A perspective on and reaction to police killings

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed a number of highly publicized killings of unarmed black citizens at the hands of the State. While many of us, myself included, have only recently become informed of the volume and frequency of these killings, those in communities acutely afflicted by police violence have been intimately familiar with its depth and breadth all their lives. These recent killings have publicized for a wider audience the fact that all across America, black lives are effectively worthless, and may be ended at any time, without real cause or consequence.

Depending on one’s proximity to police violence, reactions to reactions to these killings have ranged from justified outrage to understandable numbness. Huge numbers of Well-Meaning White People have expressed justified shock and outrage (A line from Dave Chappelle’s Killin’  Them Softly comes to mind: “Honey, did you see this? Apparently the police have been beating up Negroes like hotcakes!”), while for many members of the black community, the only difference between 2014 and 1968 or 1865 is greater publicity.

I’ve run the gamut of reactions. Unfocused rage at a legal (not justice) system I’ve only just realized is designed exactly to perpetuate police violence against minorities, not prevent it. Profound grief that even though my black friends are smart, talented, law-abiding, and live in mostly “progressive” parts of this country, they are putting their very lives at stake simply by being in public. A resigned slumping over in my chair after reading about the Eric Garner decision and wondering: Exactly what set of circumstances would have to coalesce for a police officer to be prosecuted for ending a black life?

To me, the base cause of cop-on-black killings, beyond the inequities of the legal system, is clear: The widely-held belief, as deeply rooted in America’s being as democracy, that black people, particularly black men, are super (or sub-) human creatures predisposed towards crime whose very existence poses a threat to society. This is not hyperbole. This is the belief that Darren Wilson admitted fueled his killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. The reason why people say, “well, Tamir Rice looked much older than 12.” It was Daniel Pantaleo’s justification, conscious or not, for choking a man to death, unprovoked, while he begged to be left alone.

We must fight the hatred & fear of black skin, and in cases where hatred & fear cannot be overcome, and results in violence and death, we must fight for real justice to be done.

If you are in a position to do so, you have a moral obligation to stand on the right side of history. For the first 30 years of my life, I have been complicit in America’s hatred & fear of black skin by not using my standing as a member of the most privileged class to work against it. I’m ashamed that it took all this death to crystallize my sense of purpose.

For my part, I’ve chosen to go to law school and pursue a career working for victims of civil rights violations. I have no guarantee of success, and perhaps I’m beset by overeagerness and white-knight naiveté. But thanks to the encouragement of friends and family, I feel confident that I will be able to make a real difference.

I wouldn’t advise everyone to become a lawyer, and many of my friends in the legal field wouldn’t advise me to become one either. I’d also be remiss not to acknowledge how fortunate I am to even be able to consider such an ambition. While I can’t purport to know all the other ways we might take action, over the past few months I’ve learned a few.

Speaking out online is simple, even effortless, and may seem hollow. But it can help to simply get Good Opinions out there. More powerful is directly engaging and challenging fear and hatred when you see it. I’m sure many of us dealt with casual racism at the the Thanksgiving table this year. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to sacrifice your family’s holiday peace to claim the moral high ground, and it may be the case, as it is for me, that some of your family members are a lost cause. But it may also be that a cousin, niece, or nephew hears a different, better opinion than what they hear at home, and chooses a different path than what circumstance had laid before them.

Equally as important as talking is knowing when to shut up and listen. This means not making any of the stories of police violence about you. Admitting your white privilege may be refreshing, but nobody cares about the time you were skateboarding around the loading dock at the mall and the police came but didn’t arrest you. Seek to understand, not to be understood.

As you’re listening, also remember that it is not Black America’s imperative to educate White America. If someone wants to share their lived experience with you, make them feel welcome to do so. But do not assume every black person is a Morgan Freeman character, come to omnisciently and wisely narrate for your own edification. I’ve made this mistake, and was rightly and roundly taken to task for it by a member of my community who I expected to eagerly enlighten me.

Beyond talking, there are numerous real-world applications of your good intentions. Protest if you feel comfortable doing so, or even if you don’t. If you have money and/or time, donate them to organizations that seek to correct inequality and promote social justice. I recently joined my local NAACP branch—yes, this is something white people are “allowed” to do. If NAACP membership is not for you, there are many other organizations with similar objectives. Look them up.

If you are white, understand that no matter what action you choose to take, you are fortunate to be able to take a stand, to reach an audience, that other members of society simply cannot. If we do not take advantage of our platform and safety, we are complicit in the injustice being done upon less privileged citizens. The relative comfort I’ve enjoyed as a white man has regrettably shielded me from reality, and I acknowledge, to my great shame, that it has taken the spectacle of killing to roust me from inaction. I must examine why it took this long to care. I urge you: if you are in a position to act, do not wait as long as me. Do not wait for another life to be recklessly cut short before deciding you’ve seen enough.

