Reverberations

So last weekend the news was about Elizabeth Lederer’s decision to stop being a lecturer at Columbia University Law School. It’s a little satisfying, seeing people put in the spotlight, seeing the (at-long-last-and-finally) negative impact caused by the harsh lens of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries about the Central Park 5, When They See Us. I am glad enough that Lederer won’t be a vaunted lecturer at Columbia’s law school anymore. I am, however, totally not here for her effort to control the narrative, saying she stepped down because she doesn’t want the distraction of publicity to affect the college rather than acknowledging that she has culpability. Notice that the weekend’s headlines aren’t about Lederer being fired.

I read a NYT article from a few years ago, an article written in 2013 after the airing of the Ken and Sarah Burns documentary about the jogger case, and after Frank Chi created an online petition demanding that Columbia fire Lederer from her teaching position. The article acknowledges that Lederer was involved in the perpetration of an injustice, but it clearly faults Chi for wanting her to have to pay any consequences for that involvement.

The five boys who’d been sent to prison were still trying to build lives after the justice system had done everything in its power to destroy them, and the writer of that Times piece was upset that anyone should point a finger at Lederer for her part in that heinous miscarriage of justice.

The writer, Jim Dwyer, says: “The petition against Ms. Lederer, in part, reduces her life in public service to a single moment, the jogger case. In fact, she has a lengthy résumé of unchallenged convictions in cold cases, having pursued investigations of forgotten crimes. No one lives without error. And designating a single villain completely misses the point and power of the documentary. The jogger case belongs to a historical moment, not any one prosecutor or detective; it grew in the soils of a rancid, angry, fearful time.”

Could he really have been serious? Does he really believe that, because she tried other cases that didn’t involve harming innocent people, that we should forget about what she did in this case, in this case in which she participated in the destruction of five innocent boys’ childhoods, in this case which impacted the families of each of these innocent boys? He says “the jogger case belongs to a historical moment,” as if we weren’t, at the exact moment he was writing that line, living in the reality of a system that regularly brutalized Black and brown people. Ferguson wouldn’t become a national flashpoint for another year, but it’s not as though anyone actually trying to look would have been able to miss the simple fact that the justice system treats Black and brown folks unjustly on the regular.

And even if we really could consign the jogger case to history, why should that mean the people who carried out that hideousness should be allowed to thrive and make money, in part because they point to their success in that case? Chi was absolutely right to call for Lederer’s dismissal. Columbia didn’t listen, though. Not then and not in the years since then when students at the school made the same call. Only now, in the wake of When They See Us being the most streamed show in Netflix history, are any dominoes falling — or, more accurately, are some dominoes falling and a few others removing themselves from the game.

 

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch When They See Us. I knew a) it would be painful, b) it would be enraging, and c) that I wouldn’t be able to sleep well after watching because d) my brain wouldn’t be able to stop running through the story, through all the moments when people in power could have decided another way, through all the moments when one or another of those innocent children was harmed.

I finally watched on Sunday. I went to a friend’s house and we watched together. We watched two episodes, took a short break, then watched the final two. She drove me to the train and I made my way home. I stayed up awhile, even though it was already late and I had an early meeting Monday morning. I was afraid to go to sleep, certain I would dream the worst parts of the show.

I didn’t dream the show, but I didn’t fall asleep right away, either. I couldn’t … because, every time I closed my eyes, my brain did what I’d known it would: began running through the moments of choice in the story, through the moments of casual brutality. I tried thinking about other things, tried reading a book, tried playing games on my phone. No good.

I did finally sleep. I had an equally hard time sleeping Monday night. I’m practically a zombie right now, running on a combined total of about 5 hours of sleep in 72 hours. I will probably have this same issue for several nights to come.

If I can’t sleep, and I am 100 percent not culpable of anything in this case, how do the people entirely responsible sleep? How have they been able to live their lives without remorse? I don’t make room for the possibility that they honestly believed they had served justice. There is no chance they aren’t guilty of pushing children into harm’s way to benefit themselves: to resolve a terrible crime … and to feed a popular narrative that enabled them to build and strengthen their own careers by showing how tough on crime they were, how skillfully they could win high-profile cases.

I don’t feel any kind of sorry for Fairstein or Lederer. I’m also not surprised that the primary fallout from the show (so far?) has centered on women. That’s predictable and problematic, but it doesn’t make me feel sorry for these two. Not at all.

