From quarantine to curfew, America compounds tragedy

Photo of the Humanity Wall in Ghent, Belgium.
Credit: Matteo Paganelli via UnSplash

This is the year of compounding tragedy.
Coronavirus pandemic for the plague of racism.
Medical quarantine for police-enforced curfews.
It’s all just so damn sad.

America — and Iowa — just started to open up from nearly two months of quarantine. Scientists told us it was too soon, but the economy continues to crumble with nearly a quarter of Americans unemployed.

Good idea or not, we went back out. We shopped. We sat down for a meal at restaurants. We grabbed a beer. There was talk of sports starting again. We attempted normal.

Then a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd. The officer shoved his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck. Three other Minneapolis police officers stood by like cowards and listened as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually died.

The justifiable outrage followed. People held protests and demonstrations. A police officer killed Floyd — on video.

Do you see it now? their voices cried out. Do you see what we face?

People protested, marched and demonstrated across the country. In Des Moines, groups held protests at the State Capitol and Des Moines police headquarters without incident.

That was during the day.

At dusk, a different kind of people came to express outrage in unjustifiable ways.

The after-dark crowd shot fireworks at police. They threw rocks and bricks at police. Adults handed lit flares to teenagers to throw at police.

Vandals spray painted buildings downtown and shattered windows at Johnny’s Hall of Fame, Spaghetti Works and the Hy-Vee.

The troubles rumbled up Court Avenue to the Polk County Courthouse to break more windows and spray more paint.

Sunday, scofflaws looted and destroyed at Merle Hay Mall.

Police broke up the crowds with tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang grenades. The whole ugly scene played out on local TV and news websites.

After two nights of violence, destruction and looting, the Polk County Supervisors ordered a curfew from 9 p.m., Sunday, until 5 a.m., Monday. It is now on hold indefinitely.

And for the first time since my former paragraph factory cut me loose, I was glad not to be in the thick of it — not because I wouldn’t want in on the big story, but because I don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to say about this season of misery.

2020 has been the year of suffering and sadness the likes I’ve not seen in my near 45 years.

COVID-19 killed more than 106,000 Americans, including more than 550 Iowans.

We can’t visit our elders, the most vulnerable population. People wave from a distance, through windows or across video screens.

As former Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said recently, “This is a hard time to go without hugs.”

We shuttered businesses. We stopped going to the office. Ten million people lost their jobs, including me.

And just when we parted the curtain ever so slightly — BOOM! — racism punches us in our collective noses.

Obviously, I condemn the actions of the Minneapolis officer, who now faces a murder charge, and his three criminally negligent partners who allowed this gross depravity to occur.

Yet what comfort can I give? Everything I say seems hollow and trite. Everyone around me seems blessed with a clairvoyance or certainty I lack.

A friend in my right ear says it was extreme left wing anti fascists who whipped up the violence. A friend in my left ear blamed white supremacists for intensifying violence and destruction.

Charles Bukowski, the poet and novelist, once wrote: “Everybody has a different way, everybody has a different idea, and the are all so sure.”

There are a lot of people who are certain these days. Dead certain. Certain enough to be cruel, to threaten and even take lives, to revel in self-righteous fury.

But I’m not sure. I don’t know what the right thing to do or say is. I want to help, but I don’t know how.

The scourge of racism has been with this land since the first slave ships landed in the Americas in the early 1600s.

This nation was built on the backs of slave labor. It took the bloodiest war in the nation’s history to end the practice.

The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in 1863, but the open and aggressive efforts to exclude African Americans from society continued unabated for more than 100 years until the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

Since then, we’ve dealt with a more sinister form of racism — the kind that is easy for white people like me to ignore because it doesn’t happen right in front of us every day and thus seems remote given our own experiences.

Then something like the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police happens and we are all forced to confront this ugliness again.

I say “we.” I overstate. I mean “white people.” Most white people live blind to racism not present in their own lives.

I support the marchers but not the looters and vandals. I believe black lives matter. I understand that as a white man, I’ll never wonder if the reason I got pulled over was because of the color of my skin.

I try to treat my fellow humans with love, dignity and respect. I remember that we are all children of God, created in His image.

But my sadness over George Floyd and racism as a whole is great.

Racism runs deeper and is more destructive in this country than anything I can image.

I am lost. I have no wisdom nor course of action that will bring us — all of us, black, white or otherwise — together, which is an unimaginable misery of its own.

I am, at best, a marginal Christian. I am uneasy quoting the Bible, I believe the treatises on human kindness put forth by Jesus in the Beatitudes to be, at a minimum, great philosophy.

Almost daily, I am drawn to the Beatitudes, in particular this line from the Sermon on the Mount described in Matthew 5:7: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.”

This is something I’m sure about: Every one of us at some point in our lives will need mercy. I have many, many, many times.

Our African-American brothers and sisters need mercy now as they long have.

We must find a way to make mercy the beginning and ending of our lives, for mercy is the only cure for misery.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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Iowa mom’s long racial awareness journey and why white Americans need to follow her path

Jonathan Hayes and wife Kristi Kinne-Hayes with their four children. Submitted photo.

Kristi Kinne-Hayes grew up in Jefferson, a Green County city made of 4,200 almost all white people. Kristi played six-on-six girls’ basketball and became one of the best players in the state.

She knew local police officers by their first names and thought of them as just another face in the crowd rather than law enforcement.

