Youth Paralyzed; Police Who Allegedly Shot Him Still Working

English: Image of Ella Baker, an African Ameri...

English: Image of Ella Baker, an African American civil rights and human rights activist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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 ..

 

Behold the Innocent Murdered …

Behold the innocent murdered …

I am involved in the work of SpiritHouse Project, which has been investigating cases of systemic violence against black people for some time now.

The names keep popping up: Trayvon Martin, Kendrick Johnson, Jonathan Ferrell …and now, a 19-year old black woman, Renisha McBride – young, innocent black people who have been gunned down or beaten to death, victims of systemic violence in this nation.

Why does it keep on happening?  Why are the innocent continuously slaughtered – either by police or vigilantes – and so few people express outrage?

It is clear that nobody can fight injustice alone. No, there is needed a cadre of people with different skills and gifts and talents, in order to challenge “the system,” to shake it at its core. There is needed people who are in “the struggle” for the long haul, who are willing to do what it takes to make policy makers know that “we the people” are their bosses. “We the people” have power, the power, to change corrupt and/or apathetic governments and lawmakers.

We just don’t realize it.

Part of what made people aware of how despicable lynching was was the refusal of Emmett Till‘s mother, Mamie Tills, to let authorities sweep the issue under the rug. She made people see the face of her battered son, and people began to be moved. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, pushed the system, which did not want to finagle with a trial against George Zimmerman. The parents of Kendrick Johnson, along with supporters, have been sitting outside municipal offices in Valdosta, Georgia, pushing “the system” to listen to them. The United States Justice Department has decided to further investigate Johnson’s death.

In the work I am doing with SpiritHouse, I am talking with mothers and relatives of murdered young people, getting the facts and the stories, wiping away my own tears as I watch tears fall from the eyes of distressed parents. One woman, the mother of a young man slain in Florida, and left to die on the side of the road by law enforcement officers, says her own health has suffered as she pushes against “the system.” She has seizures now …and is sometimes hospitalized …but she will not give up.

What we don’t see ourselves, we distance ourselves from. But these murders, which have never stopped happening, seem to be getting more and more frequent. Is it really the case that a black person had better not knock on the door of a home if he/she needs help if that home happens to be in a white neighborhood?  And will the justice system really keep jamming in the faces of “us” the people that certain people just do not matter?

I hope not. I hope there is justice in the case of Jonathan Ferrell, Kendrick Johnson, and now, Renisha McBride. I hope the families with which Ruby Sales and SpiritHouse Project and myself are working will get justice.

It is time. It is so time that America, which fights for human rights everywhere else, fights as hard for human rights right here on the mainland.

Behold the innocent, murdered. And God help us if we don’t push for justice. There but for the grace of God go ourselves, our children, our lives …

A candid observation …

No Justice for Black Men

It is beyond the pale of understanding, what happens sometimes in the name of justice.

We are all still reeling from the Trayvon Martin case. Had it not been for the pushing of Sybrina Fulton that her son’s death be investigated and that there be a trial, young Martin would have just been another black kid who bit the dust, who had been shot by a vigilante, for sure, but who had probably deserved his own death. If I am not mistaken, I think something to that effect was suggested in the trial of George Zimmerman by Zimmerman’s defense team – that Martin was responsible for his own death.

Martin’s death and the subsequent trial, with the nearly all-white jury acquitting Zimmerman, was hard to swallow.  It was another instance of justice denied…but Martin’s situation was in no way an isolated event.

Most recently, there was a 43-year-old black man, Jack Lamar Roberson, who was shot and killed in his home in Waycross, Georgia, as he walked out of his kitchen with, apparently, two butter knives. An emergency squad was called by Roberson’s fiancée after Roberson took too much of his medication for his diabetes and was acting strange.  The news report said, however, that police responded to her call. When they came into the Roberson home, they saw him coming out of the kitchen “with weapons in his hands.” Police said he “raised his hand in a threatening manner,” (another report said he lunged at them) and they shot and killed him.

Diane Roberson, Roberson’s mother, said the police are lying, a charge that is not hard to believe. Police have far too often shot and either wounded or killed black men and have gotten off with the story that they felt threatened. America accepts their explanations far too often, and the cost, of course, is black lives snuffed out with hardly a word about it.

Black people have been criminalized, there is no doubt. It is a process that began after Reconstruction, when white people in the South, angry that they had lost good and free labor when slavery was abolished, came up with a system of enslaving blacks in another way. The Convict Lease system was carefully built and supported by charging black men for minor offenses and jailing them when they could not pay fees (which were purposely set too high for them to afford). They were leased out to farmers and businesses, where they worked for little to nothing, and could be re-sentenced if, at the end of one sentence, they couldn’t pay the fees to become totally free. Little by little, white America began to see that black people were always in jail, with the claim that black people were not suited to be free. The image and the message circulated was that black people were bad, were criminals …and that began to breed a fear of black people that has only grown.

The fact that Mark O’Mara, George Zimmerman’s attorney, could and would suggest that Trayvon Martin caused his own death still infuriates me. The fact that law enforcement was not going to investigate Martin’s death but was going to just take Zimmerman’s word, is infuriating.  In Waycross, Georgia, there is the case of young Kendrick Johnson, whose death law enforcement ruled an “accident.” He was found in a wrestling mat, and the story was that he died reaching for a shoe. Justice? Really? His parents said the story reeked and asked for his body to be exhumed and a second autopsy be done, and that autopsy revealed that Johnson died of blunt force trauma to the neck.