Rather, I want everyone with dirt on their hands to suffer blowback. All the cops who beat and lied and terrorized confessions into those children.? The cops who decided to scoop up Korey Wise because he was 16 and they could do what they wanted with him without calling his mother. Every person along the way who saw lies being constructed and put their heads down and let it happen. Every prison guard and inmate who harmed Korey Wise during his years of incarceration. I want every single last one of the people connected to the criminalization and brutalization of those five children to face consequences. It’s good that Lederer and Fairstein don’t get to keep making money off the unforgivable thing they did, but it’s not enough. Do I sound like some raging angel of vengeful retribution? I am truly okay with that.

After Chi’s online petition took off six years ago, Chi asked Ken Burns to sign on. That was a no-go: “Burns said […] he and the other filmmakers wanted nothing to do with the campaign. “It is just simple retribution, and we are appalled by it,” he said. “We don’t subscribe to any of it.”” It was simple retribution. Yes. Exactly. Why not? Lederer had used her success in that trial to burnish her reputation. She benefited directly from the harm done to those boys. Retribution sounds entirely correct. But Burns couldn’t let himself get too close to that. It might get in the way of his ability to keep making documentaries and winning accolades for his compelling historical narratives. (He’s made 10 documentaries since 2013. That isn’t a gravy train you’d want to stop.) I obviously have no idea what Burns was thinking when he made that comment about the “fire Lederer” petition, but how could he have dug into the case and seen what was done, yet not felt that Lederer and everyone else involved had a price to pay?

And now, in response to When They See Us, New York City’s Public Advocate, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and the New York County Defender Services have called on Manhattan’s District Attorney to a) fire Elizabeth Lederer, who continues to work as a prosecutor for the City, and b) reopen and re-investigate sex crime cases that were handled by Lederer and Fairstein between 1976 and 2002. The Manhattan DA has said that the jogger casewas a profound injustice” … but he has no intention of doing anything about it, at least not anything like holding “an attorney in good standing” on his team accountable for her part in that tragedy.

Lederer won’t get a bonus check for lecturing at Columbia anymore. Her choice. Columbia didn’t fire her. She still has her well-paid job with the City. She’s fine and she’s going to be fine. Fairstein can run around slandering Ava DuVernay, skating on the edge of calling that woman out of her name. Her books will still sell. She’ll write new ones and some publisher is going to pick her up. She’s pissy right now, but she’ll be fine.

Yeah. I mean, I’m not at all surprised, but I’m entirely disgusted.

Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam. We don’t call their names at Black Lives Matter events. Of course not. They are all still alive. They have all managed to grow up and make lives. Thank God. But there’s no question but that the child in each of them was killed in 1989.

 


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday! Click over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the other slicers are up to!

Your Privilege Is Showing

I was walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, headed for Penn Station. I was in a good mood: I’d just come from a good Girls Write Now workshop, and I was on my way to a coffee shop to meet a dear friend for a writing date. It had been raining in the morning, but just then the sun was warming things, and the rain seemed past. Good mood, not thinking about the dumpster-fire hellscape we live in, just happy in my little, personal bubble.

I stopped at a street light. And a couple stood beside me. They were pretty in that sharp, shiny way of models who graduated from Abercrombie and Fitch ads five or six years ago. They are both white, their accents don’t sound like this city, but they could be from anywhere.

Him: The thing is, we know politicians lie. We know they lie some percentage of the time. Some lie a greater percentage than others.

Her: They are politicians.

Him: Right. And we know they’ve all done things that aren’t strictly legal. But the things is, they spend so much time talking about all that, they barely have time to govern, to get anything done.

Her: Good point.

Him: And that kind of works in our favor, right? It’s ridiculous, but it’s good, too. They have so little time for the real work that they don’t have time to mess things up too badly. So we just need to hang in there.

Her: That’s great. Thinking of it that way is so helpful.

No. I didn’t actually start throwing up at that moment. That would maybe have been the kindest thing I could have done, however. It would have created a distraction and would likely have made them shut the entire fuck up.

Sigh.

Never mind the nonsensical idea that politicians don’t have enough time to get anything done because they’re too busy cleaning or covering up the messes from all their lies and illegal activities.

