Black Lives Matter – Not So Much

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It hit me not long ago, as I listened to more than one television pundit say that the Black Lives Matter movement is a hate movement, specifically against, police officers, that they do not understand the concept of perhaps the most important word in the BLM moniker: “matter.”

The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t erupt after a police shooting of an unarmed black man. It erupted after a civilian, a vigilante in the person of George Zimmerman, stalked, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayon Martin, who was unarmed. The angst and anger of much of the black community rose as Zimmerman spun the tale that he was “in fear for his life,” though the only things Martin was carrying were a can of iced tea and a package of Skittles.

The anger continued to rise as the police and the community seemed not to care that Zimmerman had stalked Martin …though being advised to stop doing it by local police, and had confronted the young man, who I am sure was quite worried about this unknown person following him.

Zimmerman’s encounter with Martin ended up with Martin being shot dead and Zimmerman showing some minor injuries from their tussle. Martin had done what any person being followed at night would have done: he defended himself – and yet, nobody seemed to care. His life did not matter. His humanness – meaning, his drive to protect and defend himself against a man with a gun – did not matter. He was effectively blamed for his own death.

And then, to add insult to injury, the jury went with Zimmerman and he was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Yes, there have been lots of extrajudicial killings of black people by law enforcement. That has been a historical reality in this country, and black people have been wrestling with it for literally generations. There have been too many trials to mention where all-white juries have convicted a black person of a crime which the judge, jury and officers knew he or she probably had not committed. That, too, has been a part of the African American search for justice and full American citizenship in this country.

But the Black Lives Matter movement erupted because in spite of what was clearly a case of an armed wanna-be police officer stalking an unarmed black kid – because he “looked suspicious,” the killer got off. One more time, the killer got off.

Are there some in the Black Lives matter movement who say “kill the pigs?” Yes. But the bulk of the protesters in the streets are not calling for the murder of police. They are calling for the end of judicial injustice.  Judicial injustice has said to black people for far too long that our lives have no value, and neither do our cries for justice.

I watch with interest as the rise in opioid addiction by white kids is getting more and more attention, with politicians and media and police doing all they can to save these kids from lives that will only go downhill if they do not shake their addictions. There was no such push to save the lives of black kids becoming addicted to crack cocaine. While white kids are being said to be suffering from the “sickness” of drug addiction, black kids were rounded up and thrown into jail for small amounts of marijuana. I watched with interest as   Brock Turner was treated with compassion after having raped an unconscious woman, the court not wanting to ruin his life by giving him a lengthy – and appropriate sentence –  for his crime. I  watch lawmakers in Flint dancing around what they need to do in order to make water safe for little black kids who have been drinking lead-tainted water for some time now.

Black kids, suffering, do not matter. Their lives do not matter. Their futures do not matter.

That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, as much as it is about getting rogue, racist, ultra-violent police off the streets.

Just thought I’d share a personal and very painful …candid observation.

 

Before

Before Michael Brown, there were others.

Trayvon Martin, Roger Owensby. Timothy Thomas. Emmett Till. There were so many others.

The black community has been under assault by “law enforcement” for decades, and law enforcement has historically gotten away with it.

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, of whom I am writing an authorized biography, when I asked him how black people are to cope, not just with the murders of unarmed black people, but the lack of justice, and therefore of respect and dignity, said that we have to realize our strength, and realize that white people know that what we as a people suffer is brutal. (my word, “brutal,” not his.) He said, “Most white people realize that they could not live as black people do. They realize they would not be able to handle it.”

I relate to what is going on, and to what has always gone on with sanction in this nation, as a mother of a son. I have a daughter, too, but it is my son that I worry about, just because he is a black male. He does not do drugs. He does not have a criminal record. He knows “how to act” if stopped by police.

But none of that matters.

And that’s what scares me. Black people do not have to have a criminal record or be doing something wrong in order to be gunned down with abandon …by police. White officers and black officers have the same obsession with power, it looks like. They do not like to be challenged or questioned…and they know they have the upper hand. They too often shoot first and ask questions (or make up a story) later. No matter how compelling is the evidence that they are in the wrong, they get off.

That is scary.

