It is beyond the pale of understanding, what happens sometimes in the name of justice.
We are all still reeling from the Trayvon Martin case. Had it not been for the pushing of Sybrina Fulton that her son’s death be investigated and that there be a trial, young Martin would have just been another black kid who bit the dust, who had been shot by a vigilante, for sure, but who had probably deserved his own death. If I am not mistaken, I think something to that effect was suggested in the trial of George Zimmerman by Zimmerman’s defense team – that Martin was responsible for his own death.
Martin’s death and the subsequent trial, with the nearly all-white jury acquitting Zimmerman, was hard to swallow. It was another instance of justice denied…but Martin’s situation was in no way an isolated event.
Most recently, there was a 43-year-old black man, Jack Lamar Roberson, who was shot and killed in his home in Waycross, Georgia, as he walked out of his kitchen with, apparently, two butter knives. An emergency squad was called by Roberson’s fiancée after Roberson took too much of his medication for his diabetes and was acting strange. The news report said, however, that police responded to her call. When they came into the Roberson home, they saw him coming out of the kitchen “with weapons in his hands.” Police said he “raised his hand in a threatening manner,” (another report said he lunged at them) and they shot and killed him.
Diane Roberson, Roberson’s mother, said the police are lying, a charge that is not hard to believe. Police have far too often shot and either wounded or killed black men and have gotten off with the story that they felt threatened. America accepts their explanations far too often, and the cost, of course, is black lives snuffed out with hardly a word about it.
Black people have been criminalized, there is no doubt. It is a process that began after Reconstruction, when white people in the South, angry that they had lost good and free labor when slavery was abolished, came up with a system of enslaving blacks in another way. The Convict Lease system was carefully built and supported by charging black men for minor offenses and jailing them when they could not pay fees (which were purposely set too high for them to afford). They were leased out to farmers and businesses, where they worked for little to nothing, and could be re-sentenced if, at the end of one sentence, they couldn’t pay the fees to become totally free. Little by little, white America began to see that black people were always in jail, with the claim that black people were not suited to be free. The image and the message circulated was that black people were bad, were criminals …and that began to breed a fear of black people that has only grown.
The fact that Mark O’Mara, George Zimmerman’s attorney, could and would suggest that Trayvon Martin caused his own death still infuriates me. The fact that law enforcement was not going to investigate Martin’s death but was going to just take Zimmerman’s word, is infuriating. In Waycross, Georgia, there is the case of young Kendrick Johnson, whose death law enforcement ruled an “accident.” He was found in a wrestling mat, and the story was that he died reaching for a shoe. Justice? Really? His parents said the story reeked and asked for his body to be exhumed and a second autopsy be done, and that autopsy revealed that Johnson died of blunt force trauma to the neck.
There are so many cases of black men being killed by law enforcement or by vigilantes and nobody says anything …or, if they do, their voices are snuffed out. Black mothers, if they are smart, are still telling their sons to be careful, and are still telling them how to engage with police officers. Police officers are supposed to be the protectors of the innocent, but in the case of black men, they are very often the aggressors whose actions are accepted and sanctioned.
Ruby Sales, a veteran civil rights worker and the founder and co-director of the Spirit House Project, has begun in earnest to look into these murders. Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, has broken open the disparities inherent in the incarceration of black people in this nation. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel Dewitt Conference, Inc., has held hearings all over the country, getting testimony from people from whom justice has been withheld.
Slowly, but surely, these cases are coming to light. There is no need in saying that America is a democracy when in fact the justice system is not interested in “liberty and justice for all.” Too many black men are dying under suspicious circumstances …and “we the people” need to know it and work to end it.
A candid observation …