Tell me, what would they see in your eyes?

On a downtown street in Lansing, Mich., a woman asked for our help. She was with her daughter, about 7 years old.

We could see in the woman’s eyes several things: warmth, strength, wariness. In the young girl’s, shyness. Perhaps fear.

The woman, about 30, wore a hijab. Her daughter had long, dark hair, uncovered.

There was a significant language barrier, but we managed to learn that they are from Syria and have been in the U.S. for seven months. They had walked from a nearby Catholic church, the woman said, to find Bus #5 to get to her appointment at a job-training agency.

She carried a folder with her. We walked, and I asked if there might be any information in it that could help us get them there.

As she pulled out a couple of forms from the job-training agency, I noticed a packet of penmanship worksheets, with the two solid lines and the dotted line in the middle, to help English learners make proper letters.

The agency’s forms didn’t have an address or phone number, so we asked around and were directed by a young man waiting at a stop on a different bus line.

He knew where to direct us, and as we walked away I kidded him about the rival outfits we wore — he a Detroit Tigers shirt, I a Boston Red Sox hat. He smiled, with his mouth and with his eyes.

Yes, the eyes.

We led the woman and her daughter a couple of blocks and pointed her toward the right bus stop. It was still a good distance away and I asked if we could drive her to the job-training agency.

I think the woman knew what I was asking, and she indicated they’d be fine walking. She smiled and I saw gratitude in her eyes.

We parted ways, and within moments any sense of my “do-gooder” validation gave way to anger.

My eyes welled up as I thought about the ignorant people in this country who hate this woman, hate her based on how she looks, how she dresses, how she worships.

I tried to imagine what horror this woman and child likely escaped in Syria. I marveled at the courage it takes to start over in a new country where so many people hate you. And knowing you can never go back home.

Those alphabet worksheets in her folder? I assumed they were the daughter’s, but I wonder — could they have been the mother’s?

Either way, this woman values education and is determined to learn, to succeed, to do whatever she must do for her child. I could see that in her eyes as well.

Yes, the eyes.

I put a lot of stock in what I see and feel when I look into people’s eyes. It’s “thin slicing,” I know, but my track record is pretty good. The Syrian woman’s eyes, and her daughter’s, have stayed with me since that day.

Here’s an eye test for you. Look at this short list of names below and visualize their eyes. Better yet, find several photos of each and take a good look.

I’m not going to post their pictures here because, for me, looking at those faces is like mainlining cortisol. My pulse races, my blood pressure rises, I get angry. I’m not pleasant to be around.

Jeff Sessions.

Paul Ryan.

Mitch McConnell.

Mike Pence.

Donald Trump.

Going down the list, here’s what I see in those eyes: hatred; smarmy arrogance; chronic unhappiness; darkness; intellectual vacuousness and narcissism.

The word “kindness” doesn’t make the list.

To each of those Christian white men, I say there’s a Muslim woman from Syria and her 7-year-old daughter you should meet. Tell me, what will they see in your eyes?

Posted in Irish Investigations, racism, refugees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Please, Rep. Katko, minimize the damage Trump is doing

A request to my representative in Congress, John Katko (R, NY-24):

The challenge in writing to you about Donald Trump’s assault on democracy is to focus on the long view, to avoid getting caught up in his latest deliberate distraction, his latest incendiary rallying cry.

So I’ll merely nod at the damage he’s doing — with plenty of help — to the environment, women’s rights, health care, financial regulations, global relations, truth, integrity and basic human decency.

Here’s what I ask:

That you rally other Republicans in the House, perhaps fellow “moderates” at first, and publicly push for impeachment as outlined in the 25th Amendment, Section 4.

Impeachment is highly unlikely until after the 2018 mid-term elections, of course, but it is imperative that rational members of the House act now.

You must be familiar with the baseball term “minimize the damage,” which is what a team does when it falls behind and does what it can to keep the game from getting out of hand. That’s where we are now.

My request includes a rather personal question.

How do you want to be remembered?

You and your colleagues in Washington have a choice — to leave a political legacy or a patriotic legacy. Which means more to you?