Many of us like to believe that society continues progressing forward, regardless of what we do or don’t do. This is true for advances in material comfort, technology, and wealth. But society will not self-correct for social justice. Our system of inequality and oppression has been well-constructed over the last 400 years, surviving and thriving amidst unrest, uprising, and war. But it is not self-perpetuating. It exists because we let it. Only when we collectively condemn and combat the tyranny may we realize the dream of a continually progressive society. The longer we fail to reckon with our deeply-rooted racist hatred and fear, the longer we will see our society’s promise deferred.

A few months ago, when protests in Ferguson were just getting underway, I met a well-known author, journalist and activist. I asked her what it’s like to work for 40+ years with seemingly little progress to show for it—after all, we’re seeing many of the same injustice today that she saw at the beginning of her career. She responded with a hopeful perspective I did not expect, though maybe I should have, given her wisdom, experience, and persistence.

“When a woman is the victim of abuse,” she said, “the most dangerous time in her life is right before she leaves her home. She may flee because it’s become too dangerous for her to stay, or her abuser may recognize she’s about to leave and escalate the abuse to a fatal degree. America right now is like a battered woman.”

At face value, I understood the analogy, but failed to see how that could inspire optimism. She continued: “The forces in power right now are tightening their grip. They see a changing society on the horizon, and are escalating their efforts to maintain the status quo. It’s why we’re seeing bills that restrict abortion access, voter ID laws, policies that engineer greater income inequality, unpunished police killings. These are all the last gasps of the abuser. It’s getting worse before it gets better. But I think we’ve decided that we’ve had enough. We’re going to fight this. And then, we may be free.”

 

“Husk:” Prologue

An alternate-reality novel of semi-fictional sports history

“…but the fog…the fog is everywhere, and no one’s cheering

I don’t have many lucid moments left. this is my chance to relieve you all before it gets unbearable and to do something for others. Millie, the kids are too young to understand this. they just know something is wrong with me. You have to tell them nothing’s wrong any more. the times we all made each other smile happened when they were barely old enough to make memories. you have to make them remember. you have to make yourself remember.

I’ve spent every day chasing ghosts. I want to be part of an answer. Make sure Dr. Nagata gets my brain. I love you”

He folded the letter, sealed it in a Ziploc bag, and placed on top of the chest freezer in the garage. Next, he began the apparatus’ assembly. His father in-law had gifted him a hunting rifle upon learning he’d be living in Wisconsin (“That there’s deer-huntin’ country, son,” he’d said kindly, in his best hillbilly accent), but he’d brought it back to Nebraska without ever having taken it out of its handsome case, let alone put it together.

“Siri, Google ‘Remington 798 assembly.’”

“I’m sorry, I’m not able to connect right now.”

“Goddammit, fuck you, Siri!” he muttered, nearly throwing the phone on a frozen rope into the water heater. He deployed one of the calming exercises he’d learned from Dr. Mientkiewicz, and typed the same phrase into Safari’s search bar. His fine motor skills had been in steady decline for a little over a year now, and his hand tremors made him thankful, for once, for autocorrect. After downloading a PDF of the weapon’s manual, he assembled it and loaded it with a single round he’d swiped from an old colleague’s house at Thanksgiving a couple of months prior.

Davis Wayne was always inviting the family over. Whether it was to distract them all from his friend’s worsening condition, or a wishful attempt to cure it via a trip down memory lane, everybody seemed to have a good time at what they all jokingly referred to, in proper upper-crust white accents, as “Stately Wayne Manor.” Davis’ star hadn’t burned as brightly as his friend’s, but he’d had a long, stable career, and the sprawling, wooded estate to show for it. Davis kept his guns—well, it was truthfully his arsenal—in a side room off of the guest house-turned-man cave, in a safe with a combination that was painfully easy to guess if you knew him well.

He hadn’t even been sure what kind of rounds to use, so he’d pocketed a bit of everything from Davis’. He fumbled through his parka’s pockets, consulting the internet once again to figure out how to chamber the damn thing. After seven fruitless attempts, he slid a single .300 Winchester Magnum into the chamber and pushed the bolt forward.

Making sure the safety was on, he mounted the rifle to the weight rack in the middle of the floor, barrel facing the garage door, using a clumsy rack of pegboard, screw-in bicycle rack hooks, and duct tape. Next, he carefully tied one end of a long string around the trigger. Looking to his left, he selected a ten pound weight plate, and carefully placed the weight on the edge of the automatic garage door opener’s motor, which was mounted to the ceiling. He pressed the button on the remote control and waited for the door to roll back.