The nation, this nation, cannot be “exceptional” so long as such barbarity within the ranks of law enforcement exists, because the actions of those who are supposed to serve and protect are causing a huge swath of parents and loved ones to suffer emotional pain that is ignored and minimized.

Black people have lived on the hope, the faith, that God will make a way …out of this madness caused by the dehumanization of them and their children. But God has been slow. Black parents stand weeping on the banks of “Red Seas,” holding out a metaphorical “rod,” waiting for the sea of injustice to part, but the parting has not happened yet, not after all these years.

The parents and loved ones of all of these unarmed black people are standing on the shore of that sea, waiting for God.

But God has been slow. It feels like God has been absent, actually.

It is horrible that police officers have been randomly killed, but here’s the difference between slain police officers and slain black people. Whomever has killed a police officer will be brought to justice. Most police officers who kill unarmed and many times, innocent black people, even if charged with a crime, will go free. There will be no justice.

That reality is the fuel of the Black Lives Matter movement. The lack of justice speaks to the core belief of this nation that black people do not matter, and never have. The lack of justice undermines the words of the United States Constitution, which black people and those concerned with justice latch onto, “All men are created equal.”

Not so. It wasn’t the case when the Constitution was drafted and it isn’t the case now.

I wonder if any of people who are so quick to blame black people for our lot in life ever stop to think about the effects of being dehumanized. I wonder if they feel it when black mothers cry, when little black kids are put in handcuffs for doing things little kids of all races have always done …because they’re little. I wonder if white mothers feel the pain of the mothers of Trayvon and Michael and Jordan and Roger and TImothy and Renisha and Sandra and Freddie and Sam…and so many. So many…

Please understand. Parents and loved ones feel the pain when black lives are taken by other black people…but the difference is that black people who kill other black people are usually brought to justice and end up in prison. It is small consolation but at least it represents justice.

The cry that some are trying to vilify and call representative of hate is a cry that is filled with anguish about being used, exploited, and then being discarded. American society uses black people (and poor people) for cheap labor, exploits the, unwilling to give them decent wages so they can take care of their families, and then discarding them when they cry out for help as their loved ones are mowed down by state-sanctioned actions of law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement doesn’t care about black lives. The education system doesn’t care about black lives (schools for black children are the worst of all schools). America doesn’t care …about black lives.

Before Michael Brown there were others, so many others…

And we live in a nation that just does not care.

A 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 …

A Time to Stop Killing

Pardon me for saying this, but I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot and killed allegedly by police in Ferguson, Missouri Saturday evening, reached inside a police car and struggled with that officer for his gun.

Everybody knows you don’t do that; everybody, especially black men, know not to do that. Mothers have to give their black boys “the talk,” to teach them how to interact with police so they will survive. Black men (and women) will talk back to police officers, and ask, “What did I do?” but nobody is crazy enough to reach inside a police car (after pushing the officer back into his car)  and wrestle with that police officer for his gun…not unless that person wants to die.

We all have to wait for “the investigation” to yield the story of what happened, but pardon me again if I say up front I don’t trust in-house police investigations. So many times, even when the evidence has seemed overwhelming as to the wrongdoing of an officer, Internal Affairs has found that the police officer is not guilty of any malfeasance, that the shooting and killing of a suspect was “justifiable.”

Pardon me yet again if it seems like police officers are just getting away with murder. They are “the law.” They commit their crimes under the cover of law. Meanwhile, innocent people are being slaughtered.

Because I say “innocent” does not mean I think that police at times have viable reasons for stopping and arresting people, but when a person who is unarmed (as was Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and now, Mike Brown) and is shot down – being shot multiple times – that person is “innocent” of being a life-threatening threat to an arresting officer.

The police union in New York is now saying that they’re not sure Eric Garner was put into a choke-hold; some say he was not. The police commissioner, William Bratton, says it’s not “illegal” for a person to be put in a choke-hold. Already, the wheels of the internal “explanation” of what “really” happened are spinning.

And just last week, a 22-year-old man, John Crawford III, was shot dead at a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio, as he held a toy gun. Police said they told him to drop it, and when didn’t, they opened fire. Police say the shooting was justified …

There are more of these stories, each one equally as disturbing.

