Equality and Judicial Ignorance

“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” These are the famous words of former Alabama Governor George Wallace during his inaugural speech in 1963. On June 11th of that year, Wallace himself blocked a door to prevent African American students from registering at the University of Alabama. President Kennedy then sent federal troops to enforce federal law and the governor grudgingly stepped aside. Since 1963, Black students have attended the University of Alabama an every other school in the country along White students, and what do you know? The sky hasn’t fallen.

It’s worth looking back at those shameful events in US history because once again, Alabama is next up in our current generation’s civil rights fight. Full equality for LGBT citizens is on the line and gay marriage is the new hotly debated issue. Once again, a federal judge has issued a ruling for equality that is causing great consternation. District Judge Callie V.S. Grande issued a ruling that called the state’s prohibition against same sex marriage unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, thus allowing Judge Grande’s order to stand. Alabama would now start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, right? Not so fast.

Enter state supreme court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore. Justice Moore issued an order to Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Apparently, Justice Moore believes that the state of Alabama has no obligation to follow the order of a federal judge. In response, some of the state’s probate judges have decided to simply stop issuing any marriage licenses. Talk about acting like petulant children rather than supposedly highly educated legal minds. Their actions scream, “If I can’t keep gays from marrying, then nobody is getting married!”

Even George Wallace didn’t decide to just close all the schools in Alabama if he had to let Black students in. The states rights crowd loves to use this anti-federal government rallying cry whenever they find a law they think offends their religious sensibilities (read bigotry). Justice Moore states emphatically that judges need not enforce laws that violate the state constitution or state law. Unfortunately, they need reminded time and again about United States law. See, our founding fathers totally understood that there would be disagreements and squabbles from time to time between states, so they told us how to handle that. Article VI of the US Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, dictates that federal law is the “supreme law of the land”. This means, sir, that when laws conflict, federal trumps state, meaning the federal judge outranks you, dude.

As much as I’d love to see National Guard troops standing at the door of an Alabama courthouse enforcing the rights of same-sex couples, it looks like that won’t be necessary. Thankfully, there are judges in the state who understand the US Constitution, and have begun issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Kudos to those wise justices who have decided to be on the right side of history. As for Chief Justice Moore, the people of Alabama have shown him the door before, and should do so again at the ballot box. I don’t think the citizens of Alabama want their state to be seen as the symbol of bigotry yet again. Maybe someone will write a song supporting tolerance this time. Something like: I hope Judge Moore will remember, fair-minded folks don’t need him around anyhow.

Peace~LM

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It’s About Saving Lives

The tragic train wreck on the NY Metro-North made me shake my head because, as many of my former public safety peers well know, it was totally avoidable. It brought to mind all the countless tragedies I witnessed throughout my police career. The most frustrating of all were the traffic fatalities because of the senselessness. Some of the crashes (we stopped calling them “accidents” years ago) were no doubt caused by straight up human error, what we’d call a mental lapse. However, the vast majority are different. They are caused by human selfishness in the form of impatience, such as running a red light or criminal behavior, like driving under the influence.

One of the most despised law enforcement duties is issuing traffic citations. I think that is the task that keeps the public from loving cops the way they do firefighters. Both voluntarily work in dangerous conditions, risking personal safety for the public good, but firemen don’t also occasionally write you a ticket. Police officers sometimes hate this part of the job, too, because they’re working stiffs just like you, and recognize the financial burden a $100+ ticket will place upon that driver. Really. Cops do think about that.

Lately, much public debate has centered on the “small” or “frivolous” types of law enforcement action, like traffic stops. People feel picked on or that the cops are unnecessarily targeting them. Every cop alive has heard “Why don’t you go arrest a criminal?” on too many traffic stops to count. Well, here’s the answer: It’s not about writing tickets, it’s about saving lives. We all hate it when we get stopped, but let’s be honest, we also love seeing the jerk who’s been tailgating, speeding, weaving erratically get stopped. Right? We brand everyone who flies past us and does these things maniacs, while any person going slower is an idiot. Sound familiar?

