As an independent writer, it feels like I have been flying solo for more than a decade, hovering above conventional thinking as I spied the battlefields scattered throughout the interior of the United States.
I ultimately realized that I had developed an eye for a war that most could see did not know what they were witnessing. The War in America is too unconventional to be discerned without discovering all of its many fragmented pieces and linking them together within a logical pattern, like a massive bulky 3-D puzzle. It amazes me that as of this writing no one else seems to have developed a pithy, widely-accepted phrase to describe it.
On the path towards finishing this book, I gathered information from numerous sources, of course. Lexis-Nexis, the super database that can retrieve documents from around the world in seconds, became my partner. In addition, I interviewed hundreds of people over the years, including lawyers, educators, doctors, law enforcers, formerly incarcerated individuals, church leaders, colleagues, friends. Really, anyone who had a fact, an opinion or an insight, I wanted to talk to them. I was in search of someone who could see beyond the soundbites. Someone who could share my views or prove me wrong. I was not afraid of being challenged. In fact, I welcomed debate.
I made special effort to consult my friends in the journalism business. One such friend was world renown, Benjamin C. Bradlee, the legendary former executive editor of the Washington Post. If anyone could help deepen my narrative it was Ben. He was my top boss during my seven years as a Post reporter, from 1979 – 1986. He was now retired.
Beloved by many, Ben was trustworthy, generous and dependable. I went to see him in the winter of 2008, shortly before President Barack Obama was inaugurated. (“I think he’ll do a good job,” Ben said of the neophyte leader of the free world during our meeting. “But I just wish he wasn’t on TV so much. He shouldn’t be on TV all of the time. Every time I look at the TV, he’s there talking.”)
Ben was not just a deep-thinking and astute newsman. He was fearless when faced with tough decisions, and quick to take responsibility for any mistakes he made. He was also one of the coolest men you could ever meet. His cool was a combination of Bogart and Denzel.
On Monday, January 7, 2008, I had emailed my request to meet with him. The subject line read: “I need to quote you in my book/Requesting a meeting.” The following is an excerpt from the email:
… In your lively autobiography, A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, you mention that at one time The Post sought to attack the problem of “racist and selective law enforcement.” My book (whose working title is Stop the Madness) is dedicated to that same purpose. It provides compelling revelations and discusses new approaches towards deterring law enforcement abuse and misconduct. The book also takes aim at the other side of the issue and encourages black men to do more to counteract government-sponsored brutality.
This project is shaping up to be one of the most challenging and promising endeavors of my life. Your support and advice would be greatly appreciated.
I know your schedule is very busy, yet I am hopeful you will be able to do me the favor of meeting with me soon.
About ten minutes later, Ben responded to my email with a phone call, which surprised the sh-t out of me. He said he would be glad to meet with me. “I got your email … When would you like to come over?”
“I can come today!”
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