When the Women Rise Up

In light of the tragedy of the past week, one thing is standing out.

It’s the women. Women, aching, crying, concerned and committed, are standing up and speaking up and speaking out.

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, had the presence of mind to record the interaction between herself and a gun-holding police officer, doing a “live” recording that people could see immediately. It was phenomenal to watch. That she had the presence of mind to do that spoke volumes about her strength. As her boyfriend lay dying, as her four-year-old daughter sat in the back seat of the car, terrified, at times crying, and finally trying to comfort her mother, Diamond forged ahead, through her pain and terror, to tell a story she knew needed to be told.

Then there is the African American female cop who lives in Warrensville, Ohio who watched the video of Alton Sterling, a video in which she saw Sterling shot multiple times at point blank range, and this woman, a police officer, a woman, a mother …and an African American, spoke out. (http://www.ajc.com/news/news/national/how-dare-you-ohio-police-officer-nakia-jones-voice/nrtMG/)

Watching them, my mind went back to when Emmet Till was murdered – lynched – in Money, Mississippi after he  allegedly flirted with a white woman. He was visiting relatives and didn’t know …and was young and arrogant enough to disregard …the “Southern” way of life, which included the prohibition of a black man to pay attention or to “disrespect” a white woman. What that “disrespect” was was left entirely up to the white people, primarily white men, who made the call.

Emmett, only 14 years old at the time, was dragged from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night by relatives of the white woman who made the accusation against Till. His murderers beat him nearly to death; they gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head, and then used barb wire to tie his body to a cotton gin fan and threw his body into a river.

It was a horrific death, but those kinds of murders of black people were common in the South, and hardly anyone ever went to jail or prison – or even got charged, for that matter. It was the intent of the good ol’ boys that the narrative be that Emmet had just disappeared. But three days after his murder, his body washed up and was discovered. The authorities reportedly just wanted to hurriedly bury Emmet, but his mother, Mamie Till, who by now had been contacted about the disappearance and now the death of her son, refused to let them bury him. She headed from Chicago to Money, Mississippi, Emmet’s body lying in a funeral home waiting to be identified. He had decomposed so much that it was difficult to identify him, and the stench from his decaying body was so bad that Mamie could smell him when she got off of the train. But she went to that funeral home and demanded to see her son. She was able to positively identify him by a ring he had on his finger. She decided she would take her boy home, as expected, but what people didn’t expect was for her to insist that his coffin remain open so that the “world could see what they had done to her boy.”

Her decision was bold. It was courageous …and it was an action that stirred the complacency of people – white especially, but black as well – to sit up and notice an evil that was so much a part of American life that it was nearly taken for granted. There was some personal risk, one might assume, for Mamie, but danger to her was not her concern. She was tired. She had had enough. She hated racism and white supremacy. She had raised a good boy in a difficult time …and now, racists had killed her boy and wanted to cover it up and act like it was no big thing.

It wasn’t going to happen.

Her spirit was one of fire. Her spirit, like the spirits of Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Coleman and Mary McLeod Bethune, and Rosa Parks …and so many women we usually mention but don’t give enough credit to, became a driving force in the continuing effort to take the covers off the shenanigans practiced by racist people who took stock and had confidence in their ability to mess over black people and get away with it. In these last few years of horrific police violence against black people, it has been women who have stood up and spoken up, saying, in essence, “no!” Sabrina Fulton, mother of Trayon Martin,  stood up. Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, stood up. The mother of Henry Green in Columbus, Ohio, Adrienne Hood, is standing up. There are more, and their impact cannot be underrated.

Mamie said, “no.” She said no, as did the women named here and so many others. Men in African American culture have done some amazing things, but it is the women who are standing out for me. And now, it is women, again, who are standing up. Nakia Jones, a police officer, could lose her job for standing up and saying that police who have race issues should not be cops. She said it and she said it with passion. She said that what she saw in the shooting of Alton Sterling was wrong,  and she said it boldly.  Diamond Reynolds said …no. If her boyfriend was going to die, she was determined that the world would know how it happened.  They said no and because of their courage, the world is having to look at things they have tried to run and hide from for decades.

I think there should be an award, a “Mamie Till Award” given to women who stand up and speak up with little regard to the risk to their own comfort.  While few people have any confidence at all that the police officers who killed Sterling and Castile, there is one thing most people have to admit: that because of the courage of women,  this world is a little bit more aware today than it was at the beginning of the week.

