Sunday, July 31, 2016

Photographs of the Month

The Dog days are upon us, summer has reared up its hot and humid head, the end is in sight. Not that I want it to end, My son and I have been enjoying sleeping in, me until 6:30 rather than 5:45 in order to get him going for school. He gets to sleep in until all hours of the morning, sometimes even the afternoon. We figure it's probably the one and only time of his life when he'll be able to do that so what the heck. July was an eventful month for us. Baseball was hot and heavy early in the month, then it crash landed by mid-month with both his regular teams losing early in the playoffs. He wasn't there for either of those losses as his dad brought him along to New York on a business trip, his first visit. For me it was my first visit in ten years. The exciting thing for this post is that for the fist time since I've been doing these monthly surveys of photography, I get to list a place other than Chicago in the captions. Shall we begin?

After a special Pony League baseball game at Curtis Granderson Park, the college stadium for the UIC Flames, the boy and I ventured into the old Italian neighborhood and Taylor Street where we found this crowd waiting to by Italian Lemonade on a hot summer afternoon.

July 10, Taylor Street, Chicago
The following day my mom invited the boy and me to lunch at the venerable Walnut Room of the former Marshall Field Store on State Street.

July 11, Walnut Room, Chicago
I commented when I posted this picture on my Instagram account, "And to think I once considered this to be a gratuitous intrusion on the urban landscape." Needless to say, I no longer do.

July 12, Crown Fountain, Millennium Park, Chicago
Our grand entrance into the city, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. My son's first visit.

July 15, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, New York
The House that Ruth built. Well not exactly, the original one across the street was torn down a few years ago, but this one looks more like it did during the age of the Bambino than the old one did after it's seventies makeover.

July 15, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
The unmistakable spiral ramps of Frank Lloyd Wright's Gugenheim Museum, trying to rekindle my son's interest in architecture and FLW. Not sure if he succeeded. 

July 16, Guggenheim Museum, New York
New York City not only has two big league baseball teams, it also has two minor league clubs. We took my friend's brilliant suggestion to visit this ballpark steps away from the ferry terminal to see the Staten Island Yankees play. Quite honestly it was way more enjoyable than watching the big league Yanks play. Way cheaper too, not to mention the view.

July 16, Richmond County Stadium, Staten Island, New York
My friend told me that since he moved to New York over thirty years ago, ridership on NYC subways has doubled. I concur. Here's a little family moment on one of the less crowded trains.

July 18, Lexington IRT Subway, New York
Fun with the iPhone panorama feature in busy Times Square.

July 18, Times Square, New York
One of the grandest interiors anywhere, I cursed the tourists who blocked the stairways to get this shot, until I became one of them.

July 18, Grand Central Terminal, New York
Next to the Brooklyn Bridge, this is my favorite New York Bridge, the Queensboro. We found Sutton Place, not pictured here, where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sat on a bench overlooking the bridge in his film Manhattan.  New York at its most romantic. Our parting shot.

July 19, Queensboro Bridge, New York
Back home in Chicago and my favorite view of Millennium Park, the little river and walkway that bisects Lurie Garden looking toward the Modern Wing of the Art Institute.

July 30, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago
And now its time for August which will bring lots of work and hopefully another trip, this time with the entire family, Stay tuned and stay cool.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mr. Khan

Take a good look at this face, it is the face of America. It is the official US Army portrait Captain Hunayun Khan who was killed in a car bombing in Iraq in 2004. As the suspicious vehicle entered the compound in which Captain Khan was stationed with the soldiers under his command, Khan told his troops to stand back while he checked out the vehicle. He took ten steps toward the car when it exploded. By sacrificing his life he saved the lives of those under his charge. Khan was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the hallowed ground across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, along with hundreds of thousands of others who served their country, many of them paying the ultimate sacrifice.

This year's presidential election is different from those that came before it. For starters, for the first time ever, a woman is the nominee of one of the two major parties. However the historical significance of that is overshadowed by the extreme nature of her opponent, a man who has never held political office. That in itself is not a first, in 1952 the Republican party nominated as its candidate the five star general who served as commander of Allied Forces during World War II, Dwight David Eisenhower. The current Republican presidential nominee has a much different resume than Eisenhower.

