Police and Protests: OZY on Ferguson

Protesters demonstrating in front of a burning business

The story line is too familiar: A black person is killed by a white man, sometimes under the color of authority. A grand jury fails to indict the white man. There comes a public uproar, sometimes with violence and/or Al Sharpton. The uproar subsides and then, a month or two or 20 later, another innocent is killed.

Those elements recur through American history like a motif, and even in 2014 — 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act — it can seem like we’ll never escape them. “So the roll call rolls on,” our Eugene S. Robinson wrote in August, after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; he invoked Eric Garner and Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo too. Of course it goes back further, decades and even centuries. In 1965, Ruby Sales watched her white seminarian friend, down in Alabama to register voters, take the bullet for her in a Lowndes County convenience store. Later that decade, when New York City Mayor John Lindsay tried to show solidarity with civil rights protesters, he alienated another constituency he badly needed: the police. Reading his story, some might think of New York’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio, still between the police and the protest.

police in riot gear observe protesters

Police in riot gear observe protesters on the street near the Ferguson police station on Nov. 23, 2014.

Source Ting Shen/ZUMApress

Will things be different this time around? In November, after a grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, famed defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz warned us not to lump everything all together. Brown was not Trayvon Martin, or Rodney King. The law resides in specifics — ballistics, testimonies and evidence of motives — and though, he says, the case for indictment was likely close, the no-bill was likely the right decision. Experts on police psychology took us into Wilson’s head and reminded us that a police cruiser can often become a coffin. The narrative might yet swerve. Civil suits are likely in the case of both Brown and Garner. A growing movement to incorporate technology into policing could improve relationships between citizens and the police, and help “de-escalate” thorny confrontations. But who’s going to monitor all that cop-cam footage?

What gives us at OZY some hope are some of our fellow citizens. It’s worth remembering that we are less and less a black and white nation than ever before, and that the cause of civil rights is everyone’s. Who knows: The next civil rights leader could well be an Asian-American. And back in August, CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson told us about the “Ferguson Four,” Americans of color who are leading the charge for equal opportunity: California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, educator Geoffrey Canada and economist Roland Fryer. They may not be in the mold of traditional leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but they’re leading on justice and equal opportunity — and their work could help us achieve a more perfect union.

What We Noticed This Year

silicon valley home

There’s no shortage of nostalgic conversations we could have about what went down in the headlines this year. And we’ve got you covered on that front, too. But here’s what we saw this year that didn’t exactly get coverage above the fold. One big trend: The way we work is changing. From a decline in vacation time to the rise of contingent — not-so-permanent — contracts; from a big hope that unions will be reinvented to a specific example of new organizing: a group of tomato pickers challenging Wal-Mart. There were new libertarians and the rise of old ones. We heard of a new economy, one focused on creating new skills, and even of one going all circular.

Pssst: Click the hyperlinks to read our full stories on each of these trends.

Silicon Valley blew up, in a good way: Employment reached new heights, new power players are everywhere to be seen, and there are gigs available that we couldn’t have imagined years ago. But where’s all the money going? Way across the world, even more was going on; Japan considered rewriting its constitution, encroached on China and remade its economy — or tried to, anyway. In Europe, we discovered that tea has its own particular taste and met some of the new faces of the continent’s euroskeptic right wing. And in India? There’s a full-blown sexual revolution underway, two years after a brutal rape case got the nation talking about gender in a new way. Today? Everyone from erotica writers to supreme court justices are talking about sex. And then there was the official classification of a “third gender” for transgender people.

It all just makes us hanker for 2015.

Who Made the News?

Color shot of Rice

Happy New Year’s from OZY! Over the past few days, we’ve brought you some of our best ideas, profiles and trends from 2014. We’ll see you back, live and kicking, in 2015!

