Remembering Martin Luther King’s Assassination 50 Years Ago

Race Relations: Are We Smarter Than 8th Graders?

April 4, 1968 had been a good day for me. My eighth-grade school year was winding down, the sun was staying up later, and my friends and I played basketball at an asphalt court til our moms made us come home. We lived in Union County, Kentucky, about four or five hours from Memphis, and it was already warm.

It was a racially diverse staff housing area a few miles outside the town, and none of us were locals. Our parents worked at a nearby federal facility, part of President Johnson’s “Great Society.” We had more in common with neighbors of a different race than we had with local townspeople of our own hue.

Then April 5 dawned and, over pop tarts, we watched television reports that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot down on a Lorraine Motel balcony, and that St. Joseph’s Hospital doctors had pronounced him dead at age 39.

I’d been to Memphis a few times, but only in transit. The first time, my grandfather had to shoo me off the colored water fountain at the train station. He didn’t want any problems with local (white Democrat) authorities.

We were traveling during Spring Break on a train that ran from Chicago to Louisiana. We almost had the train to ourselves southbound. But on our way north, it was stuffed with Black women and children. It was part of “the great migration” from the Cotton South to northern cities, Chicago in this case. Many of them smelled bad, in need of a shower. Their grooming was minimal during a time when people dressed up to travel. Some brought their clothes in grocery sacks instead of suitcases.

I thought they were too poor to buy luggage, but I saw on a documentary years later that some of them had to sneak onto the northbound trains in the middle of the night, slipping past patrols employed by white landowners who wanted to stop the hemorrhage of cheap agricultural labor from the Delta country. Maybe those brown paper sacks were part of the subterfuge.

Even at age 10, I could tell that some of the Black mothers looked scared when they got on the northbound train. The grievances were not imaginary in the time of Martin Luther King. Oppression was real.

It was a dark and gloomy ride to town April 5 on the school bus. I didn’t know what to say to the Black kids. I’m not sure, even now, what I could have said. The other white kids didn’t say anything, either. The bus delivered us to the Junior High School curb in silence.

But during the school day, we reverted to tribe. I felt that my Black neighbors became hostile to us under the influence of the Black locals, who had a chip on their collective shoulder. There was some bad history in town. The schools had desegregated only a year before we moved there.

Kentucky was, after all, part of the South. Whoever won the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District would coast to Washington DC unopposed in the general election. The county newspaper of record carried some very snide, dismissive commentary on the Civil Rights movement.

On the bus ride home from town that Friday afternoon, the Black kids stayed hostile to us, their neighbors and teammates. There were provocations, there were fights, the bus driver had his hands full.

We white kids were no saints, either. Nobody would have mistaken me for Fred Rogers. I said the kind of mean stuff that the white kids in town said, and that their fathers and grandfathers had said. It was the only time in my life that I used the N-word against another human being. And they were my friends.

After a parting skirmish at the bus stop, we separated into white and Black and went home to scheme the next showdown. We fumed and cursed, and vowed to put them in their place. They probably planned similar comeuppance for us.

But when Saturday rolled around, the grass was green and the ballgames beckoned. The sun would rise and set whether we went outside and played ball or not. The arithmetic was unyielding: we couldn’t get a game going without both races. I don’t remember who went to whose door to call us (or them) outside to play. But outdoor play reigned supreme, and it transcended racial animosity that day, and from then on.

We resumed our friendships as if nothing had happened, and we never mentioned that day again, so far as I know. I think the unspoken consensus was “wow, that sucked. Let’s not do that anymore.”

He Wasn’t That Bad Before He Went to Prison, But He Came Home With Even More Issues

It’s quite interesting how a person can leave prison with issues that were non-existent prior to incarceration. It would not be a total surprise that after a period of incarceration a person would leave with PTSD, rage, severe loss issues, and untreated and progressed addictions. It wouldn’t surprise me because inmates are forced to submit to humiliating commands – day in and day out. They’re stripped of all forms of independent thinking while the criminal justice system, systematically does nothing to rebuild them into citizens capable of functioning in today’s society.

