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.”

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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 …

Justice Denied

As an African-American, I find myself ever wishing and hoping for …justice for our people killed by law enforcement officers…but it almost never comes.

Yesterday, the officers who shot and killed John Crawford in a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, were not indicted. In spite of the fact that Crawford was holding a toy gun in a store where it is OK to carry guns …he was gunned down and his killers will go free. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/john-crawford-iii_n_5876574.html)

The names of the officers are, by the way, Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Dean Williams.

There is always “something” that we the public “don’t get.” There’s always a “reason” why African-Americans are gunned down and killed by police, and the “reason’ is enough to clear the officers of any wrongdoing.  The grand jury must have seen something, heard the “something” that we, the public, “don’t get.” They found that the officers’ actions were justified. No excessive force…

We in the African-American community have seen police work in our neighborhoods; we have seen and heard the harassment, the taunting and daring officers give in our communities. They do not protect us. They seem to feel we don’t deserve protection.

Instead, they goad our people, especially our young people …and then blame them for any altercation that might ensue or, ultimately, any shooting death that might occur.

When Rodney King was attacked by police officers years ago, I, for one, rejoiced because the beating was caught on tape. Now, I thought, the people will see how police treat African-Americans. They will be arrested, I again thought erroneously. They will lose their jobs. They will be held accountable.

But the justice I thought would be a no-brainer did not come. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing …and the African-American community in Los Angeles went up in flames.

I have been holding my breath as the grand jury in Ferguson has been out, considering the future of Darren Wilson. Officer Darren Wilson. There is nothing in me that believes he will be indicted.

But in the case of the officers who shot John Crawford, I thought, just like I thought when Rodney King was beaten, that surely these guys who shot Crawford would be made to answer for their actions. That would have been justice. But, as usual, it is justice …denied.

When Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam killed Emmett Till there was a trial …but it was a farce. An all-white jury found the two white assailants innocent…and took only minutes to come to their “verdict.”  Later, they arrogantly confessed in an article which appeared in Look Magazine. They were arrogant, cocky, unrepentant…Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who insisted that the world see what these men had done to her son, never got justice. What agony she must have felt for the rest of her life.

I would imagine that the officers in Crawford’s death are likewise feeling on top of the world today. Arrogant, Cocky. Ready to get back to work, feeling like they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

People have said to African-Americans, “Wait. Don’t jump to conclusions before “the facts” are known. Let the system work.”

Thing is, we’ve been waiting for “the system” to work in our favor for some time. Mothers and fathers, wives and children, have been robbed of justice in the deaths of their loved ones which has come at the hands of “law enforcement” for literally decades in this nation. In addition to weeping over the loss of their loved one, they have wept and are continuing to weep over the fact that the assailants have been cleared of wronging and are free. I call that justice …denied.

“The law” in America is held up as sacrosanct. If one is truly American, one obeys “the law.” And if one doesn’t, one should expect to be punished.

But that proclamation seems only to hold for certain situations. White people in the South ignored “the law” when the federal government ordered schools to be integrated after Brown vs Board of Education.  Some governors closed schools rather than integrate them. “The law” didn’t apply to them, they decided, …and they were none the worse for it.

Word: Whenever a person or a family has justice denied, there is deep pain, then deep frustration, followed by depression…and then anger. The anger amongst African-Americans is bubbling, America. Can’t you feel it?

I can.

A candid observation …

 

 

Objectification Be Damned

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...
Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. Original caption: “Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer. The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In this nation, there are left-overs from slavery, one of the biggest being the criminalization of black people, and especially of black males.

Black people were objectified while they were slaves; the objectification morphed into criminalization after Reconstruction as blacks were arrested for the slightest offenses to justify them being imprisoned and made to work for individuals and corporations. The situation is classically described in Douglas Blackmon’s book, Slavery by Another Name.  As more and more black people were arrested, the canvas was being painted that had on it the picture of black people; they were “bad” and not worthy of freedom.  It did not matter that black men were being targeted and manipulated by an angry South that resented their free slave labor having been taken away by the emancipation of the slaves.  All the public saw and heard was that black people were being arrested.  There was more trust in an unjust justice system than there was of innocent people who were being railroaded, their lives and the lives of their families forever destroyed.

That criminalization and objectification has made it easy and justifiable in the present day for law enforcement and vigilantes to shoot and kill black people, especially black males, with little chance of being held accountable, and/or to arrest them for non-violent offenses, most often drug related, offenses for which their white counterparts are forgiven.

But perhaps there is a bigger problem that we seldom talk about, and that is, how black people may have criminalized and objectified ourselves as well.

There is systemic injustice , supported by an insensitive and calloused justice system, that has resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of black males.  According to Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow, one in three African-American men is currently  under control of the criminal justice system – in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole.  That is an inordinate number of individuals, the vast majority of whom, according to Alexander and others, are in prison for non-violent offenses. There is in America a racial caste system, and nobody seems to care.

But black people, too many of us,  don’t seem to care about ourselves. We kill each other with abandon.  The self-hatred comes right out of slavery and the racism that slavery spawned.  America did a good job of associating “black” with “bad,” and unfortunately, that association bred a sense of self-hatred in us that is obvious in how we too often treat each other.

