Wednesday, May 23, 2018

BBQ Becky: Trumpification Gone Loco

Jennifer Schulte AKA "BBQ Becky" calls police 
on two California men for "BBQing While Black"
To glimpse an example of defiant unity in the face of the toxic divisiveness of the Trump era, look no further than Oakland, California.

Arguably one of the more innovative and positive responses to the petty, garden-variety bigotry which has blossomed in different parts of America in this second spring of the Trump administration, the "BBQing While Black" picnic was held in Oakland, California on Sunday.

As Laura Holson reported on Monday for the New York Times, hundreds of people came out to a picturesque section of park next to Lake Merritt in support of two black men who were quietly minding their own business enjoying a modest cookout on a sunny Sunday in April when "BBQ Becky" showed up and totally freaked out. 

The hundreds of folks who showed up last Sunday had an old-school American-style cookout complete with food, drinks, music and dancing - and in doing so made the not-so-subtle point that all people, including people of color, have the right to be in the park in Oakland.

Now the person who sparked this business a month ago, Dr. Jennifer Schulte, is a bit of an enigma.

If you read her biography, she would seem to be a highly-educated individual steeped in science who specializes in "air quality and climate change" and has a Ph.D. in philosophy with a focus on chemical engineering from Stanford University.

Kind of makes her sound like a progressive-leaning liberal on paper.

(FYI - Stanford was quick to distance themselves from her but acknowledged she is a graduate...)

But if you take a few minutes to watch some of the highlights of the video (caught on cell phone) of her strange and loopy public confrontation back on Sunday April 29th (which has been viewed millions of times on Youtube), she almost seems the polar opposite of highly-educated.

In fact, in the video she comes off as obstinate, ignorant, uninformed, remarkably self-righteous and unabashedly racist.

"BBQ Becky"in Ph.D. mode
Dr. Jennifer Schulte, or "BBQ Becky" - which is the real person? Or are they in fact, one in the same?

She approached two African-American men in a public park setting up for a BBQ in broad daylight and began confronting them about BBQing with a charcoal grill.

The afore-mentioned biography says that Dr. Schulte is "a recognized expert in the fields of air quality, emission estimation, air dispersion modeling" etc.

So was she viewing the use of a single charcoal grill in a public park from the perspective of a scientist concerned about the impact on air quality?

Or did she confront the two men about their cookout and call the police because of some kind of conscious or unconscious ethnic or racial bias on her part?

The woman in the video directly questions Schulte about why she's so concerned about two guys having a BBQ.

Schulte's answer is odd to say the least.

"Because it causes extra money from our city to do things when children get injured because of improperly disposable..." (that's what she said, watch the video.)

The clearly-flustered BBQ Becky kinda trails off after that completely nonsensical explanation, almost as if she knows it sounds like the total bullshit it is.

Becky is on her cell phone throughout the video and at some point as she's speaking with a police dispatcher (who must've been incredibly annoyed), she says's she's been waiting on the phone for two hours. Two hours.

Because two black guys are grilling food in a public park where it's permissible to do so.

So think about that, this woman confronted two men she doesn't know minding their own business, harasses them at some point, and then is on the phone with the police for over two hours trying to get an officer to drive out there and stop them from BBQing?

By the time Becky starts having a meltdown and whimpering like a traumatized child (falsely telling the police that she's being grabbed and followed even though SHE is wandering around the two men's BBQ area) and retreating into this weird kind of victim-act, it's pretty evident that something else is going on there.

Not something scientific, but something psychological.

My initial reaction seeing the video was (to borrow a phrase from writer Stephen King) to dismiss Becky as being "as crazy as a shit-house rat", but it's much more than that.

Many have characterized her actions as being a product of the white gentrification of the local Oakland community that has driven many long-time African-American residents out of the area due to skyrocketing rents in nearby San Francisco.

Personally I think Schulte's actions are rooted in something deeper, darker and much more sinister in the "primordial-American" sense.

Susan Smith's 1994 arrest photo
Remember Susan Smith?

She was the white mother from South Carolina who locked her two sons, three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander inside her vehicle on October 25, 1994 then intentionally let it roll into John D. Long lake.

The vehicle was submerged under water 120-feet from the shore of the lake and both boys drowned inside as she watched.

Smith initially told police that a black man had carjacked the vehicle at an intersection and driven off  and abducted the two boys.

Her hysterical pleas for their safe return were all over national television news for over a week.

She later admitted drowning the two boys because of her desire to initiate a relationship with a wealthy local older man and she apparently didn't want her "fling" to be encumbered by the two lives she'd brought into the world.

One of the things that always fascinated me about this story was that Smith's very first instinct was to try and cover up her heinous crime by claiming that a black man did it.

While it was later revealed that local investigators were skeptical of her story from the start, for more than a week that racist narrative played out on national television.

For those who may be too young to remember, when Smith murdered her two sons in the fall of 1994, this was at a time when parts of urban inner cities had been decimated by a brutal combination of high unemployment, underfunded schools, the crack-cocaine epidemic, a flood of readily-available firearms and rising youth gang violence resulting (in part) by the lack of economic opportunities.

Ashley Williams confronting Hillary Clinton with her
own words during a 2016 campaign event 
In 1994 President Bill Clinton was working across the aisle with Congressional Republicans to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that incorporated "three strikes" laws which sparked a massive surge in mass incarceration in federal and state prisons across the country.

This was just two years before then-First Lady Hillary Clinton gave her infamous speech at Keene State College in New Hampshire when she used the term "Super Predators" for the first time.

Which was in essence, a code-word for young men of color.

At a private fund raising event in Charleston, South Carolina in February 2016, then-23-year-old activist Ashley Williams (pictured above) famously confronted then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with the cryptic words she used during that 1996 speech in New Hampshire.

So it shouldn't be surprising that Susan Smith understood how to leverage the vilification of African-American men propagated by the media, opportunistic politicians and advocates of the multi-billion dollar prison industry that channels profits from mass incarceration.

And for a short time in the fall of 1994, she bilked sympathetic people and wasted public resources using the police to chase a racist phantom she created to conceal her own crimes.

That's not new in America, and Susan Smith didn't invent it - nor did Jennifer Schulte.

One of the many hysterical photoshopped memes
of "BBQ Becky" circulating on social media
But in my view, that's what lies at the root of "BBQ Becky" standing by a small group of black folks grilling some food, harassing them and sitting on her cell phone for two hours trying to get the police to respond to her own racist phantom.

