Have you ever been surprised or horrified when you catch yourself publicly saying something completely out of character for yourself and wonder: Why did I fall for the obvious bait and get trapped into a political argument? Why did I brag and show off so obnoxiously to friends all night? Why did I reveal so much personal, private stuff to a stranger, or worse, someone from my own social network? Why did I say something so catty about so-and-so, when I really do not harbor any negative feelings towards that person? Why did I help pass around a rumor, though I quite consciously and as a matter of principle detest gossiping?

Sure, alcohol comes to mind, but let us not focus on it because it is a catalyst, not the cause of the phenomenon. It is true that the more relaxed and “loosened up” people are by alcohol, the more they tend to lower their filters and yak with wild abandon. But drunkenness is not a necessary condition for gossip and other TMI blunders: I would wager that people gossip just as much over tea!

The true culprit is the social climate created by the awkward combination of fun and anxiety. Even though we all like to think we are in complete control of ourselves, social contexts dramatically shape our behavior how we express ourselves.

Socio-economic necessities force us into unwanted interactions (having to talk to bosses, associates, family members) and social pressures dictate the topics we end up discussing publicly. One moment you’re having innocent lunchtime banter with a coworker, next thing you know, you’re talking about Johnson’s outfit and speculating about her sexuality….

I have always considered myself a keeper of secrets and not a passer-arounder of confidential information. Likewise, I have always felt uncomfortable around people talking negatively about others behind their backs and avoided fueling the fire.

And yet, on a number of occasions, I have caught myself saying something suggestive about people – with remarks that felt innocuous and funny and a propos at the time – but seem questionable or straight-up inappropriate in retrospect. I meant no harm, I swear, but this fact neither excuses the behavior nor lessens the resulting shadow of doubt cast upon another person’s character.

This problematic tendency to get carried away with unintentional mudslinging emerges when we get swept up in the group dynamic: everyone is “on a roll” of discussing others and one is instinctively drawn in, compelled to contribute something funny / interesting / intriguing to the lively conversation. If the tone of the gathering is to badmouth someone, badmouthing becomes easy and natural. These little acts of slander happen under the guise of humorous, friendly, playful chatter and seem to especially thrive in certain groupings, like those of colleagues, relatives, teammates and super-closely-knit friend cliques.

Certainly, some people are quite purposefully vindictive and actively stir up “drama” as a means of self-validation. But most gossipers are not being harsh or acting as a saboteur intentionally: they are simply in the habit of mindlessly recanting other people’s secrets and thoughtlessly criticizing and ridiculing others – to keep boredom at bay and to find something light-hearted to connect over with people.

Unfortunately, when you get enough gossip instigators together, it creates enough momentum to suck in the rest of us who, under other social circumstances, would not think to say something inflammatory about a peer. But when inside the rumor mill, we suddenly find ourselves blabbing away, surrendering to the impulse to fit in, to go with the flow. You really don’t have to be a mean-spirited person to gossip but it becomes a slippery slope, if you go there. The potential social fallout from publicly maligning a friend, colleague or relative can have unintended harmful consequences for the target of gossip as well as people who started and passed it around.

There are myriad explanations in the social sciences for why people gossip. For instance, we have an evolutionarily developed psychological propensity to crave social acceptance – and gossiping offers a temptingly fast ticket to popularity. Gossiping and sharing secrets also strengthen camaraderie and increase a sense of belonging to an exclusive club or community when we share intimate knowledge with the select few individuals. It makes us feel special to be a part of a “circle of trust”.  

Another major component of universal human psychology engaged in gossip is the rule of reciprocity: that magnetic sense of obligation we feel when people say or do “nice” things for us. Symmetrical, ritualistic exchanges of favors keeps the power dynamic balanced, which is why most of us do not like to feel indebted to someone, not for too long. So, when people around us are sharing bits of gossip, they entrap us into feeling that we, too, must now “contribute” some sort of insider information, in kind. We respond by sharing more gossip.

If one willingly surrounds oneself with thieves, thievery will eventually become the “new normal” and the person runs a pretty high risk of succumbing to it. Likewise, gossiping and other social vices, like casually throwing around sexist and racist language, can seep into our behaviors inconspicuously and organically. We see people we love, admire or fear saying and doing all kinds of things and we can’t help but want to emulate them.

So far, my conclusion is: if you don’t want to be a gossiper, avoid social scenes in which judgmental or mocking commentary about acquaintances is the main source of entertainment. Otherwise, sooner or later, you’ll likely find yourself caving to human nature and, if you are like me, feeling like a real jackass and kicking yourself for it later.

Our peers carry huge potential in shaping our social habits and setting roles, norms and boundaries. It can be hard to recognize “toxic” environments if the venom is not directed at us personally and when everyone is laughing merrily and having a great time. Complicity in bullying thrives in the same environment, by the way. Gossip can certainly become an indirect tactic of bullying. It can even seem that we are all “getting away” with it. But, no, we are not. There is a golden tenet in social interaction and it goes as follows:

The way a person talks about others with you is the way this person will talk about you with others.

Period. No exceptions. And because this rule seems so elegantly fair, a small, idealistically moronic part of me keeps hoping that, by the same logic of justice, some social grief in life can be avoided by being a decent person. If I keep my karma cache clear by refraining from saying “iffy” things about others, I may be spared being put through the ringer when it is my name’s turn in the grapevine spotlight. Right?

AsDontBeAHater if!..