A candid observation …

 

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-death-of-emmett-till

 

 

 

When Leadership Feeds Hatred

It occurs to me that the vast number of police officers are not bad people.
It is highly possible that many officers, who come to the force when they are very young, and most of whom are white, grow up in environments where they are told that black people are bad, that they are to be feared.

I thought of that possibility when I was in Palestine; a red sign appears in areas of Palestine that are under Israeli control and the sign says that the area is inhabited by Palestinians and that Israelis are not allowed to enter.

These Palestinians, the sign says, are dangerous.

Let’s face it: the narrative on black people in this nation is not good. It’s not true …but it’s not good. The spin given is that white people need to be on guard with black people because they are bad. The assumption is that black people are naturally and inherently bad. The best course of action is, then, subliminally shared: they are the “enemy” which should be taken out.

Police recruits are, for the most part, very young, some just out of high school. Many come from rural areas or suburbs where they have had little to no interaction with black people. They really are scared of black people because all they know is what they have heard from their families, their churches, the media, and television.

The line used by officers to justify excessive force is, “I was in fear for my life,” and I would wager that for many, that is true, regardless of the circumstances. The killings of John Crawford and Tamir Rice – two young black men in the state of Ohio – came from officers who did not take the time to converse with them, which would have enabled them to understand that the “weapons” these two young men had were actually toys. The officer who killed Laquan McDonald, similarly, shot first and asked questions only after he had pumped 16 bullets into the child as he lay on the ground.

Be clear: many officers are not afraid; they use the phrase to justify their actions and in effect commit murders that they know they can get away with. Those are rogue cops who should be identified and fired. The silence of their superiors as these cops commit offense after offense is a travesty; these officers are no less worthy of staying on the force than were priests who for years molested children and were allowed to remain in their parishes or be sent to new parishes, only to repeat the objectionable behavior.

Leadership has to be brave and above societal prejudices, which is too often not the case. Unfortunately, in too many cases, leadership has been more interested in saving face and maintaining power and control than in admitting wrong and making tough decisions and choices.

There are, however, a fair number of officers who are sincerely afraid. They do not know black people. They do not talk to or with black people except in the worst of circumstances. Fear makes us all act in ways we normally wouldn’t. Officers who are afraid approach black people like they are “the enemy,” no less dangerous than an “enemy” in a combat zone, and the action demanded, based on the fear, is to take the enemy “out” before he or she takes the officer out.

If or since fear is such a big part of white American culture, and since the majority of police officers are white, it seems that police procedures and training ought to significantly change. It seems that leadership should see and understand what is going on and include in police officer training some cultural immersion, or some other training, that mandates that officers get to know as human beings the people with whom they will interact once they get out into the community. There ought to be stringent requirements for the officers to meet, internships, if you will, with the young recruits getting to know black people by name, getting to understand African-American culture and values, before they get a gun and are sent onto the streets. There ought to be continuing education courses, so that the officers’ community relations skills are constantly improved upon …and so they can share with fellow officers and incoming recruits what it is like on the streets, what the people are like, as opposed to what they assume to be the case.

It is an unfortunate fact that the way policing is done in America, treating black people as “enemies” requiring a military approach, has a historical reputation. Black people were never considered to be “people,” but, rather “objects” and pieces of property. When, during slavery, they managed to escape, “the law” went after them with the full sanction of government, to shoot to kill if they did not surrender willingly. The Fugitive Slave Acts allowed the hunting and capturing of African slaves in any way their hunters wanted because they were, in fact, considered to be property and not worthy of humane treatment. The added incentive was that if the captor did in fact catch an escaped African, he was many times deserving of a monetary award. Our history has bled mercilessly into our present.

But, history aside, the slaughter of innocent and unarmed black people needs to stop. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the justifying phrase, “I was in fear for my life,” as maddening as it is, is a truism for many young officers…as much as it is an excuse for rogue cops to murder people in the name of law and order.

An examination of cases involving police shootings of black people reveals that that dreaded line is used over and over, and it has been the case that if an officer has perceived danger, and has said he or she was afraid, the case is closed and the shooting is ruled justifiable.

It is time for police policy and procedure to be examined and changed, with the result that these young kids with guns can lose their fear and do the job they are called to do – to protect and serve – not to kill indiscriminately.

And it is time for rogue cops – who are not afraid, but who know they can use that sentence and get away with murder – to be identified and weeded out. We don’t need legal murders any more than we need molestation of children done in the name of God.

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 …