The Sad Price George Floyd Has Paid To Expose Police Corruption

Demonstration board listing the names of black lives recently lost to police brutality in the US.
Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

The question of whether black lives matter shouldn’t even be on the table right now. The questions we should be asking are how the system broke and how corrupt, exactly, are our police departments.

Anyone with half a brain cell understands that the colour of our skin doesn’t determine who we are, in the same way that anyone with a basic knowledge of history knows that the majority of white people have enjoyed a privilege denied to the majority of people of colour – something for which many of us are trying to make amends.

We can’t change history, but we can try and compensate for it.

George Floyd’s death has shone another light on the cancer in the US Police Department and the plight of the brave souls that are targeted by it. People of colour in the US have been scared for a long time, but this latest death has pushed them to their tipping point and triggered a united stand against racism and police brutality and corruption.

I will admit that as I write this post I fee scared too, in a different way. As a white woman of privilege, I’m scared about adding my personal thoughts about racism and injustice. I’m worried about using the wrong terminology; I’m worried that I don’t have the authority to write about the emotions of people of colour from my ivory tower. Most of all, I worry that my good intentions will be misinterpreted. And so all I can hope is that support, in whatever shape or form it comes, is welcome.

Fear and entitlement feed corruption in the police force.

It’s not like racism and corruption are endemic to the US, after all. The unmitigated fear linked to “difference” and the power struggles that emanate from it are worldwide struggles. As author Jordan P. Peterson states in his book “12 Rules For Life,” power play is part of the human condition that we see in many facets of life. There is a “dominance hierarchy in our society”, he confirms, although (unlike in the animal kingdom where dominance is a question of survival) there is also a level of chaos that our society hierarchies should never reach. And we are seeing that now, being leveraged by idiots like Trump.

Police brutality affects many groups of people – from people of colour to the LGBTQIA  community, and the mentally ill.

In spite of the rise of fascism over the past few years, I’m not surprised we’ve reached this point. I still cling to the hope that the tide of discrimination is turning, and that ultimately we will learn to live more harmoniously together. I see signs that our sense of compassion is increasing and while social media has its dark side, this reaction has demonstrated a positive side to its visual evidence of injustices like George Floyd’s horrifying death. The harrowing footage of his last minutes must help educate us about the unfair treatment of those less fortunate than us. They also incite anger, which is needed to effect change.

It is clear that the powers of the police are too great and there is not enough accountability for what they do with them.

Watch any TV show like The Shield, In The Line of Duty or The Wire and you’ll see how easy it is for bad seeds to abuse their badge and take matters into their own hands, whether that’s out on the streets or on the inside – the justice system’s inability to jail “bad cops” is proof of that – so how can we make the system safer?

Could any of the ideas below help reduce the number of black deaths?

  1. Could removing some of the pressure off police officers – and in particular financial targets that increase the danger of prioritising economics over life – make a difference?
  2. What if we vetted applicants more closely? Without wishing to stereotype, there does seem to be a “type” that enters the police force. Or perhaps it is the nature of the job that causes “compassion fatigue” – a numbing detachment that is common to many first responders (which I wrote about here).
  3. Or if there was more training vis a vis the risks of poor impulse control and the “pack mentality” in high emotion situations?
  4. How about we reduce the number of armed police officers? We know that having a gun increases the risk of its use, and we also know that the British have one of the most successful police departments in the world – and the majority of their officers don’t carry guns.
  5. And finally, if we worked out a way to encourage more female police officers to join, could we make it mandatory for a woman to attend every crime scene in order to reduce the threat of physical violence?

It’s easy to criticise the police, I know…

And would I do the job of a police officer? Not on your life. Every one of us has been in a flight or flight situation that we’ve handled badly and the police encounter those situations every day. No one wants to find themselves with that split-second choice between their own life and someone else’s. That is also why other vulnerable young men like Elijah Holcombe died. Read Kate Wild’s coverage of his “accidental” death in her book Saving Elijah.

Sadly, many of these cases point to a sense of entitlement in the police force that increases the risk of violence.

