Sunday, April 26, 2015

Freddie Gray's Rough Ride: Why Virtue Matters

I write a lot about virtue, and why it matters. And then life presents a story that is far more compelling and challenging than anything I could conjur up. The rough ride of Freddie Gray is the latest example of why we need virtue—and what happens when it is absent.

For those who haven’t read the story, Freddie Gray was arrested on a weapons charge in Baltimore. According to police reports, he was seen with a knife in his pocket, and ran when the police approached him. After a short pursuit he was arrested, according to the police report, without force or incidence.

He appeared to be able-bodied—video showed him using his legs—as he was ushered to a waiting police van at 8:54. Thirty minutes later, police called an ambulance for Gray. When he was taken out of the van at 9:24 he could not breathe, he could not talk. His spinal cord was 80 % severed. He died one week later from his injuries.

Even with the video evidence, it has not been officially decided when the injury happened. Was it as Gray was being detained? Or did it occur because he was handcuffed and put in leg irons BUT NOT SEATBELTED when he was thrown into the back of the police van—a clear violation of police protocol?

There is a history of this sort of abuse—nicknamed “rough rides” or “nickel rides”. Police drive at high speeds, making sharp turns, and stopping several times on their circuitous route to the police station, insuring that unbelted detainees are thrown around in the back of the van.

Now, a quick search of his rap sheet shows that there were 20 criminal court cases in Maryland against Gray, and five of them were still active at the time of his death. The cases involved mostly drug-related charges, and one involved second-degree assault and destruction of property. He was no boy scout. And none of that matters.

No one should die because he has a knife clipped to his pocket. No one should have his spinal cord 80 severed because he spent 30 minutes with police officers.

But focusing on the behavior of the police is too easy. Clearly there was an appalling lack of virtue. Anyone with a conscience gets that. I’d like to make this a little more personal. Because that’s what’s needed if we want to become better people, and if we want this world of ours to spin out of control just a bit more slowly.

How do you read this story? How does it stir you? Do you even really care?
The fact that most of you are not poor, black males living in the inner city should make no difference. Neither should the facts that most of you enjoy good relationships with the police and never carry knives.

Virtue says you should care because Freddie Gray’s death was wrong, and avoidable, and it injures all of us. Plain and simple. But is says more than that.
We need to live differently because of this story—not just shake our heads, not just shrug our shoulders, and not just sigh in resignation. But how?

Go back and read the story again. See yourself, your son, your daughter in the face of this young man? Because until you do, until I do, until we all do, we’re not caring enough. And caring, really caring, is a good start. It’s not enough, but it’s a good start.

Virtue says that Freddie Gray’s death is not just an African-American tragedy, it is a human tragedy. And what we do…not just feel…about this man’s death tells us a lot about how serious we truly are about being good and doing good…for the Good.

I'm Dr. Ross Porter.

Police: Freddie Gray didn't get timely medical care after arrest -

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Megan Coffee

When a catastrophic earthquake devastated much of Haiti on January 12, 2010, Dr. Megan Coffee, an infectious disease specialist headed there to help.

Tuberculosis is easily treated and contained in the first-world.  But in a country like Haiti, where few get prompt and adequate medical care, it spreads like wildfire and kills like a weapon of mass destruction.  And as thousands of patients were thrown together after the earthquake, the danger of a TB epidemic was great.

So, amidst the rubble, with a tent serving as her hospital, Coffee went to work.  That was four years ago…and she’s still there. 

Coffee has gathered a grateful group of local volunteers---many of whom survived Tuberculosis because of her---to help administer care to the seemingly endless flow of infected men, women and children.  When she realized that her money alone wouldn’t suffice, the good doctor had to become adept at raising money through donations to help pay for the medical care the hospital can’t or won’t cover.

And for all of this, the Harvard-educated physician and Oxford-educated epidemiologist gave up a research position at Berkeley, and does not receive a salary.

Megan admits that her family and friends still think she’s a little crazy for making this career choice.  What Coffee thinks is crazy is that some people are making a big deal about her.  Haiti has become her home, and the infected, contagious, suffering patients her brothers and sisters.

What’s so hard to believe about that?

Megan Coffee is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Jennifer Bricker

Jennifer Bricker was raised with one rule, “Never say ‘can’t’!”

But what if you’re left at the hospital by your parents the day of your birth because you have no legs?  And what if your dream is to be a gymnast, and play basketball and softball, and eventually be a star in Hollywood?  ‘Never say can’t’ doesn’t just sound unrealistic…it sounds cruel.

But for this amazing young woman, who was adopted by amazing parents, it was the phrase that gave her life direction.    

Jennifer grew up idolizing Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Moceanu.  So at 7 she began to work with her father on a trampoline.  And by high school she had become the Illinois state tumbling champion.  And yes, she also played high school softball and basketball.

But one question continued to nag her…who were her birth parents?  At 16 she asked and learned that her last name had been…Moceanu…and her idol growing up, gold medalist Dominique Moceanu…was in fact her birth sister.

Jennifer tracked down the contact information of her hero, sent her proof of their relationship, and then phoned her sister.

Jennifer recalled highlights of that first conversation…that they were sisters, that Jennifer was also a gymnast, and oh yeah, that she had no legs.  Is it any wonder that little sister is now big sister’s hero?

Jennifer presently lives in Hollywood, has toured as an acrobat with Brittany Spears, and is training for an upcoming aerial performance at the Lincoln Center.

Jennifer Bricker is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Mary Johnson

As a devout Christian Mary Johnson had heard a lot about forgiveness, and how followers of Jesus were called to “forgive as they had been forgiven.”

And then in February of 1993, her only child was murdered…shot dead at a party.  He was 20, his killer was 16.

The day of the sentencing, Mary was in the courtroom, and she did a remarkable thing.  She hugged her son’s murderer, Oshea Israel, and told him she forgave him.  She knew it was the Christian thing to do.  And then she went home.  And slowly the waves of sorrow, and loss, and anger swept over her.  She couldn’t let go.  She knew she had to do more if she truly wanted to break free.

So Mary Johnson contacted the warden at the prison where Oshea Israel was incarcerated, and set up a face-to-face meeting with her son’s killer.  And the two met.  And they continued to meet. 

Not only did a bond develop between Mary and Oshea, but when the young man was released after serving 17 years, Mary gave him a homecoming party.  Then she introduced him to her landlord, and even recommended him as a tenant.  Unbelievably, the apartment next to hers was vacant, and with Mary’s blessing, the man who murdered her only child became her next door neighbor. 

Today, Mary and Oshea travel to prisons, schools, and churches to speak together on the power of forgiveness. 

Mary Johnson came to realize that forgiveness is about setting a prisoner free, and then realizing the prisoner was you.

She is a hero you should know.  And I'm Dr. Ross Porter.