What were the great and powerful really thinking this year … about Hillary? About Donald Sterling? About global health? About their favorite books? Some of OZY’s guest walk-ons in 2014 told us about all of those. What’s the scoop on 2016? We got it from all angles, at various points during the year. There was the take according to one of Obama’s campaign whisperers, Jim Messina. On the flip side, two top Republicans told us about their take: Grover Norquist, one of the most important economic voices in the party, gave us his picks. So did Mitt Romney’s top former wonk, Lanhee Chen. As for the former secretary of homeland security — and current University of California school system president — Janet Napolitano’s thoughts on sexual assault on college campuses? Or Bill Gates talking about the love lives of plants, or one of the most interesting world leaders he’s encountered — not to mention his favorite business book? When we sat down in Condoleezza Rice’s office at Stanford in May, we got her take on Benghazi and other security threats, of course — but we also picked her brain on all things athletic.

In US Politics, Past Year Is Prologue for 2016

red white and blue balloons flying in front of the Capital building in Washington DC

Now that the midterms are over, the dramas can really unfold. The headlines in November were all about the big winners (Republicans) and losers (Democrats), but overlooked significant players and emerging issues. Their influence is going to be felt well after the clock ticks down to midnight on Dec. 31.

Just take a look at a few of the emerging political leaders OZY profiled in 2014. They include people like Mac Thornberry, a Republican congressman from Texas who’s taking on one of the most challenging jobs in all of government — trimming America’s bloated defense budget. Thornberry is no pacifist — he believes in a muscular American military posture à la Ronald Reagan — but he doesn’t think we’re optimizing the billions we spend on defense, either. As the next chairman of the congressional committee overseeing the Pentagon, he’ll get a chance to test that theory next year.

Kara Stein shaking hands with man on left hand side of frame

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt with Kara Stein (right) before her SEC confirmation hearing in 2013.

Source Yuri/GripasCorbis

Then there’s Kara Stein, who’s trying to reform a welter of financial regulations — and prevent another Wall Street collapse (that’s another drum the liberals will be banging in the 2016 election season). Though Stein is one of the junior-most members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, she’s taking on the agency’s senior leadership, including members of her own Democratic Party she deems too cautious. 

Catherine Frazier, meanwhile, tends to avoid the spotlight. But you might have heard of her boss, Texas Republican Ted Cruz. Frazier’s got a softer touch, and that’s bound to be an asset to the sharp-tongued senator as he looks toward a possible presidential run.

But you need to escape the Beltway for a sense of the issues that will drive the 2016 elections. Across the country, local residents and leaders are feeling the weight of problems that the chattering classes in D.C. are only vaguely aware of — but may soon be forced to account for. From Detroit to the Farm Belt to California’s San Joaquin Valley, battles over water are creating huge headaches, for example, and experts predict they’ll only worsen. Our nation’s highest court, meanwhile, is poised to decide the role money can play in shaping our judiciary, a thorny question in states across the country watching big money flow into local judicial elections.

Whether or not you agree that money should be considered speech, it’s clear money has shifted the playing field. And you should worry about how disconnected the American electorate feels from its representatives in Washington. Distrust of government is hardly a new phenomenon — see the post-Watergate era of the ’70s — but we’re hitting new lows here in the 20-teens. “We have resigned ourselves to all the things that we can’t do anymore” in our democracy, activist and Harvard professor Larry Lessig lamented in an OZY op-ed in October. But Lessig also argued that American voters should be demanding better. Maybe that should be our New Year’s resolution.

Diary of an Outbreak

an African woman wears a mask to cover her face from the ebola virus

If only the end of 2014 augured the end of Ebola, too. Alas, no, the crisis continues, though mostly far from the rich world’s sight. The shortcomings of humanitarian aid were no secret well before the first Ebola case emerged, deep in the Guinean forests. But Ebola thrust them into the spotlight like little else, and certainly not like malaria, TB or cholera, which kill many more every year.

The reason? Well, the cynical one is that Ebola came knocking at the shores of the rich world, prompting a worldwide panic. An unjustified one, mostly, Eugene S. Robinson argued. While Ebola’s serious for those who have it, for most Americans it’s “detracting from issues that we need to be much more concerned about, like global warming, HIV and even crossing the street safely.”

