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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ferguson, MO...Race...and the Media. In 2014

As promised. Something was just eating at me to write something about this scene that has been going on in Missouri since August 9th. Then...after coming home to where I grew up as a kid, Seattle...it became oh so crystal clear to me. I know this is a poker blog. Sort of. I've been known to go off about a lot of things unrelated to poker. And one thing is for certain...I am acutely aware that there are those who are almost desperate it seems, to use my words against me any way they possibly can. So writing something that has to do with such a touchy subject could be considered 'taking a risk.'

I read a great post by a guy I have always respected and admired. A lot of you might know of him. If not, simply Google his name. Matt Russell. He lives in Houston. Is a fairly wealthy guy who owns businesses. He is married, is a good family man, has a lot of class...and when he plays poker (or blackjack) he puts a lot of chips in play! He made a comment on his Facebook wall...that more-or-less mirrored a couple I'd made...and his comment echoed precisely my feelings on this whole shitstorm in Ferguson. And to a 'T' neither one of our viewpoints had any kind of racial repercussion or bias or slant attached to it. See...neither one of us cared if Michael Brown was black...or white...Asian, Mexican, Jewish, Puerto Rican, Native American Indian...or from Mars. All we have been looking at, is pure and simply, the facts of the case, and the individuals involved.

There is one thing that I have grown up in this country realizing; when a black person commits a crime, and is on trial, he seems to almost always have the support of all the black populace. When a black guy runs for President...it doesn't matter his religion, his experience, his background, his nationality...nope...because he is black...they all vote for him. Pure and simple, they all stick together. Is that a bad thing? I guess it goes both ways. I can't profess to knowing what it feels like to live life as a black person. To do so would be foolish.

I grew up in a suburb of Seattle...then from 7 to 14 lived in Kalispell, Mt. You never, ever saw black people in Kalispell. The only ones I saw were on my TV. So obviously, you can imagine...I grew up in a culture that was completely devoid of racism. Even when I moved back to Seattle for my high school and college years...it was much the same. In fact...to be precise, if there was ANY tension among the races, it was the Asians who provided that. But as for black/white tension? It just wasn't there. The minority of those who went to my schools, they were all wonderful people who I always got along with. My teammates on all the sports teams I played on? We always got along and had each others backs. When I was young, and would watch movies like 'The Color Purple' or 'Mississippi Burning' I was outraged that people could be so mean to other people. Were people, white people, who lived in the South REALLY like that? 

Then in my early 20's I moved to NYC. The one thing about living in NYC? Everyone was there trying to get ahead. No one lives on a strip of land that small and has time to worry about the race of each other. Naw...if there was any racism going on...it was out in Queens, or Brooklyn...and it was usually between the Jews and the Blacks. During the time I lived there, Spike Lee made a movie, a couple actually. 'She's Gotta Have It' and 'Do the Right Thing.' Then a few years later came 'Jungle Fever.' What these movies explored was the racism that existed in Brooklyn...and the relationships between each side. During that time...I was in denial..insisting that it was Spike Lee's attempts to drive a wedge between the races...since I just didn't it. I saw him as an agitator. In retrospect, I think maybe I still do. See, I  think that nothing good ever comes from perpetuating a social condition like racism. Were blacks supposed to watch those movies and come out of the theaters feeling anything other than angst towards whites?

While I lived in NYC...a little black girl supposedly got raped...and had feces smeared all over her body. Her name was Tawana Brawley. The case divided the entire city of New York and all five boroughs. The man who would come to represent her was none other than the Reverend Al Sharpton. This was our first (but certainly not last) exposure to the man we all know quite well in 2014. In most people's eyes, including a lot of blacks themselves, he is nothing but a grandstanding, spotlight-seeking clown. As most of you probably know...the story that little Tawana spun for the cops and media turned out to be one big fat lie. Not that the lives of several police officers and their superiors weren't ruined. I will never forget that year in NYC. The marches, the riots. That was truly the first time in my life that I'd ever felt 'scared' to be white. Where I'd had to watch where I went at certain times of the day. 

In 1993 I moved to Atlanta, to open a bar in Buckhead with 6 of my friends. I'd never been to Atlanta before. It was kind of a weird place. Pretty much everything north of Downtown Atlanta was predominantly white. And the blacks who lived in that area were labeled 'yuppies.' Remember that term? Translation: They were younger blacks, mostly just out of college, with medium to high-paying jobs that dressed well, drove nice cars, and lived in nice houses. From Downtown south...it was nearly ALL black. And the houses were anything but nice. The first couple of years were great. Business was good, the clientele was great, and life was good.

