Copyright: 123rf.com Stock Photo

Absolute Power

“The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand that all the images be turned over and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.”

This was the Washington Post a few days ago, informing us wearily that the torture thing isn’t dead yet. The bureaucracy convulses, the wheels of justice grind. So much moral relativism to evaluate.

“They did what they were asked to do in the service of our nation,” CIA director John Brennan said at a news conference in December, defending CIA interrogators after a portion of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report was made public.

Serving the nation means no more than doing what you’re told.

God bless America. Flags wave, fireworks burst on the horizon. Aren’t we terrific? But this idea we celebrate — this nation, this principled union of humanity — is just a military bureaucracy, full of dark secrets. The darkest, most highly classified secret of all is that we’re always at war and we always will be. And war is an end in itself. It has no purpose beyond its own perpetuation.

This is the context of torture.

At least this is what occurred to me as I reflected on the most recent non-news, that the existence of multi-thousands of photographs of U.S. black site operations are out there somewhere, classified but known and pulsing. What more can we learn that we don’t already know?

“On Nov. 20, 2002, (Gul) Rahman was found dead in his unheated cell. He was naked from the waist down and had been chained to a concrete floor. An autopsy concluded that he probably froze to death.”

So the Los Angeles Times informed us in December, in an article about two psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were serving their country in the early days of the War on Terror by developing the CIA’s torture methodology.

“When he was left alone,” the article reported, describing another detainee’s experience, “(Abu) Zubaydah ‘was placed in a stress position, left on a waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes.’

“In all, he spent 266 hours — 11 days and two hours — locked in the pitch-dark coffin, and 29 hours in a much smaller box. In response, he ‘cried,’ ‘begged,’ ‘whimpered’ and grew so distressed that ‘he was unable to effectively communicate,’ the interrogation team reported.

“The escalating torment, especially the waterboarding, affected some on the CIA team. ‘It is visually and psychologically very uncomfortable,’ one wrote. Several days later, another added, ‘Several on the team profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears and choking up.’”

And a few weeks ago, The (U.K.) Telegraph, quoting from the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, described the experience of Majid Khan, who “was raped while in CIA custody (‘rectal feeding’). He was sexually assaulted in other ways as well, including by having his ‘private parts’ touched while he was hung naked from the ceiling. . . .

“‘Majid had an uncovered bucket for a toilet, no toilet paper, a sleeping mat and no light. . . . For much of 2003 he lived in total darkness.’”

And the awkward part of all this, for defenders of the military bureaucracy, is that these torture procedures produced no information of any value. We sold our soul to the devil and got nothing at all in return. Bad deal.

Whatever details about the torture program remain classified and buried, these stories, along with plenty of shocking photographs, are fully public. There’s enough data here to open a deep conversation about what it means to be a nation and what the limits of power ought to be. What I see instead is a sort of official resignation — on the part of media and government — to the inevitability of out-of-control power in the pursuit of self-defense.

Philip Zimbardo called this phenomenon the Lucifer Effect: the utterly corrupting nature of total power over others. Reports of CIA torture are rife with observations that the interrogators were out of control. The information they sought from the utterly powerless detainees in their keep was a treasure to be extracted, like oil or diamonds from the bowels of the earth, and no technique was too inhumane, too morally odious, to achieve that end. Call it human fracking. It’s for the good of America.

The awareness that must emerge from a decade-and-counting of torture revelations is that absolute power over others does not keep us safe and should not be pursued. And torture is only a minute fraction of the wrong we promulgate through unchecked militarism, the aim of which is domination of the planet.

Step one in the unhealthy pursuit of power is the dehumanization of “the enemy.” The consequences of what we do after that will always haunt us.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

Raven-YourVoice-9

What Will We Learn?

Editor’s Note: This article is used with permission from Frances Fuller. It first appeared on Frances’s blog. 

I happened to be in Burlington, N.C., when a man asked me, “Are those people (the Arabs) just wired differently than we are, so that they like to fight?”

Of course, you can guess what I said. They are not. Violence is not an Arab trait. It is a human trait.

The history of the world illustrates this, the Middle East conflict being a mere example. We humans have always tried to solve our problems by killing others. Another horror in our own country reminds us of this. It happened several days ago in Charleston, South Carolina. In a church.

(In some other countries people may be asking, “Are those Americans just wired differently than we are, so that they kill people for the color of their skin? And in a holy place?”)  We don’t understand it ourselves and are wondering: What kind of monster could do this?

According to the news: a 21-year-old, white male, a “quiet” boy.  One who had expressed ridiculous fears: “black people are taking over the world.” One who knew enough history to regret that the Confederacy lost the Civil War and so intended to re-ignite the conflict. A racist who used his birthday money to buy a gun and carried it into a church. That’s not all, of course, but enough to make my point.

We would like to believe that everything about this event was surprising, an anomaly that no one could have predicted, that the young man had mental problems and just snapped. But let’s not fool ourselves.

Once one of my grown sons astutely observed that he and his siblings could do nothing without their parents knowing the antecedents. It is true. Their adult behavior started in childhood. Not only could we see everything coming, but we contributed, intentionally and not. Dylann Roof, too, dropped clues along the way, and he did not get where he is all alone. None of us ever has. Whether we are high achievers or drop outs, good neighbors or criminals, we had help to become who we are.

Because of this certainty, I often have troubling thoughts about young people who have committed crimes. Not long ago, for instance, a few miles from where I live, a teenager from an affluent family, broke into the home of an elderly couple and murdered them in their beds. He was deemed a monster and incarcerated for life, with no opportunity for parole. I kept looking at his picture in the paper and thinking. He is a kid. For all of his life he has been someone’s responsibility. How did a family, a California community, a school, a culture manage to shape him into a murderer? I know he did not get there alone, but only he went to prison.

