#Review: ANGER IS A GIFT, by Mark Oshiro

I wasn’t ready for this damn book.

My first exposure to Mark Oshiro actually happened because a mutual Patron suggested that Mark read The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 1 on their Mark Reads Stuff YouTube channel. I admit I feel a little special because, technically, they had heard of me before I heard of them. Which, take that, traditional publishing!

Anyway, they seem to have been enjoying themselves, and watching them read my book has been fun as hell, so I figured there was a good chance I’d like their work as well, and in that spirit I just finished their debut novel, Anger Is a Gift.

And it has kicked my ass. I made a terrible mistake last night while reading in bed; at one point I looked over at my wife (who is reading Harrow the Ninth right now) and said “This book is trying to lull me into a false sense of security. I don’t trust optimism any more. Something terrible is about to happen.”

And like ten minutes later I was so angry I could barely breathe, and any thought of sleep within the next hour or so at the least was banished. Not angry at the book, mind you, although I did come very close to tossing it across the room. Angry on behalf of Moss Jeffries, the book’s main character.

As the events of the book begin, Moss has been without his father for a few years. His father was shot by a police officer while leaving a local corner store with headphones on and hands filled with groceries. He attends high school in Oakland, CA, at a school that has recently begun a policy where students can be pulled from class, at any time, by school police officers to search their lockers. As it turns out, the cop in question already does not exactly have the rest of the student body’s trust, and this policy goes badly.

Which leads to metal detectors at the door. Which goes badly.

Which leads to the students planning a walk-out as protest. Which goes very badly.

I’m not going to spoil any more; suffice it to say that protest and police brutality and loss are strong themes of this book, and it begins with a handful of content warnings that maybe I should have taken a bit more seriously myself, because reading this book as a teacher of Black and Brown children in 2020 was very, very difficult. These kids are failed by nearly every adult in their lives– Moss’ mother is wonderful, as is his boyfriend Javier’s mother, but the school personnel and even some of the other parents are benignly neglectful at best and actively harmful at worst, and I spent as much time angry with school personnel as I did with the actions of the police.

I will admit that there were a few moments where I had thoughts of the Would they REALLY … type, mostly relating to various actions the police take regarding the protesters, and … honestly, there’s no excuse to be thinking something like that in 2020. Even if this was mildly unrealistic when it was released in 2018, it’s just not any longer. It’s impossible to have watched the actions of the police across the country this year with your eyes open and declare anything to be beyond them.

That quote on the cover of the book declares it to be “beautiful and brutal.” And … yeah. That’s a really good description of the book. Anger is a Gift was a hard book to read, but absolutely well worth it, and I think you will hear about it again at the end of the year.

In which I have no patience for white nonsense

So it’s happened again, another unarmed young Black man who posed no threat whatsoever shot in the back multiple times by police officers. Amazingly, as of right now Jacob Blake is still alive, despite being shot seven times at point-blank range by someone who was attempting to murder him.

I just had a student lose a younger brother– a nine-year-old– to a gunshot. And neither of these things will ever stop, because America loves guns more than it loves children or Black people combined, and white people in this country will put up with absolutely anything so long as they can see people of color nearby who have it worse than they do.

I finished up with my classes today and decided to do something I don’t do very often, which is go take a swim in the pool by myself. Before I did, I spent a moment randomly scrolling through TikTok and found a video by a Black woman who was clearly reacting to Blake’s shooting. I duetted the video– which, for those of you who don’t do TikTok, is basically that app’s version of Twitter’s comment-RT, but did mine over a black background and just put “Nothing I need to add here; BLACK LIVES MATTER” in my side of the screen. I was basically just doing a signal boost.

(Which turned out utterly unnecessary, as the account I was duetting was MUCH bigger than mine, but whatever.)

Well an hour later I got out of the pool and discovered that my most famous TikTok video is now one that I don’t actually appear in. It’s gone very mildly viral (very mildly; I only have about 40 followers and don’t have much reach there) but for some reason it was getting a lot more commentary and Likes than usual, especially compared to the number of views.

And, man, y’all, there’s a whole lot of racists on TikTok. I am desperately tired of white people who somehow in August of 2020 still want to pretend that any of the following are true:

  • That “All Lives Matter.” No, they don’t, and this has been explained to you repeatedly, and I assume at this point anyone who says this is either a racist or too stupid to live.
  • That “Blue Lives Matter.” There is no such thing as Blue Lives, and you are a racist— and an asshole– if you try this one. Cops choose to be cops. This is not a thing.
  • Oh if you just follow instructions you’ll be fine. Not true, not at all. Especially when there’s five different cops all barking different sets of instructions at you. Also: Tamir Rice. Also: Philando Castile. Also: Charles Kinsey.
  • If they weren’t doing anything wrong, they’d have been fine. Also not true! See: Tamir Rice again. See: Breanna Taylor. See: Botham Jean. See: Atatiana Jefferson.

