The smoke that he swallowed

She had got burned and was burning

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The house was burning rapidly because it was firebombed and they were also shooting into the house from outside. Vernon, I believe they got us this time, Ellie Dahmer said to her husband. The threats had been coming for a while now and it was just a matter of waiting for the worst to come true. It was a Sunday night in January of 1966 in Hattiesberg, Mississippi. The area there had been populated by the Choctaw tribe for hundreds of years but we got them to cede the land through a treaty in 1805 and then forcibly removed most of the rest of them when Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and you could make a case he was our cruelest most racist president but who knows anymore.

She knew they had to get out she said years later. Betty, their young daughter, was burning she said. She had got burned and was burning. Betty just rolled over in the grass out there, she was hurting so, she said. Her husband was hurting badly also and he went into the barn because it was darker there and he was worried if they came back they would be able to see him in the light of his burning house and then they would finish him off.

She said all of this in an oral history she gave to the University of Southern Mississippi which is bittersweet or ironic or fucked up depending on how you look at it because for years Vernon’s friend and fellow NAACP activist Clyde Kennard had been trying to enroll in that very school which went by a different name at the time. After Brown v Board of Education they couldn’t legally deny him the chance to do that but they still didn’t like it all that much you can probably imagine so the officials would lose his application on purpose and fuck with him in a variety of ways. At one point the police  planted whiskey in his car and arrested him for it and in 1960 they framed him up real good by saying he hired someone to steal $25 worth of chicken feed. An all white jury deliberated for ten minutes and sentenced Kennard to seven years in prison for the thing he didn’t do and then he died a couple years later from cancer after being denied medial treatment in the prison he didn’t belong in. Medgar Evers called the trial a mockery of judicial justice and so they put him in jail for 30 days for that because it was contempt of court is what they said he had done there.

There’s a photo of four of the Dahmers’ sons examining the wreckage of their family home the next morning and they’re all in their military uniforms because they were enlisted at the time serving their country which is the term we use for that particular job.

Vernan Dahmer was a fierce proponent of voting and dedicated much of his life to helping other African Americans exercise that right. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed which was a law that forced us to let black people actually do the voting they were already supposed to be able to do he would keep a voting registration book in his store to make it easier for people to register. He went on the local radio station one night to say that he would personally pay the poll tax for anyone who couldn’t afford it and as it turns out that’s the night the KKK killed him.

"I've been active in trying to get people to register to vote. People who don't vote are deadbeats on the state,” he told a reporter after the fire and before the severity of his injuries had set in. “I figure a man needs to do his own thinking. What happened to us last night can happen to anyone, white or black. At one time I didn't think so, but I have changed my mind.”

I’m so tired and sick all the time and maybe it’s because at night I typically drink too much because I don’t like the sounds my brain is making and then in the day I will sometimes take a pill to make my stomach injury stop hurting and that makes me drowsy and I really have nowhere to be or no responsibilities anyway so I could just lay here doing nothing if I wanted to on any given day and no one would notice which is sort of a blessing and a curse if I’m being honest.

Who would you rather run over with a car, a baby or an old person? Researchers from the MIT Media Lab published a study last week that asked people as much in an attempt to jumpstart the thinking on the types of ethical dilemmas that will likely one day go into the programming of self-driving cars.

“The study is basically trying to understand the kinds of moral decisions that driverless cars might have to resort to,” Edmond Awad the paper’s lead author said. “We don’t know yet how they should do that.”

Over two million participants from 200 countries around the world took part in a survey they designed, a sort of update on the Trolley Problem. By and large there were many consistencies in how people answered the questions throughout the world — spare the lives of humans over animals, drive into fewer people instead of large groups when possible and so on. One interesting difference was that in Asian cultures where they tend to revere older people rather than despise them like we do here there was less of a tendency to automatically choose to save the lives of young people.

I’d be pretty alarmed by the whole thing but I don’t really think driverless cars are ever going to be real. There won’t be time.

I just read a story about a young woman who died from an asthma attack while waiting outside of the emergency room at a hospital near where I live. It was early in the morning and the doors were locked and she couldn’t find her way in so she called 911 saying she was at the hospital what the fuck and so on. The dispatcher eventually alerted the hospital that she was out there but a nurse poked her head out and didn’t see her sitting on a bench dying and so she lost all the oxygen to her brain and they had to make the decision to give her organs away pretty soon after that. Her husband wrote the article and it’s probably the most heartbreaking thing you’ll read in a long time and I’d like to tell you more about what happened in this perfect storm of systemic breakdown and institutional failure but I had to stop reading it because I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I remember one line from it that the husband wrote about his wife that shouldn’t be dead and it was that she was exceptionally active and fit despite her asthma and that she could benchpress more than her body weight which is something a good number of men can’t do and very few women. She had packed a gym bag full of clothes to bring with her on the way to the hospital because she probably figured she’d be in and out and since she was up she might as well get a work out in anyway but that didn’t end up happening.

One time I saw a movie or read a book where the apocalypse had come or was coming up soon in any case and the main characters came across an old man in his house who was helpful to them somehow if I remember it correctly. His wife had recently died due to the bad thing that was happening which I don’t remember the nature of and he didn’t have much use for the world anymore after that fact so he curled up next to her in bed and sent himself off to sleep forever holding her there and that is what that story made me think of.

Vernon Dahmer died the next day as a result of the fire that the white people had set. It was the smoke that killed him his wife said.

“The smoke that the doctor said he swallowed,” is how she described it.

It all seems like the distant past but both of my own parents were alive then and probably yours were too. I was negative ten years old.

Fourteen men were indicted for the attack. Only four of them were convicted and they spent a few short years in prison. Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers who was likely behind it all was tried four times and each one ended in a mistrial because he kept invoking his fifth amendment rights which were guaranteed to him under the Constitution. Twenty five years later the state reopened the case and after a trial that lasted seven years he was sentenced to life in prison. He died there but he got to see fifty more years of progress than Dahmer did.

"If you don't vote, you don't count" was a thing Dahmer would often say.

I just saw on the TV that they asked the president what proof he had that people were trying to vote illegally.

"All you have to do is go around and take a look at what's happened over the years and you will see,” he said.

“There are a lot people, in my opinion and based on proof, that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally,” the president said on the TV. “So we just want to let them know there will be prosecutions at the highest level.”

There’s a song that hurts my heart and it’s about the most romantic song I’ve ever heard. In the video two skeletons break out of their prison in the dirt and spend a night together doing all the things they used to do. And when the night is over they go back into their tomb to wait for their chance to do it again. Maybe it’s not an ongoing thing actually maybe it was the last time they would ever get to do it. That is probably the sadder reading so I’ll go with that.

“This book is two pages deep,” it goes. “There are no pictures, no screens. Don't you leave this one up to me. I will write it too honestly. If you wonder where I am, I will tell you just where I am. But I gotta hear your wondering sound.”