Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What A Weekend

Wild? Not so much for us, no, but the sense that things are spiraling ever more out of control into disruption and chaos can't be avoided.

There was the continuing turmoil in Africa, Ukraine and the Middle East, of course, deadly turmoil that's become a litany of grief backgrounding practically everything else. It's still far enough away that we can pretend it has little or no effect on our everyday do-dah lives, but it has been going on so long, and it has been so bloody and vicious the mind and soul reels. That Our Rulers think it quite divine is sickening; that Western governments for the most part are the instigators and funders and suppliers of the ongoing misery is worse. And worst of all is the fact that we, the Rabble, seem to have no influence at all on the course of events playing out before us.

That's been true for many long years now.

In a northern suburb of St. Louis, MO, a young man named Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer, apparently for the crime of walking while Black. We know this crime well in the United States of Goddamn, for it has been something of a truism from the nation's founding that if you're Black, get back. Do what the officer says, and you might get hurt a little less than otherwise. You mouth off and you get shot.

What happened in this case, I don't know. The fellow who was with Brown was interviewed by CBC and he described the incident in chilling detail. They were walking in the middle of the street. An officer pulled up beside them and told them to get on the sidewalk. They said they were near their destination and they would be out of the street momentarily. The officer continued on his way, the young men continued on their way. The officer suddenly backed up his vehicle and nearly hit Brown and his friend as he maneuvered the vehicle to cut off both lanes of the street. The officer suddenly opened the door of his vehicle, right into the legs of the young men, and when they didn't move or fall, the officer fell back into the car. The officer grabbed Brown by neck and then the arm and tried to pull him into the car. Brown resisted. The officer pulled his gun and said "I'll shoot you," and fired inside the vehicle. Brown was apparently hit but he escaped. From the account, it's not entirely clear whether Brown or the officer was hit, however. The officer got out of the car with his gun drawn and pursued Brown. He shot Brown once (again). Brown turned to face the officer with his hands up and fell to his knees wounded. The officer continued to approach Brown, firing his weapon as he did. Brown fell dead on the street.

It's an absolutely chilling account of a summary execution in the street in front of an apartment complex in Ferguson, Missouri, an account that has been backed up by many witnesses. Essentially, what is reported in the interview is what most of them saw. A police officer firing at a wounded young man on his knees who's hands were in the air. Oh my god in heaven. When will this madness end?

Needless to say, Brown's family and citizens and residents of Ferguson were upset. They protested. Rumors flew. There were more protests, and the police formed cordons, got the dogs out, got their riot gear on and threatened the protesters. Some of them looted a number of stores and burned another -- the site where Brown was at first was alleged to have stolen a cigar (though the accusation has since been withdrawn).

There were continuing protests yesterday at the Ferguson police headquarters. Police cordons continued and arrests were made, apparently arbitrarily (at least from what I saw).  There were town hall meetings and further protests yesterday, while the police continued their cordoning and blank faces in the midst of growing resident anger.

The FBI announced a parallel investigation into what happened to Brown and pundits expressed their views, mostly defending the police and condemning the "rioters."

Anger grew, and last night there was more unrest in Ferguson; tear gas was fired and more arrests were made.

From what I could tell, the primary issue was that people were fed up with the cops and the impunity by which they were able to get away with such actions as the summary execution of Michael Brown in the streets of their town. They wanted and demanded, justice. The blank faces of authority not only denied them their demands, they enforced a strange code of justice that presumed those making demands to be at fault for their own arbitrary treatment by authority.

According to the iron protocols of police culture, the victim is always at fault. The officer, never.

Of course, this is the very same protocol used by Israel in its continuing conflict with the Palestinian  prisoners of Gaza and the West Bank. The victims, the Palestinians, are always at fault; the Israelis, never.

They are supported by the government of the United States -- which tends to parrot Israeli talking points word for word, and which supplies the weapons that are used by Israel against the Palestinians.

We see the same dynamic and rhetoric in the Ukrainian conflict, with the added Israeli twist of calling protests and  resistance "terrorists."

This weekend marked the 50th Anniversary Reunion of PCPA Theatrefest Alumni. Ms Ché and I were both part of the PCPA Company for eight seasons over ten years, from the early 70s to the early 80s, and we would have liked to have been at the reunion, but it was not to be. The trip out to California was a bit too much for me still.

On the other hand, we are getting reports from a friend who is there and the Facebook page has been filling up with photos and stories and memorabilia, so there is that vicarious connection. It's nice to see that so many folks from Our Day -- 30-40 years ago -- are still alive.  This is good.

Then again, I learned one of the PCPA folks from Back When died yesterday. Robin Williams was only there one summer, in 1973 and was cast in "The Music Man" and "Caucasian Chalk Circle." It was our first season there, and Williams made quite an impression on us and practically everyone else that summer. He was a free spirit, wild and full of mischief. He was easily one of the nicest people and one of the funniest people to assemble that summer, but he was so hard to tame he was something of a challenge for directors and occasionally for other cast members. There was a dark undercurrent behind his humor and mischief, though, and we learned some things about him and his life that were not so happy. I don't remember the details, but they were serious enough to elicit a good deal of empathy.

I don't know whether he was invited to attend the Anniversary Gala last night. I hope so, but we haven't received a report yet on last night's festivities, so we don't know the full story.

When I found out he'd died,  after thinking about all those people who were still alive, it was a stark reminder of our mutual mortality.

Rest in peace. For Robin and for so very many others who have passed on this Blood Summer...

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