Friday, August 16, 2013

Waving While Black

I'm linking to something via Jamelle Bouie, who titled the story "waving while Black." But first I want to tell a story of my own.

I grew up in the DC suburbs, in a nice house with a huge front and back yard. It had lots of trees, hills, and other assorted terrain features that made it ideal for capture the flag, tag, water gun fights, and things of that nature.

One night when I was about 15 or so, some friends and I decided to play hide-and-go-seek in the dark. It was fall and the leaves were down, and my hiding spot of choice was kneeling behind the leaf pile stacked right up against the street abutting our front yard.

It was a good hiding spot, and nobody saw me. Until I noticed a bright light shining against my back. I looked behind me and a cop car had pulled up right behind me, with an officer staring intently at me flashlight in hand.

I was pretty much a goody two shoes (never even got a detention), and even I knew how bad this looked. It was the dark of night. I was crouched behind a leaf pile, trying not to be seen, in front of a very nice house in the suburbs. I had a dark hoodie pulled tight over my head, which as we all learned from the Trayvon Martin saga is a sure sign I was trouble. So given the circumstances, gut instinct took over.

I shot to my feet, whirled around, and waved at the officer, smiling as brightly as I could.

And he looked at me curiously, and then kept driving.

I won’t say “and that’s the day I realized I had white privilege.” Putting the pieces together came much later. But looking back, it is one of the clearest examples of it I’ve experienced in my lifetime. And every time I read a story like this, I reflect on that moment, and remember just how lucky I am.

He said it happened as he was riding north on Weinbach approaching the four-way stop at Riverside Drive and the police officers were southbound.

Madison admitted that he was not going to stop at the intersection but said the officer startled him by making a sudden left turn in front of him.

“He did it real fast,” he said. “I thought it was one of the guys (police) I knew.”

At that point, Madison said he raised his hands to wave.

Madison said he has met many police officers through his job and his participation boxing in the annual Guns-N-Hoses charity fundraiser. But he said he did not know the officers who stopped him.

“The officer jumped out and says, ‘What are you doing throwing your hands up at us?’” Madison said. “He is talking to me as he is coming toward me. I tried to explain, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

He said the officer’s angry attitude made him feel angry and alone.

“It was like everything had disappeared, and I was there alone and I got scared,” he said.

Madison said he knew Bolin from their community involvements and began to call him on his cellphone hoping to diffuse the situation.

However, the officer told him to put the phone down. Madison said that when he hesitated, the officer grabbed his arm holding the phone, causing Madison to flinch.

Before he knew it, Madison said, the officer had his stun device out.

“It was literally maybe inches from my face,” he said. “I immediately threw my hands in the air. What he asked me to do I was more than willing to do. I said ‘Please don’t hurt me.’ The next thing I know I’m laying down the ground and they cuffed me.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cast into the Streets

Open Zion has an piece up about some lonely far-right protestors complaining 92nd Street Y (a venerable New York Jewish organization) is hosting anti-Israel speakers. The article, with barely contained glee, notes the protest consists of around 15 mostly older people, standing in the rain, fruitlessly attempting to engage passerbys and complaining about how mainstream Jewish groups won't return their calls.

Now, I'm generally quite pleased by this, because these folks sound like loons. While some of their complaints have merit (Alice Walker and Roger Waters have no place speaking at Jewish institutions), they go way beyond folks like that in fulminating about Peter Beinart, J Street, and the NIF. The fact that the protest leader founded a "Greater Israel" organization promoting settlement of the entire West Bank and Gaza isn't doing it any favors either. I'm happy to see these protesters relegated to the sideline fringe because that's where I think fringe players belong. And that analysis applies equally to their leftward counterparts, like the BDS movement.

But note that in this story we don't see the BDS folk being so marginalized. The classic trope -- Jewish organizations utterly beholden to the farthest of right-wing zealots, while anyone who so much as raises an eyebrow at the most vicious price tag militant is dragged away to a Mossad-sponsored interrogation -- is flipped on its head. Here, the far-right zealots are furiously impotent (good!) while anti-Israel groups which should be well beyond the pale of acceptable discourse are welcomed with open arms (not so good).

"Hypocrisy" is the lazy angle to take on this, so instead I'll just observe that stories like this should encourage us to problematize our reflexive instinct that Jewish institutions, always and in all places, are both "beholden to the Greater Israel movement" and "intolerant of any criticism of Israel." That belief is simplistic in its best moments and more often than not a complete distortion. Jewish institutions are a they and not an it, but even at the general level the fact is that most American Jewish institutions roughly reflect the consensus of most American Jews -- pro-Israel but also left-of-center, disapproving of Greater Israel expansionism but skeptical of Palestinian intransigence. That's position is a perfectly reasonable one and a perfectly valid starting point for beginning a discussion