I was pulling out of my apartment complex very early one morning when I saw smoke coming up from the trees across the street. The fire trucks had just arrived and there was a flurry of activity and smoke swirling up from back in the trees of the wooded area. I felt a sense of dread. It was a gut feeling in the pit of my stomach. Onlookers seemed frantic. I feared the worst.
“Children in car…” I heard.
We had pulled over and stopped on the side of the road. I grabbed my friend’s camera off the seat and jumped out quickly. The first shots I took were of a female firefighter coming out of the woods carrying an injured little girl. Another male firefighter came running out of the woods behind her carrying a baby boy limp in his arms. I took pictures as both firefighters tried frantically to resuscitate the boy and save the girl. Both children were dressed in their pajamas.
“STOP TAKING PICTURES!” she screamed at me.
I have spent some quiet time thinking lately about what has been happening to the Red, White and Blue that is the fabric of America. Our country is a unique beacon in the world with rich resources that are as appealing today as they were to Chris Columbus the visitor who some give credit to discovering America. The country where the infiltrators wiped out the native people of an entire continent.
We are the current caretakers. We must not be naive and think that our beautiful country belongs to us without our soldiers guarding our outside borders and our police guarding the interior. Every breath we take on this continent cost someone else their live. The elusive thing we call Freedom could be taken from us if we let our guard down. If we allow outsiders with their Trojan Horse agenda to seep and creep into the fabric of our society. Lets protect our house first. Our Family of all colors and races and the Blue and Green that protect all of them. If visitors disrespect what we stand for, if they choose to threaten what we live for or if they build a network of enemies within our own borders who want to kill us then they must leave. Like a guest who has stayed too long and disrespected us. They must leave.
We must stand our ground on this: We welcome you if you are safe but if you have come here illegally or with death intentions, well, as Lebron would say….NOT IN MY HOUSE. My house is Blue.
When LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led the Cleveland Cavaliers to victory it was surreal. it was A Dream Come True. But now we are back to reality where police and black people dying headlines the news. A war inside our country. A place of historic darkness has settled in again. A place of sadness where we will have to find light and love for one another once again.
In September of 2001, I grieved with the world over the loss of our people, especially our first responders in the form of firefighters and police officers in the muslim terrorist attacks. In December of 2014, I joined with other law enforcement supporters to stand with police families after the shooting of a black teen in a park who had been brandishing a modified toy gun in Cleveland. Today I stand with law enforcement officers around the country after more shootings of black men by police and the retaliatory killing of the Dallas 5 police officers and more. As law enforcement officers again come under fire, this time it is from a home-grown black terrorist organization. I will not stand silent.
There is a war going on inside our country. A cauldron of hate. It festers in the embers until something bad happens. Then it rages. The thin blue line gets asked to again suffer. As suffering occurs in all communities, it rains on the black inner-city communities. Pick your poison. Evil lurks. It always will. And when the thin blue line grows weary, who will protect us all?
In our country of melting pots, we all speak a different English. Some call it Mars and Venus. Others call it Ebonics and Cracker. You may even call it Bling and Ghetto. Whatever the differences you should be aware that your personal circumstances, experiences and biases determine your interpretation of the things you hear, see and do.
It is in the way you see the world, your personal or group paradigm that determines how you and others interpret the data that makes you feel safe or scared in all circumstances. It is in the translation of that data that gives us our common sense or gut feeling even if we don’t even speak the language.
It is the interpretation of that combination of body language and verbal comments that have led me to want to vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States. Here is why:
I see an influx of many who are different who come to this country. While I believe in diversity and also helping welcome newbies, I do not believe in anything that I feel would jeopardize our national security. Unfortunately, there are many who have entered the USA illegally or without having been properly vetted. You wouldn’t let a stranger live in your home and risk your children’s lives so why would you be okay with those same strangers bypassing our military and police system of safety? They may live in your neighborhood, shop at your store or be in your child’s school. is it that far fetched to imagine a parent being a suicide bomber? Think about it. We are only as safe as the protections of safety that are infrastructured around us. Sure we are not A PERFECT SYSTEM. However, if we don’t put safety first it is the most vulnerable of our society who will be the easiest victims.
