Much of America's history has been defined by the quest to determine and then extend our civil rights. In my lifetime, that effort has including pushing for equal schools and for racial integration of public facilities, for the right of every qualified citizen to vote, for equal rights for women, for the disabled, and for gay people, among others. Big issues, big struggles.
The right to breathe seems like a no-brainer.
But recently I'm starting to wonder. Across America this winter, marchers took up the cry of "I can't breathe" when a police officer on Staten Island used a banned chokehold to kill a suspect whose primary offense was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Now, there's an uproar about a shocking case (OK, many not shocking...there's been so many like this) in Oklahoma in which a part-time deputy reached for a Taser and pulled out his gun instead, shooting a criminal suspect to death. As the man lay dying on the pavement, he told deputies that he couldn't breathe.
I can't remember exactly who, when, or even what channel it was the other day when I heard them talking about Hillary Clinton running for president. Heck, if they moved all the talking heads talking about Hillary on the airwaves to just one 24/7 cable news channel, that would drastically reduce the air time now given over to rumor, idle speculation and the occasional rare nugget of factual information about the woman who would be our 45th president. Anyway, one of the professional pundocrats was arguing that the Democratic frontrunner faces tough sledding -- that she was derailed in 2008 because she represented the past in what became "a change election," and now the 2016 election will be about change all over again.
If you think like a TV pundit racing from Green Room to Green Room, that actually makes sense. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, just 32 percent of the nation thinks that America is on the right track, a number that's held fairly level through most of the last two presidencies. The public rates its leaders poorly as well -- Congress has approval numbers lower than pretty much every group besides ISIS, and the flood of folks volunteering to join the Islamic State makes me wonder even about that. (Has anyone ever gone on Twitter and pledged allegiance to Congress?) President Obama's supporters do a jig when his numbers eek up to 50 percent. Beyond the numbers, many have given up on the American Dream. The nation, outside of its trusty hedge-fund operatives, hasn't seen a raise in close to a generation, and breaking the career circle of life for the 99 Percent seems based more on who you know than what you can accomplish.
Still, having said all that, I don't think 2016 is a "change" election, not at all. In fact, if Obama could run for a third term, I think he'd win and get the same 52-53 percent that he got the first two times, maybe even slightly better as the nation's demographics continue to evolve. I just don't see much evidence that the American voter is looking for change next year.
My brother was a man of love and sentiment and compassion. He would not have wanted his death to be cause for the taking of another life.
This is what they mean by closing the loop. The circle starts with this quote from an open letter written by Sen. Edward Kennedy to the Los Angeles district attorney on May 18, 1969 -- pleading for the life of Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating his brother Bobby Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign.
That episode is actually one of my earliest political memories. I was 10 years old at the time, and I was having a hard time reconciling what I was learning every week in Sunday school -- that it was a sin to take another life -- with the notion that society still executed criminals. The grace and compassion of the Kennedy family -- affirming what they believed was morally right, even when it involved avenging the death of a beloved family member -- was something that really made an impression on me at that young age.
This was the day after the shock video of the killing of Walter Scott -- the unarmed, black South Carolina man whose death that was captured on a smartphone -- that led to a rare murder arrest of the officer who shot him. And our leaders seemed to grasp for their dictionary of cliches
It was "awfully hard to watch," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest -- a comment that I've heard or read a lot in the last 24 hours. Another one I heard -- from the mayor of North Charleston, S.C., where the shooting occurred, and from others -- was along the lines of, "I watched the video, and what I saw sickened me."
I get it. It is hard to find the right words when you watch a man -- a guy with four kids and a fiancee -- shot in the back and then handcuffed while he bleeds to death. But it would be nice if someone high up the political food chain said something like, "Things need to change in this country. We all need to try to make sure this kind of thing never happens again!"
Here are some things that we know about Walter Scott.
Scott was a 50-year-old black man, pulled over on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C., by a white member of that city's predominantly white police force, for driving with a broken tail light.
He was not armed.
The early days of April have brought the bright hope of spring sunshine, and a bitter cross-current of chilly winds. That's fitting for a time of year that we ponder how hard it is to be an apostle of non-violence in this world. It was noted here last week that a gunman put a premature end to the peace-and-justice activism of Dr. Martin Luther King on the evening of April 4, some 47 years ago. At the same time, Christians around the world celebrated the life, death and resurrection on Easter weekend of Jesus Christ -- a prophet of non-violence who was crucified by an evil empire frightened by his message of love.
One of the hallmarks of Easter Sunday in modern times is the Pope appearing before a large throng in the Vatican and appealing for world peace. And 2015 was no exception. Pope Francis addressed a dizzying array of bloodshed from Kenya to Libya and elsewhere, but this year the pontiff sounded one hopeful note, about fresh hopes that a deal over Iran's nuclear program will prevent a devastating war in the Middle East:
Francis made his first public comments about the recent framework for an accord, reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, and aimed at ensuring Iran doesn't develop a nuclear weapon.
On Saturday, the world will stop once again -- as it should -- to remember arguably the greatest American of the last 100 years, Dr. Martin Luther King. April 4 will mark 47 years since an American sniper gunned down the civil rights leader on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The year that both King and Sen. Robert Kennedy were assassinated, 1968, was not so coincidentally one of the few moments that the nation was able to enact gun regulations. It was a time when the nation, collectively, was desperate to tackle a violent streak that seemed to be threatening the great American experiment.
It's become more than a bit of a cliche to say that an esteemed figure, like Martin Luther King, would be "spinning in his grave" over something that's happening now. But it's indeed hard to imagine what King -- who remained remarkably, stoically committed to the principle of non-violence, despite a lifetime of provocation -- would have thought of the words coming from one of his heirs at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, the group that he founded and led during the 1960s.
This is what the SCLC chapter head in King's home state of Georgia -- a man named Samuel Mosteller -- told reporters last week. He was responding to a spate of shooting of black suspects by police, including two recent deaths near Atlanta -- one involving a mentally distressed Afghanistan war veteran who was not only unarmed but naked when an officer shot him.
In the Philadelphia mayor's race, to call environmental issues an afterthought would mean giving afterthoughts too much credit. Admittedly, the seven major-party candidates for City Hall have a lot on their minds -- a schools crisis, neverending issues with crime and policing -- so there's not much time left for pondering the fate of the earth.
Environmentalism -- today, as was the case 40 years ago -- tend to get reduced in this blue-collar metropolis to "jobs." All of the candidates are eager to talk about Philadelphia as a high-tech "energy hub" because of the paychecks. Building the city's economy around fossil fuels -- a leading contributor to worldwide climate change -- doesn't strike anyone as much of a thing.
Global warming? That's someone else's problem. Today, that someone else is the governor of California, Jerry Brown.