There are some warriors of the race, people who refuse to accept what society has fed us. They stand up and fight for justice, no matter the odds against them. The work that Ruby Sales of The Spirit House Project supports the parents and relatives of people who have been victims of systemic violence. The bravery of Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, continues to inspire me, and recently, the tenacity of the parents of young Kendrick Johnson has been inspirational.  The parents of slain young black men have too much pain to be stymied by the doubts that self-hatred so often and too often produces. Historically, Mamie Till was one of those warriors who refused to let criminalization and objectification and racism and hatred stop her quest for justice in the death of her son.

The prayer is that more and more black people will step out of the tent which likes to house the disenfranchised, dispossessed and unwanted.  Staying in the tent only exacerbates the sense of hopelessness and gloom that inhabits people who hate themselves.  It feeds self-hatred. Getting out into the light, risking  failure in order to have a victory, is what is needed, objectification and criminalization aside.  The parents and relatives of slain black people need not be afraid, but need to take their cues from those who have entered the ring of injustice, determined to win, whether the violence against their loved one was done by police and vigilantes, or by angry black youth.

Just because there are left-overs from slavery doesn’t mean we have to eat them. They are spoiled and need to be disintegrated.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

Zimmerman’s Attorney has Offensive Strategy

 There are several things which are troubling about the George Zimmerman trial, but the most recent include blaming Trayvon Martin for his own death,  and making the case that because a toxicology report showed that he had marijuana in his system that he might have been behaving in such a way that may have forced Zimmerman to act in self-defense.

When Mark  O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, said to Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, that Trayvon may have caused his own death, it reminded me of countless trials where women, raped, were blamed in court, for their assault.  Because of what a woman wore, or how she carried herself, or her sexual history, defenders of rapists were quick to suggest – and, apparently, juries were just as quick to agree – that the woman brought about her attack. It has always been offensive to hear that in rape trials; it is equally as offensive to hear in this second-degree murder trial. Because Martin may have defended himself against a man whom he did not know who was following him, O’Mara is suggesting that Martin was the aggressor. His death, if the reasoning is followed, was his own fault.

It is a totally offensive premise and suggestion.

The second issue is the suggestion that the presence of marijuana in Martin’s blood somehow contributed to behavior which was suspicious. It is a ludicrous argument. If the presence of marijuana in one’s bloodstream made people act “suspicious” to the degree that he or she had to be followed and observed for possible criminal behavior, there would be few students in high schools or college. O’Mara is a brilliant attorney and is doing a good job for his client, but at what cost?

In an article that appeared on U.S. News on NBCNews.com in March, 2012, it was stated that an empty baggie that contained residue of marijuana was found in Martin’s locker at his high school. (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/26/10872124-trayvon-martin-was-suspended-three-times-from-school?lite)  In that article, a family spokesman said that there was no substance found. Toxicology reports, however,  have apparently showed that the teen had marijuana in his system the day he was killed by Zimmerman.

In spite of research that shows that marijuana use does not make one aggressive – or indeed, has little effect on behavior at all, it is clear that O’Mara is going to make the case that young Martin was a “drug user,” lumping him in with those who use drugs that do in fact cause violent and aggressive behavior. It is no secret that young black youth are searched and punished for severely for marijuana possession, but that fact will be glossed over. It is also a fact that many teens use marijuana on a fairly regular basis.  In an article which came out in December, 2012, it was stated that :Marijuana use is holding steady among eighth, 10th- and 12th-graders in the United States.”  ( http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/19/marijuana-use-holds-steady-among-u-s-teens/) .It’s not just teens, the article stated; it’s kids as young as 8th grade! The article said that statistics proving marijuana use increase was gotten from studying 45,000 8th, 9th and 10th graders. In other words, a whole lot of kids smoke marijuana.

But O’Mara’s job is to get his client off, and it feels like there will be no justice for Martin. The young man will be made out to be a “druggie” who was probably, as Zimmerman said, “acting suspicious.”  Martin’s mother said in a TIME article in 2012, “They’ve killed my son. Now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” ( http://healthland.time.com/2012/03/27/did-marijuana-use-sentence-trayvon-martin-to-death/)

What O’Mara is doing is good defense attorney stuff – but it is offensive, as offensive as it is when defense attorneys defend rapists and suggest that the accusing woman brought about her own rape. If anything, it seems like George Zimmerman brought about this entire tragedy by following Trayvon when he was asked not to, but that point is not being argued very effectively by the prosecution.

As a mother, my heart aches for Sybrina Fulton, whose son is dead, and for Gladys Zimmerman, whose son is on trial, but my aching for Fulton is accompanied by anger and a sense of insult that Mark O’Mara has put in the minds of the jurors that all of this was Martin’s fault.

Just like women who have been raped have been reluctant to come forward for fear of a lack of justice, so have been black people been reluctant. Over the years, all-white juries have ignored evidence and convicted black people at will. The killers of Emmet Till got off when it was clear they had killed the young black boy. Mamie Till, Emmet’s mother, had the strength to stand in and through the cloud of injustice that served as the “trial” for her son’s killer’s…in spite of not receiving justice.  Emmet Till was thought to have caused his own death as well, by whistling at a white woman.

The verdict has yet to be announced. It may be that Zimmerman is convicted of something, if not second degree murder, then something, which will make it seem like justice has been done. That is the hope, but it is a dim hope as the defense works to Trayvon seem like a young black thug who brought about his own demise.

It is insulting.

A candid observation …