Conjured up from a place deep inside her own mind where two African-American men grilling some food in a public park becomes some kind of menace to public safety.

For those who view Donald Trump's election to the Oval Office as a titanic step backwards for the evolution of American society, it's hard to forget November 8, 2016.

It's almost as if a swath of the U.S. population suddenly felt empowered or liberated to openly express the most debased kinds of toxic hatred and bigotry against anyone they view as "other".

Sometimes for no reason at all.

16 months into Trump's tenure in office, the kind of divisive racism and irrational anti-immigrant hysteria and vilification that fueled his campaign has clearly manifested inside the minds of some Americans in some truly repugnant and ignorant ways.

Back on April 12th, a white female Starbucks manager called the police because two African-American men were "Waiting While Black" for a third man to join them for a business meeting before placing an order.

On the hallowed grounds of Yale University a white Ph.D. student named Sarah Braasch called campus police when she saw African-American female grad student Lolade Siyonbola "Napping While Black" in the common area of the dorm in which she lives on May 8th.

Back on May 5th, a white woman called police after real estate investor Michael Hayes showed up to inspect a house next door before renovation repairs were scheduled to begin in Memphis, Tennessee.

52% of white women voted for Trump in 2016 so I guess this moronic hysteria shouldn't be a shocker, but now we have "BBQ Becky" freaking out in Oakland over two guys "Grilling While Black".

It's unsettling to watch this rise in incidents of white people calling the cops on black people for doing nothing, and at some point, members of law enforcement are going to have to step up and start enforcing some kind of legal ramifications for those who clog police dispatch lines with this kind of childish nonsense.

There are laws against pulling a fire alarm in a building when there's no fire or emergency - there ought to be laws against calling the police on people for doing nothing.

It's Trumpification gone loco - and it's definitely not Making America Great Again.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Self-Reflection & The Walk-Back

Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman
Back in November of 2017, as a growing number of well-known entertainment industry figures were publicly revealed to have engaged in serious acts of sexual harassment or worse, journalists Tatiana Siegel and Ashley Cullins wrote an article in The Hollywood Reporter about the slew of actors, directors, producers, agents and entertainment industry execs quietly contacting PR agencies and lawyers.

Not in reaction to having been publicly outed for inappropriate or illegal behavior.

But out of fear that a past incident, or some behavior that they engaged in back in the past might possibly expose them to the kind of legal action or unwanted negative media publicity that has torpedoed the careers and reputations of men like director / producer Brett Ratner, and actors Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman (pictured above).

In my view, justice for victims of sexual harassment or assault, discouraging / preventing such behavior from taking place, and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions lies at the heart of the #MeToo movement - as does the chance for victims to begin to heal from past emotional, psychological or physical trauma.

But one of the most fascinating aspects of this emerging era of #MeToo is the almost unprecedented amount of self-reflection that it has sparked on the part of perpetrators and victims alike.

As the well-known Los Angeles attorney and former LA County public defender Shawn Holley observed in the above-mentioned Hollywood Reporter article:


Hollywood attorney Shawn Holley (right) in court
with her former client, actress Lindsey Lohan  
"Almost all of the women I've spoken with are still trying to figure out what, if anything they want to do. 

The men have usually received some correspondence from someone with whom they haven't spoken in many, many, many, many years. The men maintain their innocence but are understandably fearful of what might happen in this charged climate."

Is it just the fear of being exposed that has driven some men to reflect back upon their behavior in the past?

Clearly some men in positions of power or influence are terrified of the loss of power, wealth and status that come with an irreparably-damaged public reputation.

Especially in this era of social media when stories or accusations can become fodder for the 24/7 global media news cycle in minutes.

Just look at the ex-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (pictured below).

Last week he literally resigned his office just hours after a New Yorker article was published that detailed disturbing accusations of his physical abuse of at least four women who went on record.

Ex-NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
And this closet misogynist had the gall to present himself publicly as staunch advocate for women who'd been sexually harassed, abused or assaulted.

If you haven't read the New Yorker article by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, it contains some pretty horrifying accusations about repeated instances when he intentionally slapped women.

And it certainly didn't sound like Schneiderman's conscience was exactly troubled any more than Harvey Weinstein's was; and both men seemed more troubled about the damage to their careers than they were about the women they abused.

All these highly-publicized cases have made clear that this is (and has been) a problem that's far more extensive and pervasive throughout the layers of our society than has been commonly known or openly acknowledged.

As an African-American, I'm certainly familiar with the concept and reality of institutionalized racism.

But as a man, I confess that until the flood of revelations that came out in what's being called the "post-Harvey Weinstein era", I wasn't aware that institutionalized sexism existed as well.

I mean I understood the history of the struggle for American women to gain the vote, to achieve financial independence and the years-long efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment - the struggle for pay equity is still going on.

As a film buff, I certainly understood the kind of harassment (and worse) that's often reduced to the simplistic and sanitized term "the casting couch".

But I simply didn't fully comprehend the degree to which that kind of behavior extended to other industries and workplaces where women were subjected to that kind of degrading behavior.

MGM head Louis B. Mayer looms over actress
Judy Garland as actor Mickey Rooney looks on
If you're interested, check out Thelma Adams' Variety article about the troubling history of sexual harassment in Hollywood, including anecdotes about former MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer groping the teenaged Judy Garland and holding meetings while he had her sit on his lap.

Or director Alfred Hitchcock's notorious obsession with actress Tippi Hedren (the mother of actress Melanie Griffith), arguably as creepy as any of his films.

It's simply not enough for men or boys to say "I didn't know", or "I had no idea".

I think there's a broader need or mandate for all men to understand how deeply rooted this is in our culture - and to understand how it affected our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces, co-workers, classmates and friends.

No matter how uncomfortable or awkward that conversation may be.

Like a lot of men I've found myself looking back on my life trying to reexamine incidents that I witnessed or things I heard or said that might be considered sexist or inappropriate to women.

To be clear, in no way am I personally concerned that "the past might catch up with me", my parents raised me to respect women and to treat them fairly and equally - and I always have.

I learned that from my father who went out of his way to promote qualified women in the 1970's and 1980's during his career with the Boy Scouts of America when other executives of his stature and level weren't doing that.

"Old Main" on the campus of Penn State University
One of the things I've come to understand is that sexual harassment isn't always the kind of extreme behavior typified by men like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby.

It can also be things that might seem small or harmless on the surface, but are none-the-less offensive and possibly traumatizing to those who are subject to it.

The other day I found myself thinking back to my college years at Penn State University.

