A letter to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

Roy Innis said a kindness to me years ago that significantly lifted my spirits. It was related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a hero of mine for as long as I have memory. I’m 63. It occurred to me that the kindness Mr. Innis offered me is more accurately applied to you. Mr. Innis and I were members of a panel on a Newsradio 88 talk show in NYC in the wake of the Bernie Goetz shooting incident, December 22, 1984.

That I was on the panel with Mr. Innis was related to my experience with gun violence; I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range, August 24, 1984, the bullet remains lodged in the brain. Also, I was one of the co-founders of the NYC Chapter of Victims for Victims, a victims advocacy group, founded in 1982, by actress Theresa Saldana. Years ago, Jim Brady and I met during a Handgun Control (now Brady Center Against Gun Violence) convention. The moment was not without its humor; we agreed we were the founders of The Can’t Duck Worth a Damn Club of America.

Before I tell you what Mr. Innis said, I’d like to first, please, share a few thoughts with you.

I can’t begin to imagine what you are experiencing now, other than to point out the obvious, that we are in a democracy-gut-check wake-up call moment. Only when it happened, when this man was elected, did I realize something, nearly in an instant. The moment we are in now was bound to come. My hope is that we are witnesses to white power’s last gasp.

As for this election outcome, the fact is we the people dropped the ball. You didn’t. If even for a moment you notice your mind drifting in the direction of blaming yourself, please call it on back. Many of us, and that includes me, made the mistake of believing we were more healed on the bigotry front than we are. In short, we couldn’t help but be the flawed, sometimes dopey, and sometimes dangerous creatures, our species is capable of being.

While I wouldn’t wish your experience on anyone, Mr. President, I am grateful beyond-the-reach-of-words that history chose you when it did. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could have handled and managed the task of being the first black president with, what history will show — and many of us already know — the level of greatness you brought to the job. Your greatness, Mr. President. I’m dead serious. It’s not just charisma, a gift we’re all lucky you have, it’s your uncanny ability to manage your interaction in the moment you’re in, without taking your eye off the ball, while at the same time understanding the moment’s role, or potential role, in history. It’s like that moment in “Team of Rivals” when Mr. Lincoln was told the time had come to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, I think in Seward’s office. Lincoln had been shaking hands all morning with White House visitors. His arm and hand were a bit sore. When he lifted the pen to sign, his hand was a little shaky. He put the pen down, explaining to his staff that if his signature looked shaky, people in years to come would think he wasn’t sure about the proclamation, and, of course, he was. As you know, he waited until his hand calmed, and signed. He understood the moment he was in. Therein lies the brotherhood you have with this man.

Mr. President, you’ve recognized the moment of history you are in every step of the way with uncanny accuracy, you did your best for this country and all its people, every step of the way. And, you never lost your cool! Though, if my fantasy of dribbling, say, Ted Cruz up and down the court came true, and you were the ref, I’m willing to bet you might not call the foul, at least not right after the first dribble.

To Mr. Innis. On the panel, Mr. Innis sat to my right, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato was on my left, William Kunstler and Curtis Sliwa sat across the way. Mr. Innis proposed that civilians be trained and armed to help keep the streets safe. I disagreed, saying that I adhered to the nonviolent methods we learned from Dr. King and that arming civilians seemed to replicate the arms race. While I believed Mr. Innis’s proposal was from the heart and well-intentioned, he’d lost two sons to gun violence, I thought it misguided.

It was in the moments right after the show ended that Mr. Innis said the kindness to me, that I, Mr. President, would like to say to you. When we stood up and shook hands, I told him he was someone I admired. I told him Dr. King had always been one of my heroes, and how much I wished I could have known him. And then, it happened. Mr. Innis looked at me with a smile and said: “Martin would have been very proud of you tonight.” It was one of the most mind-blowing, beautiful things anyone had ever said to me. So, let me tell you now, Mr. President, Martin would be very proud of you. So would Malcom and Nelson Mandela. So would Rosa Parks, Medger Evers, Emmet Till, and, yes, Mr. Lincoln. All of them and more, Mr. President, would be proud of you and grateful that you are, indeed, the truly good and decent and courageous man you are.

I am one of many who genuinely love and care about you and your family. If our paths ever cross, my hope would be to shake your hand, give you a hug, and thank you in person.

By the way, the rallying cry that I am encouraging those around me to use, is: We Shall Overcome because Yes We Can. Like I said, Mr. President, Martin would be proud of you.

With great warmth and respect,

Peter S. Kahrmann

 

  • A hard copy of this letter was mailed to the president on November 18, 2016

Rape

Rape is an act of savage violence. That’s what it is. It is brutal. It is not about sex, it is about violence.

There is, at least for me, no humor in the subject. Have I ever been raped? No. However, in the 1980s I had the privilege of being on a 16-member steering committee that formed the New York City Chapter of Victims for Victims, then a non-profit group founded in 1982 by Theresa Saldana, an actress and, by the way, remarkable person on all fronts. The large majority of the steering committee was comprised of women who had been raped. Two of us had been shot. We all had one thing in common. We had all survived acts of violence, acts that you do not know you will survive when you are going through them. Living through a moment of any length in which it is not up to you whether you live or die is brutal.

