Thursday, September 24, 2020



The city of Louisville was in the news a lot yesterday, and I'll get to why a little later in this post.  Meanwhile, some related stories.

There has been much racial strife in the world the past few decades, sometimes near the places I was, but little I have had to deal with directly.   For example, there was a major race riot in Newark, just miles from where I was born and grew up, but that occurred in the summer of 1967.  Much of the city burned, but I wasn't due to be born for a few months, so I didn't have to experience that.  There was a lot of violence and unrest in the late 60's- societal changes, riots, wars.  I know of these things through reading and documentaries.

I chose to go to a high school in an urban location, the student body was fairly evenly divided between races and ethnicities. And there were no problems. Maybe it was because we were too young to care, or maybe it was because the Christian Brothers who ran the school kept things from getting out of control, but there was no racial tension while I was there.  All conflicts that I can remember were with fellow white students, nothing I couldn't handle.

The first major race riot I was aware of was Los Angeles in the early 90's.  This was a big one, mostly sparked by the Rodney King incident.  He was a black man who was severely beaten by a mostly white police force, probably a regular thing, but this time was captured on video.   And the world got to see it.  Before it was all over, a lot of death, destruction, violence, blocks burning.  The closest I came to it was in Hackensack, NJ, a whole continent away.  How?  The place I worked was across the street from the county police station, with their large fenced parking lot next door.  Another King related trial had just happened, and word was that some people would be unhappy with the results, so there were preparing. Buses of armed officers in full riot gear were in formation, armored emergency vehicle were being brought out.  Luckily that is where it ended.  Maybe we just have more sense in this area these days.  There is nothing to be gained by destroying or burning your own city.   When professional sports teams in Chicago, Detroit, or other large midwestern cities win national championships, there often wide occurrences of riots, arson, and other antisocial behavior, but in New York, I've seen celebrations for Yankees, Mets, and Giants championships, which were just big parades, then clean up and go home.  

The next thing I had to deal with was Carbondale, Illinois, where I went to grad school for 3 years in the early to mid 90's.  A tradition had developed of a big riot on the weekend closest to Halloween, and it had gotten so bad, the school thought it best just to declare a fall break and close the dorms.  (I had an apartment and was unaffected by that policy) State troopers were stationed on the main roads leading into town, north, south, east and west, to keep non residents away.  Nothing racial, just people who enjoy a chance for violence.  This kind of thing happens.  Had a student years ago who was ejected from a local amusement park because she had a habit of attacking the workers at the Halloween spook house.   Happened twice. When I asked her why, she said they scared her.  I pointed out that was their job, but there was no getting through to her.  Each week I reminded her to be careful with her hot glue gun, but she would eventually burn herself.  Later I learned that girls were forbidden to work that scary attraction because so many people showed up just for the chance to hit women. My first year in Carbondale, I decided to use the break to visit my college friend Doug a few states away, but the next year I stuck it out.  In the days leading up to the weekend, city workers were busy coating street light and traffic light poles with vaseline, I assumed to make them difficult to climb, and that weekend a few store windows were smashed and I think one car burned. But that could happen any weekend. There was a fairly common occurrence called "taking the strip", where large numbers of students would be forced out of bars by the standard 2:00 am closing and just occupy and block the main road through town (aka "the strip"), until the police showed up an started spraying everyone with mace.  Typical weekend in Carbondale, a town with more bar fights than any other place I have been.

About a decade ago I moved into studio in Ocean Grove. just a block from Asbury Park. That city once had one of the premiere boardwalks in the state, but a major race riot in 1970 helped put an end to that, along with the opening of the Parkway, which made it a lot easier to get to the rest of the beaches along the coast.  As always happens, when the rest of society runs away, artists move in, making Asbury more an art town than it had been.  Despite a lot of local corruption and poorly planned construction, the town is gradually getting more popular.  Hard to ignore all that beachfront accessible by train and car.  Earlier this year Asbury was host to a few Black Lives Matter marches, and our building decided in advance to close for the occasion.  As it turned out, the marches were blocks away from our location, and like most such matches were peaceful demonstrations, so no harm occurred.

And that brings us to today.  Our current president has a long history of racist behavior, and tends to encourage it, as long as it isn't against white people. A while back a group of police busted into the apartment of a woman named Breonna Taylor at 2:00 am and shot the place up. And that's really all we know.  Different witnesses have different accounts.  Maybe the police knocked, maybe not.  Maybe they fired first, maybe not.  The woman was innocent- they were after her boyfriend.  He fired back at the police.  The police fired over 20 bullets between them, but none hit the guy with the gun.  A few went into the neighboring apartment, and 6 ended up in the woman, who was killed.  The city of Louisville, where this happened, realized something very bad had happened, and gave the family a huge cash settlement and started changing procedures.  No body cameras were on. Yesterday was the conclusion of the trial for the police.  And it was concluded that no one should be blamed for what happened.  What followed reminded me of Hackensack 30 years ago.  Someone in the city feared the worst, and the heavy trucks were brought out, and dozens of police armed and in riot gear, and as is often the case these days, joined by large armed militias (white people with guns- Kentucky is an open carry state).  A curfew was announced. and the protestors obeyed it- no riots last night.  What will happen the next few days remains to be seen.

One thing that makes Louisville stand out for me is that used to pass through it a few times a year as part of my cross country journeys from Carbondale to New Jersey and back.  Don't think I ever set foot on the ground there, just passing through on the interstate.  It seemed yesterday's event was in the downtown area, so not where I had been, but I was glad I wasn't making  the trip yesterday.  

Which leads to the question- is there art to be made here?  This is not the kind of thing I usually do.  Mostly because I really don't know much of what actually happened.  I don't like to speculate or make things up.  The trial seemed to say that they didn't know what happened either, so everyone should just forget it and go home.  Without some additional information, or a good idea to add to the discussion, I have nothing to say right now. 


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