As the door reached its terminus, it met the plate. Failure. Ten pounds was too heavy, and the weight shifted towards the edge of the motor box, but didn’t fall. He tied the other end of the string to smallest plate he had, a two and a half pounder, and balanced the weight precariously on its end on the edge of the housing. This time, it would at least roll off the side.

He removed his jacket and draped it over the seat, then scattered pine shavings and sand on the floor below. His hand trembling, he clicked the safety into place. Saddling the bench facing its back support, he left out a soft, sighing sniff of a laugh at the slight perversion of being found dead in “reverse cowgirl,” then chuckled out loud when he remembered he was also wearing a diaper. Though his faculties had been failing him for years, at his best he’d always been known for having prepared for everything.

Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a yellowed, flaking newspaper clipping sticking out of the top of a crumpled, half-open cardboard box. He recognized the story right away: The sixth grade newspaper column detailing his victory at that year’s science fair with a Rube Goldberg apparatus that used all manner of levers, pulleys, and whichever of his dad’s hand tools he could abscond with to turn the lever on a helium tank and fill a balloon to bursting. The sweetness of that long-buried memory was so unexpected as to be cloying, and as the fragmented shards of his life’s triumphs and tragedies suddenly came rupturing through his cerebral cortex, the long-deflated Martell Jordan closed his eyes, pressed the button on the clicker, and put a ragged, cantaloupe-sized hole into his chest.

 

Black Lentil & Farro Salad

A satisfying, protein-rich salad you can make during any season.

 

The day I changed my mind about gay marriage

I used to be ambivalent about gay marriage, almost to the point of being virulently ambivalent, if you could be said to be such at thing. It didn’t concern me in the least, and what were they all complaining about?

Then, shortly after the 2008 elections, when Obama won but Prop 8 passed, I was talking to one to my former professors, who had been with her partner for 20-something years. They were really hoping the election would turn in their favor, and they’d be able to get married. We got to talking about the election, and she turned her head to me and, with a painful, resigned sigh, said, “We (the gay community) really wanted our Obama moment.” They ached to feel the exuberance of overcoming a longstanding obstacle towards being recognized as no longer a lesser subset of the community.

Then she took it one step further, and uttered a blunt, arguably misguided, but understandable phrase that I’ll never forget:

“I guess we’re the n***ers now.”

Of course, there’s the obvious problem of anyone saying that word (she is white), and one could argue that Obama’s election only brought about symbolic racial equality gains, or even that his election has only brought buried tensions and bigotry to the surface. But I understood instantly why she said it. Although a large section of the black community is anti-gay rights, there has long been a kinship of oppression between blacks and gays, two communities who can rightly claim to sympathize with the injustices done upon each other by the ruling majority. Upon seeing a member of the black community ascend to previously unimaginable heights, she longed to have a similar moment of her own–and for something far less lofty than the Presidency. The stark contrast between the two election results, and their celebratory and funereal reactions, made her feel like she was now part of a sub-citizen class, devoid of power and hope.

It still makes me uncomfortable to re-hear that phrase, but the pain and eloquent rage in her voice were transformative. She had communicated the injustice done against her so effectively that from then on, I knew that my stance–even a lack of one–was wrong. I instantly became a gay marriage supporter, and even managed to convince my very conservative mother (somewhat by appealing to her libertarian sensibilities) that the gay community’s second-class treatment was wrong. All because of one sentence from one person.

Today’s Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA was decidedly not the result of a profound moral epiphany like mine, with some of the justices basing their decisions on things like states’ rights and legal jurisdiction issues. But the result remains the same, and we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. This is a reminder, especially in the wake of the Court’s horrible decision-making yesterday, that while progress does not follow a linear trajectory, that with patience and perseverance, the tide of positive change ultimately rises. I feel a profound, vicarious joy, satisfaction and relief that somewhere, my professor is finally having her “Obama moment.”

 

Roast Lamb, Butternut Squash Risotto, Sweet & Sour Broccoli

I needed to make a quick Valentine’s Day dinner. Total prep time: 1 hour

  • 1 rack of lamb
  • 1 small bunch broccolini
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 shallot
  • 3/4 c. carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 1 1/2 L chicken stock
  • a few sprigs thyme
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • salt

 

 

Pork Tenderloin, Black Quinoa, Chinese Broccoli, Apples, Hazelnuts

Pork and apples are a natural pairing, and when I picked up some Chinese broccoli at the farmers’ market this dish all started to make sense. The quinoa and hazelnuts add a really nice crunchy nuttiness, and the dish overall is really healthy and balanced.