Australia’s own indigenous population is targeted in the same way as the people of colour in the US, which has led to an increasing number of them being unfairly incarcerated. There have also been countless deaths in custody that remain unaccounted for – even after lengthy investigations. And to my mind, the way certain police behave on the streets – bullying young people for minor breaches of the law such as drinking in public or possession of recreational drugs for personal use demonstrates an abuse of their powers. My own son was once strip-searched in the back of a police van for looking “shady” and because he had a warning for personal possession of a small amount of marijuana on his record.

It has taken many deaths to expose the corruption in the police department, and George Floyd is one of many martyrs to lose their lives for the lives of others. But what a price he has paid to expose the corruption of the people employed to protect us!

If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to subscribe to my blog on my homepage. However, this blog will soon be migrating to my new site www.louisasimmonds.com, so for future updates of my news latest posts, please subscribe there.

We Can All Be Heroes, Without Firing A Single Bullet

Today makes me sad. Anzac Day confuses me because it forces me to question the sacrifice of those millions of men and women that gave up their lives to protect our future. And what makes it worse, is that so many more of them continue to risk their lives for the same empty promises.

Kids On Guns Hill by Banksy from Pinterest and mymodernmet.com

We like to call them heroes, but I’m certain that many of the men conscripted in the two World Wars would have preferred to stay at home, get married, and see their children grow up, while here we are, still living in fear of terrorism and war.

In many parts of the world, war remains a reality of daily life, and more often than not, the bigger players that instigate it don’t stick around long enough to pick up the pieces once they leave. Innocent people continue to be discriminated against – just like the Jews in World War 2. Even in the West, (in our so-called “democracies”), man’s overwhelming greed for power and control blinds it to the cost of human life as countries are disabled by religion and race.

Surely, the best way to honour the dead and our forces today is by demonstrating to them that their sacrifice was worth it? That we have learned from it? And let’s also teach our kids that heroes can be people who use their voice for change as well; who stand against discrimination, without firing a single bullet.

10 Things Australia Should Be Proud Of…

Image of Bronte rock pool.
Image from Unsplash

Australia has been through the wringer lately. If we are to believe the daily news, we’ve not had a lot to be proud of lately. The incarceration of Rolf Harris has been followed up with an embarrassing succession of prime ministers – most of whom have yet to prove that they are any wiser than their predecessors – we’ve had some fairly average sports performances (and questionable sportsmanship from a country in which sport anchors the culture), as well as some fairly damning criticism of our treatment of refugees and women.

To add salt to the wound, this week The Guardian chronicled a scathing report of our historical, systematic abuse of Aboriginals. And that’s without even mentioning George Pell – a blight on Catholicism who refuses to be put away quietly, in spite of his CONVICTION for sexually abusing minors.

From the perspective of a migrant, I can confirm that the rest of the world used to see Australia as a land of opportunity, with an enviable work/life balance and the kind of chilled temperament that comes from a close-to-perfect climate. So, what’s gone wrong?

In our defence, the proverbial shit hasn’t only targeted our fan of late. Frankly, the international stage is in a mess when it comes to political players, environmental responsibility and our uneasy confrontation of the truths about sexual abuse.

But while the naysayers and harbingers of doom in the Twitter-sphere suggest that we are close to Armageddon, I’m here to reassure you that we’re not even close. Not if the tears shed during the first few chords of “We Are Australian” are anything to go by.

Which is why, sometimes, it’s important to step back and look at where we’ve come from vis a vis where we are now. Because we are moving forwards, not backwards – albeit at a slower pace than many of us would like. And in a climate such as the current one, it can be easy to forget about the good stuff, even when all evidence suggests that our values are changing for the better.

Deservedly, there is deep pride of this country, that is sometimes misinterpreted as nationalism, but which (I’m certain for the average Aussie) is far more representative of gratitude. We know how lucky we are. It’s just that like many countries, we recognise that we are in what will be documented as a period of self-correction, recalibration and change, as a result of recent progressive leaps in the identification and awareness of inequalities.

No one is perfect, but like a puzzle, it is the assembly of the many small pieces that creates the bigger picture. And most of our small pieces are good. So, let’s hold our heads high and be proud of who we are as we strive towards self-improvement. Self-reflection and evaluation are critical areas of personal development in any job – and they are just as necessary for countries to evolve as optimism and self-congratulation are when they are deserved.

