Why Does a People Weep?

Today, I wept.

I was already reeling from the report that a young, white, wealthy teen boy received probation after being convicted of vehicular homicide in an accident which resulted in the deaths of four people. I have been studying the phenomenon of mass incarceration, a reality which is responsible for literally thousands of young blacks being imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses, virtually ruining their lives forever. That this young white kid could and did get off, on the premise that he suffers from “affluenza,” i.e., his wealthy parents virtually let him get away with everything.

In an article in TIME Magazine, the reporter wrote that a psychologist, testifying for the defense, said, “He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Gary Miller, a psychologist assigned to Couch said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”( http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/12/the-affluenza-defense-judge-rules-rich-kids-rich-kid-ness-makes-him-not-liable-for-deadly-drunk-driving-accident/)

The judge bought the defense argument and this kid is out of jail.

As I was struggling to get through the disgust and repulsion that I felt at that situation, I got the news flash on my phone that the ex- New Orleans police officer who was convicted of murdering an unarmed black man, Henry Glover, following Hurricane Katrina, has now been acquitted. Ex-cop David Warren will be home for the holidays.

The story is always the same with these killings: Warren said he thought his life was in danger because he thought he saw a gun in Glover’s hand as he and another man ran toward police officers, including Warren. Glover was not armed. To add insult to injury, Glover’s body was burned in a car by another officer.

But Warren is free, as is that young, white, rich teen.

I am sick.

The story I read said that Glover’s sister broke down when she heard the verdict acquitting Warren. Her tears are sadness and anger. This justice system, filled with officers, attorneys and prosecutors who apparently don’t care about justice, continues to slap black people in the face. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/acquitted-killing-man-post-hurricane-katrina-mayhem-article-1.1545038)

I keep thinking, “What if that had been my son?”  Or, in the case of the young teen, “what if one of my kids had been killed?” Where does one put the grief and the anger at not getting justice. Why is it that this nation continues to elevate some, who are a certain color or who have a certain socio-economic status, and throw other people away?  Over and over again, this justice system says to people of color, and to poor people, “You do not matter.”

I am a theologian. I believe in God. But I promise you, this stuff is taking its toll. Why doesn’t God shake the consciousness of people and breathe into them a holy breath that tells them they are assaulting people who are also children of God?  Carlyse Stewart, author of Black Spirituality and Black Consciousness, says in that book that the spirituality of black people has been the force that has sustained us in spite of oppression. Black spirituality, he writes, has a soul force that gives black people the ability to exercise “patience while suffering, determination while frustrated, and hope while in despair.”  He says African-Americans have the ability to create “their own world and culture within or beyond a world, free to fashion their own values, beliefs and behaviors in response to the larger culture and society.”

That is true; black (and, by extension, I would think, all people of color and poor people as well) people have only been able to exist and maintain sanity in spite of gross injustice, dehumanization and criminalization because a spirit force inside them whispered to them to “hold on and keep fighting.”

But this is the 21st century and this stuff keeps happening. Juries and the justice system keep sending the message that certain people count more than others, that certain deaths matter more than others, and that some people just are not worth treating like dignified human beings.

That young teen who received probation, like George Zimmerman, probably walks arrogantly now, thinking, as I feel Zimmerman did, that he can do whatever he wants. His “affluenza” entitles him …to do whatever he wants …precisely what the psychologist says his parents taught him.

Officer Warren is probably walking arrogantly as well, standing on his claim that he was “afraid for his life.”

Cut me a break.

With all these officers killing unarmed black people, can’t someone, won’t someone say, “something is wrong here?” Doesn’t anyone have enough God in him or her to say, “enough!”?

I weep. Why does an individual weep, and, larger than that, why does a people weep?

Because they are ignored and dehumanized.

They are treated as dreams, deferred.

A candid observation …

 

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 ..

 

Silence of “we the people” is deadly

“We the people” absolutely cannot be silent and be unaware of what is going on around us.

When I was young, living in Detroit, I and my friends were told how to survive “out there.” We were never to be unaware; we were never to be so trusting that we didn’t, at all times, inspect our surroundings before we got out of our cars. We were never to appear to be sitting ducks. We had to be aware.

