I have been haunted by the case of Ralph Jarl, the Black 16-year-old in Missouri who was shot by Andrew Lester after ringing the elderly white man’s doorbell. Jarl’s mother had asked him to pick up his two younger brothers at a nearby home, but Jarl had mistakenly approached a home on the wrong street.
Everything about this situation is shocking. Lester’s behavior is reprehensible and inexcusable, no matter how broadly you interpret Missouri’s Stand Your Ground law. Jarl did nothing more threatening than ring the man’s doorbell. In my youth, someone like Lester might have yelled, “Scram, you punk!” (Well, he might have used a different epithet.) Lester also could have opted to ignore the doorbell and simply not answer the door. But Lester made the choice to shoot the teenager—twice—without exchanging any words.
In the criminal complaint, Lester stated that he was “‘scared to death’ due to the male’s size.” This is the detail that caught my attention. Jarl’s family has reported that the youngster is 5’8” and weighs 140 pounds. Lester claimed Jarl was 6 feet tall. There is a considerable discrepancy here between reality and Lester’s perception.
I have seen this before.
In Tessa Bishop Hoggard’s book In the Courthouse’s Shadow: The Lynching of George Carter, Hoggard relays the story of my great-grandmother’s alleged assault by a Black man while crossing a covered bridge in Paris, Ky., in December 1900. The initial report in the Kentuckian-Citizen newspaper described the incident as an attempted purse snatching. In my great-grandmother’s words, her attacker “had brown skin, weight about 200 pounds, fairly well dressed….”
Two months later, a suspect was pulled from his jail cell by a group of local men and lynched in front of the county courthouse.
The victim of this extrajudicial justice, George Carter, had never been charged with my great-grandmother’s assault. He was being held in the jail for another offense. But rumors had led to suspicions that he was the guilty man, and the crime against my great-grandmother had also morphed in the prurient imaginations of concerned citizens.
But, as you can see from the photo, George Carter clearly was not 200 pounds. In their rush to defend my great-grandmother’s honor, did the mob hang a man who had nothing to do with the incident on the bridge? Or was the description my great-grandmother gave the newspaper at the time of the attack yet another example of white victims reporting Black perpetrators as much larger and more physically threatening than they actually are?
In her book, Hoggard also relays the story of another mob lynching in Paris in 1889, where the victim had again been described by the woman he allegedly attacked as “a large, burly Negro, weighing over 200 pounds.” We have no photograph of Jim Kelly to confirm his physical size, but the common language feels suspicious, like a trope that was cemented in the minds of a fearful white population.
According to the Washington Post: “In multiple studies, people who were asked to judge the size of Black people tended to see Black men as bigger and stronger than they actually were, and gave Black children the attributes of adults. The result is that they are seen as more dangerous....In some studies, [Kurt Hugenberg, a professor in psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University] showed participants images of Black men and White men who are about the same height and weight. Participants often thought the Black men appeared larger...”
Yes, Virginia, there is systemic racism. It permeates so many aspects of our lives and our interactions that even those of us who try valiantly to reject racist tropes inevitably fall under their sway. Racism is pernicious, it’s prevalent, and it’s dangerous. If we refuse to recognize that, we can’t even begin to chip away at the corrosion it has caused. And our fellow citizens will continue to pay the price.
“Living with regrets is like driving a car that only moves in reverse.” — Jodi Picoult
Bob Cox, of Frankfort, Ky., shares more about the good life. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
Today I got up at sunrise and walked my dog, Cooper, early enough that I could spy on the neighbors as they scrambled for work. The weather was agreeable, so I took my coffee outside. I had one goal for the day: mow the lawn and refurbish the mulch. I knocked that out before lunch. Then I walked the dog again. I spent a couple of hours on an oil painting that I am preparing to give to a friend.
Then, suddenly, I had the desire to write this essay.
Later, there might be a glass of wine on the deck before I finish the final draft. I will then enjoy the evening chatting with my wife about her work day and our upcoming plans for a week in Florida. I most likely will be in bed early, reading.
Earlier this week, I took a five-mile hike at Red River Gorge; painted the upstairs bathroom; babysat my 18-month-old grandson; attended both granddaughters’ soccer games; and took my mom out for lunch.
Yes, I am retired. I’ve written about this before. But I have been at it a year now, and I wanted to report that it has been even better than I expected. So many people I know seem reticent to take the plunge, even when they have a retirement plan in place and can check all the boxes. So I wanted to share my exuberance about what retirement offers.
Retirement is like no other stage of life, for two rather obvious reasons. First, you are free to choose what happens every single day. Second, you can invest time in the things that truly matter to you. That’s it. That’s the secret that I had failed to recognize before I spent my last day at work.
Typically, I do not like routine. For most of my life it annoyed me to follow a schedule. Now, however, in order to fit in all the things I want to do, I find myself loosely planning about a week ahead. I still get up when I feel like it, do what makes me happy, and feel NO guilt about my choices.
When I retired, I did make one commitment to myself: I wanted to see results. I intended to invest all my resources, both emotional and financial, in a life that would bring me peace. I wanted to spend more time with friends and family. I wanted to travel—long trips and short, expensive and not so much.
Clearly, I recognize how fortunate I am. Not everyone has the choices I do. My health is good. My wife is still employed and gave me her blessing to retire. We have the financial resources to enjoy this time. My mother is nearly 89, and I am free to take her to lunch or for a drive in the country, listening to her stories. I can build memories with my grandchildren, as I recall all the things I learned from my own grandparents—especially my Granddad, whose wisdom is golden to me now.