I think a lot, too, about some of the people we call terrorists, because I have met some of them, in Jordan and Syria and Lebanon. Charming and kind young men, when they feel that charm and kindness are appropriate. Men with a sense of history, looking for a cause. Men who feel oppressed, bear grudges and harbor fears that easily become hatred. Often educated and jobless, they need a reason to hope. They did not get where they are alone but are products of a situation, society, peer pressure, the values of their culture. When they get guns in their hands, they feel better—powerful and in control. In their shoes, a lot of us would join their militia. But we are not in their shoes, so we support other young men, dear to our hearts, to go far from home and fight them. To know somehow the participants of war on both sides is to expose the heart to an unspeakable grief, similar in a way to being a shamed white Christian, watching black brothers and sisters weep in South Carolina.

So where has this thread of painful monologue taken me?

Only to the obvious, that Dylann Roof has antecedents also. He is a human being, a young human being, a product of the world he grew up in. A short time ago he was a child, listening, absorbing, imitating his elders. He did not become what he is without help, deliberate or accidental. It took history, family, friends, culture, country, all of us.

Now, the society that nurtured him and permitted him a tool of destruction will condemn him and incarcerate him for life, if not kill him.

But what will we learn?   Can we face the truth that we are racist? Can we master in ourselves the evil human impulse to kill? Do we have the courage to teach our children Jesus’ way, that it is better to absorb violence than to commit it? Are we willing to work together, all of us in our diversity, to create peace in our own country? Are we smart enough to prevent terrorism all over the world instead of preparing for perpetual war? Are we grieved enough to take drastic actions and get our world off this dangerous road?

 

 

FrancesFrances Fuller spent thirty years in the violent Middle East and for twenty-four of those years was the director of a Christian publishing program with offices in Lebanon. While leading the development of spiritual books in the Arabic language, she survived long years of civil war and invasions.

Frances holds degrees in Journalism, Creative Writing and Religious Education, and she studied Arabic at Georgetown University. She and her husband, James Wayne Fuller, live now in the foothills of the Sierras in California. They have five children, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Her book, In Borrowed Houses, has won multiple awards and is available from Westbow Press, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

Photo credit:  Mohamedou Slahi photo: International Committee of the Red Cross

Before The Dawn

Each year, throughout the Muslim world, believers participate in the month-long Ramadan fast. Here in Kabul, where I’m a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, our household awakens at 2:15 a.m. to prepare a simple meal before the fast begins at about 3:00 a.m. I like the easy companionship we feel, seated on the floor, sharing our food. Friday, the day off, is household clean-up day, and it seemed a bit odd, to be sweeping and washing floors in the pre-dawn hours, but we tended to various tasks and then caught a nap before heading over to meet the early bird students at the Street Kids School, a project my hosts are running for child laborers who otherwise couldn’t go to school.

I didn’t nap – I was fitful and couldn’t, my mind filled with images from a memoir, Guantanamo Diary, which I’ve been reading since arriving here.  Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s story of being imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002 rightly disturbs me. In all his years of captivity, he has never been charged with a crime. He has suffered grotesque torture, humiliation and mistreatment, and yet his memoir includes many humane, tender accounts, including remembrances of past Ramadan fasts spent with his family.

Describing his early time in a Jordanian prison, he writes:

“It was Ramadan, and so we got two meals served, one at sunset and the second before the first light. The cook woke me up and served me my early meal. Suhoor is what we call this meal; it marks the beginning of our fasting, which lasts until sunset. At home, it’s more than just a meal. The atmosphere matters. My older sister wakes everybody and we sit together eating and sipping the warm tea and enjoying each other’s company.”

I’ve never heard Muslims complain about being hungry and thirsty as they await the fast-breaking meal. Nor have I heard people brag about contributions they’ve made to alleviate the sufferings of others, although I know Islam urges such sharing during Ramadan and aims to build empathy for those afflicted by ongoing hunger and thirst. Mohamedou relied on empathy to help him through some of his most intense anguish and fear.

 I was thinking about all my innocent brothers who were and still are being rendered to strange places and countries,” he writes, describing a rendition trip from Senegal to Mauritania, “and I felt solaced and not alone anymore. I felt the spirits of unjustly mistreated people with me. I had heard so many stories about brothers being passed back and forth like a soccer ball just because they have once been in Afghanistan, or Bosnia, or Chechnya. That’s screwed up! Thousands of miles away, I felt the warm breath of these other unjustly treated individuals comforting me.

 A judge ordered Mohamedou’s immediate release in 2010. But the Obama administration appealed the decision, leaving him in a legal limbo.

From 1988 to 1991, Mohamedou had studied electrical engineering in Germany. In early 1991, he spent seven weeks, in Afghanistan, learning how to use mortars and light weapons, training which would allow him to join the U.S.-backed insurgency against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. He was one of Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters.” In early 1992, when the communist supported Afghan government was near collapse, he again went to Afghanistan and, for three weeks, fought with insurgents to overtake the city of Gardez. Kabul fell shortly thereafter. Mohamedou soon saw that the Mujahedeen insurgents were fighting amongst themselves over power grabs. He didn’t want to be part of this fight and so he went back to Germany, then Canada and, eventually, home to Mauritania, where he was arrested and “rendered” to Jordan for questioning, at last arriving in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base on his way to Guantanamo.

1-12-14-white-house-rally Witness Against Torture

Photo credit: Witness Against Torture rally at White House, Jan. 12, 2014 photo: Witness Against Torture campaign

I wonder how he is feeling as he observes Ramadan without his family for the 13th consecutive year. I wish he could know that growing numbers of people in the U.S. believe he should be released and want to help atone for the suffering he has endured. Martha Hennessy, who arrived in Kabul with me several weeks ago, hurried back to the U.S. to face charges for protesting against U.S. legitimation of torture only to learn that both of the Witness Against Torture campaign cases scheduled for trial that week were dismissed.   Perhaps public opinion now requires that the U.S. Department of Justice recognize that activists’ right and duty to protest the cruel abuses of U.S. torture policies.

I wish Mohamedou could visit Afghanistan again, not as part of a training camp for insurgents, not as a terrified, shackled prisoner, but as a guest of the community here. A former U.S. military person dropped by the Street Kids School on Friday morning. The U.S. Air Force trained her to operate weaponized drones over Afghanistan. Now, she comes to Afghanistan annually to plant trees all over the country.   She feels deep remorse for the time in her life when she helped attack Afghans.

