I read the news a lot, and I’m beginning to get the strong feeling that something is very seriously wrong here in the US. Yes, I can hear you agreeing readily, what with the twice impeached, three times (by next week four) indicted former US president having seemingly subsumed one of the two major parties here, and now a major contender for another round in 2024, maybe even from prison. But I’m not talking about politics here, as bad as that situation is. No, beyond the furor over Trump and his crimes and Biden and his son’s crimes, there are a lot of headlines that leave me with the distinctly queasy feeling of bad, even sacrosanct lines being crossed in this country at a growing pace.
But why take my word for it? Here’s a sampling of headlines, just from today:
‘Stressed beyond her limits’: co-owner of Kansas newspaper dies after police raid
“Joan Meyer, 98, collapsed on Saturday afternoon and died at her home a day after she tearfully watched officers who showed up at her home with a search warrant cart away her computer as well as an internet router, reported the Marion County Record, which she co-owned. After officers also photographed the bank statements of her son, Record publisher Eric Meyer, and left her house in mess, Meyer had been unable to eat or sleep, her newspaper said… the police’s decision to raid the Marion Record’s offices along with the homes of its reporters and publishers was not only illegal – but had also contributed to bringing on the end of Meyer’s life.
Items seized by police included computers, cellphones and reporting materials found at the newspaper’s offices as well as the homes of its reporters and co-owners.” [The Guardian]
Inexplicably, (so far at least) this raid was authorized by a judge after a local business owner complained about the newspaper receiving personal information about her –information which the newspaper suspected was provided to them out of someone’s personal hostility, and so they did not publish it.
I repeat – the seizure was conducted for information the paper (with its 2,000 subscribers) did not publish.
Next on the list:
Oklahoma sued for funding US’s first ‘state-sponsored’ religious charter school
Charter schools in the US have always been a controversial use of public money – given that one can run a charter school independently but with money originally earmarked for the public school system. The idea was to provide choice to families without ostensibly penalizing them financially (by having to pay private school tuition as opposed to free public schools). Opponents see them as a way to divert money from the public school system budget, which they inarguably are – for or against them, charter schools are additional cost centers in already tight public school budgets, competing for strained resources. All that said, they’ve been around for a couple of decades now, and have become an accepted part of US education.
Now comes this news out of Oklahoma, where in June the state board voted to approve the application of a Catholic religious charter school – a first in the US, which has unsurprisingly sparked a lawsuit (one notes with interest the appearance of “faith leaders” among the plaintiffs):
“On Monday, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of nearly a dozen plaintiffs including parents, education activists and faith leaders seeking to stop Oklahoma from sponsoring and funding St Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Schoool.
According to the lawsuit, St Isidore refused to agree to comply with legal requirements applicable to state charter schools, including prohibitions against discrimination… The suit also alleges that St Isidore will violate board regulations that require a charter school to be independent of its educational management organization, as the school will hire the department of Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City as its educational management organization. The school will also be overseen by the Diocese of Tulsa.
Additionally, the lawsuit argues that in violation of the state constitution and the Charters Schools Act, St Isidore will “provide a religious education and indoctrinate its students in Catholic religious beliefs,” adding that its application states that the school “will be a place…of evangelization” that “participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church”. [The Guardian]
I don’t think I even have to cite the objections to this plan. A school run by and for the Catholic church receiving public education money seems so blatantly wrong – contrary – un-American even, that the fact that this happened at all is to me alarming in the extreme.
But I keep forgetting the illegality has somehow now become relative in this country. Now in the US it depends on who is doing the judging, or the legislating – they seem happy to violate laws and Constitutions at their pleasure and at need. But if you’re really unfortunate, you find out that it also depends on the ones doing the enforcing. Plenty of violence is done by the first two elements, but among law enforcement is where it gets genuinely brutal – where brutality seems to revert to being an end to itself, like you read about in the awful third world regimes of strongmen dictators, or the gulags of Russia, any time you choose. But this is the US.
Tasers, taunts, torment: How 6 White officers subjected 2 Black men to hours of grueling violence, and then tried to cover it up
Here’s a particularly heinous story out of Mississippi. Six officers with no warrant break into the side and back doors of a house on reports that two black men had been seen living with a white woman and that there was ‘suspicious activity’.
“Entering the home without a warrant, the officers encountered two Black men: Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins. Parker was living there to help take care of the woman who owned the property. Jenkins, his friend, was staying there temporarily.
Over the next two hours, Parker and Jenkins were subjected to grueling violence at the hands of the six White law enforcement officers, culminating in Jenkins being shot in the mouth.
The horrors the two men endured—as well as the text messages and other details in this report—were included in the federal court document filed on July 31. The six officers were charged with a combined 13 felonies in connection with “the torture and physical abuse” of the two men that night, the Justice Department said in a news release. The officers, who had been fired or had resigned after the incident, pleaded guilty to all charges against them in federal court last Thursday.
Some of the officers involved even called themselves “The Goon Squad” because of their willingness to “use excessive force” and not report it, according to the federal document.”. [CNN.com].
It’s true, these headlines come from places far from where I live – Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi. I’ve never been to any of those states and likely never will. They may as well be foreign countries to me – how can I account for how people live and think there?
So, what’s been happening near me here in North Carolina? Well, I think these two headlines speak for themselves:
8-year-old shot, killed at babysitter’s house in Fayetteville by 11-year-old
3-year-old boy seriously injured in shooting Saturday in Wayne County
That’s right, here in NC, the news (like every other day, and in many parts of the country) is that people are getting shot. Children have been shot in their front yards by neighbors for crossing the property line or being too loud when they play outside. Children are routinely shot in drive-by, party or crowded event shootings. And now they shoot each other too.
So, that’s today’s headlines, for August 13, 2023, some of the stories you may not have seen, and they seem to me to not bode well.
But, before we sum up, let’s take a look at one more story from last week. I have to admit this one really hit home, partly because it was my birthday, and partly because I really love libraries, and so I take it a bit personally:
Criminal liability for librarians’: the fight against US rightwing book bans
Yes, here in the US, book banning is back in fashion, and being pursued in new and creative ways. There’s a big case now in Arkansas, where a law was recently signed that would, among other things, create potential legal liability for librarians.
“The law, Act 372, would make it a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500, for librarians and booksellers to furnish minors with materials deemed “harmful” by authorities. The law also provides for challenges to materials in public libraries.
Last Saturday, two days before the bill was to become law, a federal judge blocked it, as a violation of free speech rights under the first amendment to the US constitution.
The judge, Timothy L Brooks, quoted Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel: “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” Feelings are running high.” [The Guardian]
While it’s true that state intrusion into educational curriculum and censorship in Florida has been alarming and aggressive, this goes another step beyond by criminalizing access to information.
Where is all this headed? State sponsored religion, state sponsored censorship, state sponsored violence against the citizens, states raiding newspaper offices and journalists’ homes, here in the US… it’s all starting small, but taken together I can’t help but feel they suggest that there are processes at work in this country that are far more menacing than the incessant focus on the so-called “culture wars” or Trump’s latest indictment might lead us to believe, or even consider.
Feel free to disagree with me though – I’d be glad to be wrong.