But if like me, you feel a bit meh each morning when you open the news page on your computer to the latest shock headline about what Australia is doing wrong, or where we’re behind the rest of the world, here’s a reminder of ten things we can still be proud of:

  1. Giving everyone “a fair go”– One of the beliefs in Australia is that everyone should be given a fair go. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But for Australians, is is a value they try to uphold.
  2. We thank our bus drivers for doing their job – Getting on and off the public buses, Australians make a point of thanking the driver for their service. It is an example of a small token of gratitude that demonstrates the respect they hold for each other.
  3. We provide food at lunch and dinner invitations to take the pressure off the host. We’ve also borrowed the US tradition of preparing a roster of home-cooked meals to people that are sick.
  4. Our customer service has to be one of the best in the world. When we first visited, the optimism and smiles of retail and hospitality staff were one of the things that convinced us that Australia was the right place for us.
  5. Our dedication to family and its values. Australians dedicate their weekends to family fun, sports and the beach.
  6. Our ability to always look on the bright side of life. Australians don’t moan. In the same way that we’re weirdly proud of having the ten deadliest creatures in the world, we’re also happy when it rains, because we know how good it is for the grass.
  7. Having no class structure. Sure, there are pockets of inherited money here like there are in most countries, but on the whole, there is no social ranking linked to where you came from. That means there is less snobbery, pretentiousness and judgment in terms of materialism. Australia is a meritocracy, in which the majority of us judge and are judged by the kind of people we are rather than the size of our house or make of car.
  8. The success of our multicultural society – The steps the nation is taking to put right the wrongs of the past and to prevent further discrimination may be baby steps in some areas, but the voice of the people is getting louder. Such variety of culture ensure an evolving smorgasbord of learning, from cuisine to spiritualism, as does our proximity to Asia.
  9. Our love and appreciation for the natural earth and its beautyahem, ignoring the current government’s stance on climate change. Many people are surprised when they find out that many Australian kids don’t leave the country until their infamous gap year – when they descend on London. But aside from the obvious reason – that we live f.cking miles from anywhere – why would they? In terms of climate and landscape, we are lucky to have the diversity of landscapes on our doorstep as Europe and the US – beaches and reef, mountains, deserts and rainforests. Furthermore, there is a national pride and love for the land.
  10. Our Coffee. No competition.

Next Year, I Will Choose Another Date To Celebrate Australia Day

Something didn’t feel quite right when I woke up on the morning of “Australia Day” this year. You know me, any excuse for a piss-up and I’m there with bells on, but this year felt different. Sure, we had only organized a small gathering of friends at a local pub, followed by a nice lunch – our way of celebrating our appreciation for a country that we migrated to thirteen years ago and have made our home – but the problem was, my social conscience wouldn’t shut up.

For those who don’t know what “Australia Day” represents, according to the Australia Day Council website, it is “about acknowledging and celebrating the contribution that every Australian makes to our contemporary and dynamic nation. From our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people  – who have been here for more than 65,000 years – to those who have lived here for generations, to those who have come from all corners of the globe to call our country home.” 

Unfortunately, what the day represents for our Indigenous population, (and an increasing percentage of the rest of the population), is the day in January, in 1788, that the British invaded our country and went on to murder, rape, and throw them off their land. It is why they call it their “stolen” land.

“Australia Day” is an event that causes immeasurable grief for some people, and courts controversy for many others. It is a day that divides our diverse nation – in particular, for those who believe that the celebrations deny the real and terrible truth when Australia was colonized.

A change of date was proposed recently – of which I am whole-heartedly in favor – although, not so much for the radical accusations made by some that the majority of Australians remain indifferent to the treachery caused to the forefathers of our land. In spite of the obvious bias in the documentation of that period of history – which was taught until recently in our schools (I am told) – every Australian I have met has been sensitive to the truth and does not want any part in its distortion.

For many, the “Invasion,” is not what Australia Day represents.