We weren’t wholly solipsists, of course: Ebola is freaky and mad spreadable. OZY reporter Melissa Pandika pointed us to a study showing that Ebola’s true scale is a mystery. The typical mathematical model that describes the eventual scale of past outbreaks simply doesn’t apply to what global health experts consider the worst Ebola epidemic on record, according to the study’s author. And as OZY’s Nathan Siegel told us, there was another reason for fear: If you had Ebola, how would you know? Six months into the outbreak in West Africa, standard Ebola testing machines were in short supply — reportedly fewer than a dozen in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone combined — and the lag between testing and results was long. A handful of new devices promised quick, cheap and easy tests — some of the best inventions we saw all year.

Students in a Czech hospital practice treating an dummy Ebola patient.

Students in a Czech hospital practice treating a dummy Ebola patient.

Happily, cases are tapering — or at least not exploding anymore. It’s time to ask the difficult questions — like, what have we learned? Early on, OZY contributor Allyn Gaestel explored whether Ebola might be a catalyst for reform in the global health system. In the fall, a few ideas appeared to be taking shape. More aggressive intervention by international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO). Devolution of resources and control to entities on the ground. And, over the long term, beefing up local health architecture, from medical schools to hospitals. But long-term change, she reported, would require global health players to look beyond the consuming crisis — a hard thing, always.

That doesn’t stop one from hoping. By late November, U.S. Agency for International Development chief Rajiv Shah was speaking of the possibilities of positive outcomes from Ebola — namely, addressing a host of health care shortcomings in poor countries, the same ones the Ebola crisis so tragically highlighted: a dearth of doctors, lack of supplies and training, and a concentration of clinics in cities rather than in rural areas where many people live. Those same problems have thwarted global attempts to eliminate quieter killers, like malaria and tuberculosis, in poor countries.

The Spy-in-Residence on Dangers in 2014

Middle East Conflict - Campaign against ISIS is a tough uphill climb.

It was a huge year in security, with almost every part of the world seeing tidal shifts — guns, bombs, geopolitics and diplomacy all put together in scary new ways. John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA, has been in many a sweat-inducing situation and can keep a cool head when telling others what they should be freaking out about. Here’s what he noticed this year and what we should all keep our eyes on in 2015.

ISIS and the Middle East

McLaughlin’s somewhat controversial view, early on, was that we couldn’t save Iraq; the danger had been done. With a remarkably sensitive eye for maps and borders, McLaughlin argued that soon to come for the country was a dramatic repartitioning of the nation along ethnic lines. Whether you remember all your Iraq war(s) history or not, this makes for an easy primer. Looking ahead, the truth, he says, is that we have more than lines of statehood to worry about. Early after the emergence of the Islamic State, McLaughlin argued that it is a bigger threat today than al-Qaida was before 9/11. His commentary continued; read more herehere and here.


Like everyone, McLaughlin stayed fascinated by the shirtless man in Russia, Vladimir Putin. All jokes aside, Russia is a serious geopolitical contender on the world stage, he says, and we’ve only just begun to see the country’s ambition. Crimea? That was just the start. But ever the historian as much as the analyst, McLaughlin pointed out that much of Russia’s feeling toward Ukraine is about the past — perhaps much more than the present. 

Click the hyperlinks to read McLaughlin’s full pieces.





While many of us were whiplashing between Russia and ISIS, McLaughlin kept an ear open for news out of the East, specifically between China and Japan — a spot he has continually maintained is one of the most dangerous on earth. But one that we forget often.

So … Are We Safer?

Well, maybe not. 2014, after all, marked a crucial centenary: It has been 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. And 1914 was yet another year when a tinderbox, geopolitical tensions, new technology and more all converged to create one of the most devastating conflicts in memory. McLaughlin’s other lesson for us, though? To keep an eye out for black swans — those dangerous security threats we’ll never see coming.