The issue, I think, for police and for many people in society, is that they don’t see black people as humans, but, rather as “objects.” If a young black man is an “object,” wearing a hoodie or giving police back-talk, an officer feels no compunction in bringing him down.  Actually, he doesn’t have to have a hoodie on at all; he is in danger just by virtue of the color of his skin. Because of that, police officers feel like they are in the right when they shoot and kill After all, “objects” don’t have feelings; they are merely “things” which have no inherent value.

Attached to that issue is the fact that black people have been criminalized, dehumanized and demonized. That means that there is a readiness to believe that if a black person is in an encounter with police, and that black person ends up dead, that he (or she) brought it on him or herself.

One police officer, caught on CNN, said that the angry mob were “animals.” No, officer. They are people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Black people are really tired of members of their community being mowed down, disregarded and disrespected.

Mike Brown was shot, supposedly, 10 times. He had just graduated from high school; he was headed to college. No, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that he pushed a police officer and wrestled for his gun. I just cannot believe that. People know better than to do that; we in the black community know better than that more than anyone else.

A report done by the Malcolm X Grassroots movement said that one black person is killed by police every 36 hours. That was the figure when the report was done in 2012. Last week, the figure had dropped to one black person killed by police every 28 hours. I think that figure will change yet again.

At the end of the day, I say it again, black people count. We matter. We are worth being afforded human rights and dignity. And we are tired of being mowed down and those who mow us down walking away.

There’s something wrong with that picture.

A candid observation …

 

(To get stories and information on extrajudicial murders of black people, visit The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement at  http://mxgm.org/report-on-the-extrajudicial-killings-of-120-black-people/ and the SpiritHouse Project at  http://www.spirithouseproject.org/. To read about the Dayton man shot as he held a toy gun, go to http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/man-police-shot-in-walmart-killed-over-fake-gun-fa/ngw77/

 

 

Michael Dunn, George Zimmerman, and Fear

I wonder if any black person has ever had the benefit of  having a trial with an impartial jury.

The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution says that American citizens are entitled to a trial with an “impartial jury.” That  phrase has been interpreted as one having the right to a trial with a jury “by one’s peers.” That’s not exactly what the Constitution says. It says we’re supposed to have trials with an “impartial jury.”

I have long struggled with trials for black people that have had juries which were nearly all white. Because I thought the Constitution said we have a right to a jury of our peers, I have long thought that something was very wrong. Well, there’s a lot wrong, but for this moment, I just want to concentrate on the one thing I felt was wrong: Black people were NOT having trials with juries “of their peers.”

But along those same lines, black people have not had many trials with impartial juries, either. In the Dunn trial, there were four white men, four white women, two black women …one Asian woman and one Hispanic American. Were these jurors impartial? I don’t think so. Out of the total of 12 jurors, 8 were white. Impartial?  I cannot believe that they were.

Chris Cuomo of CNN interviewed George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, in spite of being free, is pouting. He says HE is a victim and was made a scapegoat by the government, naming the president and the attorney in general. Michael Dunn is amazed that he was convicted even of attempted second degree murder. He said from jail that he was attacked. Apparently, the juries believed both these men, that THEY were victims. I cannot believe that that the jurors who saw him as victim …are impartial.

White people are so often afraid of black people…just because they are black and because the media has been very effective in portraying black people as criminals.  Almost every black person I know has experienced a white person gripping her bag more tightly when she has seen a black person, primarily a black man, approaching her. It is a fact that one can be (and is) stopped just because he is black.  Statistics show that while blacks commit a large number of violent crimes, most of their victims tend to be black. A report done by CNN indicated that the most likely victim of black crime is a black male, 12-19 years old, and the least likely victim, a white male, ages 35-64.  Blacks, in relation to being only 12.5 percent of the population, commit “a disproportionate number of crimes,” but, the report said, “whites commit more crimes.” (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/moneymag_archive/1994/06/01/88911/)

Blacks have been criminalized historically, something that began after Reconstruction, when white people in the South needed a way to get blacks back on the farms to do the work that would improve the South’s economy. Blacks could be arrested for the most petty things – like being outside too late, or walking on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, for loitering (even as they waited in line to get a job!) The message was being given that black people were bad, unworthy of freedom. That sentiment has persisted…

The overarching feeling of many whites, then, is that black people are bad and are to be feared, and fear drives white emotions, beliefs and actions. Why did the man in Dearborn, Michigan, shoot 19-year-old Renisha McBride in the face as she banged on his door in the wee hours of the morning seeking help? Because he was afraid. Why did the police officer shoot injured and unarmed Jonathan Ferrell as he ran toward police, seeking help? Because he was afraid.