Let’s be honest, if it were possible to allow people to make their own decisions about how to drive, we would. But it is absolutely not possible. Our own selfishness prevents that. Our egocentric attitudes are what make us run red lights, block intersections, shatter speed limits, and violate the railroad crossing warnings. According to the National Safety Council, 35,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents last year, and a staggering 3.8 million suffered injuries requiring medical attention. About 1000 traffic deaths each year are due to red light violations. Crashes involving passenger cars and trains have declined in recent years, but still cause an average of around 250 deaths a year. Statistically, about half of the deaths are innocent drivers in other cars, or in the latest NY train case, three innocent people killed and  many others badly injured. That’s why cops write tickets. To prevent these tragedies. Sadly, it seems that news footage of carnage doesn’t get the public’s attention as much as shelling out a couple hundred bucks for a ticket. So be it. Responding to horrific crashes for so many years has made me only sympathetic to the innocents in the other vehicle, not the at-fault driver.

It’s up to each of us to make better decisions while operating our cars on the road. Yeah, we have a lot of rules governing how we drive and that’s because we’ve collectively shown we need boundaries. New railroad crossings and safer roads can only do so much. You have to do the rest. Stop trying to blame the short light cycle at the intersection or that the railroad crossing is defective. They’re not. Starting tomorrow, give yourself and others a break, leave earlier, obey the rules of the road, and if you have to sit at the railroad crossing or red light, just chill the heck out. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll find that your commute is less stressful, you won’t get a ticket, and most importantly, you’ll arrive in one piece.

Tickets save lives.

Peace~LM

 

Stop the nonsense

Have the adults finally realized that they have to actually take charge? I certainly hope so. The midterm election results are in and the drubbing of the democrats sends a clear message—but not exactly what it might appear on the surface. The results tell me two things: After six years of complete dysfunction, the American people are handing control to the Republicans and saying, “Here you go. DO Something.” Secondly, the American people have told Democrats, “Stop sniveling, grow a spine and STAND for something.” I’ll start:  I’m mostly a liberal, although I have more conservative views when it comes to law enforcement or defense. There I said it. I don’t care if you don’t like that I support universal healthcare or the death penalty or still believe that the President deserves respect, regardless of his race or party.

For far too long the political and social discourse in this country has been nothing but a toxic mess. Americans have always been at our best when we act like a family. We might fight and squabble, but in the end, we stand together from any outside threat. We say, my brother might be an a-hole, but you better not say it. This is a country built on tolerance and finding common ground. Lately, common ground isn’t even considered because compromise is somehow now a dirty word. If my neighbor doesn’t espouse the exact same belief system as mine, then they are wrong, the enemy, unworthy of respect, ignorant. And you know what? I’m really tired of it.images

I think I’m like the vast majority of middle of the road Americans. I want my leaders to—well, lead. I have friends who agree and disagree with me, which is a good thing. To my conservative friends: I don’t need you proselytizing or judging me or anyone else. It’s not your place. News flash: I was raised Catholic. I have my faith. In the New Testament I read, Jesus says: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” He also has a lot to say about being your brother’s keeper and how it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get to heaven. Sorry, but I’ve come to notice that too often now when someone leads off in their self-description that they are “Christian” , that’s usually a huge red flag to me. A friend of mine shared a link from some Tea Party organization on his Facebook page the other day that read: “We need more God. Share if you agree.” I do agree, but I don’t think we need more Tea Partiers. We need real religious values of compassion, love and honesty.

So, I was very glad to hear the new Republican leadership talking about actually governing. Mitch McConnel and I are on the opposite sides of more than a few issues, but if he’s willing to find a way to work with people who don’t share his views, then he’ll have my support. But right away, the likes of Ted Cruz are already frothing at the mouth, screaming that he’s caving in to the dreaded Obama. Hey, Ted, you fantasize that you’re some second coming of Reagan. No. You are not. Ronald Reagan could talk to people on the other side, Ted. News flash: Prior to Obama, every president since FDR has talked about wanting to get universal healthcare for Americans, but it has always been deemed too difficult (read: politically dangerous). Obama did it. In the face of all your hatred, Ted. He did it and stands by it. That is actually leadership. What our country needs from all of you is to try something new—work on a solution or improvement if you think there are issues with the law. Any law.