Never mind that this man’s idea hinges on an assumed pendulum-swing that would land us back in some mystical, never-existed time when all of us were safe and happy.

Never mind that this shows just how little these pretty, pretty people have been paying attention to much of anything that’s happened in the last 26 months.

Ugh.

I want to bypass all of that and zero in on the idea of things not getting messed up “too badly.” Too badly. What, I wonder, does this mean?

Are things not messed up too badly for every Muslim person who has been impacted by the travel ban?

Are things not messed up too badly for all the DACA youth and adults who are now at risk of deportation?

Are things not messed up too badly for every family that’s been separated at the border?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child lost to trafficking and illegal adoptions because no one ever intended to return them to their families?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child who has been sexually abused or assaulted while in detention?

Are things not messed up too badly for every person raped on a college campus now that there are fewer protections and avenues for recourse for them to protect themselves and ensure their attacker is held accountable?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender soldier who can no longer pursue their military careers?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender person whose personhood isn’t considered valuable enough to be respected and protected?

Are things not messed up too badly for Puerto Rico?

I’ll stop, though there are so many more of these questions I could pose.

Even if it’s true that the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers don’t have time to do all the hateful things they want to do, can there really be a question as to whether they have already succeeded in doing a shit-ton of patently horrible things? Really?

If you can look at the things that have been done and undone since Trump was sworn in and think that things haven’t been messed up too much, it’s past time for you to examine your privilege. Clearly, none of the things that have been done since January 2017 have affected you, or haven’t affected you much, not enough for you to feel particularly inconvenienced.

But you have work to do. You have so damn much work to do.

First, you need to read more, and more broadly. You need to follow the social media of a whole bunch of Black and brown and indigenous people.

And then you need to make some new friends. You need poor white friends. You need gay and trans friends. You need Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need gay and trans Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need friends who work blue collar jobs. You need friends who never attended college and maybe never graduated from high school. You need friends who work in the service industry. You need friends who live off their tips. You need friends who are Muslim. You need friends who are Jewish. You need friends who’ve been stopped and frisked. You need friends who’ve been incarcerated. You need friends who aren’t you, who aren’t anything like you.

Yes, I know this is a lot to demand. It’s hard to make friends. And it’s especially hard to make friends from groups that aren’t part of your existing circles, who don’t live in your comfort zone. And sure, maybe that means you need to think about your comfort zone. In the meantime, if you can’t make a whole set of friends, if you can’t make any new friends without asking them to explain structural racism or poverty to you, if you can’t make new friends without using them as proof of your wokeness or non-racist-ness, then you have that much more reading and following to do.

I know we can’t spend all of our time suffering on behalf of people other than ourselves and our loved ones, that we can’t spend every waking moment working to improve everyone’s life. I mean, look at me. I was walking down Seventh Avenue not thinking about anyone else. I spend many, many hours and days of my life focused on my own needs. At the same time, I am aware of the realities around me, and I try to learn about realities I don’t know so well. I am neither as comfortable nor as safe as that couple on the street sounded, but I have my privileges, the truths about me and who I am able to be in the world that make my life leagues easier than the lives of a staggering majority of people. The thing is, I know that. And the other thing is, I know those other people exist and I know my life and my hope for the future are entirely tied up with those people’s lives.

This isn’t an I-am-my-brother’s-keeper situation. This is a my-brother’s-life-is-connected-to-mine situation. This isn’t complex math.

Not only did I not vomit when I heard that couple’s conversation, I didn’t engage with them. I’d been in a good mood, and I wanted to be in a good mood. I’ve already said (again and again) how uninterested I am in doing folks’ homework for them, but in this instance, it was more a case of not wanting to yell at strangers in the street. That’s really never a way to get people thinking or teach them anything, anyway.

I kept walking. I promised myself that I’d sit down and write all of this out so I could release it and not carry it on my chest for the next forever. Done and done.

Or … ? I mean, doesn’t someone need to take and shake these people? Not just that couple, but all the comfortable people who think things can’t really get too bad, that things aren’t already too bad.

Sigh. “Someone” needs to take and shake them, but it really can’t be me.

Right. Whose job is it, then?

So many of my questions come back to the same answer, an answer that will surprise no one: white people, you need to get your people. For real. You need to. And this is a full-time job, so that’s going to be pretty exhausting. Yeah. Entirely exhausting. You’ll need to squad up, make some schedules, figure out shifts. All of that. But really, the work is steading increasing, so the sooner you get started, the better.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Some dust has been bitten.