They came from Thailand and Australia and around the world and maybe even from the ends of the earth. I came from Jacksonville.
Former Clevelanders and Believelanders made their way in droves unrivaled to see the transcendental transformation that Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team built for my hometown. The World Championship that seemed Biblical in proportion. The magical and memorable reversal of fortunes for a city forever ridiculed for a trash-covered burning lake, an unappreciated and neglected police department and a kidnapping-serial-killer surplus all within a few zip codes. All In became an Earned to a greater Cleveland area where it truly seems that Nothing has ever been Given. It took the Love of one man for a city and its people and their reciprocation to make the Impossible Dream Come True. A perfect team in a perfect year on a perfect day for a perfect parade for all the world to see and remember. A white cloud of hope and victory replacing the black cloud, the curse that had been my city’s legacy.
As the gods continued to align, they shone on the underestimated Cleveland Plain Dealer staff as they performed a Pulitzer Prize Worthy Quality performance as well. From photos to stories to headlines to unprecedented distribution by every member of the inside staff, they Delivered.
The massive crowd of 1.3 million fans -celebrity, native and gangsta- crowded the city to celebrate their hometown heroes in person. Shirtless JR, Kyrie and Iman, wrestling-championship-belt bedazzled Love, crowd-walking Mo and Rolls-Royce convertible throned Lebron, (with his newly franchised presidential protection detail), led the rest of the not-so-familiar famous members of the Cleveland team through the sometimes fan-blocked path in the streets of a confetti-gold downtown.
The eternal glow also enveloped the embattled Cleveland Police Department officers encompassed by Homeland Security Special Forces Detail as they served and protected all. Even little lost children came to them.
It ended with a grateful and comfortable Lebron and company inviting his newly-noticed international family to celebrate in traditional locker-room style. Fortunately, the 500,000 people transported to downtown via an all day $5 ticket on over-capacity RTA trains weren’t that angry when they couldn’t find their way home. My brother and I were among the tens of thousands of other stranded travelers who walked out of downtown 9/11-style from a five-hour-long parade spent in the homestyle heat enduring no loaves, no fishes and no water shortly before shots rang out. It was one for the record books that memories are made of.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around the tragic unfolding of events in Orlando last weekend, so I got in my car and drove two hours to the place some call the happiest city in the world.
As I watched the neatly manicured lawns of the neighborhoods pass by my window, I thought of how small the city seems when you get away from Disney and the amusement park area. In the Sodo neighborhood, that spans several small city blocks near one of the outdoor malls, I was again surprised to see the size of the tight-knit, usually quiet walking community. The place where some stores are open 24 hours and neighbors check on neighbors, that was caught up in the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in US History.
The bar at the center of the tragedy, Pulse Lounge, was at the end of a small road called West Esther Street, close to a fire station and a few blocks from a children’s hospital that became instrumental in caring for the injured and saving lives during and after the gunfire. Resident Donald Ato recalls having a pleasant short conversation on his birthday with one of the victims as the unwary patron left a car parked on the street across from his home and walked down to the club that fateful night. After the tragedy the car remained for days.
As FBI, local law enforcement, and other state investigators combed through the crime scene, removed bodies, and went through a complex but organized system of identification and family notification, a large entourage of media with their vans, huge transmission satellites, and tents blocked off roads outside of the police-taped area.
Less than five miles away, located next to another outdoor mall, was a second sidewalk tribute with heart balloons, notes, and candles marking the location of the other headline shooting tragedy to come out of Orlando last weekend: The Voice star and Adam Levine favorite, Christina Grimmie, was shot by another lone gunman as she eagerly greeted autograph seekers after a well-received concert in a little converted theater called The Plaza. This just one night before the mass shooting. I walked up to the door and saw a sign that read no concealed weapons are allowed on these premises. As I approached the makeshift memorial to yet another young life lost that weekend, Sophia Sullivan, age 9, and her grandmother, Susan, arrived to pay their respects. She placed balloons and read some of the messages, and then the two told me they had been at Christina’s concert. Sophia had wanted to stay for an autograph, but her grandmother said no, and they left moments before the fatal shooting.
