for they bear the power of recognition and recollection of our incredibly individual, yet wondrously common, sacred humanity. So, as it was and is essential that I remember Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the men killed by police in these immediate previous days, it is and will be equally imperative that I memorialize Brent Thompson, 43, a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer; to date, the only identified victim of last night’s deadly assault.

In that same Spirit-love, I pray that we, as Americans, with our nation, our very selves so terribly, tragically divided, whatever our thoughts and feelings, opinions and convictions about police killings and the killings of police, will not be driven to fear or given to greater suspicion of “the other.” Rather, still within the bright light cast by our annual July 4th national celebration of the ideal (still to be realized fully) of our unity in liberty, that we will gather the bloodied threads of this and all tragedy to create, indeed, to recreate a bond of our common destiny.

To do that, I believe, is to make America great again. To do that is to hear and heed another of Martin’s prophetic teachings: We must live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.



[1] Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), page 67