Happy New Year, eh?

The Year the World Voted


This was a year of big democracy: More people went to the polls than have ever voted before. Many of them in countries that previously hadn’t seen as much civic engagement as they would have liked. Yes, there was the American midterm election, which you can read about in another story today, but there were also a couple of other crucial nations who got to wear their various versions of “I Voted” stamps.


Elections in India take weeks and involve, on occasion, camels dragging polling booths through the desert. So getting the country engaged is no small feat. But this year was explosive: A decades-long reigning party and dynastic political family was upset by the smooth-spoken Narendra Modi, who made promises of opening up India’s markets and won hearts based on his economic policies. His party represents a resurgence in a certain type of nationalism — though officially a secular, pluralist nation, the majority of India’s population is Hindu. And some of those Hindus don’t want Muslims around. Modi was the subject of controversy in previous years for his implicated involvement in anti-Muslim violence; the U.S. even denied him a visa. But one thing is clear: India is in major makeover mode.


Little was more soap-operatic this year than Brazil’s election, which saw two leftist parties facing off against one another: the reigning and later-victorious Dilma Rousseff against the socialist Eduardo Campos. Everything changed, however, when Campos died suddenly in a plane crash, leading a skinny, black, rags-to-riches woman named Marina Silva to take his place. For a few moments it seemed as though she might indeed take the crown from Rousseff, but the latter triumphed, yet again. There were more than a few other twists, though: like this weird Brazilian rule that allows people to hit a white button at the polls in protest of the electoral process … and which can actually sway the results. What’s up next? Rousseff has to (re)pick her team. We took guesses at that, too. 

Dear readers: These pieces were written in the heat of the electoral cycle — meaning when you click the hyperlinks to check them out, note that you’re entering a time capsule of our best election coverage, from right in the moment. 

Japan’s Snap Election

This one was a surprise, called by Japan’s current and remaining prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Abe — who’s best-known for his aggressive economic policy, known aptly as Abenomics — had some political tactics up his sleeves when he called for a vote. He’s busy trying to solve Japan’s persistent labor productivity problems, but his reign was facing troubles — hence the re-election strategy to renew his mandate so he can keep up the goals of Abenomics through the new year. He won that mandate, and many see him pushing ahead successfully with the policies, upping productivity and trimming the fat in 2015. Others remind us that it’s tough as all hell to impose fiscal discipline. But wait to see in the new year.

The Rise of the European Right

Europe’s tea party hit it big this year: the rise of Le Front Nationel and the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP, for short, says something major about the way the continent is trending. It’s more than a revival of Thatcherian politics, it’s an advent of a European citizenry that’s objecting to two major things: open borders and the Euro. The faces of this new right? Meet just a few of them, from France to Germany to Hungary.

Indonesia and the Global Cory Bookers

It’s increasingly common to call beloved populists “X country’s Cory Booker,” copping the name of New Jersey politician Booker, who is famous for responding to nearly every tweet sent about his home of Newark. There was Arvind Kejriwal, an unsuccessful candidate in India’s elections. But the one who proved the strategy could work was Joko Widodo, aka Jokowi, who was basically always the favored candidate in Indonesia’s presidential election. He’s helped boost the economy already and stayed humble by traveling economy class to his son’s graduation. Still, it’s honeymoon days yet. And it didn’t take long for the tide to turn against Obama. One thing we do know for sure: Jokowi is one more proof point for another one of our reckonings: that mayors are the next great politicians.

Manila for the Gonzo Traveler

A view of a poor shanty town with the skyscapers of Manila in the background.

In Manila, vice comes soaked in color and emerges the moment the sun sets. The chances for indulgence in this sprawling metropolis are newly enormous; neon hoardings offer the willing traveler gambling, girls and drink. Tousled old men tramp the streets in search of beer and women, who catcall from pool clubs and bunched-up brothels. This is the Manila of old, a quick stop on the East Asian sex tourism trail, or a backpack layover before heading to the beaches. There are American fast-food chains, cabaret acts. From high-rise, middle-class Makati to the tangled alleys of Malate, Manila’s seedier side is often its most visible. It can be unnerving.