I don’t believe in training anyone to use weapons, but as I read Mohamedou’s words about his brothers who went to foreign countries as fighters, I thought of the Pentagon’s recent practice runs, over the New Mexico desert, training people to fire the terrifying Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a bunker buster bomb which is 20 feet long, weighs 15 tons and carries about 5,300 pounds of explosives. People in the U.S. should consider how their horror at the violence of U.S. enemies encourages and exonerates the far more crushing violence of their own government, engaged at this moment in conflicts throughout the developing world and armed with weapons capable of extinguishing all human life within minutes.

On this fast day, I remember that many U.S. people worry, like anyone anywhere, about the hardships a new day may bring, in a dangerous and uncertain time that seems to be dawning on every nation and the species as a whole.  In the U.S., we carry the added knowledge that most of the world lives much more poorly – in a material sense, at least – than we do, and that were the sun to truly rise upon the U.S., with familiar words of equality and justice truly realized, we would have to share much of our wealth with a suffering world.

We would learn to “live simply so that others might simply live.”  We would find deep satisfaction in beholding faces like those of my friends gathered for a friendly morning meal before a day of voluntary fasting.  Or, like Mohamedou,  find warmth in the imagined breath of others sharing involuntary hardships. “Another world  is not only possible,” writes author and activist Arundhoti Roy,  “she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” U.S. people must know that life in the daylight might also be the start of an unaccustomed fast.

When will day break? I haven’t a clock nearby to tell me when, but I can’t go back to sleep. When I see the children adapt so readily to the schooling denied them, when I watch my young friends struggle eagerly to take the small steps allowed them, sowing seeds of mutual understanding or planting trees in Kabul, and when I read such grace and dignity in the words of Mohamedou Ould Slahi after years of torture, I have to believe that a dawn will come. For now, it remains a blessing to work alongside people awake together, even in darkness, working to face burdens with kindness, ready to join with kindred spirits near and far, faces aglow with precious glimmers of a coming day.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (www.ourjourneytosmile.com)

Photo credit for top image:  Mohamedou Slahi photo: International Committee of the Red Cross

Soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division salute the American flag as the United States anthem is being played during their departure ceremony at historic Fort Snelling May 22, 2011.  1st BCT will be deploying to Kuwait in support of Operation New Dawn.

Demons of War: Recovery from Moral Injury

Colonel Theodore Westhusing had a highly successful military career. He was a professor of philosophy and English at West Point. At 43 years old with a wife and three young children, Westhusing felt morally dutybound to re-enlist as a soldier in the Iraq War. As a philosopher of war, Westhusing received his military training in moral decision making. His doctoral dissertation emphasized the morality, ethical values, and virtues of American wars.

Despite his success, his life had a tragic ending that was the result of moral injury to his soul.

In 2004, Westhusing was honored with the very long military title, “Director, Counter Terrorism/Special Operations, Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.” He was to supervise Iraqis who were being trained as civilian police officers. A few months into his deployment, General David Petraeus praised his extraordinary ability to work with U.S. contractors and Iraqi leaders.

The Moral Injury of a Soldier

But in 2005, Westhusing faced a moral crisis. Based on an anonymous tip, he discovered enormous moral failures within the U.S. military. Those moral failures called into question his trust in the moral authority of an organization that was asking soldiers to kill and die for a perceived moral good. Those moral failures included illegal activity – for example, contractor’s severe mismanagement of resources, forged resumes that claimed background with elite forces, equipment theft, inadequate training, and employees bragging about murdering Iraqis.

Westhusing was morally compelled to report his findings to General Petraeus, who pressured him to deny the truth behind the anonymous tip. Westhusing initially complied, but continued to feel a moral obligation to report his findings. After a heated argument with Petraeus about the morality of the situation, Westhusing’s personal crisis came to a boiling point as he struggled with the demons of war. He committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the head. In his suicide note to his commanding officer he wrote,

I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored…I don’t know who to trust anymore…Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness?

Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini tell Westhusing’s story of moral injury in their book Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. Moral injury is described by Brock and Lettini as resulting, “when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs, and in evaluating their behavior negatively, they feel they no longer live in a reliable, meaningful world and can no longer be regarded as decent human beings.”

Like the other personal stories of soldiers in Soul Repair, Westhusing was trained by the military to be a moral agent for good in the world. Among other things, this meant standing up for justice and discerning between innocent civilians and non-civilian combatants.

But as soldiers are trained on morality, they are also put through “reflexive fire training.” This training conditions soldiers to shoot before making any moral decisions. The goal of “reflexive fire training” is to literally bypass the moral decision making of a soldier so that they are enslaved to an immoral ability to shoot to kill anyone.

Following the work of Gregory Bateson, mimetic theory calls the message to “be moral, but don’t be moral” a double bind. It’s a situation in which we are told to do something, and then told not to do that very thing. Brock and Lettin point to this double bind when they write,

Few major social institutions teach moral integrity, courage, personal discipline, humility, a sense of purpose and responsibility, and commitment to the lives of others better than the armed services. And none works so thoroughly to compromise, deny, dismantle, and destroy the very values it teaches. This is the paradox of war.

Sadly, Westhusing isn’t alone in suffering from the paradox of this double bind. Soul Repair reports that the demons of war have caused more harm than many of us have imagined – Brock and Lettin claim, “Veteran suicides average one every eighty minutes, an unprecedented eighteen a day or six thousand a year. They are 20 percent of all U.S. suicides, though veterans of all wars are only about 7 percent of the U.S. population … Veterans are also disproportionately homeless, unemployed, poor, divorced, and imprisoned.”

The Moral Injury of the U.S.

