If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Existing While Brown or Black in America

Copyright Mary Engelbreit

In all the turmoil around #Ferguson, Missouri, right now, I notice the inevitable outcries from parts of the white community that the police wouldn’t shoot and kill Michael Brown for nothing, that he must have brought it on himself in some way by his own lawless behavior. Perhaps. We haven’t had a real investigation yet, and only when a stringent, trustworthy investigation has been made will we know all the facts of the situation. From the facts we do know, however, it looks unlikely that Brown did anything so major that it would have warranted taking his life. But to many white, middle-class people who are never hassled and threatened by police as they move through daily life, it seems that surely Brown and all these other unarmed African American, Latino, and Native men killed by police every year must have brought it on themselves through some fault of their own.

So allow me to tell a little story from my own life. In Kansas City, Missouri, where I live, the police used to be as undisciplined and out of control as the Ferguson and St. Louis police. A crisis finally forced the city to crack down, bring in a strong police chief to rebuild the force, and reorganize the police force around the motto of “Protect and Serve.” It’s not a perfect police force now, of course, but it’s plagued by less racial profiling and unnecessary civilian deaths than most urban forces today.

Back when Kansas City’s force was like the Ferguson and St. Louis departments we’re seeing on the news right now, pointing loaded rifles and screaming obscenities and death threats at unarmed demonstrators and reporters, I lived with my late first husband, Michael Rodriguez. Mike was a decorated veteran of Vietnam, married to me with two little kids, working a white-collar, full-time job as manager of a printing supply company branch, going to college at night, and the most non-violent and non-criminal person anyone could imagine. A fire station stood on the corner of the block where his company offices were, and several of the firefighters who were also Vietnam veterans had made friends with him since this was when no one in this country wanted to hear what these guys had gone through. This fact later saved his life.

One evening in winter when twilight came early, Mike was the last one out of his office, as usual, since he locked up at night and opened up in the mornings. He found his car’s battery had died and called a cab to come take him home. While he stood outside his own offices, dressed in a business suit, waiting for his cab to arrive, two policemen pulled up, got out of their police cruiser, and started harassing him. They shoved him back and forth between them, called him racial slurs, searched him, and found nothing but his wallet, keys, and a tube of prescription ointment for psoriasis in his pockets. One then told the other, “We could shoot this motherfucker and say we thought that was a gun.” Kansas City police had just shot a fourteen-year-old African American boy three days before, claiming they thought the comb in his pocket was a gun—and they got away with it.

Mike thought he would die on that spot, leaving me a young widow with a baby and a toddler and no way for his kids or anyone to know that he had never done anything to deserve it. His firefighter friends had seen what was happening, however, and came out calling his name and asking what was going on and if he needed help. The cops told them to go away, but the firefighter veterans stood there watching until Mike’s cab came, and he got safely away.

If you talk with people of color, you will hear story after story like this. A friend of mine who is a well-known white mystery writer married to an African American (extremely successful) artist just went out and bought all new dress business suits for her husband who, like most artists, normally wears jeans and T-shirts to work in, in the hopes that this will keep the New York City police from stopping and harassing him as he must travel through her city from home to his workplace and back. He must dress up for the commute, only to change into jeans and T-shirt at work, and then reverse the process to go home. White people don’t face this kind of treatment by law enforcement in their own lives, and it sounds so crazy and unreal to them that they assume people of color are exaggerating or making it up out of whole cloth, understandably, but this kind of harassment, threat, and fear is a part of daily life in communities of color all over this country.

Racism is a fixture of American life, but if allowed to flourish openly and unchecked, it won’t stop with communities of color. With the rising militarization of the police forces of large cities and small towns, I would caution my white friends to learn from our experiences. If this kind of behavior is allowed to continue and grow, it will eventually overflow into the white communities, beginning with poor and working-class communities and eventually moving up the socioeconomic ladder. It’s a matter of power and control, even beyond the matter of race and ethnicity.

Whether we know it or not, all of us in the United States have a vested interest in the Ferguson situation. Americans need to have a thorough, unbiased investigation of the Brown killing first, but then we need a reorganization of the Ferguson and St. Louis police forces and other similar departments, such as New York City, like the one Kansas City went through, and we also need a national discussion of the growing militarization of our police departments, large and small, and what we as citizens want to do about this growing threat.

ADDENDUM: After I wrote this, Kansas City had an educational forum in my neighborhood this weekend. The topic was "Stopped by Police: What Do I Do?" with the following topics of discussion--what to do if stopped by police, what to do if harassed by police, what are your rights, and Missouri gun and stand-your-ground laws. The police department, state legislators, civil rights attorneys, and community leaders were panelists and speakers. This is the kind of pro-active, community-oriented meetings that need to take place in Ferguson and elsewhere. I hope it starts a trend.


James Montgomery Jackson said...

Silence condones. Only by speaking out can we cause changes.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

Racism continues to flourish in our country. As a white person, from time to time people will tell vile "jokes" usually after they assure me, "I'm not a racist but — "

Gloria Alden said...

I am still sickened by the Treyvon Martin case and the fact that his murderer got off. Overall racism sickens me. I grew up in an all white rural community, and don't remember hearing any racist comments, but I was lucky to have a father, who talked about how wrong racism was. He felt very strongly about it, and this was before the 60's.