As we all know, Donald Trump is a real estate developer with a knack for self promotion. Long before he became a reality TV star, Trump was already well known for his glitzy buildings, Atlantic City casinos and his conspicuous display of wealth. Never holding a job in public service does not mean that Trump does not have political experience. Like many in his line of work, for decades he has been deeply connected to politicians, especially the mayors of New York City. That's why at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week, Trump was able to say that he "knows the system", which produced an uneasy chortle from the crowd.

The nomination process for both major parties has changed considerably in the sixty four years since Eisenhower was nominated. Gone are the proverbial "smoke filled rooms" where deals were brokered by party leaders who would be largely responsible for selecting the person who would lead the ticket in November. That system was replaced by the slightly more transparent primary system where most states hold public elections to choose delegates whose numbers determine the candidate.

It would be hard to argue that this is a more democratic process to select a candidate. On the flip side, it has resulted in the nomination of Donald Trump, a man who has been held at arm's length if at all, by most of the Republican leadership.

Trump's greatest skill is publicity. He knows how to get attention which is why he was able to win his party's nomination by spending a fraction of the money his opponents spent. Under the philosophy that any publicity, good or bad, works to his advantage, he did this mostly by making controversial, outrageous statements such as all Muslims should be banned from the United States.

That is where Captain Khan comes in. He was a Muslim. On his gravestone at Arlington is the Star and Crescent, the symbol of his faith, just as crosses mark the headstones of Christians and Stars of David, those of Jewish soldiers.

This week, many of us saw Captain Khan's mother and father on TV, addressing the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Khizr Khan. the dead soldier's father spoke for the two of them. If you didn't see it, please click to follow this link.

Mr. Khan spoke briefly and eloquently about honor and patriotism. As he spoke, chants of "USA USA" rose up from the crowd. If you had your eyes closed and didn't know the particulars, you may have guessed his words and those chants were coming from a Republican convention of bygone days. But open your eyes and you saw, like Captain Khan's, the face of America in all glorious shades of color, ethnicities, and religious creeds.

This election is unfortunately different as well as both candidates are highly unpopular. Most choices, at least at this point seem to focus on which candidate for whom NOT to vote. At the RNC, the incessant "USA" chant was often replaced by chants of "LOCK HER UP", in reference to the kerfuffle over Hillary Clinton's lack of email acumen.

Of course the Democrats, from Hillary Clinton on down spent much of their time lambasting Donald Trump. Vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine shouted out the mantra, "believe me" in mocking reference to one of Trump's favorite catch phrases. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "God help us" in reference to Trump's alleged business acumen as a qualification for office. President Obama in one sentence equated Trump, the "home grown demagogue" with jihadists. Here's the quote:
That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadis or home-grown demagogues will always fail in the end.
But nobody at the convention came as close to destroying the character of Donald Trump as Khizr Khan. He spoke of true heroism, courage, sacrifice and liberty, all things in his mind, Donald Trump knows nothing about. Mr. Khan said that his son stood for and lived those values, while if Trump had his way, Captain Khan, who came with his family from the United Arab Emirates as a child, would not have been allowed into this country. Then came the piece de resistance. Addressing Trump directly, Mr. Khan asked the candidate if he had actually read the United States Constitution. This produced a wild cheer from the crowd which hadn't let down when he pulled out a copy of our most sacred document from his jacket pocket. Then he said with the crowd still cheering "because if not, I'll be glad to lend you my copy."

It was brilliant theater which left not a dry eye in the house. Unfortunately for Mrs. Clinton who would speak later that night, she couldn't match the intensity or emotion of that moment. On the other hand, I don't think anyone possibly could have.

Mr. Khan's six minutes were the highlight of the convention, if not the entire election.


Donald Trump had a few choice reactions to Khizr Khan's address to the DNC, especially his claim that he, Trump sacrificed nothing for this country. Trump claimed that he did indeed sacrifice by becoming very successful and creating thousands of jobs. He then went on to lambast Captain Khan's hijab clad mother who stood by her husband's side at the convention but didn't speak. Trump postulated that her religion prevented her from speaking her mind.