Mimetic theory also teaches us about scapegoating. Many in the U.S. demonize soldiers, labeling them as killers fighting an unjust war. Others valorize soldiers, honoring them as heroes. Both are methods of scapegoating soldiers. They are convenient ways for us to avoid our own moral injury. Dealing with the burden of immoral and unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is not just the responsibility of soldiers – it’s our responsibility as a society. America’s very soul is morally injured by these wars and by the fact that we turned a blind eye to the suffering of veterans after they go through the hell of war. The way to heal from moral injury is not to conveniently scapegoat soldiers or ignore the suffering of veterans, but to take responsibility for the harm that we as a nation have caused soldiers by sending them to war.

Soldiers know on a deep moral level that in committing great harm to others, they have committed great harm to themselves. They don’t need our society to project our demons of war – our own moral injury – upon them as we point the finger of accusation against them. Soldiers have suffered enough moral injury. We need to take responsibility for our own.

We begin to take responsibility for our collective moral injury by listening with a non-judgmental presence to soldiers as they tell their stories. Even saying thank you to soldiers implies a judgement that stops a soldier from talking about the pain of moral injury. Brock and Lettini claim that soldiers “need the civilians in their lives, those of us with whom they must learn to live again.

They continue,

To listen to veterans requires patience with their silence and with the confusion, grief, anger, and shame it carries…We must be willing to engage their moral and theological questions with openness and to journey with them as we are mutually transformed in the process.

Mutual transformation from moral injury to healing should be our goal. As individuals and as a nation, the only way we will heal from the demons of war is to stop scapegoating one another and take responsibility to love to our neighbors, especially our neighbors who have fought in immoral wars, as we love ourselves.

Photo: Flickr, The National Guard, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo

Dismantling Racism, Part 1: On White Privilege, Fear, And Denial

Editor’s Note: With all the work there is to be done to dismantle racism, one post is never enough. Therefore, this is the beginning of a series. Please note, while “racism” is multifaceted, these article speak primarily to the relationship between African Americans and whites. We recognize that other forms of racial prejudice exist.

The altar of white supremacy — a lie upon which millions of black lives have been sacrificed throughout history, continually stained with new blood — is a blight on the soul of our nation. The pillars on which it stands – fear, denial, mythology and pathetic narcissism — must be knocked out from under it. It must come tumbling down.

The terrorizing effects of white supremacist ideology were on horrific display for all to see last Wednesday night, when Dylann Roof stood in front of an African American congregation after spending an hour with them in prayer, declared “You’re raping our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” He opened fire and brutally murdered nine congregants, sending a message that echoed and amplified the violent racism we have seen taking the lives of African Americans every month in this country since its founding. “You are not safe anywhere,” the message says. The media is showing all of us what African Americans have already known – that even places of refuge may not be safe in a country founded upon the lie of racial difference.

Yet there are many who want to isolate this tragedy and deny that it is representative of a much deeper, much broader, much more insidious culture of racism. In an interview with the Today show the day after the shooting, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, was quick to suggest that Dylann Roof was a single, hate-filled individual, an aberration in “the holy city,” “the friendliest state in the country.” While the Confederate flag still flies in front of the capital building, while cars with Confederate plates still drive on streets named for Confederate generals, Governor Haley spoke for millions still under the spell of white denial (the fact that she is Indian-American only speaks to the pervasiveness of white mythology infecting every race). “This doesn’t happen here,” she said.

It happens here far too often. “Here” could be Anywhere, USA. The demon of racism sleeps comfortably in the institutions and policies that underlie the foundation of our country. Its permanent footprints are all over neighborhoods designed to contain black mobility and keep African Americans in poverty. It laughs maliciously as African Americans are disproportionately arrested and given far higher sentences for petty, nonviolent offences committed in equal or greater number by their white counterparts. It steals into the hearts of white police officers and vigilantes and guides their fingers upon the trigger of guns. And it rears its ugly head in countless micro and macro aggressions.

If it didn’t happen here, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Freddie Gray, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice would all be alive.

Tamir Rice’s appalling murder is particularly revealing in the ways it highlights irrational white fear, fear that was made explicitly clear in the racist screed of Dylann Roof. Officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot Rice less than two seconds after getting out of his squad car, while the vehicle was still running, mistook this 12-year-old boy with a toy for an adult and believed “He gave me no choice.” Tamir was reaching for his own toy gun when shot, possibly to show that it was a toy. Reaching implies that he was not holding it, certainly not pointing it, at the time he died. The officer, filled with a culturally-conditioned fear (among other possible fears), couldn’t even take the time to notice the face of his victim and realize that it was a child.

Trayvon Martin was deemed threatening for wearing a hoodie and walking while black. Michael Brown, according to Darren Wilson, “hulked up like a demon” and charged after being hit with a bullet. The dehumanizing fear that refuses to see people, refuses to see children, is something that, like white privilege, must be called out. But like white privilege, it will be denied.

White denial is bewildering. Do we really imagine that after centuries of brutal, humiliating dehumanization, after laws that kept races separate and unequal in treatment lasting through more than half of the twentieth century, after the pernicious lie of white superiority that has been passed through generations, the sins of our past will just fall away with no devastating consequences?

My racial ancestors brought Africans in chains – packed into ships like animals and treated less humanely – to be property. My race is one that demonized fellow human beings for profit. Darker-skinned people were dehumanized, humiliated, flogged, tortured, and killed, and their labor built this nation. Brutality and discrimination followed emancipation, with Jim Crow segregation and lynchings that lasted late into the twentieth century. Black people were sectioned off like lepers, whites refusing to share neighborhoods, schools, bathrooms, or even drinking fountains with them. Sunday after-church picnics that included the hanging, burning and dismemberment of black men regularly drew crowds from in and out of town.

All of this is universal knowledge. And yet far too many white people refuse to acknowledge the vast racial disparities and injustices that continually spring from this brutal, not-too-distant history.