Both Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman are murderers; they both shot unarmed black teens …but their actions were driven by fear and they had jurors who were ALSO afraid, or who know the fear of which they spoke, and in the cradle of that fear, acquitted these men of their crimes. The juries were NOT impartial. Fear prevented that.

When I hear Dunn and Zimmerman say they were victims, my blood boils. They were not victims of anything other than their own fear.  Fear leads people to insecurity and irrational actions…which is what we saw in the case of both these men.

Somebody on the Dunn jury was connecting with his/her own fear…and that’s what drove them. Dunn is still shocked that he was convicted of anything, given the scenario as he feels it happened. He was afraid of Jordan Davis, afraid of what he believes to be true of all black people. His fear, probably fed a bit by machismo, increased as Davis offered him an angry challenge to Dunn’s request that the teens turn down their money. Dunn  rode into that gas station with contempt for and fear of black people in his heart. He acted on both…and contrary to his sorry claim, he was NOT the victim; he was NOT attacked. That 17-year- old kid was the victim and was attacked and killed.

I get that. But the jury, which was NOT impartial, did not.

It’s a sorry and tragic shame, what has happened.

A candid observation …

Waiting for Justice

This morning I am waiting with bated breath the verdict in the Michael Dunn murder trial.

It is day three of this so-called “loud music” trial. I am so afraid the jury will bring back a verdict of “not guilty” or that there will be a hung jury.

I am afraid because in so many cases of black people being shot and killed by white people – police or civilians – the verdict is “not guilty.” And each and every time one of those verdicts come down the pike, my heart sinks.

It seems and feels like that, no matter what, there is seldom justice for black people, especially in cases where a white person has killed or injured a black person.

What in the world is it? I remember feeling optimistic way back when Rodney King was beaten by police. It was caught on video tape…and I thought it was clear as day that that young man had been wronged, beaten cruelly and mercilessly by police who seemed totally out of control. He was treated like a sick and dangerous animal, not a man who had made a bad move.

But not even the video tape helped. The police officers were acquitted …and a city went nuts. I understood why.

America’s lack of willingness to extend justice to African-American families which have been changed forever because of violence waged against their loved ones is a dangerous and troubling thing. American jurists, too many of whom are white when it comes to delivering verdicts in cases like this – seem to subliminally think that if a black person is shot down by a police officer or by a civilian, he or she somehow deserved it. It boggles the mind, or my mind, still, that George Zimmerman is free. It boggles my mind that the police officer who shot Henry Glover was convicted …only to be later acquitted in a new trial.

Michael Dunn shot into an SUV and killed an unarmed teen. He then drove away – miles away – and didn’t even bother to call police. He shot because he got angry with a teen who dared challenge him when he asked the teens to turn their music down. He gave the classic line used in these types of cases, “I was in fear for my life.”

Bull.

This man was wrong. Jordan Davis, the kid he killed, perhaps should have kept his mouth shut …but being mouthy is NOT  a reason to be gunned down like a rabid dog.

I don’t understand why everyone cannot understand that.

I keep thinking of Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred.” He asks what happens when a dream is deferred?:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore, and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

African-Americans keep dreaming for justice in this land, but it really does feel like a dream deferred.

What will happen if Dunn is acquitted? I shudder to think of the brutal slap to African-American souls if that is the reality. Another dream, another moment of hope, dashed …another dream deferred.

It just cannot keep happening. I am afraid of what this jury will decide.

A candid observation .

When Good People Are Silent …

Ida B. Wells Barnett

Ida B. Wells Barnett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When good people are silent, and do nothing, evil triumphs.

 

That sentiment is attributed to English philosopher Edmund Burke, and he may or may not have said it, but it is true nonetheless.

 

Black children are being killed by police officers and vigilantes. That is evil. That is modern-day, 21st century lynching, sanctioned and worse, ignored, by “the law,” as was the case when lynching was talked about out loud. The United States never passed a law outlawing lynching, in spite of the efforts of Ida B. Wells Barnett and others.

