In 1963 a young native Canadian American folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie living in Greenwich Village was moved by seeing young wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam while the U.S. government was denying that our men were involved in the war. It inspired her war protest song “Universal Soldier” that has endured as perhaps the most recognized anti-war song in contemporary culture. Eventually many returning U.S. servicemen faced condemnation by the American people in their own communities for participating in the war even though it was certainly not their choice. Even though I was just a kid, I remember it as a wrenching time and a very difficult issue for adults. The resulting societal moral conflict led to the end of the draft in 1972/1973. The song has new meaning today as we witness militants fighting for the federal government attacking U.S. citizens on the streets in our home country. Those militants are rightfully being condemned within their communities.
It was great to see her as the headliner tonight at Philadelphia Folk Festival. Her version of “America the Beautiful” was moving. Her new war protest song “The War Racket” is equally strong that preceded “Universal Soldier”.
It’s been 40 years to the month since the City of Miami race riots in May of 1980. Public Safety Officers chased, beat and murdered a black man in public. The 33 year old black man, a former marine, was illegally operating a motorcycle but not involved in any other crimes. Police crushed his skull and he died of multiple skull fractures. A total of 8 police officers were charged with crimes ranging from evidence tampering to manslaughter. Prosecutors tried four officers on charges of manslaughter, evidence tampering and other charges. The officers were acquitted at trial. Public outrage led to riots including looting, arson, a sniper and murder.
Now my son Josh is a public prosecutor in Miami. I’ve met his friends who are also Miami prosecutors. We hear in the news and otherwise about bad acts by both the police and the public.
Yesterday new riots were ripping the city apart. Tense times will follow. All we can do now is pray for all.
Post script: A friend reminded me tonight about reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ aloud to Josh and his sister Arielle when they were young. It was such a meaningful experience that I still have that copy of the book in my nightstand today, more than 20 years later. It was tough for me to say the word “nigger” aloud so many times in those bedtime readings. I struggled with it. I struggled with the resulting conversations about racism with my children while discussing the book. But we all learned. My attitudes about racism evolved and matured and continues to evolve and mature. But the book wasn’t just about racism, of course, and neither are the issues we face today. I hope these lessons from childhood so many years ago will help guide Josh in his difficult official duties now.
Riots are not the result of protest of the killing of one black man. Riots are not just about killings. Riots are not just about blacks. Riots are the expression of the unheard over decades. The sooner that the media and the public realize this, the better off we will be to deal with the current crisis.
Many police chiefs across the country will come to regret decisions they made in the early stages of these riots. They just don’t know better but will come to understand that they chose bad strategy that made matters worse.
“If we are to ever transform our outrage into meaningful social change, we have to do more than take to the streets with cellphones. We have to organize rallies, not riots. We have to use the pen and our voices before the sword and the stone. And we need leaders who rise from the flames of civil unrest to navigate us arm in arm, both literally and figuratively, away from purposeless violence toward purposeful progress in civil rights and social justice that began more than half a century ago.” – Joe Pierre MD, Psychology Today, May 30, 2020