Law enforcement is funded by tax dollars. A return on that investment is in need in the form of a rehabilitated somebody who could actually re-enter society as a changed person. I understand that incarceration is a war in which only the strong survive. But what about the prisoner who is genuinely striving to gain something positive from the prison experience – but instead of prison programs – is met with systemic obstacles and dead-ins at every turn.

Prison is hell-on-earth and is infested with negativity, pain and suffering. It’s a very aggressive environment that can break a man’s will to live. So why do the authorities practice devious tactics to make the prisoner’s stay worse than it already is? Yes, those same people who get paid to oversee the inmates. Yes, those same people who would rather confine the mentally ill to solitary confinement. Yes, those same administrators who would rather build more prisons versus offering prison art therapy programs for inmates.

It is hard to understand how anyone would argue that throwing thousands of criminally minded individuals into an unstable environment with virtually nothing constructive to do could actually improve crime rates in America. I can’t help but wonder how many of these people could have been saved if the jails tried to fix people versus making them worse-off? Could there be anything more confusing than a correctional system that doesn’t correct anything? Or anything more broken than a system that does the opposite of what it was designed to do?

The above facts lead me to the conclusion that our policies are partly responsible for high recidivism rates and ultimately, mass incarceration. In many ways, I believe they need it to function this way, and I believe that the authorities perpetuate harsh conditions for inmates. Why else would our loved ones come home with severe mental issues? Why else would they system continue to burden our communities with more broken people? America deserves better.

How To Avoid Falling Prey To Fraudster Phone Calls

What happens during a scam call?

Someone may call you claiming to be from your bank or building society acting in your best interests. Their aim is to find out your personal details including your account number, PIN number and 3 digital number on the back of your bank card. In short, they are after all the numbers they will need to access your bank account easily and transfer your money to them.

What is the most common type of fraudulent call?

When the scammer calls, they will claim they have noticed an unusual payment from your bank account and that they would like to investigate in on your behalf. They will claim they need your bank details so they ‘can catch the person or persons involved.’ To encourage you to hand over your details, they will tell a rather credible story. It is at this point that vulnerable people are often taken in.

What are they likely to say to make them sound genuine?

As most of us know that our banks would never contact us over the phone and ask us for personal information, the scammer may invite you to call the phone number on the back of your bank card to confirm the call is ‘genuine.’ When you do make the call to this number, the scammer holds the line open and intercepts the call so that you are put back either to the scammer or an accomplice, when you think you have been put through to your actual bank.

Who does this usually happen to?

Often thieves will target the vulnerable people in our community: the elderly will often fall prey to this type of crime.

Are there different types of fraudulent crime?

Yes, there are three that are the most widely reported by victims. However, scammers try to come up with new ways all the time, so you should stay vigilant.

1. Scammers may send a courier to come and pick up your bank card from you personally once you have given them your PIN number over the phone. To make the story seem even more credible, the driver might not know he is part of a scam.

2. Some victims are asked to purchase an expensive item on behalf of the scammer posing as the bank who wants to ‘catch the criminal by then handing over the item to see if they will take it.’ The courier (often unknowingly a part of the scam) comes to collect the item to ‘pass it on to the bank’ when it is the scammer who actually collects it from the other end.

3. Victims are sometimes asked to transfer their entire account to a ‘safe account’ due to a supposed corruption at the bank. The money is directly transferred into the scammers bank account elsewhere.

If you know someone who may be elderly or vulnerable, remind them to stay vigilant when answering the phone to people they don’t know claiming they are from their bank or building society.

Banks will NEVER ask for your personal information over email or phone which includes your PIN number and bank details.

Goodness – Where Does It Come From?

We can find plenty of goodness in the world. Human patience, generosity, forgiveness, and tolerance abound. It’s just as well. How else could we hope to tackle crime, moderate the effects of tyranny, lessen terrorism, and decrease warfare? Bad things if left to themselves will go their own ‘unsweet way’ and cause immense hardship, pain and suffering.