The pragmatic realist in me who has been alive (and actively so!) a number of decades among fellow humans knows this to be an unreasonable expectation, to put it mildly. No measure of cosmic justice will prevent haters from hating. The nectar of meanness is just too sweet for some to give up 🙂 The rest of us should try really hard to not feed the trolls.




Rummaging through my travel documents to double-check my passport’s expiration date, I came back up with a set of old unused visa photos. It may be self indulgent but I like to look at these photos. Because I tend to hit several countries at a time, many of these photos were taken already “on the road”. And, for that, the face that looks back at me from the little rectangles is the face of a person who is doing A-Okay.

It is important to reconnect with this version of myself on occasion – this person at the height of her self-esteem and mental and physical fitness. This is my most uninhibited and confident “me”. It does not have to mean the wildest / craziest “me” but it is me when I feel at my freest.

These snapshots are the faces of a person in perpetual motion. The super faded pictures were taken in Brazil for crossing into Paraguay: they are useless as visa photos but they summon forth the “me” from that day in time. Frozen in a photo, right there, I will always be that traveler with a mondo migraine who was sent on a wild goose chase around the city of Curitiba to hunt down a gazillion different stamps for a Paraguayan visa. The Paraguayan visa, let it be known, is rivaled only by the Russian visa in cost, bureaucracy, labor-intensiveness and dark magic involved in its conjuring.

The fact that I remember having a really bad headache is, actually, a very positive indicator of how great my life was at the moment, several months into my year-long backpacking trek around South America. Living in the American Northeast, my migraines are so regular that they all blur together into one long hellish game of “chicken” between me and searing  brain pain. If I remember that Brazilian migraine, it means it was a blessedly isolated incident at that time.

The four undamaged copies are of the picture taken in Thailand for a Lao visa. The old-fashioned photographer fetched me a man’s shirt to cover up my tank-topped shoulders for the shot. At that moment, bitterness and disappointment were weighing heavily on my heart and I was going through a “withdrawal” after some major emotional poison. I had ways to go before I would wake up relaxed, as opposed to exhausted from vivid, intense dreams that tormented me at night.

Withdrawal is the initiation of recovery and spending an emotionally difficult time on the road can really serve as salve for the hurting soul. On this trip, largely staying away from substances and parties, I got the exact communion with nature and with culture I knew I needed and had set out to find. I returned to the States excited about getting back to work. If that is not the mark of a miraculously transformative vacation, I don’t know what is. And so, I enjoy looking at stills of myself on that journey – it gives me a positive charge of spirit, transmitted through the memory, transformed into a renewed intention to be and feel like that again.

Looking at these pictures, I am also reminded that youthfulness and beauty are still within reach. After a couple of weeks of being on the road, I usually get a whole second wind of energy. My senses become uncorked from heavy mental grime, my skin tightens, my facial features relax, my back un-pretzels, my neck de-petrifies itself, etc., etc., etc. It’s nice to see a tan, strong, healthy version of myself in those photos – it gives me hope.

If you can carve out a few months on the road, you can work up to some serious traveler zen bliss! It gives you enough time and distance to look back at what you’ve left behind – as well as think forward to what is waiting for you – and re-evaluate those things in light of being more relaxed and in touch with yourself. Seriously, if you haven’t taken a prolonged solo trip yet, I cannot recommend it enough. Do it as soon as you can, really. It is good for anyone. And, for some of us, it is a straight-up vital necessity. Take yourself on a “walkabout” and, in weeks / months, you will re-emerge as a more confident, calm, wise, fit and all-around badass version of yourself.

And then, at times when your life has become a little too settled and static and you feel the ole Wanderlust tugging on your hems and scratching at your feet, you can dig up those visa pictures and start planning the next adventure.


I have just about lost interest in both TV shows, Game of Thrones and Gotham, as it gets harder to tolerate the gratuitous violence – especially against women – and all the torture porn that is so en vogue right now. I am beginning to feel my quality of life suffer from prolonged exposure to the ceaseless assault on the senses pumped out by what passes for popular entertainment on TV. Lately, I am particularly triggered by sounds of brutality. My husband plays a lot of MMORPG games and watches a lot of HBO dramas and, as I walk back and fourth through the living room, hearing the sounds of gunfire or sword stabbings or women screaming out in pain or ecstasy (sounds exactly the same), I actually feel my blood pressure shoot up.

Anyone who knows me at all will confirm that I am not a person who fears violence. Throughout my life, I have dealt with serious conflicts, threats and quite a few actual assaults. Violence was frequently the language spoken around me and it is a language I understand well.

So it is not that I am too delicate of a flower to handle TV violence.

It is just that most of current TV violence is too shallow, senseless and excessive to be entertaining. It has become anxiety- and rage-inducing instead.

It is just that I do not at all enjoy the feeling of disgusted despisement I get at the sight of humans senselessly pounding each other into meatloaf over ego or breaking each other’s knees and teeth over money. Observing testosterone-blinded males bludgeon other testosterone-blinded males over some imagined testosterone-fueled “beef” is not a spectacle that brightens my day or lifts my spirit.

It is just that I do not enjoy feeling murderous rage at the sight of a yet another stereotypically powerful, clever male victimizing a yet another stereotypically pathetic, easily terrorizable female. And murderous rage is the only way to describe the reaction these viewing experiences summon in me. I want to grab a gun, a machete, a tazer – anything destructive – and go find myself a sexual predator to shoot, slash and electrocute. Are those the feelings of a happy, relaxed person? Do I really need to cultivate thoughts and emotions of sadistic hatefulness in myself? Do you?