It turns out Ghazala Khan can speak her mind thank you very much. Since Trump's asinine remarks, she has given interviews and written an op ed piece for the Washington Post. You can read that here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I see London, I see France...

I was listening to a radio piece the other day about the way our clothing reflects how people react to us, specifically young black men wearing particular items of clothing such as hooded sweatshirts that project a threatening image to some people. The "hoodie" controversy came to a head a few years ago after Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager was confronted by George Zimmerman, a self proclaimed one man citizen police force in his gated community in Florida.

The confrontation ended with  Zimmerman shooting to death the unarmed Martin whom he described as a suspicious character, namely because of his attire, you guessed it, a hooded sweatshirt.

In the aftermath of the Martin shooting and the initial failure of the police to press charges against Zimmerman, major campaigns featuring celebrities and public figures including President Obama sprung up all over the world that questioned the stereotype of people who choose to wear this particular item of clothing.

In the radio piece mentioned above, the narrator, a young African American man, interviewed an African American mother who did everything she could to discourage her teenage son from wearing hoodies and other items of clothing she feels could get him into trouble simply by wearing them. Because she forbade her son the right to wear whatever he pleased, the narrator expressed his inability to come to terms with the mother whose actions he felt contributed to the stereotype and the racism that is inherently part of it. After a long and exhausting conversation, both the interviewer and his subject began to understand one another, she finally came to terms that her son, as a young black man, is treated differently in our society than people of other races.

For his part, the interviewer admitted he began to understand that all the mother was really interested in was her son's welfare. My initial reaction to this startling revelation was "duh." Then I had a revelation of my own, the guy obviously has no idea what it's like to be a parent.

As the parent of two children, a 15 year old boy and a 9 year old girl, not a day goes by without experiencing some degree of fear over the welfare and safety of my children. Living in a city where donning the wrong color shoelace in the wrong neighborhood could get you killed, you'd better believe I'm not going to let my children leave the house wearing inappropriate clothing regardless of their perceived "right" to wear whatever they please. But it goes beyond that. The way we present ourselves to the world has a great deal of impact upon how we are judged. That may seem petty and superficial; we all like to claim that all that really matters is what the person is like on the inside, not the outside. But like it or not, first impressions play a big role in our opinions of others. The way we carry ourselves, dress and speak really does matter.

Here I'm reminded of a piece I wrote several years ago that mentioned the brilliant comic George Carlin and a routine he did called "the seven words you can't say on TV". His point was that those seven words, I'll leave it up to you to figure out which ones they are, are just that, words, no more, no less. They describe things, namely body parts and bodily functions, that other perfectly acceptable words describe. According to Carlin, what's the big deal about them, words are just words right? Please indulge me the opportunity to quote myself for a moment:
...Carlin was wrong. Words are by far our most powerful tool, more powerful than any weapon. They have the power to shape lives, inspire people to greatness and to despair, to inspire love and to inspire hate, to create and to destroy people as well as nations. Certain words in every language are reserved for the purpose of expressing unmitigated anger, to incite, to arouse or to disgust. They serve a very useful purpose (as we all know when we hit ourselves on the thumb with a hammer), when their use is limited.
I went on to say that once cuss words sneak into the common lexicon, they lose their effect and other, nastier words take their place.

To a lesser extent, what we wear speaks volumes about who we are, and how we wish to be judged. Just as certain words are inappropriate in certain situations, the same holds for our attire. Wearing tank tops, shorts and flip flops, while perfectly appropriate at the beach, would be considered the ultimate symbol of disrespect at a funeral.

Respect is what it all boils down to. Unless he is going to Jimmy Buffett's funeral, our hypothetical tank top, flip flop wearing funeral going friend may believe he is making a statement or grand gesture in his choice of attire, but all he is really doing is showing a lack of respect for those around him, and perhaps more significantly, a lack of respect for himself.

