Black Lives Matter Part 1

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The reason black lives matter isn’t because white lives don’t. It’s because all lives matter once black lives do. This is a concept I only really began to grasp recently. As a freelance journalist, I’ve tried to cover to the best of my ability the outrage over the killings of black men throughout the United States, but I think I’ve mostly failed. Maybe this is because I’m white, but probably not. Rather, I feel like it is more or unless the unwillingness of the general public to fully appreciate the idea that a certain section of the American population is being persecuted in a way that is so blatant and so terrible, that it is unnoticed.

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There are two concepts to understand: there is racism and then there is police brutality. These two things intersect more often when it comes to blacks than any other demographic. I’ve been brutalized by the police before, but I never ever thought it was because I was inferior to the police due to my appearance or my culture. I was arrested in a white neighborhood, near white people, by white police, for trying to defend the rights of those who were protesting against puppy mills. I grew up around white people, I’ve been robbed by white people, and I’ve been hurt and hurt other white people in my past.

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But when you watch the local news, all you see are ‘black on black crimes’. They are usually in areas that are poor and are mostly demographically black. More crime does happen in these areas. Socio-economic factors certainly play a roll in this. But the larger point is that white people simply cannot understand the feelings of blacks. They don’t realize that the same things that happen to blacks could easily happen to them under slightly different circumstances. They don’t consider the larger picture.

It is for this reason that I’ve decided to follow the ‘black lives matter’ protests and try to understand the activists, their feelings, and the issue at hand. I also want to attempt to grasp the reasons for why institutionalized racism is such a difficult thing to change, and what can be done to ultimately erase it.

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This will be the first entry in a line of future ones about the black lives matter movement. It will be accompanied by video and photos. I would appreciate any feedback.

A day in the life

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The trees look down on me with their heavy branches swaying. I stop myself and take a picture without thinking. I don’t know what the picture means to me until I look back at it. I just get bored of trees like this sometimes.

I stopped on the road to get cigarettes from the liquor store. It was cold so I brought my heavy jacket, but I knew it was going to be warm later. I had my backpack, my Nikon camera, my canon video camera, a sweatshirt, a spare lens, and I was going through the same streets I’ve walked since I was born. I was ready for nothing.

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Beer brands and lottery tickets enter my brain as I take a picture of the sign. I haven’t learned to accept advertising as a way of life just yet, so instead I smoke.

Turning the corner, I see a man and he is asking me about Japanese cameras and if they’re any good. I have no idea and try to convey that, but he isn’t satisfied with the normal answers. He wants more, but I can’t give it to him. But still he smiles and laughs as I say goodbye, a man I probably will see again, but maybe not. I don’t know.

I pass places I used to hang out with my friend Chuck. I remember laughing a lot then–maybe smoking too much pot–but I don’t forget the pain either. Things haven’t really changed for me, even now. All I’m trying to do now is applied what I learned the previous 24 years of my life and try to make something of myself. I guess that’s why I roam the streets with a camera. I suppose that is why I’m determined to be a journalist or die trying. I’m not utilizing my school given education because my extracurricular activities taught me way more.

They taught me how cruel people are. I walk past a bar where I played irish music for money for one day, and then was shunned and never hired back. I remember drinking in there till the bartender shot water in my face. I will never forget sneaking in with Chuck and Ivan, who decided to steal shot glasses people left and then leave. We ended up being chased by the cops, but we got away.

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I walk past vacant stores under the train tracks that have been abandoned for longer than I can remember. I peak inside the empty windows of a store where I got the strings on my guitar changed for a song.

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A sign reminds me I’m no longer free.

And the trash reminds me of ugliness and cruelty. I wonder how ugly and cruel I am.The electrical equipment tells me that I will shocked if I get too close. I steer away from it and end up staring at a factory that has been empty for as long as I can remember. People wait for buses here for some reason.The factory used to make feathers but I don’t know anything more than that, and nobody who lives can apparently remember.

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I stop by my local police station to snap a photo of a cop car. I just can’t resist.

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Our Lady of Peace school. I was there when my priest Father Larry was shot by a nut job. That’s the first thing that comes to mind, even though I went to school there for 9 years. That school taught me a lot, both intentionally and unintentionally. I never was a loner though. That’s what I just typed, but I’m lying. I guess you can say I was unintentionally lonely. But I had friends. Up until 7th grade. I had a teacher who I will never forget. She treated me like shit. I forgive her though, because she was probably more fucked up then than I am now. I’m sure in the end she repaid her torture, but its not something we’ll see or know, unless something terrible happens. I hope that never happens though.

