Nailing Jello to the Wall

From Every Corner of this City

As the story of Freddie Gray’s arrest and subsequent BaltCitybadgedeath continues to unfold, I find myself thinking about another young black man in Baltimore, with whom I crossed paths about a year and a half ago. I was a juror in his trial for multiple murder, drug, and gun charges.

You see, I live in Baltimore — in the city although in a corner that bears little resemblance to the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived. But Baltimore is called “Smalltimore” for many reasons, among them the fact that traveling just a few blocks in one direction or another connects these very different neighborhoods.  And nothing will bring residents together any more than sitting on a jury together.

Before I go into any more detail about my experience as a juror, let me be frank: as a whole, I don’t like the Baltimore City police. It’s true, I have had some positive experiences with a couple of officers when they have responded to neighborhood calls, but honestly for the most part they have been brutish and non communicative. All the more troubling, since I have a friend who worked with them on trying to improve Community Policing for many years — but among the reasons that didn’t work was former Mayor Martin O’Malley and his “Zero Tolerance policy,” which created an attitude of “arrest first, ask questions later.”  The calls in our neighborhood are usually for break-ins and the occasional drug dealing.  Two notable facts about my neighborhood and police: (1) they do not arrest the prostitutes because they like to keep them on the street so they can get info about the drug dealers who are also often their pimps (really shows you how much they value the lives of these women, eh?) — a fact relayed to me by a female police officer, and (2) because we are the “easy” district, we get the trainees and the newbies, so they get to practice their non-existent communication skills on me and my neighbors before they get shuttled off to the tougher districts such as the Western district where Freddie Gray lived.

So this is my background when I walk into the jury room at the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse with 13 other citizens of Baltimore. I gradually got to know my fellow jurors over the next week — we couldn’t talk about the case, so we talked about jobs, families, television shows. The final 12 who deliberated included a Psychology professor, a housekeeper from a local hospital, an accountant, a retiree, a college student, a hair dresser, and a driver. Our ages ranged from 21 to 61. There were four men and eight women. Ten black, and two white — myself and a middle aged man.

As the case was presented, I felt like I was reading a mystery novel. Two men were brutally shot and killed, and a young woman somehow survived being shot multiple times. The prosecution presented mountains of evidence about the killing — photos of the wounds in all their blood soaked gruesomeness, a ballistics expert spoke about the angle and the caliber. Witnesses were called. And the whole time I kept waiting to hear how the young man sitting before us was connected — because at that point all we had heard was about the arrest of two other young men in connection, one of whom was identified by a witness who saw him stick his head out the door after shots were fired and looking this way and that, and the other was caught moments after the shooting with one of the dead men’s cell phone in his pocket.

But nothing on this guy, until we heard that he had been identified from a photo array by the young woman who had survived the shooting. How did his photo happen to be shown to this woman int he first place, well we never heard that. She was full of pain killers, on a ventilator so she could not speak, and had not given a description to anyone of the men who committed the crime, so how did this guy’s end up in the photo array?

It seems, he was a young black man known to the police for previous drug dealing. Just like Freddie Gray.

You see, in the end, there was nothing connecting this particular man to the crime except for the word of a woman who pointed to his picture from her hospital bed under very sketchy circumstances, and who then recanted that identification on the witness stand. Was the truth when she picked him out? Or was it when she said — on the witness stand — that it was not in fact, him? Either way, it didn’t make her a reliable witness. Not reliable enough on which to send another young black man to jail, for good (based on his prior record, we knew that finding him guilty would put him away for a very, very long time.

When we arrived at the jury room to begin deliberations, it seemed like a no-brainer to me. So I was amazed when we took a straw poll and we came out 8 not guilty and 4 guilty. The breakdown of who voted how was interesting: the not guilty’s were 7 women and one man (the retiree), the guilty’s were 3 men and one woman (the college student). I was a not guilty, the white man was a guilty.

I cannot fully describe how heated the room became over the next several days. It got personal at times, not with me really, but I was very aware of who I was and what my life is like. Several of the women who voted not guilty told stories from their own lives to explain why they viewed the evidence as they did. The woman who left the Courthouse every day and went to her job cleaning hospital rooms talked about how drugs had destroyed members of her family — and how she was “not going to put another young black man into jail for life.”

