Bob Neal

Wanna know what makes so many people so angry these days? Start, maybe, at the level of our most trusted institutions.

This month, it came out that MaineHealth — which owns Maine Medical Center as well as hospitals in Farmington, Lewiston, Brunswick and Norway — sidetracked some COVID-19 vaccine for out-of-state consultants it had hired to try to derail a nurses’ effort to unionize.

In truth, the overreach wasn’t many doses — how many union-busters can even a huge corporation like MaineHealth hire? — but that isn’t the point. MaineHealth is tone deaf.

Just imagine how this makes people feel who are trying hard to stay alive long enough to get vaccinated. Grocery store workers, first responders, people older than 70. You know, folks who are actually at high risk of catching COVID.

Here are two examples of people who fear that the diversion of vaccine to the consultants may have delayed their own shots. No. 1, a friend in Brunswick called five weeks ago for an appointment. His only response was an automated call three weeks later saying, We have your data. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

No. 2, I am an 80-year-old with heart disease who also waited three weeks for that same automated reply. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Meanwhile, I went online to Northern Light and in three minutes scheduled a shot in Bangor. And the second shot.

Two days before my appointment in Bangor, a real person called from MaineHealth. She said I had to go through New Hampshire protocols for a vaccination in Farmington. Asked why, she corrected herself, and scheduled me for Franklin Memorial Hospital. Did MaineHealth that hired out-of-state union-fighters also hire out-of-state schedulers?

As Prof. Harold Hill said time and again in “The Music Man,” “You gotta know the territory.” MaineHealth’s scheduler didn’t know the territory.

My friend in Brunswick finally gave up and scheduled a vaccine at a local drug store. He’s still waiting. I got my first shot on Thursday.

It seems we run into tone deafness a lot these days. “Defund the Police” may be the dumbest idea to come down the pike in years. It came from one of the most progressive places anyone knows: Minneapolis.

Of course, people making up slogans are looking for something catchy that fits a bumper sticker. Or a tweet. But “defund the police” creates more confusion than clarity.

Yes. Minneapolis needs police reform. News reports after the murder of George Floyd make it clear that the city’s cops see themselves as an occupying force, not a community service agency. If police are to serve their communities — that is, to be of the community as well as in it — we need to make major changes in the way they are trained. A retired police officer has written me to say training is the key problem in today’s approach to policing.

Whatever the problem, defunding is not the solution. In fact, real reform might wind up costing even more. But “defund the police” points in the wrong direction.

This last part is difficult to write. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is incomplete, and in that way is tone deaf. And it opens a wide field for objectors to retort with, such as “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter.”

It’s the bumper thing sticker again. That Black lives matter should go without saying. The point of the slogan is that until Black lives matter equally, no one’s life is a matter of certainty or security. But that won’t fit on a bumper sticker.

Shortly after George Floyd was murdered, a demonstrator stood in public in Harrison, Arkansas. You may know that Harrison is the unabashed headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. You didn’t know that still exists? It does.

As that lone white man stood by the road with a “Black Lives Matter” sign, a car rolled by, a white woman rolled down her window and shouted at the sign-holder, “No, they don’t.” Can you think of a better demonstration of the problem?

Please don’t get me wrong. Having grown up in segregated Missouri, where our high school teams couldn’t even play against the teams from the Black high school, my greatest lifelong social concern has been systemic racism. I swell with pride when I see UMaine women’s basketball players all wearing black warm-ups emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.” The Maine team has 13 players, of whom 12 are white.

The young people, and the coaches, get it. Black lives do matter. It’s too late for a new slogan or organization name, but when I see a sign reading “Black Lives Matter,” I try to recall the fuller phrase. “Until black lives matter equally, no life is certain or secure.”

Bob Neal spent a couple of days this week in Brunswick. He was impressed by the high number of yard signs supporting Black Lives Matter. Neal can be reached at [email protected]


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