Another year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge comes to an end. I didn’t do as well this month as I’d hoped, but I’ve made it through to day 31. Having surgery early in the month knocked me for a much harder loop than I’d been anticipating. I missed posting a couple of days — which, considering how sleepy and silly some of my posts were, is probably more a gift to blog readers than anything to be sorry for. Much more importantly, I was supposed to be welcoming new folks into the slicing ranks by reading and commenting on their posts every day, and I deeply regret how hard I fell down on that promise.

I participated in this challenge in 2008, the very first year. That was also my first year of blogging. I’d only had my blog for a month when I stumbled onto the TWT blog and into this challenge. Such a lucky thing that I did! I absolutely credit that first challenge with pushing me across the line from maybe-I’ll-have-a-blog to being a blogger. So grateful to that original group of slicers and to all the great folks who’ve jumped into the challenge over the eleven years between that first run and this one.

What my blog is and how I use it has morphed fairly dramatically since 2008. It’s interesting to look back at early posts and see the ways my voice has changed, the ways it has stayed the same, how some of the more embarrassing posts still sound totally like me. I clearly have a voice (“a Voice“), and it’s interesting to hear it over time.

I’ve come to think of March as my blog-iversary because of this challenge. No matter how absent I’ve been from this space, I always find my way back for Slice of Life in March. I exhaust myself with daily posting … and then I’m ready-not-ready to dive into April and writing poetry all month. March reminds me why I like having a blog and primes me for the rigors of National Poetry Month.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers, for another excellent slicing challenge, for giving me the chance to read such an interesting cross-section of blogs and for getting me reacquainted with my own little corner of these internets.


It’s the final day of the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Hundreds of folks have been participating. If you haven’t been one of them, maybe next year will be the year you’ll join in!

Tiny Little Dirty Feet

I was out and about yesterday, which means I am flattened by exhaustion today … ergo, this post will be short and silly. (I really want to use “ipso facto” here instead of “ergo.” Thoughts?)

I managed to have three phone meetings today without falling asleep in the middle of any of them. I managed to get a few paragraphs written and submitted for a project at work. I did a LOT of napping.

Late in the afternoon, I decided to make myself move. I had trash to take out. I wanted to check my mail. I needed to give myself proof that I had not done a south Brooklyn take on Gregor Samsa and morphed into a giant slug.

On my way down the hall to the elevator, I noticed something weird was happening with the floor. An odd pattern of shiny splotches. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that they were bare baby footprints. Up the hall, pivoting, back down the hall. But what must she have stepped in before tottering down the hall? Baby oil?

I got my mail, then followed those shiny little prints back to my door. I really hope the next stop for my baby neighbor was the bathtub!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Ugh.

I was out and about today, casual little jaunt uptown for my post-operative screenings. The hospital is nowhere near my house, so getting there is a long subway ride and then a several-blocks walk. All that traveling for the to-ing and the fro-ing reminded me of something I haven’t thought about in a while — how much people don’t like dealing with other people’s disabilities.

I remember being on the subway once years ago — maybe this was back when I first damaged my knee — and having a man shove me out of the way to get to an open seat I was trying to reach. When he’d settled in his seat, he looked up at me and said, “Well, I didn’t break your leg.” As if that somehow explained or justified anything that had just happened.

I understand that people don’t like to be inconvenienced, and a disabled person is an inconvenience. A disabled person on the street means other people have to maybe make extra room or slow their own pace until they can get past the slower-moving person. A disabled person on the bus or train means that polite and courteous people should offer up a seat, and no one likes to give up a seat on the train or bus.

And you, like everyone, want to keep your seat. So you don’t offer me your seat … and that’s when the guilt starts. You castigate yourself for not offering your seat … and you argue back about how tired you are and how you had the seat first … and how that woman doesn’t even look all that disabled or old or whatever … but there are billboards all around you talking about giving your seat to disabled people … and, and, and … and you start to get annoyed about having that conversation in your head … and there I am still standing there without a seat.

I get that. I do. We’re all tired. We all hate the train. We all want to just get where we’re going. I really, truly get it.