Just as humanity does humane things, it does inhumane things as well. People may do good things. People also cause social evil. Our main hope is that more of us behave a lot better. Act with more consideration than thoughtlessness; more compassion than indifference; and more love than hate. But how optimistic can we be? This may depend on where goodness itself comes from. Is it inherent in human beings or does it originate from beyond us all?

Here are five different ways of thinking about this question. Take your pick as to which is more convincing.

Scientific perspective on goodness
The atheist evolutionist finds no difficulty in accounting for pain, hatred and evil. These are woven into the fabric of evolutionary theory. His problem is: where did love, altruism and good originate? It is theorised that goodness is nothing more than a natural instinct. One that protects oneself and one’s near relatives for the sake of survival.

Humanistic perspective on goodness
We all have a strong sense of living from ourselves. This attitude is perhaps not surprising. Each of us is aware of being a separate self-contained individual; one with a mind and body of one’s own quite apart from other people and all else in nature.

So we see ourselves as the origin of our thinking and willing. These are my feelings, my thoughts and my desires. In other words our good feelings do have a source. They come from us. They are our own.

The result is the humanist belief that human beings are basically good. Why else, it is asked, do we hate injustice so much? And why else are we so deeply moved by beauty and so touched by acts of kindness?

“I believe in the innate goodness of most people in this world, and yet I’m a damaged soul like many other people and have my own demons and things I struggle with.” (James Gunn, filmmaker and actor)

Critics, of humanism, ask if we are basically good, why is dishonesty, infidelity, greed, envy, laziness, cruelty, often found in human affairs?

Secular mysticism
An alternative view arises from those who experience a sense of awe and wonder at the vastness and oneness of the universe. In its order and design they sense and infinite power of goodness beyond their own limited self. Such experiences seem to come to people from outside of themselves; ecstatic states tinged with feeling in harmony with nature and being connected to all life.

“Once, in the outback with a group of friends, I had a powerful sensation of the earth as a living, breathing being, with myself connected to it as a smaller being. This feeling of aliveness extended to the galaxies above, and to the night sky teeming with points of starry light. This changed my perspective on everything.” (student essay reported by David Tacey)

Abraham Maslow, an atheist psychologist, studied such transcendent experiences and commented that those experiencing these are more likely to feel that life in general is worthwhile, even if it is usually drab, pedestrian, or painful, since beauty, excitement, honesty, play, goodness, truth and meaningfulness have been demonstrated to exist.

Religious mysticism
According to writer Ken Wilber there is a higher transpersonal state of consciousness in which the sense of unity with the natural world is not lost or denied. Rather, it is supplemented by a sense of connectedness to the invisible, spiritual, formless aspect of the cosmos. He suggests that this experience of the Spirit that pervades the cosmos is interpreted in specific cultural contexts: Jews refer to it by the name of Yahweh, Christians by the name of Christ, Hindus by the name of Krishna or Shiva, etc. However, all these share an awareness of an invisible Spirit that is present throughout the universe and in some sense transcends the material universe.

“People worshipping goodness and love and kindness and truth are worshipping the same God.” (Anne Lamott, novelist & essayist)

Vision of a spiritual sun
If there is no source of goodness beyond human beings then it follows that humanity deserves all the credit for what good we achieve in bringing about happiness. This idea of human merit sounds egoistic. It runs counter to spiritual humility and contrasts with a religious orientation.

“There is none good but God.” (Matthew 19:17)

We can picture the Divine as a sun with great heat and light; its rays flowing into our hearts and minds; there kindling the warmth of human love and shining the light of human wisdom. And so without this inspiration we have no goodness of our own.

My own conclusion
Even if God is the source of all that is good, that would not be enough. This is because there is still a lot of bad stuff around in the world. Part of the answer is my own personal choice; whether or not to allow goodness to flow into my mind. Just focusing on the bad in politics and society, our outlook becomes a bit warped.

To find peace and happiness, it is necessary to look outside of yourself, not to be egocentric, but to have open-heartedness, to try to be helpful. To get on with those who annoy me, I need to remain mindful of the possibility that everybody, like me, is a work in progress.