Specifically I remember when some of my friends (and at times, me) would call girls out publicly for what was often called the "walk of shame" - when we'd see girls walking back towards the dorms in the morning dressed up in evening clothes from the night before.

As football players, we were required to check in for breakfast at training table every morning, regardless of the time of year - so even after a long night out in the bars or at frats we still had to get out of bed and get over to training table and check in or we'd get ripped a new asshole by former head coach Joe Paterno.

The purpose of this essay is not to weigh and analyze the implications of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal - but suffice to say, if you were a football player, you did NOT miss breakfast.

So even if you just walked in the door, signed your name (and there was a guy sitting by the door with a clipboard who did that each morning) and walked right out, you had to get up and go.

Students walking across the PSU campus
A few of us would often drive over to breakfast together, so on a Saturday or Sunday morning in the off-season when we'd be driving around the campus of Penn State sometimes we'd spot a girl walking home from the direction of where a number of frat houses were located on the western side of campus, clearly wearing the clothes she'd worn the night before.

Like sometimes she'd be carrying her heels if the weather was warm, that kind of thing.


Sometimes one of us would roll down the window and yell "Walk of shame!" as we drove past the poor girl, sometimes we'd all chant it loudly and laugh.

At the time, it seemed innocent enough college-type buffoonery, but in retrospect I feel like it was unnecessarily cruel, judgmental and disrespectful.

We were making a completely arbitrary, superficial and unjustified assumption that because we saw a young woman walking home in clothes from the night before that she'd "hooked up" or had sex with someone.

We were judging her unfairly.

Maybe she'd stayed up late watching a movie, ate some late-night pizza with friends, or stayed up talking about life and just decided to crash because it was late.

Even if she had had sex, we had no right to act that way and reinforce antiquated ideas of needing to publicly "shame" women for expressing their sexuality in ways that are perfectly natural.

What business was it of ours?

A young woman reacts to guys yelling out
"Walk of shame" on a college campus
This kind of thing wasn't something that we did everyday, but it happened more than once and I'm guilty of taking part in it more than once and I feel ashamed of that now - my age was not an excuse.

When I try and put myself in the shoes of the girl who may have been simply walking home across campus in the morning from an evening formal, or spending the night with her boyfriend or girlfriend and to have a group of obnoxious guys drive by yelling or chanting "Walk of shame!" as they drove past in a car?

That's harassment plain and simple.

Even if there was no physical contact or anything, treating a stranger like that was boorish, bullying behavior and looking back and reflecting on all that's been revealed since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, I genuinely feel bad about taking part in that kind of thing.

To be clear, guys calling young women out for the "Walk of shame" isn't limited to the campus of Penn State University either - it's a global thing.

And seriously, if I knew a way to contact any of the women who were subjected to that, I would write and apologize - but as I've come to learn, you can't just walk that behavior back.

In recent weeks I've watched as Donald Trump went from denying having an affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, to admitting that he compensated his former "fixer" Michael Cohen $100,000 for the $130,00 payment Cohen made to her days before the November 2016 presidential elections in order to buy her silence about the affair - part of which took place while Melania Trump was pregnant with their son Baron.

You can't just walk that kind of behavior or those choices back - and those choices stay with you.

Not just for men in high profile positions, but for average guys whose names may never make the evening news because of choices they once made.

Like morally judging a young woman simply for walking back home on the campus of an institution of higher learning.

Self-reflection has helped me to understand why that was wrong, but it doesn't change how I or my friends made someone we didn't know feel - it's not something I'd contact a lawyer or PR firm about.

But it's something that I can never walk back.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

For $30 Million Trump Exports Chaos To Gaza

One of over 2,700 Palestinian demonstrators injured
by Israeli Defense Forces on Monday
Divisive presidential campaign rhetoric, incessant childish name-calling of various world leaders and the abandonment of basic principles of diplomacy and traditional foreign policy objectives are all defining features of what has passed as Donald Trump's chaotic foreign policy approach.

A chaotic, patchwork philosophy that's alienated America's traditional allies around the globe and destabilized the Trans-Atlantic alliance with Western Europe.

On the rocky road of the presidential campaign trail two years ago, what Trump ironically flouted as his "America First" approach to international relations has steadily eroded the image of the U.S. as the unofficial leader of the Free World in the eyes of many.

So it's difficult to stomach the embattled POTUS' current attempts to portray himself as the clever worldly diplomat ready to pull America from hard-fought international agreements like the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) simply so Trump can flaunt his inexperience and naivete by doing "deals" off the cuff.

In the wake of Israeli Defense Forces killing of at least 60 Palestinian demonstrators who attempted to cross sections of the volatile 32-mile border that separates the Gaza Strip and Israel during mass protests on Monday and Tuesday, Trump's foreign policy has proven to be an unqualified disaster.

It was Trump's widely-criticized decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the city of Jerusalem that aggravated the widespread Palestinian protests that have been taking place along various parts of the Gaza border for over a month.

Back on Friday April 6th, Israeli troops opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets on a mass demonstration by Palestinians in the city of Khuza'a in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, killing nine protesters and wounding hundreds.

Among those killed that day were 30-year-old Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja (pictured below), who was shot in the stomach despite wearing a blue flak jacket clearly marked "Press" - he later died in the hospital from his wounds.

Mourners carrying the body of Palestinian journalist
Yaser Murtaja, killed in Gaza by Israeli troops in April 
Those demonstrations were known as "The Greart March of Return", a series of planned demonstrations against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in 1948 and the U.S.-backed Israeli economic and political blockade of the Gaza Strip.

A land and naval blockade that has prevented Palestinians from entering or leaving since 2006 when the Islamic Palestinian organization Hamas won legislative elections and the right to govern the region.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated regions on the planet.

To put it into perspective, more than 1.85 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, an area that's only about 21 miles long and between about 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide at various points.

The Gaza Strip is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on its western border, Egypt sits on it's southern border, and Israel surrounds the eastern and northern borders where most of the violence that has dominated media coverage for the past two days, has taken place.

Israeli ships, planes, tanks and soldiers enforce a blockade that's been in place since Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005 - the blockade ostensibly prevents Iran from sending military weaponry to Hamas.

But the blockade has also choked off shipments of critical supplies, foreign aid and investment, as well as the freedom to travel in and out of Gaza by the almost two million Palestinians who live in a region where there are almost no jobs or economic or educational opportunities to speak of.