 

Even then, too many people were silent.

 

Today, I am cringing and trying to understand why mothers, everywhere, black, white, and brown, are not up in arms, demanding that local, state and federal law enforcement do something!

 

Renisha McBride, the 19-year-old black female who was murdered last week, was merely looking for someone to help her when she wandered on the porch of the wrong person. She was shot in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun. She was somebody’s baby, looking for help, for goodness’ sake. She was unarmed. She was hurt, because she had been in a car accident. She was in a strange neighborhood. She was scared, I would bet …but I would also bet that she never even thought she would be shot .

 

Like it was with lynchings in the past, those who shoot (lynch) black people are not arrested, or, if they are, they are far too frequently let go. If they go to trial, they are acquitted. In the case of McBride, her alleged shooter has not even been charged yet. Her family says they don’t just want him charged. They want him convicted.

 

Shouldn’t all of us, those of us who are mothers, and those of us who just care, want that, too?

 

Shouldn’t all of us be pushing for this terrorism and murder of black children to stop?

 

If it were my child who had been killed, I’d be on the battlefield…but it hit me that Renisha …Trayvon …Jonathan…are my children. They are OUR children.

 

If you are reading this, and are a concerned mother, citizen, observer …please go to http://www.spirithouseproject.org and leave a note there that you want to become a voice for the abolition of the murders of black children and young people.

 

Evil triumphs when good people do nothing and are silent. I don’t know who really said it, or what the exact words were, originally, but I know it’s true.

 

The Holocaust happened because good people …were silent.

 

A candid observation …

 

God Bless the Parents Who Will Not Faint

God bless the parents.

God bless the parents of children who have been wronged, misunderstood, who have disappeared…and who have been murdered.

God bless them because they will not give up.

Their quest for justice is Biblical in its tenacity.  It is so powerful to watch, but it is a space, a place, that no parent wants.

Their quest for justice is driven by their love for their children, which will not be crushed by injustice and those who feed them paltry stories that they are supposed to take lying down.

It is Biblical.

In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 18:1, the  “parable of  the persistent widow,” it reads, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.”

The parents of Kendrick Johnson have been praying and working for justice since their son died.  The story of Kendrick squeezing his body into a rolled up wrestling mat just did not make sense.  Authorities told them he had died accidentally and the case was closed. The authorities “neither feared God nor what people thought.” People in power are sometimes, perhaps often,  like that, and in America, as concerns black people dying, authorities have been able to stonewall those who have sought justice and get away with it for years. “We the people” are really supposed to sit down and shut up and just take what we’re given, and many times, we acquiesce, probably most often because we do not have the financial resources to proceed.

But sometimes, no matter the cost, acquiescence is not an option. Sometimes, a situation screams for someone to fight for justice and truth. Sometimes, a crazy faith has to kick in that “the Lord will make a way” some way…and “we the people,” aka, “the persistent widow,” put ourselves out there and do what we must as we plead,”Grant me justice against my adversary.”

The parents of Kendrick Johnson have been sitting outside the state house in Valdosta, Georgia for months, “bothering” their adversary, the justice system of Lowndes County, for …justice.  In a story which appeared on the CNN blog, reporters noted:

For months, the family’s quest for answers went nowhere. It took until May for autopsy results to be issued, and then the sheriff’s office said the investigation had been closed.

The sheriff’s office and school officials resisted the family’s request to obtain school surveillance images and other records, citing state law that exempts the release of “education records of a minor child.”

After months of pursuing official answers and getting nowhere, they began staging daily rallies. (http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/justice/georgia-gym-mat-death/)

Even as the Johnson parents seek justice, Sybrina Fulton is still seeking justice in the death of her son, Trayvon Martin. She, too, faced her adversary, a non-sympathetic House panel, asking that something be done about “stand your ground” laws. In what feels like a slap in the face to an outside observer, I can only wonder how Ms. Fulton “held on” as she listened to Sen. Cruz defend “stand your ground,” saying that the law protects black people, too. (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/29/ted-cruz-explains-to-trayvon-martins-mother-how-stand-your-ground-laws-help-protect-the-black-community-at-senate-hearing/)

I guess he doesn’t know, or hasn’t heard, about Marissa Alexander. She is the African-American woman who got sentenced to 20 years in prison for “standing her ground” and firing a shot into the air to protect herself.  That law did nothing to protect her.