“Try to see the good in others. When you’re tempted to judge someone, make an effort to see their goodness. Your willingness to look for the best in people will subconsciously bring it forth.” (Marianne Williamson, inspirational speaker)

As a clinical psychologist, Stephen Russell-Lacy has specialised in cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, working for many years with adults suffering distress and disturbance.

He edits Spiritual Questions a free eZine that explores links between spiritual philosophy and the comments and questions of spiritual seekers. You can share your views and find out more about making sense of life.

His eBook Heart, Head and Hands draws links between the psycho-spiritual teachings of the eighteenth century spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg and current ideas in therapy and psychology.

Knife Crime – “By Any Means Necessary”

The proliferation of “knife crime” and street violence is a concern which is disturbing to everyone. The traumatic effects of such an event can be critically detrimental to both victim and perpetrator, though in perhaps different ways.

The perpetrator feels empowered by his action within that moment. He feels excited, vibrant, alive. But in the quiet times away from his peers, when he is alone with the images of blood and violence playing out in his mind. With perhaps the death of another human being or their severe injury stamped into his consciousness and credited to his psyche, the feeling may not be so glorious.

At least 37 people have been fatally stabbed and 62 overall, killed in London alone, since the beginning of the year. The local administration blames government cuts to police budgets. The Government blames a lack of available funds. The police blame the proliferation of gangs and drug dealers.

In truth it is quite probable that all of these things have a part to play, but is that really the whole story? Is it just a simple case of too may gangsters and not enough police or do we need to look a little deeper?

Watching a documentary on this issue recently, it struck me that the fifteen year old being interviewed who was the owner of a massive hunting knife with a serrated edge, clearly a murderous weapon, was neither a psychopathic killer nor harbored real murderous intent. His main reason for having such a weapon In his possession, was self protection. In other words, this potential murderer was a very frightened and very vulnerable juvenile.

A young individual, so scared by the effects of an economically stressed home environment and a school system with a main stream curriculum that while promoting education as a path to success, fails to address the real impact of discrimination and other unfair practices on the “ideal world” vision and innate sense of fair play, of the young and the innocent, that the certainty of “kill or be killed” jungle law, makes more sense and holds more value than the pursuit of educational success.

So what is left to this young person as a vision for their future? What is the likely end result of succeeding through education? After perhaps twenty years of formal education and preparation for life, the individual is faced with severely limited options for achieving an above the poverty level standard of living.

Very few twenty-five year olds or even thirty year olds after graduating and gaining five years of commercial experience can walk into a job where they command a salary of £30,000 or £40,000 a year, which is the level of income needed to maintain a healthy life, in many communities. It is more likely, that many will not get that job so, even as graduates, they are relegated to restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

With this picture in mind, the path of educational success, does not look so enticing. Add to this the level of discrimination and unfair treatment that is applied across certain groups of society such as BMEs or women and the picture becomes down right unattractive, even disagreeable.

Naturally the concept of enduring a 20 year indoctrination process, to secure a position of employment with which he can barely feed himself and cannot even buy a home, as well as the lack of expectation of being treated, or paid fairly is wholly unappealing. In fact by now it can be placed in the category of “why would I want to do that?” Is there some other way?

Any adolescent on the planet, can see that given the scenario presented they are about to enter a dark world of excruciating pain and suffering. A world that though defined by material wealth, affords the average, individual, adult, very few accessible options for acquiring any real financial security.

They can already appreciate that without money or a legitimated means of acquiring quite a lot of it on a regular basis, their existence is one which is overwhelmed with frightening unknowns, unanswerable questions, insecurities, uncertainties and real life dangers, giving rise to even greater fear, increased anxiety and crushing disillusionment.

What looms in their futuristic vision is not Olympian gold and glory, but needs un-met, poverty, prison and perdition.

They still have desires, nice car, nice house, nice clothes. They still have ambitions, beautiful wife, beautiful kids, beautiful life. How are they to achieve this without the hope of educational success or an expectation of fair treatment?