I keep asking myself why I went to Montgomery. It’s not the kind of place you’d typically put at the top of your bucket list. Maybe your fuck-it bucket list.
In October of 2017, I was brutally attacked online. You might say it was free speech but I’d say it was an assault. How can I fight back against a blizzard of hatred which is weaponized by MEGA DONERS & MAGA TROLLS?
I was buried alive by an avalanche of vitriol.
It’s how I know for certain Citizens United is a lie. It’s how I know for certain Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are being smeared for sport. It’s how I know for certain my brother and my cousin are cowards. It’s how I know for certain my parents are broken people. It’s how I know for certain the community of my youth is not the community of my future, and never was, despite my best effort at hiding in plain sight. In the end, if you don’t recognize the lie then you’re a danger to yourself and it’s no ones fault but your own.
I keep asking myself why I went to Montgomery. Why did I invite my college roommate, Vinny Vegas. Why did I trust him enough to show up without an explanation? He has a wife. He has 2 young daughters. You’d think this wouldn’t matter in the natural course of a friendship. But it matters a lot, asking him to take time away from his family to walk Dexter Avenue where on Friday Night, if you pause to look in any direction, you won’t find 6 cars driving at the same time. It’s that slow! Asking someone who lives in Miami, who gets-off on the energy of living in Miami, asking him to find joy in a place where lynchings are the first thing you think about is a tall ask.
So I asked.
When I was brutally attacked online, the only news outlet who got it right was Newsweek. They actually paused long enough to seek the source of the story. Instead of going blindly along with the momentum of outrage, they asked why. Turns out, I pissed off Neo-Nazis and The KKK. When it comes to Jew Jokes, they’re a hoot. When it comes to Black Face, they’re a laugh riot. But if you turn the tables on a White Supremacist — surprise-surprise — they’re enormously thin-skinned, just like the president who’s been openly pushing their agenda since Charlottesville.
The Daily Stormer, InfoWars, Breitbart and Fox News published my likeness, my phone number and my address. So did The Chicago Tribune. In fact, to add insult to injury, the reporter from The Chicago Tribune called to talk to me just before he published the hit piece. There was something about the gleeful tone of his call, just before we hung up I asked him this fortuitous question: “Are you going to eviscerate me?”
Eviscerate was an understatement.
It’s how I know for certain The Chicago Tribune is a shill for The Daley Machine and I wasn’t the least bit surprised when they knee-capped Amara Enyia in the final weeks of her run to be mayor of Chicago.
I’m sorry, Madame Mayor.
I should have done more to stop the madness long before you ran for office but I was too caught up in myself. I suppose I honed this skill in the community of my youth, Highland Park. Please forgive me. Please forgive all of us, we’re too busy planning our picnic basket while someone else plans the lynching.
The article in Newsweek had a quote from The Southern Poverty Law Center. It lead me to Bryan Stevenson, which lead me back to a book I’d began on 3 separate occasions but never powered through to the end, “Just Mercy.” It’s the story of Walter McMillian, who was wrongly accused and ended up spending 30 years on death row before Bryan Stevenson was able to prove his innocence. It’s also the story of Kuntrell Jackson who was 14 years old when he made the idiot teenage decision of going along on a robbery. The robbery went bad, as most robberies do, since the planning is easy but the stress of the moment is almost impossible to predict. The clerk was shot and killed. Kuntrell didn’t pull the trigger but he was part of the heist. He was arrested at 14 and sentenced at 17 to life without parole. Bryan Stevenson took his case all the way to the Supreme Court and in a landmark decision, Miller v. Alabama, ended life without parole for juvenile offenders. When he was freed, Kuntrell Jackson was 33 years old.