But back to Sybrina Fulton, a mother whose heart must still burst with pain on a daily basis as she mourns the loss of her son, God bless her …God bless her because she will not stop. She is seeking justice.

There are other parents who have fought like gladiators for their children.  Consider Beth Holloway, who fought for justice in the disappearance of her daughter, Natalie.

Their stories remind us, as Jesus said, that “we ought to always pray and not give up.” Prayer becomes not an isolated mumbling of words to a deity in these cases; prayer becomes dynamic action, driven by love and fueled by a faith that can only be called crazy.

Yes…I am referring to “crazy faith,” that which I wrote about in my last book, Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives. I am seeing it more and more.  “Crazy faith” means we “pray and not give up,” prayer that moves and causes others to move.

That’s what I am seeing in the parents of Kendrick Johnson and Trayvon Martin. I am sure there are others, many others. They are praying and not giving up. They will not faint.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

That is Biblical.  That is powerfully Biblical.

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 … 

The President, Racism, and Trayvon Martin

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The president finally said something about the outcome of the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial.

He spoke honestly about what it is to be African-American, specifically an African-American male, in this country.  He said that, 35 years ago, he could have been Trayvon Martin. And he was and is right.

Many whites really do not understand, nor do they believe, that African-Americans have the struggles we have had since …forever. Whites complain about us complaining; they say we “whine,” and perhaps some of us do; perhaps all of us do at certain times.

But we also live lives on the edge.  I as a mother had “the conversation” with my son about how to act if stopped by police. I worried about him when he got to be a teen, more so than any parent of a teen worries. I had to warn him to be careful. I had “the conversation” about how it isn’t all that safe to be black in America, in spite of his protestations that perhaps I was being too dramatic. Times have changed, Ma, he said.

Well, maybe not so much. Or at least not enough. George Zimmerman remarked that Trayvon moved, walked, too slowly. A few years ago, a black youth, tabbed by police as “suspicious,” ran, was shot, and was killed.  The criticism levied was that he had brought his death on himself; he shouldn’t have run.

So, Sybrina Fulton’s observation, her question and the questions of many African-American mothers, was spot on. What do we tell our sons? Should we tell them to run? Walk quickly? Stop? Walk slowly? What?

President Obama’s question, “If Trayvon Martin had had a gun, would he have been able to stand his ground?” struck an immediate note of painful doubt, borne by experience where black youth have been arrested for things that white youth have gotten away with. Surely he would not have been able to “stand his ground,” shoot and kill George Zimmerman, and gone home.  He would have been accused and probably convicted of murder.  Mark O’Mara‘s comment that if Zimmerman had been black, he wouldn’t have been arrested, was pure poppycock.

The comments heard this week after the Zimmerman verdict show how deep the divide is between black and white people in this country. Juror B-37 was completely infuriating as she talked about how “they” live and talk as she referred to Rachel Jeantel. There was absolutely no awareness of cultural differences and how they are different. In her comments could be heard patronization, scorn, and worse.

All of those comments, and more, have been the polarizing statements, not what the president said. They have been polarizing and maddening, and yet, in spite of the preparation for “riots,” there has been quiet grace, people practicing “hush-mouth grace,” trying to get over yet another wound caused by America‘s disease called racism.

Perhaps some people are calling the president’s words polarizing because they will not believe that what he said he has experienced as a black man is true. Americans live in denial when it comes to racism…When someone says something about which we are in denial, on whatever subject that may be, we instinctively get angry and defensive.  Our denial is the only way we can survive in too many cases.

So I understand why people are angry, but isn’t it time that America get out of denial and start the work of healing? President Obama put the ugliness of what it means to be black in America on Front Street. He aired the ugly truth, out loud.  People don’t want to hear that stuff.

But that stuff is our stuff, America’s stuff. The sooner we move it from the “stuff” bin in the back of our cultural and historical closets, the sooner we can clean that closet out, air out our differences …and be the nation we are supposed to be.

A candid observation …