For a Republican to go against this administration takes courage. I watched a video of you at a rally last March outside of the Blarney Stone in Syracuse, where protestors grilled you about why you wouldn’t hold a public town hall.

When one man asked you, “What are you afraid of?” it was clear the question rankled you. You spoke of being a federal prosecutor and getting death threats. You said you’re not afraid of anything.

I ask that you adopt that same attitude and stand up to the bully in the White House. Take the long view, past 2018. Minimize the damage.

Given the president’s behavior of late, pushing for impeachment now may actually earn the respect of more constituents and help you win another term in Congress.

More important, how do you want history to treat you?

Posted in Baseball, Climate Change, environment, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Trump’s Swampville 9 loses a tough one to Team USA

Back when ‘merica was great, baseball teams “barnstormed” across the U.S., delighting fans young and old. None of those squads, however, packed stadiums like Donald Trump’s rag-tag Swampville 9. They lost a close one this week, 6-5 on a walk-off home run by Team USA slugger James Comey.

Tempers flared throughout, resulting in several ejections. USA starting pitcher Elizabeth Warren, who drilled Swampville leadoff batter Donald Trump Jr. with the first pitch of the game, was tossed in the 7th inning after Jared Kushner couldn’t get out of the way of one of her patented fastballs up and in.

Check the schedule. The Swampville 9 might be coming to a yard near you.

Donald Trump Swampville 9

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‘Forget Paris,’ Trump said, before retreating to his dark place

We held an “emergency rally” in the sanctuary city of Syracuse, NY, today, less than two hours after the 45th president of the United States pulled the world’s biggest polluter out of the Paris climate agreement.

As one speaker so succinctly put it, the candidate who claimed he wanted to put America first just put us last.

As unconscionable — and politically unwise — as this action was, we will survive it. He won’t. The scowling, miserable tweeter-in-chief’s latest exercise in disregarding facts, reality, decency, normality, etc. will only serve to do him in, politically.

He may realize this some day soon at 3 a.m., when we will likely see further evidence of his inner turmoil and intellectual deficiencies in 140 characters or less.

Fast forward to 2021: Mar-A-Lago is under water. A new American president is healing diplomatic rifts, putting rational policies into place, acting like an adult. And we can take a deep breath.

Posted in climate change, environment, Politics, poverty | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Death-row attorney’s message of hope amid injustice

Attorney Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” which details his experiences representing inmates on death row.

At one point during Bryan Stevenson’s lecture on injustice and mass incarceration in America, the young man in his 20s seated next to me in the crowded auditorium quietly wiped tears from his face, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

I didn’t care who saw me doing the same.

Stevenson, attorney and author of “Just Mercy,” the best-selling book about his work representing death-row inmates, appeared in Syracuse, NY, last week to close out the 22nd annual Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series sponsored by the Friends of the Onondaga County Library.

At the start, Stevenson noted that he wanted to talk about solutions, not problems.

This, from an African-American man who has done the difficult work of trying — and sometimes failing — to convince judges to not execute men who may not be responsible for the crimes they’ve been imprisoned for, sometimes for decades. Stevenson has suffered indignities of his own, including getting strip-searched at a prison before he could meet with his client.

Yet, he remains positive and keeps on fighting for justice. In his talk, he outlined his four-point approach, solutions to at least some of the problems that abound in the justice system in America — the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Be proximate. “Incredible things happen when you’re proximate to those who suffer,” Stevenson said. In other words, don’t avoid those who are living in poverty and amid violence. “Fear and anger are the essential ingredients of oppression,” he said. Try to know people as individuals, and the context in which they live. “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth,” Stevenson said. “The opposite of poverty is justice.”

Change the narratives. “To be free, we have to commit ourselves to truth and reconciliation,” Stevenson said. So much of America follows false narratives about racism. A prevailing view of African-American history is a “three-day carnival,” he said. Day One, Rosa Parks doesn’t give up her seat on the bus. Day Two, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march from Selma to Montgomery. Day Three, racism is abolished. Not so.

We need to continue to talk about injustice and racism, past and present. Discrimination. Beatings. Lynchings. Not too long ago, there were “whites only” and “colored only” hotels, restaurants, water fountains. To his parents, Stevenson said, “Those weren’t directions. Those were assaults.”