My experience of surviving the backlash is fortunate. When I say fortunate what I mean is I was fortunately old enough to recognize the danger as real. I found a safe place and laid low. This wasn’t easy. My subconscious wanted out. I kept dreaming I was on the road to a forest preserve just west of the highway on Dundee Road. I’d swing by The Handy Andy to get rope. I’d park the car and google noose. Then I’d wake up, staring at the ceiling. It was 2:47AM. I couldn’t sleep. From October until I left town at the end of December, I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t just suicidal, I was emotionally uprooted, lost. My family had put pastrami ahead of my well being. Friends I’d known since childhood took me out to lecture me when all I needed was a hug. My girlfriend’s family called for a meeting and I wasn’t invited. I’m sure you can understand why I wasn’t invited, since I was the subject of the meeting.
Here was the big question of the meeting: who tweets after a mass shooting?
I’ll tell you who…
That’s how I cope. Some people offer thoughts and prayers. Some people cry in split screen on CNN. Some people shop and pretend it’s not happening. Some people golf cuz they’re assholes. Some people double-down on their donations to the NRA. Call all of them what they are…
I actually blame myself for checking out after Sandy Hook. But I decided I couldn’t keep living from one crisis to the next, so whenever there was a mass shooting, for the next 7 days, I turned off the TV. Looking back, this is the unforgivable sin. I could be mad at the rest of you who are still doing this but the truth is how can I be mad at you for doing what I’m guilty of doing myself?
It’s no wonder I went to Montgomery.
I understand what the mob looks like when they’re tying the noose. I can image the kind of people who stood on the steps of the capitol and cheered as Jefferson Davis took the oath to lead the Confederacy and kill children dressed up as soldiers. I could see the families being torn from each other as they were sold into slavery by people who looked like my teachers at Highland Park High School.
The Devil sips sweet tea. So do you. So do I.
None of us are perfect and we’re all complicit in the madness. But going blindly along to dismantle the emotional well-being and financial stability of someone you don’t even know is a clue that you’re living in the cry for help. But here’s the problem, when you’re sick you don’t know you’re sick and so you keep punishing everyone around you with your behavior instead of admitting you have work to do on dismantling the lies you’re repeating as truth to give yourself an unearned advantage.
I landed in Montgomery hours ahead of Vinny Vegas. I took the first flight out so I could have a moment to myself at The Dexter Avenue Church. I’d read about the church in “Just Mercy.” When MLK was 24 years old, he was plucked from the seminary to lead the church. He preached there until the Montgomery Bus Boycott brought him to national prominence. He left The Dexter Avenue Church to lead the Civil Rights Movement. He was 39 years old when he was murdered. 15 years from the time he started preaching.
He was murdered by me. He was murdered by you. We keep letting this happen. We allow the madness. We treat it like it’s normal. I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day in 2019, a year after Valentine’s Day in 2018. Why does that matter? I’ll tell you why. There’s a direct line between Columbine and Parkland. Connect the dots, People. The kids who were murdered at Parkland weren’t even alive when the shooting happened at Columbine. And what did we do about it?
We killed those children. Until we own it we cannot fix it. If you’re looking for the grown ups in Washington to fix it, then look at how they’re treating AOC. You tell me…
Who’s the grown up?
Who’s the child?
Brenda was sweet to me. When I showed up at the door of the Dexter Avenue Church, I was having a moment. I started to cry. But Brenda was just doing her job. To me it was a moment. To Brenda it was Thursday and there was a white boy crying in the basement of her church. She gave me a hug.
“Can I look around?” I asked.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “follow your spirit.”
“Can I stand on stage so I can see the world through the eyes of Dr. King?” I asked.
“Don’t push me,” she said.
Vinny Vegas landed a few hours later. This was the first place I took him, after we stopped for a sandwich at Mama Goldberg’s Deli. Turns out, Mama has a lot of places in Montgomery. Another favorite of ours was Mama’s Sack Lunches. By the time we got to The Dexter Avenue Church on the first day of our trip together, the doors were locked. The sun was setting. So we walked over to the steps of the capitol, to take in the star where Jefferson Davis stood. It’s a racist stone’s throw from the pulpit where MLK preached.
It begs the question you can only ask when you’re standing in Montgomery: how can one man lift so many while another man kills thoughtlessly to steal the future from generations of black children?