We are a multi-cultural nation. “Nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas (first generation) or have at least one parent born overseas (second generation)” – The Guardian – many of whom are immensely grateful for the opportunity to live here. For some, their immigration has been a life-saving event, but what they can’t do is turn back time and change history, in much the same way that the Germans can never fully atone for what took place in their concentrations camps during the second world war.

What we CAN do is move forward and put right the inequalities that continue today: we can narrow the gap in standard of living between our indigenous people and the rest of the population, and reduce (hopefully) the number of aboriginals that take their own lives each year, or serve prison sentences for minor crimes.

We can keep the pressure on our government to listen to the voice of its people (and voters), in the way we did for marriage equality.

Progress has been made. There is an evident desire to embrace the country’s indigenous history and culture. “An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is an opportunity to acknowledge, and pay respect, to the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” (Commonground) is made at most events and council functions; there was a national “Apology To The Stolen Nations in 2008” and morning ceremonies on Australia Day are being led by our Indigenous people; likewise, Naidoc week “celebrates the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The arts, in particular, strive to support Indigenous theatre, media, and writing. There is also targeted recruitment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates, as well as positive moves to promote more Indigenous people into politics and leading roles in the community.

But the crawl towards progress is frustratingly slow; as it is for inequality between the genders.

There is no doubt that Australia’s reputation on the world stage in terms of discrimination is tarnished. Our history of ribald sexism, racism, and ongoing discrimination of the LGBTQIA community, (this week called out by Anna Wintour), has been well-documented. And while I would like to deny the existence of such ongoing behavior from my cosy position of white privilege, I can’t. As an active member of the Twitter community, I witness to it every day.

But in defense of my adopted country, such discrimination is not the cancer of Australia alone. I truly believe that our irreverence to “difference” is changing, and that, at heart, we are a good country – albeit a young country, that has historically lagged behind other western countries when it comes to education and social conscience. Our geographical location – which promotes insularity; the climate – which makes us like the Spaniards ie. a bit too relaxed for our own good; and our national pride, is perhaps why we have come to the party later than other, more progressively-thinking western countries. But we know that we are late developers, and there is an eagerness to do better.

Our harsh migration policy is the most obvious contributor to our reputation as a racist country, even though, (in my experience), few educated people condone detention centers such as Nauru – and hopefully, the next federal election will prove that, even if a solution to the problem is far from clear-cut. But our awareness of discrimination, the true story of Australia’s colonization and our responsibility to our Indigenous people is improving.

During our lunch, in a discussion about something else, a friend pointed out the importance of not staying neutral. Change, she argued, can only be affected by loud voices and activism – something I strive to do in other areas of my beliefs! And writing this post has clarified what Australia Day means to me. Celebrating it is my way of demonstrating my gratitude for this beautiful land we live on, and that’s why, next year, I will choose an another day to celebrate it.

It’s OK To Be White AND A Man, Just Don’t Abuse The Privilege

 

nick-fewings-532590-unsplash (1)Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Evidently, certain people have a chip on their shoulder about the terrible onus of having white skin.

I agree that it is terrible to be discriminated and victimized for your race and gender, and Pauline Hanson’s motion in the Senate last week reminded me of the backlash that has risen amongst certain male ranks since the #metoo campaign gained traction. And let me be clear, I do not include men that have been abused in that statement.

And yet, what these whinging, self-indulgent groups don’t seem to understand is that while it is okay to be white – and it’s even okay to be a man, I suppose – right now, these fights are not about them. These fights are against white people and men that abuse via the privilege of their skin color and gender.

When feminists point the finger at the harm men do and talk about toxic masculinity, the accusation is not directed at EVERY man.

Let me say that again: When feminists point the finger at the harm men do and talk about toxic masculinity, the accusation is not directed at EVERY man.

It is directed at the men that abuse; the men that refuse to listen to victims, ridicule them or call them liars; and the men that don’t denounce abusers or stand up publicly for equality.

Isn’t it funny how the same people that use #notallmen or “it’s okay to be white” in their defense, are typically the ones that refuse to listen to the opinions of others or support a group that is working to create a mutually beneficial society between the sexes?

