Teaching Moment

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Posted August 19, 2009 by GRAYSON HARPER in News

Ive been thinking about something Mayor Mike Moncrief said at the critical Fort Worth City Council meeting on July 14.  That night the house was packed with members of the gay community and their straight allies outraged over the Rainbow Lounge incident.

By now most of the world has heard about the raid on this Fort Worth gay nightclub, how state and local police slammed people into walls or to the floor, tied them with plastic zip cuffs, and forced them to lie face-down on the asphalt before carting them away in a paddy wagon. One young man went to the hospital bleeding from the brain. It seems clear to me that this was an act of good old-time prejudice and hate.rainbowlounge4

At the meeting, Moncrief told the crowd that what happened at the Rainbow was not part of a pattern. He called it instead, an “isolated incident.”

I don’t doubt the mayor spoke sincerely. I also think he was wrong. Yes, it’s comforting to think this was an isolated incident, one of a kind. But how can we call it isolated when we live in a culture of violence, in which cops go around tasering students, old ladies, even pregnant women and grandfathers in their own backyards? A culture that often chooses war before trying diplomacy? We’re in a war now that’s based entirely on lies, that has killed hundreds of thousands and driven millions from their homes. And we’re expanding another war, in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a former vice president appears on Sunday morning talk shows sermonizing on the relative merits of hanging people up and beating them or waterboarding them. And everyone seems to accept it, as if it’s just a normal part of their day before going off to church or picnicking in the park.

I tried unsuccessfully in 2008 to get the city council to pass a simple resolution – as many cities have done – calling for the impeachment of then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney. That experience showed me that our city appears not only to support but condone torture, rendition, baseless wars, and the detention of individuals for years without lawyers or trials.

I tried to inform the council then that the suicide rate among veterans is alarmingly high, as is the rate of violent crimes committed by them, including murder, rape, and domestic violence. But they didn’t want to hear it. In fact, most of them, including the mayor, seemed to be  enthusiastic cheerleaders for a war of aggression and other crimes committed by people in high places. The notion that such attitudes could actually be infecting our culture with violent tendencies was lost on them.

What happened at the Rainbow was no isolated incident, any more than the dragging of a black man behind a pickup truck in East Texas and the kidnapping and torture of a young gay man tied to a fence and left to die in rural Wyoming were isolated incidents. In a culture that condones and encourages violence of all kinds, the wonder is that there aren’t more episodes like the one that occurred at the Rainbow on June 28.

Still, I’m hopeful that what happened there might represent a turning point for my community. Perhaps it will become a rallying point around which we could build a movement to discourage all acts of hatred and violence, from war to torture to capital punishment.

I see no reason why that couldn’t happen. I was struck by the courage and eloquence of those who took to the streets and showed up en masse at the city council meeting to tell their stories and express their outrage. I was reminded of something Frederick Douglass, a man who stole himself out of slavery, said long ago: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”

And it struck me that if everyone in our town were as courageous as those in the gay community, if all were as loudly defiant of injustice and violence, no matter what kind, then perhaps we would be a little closer to having an inclusive, tolerant, and peaceful society.

Grayson Harper is a Fort Worth-based writer and visual artist.


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