There are so many cases of black men being killed by law enforcement or by vigilantes and nobody says anything …or, if they do, their voices are snuffed out. Black mothers, if they are smart, are still telling their sons to be careful, and are still telling them how to engage with police officers.  Police officers are supposed to be the protectors of the innocent, but in the case of black men, they are very often the aggressors whose actions are accepted and sanctioned.

Ruby Sales, a veteran civil rights worker and the founder and co-director of the Spirit House Project, has begun in earnest to look into these murders. Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, has broken open the disparities inherent in the incarceration of black people in this nation. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel Dewitt Conference, Inc., has held hearings all over the country, getting testimony from people from whom justice has been withheld.

Slowly, but surely, these cases are coming to light. There is no need in saying that America is a democracy when in fact the justice system is not interested in “liberty and justice for all.” Too many black men are dying under suspicious circumstances …and “we the people” need to know it and work to end it.

A candid observation …

 

Black mothers, wailing …

This weekend, I realized anew that the work of justice … never ends.

It is what I thought as I observed the parents, relatives and friends of a young black man, Kendrick Johnson, who gathered to show solidarity and a resolve to fight to bring to justice the people whom they believed murdered him.

Even as the anger and angst over the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin simmers in this country, the shooting and killing of black youth  continues to balloon with very little attention given to this growing crisis.

Early this year, 17-year old Kendrick Johnson was found dead, rolled up in a wrestling mat in Valdosta, Georgia.  An early report said that he had died of asphyxiation while trying to retrieve a shoe from that mat.

Johnson’s parents, however, never bought the story and in June, had his body exhumed and a second autopsy performed. The results of that autopsy said that the youth died from “non-accidental blunt force trauma.”  They are seeking justice for their son, and have asked the United States Justice Department to re-open the investigation into Kendrick’s death. So far, they say, the answer to their request has been “no.”

Johnson’s parents are looking for support and assistance as they seek justice for their son, much like the parents of Trayvon Martin have done. To that end, they have called veteran civil rights activist Ruby Sales, founder and director of Spirit House, to help raise awareness and action on their son’s behalf.

Sales sees an alarming trend of black youth being killed under suspicious circumstances, and law enforcement either being involved in the killings or turning a deaf ear to the cries of the parents of the youth for justice. She gets calls on almost a daily basis from distressed parents whose children, mostly sons, have been killed and have not been able to get assistance or answers from law enforcement or local government.

Sales and the co-director of Spirit House, Cheryl Blankenship, went to Valdosta, Georgia this week for a rally that the community held for Kendrick. I was there as well, to record what was going on. Similar rallies have been being held consistently in Georgia since the results of the second Johnson autopsy were made public. Even as they stood in the hot sun at Johnson’s rallies, other mothers, hearing of SpiritHouse Project’s work, came to Sales. Many had tears in their eyes; all had stories that were hard to stomach. “Since this all happened,” said a young mother whose son was shot by police officers in Florida and left on the side of the road for three hours, “I have developed seizures. But I can’t stop. That’s my baby. I can’t stop.”

Her son did not die in spite of being left, but has been detained in a jail for the past 17 months. He has been unable to get needed medical care, stemming from his gunshot wounds, which he and his family requested, and was not allowed to complete his schoolwork so that he could graduate with his class this spring. Before being shot, he was a good student and promising athlete. He planned to go to college.  Now, said his distraught mother, he doesn’t even know when he’ll have a trial, much less get out of jail.

Many of the parents of the dead youth do not have financial resources to hire attorneys. Some have public defenders who, they say, have shown little to no interest in their sons’ cases.

Sales hopes that by getting the stories out about these suspicious deaths that not only will be the public be made aware, but will be mobilized to push for justice and also be inspired to offer resources that the parents themselves may not have. 

“These are no more and no less than lynchings,” Sales says. “It’s got to stop.”

Part of Sales’ vision and plan is to train the parents on how to effectively advocate for themselves and for others. “There’s no power in one or two sets of parents complaining about injustice,” she says, “but there is an enormous amount of power in numbers of parents coming together. (Policy makers) might be able to ignore the coffin of one young person; it would be virtually impossible for them to ignore, say, 35 coffins of young people, killed under suspicious circumstances.”

As Sales and Blankenship gather stories from parents, they are planning their next steps, one of which is to get the parents of these youth to Washington, D.C. to make a statement to their lawmakers and the nation about what’s going on.

Standing in the hot sun in Valdosta at the Johnson rally, Sales remembered “Ella’s Song.” Written and composed by Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” the song says:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest;

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons,

Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons …

We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

“This is important work,” Sales said. “We cannot rest.”

 

I’ll be tagging along with Sales and Blankenship, recording and writing what we hear and learn.  Any murder is tragic. However, however the growing murder of young Black people represents both a crisis for the Black community as well as for the nation.  As if this is not enough of a travesty, police and coroners dismiss these brutal   lynchings, shootings and beatings as suicides, accidents or acts of self-defense by police or individual vigilantes.

Black mothers crying for their children emit a wail that cannot be ignored. The wailing of Black mothers in this nation is getting louder and louder.

Perhaps we are at another turning point, or perhaps the move to get the stories of these killings out will change the heart of the nation from indifference to action. Perhaps, people of all colors in the nation will realize that none of us can rest until justice is a reality for everyone.

A candid observation …