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McDonalds parking lot. Chuck tried to plant a pot seed there once. I don’t think it worked. You couldn’t pay me eat there. This elderly gentleman is staring at me like he’s never seen someone with a camera before in his life.

I start to pass a graveyard that is right in the middle of two busy roads in the Lynbrook/Rockville Centre border. I go inside and take a look around. There are a lot of lonely graves here. People who are in the earth who will never be remembered. I don’t feel sorry for them as much as I feel sorry for myself, because the struggle of living a life without purpose is more terrifying than death itself.

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But I guess it depends on how you look at things.  I guess we’ll find out if death ends conscious thought or not.

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The people I feel bad for are those who don’t realize they are not immortal.

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I come across a mass grave. The sign says that they were mostly Irish and English immigrants who died in shipwrecks of the Mexico and Bristol. 215 perished.

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I walk past a farm where nothing is growing,I walk past a cable that I think could be live and I walk over the railroad tracks. I walk into Lakeview to meet my friend Keith. Before we left, I take a picture of a water bottle filled with a yellow substance.

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Keith and I walk to 7/11 it takes about 15 minutes. He buys me cigarettes and I buy a drink. I sit and smoke a cigarette and talk to him about the nature of New Yorkers, English women, and London. He lived in Manchester for almost two months and is going back in June. I’m leaving for Scotland in two months, and I can’t wait to leave this place. These pictures depress me.

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I take a picture of a stream. It’s pretty much , but still pretty.

We walk down the street and I’m glad that I brought my sweatshirt because it definitely got warmer. Keith and I talk about England some more. We get to Westwood train station, where I used to go with my friend Chris to play football when I was in middle school. I sometimes wonder where he is and what he’s doing.

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Keith and I talk about the FBI and their terrorist plots. I feel weird typing this, but I try to keep my freedom of speech.

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I get picked up after Keith goes home, and I get picked up from Malverne by John. He drives me around with his girlfriend, blasting Sublime, and singing the lyrics of ‘Wrong Way’. I snap some pictures, but its getting colder so I close the window.

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Teachers and allies rally in Lynbrook, NY and across Long Island to protest against Governor Cuomo’s education policies

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LYNBROOK, NY–March 28th, 2015–Teachers and others rallied across Long Island on Merrick Road from Valley Stream to West Islip in attempt to draw attention to what they perceive as an attack on public education and teachers.

Cuomo’s plan would allow standardized test scores to account for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation while the other 50% will be based on school officials observations.

Lisa Zindman, a third grade teacher from West End, agrees. “We feel this is unfair,” she said. “Most teacher’s support common core, but it was rolled out the wrong way.”

Lisa Zindman, third grade teacher at West End Elementary School in Lynbrook, NY.

Lisa Zindman, third grade teacher at West End Elementary School in Lynbrook, NY.

The teacher’s also argued that a corporation called Pearson makes up the tests that they are evaluated on and that they have nothing to do with education. Many said that they believed that this was just about money. Some even suggested that this plan was made because Cuomo was not supported in his election by the teachers union, NYSUT..

Leah Brunski writes in her blog for the nation, “As a public-school teacher, I want to be evaluated. But there are much more effective ways to do it. The countries and states that consistently outperform New York on standardized assessments—Finland, Japan, Massachusetts, among others—have successful evaluation systems in place that could help shape New York’s. In these places, test-score gains play no role in a teacher’s evaluation. Instead, multiple measures are used to evaluate the efficacy of a teacher’s performance: principal and peer observations, student and family feedback, professional development. Why not borrow a page from corporate America’s playbook to provide teachers with a 360-degree view of their performance?”

http://www.thenation.com/blog/201441/why-gov-cuomos-education-proposals-are-bad-students-they-are-teachers

Dave Aiello, a 4th grade teacher in Lynbrook, assured me that they weren’t protesting against common core  but against Governor Cuomo’s policies. “This is to stop the attack on public education,” he said of the rally. He remarked that Cuomo’s plan was a ploy to implement charter schools. “That will kill democracy.”