I will always remember her resolve as she spoke those words. I will also remember the response of the only other white person on the jury, because after he spoke I wanted to become invisible, “I would rather put an innocent man in jail than let a murderer walk the streets. If he is not guilty, he can always appeal.” There was a silence in the room as those horrible words kind of hung out there, so I finally said “The appeals process does not work out real well for young black men. He will be in prison for years before he can get a new trial — and that will only be after he can show there was a problem with this case.”

Towards the end of Day Three of Deliberation (which came after 5 days of hearing evidence), we were down to 10 not guilty, and 2 guilty. The Psychology professor stepped up her game, and said to the two “It seems very unlikely at this point that 10 people are going to change their minds and find him guilty. What can we do for you to be able to change your votes and feel good about it?”  The white man talked himself through the lack of evidence connecting this man to the crime, and then decided that he could see where there could be doubt, so maybe yes, he could say based on that the young man was not guilty. The remaining juror, now standing alone with his guilty vote, said “Well, okay. If he’s voting not guilty, then I am too.”

Did the young man commit the crime? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I left feeling good about my vote, that justice had been done. But I also felt like I had just seen the nasty underbelly of the world in which many citizens of this city live. A city where, based on your past behavior, you can just be picked up and put in jail. A place where police have no answers for why they took certain actions or how they came upon certain evidence. Where the prosecutor responds to juror’s questions about why no one tested the coffee cup or the cigarette butts apparent in the crime photos for DNA, with a mocking “this is not like the movies, people.”

When I see the photos of Freddie Gray before his arrest, I see the face of the young man who stood and shook the hand of every juror as we passed by him on our way out of the courtroom after finding him not guilty.  I see a young man who daily faces impossible odds against a system stacked against him, unless his community comes together and says “No more.” His community, from every corner of this city. From the housekeeper who held his hand for an extra moment and said “Now you behave yourself,” to which he responded “Yes m’am,” before she left for her job. Declining my offer of a ride, she headed off to walk the 4 blocks to the hospital and I pointed my car north to my corner of the city, hoping he knew how much these people valued him and his life. From every corner of this city.

This is a Man’s World — Still

AP DEM 2016 CLINTON A ELN USA IASo I haven’t really written much about Hillary Clinton running for President in 2016 yet, but I have certainly been following the news. If you’ve been following this blog since 2007, I’m sure you’ve been reading the news too. But that was a very trying time and before I put myself out there for all the abuse that seems to come with supporting Hillary Clinton, I just wanted to make sure I’m ready.

I’m ready.

Here’s the thing. Hillary Clinton did not have a platform that I agreed with 100% in 2008. Neither did Barack Obama. The only candidate who did was Dennis Kucinich and you know how long he lasted in the race. My opinions are pretty progressive, and I think it’s pretty unlikely that I’m going to completely agree with a a national candidate on every issue. Some people call that holding your nose and pulling the lever. I call it choosing from the available candidates. You vote for the candidates you have, not the ones you want.

Yes, I’m rambling a bit here but my point, and I do have one, is that I think Hillary Clinton 2016 might in fact be a better candidate than the one we had with Hillary Clinton 2008. Although her announcement video was met with much derision and criticism, (hey — at least you remember the logo, right?) she said a lot of things in the video that I can agree with. And in the days since, she’s come out very vocally in a much more progressive, populist way than she did in 2008.

Maybe this is the real Hillary Clinton? Her campaign is saying she’s “the most famous person you don’t really know,” and I wonder if that might just be right? No one would disagree that Hillary Clinton is smart and capable — whether you agree with her stands on issues or not. But what if, during all these years when she was trying to make it in A Man’s World, she was not being true to herself but being the person she thought she needed to be in order to be successful?

We look at Hillary Clinton as this accomplished woman, and we forget that women her age did not have a lot of opportunities. She has said that she wrote to NASA when she was 13 and was told “we don’t have women astronauts.” Of course they didn’t.  See, there’s always been this story in America, that “anyone can be President!” but for me and for every female of course this has not true. And to say that anyone can be anything they work hard enough to be — of course for many reasons that is also not true. But here is a woman who has worked her entire life — going to law school, working for a nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund, partner in a law firm, First Lady like no First Lady ever before, Senator, Secretary of State — and always she has been in a Man’s World. Her laugh — it’s described as a “cackle.” Her age — she’s a crone. There are jokes about her thighs, her breasts, her hair. Mad Men’s got nothing on what she must have lived through.

