By Any Means Necessary


I opened the bedroom curtains, Thursday morning, April 30, to see smoke over the city. The CNN feed replaced All Things Considered on my radio. Gil Scott Heron once wrote a talking blues titled, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" but there it was, Los Angeles, California. Camera crews arrived ahead of the police to conduct exit polls with looters on their assessments of the Rodney King verdict.

It was spring and at my gate, bowers of flowers bloomed. Even with the smoke, that morning at dawning, birdies sing and everything. In the late afternoon that day, I met a neighbor behind the counter of a black-owned business wearing a t-shirt that said, "By any means necessary."

"Malcolm X," I noted. She said, "Yes." Then she said, "We tried Martin's way. Now we're trying Malcolm's way."


Another day in April. This time, my work day was coming to an end. I clicked on my favorite live radio feed -- even in Vermont, it's still KCRW, Santa Monica. I realized I was hearing the live feed of the judge in the Derek Chauvin trial receiving the decisions of the jury. Again, I thought.

The mic picked up the sound of his opening the envelope, I heard the rustle of the paper as he unfolded the written verdict. How long is he going to take? I could feel him reading the outcome. I was trying to read the verdict in the sound of his breathing.

How did we get here? Another unequivocal video of police violence; another police chief denouncing his own officers, and still, the outcome at the moment was in doubt.

I see my role in this. For me thirty years ago, to return to my flower-bowered life, all that was necessary was for me to wait a week. My blindered and complacent life needed no other means.

Inattentional blindness.

My mentor, David Allen, does an exercise in his workshops. "Look around the room," he suggests. We do. When the audience reverts its attention back to him, he asks, "What's red in the room?" When we look around again, we see red everywhere. It's called inattentional blindness. We hadn't taken in all the red before David invited our attention to receive it. Our attention system is organized around opportunities and threats. If our brain doesn't register information as either, it doesn't signal it to our attention. Call it out, and there it is.

Imagine this: let's say a man in the back of the room wearing a red tie asks David a question. The focus again returns to David. A few minutes later David says, "I see you have another question," to the man in the red tie. It's possible only a couple of people realize the man with the red tie is a different man who changed ties and places with the original man while our backs were turned.

We see the color and not the person.

It's called change blindness. Something vital and essential has changed, but not what was interesting, valuable, or useful to us.

It takes effort to put our attention where it may really belong. It often takes someone calling it out.

And then we have to hold it. We have to make it valuable. It has to matter to us for us to pay attention to it.

Robert Frost ended a poem recounting the death of a boy in a farm accident with,

". . . And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."

It's what I did in May, 1992. I was not the one beaten nearly to death; I was not one of the ones dead. I returned to my affairs.

I was wrong. This post is to hold me accountable not to do that again. I need to hold my attention on this injustice.

By any means necessary.

Change blindness

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