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The New York State Legislature is set to vote on these proposed changes on April 1st.

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Flowers for Billy and Rose

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Screaming echoed throughout the ward as a visitor was buzzed in.

“Come in. He’s ready,” said the nurse, her demeanor disinterested and unaffected by the chaotic shrieking all around her.

The woman followed the nurse into the dormitory where a young man was sitting on the bed, face buried in his hands. He looked up, recognition lighting up his eyes as he saw the woman. “Hey mom,” he said in a small voice.

“Come on, Darrius, are you ready?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.

He followed his mother out to the parking lot and into the car. They drove in silence for a while until his mom asked, “How are you feeling?”

There was no sign that Darrius had heard what his mother asked him. He sat very still for a long time but finally managed, “Ok, I guess.”

“Any problems with the medication?”

“No.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to write.”

His mother made no reply. They continued driving on the streets of Long Island, New York back to his house. “We’re home,” she said after ten minutes or so of silent driving.

Darrius got out of the car and looked around. Everything seemed so colorless and dull to him. He walked into his house, not bothering to wait for his mom, and went straight upstairs to his room and collapsed on his bed. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was back in the mental ward, listening to an old lady screeching nonsensical words to her daughter as if somehow, someway, there was a connection between her screeching and Darrius’ unfortunate bout of manic depression that landed him in the hospital in the first place.

“Darrius!” shouted his mom.

“What?” he said, half-asleep.

“Billy is on the phone.”

At this, Darrius hurriedly got up and went over to the phone. “Hello?” he said after picking it up.

“Hey man what’s up?” he said. “I heard you got out.”

“Yeah man, I literally just got home,” Darrius replied in a dull voice.

“Is everything ok?” Billy asked.

“Yeah man, everything’s fine. What’s good?”

“Nah, I just wanted to see if you wanted to come get lunch with me.”

“Hang on a second. . .Mom! Can I go get lunch with Billy?” His mom shouted an affirmation. “Yeah it’s fine Billy. Okay see you then. Bye.”

Just as he was about to open the door, his mom said, “Darrius, can I talk to you for a second before you leave.”
“Sure mom, what’s up?”

She sighed. “Look Darrius: I know you’ve been through a lot and have a lot of issues, but please don’t let it stop you from enjoying life. People will come and go, but it’s up to you to create your own destiny.”
“Thanks mom. I got it.”

“Have a good time,” she said, looking worried.

Darrius met up with Billy at the local barbecue place. Billy waved to him from the window, and Darrius went inside and sat next to him. “They told me this was the best Philly Cheese Steak I’d ever have,” Billy said, after he finished swallowing. “ I don’t see how you can say that if they don’t put any onions in though.”

“What’s going on Billy?” asked Darrius, ignoring the remark about the cheese steak.

“Not much, man.” He whipped his face with a napkin. “I was really worried about you.”

Darrius didn’t say anything. He looked down at the floor and tried not to think.

“Everyone told me you were dead,” he continued, brushing the crumbs off his hands. “You’re my best friend. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you had bought the farm.”

Darrius said nothing and continued staring at the floor.

“Man, what’s wrong with you?” Billy asked, his eyes wide with concern.

“Nothing,” Darrius answered quickly. “It’s a medication problem.”

“Oh shit, they have you on medication?” Billy didn’t believe in any kind of medication except pot.

“Yeah,” Darrius answered quietly. There was a minute of silence between them when finally Darrius said, “Hey Billy can I ask you something?”

“What’s that?”

“Do you think that this is as good as life is going to get for me?”

Billy shrugged his shoulders. “Life is what you make of it, my friend. You need to stop being so pessimistic. It’ll drive you into an early grave.”

“I know,” Darrius replied. “Everyone at the hospital was telling me that.”

“Well, they have a point don’t they? Look man, I just broke up with my girlfriend about six months ago. Six months ago, I thought the world was going to end because we broke up. I thought I was in love. But now look at me, dude. I’ve got a better diploma than half of those assholes that we went to high school with, a great job, and next Friday I’m going out with this beautiful girl I met at work. So my point is things will change for the better if you give it time.”