Palestinians behind the Gaza Strip blockade wall 
For example, earlier this morning I listened to a BBC Radio interview with a young Palestinian grad student who said that he's been unable to leave Gaza to complete his graduate studies abroad in a foreign college that offered him a scholarship, because the Israeli blockade prevents him from leaving.

The frustration with Israel and the U.S. inside Gaza that has festered over the past decade was already a focal point for anti-American resentment.


To say nothing of a recruiting tool for radicalized Islamic groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

But Trump's decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was like pouring gasoline on a fire that's been simmering for almost 70 years - it was a decision that previous U.S. presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, refused to make because of it's impact on the destabilization of the region.

Regional powers in the Mid-East including Saudi Arabia and Turkey also warned the Trump administration against making such a provocative and totally unnecessary move - even though he has no diplomatic experience and doesn't understand the complex history of the region he did it anyway.

Such ill-advised foreign policy decisions have become the hallmark of Trump's presidency, and the deadly results seen on the Gaza Strip border on Monday are hardly surprising given the current White House's attempts to remove scores of experienced, career foreign service officials from their positions.

Bizarre actions typified by Trump's attempts to gut the State Department's budget by a staggering 25% ($13.1 billion) for the fiscal year 2018 after appointing former-Exxon-Mobil executive Rex Tillerson, a man with no political or diplomatic experience, to head up the agency at a critical time for America' standing in an increasingly complex global landscape.

Tillerson (who privately called Trump "a fucking moron") has since become one the 37 former Trump administration officials and employees who've been fired or resigned since their erratic ex-boss took office in January of 2017.

Exporting Nepotism: Jared Kushner & Ivanka Trump
at the U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem on Monday
The "brain trust" that Trump sent to Jerusalem for the ceremony opening the U.S. embassy is a sad reflection of his erratic clown-car approach to foreign relations.

Front and center were Trump's daughter-wife Ivanka and her embattled husband Jared Kushner.

The son-in-law Trump touted as some kind of boy-wonder who's actually accomplished little during his tenure as a "senior White House adviser" aside from accepting almost $500 million in loans from AGM and Citigroup for his family's real estate company.


Loans which were secured only AFTER Kushner met inside the White House with reps from both companies - sparking a federal ethics investigation that is ongoing.

And remember, Kushner is the guy who lied so many times on his federal disclosure forms about meetings he held with foreigners while he was acting as a member of the Trump campaign that his security clearance was revoked - essentially neutering him in terms of the White House power structure.

Look at the picture above.

The fact that Kushner is sitting next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the embassy ceremony would almost be laughable, save for the fact that as the photo was being taken, hundreds of Palestinian protesters were being wounded and over 58 killed less than a hundred miles away.

Given the media reports back in February that a 12-month investigation by Israeli police revealed that Netanyahu had accepted hundreds of thousands in bribes and recommended that he be charged with breach of trust and fraud, in the world of "Trump logic" it's actually not surprising that a right-wing war-hawk with questionable personal finances is sitting next to Jared and Ivanka.

Ivanka takes a selfie as Palestinians
are shot at the Gaza border
Trump himself knew the decision to open the embassy would result in violence that would be widely condemned by the international community (which it was) so he was too chickenshit to bother to show up for the ceremony himself.

Instead he dispatched his disgraced son-in-law and ethically-challenged daughter for a photo op with a corrupt Israeli prime minister who praised IDF forces for gunning down unarmed Palestinian protesters.

And what was Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin doing there anyway? Did Trump just throw him in there to lend the whole affair some credibility?

Check out this People.com article about how Jared and Ivanka are getting ripped on social media for attending the ceremony and celebrating in front of cameras while Palestinians were being slaughtered.

Like Trump's foreign policy, it makes very little sense, but that's of little consequence to a man who continues to foist his unqualified relatives upon the American public in an effort to use the presidency to enrich the finances and influence of his own family.

With the Syrian conflict getting trickier and more violent, about the last thing Palestinians stuck in limbo in the Gaza Strip needed was Trump's chaotic leadership style or the destabilization of the already-fragile Palestinian - Israeli regional conflict by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

But for the $30 million donated by casino magnate and Republican rainmaker Sheldon Adelson to the GOP for the upcoming midterm elections, Trump was willing to do just about anything.

Even if dozens of Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 wounded.

So much for draining that swamp.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Scouts BSA: It's About Evolution, Not PC

One of Norman Rockwell's many
iconic illustrations of Boy Scouts 
Last week's announcement that the Boy Scouts of America will change their name to Scouts BSA in February of 2019 in accordance with its decision to admit girls as Scouts caught me by surprise.

As a former Boy Scout whose father had a successful 25-plus year career as a BSA executive and rose to the upper echelon of the organization, I experienced some mixed emotions at first.

Growing up in a "Scouting family", I was surrounded by the imagery, symbolism, values, accoutrements and traditions that are so deeply embedded into the Boy Scouts' DNA.

From an early age, the latest issues of Boy's Life, the colorful official magazine for Boy Scouts, were always scattered about the house courtesy of my dad.

More than 110 million Americans have participated in various Scouting programs over the years, so it's a good bet that Boy's Life was the first real magazine experience for many boys.

First published in 1911, Boy's Life has featured the work of a number of iconic artists over the years, including illustrator Norman Rockwell (pictured above), surrealist painter Salvador Dali, photographer Ansel Adams and cartoonist Dik Browne (Hagar the Horrible and Hi and Lois).

Boy's Life has also featured a number of well-known writers over the years including  sci-fi writers such as Arthur C. Clarke, Issac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury - and "Roots" and "The Autobiography of Malcom X" author Alex Haley.   

The excitement of coming home from school and seeing the latest issue of Boy's Life in the mail with my name on the address label on the cover had a formative impact on my love of reading, desire to learn and love of magazines - if you could see my kitchen table and living room you'd understand that love of printed magazines has never left me.

Since the BSA was founded one hundred and eight years ago back in 1910, as the name implies, it's core mission has been focused on the development of character through the learning and mastery of a wide range of skills related to nature and the outdoors ("scoutcraft").

Women have served in the Cub Scouts
as Den Mothers since the 1930's
Instilling citizenship, a core of positive values and a sense of community service are also integral parts of the BSA's mission, up until recently that mission focused upon boys and young men.

But women have been integral parts of the BSA for years, and not just as "Scouting Moms" whose role as the crucial support system behind Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop meetings and activities too-often goes unheralded.

In the 20th century, women like LaVern Watts Parmley, Ann W. Nally and Eleanor Parsons Pratt also served integral roles in the expansion of community scouting - which in turn raised the BSA's profile on the national level.