Stay hopeful. “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice,” Stevenson said. “Hope is what you need to have to be proximate.” This is where his strip-search comes in. A prison guard who greeted Stevenson made it clear that he was the owner of the truck parked outside that bore 10 Confederate flags and racist stickers such as, “If I’d known it was going to be like this, I’d have picked my own damn cotton.” Believe it or not, that anecdote takes a hopeful turn. Read “Just Mercy” to find out.

Be willing to do uncomfortable things. Stevenson called this “the hard one,” noting that change only happens “when good people are willing to do uncomfortable things.” Stevenson knows this very well, and it doesn’t always succeed. He told of the time he had to call a mentally disabled client to tell him his appeal failed, and that he would be executed. The client sobbed and thanked Stevenson for trying.

Here, Stevenson asked, “Why do we want to kill all the broken people?”

He told of how he asked himself why he continues to do this incredibly difficult work. “My answer shocked me,” Stevenson said. “I realized I do what I do because I’m broken, too.”

Yes, if you devote yourself to this kind of work, Stevenson said, “It will break you. But it is in brokenness that we come to embrace others and feel connected.”

I urge you to visit Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative website and to read “Just Mercy.” It will change the way you look at the justice system in our country. It may even inspire you to do uncomfortable things.

Posted in poverty, racism, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The People’s Climate March, April 29, 2017

The People marched today, in cities everywhere, to bring attention to the reality of Climate Change and its ramifications for the planet.

Meanwhile at the White House, or perhaps Mar-a-Lago, the Plunder King sleeps.

 

 

Posted in Climate Change, environment, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

‘They never asked to be extorted, raped, threatened and beaten’

Banner in ... Translation: Migrants work all over the world and are human beings, not illegals under the xenophobic politics of Donald Trump. Photo by Theresa Barry.

Banner in Oaxaca City, Mexico, Jan. 20. Rough translation: Migrants are workers everywhere. No human being is illegal in the world. Stop the xenophobic policies of Donald Trump. Photo by Theresa Barry.

“She was told that if she failed to pay again, they would first rape her once more and then kill her son.”

My brother recently returned from a 10-day volunteer stint representing women and children who have crossed the border from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. They are being held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, euphemistically called a “family residential center.”

My brother is an attorney and represents these families in “credible fear” interviews that ultimately lead to a judge’s ruling that decides their fate.

There’s more to the legal process than that, but I need to share the stories of three women my brother met this month. These women, and potentially their children, are at risk of deportation (to the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), under the administration’s ramped-up “security” plans.

Mr. President, do you want to send them back? Here is what awaits them.

My brother writes:

  1. One Salvadoran woman who sold simple clothing items as a street vendor (a very common means of survival for many women) saw four of her fellow vendors, two women and two men, shot to death in a period of 7 weeks by the “mareros” (gang members) for failure to meet extortion demands.  After the fourth killing, she decided that she could no longer protect her child and must flee, leaving behind her family, friends and everyone and everything that was part of her life.
  2. Another woman, from Guatemala, who walked six minutes in the dark to the nearest bus stop at 5 a.m. every day to go to her job in a factory, was beaten and raped on two occasions (and extorted numerous times), by a marero whose partner held a gun to her head the entire time.  She had been paying the gang’s increasing extortion demands for several weeks until she no longer could afford to pay her rent and food for her 4-year old son. After the second rape, the marero told her that this was a lesson to her and also for her son (a beautiful, high-functioning little boy) when the gang’s demands are not met.  She was told that if she failed to pay again, they would first rape her once more and then kill her son.
  3. A third Salvadoran working woman refused to agree to MS’s demand that she make her 8-year old son available to them to deliver drugs and to be groomed for membership in MS in a couple of years.  They also demanded, on three separate occasions, that she pay extortion each week.  After she had refused three times, on both counts, the mareros then came to her home, entered by force and told her this was her last chance.  With her son cowering behind her, she again refused.  The mareros then grabbed her and set her clothes on fire.  Yes, the clothes she was wearing.  She suffered serious burns on her left arm, shoulder and hand, but she had saved her son for the time being.  They fled the country for the safety of the U.S. as soon as she was released from the hospital.

