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I can't breath

Imagine the uproar that would erupt if a black police officer shot a 12 year old white boy to death in suburbia because he was playing with a toy gun, alone, in an empty playground.  Imagine the uproar if a black police officer took down and killed a middle aged white man with a choke hold, in suburbia, suspecting him of selling something on the street in front of his house without a license.  With the roles reversed, these and other similar killings took place in American cities in recent weeks and months.  Now, imagine if you, as an invisible gay person, had lavender colored skin which clearly identified you as a queer to anyone with two working eyes and particularly to police officers who saw gay people as universally suspect and dangerous.  Imagine how you would feel as a lavender colored person who was followed by security the moment you walked into a store, throughout your life!  This was the experience of the President of the United States of America, before he had his own national security force following him around.

Now, you might thank God that no one can tell you're gay anytime you walk outside; but think of the fact that not a day passes that some Transgender American isn't assaulted and murdered just because of who they are.  Imagine if your skin was black or lavender.  In 1930s Germany, the Nazis had a law that required all Jews to wear a yellow star, which entitled the Gestapo, police, and any bully and bigot to stop, question, viciously assault, and arrest you just because of who you are.  Six million Jews were murdered across Europe by the Nazis before and during WWII, along with one million gay people, and millions of Roma just because of who they were.  When the victorious allied forces liberated the survivors from the Nazi death camps, they kept the Pink Triangle (gay) prisoners in the camps and later turned them over to German authorities who re-imprisoned them and tortured them; there were no survivors.

Now, you might thank God that none of that happens or happened in America; but it does and did.  It was not that long ago that police in any American city could regularly raid gay bars and clubs, collect bribes, question everyone there, and publish the names of all patrons in the local newspapers the next day, ruining lives!  And still today in America, if you are Black or Hispanic, police still stop, question, brutally assault, and even murder you just because of who you are.  Imagine if your skin were lavender and they could do that to you!

So, what's all this got to do with patriotic Gay veterans and service members?  It wasn't that long ago that you could be murdered if anyone found out you were serving while gay.  It happened quite often, most notoriously to PFC Barry Winchell at Ft. Campbell in 1999.  He wasn't even gay, but 'thinking he was,' was justification enough.  If you didn't get thrown overboard in the middle of the night, or shot in the back, you were interrogated, investigated, terrorized for months and then dishonorably discharged in disgrace, even if you had a Purple Heart and a chest full of medals. Just because of who you were.  And what if none of that happened to you?  Well, you served in silence, worrying every single day about being found out for who you were.  You had to listen to everyone around you casually making horrible homophobic remarks constantly; and you had to keep your mouth shut about it; or you even had to laugh crudely along with everyone else so they would keep assuming you were a Neandrathal just like them.

Back then, during and after Vietnam, when I served a decade in the Navy and Army Reserve, I could pass for straight without 'acting.'  I didn't 'act gay' and I didn't 'act straight;' I was just me, a pretty good Petty Officer, and a mild mannered Sergeant.

Now, some forty years later, I don't 'look gay' either.  I'm basically invisible.  I look like what I am: a grumpy grizzled old Vietnam Era vet, slightly unshaven, paunchy, with an unkempt moustache, a cane, wrinkles, and a slightly tattered 'vets baseball cap' with various pins and badges, a little tin helicopter gunship, and assorted other crap.  Mixed in with all that is a little rainbow triangle, but no one notices it, they think its just some unit insignia or other.  So, I don't get stopped, interrogated and brutally taken down by rogue cops even if I'm jay walking across the street.  When I walk through the security checkpoint at the VA and trigger the metal detector with my metal cane and suspenders, the rent-a-cop just rolls his eyes and waves me through; he doesn't want to wait for an old fart to fumble with his keys and loose change.  If I had lavender skin, on the other hand, I could be a walking victim for every egomaniac Neandrathal in a uniform.

I'm speaking up about the constant murder of unarmed Black Americans by police because I've spent my entire life just on the other edge of being victimized in the same way.  Before I was born, my parents were Holocaust refugees; and most of  my grandparents and uncles and aunts were murdered in Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe.  Growing up gay, I learned pretty quick to keep my mouth shut to avoid being beaten to death.  And patriotically serving in silence in America's armed forces was a ten year PTSD producing trauma.  Like I said, I'm invisible now.

When I signed up to serve in 1968, my gay friends told me, "Are you CRAZY!? You'll be killed for being a Queer!"  My Jewish friends told me, "Zeite Mishugah!?...." which was Yiddish for, "Are you CRAZY!? You'll be killed for being a Jew!"  Well, I wasn't killed, but I have a sense of what its all about.

Some say that this is 'not about race,' and some say it is.  Other say its all about power and control.  I say its about all of those things.  I believe it is also about the arrogance of bullies in uniform. The head of the police union representing them said on TV that Mr. Garner "was resisting arrest" and that "if you can talk you can breath."  Really?  So how come he died?  Maybe in some alternate right wing reality he's still alive?  What this is all about is the arrogant alternate reality of a right wing political party that has fomented racism and sexual scapegoating as a political strategy preying on people's ignorance and fears.  The video seen round the world clearly shows Eric Garner throwing up his hands in surrender and begging the police in terror not to touch him.  Whereupon they viciously attacked him.  His last words, as they choked him to death, were, "I can't breath, I can't breath;" as he hoped even then that they might hear and respect him as a human being.  They didn't.  Even now, their right wing supporters still false-righteously continue to encourage the kind of disrespect and dismissal of the humanity of minorities that led the police to devalue his life.

In the mid 1990s I was given an experimental cancer treatment drug; it shut down my heart.  A team of Code Blue doctors tore my cloths off and worked on me as I gasped, over and over, "I can't breath, I can't breath."  Believe me I know, even if you can't breath you can talk.  They gave my oxygen.  A nurse holding my wrist shouted, "I have no pulse!" They were about to use the electro shock defibrillation paddles on me; that terrified me so much that my heart kick-started on its own!  According to the video and news reports, EMTs didn't give Eric Garner oxygen, they didn't try cardiopulmonary resuscitation, nothing.  Would they have were he white?

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