Before

Before Michael Brown, there were others.

Trayvon Martin, Roger Owensby. Timothy Thomas. Emmett Till. There were so many others.

The black community has been under assault by “law enforcement” for decades, and law enforcement has historically gotten away with it.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, of whom I am writing an authorized biography, when I asked him how black people are to cope, not just with the murders of unarmed black people, but the lack of justice, and therefore of respect and dignity, said that we have to realize our strength, and realize that white people know that what we as a people suffer is brutal. (my word, “brutal,” not his.) He said, “Most white people realize that they could not live as black people do. They realize they would not be able to handle it.”

I relate to what is going on, and to what has always gone on with sanction in this nation, as a mother of a son. I have a daughter, too, but it is my son that I worry about, just because he is a black male. He does not do drugs. He does not have a criminal record. He knows “how to act” if stopped by police.

But none of that matters.

And that’s what scares me. Black people do not have to have a criminal record or be doing something wrong in order to be gunned down with abandon …by police. White officers and black officers have the same obsession with power, it looks like. They do not like to be challenged or questioned…and they know they have the upper hand. They too often shoot first and ask questions (or make up a story) later. No matter how compelling is the evidence that they are in the wrong, they get off.

That is scary.

The nation, this nation, cannot be “exceptional” so long as such barbarity within the ranks of law enforcement exists, because the actions of those who are supposed to serve and protect are causing a huge swath of parents and loved ones to suffer emotional pain that is ignored and minimized.

Black people have lived on the hope, the faith, that God will make a way …out of this madness caused by the dehumanization of them and their children. But God has been slow. Black parents stand weeping on the banks of “Red Seas,” holding out a metaphorical “rod,” waiting for the sea of injustice to part, but the parting has not happened yet, not after all these years.

The parents and loved ones of all of these unarmed black people are standing on the shore of that sea, waiting for God.

But God has been slow. It feels like God has been absent, actually.

It is horrible that police officers have been randomly killed, but here’s the difference between slain police officers and slain black people. Whomever has killed a police officer will be brought to justice. Most police officers who kill unarmed and many times, innocent black people, even if charged with a crime, will go free. There will be no justice.

That reality is the fuel of the Black Lives Matter movement. The lack of justice speaks to the core belief of this nation that black people do not matter, and never have. The lack of justice undermines the words of the United States Constitution, which black people and those concerned with justice latch onto, “All men are created equal.”

Not so. It wasn’t the case when the Constitution was drafted and it isn’t the case now.

I wonder if any of people who are so quick to blame black people for our lot in life ever stop to think about the effects of being dehumanized. I wonder if they feel it when black mothers cry, when little black kids are put in handcuffs for doing things little kids of all races have always done …because they’re little. I wonder if white mothers feel the pain of the mothers of Trayvon and Michael and Jordan and Roger and TImothy and Renisha and Sandra and Freddie and Sam…and so many. So many…

Please understand. Parents and loved ones feel the pain when black lives are taken by other black people…but the difference is that black people who kill other black people are usually brought to justice and end up in prison. It is small consolation but at least it represents justice.

The cry that some are trying to vilify and call representative of hate is a cry that is filled with anguish about being used, exploited, and then being discarded. American society uses black people (and poor people) for cheap labor, exploits the, unwilling to give them decent wages so they can take care of their families, and then discarding them when they cry out for help as their loved ones are mowed down by state-sanctioned actions of law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement doesn’t care about black lives. The education system doesn’t care about black lives (schools for black children are the worst of all schools). America doesn’t care …about black lives.

Before Michael Brown there were others, so many others…

And we live in a nation that just does not care.

A candid observation

Freddie Gray

What is going on now in the killing of black people by police  is merely an extension or continuation of America’s history as concerns legal violence against  African-Americans.

Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, as well as others, makes the case that mass incarceration is a way to control black lives in this country. Slavery was a good way to keep black people under the thumb of white people; when Lincoln freed the slaves in the states which had not seceded from the Union, Southerners were angry. The cry of “states’ rights” became common as Southerners deeply resented the “interference” of “big government” in their affairs. Whites began to consciously look for ways to again control black people. The result of their search included sharecropping and convict leasing.

But  within the culture of control was also a culture of terror. Black people were objects; people did not regard blacks as human beings, thanks to the interpretation of the United States Constitution and the Holy Bible. Black people were despised for their color but valued for their labor. What white people wanted was to forever be in control; for many, America was a white man’s country. Nobody, not “the law” or God, would object to how they treated their nigras.

Racial discrimination, after Reconstruction, was institutionalized, with laws written into the Constitutions of Southern states to make racism legal. Southern states actually rewrote their constitutions to reflect the legality of racial discrimination. The legality of racial discrimination, accompanied by the criminalization and dehumanization of black people allowed people, including police officers, to oppress black people and throw them into jail for whatever reasons they wanted. Jim Crow laws were put into effect to keep black people subordinate to white people (see “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” written by the Equal Justice Initiative.) Black people could be and were arrested or in some cases, just lynched, for the most minor “offenses.” The EJI report tells of a man who was lynched in 1889 because he tried to enter a room where three white women were sitting, and another man was lynched for knocking on the door of a white woman. (EJI report. p 31)

Black people were arrested and many times lynched without the benefit of a trial for vagrancy, for speaking to white people, for looking at white people, for not stepping off a sidewalk or for bumping into a white woman.  Though it was common, and had been common since slavery, for white men to rape black women, black men could be and were lynched for even unproven allegations of having sex with white women.

Law enforcement did not protect black people. Law enforcement …and local and state governments, did not protect black people, either. The federal government was basically impotent, refusing to become involved in the way states treated black people unless what was going on threatened to adversely affect the state.

Black people, then, have been living in terror and distrust of law enforcement officers for hundreds of years. The Great Migration happened in large part because black people were tired of living in fear, and tired of being terrorized by mobs and cops. They witnesses horrific destruction of black life – black people hung from trees, then shot as they hung, taken down and dragged through the streets. Often times they were burned alive, and sometimes they were set afire after the hanging was done.  Like the Romans who crucified people and let them hang along main drags into major cities to remind people of what happened to those who challenged the government, white people paraded their “catches” through the streets. Sometimes those doing the lynching made family members watch as their loved one was brutalized and mutilated. (http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/spectacle-the-lynching-of-claude-neal/1197360)

In a horrific case, the lynching of Claude Neal in Florida, Neal, who confessed to raping and killing a white woman, he was dragged from jail by a mob. He was taken to a location where he was tortured before he was killed. He was shot; his testicles were cut off and he was made to eat them; his penis was also cut off and he was made to eat it. After he was hung he was shot 50 times. His fingers and toes were cut off and sold as souvenirs. The sense is that everyone knows who killed Neal but nobody talked – not then and not now.

When I heard the account of why Freddie Gray was chased – because he made eye contact with police officers and then ran, a chill ran up my spine. The spirit of racism and of hatred, coupled with the tradition of white law enforcement allowing and often participating in the mass destruction and control of black people…has not died. Black people still do not trust law enforcement – not the police, not the detectives, not the judges or the court system …and white people still feel justified to stop and harass black people for two reasons: one, because they can and get away with it, and two, because they still regard black people as criminals and not quite human. Only when an individual regards another individual as an object can he or she treat others as white police officers have too often treated black people.

None of what the white mobs did to black people was done without violence. I guess that’s why I cringe as news anchors express so much dismay over the potential for violence as black people gather in frustration and anger to protest the way they (we) have been treated. White mob violence meted out against not only black individuals, but against entire towns and neighborhoods was nothing short of barbaric. But again, the resentment of whites against black people for their standing up for justice is not a new thing; in the past, some people who voiced opposition to the unjust laws and murderous treatment they received were lynched.

