Somebody tweeted “This is the Summer of Watching Helplessly” and I, along with many others, retweeted it because it felt so damn true and then a few people picked it up from me and tweeted it on and, yeah, here we are: tweeting helplessly. I have been watching the news from Ferguson, MO, primarily on Twitter and on Metafilter – the best way, I find, to get my news for the most part – and I keep wanting and even, occasionally, starting to cry. I get so angry and so depressed and just, jesus. I can’t even. Even.
I wish that people would listen to hippies. I know, they’re annoying as fuck, I can’t stand them either, but look, they were right about the neonicitinoids killing the bees – not that anything is being done about that except for, uh, the occasional hand wringing article in Mother Jones – and they were right about the police, the rise of police power and the problems, to put it mildly, of the increased militarization of the police. Post hippies, we the punk ass generation were also right about these things and yet, fuck, goddamn, here we go again. Here we go again and this time, the gloves are off and the real force of the horrible, seemingly eternal, casual racism in this country is right there on display. And you know it’s all just going to go underground again and you know, FUCK THAT. FUCK THAT. Bring it out. Bring that demon out kicking and writhing into the light of day and let’s look at it: in the USA in the 21st century it is okay for the police to shoot young black men. No, really, it’s okay. It’s okay in Asheville and it’s okay in Ferguson, MO and it’s okay pretty much anywhere.
I don’t like cops. In fact I fear and pretty much loathe them and I don’t know what would have to happen for me to call on one, but I doubt there is trouble enough in the world. Why? you say, the cops are here to help us, you say. Unfortunately, I have probably more reason than most nominally middle class white women to dislike them: if we were black, I think there is a very good chance, by which I mean about an 85% chance, that my son would be dead now. We have failed young men in this country, young men of every color, but they mostly don’t shoot the white ones.
Someday I might tell the whole story of what happened from 2008 to 2012 in this family, but not today. It is not entirely my story to tell, after all, but here is the gist of it: my son as an angry, troubled teenager got himself into first minor and then rapidly escalating major trouble. For this he went to jail, repeatedly, starting with the time at the age of 16 when he was kept in the Buncombe County Jail for four days and three nights without any way to reach me – at that time inmates were not allowed to call cell phones and all we had even then were cell phones and my boss, not understanding, being a middle class white woman, refused all calls from jail – and he might be there still except for a chance encounter with a public defender friend of mine. And that was just the beginning of our four year journey to hell. My son, as you know if you know me, has had a rocky road his whole life: he has multiple learning disabilities and a variety of other diagnoses involving lots of initials, including ODD, which is to say he mouths off to cops. The cops in this town, who have always made a point of hassling him, partly because they routine harass teenagers in this fucking wealthy tourist destination and partly because he’s a big, mouthy kid and partly because his friends come in a wide variety of colors and sizes and partly because we are poor and partly, okay, I grant you, because he fucked up many a time, really don’t like him. And although he now holds down multiple jobs and works his ass off and does not get into trouble and I am incredibly proud of him, they still don’t like him and they still want to harass him and, by extension, me. Fuck tha police, indeed.
They decided, at some point, that he was a gang member and probably a gang kingpin at that. This is a kid who at that point was too ADD to find his fucking shoes most of the time and as I told a probation officer in a fit of fury, if I thought he had the ability to mastermind a gang I would have worried far less about his future. That would be why I had 12 police and probation officers show up at my house in full riot gear one day in 2010 and search the house and the yard from top to bottom, while I stood there in the kitchen, wondering if I should make coffee, or what. Awkward! They found, eventually, two broken down paintball guns and a collection of fake Samurai swords that had been hanging on my son’s bedroom wall since he was 9 and a machete that was on its way to be used for brush clearing in the trunk of his car and, then, somewhat later, during a sudden second search of a now emptied room, a rather surprising whole half gram of marijuana. That was the day when our comic relief was his friend, handcuffed in my living room as I stood there, unbelieving, trying to wrap my mind around this, was told that his pink ribbon tattoo, a symbol of his mother’s fight with breast cancer, was a clear gang marker. Yeah. We never got the swords back, by the way, and I imagine they are on the wall of a cop’s kids bedroom now.
That experience, combined with the days and days of sitting in courtrooms and taking phone calls from jail, all of which cost money, you know, quite a lot of money – it is terribly, horrifyingly expensive to have a loved one incarcerated – and sending money to jail for such non necessities as shaving cream and aspirin – an aspirin costs $16 in jail, by the way, $16 – and then the long months my son spent in a hellhole state youth prison, months that I pretty much cried every night, left a variety of marks on my soul but one of them is a distaste and distrust for police and an absolute disillusionment and horror of what we laughingly call the criminal justice system in this country, a system that incarcerates more young men than in any other country in the world, in the motherfucking world, that will not ever go away. They used my kid as a scapegoat and if we had been richer, I am pretty sure he would have walked away from everything with a slap on the wrist and no record. As it is he has multiple felony convictions on his record so he cannot vote and he cannot get a passport and his future as a result is confined and limited and yet, you know, with all that we are incredibly lucky because Michael Brown is dead and my son is alive and this is not because they are different: they are not different except for the color of their skins.
This country is fucked. It is so fucked, so badly now that I at least no longer hold out any hope that it can even be reconciled. Maybe there is still time or still a way to rein it in, to rein in the crazy rhetoric, the power mad testosterone and chemical fueled rage coming from the right wing and the police and even the churches, Jesus wept, but I doubt it. I think it’s too late, now, way too late, just like climate change, and I wish I or someone could write a better epitaph for some dream of the US than the one that is being written in blood and human suffering all over the country this summer while we stand by and tweet helplessly but I don’t think we will even get that. To quote the minstrel prince of the hippies, right again, everything is broken.