BIRMINGHAM, Ala., June 10 – There is a famous story about editors at the New York Times I learned while working with the elite of the elite a few years back.
Reporters who make the big leagues of American journalism hear this story and learn to deal with it in their own way.
As the story goes, when an editor calls a reporter in the field in a place like Birmingham, Alabama, and asks: “Is the community torn asunder down there?” The reporter, if he wants to keep his job, is supposed to not only answer, “yes.” You are supposed to provide direct quotations from people in the community who will corroborate the premise of the story, to back up the lede, so to speak.
There have been many situations when my own instincts and the facts on the ground did not support the premise, and in fact, the opposite, counterintuitive truth is often the case.
And since I am in the business of calling it like I see it and telling it like it is, I often reported the truth on the ground and to hell with what a bunch of editors in New York think.
But today, in the story I am about to report, I think it is safe to say that this community is torn asunder. It’s just that in this case, the editors in New York could care less. Why? Because the story does not involve Paris Hilton or the Red State-Blue State, Conservative-Liberal, Democrat-Republican divide.
The story involves a little old man named Clay Blake, 78, who lives right down the street from here.
This past Tuesday afternoon around 1 p.m., in what we like to call “broad daylight,” Mr. Blake was unloading some groceries from his pickup truck. And up walked a mixed up young man – who should never have been in the possession of a hand gun – and held up Mr. Blake. He forced this little old man who never hurt anyone in his life into the house he has lived in for the past 40 years.
Once inside, this young man, of the African-American persuasion, tied little old Mr. Blake up with the power cord from a vacuum cleaner. He then kicked Mr. Blake in the face, rendering him unconscious.
When Mr. Blake came to, he discovered his wallet and a couple of pistols missing, and then made a phone call and had himself checked into the hospital at Medical Center East.
The neighborhood was all abuzz about this dastardly dead after the crime brief hit the Birmingham News on Saturday.
What this mixed up young man who committed this crime does not understand is that his already sad and pathetic life is about to take a drastic turn for the worse. Maybe the money he stole went to purchase some food and bought him another day of life on this planet. Or maybe it just went for some crack cocaine to make him fell better about himself for a few measly minutes.
Either way, this young man is about to be found out and turned in to authorities in ways he will never comprehend. And he will either end up in prison or dead.
Maybe he would be better off dead. Or maybe he should never have been born in the first place, if his mixed up single mama had been told by someone cool that there is a such thing as a condom – and that there is no shame in using one.
Now here is where the politics and sociology of the situation get interesting beyond the basic facts about the crime. If only she had been told that this is a black and tan world, not a black and white world, maybe none of this would ever have happened.
What do I mean by that?
It’s like this. There are some racist, conservative members of this community who would like to hang this little shit up by his toes and torture him to death for his crime. But these are the same Republican voters who oppose birth control – and taxes for prisons. It is just bad public policy to think you can have it both ways.
When the church and the state both advocate unworkable policies and try to tell teenagers to “abstain” from sex, and deny them a real education about sex and intelligent alternatives to unwanted pregnancies and the spiraling down nature of poverty, what kinds of bad decisions can we expect in our communities?
And this is particularly acute in a town like Birmingham, where both races still suffer from the sting and distrust of segregation.
At least in a place like New Orleans, the races lived in relative proximity of one another and in relative harmony for 300 hundred years. It is different in Birmingham, where the clash of the races in the newer, sprawling suburbs comes into specific relief every time an incident like this one is reported.
The African-American community in and around Birmingham will never trust white people, and the whites will keep trying to escape these kinds of crimes by moving further and further out into the country toward Blount and St. Clair Counties.
Meanwhile, nothing is done to try and bring people together and get them to understand the larger facts on the ground. And this serves only the politicians on the right and the left who get themselves elected by using the great divide to scare people and keep them down.
If only people could understand that there is no such thing as a simple, black and white world. There are an abundance of shades of gray out there.
What we need is a government that tackles practical solutions to real problems. One real problem that is leading to the current crime wave is the growing divide between the rich and the poor, fed by a mostly Republican effort to keep wages down so large corporations can make more and higher profits for mostly white stockholders.
This is an unsustainable world where all the problems in society are going to get worse, not better. And for every conservative who listens to talk radio and Fox News who likes to say, “that’s the American way,” here’s a fact for you.
The founding fathers of this democratic republic had in mind an egalitarian society with a large middle class with equal opportunities for all. They DID NOT envision a so-called “Christian” nation modeled after the Monarchies of Europe.
You can say it all day long every day. But that does not make it true.
And what is so Christian anyway about a society that discriminates on the basis of race and class? Nothing.
So show me a Democrat or a Republican politician who understands these things, and he or she will get my vote, black or white.
Now call me a liberal and dismiss what I have to say – you idiot so-called conservative lurkers.
We say there is a two-word phrase for anyone who plays that game. In the perfect, fictional world of Locustforkland, where the river runs cold and true, the great blue herons dance like Elvis and the people like to shoot the breeze (and they are usually right), we like to call you “Alabama dumbasses.”
And of course we are right.