Sophia told me she wanted to come so that she could make sure Christina’s loss wasn’t overlooked in the shadow of the Plush Lounge headlines.
As I spoke to more people, both those present at these tragedies and those who came in for the cleanup, I was left with two questions: Will love ever overcome hate? And in places where guns are not allowed, how will we protect ourselves? Long after the ringing of the victims’ unanswered cell phones has gone silent, I hope we will remember that life is finite and love is endless.
I hope we’ll also remember-and appreciate-that ongoing efforts to keep us safe are a full-time and dangerous job undertaken by many who tirelessly spend their whole lives in that endeavor, and that they do so in an environment often totally hidden from view.
Ever since I was old enough to lick an envelope or slide a curled up George Voinovich information card between the knob and the door of each house on the streets of a westside neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, I have been involved in political campaigns. My father, Hugh, a long time Republican supporter, had the benefit of six kids to help. So my childhood was filled with picnics where I met lots of candidates along the way. When I grew up and became a photojournalist for newspapers I was no longer allowed to participate but covered all the campaigns even riding through Cleveland in a limo as part of Vice President Dan Quayle’s motorcade.
When I moved to Florida as a journalist the paper I worked for considered working on campaigns a conflict of interest although they themselves endorsed party candidates. After leaving newspapers behind and working for magazines and private clients around the world I was again drawn to the familiar territory. However, I had the benefit of twenty some years of covering campaigns. This year that path led me to try to be a Florida Delegate to the Republican Convention this summer in my hometown.
I thought back to my high school civics class about how we elect a president. I remembered thinking how delegates were ordinary citizens who were elected to represent us and fulfill the role of placing our vote in the ballot box for our selected party candidate. Then something called the Electoral College would then again do the same thing at the final level to choose POTUS. I barely remember much else from that class but I do recall that I had an idea in my head that in a Democracy each of us had a vote and our votes collectively counted. Somehow with the happy ending that we the people elected the president of our choice.
So when I was told that the delegates were chosen as a perk for specific volunteers within the Republican party I still sent my application Fedex overnight as required to Tallahassee and waited with just a little bit of enthusiasm. Then I and the present 35 out of 40 other applicants met at a closed door meeting to pick the delegates in Jacksonville. Only registered Republicans were allowed to enter and cel phones were checked at the door. I was told that each of us would be given a chance to speak publicly to the eight chair people who would be choosing the delegates.
After every applicant spoke the eight people voted. A specific party member collected their index cards and took them in a back room. A few minutes later he came out and said “Ander Crenshaw.” Thus the first delegate was chosen. I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just open each index card and read off how many votes were for whom. This same process happened five more times with four of the board members basically being elected by themselves. I thought for sure the former military officer who had worked the makeshift morgue on September 11th, 2001 at the Pentagon would be chosen. I hoped I would be too. Instead the additional person to round out the six was a former elected official. I overheard two women behind me say something like if this is how the Republican Party runs things no wonder no one wants to join them anymore. I left that meeting with the feeling that although these people chosen would probably do a good job as delegates, it was definitely predetermined who would go based on their allegiance to the Republican Party and not necessarily their obligation to the voters of Florida. I also felt that when they got to the convention they were not going to pick Donald Trump if they could help it.
Ironically I got a call this past week asking me to donate $75 to the Republican Party. I said I have a wait and see attitude. I want to see if the American people’s vote counts or if a back door decision denies the voters their choice. I recall a conversation I had years ago with a Washington beltway insider. ” No matter who is president the same people run the country,” I was told.
I will be in Cleveland to see how this all really plays out, but I wanted to end with comments I remember from two of my Kent State University professors. If you don’t want to be in the newsroom on election day get out of the business; and It’s not what you look at but what you see that matters.