Mitch McConnell has always wanted to be the Majority Leader. Mitch, you now have your chance to lead. You have the choice to either be like Boehner and do nothing, or seize this opportunity to make your mark on history. Infuse some of your conservative ideas into the existing laws like healthcare to improve things for your fellow Americans. It’s a fact that your home state already benefits more than almost any other from the healthcare law. Isn’t that a good thing to help more people get insurance? Fix what you think is wrong with the laws and move on. We want you to stop wasting time on repeal votes and bills to limit women’s rights and tackle real issues. Stand up to the crazy fringe in your party and say so. If you stop the bickering and work on solutions to help people, you won’t have to keep trying to convince us of your Christian values, because we’ll see them in action.

Democrats: Quit cowering in the corner and own your values. Be proud of the fact that you are the party of 100,000 police officers on the street and the Community Oriented Policing Office, which is what truly started the historic crime reduction we now enjoy. Be proud that the Affordable Care Act has helped to insure millions of Americans. Be proud of fighting to raise the minimum wage and trying to rein in corporate greed. Fight for the future of our planet by truly acknowledging climate change. Remind your conservative friends that the jobs to be realized in new technologies addressing these issues are good for business!

Both parties must stand in the ring and take your punches. Stop spouting divisive talking points and tell us what you believe in. Try having some courage of your convictions, while still humbly understanding that none of us know everything. We need more than your petulant refusal to listen to one another. And you know what? I’m betting that the majority of the American people, conservative and liberals alike, will respond with a resounding approval rating. More importantly, our country will thrive.

~Peace. LM

Service Sacrificed

This week while the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is once again being debated in Washington, and its detractors continue to deny any need to protect workers from baseless firings, comes the story of a public servant suddenly dismissed, and the community she serves searching for answers. For any of you who haven’t heard the story from Latta, South Carolina, I’ll bring you up to speed. Crystal Moore was hired by the City of Latta in 1989 and has served her community as a police officer ever since. By all accounts, she has been an exemplary officer, rising through the ranks until her appointment to Chief of Police in 2012. Her service record shows no disciplinary action in all of those years.

Town shows support for fired police chief
Town shows support for fired police chief

In December, the city got a new mayor, and suddenly Chief Moore has become something completely different. She’s a discipline problem, a troublemaker; she is not fit to run the agency. Mayor Bullard cites the fact that Moore received seven reprimands, ostensibly the justification for the firing of his police chief. The interesting thing about the list of transgressions is that six of the seven seem to deal with challenging her supervisor in some way. Hmm…the Chief’s supervisor…oh, that would be the mayor. So, in the space of four months, this formerly stellar employee has racked up seven times as many reprimands as in her entire career. Now, we might conclude that the new mayor and the chief simply cannot get along. It happens. One would think, however, that they would have a sit down to discuss the issues between them. According to the chief that never happened. She states that after hearing rumors that her job was in jeopardy, she asked but the mayor but he denied it. City council is concerned about the fact that no verbal counseling preceded the written reprimands.

What happened next is the troubling part of this story. During a phone conversation with City Councilman Jared Taylor, Mayor Bullard had this to say:

“I would much rather have … and I will say this to anybody’s face … somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be. You know … you got people out there — I’m telling you buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around.

I’m not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with two men neither.

I’m not going to do it. Because that ain’t the way the world works.

Now, all these people showering down and saying ‘Oh it’s a different lifestyle they can have it.’ Ok, fine and dandy, but I don’t have to look at it and I don’t want my child around it.”

Maybe the chief wasn’t as much of a discipline problem as she was…a lesbian. And you know what the amazing thing is? It’s perfectly legal in South Carolina and thirty other states to fire an employee for being gay. Ironically, the progress we’ve made toward equality has rendered it politically incorrect for homophobic people to openly admit to firing someone on the grounds of sexual orientation. Which means the mayor felt he had to invent other reasons for the firing, but his unfiltered words tell the tale. That’s what bothers the fair-minded residents of Latta, who turned out in support of their police chief at a city council meeting.

