Police Brutality Close to Home

You know those stories people share about a black man or woman getting beaten up by a police officer? We read them all the time. And deep down, so many people react with “right, but… what provoked the officer?”

This is not one of those stories. 

I know Nandi from church. She is loving and kind and fun. We talk about race relations a lot. She knows I have a genuine interest, as I am raising a mixed-race little girl. She knows that when I ask questions, it’s because I want to know. And I know I can be honest with her. 

I trust her. 

So when I read the account of her story today, I literally didn’t breathe for a bit. My throat gets tight and tears well in my eyes every time I think about it. 

Warning: strong language ahead. Please read anyway. 

Late Friday night (Saturday morning) around 3:00 AM Nandi was walking home from a show with her girlfriend Stephanie. They were in Flatbush. (In Brooklyn) It was a quiet night, and they heard a man “barreling down the street.” It startled them, and Stephanie asked “Damn dude, where you going?”

I have done this same thing. I have asked strangers to slow down, quiet down, settle down. I have never had the next part happen to me. The man responded with “Don’t fucking talk to me you fucking piece of shit dyke. Mind your business.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I probably would ask someone what on earth their problem was if they addressed me that way. And that’s what Stephanie did. She asked “What’s your problem? Who are you talking to?”

Remember, seconds earlier Nandi and Stephanie were walking down the street, minding their own business. So imagine their shock when he grabbed Stephanie and started to beat her. Nandi tried to pull him away from her 110 pound friend. But seeing as Nandi is only 105 herself, and the man was at least 6 feet tall, she didn’t have much luck.  

Nandi and Stephanie had just gotten out of a cab, and the driver was still nearby. The man yelled to the cab driver to call the police, but he just watched, shocked. He yelled again, continuing to beat Stephanie. When the cab driver still did nothing, the man yelled that he is a cop. 

Nandi asked where his badge was. As she did so, 4 policemen showed up. They then handcuffed both Nandi and Stephanie and took them to the 63rd precinct. Nandi was released after about 15 minutes. Stephanie was charged with felony assault and taken to Riker’s Island where she stayed until Saturday night, when Nandi could post bail. 

The officer’s account of the story, as read in court, is pure fiction. He says the women were fighting, that he tried to break it up and Stephanie attacked him and called him a “white motherfucker.” He also wanted her tested for HIV, claiming she “probably” was HIV positive, and that she tried to bite him. (Also fiction.) He wanted to have her put in the psych ward. 

Nandi and Stephanie are supposed to appear in court on Thursday. They are getting legal advice, and I can only pray justice is served here. 

So why post this story?

Because Nandi and Stephanie are two young women who were walking down the street when they found themselves in handcuffs. Because my heart breaks that my friend is going through this. Because every time someone is attacked by the police, it’s someone’s friend.

Because we need to fix this shit before my daughter heads out into the world. 

Before you think I am a cop-hater or that I am attacking every police officer out there, please just don’t. I have lots of cops in my life, and they are all amazing people and they care about protecting the peace. But just because they exist, that doesn’t mean what happened to my friend doesn’t happen. Every day. Every where. 

They were two young women walking down the street. And a police officer beat them up and lied about it. And now the burden of proof is on them. 

This is why #BlackLivesMatter is important. Do all lives matter? Obviously. But I’m not worried about all lives right now. I’m worried about the black lives. How do we fix this?

We have to fix this. 

Update- there is now a crowd-funding campaign to help Nandi and Stephanie with legal fees. You can help by donating here: 

Edit: When this post first appeared, I referred to Stephanie as Nandi’s “friend.” I simply misunderstood their relationship- it has been changed to reflect the truth. But it is an important change. It’s not just adding “girl” to the beginning of a word. It helps us further understand how hateful this situation was. It was just as much a hate crime towards homosexuals as it was towards African Americans. And I want to make sure people know that. 

Homosexuality and the Bible, The Cross the Line Challenge

Here’s some food for thought re: homosexuality and the Bible. I recently started reading all the way through the Bible with a group of friends. We are following the 90 Days program. The entire Bible. In 90 days. It’s intense. And I certainly won’t be a Bible scholar at the end of it. I’ll just be a Christian who is reading through the Bible- every word- in an effort to get closer to God and have a better understanding of my faith. I am not a Bible scholar. I’m just passionate about Jesus. 