As I learned first-hand when I joined Cub Scouts back in the 3rd grade, women served in volunteer leadership positions as Den Mothers for Cub Scouts, which serves boys (and now girls) ages 6 to 11.

Women also serve as leaders for Boy Scouts which serves boys ages 11 to 18 and also serve as leaders and members of other BSA programs like Explorers (a more career-focused program which was merged into the Venturers program starting in 2001) and Sea Scouts - programs which have allowed co-ed participation for years.

So while it was surprising for me to hear that the BSA would change it's name to Scouts BSA in 2019 and welcome girls as scouts, looking back upon the role women have played as both local volunteers and as executives in the organization, my sense is that the move is a logical one.

A necessary 21st century move whose time was clearly past given that the BSA opened it's ranks to welcome openly gay and transgender scouts in 2015 - and two years later announced that girls would be able to participate in Cub Scouts starting this year.

Sydney Ireland with her older brother Bryan at a
2016 National Organization for Women conference
Since the 1970's a number of different people have lobbied the BSA to allow women to join its ranks.

In 1995 Katrina Yeaw and three other girls attempted to join a Cub Scout pack in California and when their membership application was denied, she took her fight to the California Supreme Court in 1997.

She lost when the justices upheld the BSA's right to establish their own membership criteria, but the proverbial glass was cracked.

Since the age of four, Sydney Ireland (pictured left) has been lobbying to follow her older brother Bryan, an Eagle Scout, to officially join his Manhattan, New York Boy Scout troop.


She's garnered national media attention since 2015 when her Change.org petition began focusing press attention on her campaign - and putting pressure on the BSA to revise it's policy towards allowing girls to be Scouts. 

In August, 2017, Ireland had her op-ed published in the Washington Post, and for anyone who reads her Change.org petition, or her WaPo ope-ed, it's hard to argue against her logic.

She's already been taking part in her brother's BSA Scout troop activities for over a decade, has done the work to earn some tough merit badges (you try doing the Mile Swim, she's done it twice) and wants to pursue her dream of being an Eagle Scout.

Regardless of where you fall on girls being allowed to join the Boy Scouts, you have to admire Sydney Ireland's determination - which helped influence the BSA's decision to begin admitting girls into the Cub Scouts in 2017.

Sadly though, as Camila Domonoske reported for NPR last Wednesday, Ireland will be too old to enter the Scouts program next year when the BSA begins admitting girls.

Scouts BSA: a glimpse of scouting's 2nd century
As someone who participated in Cub Scouts, Webelos and Boy Scouts and had the chance to go spelunking in caves deep under the hills of West Virginia, spend autumn days canoeing rivers in Virginia, or winter camping in snow along the shoreline of eastern Maryland, there's nothing "easy" about being a Scout.

It's an experience that will test you and force you to reach within yourself.

There's something rewarding about that, not just the skills that will last a lifetime.

It's also the internal development of core values and ideals about community, cooperation, citizenship and challenging yourself - things that can't be learned from books.

So if a young person wants to learn those things and have those experiences, by all rights they should have the chance to do so - Sydney Ireland included.

Given the divisive nature of the current occupant of the Oval Office, and his politics of exclusion, discrimination and incessant cultural warfare, there's little doubt that some on the conservative side of the spectrum will view the BSA's decision exclusively as some kind of victory for what some view as the forces of "political correctness."

Unfortunately, in recent years the Boy Scouts have served as something of an ideological battleground for the rightwing conservatives who ignore Trump's myriad flaws because (to them) he represents someone willing to fight the existential threats that unsettle and alarm them.

Ex-Cub Scout Ames Mayfield and his dog
So the average Fox News watcher will view the BSA's decision as further evidence of the collapse of civilized society - and get even angrier than they've been since Obama was elected back in 2008.

The last time I blogged about the Boy Scouts was back in October of 2017 when 11-year-old Cub Scout Ames Mayfield was kicked out of his pack by his den leader.

Why did he get kicked out?

Because he publicly (and politely) confronted conservative Colorado Republican state lawmaker Vicki Marble about her co-sponsoring a bill that would allow domestic violence offenders to own a gun.

Ames' question came about 23 days after the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas so it was entirely justified, but gun lobby supporters in Colorado and other parts of the country were feeling particularly defensive - no doubt they cheered an 11-year-old kid getting booted out of his Cub Scout pack for asking a Republican politician a question.

In July of last year I blogged about the media flap that arose after Trump used an appearance at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia to repeat more lies about President Obama, and vilify his political enemies while he told a rambling story about being at a party.

The resulting dust-up fired up conservatives who felt Trump had every right to ramble on like a drunken buffoon in front of a crowd of thousands of Boy Scouts - even long-time scouters were divided on the issue.

BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh
I directed some criticism at BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh for what I felt was a rather tepid apology for Trump's reprehensible comments in front of an audience of scouts and scout leaders.

Looking at the decision last week to open the Scouts up to girls, my sense is that Surbaugh and other members of the BSA hierarchy were trying to carefully reaffirm the values of the one hundred and eight-year-old organization - because there's little question their brand (and membership) took a hit after Trump's comments at the Jamboree last summer.

In this age of social media, OTT streaming devices, video games, smart phones and year-round sports for kids ages 6 to 18, the one thing the BSA can scant afford to do is to alienate anyone.

My sense is that the decision to rebrand itself Scouts BSA (kind of a clever take on Scouts USA right?) served a couple purposes.

First, in the age of #MeToo, it affirmed the BSA as an organization that wants to be relevant in the 21st century while still upholding the values at it's core.

Allowing young women to join as scouts shows that the BSA recognizes the importance of the role it can play in ensuring that women have equal access in American society, at a time when that's not always the case in Hollywood and other industries.

In short, the decision shows that the BSA can lead - with some encouragement and nudging from girls like Katrina Yeaw and Sydney Ireland of course.

Second, it opens the gates to increased membership within its ranks by showing the 50% of the U.S. population who do not have a penis that they are wanted, and they are welcomed in the scouting community - at all levels.

Ex-New York AG Eric Schneiderman
That in itself, effectively creates a space between the nonsensical drivel that came out of Trump's mouth at the Boy Scout Jamboree last summer, and the values that have defined the BSA for over a century.

And to the credit of Michel Surbaugh, other BSA executives and the BSA board, the organization has strategically placed itself on the correct side of the road in terms of the #MeToo movement - recognizing that this is a pivotal time in terms of the history of gender equity in America.