But there is another side to Manila. The city, beyond the grit, is home to some 25 million people. The Philippines’ economy is surging after a century of war, colonialism and dictatorship. You can find pleasingly hidden spots to take in a drink, or to soak up the city’s growing music scene. Like 1951, a small bar in the middle of Malate’s red light district. Its lights are low and the sofas bright red, but it’s a gentler stop than its sex-flaunting surroundings. Each night a few dozen can sit, drink from a well-stocked bar and watch an array of local performers. 

It’s the same across town in Makati, at B-Side at the Collective, a lively, minimalist venue where the city’s young, monied urbanites go to see homespun music and art in action. Nearby is saGuijo, a more sanguine nod to bands that are beginning to export a uniquely local Pinoy sound. Especially in the blues: The boom in Filipino music is even booming internationally, says Ciaran Carruthers, who, incidentally, owns another recommended space, The Roadhouse Manila Bay, where casinos and hotels cater to the city’s elite. But Manila itself is the heart of the blues scene, in “bars and hotels all over the metropolis,” not to mention local radio, says Carruthers.

“Manila has always had plenty of places that offered varied nightlife, not just girly bars,” says Ted Lerner, a broadcaster and writer who spent many years in the country. But new money brings with it new developments, and “if you have bucks to spend,” he says, there are restaurants, bars and more luxury than ever before.

Of course, while Manila’s middle class swells, there are millions left out in the cold. You can’t walk the streets without noticing families camping beneath apartment blocks; walls quite literally keep the poor from Makati’s edge. Should you wish, you can actually see up close the lives of Manila’s other 98 percent, on a tour. A group called SmokeyTours, founded in 2011, offers tourists a rare chance to walk the city’s massive slums, home to an estimated 12 million people. The options are surprising — cockfighting and bicycle trips, for example. For those who live along the banks of black, syrupy rivers, money, you’ll learn, comes from riding push-bikes with outboard motors strapped to them, or in repurposing discarded fast food into new dishes known as “pagpag.” If you’ve enjoyed a heavy night set to Pinoy music, Smokey Tours will surely sober you. And show you another dimension of the city’s snaking streets.

This OZY encore was originally published Dec. 13, 2014.

What No One Is Saying About Marijuana

A young person smoking

The author, Patrick J. Kennedy, is a former United States congressman from the state of Rhode Island.

There has been a lot of talk recently about marijuana legalization — increasing tax revenue for states, getting nonviolent offenders out of the prison system, protecting personal liberty, and the benefits for those with severe illnesses. These are good and important conversations to have, and smart people from across the ideological spectrum are sharing their perspectives. But one key dimension of the issue has been left out of the discussion until now: the marketing machine that will spring up to support these now-legal businesses, and the detrimental effect this will have on our kids.

Curious how this might work? Look no further than Big Tobacco. In 1999, the year after a massive legal settlement that restricted certain forms of advertising, the major cigarette companies spent a record $8.4 billion on marketing. In 2011, that number reached $8.8 billion, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. To put it into context, the auto industry spent less than half of that on advertising in 2011, and car ads are everywhere.

Why do we think the legal marijuana industry will behave differently from Big Tobacco?

At the same time, despite advertising bans, these notoriously sneaky tobacco companies continue to find creative ways to target kids. Data from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the most heavily marketed brands of cigarettes were also the most popular among people under 18. This is not a coincidence, and gets to the very core of Big Tobacco’s approach: Hook them young, and they have a customer for life.