Kristi played college basketball at Drake University, leading the Bulldogs to an NCAA Tournament berth her senior season in 1995. She seldom thought about race even though she played alongside and was friends with people of different races.

She had a longtime friend who played softball at Drake who was mixed race and never knew until someone asked her friend about her race in a Kansas City bar.

A background like Kristi’s makes it seem unlikely that she would comment on the ghastly death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. But life, love and motherhood changed her perspective and her long journey from racial indifference, maybe even racial ignorance, to awareness and empathy is one all Americans — especially whites — need to take right now.

Kristi graduated from Drake, survived ovarian cancer and met and married Jonathan Hayes, a former University of Iowa tight end who played for the legendary Hayden Fry during the famed coach’s revitalization of the program in the early 1980s.

Hayes is also African-American. But a mixed-race relationship didn’t expose Kristi to the racial hatred the corrupts America’s soul.

The first time Kristi brought Johnathan home to Jefferson to watch a ballgame, fans swarmed the Hawkeye hero for autographs.

“That was so traumatic for me because when I was at the game, people came up for my autograph,” Kristi said. “I told Jonathan they only wanted his autograph because they already had mine.”

The couple settled in Cincinnati, where Jonathan served as tight ends coach for the NFL’s Bengals.

They had four children. Yet it wasn’t until their eldest daughter, the couple’s second child, turned 16 that evil racism finally struck the mother of four mixed-race children.

Kristi and Jonathan bought a new car and gave their older vehicle to their daughter. They put the old plates on their daughter’s vehicle and paid the fees, but Ohio Department of Transportation computers hadn’t yet processed the transaction.

One evening their daughter came home pale.

Kristi asked her what was wrong.

She had been pulled over by police. The car tags were wrong.

“She said, ‘I was sure they were going to shoot me,’” Kristi said. “I thought, ‘Why would you think they would shoot you?’”

And the privilege of being a white star athlete from small town Iowa evaporated. She was now the mother of four children whose facial characteristics most white people would identify as black.

“If there’s a little bit of brown, to other white people, you’re black,” Kristi said.

Living with racism did not limit her children’s success. Eldest son, Jaxson Hayes, was a first-round draft pick by the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans last year.

Daughter Jillian is a highly prized women’s basketball recruit committed to the University of Cincinnati.

Kristi reminds them that she doesn’t care if other people label them black only, just remember that their white mother and her family loves them just as much as their African-American father and his family.

“Your name is clean,” Kristi tells her kids, “keep it that way.”

Still, she worries. Jaxson is off in New Orleans, just turned 20 years old and having the time of his life as an NBA rookie despite the league shutdown due to coronavirus.

She tells her children that if they are pulled over, put their hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel.

“I never thought I would have to tell my children that,” Kristi said.

Kristi saw the news reports and videos of a Minneapolis police officer putting his knee in the back of George Floyd, an African-American man suspected of forgery.

Three other police officers stood by and did nothing. They were all fired. As of this writing, it’s unknown if they will be criminally charged.

The killing of Floyd is a complete institutional failure by the Minneapolis police. That officer pressed his knee into the back of that handcuffed man’s neck as he pleaded for mercy, he could not breath and eventually lost consciousness and died.

He stared into the crowd almost as if he was daring someone to tell him he was wrong. The crowd pleaded with him to render aid, to check Floyd for injury or get him some water.

The officer refused.

A friend of mine made this observation a few years ago: “There’s two things we learned from everybody having cameras on their phone: There are no UFOs and police sometimes kill people for no reason.”

The true horror of this event: None of those officers moved to stop their fellow officer from committing a crime. It was depraved indifference.

Here in Des Moines, some of my police sources told me they were aghast at another cop so drunk on power that his defiance led to the death of a man.

“When you have him in cuffs, get him up and in a car and off to the station,” one cop told me. “That diffuses the situation right there.”

Another cop told me police administrators were circulating a video by a top training instructor illustrating the dangers of the knee in the back hold and all Des Moines cops will have to sign off on having watched it.

There’s been little local backlash at Des Moines police because of the Minneapolis killing, but the danger of using national stories to paint local pictures hangs over every police station.

Kristi saw that news and it moved her. She lives in Cincinnati, a city that saw race riots in 2001 after police shot an unarmed African American teenager. Kristi and her family moved to Cincinnati after that terrible period.

But motherhood long ago took the woman from Jefferson’s ability to be color blind.

Moved by the story, Kristi posted to her Instagram a trending meme of the officer with his knee in the back of Floyd’s neck and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. The caption read: “This is why.”

So what does all this have to do with Kristi Kinne-Hayes, the great Iowa basketball star?

ESPN commentator Emmanuel Acho pleaded with white America in a video posted to his Twitter feed Tuesday.

“My white brothers and sisters, we need y’all’s help,” Acho said. African-Americans have been outraged as people continued to die unnecessarily, but white Americans have remained mostly indifferent or hesitant to raise their voice in protest.

We need to take the journey Kristi Kinne-Hayes took in her 46 years. She went from living blind to race because it never directly affected her to having a profound understanding of just how horrible racism is in this country.

I’m not saying you need to repost the meme or start hashtagging everything #blacklivesmatter.

But we must all do our very best to engage empathy for people who are not like us.

It’s very hard for anyone to see life through the perspective of someone who has lived so differently.

Our failure to do that is already too late for so many, the latest being George Floyd.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at paypal.me/paragraphstacker.