Today, I’m reading Leviticus. And I got to that part. That part that everyone always quotes. 

 “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” – Leviticus 18:22
And at first I was like whoa. I couldn’t really see another interpretation. The rest of the things in that chapter- Unlawful Sexual Relations- are things that are pretty universally (in our culture, anyway) agreed upon to be no-no’s. Incest. Besteality. Adultery. So while I had no intention of ditching my homosexual friends or voting against civil rights, I did- for a moment- think OK. The Bible says no. I see it. 
And then I was like wait. 
He wasn’t talking to us here. He was talking specifically to the Israelites of that time. These rules were for them, not for us. 

He also told them the following:
“Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
  
This is what I’m wearing as I read this. Whoops. 

“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”  

A pic of my hubby, who als makes unholy choices. 

“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.”  

I hope henna doesn’t count!

“Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary.”

Last Sunday we drove from Ohio to Connecticut. So. 

And my absolute favorite one, especially for those of you who want to take these orders and make them a rule book about how we should live today. 

“When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Ouch. How’s that fight to close the borders treating you?

I know I’m not pointing out anything that is new. But the difference is I’m reading it for myself. So here’s the thing. I will concede once more that I am not a Bible scholar. And if you ARE a Bible scholar and would like to tell me why you think Leviticus 18:22 still applies to today, but not the rest of the rules listed within the same context, please feel free to tell me in the comments. But based on what I’m reading, you might want to remove this verse from your list of proof that homosexuality is a sin.  

*Also. The intention of this post is to discuss homosexuality in the Bible. However. Even if we were to concede that the Bible says it is wrong, that does not have anything to do with the civil rights discussion so many people are having. We don’t make laws based on ANY religion in this country, remember?

The Unlikely Baby of fringe, NYC

One of the best things about being a writer and theatre producer is that people randomly send me things to read. 
Also, one of the worst things about being a writer and theatre producer is that people randomly send me things to read. 
Let’s be honest. Most of the things we write are mediocre at best. That’s why those things don’t get read by the masses. We save the good stuff for people outside of our private circle of readers. But when you’re INSIDE a private circle of readers, you end up reading a lot of really awful stuff. But you do it, because people will read your awful stuff and tell you it’s awful except on the rare occasion when it’s not and then you know you really have something. 

In the winter of 2009, my friend Tom sent me his script for a play called “The Unlikely Adventure of Race McCloud, Private Eye.” And I knew he really had something. 

“Race” was funny and smart and colorful and something I wanted to spend time with. So I offered to do a reading of it with my company. The day of the reading, Tom found out “Race” had been accepted into the NYC International fringe festival. I don’t know if he asked me to produce it, or if I asked if I could produce it (although it’s likely the latter, as I’m fairly aggressive about these things. I may or may not have taken my engagement ring out of the box myself and put it on my own finger.) but regardless of how it happened, it was established. I would produce Tom’s show in the fringe.

And it was great timing. I had lots of free time those days, as I had just left my job teaching music theatre at a local college. We were in the adoption process, and we didn’t know when we might get “the call.” So I was free as a bird. 

You know. As long as we didn’t suddenly get a phone call saying we were going to become parents. 

But that was highly unlikely. We’d only been approved for 3 months. 

(You see where this is headed, yes?)

A few weeks after that first reading- yes, just a few weeks later- the phone rang. My life changed forever. I became a Mom. And I can’t think of those first few months of Motherhood without thinking of Race McCloud. 

Tom gave me an out. He’s a Dad. He knows what it’s like to have an infant. But I knew we could do it as a family. And so, with the help of my husband, I produced a show in the fringe with a baby strapped to my front. 

It started with rehearsals. Lily had lots of great ideas. 

  
Then, we had some photo shoots. Her PR rep was very demanding. 

  
We hit the streets of NYC to pass out postcards and meet the fans. She had a lot to say.  We called it the No-Shame Marketing Campaign. 