A point driven home by the sudden resignation of Eric Schneiderman in the wake of the publishing of the shocking allegations of physical abuse leveled against him in the bombshell New Yorker article by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow that was published Tuesday evening.

So there will be those who will criticize the BSA for changing it's name and welcoming girls; and that's their right.

But what some of those inclined to be angered over the BSA brand change fail to understand in my opinion, is that the decision to break down a final barrier and welcome girls isn't about "Political Correctness" as some on Fox and Friends might grumble.

It's about evolution.

And as Darwin observed, better to be on the right side of that particular part of the process of natural order - especially when viewed from the vantage point of future generations.

After all, these days the dinosaur is just a fossil in the ground - the birds are still flying.

By putting the word Scouts in front of BSA, the organization isn't just redefining it's membership - they're demonstrating a desire to adapt and survive well into the 21st century.

And I'm betting there are a lot of boys and girls who'll be the better for it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

And We Know Why

Starbucks' infamous Rittenhouse Square store
The widespread media coverage of the arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two 23-year-old African-American entrepreneurs whose April 12th arrest in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for an associate for a business meeting, has begun to fade.

But like the aftertaste of coffee, the deeper issues concerning the perception of race in America have not.

An afternoon of mandatory customer service training at 8,000 Starbucks locations on May 29th is certainly a step in the right direction.

An appropriate response that's obviously not going to undo centuries of American history, but it is significant from the standpoint of a major American corporation responding to racial bias by one of it's employees - one that clearly sends an important message.

Personally I disagree with conservative African-American commentator and Harvard-trained capitalist Hughey Newsome who complained that Starbuck's decision was "overkill", lamenting in Ayn Rand-ian indignation that "If I am a shareholder, and an African-American, white, Asian, or of whatever background, I am going to be furious at Starbucks." 

As an investor myself, I'd be a lot more pissed off at the manager who called Philly PD on those two dudes than I would be at Starbucks.

And with all due respect to Mr. Newsome, the the only thing that was "overkill" about this incident was said-manager's decision to try and have two guys handcuffed and arrested for waiting for someone to join them while sitting inside a coffeehouse whose business model is partially based on advertising itself as a place for people to meet and hang out.

In this current climate in America when the erratic and unpopular POTUS intentionally cultivates divisiveness based on race, ethnicity, religion and nationality, incidents like the Starbucks situation are exponentially more problematic for companies eager to avoid having their brands associated with Trump's reprehensible personal views.

Particularly for large nationwide restaurant chains and retailers whose brands, reputations and profits can all be negatively affected because of the misguided actions, words or decisions of one employee who allows their own personal bias to overshadow professionalism, a sense of decency and basic common sense.

Army vet Ernest Walker's service photo and ex-Chili's
manager Wesley Patrick who accused him of lying 
In some ways the Starbucks incident is reminiscent of the incident that happened at a Chili's back in 2016.

Remember the blowback Chili's received over it's initially-tepid response to the social media outrage after Wesley Patrick, a white ex-manager of its Cedar Hill, Texas restaurant accused an African-American Army vet named Ernest Walker of not being a real veteran and took away his food on Veteran's Day back in November, 2016?

That incident was sparked when an old man wearing a Trump t-shirt (really) sitting a few tables away inside the Chili's saw Walker eating with his service dog Barack.

This was four days after the 2016 presidential election when some elated Trump supporters were doing all kinds of random crazy racist shit to innocent people of color.

So the old man gets up, walks up to Patrick and claimed that Walker was "not a real soldier".

Patrick didn't call the cops like the Starbucks manager in Philly did, but he was caught on video as Walker presented his military ID card and Army honorable discharge papers as proof he'd served in the Army and was therefore entitled to the complimentary meal Chili's offered to all vets on Veteran's Day.

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson
Patrick (I'm guessing he didn't vote for Hillary) still refused to believe him - then made matters worse by grabbing the takeout container with the rest of Walker's meal and snatching it away after the vet had already tipped the waitress.

You can bet that the executives of the progressive-leaning Starbucks paid close attention to what happened with that Texas Chili's back in 2016.

So no doubt it was one Hell of an April for the Seattle-based coffee franchise, just as it was for the two young men who were publicly humiliated by a Starbucks employee for "waiting while black".

For me, the second half of April was a blur of tax preparation and work, both of which involved varying degrees of customer service.

Along with the arrival of some fairly spring-like temperatures, the busy season for the apartment leasing season has begun to heat up - and that ratchets things up for folks like me who lease apartments in order to put bread on the table and pay bills.

For example, I stayed late after work three straight nights last week, mostly to help two different apartment applicants sort out some tricky credit and income screening issues in order to get approved.

Both individuals are white, and as you likely know, I am black.

Nuns and clergymen join black protesters marching
on City Hall for fair housing in Milwaukee, WI in 1967
It's been at least three weeks since the very first moment that they both entered my office (separately) to ask about renting an apartment, until late Thursday afternoon when I was able to get them both approved for their respective apartments.

At no point did I for even one second consider treating either of them differently because their skin color was different than mine.

Granted, I am strictly bound by federal and state fair housing laws that govern the treatment of anyone who seeks to lease an apartment.

Regardless of their race, country of origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, familial status or physical or emotional disability.

As I learned during a National Apartment Association professional certification training that I took back in December, the U.S. government created laws that prohibit discriminatory housing rental and sales practices based on those protected classes listed above under the Fair Housing Act - which was part of the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Discrimination based on familial status (i.e. refusing to rent to someone because they're single, or have kids) or based on an individual's physical or emotional disability were added later under the Fair Housing Amendment passed in 1988.

Violation of those laws is a very serious issue for leasing professionals or property management companies found guilty of violating them - it can lead to termination, and or tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines levied against an individual or organization by state or federal agencies.

Nelson and Robinson settled with the city of Philly
for $2 for this arrest back on April 12th
So I'm very familiar with those laws, and because it's the right thing to do, I make adhering to them part of the basis of my sales techniques and customer services practices no matter who walks in the door of my office or calls me on the phone.

So aside from the blatant racial discrimination, I was genuinely floored when I first read about Nelson and Robinson being handcuffed and arrested for sitting in a Starbucks.

From the perspective of a property management professional who deals with a multitude of customer service issues on a daily basis, and as a former bartender who worked in the service industry for five years in New York City, the dustup over the Starbucks situation in Philly should never have happened.