Why do we think the legal marijuana industry will behave differently from Big Tobacco? When the goal is addiction, all bets are off. In Colorado, where there are new rules governing how legal marijuana is advertised in traditional media, there are still many opportunities to market online and at concerts, festivals and other venues where kids will be present. Joe Camel might be retired, but he’s been replaced by other gimmicks to get kids hooked — like snus and flavored cigarettes. The marijuana industry is following suit by manufacturing THC candies, cookies, lollipops and other edibles that look harmless but aren’t. Making marijuana mainstream will also make it more available, more acceptable and more dangerous to our kids.

Addiction is big business, and with legal marijuana it’s only getting bigger.

Not surprisingly, Big Tobacco is also getting on the marijuana bandwagon. Manufacturers Altria and Brown & Williamson have registered domain names that include the words marijuana and cannabis. Imagine how much they will spend peddling their new brand of addiction to our kids. We cannot sit by while these companies open a new front in their battle against our children’s health.

A billboard claiming marijuana is safer than football and beer.

A billboard touts the supposed relative “safety” of marijuana alongside Route 495 in Secaucus, N.J.

Source Carlo Allegri/Corbis

Why is this an issue? There is a mistaken assumption that marijuana is harmless. It is not. Marijuana use is linked with mental illness, depression, anxiety and psychosis. It affects parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and reaction time. Developing brains are especially susceptible to all of the negative effects of marijuana and other drug use. In fact, poison control centers in Colorado and Washington state have seen an increase in the number of calls regarding marijuana poisoning. This isn’t a surprise — with legal marijuana comes a host of unintended consequences.

I’ve spent the last several years after leaving Congress advocating for a health care system that treats the brain like it does any other organ in the body. Effective mental health care, especially when it comes to children, is critically important. Knowing what we now know about the effects of marijuana on the brain, can we really afford to ignore its consequences in the name of legalization? Our No. 1 priority needs to be protecting our kids from this emerging public health crisis. The rights of pot smokers and the marijuana industry end where our children’s health begins.

I’ve spent the last several years after leaving Congress advocating for a health care system that treats the brain like it does any other organ in the body. Effective mental health care, especially when it comes to children, is critically important. Knowing what we now know about the effects of marijuana on the brain, can we really afford to ignore its consequences in the name of legalization? Our No. 1 priority needs to be protecting our kids from this emerging public health crisis. The rights of pot smokers and the marijuana industry end where our children’s health begins.

Can we really afford to ignore its consequences in the name of legalization?

I’m not alone in my concerns about this trend toward legalization. Even Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooperhas said that marijuana legalization in his state was “reckless,” and reaffirmed his opposition to it during his campaign for re-election. He also said he will “regulate the heck” out of it. For that, I applaud his leadership and courage. Five more states have legalization ballot measures up for a vote this fall. I hope common sense will prevail, and they choose a better path than making addiction the law of the land. 

At the end of the day, legalizing and marketing marijuana is making drug use acceptable and mainstream. Just as Big Tobacco lied to Americans for decades about the deadly consequences of smoking, we can’t let “big marijuana” follow in its footsteps, target our kids and profit from addiction.

This OZY encore was originally published Nov. 27, 2014.

Confessions of an Abuser: I Hit Women

Woman holding her hand up while wearing a bra in black and white

Empty and crying, I looked into the mirror and for the first time in my life, I saw my father. I had become my worst nightmare.

But me, I wasn’t the kind of abuser who hit his girl for no reason. I thought my acts were validated. I was always in the right. Just like my father.

The first time I remember hitting a female, I was about 17 years old. She’d done nothing to offend me. It was just something about my being in control and my wanting her to understand: I was stronger than her. I was a man. How empty I must have been to have thought that my being larger than she was would ever make me more powerful. What I was, was ignorant and emotionally impotent.

I lived as I had been shown. I respected no one. I was difficult to read. But one thing I could never hide was the rage.

I remember asking her a question and her not answering me the way I wanted her to, and walking over to her and slapping her for no reason at all, just because I could. As she held her face with both hands, I felt nothing and did nothing to comfort her. I felt in control, as if I had somehow gained the rights to her every movement. But in reality, I was the one who was stuck. Sure, from birth I had been beaten, but I had no right to do to her what was done to me. 

