Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Anniversary of the Assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone and Other Considerations

A Re-Post from November 27, 2013 with addendum:


Like it or not, we live in a country where all kinds of people occupy space. Most are not descendants of indigenous peoples. We do not share the same ethnicities, histories, religious beliefs, political leanings, philosophies of life, economic status or a host of other characteristics that make us the individuals we are.

And while we all occupy space, either by some god-given right or by chance or fate, none of us have the right to impose our will or belief or righteous indignation on another by means of violence or intimidation. Dan White took it upon himself to assassinate two political colleagues, Harvey Milk and George Moscone because he didn't agree with their views or their politics, or envied their success as popular politicians. Dan White could not tolerate views or opinions or civics lessons or the fact that LGBT folks might have civil rights in his jurisdiction.

Dan White could not abide diversity. So he tried to destroy what/who he saw as his enemy.

Ours is a country built on an experiment - an experiment in human rights. Human rights, if not an absolute, are a constantly evolving concept. But there are still those who see the evolution of human rights as a threat, and those who are the beneficiaries of newly defined rights as the enemy.

LGBT individuals are still scapegoated, bullied, hurt, maimed and murdered because of intolerance, hatred and fear. Many of our local and state government leaders, many members of our US Congress are not so different in their attitudes from Dan White. Hopefully none of them will shoot the collegues they disagree with. But their money, power and influence still harm us and their dismissal of our legitimate concerns stifles the evolution of this experiment in human rights.

On this anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, we remember men who died in service to our and the larger community through the political process - a process that can only work in a spirit of reason and compromise.

November 29, 2014

Thinking of Civil Rights at a time when rioting, violence, gunfire and looting have been in the news in the aftermath of the Grand Jury decision in Missouri, I cannot help but relate the above thoughts to the larger issue of civil and human rights in this country. When, if ever, is such violence justified?

Would the announcement of the Grand Jury decision, no matter whether it returned an indictment or not, to be just an excuse for those who were poised to engage in further violence and mayhem? Does my asking this question belie my own bias?

I have never served on a Grand Jury but I imagine it is very serious business and that the jurors take their task very seriously and conscientiously and that such a process, for all its flaws, has been instituted in the cause of justice. After a bit of reading, it seems to me that the Grand Jury did what was required. I think it is unfair to blame the Grand Jury for all of the injustices people have suffered and for the subsequent rioting, as if the reverse decision would have righted all wrongs and made everyone happy.

The outcome of this Grand Jury was met with anger and violence as other decisions have been. There were riots in San Francisco in 1979 after the jury there acquitted Dan White of murder and convicted him of only of manslaughter - another instance of an imperfect process - and of pent-up anger that spilled into the streets.

There is a difference, however. There was indisputable evidence that Dan White shot two people, twinkies not withstanding. In the Ferguson case, the Grand Jury did not find compelling evidence of a crime to even go to a jury trial. They decided that the policeman's actions were within the legal parameters of his authority. So maybe those parameters need to be changed. Maybe cops need to be required to use all other options. Maybe other changes need to be made to make ours a more just and equitable society. But it was not the task of the Grand Jury to do so, nor was it in their power to do so.

In reflecting on my feelings about the San Francisco riots (not at the time, but much later in 1984 after viewing the documentary,  The Times of Harvey Milk) I realize that I am/was more sympathetic to the LGBT community, to their indignation and anger, and more forgiving of their display of violence than I am toward the black community in Ferguson, their indignation and anger; and I am less forgiving of their display of violence.

Have I changed or am I merely responding on the basis of my own prejudice? Certainly I felt more intrinsically a part of the gay minority as represented by my brothers and sisters in San Francisco and could relate to their anger at a deeply personal level.

I do not relate in the same way to the black community as to the LGBT community, because I am not a part of that community, nor am I welcomed to relate to or understand that community. I think that blacks, like gays, move about in and have a perspective on the straight/white community but the straight/white folks don't necessarily have the same opportunity to move in and understand the LGBT/black community.

So, all things considered, I guess in terms of the experiment in civil/human rights, of achieving a colorblind society, we all have a long way to go.







3 comments:

Russ Manley said...

Thanks for the NPR link, which I went and read. I have avoided this entire story all these months because - well I just can't stand a lot of grief at this late age. The thing is, as you said, much of our tolerance for grief, and our sympathy and interest, does go to members of "our group," whatever group that may be. That's only human nature - of course nature is pretty rough and raw, and can usually be improved upon - particularly when it comes to human rights and dignity. Civilized people are civilized by virtue of caring about the other guy's welfare as much as for their own, or very nearly so.

This reaction - overreaction? - by enraged crowds is a lesson to all of us - being a victim does NOT mean you can do no wrong. Gay, straight, female, black, or otherwise.

A side note: I remember hearing about the White Night riot in '78 and being horrified - I was not at all in sympathy then. Because at that point in time I had not yet come out, did not know a single gay person - so even though I knew perfectly well that I was gay, it wasn't yet "my group." Since then I've gone back and read up on the background, and now I understand much better the anger and outrage.

But still, I would not then or now be turning police cars and burning down City Hall. And really all that was udnerstandable on one level - but wasn't it terribly misdirected? The police didn't shoot Milk and Moscone - and the people who work in City Hall were not the perps either.

Crowdthink, the mob mentality, is always dangerous. And usually pretty damn stupid. Protest is one thing, wanton destruction is another.

Stan said...

I'm just sick and tired of Police Officers getting away with murder in this country with absolutely no accountability.

Mitchell is Moving said...

Yet again, I admire your honesty and your ability to look inside yourself. Those are tough questions (but important ones).

Since 1979, I've been afraid to eat Twinkies.

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