I suppose it is inevitable that when a race and gender have held power for a long time that feathers will be ruffled. I get that. I don’t like it when I am ridiculed for being a white feminist, but while I do not feel I need to apologize for my whiteness, neither will I endorse the behavior of certain breeds that are running scared of losing their privilege. 

I am not ashamed to be white. I have never knowingly abused my privilege and I am not a racist. And yet, I have benefited from a system that has always worked in my favor. Maturity has made me more conscious of that. And for the record, I do know that most of the men in my circle believe in equality, and would never harm a woman, but I also know that many of them are scared of change, and that fear breeds anger.

I have never been overlooked or stereotyped as a result of the color of my skin, hence I have never suffered from the social and financial ramifications that go hand in hand with such discrimination. However, I have been felt compromised by my gender.

And yet, I don’t believe that I have the right to moan about my woes in the context of the current climate. Not when refugees are still being caged like animals; not when women are still being killed in their own homes; not when people are still being judged for their choice of faith, and we watch them in shame, powerless in the face of governments that refuse to listen to us, the people that voted for them.

I will excuse Pauline Hanson’s latest shocking attempt to instill fear because she is a mockery to humanity, whiteness, women, and politics. But I cannot excuse the selfishness and arrogance of those who persist in putting their own agenda ahead of minorities at this turning point in history.

And this IS a turning point in history. We are marching for equality; we are marching for our rights and we are marching for what is right. There is no doubt in my mind that change will take time, and there will be many times when it won’t sit comfortably with everyone, but the tide is already turning.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

himanshu-singh-gurjar-106819-unsplashChange scares people, and none more so than older people. I can personally vouch for the fact that many of us seek comfort in our dotage. Comfortable sofas, with just the right amount of back support; comfort food; comfortable clothing, and comfortable, flat shoes. We like what we know and we know what we like and what scares us most is the threat of something rocking our foundations or the idea of losing control, and change can do that.

Progress is another thing that can be contentious and scary for some, and I’m the worst offender when it comes to elements of progress such as technology. Albeit that it has improved my life immeasurably, on days when updates fail or my computer crashes for no reason, I begrudge it because I don’t fully understand it. My paternal grandmother was the same. She never got over the arrival of the first wave of West Indian immigrants to the UK in the fifties, and I remember how my toes used to curl at the launch of one of her racist tirades. But I forgave my grandmother’s discrimination because everyone had to adapt to the changes, and I was aware that at the heart of her bigotry was her age and a genuine fear of the unknown.  She never saw the changes that immigration would bring in terms of progress and growth. She would never read black literature, listen to hip-hop or go to the Notting Hill Carnival. She never saw a western, black president.

We, on the other hand, have no excuse for our bigotry, and that is why I feel nothing but shame for the right-wing propaganda that currently plagues our news feeds. Accusations of racism in Australia are rife at the moment, and the same poison that seeps into our culture is seeping through politics around the world – this, in spite of what history has taught us and the promises our grandparents made.

But what I find hardest to understand is how people – and particularly educated people – can ignore the very essence of human life. The first things we teach our children are to love, share and give freely. We teach them kindness from a young age. Kindness is ultimately what keeps everyone alive in a world in which equality is imbalanced and the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening.

And that’s what why this moment in history is so baffling and scarily defining. We are witnessing the very real possibility that the evil that permeates certain circles of the political forum may catch fire and engulf the good like a bush fire, in the way it did at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And what is more amazing is that most primitive animals – those that have far less intelligence than us – protect and demonstrate kindness to their own. Who saw the Orca that carried her dead calf around with her for a week in grief, or any of the hundreds of videos of dogs saving other dogs or humans? And yet us humans, seemingly at the top of the pack, can turn on one another, so viciously – and I’m not talking here about the small percentage of radical nutters.

I blame our sense of entitlement, which has turned some of us into greedy, self-serving xenophobes rather than loyal members of a world community, blinding us to the needs of others. Somehow, irrational fear has justified the removal of lifelines to the needy in the same way that German villagers justified the camps next to them. It is a flock mentality that needs to be curbed.