Darrius didn’t think so, but said nothing. Instead, he nodded his head and ate a couple French fries.
Things got progressively worse once Darrius got home. The medication he was taking was making him feel really weird, and when he started up the stairs to go to his room suddenly everything hit him. He fell down on the floor and started punching himself. Then, he got up and shrieked like a 9 month old baby and banged his head against the wall. His mother grabbed him from behind and tried to calm him down. She gave him a sedative and he soon passed out on the couch. He fell asleep with disturbing nightmares floating around in his mind.

A telephone was ringing when Darrius woke up. His mom answered the phone. “Hello? What happened? Oh my God. . .Oh my God! Okay. .. Okay. . .bye.”

His mom woke Darrius up and told him the news. Billy had died in a car accident last night. His best friend was dead. There were no intense bouts of grief or anything of that sort—just an intense feeling of shock and confusion. He sat on his bed for a long while just staring at the floor until his mom asked, “Are you okay?”
“No,” he said quietly.

The days of the wake and funeral seemed like a dream. Darrius felt as if he were sleepwalking in a sort of out-of-body state of mind. He didn’t even cry when they put the casket in the grave. Thoughts were running through his head at a hundred miles an hour such as, “What the hell is going on? Where am I? What am I doing here?”
That was when he noticed a woman in her twenties standing across from him. She had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and piercings all over her face but she also had been crying inconsolably throughout the entire procession. Darrius could understand why though he did not know why he could not bring himself to tears. He figured that this must be the stage of death which involved shock and once he was out of it, he would cry. But he had a hard time keeping his eyes off that woman. She was pretty—yes—but he also recognized that this was not the time or place to be thinking about anything other than his dead friend.

Darrius saw a lot of other people there who he wouldn’t necessarily call friends, but knew at least from high school. He saw them laughing and smiling and didn’t understand why they were having such a good time. But they didn’t know Billy like he knew him, so I guess that was why. All in all it had been a terrible couple of days and once the whole thing was over, he went home thinking about death.

Darrius eventually fell asleep and when he woke up, he found he had tears in his eyes. He knew then that he must have been dreaming about Billy. Perhaps they had exchanged words of comfort before he had passed on to wherever he was going. Either way, he felt slightly better although still at a loss as to why this had to happen now. It was eight o’ clock on a Saturday, and his mom was still asleep. Quietly, he picked himself up out of bed and grabbed his guitar.

Darrius loved walking around his neighborhood, playing his guitar. It was funny because everyone gave him weird looks as if they couldn’t understand why he wanted to do that. What they didn’t know is that he did it half for those strange looks. The other half of it was due simply to him liking to play guitar.
He was strumming and singing a song called, ‘Can the circle be unbroken?’ when a Ford Mustang pulled up next to him and honked. He looked over and there was the girl with the piercings from the funeral yesterday. She smiled at him and said, “Hey Darrius!”

Darrius was awestruck for a moment. He didn’t know how she knew his name or why she had stopped for him. However, instead of risking impoliteness, he waved and said, “Hi.”

“Do you remember me?” she asked.

“I remember you from yesterday,” he answered.

“Oh we’ve known each other before then. I’m Rose.”

A sudden memory came back to him. He remembered her, although she didn’t have piercings at that time, hanging out with Billy and him at an abandoned warehouse, smoking pot.

“Oh wow!” Darrius suddenly exclaimed. “Sorry, I kind of had a memory lapse for a second there. How are you, Rose?”
“I’m as alright as I can be,” she said, then heaved a massive sigh. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.”

“Me neither,” said Darrius. “I had a dream about him last night though.”

“Really?” she said, suddenly excited. “What about?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Oh, then how did you know you were dreaming about Billy?”

“Because I was crying.”

“Oh.”

There was a moment of silence afterward until Rose said, “Do you want to come for a ride with me?”
The only logical answer to this was “yes” so he hopped in the car and they sped off onto the highway. Rose pulled out a joint midway through the trip and lit it. “Do you remember hanging out at the factory with me and Billy?” she asked, passing him the joint.

“Yeah, I had just remembered,” he replied, taking it, puffing on it twice, and then coughing. “This is good weed.”

“Yeah, it’s from California,” she said, taking the joint back. “My friend smuggled it back.”

“I want to go to California someday,” Darrius remarked, thinking of the sun and the beach.

“Me too. So what’s your story, what have you been up to?”

“Well,” Darrius started, wondering where to begin. “I was in a mental hospital for about a month for Bipolar Disorder. Then, when I got back, I met up with Billy for lunch. The next day, they told me he was dead. And now, here I am, riding in a Ford Mustang with you. What have you been up to?”

