The subtitle here is really: “Who are we if the killing doesn’t matter?”
I can understand the words of Daniel Berehulak—the New York Times and international photojournalist-- when he said what woke him up from temporary numbing was the sound of the victims’ families and loved ones. The journalists covering the disgrace of suspected drug users being killed without warning and without mercy and without trial, try to get the strength of the photos—the humanity, the yearning, the howling, the sorrow that has no words—just garbled sounds of horror and pain. They try to communicate them in the hope that their bearing witness will make a difference.
Today’s New York Times fifteen or so minute documentary, “When a President Says ‘I’ll Kill You, by Andrew Glazer and Jeremy Rocklin, features also Raffy Lerma, a seasoned Filipino photo journalist, who is searching for pictures that will move people. There is a lover holding onto her lover in a desperate and despairing embrace, a child holding on to her mother who will be taken. Duterte comments: “When a person is portrayed with drama, it is in fact ‘only drama’”. In effect, to him and ostensibly many of his followers it is bullshit, nothing of importance.
“These are people”, says Lerma, not merely criminals, or even possible criminals. But to the supporters of Duterte’s policies, obviously the human factor is not important.
“It is really sad how we accept people being killed without due process”, says Lerma. He adds that journalists can only keep reporting these things until they end.
This outrage I am feeling personally at this story is not merely the attempt of a liberal to be super self-righteous. There are plenty of things in my own country gone wrong, historically from genocide to slavery to racism to corporate greed—not to speak of the dehumanization we are seeing now regarding immigrants. And also I know there are potentially competing issues: violence and terror and many kinds of suffering and more of the same. There is the famine in Africa claiming more than 20 million human lives. I persist, wearily but still, in supposing there is still space—there are resources that include people that might divide up the attention that is needed for more than one disaster.
Meanwhile I am trying to grapple seriously with what happens to us if or when we don’t care. And I harken back to my first history class at Brooklyn College where a mostly Jewish class tried as hard as we could to insist most Germans didn’t know about the Nazis. The teacher refuted us at every past but we pushed and pushed. We didn’t want to be the carriers of hate and blame, but also there was the fact that we couldn’t imagine such a thing. To us, if they had known they would have stopped it. We were still naïve, naïve in our own mostly Jewish middle class corner of a world in which we thought of World War II as all and only about saving the Jews and about the Holocaust. We didn’t know that some people could band (and had indeed both at home and in other lands) together and commit sadism without qualms. And this happened, and could happen, not only without qualms, but also with resolution and clear consciences.
I write about the shadow, the darker sides that come out to hate and kill and like it. I write about the shadows hidden in self-righteousness. And it makes me wonder: where are those of us who felt that consciousness and conscience made a difference. How is it that dictators and dictator states can kill and hurt and maim, not only the people directly involved, but also more figuratively those who might make a difference with our voice? Where is the President of the United States and even the Congress when it comes to this abomination in the Philippines and the famine in Africa?
I will desist from pleading: I reckon people find it boring and repetitive. I suggest that you take a look at the video/short documentary that is part of the news on Sunday March 26, 2017. I suggest also that you try to forget for a moment on which side of the aisle you sit on politically, and that for a moment that you forget whether class or race or country or religion is for you the key matter in all that matters.
I tell my friends I seem like an optimist to them because I cannot wear pessimism for long without crumbling. If that is real optimism I don’t know. I do know that I see miracles in my therapy office when people who have suffered grave trauma and disturbance, come to grow, and all the while teach me a thing or two. I do know that when people let down their/our guard and hear the other person’s stories and perspectives, sometimes we can create alternatives.
Right now I’m hoping that we are not so much partisans of our particular issue of the moment that we stop from seeing how they are all connected. By the way, a propos of Hitler and Nazis, Duterte is openly proud to be his country’s Hitler. Germany had Hitler, but the Philippines have Duterte. His pride is piercing as he ridicules the human beings who “cradle drug addicts as if they were Jesus and Mary.”
Okay, time for some 12 Step work. I’m Carol, and I can’t desist from pleading. Hi Carol.