Then a couple things happened. Bill Campbell won the race for Mayor. Campbell was black. Once that happened, the entire City Council was suddenly black. Almost overnight...they started offering all kinds of deals to 'Black-Owned Businesses.' You would walk around Atlanta and literally see signs in their window that proclaimed them to be 'Black Owned Business, and Proud.' Simple tasks like obtaining a building permit to build a 5x7 bar out on our patio became a mission in futility with the city. Inspections from the Health Department and the Fire Department began occurring much more frequently. I could see what was going on...and it made me sick. Then IT happened. During the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2000...Ray Lewis and his posse were at one of the more popular clubs in Buckhead...just four doors away from our bar. Someone got stabbed and killed that night. The facts of the case and who actually got convicted have always been disputed ever since. The night club couldn't survive the negative publicity and ended up going out of business. 

Then, that spring...our beloved Mayor decided it would be a good idea to open the doors of the city to Black spring-breakers in an event that would be called 'Freaknik.' This was a disaster. Thousands of blacks...allegedly college students, but clearly never more than 30% students, or law-abiding citizens for that matter...would descend on the city for 5 or 6 years before the new Mayor finally put the kibosh on the disastrous annual event. But before that had been done...the entire demographic of the city had been turned on its head. It started with the rampant 'cruising' of Buckhead. There was never any desire to just park their cars, come in, and buy a drink or two. Because they didn't come with money in their pockets. Just a desire to come to Atlanta and get their freak on. Which apparently meant robbing, raping, vandalizing and murdering. Because that is what we saw every year. People all over Atlanta would pick that time of year to pack up and go on vacation. Which was great...until they returned to a home that had been ransacked.

What resulted was that all the bars in Buckhead gave up. How many times can a man in his 30's with a job making 50-60k a year and who is taking his girlfriend out on a date...pass three black punks on the sidewalk who start talking about how 'fine she is' and how she ought to get with a black guy instead of that chump...before eventually...they just quit going to Buckhead. It was like that every weekend....they would be all over the street...just wandering around...loitering...and slowly, the good customers just quit going there. END OF BUCKHEAD. So they moved to midtown...the bars that is. Then about two or three years later...the same thing happened there.  So then they migrated to 'The Highlands' which is//was a part of town frequented by the artsy folks, and gays. You know those kind of sections of town. Pretty much anyone can go there and  have a good time as long as they aren't too uptight. I even managed a bar/restaurant there for a little over a year.

My last couple of years in Atlanta were nothing but a struggle to find happiness. I'd grown up never having to be wary of the people around me. Now it was all around me. I'd go to the park to play pickup basketball...and sometimes I'd be the only white guy...and I had a hell of a time even getting on a team...and then when I did, would never get the ball passed to me. Why? Because I was white. It didn't matter where I went, or who I was dealing with...I was constantly trying to make friends with black people whenever the opportunity arose, and aside from a few exceptions, it just wasn't wanted. My friendship that is. The prevailing sentiment among most whites while I was living there was that the only racism that existed in Atlanta...was that of the blacks towards white people. After growing up the way I did, this gave me great disappointment. I spent most of my life feeling sorry for them based on the movies I'd seen and the books I'd read. Now, I was seeing things through a whole different set of eyes.

I always kind of thought that I would get to the South and discover that all the white people down there were complete hicks who you'd see walking around spewing all this racist trash talk. But that wasn't the case. At all. Which was a pleasant surprise. While we had that bar, we also opened one out in the Athens...of the same name. Again...no racism. Granted, in Athens, Ga...pretty much the only blacks you saw out there were athletes, and most of them were as cool as they come. I hosted a lot of the football players in my bar on a regular basis. 

Eventually I got fed up with Atlanta. That and I met Squirrel....who was living in Biloxi and working at the Beau Rivage. We'd been going back and forth to see each other for about 2 years...which was a pain in the ass. I finally took a job working in Pensacola as a liquor and wine rep for a big company. Bought a little house, that I still own (and rent out) and got the hell out of Atlanta. 

Now, living in Pensacola, and living in Atlanta? Night and day! That southerner who I always thought I'd encounter when I  moved to Atlanta? Oh...I found them...in Pensacola! And pretty much everywhere else throughout the south that isn't a major city. Granted, it's not the majority...by any stretch...but I was finally able to see where the stereotype had originated. And the blacks? Well...they were just as anti-white (if not more) as they were in Atlanta. But there was something different about living there. If you made a sincere effort to be their friend? They would be your friend. Something about people who don't live in big cities? I think they tend to be better people.  Sure...the race thing is always there...lingering, creating that haze of distrust...but I've always found in my experience, that if I am genuinely kind to a person of any race...that we can be friends. Just not in a big city like Atlanta...where they had drawn a line in the sand.

Is this blog getting a bit too long for you? Probably. Sorry. I moved to Biloxi a couple years later, quitting my job in 2004 and taking on the full-time profession of poker player. The folks who live in Biloxi aren't a whole lot different from those who live in Pensacola. The ratio of black to white is about the same. 