What got me thinking about all this was an incident that happened this morning. As I was taking my daughter to her summer camp, a teenage boy passed us sporting the not so recent trend in street fashion, sagging pants. Calling this kid's pants sagging would be a gross understatement as they were pulled up just above his knees not only exposing his boxer shorts, but his legs beneath the underwear.

Every generation comes up with its own kind of attire designed with the specific intention of pissing off its parents. In my day it was long, disheveled hair, ripped jeans and army jackets. To this day my mother still talks about the way I looked in high school. Today, it's almost inconceivable to encounter a person in his or her twenties or thirties without a tattoo and multiple body piercings, something that continues to make me cringe even though I'm beyond used to it. A few generations before me it was the Zoot Suit. In the Wikipedia entry on the subject, the author said:

Wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.

Like many fashion trends, the Zoot Suit was born in the African American community, and later became popular with cross-cultural hepcats. The hoodie and sagging pants also became fashionable among non-blacks.

At the risk of sounding like an old prude, I have to say that unlike all other teen fads, sagging is "fuck you" fashion taken to its extreme As ridiculous as so many teenage fashion statements over the years have appeared, what sets sagging apart in my opinion is the willingness of the sagger to humiliate himself (saggers are always hims) in public. There is a primal revulsion toward seeing someone's undergarments, so much so, small children invented the mocking chant to ridicule someone exposing his underpants, the beginning of which is the title of this post. Freedom, self-determination and rebelliousness, all of which are a part of the logic behind sagging as well as every other youthful fad ever invented, in this case take a backseat to a willingness to give up all sense of dignity and self-worth. In essence the sagger is telling the world that he doesn't give a shit about you, about society, and most importantly about himself.

So this morning the sagger my daughter and I witnessed, proceeded to squeeze his extremely skinny body through the turnstiles and up to the L platform without paying a fare. My initial reaction was explain to my daughter that his bad behavior was an isolated incident, that she shouldn't judge other people dressed like that by this guy's conduct, yadda yadda yadda. Instead I chose to let it go; my daughter is too smart for such pedantic explanations; she knows full well that guys who don't care enough about themselves to pull their pants up, certainly aren't going to care a lick about what people like her think of them.

The narrator of the radio piece would certainly object to that sentiment, especially coming from an old white guy. He might say I was perpetuating racism through stereotypes. But I beg to differ. If there is such a stereotype, it was the kid with the pants pulled up to his knees who snuck through the turnstile who is embracing it. That no doubt is the reason why I hear complaints about sagging far more often from black people than white people. As a group of people who feel a general lack of respect from community at large, it must be particularly painful to see some of their young people with such little respect for themselves.

All I could feel when I saw Mr. Underpants today was pity. I could only imagine that he lacked parents, like the woman featured in the radio piece, who loved him and tells him every day that his life means something. That woman's son was lucky because he had someone who loved and cared enough about him to tell him to pull his damn pants up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fifteen years

New York City- I can't tell you how many times I've been to New York, but I can say the last time was ten years ago. The time before that was the year 2000, one year before the terrorist attacks that shook the world and took down one of the city's most distinctive landmarks, the World Trade Center. I distinctly remember the end of that trip. I was waiting for the bus in the lobby of the North Tower of the WTC to take me to Newark Airport, but one never came. Time was getting short so I decided to spring for the cab ride rather than missing my plane. When the taxi emerged from the Holland Tunnel on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, I looked back and the Twin Towers were bathed in the most beautiful late afternoon, or as photographers call it, "golden hour" sunlight. I resolved that on my next trip, I would photograph the buildings from that vantage at that particular time of day and year. Alas, there would be no next time, it was the last time I laid eyes on the towers in person.

It would take five years after their destruction for me to return. Even though I watched both towers collapse on September 11, 2001 live on TV, a part of me refused to accept they were gone. As I flew into La Guardia in 2006 and my plane made the left turn over Brooklyn to approach the airport, I caught my first glimpse of the site where the familiar landmark once stood, and it took my breath away.

The first thing I did upon arriving in New York in 2006 was visit the site which by that time was cleared of rubble but was still a hole in the ground that resembled an enormous construction site. That is with the exception of the cross shaped beams from the destroyed building that were left on the site as a memorial and reminder of that terrible day, and the many monuments, both public and private that were displayed on the wall that was the barrier between the tremendous void of Ground Zero and the outside world.

