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A Riot Is The Language of the Unheard; #blacklivesmatter Phila. Protest 4/30/2015
A Riot Is The Language of the Unheard; #blacklivesmatter Phila. Protest 4/30/2015
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My America, where are you? With the horrible consequences of the protests in Baltimore, I am overcome with emotions, and it is difficult to say which is the stronger. Is it sorrow, anger, frustration, or shame? Actually, it's a suffocating combination of all four, but if I were forced to select one, it wouldn't be sorrow (although it is with a most heavy heart that I write this), and although I'm "madder n hell," it wouldn't be anger, for anger gets in the way of rational thinking. Frustration carries with it a connotation of pettiness, and that leaves SHAME.

Yes, SHAME. Is it possible that my America, founded on a principle of equality, has, after more than two centuries, yet to realize that hallowed promise? Is it possible that while most foreign-born immigrants live on a par with those that society has deemed acceptable, Native Americans, who were here before us, and African Americans, whose ancestors were born here, are relegated to a second-class citizenship? Is any attempt to disguise the deplorable conditions under which these citizens are forced to live nothing but sheer hypocrisy?

I am sickened by a black president, so insensitive that he could refer to his oppressed brothers as "criminals and thugs." I am sickened by Fox News with their ridiculous pair, Hannity and O'Reilly, attempting to blame the victim in an effort to justify the racial discrimination they foster. I am sickened by those who would point to the few blacks that have risen above the poverty level as evidence that we have successfully addressed the problem, but I am even more sickened by those same few blacks who have chosen to do nothing to alleviate the plight of their brothers. I am sickened by a government that professes to take umbrage at the abuse or denial of human rights by other nations, while trashing its own constitution. I am sickened by a society whose irrational exceptionalism allows its swagger to alienate the rest of the world.

It is with this same exceptionalism that many will take issue with me and suggest that if I don't like it, I should leave it. To those sycophants who not only accept but bow to the authoritative oppression we are now subjected to, I would simply remind them that to leave would be to abandon the pledges and aspirations embodied in our founding. As a true patriot, I choose to stay and to do all that I can to bring that promise to fruition.

To those who assume that I have no right or reason to hold such views, let me cite a few personal experiences to suggest otherwise. Throughout my entire elementary and secondary education, I attended segregated schools, while my African American friend and neighbor, Otis Clement, was sent off to a less than well-equipped facility for a less than well-rounded education. Otis was one of the finest athletes I have ever known. He could run faster, jump higher and outpace anyone else that I grew up with in almost any sport. The sand-lot baseball team I played with could never have considered him, and as for high school sports, his Lincoln High School teams, with hand-me-down equipment, received no acknowledgment from the press and played to a sparse attendance of family members and a few curiosity seekers. How does someone as talented as Otis tolerate an imposed inability to realize his true promise? In this case, he couldn't.

Following WWII, in which we both served, I was attending some function at the McLure Hotel, during which I encountered Otis as a waiter. I immediately went to greet him, only to be told by him that he was not permitted to speak to the guests. It was shortly after that most embarrassing event that I learned that Otis had concluded that it was no longer possible to tolerate this world of indifference and humiliation. And so, he left.

It was the same era in which I became active in the local theatre scene. I had the good fortune to meet and work with another most talented African American, Wade Hamlin. He was not only a fine technician, but a great actor. There was one occasion on which during a break for lunch from a rehearsal we took advantage of a nearby restaurant. Wade had ordered a hot dog with mustard, and when it was served, it was covered, bun and all, with heaps of mustard. My impulse was to raise hell, but Wade restrained me saying, "It's okay, Hal, you just don't realize how it is." On leaving, after spitting on the five dollar bill, I threw it into the face of what I presumed, from his broken English, to be a recent immigrant.

On another occasion, we were in a neighboring town rehearsing a play in which Wade and his lovely wife Sylvia were acting. After the rehearsal, we were driving back home. Passing through a village in which the police had been known to conduct a speed trap, we were very careful to stay within the speed limit. When another car passed us at a few miles above the limit, I remarked, "He's going to get it." And surely enough, we saw the flashing lights. Not only was the offending car pulled over, but so were we. As I was explaining that we were within the limit, the officer turned his flashlight to the rear seat, spotting Wade and Sylvia. Immediately, this protector of our rights, with no hesitation or explanation, saw fit to arrest us as well.

Yes, I am sickened by the tired, old and cliched excuse of "We've come a long way." It's been for 239 years that the Native Americans have been oppressed, disenfranchised and stigmatized. It's been a century and a half that the African Americans, supposedly set free, have been refused the basic rights and opportunities of the great "American Dream." I'm sickened by the obvious attempts by some to blame the victims with references to the events as "riots" as opposed to "protests." I'm sickened by those who would suggest that such behavior is no less than an attempt to gain attention. Why can't they understand that such a rational thought is beyond the frustration and rage blinding any other option?

I am ashamed of an America that has surrendered the basic premise of equality to the devious indoctrination of an empirical governmental cabal bent on world conquest. The "Shining City on the Hill" has been replaced with the city of Baltimore and others. It is my earnest hope that the intolerance shown by my fellow citizens may ironically, in the final analysis, be the salvation of a neurotic society gone horribly wrong. My America is in trouble.

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Hal O'Leary is an 88 year old veteran of WWII who, having spent his life in theatre, and as a Secular Humanist, believes that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. As an 'atheist (more...)
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