Less is known about the ways in which racism is built into the very structure and economy of modern American life. Less is known about strategic decisions that are made that keep black lives devalued. Black lives matter “as a source of economic exploitation,” as Paul Street writes for Counterpunch.org. Citing the vast disparities in arrests and sentences for African Americans versus whites, despite similar rates of “crime” (mostly nonviolent drug use), Paul goes on to explain how African Americans, by and large, are the “raw materials” of an over $200 billion prison industry. This is how black lives matter to an impersonal economic system built by real attitudes of white fear and prejudice. Little is also known about the ways in which black lives are purposefully pushed aside for “development.” As Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report declares:

The dynamics of racism in a capitalist society demand that people of color – and especially black people – be largely removed from an area as a condition for investment in that area. … White does not just convey privilege; it also conveys value in US society. The added value of whiteness is embedded in things that are bought and sold in US society. … Racism is so embedded in American society… it’s like a part of the furniture. It’s just there, like it’s hot or it’s humid… no, it’s racist.

By virtue of white skin passed along to me through many generations, I have experienced comforts deliberately cut off from many African Americans. The net monetary value of my household has been larger than that of the average black household not because my ancestors have worked harder, but because they were allowed education, jobs, wages, housing opportunities, etc., denied to black people for generations. All of these advantages are still out of reach for many African Americans despite change in the letter of the law, because change in laws does not constitute proper reparations and “white value” remains a determining factor in investment.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about the lack of fear I experience in general when I interact with police officers. I may worry for my children, but I don’t worry that the very people whose job it is to protect them will arrest, humiliate, or kill them. As I strive to find the right ways to tell my daughters about the evils of racism in this country, I haven’t been forced into a conversation before they, or I, am ready, as far too many African American families are.

White privilege is real. I have benefited from it, while some of my friends have suffered because of it. As my colleague Adam Ericksen says to all of his white readers, “I am racist and so are you,” not because we are bigots – not because we have individual animosity – but because we have been born into privilege in a nation built on racial inequality. We are as vulnerable to racism as we are to original sin; it is an inexorable fact. I acknowledge racism and white privilege not to wallow in guilt but to move forward along a path of reparation and reconciliation. Yet to give up white privilege is impossible for an individual; it must necessarily be a communal process of people of all shades working together to dismantle our current societal structure and rebuild on a foundation of equity our nation has not yet seen.

How do we go about this process together? As a white person, I know my job is to listen more than it is to speak, to form more relationships across racial divides and become ever more aware, through the stories of my African American brothers and sisters, of the terrible evils racism continues to foster. Yet I also have ideas to share in my next few articles, both theological and political. I want to explore the harmful Christian theological ideas that have contributed to the infamous legacy of slavery and white ideology in order to expose any toxic remnants and replace them with a healthier, more healing hermeneutic. I want to shed light on the lie of “heritage not hate,” and explore how our national narratives undermine the suffering of African Americans. I want to look at practical methods of social and economic healing. But first, I want to more deeply examine the phenomenon of white fear, which I think is seriously undermining any progress. Your ideas, dear readers, may well contribute to some articles in this series. Please join the dialogue; these conversations are long overdue.

Image available from Flickr by  absentee_redstate via Creative Commons License

War, Murder And The American Way

He sat with them for an hour in prayer. Then he pulled his gun out and started shooting.

And today our national numbness is wrapped in a Confederate flag. The young man who killed nine members of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night was an old-school racist. “I have to do it,” Dylann Storm Roof is said to have explained. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Roof’s roommate told ABC News the next day that he was “big into segregation and other stuff” and “he wanted to start a civil war.” And this is America, where we have the freedom to manifest our lethal fantasies.

But this is bigger than racism and the pathetic monster of white supremacy. Racism is a name for one of the currents of righteous hatred that coils through our collective unconscious, and over the decades and centuries it has motivated terrible crimes against humanity. But the “civil war” that Roof participated in is, I think, much larger and much more meaningless. And not all the participants are loners.

“In a pattern that has become achingly familiar to him and the nation,” the New York Times reported, “Mr. Obama on Thursday strode down to the White House briefing room to issue a statement of mourning and grief as he called on the country to unify in the face of tragedy.”

Indeed, it’s the fourteenth time, according to The Guardian, he has done this since he’s been in office. It’s the fourteenth time he has said words like: “I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.”

America, America, land of the mass murderer.

Mass murders have increased fourteenfold in the United States since the 1960s, sociologist Peter Turchin wrote two and a half years ago, after the Sandy Hook killings. In his essay, called “Canaries in a Coal Mine,” Turchin made a disturbing comparison: Mass murderers kill the same way soldiers do, without personal hatred for their victims but to right some large social wrong. He called it the “principle of social substitutability” — substituting a particular group of people for a general wrong.

“On the battlefield,” Turchin wrote, “you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you’ve never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform. . . . Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable.”

“That is to say,” I noted at the time, “the definition and practice of war and the definition and practice of mass murder have eerie congruencies. Might this not be the source of the social poison? We divide and slice the human race; some people become the enemy, not in a personal but merely an abstract sense — ‘them’ — and we lavish a staggering amount of our wealth and creativity on devising ways to kill them. When we call it war, it’s as familiar and wholesome as apple pie. When we call it mass murder, it’s not so nice.”

Dylann Roof had a toxic “cause” — to reclaim the Old South, to reclaim the country, from an unwelcome human subgroup — but the solidarity in which he acted wasn’t so much with his fellow racists as with the strategists and planners of war. Any war. Every war.

Perhaps this is why, when I hear Obama laud “the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love” in the wake of the Charleston murders, I feel only despair: despair as deep as a knife wound. War, not love, is structured into the nation’s economic and social fabric. We invest trillions of dollars into its perpetuation, across Central Asia and the Middle East and wherever else the strategists and planners see evil, which is to say, opportunity.

Every murderer believes the violence he is wielding is “good violence.” Think Timothy McVeigh, whose fertilizer bomb killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. He called his victims “collateral damage,” co-opting the official language of the Gulf War in which he served. Mass murderers mimic and find their inspiration in the official wars we wage as a nation. Take away the massive public relations machinery that surrounds these wars and the deaths they cause are just as cruel, just as wrong. The abstract “enemy” dead, in every case, turn out to be human beings, who deserved to live.

