Consider the Hummingbird

I was on my way out of the local supermarket this morning, my purchases, such as they were, in tow, when I saw a crowd of people, including one of the kids who haul in the shopping carts from the parking lot, gathered around the automatic entrance and exit doors. When I came closer, the reason for the gathering of this diverse group of people became clear. A small, green backed hummingbird, a rarity in these parts, was lying on the corrugated, slate grey mat, just inside the store. I’m not sure of the species , but it looked remarkably similar to this one, a female ruby-throated hummingbird (the females lack the colorful throat feathers that make the males so distinctive):

It was so tiny. It could have fit in the palm of my hand easily. Clearly, though, it was badly injured. As all of us watched, it tried to move away from us, probably out of fear of all the large hominids hovering over it. However, when it tried to hop it lurched to one side barely able to move an inch, at best. The one time it opened its wings fully – and that was a beautiful sight, though its wingspan couldn’t have been more than four inches – it struggled to lift itself off the ground. It made it as high as our ankles, and covered a distance of a little over a foot, before fluttering back to the floor. It had obviously suffered a significant injury, that much was apparent. Perhaps it had struck one of the large glass doors as it flew into the store. Who can say?

The kid who corralled the shopping carts was attempting to cover it with a large, thin plastic bag. His idea was too pick it up and move it outside, but we could tell he was afraid of hurting it. After some discussion by the group, we collectively convinced him to call Animal Control or the Humane Society. He placed an open cardboard box around the bird and one of those yellow cones with “Caution” written on it, and left to make the call. Hopefully whoever he reached will contact one of the local bird rescue and rehabilitation organizations in the area. I left shorty thereafter as there was really nothing further I could do.

Sitting at home now, what strikes me the most about this unexpected encounter is the depth of concern expressed by those of us who stopped to observe the injured bird. It was more than mere curiosity that caused us to hang around. Yes, hummingbirds are quite lovely creatures, and infrequently seen around here, but the predominant feeling I picked up from everyone there was compassion for this poor, helpless animal. The collective emotion was one of empathy, and a desire to see it receive proper care. I suppose one would have to be completely lacking in any feeling for the suffering of a fellow creature in distress not to express some concern. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about recent events around the country in which fellow human beings have been murdered, injured or threatened, and the disappointing lack of empathy for their situation I’ve seen so often expressed by too many Americans.

Like most of the people who visit this site, I’m white and male. I live in a predominantly white, marginally middle class suburb. I see people of color around town when I’m out shopping, but the percentage of them is fairly low. The largest minority in our town are Asians, mostly Chinese or Indians. Unlike the city proper, its rare to see any African Americans employed at the local grocery stores, restaurants or other retail businesses within a five ten radius of my home. My own neighborhood has one black family living in our development, immigrants from Nigeria. My daughter, when she was in high school had a diverse group of close friends (for here anyway) but only one of them was a black male.

I see a fair number of Obama/Biden bumper stickers left over from 2012 in our area, but in all honesty, the majority of the people vote Republican. My mechanic, a friend of longstanding, is an avowed Tea Party member. Recently, as I waited for my car to be repaired the TV in his waiting area, some talking head on his television (tuned to Fox News naturally) were discussing the death of another young black male at the hands of police. He went off on a mini-tirade regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, and in particular Michael Brown. He claimed the mainstream media was biased against the police, and as proof he said they never mentioned that Brown was guilty of 17 felonies. I’ve head a lot of outrageous claims against Brown, but that was a new one for me.

I told him that to the best of my knowledge that simply wasn’t true. A juvenile court system attorney stated Michael Brown was “not facing any charges at the time of his death as an adult, nor did he have any juvenile record for cases involving serious felonies (i.e., murder, burglary or robbery). She made those remarks at a hearing on a lawsuit seeking the release brought by the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the race baiting conservative blogger Charles C. Johnson, who falsely accused Brown of being both a gang member and having been arrested for second degree murder. She specifically stated that since Missouri law regarding the privacy of juvenile records did not prevent disclosure of arrests or convictions for serious offenses such as murder, she could legally inform the public that Michael Brown had no juvenile record for such crimes, despite the allegations by Mr. Johnson. After that, we changed the topic to something less contentious.

To be clear, it’s not just tea party types who harbor these biases regarding African Americans. My daughter’s boyfriend’s father is literally a card carrying union member, and a proud liberal. Whenever we get together he always brings up the latest Republican or conservative outrage du jour, as well as offering me his opinions on everything from climate change, the pernicious effect of Citizen’s United, to the need for single payer health care and – of course – higher taxes for corporations and other wealthy tax scofflaws. He’s the most liberal friend I have.