It was reported in The Guardian on Sunday that 2% of our population is Muslim, and yet we continue to treat these people as a threat and a scourge of the nation for their religion. We talk about them as though they are second-class citizens. We persecute them. We create a sense of fear around them which ostracizes and makes them targets of bigots, and it takes the son of a man killed by a Muslim radical to denounce our country’s racism.

How do we justify such accusations when the statistics don’t add up?

Kon Karapanagiotidis posted this on Twitter at the weekend:

Number of people killed by terrorism in Australia by people from backgrounds in last 100 years: 6

Women killed by male violence since July 2nd 2018: 10

Guess which one we are told is a threat to our way of life & values according to , and co?

LOOK AT THOSE STATISTICS! Think about how much we have to gain from other cultures, rather than what we might lose. Think about what we can take from these other cultures and implement to improve our own – a sense of community is just one.

CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE.

Is change so wrong? Was it wrong to give women the vote or to give equal rights to black people?

We took in immigrants to increase our population and grow our economy when we needed them. We took these land from our indigenous people when we decided we needed it. So how dare we accuse immigrants of diluting our culture.

‘The 2016 Census shows that two thirds (67 percent) of the Australian population were born in Australia. Nearly half (49 percent) of Australians had either been born overseas (first generation Australian) or one or both parents had been born overseas (second generation Australian).’

 

What are we teaching the children of immigrants about love and kindness? What are we teaching our own children about the essence of human life?

 

Make A Proper Apology, Trevor, And Learn From This Experience

43269617271_685cb1ff30_n
Portrait of an Aboriginal woman in western dress. Part of the Walter Herbert Bradshaw collection in the exhibition Unruly Days: Territory Life 1911-1921, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Northern Territory. Michael J Barritt on Flickr.

There is no doubt that the derogatory comment Trevor Noah made five years ago about Aboriginal women was appalling and a foolish error of judgment. As an advocate for equal rights and a comedian of mixed race himself, who has himself admitted that ‘My mom used to get arrested for being with my dad. She would get fined. She would spend weekends in jail,’ I fail to understand the brain snap he must have experienced to take such a shockingly cruel potshot at this vulnerable and defenseless group, no matter how desperate he was for success at that time.

However, as Ben Pohble pointed out on Twitter, (in typical tongue and cheek fashion), by way of his response to the planned boycott of Noah’s upcoming Australian tour: “No, every single thing we have ever said and done in our lives should be held against us forever. Duh.”

Because if we were all held to account for every mistake we made, Prince Harry would have had a quiet wedding, Churchill would have been sacked several times over, and Trump would have never made President.

As it says in the Bible, ‘Let he that has not sinned cast the first stone.’

No, we are human and we all make mistakes, and as long as we learn from them, make our apologies to those concerned – or pay the consequences if required – we need to accept this fallibility of human nature, as just that.

We are learning all of the time; through each stage of our lives. That’s one of the best bits about our short time on earth, and new learning contributes to our growth and sense of purpose. Ten years ago, I wasn’t a vocal feminist, a writer or a potential influencer for wine companies –  yet, like a fine wine, I have evolved with age. An avid desire to learn has had a direct influence on my personal growth – and if I’m honest, I’ve probably learned far more from my mistakes than my successes.

And to my mind, more change has happened to alter our social conscience over the past few years than in the decades before. The potency of the internet has given each and every one of us a voice to share our opinions, which means that what we say and do can be transported around the globe in a nano-second – quite a terrifying responsibility for people that rely on the medium to make a living and one that  makes me think twice every time I put a word on a page.

While I can’t imagine that Trevor is quaking in his boots right now about the proposed boycott of his tour in Australia, I suspect that he will be ashamed that this video has been dredged up. He and his team will have gone into damage control to protect his reputation as a professional, a fighter of discrimination and a genuinely nice lad. No-one wants to be labeled a racist, least of all someone who has spoken so openly to leverage awareness about the problem.

Is it right to pull up a man with such talent and with such a prominent voice in the fight against racism, for a single performance, for one mistake that happened a long time ago, before many of us were fully educated about discrimination? Before Trump, before #metoo, before same-sex marriage.

Make a proper apology, Trevor, to the beautiful Aboriginal women of Australia who thought you were on their side, and learn from this experience.