“We the people” are too often “unaware,” and it costs us.

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City Police Chief who spent three years in jail for tax evasion, was appalled by what he saw while in prison. One of the things that he said in an interview with Matt Lauer of “The Today Show” was that “if people knew what was going on, they’d be angry. They’d want to change things.”

I read tonight a story about three young African-American youth – males – who were arrested as they waited for a school bus that was to take them to a scrimmage. Police officers showed up and told them to move. They politely declined, explaining that they were waiting for a school bus. According to the story, they were asked to disperse – to go home – several times, and when they refused, they were arrested!

When their coach showed up moments later, and saw three of his players in handcuffs, he asked officers what was going on. The officers said that the young men had been arrested because they had refused to go home, as had been asked. The coach said that they were waiting for a bus to go to a basketball scrimmage – but the officers did not care and threatened to arrest him if he did not back off.

These are law-abiding young men, who were minding their business. They were waiting for a bus. And for that, they were demonized and arrested.

I saw the story on Roland Martin’s site (http://rolandmartinreports.com/blog/2013/12/coach-defends-students-arrested-at-bus-stop/) and I was enraged. Perhaps I got as angry as I got because I had just watched the remaining segments of Henry Gates’ “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” and I was reminded of how much work has gone into getting rights and dignity for African-Americans, but whatever the reason, I was enraged because what was described in the story about the young men was nothing but sheer harassment and an abuse of power.

“We the people” don’t know how common that sort of thing is. “We the people” are too ready to accept media accounts of “crime” on the streets and buy into and contribute to the demonization of young black kids.

My son, thankfully, got through his teen years without being arrested for being young and stupid, or young, black, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got through his teens  without being harassed by police officers. But so many young black kids, especially young black males, are not so lucky …and many times, they are guilty of nothing other than being …young and black.

If Kerik is right – that if people see the injustice that goes on they will be angry and will want things to change, then “we the people” need to make sure that these tragic stories of injustice are not ignored. More than that, we ought to look for them and chronicle them so that the American public knows more of what is true instead of relying on the myth of “black badness.”

When the American people saw television reports on how black people in Alabama were being treated, when they saw how victims of Hurricane Katrina – primarily poor and black – were being treated, their backs went up. They didn’t like what they saw. They pressed for justice.

They saw and they reacted …and if that’s what it takes to get popular support for justice, then we need to make sure that the stories of the rampant injustice which is so common for black people – gets notice.  After facts are checked, when we come across stories of this type of injustice, we ought to, we need to , farm it out to journalists, programs and organizations who have the capacity to “spread the word” and garner attention to what is still going on.

Unless we cry for justice, there will be none. Politicians, lawmakers, and others in power count on our being ignorant, complacent, and/or silent. We can’t afford to do that. Too many young black people are being picked off and demonized by a power structure which has much to lose if its political strategy backfires. They need black people to be demonized in order to woo the fearful and fretful numbers of Americans who need to believe that their perception of “the bad Negro” are correct.

Their perceptions are wrong, and “we the people” need to do all we can to shatter the myths.

A candid observation …

Truth Rises, Always ..

Truth, crushed to the ground …always rises.

Perhaps it is happening that our nation will begin to open its ears and hear the stories of the way it has treated too many of its citizens, because their voices are rising.

In her work investigating the stories of African-Americans, primarily males, who have been killed by police and/or vigilantes, SpiritHouse Project co-founder  Ruby Sales receives  stories from mothers and relatives of slain and all-but-forgotten husbands, brothers and sons who met their deaths in that way.

They call looking for help as they seek answers or justice or both. Sales, who has been looking into these murders for a while, takes each case with care, concern and outrage that so many have been murdered with local, state and federal governments looking the other way.

This week, she received notice that on Sunday, November 10, there will be a memorial service for a man named Isaiah Nixon, a black man who  at age 38 was killed by two white men in 1948 after he  had exercised his right to vote.

Nixon’s death has been being investigated by the office of Margaret Burnham, who is a professor of law and the Director of Civil Rights and Restorative Justice at Northeastern University in Boston.  Christopher Bridges was a law student at Northeastern working with the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice project when he resurrected the case.  He uncovered the story, and, after two years of work to nurture interest in Nixon’s death, Burnham’s his work has resulted in awareness and interest in this man and his situation.