As Kate Allison the CEO of PR outfit Karma Agency observed in an interview with WHYY:

"Starbucks has been from the very beginning a place where people go to gather - you go there to read, to work on your laptop, to have conversations with people. That is a huge part of the brand; it's a dimension that we've all sort of universally accepted. And that makes this particular situation feel all that much worse."

If you manage or work in an establishment where the business model is predicated upon making customers feel welcome and encouraging them to spend long periods of time inside said establishment, it's perfectly normal for some customers to prefer to wait until the person or party they're there to meet arrives before actually ordering something to eat or drink.

And yes, pointing a newly-arrived customer towards the restroom is a common courtesy, particularly when someone first walks in off the street - making people feel welcome is part of the job.

When I was bartending on the Upper West Side of New York in the late 90's and early 2000's, if a customer sat down at the bar and told me they were waiting for someone before ordering a drink or food, my stock response was to offer them a glass of water, maybe give them a menu and tell them to just let me know when they were ready to order.

How many times have you seen folks hanging out
at Starbucks without ordering?
Granted, those kinds of situations are very different than say a disheveled-looking homeless individual or panhandler coming into the establishment and wandering table to table shaking down customers for cash.

But even in those situations managers should know how to handle that in a respectful manner that reflects positively upon the business or establishment.

You don't need to be an asshole to enforce rules and treat folks with respect.

And you certainly shouldn't need to call the police to do it either - unless someone is getting violent or physically threatening someone.

According to an account of the Starbucks incident that Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson gave to the Associate Press, after the men were told they couldn't use the restroom because they hadn't ordered anything - they took it in stride.

A few minutes later when a server came by where they were sitting and asked if they needed help, one of them told the server they were waiting for someone to arrive and with that, the white female manager proceeded to dial 911 and call the police.

Which is pretty mind-boggling considering that Robinson claims he's been a semi-regular customer of that Starbucks location for eight years  - and he and Nelson were there for a business meeting regarding a real estate transaction.

Now I'm not suggesting the white female Starbucks manager is a "racist" because she called the police on two black men waiting for a business associate to arrive for a meeting.

Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer and CEO Kevin Johnson
But her decision to do so suggests that her perception of what was actually happening was warped to some degree by her own personal bias based on their race.

There've been plenty of times I've been to a Starbucks and seen people camped out there working on a laptop, reading or talking with a group of people and it's not apparent that they're actually drinking or eating something they've ordered.


Four days after the incident, I listened to a segment on Morning Edition on WNYC on the continuing fallout from the Starbucks arrest, host Rachel Martin spoke with Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer, who is herself African-American, about the growing controversy.

There was no question that she was both personally and professionally disturbed about the incident, as Brewer observed during the interview:

"Just watching that video was quite painful. You know as an African-American executive myself with a 23-YO African-American son it was very difficult to watch. The police should not have been called in this situation."

Brewer also talked about the need for individuals, not just Starbucks employees or members of the Philadelphia Police Department, to take responsibility for the kind of racial bias that sparked this unfortunate incident.

Again, Starbucks' internal remedies aren't going to fundamentally alter the underlying issues that promoted the incident, but they could nudge the needle - and I think their executives deserve credit for a substantive response that wasn't pandering or just lip service.

CEO Kevin Johnson flew to Philadelphia to personally apologize to both men and called the incident "reprehensible" - Starbucks also quickly came to an undisclosed settlement with Nelson and Robinson.

Philadelphia PD Commissioner Richard Ross
addresses the Starbucks arrest
And the fact that the company will be closing over 8,000 different Starbucks on the afternoon of May 29th the day after Memorial Day for sensitivity training is pretty substantive.

Especially considering that they employ over 238,000 people worldwide.

It's been awhile since I've taken time to write here on my blog.

Partly because I've been busy.


But also because a lot of my sensitivity to these kinds of situations stems from an experience that took place when I was 12-years old and living in Bethesda, Maryland.

I was tall for my age, approaching six feet tall when I was 12, and as an African-American living in the mostly white suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland, that occasionally created problems for me.

"The Empire Strikes Back" was released in May of 1980, and while my mother took me and my brother to see it during a trip to Philadelphia, once school was out for the summer back in Bethesda, some friends and I made a long bike trip into downtown Bethesda to see the film again on a hot summer day at a theater on Wisconsin Avenue.

It was early afternoon and we were hot from the long bike ride so we were all eager to get inside the air-conditioned theater.

My friends rushed inside to get tickets and save seats and I lingered outside because I was having trouble with my bike lock, so I was alone when I got to the ticket booth outside.

The theater had one of those old ticket booths that stood alone outside the front entrance of the theater, but under an awning, and there was a white lady in her 50's with a beehive-type hairdo sitting behind the glass.

I slid my money under the glass partition and said, "One child please." after all I was 12-years-old and still qualified for a the child-price ticket.

She gave me this sort of piercing, hostile look, like she was angry, and said:

"No you can't. And you know why."

For a moment I just stood there dumbfounded and confused, at first I thought she was kidding, and then when her expression didn't change I feared she wasn't going to give me a ticket.

So I asked her what she meant, and she pointed her finger at this little black felt sign with white letters arranged on it with the prices and showtimes and replied:

"You have to be 12 or under for a child's ticket."

I protested and explained to her that I was 12, but she accused me of lying to get a cheaper ticket.


Like some white adults I encountered as a tall-for-his-age black boy in suburban Bethesda, they often mistook me for someone much older than I actually was.

And they sometimes treated me that way too - like the woman looking at me strangely from behind the glass and seeing something that I was not.

I recall standing there alone in front of that ticket booth on that hot summer afternoon hearing the sound of traffic on Wisconsin Avenue driving by just beyond the sidewalk, longing to be inside the cool darkness of the theater with my friends, but also realizing my parents were both at work and there was no way I could prove to the woman that I was 12.

What 12-year-old carries ID around with his or her birthdate on it? I certainly didn't.

I remember feeling helpless, angry, humiliated and offended because she didn't believe me and had accused me of lying - but the movie was about to start so with tears of anger moistening my eyes I pulled out another bill and paid the adult fare snatched my ticket and change and went inside.

I never told my white friends in the theater what happened to me and I never told my parents about it either - I knew what happened was wrong, but I didn't fully understand it and I was too young to be able to fully grasp or confront the complexities of racial bias that revolve around being a boy or man of color in America.

Even now, years later, I can still feel the sting of anger and humiliation - and the self-satisfied contempt in her voice still rings in my head.

Sitting here looking back on the incident, I'm reminded of the title of writer James Baldwin's voluminous collection of essays "The Price of the Ticket", which sits on my bookshelf not far from where I sit as I write these words.