Am I biased? Are there people I don't like for what, or who they are? Yeah...I won't lie. I don't like whites who do too much meth. Who don't bath. Who dress like bums. Who don't brush their teeth. Who beat their kids. Who steal. Who kill. Who are just straight up ignorant. Yeah...I don't like those people.  Oh...incidentally? Those things I mentioned? I  also don't like black people who exhibit those same traits. Or Asians. Or Latinos. Or Indians. Pretty much anything that makes them a deplorable human being? Yeah...those things make me not like them. I don't care about their race. No one can help their race...they are who they were born as. I think a lot of you feel me. And maybe agree with me. It's not fair that whites aren't allowed to say "I have a lot of friends that are black" without getting ridiculed. Why!??? I mean...if you really DO have a lot of friends that ARE black...then that should be some kind of a reflection on your character that race isn't a big deal to you. Right? But for some reason...it's something that when a white person is heard saying it, they are ripped to shreds. Pretty fucked up as far as I'm concerned.

Now then. Let's talk about Ferguson. The other day...while my mother was laying in her hospital bed recovering from her double mastectomy...which by the way went GREAT, and my mother is at home recovering quite successfully...we were visited by a good friend of ours, who is cop with the City of Seattle. Ah ha! Perfect! Because something had been really bugging me ever since not just this thing with Michael Brown went down...but also the shooting of the knife-wielding, soda-stealing kid a few days later. I've been doing a lot of internet surfing lately where cops and excessive use of force is concerned. I don't know about you guys...but I'm white, and I have had plenty of incidents over the years where my rights were more than violated by aggressive cops. So it's not like I'm a big fan of the people who have taken an oath to serve and protect us citizens. I'm of the opinion that there are a rather large number of cops that became cops because they were drawn to the power that the badge and gun represent. 

I wanted to know why it is that cops need to fill suspects full of bullets when simply wounding them and disarming them would solve the problem. Well, I guess I got my answer. I simply asked: "Is it not possible to shoot for their leg or arm...and disable them...then apprehend them?" The answer was a very matter-of-fact "NO!" We've all seen way too many movies I guess...you know the one...where the cop shoots the gun out of the guy's hand...then sweeps his legs, and cuffs him? Yeah...no! That's Hollywood. I was told that they are instructed to shoot for 'center mass.'  So I asked my next question. "The guy with the knife was like 6 or 7 feet away from them...there were two cops, both had gotten out of the car and were standing behind their car door...yelling at him to drop the knife. When he didn't...they shot him about 8 times. Is that not a blatant use of excessive force?"
NOPE! Department regulations state that if a suspect is inside of 21 feet...yeah...TWENTY ONE...and ignoring the request/demand by the police to release their weapon, they are determined by law to be under duress...and are permitted to use deadly force. I was shocked to hear that.

My last question...and this came from watching the cell phone-recorded movie shot from a bystander...was why on Earth they felt it necessary to cuff the guy after he'd been shot 8-10 times and was clearly dead.

The reason? And after asking this...our police friend was nodding as I said it...I was told that it is department policy to always cuff a suspect even after being shot...because apparently, the body has been known to do some pretty weird things after its been shot. Like suddenly getting some weird burst of adrenalin, and going berserk before they fade off for good. So yeah...cuffing them is standard operating procedure. Interesting.

So after this conversation, I came away feeling like the cops did everything by the book, and that there will never be a trial for Darren Wilson. Unless of course, King Barack has sent down the message via his idiot AG Eric Holder...that Mr. Wilson is going to be offered up as a sacrificial lamb to placate the community of Ferguson. And this? This is the part that infuriates me. Not even the appearance of the useless Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Not the Black Panthers showing up to get everyone whipped into a frenzy. 

No, the thing that pisses me off? 1000's of blacks are killed every day in America. Mostly by fellow blacks. Small children killed in drive-bys by errant bullets. Numerous innocent victims killed for no good reason. But where is the outcry for those people? Where are the marches, the riots? Just this week, there have been several instances of whites killed by blacks...one where a black cop killed a white kid. Did you see any riots? Any marches? Did anyone burn down businesses in their own neighborhoods? No. Why? Because level-headed people don't act like that. They exercise patience, they don't ignore it...they are watching, but they are watching with patience...to see what the justice system does. The wheels of justice in the United States are a slow moving machine. Anyone with half a brain knows this. 