It is almost inconceivable to me that my last visit was ten years ago. This time, accompanied by my fifteen year old son, we caught our first glimpse of One World Trade Center, completed twelve years after the destruction of its predecessor, also from the air, this time flying into JFK.

It was a bright and beautiful, but nippy September Tuesday morning almost fifteen years ago. We had tickets to the Cubs game for that evening. It would have been my then eight month old son's first baseball game. I'd been dying to take him to a game but the chill in the air combined with his tender age made me less than thrilled about going. Sitting down to breakfast, the first news report came on the radio, a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately recalled a similar event that took place during World War II when a military plane accidentally crashed into the Empire State Building, causing serious damage and loss of life. As I am wont to do during breaking news stories, I turned on the TV.

It quickly became apparent that what hit the North Tower was no small plane and no accident. The network anchor guy (no point using his name) was interviewing a witness who said the plane that hit the building was a commercial jet that appeared to be headed directly, and purposefully toward the North Tower. Incredulous, the anchor guy pressed the woman if she was absolutely sure of what she saw. Just as the words were coming out of his mouth, the shaken woman standing practically at ground zero reported exactly what she and everybody including me who had the TV on that dreadful morning saw, a second commercial jet slamming into the South Tower. "The pilot just flew that plane into the building" she screamed. Now on any given day it's unusual for one, let alone two planes fly into the same complex of buildings, so it seemed rather strange to me that the news guy continued to press the woman about how she at that point knew the crashes were deliberate.

About an hour later I was on the phone with my mother in Arizona when the South Tower collapsed. "Ten thousand people just died before my eyes" I said to her as I hung up the phone, unable to continue the conversation. It seems strange to use the word "fortunately" in the context of this event, but I overestimated that number by about a factor of ten. Fortunately many, but not everyone evacuated the South Tower when the North Tower was hit. However most of the police and firefighters who perished that day died in the South Tower as they rushed up the stairs in vain to save lives. Again fortunately, the North Tower rescuers were evacuated after the South Tower collapsed.

All through the terrible day I tried with no luck to reach two of my friends who live in New York, one of whom could very well have been at or near the World Trade Center that morning.

So began the string of events that changed the world forever. How much everything had changed that day after the optimism of the new millennium, at least once we realized that the world wasn't going to end on January 1, 2000. Instead, a little bit of it died on September 11, 2001.

Watching the horror along with my wife and me was our little boy, completely oblivious to the situation. One of my most distinct memories of that day was the innocent little smile on his face as the most unimaginable horrors played out on the TV in our living room. It would be several years before we talked about 9/11 with him. We didn't know how the thought of people hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings would affect him, this after all is a boy who still covers his eyes when commercials for scary  movies appear on the tube.

It turned out that real horror of history didn't effect him as much as graphic, fictional horror; he was fascinated with the story. Flash forward fifteen years and for the first time, son, born the same year as the terrorist attack, and father just stood together at the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero. It took ten years and one day before the Memorial officially opened to the public. It was worth it.

Reflecting pool and waterfall on the former site of the North Tower
of the World Trade Center
As we've seen with the memorials in Washington DC, people come out of the woodwork when it comes time to express an opinion over the slightest commemorative work. Multiply that by 2,977, the number of innocent people who died on that day in New York City, Arlington, VA, and Shanksville, PA., and further still with all people they left behind, and you get an idea of what it had to be like to come up with the design for the memorial to one of the most gut wrenching moments in American history.

As the remains of many of the victims were never recovered, it was  appropriate not to build above the site of the Twin Towers, despite the tremendous value of the property. As a consequence, the single tower that replaced the twin towers is squeezed rather awkwardly between the monument and the Art Deco AT&T Building to the north. So be it.