Serves 2

  • 12 oz. pork tenderloin
  • 1/2 c. black quinoa (regular quinoa is fine too)
  • 1 bunch chinese broccoli or broccolini
  • 1 oz. skinned hazelnuts
  • 1 Fuji or pink lady apple
  • 1 inch piece of vanilla bean
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 1 tbsp sliced chives or scallions
  • Salt, pepper, grapeseed oil

Heat oven to 300°F. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a vigorous boil. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Trim the wooden ends off the broccoli, remove the leaves and set aside.

Peel and core apple and cut into small wedges. In a small saucepan, caramelize the sugar over medium heat until it reaches a rich golden brown. Add apple slices and cook about 1 minute. Add white wine and vanilla and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer apples until tender and easily pierced with a cake tester.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over maximum heat. Season the pork tenderloin with salt. Place a tablespoon of grapeseed oil in the skillet and sear the pork on all sides until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and place in the oven. Roast slowly, turning every few minutes, until the internal temperature reaches between 140 and 145°F. (I think pork is best cooked “rosé,” or between medium rare and medium). This will take anywhere between 25-35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tenderloin. Set skillet aside.

While the pork is cooking, trim the flowered tips of the broccoli. Reserve the stems for later use. Add to boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tender and easily pierced with a cake tester. Remove from water with a slotted spoon or spider and set aside (I don’t use ice baths). Add quinoa to boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the grains begin to “pop.” Drain in a chinois or fine strainer.

In a small saucepan, melt 1 tbs. butter. Add shallot and cook until translucent. Add broccoli leaves and a couple tablespoons chicken stock. Cover and cook until wilted. Add quinoa and set aside.

Remove apples from cooking liquid and set aside. Return the skillet you seared the pork in to the heat and add chicken stock and apple cooking liquid. Bring to a boil and reduce until it coats a spoon. By now you should have removed the pork tenderloin and set aside to rest.

Now it’s finishing and assembly time.  Heat a small skillet over maximum heat. Add a few drops grapeseed oil and heat until shimmering. Add the cooked broccoli tips to the skillet and sear until slightly charred. Crush the toasted hazelnuts and add to quinoa and check the seasoning. Slice the pork into 1/4 in slices. Return apples to reduced chicken stock. Spoon quinoa on plate and top with sliced pork. Arrange charred broccoli and apple slices around the plate. Garnish pork with sliced chives, fleur de sel or other fine salt and a quick grind of fresh pepper. Spoon reserved sauce around the plate. Enjoy.

 

Hangar Steak, Long-Cooked Broccoli, Toasted Orzo Risotto

As I mentioned before, I love hanger steak. I pulled some out of the freezer last night and whipped this up in about 45 minutes. It uses readily available ingredients, is pretty affordable and doesn’t have a ton of fat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 piece hangar steak, about 12 ounces
  • 1/2 c. orzo
  • 1 c. chicken stock, divided in half
  • 1/4 c. cream
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 oz cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 bunch baby broccoli (≈8 oz.)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Dash red chile flakes
  • 1/4 white wine
  • 2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • Pantry items: Olive oil, grapeseed oil, fine sea salt, pepper

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 300° F. Place steak on a wire rack atop a baking sheet covered with foil. Season liberally with salt.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or other braising vessel over low heat. Thinly slice garlic and add to pot. Hit it with a bit of salt and cook over low heat until garlic turns slightly golden.Trim the woody ends of the broccoli.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil in a cast iron skillet or other frying pan until it shimmers. Sear the steak on all sides, 45-60 seconds per side, until browned. Remove to wire rack and place in oven. While you’re preparing the rest of the meal, rotate the steak every 5 minutes or so.

Add chile flakes and broccoli to the garlic and cook to release the chile fragrance. Increase heat to high and add white wine.

Bring 1/2 c. chicken stock, milk and cream to a boil in a medium saucepan and season the liquid. Meanwhile, toast the orzo in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking occasionally so it doesn’t burn.

When the wine is almost evaporated, add the remaining chicken stock and soy sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Braise the broccoli until the thickest part of the stems pierces easily with a cake tester or fork, usually around 25 minutes.

Remove the stock/milk/cream from the heat so it doesn’t boil over when you subsequently add the toasted orzo. Return to medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the orzo is cooked al dente and the liquid is absorbed. If necessary, add milk, cream, stock or just water as it cooks. When orzo is done, remove from heat and stir in the cheeses. You could also add some butter if you like. Give it a final season.