I don’t know about you, but there are enough real stressors in my life to make me go out of my way to avoid artificial ones, especially when they pose as “entertainment” and take up my valuable downtime. I feel angry and helpless enough in the face of real, everyday cruelty and humanitarian disasters around the world. Why are we, as a society, so greedy for graphic displays of physical, psychological and sexual abuse – to the point that we are willing to spend our hard-earned money and precious leisure time watching realistic enactments of torture and degradation?

To be clear, I am criticizing gratuitous violence – not the violence necessary to show in order to tell the story – but the dragged out, over-the-top torture scenes, the gore for the sake of gore, the endlessly blurred boundaries between sex and violence — the dumb junk that dominates our entertainment media. There is nothing original about these trite misogynistic tropes and nothing exciting or engaging about the formulaic, one-dimensional, barely-there narratives, with just enough “story” to justify all the “action”. The glorification of slaughter, torture and sexual assault (on women in particular) keeps forcefully broadcasting the cultural message that constantly watching human beings get brutalized – complete with a dramatic  soundtrack of screaming in pain, sobbing in fear, pleading for life, etc. – is a perfectly normal, healthy and enjoyable pastime.

———- JESUS’ REVENGE ———-

Judas: Well, we’re here.

Peter: Yes, just as you asked. What’s up?

Jesus: Heeey, guys!! Long time – no see, eh? Come, sit. Sit! Let’s get some… Waiter! Three beers please! How’ve you guys been, what’s new?

Peter: Uh, good, I guess. Same old, you know. I mean, you know how we are, man.

Judas: Yeah, I’m a little surprised you wanted to hang out, after, you know, everything.

Peter: I mean, I denied you, he betrayed you, you know? Plus – the last time we saw you, you swore you’d get us back for this.

Jesus: What? Noooo!! Guuuuys!!! It’s all water under the bridge now! Don’t you think it’s time we got over it and moved on? I know I have.

Judas: Weeeell, it’s a bit hard to move on when you are engulfed in eternal hellfire. Old Pete here can’t be having much success with getting over it either – your Dad sorta made it a point that he never lives the whole incident down by emblazoning a giant “JESUS DENIER” sign on his face.

Peter: [bashfully fingers the never-healing scabs on his forehead] I deserved it, I know. But afterlife hasn’t been the same, you can imagine. It just makes people uncomfortable. Hard to make new friends and stuff.

Judas: But we’re glad you’re putting the past behind you, J. Good for you!

Jesus: [sheepishly] Yesss. Good for me indeed. [rubs hands together] Say… fellas? I’m gonna run to the little boys’ room for a minute. You just take a load off and enjoy your beers, ok? [leaves the booth]

Judas: [exchanges puzzled looks with Peter] What do you make of this, Pete? Is he really trying to patch things up with us?

Peter: Nah, man, come on, you know him better than that. He’s been holding a grudge for millennia. This is probably his attempt to teach us a lesson and lord his moral superiority. He’s been gunning for it for a while now.

Judas: [sighs] You’d think that being Jesus Christ would be enough to feel good about oneself, right?  But his self-esteem’s been shit since that incident with Madge.

Peter: You mean when he couldn’t get it up that one time and she laughed at him? Yeah, I remember that! Messed ‘em up for life, that’s for sure.

Judas: I bet he’s still plotting payback on her too. What do you think he’s gonna try to do to us?

Peter: You know how he is, man. Petty, no imagination, eye-for-an-eye type of thing.

Judas: Sounds about right. You know, it always cracks me up how he’s known for selflessly “turning the other cheek” to aggressors. If they only found out the real story behind that saying… [both laugh and raise their beers. Jesus returns to the booth]

Jesus: How are we doing over here? Having fun?

Peter: Yeah, man, it’s good to see you. So, what’s happening with you?

Jesus: Oh, who cares about little old me, I’m just happy to see my old pals. Oh, excuse me – Waiter, check please! Anyway, Judas old pal, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I kinda took your name and all contact and personal information and sold it to third party advertisers. [looks intently at Judas to see his reaction]

Judas: Oookaaay…

Jesus: BAM!!! How do you feel about that?

Judas: Uh, I…

Jesus: And do you wanna know how much I got paid for it? [jumps up from his seat, bobbing up and down excitedly with his finger in Judas’ face] Thirty bucks, motherfucker, thirty bucks!!! How does it feel now, huh?? Burns, doesn’t it?

Judas: [exchanges a weary eyeroll with Peter] Not as much as the colossal bonfire to which your Dad sentenced me to burn for all eternity… Man, I told you a million times, I’m really sorry about all that.

Jesus: [growing more agitated] Not sorry enough, asshole, not sorry enough! The shock I received…

Judas: What shock??? You KNEW I was going to betray you, you KNEW Pete was gonna deny knowing you, you KNEW you were going to die a horrible death as a purely symbolic gesture!!! You knew it because your abusive father masterminded the whole thing and somehow got you to go along with it!

Jesus: [frenzied, spittle flying everywhere] DON’T TALK ABOUT MY DAD LIKE THAT!!! My Dad loves me very, very much! He had to hurt me to make sure I stay a good boy. And it worked, it worked, I AM a good boy!!! Oh, good, the check is here. I got this, I got this, you guys. Let’s see, three beers… Hmmm, strange. There are three beers here. I know I drank one, I know Judas drank one but who drank the third beer??