On the actual site of the Twin Towers sit two reflecting pools, one for each building, sunken a couple dozen feet below grade level. The pools are fed by water cascading from the parapets that line the pools. The names of the victims are inscribed into the parapets. The names are arranged, not alphabetically, but according to the relationship between the victims; people who worked and died together are found side by side in the monument. The names of the.victims who died at the Pentagon and aboard all four hijacked aircraft are also found at the monument. The unborn children of several of the victims were also noted. On the rest of the site of what was once the enormous wind-swept plaza that connected the towers, today stand hundreds of white oak and sweet gum trees.

It is almost impossible to imagine anything built on this patch of land not being tremendously powerful and moving, and the monument as it exists today, certainly will disappoint no one. The designers, Michael Arad, Peter Walker and the partnerships of  Davis Brody Bond and Snøhetta, beyond creating an original work, have borrowed the best concepts from the two Washington memorials, those dedicated to the Korean and Vietnam Wars, fitting them brilliantly into this very specific site. Over the years as the trees begin to mature, the monument will only become more beautiful. Despite its success as a piece of design, the true power of the monument comes from the people who visit it. Obviously the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, lovers and friends of the victims bring to the site a power and purpose that the best design in the world could not come close to matching. The real quality of the design will begin to take effect, only after all those people are gone. Unfortunately I won't be around to make a critical assessment when that happens.

However I was able to bring my own sense of memory and loss to our visit. Along with my son, I visited the site with two of my oldest and dearest friends, the people I desperately tried to reach on the morning of September 11. Brooklynites, my friends lost eight members of their local fire department when the South Tower collapsed.

Along with three of the closest people in my life, all paying a large role in my memories of 9/11 (my wife unfortunately couldn't make the trip to New York), visiting the memorial brought the event around full circle, after nearly fifteen years.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Sniper in Dallas

Where have I heard those words before?

Back in college drama class, our teacher asked if anyone knew who J.D.Tippit was. Only one person raised his hand. It was my life-long obsession with the JFK assassination that enabled me to know that Tippet was the Dallas police officer who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (although JFK conspiracy theorists would beg do differ on that point), during the manhunt for the killer of President Kennedy.

The point of the question was to examine the nature of Classical tragedy whose subjects were inevitably the high and mighty, not your average Joe. In this case: the deaths of two people in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 were intrinsically tied together. Both victims were shot by the same man (allegedly), both were World War II veterans roughly the same age who left behind grieving wives and small children. In the general sense, both deaths were tragic, yet one sent shockwaves around the world and has been recorded in history as a major event in American if not world history. The other decedent, while receiving some press coverage at the time of his death, has gone on to become a historical footnote. Scores of articles, books, films, plays, even an opera have been written about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As far as I know, not a single book, let alone opera has been written about J.D. Tippet. By virtue of position and his tragic end, one name to this day is known by the majority of people on the planet while the other name is known, as my classroom experience nearly forty years ago proved, by only a shrinking handful.

There is one concession to the dead policeman and his place in history, a historical marker in Dallas commemorating Tippit and his sacrifice, although it took 49 years to build it. At its unveiling in 2012, a state official said:
Officer Tippit did what hundreds of Dallas police officers do and have done every day... He did his job, and as a result he gave the ultimate sacrifice, and we as a community should never forget what happened on that day.
Sadly we'll be hearing similar words in the weeks to come, describing the five Dallas police officers who were ambushed during an otherwise peaceful demonstration, protesting the deaths of several African American men across the country in recent years, killed by police officers. The most recent of these deaths happened just this past week, one in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, the other in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

And like the deaths of Officer Tippit and President Kennedy, the deaths of officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith, will be intrinsically connected to the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and dozens of other African American men who died at the hands of police in the last couple of years.

While each of those deaths is equally tragic, there is a disconnect between the deaths of the police officers and the men killed by the police. Rather than placing equal weight on every loss of life, to many individuals in this country, the narrative of these men's deaths will be colored by the political ideology of the individual.

For some, the men who were killed by the police were resisting arrest, they may not have deserved to die, but definitely played a role in their own deaths. For others, the Dallas police officers may or may not have themselves done anything wrong, but all police are in some way complicit in the abuse of their authority and the institutional racism that is a part of their profession. To some, the violence against police brutality, especially as it exists in relation to the African American community, while not acceptable, is understandable.