Yet, the last time I saw him in late May, he pulled me aside to ask me about Marilyn Mosby, Maryland state Attorney for Baltimore and the prosecutor who charged six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray. He wanted my opinion as a former attorney. Specifically he felt that she overcharged the police officers, but worse, in her her press conference her remarks about the police officers and the young victim were too aggressive and provocative. To put it bluntly, he implied that she “overplayed the race card” in her statements to the public about Mr. Gray’s death.

To be fair, he’s not the only white person who has suggested she over-politicized the racial aspect of Freddie Gray’s death when she announced charges against those six cops. Look at this description of her actions at that press conference by Baltimore Sun columnist, Dan Rodricks:

Meanwhile, the rest of us can look at [Mosby’s] behavior since May 1 — the outdoor spectacle when she shouted out the charges against the Freddie Gray 6; her decision to appear on stage with Prince and serve with her husband as honorary ringmaster of the UniverSoul Circus; the interview with Vogue — and see a person who clearly covets the limelight.

Marilyn Mosby is certainly a politician, more so in style than any state’s attorney in memory.

In Baltimore, we’ve seen, since 1983, Kurt Schmoke, Stuart Simms, Patricia Jessamy and Gregg Bernstein — all buttoned-down, professional and serious, with only rare flashes of showmanship, and usually in an election year.

Call it a matter of taste, but I like prosecutors who are all business and kind of boring. Prosecuting crime is serious stuff, and it calls for a serious public style. You have to believe a prosecutor is making decisions in the interest of justice and not just to please the crowd.

I don’t know about you, but maybe as a retired attorney, I find it strange to see a district attorney criticized for being a politician. After all the office is political in nature. I’ve seen many press conferences in which a prosecutor announced an indictment, and they all generally follow the same pattern. The DA makes a big deal about the charges, states they are justified in light of the evidence, thanks his or her “team” of investigators, and promises that justice will be served on behalf of the community and the victim. I watched Mosby’s press conference and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary as these things go. It was all pretty standard operating procedure. The only differences from the usual high profile case? The defendants were cops, and Mosby is an intelligent young female black attorney.

I keep reflecting back to that little hummingbird this morning. With one exception – the supermarket employee who was a young Latino male – all of us were white men and women. No doubt some were religious (this area has a large number of churches and a high percentage of Catholics), and some were not. There’s a good chance that I was in the minority as a person holding liberal/progressive beliefs with a record of voting for either Democratic or Working Families Party candidates here in New York. Yet, all of us were completely in agreement with what we felt regarding that little bird. We felt its pain. We identified with its suffering. We all experienced emotions of compassion and empathy for it even though it was a different species.

And let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with that. We should feel concern for all living creatures. What I find troubling is how little compassion and empathy so many people in our country, even a few here at Daily Kos, have for the victims of police violence when they are, as it often turns out to be the case, people of color. What is it that makes some of us see a small. bikini clad teenager as “no saint” when she is physically assaulted by a police officer? What is it about the other African American victims of state sanctioned violence – Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, etc. – that makes us so quick to believe they were somehow responsible for what was done to them, that they in some way deserved the death penalty for – being black?

Why instead of feeling empathy and compassion for these victims do so many feel anger and outrage that their deaths at the hands of police officers are being questioned? Why the fierce backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement? Why the need for so many to berate the protestors with signs and slogans proclaiming “White Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” when no one has ever claimed they do not? I know there many who have offered up countless explanations and justifications – psychological, sociological, political – for the attitudes of these people, but I find it harder and harder to accept any reason for why such ugly and bigoted beliefs should continue to prevail among so many Americans, and predominately white Americans, at that. I get some of them are afraid, or filled with rage at perceived slights, or just believe the stereotypes fed to them by the media that blacks are inferior, prone to criminality, dangerous, not as moral as whites, ad nauseam.

But I’m sick of excuses from these people. I’m sick of their bigotry, their racism, the very real harm they do to other human beings merely be holding these beliefs and supporting those who participate in the violence and injustice done to our African American brothers and sisters. And I might add, the same thing can be said about those who hate and despise LGBT people, Muslims, Latinos, the disabled, atheists and other groups who feel the lash of prejudice.

It’s a standard science fiction trope in literature and the cinema that humanity is always at each others throats until some invasion of aliens from space show up to threaten all human existence. Then, like magic, a switch flips and we all become best buds in the fight to save the human race, on the theory that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” I suppose. But why should it take a potential extinction event to cause all of us to reject the demons of our own irrational biases and hatreds and end these unreasonable and despicable belief systems that promote the viewpoint that any group of human beings is of lesser value than any other? Do not all of us have the right to be who we are without fear that our very lives are at risk because of the color of our skin, the people we love, the language we speak, the clothes we wear, the politics we espouse or the god(s) – or not – to whom we pray?

Regarding the relative value of birds and human beings, Jesus is reported to have said:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:26, English Standard version

I say: Are not our brothers and sisters who suffer under the burdens of racism, prejudice and hate as deserving of our compassion as one small hummingbird?

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