Peter: You know I did, man.

Jesus: You? And who are you, pray tell? Huh?? Who are you?

Peter: It was me – Pete. I know what you’re trying to do, J, and it’s not…

Jesus: Pete?? Who is Pete?? Who THE FUCK is this Pete??? I don’t know no stinking Pete!!! [screams out into the bar] DOES ANYONE HERE KNOW A PETE, ‘CAUSE I SURE AS HELL DON’T KNOW NO FUCKING PETE!!!!!!!!

Peter: Ok, man, you’ve made your point…

Jesus: I sure did, you don’t even know how much!!! What, are you sad now? Are the little betrayer and denier gonna cry now? Awww!! That’s right, bitches, now y’all know how I felt!!! Stings, doesn’t it? Boo-ya!! That’s the sweet taste of justice!

Judas: [stands up from the booth] Wow, dude, okay, you really showed us the error of our ways! ‘Cause life of guilt, followed by suicide, followed by afterlife of inextinguishable pain isn’t punishment enough, right? ‘Cause I wasn’t – just like you – an instrument in the hands of that narcissistic psychopath deity you call Father. You know He used all of us, right? And for what – to make “statements” that made no friggin’ sense to anyone but His own deranged ego? He predestined both, myself and Pete here, to assist Him in getting you murdered and now, we are paying for it as if it had been our idea and choice all along. Forget you! You’re just as self-absorbed and deluded as your Old Man.

Jesus: Awwww! Booooo-fuckin-hooooo! Whatever, bro! Have a nice afterlife. NOT!! [Jesus’ cell phone rings] Oh! Gotta fly, suckers. Got a hot date with Madge – remember her? We’re going out and then I’m gonna take her home and fuck her brains out and stop and leave juuuuust before she gets off! That’ll show her! How do you like them blueballs, bitch!

Judas: OK, I’m outta here. Eternal hellfire’s got nothing on this torture. See you later, Pete. And Jesus – grow up. [walks out of the bar]

Jesus: [yells after him] ME grow up??? No, YOU grow up maaaan, YOU FUCKING GROW UP!!! [turns to Peter who is still sitting in the booth] What are you gawking at, jerkface?

Peter: Nothing, man, nothing. Just recalling the old days, that’s all.

Jesus: Well, fucking stop it! If it weren’t for me, there’d be no old days, got it? [takes a swig from the beer bottle, then shatters it against the floor] Imma go take a dump and then get me some tail. Smell you later, loser. Hope you learned your lesson. [crumples up and tosses the unpaid bill in Peter’s face, walks out of the bar]

Peter: [takes a long, savoring sip of his beer, grinning nostalgically] Classic Jesus.




As a sociologist, linguist and writer, I have searched high and low for a gender-neutral pronoun to replace the sexist convention of using “he” to mean “one person”. In the recent decades, “he or she” has gained momentum as the more inclusive substitute, but, as any writer will tell you, it is awkward and cumbersome to maneuver so many words around. We need a single-word solution. And so, having agonized over this dilemma for too long, I, hereby, throw in the towel and contest that it is time to stop holding out for the ideal candidate and accept “they” as a formal gender-neutral pronoun, grammarians be damned.

I have arrived at this conclusion because:

  • After years of trying, we are yet to come up with a new gender-neutral term that is embraced by the public and incorporated into its active vocabulary.
  • Try as we might, there is no magic recipe to make the old gendered pronouns work without bias.
  • Many, if not most, of us are already informally using “they” in speech, when we mean “he or she”.

Frustrated by the lack of a designated un-gendered pronoun, many academics, journalists and public figures started the practice of alternating “she” and “he” throughout a speech or an article – for the sake of fairness. Others dropped “he” entirely and use only “she” – as if to compensate for all the centuries of exclusive use of “he”.

These are all steps in the right direction – but more so symbolically and politically than pragmatically. Alternating “he” and “she” forces you to keep a count of how many of each you use – and you still don’t escape from having to prioritize one gender over another (will the first mention be “he” or “she”?). Our gender-neutral pronouns should not require having to “keep score”: it is too labor-intensive for the brain and, I’ll bet, provokes unconscious anxiety. Likewise, letting go of the masculine pronoun altogether and only using “she” may feel like justified revenge but is, ultimately, a counter-productive measure that succeeds only in flipping the power imbalance, as opposed to doing away with it. It reinforces the old framework of dominance and visibility of one gender over another – a trend we are trying to fix, not perpetuate.

This is why the term “they” is so useful: it made its way into our speech as a substitute for “he or she” completely organically! In colloquial conversation and on the internet, “they” has been long appropriated by people as the go-to gender-neutral term and even the ever-vigilant “grammar police” on message boards does not usually attack it – probably because they recognize the precious utility of this word in this context.

The word “they”, however, is yet to be accepted as a “standard” in formal / journalistic / academic writing as many scholars take offense to such flippant misuse of language. When I used “they” in my grad school writings, I was given a stern talking to by my academic advisor who found it highly objectionable. He and I have, since, gone back and forth on this issue and, the last time we spoke about it, he said something along the lines of: “I know young people use it and I know that it’s becoming dominant and it will eventually take over completely but, by then, I will mercifully be in my grave.” Hearing him say that made me sad because I wished him a long and happy life but really did not want to wait so long for freedom and equality in linguistic expression.