And every war and every mass murder spread fear and hatred — and inspiration — in their aftermath. We can’t go to war without spawning imitators. The next day, USA Today reported, the vigils at two South Carolina churches, in Charleston and Greenville, were disrupted by bomb threats and the churches had to be evacuated. So did Charleston’s county building.

“At some point,” Obama said, “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency — and it is in our power to do something about it.”

Until we begin demilitarizing our relationship with the world, such words uttered by presidents are as empty as the words Dylann Roof uttered in prayer at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

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“Testament of Youth” Movie Review

The writer Vera Brittain’s World War I memoir, Testament of Youth, may be familiar to many, but its movie version was a revelation to me. A headstrong young woman living a middle class life in the British town of Buxton, Vera was determined to attend Oxford in spite of the opposition of her father. When her brother arrived home with a pair of school friends, a new world of education and love opened up for Vera. Her future and the world were altered when the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand launched World War I.

Like the young men she loved who headed off to war, Vera could not remain on the sidelines. Leaving Oxford behind, she served as a nursing auxiliary in both England and France. Her experiences with injured from both sides of the conflict led her to becoming a pacifist.

This haunting memoir from “the war to end all wars” reveals the lessons leading to a true and lasting peace continue to go unheeded. The scenery and cinematography create a beautiful backdrop for heartbreak.

Director: James Kent
Writers: Vera Brittain (autobiography), Juliette Towhidi(screenplay)
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton
Trailer

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Humanity’s Time Sickness

Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest author Carol Wimmer.

Peace on earth.

Is it attainable?

I believe it is! But first, humanity must deal with its unwavering allegiance to the human clock—a crafty invention that encourages the repetition of time-honored behavior. Time is both a gift and a curse. The 24-hour clock is not the problem. The measurement of time is not evil. Yet, our desire to keep track of time has placed the human spirit in a state of bondage that most of us don’t realize. Therefore, our awareness of time’s power to control the decision-making process is a key factor in changing undesirable behaviors that are repeated from generation to generation.

If we are to diagnose and overcome our time sickness, we must learn to master the clock rather than allowing the clock to master us. This change in thinking would involve dethroning an invisible spiritual dictator that exists behind the face of every clock. That’s right! An unseen spiritual force communicates with the human mind and pressures the human spirit throughout our waking hours. Thus, our change in thinking would involve silencing this insidious government that requires continual obedience, delights in the continuance of injustice, rewards first place positions of power in the world’s hierarchical systems, and demands that violence be returned with violence.

Is the clock really that powerful within the human mind?

I believe it is!

The 24-hour clock positions the human spirit in a tug of war that mimics the powerful pull of the oceanic waters. The slow tug or pull toward darkness is the craftiness of the clock’s deceptive nature. When poisoning occurs in small doses, its negative affect on the human soul is almost never realized. In spite of our seasick feelings of pulling and tugging, we somehow can’t identify that it is our love-hate relationship with the 24-hour clock that is controlling us. Thus, many people know that humanity is sick, but we haven’t been able to accurately diagnose the root cause of our dis-ease.

I believe we are being duped by an unseen enemy of our own making! Fooled into remembering past wrongs and deceived into thinking one more wrong will surely make things right! The longer that the battle rages in the spiritual realm, the more control this luring, deceitful, crafty government has within whole populations, religious movements, political agendas, and warring nations—all involving innocent people who feel like helpless hostages in a battle that is controlled by someone, or something, other than themselves.

To be more specific about the clock’s illusory power to rule over the moments of an ordinary day, I offer the following true story:

A young mother walks hand in hand with her son on the way to his kindergarten class. The small boy is a typical five-year-old who has little understanding of time beyond morning, mealtime, and bedtime. He realizes that school days are different than weekends and holidays. However, the clock is an object on the wall that has not yet claimed ownership of his young mind.

As mother and son approach the kindergarten classroom, the school bell rings. It is 8:15 a.m. She and her son make eye contact with her son’s teacher who is standing at the door. They both smile. Yet, as soon as the bell sounds, the teacher closes the door! After all . . . it is 8:15 a.m.

The teacher has a close relationship with the clock that rules her world. Anyone who is not in the classroom when the bell rings, is not allowed to enter the room without a tardy slip from the school office. It doesn’t matter if she can see her student approaching the door when the bell rings. If her student is not physically in the classroom, the door will be closed.

Based on the teacher’s rules, the young mother quickly proceeds to the school office to obtain a tardy slip. By the time her son’s body is on the correct side of the door, it is 8:17 a.m. The mother hands the tardy slip to the teacher, kisses her son good-bye, and wishes him a good day at school.

Sadly, the teacher’s strict relationship with the clock in her head caused her to miss the best opportunity she had to set the stage for a good day at school for one of her students. As the school bell rang, she had the choice to say, “Good morning little one. Come on in. Good to see you today!” But, in closing the door on an approaching student, the teacher clearly chose to honor her relationship with the 24-hour clock over her desire to have a welcoming, warm-hearted relationship with a child who has not yet learned the ultimate lesson in life—“the clock must be obeyed.”

This one insignificant example is magnified billions of times, in trillions of different ways—at the grocery store, on the highways during rush hour traffic, or in line at a fast-food restaurant, etc. The lesser government of temporal time constantly pressures us into obedience while lying to us in the midst of the pressure. “Study harder, think smarter, drive faster, go further, build higher, dig deeper!”

Time-Honored Knowledge

Although the human clock plays a major role in the everyday spiritual battles that affect the health and well-being of the human spirit, the ancient story of Cain in Genesis 4 suggests that we have the ability to master over this particular power. Time confused Cain—ultimately leading to his decision to kill his brother. Time exists as a silent presence in every story, but rarely do we ‘see’ the role that time plays in the ancient biblical narrative. Nevertheless, the spiritual battle between the gift of time and the curse of time is apparently winnable if we can accurately diagnose our time sickness and find an appropriate cure.

The sad part about the conversations in Genesis between Adam, Eve, the crafty serpent, and the spirit of God, is that they echo the same conversations today—thousands and thousands of years later. Therefore, we must not dismiss these ancient myths without delving into the depths of their spiritual purpose. Do the stories point directly to the genesis of generational dysfunction beginning with the measurement of time in the early garden? I believe they do.