Polly Iyer said...

I find the Ferguson situation even more frightening when I learned donations for the cop's legal defense exceed by far that for the Brown family and that groups like the KKK are behind the plea for money. I'm not sure what kind of world my granddaughter will grow up in, but I'm frightened for her and the next generation. Get out and VOTE.

KM Rockwood said...

I think we all know people who have been stopped for the offense of "Driving while black," and similar things.

One of the biggest things we can do is to encourage principled young people of all ethnic backgrounds to consider careers in law enforcement. In the best of circumstances, these are not easy jobs, and I think many people have no concept of what it's like to put your life on the line every day. Of course it's no excuse for racism or some of the issues we have seen, but we need more diversity in our public safety officers both so the internal attitude will change and so that the young people (of all races) who feel it's a sport to disregard legitimate laws and fail to follow sensible orders might rethink their position as they get older.

We aren't there yet. But we are light years beyond capturing free blacks and selling them into slavery in the South, as frequently happened at one time in this country. Sometimes it takes major upheavals to remind us that we still have a ways to go.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, that's such a good point.

The majority of Germans were not behind Hitler's Final Solution, but they kept silent about it when they learned of it, not wanting to believe it could really be going on. Just as the majority of men are not rapists or wife-beaters, but they tend to keep silent or unhappily go along with the rape jokes or jokes about domestic violence that are the underpinnings of rape/domestic-violence culture. I believe the active, violent racists are a minority in this country, but the silence of the majority provides them tacit permission to operate.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, whenever I hear that phrase, I know I'm going to hear something really racist. It's as if they think they can make it all right by saying they're not a racist. Tobias Wolff wrote a wonderful piece on this for The New Yorker, "Heart of Whiteness." http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/tobias-wolff-on-race

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, you were lucky to have such a father back then. One thing the civil rights movement gave us--until recently--was the public shame at/for openly racist comments. That's gone now, though. We're back to the worst of the Jim Crow days, sadly.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Polly. GoFundMe had to erase all the comments on that fundraiser for the police officer because they were so sickeningly racist.One congratulated him for doing his duty in "animal control." *shudder*

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, I have a lot of friends in law enforcement, and they tell me that there are two types of people who go into the field, protectors and power-trippers. And often, the power-trippers congregate in the places that tolerate their behavior. The protectors hate to see this kind of thing because it gives the entire profession a black eye.

Sarah Henning said...

Ferguson is frightening, but what's really frightening about it is that the behavior there is probably more representative in America than we think. Or want to think. Which is so amazingly sad.

Linda Rodriguez said...

It is more common than most people realize, Sarah. And not just the bad actors like these guys were who wanted the chance to use someone's race or ethnicity as an excuse to do whatever they wanted, but with basically good cops who find themselves automatically more suspicious of someone who's not doing anything suspicious because he's black or brown. And I think a lot of that comes from being such a racially and socioeconomically segregated nation.

Polly Iyer said...

Linda, I didn't know that about the comments. How terribly sickening.

Kara Cerise said...

I lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King trial and the riots that followed. It was horrifying on many levels. I remember watching television coverage with African American friends and even though I had heard their stories of being mistreated by police, it really hit home that we were living in two different worlds.

Some things have changed since then, but we have a long way to go.

MaryM-S said...

Thank you for this excellent post, Linda; I will share it. Racism hurts everyone, though that goes unnoticed. You give an excellent example (and warning)of how the dominant culture will likely, eventually, be at the wrong end of condoning such behavior. When I was a teen, it was the local 'bad asses' who became cops. Power trippers or protectors - I suspect there are far fewer of the latter. May sanity prevail one day, may we who have the pigment of the dominant culture be better and better allies to people of color in the interim.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kara, yes. LA has one of the most problematic police forces. In the last decade, the guards of one of the county jails formed their own gang and raped, beat, tortured, and killed inmates while selling drugs and illegal firearms in the jail itself.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Mary, too many "bad asses" want to become cops for the power. BUT I still think that the majority of officers in this country are good guys. We've just got to weed out the power trippers, and to do that, the good cops have got to stand up against the bad ones.

E. B. Davis said...

I have a problem as a writer being objective about police. My gut assessment is that many who join the police have personal inadequacies and the job gives them instant authority, something that makes them feel better about themselves. In other words, many in the police force are former playground bullies who go into the police force to compensate and it enables them to have the legal authority to bully in their adult life.

I know that is a generalized statement that can be picked apart and that there are many who don't fit this profile. BUT, I think those who do are responsible for the abuse we see in the force. As more education is required to join the force, many of these types will be eliminated. I'm hoping as more people of color join the force, they will bring change from within. I hope reverse discrimination doesn't replace racial profiling.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, I think any profession where the practitioner gets the chance to wield power over others attracts those kinds of people--police, military, government, teaching, etc. I think your gut assessment is right, but those power trippers are not the majority of police officers--or at least they weren't in the past. As we militarize our police forces, large and small, we find more and more of these types not only joining but rising to positions of power within the ranks. It's up to the citizenry, its elected representatives, and the good guys in law enforcement to work together to clean up this mess that military corporations are making of our police forces.