My prayer is that the family of Freddie Gray gets justice. I am not confident that any investigation of what happened to him will yield charges against the officers who were involved. I hope that we do not receive the dreaded phrase, “the force used was justified.”

Those who lynched black people in the past used that same phrase. That enabled them to kill black people when and as they wanted …and never look back. They accused and killed black people because they could.

It feels like that privilege is still alive and kicking.

A candid observation …

What If It Were My Son?

Freddie Gray is dead and nobody seems to know how it happened.

His body has not yet been released to his family. There has been an autopsy – though the results have not been yet released – and another, independent autopsy has been requested by the family.

But meanwhile, Freddie Gray lies dead and nobody seems to know what happened.

It is maddening that, after a week, nobody knows anything. It feels like incompetence and it begs an explanation as to why such incompetence exists. It feels like information is being withheld in an effort to protect the police.

It brings back memories of how the death of Michael Brown was handled.

I keep asking “What if it were my son?” I can only imagine the agony, the added-on agony, of Gray’s family as they wait for answers, and as they wait to lay their son and family member to rest.

His spinal cord was 80 percent severed, according to reports …and in this day of the highest technology, nobody seems to know how that happened. It begs credulity.

Eighty percent severed…

His ordeal began at 8:39 a.m. on April 12. He was put into the police van at 8:54 a.m. and by 9:24 a.m. he was not breathing or moving. He underwent “extensive” surgery, but it didn’t help.

What if it were my son?

What do you do, as a distraught parent or family member, when life has been snatched from someone you love but nobody will tell you how it happened? That type of death is as problematic as one caused by a plane falling out of the sky. Survivors want to know why and how? Anything less is unacceptable.

I know I would be suspicious by now. I would think that police and the courts and the coroner were keeping information from me. That belief would pour salt into the raw wound called grief and would cause deep anger.

This type of tragedy, suspicious deaths of people at the hands of police, has been happening for decades. The deaths have happened and the circumstances have primarily been blamed on the victim. The word of the police and courts has been taken as sacrosanct. As a result, there are a lot of parents, wives, and other family members who are walking around with two holes in their spirit: one caused by the death of their loved one and the other caused by the lack of knowing what really happened and by the knowledge that the police have been exonerated.

If it were my son, if I were seeing him being dragged by police officers, seemingly unable to walk, I would be weeping. If it were my son, my imagination would be making up all kinds of scenarios as to what happened to him, and I would be weeping. If it were my son, and I heard his cry as he was being dragged to the police wagon, I would be weeping.

But I would also be indignant and angry at the lack of explanation of what happened, why, and how.

My prayer is that the official report being waited for does not end up being an insult – to his family or to the community. My prayer is that someone will honestly explain why Freddie Gray was pursued without probable cause. Running from police may not be wise, but it isn’t grounds for arrest…and if there was no reason to approach him in the first place other than he didn’t look an officer in the face, then his arrest is even more problematic.

If it were my son, I would be weeping …but I would be working to get answers. I would be weeping but I would be reaching for some kind of viable explanation as to why my son was dead.

The six officers who were involved in the arrest have been put on paid administrative leave. That is not acceptable, not for me.If it were my son, their continued ability to make a living while my son lay dead would be insulting and troubling.

The mothers and fathers of slain children, no matter how old they are, are bleeding, all over these United States. They are hemorrhaging and nobody …seems to notice or to care. They are crying, weeping, wailing …because their children are “no more…”  The mothers and parents and family of Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Jonathan Ferrell, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Jordan Davis,Lennon Lacy, Walter Scott. Eric Harris …and so many more … are weeping and hemorrhaging their grief over the earth.

The death of a loved one is hard enough on its own. For a loved one to die this way takes one past the point of being able to be consoled. There would be no words to assuage the pain if it were my son…

A candid observation …