 
She was famous. My husband was carrying her down the streets of the East Village when he overheard someone say “hey! That’s that baby from the fringe!”

And after a highly successful run, we were able to relax and enjoy some time together.  

We even took in a show!  

Cute pictures aside (but come on. They were pretty cute.) Race McCloud will always have a special place in my heart. It was part of my baby’s first summer. It helped plant theatre seeds in her heart that are really starting to bloom. (She’s appearing in her first show at the end of August. She plays one of Snow White’s dwarfs. Her character name? Nin-com-poop.) And it gave me the confidence to know that I am not “just” an actor. I can do things. Even big scary difficult exhausting things. 

The thing about theatre experiences is that they end. Even long-running Broadway shows end. It’s the toughest part of the process for me. But there’s exciting news for me and Race McCloud fans everywhere. You can now read about his adventure in a series of novels available on Amazon. Ok, so the books may not weave their way into your own personal narrative the way they did with my daughter. But they are an awful lot of fun. 

 The Unlikely Adventures of Race & Cookie McCloud (Book 1.1): Awkward Introductions by Tom Hoefner et al. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XVI8USW/ref=cm_sw_r_udp_awd_64.Nvb4MV8ENS

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XVI8USW/ref=cm_sw_r_udp_awd_64.Nvb4MV8ENS 

Gun Rights- The Cross The Line Challenge

I am afraid of guns. Let me put that right out there. I have never shot a gun. I did not grow up in a home with guns. I have had nightmares of someone pointing a gun at my head. In my first year of teaching, I lost a 7th grade student to a gun accident. When I was in “Assassins,” I was nervous around our prop gun that wasn’t even a “real” prop gun. 

I do not like guns. 

So when people fiercely guard their gun rights, I get it, but I don’t get it. I understand the desire to protect the Constitution. I also understand the desire to protect oneself and one’s family. But. Guns are dangerous and they scare me. 

The Facebook argument that inspired the Cross The Line Challenge started with someone posting this quote. 

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

  
Ok. In a very literal sense, guns do not, on their own, do any harm. It requires a person to operate the gun, just like a person needs to operate a fork. The fork will not, on its own, put food into someone’s mouth. But there are two very serious issues with this statement. 

1. The point of a gun is to do harm. That is why it exists. It is not like crazy people have figured out some way to misuse a gun. That is literally what they are for. 

2. Your fork will not make me fat. And it will not accidentally put food in the wrong mouth. 

So this argument makes me crazy. It actually has less to do with gun control than it does stupid arguments. I mentioned this to the original poster. And, as I explained yesterday, I was then attacked by his friends for being anti-gun. Of course, I hadn’t SAID I was anti-gun. (But. I mean. See above.)

I was asking them- but why can’t we have stricter gun laws AND let you guys keep your guns AND offer help to the troubled hearts of the world. And the response was essentially NO BECAUSE CONSTITUTION. 

This was an incredibly frustrating response to me. But it made me see that I was doing the same thing. So I decided my first Cross The Line Challenge would be dedicated to the issue that first sparked the challenge: gun rights. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past 24 hours, which is why this post took a little longer than anticipated. But I knew so little about guns. I had a lot of questions. And they have been answered. And you know what? I kind of change my mind. 

Here are my 3 reasons from the other side. 

1. Strict gun laws are already in place. Lots of things can prohibit you from getting a gun. Having a certain history of criminal activity, having a history of mental health that required hospitalization, or making it known that you have plans to hurt someone, for example. 

2. Contrary to popular belief (and my belief) there are far fewer gun accidents than cases of people defending their homes with guns. I had assumed the opposite. But nope. 

3. *A 1997 U.S. Justice Department survey of 14,285 state prison inmates found that among those inmates who carried a firearm during the offense for which they were sent to jail, 0.7% obtained the firearm at a gun show, 1% at a flea market, 3.8% from a pawn shop, 8.3% from a retail store, 39.2% through an illegal/street source, and 39.6% through family or friends.

So. That thing about bad guys getting their guns illegally? It turns out that’s true. 