At the time, I was a high school football player who believed he could always win, but could not get past myself long enough to see that I was already losing. There wouldn’t be many young ladies that I would abuse over the years, but I would come to learn that one is too many.

I was 18 years old when I went off to college, handsome and starving for attention. For four years I lived a promiscuous college life. I lived as I had been shown. I respected no one. I was difficult to read. But one thing I could never hide was the rage.


And then, one day, God sent an angel to me in the form of a young lady name Celeste. She was the first woman who ever stood up to me. One day I grabbed her by the arm and started in on her. And she said, calmly: “You better not. If you ever raise your hands to hit me, I’m gonna call the police on yo ass.” That was what it took for me to stop. I could tell she was serious; she wasn’t playing. The end had come and I was tired. That was it, that was all. No more …

But like an addict, I fell back into my drug. Years later, married and deep into a professional football career, I was living in California, apart from my family. My wife called me one day with an ultimatum: football or family. I chose family. But upon returning home, I discovered that my wife had been seeing another man and I lost it.

All I remember after she told me that she was going to continue seeing him was my right hand striking the left side of her face. In a matter of seconds, the right side of my heart had grown vacant. That was my turning point and the last moment I spent in the volatile world that raised me.

My rage was my emptiness and my everything.

It’s been 25 years, nine months and 11 days since I violated a woman’s space. I had no right to hurt them, and for that I am unimaginably sorry.

I think often of my father’s voice. There was something about the way he spoke that got under my skin and tugged away at my soul, but something about that sound also made me whole. My rage was my emptiness and my everything. 

Some of my rage came from watching my mother suffer. Some of my pain came from her tears. I hated seeing Mama cry because, when she did, I knew she was truly hurting. She was such a proud woman and tried to keep her tears silent. When her sorrows cut deep, her face trembled and her eyes disappeared as she closed them to hide her tears.

2 African American men standing smiling for the camera

Anthony Hamilton (right) with his father.

I hated seeing her suffer. I hated seeing her constant frowns. I hated my father for placing them there as he stood beside her grinning as if the frowns were kisses. From down the hallway, I could smell my father’s rage, and see his gleaming gold teeth as the shine pierced my boyish fears. I grew to hate the sight of gold — it made me nauseated.

That man took advantage of Mama’s only weakness — her undying need to be loved. That man took away her dreams and replaced them with nightmares. I could have been a poster child to convince everyone to use protection. I was, in a word, odium, a descendant of hate, the offspring of unsolicited passion. 

Anthony Hamilton laying in bed

Anthony as a boy.

I was about 4 years old when I first saw my mother being struck. When I saw it, I knew it was wrong. I could see the pain she had to endure; it all reeked of anger and despair.

One night when I was about 8 years old, I remember my mother boiling something for hours, something that smelled like lye soap. “Get y’all ass in the room and close the door and don’t you come out,” she ordered my sisters and brother and me.

I learned, before the age of 5, how to be an abuser.

I hid. I couldn’t see my mother through the crack in the door, but I could hear my father begin to run past the room where the four of us hid. I heard my father yell: “Girl, what in the hell you doin’?” as he began running faster toward the bedroom. My mother screamed, “I don told you to stop having them damn women drop you off in front of my house.”

I saw her stop in the middle of the hallway, a rag in each hand holding a great big pot as tightly as she could, and with all her might, she threw the pot of hot lye soap toward my father, who had just enough time to open the bedroom door and close it before the lye soap ate away at his flesh. Now that was rage, a rage that will forever be in my memory, rage that will forever belong to my thoughts.

I was not a bad child. I was just born to two bad people. The beatings I endured were constant, like taking a daily shower, like breathing, like combing my hair or brushing my teeth. I remember watching my aunt get slapped across the room when my uncle thought that she was being disrespectful. I was being taught that that was how you could control someone. I learned, before the age of 5, how to be an abuser. That’s all I knew until the day I woke up.