“These are just a few of the many accounts we hear, week in and week out, from women who never asked to be extorted, raped, threatened and beaten,” my brother wrote.  “They were unfortunate enough to have been born and raised in these places, where the gangs are the de facto government, the police are corrupt or terrified of the gangs and the official government is helpless to protect its own citizens.

“Violence and fear are a part of their everyday lives.  Gang members roam the hallways of schools looking for recruits (boys) and sex slaves (girls), starting at a very young age, with the administrators and teachers helpless to stop them.  These are good people who need our help.

“Please understand this is not a matter of politics. It’s about humanity.”

The Trump administration has ramped up its plans to round up and deport asylum seekers like these women, along with undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. less than two years. The feds are casting a wide net with the “expedited removal” policy, and it is causing widespread fear among millions of law-abiding, tax-paying people.

A plea: My brother — who has signed on for his fourth trip to Dilley this spring — is volunteering through the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a collection of attorneys and others who provide free legal representation.

If you’re moved to help with these efforts, please use the link above to help the CARA Pro Bono Project and its four founding organizations — the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, American Immigration Council, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association).

Posted in Children, Irish Investigations, poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sincerely, The Future of Healthcare

Here’s the backstory behind the video letter to President Donald J. Trump, “Sincerely, The Future of Healthcare,” that went viral last week, and a look at the five Upstate medical students who made it happen – in five days’ time. →

via Meet the Upstate students behind the ‘Sincerely …’ viral video — With Distinction

Posted in Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A view from the Women’s March on Washington

The National Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Saturday was a truly transformative moment in our nation’s history.

The title notwithstanding, it was more than a just a march of and for women. So many among the estimated million marched in solidarity for many causes and groups that are now in jeopardy with the change in administration.

As we marched among ever-growing numbers along the National Mall, I overheard one woman ask, “How did we lose?”

The complex answer to that very good question has already been answered. But her disbelief reflected the beginning of a movement that won’t go away, and will not kowtow to the liars and thieves now in charge.

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Posted in Irish Investigations, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Inauguration 2017, the fate of our scorpion-elect and our democracy: an updated fable

scorpionimageThe fate of President-elect Donald J. Trump and democracy, explained by the Greek storyteller, Aesop, with a 21st-century update:

1.

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?”

The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out. In midstream, the scorpion stings the frog.

The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp, “Why?”

The scorpion replies, “It’s my nature.”

2.

As Inauguration Day looms, we’re almost halfway across the stream. America has cut a risky deal with its Scorpion-elect.

Many individuals, groups and ideals have tried crossing the stream with him — political rivals, the media, common decency — and he has stung them all.

Somehow the scorpion proved Aesop wrong, surviving every time.

But there is hope. The fable has been revised.

3.

. . . In midstream, just as the scorpion is about to sting the frog (cue dramatic music!) a southern grasshopper mouse appears between them. The scorpion stings the mouse over and over.

But the mouse is immune to the venom and kills the scorpion. The frog and mouse make it to the other side.

Catching its breath, the grateful frog gasps, “Why did you kill the scorpion?”

The mouse replies, “It’s my nature.”

4.

Yes, the southern grasshopper mouse is a natural predator of scorpions. Not only is it immune to a scorpion’s sting, the venom actually acts as a painkiller, enabling the mouse to kill the scorpion.

Which brings us to our Scorpion-elect. His venom — the lies, the predatory behavior, the hateful words — will be his undoing. It may require some timely intervention, but it will happen.

When it does, there will be schadenfreude, elation. Perhaps there will be a trace of sympathy. But that will pass, as will the pain and memory of his sting.

Mostly there will be relief.

The frog and the grasshopper mouse, safely on the other side of the stream, will survive.

It’s their nature.

Sources:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6157/441

http://aesopfables.com/cgi/aesop1.cgi?srch&fabl/TheScorpionandtheFrog

http://www.spectacle.org/995/scorp.html

http://news.medicine.iu.edu/releases/iu/2013/11/mouse-pain.shtml

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/hledej.php?hleda=scorpion

Author:

http://jim-mckeever.com

Posted in Politics, stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments