There is more than one way to be Black — and to be an American

Elijah McClain of Aurora, Colorado, was many things. The slight 23-year-old, who looked younger, was a massage therapist one client described as “the sweetest, purest person I have ever met.” He was a vegetarian who taught himself to play the guitar and violin and shared his musical gifts with shelter animals to calm them. Family members said he sometimes wore a ski mask because he was anemic and always cold, and perhaps to create some distance in a world he found overwhelming. (And aren’t we all supposed to be covering our faces these days.) In his final trip to a convenience store, though, he interacted with the clerk and customers, it seemed from video, offering a bow on his way out.

Did he look “sketchy” and “suspicious” to a 911 caller and police because he sang to himself on the walk home and waved his arms, perhaps conducting a symphony only he could hear? McClain told the police who stopped him, “I am an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

The three officers escalated the confrontation, took him down with a hold that made him utter a too-often-heard refrain: “I just can’t breathe correctly.” One officer threatened to sic a dog on him. If they saw his quirks, his idiosyncrasies, his joy, it did not translate. If they heard his pleas, these enforcers of laws the young man had not broken did not listen. “You are beautiful and I love you,” he told them. He apologized for vomiting as police tossed around his 140-pound body before medics shot it up with strong drugs.

Now, Elijah McClain, who police say committed no crime, is dead.

The very American Postal Service now a partisan pawn, with democracy at stake

When I was a little girl, the youngest of five children in a family with parents who made ends meet while never letting us see them sweat, the U.S. Postal Service was as welcome as Santa during the holidays. While dad was tending bar and waiting tables at parties after he signed off from his 9-to-5, mom picked up shifts at the post office, handling the packages and cards that swamped the system in December.

God bless the Postal Service, an essential piece of America’s history before it was America and included in the U.S. Constitution, which gave Congress the power “to establish post offices and post roads.” Founding father Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress, and a young Abraham Lincoln was appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, in 1833.

Though African American postal workers experienced discrimination, they sought work and served despite routine and harsh obstacles. Well into the civil rights era, that federal job could be sustenance for African Americans locked out of corporate America. Among the postal force could be found many civil rights activists, such as John L. LeFlore, a letter carrier in Mobile, Alabama, from 1922 to 1965, and an NAACP organizer who fought for the desegregation of Mobile’s public schools and businesses and for voting and housing rights.

The post office has been a pathway to the middle class for many hardworking families of every race, and has delivered in urban centers and rural outposts without fear or favor, in snow and rain and heat and gloom of night and … you know the rest, to bring mail, medicine and more. Connections forged with letter carriers could be more personal than businesslike.

What’s not to like?

A lot, to listen to some of our country’s leaders, who seem determined to sabotage something that has been integral to the country’s development. This is at a time when the Postal Service could be crucial to the right to vote, which might explain one reason for the controversy — the No. 1 reason, perhaps.

‘There are no degrees of separation’ — How the Charleston church shooting looms over the current racial justice debate

It’s been five years since the deadly, racist-motivated shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina But the scars are still present in the current debate over racial justice, Black Lives Matter and the legacy of white supremacist ideology.

CQ Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis talks to Political Theater about how the tragedy in Charleston still resonates as the United States grapples with its ugly history.

Will cries of justice resonate with Trump voters of faith?

For so long, the Supreme Court was the deal-maker and -breaker for white evangelicals and, to a lesser extent, white Catholics and their unshakable partnership with the Republican Party. The GOP knew it in ways the Democratic Party never did, to its peril come election time. In 2016, with a narrow victory, President Donald Trump won the right to transform the federal judiciary and, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s help, has delivered.

But with the court’s decision this week protecting the rights of gay and transgender workers, written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s prime-time appointee, some of those voters were a little shook. This would not be the only reason to wonder if Trump is losing his grip, if only a bit, on his most faithful (no pun intended) voting base.

While there is no reason to think that those guided by socially conservative beliefs will turn en masse to the Democrats and Joe Biden — better the thrice-married devil you know — a few in that group may be considering issues of life and rights in more nuanced ways. You can see it in the sometimes clumsy but also heartfelt reflections on the growing protests proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” and demanding police reform.

How open are faith leaders to the cries for justice from their flock and from “the least of these”? And if actions to eliminate inequality matter, will the Trump administration be evaluated and found wanting? Not that it would trigger a seismic shift away from a candidate and a man who is transactional in all the ways that matter. But might it initiate a conversation centered on the words of that good book Trump brandished but never bothered to open in his infamous photo op in front of St. John’s Church?

A mercurial Trump foils Charlotte’s best-laid RNC plans, probably

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, especially for a city that wants to be world class. Charlotte would join that list of cities to have hosted both Democratic and Republican national conventions. Its hotels and restaurants and streets would be bustling. Its arena would be filled with crowds, greeting the acceptance speech of repeat GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump, guaranteed grabber of headlines (and other things, as the Access Hollywood video attests).

And the world would be watching.

Well, the world is watching, all right, as what was a somewhat grudging but eventually accommodating relationship has deteriorated into sniping and bickering, with a nasty split on the horizon.

As usual, the catalyst for the acrimony was Trump himself.

Chaos is all Trump has, as he hopes ‘law and order’ appeal will work in GOP’s favor

The Queen of Soul sang it clearly. The “Respect” Aretha Franklin was craving — yes, demanding — in that classic is still in short supply for black Americans. More protesters have been arrested than police officers involved in the death of George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died after now-former officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes while three fellow officers stood by or assisted.

Would there have been protests across the country and the world if Chauvin and his fellow officers had been charged immediately? There is no way to know for sure. But it is clear that the anguished reaction has been about much more than the death of one man, and has been generations in the making.

Has a pandemic changed America or revealed its heart?

On the same day, it was two very different scenes from Michigan.

The Detroit funeral last week of 5-year-old Skylar Madison Herbert, the young victim of COVID-19, received some notice, though in days that followed, other victims rapidly filled the screen and news pages. Yet it was impossible to forget young Skylar’s beautiful face, soulful eyes and enchanting smile. Thinking that she would never again get to dress up in the Disney princess dresses and her mom’s high heels that family members said she favored, or grow up to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatric dentist — well, how could your heart not ache?

All that joy, all that potential stopped by a virus.

An escape from reality is tempting, but America needs truth from its leaders

It was selfish to even ask the question: Will Broadway turn the lights back on in a month, as promised?

Turns out that’s doubtful, despite a goal of an April 12 reboot. Those tickets I had scored are worthless either way, since that particular show in previews, “Hangmen,” has announced it has permanently closed before it officially opened.

Considering New York’s many troubles — the mounting human toll of the coronavirus, the shortage of hospital beds and protective equipment for health workers, the many thrown out of jobs — the fate of one show is just one item on a long list of things shaken by the global pandemic. Many who are rationing supplies and struggling to replace lost wages couldn’t afford a Broadway ticket in the best of times.

So, yes, selfish. But understandable, when in a world of uncertainty and danger in possibly the air we breathe, and on every object or human we touch, escape and connection are things we crave. Friends are trying new recipes, joining online dance parties and yoga classes, adopting dogs and often channeling unexpected free time into worthy activities, like my talented niece sewing face masks for the medical health pros who desperately need them.

North Carolina played third fiddle on Super Tuesday. It won’t in November

OPINION — Yes, Texas and California were the big delegate prizes on Super Tuesday. But don’t forget No. 3, North Carolina — politicians of both parties certainly won’t.

The Tar Heel State has been a battleground for votes and issues for both parties for years. While South Carolina drew all the attention as the first-in-the-South primary, North Carolina, because of the politics and policies that resonate beyond its borders, will remain in the spotlight through the 2020 election season.

Different from its neighbors — the usually reliably red South Carolina and the increasingly blue Virginia to its north —decidedly purple North Carolina keeps everyone guessing. (Though its Super Tuesday result reflected the primary outcomes in South Carolina and Virginia, with former Vice President Joe Biden winning handily and Sen. Bernie Sanders in second place.)

Could a short-term Bloomberg solution doom Democrats in the long term?

OPINION — Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, has been busy on the campaign trail, said “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, “shaking hands and frisking babies.” Taking a more solemn tone in his monologue, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, a South African native who knows firsthand the effects of raw, racial animus, said in part: “So my problem with Mike Bloomberg is he’s not saying, ‘I’m sorry for targeting black people. I’m sorry for treating black people like second-class citizens. I’m sorry for gaslighting black people for so long.’ No, he’s just, like, ‘I’m sorry that stop-and-frisk happened to affect black communities.’ And it’s, like, no, it didn’t happen to. You designed it to.”

Bloomberg can look forward to that and more as long as he remains in the race to represent the Democratic Party in November against Donald Trump.