There was an awkward silence, and I realized that I probably said too much.

“I was in a relationship for three years and I just broke up with the guy. He was an abusive asshole,” she said.

Darrius didn’t reply except for nodding his head. He didn’t want to appear too eager to be pleased by this, but he also didn’t want to seem like he didn’t understand. However, Rose said nothing. She tossed the joint out the window after taking one last puff.

“Rose,” Darrius said, feeling stoned enough to ask a personal question. “What do you want out of life?”

“Wow,” she replied. “That’s a tough question. What do I want to do with my life? You’re gonna have to give me a minute to think about that one. What about you?”

“Well, I want to be a writer.”

“That’s a noble occupation. I love reading.”

“Yeah,” he said, feeling slightly discouraged about his goal. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get a book published though.”

“You will someday if you keep trying,” she said. She turned to him and smiled. Her smile was so radiant that in that instant he knew he had fallen in love.

Before he could stop himself, Darrius blurted out, “Would you ever go on a date with me?”

She turned to him with the same smile but also with a mysterious twinkle in her eye. “Yes,” she said. “But not now.”
Rose drove him back to his house and, after agreeing to meet him the next day, she sped off into the sunset, the sound of the Mustang echoing in the distance.

“Hey Darrius,” said his mom. “What happened to you? I thought you were going to be home an hour ago.”

“I met up with one of Billy’s friends, Rose,” he replied.

“Oh, that’s nice,” she said, with a knowing smile lingering on her face. Darrius ignored her though and went up to his room. He laid himself spread-eagled on his bed and thought about nothing except Rose. Then his thoughts fell on Billy and he cried until he fell asleep.

After their first encounter, Darrius and Rose became something like best friends. They were together all the time—nearly every day. Darrius never brought up the idea of going on the date again, because he figured that it would be best to wait until there was a more opportune time. This came when his mom told him they were going to Atlantic City and he could bring Rose. They packed themselves and their things in the rent-a-car and listened to Bob Dylan the whole way there.

Once they got there, Darrius and Rose immediately went to the beach and smoked pot underneath the boardwalk, then went swimming. Rose was irresistible to Darrius in a bikini. He felt as if he was about to explode in a fury of lust at her curves, but he resisted the temptation, reminding himself that all he had to do was wait.
Finally, when the day was almost over, he took Rose aside and said, “I asked you when we first met if you would ever go out on a date with me.”

He paused, waiting for her to interject, and then continued. “I was wondering if you would like to go with me next Friday?”

“Okay,” she replied, slightly more casually than he imagined she would.

Love is a strange thing. To Darrius, it was something that was sacred; the ultimate affirmation of the human spirit’s abilities to do things that made a difference in people’s lives positively. But did Rose think the same way?

Next Friday came and he didn’t hear anything from Rose. He paced across the floor of his room for a half an hour straight until finally he decided he would walk over to her house.

He went up to the house and knocked on the door, but it wasn’t Rose who answered. Instead, a man in his late 40’s with a goatee answered. “What do you want?” he asked.

“I was wondering if I could speak to Rose.”

The man looked away for a second inside the house, shook his head, and then slammed the door in his face.
Even though Darrius didn’t hear from Rose for weeks, he still thought about her nearly every day. It was like a sickness.

“Please,” his mother pleaded with him. “Find something to do other than brood.”

He tried but found it nearly impossible to escape the trauma. He knew that the man with the goatee was probably her lover. The only question was why had she been stringing him along like this?

Then, about a week later, Darrius got a call from Rose. “Hi, Darrius.”

“Hi,” he said. He found he couldn’t get mad or upset at her. He just was glad to hear from her again.

“I’m in rehab,”

“Oh.” Darrius wished he could say something more encouraging.

“And I’m pregnant.”

He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Then he hung up the phone.

That was the last time he ever heard from her.

Darrius did his best to keep the good memories of Billy in his heart and tried to drive away his memories of Rose. He succeeded in both, but it took a very long time. For a while, he could do nothing but hate himself.

But it finally ended when he realized that nothing will get better until he stopped living in the past. One day, he packed up his bags and left the country. He was searching for a life that Billy didn’t but deserved to live, and searching for a love that he could give to someone who would return it.

Perhaps, one day, he will find it.