Being a semantic nit-picker myself, I would not have gone with “they” either, had there been any reasonable selection to choose from – but, for lack of better ideas, it is all we have. I hope my former advisor comes to understand that this is not an instance when half-literate knuckleheads want to butcher the English language with lazy word misappropriation. It is just that a time has come for a gender-neutral pronoun to take over the dated gendered word and all of us brilliant scholar / artist / teacher minds still have not been able to invent one that would be naturally assimilated into speech by the average person.

Maybe we will, in time, engineer the perfect gender-neutral pronoun – but let’s not wait until then to leave the gendered ones behind. It is not easy to fabricate a new cultural trend and cause a mental shift in a huge number of people. — well, without applying draconian dictatorial measures, that is. Social philosophers, scientists and policy makers around the world are laboring to develop new inter-gender terms, rooted in real linguistic systems, designed to be short and made up of familiar sounds. But the real challenge is to get people to consistently use them: to, first, agree that this new word is worth the pain of switching to it and, then, to actually start using it all the time. File it under “good luck with that.” I really do wish us all luck in figuring out the new, better gender-neutral pronoun but, in the meanwhile, let’s give “they” the green light.

In conclusion, the fact that the word “they” somehow became the de facto gender-neutral term with the general population is a gift to us from our evolving language that must be celebrated and gratefully taken advantage of. A problem that has been extremely difficult to correct by artificial involvement solved itself all on its own!! Don’t fight it – run with it.

What Awaits Conscientious Police Officers when They Try to Protect the Public from Loose Cannons in Their Midst

Another day, another news story about police brutality. Except this time, it is cop-on-cop violence. The headline reads: “New York Cop Was Fired and Denied Pension for Trying to Stop Fellow Officer from Choking Suspect.” The title left out “punched in the face” which is not only the description of what actually took place physically but a fitting metaphor for the way the police department treated an honest and courageous officer who was only doing her job.

Officer Carol Horne of the  NY Buffalo Police Department was responding to a call for backup when she discovered Officer Gregory Kwiatkowski punching and choking the already handcuffed and subdued suspect. When he refused to heed her request to stop suffocating the suspect, she attempted to physically unpeel his arms from around the suspect’s throat. Officer Kwiatkowski responded by punching her in the face, breaking her nose. Shortly after, Officer Horne was let go of her job and is currently involved in legal dispute over her pension being blocked.

This is the reward good cops have to look forward to, when outing or interfering with their criminally violent colleagues! All the while, their criminally violent colleagues continue to thrive and enjoy social benefits with little to no repercussions. In case you were wondering what was the penance paid by Officer Kwiatkowski for this incident – he was quietly ushered into early retirement, but not until he lost his temper and attacked two more police officers on two separate occasions.

A thorough inquiry into the incident conducted by a local journalist, suggests that entrenched favoritism and deep and wide running family ties seem to contribute much to the unshakability of the web of corruption running through some police departments such as that of Buffalo PD. When everyone in the department is everyone’s cousin or son-in-law, one can imagine, it becomes very easy to succumb to the slippery slope of tribalism-over-public-interest mentality.

In large cities where tight-knit blood relations are not as insular, politics are still the name of the game, only on a larger scale. Tribalism takes the form of the fraternal order of the police and the unspoken conspiracy of silence about the numerous skeletons in the closet of its oldest and most “connected” members. The internal hierarchies in such organizations can be very powerful, far-reaching and intimidating. Police officers learn, sooner or later, that pointing fingers at one’s “own kind”, even with good reason and to uphold the law, can lead to very negative consequences.

Not only direct interference or whistle-blowing but the simple refusal to participate in questionable activities performed by the group can land an officer in hot water with his / her own department. This was the case with a California State University officer who was fired for refusing to use his stun gun on a mentally distressed, potentially suicidal student, after he determined that such force was wholly unnecessary. Three other officers at the scene used two stun guns on the victim and, subsequently, got the officer fired for allegedly “freezing” on the job. This, after an unblemished record of a 20-year service.

This brave officer’s refusal to be complicit in the brutality of his colleagues cast the shadow of doubt on the “rightness” and acceptability of their actions and this must have made them very uncomfortable and angry. Some authoritarian types see themselves as above the law and are wholly unprepared to “look bad” or to be held accountable for their behavior. 

The Justice statue adorning every courthouse in this country has its eyes bound for a reason: if you are emotionally or financially invested in something or someone – because you “owe” them or because you care about them deeply or because you want them to like you or because they know something about you that you don’t want exposed – you cannot be trusted to make a fair judgment call in a case involving this thing or person. The term “conflict of interest” comes to mind but how do you avoid such things in organizations built around blind loyalty and the stigmatization of dissent?

Unfortunately, some officers of the law do it all the time, some by acting out of line, others by protecting those acts by shrouding them in silence or lies. So do some prosecutors. And so do some judges. And so did the CIA: by turning the blind eye to the rampant, sadistic torture taking place in counter-terrorism detention centers, the agency demonstrated the same unspoken condition of “I cover your ass on the contingency that you cover mine – or else!” operating behind so many police departments.

What is it going to take to put an end to this authoritarianism? How can we effectively affect the overturn of these quasi-feudal, dynasty-driven syndicates at the core of the organization charged with protecting all of us but, in the end, serving the interests of very few? But they are not just self-serving, they are criminally abusive against the very populace they are supposed to take care of – and anyone who gets in their way.

Sad but true: our police system is overrun with thuggery. Some of its members have the egos of small-time warlords. They do not only infringe upon the rights of civilians. They exert their power to choke out any attempt by other honest, law-abiding-and-upholding police officers to hold them accountable for their illegal dealings and violent (in the case of Officer Kwiatkowski – psychopathic) behaviors.

In this climate of fear and intolerance, being a “good cop” takes more than just doing the job – it requires innate courage and willingness to submit oneself to very negative attention from “the brotherhood” and the very real threat of losing one’s job (and pension!) and having one’s career derailed for good.

Thank goodness for those good officers who stick their necks out for their principles and the oaths they took to uphold the law and to protect the public. They deserve our utmost gratitude and support because it is hard enough to fight crime “out there” in the streets but it gets damn near impossible to do the job when the enemy dwells within one’s own camp.


In this several-part series of posts, I address a few of recurring misconceptions that serve as the foundation for much of the mouth-foaming going on out there. These are the false assumptions people take for granted as “real” and “true” when they insist that the problem with Ferguson is not with the misappropriation of law enforcement but with the residents of Ferguson themselves. This is a response to popular “reasonings” used by Caucasian police apologists that I have come across browsing Facebook and online news articles’ comments sections. I focus on white people because I am “white” and it is not up to me to lecture people of color about racism. Also, white people in general, seem to have a weaker grasp on the notions of racism or socio-economic privilege than people who are not considered white, so they need this conversation more than others.

FALSE ASSUMPTION: Property damage caused by arson and looting is the worst thing happening in Ferguson, MO.

REALITY CHECK: When did the concern for damaged property trump the care for the wellness of fellow human beings? Have capitalist aims and consumerist desires eclipsed our ability to care about anything other than material stuff???

Again and again, I come across angry rants about private property being destroyed in the riots, as if this, somehow, justifies inhumane measures against the protesters. Property destruction is wrong and disturbing, to be sure and NOBODY IS ARGUING WITH THAT! But the outrage about loss and defacement of property seems disproportionately high comparing to how little the same individuals are regretting the loss of Michael Brown’s young life that has taken place in Ferguson. As I recall, in the Ten Commandments, “thou shalt not kill” comes before “thou shalt not steal”.

Nonetheless, “If someone came looting at me, God help them” seems to be a popular sentiment. Fair enough! And if someone shot your unarmed child and let his corpse lie in the street for four-and-a-half hours and did not have to go to trial that would at least give your child’s death some kind of due process – what would you do then?

Personally, I am very impressed with how few people in Ferguson let their anger guide their public behavior – they deserve a lot of credit and respect for being so orderly and in control of their tempers as they, once again, find themselves dodging tear gas and cruel public judgment for peacefully speaking up. I am always awe-struck and humbled seeing black people maintain patience, calm and poise, in the face of belligerent whites urging them to “get over it” and accept that we are all living in a purely equal, meritocratic, post-racial society.

Have you ever been in horrific pain, while everyone around you is telling you that it is all in your head and you should just get over it and stop making something out of nothing? If you have, you know what this does to the human spirit. If you haven’t – lucky you – but try not to take it for granted as if it is the only reality that exists.

I cannot express the bitterness, fury and incredulity I feel about this – and other displays of obliviousness and indifference towards social abuses of this nature. It is hard to fathom how otherwise seemingly decent people can so flippantly dismiss and devalue the cries of sorrow and frustration of tens of thousands of their own brethren but raise hell over theft and arson committed by a handful of loose cannons and saboteurs. Injustice and indignity scar us socially and psychologically – how can we allow this to keep happening in plain sight to whole populations and not only turn a blind eye but agitatedly defend it with the air of moral indignation and socio-economic superiority? Don’t you have children of your own? But you must think that you raised them better than getting shot by the police, right? Therefore, none of this applies to you whatsoever?

The cultural worship of the American Dream is, in very large part, to blame for this element of self-delusion. It is hammered into everyone’s brains from an early age that one is the end-all master of one’s fate and there is nothing else to it. For many in positions of relative social privilege, the illusion of perfectly independent self-sufficiency does not dissipate through life, but sticks and becomes more reinforced by examples of their own success. “Success” in this country traditionally translates into accumulation of material goods. Hence, having our earthly possessions attacked means more to us than just property damage — it is a symbolic assault on our core values, on our sense of self-identity and esteem and it feels so personal and sacrilegious, it can overshadow all other concerns and considerations.

It may be hard, but we must work on recovering our empathy for others from under the thick layers of self-interest and unhealthy preoccupation with “stuff” as a marker of our self- and social worth. The myth of all-reaching meritocracy makes it easy to think that the misfortunes that befall others could never happen to ourselves because we have done nothing to deserve them. It makes it challenging to comprehend that many others have done nothing to deserve it either, yet, terrible social injustices happen to them all the same. To grasp this would lead to having to admit that we are not in complete control of our lives and that is an unsettling and jarring revelation for an individualistic nation. It would also mean that we have to give a hoot about each other a little more…

If you are white and you are, somehow, not deeply upset about the dehumanization of your black compatriots, you have got to cut through the noise of loudmouth media talking heads, friends and family and get in touch with your own, unique humanity. Feel kinship – not hate – for all the hard-working, law-abiding, morally concerned individuals – just like yourself – that are being routinely ignorantly mistaken for criminals and treated as such by the police force that has no understanding or empathy for the population it has been hired to serve and protect.

Does it look like the police of Ferguson, Missouri are serving or protecting anybody other than themselves? There is a huge difference in attitude and, hence, outcome between a police force that walks around flexing its muscles and lording its authority over others – as opposed to public servants who are honestly and passionately committed to doing what they must to shield the populace from harm.

A fair, caring law enforcement agency would be beloved and admired by the people it serves but, unfortunately, it is too often the above-the-law bullies with badges that roam and rule our city streets. We must do away with the insular fraternal culture of the police – they owe loyalty to the public, not each other. Again, it goes without saying that not all cops are abusive or corrupt but the system of fraternity-above-fairness encourages – nay, forces – officers of the law to indiscriminately protect “their own”, regardless of the quality and integrity of each other’s character and actions.

You know what people want and need even more than justice for the past? Dignity for the present and hope for the future! It is that simple but those values are truly in the shortest supply. The wounds of the past history of ugliness and injustice will only begin to heal after the echoes of those eras are no longer felt in the Today. So, when people are raging like this and in such numbers, it is not because they have nothing better to do. It is because they are still kicked in the teeth by powers that be while we, the majority, stand by and watch our brothers and sisters being demeaned and vilified – and refuse to acknowledge that it is happening and it is wrong and it must stop.





In this several-part series of posts, I address a few of recurring misconceptions that serve as the foundation for much of the mouth-foaming going on out there. These are the false assumptions people take for granted as “real” and “true” when they insist that the problem with Ferguson is not with the misappropriation of law enforcement but with the residents of Ferguson themselves. This is a response to popular “reasonings” used by Caucasian police apologists that I have come across browsing Facebook and online news articles’ comments sections. I focus on white people because I am “white” and it is not up to me to lecture people of color about racism. Also, white people in general, seem to have a weaker grasp on the notions of racism or socio-economic privilege than people who are not considered white, so they need this conversation more than others.

FALSE ASSUMPTION: Justice is colorblind but the police have no choice but to go after blacks, many of whom are criminals.

REALITY CHECK: What nobody wants to admit is that the police are afraid of black people, black men in particular. Very, very afraid.

Many people siding with the Ferguson police are saying that it is a tough job and that the officer who shot Michael Brown had a hard decision on his hands and will have to live with this burden for the rest of his life. This is a very reasonable argument and does apply to countless officers who put their lives on the line and have to live with all the psychological trauma of the consequences of having to make these impossibly difficult judgment calls on the spot. Those officers deserve our support and appreciation because they go through private hell most of us know nothing about.

I cannot say I believe this is the case here because, instead of treating it as a tragedy, the police are arrogantly defending their right-ness with zero regard to the personal and social fall-out. Even if Officer Wilson had every reason to fear for his life and shot Michael Brown in absolute self-defense (though that does not at all look to be the case here), he could still be really, really sorry about it, he could be human about it and appeal to the community by sharing their grief, by acknowledging how unfortunate and heartbreaking the event had been – even if he had no other recourse but to use lethal measures.

But that is the thing: neither Officer Wilson, nor any of his colleagues seem remotely broken up over taking the life of the boy. They don’t seem to perceive him as a human child whose life ended too early. They appear to think of him as street vermin that had to be put down. This could have been an opportunity for all of us to open a dialog about how to better handle “suspicious” individuals, especially teens, and, more importantly, take an honest hard look at what constitutes “suspiciousness” in the first place. The fact that race is a factor (a very complex one) must be acknowledged in no uncertain terms, before actual progress can be made. Instead, the Ferguson Police Department is sticking to their guns, so to speak. They show no remorse or intention to build bridges with the people of Ferguson, only hyper-defensive hostility, backed up by demonstrated willingness to use more violence and do more damage to the already suffering community.

Officer Wilson may sincerely believe he acted out of duty by killing Michael Brown because he genuinely felt THAT MUCH threatened by him. And if you don’t think that race was a defining element in this, well, you are, unfortunately, a part of the problem, no matter how “good” a person you may be otherwise. The jarringly sad truth is: the American police are TERRIFIED of black men in a way they are not threatened by any other social demographic.

Unarmed white people do not get weapons discharged into them nowhere nearly as frequently (and without consequences) because “white people” as a category are not deemed an unequivocally intimidating, unpredictable bunch. Likewise, white people congregating in large groups, no matter how drunken, obnoxious and violent, are not perceived as inevitable trouble the way a gathering of black people, especially black male youths, is interpreted.

When we look at the psychology behind what happens in white police vs. black men stand-offs, a hellish catch-22 emerges. By and large, the American police are afraid of black men and those who are the weaker-willed of the crop, compensate for their cowardice with pronounced abuse of power.

Now, personally, I have never seen anyone take racist disrespect and belligerence more stoically and gracefully than black Americans. I’ve seen white people swarm a person of color like a pack of rabid possums, foaming at the mouth, hissing something hateful, finger-in-face — and this person just stands there with this zen calm, speaking in a very restrained, measured way — or completely keeping silent, as if engaged in meditation or internal dialogue, impervious to indignity. Dissociation is the defense mechanism nature “gifts” to those who have been violated again and again…

But yes, okay, not all young people have yet mastered hiding their contempt towards arrogant and pushy police officers (patience and proper etiquette with cops is something expected a lot more of black teens than their white counterparts who get away with taunting the police all the time…) Having grown up under the suspicious and hostile gaze of the law enforcement, feeling increasingly  fed up with being singled out, some young black men will act provocatively towards the police. Or just not be terribly “cooperative”, which is enough to infuriate the bullies among their interrogators. The negativity escalates, resulting in every kind of misinterpretation of motive, which can lead to rash, reactive behaviors, with lethal consequences for the non-uniformed party. (If you ask me, the messed-up cultural conditioning known as “toxic masculinity” is another major culprit here, but that’s a can of worms best left to be opened in a separate post.)

