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 …

Thou Shalt Not Lie

The police officer in St. Louis involved in the scuffle in a city council meeting …did not tell the truth.

If I heard him correctly, Jeff Roorda, who is the business manager of the city’s police union, said that he was wearing his “I am Darren Wilson” bracelet because he had the right, citing the First Amendment.

There is nothing wrong with that. If had the chutzpah to wear that bracelet as he sat in the midst of a roomful of frustrated and angry African-Americans who went to the meeting to begin discussion on forming a citizen’s review board which would monitor police, then so be it. The First Amendment allows him to do that.

But here is where he stepped over the line.  He said, ” “I have a right to freedom of speech, expression, just as violent protesters in Ferguson, who attempted to kill and maim police every night.” (http://kdvr.com/2015/01/29/ferguson-community-meeting-turns-to-scuffle-after-police-union-leader-tries-to-take-charge/)

That is not what the protesters did.

The few who were violent attempted to destroy property and they did, but it is not true that they tried to “kill and maim police every night.”

They protested. They walked. They shouted. They chanted. They did cry out: No justice, no peace! No racist police!” And there were some who chanted that they wanted to kill police. But that number was small.

Roorda misrepresented what the majority of the protesters were doing and saying

The protesters, in Ferguson and all over the country, are not anti-police. They are anti-bad-policing, and they are fed up with police being able to kill people and get away with it.

It is in the DNA of America that police have been able to brutalize, kill and destroy black people under the protection of the law. It really began after Reconstruction when white people had to find a way to get black people back on their farms and into their businesses to work. The labor of black people made this country, made the profits of the South and, in fact, of this nation.

Black people worked. White people and white businesses, reaped the results of their labor.

Black people were criminalized in order to justify them being thrown into situations where they would work for white people or corporations for years, unable to pay off their debt for the crimes they supposedly committed.

Under the convict-leasing system, black people could and would be arrested for the slightest thing – like not having a job, or walking outside too late at night…When they died, they were thrown into mass graves. If on their jobs they made the boss mad, they could be and were killed  by those bosses and again, tossed into mass graves.

The bosses, the law enforcement people, didn’t have to worry about being arrested or sent to jail.

So, police culture as it is today has been stoked and practiced for a long time, and it is that culture that black people, and concerned people of all races, are objecting to.

Black police have beaten black people too.

Roorda has a right to wear his bracelet. He has a right to stand up for Darren Wilson.

But he is out of line for misrepresenting what these painful protests have been about.

He didn’t tell the truth. Black people were not trying to kill and maim police officers.

They were trying to make police and “the system” to hear them.

A candid observation …

Ferguson, Our Ferguson

From the beginning there was something very wrong with this case in Ferguson.

Immediately after Mike Brown was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police department showed video of Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store. Even as his body lay on the hot pavement, dead,  the police showed more interest in protecting themselves and their officer than in anything else. They were going to jump in front of this, and make sure the American public knew that Brown was no saint.

That in and of itself is no surprise; there are no human saints, and teens more than other age groups are often rebellious, not interested in following any rules. Teens push the envelope as a matter of course, no matter his/her color or ethnicity.

But it was really important for the Ferguson Police Department to get that image and perception of Brown out, because it fed into white America’s belief that black people are criminals; if, then, Brown was shot and killed, everyone could see that the officer was justified. This was just another black thug.

As the protests and anger welled up in Americans across the country after hearing what witnesses said happened, the police in Ferguson stayed the course. Instead of talking to and with residents of Ferguson, at least pretending that they understood their angst, police dressed up like soldiers, putting on riot gear and using military weapons to protect themselves against the protesters. These people, the message was, are bad news. They are dangerous, out of control, angry for no reason.

It didn’t help that some of the protesters looted. That was fine with the police and the media, though. The looting fed into America’s image of who black people are and what black people do. The talk on the news was of violence, ironically but intentionally forfeiting discussion about the violence regularly meted out to black people by police – white and black.

Then, as we awaited the decision of the grand jury, all the media worried about was the threat of violence. They were worried about keeping the peace, not working for justice. There was nearly no empathy or concern shown for Brown’s family, and there was certainly no credence given to the people who protested daily – peacefully – on the streets in Ferguson.

A police officer on CNN yesterday said that the protesters were out there daily, “trying to kill the police.”

Please.

Now, the decision of the grand jury has been rendered, a grand jury which was made up of nine white people and three black. Their goal, it feels like, was to get that officer off the hook, which they did. It never felt, from the way the procedure was being reported, that the grand jury was interested in letting a family have reassurance that there would at least be an attempt  to obtain justice for the murder of their child.

Darren Wilson got on television and thanked everyone who supported him.

He never voiced an ounce of empathy or sympathy for the parents of Mike Brown.

I did read that, in his testimony to the grand jury, he said Mike Brown looked like a demon. I imagine that when he said that, that the people sitting on the grand jury listening shuddered, grabbing hold to their own images of and beliefs about, bad, black people.

What this whole situation has reinforced is the notion that black lives, black people, do not matter. I daresay that if the kid killed had been white, and the shooting officer black,  there would have been no grand jury. The officer most likely would have been arrested. That’s the way this nation works.

Black people all over this nation are angry, hurt …and discouraged. When will the lives of black people become as important as are the lives of white people?

Probably never. Not in this country.

A candid observation ….