These people in Ferguson have literally made DEMANDS of the City/State government there...as if they are in a position of negotiating. What they are calling for, basically, is the head of Darren Wilson. What is this? 1215? Anyone got a copy of the Magna Carta lying around? It is absolutely absurd the scene that has transpired in that town. And the media? Whoa...you've got to be kidding me. It's become such a BUSINESS the past two decades that it has turned the news industry into a sham. Here we are...with Russia basically invading Ukraine, Israel and Hamas lobbing rockets and bullets at each other, Syria in Civil War, and ISIS murdering women and children in the most inhumane of ways...and all the men...because they aren't Muslims. Oh and in case everyone forgot...a plane was simply blown from the sky a little over a month ago...for no good damn reason. But where are the big news teams all assembled? In Ferguson fucking Missouri! Why? Because racism sells! We all remember the OJ trial...the most-watched news event of all time. That trial basically MADE CNN! I won't get too deep into this...but their ad time rates during that trial more than quadrupled while that trial was going on. 

We all remember the ridiculous round-the-clock coverage of Trayvon and George...it was so annoying it should have just been turned into a reality show. We all knew (well, those of us with a brain and a simple understanding of law) how that trial was going to end up. But that didn't stop the nonstop coverage did it? 

I hate what this country is becoming. There seems to be a secret desire to ignite a race war in this country. The media simply preys on situations like these. I just picture a dead wildebeest out on the African plain and a bunch of jackals and hyenas feasting on it...blood smeared all over their faces...devouring the dead beast. And the more they bang the drum...the more the irrational citizens come out of their homes, take to the streets, and make it worse. Mark my word...if the news crews all just picked up and LEFT that town? The riots and marching would have ceased to exist. But they don't. They just keep feeding on the victim.

And about the victim himself? I don't even think it's really necessary to delve into that. That's not what this about. Yeah, I'm sick of cops on power trips. I'm sick of people who have no respect for authority, who talk back to cops and get themselves shot...then set off rioting in their communities. I'm sick of people who think they are above the law. Did Michael Brown get murdered? Or did he get shot because of his actions? I have my theories, as I'm sure a lot of you do. But our theories don't matter do they? If...and that's a big IF...the grand jury thinks there is enough evidence to even bring this cop to trial....then we will let a jury of 12 decide what happened on August 9th, correct?

So what 'tripped my wire' about all this? The day my mom was in surgery, my sister and I left the hospital and drove down to Pike Place Market to buy her some flowers. Her surgery was four hours so we had some time to work with. It was game day...for the Seahawks (preseason game) and everywhere...people were decked out in their Seahawks schwag. All kinds of people...white, black, Asian, Mexican, Indian....Americans, Europeans...just a huge cross section of people. Most of them with some kind of Seahawk item on. It was a beautiful sunny day. Almost everyone had a smile on their face. I accidentally bumped into a black man. He immediately said "Excuse me, I'm sorry." To which I replied..."Hey, no problem!" That same thing happens in Biloxi...or any other number of places in the south...and it rarely goes that way. There is usually a dirty look attached to the other person...sometimes maybe even a "yo man! Why don't you watch where your walking!"

Then it dawned on me. Wow! Nothing has changed since I left Seattle. And this summer...when I went to Lake Tahoe with the family? Same deal there. Same deal in Vegas. Pretty much the same thing everywhere west of Texas, to be honest. What is the problem in the south? I know...for a fact...that it isn't a one-way street. And for anyone to suggest as much is a moron. Neither side is innocent. But I think...and this is only my opinion, that one side is trying a lot harder to make things good between the races than the other. I get real tired of playing online poker...and someone from some other place in the world seeing that I live in Biloxi, Mississippi and the first thing out of their mouth being...oh...you must wear a white hood and burn crosses on lawns for a hobby. I feel very strongly that there are a whole lot more blacks that have a problem with whites in the south than there are whites who are have an axe to grind.

So as I'm walking around the Pike Place Market...this wacky thought occurs to me. Hmmm....what IF? What if, for a whole week...we took ALL the whites in the south...and swapped places with all the whites in Seattle? Let them both live a week in each others shoes. And then...the following week? Do the exact opposite experience. Oh! I know what you're saying....so I'll stop you! Yes, you would be exposing all the same people to each other both weeks. Right? Well, yes...that is correct. However...you would also be introducing all four groups of people to totally different living conditions. Think about it. How would they get along? Would the experience open their eyes?  Would it change them? What if we could bring all the black people in Ferguson, MO to Seattle for a week and let them simply exist in this environment? 

This might all be a little deep for some of you. Or maybe you just aren't understanding what I'm trying to convey. Or hell...maybe I've even started to talk in circles. I'm not even sure there is ONE PRIMARY POINT that I'm trying to make. I guess I just want to see our country, and our world, become a much better place before my 2 year old daughter gets old enough to realize just how fucked up it currently is. And god forbid there is ever a race war in this country....I'm packing up the car, putting my girls in, and driving to Montana...pitching a tent, and living off the land til all the crazies work out their differences. 

And now....I'm going to bed!

MONKEY

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