Cops kill Black people because cops in this country are racist and overfunded and overarmed and utterly fucking out of control. The police are a street gang with no accountability whatsoever. I also had to contend with this piece of risible horse shit today:

Oh, I absolutely do want to do these things, and frankly I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t. And I am far from the only fucking one. Shut the fuck up, Joy Behar, and take your idiot bullshit with you. I’m not in the mood.

At any rate, I’ve discovered that you can’t delete comments on TikTok once they’re made, but you can block commenters, and I’ve been making sure that no one gets a chance to be dumb twice. Because unless I actually do get paid to educate you, I don’t get paid to educate you, especially for something that by this point in this year of all times you should bloody fucking already know.

Enough of this bullshit. Be better, white people.

Last night’s anxiety dream

Sunday night’s dream was that I was late to a concert and then when I got there I was the only person in a mask, plus a nice little dab of high school anxiety. Last night, I had a dream where I was the only other person nearby while a cop was being brutal and abusive toward a Black woman at a traffic stop, only I couldn’t figure out how to get my phone to record a video and by the time I managed to parse the UI he already had her in his car and had driven off.

The really ridiculous part is that the dream also included the post-arrest Twitter rant I went on, which was about, not policing, not a description of the arrest … but about how app designer’s obsession with subtle UI elements has led to a world where something simple like “I want to record this thing happening in front of me” requires me to carefully look at every part of the screen in case there’s a tiny, 50% transparency circle in the top right corner that I’m supposed to naturally realize means “record.”

Which, uh, isn’t how my phone works at all— the “record” button is literally giant, centered, and red– but hey, dream.

More later. If nothing else, I know Mark Oshiro put up another video from Remember that I need to watch and post.

On #8cantwait, defunding the police, and reform

I went on a little bit of a tear this morning about incrementalism, police reform, and the “defund the police” … movement? Hashtag? thing, and it occurs to me that part of the problem is that I don’t know what to call it. One thing that has been true about me for a while is that I am nearly always in favor of taking small steps that get me closer to an overall goal. That doesn’t mean I don’t want the goal, or that if the chance arrives to achieve the goal I won’t jump at it– but if we have a chance to move closer I’m always going to take it even if it doesn’t solve all existing problems anyway. The notion that we can make progress toward solutions is one that I believe in pretty strongly.

To wit, health care: I think health care should be free or close to it at the point of delivery and that everyone should have health insurance, and I believe health insurance should be covered by taxes. I don’t necessarily care about how that is enacted– if you can put a plan in front of me that has a chance to pass and keeps for-profit health insurance companies in business while enacting that goal, or at least part of that goal, chances are I’ll support it. I think ultimately we need to move away from the notion of for-profit health insurance– that, in fact, it is a moral abomination– but it’s not going away tomorrow, and in the meantime anything we can do to keep people alive and fight off living in a world where medical bankruptcy is a thing is good. I am a realist, though, and I live in America, and I don’t think that private insurance companies are getting abolished tomorrow, so I’m not going to stomp my feet about Medicare for All and hold my breath.

Similarly, police reform. This is complicated to talk about, because when we talk about “defunding police,” the meaning of that term slides around kind of hideously depending on who you’re talking about. I am always entertained when I hear elected officials or, really, anyone talking about guns and saying things like no one is coming to take away your guns, because I am absolutely coming to take away your guns. Similarly, there appear to be a contingent of people who, when they say “defund the police,” they mean exactly that, and then there’s another contingent of people– who may or may not be trying to appropriate the phrase from the first contingent– who actually mean “cut their budgets, but keep them around.”

Those are not the same thing, and that’s kind of a problem.

And then there are organizations like #8cantwait, which has its own problems, namely surprisingly dodgy statistics and studies for something Sam Sinyangwe has put his name to, as he’s always seemed like a pretty straightforward guy. I would take that 72% number with a grain of salt. But I do think that enacting these types of policies would, in fact, reduce police violence, and even if the goal is (laudably!) to eliminate police violence, maybe we do things that aren’t going to get us all the way there in one stroke anyway because they’ll help? Some of those 8 items would even increase police budgets, or at least would without commensurate cuts elsewhere– training costs money, for example– and that’s an automatic nonstarter for (some of) the Defund folks, especially the Defund/Abolish wing. I’m willing to spend some extra taxpayer money if it keeps people alive.

And, of course, there is the fact that Eric Garner (and, I’m sure, others) was killed with a chokehold that has been banned in New York since 1993, so clearly the policy didn’t keep him alive. But laws don’t actually stop crime! We know this! It’s not controversial! What laws do is allow us to punish people when they commit those crimes, and you can’t go after a cop for using a banned chokehold if the chokehold isn’t banned.

It is utterly ludicrous, to me, to claim that you want police violence stopped and to simultaneously be against enacting a policy that police can’t use chokeholds. And I would like to see better data on how well these policies work— if police departments having such a policy doesn’t change anything, then by all means don’t bother– but I don’t see much of a down side in banning something like a choke hold while we try to collect better data. I mean, that should lead to fewer people being choked, right? It surely won’t lead to more choking.