Enough with justifying police brutality already: the endless loop of fear and damning stereotyping must end – and the ball is in the court of the police!! They must, to begin with, acknowledge their preconceived biases — and those deeply ingrained attitudes as a problem to solve, not a “whoops” to deny. The responsibility with mending public trust and initiating the healing process rests with the police.

Unfortunately, this would require a massive paradigm shift in how law enforcement is done in this country. We would have to overhaul the entire police training system for an entirely new set of priorities, attitudes and boundaries. It is time to put the Wild West behind us already and cultivate a whole new generation of public servants sincerely invested into the well-being of their people, and rid the system of state-sanctioned goons with guns harassing the poorest and most powerless members of society.







In the wake of the announcement that Officer Darren Wilson will not stand trial for the killing of Michael Brown, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, once again, became the hotbed of clashes between the police and civilians. Social media did not fail to explode with forceful opinions, rants and accusations in every which direction. It is as if – as a new popular meme mockingly suggests – “millions of FB users suddenly got their law degrees”. And, whether they arrived at their conclusions through heavy contemplation or by mindlessly repeating soundbites overheard from TV or the Internet or friends or family, everybody takes their own opinions very, very seriously.

In this several-part series of posts, I would like to address a few of recurring misconceptions that serve as the foundation for much of the mouth-foaming going on out there. These are the false assumptions people take for granted as “real” and “true” when they insist that the problem with Ferguson is not with the misappropriation of law enforcement but with the residents of Ferguson themselves. This is a response to popular “reasonings” used by Caucasian police apologists that I have come across browsing Facebook and online news articles’ comments sections. I focus on white people because I am “white” and it is not up to me to lecture people of color about racism. Also, white people in general, seem to have a weaker grasp on the notions of racism or socio-economic privilege than people who are not considered white, so they need this conversation more than others.

FALSE ASSUMPTION: “Those people” are wrong to resort to disorderly conduct and violence to make their point.

REALITY CHECK: Peaceful protesters and rioting looters are not the same crowd!!! (Also, referring to the Ferguson community and other black Americans as “these people” is offensive.)

Throughout the Ferguson social unrest, there are two distinct groups of people who have taken to the streets for entirely different reasons:

The peaceful protesters are expressing their genuine disappointment, sadness and – yes – anger – about systematic police brutality and neglect towards African Americans – but doing so in an organized, civil and constructive manner: by calmly exercising their right to speak freely.

In the country where I was born, people were hauled away in the middle of the night in black vans for not only voicing their dissent but for even “thinking” about it – and still, some refused to stay silent in the face of oppression. One should never take free speech for granted and I am proud of people of Ferguson for swallowing the very natural impulse to lash out in anger or to shut down and withdraw in grief and hopelessness and futility – but, instead, coming out, voicing their hurt and marching together! Considering how much backlash they are facing, that takes wisdom and courage and we should all stand with them for this!

Violent rioters, on the other hand, are driven by a wholly different set of motivations: the promise to possibly make a profit from busting up stores or an opportunity to channel emotional rage into testosterone-fueled, peer-encouraged violence. Personally, I can understand that some of these guys don’t feel too bad about messing up people’s property: they do not get much love or respect from their surrounding environment and, hence, do not have much respect or love for other people or their stuff. Humans are notoriously prone to either live up to the high standards or degenerate to the low expectations the community and society at large sets for them and many kids branded as “thugs” early in life will end up embodying this identity, as a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. This is not a justification but an explanation of origins of lash-outs, such as these.

Also, like it or not, violence can be a form of self-expression and I bet, if you went from person to person, you would find a mix of far-gone, unscrupulous criminals but also decent young men who are misdirecting their legitimate frustration into destructive behavior because they have few means to be heard otherwise.

Nonetheless, rioting and looting and brawling are not the answer and, here is the thing: NOBODY IS ACTUALLY DEFENDING THE RIOTERS AND THE LOOTERS! People may be offering explanations as to what compels rioters, trying to set the context for why people are angry. But has anyone said: “Yes, power to those looters! They should be left alone to do their looting”? No, no one has said this because nobody is on the side of lawlessness.

The thing that the whites who gripe about the street unrest in Ferguson fail to understand is that the normal, regular people of the Ferguson community hate the bad eggs in their midst just as much as anyone else. They don’t enjoy being terrorized and subjected to property crimes and physical violence any more than you. They came to the protest to express grief and frustration and have a peaceful show of solidarity – they cannot be held responsible for the criminals showing up too!

So, let us quit grouping together a small number of rogues with a huge collective of people who came out for an admirable purpose – to seek solace in togetherness and to start a national dialogue. They would happily be rid of the troublemakers too, if they could. If only there was a social organization dedicated to serving and protecting peaceful demonstrators… Oh, right, right – they are over there – firing tear gas into the crowd of unarmed citizens.