It seems comedian Daniel Tosh and many others (primarily men) don’t understand this when it comes to rape. Tosh recently began telling an audience that rape jokes are funny, it should’ve come as no surprise that a female audience member shouted out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Tosh responded by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

While Tosh’s response is sickening, it is, sadly, not surprising. Women are still on the receiving end of a great deal of bigotry in this country and, when it comes to rape, many men simply don’t get it. It is violence, not sex. And, truth be fully told, it is a form of violence that is inflicted on children and men, not just women.

In a well-written piece for CNN, Julie Burton and Michelle Kinsey Bruns, brilliantly capture a chilling slice of  the culture’s all-too-common misogyny: “When women are told that they shouldn’t drink too much or walk alone at night or wear a revealing top, they are being given a guided tour of the boundaries of acceptable female conduct. Women are supposed to understand that these boundaries are policed by rapists. We cross the line at our own risk. And if we are caught, the brutal punishment is one we have earned.” Burton is president of the Women’s Media Center and Bruns its online manager.

Tosh’s apology on Twitter: “all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize” is utterly lame. If Tosh is sincere in wanting to make amends, I would advise him to do at least two things: apologize in person to the woman he wounded with his remark, and reach out to the likes of Burton and Bruns so they can link him up to those who can really help him understand the savage act of violence called rape.

My Daughter’s Moment

Her mother tells me, “If you tell her you were shot I won’t let you see her anymore.” Coming from my daughter’s mother this was not an empty threat.

At the time of this threat, leveled at me 10 days after I’d been held up and shot in the head at point blank range in August 1984, she’d already stopped me and my daughter and from seeing each other for two prior stretches of time. And even though I took her to court on both times and won both times, I learned that in 1984 the rights of a non-custodial father were, at best, symbolic. There was no meat on the bones of their armature. In fact, the second time I took her to court the judge caught her lying and ripped into her before once again ruling in my favor. Didn’t matter. Went to pick up my daughter the following weekend and her mother and my  daughter had vanished. For all intents and purposes, she’d kidnapped her.

When I called the court and said, Okay, she’s taken my daughter, she’s violating my visitation rights, what are you going to do about it? The answer was, Nothing. Let us know if you find her and you can bring her in on a shown cause order –again.  It was three months before her mother brought her back, telling me my daughter was giving her hell and if I wanted to see her, so be it, but I was to stay out of all aspects of her life except when we visited.

Two days after I was shot her mother called me in the hospital and, in a tone that appeared genuine, asked, “Do you have someone to look after you?” I said I did and she said, “Good,” and hung up. A few minutes later she called back, said, “Too bad you didn’t die,” and hung up.

If you are wondering where this woman’s fury comes from, here’s the answer. I was the one who ended our relationship. You can comfortably assume that what you’ve heard here about her capacity for brutality was one of the major reasons I did end the relationship.

Anyway, if I thought the shooting was going to soften her attitude I was mistaken. I called from the hospital and asked to speak to Jennifer who was seven at the time. Her mother said, “No.”

I said, “Listen, I don’t even know if I’m going to live, things aren’t so good. I’m not about to tell her what’s going on, I just want to hear her voice.”

“Tough,” she said, and hung up.

And so here I am, home from the hospital a day or two, head shaved and adorned with a huge scar from the brain surgery and her mother is saying, ““If you tell her you were shot I won’t let you see her anymore.”

“How do you suggest I explain the shaved head and giant scar?”

“I don’t give a shit how you explain it. Tell her you were shot and you don’t see her.”

Now my daughter is breathtakingly smart. She was also a remarkably perceptive seven-year-old. When she saw my head and asked what happened I told her I had a bad fall and had to undergo surgery but was okay now. She notice the pulsing in front of my left temple and asked about it. “Well, there’s a small hole in the skull”

“Does it hurt?”

“No sweetie.”

She nodded. Over the next few weeks Jennifer would hear me talking with crime victims on the phone. At the time I was working with others to form the New York City Chapter of Victims for Victims, a non-profit group founded in 1982 by a remarkable woman and actress named Theresa Saldana.

One day Jennifer and I are sitting in the living room. I’m sitting on the couch, she’s sitting in a chair next to the couch. She says, “Daddy, can I ask you something?”

“Sure”

“How did you say you got hurt?”

“I fell.”

“Where?”

“On the sidewalk.”

She pauses, thinking. And then, slowly slicing her hand through the air, her palm parallel to the floor, she asks, “Well, if the sidewalk’s flat, how did it make the hole in your skull?”

Here she comes, I thought, so proud of her, feeling so much love for my daughter that if love were light I would’ve lit up the world. “It didn’t,” I answered.

“Then what did?”

I realize I need to provide a clue. “What people do you hearing my talking to a lot these days?”

"Crime victims.”

“Right.”

A pause. Then, slowly, “You’re a crime victim?”

I nod. “Yes, sweetie.”

She leans forward now and says, “Someone hurt you,” and it’s not a question.

“Yes.”

“They beat you up.”

“No.”

“Then how?”

Another clue. “What do bad guys use to hurt people?”

“Someone stabbed you?”

“No.”

“Someone shot you?”

I say, “Yes, sweetie,” and this gloriously loving seven-year-old girl flies into my arms, both of us crying, holding each other tight. My beautiful daughter had tracked down the truth of what had happened to her father and now we held each other closely. I knew then and know now that moments like that don’t get any healthier and healing.

I called her mother, explained what happened, and pleaded with her to not do anything rash. To my relief, she didn’t.