Now. I also discovered some things that I wasn’t too crazy about. 

1.People who are being watched for potentially terrorist activity can still buy guns and explosives. Um… let’s fix that, K?

2. *Using fake driver’s licenses bearing fictitious names, investigators with the Government Accountability Office had a 100% success rate buying firearms in five states that met the minimum requirements of the federal background check system. A 2001 report of this investigation states that the federal background check system “does not positively identify purchasers of firearms,” and thus, people using fake IDs are not flagged by the system.

Also not OK. 

Look. I still hate guns. I wish no one had any guns. I wish a lot of things. But when it comes to gun rights, I’m willing to admit that there were things I didn’t know and didn’t understand. 

Hopefully my next Cross The Line Challenge will help me say “See? I knew I was right!” 😉

*source: justfacts.com

Tastes Great, Less Filling: The Cross The Line Challenge

This weekend was all about patriotism. In fact, I’m wearing my blue scarf with the white stars, even though it’s July 6. Of course that’s mostly because it matches my red and blue nails. But still. USA and stuff.   
As recently as Friday, though, I was in a love/hate relationship with our country. Or more specifically, with its citizens. It started with another Facebook argument over politics. For what it’s worth, I think Facebook is a perfectly appropriate place to have these conversations. I think they’re better in person, where we can’t hide behind the false feeling of anonymity. But since we tend to spend time with people who think like us (or at least I do) Facebook can be a good place to discuss things with someone who has opposing views. 

But here’s the problem with that. 

None of us is actually discussing anything. 

Do you remember this commercial?

It immediately became a pop culture phenomenon. 

It’s a silly argument, of course. It doesn’t need to be one or the other. A beer can taste great AND be less filling, and we all have different priorities when it comes to beer consumption. In my case, for example, the answer to the “tastes great vs/ less filling” question by the way, is C. Neither. There is no reason to drink Miller Lite. Ever. Gross.  

My “conversation” on Friday reminded me of the Miller Lite commercial. A friend who I know to have political views that are pretty much the opposite of mine posted something. And he is a very smart person. But it was a very flawed argument. So I pointed out the flaw in his argument. I actually didn’t even say I opposed his view, (I do, but didn’t say it) simply that it was a silly argument. Almost immediately, I was attacked by two strangers basically asking why I hate America. Ok not really. But they were on the offense for sure. And I was trying to have an actual discussion. But then two phrases were used that made things so clear to me. 
“No reasoning needed,” and “plain and simple.”

  
And I just thought man. If we all assume our view is plain and simple, and there is no reasoning needed when we talk, no freakin wonder we can’t find common ground. 

Of course, I was wondering why they were being so difficult that they were refusing to even consider my point of view. And then came the conviction that I was behaving in exactly the same way. 

  
 
And I wondered. What if before we had knee-jerk reactions to people’s opinions as if we were rooting for rival baseball teams, (let’s go Mets!)

 

  we instead stopped. And thought. And looked at it from the other side. And I mean really really looked at it. 
And the #CrossTheLineChallenge was born. In my head, anyway. It won’t really be born until you guys join me 🙂

  
Here’s how it works: think of an issue about which you feel passionately. Then, list 3 solid reasons why the “other side” might be right. I tried it. It’s tough. My brain screamed NOOOOOOOO!!!! This goes against everything you believe!!!! 

  
So I had to say shut it, brain. We’re working on something here. 
And besides. One of the signs of intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same time. 

  
So. How smart are you 😉
I encourage you to try it and tag #CrossTheLineChallenge

  
I encourage you to research and open your mind. 
I discourage you from using the Constitution and the Bible as arguments. 
Wait- what did she say????

  
That’s right. As a self-proclaimed patriot and Jesus-lover, I am challenging you not to use “because the Constitution says” or “as it says in the Bible…” as a stand-alone argument. Feel free to use the principles they stand for. But just quoting? That’s not a reason. And then we’re back into the circular thinking that says, essentially, “I’m right because I’m right.”
I’ll be posting my first #CrossTheLineChallenge in a few hours. As we head into another election season, let’s actually talk to each other. 

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