Some fear they will become lonely and isolated when they retire, once they walk away from the social network they have built up during years of work. My circle of friends has actually expanded in retirement. I have close friends I regularly join for drinks or dinner. I spend time at the lake boating with my cousin. I play golf with a good buddy. I hike monthly with a group of retired high school mates. My wife and I recently visited friends at their winter beach house. I can choose to spend more time with more people. They all fit in my new schedule.
So, here’s my unsolicited advice. Retire as soon as you can. There are hidden pleasures awaiting you. Each day you will have the freedom to choose what you want to do, and choose those things that matter most to you.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –Les Brown
Joe Ford, of Louisville, Ky., was inspired by Cathy Eads’ Drag-on to recount more reasons why we must not hide under a bushel. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
I knew if I just waited a week or so to respond I would have more fodder, because there is no limit to the pettiness, ignorance, and cruelty of most Republican officials, who hate America and God’s creation so deeply and with such passion.
Let’s start with a first graders’ spring concert in Wisconsin. What could be cuter, right?
Here’s something cuter: first graders singing “Rainbowland” (by Dolly and her goddaughter Miley) about a utopian world that could be possible if people lived in harmony.
It almost makes me tear up just thinking about first graders singing “Chase dreams forever/I know there’s gonna be a greener land/ We are rainbows, me and you/Every color every hue.”
But put that hanky away: administrators decided to ban the song, as it is perceived as “controversial” and might not be “appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students.” WTF? What could possibly be MORE appropriate for first graders? A re-enactment of Sandy Hook? The maturity level of the children is not the issue, but rather the maturity level of the adults.
I’ll add that “Rainbow Connection” (by Kermit the frog) was apparently also banned from the first graders’ spring concert, but was reinstated, no doubt because the administrators feared they would be ridiculed for the buffoons they are.
Really? Rainbows are the issue? Perhaps we should be reminded that rainbows are a sign of the “everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Genesis 9:11–15).
Moving on, but not really. I roughly quote below from an article by Charles Blow of the New York Times (emphasis mine):
An elementary school in St. Petersburg, Florida, stopped showing a 1998 Disney movie about Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old Black girl who integrated a public elementary school in New Orleans in 1960, because of a complaint lodged by a single parent who said she feared the film might teach children that white people hate Black people. (What? White people hate Black people?)
Ruby, a first grader, had to endure throngs of white racists – adults! – jeering, hurling epithets, spitting at her, and threatening her life. But now a Florida parent worries that it’s too much for second graders to hear, see, and learn about in a considerably toned-down Disney movie.
But of course, the point is not the protection of children but the deceiving of them. And the real point is that a single parent can object to a lesson or book and potentially have it banned. They are foot soldiers in the culture wars. A Toni Morrison book was banned for a rape scene. The Bible has rape scenes. Are we going to ban that?
And moving not very far at all, a principal in Florida (of course) this month was pressured to resign after sixth-graders in his school were shown Michelangelo’s statue of David, a biblical figure no less, and three parents complained. Meanwhile, take no comfort in the promised administrators’ “review process” of these parental complaints, such has been enshrined in law here in Kentucky. There will be no funding for resources to review the hundreds of objections.
So while one individual can squash a book or lesson on the front lines, Republican legislators are establishing an infrastructure to dismantle the American system of government. In Wisconsin, hot on the heels of a win by a liberal-leaning judge who will take a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a new two-thirds Republican majority in the state’s Assembly is talking about its ability to remove that judge—or the governor or anyone else not to their liking.
They likely won’t succeed, but it is the attitude, drunk with power, that is scary. In the wake of the success of abortion protections on ballots across the country, states are rewriting the rules to prevent mere citizens from placing such measures on the ballot. Conservative state houses are stripping Democratic governors of their powers. And duly elected state legislators are being expelled from their offices.
In Tennessee this week, three legislators stood in front of the chamber and joined the chants of citizens in the gallery who were protesting the Republicans’ inaction after the recent slaughter of three nine-year-old students and three of their school’s staff members—in the very city where the state house stands—by a former student wielding three guns. For this transgression against decorum, the Tennessee House expelled the two young Black legislators—but NOT the white legislator who also joined the protest.
That’s right: The Republican legislators took immediate punitive action toward those peaceably protesting the slaughter of innocents but did nothing about gun violence. Oh wait—they did do something: After the murders, members of the legislature who brought up the topic of gun violence…had their microphones shut off! Hence the protesting legislators’ need for a bullhorn to duly represent the will of their constituents.
With the two expulsions, 140,000 citizens of Tennessee lost their representation in the Tennessee House. Did I already say that “Republican legislators are establishing an infrastructure to dismantle the American system of government?” You can’t make this stuff up.
Wait another week and we’ll have more examples. The destruction of a free America is upon us. Our new national religion—hate—is here. Write (lots of) letters to the editor. Show up at a Trans rally. Speak the truth, loudly.
It is a frustrating time. Many have pointed out that assault weapon owners, hypersensitive and maliciously aggressive school critics, historical revisionists, and election deniers and their ilk are in the minority. But they are loud and well-organized, and they vote. In 2019, for the first time ever, I volunteered to go door-to-door encouraging people to vote for Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. (He won because of me!)
The lesson we should take from this is that we, too, have to be loud, have to participate, and have to vote. Hang on to hope. Keep an eye on that rainbow.