This is supposed to be “post racial America.” The phrase has been bandied about for years, especially after we elected a black president ñ twice. But today racial tension in America is at a pitch unlike any since the 1960s. Sure, it’s a far cry from those news-making days in Birmingham or Selma, Montgomery or Memphis. But outrage thrives more easily when there are camera phones, more news outlets and stages for statement-making, plus social media and so-called “citizen journalists.” It’s not a straight-up comparison. Looking back, you could argue that civil rights protests were under-covered in the 1960s. Many southern newspapers, for example, didn’t even staff the Selma-to-Montgomery march and missed the bloody beatings that ensued, as well as being witness to history.

Let’s wrap what’s occurred the last couple of years: A self-appointed neighborhood watchdog shoots and kills an unarmed black teenager in Florida and is acquitted of murder. (The shooter, George Zimmerman, last month was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for throwing a wine bottle at his girlfriend.)

A year later, a policeman in Missouri also shot and killed a young black man. Then a New York City policeman shoots and kills a young black man. Neither faces charges.

Any detective who’s investigated a shooting death, or any journalist who’s covered a courtroom trial knows that accounts of an incident can get murky. Witnesses give different accounts and sometimes contradict even themselves. The one fact in these events is that the people with the most reliable knowledge are either dead or pulled the trigger.

But black citizens (and sympathetic whites) have taken to the streets. Professional athletes have used their arenas as a stage for something other than games. There have been counter-protests (labeled by some as “white rage”). New York City police officers turned their backs on their own mayor in protest at memorials for two of their slain brothers shot by a black suspect with probable anti-America sympathies. The latter incident is only cosmetically related but gets blended in with the other current events in our thinking.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution commissioned a poll in January that asked whether race relations were better, worse or about the same as 30 years ago. Slightly fewer than half said things are better. The differences between black and white responses weren’t statistically significant, but it was surprising (to me anyway) that more whites than blacks said things were better, and also that things were worse.

Not quite five years ago, Georgia executed a black man, Troy Davis, for killing a white police officer in Savannah. Davis’s ordeal – two decades of appeals, etc. – drew worldwide attention, partly because he steadfastly maintained his innocence. Also, some witnesses at the beginning had pointed to another man as the shooter. Most of those who pointed to Davis later recanted, some saying they were coerced by police.

Davis, a heretofore unremarkable man, had several world leaders who believed him, or at least believed there was reasonable doubt in his case, and spoke out. Some former prosecutors and judges also believed he was innocent. But neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole were inclined to stay the execution.

In his last words before his execution, Davis still maintained his innocence and asked God for mercy on the souls of those carrying out his death.

As the appointed time approached, there were prayer vigils, not angry demonstrations.

It seems today Troy Davis is largely forgotten. Perhaps in five years current events will be also largely forgotten … until the next gunshots divide us again, some for eternity.



The top oil-producing country in the whole world is now … America. Ahead of Venezuela. Saudi Arabia, even. That’s a nice hole card at the high-stakes global poker table.

I like kale. I like better that kale-eaters made the giant blink.

A Vermont folk artist has won a trademark dispute with Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, which had sent a letter ordering him to “cease and desist” using the phrase “Eat more kale” on silk-screened T-shirts and like merchandise. Chick-fil-A’s ubiquitous billboard cows, of course, urge passing drivers to “eat mor’ chikin.”

The fast-food giant apparently thought folks might confuse kale (a leafy green, nutritious vegetable) with a pulverized, quick-cooked poultry patty.

Previously, Chick-fil-A had successfully intimidated about 30 other entrepreneurs who wanted to use variations of the “eat more” motif. But the folk artist – that’s probably a self-appellation; I might describe him as a smart guy who saw the chance, win or lose, for 15 minutes of fame and internet sales – wouldn’t roll over.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office backed the kale guy. Chick-fil-A wisely didn’t turn to its lawyers for an overwrought response. Its PR folks instead uttered a shrug-of-the-shoulders quip: “Cows love kale, too.” It’s a case study, from both sides, on how to not lose a fight neither of you especially wanted.

But don’t go printing your own “Eat more kale” bumper stickers to sell, because that is now a protected trademark. There are, however, more leafy, green vegetables out there. Good luck with “Eat more iceburg lettuce.” Doesn’t have the same ring.

Memo to you guys out there: Valentine’s Day is almost here. Don’t wait until the last minute. In high school, I worked part time for a pharmacy that kept a stock of Russell Stover boxed candy. It always amused me how those shelves emptied between 4 o’clock and closing on Feb. 14. After the Valentine-shaped boxes were gone, the everyday stock disappeared. There were always two or three men who left empty-handed at close of business.

The National Retail Federation reports men spend twice as much as women for that special someone on Valentine’s Day. No surprise. It has long been a day that enables romance-impaired men to atone for all the times they didn’t hold open a door or remember a birthday.

I say we go a step further and make it a national holiday for women. Rename it Ovarian-Americans Day.

The NRF says the average person will spend north of $130 on candy, flowers, gifts and restaurants on Cupid Day. Total spending is projected to be $17-18 billion. Those aren’t Christmas numbers, of course, but then you are buying for just one person (aren’t you?)

I got the best Valentine’s Day present I’ll ever receive 20 years ago when my daughter was born on Feb. 14.

So in closing, I’ll just add:

Happy birthday, Katy. Love you, Dad

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.