The earliest desire to measure time, more than 6,000 years ago, would have unlocked the mystery of seedtime, harvest time, the female menstrual cycle, and the length of gestation. The timekeeping efforts would have planted the first seeds of personal power in the garden of life which, in turn, would have fostered ideas of selfcontrol and tribal control.

By the time that the earliest lunar calendars were developed, the desire to engage in self-promotion, as a means of self-preservation, replaced the desire to live communally, as a means of survival. Thus, the earliest timekeeping knowledge would have marked humanity’s introduction into life-altering give and take relationships between personal power in the garden, collective power to overtake the garden, and communal power for the well-being of the garden.

Present-Day Knowledge

Today, the puzzle of seed-time, harvest, and procreation is in our distant past. However, concerns over personal, collective, and communal power is ever-present. Humanity now has the ability to start human life in a petri dish and clone the human creation. Genetic research could engineer the physical attributes of our children. The same research may hold the clues to cure every physical disease that destroys the human body. With no disease, humans could multiply and live forever. Simultaneously, we could annihilate whole populations with nuclear energy. We could combine chemicals to contaminate water supplies or cause deadly air pollution—both of which would cause catastrophic loss of life on earth.

Lest each generation thoughtlessly fall into the trap of conforming to and modeling the behaviors of previous generations, we have some tough questions to ask.

  • Are we ready to confront the timekeeping factor in generational dysfunction?
  • Is it possible that a spiritual government has conned the human spirit for the past 6,000 years while hiding behind the face of the human clock?
  • Who is in charge of the rules that the passage of time has established?
  • Can the rules be changed or broken?
  • Is God in charge of the gift of time? If so, whose God is in charge?
  • How will the gift of time be used as time marches onward?

If the human spirit has been conned for the past 6,000 years, are we content to continue acquiescing to a lesser government that hides behind our own human invention? Are we doomed to repeat the failures of past generations simply because we can’t diagnose our time sickness? Or, is it time to say, “Enough is enough!” The gift of time is ours to enjoy and ours to control! Let’s rip the mask off of the spiritual deceiver’s face and cut the strings of our temporal puppeteer!

Our spiritual school bell is ringing.

How shall we respond?

Only time will tell.

 

This article was first published as a blog on May 30, 2015, http://www.carolwimmer.com

 

Carol WimmerEditor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”

Carol Wimmer is the author of the poem, When I say I am a Christian, along with three books for the church of tomorrow: The Clock, The Key, and The Net. She encourages radical change in humanity’s perception of time, use of language, and organizational endeavors.

Zarghuna with one of her students.

Fear And Learning In Kabul

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world… Shall we say the odds are too great? … the struggle is too hard? … and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message — of longing, of hope, of solidarity… The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam”

Kabul—I’ve spent a wonderfully calm morning here in Kabul, listening to bird songs and to the call and response between mothers and their children in neighboring homes as families awaken and prepare their children for school. Maya Evans and I arrived here yesterday, and  are just settling into the community quarters of our young hosts, The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs). Last night, they told us about the jarring and frightening events that marked the past few months of their lives in Kabul.

They described how they felt when bomb explosions, nearby, awakened them on several mornings. Some said they’d felt almost shell-shocked themselves discovering one recent day that thieves had ransacked their home. They shared their intense feelings of alarm at a notorious warlord’s statement condemning a human rights demonstration in which several community members had participated. And their horror when a few weeks later, in Kabul, a young woman, an Islamic scholar named  Farkhunda, was falsely accused in a street argument of desecrating the Koran, after which, to the roared approval of a frenzied mob of perhaps two thousand men, members of the crowd, with apparent police collusion, beat her to death. Our young friends quietly sort through their emotions in the face of inescapable and often overwhelming violence.

I thought about how to incorporate their stories into a course I’ve been preparing for an international online school that intends to help raise consciousness among people, across borders and share the results. I hope the school will help develop movements  dedicated to simple living, radical sharing, service and, for many, nonviolent direct action on behalf of ending wars and injustices.

Essentially, when Voices members go to Kabul, our “work” is to listen to and learn from our hosts and take back their stories of war to the relatively peaceful lands whose actions had brought that war down upon them. Before we’d even departed, the news from Afghanistan was already quite grim. Several dozen people dead in fighting between armed groups. A Kabul hotel attack on international businessmen the week before. We earnestly wrote our friends with a  last minute offer to stay away, in hopes that we wouldn’t make them targets of the violence. “Please come,” our friends wrote us. So we’re here.

The western presence in Afghanistan has already caused incalculable destruction, suffering and loss. A recently released Physicians for Social Responsibility report calculated that since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. wars have killed at least 1.3 million and quite possibly more than 2 million civilians.

The report chides U.S. political elites for attributing on-going violence in Afghanistan and Iraq to various types of internecine conflicts “as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization caused by decades of military intervention.”

Our young friends have survived the ravages of war, and each of them struggles with trauma, as their parents and grandparents have before them. When we have gone with them to visit refugee camps outside of Kabul, several have told of their own experiences as children, running away when their villages were attacked or occupied. We learn from them about the sorrows their mothers endured when there wasn’t enough food to feed the family or fuel to carry them through heartless winters: when they themselves nearly died from hypothermia. Several of our young friends experience terrifying flashbacks when they hear accounts in the news of Afghans killed by missiles or gunfire within the horrified sight of their own family members and loved ones. They tremble and sometimes cry, recalling similar experiences from their own lives.

The story of Afghanistan in Western accounts is that Afghanistan cannot deal with its traumas, however much we try, with our bullets, bases and token schools and clinics, to help. Yet these young people steadfastly respond to their own traumas not by seeking revenge but by finding ways to help people in Kabul whose circumstances are worse than theirs, particularly 750,000 Afghans living, with their children, in squalid refugee camps.

