The Pain of Ignored Mothers

One of the things that bothers me – and which has bothered me for a while – is that in this nation, where police brutality and racially-motivated crimes result in the death of a young African American person, few people seem to care about the pain of the mothers – and fathers as well – but for purposes of this piece – the pain of the mothers.

Everybody who is human has a craving and a right for justice. For so long however, in this country, there has been no justice when people of African descent have been killed – by police or by deranged people who live in racism. My thoughts keep going back to Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till – who demanded that the mangled and destroyed body of her son be displayed in an open casket so that the world could see what “they,” meaning hateful racists – had done to her son.

Mamie’s courage, strength  and tenacity were exemplary. When she traveled to Money, Mississippi to claim the body of her son, stories say that the stench of his rotting body filled her nostrils as she stepped off of the train. The undertakers in Money had wanted to bury Emmett quickly, but Mamie refused. She wanted to see her son, and could only identify him by the ring he had on his finger, which had belonged to his father. She held up somehow, and got him back to Chicago for the funeral, indeed inviting the press to take pictures of him so that “the world could see.”

.05-lens-till-slide-RDKW-superJumbo

 

Then, this remarkable woman went back to Money for the trial of the two white men accused and on trial for his murder. She endured horrible treatment from local whites, but she would not be deterred. She wanted justice.

She probably knew that justice would allude her, because she was, after all, a black woman, as had been her son, and the two men accused of lynching him – J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant – were white, and so she probably was not surprised when, after about an hour the all-white jury brought back a verdict of “not guilty.”

But her heart had to have been broken. She had no son and she had no justice for his murder.

Every time a young black person is killed by “law enforcement,” and grand jury refuses to indict the accused officer, or the jury – still usually all-white – refuses to convict them, my heart aches for the mothers. My heart has ached for them all – from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Jordan Davis to Ty’re King to Henry Green to Eric Garner …the list seems endless. I have been in the presence of some of the families when verdicts of “not guilty” have been delivered, or when a grand jury, led by system-infused prosecutors have led the members of the grand jury to free the accused officer – has done just that.

I have heard the wails and seen the tears, and I have lost many tears myself. The depth of this injustice, based so deeply on white supremacy and racist actions which white supremacy spawns, is almost too deep to fathom. Yes, the families of the deceased get settlements from their respective cities, but those awards always seem bitter to me.

No amount of money can assuage the spirit of a parent who has lost a child.

The fact that so many white people do not understand how awful it must be to carry two suitcases – one containing the reality of the unjust death of a child and the other containing the pain of not having been able to get justice for that child – is troubling. Why can’t this society, which boasts of being “Christian,”  see and hear the cries of the mothers, the ignored mothers who must somehow find a way to keep living in spite of such intense loss?

I am only speaking now as a mother; the fathers of these lost children suffer deeply as well. I have seen interviews of the fathers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Jordan Davis. These grown men break down and weep – and there is nothing adequate to wipe those tears – but more importantly that pain – away.

Every day, these parents have to get up and keep living, though they want to die.

Mamie Till held her own. She had that funeral. She showed the world what “they” had done to her son. She kept on living. She kept on working with people, trying to get them to not be afraid of working for justice.

But her heart never recovered. She lived with that heaviness that all mothers, all parents, must live with and carry every day, knowing that in spite of God, the hatred of white supremacy continued to reign in this country, ripping young lives away from life and throwing them away – and acting like it’s all OK because those lives just do not matter.

On this day, I think of ignored mothers, and know that some way, some how, this madness has to stopA candid observation …

Emmett, Trayvon and Michael

It is a notable fact that in our country, major racial strife and a subsequent movement followed the lynching of young, black men.

That is not to say that black women have not been lynched. In fact, black women’s bodies have been brutalized by whites in this country in a way nobody likes to talk about. It is a great irony that while white men were lynching black men to protect their women from “the black beast,” which they considered black men to be, they were in fact raping black women with abandon. Because white people did not consider black people to be human, what white men did to black women was discarded and considered as a right they had in doing what they wanted to their property.

That’s another piece altogether.

But in thinking about what is going on now in this nation’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear that it has been the brutalization, the lynching, of young black men which has periodically set the country on fire. Not only have the murders of the black men been a catalyst for social upheaval, but also the lack of justice in their murders has stoked the fires of resentment and pain carried by black people in this country.