Test the broccoli for doneness, then increase heat and boil off any excess liquid until you get a nice glaze. You can use this as a sauce.

When steak is cooked to medium (hanger steak is best medium–use a laser thermometer or a cake tester to your lips), remove from oven and let rest a minimum of 5 minutes. Put your serving plates in the oven for a couple minutes so the orzo doesn’t become gluey when it hits the plate.

To serve, place broccoli on plate along with a nice helping of orzo. Slice steak across the grain into 1/4″ slices and season with black pepper and coarse salt. Spoon any reserved broccoli cooking liquid over the top. Enjoy!

 

 

Hanger steak, cheddar chive potatoes, red wine sauce

I love hanger steak (onglet). It has a rich flavor (it sits right next to the kidneys), it’s easy to cook, it’s relatively lean, and it’s far cheaper than New York or ribeye. It’s also, along with the tongue, the only cut of beef that’s a single cut (all other cuts are mirrored). However, it’s a little hard to find. You won’t get it in supermarkets or even Whole Foods, but try Bristol Farms or a specialty meat market. Ask your butcher to trim away the super-tough central membrane. You’ll get two long steaks, each about the size of a pork tenderloin, which is the perfect size for 4 people.

Here I slow roasted the hanger and served it with a potato puree enriched with chives and sharp cheddar, and a super-simple red wine sauce that’s a good alternative to a laborious demi-glace type preparation. Simple glazed French green beans with shallot round it out, but many vegetables would work–grilled asparagus, braised leeks, mixed mushrooms…On to the recipe:

  • 1 hangar steak, trimmed (about 24 oz)
  • 4 medium gold potatoes, peeled and diced large (about 1 pound)
  • 1 large bunch chives
  • 2 oz grated sharp white cheddar
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 1 shallot
  • 8 oz. French green beans
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • Pantry items: Kosher salt, fine sea salt, black pepper, grapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Remove steak from fridge and season liberally with salt. Set aside, uncovered, out of the fridge (you want to bring the steak’s temperature up and let the surface dry out a bit). Place potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Season liberally with kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork or metal cake tester.

Meanwhile, bring a few quarts water to a boil and season it liberally with kosher salt until it tastes like the ocean. While you’re waiting: 1) Clean the green beans and dice the shallot very finely. 2) In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 the shallot, the red wine, brown sugar, soy sauce and all but 2 tablespoons of the chicken stock, and bring to a low boil. Reduce, uncovered, until the mixture coats a spoon.

Blanch the green beans for 2-3 minutes, or until tender. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. (Generally, I don’t use ice baths for blanching vegetables). Add the chives to the boiling water. Boil vigorously until you can smush the chives with your fingers. Remove to a blender and add a few ice cubes. Purée on high until smooth, adding ice cubes as necessary to create a puree consistency. Pass through a fine strainer and set aside.

Heat a cast iron or other skillet as shot as possible. Add a tablespoon of grapeseed oil until it shimmers and quickly sear the steak on all sides. Hanger steak sears wonderfully, so you’ll need only 30 seconds on each side. Remove to a rack and place in the oven, turning every few minutes. Normally I like steak medium rare, but hanger actually tastes better closer to medium. You’ll need about 25 minutes to cook the steak to medium, so in the meantime, prepare the potatoes.

Drain the potatoes and run them through a ricer or food mill. Return them to the pot and add cream, 4 tablespoons butter and cheese. Beat vigorously until smooth. Add the chive purée and stir to combine. Keep warm (it won’t discolor for at least an hour).

Remove the steak when it’s reached its desired doneness (test by inserting a thin metal cake tester for 3 seconds, and holding it to your lips–if it’s like bath water, that’s medium rare, if it’s a bit hotter, that’s medium) and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Turn off oven and put your serving plates inside with the door ajar.

In a sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat. Add the remaining shallots, season and cook slowly until translucent. Add remaining chicken stock and green beans, increase heat slightly and cook until liquid is almost evaporated and green beans are nicely glazed. Add the remaining tablespoon butter to the red wine sauce and stir to emulsify. If you have any juices from the steak, you can add those, too.

Final assembly: Slice the meat into 1/4 inch slices across the grain (hanger steak has a clearly visible grain, so this will be easy). Grind some black pepper across the top, and if you have it, sprinkle with good quality sea salt. Divide potato puree among plates and top with green beans. Fan the sliced steak across the plate and spoon a tablespoon of the sauce on top. Eat!

 

Lamb loin, summer vegetables, herbed polenta, garlic jus

Classic Provence flavors come together for a reasonably easy summer dish.

 

Pan-roasted chicken, succotash, brown butter jus

A quick and easy one-pan summer dish.