The APVs are running an alternative school for street kids in Kabul.  Little  children who are the main breadwinners for their families find no time to learn basic math or “the alphabet” when spending  more than eight hours daily working in the streets of Kabul. Some are vendors, some polish shoes, and some carry scales along roadways so that people can weigh themselves. In an economy collapsing under the weight of war and corruption, their hard earned income barely buys enough food for their families.

Children of the poorest families in Kabul will have better chances in life if they become literate. Never mind rising school enrollment figures often cited by the U.S. military as the benefits of occupation. The March 2015 CIA World Fact Book reports that  17.6 % of females over age 14 are literate; overall, in the teen and adult population only 31.7% can read or write.

After getting to know about 20 families whose children work in the streets, the APVs devised a plan through which each family receives a monthly sack of rice and  large container of oil to offset the family’s financial loss for sending their children to informal classes at the APV center and preparing to enroll them in school. Through continued outreach among Afghanistan’s troubled ethnicities, APV members now include 80 children in the school and hope to serve 100 children soon.

Every Friday, the children pour into the center’s courtyard and immediately line up to wash their feet and hands and brush their teeth at a communal faucet. Then they scramble up the stairs to their brightly decorated classroom and readily settle down when their teachers start the lessons. Three extraordinary young teachers, Zarghuna, Hadisa, and Farzana, feel encouraged now because many of the thirty-one street kids who were in the school last year learned to read and write fluently within nine months. Their experimentation with different teaching methods, including individualized learning, is paying off—unlike  government school systems where many seventh graders are unable to read.

While leading a demonstration of street children, Zekerullah, who was once a street kid himself, was asked if he felt any fears. Zekerullah said that he feared that the children would be harmed if a bomb exploded. But his greater fear was that impoverishment would afflict them throughout their lives.

That message of courage and compassion will not — and cannot– always prevail.  But if we take note of it, and even more, if, learning from its example, we take action to exemplify it ourselves, then it offers us a path out of childish fear, out of panicked collusion in war, and out, perhaps, of war’s mad grip. We ourselves arrive  in a notably better world when we determine to build it for others. Our own education, our own victory over fear, and our own arrival as equals in an adult world, can begin or begin again – now.

So let us begin.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Telesur English

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). 

Image from 123rf.com

Juvenile Justice And The War On Teens

“Fundamental to this process is the idea of ‘collective responsibility’ . . .”

The study, released earlier this year, is called: “What Can the Cook County Juvenile Court Do to Improve Its Ability to Help Our Youth? A Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment.”

Compiled by two Chicago institutions, the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation at Roosevelt University and the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University, it’s a well-documented plea for sanity.

Its fundamental finding will hardly be a surprise to anyone involved with the juvenile justice — or any other kind of justice — bureaucracy. Despite the enormous investment by governments at every level in court and penal systems, they don’t work. That is to say, they make matters worse:

“In 2012, there were 29,822 juvenile arrests in Cook County. . . . While court intervention is intended to reduce the likelihood of future offending, research findings suggest that, in fact, the opposite is true.

“. . . when compared to youth with comparable risk factors of adverse behavior and/or delinquency histories, but no juvenile court involvement, youth who appeared in court and received mild sentences (such as counseling, community service or restitution) were still 2.3 times more likely to incur adult criminal records; youth placed on probation were 14 times more likely to incur adult records; and, youth placed in a juvenile correctional institution were 38 times more likely to have adult records.”

In other words, when kids start to go astray, the official reaction — at a cost of multi-billions of dollars a year nationally — is to push them further astray, intensifying the suffering of all involved, and, of course, wrecking whole communities. And, since the era of “zero tolerance” and “tough on crime,” matters have only gotten worse.

Bureaucracies are nothing if not self-justifying, so there’s no chance of core change emerging from the system itself: no chance of awareness that the principles of punishment and domination are antithetical to healing. Yet until a certain level of awareness enters the court system, what is called juvenile justice should more accurately be called a bureaucratic war on young people — in particular, young people of color.

According to the study, pushing teenagers into the penal system: A) disrupts their connection to school, in particular, any special-ed services they might be entitled to; B) exacerbates any mental health issues they might have, increasing their risk of suicide; and C) increases their acceptance of criminal thinking and, what is obvious to everyone except the keepers of the system, substantially increases the likelihood that they’ll break the law again and be back in court.

“Furthermore,” the study points out, “participants identified the paradox of not being able to receive any preventative services for themselves and/or their children without first becoming involved with the juvenile justice system.”

The fundamental lack of awareness that is manifest in the Cook County juvenile justice system cannot be tweaked into sensible behavior. Change to the system must be profound. The study all but cries for “a fundamental shift of mindset.”

“Specifically needed,” it states, “is a universally held agreement among court personnel and all juvenile justice stakeholders about the young people they serve. This process would be aimed at creating a shift in the mindset about how young people become touched by the system in the first place, including how particular communities of young people are systematically being prepared for the prison pipeline versus productive adulthood.”

The system, whether it knows it or not, fits into America’s “historical context of racism and social class exclusion and oppression.”

The study proceeds to envision something extraordinary: a juvenile justice system that disconnects itself from the context of racial, class and economic domination and is not merely accountable to but works in crucial partnership with the communities it serves. More and more Chicago neighborhoods, for instance, are developing restorative justice and other mentoring programs that give young people a chance to express themselves fully and build peaceful relationships with one another. Juvenile Court, instead of breaking kids’ ties with their communities, should facilitate the strengthening of those ties.

“Fundamental to this process is the idea of ‘collective responsibility,’ that this shift will require those both inside and outside of the system taking collective responsibility and that both must come together in order for our youth to succeed.

“The philosophical shift,” the study continues, “could be steeped in the concept of Ubuntu, a South African term which reflects the ideas of connection, community and caring for all. It is stated in South Africa’s Interim Constitution created in 1993: ‘There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation and need for ubuntu but not for victimization.’”

Ubuntu . . . a word and idea from tribal South Africa. I’ve heard it translated as: I am because you are. Desmond Tutu describes the concept as “the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself.”

Knowing this, the court will now come to order.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.