No, nothing Hillary Clinton has accomplished has ever been viewed in the public eye without mentioning her gender.

So here’s my point (yes, finally). What if she has finally said “Enough!” What if the Hilary who stated today that equal marriage should be a constitutional right, the one who in her meetings yesterday said that the campaign finance system needs overhauling, what if THIS is the real Hillary? The one who finally said, “Enough!”

I am really curious to see what else Hillary Clinton tells us in the coming months. If nothing else, give her credit for what she has accomplished, in a Man’s World. Let’s see what she does next.

NeoCon Heads Are Exploding

Who recently said:

“I want Hillary to win. Even though I admire two of the current potential Republican nominees, I have no interest in seeing either of them lead this country.”

If you guess Nancy Reagan, you win! Hahahahaha. What does this mean for those who worship at the altar of Saint Ronnie? Oh, I hope this gets lots of press coverage. Please, let’s make it so.

The whole quote from The National Report:

Last week, during a promotional press conference for The History Channel’s upcoming series “First Ladies in Their Own Words,” series’ host Ron Reagan shared clips of his interviews with all living former First Ladies of the United States. In a brief video clip with his mother Nancy Reagan, she offered her endorsement of Hillary Clinton as President saying, “The time for a woman to serve as our President has come – really, now is the time – and I think the idea of having a former First Lady as the leader of the free world is really quite a marvelous notion. I want Hillary to win. Even though I admire two of the current potential Republican nominees, I have no interest in seeing either of them lead this country.”

But wait — it gets even better!

Asked about his mother’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton, [Ron] Reagan thought it showed how little America actually knew about the woman behind the Republican icon. “She wants people to know that the First Ladies are tight. They get together once a year to support each other. In fact, Hillary had no interest in running until both Laura and Barbara Bush cornered her at their get-together in May 2013 and talked her into at least thinking about it! So, in a sense, if Mrs. Clinton does run and win, you can blame the Bush family.”

Have a great weekend, JelloHeads!

There’s Too Much To Write About, People!

When I decided to start writing at this blog again I was a little worried that I would be able to find enough topics to write about. What was I thinking?! Rand Paul is running for President, guys! And so is Ted Cruz! The material will be endless! I mean, just look at some of the information already out there:

From ThinkProgress:

To Rand Paul, Abortion Access for Rape Victims Isn’t Worth Talking About

And the man mansplains how to interview here (silly woman!):

And Ted Cruz, well, just go to to see how his well-oiled political machine is making out these days.

Jeb Bush? Do you really want someone running the country who is unable to correctly fill out a voter registration form?

No, it’s going to be a very interesting run up to the Presidential election in 2016. The Republican side has a dozen candidates (or more) whose beliefs are all over the place. The Democrats seem to only have Hillary Clinton, but personally I think she would be better off if there was a challenger.  The worst thing for her is to be pegged as “the anointed one” from the Democratic party (although given the way she was treated by many in the Dem party in 2008 that title is a little hard to swallow).

Yes, there will be lots to write about leading up to November 2016. And I haven’t even started on telling you about my City Councilman who has only shown up for 55% of the votes!

as close as i get to a religious post

The past few days have been wrapped up in some dumb workplace drama, but I breathed a heavy sigh yesterday morning and let most of my anxious energy go as I drove in to work, and thanks to Taylor Swift, I had “players gonna play, play, play, play, haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate. Shake it off” running through my brain for most of the morning.

I am generally a positive person but good lord it is so easy to sucked into the negative. Sometimes it seems there is nothing around me but the negative — both the petty little things at work and the horrible big things in the world. How to find the balance? At work I try to “lean in” and I practically get my head chopped off. I think “leaning in” correctly requires an incredible amount of self knowledge — I sometimes joke that I’m going to “channel” a couple of different people whenever I have an interpersonal challenge ahead of me. My brother, aka “Mean Dave,” is one. A successful career, I think he’s gotten where he is today through both his smarts and his aura of confidence. (He once made my dog pee on the floor just by saying “Dog.”) Which is not to say he doesn’t have his own insecurities or worries, because I know he does, just like everyone else. And he’s really not mean, but he often does not sugarcoat his opinions. But we each need to be true to ourselves, as corny as that sounds, and what Mean Dave does will not work for me. On Good Friday, I found myself thinking about how many people hide behind religion as a way to cover their own insecurities and therefore their actions. Which is very different that those who live out their religion through their acts.