The purpose of ENDA is to prevent precisely this type of situation from occurring. Opponents of the legislation claim that discrimination based upon sexual orientation doesn’t occur, and it’s another example of the advancing “homosexual agenda”. No doubt the segregationists in the old South used the same arguments based on race in the days before the Civil Rights Act. It would be great if equality could be achieved without the need for laws to ensure that individual’s rights weren’t denied based on prejudice. Unfortunately that’s not reality. The Human Rights Campaign spokesman, Fred Sainz, correctly states, “Without explicit federal or state employment protections, a decorated police chief is left to fend for herself.”ENDA-hi1

The citizens of Latta apparently don’t care that Chief Moore is a lesbian. They only care about the job she does for their city. That’s all LGBT citizens want—to be judged on the merits of their job performance. Once again, folks, we don’t want “special” rights, only equal treatment under the law. Chief Moore shouldn’t have her many years of service to her community sacrificed based upon bigotry. If it can happen to her, it can happen to any one of us in the LGBT community. The Employment Non-discrimination Act has huge implications for all of us. ENDA is the next step in the equality march. Let’s keep moving forward.

Peace~ LM

Why do I write?

Writing from the heart is what I’ve always done. Join me for my inaugural blog over at Women and Words for reflections on my writing and how life shapes the words I put on the page.

Women and Words

I don’t remember exactly when I started writing. I only know that I cannot remember not needing to write. Maybe it was because I was a shy kid who felt like she didn’t belong anywhere exactly. Books and reading were a great escape. My mother’s aunt nurtured that connection to books and I loved getting swept away in an epic story. Then one day she bought me a package of stationary and a beautiful pen. “Write,” she said. So I began, clumsily at first, filling the pages with bad poetry about adolescent angst. What was amazing about the experience was that once I began, I couldn’t stop. If reading was a source of comfort and happiness, then writing—putting my own words on the page—felt like mainlining a drug.images-1

The outside world had given me plenty of reasons to doubt myself. I struggled with a fledgling awareness of my differentness

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Sports and diversity rule!

Let’s talk inspiration.

Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA, signed a temporary contract to play with the Brooklyn Nets on February 23rd, will now remain a Net for the remainder of the season. Collins made a huge statement by selecting #98, in honor of Matthew Shepard and touching off a bit of controversy from the usual cast of blowhards taking to the airways following the announcement. imagesCollins could have skipped the added attention by simply keeping the #46 jersey the team first gave him. But he felt strongly about making a statement by way of tribute to Matthew Shepard. Yesterday, the announcement that the Nets had signed Collins for the remainder of the season proved that he’s first and foremost a talented basketball player, who just happens to be gay.

Onto hockey, where a kick-butt goalie from the gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Team made the jump to the US Southern Professional Hockey League. Big deal you say? Well, hell yeah, because this outstanding goal-tender is Canadian Women’s Hockey star Shannon Szabados, who made history last Saturday night as the first female to play professional hockey on a men’s team. As the net minder for her men’s college team in Alberta Canada, Shannon set records for the most shutouts in a season (5) and lowest goals against average. Szabados downplays the significance of her gender, but there is no doubt about her impact as a trailblazer.

Photo by Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com
Photo by Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

When asked if she hopes to advance to the NHL, Szabados says only that she’s focused on her current team. I’ll bet the NHL is keeping an eye on this goaltender with a mane of curls hanging out the back of her helmet. A record-setting goaltender, who just happens to be a woman.

Amy Purdy in SochiAnd did you get a chance to check out the Paralympics? If not, you missed a spectacular display of heart. All I can say is wow. The big news of the games was the US men’s sled hockey team winning gold medal vs. the Russians in a tight 1-0 contest. Marine Corps vet Josh Sweeney scored the lone goal of the game to lift his team to victory. Another fantastic story is Paralympian Amy Purdy, who became a double amputee after a severe meningitis infection at 19. Instead of giving up, Amy doubled down on her dream to be a snowboarder. Purdy is now one of the top ranked US adaptive snowboarders and was instrumental in the sport being included in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. She won bronze in the inaugural run. Amy and Josh are world class athletes and Olympic medalists, who just happen to be differently-abled.

So, in the flood of over-paid, prima donna professional athletes, who seem to constantly act out or fall short of our probably unrealistic expectations, I thought it would be great to celebrate those who stand out despite all the odds stacked against them. They compete in their sport of choice and succeed, even when the world is telling them they cannot. There’s a great lesson in that for all of us. Even if you don’t have the luck o’ the Irish, grit and perseverance can get you where you need to go. Never give up.

Peace. Thanks for reading.

~LM