As has been the case in this country for a long time, national tragedies such as these, instead of bringing us together as they should, have hardened hearts and torn us even more apart. The disconnect between the African American men killed by the police in recent years and the police officers killed in Dallas last Thursday night, is a perfect metaphor for the hardening divide we are experiencing in this nation today.

It is that divide that prevents individuals from thinking clearly and forming rational opinions. It's true for both the left and the right. We've slipped back into the habit of labeling people as groups rather than recognizing them as individuals. To some, all police are corrupt, brutal and racist; to others, all black people have the potential for violence.

That is the reason why every civilian death at the hands of police is treated equally by some. As I pointed out in my post about Laquan McDonald last November, that is a mistake. As you may recall, McDonald was a Chicago teenager on a vandalism spree who was shot sixteen times by an Chicago Police Department officer. From a video of McDonald's death taken from a police car dashboard-cam, it is very evident that while the teenager was indeed resisting arrest, he posed no imminent threat to anyone, including the officers on the scene. The cop who emptied his gun into McDonald and was re-loading when his partner told him to hold his fire, has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

The McDonald case, along with its subsequent cover-up by the CPD and the City of Chicago to me represents nothing less than the most egregious example of governmental malfeasance and criminal behavior on the part of the police. However, in each of the other well documented cases over the past several years, many of which were also documented on video, none were so clear cut. That is not to say the killings were justified, rather from the evidence presented, the acts of the police and the victims were ambiguous, and different interpretations of their motivations and actions are possible. While every civilian death at the hands of the police is a tragedy, no two are the same, nor should they be treated as such.

It has been pointed out that African Americans and other minorities are singled out by the police and treated differently from whites. The people making these claims have a point, but the extent to which that is true is debatable and the issue has been grossly over-simplified by the press and social media over the past few years.

Of the 484 people killed by the police in this country so far this year. 238 of them were white, and 123, or 25 percent of them were black. That number is still disproportionate to the population of African Americans in this country which stands at around 13 percent. In all fairness, it must also be pointed out that violent crimes (including the murder of police officers) are committed by African Americans in numbers disproportionate to their population as well. The reasons for this are many, but it is still an indisputable fact. It is also a fact that the victims of violent crime are disproportionately black. It should surprise no one that there might be a cause and effect relationship between the crime rate in the black community and the response from police, yet a casual observer whose source of news comes from one particular point of view, might assume that police only harass and kill black people in this country, while white criminals are given a free pass. The numbers simply do not support that assumption.

That is not to say that horrendous injustices involving the police do not take place far too often in this country. On the other hand, it is simply wrong to lump all police men and women together as brutal, racist thugs who abuse their authority.

The deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling last week bring a new dynamic into the picture. Unlike many of the well publicized deaths of black individuals at the hands of law enforcement officials, these two men were armed with guns during their confrontations with the police. Castile was stopped in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, on the pretext that his car had a broken tail light; the cops apparently thought he matched the description of a robbery suspect. In order to avoid any misunderstanding. Castile responsibly informed the officers that he had a valid conceal/carry permit and in fact had a gun in his possession. When he reached (presumably) for his drivers licence as requested by one of the officers, the other officer opened fire (again presumably) assuming Castile was reaching for his gun. Castile's girlfriend and her four year old daughter were in the car at the time of the shooting.

Alton Sterling was selling CDs outside a food store in Baton Rouge. Someone, reportedly a homeless man, approached Sterling asking for money. When the man persisted, Sterling allegedly produced his weapon, prompting the man to phone the police. When they arrived, a struggle ensued and Sterling was shot when the cops discovered his gun.

As individuals carrying weapons presumably for their own protection, both Castile and Sterling it would seem, would be poster children for the gun crowd, who advocates the arming of private citizens. But the NRA has remained uncharacteristically silent after their deaths. No cries of foul that the police violated the men's civil rights to bear arms were sounded. Now it's true that Sterling as a convicted felon, could not have legally obtained a carry permit, but all indications lead to the fact that he was carrying the weapon for his own safety. Castile as we saw was authorized to carry a gun and was well within his legal rights.