I am sympathetic to the lower-case D defund people, and I’m absolutely willing to listen to the defund-and-abolish crew; I just downloaded Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing (because a paper copy cannot be found, which strikes me as a good thing) and I intend to read it soon, and me being me I’m sure I’ll find other books about it to read as well. But my initial feeling is that such a thing isn’t going to fly in America. I’d love to be wrong, but I live in a country where 40% of the populace still approves of the syphilitic Adderall addict in the White House. We are not abolishing the police anytime soon even if it’s a good idea.

So what sorts of things do I think we should do? Here, have a list in no particular order:

  • I really don’t see any reason not to encourage wholesale adoption of the #8cantwait agenda. It’s not going to solve all of our problems, but even if it doesn’t help as much as I hope I certainly don’t see it making things worse.
  • Police unions should be abolished. Police are not workers. This is a big part of the problem, because Republicans don’t want to criticize police and Democrats don’t want to criticize unions. They’re not the same as workers and they shouldn’t have the same protections. Police unions have to go.
  • Police should not even carry guns most of the time. I’m okay with keeping one in the car or something but the vast majority of police work does not require the cop to be armed.
  • It should be widely recognized that killing someone on the job is literally the worst thing a cop can do. No police officer who has killed someone, justified or otherwise, should still be on the streets. I don’t mind them having desk jobs, but once you kill somebody you should be done patrolling.
  • Police should be required to be licensed and degreed (four years!) to at least the same extent as teachers are. Police licensure should be temporary and revocable in the case of misconduct, and there should be at least state-by-state databases keeping track of them.
  • Police officers dismissed for cause or who have their license revoked in one state cannot move to another state and apply for a new one. Similarly, this information should be public– you can look up my teachers’ license; I should be able to see theirs as well.
  • Review boards with actual teeth, staffed by civilians.
  • “Kettling” and blocking access to public transit during protests should be banned. Protesters should always have the option to leave, particularly when “failure to disperse” is something cops arrest protesters for.
  • I want a nationwide, comprehensive, detailed, publicly accessible database on the use of force by police departments.
  • Deescalation training should be mandatory, frequent, and used. Again, I want the police held to at least the same standards that teachers are.
  • Use of tear gas, LRAD devices, rubber bullets and any sort of other military hardware by police officers is banned, and the sale of surplus military hardware to police departments is ended immediately. Tear gas is a fucking war crime if you use it on opposing armies; there is no reason for its use to be so routine against American citizens.
  • Any officer found to have turned off his or her bodycam or covered his or her badge number and/or name while on duty is fired immediately, end of discussion, no exceptions.
  • Tangentially related, perhaps, but private prisons should be abolished. We can talk about prison abolition in general sometime if y’all like but private prisons are an obscenity.
  • End qualified immunity.
  • It should be illegal for police to have sex with people in custody, because are you fucking kidding how are there not already policies against this???
  • Police should have to carry malpractice insurance the same way doctors do. Settlements are paid out of that insurance fund or out of pensions, not out of taxpayer pockets.
  • Police are not automatically dispatched when a call to EMS or fire departments is made.
  • Police are provided with free and ready access to counseling and mental health services.

That’s a start, I think; I’ll add into the list as the day goes on if I come up with more. None of these policies are going to stop police violence, of course, but again: you have to decrease police violence before you can stop it.

Yell at me in comments if you like, but be aware I am a bit short-tempered today.


4:06 PM, Monday, June 8: 1,954,236 confirmed cases and 110,845 Americans dead. The site I pull this data from had spiked to over 116k dead earlier today; it’s rolled back now, so I assume there was some sort of data entry error.

An anecdote, apropos of nothing

Every so often, my wife will get into some sort of conflict with my son when I’m in another room. This isn’t something that happens a lot, mind you; once or twice a week, maybe, generally around bath- or bedtime. The details don’t really matter all that much. He’s either doing something she doesn’t want him to do, or he’s not doing something she wants him to do. Sometimes he manages both at the same time.

And my reaction, generally, is to let her handle it. Not because I don’t care, or because I think discipline is her job; we co-parent as much as we can, and on the rare occasion where we disagree on how to handle something involving him we sort it out when he isn’t around. Because here’s the thing: if my wife and son are having an issue, particularly if he’s already upset and not just being a butthead, the second I show up– even if I don’t say anything– I have escalated the situation, just by my presence. Now my son’s not scared of me, there’s no threat of physical violence here– I’ve never laid a finger on him. But if he’s already upset, the second he’s outnumbered he’s twice as upset as he was before.

I have made things worse, simply by showing up. It might be my intention to calm things down or, alternatively, to lay down the law and quell the misbehavior, but what I have done is escalated the situation.

Now let’s imagine that I walk into the room, and my belt is in my hand. I don’t say anything; I’m not screaming or yelling or carrying on. I’m just there, leather belt in hand, perhaps doubled over on itself.

That’s gonna be even worse, right? Even though I haven’t actually done anything. I’m just standing there, with my belt, and I’ve made things more frightening, more violent, more alienating, more dangerous. Just by standing there.

Funny how that works.


8:34 PM, Monday, June 1: 1,809,109 confirmed cases and 105,099 Americans dead.