Here’s a new name of a young black man who has been victimized by police: Leon Ford.
Yesterday, I wrote that “we the people” need to be aware of what is going on as concerns the plight of young black men in this country, and that we need to step up and fight for justice for these young men who are being criminalized, demonized, and worse.
Yesterday’s post was about three African-American males who, while waiting for a school bus to take them to a basketball scrimmage, were arrested by police officers and charged with disorderly conduct. Their coach who showed up and saw them in handcuffs, defended them to police, but he was told that if he did not be quiet he would be arrested, too. In fact, the coach said, officers threatened to arrest the entire team. (http://rolandmartinreports.com/blog/2013/12/coach-defends-students-arrested-at-bus-stop/).
Today, I listened to a story posted on the site of The Root about a young African-American male who was shot and paralyzed by police officers one year ago in Pittsburgh. It was a routine traffic stop. The young man, Leon Ford, was asked by police officers to produce his driver’s license and registration, which he did. Police were looking for a “young black man wearing a white tee-shirt,” the story said. Leon fit that description …just like any number of black males can fit on any given day. The man they were looking for had done something …but officers didn’t bother to verify if Leon was the man they were looking for; he was a black man who fit their paltry description. The video on the site shows police officers trying to physically pull Leon out of his car. There is another officer on the passenger side. Police said that it looked like there was something bulging from Leon’s waist, and so the officer on the passenger side of the car jumped into the car as the frightened youth sped off. Officers shot the young man five times, resulting in his paralysis. Not only is he severely injured, but is facing charges related to the incident that could land him in prison for 20 years. (http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2013/12/shot_by_pittsburgh_cops_leon_ford_tells_his_story.html?wpisrc=newsletter_jcr:content)
I literally wept when I read the story.
I just finished putting together a report for the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc, led by General Secretary Iva Carruthers, on the phenomenon of mass incarceration in this country, something that has resulted in more African-Americans being locked up than we even realize. I have done some work with Ruby Sales, the director of the Spirit House Project, talking with parents of youth who have been terrorized, harassed, jailed and yes, killed by white officers and vigilantes. The problem is not getting better! It is getting worse. With the growth of the Prison Industrial Complex and its need to keep prisons filled, there is little incentive for this type of vigilante injustice to stop. Our young men are being drawn to the slaughter…and it is getting worse!
There are the names we know: Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Oscar Grant, and a woman, Renisha McBride and now, Leon Ford…but for every one of them for whom we know their names and stories, there are probably scores of young black people who have been murdered or imprisoned unjustly. The number grows. Young black men are helping to fuel American corporations – from food pantries to phone companies – and because of the demonization of black people which American society has bought into, nobody says anything.
I looked at the faces of the parents of Leon Ford. I met the parents of Kendrick Johnson and remember their faces. I can still see the face of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother …and it is heartbreaking. It makes me want to scream, “Dammit! OUR KIDS COUNT!” When shootings occur in white schools, news reports say that counselors are sent in to help students cope, but when shootings occur in black schools or black neighborhoods, we don’t hear of that intervention. Who is helping the parents of these young people to cope? Who is helping young Ford cope with his new reality of not being able to walk?
Justice work is long and hard. People and institutions in power are not easily moved, and yet, we who believe in justice cannot just sit by. It was Kendrick Johnson earlier this year and Leon Ford last year; tomorrow it may be one of our own children.
The danger of being silent when so much injustice is going on cannot be overstated. Politicians can be moved by the power and presence of an energized populace. We elect them, remember? It is time for us to see how we can act and help and bring attention to what is going on. If we are silent, the forces that are bringing such heinous destruction are going to keep on going. The justice system, including juries, are still too eager to buy into the notion that black people are bad and deserve what they get. George Zimmerman was acquitted, remember? And the officers who shot Leon Ford …are still working, on the streets, with pay.
Just last evening, I read a statement by the late Ella Baker, who organized the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and who said, as regards the sit-ins that were being conducted by students that the problem was “much bigger than a hamburger and even a giant-sized Coke.” She said that the students were working to “eliminate racial discrimination and segregation not only at lunch counters but in every aspect of life.”
What is clear is that the battle has not yet been won. There has been declared open warfare on black youths …and it must stop. I am afraid that only the constant and persistent attention given to what is going on by people who believe in justice will be the only way the tide will stem. We cannot be silent or unwilling to take this issue on!
To be in touch with organizations that are working on this issue, go to http://sdpconference.info/2013-samuel-dewitt-proctor-conference/ or to http://www.spirithouseproject.org/.
We who believe in freedom and justice …cannot stop.
A candid observation ..