What I don’t get is open hostility. If you don’t want to give up your seat, don’t. Everyone’s life will go on. Yes, I might think less of you, but probably only for a few seconds. It’s more likely that I will forget about you immediately. Let your guilt boil up inside you and bubble out in the form of treating me horribly, saying something disparaging and ugly? That I’ll remember. And probably you will, too. Because it’s entirely possible that you’re not actually a horrible person. But then you felt guilty about sitting and not giving up your seat, so you snarled at a cripple … and that made you feel more guilty, and you can’t stop thinking about the whole mess for the rest of the day. Well, that’s on you, friend. All you had to do was not do that. All you had to do was sit there and not give up your seat and you could have had a perfectly unbothered day.

Today I had five different moments of someone feeling the need to be rude to me because of my cane. What the hell? Is it the moon? Is it the Mueller report? Is it allergies? That’s really a lot more than I should be expected to expect.

Do better, neighbors. Do better.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

A little bit country, a little bit …

Yesterday, Sophia and I mixed things up a bit. Instead of meeting at our coffee shop, we met in Brooklyn at a Five Guys. I wanted to be closer to home when we finished our pair session, and both of us live in Brooklyn, so it made sense. I chose a Five Guys because I wanted fries and Barq’s. And Sophia came with her friend Analise. I’ve met Analise a bunch of times, so it wasn’t weird to have her there, but she doesn’t usually join us. When she comes to the coffee shop, she sits at another table, hanging out on her phone while Sophia and I hang out and write.

The Five Guys had an interesting soundtrack. The hodgepodge included Boston, Little River Band, John Cougar Mellencamp, James Taylor, Queen, the Back Street Boys. With nearly every song, I would pause and look at the speaker above us, surprised by whatever was playing. At one point, I started laughing and commented that we’d heard so many different things that didn’t seem to go together. Sophia wondered if we’d heard every possible genre of music. This should have given me a clue that I was about to have a wonderful Sophia moment — nothing as dramatic as the wooly mammoth moment, but something.

I said we still hadn’t heard any country. Analise shuddered, clearly appalled at the thought of country music. Sophia pointed up at the speaker. “What about this?”

Yes, what about that. Country, my darling mentee? Country? I think not. I pointed at the speaker and said, in sync with Mick’s singing: “It’s only rock and roll, but I like it.”

Analise and Sophia fell out laughing. “Hey,” Sophia said, “If I hear a guitar, to me that’s country.”

Um … what? Oh, my sweet Trini girl. No. No. And many more times no. I know it’s not the music she grew up with, but … country?

Oy.

If I could win ya, if I could sing ya
A love song so divine
Would it be enough for your cheating heart
If I broke down and cried?
If I cried?
I said I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it
I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do

 


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Spitting into the Wind

Well you don’t tug on Superman’s cape,
You don’t spit into the wind,
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim.
… or Slim.
… or …

… my body when all it wants is to be resting.*

This is an old song now, of course. And I know all the words. I just keep trying to sing it my own way, and my body just keeps telling me to sit back down.

With three solid days of rest behind me, I was feeling like aces this morning. Of course I was fine to head out for my first day of physical therapy, do a couple of hours in the office and then go hang out with Sophia. Of course.

I left the house feeling great. Walking down the stairs into the subway, I was surprised by the ease, the near-pain-free-ness of my step. But that was alarmingly short-lived. A little jostle on the train and I was instantly aware of my knee. And then I got to PT and was reintroduced to all the ways my knee can be made to hurt my Jeremy and his pulling and pushing and stretching. Ugh.

By the time I got home, I was done. I sat down to take off my shoes … and woke up about three hours later! Only just remembered that I’m supposed to be putting up a post for the day. I can pretend to all kinds of wellness, but my body is clearly prepared to call me on my tale-telling again and again and again. Sigh.

It’s really okay, though. I’m not looking for pity, mostly just laughing at myself. What did I expect? Even without the rest of my busy day, a session with Jeremy is not to be taken lightly. And a full day of activity after three days of no activity? How nuts was that for a plan? So tomorrow I’m back to working from my bed, back to a couple of cat naps during the day and lots of ice on my knee. Back to remembering that you can only go as fast as your slowest part can go … so I have to cater to my slowest part in all things. Yes. Back to learning patience, practicing it like a meditation.

__________
* All apologies to Mr. Croce. The refrain just came into my head, and I couldn’t resist it.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!