According to Bridges’ work, , Nixon,  a United States military veteran, returned to his home in Alston, Georgia, after voting in the Georgia primary election.  Shortly thereafter, two white men who were also brothers, showed up at Nixon’s house and ordered him to come to them. When Nixon refused, the two men shot him three times – as his wife and six children looked on, horrified. He was taken to the hospital, but died 48 hours later.

The two men were tried and acquitted of Nixon’s murder and a fund was launched by a local newspaper and the NAACP to relocate his family to Florida.

Isaiah Nixon, who had fought for his country, was shot and killed and nobody seemed to care.

Burnham’s office said the memorial service to be held on November 10 in Mt. Vernon, Georgia, was planned intentionally for that date – as Nixon was a war veteran.

Sales, who says white and black America has bought into the myth that black people are “thugs and animals,”  has solicited the expertise and help of Burnham as she investigates deaths such as Nixon’s. These types of murders, she said, are a part of social control wielded by law enforcement.

“Somewhere in our souls, we have given up our children,” Sales said, recalling the ways she remembers personally how police used to terrorize black children and youth. There is a difference between people now and then, she said. Back then, she said, “our parents refused to give our children up.” Today, parents have given into the myth that says black people are …”thugs and animals.”

At Sunday’s memorial service for Nixon, relatives will attend.  Although nobody knows where Nixon is buried, there is a move in Alston to construct a permanent marker in his memory.

Some 60 years after his murder, that is good.

But the troubling thing is that for so long, he lay buried somewhere, all but forgotten. He was lynched by gunshot…and forgotten.

Sales believes there are many, many more like Nixon.  She is working to make sure the SpiritHouse Project uncovers as many as possible, giving voice to voices that were cruelly silenced just because they were the wrong color.

Truth, crushed to the ground, always wiggles its way out of the dust. It always comes out, always rises.  Nixon’s voice is rising.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Lynching…

We think we’re post-racial and that lynching is a thing of the past.

But that’s because we don’t understand what lynching is.

Yes, one is “lynched” if and when one is hung by a rope around one’s neck. We all know that.

But lynching is a little more than that. According to definitions, a lynching occurs if one is murdered by mob rule without legal sanction. That murder may be in the form of a hanging, but doesn’t have to be. It can be a shooting, or a stabbing, or a brutal beating. Emmet Till was lynched, being beaten to death and thrown into a river. James Byrd was murdered by three men and dragged along a road by a pick-up truck .  Matthew Shepard was beaten to death …

Those are lynchings. It still goes on, these murders by mob violence, with governments and law enforcement still looking the other way. The death of 17-year old Kendrick Johnson feels like a present-day lynching, which would have gone ignored had it not been for his parents and community who refused to stop trying to find out what really happened to him.  It feels a lynching..

I would say that in this country, while technically lynching does not have legal sanction, one of its horrible identifying marks is that DOES have  and that it has been, in fact,  sanctioned and supported by the law. Had it not been for Ida B Wells Barnett and the people who worked with her, one has to wonder if we would still be seeing bodies hanging from trees.

There were anti-lynching bills introduced to the United States Congress in  the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, but there was never a law.   Filibusters, primarily by Southern lawmakers, prevented that. The legislature, charged to make laws to protect American citizens, didn’t do its job. Congress apologized for that in 2005.

One might argue that lynching doesn’t happen anymore. Some might naively offer that there is no more mob violence,  But mobs (sometimes only two or three can make up a mob) still produce acts of domestic terrorism on individuals, be they black, gay, or despised for any number of other reasons, and mass incarceration seems like mob violence of the most vile sort, a systemically violent experience again supported by the legislative and judicial branches of government.

When I was in middle school, a fellow student said that one cannot legislate morality. True.  We were talking about lynching and how it was wrong, and this student, a white female, protested that there was nothing that could be done.

On some levels, perhaps she has a point. Laws cannot produce compassionate individuals.

But the murder, demonization and decimation of human beings, American citizens, ought to stir up outrage enough that laws are passed that say this nation believes in the human rights of all people, not just people overseas.  Lynching still happens, and it is unconscionable.

A candid observation …