Before I started channel surfing and ended up listening to Taylor Swift, I heard  on NPR two very different stories about religion — frankly I was surprised that the striking differences weren’t mentioned when introducing either story. The particular religions mentioned in the stories don’t matter — you really could swap out any organized religion and it would be the same. First came the story of the murder of over a hundred young people simply because they did not believe in the same religion as the murderers. In the second story, the tenets of the religion to love everyone no matter how different led people to fight back against a discriminatory law. One set of actions borne out of fear, the other from love. Now, I don’t think of myself as a particularly religious person, although I would say I am very spiritual. But honestly most of my prayers consist of, in the words of Anne Lamott, “Please, please, please” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  But I do have a long line of ministers in my family, and I understand the good that can come from a religious person, and from a group of people organized around religion. (Time for a shameless promotion: A Golden Glow in the East, the collection of my missionary grandmother’s letters from China is available from Amazon.)

Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, Solstice, or just the arrival of snowdrops in the front yard, this is a time of renewal and rebirth and fresh starts. Whatever your beliefs, I challenge you to be true to them each and every day, to be honest to yourself and to your beliefs. And also, when needed, to shake it off.

Gun fight at the not OK corral

I went to visit my 98-year old aunt yesterday at the retirement home where she lives in West Virginia. And there on the front door of the building was a sign on the door that read “No guns allowed.”  Which struck me as (A) very good, and (B) a ridiculous thing to have to tell people. And this is why I am for gun control: If you have to tell the public not to bring their guns into a retirement home, then clearly we do not feel the public is responsible enough to know this on their own. I am sorry if you are reading this and you feel you are a responsible gun owner. I know, it’s complicated. I’ve never held a gun, obviously never shot one, and have never ever felt the need to do either act.

Am I really the exception in America?

I get that people like or need to hunt. I can kind of understand the desire to have a gun for that purpose. As a carnivore who does not kill my own food, it would be dishonest for me to judge hunters. (Although I mean just hunters for food — people who shoot lions and tigers and rhinos have a special circle in hell.) But for all the people who think they need a gun for protection, and who then use that to justify bigger and bigger toys — I have no patience for you. Sorry. Maybe I’m lucky — I’ve never known anyone who has been the victim of a gun crime at the hand of another. On the other hand, I have known several people who took their own lives with a gun.

Am I the exception in America?

Today’s Washington Post carries an article on where each of the potential Republican candidates for President stands on gun control, and it’s pretty alarming. (And yes, they should do the same for the potential Democratic candidates: and Hillary Clinton is mentioned in the article.) For example:

And in the Senate, Rubio, Graham, Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) all helped torpedo Senate bills that would have expanded background checks on gun sales and limited the size of ammunition magazines. The measures had been proposed in the wake of the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Because god knows it will take more than a bunch of little kids being massacred before we make any meaningful changes to the way guns and ammunition is available to the average citizen in this country.

I know that people feel strongly about this issue. I’ve told you where I stand. If you don’t understand why, take a look at the website or Facebook page for the group “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.” It’s not about control, it’s about bringing some sense back into this idea: “Pro-gun activists are worried about losing their guns, and moms are worried about losing their children. You tell me who’s going to win.”

It’s an uphill battle, but my money’s on the moms.

Am I the exception?

Nom nom nom de plume

Are you really still following this blog? Well good for you!  And good things come to those who wait — I’m back!  And I’m gearing up for a feisty political season, and resurrecting our old friend Pooky Shoehorn. Why go “back under,” you say? Well, honestly there are some things that need to be said and that are better said under an alias.

Thoughts? Oh, I’ve got ’em. So stay tuned and get ready to hear what I think about Ted Cruz, ‘leaning in,” Indiana, and much much more ….