The protest today is centered around the police killings of young black men, but in the cases of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, it has been white vigilantes who have done the killing. In both cases, the murderers were tried and acquitted of wrongdoing. Their lives did not matter; the pain of their parents and loved ones did not matter, either. Emmett Till was killed on August 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi, yanked from his uncle’s house in Mississippi as he slept because he allegedly winked at a white woman. He was beaten beyond recognition and his body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Emmett’s murderers had a trial but were acquitted after only an hour’s deliberation by the all-white, all-male jury.

We all remember that George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin and Officer Darren Wilson was not even bound over for trial in the killing of Michael Brown.

What struck me as I thought about these three young men was that they were all lynched. No, not in the classic “rope hanging from a tree” sense, but in the sense that their killings were done by white people who believe it is their duty, almost, to rid the world of those whom they deem to be unworthy of living. While Emmett was thrown into the Tallahatchie River, Michael Brown was allowed to lie on the hot pavement of a city street while officers in Ferguson built a case around his not being “a saint.” The murderers of Till tried to hide his body; the murderers of Brown left his body exposed so that the world could see what happened to people who messed with police.  Trayvon was not hidden or left lying exposed like Emmett or Michael, but his body did lie in a morgue for three days, listed as a “John Doe,” though he was killed feet from his father’s residence in a gated community in Florida. Tracy Martin, his father, had been looking for his son since the night he was killed; the morning after he didn’t come home, Martin called the police, looking for Trayvon. It was only then that he found out that his son had lain in the morgue for three days.

Three young men, one 14 years old, one 17 years old and another, 18 years old, were killed because they were black; being black made them “suspect,” and worthy of being brutalized.

None of these young men were treated …like they matter. From being stalked and “looking suspicious” as was the case with Trayvon, to engaging in a youthful flirt with a white woman in the case of Emmett, to refusing to treat a police officer, Darren Wilson, with appropriate deference, these young men lost their lives.

And too few people in the white community care about it.

If it had been my son, gunned down and then left in the street for hours, I would be furious now, just as I would be furious had my son been gunned down because he “looked suspicious.” I would be even more furious, deeply hurt, and probably inconsolable if my son’s killers were acquitted of any crime.

This nation has a plethora of mothers (and fathers) who are carrying the deepest of hurts and grief …and measured fury. The parents and loved ones of Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and literally hundreds more black people …are carrying hurt, grief …and fury. Their sadness is part of the fabric of this nation; it is an ever-deepening undercurrent of America.

The presidential candidates have, so far, all but ignored the Black Lives Matter movement. The participants in the movement are being cast off as “troublemakers.” They are. There needs to be trouble when injustice keeps on happening. If there is no trouble, nobody will listen.

Mamie Till started this wave of trouble-making when she would not permit the white people who killed her son to keep his death a secret. They thought it was over when they threw him in the river, but Mamie made them look for her son. They thought it was over when they said they would bury her son in Mississippi, but Mamie refused to let them. She took her son home to Chicago and had his horribly destroyed body photographed so that the whole world would see what the white people had done to her son.

Sybrina Martin, Trayvon’s mother, and Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr, the parents of Michael, sought justice for their sons and were deeply disappointed as the justice system refused them. Not only did the lives of their sons not matter, but neither did their lives matter, apparently, as parents seeking justice.

These three young men, robbed of life, clearly did not matter to the men who shot and killed them; they are mentioned here only because their parents  refused to remain silent.  The parents of others robbed of life in this way …are refusing to remain silent. The young people who are marching and chanting and demanding to be heard are marching because they know their own lives are in danger. They know they do not matter much, either. They also know that the only way anyone will listen …is for them to be “troublemakers.”

I think Emmett, Trayvon and Michael …and all of the others who have been gunned down largely because they were black people in America …would like that. I think their deaths ..deserve that. Their lives, and the lives of all the others …mattered.

A candid observation …

When Justice Doesn’t Come

I was listening to John Walsh, the man whose son was murdered years ago and who has hosted television programs concentrating on “getting the bad guy,” including “America’s Most Wanted,” and now, on CNN, “The Hunt.”

Because of the pain he suffered as a parent of a murdered child, Walsh’s quest to “get the bad guy” is a passion. He has lived and tasted pain; he has lived through and tasted the justice system. His six-year-old son, Adam, was abducted from his home in 1981 and was later found murdered. Though authorities determined that Adam’s murderer was a man named Ottis Toole, for Walsh there was no justice; Toole was never charged with the crime and he died while in prison serving time for other crimes.

The lack of justice left a bitter taste in Walsh’s mouth and spirit, which it should. He is a parent and he has suffered the most grievous loss any parent could endure.

In his program Saturday evening, he talked about how the parents of the case that was being featured feel. They want justice, Walsh said. They want the killer of their child to be brought to justice. And …they want that though their child has been dead for some 20 years.

A parent’s need for justice is palpable …and it doesn’t diminish with time.

So, why is it that American society, including and most especially the justice system, cannot seem to appreciate or respect the need for African-American parents to want justice in the deaths of their children?

Much is made about black-on-black crime, but the truth is, when it is known who has shot and killed another person in the black community, that person is more often than not made to pay for his/her offense immediately. Those persons are likely thrown into jail as soon as they are caught; they have trials, they are convicted and are put away for a long time, if not sentenced to death.

But in the case of black people being shot by police officers or white vigilantes, it seems that justice seldom comes. It happens far too often that the victim is blamed for having been shot, and the perpetrator goes free. In the instances where the Justice Department gets into the fray and investigates the cases, the product of their investigation is a long time coming.

And so the parents of these young people are left to deal not only with their grief, but also with the lack of justice for their loved one. It makes them angry. John Walsh in fact said that: that parents of murdered loved ones get angry when the alleged killer is not held accountable.

The alleged killer of Mike Brown is still being protected; it is not at all a sure thing that Police Officer Darren Wilson will be indicted, or, if he goes to trial, that he will be convicted. The whole Brown situation has caused a seething rage to continue to bubble in the spirit of the black community. From the way Brown was allegedly shot, to the fact that he was left lying in the street for four hours after being killed, to the fact that his alleged involvement in a crime before the shooting was released BEFORE the name of the police officer was released ..and that only after a week of not getting the officer’s identification released…has contributed to the long-held belief of black people that for us, there is no justice …and it causes deep anger.

If Brown were the only unarmed person killed by a white police officer or vigilante or security guard, the pain would not be so great; the rage would not be boiling, as it is, like lava in an active volcano. No, Brown is only one of a long list of people who have been killed in this way, with their killers being set free.

Remarley Graham was murdered in his home two years ago by police, but his family still does not know what happened to him and the officers in the case have not been indicted. We all know that George Zimmerman was let go; Mark O’Meara was able to convince the jury that Martin’s death was his own doing, in spite of what, to parents and many observers, seemed to be compelling evidence that Zimmerman was out of line in following the unarmed teen and confronting him, probably scaring him to death. The police officer-killer of John Crawford III, unarmed and shot in a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, is back on his job even while his family has been fighting to get details of all that happened. The police officers in Staten Island, New York, who participated in the apprehension of Eric Garner, an unarmed man, will face a Grand Jury this month – but many in the black community are holding their breath, because even though Garner’s death has been ruled a homicide, resulting from a choke-hold in which he was placed, it is not at all a sure thing that these officers will be brought to justice.

For black people, more specifically for black parents, who hurt as much as any white parent of a murdered child, there is all too frequently…no justice.

Even in the case of Emmett Till, killed in 1955, there was no justice, His killers had a trial, yes, but they were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury, in just 67 minutes. The two killers, Roy Bryant and A.W. Milam, later gave a full, arrogant confession to the murder of Till to Look Magazine.

Imagine the pain of Mamie TIll, Emmett’s mother.

Imagine the pain of the parents and loved ones of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Remarley Graham, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, John Crawford III, Eric Garner …most recently killed. There either has been no justice, in the cases where trials have been carried out, or there is anticipation and anxiety in the cases where “what to do” with the police officers who did the killings.

Walsh talked about the pain of parents whose child has been murdered. That is true.

But the pain is not limited to white parents, John Walsh. Black parents are human beings, too. They love their children …too. And they want justice for their children…too.

White America seems not to understand that. Maybe they don’t believe that black parents have feelings at all. People, many black and too many white, do believe that if a black person is shot by a police officer, he or she deserved it.

It’s a convenient way for police to get away with murder…and the reason so many black parents are nursing a grief complicated by an unjust justice system.

It makes them angry. Whenever a killer is not held accountable for his/her actions…those left behind …get angry.

You said it, John Walsh.

It’s true.

A candid observation …