So like many African-American men, I can understand and identify with the humiliation and anger that Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson felt as they were handcuffed and led out of that Starbucks by Philadelphia PD officers back on April 12th.

I understand how Ernest Walker felt when a manager at Chili's took his meal away from him and accused him of lying about being an Army veteran to get a free meal at Chili's.

I paid the price of the ticket that day in front of the theater because I had no other choice - and we know why.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lost In Detroit: Assumptions Over Common Sense?

14-year-old high school student Brennan Walker
Crossing the street, driving, riding a bicycle, walking along the side of the road, even sitting on a bench after work waiting to pick up your kids.

The list of what most people consider fairly normal activities, but that innocent African-Americans can be arrested, beaten or even shot and killed for, is alarmingly long considering we're in the 21st century.

Sandra Bland died of asphyxiation after failing to signal for a lane change.

But it's a fairly disturbing commentary on the current state of American society that a 14-year-old boy named Brennan Walker almost lost his life for simply knocking on a stranger's door to ask for directions to his high school on Thursday morning.

As you may have heard or read, after waking up late and missing his school bus, Walker decided to walk the four miles to Rochester High School, but he got turned around on some streets in a part of the Rochester Hills, Michigan neighborhood that were unfamiliar to him.

He knocked on the door of the home of 53-year-old former firefighter Jeffrey Zeigler to ask for directions and as Scott Anderson reported for WXYZ, a woman inside the home came down the stairs yelling at the high school freshman as if he was trying to break into the house.

According to Walker's mother Lisa Wright, she viewed a section of CCTV footage obtained by police from Zeigler's home that caught the incident on videotape revealing the woman inside wondering aloud "why did these people choose my house" - leaving no doubt in Wright's mind that the incident was racially motivated.

And as Wright told reporters, this is a kid, trying to get to school, whose father, her husband, is an active-duty Army special forces soldier serving his country overseas in operations in Syria right now.

But the Zeigler's didn't see that - all they saw was a scary black guy trying to hurt them.

53-year-old Jeffrey Zeigler's arrest photo
Walker told a WXYZ reporter he tried explaining that he was just a Rochester HS student looking for directions, but the woman in the house just kept yelling until Jeffrey Zeigler came downstairs, grabbed a shotgun and pointed it at Walker through the window.

The 14-year-old put up his hand reflexively and ran as fast he could from the house, but turned around to see Zeigler firing a round from the shotgun at him.

Fortunately the shot missed Walker, but the Zeigler's reactions brings to mind the kind of deadly hair-trigger reactions of some members of law enforcement who seem not to see what's actually happening.

Instead they seem to be responding to some kind of pre-recorded track that's running inside their minds, one rooted in deeply ingrained assumptions about race and ethnicity.

To be fair to the Zeiglers, an unexpected knock on the door early in the morning can be alarming if you're half-asleep or not expecting anyone.

But it was broad daylight and we can assume that their front door had a peephole, and obviously there was a window near the front door since the woman who first saw Walker standing there knocking clearly reacted to his being African-American.

If she didn't know who he was, why not simply call through the door and ask what he wanted?

Jeffrey Zeigler hearing the woman (I don't know if it was his wife) yelling would understandably prompt him to run down and see what was going on - but grabbing a loaded shotgun, chambering a live round and then firing it at someone who was running away from the house?

As Jacey Fortin reported for the New York Times earlier today, Oaks County (Michigan) Sheriff Michael Bouchard said of Zeigler's decision to fire the weapon, "It's disgusting, it's disturbing and it's unacceptable on every level."


Theodore Wafer fatally shot 19-year-old Renisha
McBride in the face after she knocked on his door
When I read about this incident on Twitter on Friday, it was hard for me to believe that it was just four years ago that I blogged about Theodore Wafer being found guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter and a felony firearms charge in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Renisha McBride.

If you recall that shooting, the circumstances were alarmingly similar to what happened last week in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Let's quickly review for perspective.

McBride was intoxicated and speeding when she struck a parked vehicle and wrecked her car in a Detroit neighborhood back in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013.

A resident who saw the accident called 911 and went out to check on her and noted that she was "discombobulated" and couldn't even recall her phone number or speak lucidly - he told her he'd called EMS but she didn't seem to comprehend and walked away.

Likely suffering from a concussion, shock as well as the lingering effects of alcohol and weed in her system, she wandered for almost three hours, eventually making her way to the front door of Theodore Wafer's home in the Dearborn Heights neighborhood of Detroit about a mile from the accident at around 4:40am

She knocked on the front door and he opened the door and immediately fired a shotgun blast through the screen door directly into her face, killing her instantly.

Possibly believing that Michigan's "Shoot First" law (MCL 780.972) passed back in 2006 could be used as a defense, Wafer initially lied to police investigators claiming his shotgun discharged accidentally - then he claimed he thought McBride knocking on his front door was a burglar trying to break into his home.

Renisha McBride's parents react during court testimony
But that Michigan law clearly states that a citizen not in the act of committing a crime can discharge a firearm against someone only if they believe they are about to be harmed, killed or raped.

In 2014 a jury concluded that an intoxicated 19-year-old woman who'd just been in a car accident knocking on his door did not represent a threat to his life and they found him guilty and sentenced him to at least 17 years in prison.


McBride's death happened one year and nine months after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, so clearly the question of how race affected Wafer's decision to shoot McBride in the face hung over the entire trial.

In the context of all this, I think it's fair to ask: if an intoxicated 19-year-old white blond girl had knocked on Wafer's door at 4:40am in the morning on that November night back in 2013, would he have immediately fired a shotgun blast directly into her face at point blank range?

It's not clear that Jeffrey Zeigler thought he was justified in firing his shotgun at Brennan Walker while the 14-year-old was running away from the house last Thursday morning.

Time, and a court of law will eventually answer that question - Zeigler was charged with assault with intent to murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony on Friday.

But given all the global media attention that surrounded the Renisha McBride shooting almost five years ago, one would think that as a gun owner Zeigler would have exercised some degree of restraint before pointing the barrel of his shotgun at someone running away from his house and pulling the trigger.

Instead, at least right now, it appears that deep-seated assumptions about race overshadowed common sense, and a 14-year-old boy, the son of an active-duty U.S. serviceman serving in Syria, could have been injured or even killed for knocking on the door of someone's home to ask for directions to get to school.

As Renisha McBride's father told a reporter after Theodore Wafer was found guilty of killing his daughter back in 2014, "That could have been anyone's kid."