So why the silence from the NRA? Is it because as some people suggest they are a racist organization who would have cried bloody murder had Castile and Sterling been white? Or do the tragic deaths of these two individuals serve as yet another reminder that the stance that we'd all be safer if we carried a gun is ludicrous? I suppose only the NRA knows the answer to that question and they're are not talking.

Finally there was the terrible shooting in Dallas where a former soldier opened fire and killed five police officers and injured many more, including civilians, apparently in retaliation for the killings of black men across the country by law enforcement officials. Ironically, the Dallas Police Department has a relatively good record when it comes to its relationship with the sizable African American community of that city. Not to go into a psychological profile of the killer, but it seems clear to me that like so many Americans, he was swept into a frenzy because of the current obsession of the press and social media, concentrating on the misdeeds of cops toward the African American community, without putting them into context.

A video that has gone viral shows a black woman from St. Louis commenting about violent protests that took place in her city over an African American man who was shot and killed by police after he pulled a gun on them. That same evening she points out, in the suburb of Ferguson, a young black girl who was doing her homework, was killed by a stray bullet that came from a gun used in a drive-by shooting that found its way into her bedroom. Not a soul protested the little girl's death. The truth is far more black people die at the hands of other black people in this country than by police. Yet in some circles, this is irrelevant as it is apparently not an appropriate topic for discussion.

Then there are the guns. The events of last week showed time and again how ridiculous is the notion that civilians carrying guns in public is a good idea. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile lost their lives because they were carrying guns. And it took an army of well trained, heavily armed law enforcement officials, with the help of an exploding robot to bring down the Dallas sniper. Imagine if armed protesters at the demonstration had decided to do a little freelance police work on their own, no doubt dozens of innocent people would have died. Instead, the civilians at the protest, many of whom we can assume were armed (it was Texas after all), ran for their lives, which turned out to be the sensible thing to do.

The pro gun crowd constantly complains about folks on the other side who use a terrible tragedy to promote their anti-gun agenda. Well it turns out terrible tragedies involving guns are occurring at a rate of about two or three per week these days so tell me, where is the opportunity to talk openly about guns when no such tragedy occurs? They say that laws restricting guns only affect law abiding citizens, since criminals who by nature of their being criminals, aren't going to be concerned about following any law. Fair enough. But consider this: our ever increasing relaxation of laws prohibiting firearms has a direct effect on the number of weapons manufactured. No one knows for sure but most data suggests there are more guns in the United States (approximately 300 million) than there are people. It has also been estimated that there are about twice as many guns today in this country than there were fifty years ago. Criminals don't make their guns themselves, they either buy them or steal them. And the overwhelming supply of guns in this country makes them ridiculously cheap and easy to get, including weapons of mass destruction like the semi-automatic assault rifles used in the Orlando mass shooting a few weeks ago, and in Dallas last week. Those guns are capable of discharging as many rounds of ammunition per minute as the shooter is capable of pulling the trigger.

As for the idea of "good guys with guns", well as someone put it in an online comment, the Dallas sniper, a U.S. Army veteran, was once a good guy with a gun.

Let's face it, we have many serious problems in this country, and finger pointing, marching and posturing, satisfying as they may be to the people who engage in them, aren't going to do much good. These problems, just like the deaths mentioned above, are all interconnected; cherry picking one problem or another based upon our political convictions simply will not work. We can't address the abuse of police authority without also addressing black on black crime, white privilege, and racism. We can't address racism or black on black crime without addressing poverty and a lack of jobs and education in the black community. We can't address those issues without addressing issues like the rapid decline of the two parent family and the idea of personal responsibility. We can't address the issue of crime and violence without addressing all of the above AND the availability of guns. And like it or not, we can't address the issue of the availability of guns without addressing the issue of how we can control the sale, manufacture and possession of firearms without violating constitutional rights. Until we find a way to listen to the other side, work out our differences, be willing to compromise, and honestly come to terms with issues that are inconvenient for us, we can only expect more of the same.

All the catchy slogans in the world aren't going to solve any problems. Yes I get it, black lives do matter and guns don't kill people, people kill people.

It's just so much more damn complicated than that.